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Chapter 9

IX.

Fulkerson parted with the Marches in such trouble of mind that he did not feel able to meet that night the people whom he usually kept so gay at Mrs. Leighton's table. He went to Maroni's for his dinner, for this reason and for others more obscure. He could not expect to do anything more with Dryfoos at once; he knew that Dryfoos must feel that he had already made an extreme concession to March, and he believed that if he was to get anything more from him it must be after Dryfoos had dined. But he was not without the hope, vague and indefinite as it might be, that he should find Lindau at Maroni's, and perhaps should get some concession from him, some word of regret or apology which he could report to Dryfoos, and at lest make the means of reopening the affair with him; perhaps Lindau, when he knew how matters stood, would back down altogether, and for March's sake would withdraw from all connection with 'Every Other Week' himself, and so leave everything serene. Fulkerson felt capable, in his desperation, of delicately suggesting such a course to Lindau, or even of plainly advising it: he did not care for Lindau a great deal, and he did care a great deal for the magazine.

But he did not find Lindau at Maroni's; he only found Beaton. He sat looking at the doorway as Fulkerson entered, and Fulkerson naturally came and took a place at his table. Something in Beaton's large-eyed solemnity of aspect invited Fulkerson to confidence, and he said, as he pulled his napkin open and strung it, still a little damp (as the scanty, often-washed linen at Maroni's was apt to be), across his knees, "I was looking for you this morning, to talk with you about the Christmas number, and I was a good deal worked up because I couldn't find you; but I guess I might as well have spared myself my emotions."

"Why?" asked Beaton, briefly.

"Well, I don't know as there's going to be any Christmas number."

"Why?" Beaton asked again.

"Row between the financial angel and the literary editor about the chief translator and polyglot smeller."

"Lindau?"

"Lindau is his name."

"What does the literary editor expect after Lindau's expression of his views last night?"

"I don't know what he expected, but the ground he took with the old man was that, as Lindau's opinions didn't characterize his work on the magazine, he would not be made the instrument of punishing him for them the old man wanted him turned off, as he calls it."

"Seems to be pretty good ground," said Beaton, impartially, while he speculated, with a dull trouble at heart, on the effect the row would have on his own fortunes. His late visit home had made him feel that the claim of his family upon him for some repayment of help given could not be much longer delayed; with his mother sick and his father growing old, he must begin to do something for them, but up to this time he had spent his salary even faster than he had earned it. When Fulkerson came in he was wondering whether he could get him to increase it, if he threatened to give up his work, and he wished that he was enough in love with Margaret Vance, or even Christine Dryfoos, to marry her, only to end in the sorrowful conviction that he was really in love with Alma Leighton, who had no money, and who had apparently no wish to be married for love, even. "And what are you going to do about it?" he asked, listlessly.

"Be dogged if I know what I'm going to do about it," said Fulkerson. "I've been round all day, trying to pick up the pieces—row began right after breakfast this morning—and one time I thought I'd got the thing all put together again. I got the old man to say that he had spoken to March a little too authoritatively about Lindau; that, in fact, he ought to have communicated his wishes through me; and that he was willing to have me get rid of Lindau, and March needn't have anything to do with it. I thought that was pretty white, but March says the apologies and regrets are all well enough in their way, but they leave the main question where they found it."

"What is the main question?" Beaton asked, pouring himself out some Chianti. As he set the flask down he made the reflection that if he would drink water instead of Chianti he could send his father three dollars a week, on his back debts, and he resolved to do it.

"The main question, as March looks at it, is the question of punishing Lindau for his private opinions; he says that if he consents to my bouncing the old fellow it's the same as if he bounced him."

"It might have that complexion in some lights," said Beaton. He drank off his Chianti, and thought he would have it twice a week, or make Maroni keep the half-bottles over for him, and send his father two dollars. "And what are you going to do now?"

"That's what I don't know," said Fulkerson, ruefully. After a moment he said, desperately, "Beaton, you've got a pretty good head; why don't you suggest something?"

"Why don't you let March go?" Beaton suggested.

"Ah, I couldn't," said Fulkerson. "I got him to break up in Boston and come here; I like him; nobody else could get the hang of the thing like he has; he's—a friend." Fulkerson said this with the nearest approach he could make to seriousness, which was a kind of unhappiness.

Beaton shrugged. "Oh, if you can afford to have ideals, I congratulate you. They're too expensive for me. Then, suppose you get rid of Dryfoos?"

Fulkerson laughed forlornly. "Go on, Bildad. Like to sprinkle a few ashes over my boils? Don't mind me!"

They both sat silent a little while, and then Beaton said, "I suppose you haven't seen Dryfoos the second time?"

"No. I came in here to gird up my loins with a little dinner before I tackled him. But something seems to be the matter with Maroni's cook. I don't want anything to eat."

"The cooking's about as bad as usual," said Beaton. After a moment he added, ironically, for he found Fulkerson's misery a kind of relief from his own, and was willing to protract it as long as it was amusing, "Why not try an envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary?"

"What do you mean?"

"Get that other old fool to go to Dryfoos for you!"

"Which other old fool? The old fools seem to be as thick as flies."

"That Southern one."

"Colonel Woodburn?"

"Mmmmm."

"He did seem to rather take to the colonel!" Fulkerson mused aloud.

"Of course he did. Woodburn, with his idiotic talk about patriarchal slavery, is the man on horseback to Dryfoos's muddy imagination. He'd listen to him abjectly, and he'd do whatever Woodburn told him to do." Beaton smiled cynically.

Fulkerson got up and reached for his coat and hat. "You've struck it, old man." The waiter came up to help him on with his coat; Fulkerson slipped a dollar in his hand. "Never mind the coat; you can give the rest of my dinner to the poor, Paolo. Beaton, shake! You've saved my life, little boy, though I don't think you meant it." He took Beaton's hand and solemnly pressed it, and then almost ran out of the door.

They had just reached coffee at Mrs. Leighton's when he arrived and sat down with them and began to put some of the life of his new hope into them. His appetite revived, and, after protesting that he would not take anything but coffee, he went back and ate some of the earlier courses. But with the pressure of his purpose driving him forward, he did not conceal from Miss Woodburn, at least, that he was eager to get her apart from the rest for some reason. When he accomplished this, it seemed as if he had contrived it all himself, but perhaps he had not wholly contrived it.

"I'm so glad to get a chance to speak to you alone," he said at once; and while she waited for the next word he made a pause, and then said, desperately, "I want you to help me; and if you can't help me, there's no help for me."

"Mah goodness," she said, "is the case so bad as that? What in the woald is the trouble?"

"Yes, it's a bad case," said Fulkerson. "I want your father to help me."

"Oh, I thoat you said me!"

"Yes; I want you to help me with your father. I suppose I ought to go to him at once, but I'm a little afraid of him."

"And you awe not afraid of me? I don't think that's very flattering, Mr.

Fulkerson. You ought to think Ah'm twahce as awful as papa."

"Oh, I do! You see, I'm quite paralyzed before you, and so I don't feel anything."

"Well, it's a pretty lahvely kyand of paralysis. But—go on."

"I will—I will. If I can only begin."

"Pohaps Ah maght begin fo' you."

"No, you can't. Lord knows, I'd like to let you. Well, it's like this."

Fulkerson made a clutch at his hair, and then, after another hesitation, he abruptly laid the whole affair before her. He did not think it necessary to state the exact nature of the offence Lindau had given Dryfoos, for he doubted if she could grasp it, and he was profuse of his excuses for troubling her with the matter, and of wonder at himself for having done so. In the rapture of his concern at having perhaps made a fool of himself, he forgot why he had told her; but she seemed to like having been confided in, and she said, "Well, Ah don't see what you can do with you' ahdeals of friendship except stand bah Mr. Mawch."

"My ideals of friendship? What do you mean?"

"Oh, don't you suppose we know? Mr. Beaton said you we' a pofect Bahyard in friendship, and you would sacrifice anything to it."

"Is that so?" said Fulkerson, thinking how easily he could sacrifice Lindau in this case. He had never supposed before that he was chivalrous in such matters, but he now began to see it in that light, and he wondered that he could ever have entertained for a moment the idea of throwing March over.

"But Ah most say," Miss Woodburn went on, "Ah don't envy you you' next interview with Mr. Dryfoos. Ah suppose you'll have to see him at once aboat it."

The conjecture recalled Fulkerson to the object of his confidences. "Ah, there's where your help comes in. I've exhausted all the influence I have with Dryfoos—"

"Good gracious, you don't expect Ah could have any!"

They both laughed at the comic dismay with which she conveyed the preposterous notion; and Fulkerson said, "If I judged from myself, I should expect you to bring him round instantly."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Fulkerson," she said, with mock meekness.

"Not at all. But it isn't Dryfoos I want you to help me with; it's your father. I want your father to interview Dryfoos for me, and I-I'm afraid to ask him."

"Poo' Mr. Fulkerson!" she said, and she insinuated something through her burlesque compassion that lifted him to the skies. He swore in his heart that the woman never lived who was so witty, so wise, so beautiful, and so good. "Come raght with me this minute, if the cyoast's clea'." She went to the door of the diningroom and looked in across its gloom to the little gallery where her father sat beside a lamp reading his evening paper; Mrs. Leighton could be heard in colloquy with the cook below, and Alma had gone to her room. She beckoned Fulkerson with the hand outstretched behind her, and said, "Go and ask him."

"Alone!" he palpitated.

"Oh, what a cyowahd!" she cried, and went with him. "Ah suppose you'll want me to tell him aboat it."

"Well, I wish you'd begin, Miss Woodburn," he said. "The fact is, you know, I've been over it so much I'm kind of sick of the thing."

Miss Woodburn advanced and put her hand on her father's shoulder. "Look heah, papa! Mr. Fulkerson wants to ask you something, and he wants me to do it fo' him."

The colonel looked up through his glasses with the sort of ferocity elderly men sometimes have to put on in order to keep their glasses from falling off. His daughter continued: "He's got into an awful difficulty with his edito' and his proprieto', and he wants you to pacify them."

"I do not know whethah I understand the case exactly," said the colonel, "but Mr. Fulkerson may command me to the extent of my ability."

"You don't understand it aftah what Ah've said?" cried the girl. "Then Ah don't see but what you'll have to explain it you'self, Mr. Fulkerson."

"Well, Miss Woodburn has been so luminous about it, colonel," said Fulkerson, glad of the joking shape she had given the affair, "that I can only throw in a little side-light here and there."

The colonel listened as Fulkerson went on, with a grave diplomatic satisfaction. He felt gratified, honored, even, he said, by Mr. Fulkerson's appeal to him; and probably it gave him something of the high joy that an affair of honor would have brought him in the days when he had arranged for meetings between gentlemen. Next to bearing a challenge, this work of composing a difficulty must have been grateful. But he gave no outward sign of his satisfaction in making a resume of the case so as to get the points clearly in his mind.

"I was afraid, sir," he said, with the state due to the serious nature of the facts, "that Mr. Lindau had given Mr. Dryfoos offence by some of his questions at the dinner-table last night."

"Perfect red rag to a bull," Fulkerson put in; and then he wanted to withdraw his words at the colonel's look of displeasure.

"I have no reflections to make upon Mr. Landau," Colonel Woodburn continued, and Fulkerson felt grateful to him for going on; "I do not agree with Mr. Lindau; I totally disagree with him on sociological points; but the course of the conversation had invited him to the expression of his convictions, and he had a right to express them, so far as they had no personal bearing."

"Of course," said Fulkerson, while Miss Woodburn perched on the arm of her father's chair.

"At the same time, sir, I think that if Mr. Dryfoos felt a personal censure in Mr. Lindau's questions concerning his suppression of the strike among his workmen, he had a right to resent it."

"Exactly," Fulkerson assented.

"But it must be evident to you, sir, that a high-spirited gentleman like Mr. March—I confess that my feelings are with him very warmly in the matter—could not submit to dictation of the nature you describe."

"Yes, I see," said Fulkerson; and, with that strange duplex action of the human mind, he wished that it was his hair, and not her father's, that Miss Woodburn was poking apart with the corner of her fan.

"Mr. Lindau," the colonel concluded, "was right from his point of view, and Mr. Dryfoos was equally right. The position of Mr. March is perfectly correct—"

His daughter dropped to her feet from his chair-arm. "Mah goodness! If nobody's in the wrong, ho' awe you evah going to get the mattah straight?"

"Yes, you see," Fulkerson added, "nobody can give in."

"Pardon me," said the colonel, "the case is one in which all can give in."

"I don't know which 'll begin," said Fulkerson.

The colonel rose. "Mr. Lindau must begin, sir. We must begin by seeing Mr. Lindau, and securing from him the assurance that in the expression of his peculiar views he had no intention of offering any personal offence to Mr. Dryfoos. If I have formed a correct estimate of Mr. Lindau, this will be perfectly simple."

Fulkerson shook his head. "But it wouldn't help. Dryfoos don't care a rap whether Lindau meant any personal offence or not. As far as that is concerned, he's got a hide like a hippopotamus. But what he hates is Lindau's opinions, and what he says is that no man who holds such opinions shall have any work from him. And what March says is that no man shall be punished through him for his opinions, he don't care what they are."

The colonel stood a moment in silence. "And what do you expect me to do under the circumstances?"

"I came to you for advice—I thought you might suggest——?"

"Do you wish me to see Mr. Dryfoos?"

"Well, that's about the size of it," Fulkerson admitted. "You see, colonel," he hastened on, "I know that you have a great deal of influence with him; that article of yours is about the only thing he's ever read in 'Every Other Week,' and he's proud of your acquaintance. Well, you know"—and here Fulkerson brought in the figure that struck him so much in Beaton's phrase and had been on his tongue ever since—"you're the man on horseback to him; and he'd be more apt to do what you say than if anybody else said it."

"You are very good, sir," said the colonel, trying to be proof against the flattery, "but I am afraid you overrate my influence." Fulkerson let him ponder it silently, and his daughter governed her impatience by holding her fan against her lips. Whatever the process was in the colonel's mind, he said at last: "I see no good reason for declining to act for you, Mr. Fulkerson, and I shall be very happy if I can be of service to you. But"—he stopped Fulkerson from cutting in with precipitate thanks—"I think I have a right, sir, to ask what your course will be in the event of failure?"

"Failure?" Fulkerson repeated, in dismay.

"Yes, sir. I will not conceal from you that this mission is one not wholly agreeable to my feelings."

"Oh, I understand that, colonel, and I assure you that I appreciate, I—"

"There is no use trying to blink the fact, sir, that there are certain aspects of Mr. Dryfoos's character in which he is not a gentleman. We have alluded to this fact before, and I need not dwell upon it now: I may say, however, that my misgivings were not wholly removed last night."

"No," Fulkerson assented; though in his heart he thought the old man had behaved very well.

"What I wish to say now is that I cannot consent to act for you, in this matter, merely as an intermediary whose failure would leave the affair in state quo."

"I see," said Fulkerson.

"And I should like some intimation, some assurance, as to which party your own feelings are with in the difference."

The colonel bent his eyes sharply on Fulkerson; Miss Woodburn let hers fall; Fulkerson felt that he was being tested, and he said, to gain time, "As between Lindau and Dryfoos?" though he knew this was not the point.

"As between Mr. Dryfoos and Mr. March," said the colonel.

Fulkerson drew a long breath and took his courage in both hands. "There can't be any choice for me in such a case. I'm for March, every time."

The colonel seized his hand, and Miss Woodburn said, "If there had been any choice fo' you in such a case, I should never have let papa stir a step with you."

"Why, in regard to that," said the colonel, with a literal application of the idea, "was it your intention that we should both go?"

"Well, I don't know; I suppose it was."

"I think it will be better for me to go alone," said the colonel; and, with a color from his experience in affairs of honor, he added: "In these matters a principal cannot appear without compromising his dignity. I believe I have all the points clearly in mind, and I think I should act more freely in meeting Mr. Dryfoos alone."

Fulkerson tried to hide the eagerness with which he met these agreeable views. He felt himself exalted in some sort to the level of the colonel's sentiments, though it would not be easy to say whether this was through the desperation bred of having committed himself to March's side, or through the buoyant hope he had that the colonel would succeed in his mission.

"I'm not afraid to talk with Dryfoos about it," he said.

"There is no question of courage," said the colonel. "It is a question of dignity—of personal dignity."

"Well, don't let that delay you, papa," said his daughter, following him to the door, where she found him his hat, and Fulkerson helped him on with his overcoat. "Ah shall be jost wald to know ho' it's toned oat."

"Won't you let me go up to the house with you?" Fulkerson began. "I needn't go in—"

"I prefer to go alone," said the colonel. "I wish to turn the points over in my mind, and I am afraid you would find me rather dull company."

He went out, and Fulkerson returned with Miss Woodburn to the drawing-room, where she said the Leightons were. They, were not there, but she did not seem disappointed.

"Well, Mr. Fulkerson," she said, "you have got an ahdeal of friendship, sure enough."

"Me?" said Fulkerson. "Oh, my Lord! Don't you see I couldn't do anything else? And I'm scared half to death, anyway. If the colonel don't bring the old man round, I reckon it's all up with me. But he'll fetch him. And I'm just prostrated with gratitude to you, Miss Woodburn."

She waved his thanks aside with her fan. "What do you mean by its being all up with you?"

"Why, if the old man sticks to his position, and I stick to March, we've both got to go overboard together. Dryfoos owns the magazine; he can stop it, or he can stop us, which amounts to the same thing, as far as we're concerned."

"And then what?" the girl pursued.

"And then, nothing—till we pick ourselves up."

"Do you mean that Mr. Dryfoos will put you both oat of your places?"

"He may."

"And Mr. Mawch takes the risk of that jost fo' a principle?"

"I reckon."

"And you do it jost fo' an ahdeal?"

"It won't do to own it. I must have my little axe to grind, somewhere."

"Well, men awe splendid," sighed the girl. "Ah will say it."

"Oh, they're not so much better than women," said Fulkerson, with a nervous jocosity. "I guess March would have backed down if it hadn't been for his wife. She was as hot as pepper about it, and you could see that she would have sacrificed all her husband's relations sooner than let him back down an inch from the stand he had taken. It's pretty easy for a man to stick to a principle if he has a woman to stand by him. But when you come to play it alone—"

"Mr. Fulkerson," said the girl, solemnly, "Ah will stand bah you in this, if all the woald tones against you." The tears came into her eyes, and she put out her hand to him.

"You will?" he shouted, in a rapture. "In every way—and always—as long as you live? Do you mean it?" He had caught her hand to his breast and was grappling it tight there and drawing her to him.

The changing emotions chased one another through her heart and over her face: dismay, shame, pride, tenderness. "You don't believe," she said, hoarsely, "that Ah meant that?"

"No, but I hope you do mean it; for if you don't, nothing else means anything."

There was no space, there was only a point of wavering. "Ah do mean it."

When they lifted their eyes from each other again it was half-past ten.

"No' you most go," she said.

"But the colonel—our fate?"

"The co'nel is often oat late, and Ah'm not afraid of ouah fate, no' that we've taken it into ouah own hands." She looked at him with dewy eyes of trust, of inspiration.

"Oh, it's going to come out all right," he said. "It can't come out wrong now, no matter what happens. But who'd have thought it, when I came into this house, in such a state of sin and misery, half an hour ago—"

"Three houahs and a half ago!" she said. "No! you most jost go. Ah'm tahed to death. Good-night. You can come in the mawning to see-papa." She opened the door and pushed him out with enrapturing violence, and he ran laughing down the steps into her father's arms.

"Why, colonel! I was just going up to meet you." He had really thought he would walk off his exultation in that direction.

"I am very sorry to say, Mr. Fulkerson," the colonel began, gravely, "that Mr. Dryfoos adheres to his position."

"Oh, all right," said Fulkerson, with unabated joy. "It's what I expected. Well, my course is clear; I shall stand by March, and I guess the world won't come to an end if he bounces us both. But I'm everlastingly obliged to you, Colonel Woodburn, and I don't know what to say to you. I—I won't detain you now; it's so late. I'll see you in the morning. Good-ni—"

Fulkerson did not realize that it takes two to part. The colonel laid hold of his arm and turned away with him. "I will walk toward your place with you. I can understand why you should be anxious to know the particulars of my interview with Mr. Dryfoos"; and in the statement which followed he did not spare him the smallest. It outlasted their walk and detained them long on the steps of the 'Every Other Week' building. But at the end Fulkerson let himself in with his key as light of heart as if he had been listening to the gayest promises that fortune could make.

By the time he met March at the office next morning, a little, but only a very little, misgiving saddened his golden heaven. He took March's hand with high courage, and said, "Well, the old man sticks to his point, March." He added, with the sense of saying it before Miss Woodburn: "And I stick by you. I've thought it all over, and I'd rather be right with you than wrong with him."

"Well, I appreciate your motive, Fulkerson," said March. "But perhaps—perhaps we can save over our heroics for another occasion. Lindau seems to have got in with his, for the present."

He told him of Lindau's last visit, and they stood a moment looking at each other rather queerly. Fulkerson was the first to recover his spirits. "Well," he said, cheerily, "that let's us out."

"Does it? I'm not sure it lets me out," said March; but he said this in tribute to his crippled self-respect rather than as a forecast of any action in the matter.

"Why, what are you going to do?" Fulkerson asked. "If Lindau won't work for Dryfoos, you can't make him."

March sighed. "What are you going to do with this money?" He glanced at the heap of bills he had flung on the table between them.

Fulkerson scratched his head. "Ah, dogged if I know: Can't we give it to the deserving poor, somehow, if we can find 'em?"

"I suppose we've no right to use it in any way. You must give it to

Dryfoos."

"To the deserving rich? Well, you can always find them. I reckon you don't want to appear in the transaction! I don't, either; but I guess I must." Fulkerson gathered up the money and carried it to Conrad. He directed him to account for it in his books as conscience-money, and he enjoyed the joke more than Conrad seemed to do when he was told where it came from.

Fulkerson was able to wear off the disagreeable impression the affair left during the course of the fore-noon, and he met Miss Woodburn with all a lover's buoyancy when he went to lunch. She was as happy as he when he told her how fortunately the whole thing had ended, and he took her view that it was a reward of his courage in having dared the worst. They both felt, as the newly plighted always do, that they were in the best relations with the beneficent powers, and that their felicity had been especially looked to in the disposition of events. They were in a glow of rapturous content with themselves and radiant worship of each other; she was sure that he merited the bright future opening to them both, as much as if he owed it directly to some noble action of his own; he felt that he was indebted for the favor of Heaven entirely to the still incredible accident of her preference of him over other men.

Colonel Woodburn, who was not yet in the secret of their love, perhaps failed for this reason to share their satisfaction with a result so unexpectedly brought about. The blessing on their hopes seemed to his ignorance to involve certain sacrifices of personal feeling at which he hinted in suggesting that Dryfoos should now be asked to make some abstract concessions and acknowledgments; his daughter hastened to deny that these were at all necessary; and Fulkerson easily explained why. The thing was over; what was the use of opening it up again?

"Perhaps none," the colonel admitted. But he added, "I should like the opportunity of taking Mr. Lindau's hand in the presence of Mr. Dryfoos and assuring him that I considered him a man of principle and a man of honor—a gentleman, sir, whom I was proud and happy to have known."

"Well, Ah've no doabt," said his daughter, demurely, "that you'll have the chance some day; and we would all lahke to join you. But at the same tahme, Ah think Mr. Fulkerson is well oat of it fo' the present."

William Dean Howells