Now that Bartley had got his basis and had no favors to ask of any one, he was curious to see his friend Halleck again; but when, in the course of the Solid Men Series, he went to interview A Nestor of the Leather Interest, as he meant to call the elder Halleck, he resolved to let him make all the advances. On a legitimate business errand it should not matter to him whether Mr. Halleck welcomed him or not. The old man did not wait for Bartley to explain why he came; he was so simply glad to see him that Bartley felt a little ashamed to confess that he had been eight months in Boston without making himself known. He answered all the personal questions with which Mr. Halleck plied him; and in his turn he inquired after his college friend.
"Ben is in Europe," said his father. "He has been there all summer; but we expect him home about the middle of September. He's been a good while settling down," continued the old man, with an unconscious sigh. "He talked of the law at first, and then he went into business with me; but he didn't seem to find his calling in it; and now he's taken up the law again. He's been in the Law School at Cambridge, and he's going back there for a year or two longer. I thought you used to talk of the law yourself when you were with us, Mr. Hubbard."
"Yes, I did," Bartley assented. "And I haven't given up the notion yet. I've read a good deal of law already; but when I came up to Boston, I had to go into newspaper work till I could see my way out of the woods."
"Well," said Mr. Halleck, "that's right. And you say you like the arrangement you've made with Mr. Witherby?"
"It's ideal—for me," answered Bartley.
"Well, that's good," said the old man. "And you've come to interview me. Well, that's all right. I'm not much used to being in print, but I shall be glad to tell you all I know about leather."
"You may depend upon my not saying anything that will be disagreeable to you, Mr. Halleck," said Bartley, touched by the old man's trusting friendliness. When his inquisition ended, he slipped his notebook back into his pocket, and said with a smile, "We usually say something about the victim's private residence, but I guess I'll spare you that, Mr. Halleck."
"Why, we live in the old place, and I don't suppose there is much to say. We are plain people, and we don't like to change. When I built there thirty years ago, Rumford Street was one of the most desirable streets in Boston. There was no Back Bay, then, you know, and we thought we were doing something very fashionable. But fashion has drifted away, and left us high and dry enough on Rumford Street; though we don't mind it. We keep the old house and the old garden pretty much as you saw them. You can say whatever you think best. There's a good deal of talk about the intrusiveness of the newspapers; all I know is that they've never intruded upon me. We shall not be afraid that you will abuse our house, Mr. Hubbard, because we expect you to come there again. When shall it be? Mrs. Halleck and I have been at home all summer; we find it the most comfortable place; and we shall be very glad if you'll drop in any evening and take tea with us. We keep the old hours; we've never taken kindly to the late dinners. The girls are off at the mountains, and you'd see nobody but Mrs. Halleck. Come this evening!" cried the old man, with mounting cordiality.
His warmth as he put his hand on Bartley's shoulder made the young man blush again for the reserve with which he had been treating his own affairs. He stammered out, hoping that the other would see the relevancy of the statement, "Why, the fact is, Mr. Halleck, I—I'm married."
"Married?" said Mr. Halleck. "Why didn't you tell me before? Of course we want Mrs. Hubbard, too. Where are you living? We won't stand upon ceremony among old friends. Mrs. Halleck will come with the carriage and fetch Mrs. Hubbard, and your wife must take that for a call. Why, you don't know how glad we shall be to have you both! I wish Ben was married. You'll come?"
"Of course we will," said Bartley. "But you mustn't let Mrs. Halleck send for us; we can walk perfectly well."
"You can walk if you want, but Mrs. Hubbard shall ride," said the old man.
When Bartley reported this to Marcia, "Bartley!" she cried. "In her carriage? I'm afraid!"
"Nonsense! She'll be a great deal more afraid than you are. She's the bashfulest old lady you ever saw. All that I hope is that you won't overpower her."
"Bartley, hush! Shall I wear my silk, or—"
"Oh, wear the silk, by all means. Crush them at a blow!"
Rumford Street is one of those old-fashioned thoroughfares at the West End of Boston, which are now almost wholly abandoned to boarding-houses of the poorer class. Yet they are charming streets, quiet, clean, and respectable, and worthy still to be the homes, as they once were, of solid citizens. The red brick houses, with their swell fronts, looking in perspective like a succession of round towers, are reached by broad granite steps, and their doors are deeply sunken within the wagon-roofs of white-painted Roman arches. Over the door there is sometimes the bow of a fine transom, and the parlor windows on the first floor of the swell front have the same azure gleam as those of the beautiful old houses which front the Common on Beacon Street.
When her husband bought his lot there, Mrs. Halleck could hardly believe that a house on Rumford Street was not too fine for her. They had come to the city simple and good young village people, and simple and good they had remained, through the advancing years which had so wonderfully—Mrs. Halleck hoped, with a trembling heart, not wickedly—prospered them. They were of faithful stock, and they had been true to their traditions in every way. One of these was constancy to the orthodox religious belief in which their young hearts had united, and which had blessed all their life; though their charity now abounded perhaps more than their faith. They still believed that for themselves there was no spiritual safety except in their church; but since their younger children had left it they were forced tacitly to own that this might not be so in all cases. Their last endeavor for the church in Ben's case was to send him to the college where he and Bartley met; and this was such a failure on the main point, that it left them remorsefully indulgent. He had submitted, and had foregone his boyish dreams of Harvard, where all his mates were going; but the sacrifice seemed to have put him at odds with life. The years which had proved the old people mistaken would not come back upon their recognition of their error. He returned to the associations from which they had exiled him too much estranged to resume them, and they saw, with the unavailing regrets which visit fathers and mothers in such cases, that the young know their own world better than their elders can know it, and have a right to be in it and of it, superior to any theory of their advantage which their elders can form. Ben was not the fellow to complain; in fact, after he came home from college, he was allowed to shape his life according to his own rather fitful liking. His father was glad now to content him in anything he could, it was so very little that Ben asked. If he had suffered it, perhaps his family would have spoiled him.
The Halleck girls went early in July to the Profile House, where they had spent their summers for many years; but the old people preferred to stay at home, and only left their large, comfortable house for short absences. Their ways of life had been fixed in other times, and Mrs. Halleck liked better than mountain or sea the high-walled garden that stretched back of their house to the next street. They had bought through to this street when they built, but they had never sold the lot that fronted on it. They laid it out in box-bordered beds, and there were clumps of hollyhocks, sunflowers, lilies, and phlox, in different corners; grapes covered the trellised walls; there were some pear-trees that bore blossoms, and sometimes ripened their fruit beside the walk. Mrs. Halleck used to work in the garden; her husband seldom descended into it, but he liked to sit on the iron-railed balcony overlooking it from the back parlor.
As for the interior of the house, it had been furnished, once for all, in the worst style of that most tasteless period of household art, which prevailed from 1840 to 1870; and it would be impossible to say which were most hideous, the carpets or the chandeliers, the curtains or the chairs and sofas; crude colors, lumpish and meaningless forms, abounded in a rich and horrible discord. The old people thought it all beautiful, and those daughters who had come into the new house as little girls revered it; but Ben and his youngest sister, who had been born in the house, used the right of children of their parents' declining years to laugh at it. Yet they laughed with a sort of filial tenderness.
"I suppose you know how frightful you have everything about you, Olive," said Clara Kingsbury, one day after the Eastlake movement began, as she took a comprehensive survey of the Halleck drawing-room through her pince-nez.
"Certainly," answered the youngest Miss Halleck. "It's a perfect chamber of horrors. But I like it, because everything's so exquisitely in keeping."
"Really, I feel as if I had seen it all for the first time," said Miss
Kingsbury. "I don't believe I ever realized it before."
She and Olive Halleck were great friends, though Clara was fashionable and
Olive was not.
"It would all have been different," Ben used to say, in whimsical sarcasm of what he had once believed, "if I had gone to Harvard. Then the fellows in my class would have come to the house with me, and we should have got into the right set naturally. Now, we're outside of everything, and it makes me mad, because we've got money enough to be inside, and there's nothing to prevent it. Of course, I'm not going to say that leather is quite as blameless as cotton socially, but taken in the wholesale form it isn't so very malodorous, and it's quite as good as other things that are accepted."
"It's not the leather, Ben," answered Olive, "and it's not your not going to Harvard altogether, though that has something to do with it. The trouble's in me. I was at school with all those girls Clara goes with, and I could have been in that set if I'd wanted; but I didn't really want to. I saw, at a very tender age, that it was going to be more trouble than it was worth, and I just quietly kept out of it. Of course, I couldn't have gone to Papanti's without a fuss, but mother would have let me go if I had made the fuss; and I could be hand and glove with those girls now, if I tried. They come here whenever I ask them; and when I meet them on charities, I'm awfully popular. No, if I'm not fashionable, it's my own fault. But what difference does it make to you, Ben? You don't want to marry any of those girls as long as your heart's set on that unknown charmer of yours." Ben had once seen his charmer in the street of a little Down East town, where he met her walking with some other boarding-school girls; in a freak with his fellow-students, he had bribed the village photographer to let him have the picture of the young lady, which he had sent home to Olive, marked, "My Lost Love."
"No, I don't want to marry anybody," said Ben. "But I hate to live in a town where I'm not first chop in everything."
"Pshaw!" cried his sister, "I guess it doesn't trouble you much."
"Well, I don't know that it does," he admitted.
Mrs. Halleck's black coachman drove her to Mrs. Nash's door on Canary Place, where she alighted and rang with as great perturbation as if it had been a palace, and these poor young people to whom she was going to be kind were princes. It was sufficient that they were strangers; but Marcia's anxiety, evident even to meekness like Mrs. Halleck's, restored her somewhat to her self-possession; and the thought that Bartley, in spite of his personal splendor, was a friend of Ben's, was a help, and she got home with her guests without any great chasms in the conversation, though she never ceased to twist the window-tassel in her embarrassment.
Mr. Halleck came to her rescue at her own door, and let them in. He shook hands with Bartley again, and viewed Marcia with a fatherly friendliness that took away half her awe of the ugly magnificence of the interior. But still she admired that Bartley could be so much at his ease. He pointed to a stick at the foot of the hat-rack, and said, "How much that looks like Halleck!" which made the old man laugh, and clap him on the shoulder, and cry: "So it does! so it does! Recognized it, did you? Well, we shall soon have him with us again, now. Seems a long time to us since he went."
"Still limps a little?" asked Bartley.
"Yes, I guess he'll never quite get over that."
"I don't believe I should like him to," said Bartley. "He wouldn't seem natural without a cane in his hand, or hanging by the crook over his left elbow, while he stood and talked."
The old man clapped Bartley on the shoulder again, and laughed again at the image suggested. "That's so! that's so! You're right, I guess!"
As soon as Marcia could lay off her things in the gorgeous chamber to which Mrs. Halleck had shown her, they went out to tea in the dining-room overlooking the garden.
"Seems natural, don't it?" asked the old man, as Bartley turned to one of the windows.
"Not changed a bit, except that I was here in winter, and I hadn't a chance to see how pretty your garden was."
"It is pretty, isn't it?" said the old man. "Mother—Mrs. Halleck, I mean—looks after it. She keeps it about right. Here's Cyrus!" he said, as the serving-man came into the room with something from the kitchen in his hands. "You remember Cyrus, I guess, Mr. Hubbard?"
"Oh, yes!" said Bartley, and when Cyrus had set down his dish, Bartley shook hands with the New Hampshire exemplar of freedom and equality; he was no longer so young as to wish to mark a social difference between himself and the inside-man who had served Mr. Halleck with unimpaired self-respect for twenty-five years.
There was a vacant place at table, and Mr. Halleck said he hoped it would be taken by a friend of theirs. He explained that the possible guest was his lawyer, whose office Ben was going into after he left the Law School; and presently Mr. Atherton came. Bartley was prepared to be introduced anew, but he was flattered and the Hallecks were pleased to find that he and Mr. Atherton were already acquainted; the latter was so friendly, that Bartley was confirmed in his belief that you could not make an interview too strong, for he had celebrated Mr. Atherton among the other people present at the Indigent Surf-Bathing entertainment.
He was put next to Marcia, and after a while he began to talk with her, feeling with a tacit skill for her highest note, and striking that with kindly perseverance. It was not a very high note, and it was not always a certain sound. She could not be sure that he was really interested in the simple matters he had set her to talking about, and from time to time she was afraid that Bartley did not like it: she would not have liked him to talk so long or so freely with a lady. But she found herself talking on, about boarding, and her own preference for keeping house; about Equity, and what sort of place it was, and how far from Crawford's; about Boston, and what she had seen and done there since she had come in the winter. Most of her remarks began or ended with Mr. Hubbard; many of her opinions, especially in matters of taste, were frank repetitions of what Mr. Hubbard thought; her conversation had the charm and pathos of that of the young wife who devotedly loves her husband, who lives in and for him, tests everything by him, refers everything to him. She had a good mind, though it was as bare as it could well be of most of the things that the ladies of Mr. Atherton's world put into their minds.
Mrs. Halleck made from time to time a little murmur of satisfaction in Marcia's loyalty, and then sank back into the meek silence that she only emerged from to propose more tea to some one, or to direct Cyrus about offering this dish or that.
After they rose she took Marcia about, to show her the house, ending with the room which Bartley had when he visited there. They sat down in this room and had a long chat, and when they came back to the parlor they found Mr. Atherton already gone. Marcia inferred the early habits of the household from the departure of this older friend, but Bartley was in no hurry; he was enjoying himself, and he could not see that Mr. Halleck seemed at all sleepy.
Mrs. Halleck wished to send them home in her carriage, but they would not hear of this; they would far rather walk, and when they had been followed to the door, and bidden mind the steps as they went down, the wide open night did not seem too large for their content in themselves and each other.
"Did you have a nice time?" asked Bartley, though he knew he need not.
"The best time I ever had in the world!" cried Marcia.
They discussed the whole affair; the two old people; Mr. Atherton, and how pleasant he was; the house and its splendors, which they did not know were hideous. "Bartley," said Marcia at last, "I told Mrs. Halleck."
"Did you?" he returned, in trepidation; but after a while he laughed.
"Well, all right, if you wanted to."
"Yes, I did; and you can't think how kind she was. She says we must have a house of our own somewhere, and she's going round with me in her carriage to help me to find one."
"Well," said Bartley, and he fetched a sigh, half of pride, half of dismay.
"Yes, I long to go to housekeeping. We can afford it now. She says we can get a cheap little house, or half a house, up at the South End, and it won't cost us any more than to board, hardly; and that's what I think, too."
"Go ahead, if you can find the house. I don't object to my own fireside.
And I suppose we must."
"Yes, we must. Ain't you glad of it?"
They were in the shadow of a tall house, and he dropped his face toward the face she lifted to his, and gave her a silent kiss that made her heart leap toward him.
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