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Chapter 20

XX.

With the other news that Halleck's mother gave him on his return, she told him of the chance that had brought his old college comrade to them again, and of how Bartley was now married, and was just settled in the little house she had helped his wife to find. "He has married a very pretty girl," she said.

"Oh, I dare say!" answered her son. "He isn't the fellow to have married a plain girl."

"Your father and I have been to call upon them in their new house, and they seem very happy together. Mr. Hubbard wants you should come to see them. He talks a great deal about you."

"I'll look them up in good time," said the young man. "Hubbard's ardor to see me will keep."

That evening Mr. Atherton came to tea, and Halleck walked home with him to his lodgings, which were over the hill, and beyond the Public Garden. "Yes, it's very pleasant, getting back," he said, as they sauntered down the Common side of Beacon Street, "and the old town is picturesque after the best they can do across the water." He halted his friend, and brought himself to a rest on his cane, for a look over the hollow of the Common and the level of the Garden where the late September dark was keenly spangled with lamps. "'My heart leaps up,' and so forth, when I see that. Now that Athens and Florence and Edinburgh are past, I don't think there is any place quite so well worth being born in as Boston." He moved forward again, gently surging with his limp, in a way that had its charm for those that loved him. "It's more authentic and individual, more municipal, after the old pattern, than any other modern city. It gives its stamp, it characterizes. The Boston Irishman, the Boston Jew, is a quite different Irishman or Jew from those of other places. Even Boston provinciality is a precious testimony to the authoritative personality of the city. Cosmopolitanism is a modern vice, and we're antique, we're classic, in the other thing. Yes, I'd rather be a Bostonian, at odds with Boston, than one of the curled darlings of any other community."

A friend knows how to allow for mere quantity in your talk, and only replies to the quality, separates your earnest from your whimsicality, and accounts for some whimsicality in your earnest. "I didn't know but you might have got that bee out of your bonnet, on the other side," said Atherton.

"No, sir; we change our skies, but not our bees. What should I amount to without my grievance? You wouldn't have known me. This talk to-night about Hubbard has set my bee to buzzing with uncommon liveliness; and the thought of the Law School next week does nothing to allay him. The Law School isn't Harvard; I realize that more and more, though I have tried to fancy that it was. No, sir, my wrongs are irreparable. I had the making of a real Harvard man in me, and of a Unitarian, nicely balanced between radicalism and amateur episcopacy. Now, I am an orthodox ruin, and the undutiful stepson of a Down East alma mater. I belong nowhere; I'm at odds.—Is Hubbard's wife really handsome, or is she only country-pretty?"

"She's beautiful,—I assure you she's beautiful," said Atherton with such earnestness that Halleck laughed.

"Well, that's right! as my father says. How's she beautiful?"

"That's difficult to tell. It's rather a superb sort of style; and—What did you really use to think of your friend?" Atherton broke off to ask.

"Who? Hubbard?"

"Yes."

"He was a poor, cheap sort of a creature. Deplorably smart, and regrettably handsome. A fellow that assimilated everything to a certain extent, and nothing thoroughly. A fellow with no more moral nature than a base-ball The sort of chap you'd expect to find, the next time you met him, in Congress or the house of correction."

"Yes, that accounts for it," said Atherton, thoughtfully.

"Accounts for what?"

"The sort of look she had. A look as if she were naturally above him, and had somehow fascinated herself with him, and were worshipping him in some sort of illusion."

"Doesn't that sound a little like refining upon the facts? Recollect: I've never seen her, and I don't say you're wrong."

"I'm not sure I'm not, though. I talked with her, and found her nothing more than honest and sensible and good; simple in her traditions, of course, and countrified yet, in her ideas, with a tendency to the intensely practical. I don't see why she mightn't very well be his wife. I suppose every woman hoodwinks herself about her husband in some degree."

"Yes; and we always like to fancy something pathetic in the fate of pretty girls that other fellows marry. I notice that we don't sorrow much over the plain ones. How's the divine Clara?"

"I believe she's well," said Atherton. "I haven't seen her, all summer.
She's been at Beverley."

"Why, I should have supposed she would have come up and surf-bathed those indigent children with her own hand. She's equal to it. What made her falter in well-doing?"

"I don't know that we can properly call it faltering. There was a deficit in the appropriation necessary, and she made it up herself. After that, she consulted me seriously as to whether she ought not to stay in town and superintend the execution of the plan. But I told her she might fitly delegate that. She was all the more anxious to perform her whole duty, because she confessed that indigent children were personally unpleasant to her."

Halleck burst out laughing. "That's like Clara! How charming women are! They're charming even in their goodness! I wonder the novelists don't take a hint from that fact, and stop giving us those scaly heroines they've been running lately. Why, a real woman can make righteousness delicious and virtue piquant. I like them for that!"

"Do you?" asked Atherton, laughing in his turn at the single-minded confession. He was some years older than his friend.

They had got down to Charles Street, and Halleck took out his watch at the corner lamp. "It isn't at all late yet,—only half-past eight. The days are getting shorter."

"Well?"

"Suppose we go and call on Hubbard now? He's right up here on Clover
Street!"

"I don't know," said Atherton. "It would do for you; you're an old friend.
But for me,—wouldn't it be rather unceremonious?"

"Oh, come along! They'll not be punctilious. They'll like our dropping in, and I shall have Hubbard off my conscience. I must go to see him sooner or later, for decency's sake."

Atherton suffered himself to be led away. "I suppose you won't stay long?"

"Oh, no; I shall cut it very short," said Halleck; and they climbed the narrow little street where Marcia had at last found a house, after searching the South End quite to the Highlands, and ransacking Charlestown and Carnbridgeport. These points all seemed to her terribly remote from where Bartley must be at work during the day, and she must be alone without the sight of him from morning till night. The accessibility of Canary Place had spoiled her for distances; she wanted Bartley at home for their one-o'clock dinner; she wanted to have him within easy call at all times; and she was glad when none of those far-off places yielded quite what they desired in a house. They took the house on Clover Street, though it was a little dearer than they expected, for two years, and they furnished it, as far as they could, out of the three or four hundred dollars they had saved, including the remaining hundred from the colt and cutter, kept sacredly intact by Marcia. When you entered, the narrow staircase cramped you into the little parlor opening out of the hall; and back of the parlor was the dining-room. Overhead were two chambers, and overhead again were two chambers more; in the basement was the kitchen. The house seemed absurdly large to people who had been living for the last seven months in one room, and the view of the Back Bay from the little bow-window of the front chamber added all outdoors to their superfluous space.

Bartley came himself to answer Halleck's ring, and they met at once with such a "Why, Halleck!" and "How do you do, Hubbard?" as restored something of their old college comradery. Bartley welcomed Mr. Atherton under the gas-light he had turned up, and then they huddled into the little parlor, where Bartley introduced his old friend to his wife. Marcia wore a sort of dark robe, trimmed with bows of crimson ribbon, which she had made herself, and in which she looked a Roman patrician in an avatar of Boston domesticity; and Bartley was rather proud to see his friend so visibly dazzled by her beauty. It quite abashed Halleck, who limped helplessly about, after his cane had been taken from him, before he sat down, while Marcia, from the vantage of the sofa and the covert of her talk with Atherton, was content that Halleck should be plain and awkward, with close-cut drab hair and a dull complexion; she would not have liked even a man who knew Bartley before she did to be very handsome.

Halleck and Bartley had some talk about college days, from which their eyes wandered at times; and then Marcia excused herself to Atherton, and went out, reappearing after an interval at the sliding doors, which she rolled open between the parlor and dining-room. A table set for supper stood behind her, and as she leaned a little forward with her hands each on a leaf of the door, she said, with shy pride, "Bartley, I thought the gentlemen would like to join you," and he answered, "Of course they would," and led the way out, refusing to hear any demur. His heart swelled with satisfaction in Marcia; it was something like: having fellows drop in upon you, and be asked out to supper in this easy way; it made Bartley feel good, and he would have liked to give Marcia a hug on the spot. He could not help pressing her foot, under the table, and exchanging a quiver of the eyelashes with her, as he lifted the lid of the white tureen, and looked at her across the glitter of their new crockery and cutlery. They made the jokes of the season about the oyster being promptly on hand for the first of the R months, and Bartley explained that he was sometimes kept at the Events office rather late, and that then Marcia waited supper for him, and always gave him an oyster stew, which she made herself. She could not stop him, and the guests praised the oysters, and then they praised the dining-room and the parlor; and when they rose from the table Bartley said, "Now, we must show you the house," and persisted against her deprecations in making her lead the way. She was in fact willing enough to show it; her taste had made their money go to the utmost in furnishing it; and though most people were then still in the period of green reps and tan terry, and of dull black-walnut movables, she had everywhere bestowed little touches that told. She had covered the marble parlor-mantel with cloth, and fringed it; and she had set on it two vases in the Pompeiian colors then liked; her carpet was of wood color and a moss pattern; she had done what could be done with folding carpet chairs to give the little room a specious air of luxury; the centre-table was heaped with her sewing and Bartley's newspapers.

"We've just moved in, and we haven't furnished all the rooms yet," she said of two empty ones which Bartley perversely flung open.

"And I don't know that we shall. The house is much too big for us; but we thought we'd better take it," he added, as if it were a castle for vastness.

Halleck and Atherton were silent for some moments after they came away, and then, "I don't believe he whips her," suggested the latter.

"No, I guess he's fond of her," said Halleck, gravely.

"Did you see how careful he was of her, coming up and down stairs? That was very pretty; and it was pretty to see them both so ready to show off their young housekeeping to us."

"Yes, it improves a man to get married," said Halleck, with a long, stifled sigh. "It's improved the most selfish hound I ever knew."

William Dean Howells