Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 22

XXII.

Bartley came home elate from Miss Kingsbury's entertainment. It was something like the social success which he used to picture to himself. He had been flattered by the attention specially paid him, and he did not detect the imposition. He was half starved, but he meant to have up some cold meat and bottled beer, and talk it all over with Marcia.

She did not seem inclined to talk it over on their way home, and when they entered their own door, she pushed in and ran up-stairs. "Why, where are you going, Marcia?" he called after her.

"To bed!" she replied, closing the door after her with a crash of unmistakable significance.

Bartley stood a moment in the fury that tempted him to pursue her with a taunt, and then leave her to work herself out of the transport of senseless jealousy she had wrought herself into. But he set his teeth, and, full of inward cursing, he followed her up-stairs with a slow, dogged step. He took her in his arms without a word, and held her fast, while his anger changed to pity, and then to laughing. When it came to that, she put up her arms, which she had kept rigidly at her side, and laid them round his neck, and began softly to cry on his breast.

"Oh, I'm not myself at all, any more!" she moaned penitently.

"Then this is very improper—for me," said Bartley.

The helpless laughter broke through her lamentation, but she cried a little more to keep herself in countenance.

"But I guess, from a previous acquaintance with the party's character, that it's really all you, Marcia. I don't blame you. Miss Kingsbury's hospitality has left me as hollow as if I'd had nothing to eat for a week; and I know you're perishing from inanition. Hence these tears."

It delighted her to have him make fun of Miss Kingsbury's tea, and she lifted her head to let him see that she was laughing for pleasure now, before she turned away to dry her eyes.

"Oh, poor fellow!" she cried. "I did pity you so when I saw those mean little slices of bread and butter coming round!"

"Yes," said Bartley, "I felt sorry myself. But don't speak of them any more, dearest."

"And I suppose," pursued Marcia, "that all the time she was talking to you there, you were simply ravening."

"I was casting lots in my own mind to see which of the company I should devour first."

His drollery appeared to Marcia the finest that ever was; she laughed and laughed again; when he made fun of the conjecturable toughness of the elderly aristocrat, she implored him to stop if he did not want to kill her. Marcia was not in the state in which woman best convinces her enemies of her fitness for empire, though she was charming in her silly happiness, and Bartley felt very glad that he had not yielded to his first impulse to deal savagely with her. "Come," he said, "let us go out somewhere, and get some oysters."

She began at once to take out her ear-rings and loosen her hair. "No, I'll get something here in the house; I'm not very hungry. But you go, Bartley, and have a good supper, or you'll be sick to-morrow, and not fit to work. Go," she added to his hesitating image in the glass, "I insist upon it. I won't have you stay." His reflected face approached from behind; she turned hers a little, and their mirrored lips met over her shoulder. "Oh, how sweet you are, Bartley!" she murmured.

"Yes, you will always find me obedient when commanded to go out and repair my wasted tissue."

"I don't mean that, dear," she said softly. "I mean—your not quarrelling with me when I'm unreasonable. Why can't we always do so!"

"Well, you see," said Bartley, "it throws the whole burden on the fellow in his senses. It doesn't require any great degree of self-sacrifice to fly off at a tangent, but it's rather a maddening spectacle to the party that holds on."

"Now I will show you," said Marcia, "that I can be reasonable too: I shall let you go alone to make our party call on Miss Kingsbury." She looked at him heroically.

"Marcia," said Bartley, "you're such a reasonable person when you're the most unreasonable, that I wonder I ever quarrel with you. I rather think I'll let you call on Miss Kingsbury alone. I shall suffer agonies of suspicion, but it will prove that I have perfect confidence in you." He threw her a kiss from the door, and ran down the stairs. When he returned, an hour later, he found her waiting up for him. "Why, Marcia!" he exclaimed.

"Oh! I just wanted to say that we will both go to call on her very soon. If I sent you, she might think I was mad, and I won't give her that satisfaction."

"Noble girl!" cried Bartley, with irony that pleased her better than praise. Women like to be understood, even when they try not to be understood.

When Marcia went with Bartley to call, Miss Kingsbury received her with careful, perhaps anxious politeness, but made no further effort to take her up. Some of the people whom Marcia met at Miss Kingsbury's called; and the Witherbys came, father, mother, and daughter together; but between the evident fact that the Hubbards were poor, and the other evident fact that they moved in the best society, the Witherbys did not quite know what to do about them. They asked them to dinner, and Bartley went alone; Marcia was not well enough to go.

He was very kind and tractable, now, and went whenever she bade him go without her, though tea at the Hallecks was getting to be an old story with him, and it was generally tea at the Hallecks to which she sent him. The Halleck ladies came faithfully to see her, and she got on very well with the two older sisters, who gave her all the kindness they could spare from their charities, and seemed pleased to have her so pretty and conjugal, though these things were far from them. But she was afraid of Olive at first, and disliked her as a friend of Miss Kingsbury. This rather attracted the odd girl. What she called Marcia's snubs enabled her to declare in her favor with a sense of disinterestedness, and to indulge her repugnance for Bartley with a good heart. She resented his odious good looks, and held it a shame that her mother should promote his visible tendency to stoutness by giving him such nice things for tea.

"Now, I like Mr. Hubbard," said her mother placidly. "It's very kind of him to come to such plain folks as we are, whenever we ask him; now that his wife can't come, I know he does it because he likes us."

"Oh, he comes for the eating," said Olive, scornfully. Then another phase of her mother's remark struck her: "Why, mother!" she cried, "I do believe you think Bartley Hubbard's a distinguished man somehow!"

"Your father says it's very unusual for such a young man to be in a place like his. Mr. Witherby really leaves everything to him, he says."

"Well, I think he'd better not, then! The Events has got to be perfectly horrid, of late. It's full of murders and all uncleanness."

"That seems to be the way with the papers, nowadays. Your father hears that the Events is making money."

"Why, mother! What a corrupt old thing you are! I believe you've been bought up by that disgusting interview with father. Nestor of the Leather Interest! Father ought to have turned him out of doors. Well, this family is getting a little too good, for me! And Ben's almost as bad as any of you, of late,—I haven't a bit of influence with him any more. He seems determined to be friendlier with that person than ever; he's always trying to do him good,—I can see it, and it makes me sick. One thing I know: I'm going to stop Mr. Hubbard's calling me Olive. Impudent!"

Mrs. Halleck shifted her ground with the pretence which women use, even amongst themselves, of having remained steadfast. "He is a very good husband."

"Oh, because he likes to be!" retorted her daughter. "Nothing is easier than to be a good husband."

"Ah, my dear," said Mrs. Halleck, "wait till you have tried."

This made Olive laugh; but she answered with an argument that always had weight with her mother, "Ben doesn't think he's a good husband."

"What makes you think so, Olive?" asked her mother.

"I know he dislikes him intensely."

"Why, you just said yourself, dear, that he was friendlier with him than ever."

"Oh, that's nothing. The more he disliked him the kinder he would be to him."

"That's true," sighed her mother. "Did he ever say anything to you about him?"

"No," cried Olive, shortly; "he never speaks of people he doesn't like."

The mother returned, with logical severity, "All that doesn't prove that
Ben thinks he isn't a good husband."

"He dislikes him. Do you believe a bad man can be a good husband, then?"

"No," Mrs. Halleck admitted, as if confronted with indisputable proof of
Bartley's wickedness.

In the mean time the peace between Bartley and Marcia continued unbroken, and these days of waiting, of suffering, of hoping and dreading, were the happiest of their lives. He did his best to be patient with her caprices and fretfulness, and he was at least manfully comforting and helpful, and instant in atonement for every failure. She said a thousand times that she should die without him; and when her time came, he thought that she was going to die before he could tell her of his sorrow for all that he had ever done to grieve her. He did not tell her, though she lived to give him the chance; but he took her and her baby both into his arms, with tears of as much fondness as ever a man shed. He even began his confession; but she said, "Hush! you never did a wrong thing yet that I didn't drive you to." Pale and faint, she smiled joyfully upon him, and put her hand on his head when he hid his face against hers on the pillow, and put her lips against his cheek. His heart was full; he was grateful for the mercy that had spared him; he was so strong in his silent repentance that he felt like a good man.

"Bartley," she said, "I'm going to ask a great favor of you."

"There's nothing that I can do that I shall think a favor, darling!" he cried, lifting his face to look into hers.

"Write for mother to come. I want her!"

"Why, of course." Marcia continued to look at him, and kept the quivering hold she had laid of his hand when he raised his head. "Was that all?"

She was silent, and he added, "I will ask your father to come with her."

She hid her face for the space of one sob. "I wanted you to offer."

"Why, of course! of course!" he replied.

She did not acknowledge his magnanimity directly, but she lifted the coverlet and showed him the little head on her arm, and the little creased and crumpled face.

"Pretty?" she asked. "Bring me the letter before you send it.—Yes, that is just right,—perfect!" she sighed, when he came back and read the letter to her; and she fell away to happy sleep.

Her father answered that he would come with her mother as soon as he got the better of a cold he had taken. It was now well into the winter, and the journey must have seemed more formidable in Equity than in Boston. But Bartley was not impatient of his father-in-law's delay, and he set himself cheerfully about consoling Marcia for it. She stole her white, thin hand into his, and now and then gave it a little pressure to accent the points she made in talking.

"Father was the first one I thought of—after you, Bartley. It seems to me as if baby came half to show me how unfeeling I had been to him. Of course, I'm not sorry I ran away and asked you to take me back, for I couldn't have had you if I hadn't done it; but I never realized before how cruel it was to father. He always made such a pet of me; and I know that he thought he was acting for the best."

"I knew that you were," said Bartley, fervently.

"What sweet things you always say to me!" she murmured. "But don't you see, Bartley, that I didn't think enough of him? That's what baby seems to have come to teach me." She pulled a little away on the pillow, so as to fix him more earnestly with her eyes. "If baby should behave so to you when she grew up, I should hate her!"

He laughed, and said, "Well, perhaps your mother hates you."

"No, they don't—either of them," answered Marcia, with a sigh. "And I behaved very stiffly and coldly with him when he came up to see me,—more than I had any need to. I did it for your sake; but he didn't mean any harm to you, he just wanted to make sure that I was safe and well."

"Oh, that's all right, Marsh."

"Yes, I know. But what if he had died!"

"Well, he didn't die," said Bartley, with a smile. "And you've corresponded with them regularly, ever since, and you know they've been getting along all right. And it's going to be altogether different from this out," he added, leaning back a little weary with a matter in which he could not be expected to take a very cordial interest.

"Truly?" she asked, with one of the eagerest of those hand-pressures.

"It won't be my fault if it isn't," he replied, with a yawn.

"How good you are, Bartley!" she said, with an admiring look, as if it were the goodness of God she was praising.

Bartley released himself, and went to the new crib, in which the baby lay, and with his hands in his pockets stood looking down at it with a curious smile.

"Is it pretty?" she asked, envious of his bird's-eye view of the baby.

"Not definitively so," he answered. "I dare say she will smooth out in time; but she seems to be considerably puckered yet."

"Well," returned Marcia, with forced resignation, "I shouldn't let any one else say so."

Her husband set up a soft, low, thoughtful whistle. "I'll tell you what,
Marcia," he said presently. "Suppose we name this baby after your father?"

She lifted herself on her elbow, and stared at him as if he must be making fun of her. "Why, how could we?" she demanded. Squire Gaylord's parents had called his name Flavius Josephus, in a superstition once cherished by old-fashioned people, that the Jewish historian was somehow a sacred writer.

"We can't name her Josephus, but we can call her Flavia," said Bartley.
"And if she makes up her mind to turn out a blonde, the name will just fit.
Flavia,—it's a very pretty name." He looked at his wife, who suddenly
turned her face down on the pillow.

"Bartley Hubbard," she cried, "you're the best man in the world!"

"Oh, no! Only the second-best," suggested Bartley.

In these days they took their fill of the delight of young fatherhood and motherhood. After its morning bath Bartley was called in, and allowed to revere the baby's mottled and dimpled back as it lay face downward on the nurse's lap, feebly wiggling its arms and legs, and responding with ineffectual little sighs and gurgles to her acceptable rubbings with warm flannel. When it was fully dressed, and its long clothes pulled snugly down, and its limp person stiffened into something tenable, he was suffered to take it into his arms, and to walk the room with it. After all, there is not much that a man can actually do with a small baby, either for its pleasure or his own, and Barkley's usefulness had its strict limitations. He was perhaps most beneficial when he put the child in its mother's arms, and sat down beside the bed, and quietly talked, while Marcia occasionally put up a slender hand, and smoothed its golden brown hair, bending her neck over to look at it where it lay, with the action of a mother bird. They examined with minute interest the details of the curious little creature: its tiny finger-nails, fine and sharp, and its small queer fist doubled so tight, and closing on one's finger like a canary's claw on a perch; the absurdity of its foot, the absurdity of its toes, the ridiculous inadequacy of its legs and arms to the work ordinarily expected of legs and arms, made them laugh. They could not tell yet whether its eyes would be black like Marcia's, or blue like Bartley's; those long lashes had the sweep of hers, but its mop of hair, which made it look so odd and old, was more like his in color.

"She will be a dark-eyed blonde," Bartley decided.

"Is that nice?" asked Marcia.

"With the telescope sight, they're warranted to kill at five hundred yards."

"Oh, for shame, Bartley! To talk of baby's ever killing!"

"Why, that's what they all come to. It's what you came to yourself."

"Yes, I know. But it's quite another thing with baby." She began to mumble it with her lips, and to talk baby-talk to it. In their common interest in this puppet they already called each other papa and mamma.

Squire Gaylord came alone, and when Marcia greeted him with "Why, father! Where's mother?" he asked, "Did you expect her? Well, I guess your mother's feeling rather too old for such long winter journeys. You know she don't go out a great deal I guess she expects your family down there in the summer."

The old man was considerably abashed by the baby when it was put into his arms, and being required to guess its name he naturally failed.

"Flavia!" cried Marcia, joyfully. "Bartley named it after you."

This embarrassed the Squire still more. "Is that so?" he asked, rather sheepishly. "Well, it's quite a compliment."

Marcia repeated this to her husband as evidence that her father was all right now. Bartley and the Squire were in fact very civil to each other; and Bartley paid the old man many marked attentions. He took him to the top of the State House, and walked him all about the city, to show him its points of interest, and introduced him to such of his friends as they met, though the Squire's dresscoat, whether fully revealed by the removal of his surtout, or betraying itself below the skirt of the latter, was a trial to a fellow of Bartley's style. He went with his father-in-law to see Mr. Warren in Jefferson Scattering Batkins, and the Squire grimly appreciated the burlesque of the member from Cranberry Centre; but he was otherwise not a very amusable person, and off his own ground he was not conversable, while he refused to betray his impressions of many things that Bartley expected to astonish him. The Events editorial rooms had no apparent effect upon him, though they were as different from most editorial dens as tapestry carpets, black-walnut desks, and swivel chairs could make them. Mr. Witherby covered him with urbanities and praises of Bartley that ought to have delighted him as a father-in-law; but apparently the great man of the Events was but a strange variety of the type with which he was familiar in the despised country editors. He got on better with Mr. Atherton, who was of a man's profession. The Squire wore his hat throughout their interview, and everywhere except at table and in bed; and as soon as he rose front either, he put it on.

Bartley tried to impress him with such novel traits of cosmopolitan life as a table d'hôte dinner at a French restaurant; but the Squire sat through the courses, as if his barbarous old appetite had satisfied itself in that manner all his life. After that, Bartley practically gave him up; he pleaded his newspaper work, and left the Squire to pass the time as he could in the little house on Clover Street, where he sat half a day at a stretch in the parlor, with his hat on, reading the newspapers, his legs sprawled out towards the grate. In this way he probably reconstructed for himself some image of his wonted life in his office at home, and was for the time at peace; but otherwise he was very restless, except when he was with Marcia. He was as fond of her in his way as he had ever been, and though he apparently cared nothing for the baby, he enjoyed Marcia's pride in it; and he bore to have it thrust upon him with the surly mildness of an old dog receiving children's caresses. He listened with the same patience to all her celebrations of Bartley, which were often tedious enough, for she bragged of him constantly, of his smartness and goodness, and of the great success that had crowned the merit of both in him.

Mr. Halleck had called upon the Squire the morning after his arrival, and brought Marcia a note from his wife, offering to have her father stay with them if she found herself too much crowded at this eventful time. "There! That is just the sort of people the Hallecks are!" she cried, showing the letter to her father. "And to think of our not going near them for months and mouths after we came to Boston, for fear they were stuck up! But Bartley is always just so proud. Now you must go right in, father, and not keep Mr. Halleck waiting. Give me your hat, or you'll be sure to wear it in the parlor." She made him stoop down to let her brush his coat-collar a little. "There! Now you look something like."

Squire Gaylord had never received a visit except on business in his life, and such a thing as one man calling socially upon another, as women did, was unknown to the civilization of Equity. But, as he reported to Marcia, he got along with Mr. Halleck; and he got along with the whole family when he went with Bartley to tea, upon the invitation Mr. Halleck made him that morning. Probably it appeared to him an objectless hospitality; but he spent as pleasant an evening as he could hope to spend with his hat off and in a frock-coat, which he wore as a more ceremonious garment than the dress-coat of his every-day life. He seemed to take a special liking to Olive Halleck, whose habit of speaking her mind with vigor and directness struck him as commendable. It was Olive who made the time pass for him; and as the occasion was not one for personal sarcasm or question of the Christian religion, her task in keeping the old pagan out of rather abysmal silences must have had its difficulties.

"What did you talk about?" asked Marcia, requiring an account of his enjoyment from him the next morning, after Bartley had gone down to his work.

"Mostly about you, I guess," said the Squire, with a laugh. "There was a large sandy-haired young woman there—"

"Miss Kingsbury," said Marcia, with vindictive promptness. Her eyes kindled, and she began to grow rigid under the coverlet. "Whom did she talk with?"

"Well, she talked a little with me; but she talked most of the time to the young man. She engaged to him?"

"No," said Marcia, relaxing. "She's a great friend of the whole family. I don't know what they meant by telling you it was to be just a family party, when they were going to have strangers in," she pouted.

"Perhaps they didn't count her."

"No." But Marcia's pleasure in the affair was tainted, and she began to talk of other things.

Her father stayed nearly a week, and they all found it rather a long week. After showing him her baby, and satisfying herself that he and Bartley were on good terms again, there was not much left for Marcia. Bartley had been banished to the spare room by the presence of the nurse; and he gave up his bed there to the Squire, and slept on a cot in the unfurnished attic room; the cook and a small girl got in to help, had the other. The house that had once seemed so vast was full to bursting.

"I never knew how little it was till I saw your father coming down stairs," said Bartley. "He's too tall for it. When he sits on the sofa, and stretches out his legs, his boots touch the mop-board on the other side of the room. Fact!"

"He won't stay over Sunday," began Marcia, with a rueful smile.

"Why, Marcia, you don't think I want him to go!"

"No, you're as good as can be about it. But I hope he won't stay over
Sunday."

"Haven't you enjoyed his visit?" asked Bartley.

"Oh, yes, I've enjoyed it." The tears came into her eyes. "I've made it all up with father; and he doesn't feel hard to me. But, Bartley—Sit down, dear, here on the bed!" She took his hand and gently pulled him down. "I see more and more that father and mother can never be what they used to be to me,—that you're all the world to me. Yes, my life is broken off from theirs forever. Could anything break it off from yours? You'll always be patient with me, won't you? and remember that I'd always rather be good when I'm behaving the worst?"

He rose, and went over to the crib, and kissed the head of their little girl. "Ask Flavia," he said from the door.

"Bartley!" she cried, in utter fondness, as he vanished from her happy eyes.

The next morning they heard the Squire moving about in his room, and he was late in coming down to breakfast, at which he was ordinarily so prompt. "He's packing," said Marcia, sadly. "It's dreadful to be willing to have him go!"

Bartley went out and met him at his door, bag in hand. "Hollo!" he cried, and made a decent show of surprise and regret.

"M-yes!" said the old man, as they went down stairs. "I've made out a visit. But I'm an old fellow, and I ain't easy away from home. I shall tell Mis' Gaylord how you're gettin' along, and she'll be pleased to hear it. Yes, she'll be pleased to hear it. I guess I shall get off on the ten-o'clock train."

The conversation between Bartley and his father-in-law was perfunctory. Men who have dealt so plainly with each other do not assume the conventional urbanities in their intercourse without effort. They had both been growing more impatient of the restraint; they could not have kept it up much longer.

"Well, I suppose it's natural you should want to be home again, but I can't understand how any one can want to go back to Equity when he has the privilege of staying in Boston."

"Boston will do for a young man," said the Squire, "but I'm too old for it. The city cramps me; it's too tight a fit; and yet I can't seem to find myself in it."

He suffered from the loss of identity which is a common affliction with country people coming to town. The feeling that they are of no special interest to any of the thousands they meet bewilders and harasses them; after the searching neighborhood of village life, the fact that nobody would meddle in their most intimate affairs if they could, is a vague distress. The Squire not only experienced this, but, after reigning so long as the censor of morals and religion in Equity, it was a deprivation for him to pass a whole week without saying a bitter thing to any one. He was tired of the civilities that smoothed him down on every side.

"Well, if you must go," said Bartley, "I'll order a hack."

"I guess I can walk to the depot," returned the old man.

"Oh, no, you can't." Bartley drove to the station with him, and they bade each other adieu with a hand-shake. They were no longer enemies, but they liked each other less than ever.

"See you in Equity next summer, I suppose?" suggested the Squire.

"So Marcia says," replied Bartley. "Well, take care of yourself.—You confounded, tight-fisted old woodchuck!" he added under his breath, for the Squire had allowed him to pay the hack fare.

He walked home, composing variations on his parting malison, to find that the Squire had profited by his brief absence while ordering the hack, to leave with Marcia a silver cup, knife, fork, and spoon, which Olive Halleck had helped him choose, for the baby. In the cup was a check for five hundred dollars. The Squire was embarrassed in presenting the gifts, and when Marcia turned upon him with, "Now, look here, father, what do you mean?" he was at a loss how to explain.

"Well, it's what I always meant to do for you."

"Baby's things are all right," said Marcia. "But I'm not going to let Bartley take any money from you, unless you think as well of him as I do, and say so, right out."

The Squire laughed. "You couldn't quite expect me to do that, could you?"

"No, of course not. But what I mean is, do you think now that I did right to marry him?"

"Oh, you're all right, Marcia. I'm glad you're getting along so well."

"No, no! Is Bartley all right?"

The Squire laughed again, and rubbed his chin in enjoyment of her persistence. "You can't expect me to own up to everything all at once."

"So you see, Bartley," said Marcia, in repeating these words to him, "it was quite a concession."

"Well, I don't know about the concession, but I guess there's no doubt about the check," replied Bartley.

"Oh, don't say that, dear!" protested his wife. "I think father was pleased with his visit every way. I know he's been anxious about me, all the time; and yet it was a good deal for him to do, after what he had said, to come down here and as much as take it all back. Can't you look at it from his side?"

"Oh, I dare say it was a dose," Bartley admitted. The money had set several things in a better light. "If all the people that have abused me would take it back as handsomely as your father has,"—he held the check up,—"why, I wish there were twice as many of them."

She laughed for pleasure in his joke. "I think father was impressed by everything about us,—beginning with baby," she said, proudly.

"Well, he kept his impressions to himself."

"Oh, that's nothing but his way. He never was demonstrative,—like me."

"No, he has his emotions under control,—not to say under lock and key,—not to add, in irons."

Bartley went on to give some instances of the Squire's fortitude when apparently tempted to express pleasure or interest in his Boston experiences.

They both undeniably felt freer now that he was gone. Bartley stayed longer than he ought from his work, in tacit celebration of the Squire's departure, and they were very merry together; but when he left her, Marcia called for her baby, and, gathering it close to her heart, sighed over it, "Poor father! poor father!"

William Dean Howells