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Chapter 29

XXIX.

Bartley lived well now. He felt that he could afford it, on fifty dollars a week; and yet somehow he had always a sheaf of unpaid bills on hand. Rent was so much, the butcher so much, the grocer so much; these were the great outlays, and he knew just what they were; but the sum total was always much larger than he expected. At a pinch, he borrowed; but he did not let Marcia know of this, for she would have starved herself to pay the debt; what was worse, she would have wished him to starve with her. He kept the purse, and he kept the accounts; he was master in his house, and he meant to be so.

The pinch always seemed to come in the matter of clothes, and then Marcia gave up whatever she wanted, and said she must make the old things do. Bartley hated this; in his position he must dress well, and, as there was nothing mean about him, he wished Marcia to dress well to. Just at this time he had set his heart on her having a certain sacque which they had noticed in a certain window one day when they were on Washington Street together. He surprised her a week later by bringing the sacque home to her, and he surprised himself with a seal-skin cap which he had long coveted: it was coming winter, now, and for half a dozen days of the season he would really need the cap. There would be many days when it would be comfortable, and many others when it would be tolerable, and he looked so handsome in it that Marcia herself could not quite feel that it was an extravagance. She asked him how they could afford both of the things at once, but he answered with easy mystery that he had provided the funds; and she went gayly round with him to call on the Hallecks that evening and show off her sacque. It was so stylish and pretty that it won her a compliment from Ben Halleck, which she noticed because it was the first compliment, or anything like it, that he had ever paid her. She repeated it to Bartley. "He said that I looked like a Hungarian princess that he saw in Vienna."

"Well, I suppose it has a hussar kind of look with that fur trimming and that broad braid. Did anybody say anything about my cap?" asked Bartley with burlesque eagerness.

"Oh, poor Bartley!" she cried in laughing triumph. "I don't believe any of them noticed it; and you kept twirling it round in your hands all the time to make them look."

"Yes, I did my level best," said Bartley.

They had a jolly time about that. Marcia was proud of her sacque; when she took it off and held it up by the loop in the neck, so as to realize its prettiness, she said she should make it last three winters at least; and she leaned over and gave Bartley a sweet kiss of gratitude and affection, and told him not to try to make up for it by extra work, but to help her scrimp for it.

"I'd rather do the extra work," he protested. In fact he already had the extra work done. It was something that he felt he had the right to sell outside of the Events, and he carried his manuscript to Ricker and offered it to him for his Sunday edition.

Ricker read the title and ran his eye down the first slip, and then glanced quickly at Hubbard. "You don't mean it?"

"Yes I do," said Bartley. "Why not?"

"I thought he was going to use the material himself some time."

Bartley laughed. "He use the material! Why, he can't write, any more than a hen; he can make tracks on paper, but nobody would print 'em, much less buy 'em. I know him, he's all right. It wouldn't hurt the material for his purpose, any way; and he'll be tickled to death when he sees it. If he ever does. Look here, Ricker!" added Bartley, with a touch of anger at the hesitation in his friend's face, "if you're going to spring any conscientious scruples on me, I prefer to offer my manuscript elsewhere. I give you the first chance at it; but it needn't go begging. Do you suppose I'd do this if I didn't understand the man, and know just how he'd take it?"

"Why, of course, Hubbard! I beg your pardon. If you say it's all right, I am bound to be satisfied. What do you want for it?"

"Fifty dollars."

"That's a good deal, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. But I can't afford to do a dishonorable thing for less money," said Bartley, with a wink.

The next Sunday, when Marcia came home from church, she went into the parlor a moment to speak to Bartley before she ran upstairs to the baby. He was writing, and she put her left hand on his back while with her right she held her sacque slung over her shoulder by the loop, and leaned forward with a wandering eye on the papers that strewed the table. In that attitude he felt her pause and grow absorbed, and then rigid; her light caress tightened into a grip. "Why, how base! How shameful! That man shall never enter my doors again! Why, it's stealing!"

"What's the matter? What are you talking about?" Bartley looked up with a frown of preparation.

"This!" cried Marcia, snatching up the Chronicle-Abstract, at which she had been looking. "Haven't you seen it? Here's Mr. Kinney's life all written out! And when he said that he was going to keep it and write it out himself. That thief has stolen it!"

"Look out how you talk," said Bartley. "Kinney's an old fool, and he never could have written it out in the world—"

"That makes no difference. He said that he told the things because he knew he was among gentlemen. A great gentleman Mr. Ricker is! And I thought he was so nice!" The tears sprang to her eyes, which flashed again. "I want you to break off with him. Bartley; I don't want you to have anything to do with such a thief! And I shall be proud to tell everybody that you've broken off with him because he was a thief. Oh, Bartley—"

"Hold your tongue!" shouted her husband.

"I won't hold my tongue! And if you defend—"

"Don't you say a word against Ricker. It's all right, I tell you. You don't understand such things. You don't know what you're talking about. I—I—I wrote the thing myself."

He could face her, but she could not face him. There was a subsidence in her proud attitude, as if her physical strength had snapped with her breaking spirit.

"There's no theft about it." Bartley went on. "Kinney would never write it out, and if he did, I've put the material in better shape for him here than he could ever have given it. Six weeks from now nobody will remember a word of it; and he could tell the same things right over again, and they would be just as good as new." He went on to argue the point.

She seemed not to have listened to him. When he stopped, she said, in a quiet, passionless voice, "I suppose you wrote it to get money for this sacque."

"Yes; I did," replied Bartley.

She dropped it on the floor at his feet. "I shall never wear it again," she said in the same tone, and a little sigh escaped her.

"Use your pleasure about that," said Bartley, sitting down to his writing again, as she turned and left the room.

She went upstairs and came down immediately, with the gold nugget, which she had wrenched from the baby's necklace, and laid it on the paper before him. "Perhaps you would like to spend it for tivoli beer," she suggested. "Flavia shall not wear it."

"I'll get it fitted on to my watch-chain." Bartley slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.

The sacque still lay on the floor at his feet; he pulled his chair a little forward and put his feet on it. He feigned to write awhile longer, and then he folded up his papers, and went out, leaving Marcia to make her Sunday dinner alone. When he came home late at night, he found the sacque where she had dropped it, and with a curse he picked it up and hung it on the hat-rack in the hall.

He slept in the guest-chamber, and at times during the night the child cried in Marcia's room and waked him; and then he thought he heard a sound of sobbing which was not the child's. In the morning, when he came down to breakfast, Marcia met him with swollen eyes.

"Bartley," she said tremulously, "I wish you would tell me how you felt justified in writing out Mr. Kinney's life in that way."

"My dear," said Bartley, with perfect amiability, for he had slept off his anger, and he really felt sorry to see her so unhappy, "I would tell you almost anything you want on any other subject; but I think we had better remand that one to the safety of silence, and go upon the general supposition that I know what I'm about."

"I can't, Bartley!"

"Can't you? Well, that's a pity." He pulled his chair to the breakfast-table. "It seems to me that girl's imagination always fails her on Mondays. Can she never give us anything but hash and corn-bread when she's going to wash? However, the coffee's good. I suppose you made it?"

"Bartley!" persisted Marcia, "I want to believe in everything you do,—I want to be proud of it—"

"That will be difficult," suggested Bartley, with an air of thoughtful impartiality, "for the wife of a newspaper man."

"No, no! It needn't be! It mustn't be! If you will only tell me—" She stopped, as if she feared to repeat her offence.

Bartley leaned back in his chair and looked at her intense face with a smile. "Tell you that in some way I had Kinney's authority to use his facts? Well, I should have done that yesterday if you had let me. In the first place, Kinney's the most helpless ass in the world. He could never have used his own facts. In the second place, there was hardly anything in his rigmarole the other day that he hadn't told me down there in the lumber camp, with full authority to use it in any way I liked; and I don't see how he could revoke that authority. That's the way I reasoned about it."

"I see,—I see!" said Marcia, with humble eagerness.

"Well, that's all there is about it. What I've done can't hurt Kinney. If he ever does want to write his old facts out, he'll be glad to take my report of them, and—spoil it," said Bartley, ending with a laugh.

"And if—if there had been anything wrong about it," said Marcia, anxious to justify him to herself, "Mr. Ricker would have told you so when you offered him the article."

"I don't think Mr. Ricker would have ventured on any impertinence with me," said Bartley, with grandeur. But he lapsed into his wonted, easy way of taking everything. "What are you driving at, Marsh? I don't care particularly for what happened yesterday. We've had rows enough before, and I dare say we shall have them again. You gave me a bad quarter of an hour, and you gave yourself"—he looked at her tear-stained eyes—"a bad night, apparently. That's all there is about it."

"Oh, no, that isn't all! It isn't like the other quarrels we've had. When I think how I've felt toward you ever since, it scares me. There can't be anything sacred in our marriage unless we trust each other in everything."

"Well, I haven't done any of the mistrusting," said Bartley, with humorous lightness. "But isn't sacred rather a strong word to use in regard to our marriage, anyway?"

"Why—why—what do you mean, Bartley? We were married by a minister."

"Well, yes, by what was left of one," said Bartley. "He couldn't seem to shake himself together sufficiently to ask for the proof that we had declared our intention to get married."

Marcia looked mystified. "Don't you remember his saying there was something else, and my suggesting to him that it was the fee?"

Marcia turned white. "Father said the certificate was all right—"

"Oh, he asked to see it, did he? He is a prudent old gentleman. Well, it is all right."

"And what difference did it make about our not proving that we had declared our intention?" asked Marcia, as if only partly reassured.

"No difference to us; and only a difference of sixty dollars fine to him, if it was ever found out."

"And you let the poor old man run that risk?"

"Well, you see, it couldn't be helped. We hadn't declared our intention, and the lady seemed very anxious to be married. You needn't be troubled. We are married, right and tight enough; but I don't know that there's anything sacred about it."

"No," Marcia wailed out, "its tainted with fraud from the beginning."

"If you like to say so," Bartley assented, putting his napkin into its ring.

Marcia hid her face in her arms on the table; the baby left off drumming with its spoon, and began to cry.

Witherby was reading the Sunday edition of the Chronicle-Abstract, when Bartley got down to the Events office; and he cleared his throat with a premonitory cough as his assistant swung easily into the room. "Good morning, Mr. Hubbard," he said. "There is quite an interesting article in yesterday's Chronicle-Abstract. Have you seen it?"

"Yes," said Bartley. "What article?"

"This Confessions of an Average American." Witherby held out the paper, where Bartley's article, vividly head-lined and sub-headed, filled half a page. "What is the reason we cannot have something of this kind?"

"Well, I don't know," Bartley began.

"Have you any idea who wrote this?"

"Oh, yes, I wrote it."

Witherby had the task before him of transmuting an expression of rather low cunning into one of wounded confidence, mingled with high-minded surprise. "I thought it had your ear-marks, Mr. Hubbard: but I preferred not to believe it till I heard the fact from your own lips. I supposed that our contract covered such contributions as this."

"I wrote it out of time, and on Sunday night. You pay me by the week, and all that I do throughout the week belongs to you. The next day after that Sunday I did a full day's work on the Events. I don't see what you have to complain of. You told me when I began that you would not expect more than a certain amount of work from me. Have I ever done less?"

"No, but—"

"Haven't I always done more?"

"Yes, I have never complained of the amount of work. But upon this theory of yours, what you did in your summer vacation would not belong to the Events, or what you did on legal holidays."

"I never have any summer vacation or holidays, legal or illegal. Even when I was down at Equity last summer I sent you something for the paper every day."

This was true, and Witherby could not gainsay it. "Very well, sir. If this is to be your interpretation of our understanding for the future, I shall wish to revise our contract," he said pompously.

"You can tear it up if you like," returned Bartley. "I dare say Ricker would jump at a little study of the true inwardness of counting-room journalism. Unless you insist upon having it for the Events." Bartley gave a chuckle of enjoyment as he sat down at his desk; Witherby rose and stalked away.

He returned in half an hour and said, with an air of frank concession, touched with personal grief: "Mr. Hubbard, I can see how, from your point of view, you were perfectly justifiable in selling your article to the Chronicle-Abstract. My point of view is different, but I shall not insist upon it; and I wish to withdraw—and—and apologize for—any hasty expressions I may have used."

"All right," said Bartley, with a wicked grin. He had triumphed; but his triumph was one to leave some men with an uneasy feeling, and there was not altogether a pleasant taste in Bartley's mouth. After that his position in the Events office was whatever he chose to make it, but he did not abuse his ascendency, and he even made a point of increased deference towards Witherby. Many courtesies passed between them; each took some trouble to show the other that he had no ill feeling.

Three or four weeks later Bartley received a letter with an Illinois postmark which gave him a disagreeable sensation, at first, for he knew it must be from Kinney. But the letter was so amusingly characteristic, so helplessly ill-spelled and ill-constructed, that he could not help laughing. Kinney gave an account of his travels to the mining town, and of his present situation and future prospects; he was full of affectionate messages and inquiries for Bartley's family, and he said he should never forget that Sunday he had passed with them. In a postscript he added: "They copied that String of lies into our paper, here, out of the Chron.-Ab. It was pretty well done, but if your friend Mr. Ricker done it, I'me not goen to Insult him soon again by calling him a gentleman."

This laconic reference to the matter in a postscript was delicious to Bartley; he seemed to hear Kinney saying the words, and imagined his air of ineffective sarcasm. He carried the letter about with him, and the first time he saw Ricker he showed it to him. Ricker read it without appearing greatly diverted; when he came to the postscript he flushed, and demanded, "What have you done about it?"

"Oh, I haven't done anything. It wasn't necessary. You see, now, what Kinney could have done with his facts if we had left them to him. It would have been a wicked waste of material I thought the sight of some of his literature would help you wash up your uncleanly scruples on that point."

"How long have you had this letter?" pursued Ricker.

"I don't know. A week or ten days."

Ricker folded it up and returned it to him. "Mr. Hubbard," he said, "the next time we meet, will you do me the favor to cut my acquaintance?"

Bartley stared at him; he thought he must be joking. "Why, Ricker, what's the matter? I didn't suppose you'd care anything about old Kinney. I thought it would amuse you. Why, confound it! I'd just as soon write out and tell him that I did the thing." He began to be angry. "But I can cut your acquaintance fast enough, or any man's, if you're really on your ear!"

"I'm on my ear," said Ricker. He left Bartley standing where they had met.

It was peculiarly unfortunate, for Bartley had occasion within that week to ask Ricker's advice, and he was debarred from doing so by this absurd displeasure. Since their recent perfect understanding, Witherby had slighted no opportunity to cement their friendship, and to attach Bartley more and more firmly to the Events. He now offered him some of the Events stock on extremely advantageous terms, with the avowed purpose of attaching him to the paper. There seemed nothing covert in this, and Bartley had never heard any doubts of the prosperity of the Events, but he would have especially liked to have Ricker's mind upon this offer of stock. Witherby had urged him not to pay for the whole outright, but to accept a somewhat lower salary, and trust to his dividends to make up the difference. The shares had paid fifteen per cent the year before, and Bartley could judge for himself of the present chances from that showing. Witherby advised him to borrow only fifteen hundred dollars on the three thousand of stock which he offered him, and to pay up the balance in three years by dropping five hundred a year from his salary. It was certainly a flattering proposal; and under his breath, where Bartley still did most of his blaspheming, he cursed Ricker for an old fool; and resolved to close with Witherby on his own responsibility. After he had done so he told Marcia of the step he had taken.

Since their last quarrel there had been an alienation in her behavior toward him, different from any former resentment. She was submissive and quiescent; she looked carefully after his comfort, and was perfect in her housekeeping; but she held aloof from him somehow, and left him to a solitude in her presence in which he fancied, if he did not divine, her contempt. But in this matter of common interest, something of their community of feeling revived; they met on a lower level, but they met, for the moment, and Marcia joined eagerly in the discussion of ways and means.

The notion of dropping five hundred from his salary delighted her, because they must now cut down their expenses as much; and she had long grieved over their expenses without being able to make Bartley agree to their reduction. She went upstairs at once and gave the little nurse-maid a week's warning; she told the maid of all work that she must take three dollars a week hereafter instead of four, or else find another place; she mentally forewent new spring dresses for herself and the baby, and arranged to do herself all of the wash she had been putting out; she put a note in the mouth of the can at the back door, telling the milkman to leave only two quarts in future; and she came radiantly back to tell Bartley that she had saved half of the lost five hundred a year already. But her countenance fell. "Why, where are you to get the other fifteen hundred dollars, Bartley?"

"Oh, I Ve thought of that," said Bartley, laughing at her swift alternations of triumph and despair. "You trust to me for that."

"You're not—not going to ask father for it?" she faltered.

"Not very much," said Bartley, as he took his hat to go out.

He meant to make a raise out of Ben Halleck, as he phrased it to himself. He knew that Halleck had plenty of money; he could make the stock itself over to him as security; he did not see why Halleck should hesitate. But when he entered Halleck's room, having asked Cyrus to show him directly there, Halleck gave a start which seemed ominous to Bartley. He had scarcely the heart to open his business, and Halleck listened with changing color, and something only too like the embarrassment of a man who intends a refusal. He would not look Bartley in the face, and when Bartley had made an end he sat for a time without speaking. At last he said with a quick sigh, as if at the close of an internal conflict, "I will lend you the money!"

Bartley's heart gave a bound, and he broke out into an immense laugh of relief, and clapped Halleck on the shoulder. "You looked deucedly as it' you wouldn't, old man! By George, you had on such a dismal, hang-dog expression that I didn't know but you'd come to borrow money of me, and I'd made up my mind not to let you have it! But I'm everlastingly obliged to you, Halleck, and I promise you that you won't regret it."

"I shall have to speak to my father about this," said Halleck, responding coldly to Bartley's robust pressure of his hand.

"Of course,—of course."

"How soon shall you want the money?"

"Well, the sooner the better, now. Bring the check round—can't you?—to-morrow night,—and take dinner with us, you and Olive; and we'll celebrate a little. I know it will please Marcia when she finds out who my hard-hearted creditor is!"

"Well," assented Halleck with a smile so ghastly that Bartley noticed it even in his joy.

"Curse me," he said to himself, "if ever I saw a man so ashamed of doing a good action!"

William Dean Howells