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Chapter 18

I saw Mrs. March waiting for me on the hotel verandah. She wore her bonnet, and she warned me not to approach, and then ran down to meet me.

"Well, my dear," she said, as she pushed her hand through my arm and began to propel me away from the sight and hearing of people on the piazza, "I hope you didn't make a fool of yourself with Kendricks. They're engaged!"

She apparently expected me to be prostrated by this stroke. "Yes,"
I said very coolly; "I was just coming to tell you."

"How did you know it? Who told you? Did Kendricks? I don't believe it!" she cried in an excitement not unmixed with resentment.

"No one told me," I said. "I simply divined it."

She didn't mind that for a moment. "Well, I'm glad he had the grace to do so, and I hope he did it before you asked him any leading questions." Without waiting to hear whether this was so or not, she went on, with an emphasis on the next word that almost blotted it out of the language, "SHE came back to me almost the instant you were gone, and told me everything. She said she wanted to tell me last night, but she hadn't the courage, and this morning, when she saw that I was beginning to hint up to Mr. Kendricks a little, she hadn't the courage at all. I sent her straight off to telegraph for her father. She is behaving splendidly. And now, what are we going to do?"

"What the rest of the world is—nothing. It seems to me that we are out of the story, my dear. At any rate, I shan't attempt to compete with Miss Gage in splendid behaviour, and I hope you won't. It would be so easy for us. I wonder what Papa Gage is going to be like."

I felt my thrill of apprehension impart itself to her. "Yes!" she gasped; "what if he shouldn't like it?"

"Well, then, that's his affair." But I did not feel so lightly about it as I spoke, and from time to time during the day I was overtaken with a cold dismay at the thought of the unknown quantity in the problem.

When we returned to the hotel after a tour of the block, we saw Kendricks in our corner of the verandah with Miss Gage. They were both laughing convulsively, and they ran down to meet us in yet wilder throes of merriment.

"We've just been comparing notes," he said, "and at the very moment when I was telling you, Mr. March, Julia was telling Mrs. March."

"Wonderful case of telepathy," I mocked.

"Give it to the Psychical Research."

They both seemed a little daunted, and Miss Gage said, "I know Mr.
March doesn't like the way we've done."

"Like it!" cried Mrs. March, contriving to shake me a little with the hand she still had in my arm. "Of course he likes it. He was just saying you had behaved splendidly. He said HE wouldn't attempt to compete with you. But you mustn't regard him in the least."

I admired the skill with which Isabel saved her conscience in this statement too much to dispute it; and I suppose that whatever she had said, Miss Gage would have been reassured. I cannot particularly praise the wisdom of her behaviour during that day, or, for the matter of that, the behaviour of Kendricks either. The ideal thing would have been for him to keep away now till her father came, but it seemed to me that he was about under our feet all the while, and that she, so far from making him remain at his own hotel, encouraged him to pass the time at ours. Without consulting me, Mrs. March asked him to stay to dinner after he had stayed all the forenoon, and he made this a pretext for spending the afternoon in our corner of the verandah. She made me give it up to him and Miss Gage, so that they could be alone together, though I must say they did not seem to mind us a great deal when we were present; he was always leaning on the back of her chair, or sitting next her with his hand dangling over it in a manner that made me sick. I wondered if I was ever such an ass as that, and I quite lost the respect for Kendricks's good sense and good taste which had been the ground of my liking for him.

I felt myself withdrawn from the affair farther and farther in sympathy, since it had now passed beyond my control; and I resented the strain of the responsibility which I had thrown off, I found, only for a moment, and must continue to suffer until the girl's father appeared and finally relieved me. The worst was that I had to bear it alone. It was impossible to detach Mrs. March's interest from Miss Gage, as a girl who had been made love to, long enough to enable her to realise her as a daughter with filial ties and duties. She did try in a perfunctory way to do it, but I could see that she never gave her mind to it. I could not even make her share my sense of my own culpability, a thing she was only too willing to do in most matters. She admitted that it was absurd for me to have let my fancy play about the girl when I first saw her until we felt that I must do something for her; but I could not get her to own that we had both acted preposterously in letting Mrs. Deering leave Miss Gage in our charge. In the first place, she denied that she had been left in our charge. She had simply been left in the hotel where we were staying, and we should have been perfectly free to do nothing for her. But when Kendricks turned up so unexpectedly, it was quite natural we should ask him to be polite to her. Mrs. March saw nothing strange in all that. What was I worrying about? What she had been afraid of was that he had not been in love with the girl when she was so clearly in love with him. But now!

"And suppose her father doesn't like it!"

"Not like Mr. Kendricks!" She stared at me, and I could see how infatuated she was.

I was myself always charmed with the young fellow. He was not only good and generous and handsome, and clever—I never thought him a first-class talent—but he was beautifully well bred, and he was very well born, as those things go with us. That is, he came of people who had not done much of anything for a generation, and had acquired merit with themselves for it. They were not very rich, but they had a right to think that he might have done nothing, or done something better than literature; and I wish I could set forth exactly the terms, tacit and explicit, in which his mother and sisters condoned his dereliction to me at a reception where he presented me to them. In virtue of his wish to do something, he had become a human being, and they could not quite follow him; but they were very polite in tolerating me, and trying to make me feel that I was not at all odd, though he was so queer in being proud of writing for my paper, as they called it. He was so unlike them all that I liked him more than ever after meeting them. Still, I could imagine a fond father, as I imagined Miss Gage's father to be, objecting to him, on some grounds at least, till he knew him, and Mrs. March apparently could not imagine even this.

I do not know why I should have prefigured Miss Gage's father as tall and lank. She was not herself so very tall, though she was rather tall than short, and though she was rather of the Diana or girlish type of goddess, she was by no means lank. Yet it was in this shape that I had always thought of him, perhaps through an obscure association with his fellow-villager, Deering. I had fancied him saturnine of spirit, slovenly of dress, and lounging of habit, upon no authority that I could allege, and I was wholly unprepared for the neat, small figure of a man, very precise of manner and scrupulous of aspect, who said, "How do you do, sir? I hope I see you well, sir," when his daughter presented us to each other, the morning after the eventful day described, and he shook my hand with his very small, dry hand.

I could not make out from their manner with each other whether they had been speaking of the great matter in hand or not. I am rather at a loss about people of that Philistine make as to what their procedure will be in circumstances where I know just what people of my own sort of sophistication would do. These would come straight at the trouble, but I fancy that with the other sort the convention is a preliminary reserve. I found Mr. Gage disposed to prolong, with me at least, a discussion of the weather, and the aspects of Saratoga, the events of his journey from De Witt Point, and the hardship of having to ride all the way to Mooer's Junction in a stage-coach. I felt more and more, while we bandied these futilities, as if Mr. Gage had an overdue note of mine, and was waiting for me, since I could not pay it, to make some proposition toward its renewal; and he did really tire me out at last, so that I said, "Well, Mr. Gage, I suppose Miss Gage has told you something of the tremendous situation that has developed itself here?"

I thought I had better give the affair such smiling character as a jocose treatment might impart, and the dry little man twinkled up responsively so far as manner was concerned. "Well, yes, yes. There has been some talk of it between us," and again he left the word to me.

"Mrs. March urged your daughter to send for you at once because that was the right and fit thing to do, and because we felt that the affair had now quite transcended our powers, such as they were, and nobody could really cope with it but yourself. I hope you were not unduly alarmed by the summons?"

"Not at all. She said in the despatch that she was not sick. I had been anticipating a short visit to Saratoga for some days, and my business was in a shape so that I could leave."

"Oh!" I said vaguely, "I am very glad. Mrs. March felt, as I did, that circumstances had given us a certain obligation in regard to Miss Gage, and we were anxious to discharge it faithfully and to the utmost. We should have written to you, summoned you, before, if we could have supposed—or been sure; but you know these things go on so obscurely, and we acted at the very first possible moment. I wish you to understand that. We talked it over a great deal, and I hope you will believe that we studied throughout—that we were most solicitous from beginning to end for Miss Gage's happiness, and that if we could have foreseen or imagined—if we could have taken any steps—I trust you will believe—" I was furious at myself for being so confoundedly apologetic, for I was thinking all the time of the bother and affliction we had had with the girl; and there sat that little wooden image accepting my self-inculpations, and apparently demanding more of me; but I could not help going on in the same strain: "We felt especially bound in the matter, from the fact that Mr. Kendricks was a personal friend of ours, whom we are very fond of, and we both are very anxious that you should not suppose that we promoted, or that we were not most vigilant—that we were for a moment forgetful of your rights in such an affair—"

I stopped, and Mr. Gage passed his hand across his little meagre, smiling mouth.

"Then he is not a connection of yours, Mr. March?"

"Bless me, no!" I said in great relief; "we are not so swell as that." And I tried to give him some notion of Kendricks's local quality, repeating a list of agglutinated New York surnames to which his was more or less affiliated. They always amuse me, those names, which more than any in the world give the notion of social straining; but I doubt if they affected the imagination of Mr. Gage, either in this way or in the way I meanly meant them to affect him.

"And what did you say his business was?" he asked, with that implication of a previous statement on your part which some people think it so clever to make when they question you.

I always hate it, and I avenged myself by answering simply, "Bless my soul, he has no business!" and letting him take up the word now or not, as he liked.

"Then he is a man of independent means?"

I could not resist answering, "Independent means? Kendricks has no means whatever." But having dealt this blow, I could add, "I believe his mother has some money. They are people who live comfortably"

"Then he has no profession?" asked Mr. Gage, with a little more stringency in his smile.

"I don't know whether you will call it a profession. He is a writer."

"Ah!" Mr. Gage softly breathed. "Does he write for your—paper?"

I noted that as to the literary technicalities he seemed not to be much more ignorant than Kendricks's own family, and I said, tolerantly, "Yes; he writes for our magazine."

"Magazine—yes; I beg your pardon," he interrupted.

"And for any others where he can place his material."

This apparently did not convey any very luminous idea to Mr. Gage's mind, and he asked after a moment, "What kind of things does he write?"

"Oh, stories, sketches, poems, reviews, essays—almost anything, in fact."

The light left his face, and I perceived that I had carried my revenge too far, at least for Kendricks's advantage, and I determined to take a new departure at the first chance. The chance did not come immediately.

"And can a man support a wife by that kind of writing?" asked Mr.
Gage.

I laughed uneasily. "Some people do. It depends upon how much of it he can sell. It depends upon how handsomely a wife wishes to be supported. The result isn't usually beyond the dreams of avarice," I said, with a desperate levity.

"Excuse me," returned the little man. "Do you live in that way? By your writings?"

"No," I said with some state, which I tried to subdue; "I am the editor of Every Other Week, and part owner. Mr. Kendricks is merely a contributor."

"Ah," he breathed again. "And if he were successful in selling his writings, how much would he probably make in a year?"

"In a year?" I repeated, to gain time. "Mr. Kendricks is comparatively a beginner. Say fifteen hundred—two thousand— twenty-five hundred."

"And that would not go very far in New York."

"No; that would not go far in New York." I was beginning to find a certain pleasure in dealing so frankly with this hard little man. I liked to see him suffer, and I could see that he did suffer; he suffered as a father must who learns that from a pecuniary point of view his daughter is imprudently in love. Why should we always regard such a sufferer as a comic figure? He is, if we think of it rightly, a most serious, even tragical figure, and at all events a most respectable figure. He loves her, and his heart is torn between the wish to indulge her and the wish to do what will be finally best for her. Why should our sympathies, in such a case, be all for the foolish young lovers? They ought in great measure to be for the father, too. Something like a sense of this smote me, and I was ashamed in my pleasure.

"Then I should say, Mr. March, that this seems a most undesirable engagement for my daughter. What should you say? I ask you to make the case your own."

"Excuse me," I answered; "I would much rather not make the case my own, Mr. Gage, and I must decline to have you consult me. I think that in this matter I have done all that I was called upon to do. I have told you what I know of Mr. Kendricks's circumstances and connections. As to his character, I can truly say that he is one of the best men I ever knew. I believe in his absolute purity of heart, and he is the most unselfish, the most generous—"

Mr. Gage waved the facts aside with his hand. "I don't undervalue those things. If I could be master, no one should have my girl without them. But they do not constitute a livelihood. From what you tell me of Mr. Kendricks's prospects, I am not prepared to say that I think the outlook is brilliant. If he has counted upon my supplying a deficiency—"

"Oh, excuse me, Mr. Gage! Your insinuation—"

"Excuse ME!" he retorted. "I am making no insinuation. I merely wish to say that, while my means are such as to enable me to live in comfort at De Witt Point, I am well aware that much more would be needed in New York to enable my daughter to live in the same comfort. I'm not willing she should live in less. I think it is my duty to say that I am not at all a rich man, and if there has been any supposition that I am so, it is a mistake that cannot be corrected too soon."

This time I could not resent his insinuation, for since he had begun to speak I had become guiltily aware of having felt a sort of ease in regard to Kendricks's modesty of competence from a belief, given me, I suspect, by the talk of Deering, that Mr. Gage had plenty of money, and could come to the rescue in any amount needed. I could only say, "Mr. Gage, all this is so far beyond my control that I ought not to allow you to say it to me. It is something that you must say to Mr. Kendricks."

As I spoke I saw the young fellow come round the corner of the street, and mount the hotel steps. He did not see me, for he did not look toward the little corner of lawn where Mr. Gage and I had put our chairs for the sake of the morning shade, and for the seclusion that the spot afforded us. It was at the angle of the house farthest from our peculiar corner of the piazza, whither I had the belief that the girl had withdrawn when she left me to her father. I was sure that Kendricks would seek her there, far enough beyond eyeshot or earshot of us, and I had no doubt that she was expecting him.

"You are Mr. Kendricks's friend—"

"I have tried much more to be Miss Gage's friend; and Mrs. March—" It came into my mind that she was most selfishly and shamelessly keeping out of the way, and I could not go on and celebrate her magnanimous impartiality, her eager and sleepless vigilance.

"I have no doubt of that," said the little man, "and I am very much obliged to you for all the trouble you have taken on my daughter's account. But you are his friend, and I can speak to you much more fully and frankly than I could to him."

I did not know just what to say to this, and he went on: "In point of fact, I don't think that I shall speak to him at all."

"That is quite your affair, my dear sir," I said dryly. "It isn't to be supposed that you would seek an interview with him."

"And if he seeks an interview with me, I shall decline it." He looked at me defiantly and yet interrogatively. I could see that he was very angry, and yet uncertain.

"I must say, then, Mr. Gage, that I don't think you would be right."

"How, not right?"

"I should say that in equity he had a full and perfect right to meet you, and to talk this matter over with you. He has done you no wrong whatever in admiring your daughter, and wishing to marry her. It's for you and her to decide whether you will let him. But as far as his wish goes, and his expression of it to her, he is quite within his rights. You must see that yourself."

"I consider," he answered, "that he has done me a wrong in that very thing. A man without means, or any stated occupation, he had no business to speak to my daughter without speaking to me. He took advantage of the circumstances. What does he think? Does he suppose I am MADE of money? Does he suppose I want to support a son-in-law? I can tell you that if I were possessed of unlimited means, I should not do it." I began to suspect that Deering was nearer right, after all, in his representations of the man's financial ability; I fancied something of the anxiety, the tremor of avarice, in his resentment of poor Kendricks's possible, or rather impossible, designs upon his pocket. "If he had any profession, or any kind of business, I should feel differently, and I should be willing to assist him to a reasonable degree; or if he had a business training, I might take him in with me; but as it is, I should have a helpless burden on my hands, and I can tell you I am not going in for that sort of thing. I shall make short work of it. I shall decline to meet Mr. Hendricks, or Kendricks, and I shall ask you to say as much to him from me."

"And I shall decline to be the bearer of any such message from you, Mr. Gage," I answered, and I saw, not without pleasure, the bewilderment that began to mix with his arrogance.

"Very well, then, sir," he answered, after a moment; "I shall simply take my daughter away with me, and that will end it."

The prim little, grim little man looked at me with his hard eyes, and set his lips so close that the beard on the lower one stuck out at me with a sort of additional menace I felt that he was too capable of doing what he said, and I lost myself in a sense of his sordidness, a sense which was almost without a trace of compassion.

It seemed as if I were a long time under the spell of this, and the sight of his repugnant face; but it could really have been merely a moment, when I heard a stir of drapery on the grass near us, and the soft, rich voice of Miss Gage saying, "Papa!"

We both started to our feet. I do not know whether she had heard what he said or not. We had spoken low, and in the utmost vehemence of his speech he did not lift his voice. In any case, she did not heed what he said.

"Papa," she repeated, "I want you to come up and see Mrs. March on the piazza. And—Mr. Kendricks is there."

I had a wild desire to laugh at what followed, and yet it was not without its pathos. "I—I—hm! hm! I—cannot see Mr. Kendricks just at present. I—the fact is, I do not want to see him. It is better—not. I think you had better get ready to go home with me at once, daughter. I—hm!—cannot approve of any engagement to Mr. Kendricks, and I—prefer not to meet him." He stopped.

Miss Gage said nothing, and I cannot say that she looked anything. She simply CLOUDED UP, if I may so express the effect that came and remained upon her countenance, which was now the countenance she had shown me the first evening I saw her, when I saw the Deerings cowering in its shadow. I had no need to look at the adamantine little man before her to know that he was softening into wax, and, in fact, I felt a sort of indecency in beholding his inteneration, for I knew that it came from his heart, and had its consecration through his love for her.

That is why I turned away, and do not know to this moment just how the change she desired in him was brought about. I will not say that I did not look back from a discreet distance, and continue looking until I saw them start away together and move in the direction of that corner of the piazza where Kendricks was waiting with Mrs. March.

It appeared, from her account, that Mr. Gage, with no uncommon show of ill-will, but with merely a natural dryness, suffered Kendricks to be presented to him, and entered upon some preliminary banalities with him, such as he had used in opening a conversation with me. Before these came to a close Mrs. March had thought it well to leave the three together.

Afterward, when we knew the only result that the affair could have, she said, "The girl has a powerful will. I wonder what the mother was like."

"Yes; evidently she didn't get that will from her father. I have still a sense of exhaustion from it in our own case. What do you think it portends for poor Kendricks!"

"Poor Kendricks!" she repeated thoughtfully. "Yes; in that sense I suppose you might call him poor. It isn't an equal thing as far as nature, as character, goes. But isn't it always dreadful to see two people who have made up their minds to get married?"

"It's very common," I suggested.

"That doesn't change the fact, or lessen the risk. She is very beautiful, and now he is in love with her beautiful girlhood. But after a while the girlhood will go."

"And the girl will remain," I said.

William Dean Howells

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