The next day, after another forenoon's shopping with her friends,
Mrs. March announced: "Well, now, it has all come out, Basil, and I
wonder you didn't get the secret at once from your Mr. Deering.
Have you been supposing that Miss Gage was a poor girl whom the
Deerings had done the favour of bringing with them?"
"Why, what of it?" I asked provisionally.
"She is very well off. Her father is not only the president, as they call it, of the village, but he's the president of the bank."
"Yes; I told you that Deering told me so—"
"But he is very queer. He has kept her very close from the other young people, and Mrs. Deering is the only girl friend she's ever had, and she's grown up without having been anywhere without him. They had to plead with him to let her come with them—or Mrs. Deering had,—but when he once consented, he consented handsomely. He gave her a lot of money, and told them he wanted her to have the best time that money could buy; and of course you can understand how such a man would think that money would buy a good time anywhere. But the Deerings didn't know how to go about it. She confessed as much when we were talking the girl over. I could see that she stood in awe of her somehow from the beginning, and that she felt more than the usual responsibility for her. That was the reason she was so eager to get her husband off home; as long as he was with them she would have to work everything through him, and that would be double labour, because he is so hopelessly villaginous, don't you know, that he never could rise to the conception of anything else. He took them to a cheap, second-class hotel, and he was afraid to go with them anywhere because he never was sure that it was the right thing to do; and he was too proud to ask, and they had to keep prodding him all the time."
"Oh, I dare say you think so; but if you knew how it wounded a woman's self-respect you would feel differently; or you wouldn't, rather. But now, thank goodness; they've got him off their hands, and they can begin to breathe freely. That is, Mrs. Deering could, if she hadn't her heart in her mouth all the time, wondering what she can do for the girl, and bullying herself with the notion that she is to blame if she doesn't have a good time. You can understand just how it was with them always. Mrs. Deering is one of those meek little things that a great, splendid, lonely creature like Miss Gage would take to in a small place, and perfectly crush under the weight of her confidence; and she would want to make her husband live up to her ideal of the girl, and would be miserable because he wouldn't or couldn't."
"I believe the good Deering didn't even think her handsome."
"That's it. And he thought anything that was good enough for his wife was good enough for Miss Gage, and he'd be stubborn about doing things on her account, even to please his wife."
"Such conduct is imaginable of the good Deering. I don't think he liked her."
"Nor she him. Mrs. Deering helplessly hinted as much. She said he didn't like to have her worrying so much about Miss Gage's not having a good time, and she couldn't make him feel as she did about it, and she was half glad for his own sake that he had to go home."
"Did she say that?"
"Not exactly; but you could see that she meant it. Do you think it would do for them to change from their hotel, and go to the Grand Union or the States or Congress Hall?"
"Have you been putting them up to that, Isabel?"
"I knew you would suspect me, and I wouldn't have asked for your opinion if I had cared anything for it, really. What would be the harm of their doing it?"
"None whatever, if you really want my worthless opinion. But what could they do there?"
"They could see something if they couldn't do anything, and as soon as Miss Gage has got her new gowns I'm going to tell them you thought they could do it. It was their own idea, at any rate."
"Mrs. Deering's. She has the courage of a—I don't know what. She sees that it's a desperate case, and she wouldn't stop at anything."
"Now that her husband has gone home."
"Well, which hotel shall they go to?"
"Oh, that requires reflection."
"Very well, then, when you've reflected I want you to go to the hotel you've chosen, and introduce yourself to the clerk, and tell him your wife has two friends coming, and you want something very pleasant for them. Tell him all about yourself and Every Other Week."
"He'll think I want them deadheaded."
"No matter, if your conscience is clear; and don't be so shamefully modest as you always are, but speak up boldly. Now, will you? Promise me you will!"
"I will try, as the good little boy says. But, Isabel, we don't know these people except from their own account."
"And that is quite enough."
"It will be quite enough for the hotel-keeper if they run their board. I shall have to pay it."
"Now, Basil dear, don't be disgusting, and go and do as you're bid."
It was amusing, but it was perfectly safe, and there was no reason why I should not engage rooms for the ladies at another hotel. I had not the least question of them, and I had failed to worry my wife with a pretended doubt. So I decided that I would go up at once and inquire at the Grand Union. I chose this hotel because, though it lacked the fine flower of the more ancient respectability and the legendary charm of the States, it was so spectacular that it would be in itself a perpetual excitement for those ladies, and would form an effect of society which, with some help from us, might very well deceive them. This was what I said to myself, though in my heart I knew better. Whatever Mrs. Deering might think, that girl was not going to be taken in with any such simple device, and I must count upon the daily chances in the place to afford her the good time she had come for.
As I mounted the steps to the portico of the Grand Union with my head down, and lost in a calculation of these chances, I heard my name gaily called, and I looked up to see young Kendricks, formerly of our staff on Every Other Week, and still a frequent contributor, and a great favourite of my wife's and my own. My heart gave a great joyful bound at sight of him.
"My dear boy, when in the world did you come?"
"This morning by the steamboat train, and I am never, never going away!"
"You like it, then?"
"Like it! It's the most delightful thing in the universe. Why, I'm simply wild about it, Mr. March. I go round saying to myself, Why have I thrown away my life? Why have I never come to Saratoga before? It's simply supreme, and it's American down to the ground. Yes; that's what makes it so delightful. No other people could have invented it, and it doesn't try to be anything but what we made it."
"I'm so glad you look at it in that way. WE like it. We discovered it three or four years ago, and we never let a summer slip, if we can help it, without coming here for a week or a month. The place," I enlarged, "has the charm of ruin, though it's in such obvious repair; it has a past; it's so completely gone by in a society sense. The cottage life here hasn't killed the hotel life, as it has at Newport and Bar Harbour; but the ideal of cottage life everywhere else has made hotel life at Saratoga ungenteel. The hotels are full, but at the same time they are society solitudes."
"How gay it is!" said the young fellow, as he gazed with a pensive smile into the street, where all those festive vehicles were coming and going, dappled by the leaf-shadows from the tall trees overhead. "What air! what a sky!" The one was indeed sparkling, and the other without a cloud, for it had rained in the night, and it seemed as if the weather could never be hot and close again.
I forgot how I had been sweltering about, and said: "Yes; it is a Saratoga day. It's supposed that the sparkle of the air comes from the healthful gases thrown off by the springs. Some people say the springs are doctored; that's what makes their gases so healthful."
"Why, anything might happen here," Kendricks mused, unheedful of me. "What a scene! what a stage! Why has nobody done a story about Saratoga?" he asked, with a literary turn I knew his thoughts would be taking. All Gerald Kendricks's thoughts were of literature, but sometimes they were not of immediate literary effect, though that was never for long.
"Because," I suggested, "one probably couldn't get his young lady characters to come here if they were at all in society. But of course there must be charming presences here accidentally. Some young girl, say, might come here from a country place, expecting to see social gaiety—"
"Ah, but that would be too heart-breaking!"
"Not at all. Not if she met some young fellow accidentally—don't you see?"
"It would be difficult to manage; and hasn't it been done?"
"Everything has been done, my dear fellow. Or, you might suppose a young lady who comes on here with her father, a veteran politician, delegate to the Republican or Democratic convention—all the conventions meet in Saratoga,—and some ardent young delegate falls in love with her. That would be new ground. There you would have the political novel, which they wonder every now and then some of us don't write." The smile faded from Kendricks's lips, and I laughed. "Well, then, there's nothing for it but the Social Science Congress. Have a brilliant professor win the heart of a lovely sister-in-law of another member by a paper he reads before the Congress. No? You're difficult. Are you stopping here?"
"Yes; are you?"
"I try to give myself the air of it when I am feeling very proud. But really, we live at a most charming little hotel on a back street, out of the whirl and rush that we should prefer to be in if we could afford it." He said it must be delightful, and he made the proper inquiries about Mrs. March. Kendricks never forgot the gentleman in the artist, and he was as true to the convenances as if they had been principles. That was what made Mrs. March like his stories so much more than the stories of some people who wrote better. He said he would drop in during the afternoon, and I went indoors on the pretext of buying a newspaper. Then, without engaging rooms for Mrs. Deering and Miss Gage, I hurried home.