Infomotions, Inc.One Woman's Life / Herrick, Robert, 1868-1938



Author: Herrick, Robert, 1868-1938
Title: One Woman's Life
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): milly; eleanor kemp; milly thought; milly ridge; grandma ridge; hazel fredericks; milly knew
Contributor(s): Adams, John Wolcott, 1874-1925 [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 102,877 words (short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 62 (easy)
Identifier: etext19656
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Title: One Woman's Life

Author: Robert Herrick

Release Date: October 29, 2006 [EBook #19656]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ONE WOMAN'S LIFE ***




Produced by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Mary Meehan and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
http://www.pgdp.net









                            ONE WOMAN'S LIFE

                            BY ROBERT HERRICK

                 AUTHOR OF "TOGETHER," "THE HEALER," ETC.




New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1913

Set up and electrotyped.  Published February, 1913.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.




CONTENTS


PART I

THE WEST SIDE

        I. The New Home

       II. A Victory for Milly

      III. Milly goes to Church

       IV. Milly completes her Education

        V. Milly Experiments

       VI. Milly Learns

      VII. Milly sees More of the World

     VIII. Milly's Campaign

       IX. Achievements


PART II

GETTING MARRIED

        I. The Great Outside

       II. Milly Entertains

      III. Milly becomes Engaged

       IV. Congratulations

        V. The Crash

       VI. The Depths

      VII. Milly tries to Pay

     VIII. Milly renews her Prospects

       IX. Milly in Love

        X. Milly Marries


PART III

ASPIRATIONS

        I. The New Home

       II. A Funeral and a Surprise

      III. On Board Ship

      IV. Being an Artist's Wife

       V. Women's Talk

      VI. The Child

     VII. Beside the Resounding Sea

    VIII. The Picture

      IX. The Pardon

       X. The Painted Face

      XI. Crisis

     XII. "Come Home"


PART IV

REALITIES

        I. Home once More

       II. "Bunker's"

      III. More of "Bunker's"

       IV. The Head of the House

        V. A Shock

       VI. The Secret

      VII. Being a Widow

     VIII. The Woman's World

       IX. The New Woman

        X. Milly's New Marriage


PART V

THE CAKE SHOP

        I. "Number 236"

       II. At Last, the Real Right Scheme

      III. Chicago Again

       IV. Going into Business

        V. Milly's Second Triumph

       VI. Coming Down

      VII. Capitulations

     VIII. The Sunshine Special




PART ONE

THE WEST SIDE




I

THE NEW HOME


"Is _that_ the house!" Milly Ridge exclaimed disapprovingly.

Her father, a little man, with one knee bent against the unyielding,
newly varnished front door, glanced up apprehensively at the figures
painted on the glass transom above. In that block of little houses, all
exactly alike, he might easily have made a mistake. Reassured he
murmured over his shoulder,--"Yes--212--that's right!" and he turned the
key again.

Milly frowning petulantly continued her examination of the dirty yellow
brick face of her new home. She could not yet acquiesce sufficiently in
the fact to mount the long flight of steps that led from the walk to the
front door. She looked on up the street, which ran straight as a
bowling-alley between two rows of shabby brick houses,--all low, small,
mean, unmistakably cheap,--thrown together for little people to live in.
West Laurence Avenue was drab and commonplace,--the heart, the crown,
the apex of the commonplace. And the girl knew it.... The April breeze,
fluttering carelessly through the tubelike street, caught her large hat
and tipped it awry. Milly clutched her hat savagely, and something like
tears started to her eyes.

"What did you expect, my dear?" Grandmother Ridge demanded with a subtle
undercut of reproof. The little old lady, all in black, with a neat
bonnet edged with white, stood on the steps midway between her son and
her granddaughter, and smiled icily at the girl. Milly recognized that
smile. It was more deadly to her than a curse--symbol of mocking age.
She tossed her head, the sole retort that youth was permitted to give
age.

Indeed, she could not have described her disappointment intelligibly.
All she knew was that ever since their hasty breakfast in the dirty
railroad station beside the great lake her spirits had begun to go down,
and had kept on dropping as the family progressed slowly in the stuffy
street-car, mile after mile, through this vast prairie wilderness of
brick buildings. She knew instinctively that they were getting farther
and farther from the region where "nice people" lived. She had never
before been in this great city, yet something told her that they were
journeying block by block towards the outskirts,--the _hinterland_ of
the sprawling city. (Only Milly didn't know the word _hinterland_.) She
had gradually ceased to reply to her father's cheerful comments on the
features of the West Side landscape. And now she was very near tears.

She was sixteen--it was the spring of '86. Ever since her mother's
death, two years before, the family had done "light housekeeping" in
three rooms in St. Louis. This 212 West Laurence Avenue, Chicago, was to
be her first home--this slab of a dirty yellow wall!

"There!" her father muttered with satisfaction, as, after a last twist
of key and thump of knee, he effected an entrance. Grandma Ridge moved
up the flight of steps, the girl following reluctantly.

"See, mother," little Horatio Ridge said, jingling his keys, "it's fresh
and clean!"

The new varnish smelt poignantly. The fresh paint clung insidiously to
the feet.

"And it's light too, mother, isn't it?" He turned quickly from the
cavernous gloom of the rear rooms and pointed to a side window in the
hall where one-sixteenth of the arc of the firmament was visible between
the brick walls of the adjoining houses.

"The dining-room's downstairs--that makes it roomier," he continued,
throwing open at random a door. "There's more room than you'd think from
the outside."

Milly and her grandmother peered downwards into the black hole from
which came a mouldy odor.

"Oh, father, why did you come 'way out here!" Milly wailed.

"Why not?" Horatio retorted defensively. "You didn't expect a house on
the lake front, did you?"

Just what she had expected from this new turn in the family destiny was
not clear to herself. But ever since it had been decided that they were
to have a house of their own in Chicago--her father having at last
secured a position that promised some permanence--the girl's buoyant
imagination had begun to soar, and out of all the fragments of her
experience derived by her transient residence in Indianapolis, Kansas
City, and Omaha--not to mention St. Louis--she had created a wonderful
composite--the ideal American home, architecturally ambitious, suburban
in tone. In some of the cities where she had lived the Ridges had
tarried as long as three years, and each time, since she was a very
little girl in short dresses and had left Indianapolis crying over the
doll in her arms, she had believed they were permanently settled: this
was to be their home for always.

Her mother had had the same forlorn, homesick hope, but each time it was
doomed to disappointment. Always they had had to move on,--to make a new
circle of temporary acquaintances, to learn the ropes of new streets and
shops and schools all over again. Always it was "business" that did the
mischief,--the failure of "business" here or the hope of better
"business" somewhere else that had routed them out of their temporary
shelter. Horatio Ridge was "travelling" for one firm or another in drugs
and chemicals: he was of an optimistic and sanguine temperament. Milly's
mother, less hopeful by nature, had gradually succumbed under the
perpetual tearing up of her thin roots, and finally faded away
altogether in the light housekeeping phase of their existence in St.
Louis.

Milly was sanguine like her father, and she had the other advantage of
youth over her mother. So she had hoped again--overwhelmingly--of
Chicago. But as she gazed at the row of pallid houses and counted three
"To rent" signs in the cobwebby front windows opposite, she knew in her
heart that this was not the end--not this, for her! It was another
shift, another compromise to be endured, another disappointment to be
overcome.

"Well, daughter, what d'ye think of your new home?" Little Horatio's
blustering tone betrayed his timidity before the passionate criticism of
youth. Milly turned on him with flashing blue eyes.

"I think, my dear," her grandmother announced primly, "that instead of
finding fault with your father's selection of a home, you had better
look at it first."

Grandma Ridge was a tiny lady, quite frail, with neat bands of iron-gray
hair curling over well-shaped ears. Her voice was soft and low,--the
kind of voice which her generation described as "ladylike." But Milly
knew what lay beneath its gentle surface. Milly did not love her
grandmother. Milly's mother had not loved the little old lady. It was
extremely doubtful if any one had ever loved her. Mrs. Ridge embodied
unpleasant duties; she was a vessel of unwelcome reproof that could be
counted upon to spill over at raw moments, like this one.

"You'll like it first rate, Milly," her father continued robustly, "once
you get settled in it. It's a great bargain, the real estate man said
so, almost new and freshly painted and papered. It's close to the cars
and Hoppers'"--Hoppers' was the Chicago firm that had offered Horatio
his latest opportunity. "And I don't care about travelling all over
Illinois to get to my work...."

Curiosity compelled Milly to follow the others up the narrow stairs that
reached from the hall to the floor above. Milly was a tall,
well-developed girl for sixteen, already quite as large as her father
and enough of a woman physically to bully the tiny grandmother when she
wished to. Her face was now prettily suffused with color due to her
resentment, and her blue eyes moist with unshed tears. She glanced into
the small front chamber which had been decorated with a pink paper and
robin's-egg blue paint.

"Pretty, ain't it?" Horatio observed, seeking his crumb of appreciation.

"It's a very nice home, Horatio--I'm sure you displayed excellent taste
in your choice," his mother replied.

"Pretty? ... It's just awful!" Milly burst forth, unable to control
herself longer. She felt that she should surely die if she were
condemned to sleep in that ugly chamber even for a few months. Yet the
house was on the whole a better one than any that the peripatetic Ridges
had thus far achieved. It was fully as good as most of those that her
acquaintances lived in. But it cruelly shamed Milly's expectations.

"It's perfectly horrid,--a nasty, cheap, ugly little box, and 'way out
here on the West Side." Somehow Milly had already divined the coming
degradation of the West Side. "I don't see how you can tell father such
stories, grandma.... He ought to have waited for us before he took a
house."

With that she turned her back on the whole affair and whisked down the
narrow stairs, leaving her elders to swallow their emotions while
inspecting the tin bath-tub in the closet bath-room.

"Milly has her mother's temper," Mrs. Ridge observed sourly.

"She'll come 'round all right," Horatio replied hopefully.

Milly squirmed, but on the whole she "took her medicine" as well as most
human beings....

Meantime she stood before the dusty window in the front room eyeing the
dirty street, dabbing the tears from her eyes with her handkerchief,
welling with resentment at her fate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Years later she remembered the fierce emotions of that dreary April day
when she had first beheld the little block house on West Laurence
Avenue, recalling vividly her rage of rebellion at her father and her
fate, the hot disgust in her soul that she should be forced to endure
such mean surroundings. "And," she would say then to the friend to whom
she happened to be giving a vivacious account of the incident, "it was
just as mean and ugly and depressing as I thought it.... I can see the
place now--the horror of that basement dining-room and the smells! My
dear, it was just common West Side, you know."

But how did Milly Ridge at sixteen perceive all this? What gave her the
sense of social distinctions,--of place and condition,--at her age, with
her limited, even if much-travelled experience of American cities? To
read this mystery will be to understand Milly Ridge--and something of
America as well.




II

A VICTORY FOR MILLY


The lease for the house had been signed, however, and for a five years'
term. The glib agent had taken advantage of Horatio's new fervor for
being settled, as well as his ignorance of the city. The lease was a
fact that even Milly's impetuous will could not surmount--for the
present.

Somehow during the next weeks the Ridge furniture was assembled from the
various places where it had been cached since the last impermanent
experiment in housekeeping. It was a fantastic assortment, as Milly
realized afresh when it was unpacked. As a basis there were a few pieces
of old southern mahogany, much battered, but with a fine air about them
still. These were the contributions of Milly's mother, who had been of a
Kentucky family. To these had been added here and there pieces of many
different styles and shades of modern inelegance. One layer of the
conglomerate was specially distasteful to Milly. That was the
black-walnut "parlor set," covered with a faded green velvet, the
contribution of Grandma Ridge from her Pennsylvania home. It still
seemed to the little old lady of the first water as it had been when it
adorned Judge Ridge's brick house in Euston, Pa. Milly naturally had
other views of this treasure. Somewhere she had learned that the living
room of a modern household was no longer called the "parlor," by those
who knew, but the "drawing-room," and with the same unerring instinct
she had discovered the ignominy of this early Victorian heritage. She
did not loathe the shiny "quartered oak" dining-room pieces--her
father's venture in an opulent moment--nor the dingy pine bedroom sets,
nor even the worn "ingrain" carpets, as she did these precious relics of
her grandmother's home.

Over them she fought her first successful battle with the older
generation for her woman's rights--and won. She directed the colored men
who were hired to unpack the household goods to put the green velvet
horrors in the obscure rear parlor. In the front room she had placed the
battered mahogany, and had just rejected the figured parlor carpet when
her grandmother came upon her unawares. The old lady had slipped in
noiselessly through the area door.

"My dear!" she remarked softly, a deceitful smile on her thin lips.
"Why, my dear!" Milly hated this tender appellation, scenting the
hypocrisy in it. "Haven't you made a mistake? I _think_ this is the
parlor."

"Of course it is the parlor," Milly admitted briskly, wheeling to meet
the cold gray eyes that were fixed on her.

"Then why, may I ask, is the parlor furni--"

"Because I am doing this to suit myself," the girl promptly explained.
"In _this_ house, I mean to have things suit _me_, grandma," she added
firmly. It was just as well to settle the matter at once.

"But, my dear," the old lady stammered, helpless before the audacity of
the revolt. "I'm sure nobody wants to cross you--but--but--where's the
carpet?"

"I'm not going to have that ugly green rag staring at me any longer!"

"My dear--"

"Don't 'my dear' me any more, grandma, please!"

Mrs. Ridge gasped, closed her thin lips tightly, then emitted,--

"Mildred, I'm afraid you are not quite yourself to-day," and she
retreated to the rear room, where in the gloom were piled her rejected
idols.

After an interval she returned to the fight, gliding noiselessly forth
from the gloom. She was a very small and a very frail little body, and
as Milly put it she was "always sneaking about the house like a ghost."

"I see that the kitchen things have not been touched, and the
dining-room furniture--"

"And they won't be--until I have this room to suit me.... Sam, please
move that desk a little nearer the window.... There!"

It was characteristic of Milly to begin with the show part of the
premises first and then work backwards to the fundamentals, pushing
confusion slowly before her. The old lady watched the colored man move
the rickety mahogany back and forth under Milly's orders for a few more
minutes, then her thin lips tightened ominously.

"I think your father may have something to say about this, Mildred!"

"He'll be all right if you don't stir him up," the girl replied with
assurance. She walked across the room to her grandmother. "See here,
grandma, I'm 'most seventeen now and big for my age--"

"Please-say 'large,' Mildred."

"Large then--'most a woman. And this is my father's home--and
_mine_--until he gets married again, which of course he won't do as long
as I am here to look after him.... And, grandma, I mean to be the head
of this house."

The old lady drooped.

"Very well, my dear, I see only too plainly the results of your poor
mother's--"

"Grandma!" the girl flashed warningly.

"If I'm not wanted here--"

"You're not--now! The best thing for you to do is to go straight back to
the boarding-house and read your _Christian Vindicator_ until I'm ready
for you to move in."

"At the rate you are going it will be some days before your father can
have the use of his home."

"A week at least I should say."

"And he must pay board another week for all of us!"

"I suppose so--we must live somewhere, mustn't we?" Milly remarked
sweetly.

So with a final shrug of her tiny shoulders the little old lady let
herself out of the front door, stealthily betook herself down the long
flight of steps and, without a backward glance, headed for the
boarding-house. Milly watched her out of sight from the front window.

"Thank heaven, she's really gone!" she muttered. "Always snooping about
like a cat,--prying and fussing. She's such a nuisance, poor grandma."

It was neither said nor felt ill-naturedly. Milly was generous with all
the world, liked everybody, including her grandmother, who was a
perpetual thorn,--liked her least of anybody in the world because of her
stealthy ways and her petty bullying, also because of the close watch
she kept over the family purse when Milly wished to thrust her prodigal
hand therein. She made the excuse to herself when she was harsh with the
old lady,--"And she was so mean to poor mama,--" that gentle, soft, weak
southern mother, whom Milly had abused while living and now adored--as
is the habit of imperfect mortals....

So with a lighter heart, having routed the old lady, at least for this
afternoon, Milly continued to set up the broken and shabby household
goods to suit herself. She coaxed the colored boys into considerable
activity with her persuasive ways, having an inherited capacity for
getting work out of lazy and emotional help, who respond to the
personal touch. By dusk, when her father came, she had the two
front rooms arranged to her liking. Sam was hanging a bulky steel
engraving--"Windsor Castle with a View of Eton"--raising and lowering it
patiently at Milly's orders. It was the most ambitious work of art that
the family possessed, yet she felt it was not really suited, and
accepted it provisionally, consigning it mentally to the large
scrap-heap of Ridge belongings which she had already begun in the back
yard.

"Well, daughter," Mr. Ridge called out cheerily from the open door, "how
you're getting on?"

"Oh, papa!" (Somewhere in the course of her wanderings Milly had learned
not to say "paw.")

She flew to the little man and hugged him enthusiastically.

"I'm so dead tired--I've worked every minute, haven't I, Sam?"

"She sure has," the boy chuckled admiringly, "kep us all agoin' too!"

"How do you like it, papa?"

Milly led the little man into the front room and waited breathlessly for
his approbation. It was her first attempt in the delicate art of
household arrangement.

"It's fine--it's all right!" Horatio commented amiably, twisting an
unlighted cigar between his teeth and surveying the room dubiously. His
tone implied bewilderment. He was a creature of habits, even if they
were peripatetic habits: he missed the parlor furniture and the green
rug. They meant home to him. Looking into the rear cavern where Milly
had thrust all the furniture she had not the courage to scrap, he
observed slyly,--"What'll your grandmother say?"

"She's said it," Milly laughed.

Horatio chuckled. This was woman's business, and wise male that he was
he maintained an amused neutrality.

"Ain't you most unpacked, Milly? I'm getting dead tired of boarding."

"Oh, I've just begun, really! You don't know what time it takes to
settle a house properly."

"Didn't think we had so much stuff."

"We haven't _anything_ fit to use--that's the trouble. We must get some
new things right away. I want a rug for this room first."

"Isn't there a carpet?"

"A carpet! Papa, they don't use carpets any more. A nice, soft rug, with
a border 'round it...."

Horatio retreated towards the door. But before they had reached the
boarding-house, the first advance towards Milly's Ideal of the New Home
had been plotted. The rug was settled. Milly was to meet her father in
the city at noon on the morrow and select one. Arm in arm, father and
daughter came up the steps,--charming picture of family intimacy.

"So nice to see father and daughter such friends!" one of the
boarding-house ladies observed to Grandma Ridge.

"Oh, yes," the old lady admitted with a chilly smile. She knew what
these demonstrations cost in cash from her son's leaky pockets. If she
had lived later, doubtless she would have called Milly a cunning
grafter.

Milly smiled upon the interested stranger, good humoredly, as she always
smiled. She was feeling very tired after her day's exertions, but
happily content with her first efforts to realize her ambition,--to have
"some place for herself." What she meant by having a place for herself
in the world she did not yet understand of course. Nor what she could do
with it, having achieved it. It was an instinct, blind in the manner of
instincts, of her dependent womanhood. She was quite sure that something
must happen,--a something that would give her a horizon more spacious
than that of the West Side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime she ate the unappetizing food put before her with good grace,
and smiled and chatted with all the dreary spinsters of the
boarding-house table.




III

MILLY GOES TO CHURCH


The ugly little house was at last got to rights, at least as much so as
Milly's limited means permitted. Horatio's resources were squeezed to
the last dollar, and the piano came in on credit. Then the family moved
in, and soon the girl's restless gaze turned outwards.

She must have people for her little world,--people to visit with, to
talk to. From her doll years Milly had loved people indiscriminately.
She must have them about her, to play with, to interest, to arouse
interest in herself. Wherever she derived this social passion--obviously
not from Grandma Ridge--it had been and would always be the dominant
note of her life. Later, in her more sophisticated and more
introspective phase, she would proclaim it as a creed: "People are the
most interesting thing in life--just humans!" And she would count her
gregariousness as a virtue. But as yet it was unconscious, an animal
instinct for the herd. And she was lonely the first days at West
Laurence Avenue.

Everywhere the family had put foot to earth in its wanderings, Milly had
acquired friends easily,--at school, in church, among the
neighbors,--what chance afforded from the mass. She wept even on her
departure from St. Louis, which she had hated because of the light
housekeeping, at the thought of losing familiar faces. A number of her
casual friends came to the station to see her off, as they always did.
She kissed them all, and swore to each that she would write, which she
promptly forgot to do. But she loved them all, just the same. And now
that the Ridge destiny seemed to be settled with fair prospects of
permanency in this new, untried prairie city,--a huddle of a million or
more souls,--she cast her eager eyes about for the conquest that must be
made....

The social hegira from the West Side of the city had already begun: the
more prosperous with social aspirations were dropping away, moving to
the north or the south, along the Lake. Some of the older families still
lingered, rooted in associations, hesitant before new fashions, and
these, Milly at once divined, lived in the old-fashioned brick and stone
houses along the Boulevard that crossed West Laurence Avenue just below
the Ridge home. These seats of the mighty on Western Boulevard might not
be grand, but they alone of all the neighborhood had something of the
aristocratic air.

This spacious boulevard was the place she chose for her daily stroll
with her grandmother, taking the old lady, who had betrayed an interest
in a cemetery, up and down Western Boulevard, past the large houses
where the long front windows were draped with spotless lace curtains.
She learned somehow that the old-fashioned brick house, with broad eaves
and wooden pillars, belonged to the Claxtons. The grounds about the
house ran even to the back yards of the West Laurence Avenue
block,--indeed had originally included all that land,--for the Claxtons
were an old family as age went in Chicago, and General Claxton was a
prominent man in the state. She also knew that the more modern stone
house on the farther corner was occupied by the Walter Kemps; that Mrs.
Kemp had been a Claxton; and that Mr. Kemp was a rising young banker in
the city. How Milly had found out all this in the few days she had lived
in the neighborhood would be hard to explain: such information she
acquired unconsciously, as one does the character of the weather....

On the next corner north of the Claxton place was a large church, with a
tall spire, and an adjoining parish house. They were built of the same
cream-colored stone, which had grown sallow under the smoke, with
chocolate-brown trimmings, like a deep edging to a mourning
handkerchief. Its appearance pleased Milly. She felt sure that the best
people of the neighborhood worshipped here, and so to this dignified
edifice she led her father and grandmother the first Sunday after they
were installed in their new home.

It proved to be the Second Presbyterian Church. The Ridges were
orthodox, _i.e._ Congregational: the judge had been deacon in Euston,
Pa., and Mrs. Ridge talked of "sending for her papers" and finding the
nearest congregation of her old faith. But Milly promptly announced that
"everybody went to the Presbyterian church here." She was satisfied with
the air and the appearance of the congregation that first Sunday and
made her father promise to take seats for the family. The old lady,
content to have the wayward Horatio committed to any sort of
church-going, made slight objection. It mattered little to Horatio
himself. In religion he was catholic: he was ready to stand up in any
evangelical church, dressed in his best, and boom forth the hymns in his
bass voice. The choice of church was a matter to be left to the women,
like the color of the wallpaper, or the quality of crockery,--affairs of
delicate discrimination. Moreover, he was often out of the city over
Sunday on his business trips and did not have to go to church.

It was impossible that Milly, dressed very becomingly in her new gray
suit, should escape notice after the first Sunday. Her lovely bronze
hair escaped from her round hat engagingly. Her soft blue eyes looked up
at the minister appealingly. She had the attractive air of youth and
health and good looks. The second Sunday the minister's wife, prompted
by her husband, spoke to Mrs. Ridge and called soon after. She liked
Milly--minister's wives usually did--and she approved of the
grandmother, who had an aristocratic air, in her decent black, her thin,
gray face. "They seem really nice people," Mrs. Borland reported to her
husband, "but a very ordinary home. He travels for the Hoppers'. Her
mother was a southerner." (Milly had got that in somehow,--"My mother's
home was Kentucky, you know.")... So, thanks to the church, here was
Milly at last launched on the West Side and in a fair way of knowing
people.

She began going to vespers--it was a new custom then, during Lent--and
she was faithful at the Wednesday evening prayer meetings. The Borlands
had a daughter, of about Milly's age,--a thin, anaemic girl who took to
Milly's warmth and eagerness at once. As Milly succinctly summed up the
minister's family,--"They're from Worcester, Mass." To come from New
England seemed to Milly to give the proper stamp of respectability,
while Virginia gave aristocracy.

Mrs. Borland introduced Milly to Mrs. Walter Kemp after the service one
Sunday. Milly knew, as we have seen, that Mrs. Kemp had been a Claxton,
and that the general still lived in the ample mansion which he had built
in the early fifties when he had transferred his fortunes from Virginia
to the prairie city. They were altogether the most considerable people
Milly had ever encountered. And so when Eleanor Kemp called at the
little West Laurence Avenue house, Milly was breathless. Not that Milly
was a snob. She was as kind to the colored choreman as to the minister's
wife, smiling and good-humored with every one. But she had a keen sense
of differences. Unerringly she reached out her hands to the "best" as
she understood the best,--the men and women who were "nice," who were
pleasant to know. And Mrs. Kemp, then a young married woman of
twenty-seven or eight, seemed to the enthusiastic girl quite adorable.
She was tall and slender, with fine oval features and clear brown skin
and dark hair. Her manner was rather distant at first and awed Milly.

"Oh, you're so beautiful,--you don't mind my saying it!" she exclaimed
the first time they were alone in the Kemp house.

"You funny child!" the older woman laughed, quite won. And that was the
phrase she used invariably of Milly Ridge,--"That funny child!" varied
occasionally by "That astonishing child!" even when the child had become
a woman of thirty. There would always be something of the breathless,
impulsive child in Milly Ridge.

After that first visit Milly went home to arrange a tea-table like
Eleanor Kemp's. She found among the discarded remnants of the family
furniture a small round table without a leg. She had it repaired and set
up her tea-table near the black marble fireplace. The next time the
banker's wife came to call she was able to offer her a cup of tea, with
sliced lemon, quite as a matter of course, after the manner that Mrs.
Kemp had handed it to her the week before. Milly was not crudely
imitative: she was selectively imitative, and for the present she had
chosen Mrs. Kemp for her model.

For the most part they met at the Kemp house. The young married woman
liked her new role of guide and experienced friend to Milly; she also
liked the admiration that Milly sincerely, copiously poured forth on all
occasions. When Milly praised the ugly house and its furniture, she
might smile in a superior way, for she was "travelled," had visited "the
chief capitals of Europe,"--as well as Washington and New York,--and
knew perfectly well that the solid decoration of her library and
drawing-room was far from good style. The Kemps had already secured
their lot on the south side of the city near the Lake. The plans for
their new house were being drawn by a well-known eastern architect, and
they were merely waiting before building until Mr. Kemp should find
himself sufficiently prosperous to maintain the sort of house that the
architect had designed for a rising young western banker.

"Oh, dear," Milly sighed, "you will be moving soon--and there'll be
nobody left around here for me to know."

Eleanor Kemp smiled.

"You know what I mean!... People like you and your mother."

"You may not live here always," her friend prophesied.

"I hope not. But papa seems perfectly content--he's taken a five years'
lease of that horrid house. I just knew it wasn't the right place as
soon as I saw it!"

The older woman laughed at Milly's despair.

"There's time yet for something to happen."

Milly blushed happily. There was only one sort of something to happen
for her,--the right sort of marriage. Milly, as Mrs. Kemp confided to
her husband, was a girl with a "future," and that future could be only a
matrimonial one. Her new friend good naturedly did what she could for
Milly by putting her in the way of meeting people. At her own house and
her mother's, across the street, Milly saw a number of people who came
into her life helpfully later on. General Claxton was still at that time
a considerable political figure in the middle west, had been congressman
and was spoken of for Senator. Jolly, plump Mrs. Claxton maintained a
large, informal hospitality of the Virginia sort, and to the big brick
house came all kinds of people,--southerners with quaint accents and
formal manners, young Englishmen on their way to the wild northwest,
down-state politicians, as well as the merchant aristocracy of the city.
Thus Milly as a mere girl had her first opportunity of peeping at the
larger world in the homely, high-studded rooms and on the generous
porches of the Claxton house, and enjoyed it immensely.

The church had thus far done a good deal for Milly.

For some time it remained the staple of her social existence,--that
sallow, cream-colored pile, in which the congregation had already so
shrunken by removals that the worshippers rattled around in the big
building like dried peas in a pod. Milly became a member of the pastor's
Bible class and an ardent worker in the Young Women's Guild. She was
looked upon favorably as a right-minded and religious young woman. She
had joined the church some years before, shortly after the death of her
mother. Her first religious fervor lasted rather more than a year and
was dying out when the family moved from St. Louis. Its revival at the
Second Presbyterian was of a purely institutional character. Although
even Grandma Ridge called her a "good girl," Milly was too healthy a
young person to be really absorbed by questions of salvation. Her
religion was a social habit, like the habit of wearing fresh
underclothes and her best dress on the seventh day, having a late
breakfast and responding to the din of the church bells with other
ceremonially dressed folk. She believed what she heard in church as she
believed everything that was spoken with authority. It would have seemed
to her very dreadful to question the great dogmas of Heaven, Hell, the
Atonement, the Resurrection, etc. But they meant absolutely nothing to
her: they did not come into practical relation with her life as did the
ugly little box of her home and the people she knew, and she had no
taste for abstractions.

Milly was "good." She tried to have a helpful influence upon her
companions, especially upon young men who seemed to need an influence
more than others: she wanted to induce them not to swear, to smoke, to
drink--or be "bad,"--a vague state of unrealized vice. She encouraged
them to go to church by letting them escort her. It was the proper way
of displaying right intentions to lead good lives. When one young man
who had been a member of the Bible class was found to have taken money
from Mr. Kemp's bank, where he was employed, and indulged in riotous
living with it, Milly felt depressed for several days,--accused herself
of not having done her utmost to bring this lost soul to the Saviour.

Yet Milly was no prig,--at least not much of a one. For almost all her
waking hours her mind was occupied with totally mundane affairs, and she
was never much concerned about her own salvation. It seemed so far
off--in the hazy distances of stupid middle age or beyond. So, like
thousands upon thousands of other young women of her day, she appeared
at the Second Presbyterian every Sunday morning, looking her freshest
and her best, and with engaging zest, if with a somewhat wandering mind,
sang,--

    "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord!"

It was a wholly meaningless social function, this, and useful to the
girl. Later charity might take its place. Horatio Ridge, who had never
qualified as a church member while his wife lived, knowing his own
unregenerate habits and having a healthy-minded male's aversion to
hypocrisy, now went to church with his daughter quite regularly. He felt
that it was a good thing,--the right thing for the girl, in some way
insuring her woman's safety in this wicked world, if not her salvation
in the next.

They made a pretty picture together, father and daughter,--the girl with
the wide blue eyes and open mouth, standing shoulder to shoulder with
the little man, each with one gloved hand grasping an edge of the
hymn-book and singing, Milly in a high soprano,--

    "Nearer, my God, to Thee!"

and Horatio, rumbling behind a little uncertainly,--

    "Nearer to Thee--to THEE!"




IV

MILLY COMPLETES HER EDUCATION


"Milly," Mrs. Kemp remarked thoughtfully, "aren't you going to complete
your education?"

Milly translated this formidable phrase in a flash,--

"You mean go to school any more? Why should I?"

It was a warm June day. Milly had been reading to Mrs. Kemp, who was
sewing. The book was "Romola." Milly had found quite dull its solid
pages of description of old Florence sparsely relieved by conversation,
and after a futile attempt to discover more thrilling matter farther on
had abandoned the book altogether in favor of talk, which always
interested her more than anything else in the world.

"Why should I go to school?" she repeated.

"You are only sixteen."

"Seventeen--in September," Milly promptly corrected.

Mrs. Kemp laughed.

"I didn't finish school until I was eighteen."

"School is so stupid," Milly sighed, with a little grimace. "I hate
getting things out of books."

She had never been distinguished in school,--far from it. Only by real
labor had she been able to keep up with her classes.

"I guess the schools I went to weren't much good," she added.

She saw herself behind a desk at the high school she had last attended
in St. Louis. In front of her sat a dried, sallow, uncheerful woman of
great age, ready to pounce upon her and expose her ignorance before the
jeering class. The girls and the boys at the school were not
"refined"--she knew that now. No, she did not want any more school of
that sort.... Besides, what use could an education be, if she were not
to teach? And Milly had not the faintest idea of becoming a teacher.

"Do you think a girl needs to know a lot of stuff--stupid things in
books?" she asked.

"Women must have a better education than they once did," Eleanor Kemp
replied with conviction. She refrained from explaining that a girl like
Milly, with no social background, might marry "to advantage" on her
looks, but she would need something more to maintain any desirable
position in the world. Such ideas were getting into the air these days.

"I'm going to take some music lessons," Milly yawned.

"You have a good mind," her friend persisted flatteringly. "Do you know
French."

"A little," Milly admitted dubiously.

"German?"

Milly shook her head positively.

"Latin?"

"Latin! What for?"

"I had two years of Latin. It's ... it's cultivating."

Milly glanced at the load of new books on the library table. She knew
that the Kemps read together a great deal. They aspired to "stand for
the best things" in the ambitious young city,--for art, music, and all
the rest. She was somewhat awed.

"But what's the use of a girl's knowing all that?" she demanded
practically.

If a woman knew how to "write a good letter," when she was married, and
could keep the house accounts when there were any, and was bright and
entertaining enough to amuse her wearied male, she had all the education
she needed. That was Milly's idea.

"French, now, is so useful when one travels," Mrs. Kemp explained.

"Oh, if one travels," Milly agreed vaguely.

Later Mrs. Kemp returned to the attack and extolled the advantages,
social and intellectual, that came with a Good Education. She described
the Ashland Institute, where she had completed her own education and of
which she was a recently elected trustee.

"Mrs. Mason, the principal, is a very cultivated lady--speaks all the
modern languages and has such a refining influence. I know you would
like her."

Milly had always attended public school. It had never occurred to her
father that while the state was willing to provide an education he
should go to the expense of buying one privately for his daughter. Of
course Milly knew that there were fashionable boarding-schools. She
wanted to attend a Sacred Heart convent school where one of her
intimates--a Louisville girl--had been sent, but the mere idea had
shocked Mrs. Ridge, senior, unutterably.

It seemed that the Ashland Institute, according to Mrs. Kemp, was an
altogether superior sort of place, and Milly was at last thoroughly
fired with the idea that she should "finish herself" there. Her
grandmother agreed that more schooling would not hurt Milly, but
demurred at the expense. Horatio was easily convinced that it was the
only proper school for his daughter. So the following September Milly
was once more a pupil, enrolled in classes of "literature" (with a
handbook), "art" (with a handbook), "science" (handbook), "mental and
moral philosophy" (lectures), and French (_La tulipe noire_). Milly
liked Mrs. Mason, a personable lady, who always addressed her pupils as
"young ladies." And Milly was quickly fascinated by the professor of
mental and moral philosophy, a delicate-looking young college graduate.
She worked very hard, studying her lessons far into the night,
memorizing long lists of names, dates, maxims, learning by rote whatever
was contained in those dreary handbooks.

Even in those days this was not all there was to education for girls
like Milly. There were a few young women, east and west, bold enough to
go to college. But as yet their example had no influence upon the
general education dealt out to girls. Most girls whose parents had any
sort of ambition went through the high school with their brothers, and
then went to work--if they had to--or got married. Even for the
privileged few who could afford "superior advantages" the ideas about
women's education were chaos. Mrs. Mason solved the problem at the
Ashland Institute as well as any, with a little of this and of that,
elegant information conveyed chiefly in handbooks about "literature" and
"art"; for women were assumed to be the "artistic" sex as they were the
ornamental. There were, besides, deportment, dancing, and music, also
ornamental. The only practical occupations were keeping house and
nursing, and if a girl was obliged to do such things, she did not seek
the aristocratic "finishing school." The "home" was the proper place for
all that. In Milly's case the "home" was adequately run by her
grandmother with the help of one colored servant. So Horatio, being just
able to afford the tuition, Milly was privileged to "finish herself."

Of course she forgot all the facts so laboriously acquired within a
short six months after she read her little essay on "Plato's Conception
of the Beautiful" at the graduation exercises. (That effort, by the way,
lay heavy on the neighborhood for weeks, but was pronounced a triumph.
It was certainly a masterpiece of fearless quotation.)... Learning
passed over Milly like a summer sea over a shining sandbar and left no
trace behind, none whatever. It was the same way with music. Milly could
sing church hymns in a pleasant voice and thumped a little heavily on
the piano after learning her piece.... She used to say, years
afterward,--"I have no gifts; I was never clever with books. I like
life, people!" and she would stretch out her hands gropingly to the
broad horizon.

This year at the Ashland Institute helped to enlarge that horizon
somewhat. And one other thing she got with the absurd meal of
schooling,--a vague but influential something,--an "ideal of American
womanhood." That was the way Mrs. Mason phrased it in her eloquent talks
to the girls.

The other teachers, especially the pale young professor of mental and
moral philosophy, referred to it indirectly as the moving force of the
new world. This was the "formative influence" of the school,--the
quality that the Institute prided itself on above all else.

It was of a poetic shade, composed in equal parts of art, literature,
and religion. Milly absorbed it at church, where the minister spoke
almost tearfully about "the mission of young womanhood to elevate the
ideals of the race," or more colloquially in Bible class as the duty of
"being a good influence" in life, especially men's lives. She got it
also in what books she read,--especially in Tennyson and in every novel,
as well as in the few plays she saw. There it was embodied as Woman of
Romance,--sublime, divine, mysterious, with a heavenly mission to
reform, ennoble, uplift--men, of course,--in a word to make over the
world. The idea of it had come down from the darkness of the middle
ages,--that smelly and benighted period,--had inflamed all romance, and
was now spreading its last miasmatic touch over the close of the
nineteenth century. All this, to be sure, Milly never knew.

She merely began to feel self-conscious, as a member of her sex,--a
being apart from men and somehow superior to them, without the same
appetites and low ideals, and with her own peculiar and sacred function
to perform for humanity. Ordinarily this heavy ideal of her sex did not
burden Milly. She obeyed her thoroughly healthy instincts, chief of
which was "to have a good time," to be loved and petted by people. But
occasionally in her more emotional moods, when she was singing hymns or
watching the sun depart in golden mists, she experienced exalted
sensations of the beauty and the glory of life--of _her_ life--and what
it all might mean to Some One (a man).

When she undressed before the tiny mirror, she considered her attractive
young body with a delicious sense of mystery that would some day be
revealed, then plunged into bed, and buried herself chastely beneath the
cover, her heart throbbing.

If Milly had had any real education, she might have recalled the
teaching of science in such moments and realized that her soft tissue
was composed of common elements, her special function was but a
universal means to a universal end; that even her long, thick hair with
its glint of gold, her soft eyes, her creamy skin and rounding breasts
and sloping thighs were all designed for the simple purpose of
continuing the species. (But in those days they did not talk of such
things even in the handbooks, and Milly would have called any one who
dared mention them in her presence a "materialist"--a word she had heard
in the philosophy class.) Having no one to mention to her such improper
truths, she remained in the pleasant illusion of literature and religion
that she was altogether a superior creation,--something mysterious to be
worshipped and preserved. Not colored Jenny in the kitchen, who had
three or four illegitimate children! Not even all the girls in her
Sunday-school class, some of whom worked in stores, but the cultivated,
refined women who made Homes for Heroes. This belief was like Poetry: it
satisfied and sustained--and it gave an unconscious impulse to her whole
life, that she was never able wholly to escape....

And this was what they called Education in those days.




V

MILLY EXPERIMENTS


Of course Milly had "beaux," as she called them then. There had never
been a time since she was trusted to navigate herself alone upon the
street when she had not attracted to herself other little
persons--chiefly girls, to be sure. For as Milly was wont to confess in
her palmiest days when men flocked around her, she was a "woman's woman"
(and hence inferentially a man's woman, too). Milly very sincerely
preferred her own sex as constant companions. They were more expressive,
communicative, rational. Men were useful: they brought candies, flowers,
theatre parties.

But now the era of young men as distinguished from girls had arrived.
Boys in long trousers with dark upper lips hung about the West Laurence
Avenue house on warm evenings, composing Milly's celebrated "stoop
parties," or wandered with her arm in arm up the broad boulevard to the
Park. And at the Claxtons and the Kemps she met older men who paid
attention to the vivacious, well-developed school-girl.

"Milly will take care of herself," Mrs. Claxton remarked to her daughter
when the school question was up, and when the latter deplored the
unchaperoned condition of her young friend, she added,--

"That was the way in Virginia. A girl had a lot of beaux--and she got no
harm from it, if she were a good girl."

Milly was a good girl without any doubt, astonishing as it may seem.
Milly Ridge had passed through the seventeen years of her existence and
at least four different public schools without knowing anything about
"sex hygiene." That married women had babies and that somehow these were
due to the presence of men in the household was the limit of her sex
knowledge. Beyond that it was not "nice" for a girl to delve, and Milly
was very scrupulous about being "nice." Nice girls did not discuss such
things. Once when she was fifteen a woman she knew had "gone to the bad"
and Milly had been very curious about it, as she was later about the
existence of bad women generally. This state of virginal ignorance was
due more to her normal health than to any superior delicacy. As one man
meaningly insinuated, Milly was not yet "awake." He apparently desired
the privilege of awakening her, but she eluded him safely.

When these older men began to call, Milly entertained them quite
formally in the little front room, discussing books with them and
telling her little stories, while her father smoked his cigar in the
rear room. She was conscious always of Grandma Ridge's keen ears pricked
to attention behind the smooth curls of gray hair. It was astonishing
how much the old lady could overhear and misinterpret!...

Almost all these young men, clerks and drummers and ranchers, were
hopelessly, stupidly dull, and Milly knew it. Their idea of
entertainment was the theatre or lopping about the long steps, listening
to her chatter. When they took her "buggy-riding," they might try
clumsily to put their arms around her. She would pretend not to notice
and lean forward slightly to avoid the embrace....

Her first really sentimental encounter came at the end of a long day's
picnicking on the hot sands of the lake beach. Harold--ultimately she
forgot his last name--had taken her up the shore after supper. They had
scrambled to the top of the clayey bluff and sat there in a thicket,
looking out over the dimpled water, hot, uncomfortable, self-conscious.
His hand had strayed to hers, and she had let him hold it, caress the
stubby fingers in his thin ones, aware that hers was quite a homely
hand, her poorest "point." She knew somehow that he wanted to kiss her,
and she wondered what she should do if he tried,--whether she should be
offended or let him "just once." He was a handsome, bashful boy, and she
felt fond of him.

But when he had got his courage to the point, she drew off quickly, and
to distract his attention exclaimed,--"See! What's that?" They looked
across the broad surface of the lake and saw a tiny rim of pure gold
swell upwards from the waves.

"It's just the moon!"

"How beautiful it is," Milly sighed.

Again when his arm came stealing about her she moved away murmuring,
"No, no." And so they went back, awkwardly silent, to the others, who
were telling stories about a blazing camp-fire they had thought it
proper to build.... After that Harold came to see her quite regularly,
and at last declared his love in a stumbling, boyish fashion. But Milly
dismissed him--he was only a clerk at Hoppers'--without hesitation. "We
are both too young, dear," she said. He had tried to kiss her hand, and
somehow he managed so awkwardly that their heads bumped. Then he had
gone away to Colorado to recover. For some months they exchanged boy and
girl letters, which she kept for years tied up with ribbon. After a time
he ceased to write, and she thought nothing of it, as her busy little
world was peopled with new figures. Then there came wedding cards from
Denver and at first she could not remember who this Harold Stevens about
to marry Miss Glazier, could be. Her first affair, a pallid little
romance that had not given her any real excitement!

Afterwards in moods of retrospection Milly would say: "However I didn't
get into trouble as a girl, with no mother, and such an easy,
unsuspecting father, I don't know. Think of it, my dear, out almost
every night, dances, rides, picnics, theatres. Perhaps the men were
better those days or the girls more innocent."

There was one episode, however, of these earlier years that left a
deeper mark.




VI

MILLY LEARNS


The friend who at the opportune moment had offered Horatio his point of
stability at Hoppers' was Henry Snowden,--a handsome, talkative man of
forty-five. He was manager of a department in the mail-order house, with
the ambition of becoming one of the numerous firm. It was he who had put
Horatio in the hands of the real estate firm that had resulted in the
West Laurence Avenue House. Snowden, with his wife and two grown
children, lived up the Boulevard, some distance from the Kemps. Mrs.
Snowden was a rather fat lady a few years older than her husband, with a
mid-western nasal voice. Milly thought her "common,"--a word she had
learned from Eleanor Kemp,--and the daughter, who was in one of the
lower classes of the Institute, was like her mother. During the first
months in Chicago the Snowdens were the people Milly saw most of.

Horatio liked to have the Snowdens in for what he called a "quiet rubber
of whist" with a pitcher of cider, a box of cheap cigars, and a plate of
apples on the table. Grandma Ridge sat in the dining-room, reading her
_Christian Vindicator_, while Milly entertained her friends on the steps
or visited at the Kemps. Occasionally she was induced to take a hand in
the game. She liked Mr. Snowden. He was more the gentleman than most of
her father's business friends. With his trim, grizzled mustache and his
eye-glass he looked almost professional, she thought. He treated Milly
gallantly, brought her flowers occasionally, and took her with his
daughter to the theatre. He seemed much younger than his wife, and Milly
rather pitied him for being married to her. She felt that it must have
been a mistake of his youth. Her father was proud of the friendship and
would repeat often,--"Snow's a smart man, I can tell you. There's a
great future for Snow at Hoppers'."

The Snowdens had an old-fashioned house with a stable, and kept a horse.
Mr. Snowden was fond of driving, and had always a fast horse. He would
come on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday and take Ridge for a drive. One
Saturday afternoon he drove up to the house, and seeing Milly in the
front window--it was a warm April day of their second year--motioned her
to come outside.

"Papa is not home yet," she said, patting the horse.

"I know he isn't," Snowden remarked jerkily. "Didn't come for him--came
for _you_--jump in!"

Milly looked at him joyously with her glowing, child's eyes.

"Really? You want me! But I'm not dressed."

"You're all right--jump in--it's warm enough." And Milly without further
urging got into the buggy.

They went out through the boulevard to the new parkway, and when they
reached the broad open road in the park, Snowden let his horse out, and
they spun for a mile or more breathlessly. Milly's cheeks glowed, and
her eyes danced. She was afraid that he might turn back at the end of
the drive. But he kept on into a region that was almost country. Snowden
talked in nervous sentences about the horse, then about Horatio, who, he
said, was doing finely in the business. "He'll get on," he said, and
Milly felt that Mr. Snowden was the family's good genius.

"He's a good fellow--I suppose he'll marry again, one of these days."

"No, he won't!" Milly replied promptly. "Not so long as he has me."

"What'll he do when he loses you?"

"He won't lose me."

"Oh, you'll be married, Milly, 'fore you know it."

She shook her head.

"Not until I meet the right man," she said, and she explained volubly
her lofty ideals of matrimony.

Snowden agreed with her. He became personal, confiding, insinuated
even that his marriage had been a mistake--of ignorance and youth. Milly,
who was otherwise sympathetic, thought this was not nice of him,
even if Mrs. Snowden was pudgy and common and old. A woman gave so
much, she felt, in marriage that she should be insured against her
defects.... Snowden said that he was living for his children. Milly
thought that quite right and tried to turn the conversation.

The horse looked around as if to ask how much farther his master meant
to go over this rough country road. It was getting late and the sun was
sinking towards the flat prairie. Milly began to feel unaccountably
worried and suggested turning back. Instead the man cut the horse with
his whip so that he shot forward down the narrow road. The buggy rocked
and swayed, while Milly clung to the side. Snowden looked at her and
smiled triumphantly. His face came nearer hers. Milly thought it
handsome, but it was unpleasantly flushed, and Milly drew away.

Suddenly she found herself in the grasp of her companion's free arm. He
was whispering things into her ear.

"You make me mad--I--"

"Don't, Mr. Snowden,--please, please don't!" Milly cried, struggling.

The horse stopped altogether and looked around at them.

"Let me go!" she cried. But now abandoning the lines he held her in both
his arms, his hot breath was close to her face, his lips seeking hers.
Then she bit him,--bit him so hard with her firm teeth that he drew away
with a cry, loosening his grip. She wriggled out of his embrace and
scrambled to the ground before he knew what she was doing and began to
run down the road. Snowden gathered up the lines and followed after her,
calling,--"Milly, Milly--Miss Ridge," in a penitent, frightened voice.
For some time she paid no attention until he shouted,--"You'll never get
anywhere that way!" The buggy was abreast of her now. "Do get in! I
won't--touch you."

She turned upon him with all the fire of her youth.

"You--a respectable man--with a wife--and my father's friend--you!"

"Yes, I know," he said, like a whipped dog. "But don't run off--I'll get
out and let you drive back alone."

There was a cart coming on slowly behind them. Milly marched past the
buggy haughtily and walked towards it. Snowden followed close behind,
pleading, apologizing. She knew that he was afraid she would speak to
the driver of the cart, and despised him.

"Milly, don't," he groaned.

She walked stiffly by the cart, whose driver eyed the scene with a slow
grin. She paid no attention, however, to Snowden's entreaties. She was
secretly proud of herself for her magnanimity in not appealing to the
stranger, for the manner in which she was conducting herself. But after
a mile or so, it became quite dark and she felt weary. She stumbled, sat
down beside the road. The buggy stopped automatically.

"If you'll only get in and drive home, Miss Ridge," Snowden said humbly,
and prepared to dismount. "It's a good eight miles to the boulevard and
your folks will be worried."

With a gesture that waved him back to his place Milly got into the buggy
and the horse started.

"I didn't mean--I am sorry--"

"Don't speak to me ever again, Mr. Snowden," Milly flamed. She sat bolt
upright in her corner of the seat, drawing her skirt under her as if
afraid it might touch him. Snowden drove rapidly, and thus without a
word exchanged they returned. As they came near the corner of West
Laurence Avenue, Snowden spoke again,--

"I know you can't forgive me--but I hope you won't let your father know.
It would hurt him and--"

It was a very mean thing to say, and she knew it. Afterwards she thought
of many spirited and apposite words she might have spoken, but at the
moment all she could do was to fling herself haughtily out of the buggy
as it drew up before the curb and without a word or glance march stiffly
up the steps, where her father sat smoking his after-dinner cigar.

"Why, Milly," he exclaimed, "where've you been?"

She stalked past him into the house. She could hear her father ask
Snowden to stop and have some supper, and Snowden's refusal.

"You'll be over for a game later, Snow?"

"Guess not, Horace," and the buggy drove off.

Then for the first time it came over her what it would mean if she
should follow her first impulse and tell her father what had happened.
Mr. Snowden was not merely his most intimate friend, but in a way his
superior. If she should make things unpleasant between them, it might be
serious. So when her grandmother came tiptoeing into Milly's room to see
why she did not come down for her supper, Milly merely said she was too
tired to eat.

"What's happened?"

"That nasty Snowden man," Milly spluttered, "tried to kiss me and I had
to--to fight him.... Don't tell father!"

The little old lady was very much disturbed, but she did not tell her
son. Her policy was one of discreet silence about "unpleasant things" if
they could be covered up. And this was the kind of event that women were
capable of managing themselves, as Milly had managed....

Milly lay awake long hours that night, her heart beating loudly, her
busy mind reviewing the experience, and though her resentment did not
lessen as the hours wore on and she murmured to herself,--"Horrid, nasty
beast!" yet she became aware of another sensation. If--if things had
been different--she--well--it--might, and then she buried her head in
the pillow more ashamed than ever.

At last she had learned something of the real nature of men, and never
again in her long experience with the other sex was she unaware of "what
things meant." Whenever a man was concerned, one must always expect this
possibility. And she began to despise the weaker sex.

For some days the Snowdens did not come for cards. Horatio seemed
depressed. He would sit reading his paper through to the small
advertisements, or wander out by himself to a beer garden near by. When
the social circle is as small as the Ridges', such a state of affairs
means real deprivation, and Milly, who did not approve of the beer
garden any more than did her grandmother, wondered how she could restore
the old harmony between the two families.

But before anything came of her good-natured intention fate arranged
pleasantly to relieve her of the responsibility.




VII

MILLY SEES MORE OF THE WORLD


The Kemps had a cottage at one of the Wisconsin lakes, and Eleanor Kemp
invited Milly to make them a month's visit. The girl's imagination was
aflame with excitement: it was to her Newport or Bar Harbor or Aix.
There was first the question of clothes. Although Mrs. Kemp assured her
that they lived very quietly at Como, Milly knew that the Casses, the
Gilberts, the Shards had summer homes there, and the place was as gay as
anything in this part of the country. Mrs. Kemp might say, "Milly,
you're pretty enough for any place just as you are!" But Milly was woman
enough to know what _that_ meant between women.

Her allowance was spent, four months in advance as usual, but Horatio
was easily brought to see the exceptionality of this event, and even old
Mrs. Ridge was moved to give from her hoard. It was felt to be something
in the nature of an investment for the girl's future. So Milly departed
with a new trunk and a number of fresh summer gowns.

"Have a good time, daughter!" Horatio Ridge shouted as the car moved
off, and he thought he had done his best for his child, even if he had
had to borrow a hundred dollars from his friend Snowden.

Milly was sure she was about to have the most wonderful experience of
her life.

Afterwards she might laugh over the excitement that first country-house
visit had caused, and recall the ugly little brown gabled cottage on the
shore of the hot lake, that did not even faintly resemble its Italian
namesake, with the simple diversions of driving about the dusty, flat
country, varied by "veranda parties" and moonlight rows with the rare
young men who dared to stay away from business through the week. All of
life, the sages tell us, is largely a matter of proportion. Como,
Wisconsin, was breathless excitement to Milly Ridge at eighteen, as she
testified to her hostess in a thousand joyous little ways.

And there was the inevitable man,--a cousin of the Claxton tribe, who
was a young lawyer in Baltimore. He spent a week at the lake, almost
every minute with Milly.

"You've simply fascinated him, my dear," Eleanor Kemp reported,
delightedly. "And they're very good people, I assure you--he's a Harvard
man."

It was the first time Milly had met on intimate terms a graduate of a
large university. In those days "Harvard" and "Yale" were titles of
aristocratic magic, as good as Rome or Oxford.

"He thinks you so unspoiled," her friend added. "I've asked him to stay
another week."

So the two boated and walked and sat out beside the lake until the stars
grew dim--and nothing ever came of it! Milly had her little extravagant
imaginings about this well-bred young man with his distinguished manner;
she did her best to please--and nothing came of it. Why? she asked
herself afterward. He had held her hand and talked about "the woman who
gives purpose to a man's life" and all that. (Alas, that plebeian paw of
Milly's!)

Then he had left and sent her a five-pound box of candy from the
metropolis, with a correct little note, assuring her that he could never
forget those days he had spent with her by the lake of Como. Years
afterward on an Atlantic steamer she met a sandy-haired, stoutish
American, who introduced himself with the apology,--

"You're so like a girl I knew once out West--at some lake in
Wisconsin--"

"And you are Harrison Plummer," she said promptly. "I shouldn't have
known _you_," she added maliciously, surveying the work of time. She
felt that her plebeian hands were revenged: he was quite ordinary. His
wife was with him and four uninteresting children, and he seemed
bored.... That had been her Alpine height at eighteen. The heights seem
lower at thirty-five.

Even if this affair didn't prove to be "the real, right thing," Milly
gained a good deal from her Como visit. Her social perspective was
greatly enlarged by the acquaintances she made there. It was long before
the day of the motor, the launch, the formal house party, but the
families who sought rural relief from the city along the shores of the
Wisconsin lake lived in a liberal, easy manner. They had horses and
carriages a plenty and entertained hospitably. They did not use red
cotton table-cloths (which Grandma Ridge insisted upon to save washing),
and if there were few men-servants, there was an abundance of tidy
maids. It gave Milly unconsciously a conception of how people lived in
circles remote from West Laurence Avenue, and behind her pretty eyes
there formed a blind purpose of pushing on into this unknown territory.
"I had my own way to make socially," she said afterwards, half in
apology, half in pride. "I had no mother to bring me out in society--I
had to make my own friends!"

It was easy, to be sure, in those days for a pretty, vivacious girl with
pleasant manners to go where she would. Society was democratic, in a
flux, without pretence. Like went with like as they always will, but the
social game was very simple, not a definite career, even for a woman.
Many of these good people said "folks" and "ain't" and "doos," and
nobody thought the worse of them for that. And they were kind,--quick to
help a young and attractive girl, who "would make a good wife for some
man."

So after her month with Mrs. Kemp, Milly was urged to spend a week at
the Gilberts, which easily stretched to two. The Gilberts were young
"North Side" people, and much richer than the Kemps. Roy Gilbert had the
rare distinction in those days of describing himself merely as
"capitalist," thanks to his father's exertions and denials. He was lazy
and good-natured and much in love with his young wife, who was unduly
religious and hoped to "steady" Milly. Apart from this obsession she was
an affectionate and pretty woman, rather given to rich food and
sentimental novels. She had been a poor girl herself, of a good New York
family, and life had not been easy until one fine day Roy Gilbert had
sailed into Watch Hill on his yacht and fallen in love with her. Some
such destiny, she hoped, would come to Milly Ridge....

When at last, one drearily hot September day, Milly got back to the
little box of a house on West Laurence Avenue, home seemed unendurably
sordid and mean, stifling. Her father was sitting on the stoop in his
shirt-sleeves, and had eased his feet by pushing off his shoes.
Discipline had grown lax in Milly's absence. Her first sensation of
revolt came at that moment.

"Oh, father--you oughtn't to look like that!" she said, kissing him.

"What's the harm? Nobody's home 'round here. All your swell friends are
at the seashore."

"But, father!"

"Well, Milly, so you decided to come home at last?"

Grandma Ridge had crept out from the house and was smiling icily.
Secretly both the older people were pleased with Milly's social success,
but they tempered their feelings in good puritan fashion with a note of
reproof.

That evening the Snowdens came in for the game of cards. Snowden was
plainly embarrassed at meeting Milly. "Good evening, Mr. Snowden, how
are you? and Mrs. Snowden?" she asked graciously, with her new air of
aloofness, as if he were an utter stranger. "You've come to play cards.
I'm so glad--papa enjoys having you so much!"

She felt that she was handling the situation like a perfect lady, and
she no longer had any real resentment. She even consented to take a hand
in the game. They were much excited about an atrocious murder that had
happened only a few doors away. Old Leonard Sweet, who had grown rich in
the contracting business, had been found dead in his kitchen. His
son-in-law--a dissipated young man whom Milly knew slightly--was
suspected of the crime. It was thought that the two had had a quarrel
about money, and the young man had shot his father-in-law. Milly
remembered old Sweet quite vividly. He used to sit on his stoop in his
stocking feet, even on Sundays when all the neighborhood was going by to
church,--very shocking to Milly's sense of propriety. And the boy had
hung around saloons. Now where was he?

"Well, daughter, can't you tell us what you did at Co-mo?" Horatio
urged....

No, decidedly, this sort of thing would not do for Milly!




VIII

MILLY'S CAMPAIGN


Almost at once Milly began the first important campaign of her life--to
move the household to a more advantageous neighborhood. One morning she
said casually at breakfast,--

"The Kemps are going to their new house when they come in from the
Lake.... Why can't we live some place where there are nice people?"

"What's the matter with this?" Horatio asked, crowding flannel cakes
into his mouth.

"Oh!" Milly exclaimed witheringly. "My friends are all moving away."

"You forget that your father has two years more of his lease of this
house," her grandmother remarked severely.

And the campaign was on, not to be relaxed until the family abandoned
the West Side a year later. It was a campaign fought in many subtle
feminine ways, chiefly between Milly and her grandmother. Needless to
say, the family atmosphere was not always comfortable for the mild
Horatio.

"It all comes of your ambition to go with rich people," Mrs. Ridge
declared. "Since your visit at the Lake, you have been discontented."

"I was never contented with _this_!" Milly retorted quite truthfully.
What the old lady regarded as a fault, Milly considered a virtue.

"And you are neglecting your church work to go to parties."

"Oh, grandma!" the girl exclaimed wearily. "Chicago isn't Euston, Pa.,
grandma!"

As if the young people's clubs of the Second Presbyterian Church could
satisfy the social aspirations of a Milly Ridge! She was fast becoming
conscious of the prize that had been given her--her charm and her
beauty--and an indefinable force was driving her on to obtain the
necessary means of self-exploitation.

It was true, as her grandmother said, that more and more this autumn
Milly was away from her home. Mrs. Gilbert had not forgotten her, nor
the other people she had met at the Lake. More and more she was being
asked to dinners and dances, and spent many nights with good-natured
friends.

"She might as well board over there," Horatio remarked forlornly, "for
all I see of the girl."

"Milly is a selfish girl," her grandmother commented severely.

"She's young, and she wants her fling. Guess we'd better see if we can't
give it to her, mother."

Horatio was no fighter, especially of his own womenkind. Even the old
lady's judgment was disturbed by the dazzle of Milly's social conquests.

"She'll be married before long," they said.

Meanwhile Milly was learning the fine social distinctions between the
south and the north sides of the city. The Kemps' new house on Granger
Avenue was very rich and handsome like its many substantial neighbors,
but Milly already knew enough to prefer the Gilberts' on the North
Drive, which, if smaller, had more style. And in spite of all the miles
of solid prosperity and comfort in the great south side of the city,
Milly quickly perceived that the really nicest people had tucked
themselves in along the north shore.

Somewhere about this time Milly acquired two lively young friends, Sally
and Vivie Norton, daughters of a railroad man who had recently been
moved to Chicago from the East. Sally Norton was small and blonde and
gay. She laughed overmuch. Vivie was tall and sentimental,--a brunette.
They came once to the West Laurence Avenue house for Sunday supper.
Horatio did not like the sisters; he called them in his simple way
"Giggle" and "Simper." The Nortons lived not far from the Lake on East
Acacia Street, and that became for Milly the symbol of the
all-desirable. She spoke firmly of the advantages of East Acacia Street
as a residence--she had even picked out the house, the last but one in
the same row of stone-front boxes where the Nortons lived.

It made Horatio restless. Like a good father he wished to indulge his
only child in every way--to do his best for her. But with his salary of
three thousand dollars he could barely give Milly the generous allowance
she needed and always spent in advance. Rise at Hoppers' was slow,
although sure, and the only way for him to enlarge Milly's horizon was
by going into business for himself. He began to talk of schemes, said he
was tired of "working for others all his life." Milly's ambitions were
contagious.

After one of the family conflicts, Grandma invaded Milly's bedroom,
which was quite irritating to the young woman.

"Mildred," she began ominously. "Do you realize what you are doing to
your father?"

"The rent is only thirty dollars a month more, grandma," Milly replied,
reverting to the last topic under discussion. "Papa can take it out of
my allowance." (Milly was magnificently optimistic about the
expansiveness of her allowance.) "Anyhow, I don't see why I can't live
near my friends and have a decent--"

The old lady's lips tightened.

"In my days young girls did not pretend to decide where their parents
should live."

"These aren't your days, grandma, thank heaven!... If a girl is going to
get anything out of life--"

"You've had a great deal--"

"Thanks to the friends I've made for myself."

"It might be better if you cared less to go with folks above you--"

"Above me!" the exasperated girl flashed. "Who's above me? Nelly Kemp?
Sally Norton?--Above me!"

That was the flaming note of Milly's intense Americanism. As a social,
human being she recognized no superiors. There were richer, cleverer,
better educated women, no doubt, but in this year of salvation and hope,
1890, there were none "above her." Never!...

Mrs. Ridge discreetly shifted the point of attack.

"It might be disastrous for your father if you were to break up his
home."

"You talk so tragically, grandma! Who's thinking of breaking up homes?
Just moving a couple of miles across the city to another house in
another street. What difference does it make to a man what old house he
comes home to after his work is done?"

"You forget his church relations, Milly."

"You seem to think there are no churches on the North Side."

"But he's made his place here--and Dr. Barlow has a good influence upon
him."

Milly knew quite well the significance of these words. There had been a
time when Horatio did not come home every night sober, and did not go to
church on Sundays. When the little old lady wished to check the soaring
ambition of her granddaughter, she had but to refer to this dark period
in the Ridge history. Milly did not like to think of those dreary days,
and was inclined to put the responsibility for them upon her dead
mother. "If she'd only known how to manage him--" For with all men Milly
thought it was simply a question of management.

"Well," she announced at last. "I'm tired and want to go to bed. Come,
Cheriki, darling!" Cheriki was a fuzzy toy spaniel, the gift of an
admirer. Milly poked the animal from her bed, and the old lady, who
loathed dogs, scuttled out of the room. She had been routed again.
Knowing Milly's obstinate nature, she felt that she must battle daily
for the right.

But Milly did not return to the attack for some time. She stayed at home
for several evenings and was very sweet with her father. She
ostentatiously refused some alluring invitations and was quite cheerful
about it. "She must give up these parties--she could not always be
accepting the Nortons' hospitality, etc." But Milly was not a nagger, at
least not with men. Hers was a pleasant, cheerful nature, and she bathed
the West Laurence Avenue house in several beams of sunshine.

"She's a good girl, mother," Horatio said proudly. "And she's all we've
got. It would be a pity not to give her what she wants."

A complete expression of the submissive attitude of the new parent!

"It may not be good for her," Grandma Ridge objected, after her
generation.

"Well, if she only marries right."

More and more it was in their minds that Milly was destined to make "a
great match." Purely as a business matter that must be taken into
account. So Horatio thought harder about getting into business for
himself, and his little corner of the world revolved more and more about
the desires of a woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fortunately for the peace of the Ridge household, the Kemps invited
Milly to go to New York with them in the spring. They were still
furnishing the new house and had in mind some pictures. Mr. Kemp had
rather "gone in for art" of late, and the banking business had been
good.... To Milly, who had never been on a sleeping-car in her life (the
Ridge migrations hitherto having been accomplished in day coaches
because of economy and because Grandma Ridge dreaded night travel), it
was a thrilling prospect. Her feeling for Eleanor Kemp had been dimmed
somewhat by the acquisition of newer and gayer friends, but it revived
into a brilliant glow.

"You dear thing!... You're sure I won't be in the way?... It will be too
heavenly for words!"

To her husband Mrs. Kemp reported Milly's ecstasy laughingly, saying,--

"If any one can enjoy things as much as Milly Ridge, she ought to have
them," to which the practical banker observed,--"She'll get them when
she picks the man."

So they made the wonderful journey and put up at the pleasant old
Windsor on the avenue, for the era of vast caravansaries had not yet
begun. Fifth Avenue in ninety was not the cosmopolitan thoroughfare it
is to-day. Nevertheless, to Milly's inexperienced eyes, accustomed to
the gloom of smoke, the ill-paved, dirty streets of mid-western cities,
New York was even noble in its splendor. They went to the Metropolitan
Museum, to the private galleries of the dealers, to Tiffany's, where the
banker bought a trinket for his wife's young friend, and the women went
to dressmakers who intimidated Milly with their airs and their prices.

Of course they went to Daly's and to hear "Aida," and supped afterwards
at the old Delmonico's. And a hundred other ravishing things were
crowded into the breathless fortnight of their visit. When she was once
more settled in her berth for the return journey, Milly sighed with
regret and envisaged the dreary waste of West Laurence Avenue.

"If we only lived in New York," she thought, and then she was wise
enough to reflect that if the Ridges lived in New York, it would not be
paradise, but another version of West Laurence Avenue.

"Some day you will go to Paris, my dear," Mrs. Kemp said, "and then New
York will seem like the West Side."

"Never, that!" Milly exclaimed, shocked.

The approach to Chicago under all circumstances is bleak and stern. But
that early April day it seemed to Milly unduly depressing. The squalid
little settlements on the outskirts of the great city were like
eruptions in the low, flat landscape. Around the factories and mills the
little houses were perched high on stilts to keep their feet out of the
mud of the submerged prairie. All the way home Milly had been making
virtuous resolutions not to be extravagant and tease her father, to be
patient with her grandmother, etc.,--in short, to be content with that
state of life unto which God had called her (for the present), as the
catechism says. But she felt it to be very hard that Milly Ridge should
be condemned to such a state of life as the West Side of Chicago
afforded. After the cultivated, mildly luxurious atmosphere of the
Kemps, she realized acutely the commonness of her home....

Her father was waiting for her in the train-shed, and she hugged him
affectionately and went off on the little man's arm, quite gayly, waving
a last farewell to Eleanor Kemp as the latter stepped into her waiting
carriage.

"Well, daughter, had a good time?"




IX

ACHIEVEMENTS


"But, papa," Milly interrupted her chatter about her marvellous doings
in the East, long enough to ask,--"where are you going?"

Instead of taking the familiar street-car that would plunge them into a
noisome tunnel and then rumble on for uncounted miles through the drab
West Side, Horatio had turned towards the river, and they were in the
wholesale district, where from the grimy stores came fragrant odors of
comestibles, mingled in one strong fusion of raw food product. Horatio
smiled at the question and hurried at a faster pace, while Milly,
raising her skirts, had to scuttle over the "skids" that lay across the
sidewalk like traps for the unwary.

"I've an errand down here," he said slyly. "Guess it won't hurt you to
take a little walk."

His air was provocative, and Milly followed him breathlessly, her blue
eyes wide with wonder. He stopped opposite a low brick building at the
end of Market Street, and pointed dramatically across. At first Milly
saw nothing to demand attention, then her quick eyes detected the blazon
of a new gilt sign above the second-story windows, which read:--

    H. RIDGE & CO., IMPORTERS
    TEAS AND COFFEES

Horatio broke into an excited grin, as Milly grasped his arm.

"Oh, papa--is it _you_?"

"It's _me_ all right!" And he flung out a leg with a strut of
proprietorship. "Opened last week. Want to see the inside?"

"And Hoppers'?" Milly inquired as they crossed the muddy street, dodging
the procession of drays.

"Hoppers'--I just chucked it," Horatio swaggered. "Guess I'm old enough
to work for myself if I'm ever going to--no money in working for the
other feller."

When they had climbed the narrow, dark stairway to the second floor,
Horatio flung open the door to the low, unpartitioned room that ran
clear to the rear of the building. A man rose from behind the solitary
desk near the front window.

"Let me introduce you to the Company," Horatio announced with gravity.
"Mr. Snowden, my daughter!"

They laughed, and Milly detected an air of embarrassment as the man came
forward. In the clear light of the window his hair and mustache seemed
blacker than she remembered; she suspected that they had been dyed. As
Milly shook hands with the "Company," she had her first moment of doubt
about the enterprise.

"My daughter, Miss Simpson," and Milly was shaking hands with a quiet,
homely little woman in spectacles, who might have been twenty-five or
fifty, and who gave Milly a keen, suspicious, commercial look. She was
evidently all that was left of the "company,"--bookkeeper, stenographer,
clerk.

Beside the desk there was a large round table with some unwashed cups
and saucers, a coffee boiler, and in the rear sample cases and
bundles,--presumably the results of importations. Milly admired
everything generously. She was bothered by discovering Snowden as "the
company" and considered whether she ought to confide to her father what
she knew of the man. "He's no gentleman," she thought. "But that would
not be any reason for his being a bad business man," she reflected
shrewdly. And in spite of her woman's misgivings of any person who was
errant "that way," she decided to be silent. "He may have regretted
it,--poor old thing."

Snowden left the place with them. Drawn up in front of the building was
a small delivery wagon, with a spindly horse and a boy. Freshly painted
on the dull black cover was the legend: "H. Ridge & Co. TEAS AND
COFFEES."

"City deliveries," Horatio explained. Snowden smiled wanly. Somehow the
spindly horse did not inspire Milly with confidence, nor the small boy.
But the outfit might answer very well for "city deliveries." Milly was
determined to see nothing but a rosy future for the venture. She
listened smilingly to Horatio, who bobbed along by her side, talking all
the time.

Evidently things had been moving with the Ridges since her departure.
Milly's insistent ambitions had borne fruit. She had roused the
quiescent Horatio. Hoppers' mail-order house offered a secure berth for
a middle-aged man, who had rattled half over the American continent in
search of stability. But, he told himself, the fire was not all out of
his veins yet, and Milly supplied the incentive this time "to better
himself." After some persuasion he had hired his friend Snowden, who had
not yet been invited to become a partner at Hoppers', and who agreed to
put ten thousand dollars into the new business, which Horatio was to
manage. And Grandma Ridge had been persuaded to invest five thousand
dollars, half of what the judge had left her, in her son's new venture.
Then a chance of buying out the China American Tea Company had come.
Horatio, of course, knew nothing about tea, and less about coffee; his
experience had been wholly in drugs. But he argued optimistically that
tea and coffee in a way were drugs, and if a man could sell one sort of
drugs why not another? He saw himself in his own office, signing the
firm's name,--his own name!

"Father!" Milly exclaimed that evening, throwing her arms boisterously
about the little man, in the hoydenish manner so much deplored by her
grandmother,--"Isn't it great! Your own business--and you'll make lots
of money, lots--I'm perfectly sure."

Her ambitions began to flower. There was a delicious sense of venture to
the whole thing: it offered that expansible horizon so necessary to the
happiness of youth, though it might be hard to see just why Horatio
Ridge's entering upon the wholesale tea and coffee business at the
mature age of fifty should light the path to a gorgeous future.

Mrs. Ridge was a rather wet blanket, to be sure, but Grandma was a timid
old lady who did not like travelling in the dark.

"I hope it will come out right--I hope so," she repeated lugubriously.

For a few fleeting moments Milly recalled the spindly horse and the
scrubby boy of the delivery wagon, but for only a few moments. Then her
natural buoyancy overcame any doubts.

"I'm sure father will make a great success of the business!" and she
gave him another hug. Was he not doing this for her? Horatio, twisting
his cigar rapidly between his teeth, strode back and forth in the little
room and nodded optimistically. He was a merchant....

       *       *       *       *       *

One pleasant Sunday in May, father and daughter took the street-car to
the city and strolled north towards the river past "the store." Horatio
glanced proudly at the sign, which was already properly tarnished by the
smoke. Milly turned to gaze at a smart new brougham that was climbing
the ascent to the bridge. There were two men on the box.

"That's the Danners' carriage," she said knowingly to her father, "and
Mrs. George Danner."

There were few carriages with two men on the box in the city those days,
and they were well worth a young woman's attention. The Danners had come
to Chicago hardly a generation before, "as poor as poverty," as Milly
knew. Now their mammoth dry goods establishment occupied almost a city
block, and young Mrs. Danner had two men on the box--all out of dry
goods. Why should not coffee and tea produce the same results? Father
and daughter crossed the bridge, musingly, arm in arm.

From the grimy fringe of commerce about the river they penetrated the
residence quarter beside the Lake. Milly made her father observe the
freshness of the air coming from the water, and how clean and quiet the
streets were. Indeed this quarter of the noisy new city had something of
the settled air of older communities "back east" that Horatio remembered
happily. Milly led him easily around the corner of Acacia Street to the
block where the Nortons lived.

"Aren't they homey looking, father? And just right for us.... Now that
one at the end of the block--it's empty.... You can see the lake from
the front windows. Just think, to be able to _see_ something!"

They went up the steps of the vacant house, and to be sure a little
slice of blue water closed the vista at the end of the street. Horatio
swung his cane hopefully. The pleasant day, the sense of "being his own
man" exhilarated him: he dealt lightly with the "future."

"It's a tony neighborhood, all right," he agreed. "What did you say
these houses rent for?"

"Eighty dollars a month--that's what the Nortons pay."

"Eighty a month--that's not bad, considering what you get!" Horatio
observed largely.

It was a bargain, of course, as father and daughter tried to convince
Mrs. Ridge. But the old lady, accustomed to Euston, Pa., rents, thought
that the forty dollars a month they had to pay for the West Laurence box
was regal, and when it was a question of subletting it at a sacrifice
and taking another for twice the sum she quaked--visibly.

"Don't you think, Horatio, you'd better wait and see how the new
business goes?"

But the voice of prudence was not to the taste of the younger
generations.

"It'll be so near the store," Milly suggested. "Papa can come home for
his lunch."

"You've got to live up to your prospects, mother," Horatio pronounced
robustly.

The old lady saw that she was beaten and said no more. With compressed
lips she contemplated the future. Father and daughter had no doubts:
they both possessed the gambling American spirit that reckons the
harvest ere the seed is put in the ground.

That evening after Milly had departed Horatio explained himself
further,--

"You see, mother, we must start Milly the best we can. She's made a lot
of real good friends for herself, and she'll marry one of these days.
It's our duty to give her every chance."

It never occurred to Horatio that a healthy young woman of twenty with
no prospect of inheritance might find something better worth doing in
life than amusing herself while waiting for a husband. Such strenuous
ideas were not in the air then.

"She'll always have a home so long as I'm alive and can make one for
her," he said sentimentally. "But she'll get one for herself, you see!"

He was vastly proud of "his girl,"--of her good looks, her social power,
her clever talk. And the old lady was forced to agree--they must give
Milly her chance.

       *       *       *       *       *

So that autumn the Ridges trekked again from West Laurence Avenue to the
snug little house on Acacia Street, "just around the corner from the
Drive." At last Milly had won her point and translated herself from the
despised West Side to the heart of the "nicest" neighborhood in the
city. After the turmoil of moving she went to her bed in the third floor
front room, listening to the splash of the lake on the breakwater,
dreaming of new conquests.

What next?




PART TWO

GETTING MARRIED




I

THE GREAT OUTSIDE


All this time, while Milly Ridge was busily spinning her little cocoon
in the big city, other and more serious life had been going on there, it
is needless to say. Out of the human stream Milly was gathering to her
attractive individualities, and Horatio was faithfully performing his
minor function in the dingy brick establishment of the Hoppers'. Many
hundreds of thousands, men and women, were weaving similar webs. For
there was hardly a more stirring corner of the earth's broad platter
than this same sprawling prairie city at the end of the great lake. All
this time it had been swelling, much to the gratification of its
boastful citizens,--getting busier, getting richer, getting dirtier.
There had been many a civic throb and groan,--rosy successes and dreary
failures.

But of all this surrounding life Milly was not faintly conscious. She
could tell you just when the custom of giving afternoon teas first
reached Chicago, when "two men on the box" became the rule, when the
first Charity Ball was held and who led the grand march and why, and
when women wore those absurd puffed sleeves and when they first appeared
with long tails to their coats. But of the daily doings of men folk when
they disappeared of a morning into the smoky haze of the city, and of
all the mighty human forces around her, she had not the slightest
conception, as indeed few of her sisters had at that time. To all
intents and purposes she might as well have lived in the eighteenth
century or in the Colorado desert, as in Chicago in the eighties and
early nineties of this marvellous nineteenth century.

Horatio often referred to Chicago as a "real live town," and
congratulated himself for being part of it. It was the one place in all
the world to do business in. It grew over night, so the papers said each
morning, and was manifestly destined to be the metropolis of the western
hemisphere, etc., etc. All that was in the opulent future, for which
every one lived. Even Horatio, who spent all his waking hours among men,
did not in the least comprehend what it might be to live in this centre
of expanding race energy. Yet he would point out to Milly appreciatively
on their Sunday walks the acres of new building growing mushroomlike
from the sandy soil, with the miles of tangled railroad tracks, the
forest of smoking chimneys, and the ever widening canopy of black smoke.
It was all ugly and dirty, the girl thought. She preferred the drive
along the lake shore, and the Bowman's new palace with its machicolated
cornice.

It was all business, intensely business: business affected even social
moments. Later, when Milly became sophisticated enough to generalize,
she complained that the men were "all one kind"; they could "talk of
nothing but business to a woman." Even their physique, heavy and flabby,
showed the office habit, in contrast with the bony and ruddy Englishmen,
who drifted through the city from time to time. That Chicago was a
huge pool into which all races and peoples drained,--that was a fact
of which Milly was only dimly conscious. "You see so many queer,
foreign-looking people on the street," she might observe. "Polacks and
Dagoes!... Ugh.... Wish they'd stay at home!" Horatio would growl in
response. Milly supposed they came from the "Yards," where hordes of
these savage-looking foreigners were employed in the disagreeable task
of slaughtering cattle. Their activity was only too evident certain days
when the wind veered to the southwest and filled the city with an awful
stench.

Of what it all meant, this huddling together of strange peoples from the
four quarters of the globe, Milly never took the time to think. She
never had the least conception of what it was,--the many miles of bricks
and mortar, the tangled railroads, the ceaseless roar of the great city
like the din of a huge factory. Here was the mill and the market--here
was LIFE in its raw material. When she crossed the murky, slimy river,
as she had occasion to do almost daily, after the removal to the North
Side, she thought merely how dingy and dirty the place was, and what a
pity it was one had to go through such a mess to reach the best shops
and the other quarters of the city where "nice" people lived. She saw
neither the beauty nor the significance of those grimy warehouses
thrusting up along the muddy river amid the steam and the smoke--caverns
that concealed hardware, tools, groceries, lumber,--all the raw
protoplasm of life. An artist remarked once to Milly, "It's like
Hell--and like Paradise, all in one,--this river!" She thought him
rather silly.

One evening, however, out of this roaring hive of men and women striving
to feed and clothe and house themselves came a flash of vivid lightning
in the murky sky,--the bomb of the anarchist. That was enough to startle
even the Milly Ridges,--spitting forth its vicious message only a mile
or two from where the very "nicest" people had their homes! The sodden
consciousness of the city awoke in a hideous nightmare of fear. The
newspapers were filled with the ravings of excited ignorance. Nobody
talked of anything else. Horatio declaimed against the ungrateful
dogs,--those "Polack beasts,"--who weren't fit to enjoy all that America
gave them. At dinner parties grave and serious men debated in low tones
the awful deed and its meaning. Even women spoke of the bomb instead of
discussing whether "you could get this at Field's" or "should try
Mandel's." A fearful vision of Anarchy stalked the commonplace streets
and peered into comfortable houses. Milly imagined that somehow those
evil-looking barbarians had got loose from the stockyards and might
descend at any moment upon the defenceless city in a howling mob, as she
had read of their doing in her history books. For the first few days it
was an excitement to venture into the streets at night, even with a
strong male escort. Horatio spoke solemnly, with an aroused
consciousness of citizenship, of "teaching the mob lessons and a
wholesome respect for the law." Then there were the rumors fresh every
hour of plots against leading men and wholesale slaughter by these same
bloodthirsty anarchists, and the theatrical discoveries of the
police--it was a breathless time, when even Milly seized upon the
newspaper of a morning. Then gradually, as the police gathered in the
little band of scapegoats, the tension relaxed: people went to the
celebrated Haymarket to gape at the spot where the crime against society
had taken place....

The excitement flamed up once more when the anarchists were brought to
trial. Women fought for the chance to sit in the noisome little
court-room, to see the eight men caught like rats in the nets of
Justice. When life emerges dramatically in the court-room, it interests
the Milly Ridges.... One morning Sally Norton came flying into the Ridge
house.

"Get your things on, Mil!" she rippled breathlessly. "We're going to the
anarchist trial."

"But the papers say you can't get near the door."

"Father's given me a card to the judge--he knows him. Come on--Vivie's
waiting at the corner."

In such heady excitement the three girls raced to the criminal court
building and were smuggled by a fat bailiff through the judge's private
chambers into the crowded scene. There was not six inches of standing
room to be had in the place except beside the judge, and there the
bailiff installed the young women in comfortable chairs, much to the
envy of the perspiring throng beneath.

There, behold, beside the grave judge, facing the court-room, above the
counsel, the reporters, the prisoners, sat Milly Ridge and Sally and
Vivie Norton, in their best clothes, with the sweeping plumed hats that
had just come into fashion then.... Milly beamed with pleasure and
excitement, casting alluring glances from beneath her great hat at the
severe judge. It was like a play, and she had a very good seat.

It was a play that went on day after day for weeks, sometimes dull with
legal formalities, sometimes tense with "human" interest. And, day after
day, the three girls occupied their favored seats beside the judge,
listening to the evidence of the great conspiracy against Society,
watching the prisoners--a sorry lot of men generally--and staring
haughtily down at the jammed court-room. Their presence, of course, was
noted by the reporters and mentioned as at a social event "among our
society leaders in daily attendance at the trial." Their names and
dresses were duly recorded, along with pen pictures of the anarchists.
It quite fluttered Milly, this prominence,--"the Misses Norton and Miss
Mildred Ridge, etc."

The three girls became deeply interested in the prisoners and picked
their favorites among them. Sally was for a German because he looked to
be "such an interesting devil," and Vivie was intrigued by the newspaper
stories about another. Milly was drawn to the youngest of all,--a mere
lad, blue-eyed and earnest, who had evidently "got into bad company" and
been led astray. Vivie sent her man flowers,--a bunch of deep red
roses,--and the next day he appeared wearing one conspicuously pinned to
his coat. Sally coaxed the obliging bailiff to smuggle them all into the
jail so that they might see the prisoners and talk to them through the
bars. But the great event was when Spies made his celebrated speech of
defiance, breathing scorn and hatred of his captors. Sally Norton rose
in her seat and threw him kisses with both hands. A bailiff came, put
his hand on her shoulder, and forced her to be quiet. It made something
of a scene in court. The judge looked annoyed. Then Sally had a fit of
the giggles and finally had to leave the room.

But when the turn of Milly's hero came to speak in his own defence,
Milly had a choking sensation in her throat and felt the warm tears run
over her cheeks. He, too, was brave. He talked of the wrongs of society,
and Milly realized somehow that she was part of the society he was
condemning,--one of the more privileged at the feast of life, who made
it impossible for the many others to get what they wanted. Of course his
views were wrong,--all the men she knew said so,--but the pity of it all
in his case, so young and handsome and brave he appeared!

While counsel wrangled and pleaded, while this little group of men
rounded up by the police to stand sponsors for Anarchy and expiate its
horrid creed, so that good citizens might sleep peacefully nights, faced
death, the three girls sat and stared at the spectacle. It passed
slowly, and the prisoners were condemned by a jury of their peers quite
promptly, and the grave judge sentenced them "to hang by their necks
until dead." At the dreadful words Milly gasped, then sobbed outright.

No matter what they had done, at least what _he_ had done, how wrong
_his_ ideas about society were, _he_ was too young and too handsome for
such an awful fate. If he had only had about him from the beginning the
right influences, if some woman had loved him and guided him
aright,--Milly hoped that he might yet be spared, pardoned if possible.
Mopping the tears from her eyes she left the court-room for the last
time, with a vague sense of the wretchedness of life--sometimes.

       *       *       *       *       *

That very night, however, she was as gay and bright as ever at the
Kemps' dinner. A fascinating young lawyer was of the party, a newcomer
to the city, who dared to raise his voice in that citadel of
respectability, the Kemps' Gothic dining-room, and declare that the
whole affair was a miserable travesty of justice,--a conspiracy framed
up by the police. "They have the city scared," he said, "and nobody
dares say what he thinks. The newspapers know the truth, but the big men
make the papers keep quiet." It was all quite thrilling, Milly thought.
Perhaps, after all, her young man was not a villain. The table of sober
diners sat very still, but afterwards the banker pronounced what the
young lawyer said to be "loose talk" and "wicked nonsense." And Milly
knew one young man who would never be asked again to the Granger Avenue
house.

After the verdict came all sorts of legal delays, and Milly largely lost
interest in the anarchists. The drama had evaporated, and though she
continued to read what the papers printed about the prisoners, more
personal affairs crowded in to blot out from her mind that sense of a
large, suffering humanity which she had had for a few moments. When the
governor was finally induced to intervene and commute some of the
sentences, she had a muddled notion that he had deprived Society of its
just vengeance, that the well-to-do, well-meaning people had failed to
get full punishment for the shocking deeds of the anarchists.

And that was all.

About a year later the young blue-eyed anarchist, in whom Milly had been
interested, blew off the top of his head with a bomb. But Milly was very
busy just at that time with other matters.




II

MILLY ENTERTAINS


Of much more importance to Milly than the fatal bomb was her first real
party. She had long desired to entertain.

What magic the word has for women of Milly's disposition! It conjures
the scene of their real triumphs, for woman displays herself when she
"entertains" as man does when he fights. She patronizes her friends,
worsts her enemies,--then, when she "entertains"....

Milly's party came off that first spring after the Ridges had moved into
the Acacia Street house,--in 1890 to be exact. Milly had had it in mind,
of course, even before the family moved. She had long been conscious of
her social indebtedness, which of late years had accumulated rapidly.
Her party should be also an announcement, as well as a review of
progress. She had consulted with the Nortons and Eleanor Kemp, who
advised giving a "tea,"--a cheap form of wholesale entertainment then in
more repute than now. Milly would have preferred to "entertain at
dinner," as the papers put it. But that was obviously out of the
question. The Ridge household with its shabby appointments and one
colored maid was not yet on a dinner-giving basis. Moreover, it would
have cost far too much to feed suitably the host that Milly aspired to
gather together. The moving and necessary replenishment of the household
goods had quite exhausted Horatio's purse, and the increase in the
monthly bills more than consumed all the present profits of the tea and
coffee business. Grandma Ridge was more vinegary than ever these days
over the household bills. Milly called her "mean," and meanness in her
eyes was the most detestable of human vices.

The famous "tea" marked another advance in Milly's career. It proved
beyond question her gift for the life she had elected. Simple as this
affair was--"from four until seven"--it had to be created out of whole
cloth and involved a marvellous display of energy and tact on Milly's
part. First her father and grandmother had to be accustomed to the idea.
"I ain't much on Sassiety myself," Horatio protested, when the subject
was first broached. (He had an exasperating habit of becoming needlessly
ungrammatical when he wished to "take Milly down.") Mrs. Ridge observed
coldly,--"It would be a great extravagance."

That tiresome word, "Extravagance!" Milly came to loathe it most of all
the words in the language.

"Oh, grandma!" she exclaimed. "Just tea and cakes!"

Her conception grew before the event. Just "tea and cakes" developed
into ices and sherbets and bonbons. Horatio would not permit punch or
any form of alcoholic refreshment. After a convivial youth he had become
rigidly temperance. "Tea and coffee's enough," he said. "You might tell
your friends where they come from--help on the business." (It was one of
Horatio's rude jokes.)

Eleanor Kemp, from her conservatories at Como, supplied the flowers and
plants that did much to disguise the shabbiness of the little house. The
Norton girls collected the silver and china from a radius of eight
blocks. There was a man at the door with white gloves, another at the
curb for carriage company, and a strip of dusty red carpet across the
walk. Milly financed all this extra expense, and that and her new gown
made such a deep hole in her budget that she never again caught up with
her bills, although Horatio was induced to increase her allowance the
next Christmas.

Milly and all her friends worked for weeks in preparation. They wrote
the cards, addressed the envelopes, arranged the furniture, and
distributed the flowers. She felt "dead" the day before with fatigue and
anxiety, and shed tears over one of Grandma Ridge's little speeches.

       *       *       *       *       *

But it was a triumph! Guests began coming shortly after four,--a few
women from the West side,--and by five-thirty the little Acacia Street
house was jammed to the bursting point, so that the young men who
arrived towards six had to exercise their athletic skill in order to
insert themselves into the crush. Afternoon teas still had some
allurement, even for young men, in those primitive days, and Milly had
an army of loyal friends, who would have come to anything out of
devotion to her. And the affair had got abroad, as all Milly's affairs
did, had become the talk of the quarter; a good many families were
interested through personal contributions of tableware. There was a line
of waiting cabs and carriages for three blocks in from the Lake. The
stream of smartly dressed people flowed in and out of the house until
after eight, when the last boisterous young men were literally shooed
out of the front door by Milly and her aides,--the two Norton girls. It
was, as the French put it, furiously successful.

Through the heat of the fray Mrs. Kemp and Mrs. Gilbert stood beside
Milly under the grille that divided the hall from the drawing-room.
Grandma Ridge in her best black gown, with her stereotyped cat-smile,
sat near by in a corner. Milly had carefully planted the old lady where
she would be conspicuous and harmless and had impressed upon her the
danger of moving from her eminent position. For once the little old lady
was stirred to genuine emotion as the babble of tongues surged over her.
A becoming pink in her white cheeks betrayed the excitement within her
withered breast over the girl's triumph. For even Grandma Ridge
possessed traces of a feminine nature.... And Horatio! He came in late
from his business, scorning to pay attention to the "women's doings,"
sneaked up the back stairs and donned his Sunday broadcloth coat, then
wormed his way cautiously into the press to see the fun. One of the more
exquisite moments of the day, preserved by Sally Norton and widely
circulated among Milly's friends, was the picture of the little man
facing the majestic Mrs. Bernhard Bowman--she of the palace on the
shore--and teetering nervously on his heels, with hands thrust
nonchalantly into his trousers' pockets, bragging to that distinguished
person of "Daughter."

"She's a wonder--mighty smart girl," he said confidingly. "Done all this
herself you know--her own idee. I'm not much myself for entertaining and
all that society business. Give me a friend or two and a quiet game of
cards, etc., etc."

The majestic "leader of our most exclusive circle," as the _Star_ had it
the next Sunday morning, eyed the nervous little man over her broad
bosom and across her plate of salad and pronounced gravely her
judgment,--

"Your daughter, Mr. Ridge, must have a remarkable social talent."

"They all say it--must be so. Guess she got it from her mother's
folks--not from _me_." He laughed confidentially. "Well, I tell her
grandmother we must give her some rope--she'll marry one of these days."

"Of course."

"Young folks will be young."

(Afterwards Horatio puffed considerably when he told of his encounter
with the great Mrs. Bowman. "I wasn't the least might 'fraid of
her,--talked to her like anybody else. Who was she, anyway, when old Joe
Bowman married her? Saleslady in a State Street store. I've seen her
myself sliding the change across the counter and handing out socks." In
this the little man must have exaggerated, for it was long before the
Ridge advent in Chicago that the lady destined to become its social
leader had withdrawn from the retail trade, if indeed there were any
truth in the tale. "And she married a butcher," Horatio added. "Oh,
papa!" from Milly. "Yes, he _was_ a butcher, too--wholesale, maybe, but
he had the West Side Market out beyond Division Street--I've seen the
sign." That might well have been. But long before this the honorable
Joseph Bernhard Bowman had died,--God rest his soul in the granite
mausoleum in Oakwoods,--and left a pleasant number of millions to
finance his widow's aspirations. In Chicago, in those days, one never
laid the start up against any assured achievement.)

At any rate Mrs. Bowman's presence at Milly's party was the last touch
of success. Milly, though she had met the great lady, had not dared to
send her a card. But Mrs. Gilbert, who realized what it would mean to
Milly, had fetched her in her carriage, coaxingly,--"It will please the
girl so, you know, to have you there for a few minutes!" And when the
leader towered above Milly, whose flushed face was upturned with
glistening, childlike eyes, and said in her ear, "My dear, it's all
delightful, your party, and you are charming, really charming!" Milly
felt that she had received the red ribbon.

"She has a very magnetic personality, your young friend," the great lady
confided afterwards to Mrs. Gilbert, and repeated impressively several
times, "A magnetic personality--it's all in that."

The phrase had not become meaningless then, and it aptly described
Milly's peculiar power. Somehow she reached out unconsciously in every
direction and drew to her all these perspiring, pushing, eating, talking
people. She had drawn them all into her shabby little home. "Magnetic,"
as the great lady said. It is a power much desired in democratic
societies where all must be done by the individual of his own
initiative--a power independent of birth, education, money,--with a
touch of the mystery of genius in it, of course.

Milly drew all kinds, indiscriminately,--even men, who didn't count for
much in this woman's game of entertaining, except for the fact that they
came. Yes, Mrs. Bernhard Bowman, who knew that people came to her chilly
halls merely to have it known that they _could_ come, might well envy
poor little Milly Ridge her one magnet gift.

"And so sweet," Mrs. Gilbert cooed fondly, watching her protege.

At the moment Milly was listening to an elderly lady of the species
frump, with two homely daughters of the species bore,--obviously West
Side relics,--and she gave them the same whole-hearted interest she had
given the majestic one herself. The two older, experienced women gazed
at the scene half enviously. This was another magic quality that the
girl possessed,--especially feminine, a tricksy gift of the Gods, quite
outside the moral categories and therefore desired by all--charm. Charm
made all that mob so happy to be there in the stuffy quarters,
struggling to appease their thirst with the dregs of tepid sherbet;
charm compelled the warm, enthusiastic speeches to the girl. As Eleanor
Kemp whispered, pinching Milly's plump arm, "My dear, you are a wonder,
just a perfect wonder,--I always said so.... I'll run in to-morrow to
talk it over...."

All the women, richer, better placed in the game than Milly, easily
detecting the shabbiness of her home beneath the attempts to furbish up,
envied the girl these two gifts. Why? Because they most help a woman to
be what civilization has forced her to be--a successful adventuress.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Milly is such a sweet creature," Mrs. Gilbert purred to her companion,
as she sank back into the silky softness of the brougham that Roy
Gilbert had provided for her. "I do hope she'll marry well!"

"Of course she must marry properly,--some man who will give her the
opportunity of exercising her remarkable social gift," Mrs. Bowman
pronounced sagely.

Nettie Gilbert smiled. She felt that she had done a kind act that day.

"The girl has a career before her, if she makes no mistakes," the great
lady added.

And that was the universal verdict of all the experienced women who came
to bid their young hostess farewell and make their pretty speeches. One
and all they recognized a woman's triumph. In this first attempt she had
shown what she could do "with nothing, positively nothing--that house!"
Hers was a talent like any other, not to be denied. The woman's talent.
Obviously Horatio could not finance this career on coffee and tea. Some
stronger man, better equipped in fortune, must be found and pressed into
service. Who of all the young and middle-aged men that had come that
afternoon to take the girl's hand and say the proper things would
undertake this responsibility? From the way they hung about Milly, it
might be seen that she would not have to wait long for her "working
partner."

"Next, Milly's engagement!" Vivie Norton suggested daringly.

"And then!" Sally shouted, waving her arms in abandon at the vision she
conjured.

"Did you ever see so many men?... And they never go to afternoon things
if they can help it...."

Yes, it was an indubitable triumph! Even Horatio and Grandma Ridge
admitted it, as they sat down in the disorder of the cluttered
dining-room with the drooping flowers to munch sandwiches and drink cold
chocolate for supper. They were plainly excited and somewhat awed by the
vistas of the new social horizon that was opening through Milly's little
party.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly was roused the next morning from a deep sleep to answer a knock at
her door.

"What is it?" she said peevishly. "I think you might let me sleep
to-day."

"Your father thought you would want to see the papers," her grandmother
said, holding out an armful of Sunday literature. "Shall I bring you up
a cup of tea?"

"Thanks, Granny." And Milly sank back into her pillows, while her hand
skilfully extracted the sheet that contained "Madame Alpha's" social
column. Ah, here it was!

"One of the most charming affairs of the post-lenten season.... A quiet
five o'clock.... Many of our notable fashionables, etc.... Radiant young
hostess, etc. The charm of the young hostess, etc."

Milly's thick braids circled her soft neck and fell on the large sheet
while she devoured the words, as a young actress might swallow her first
notices, or a young author scan his first reviews. The subtle
intoxication of a successful first appearance quickened her pulses.
"Quite the smartest bunch of snobs in the village," wrote "Suzette" in
the _Mirror_, with a too obvious sneer. (Suzette's pose was a breezy
disdain for the "highlights" of Society, an affectation of frontier
simplicity and democracy. But Milly, like every woman, knew well enough
that there is always a better and a worse socially, and the important
thing is to belong to the best wherever you are, democracy or no
democracy.)

At last Milly pushed from her the mass of newspapers and lay with
upturned face, hands crossed beneath her head, staring out of her blue
eyes at the dusty ceiling, dreaming of triumphs to be, social heights to
surmount, a flutter of engagement cards winging their way like a flight
of geese to the little Acacia Street house; dreaming of men and
women--and somewhere at the end of the long vista she saw a very
gorgeous procession, herself at the head, with a long veil and an
enormous bunch of white roses clasped to her breast, moving in stately
fashion up the church aisle. At the extreme end of the vista stood an
erect black figure beside a white-robed clergyman. (For Milly now went
to the Episcopal Church, finding the service more satisfying.) The face
of this erect figure was blurred in the dream. It was full of qualities,
but lacked defining shape: it was "manly," "generous," "high-spirited,"
"rich," "successful," etc., etc. But the nearer she approached in her
vision to the altar amid the crash of organ music, the more indefinite
became the face. She tried on the figure various faces she knew, but
none seemed to fit exactly. No one possessed all the qualities.

Grandma with a cup of lukewarm tea shattered the vision.




III

MILLY BECOMES ENGAGED


"Milly," Nettie Gilbert said impressively, "I've something serious to
say to you."

It was a Sunday evening before the fire in the Gilberts' pleasant
drawing-room. The other supper guests had taken themselves off, and Roy
Gilbert had disappeared to his den, where he smoked many cigars and was
supposed to read serious books upon history and political economy.

Milly glanced apprehensively at the pretty, plump lady beside her. The
tone in which the words had been pronounced reminded her oddly of that
time so far away--so very far back--when Eleanor Kemp had talked to her
seriously about completing her education.

"Yes, dear?" she answered, caressing a dimpled hand at her side.

"Milly,"--Mrs. Gilbert leaned forward and frowned slightly. Milly
thought, "Nettie's getting fat, like her mother." The Gilberts had
awfully good food and a great deal of it, even if they did go in for
missions. "Milly, I have you on my mind a great deal these days."

"That's so good of you, dear."

Milly thought it must be religion once more, and prepared herself.

"You ought to settle yourself.... All your friends think you should
marry, dear."

"Why?" Milly demanded with some asperity.

"Why, a girl in your position--"

"Yes, I know all that," Milly interrupted quickly.

She knew far better than Nettie Gilbert how necessary it was for her to
settle herself somehow. The bills had grown more rather than less the
last two years, and the tea and coffee importing business did not seem
to be doing what had been expected of it. There were signs of an
increasing financial stringency about Horatio. Then there were other
signs, more personal, that were not pleasant to recall. That social
career which had opened so brilliantly rather more than two years before
had been full of pleasures and excitements. For nearly a season Milly
Ridge had been the most talked of and invited girl in her special
circle. The next season she had still been "popular," but latterly at
the opening of the new season there had been a distinct falling off. The
fringe of cards about her long mirror, where she kept her invitations
tucked into the margins and pinned in pendants, had grown less
fresh--not to say stale--and less distinguished. Mrs. Bowman had
forgotten altogether to invite her to dinner this fall. There were other
stings and mortifications that need not be described.... Yes, Milly had
been pondering the matter more or less consciously for some months.

"Well," she said to Mrs. Gilbert, with a brave little smile, "what shall
I do about it?"

She recognized Nettie Gilbert's right to broach the subject. Nettie had
been her best friend, and thanks to her own experience had a
fellow-feeling for her and wished to see her launched upon a similar
successful career matrimonial.

"With all your charm, you could have married a dozen times," she said
with gentle reproach.

"But I haven't!" Milly retorted despairingly. She did not like to admit
that her opportunities had not been as numerous as it was popularly
supposed they had been. They never were, as Nettie must know from her
own experience. Yet she had had her "chances," and why hadn't she pulled
it off before this? Why had all the little flirtations with promising
young men come to nothing? Were they afraid of her lavish hand? Or had
she been waiting for something else,--"the real, right thing?" She did
not know.

Her grandmother said that a penniless girl had no right to be so
"particular"--which always maddened Milly.

"I'm afraid you're not serious enough, my dear," Mrs. Gilbert remarked
in gentle reproof. She had always felt that was a flaw in Milly's
character,--a lack of deep interest in the missionary side of life.

"But men don't like serious women," Milly said flippantly, dangling her
slipper on the end of her toes.

"I think the best ones do," Mrs. Gilbert retorted severely. "You were
making fun of Mr. Parker at supper to-night, and I'm afraid he
understood."

"I know," Milly admitted penitently. "But he has such a funny voice."
She imitated amusingly the shrill falsetto of the said Clarence Parker.
"And he's so solemn about everything he says."

Mrs. Gilbert laughed in spite of her stern mood, then controlled
herself.

"But, Milly, Clarence Parker's very nice. He's related to the best
people where he comes from, and he is doing remarkably well in his
business, Roy says."

"What is it?" Milly demanded more practically.

"Stocks and bonds, I think,--banking, you know."

"Oh," said Milly, somewhat impressed.

"What is Clarence Parker's business, Roy?" Mrs. Gilbert appealed to her
husband, who at that moment happened to enter the room.

"He represents several large estates in the East--invests the money,"
Gilbert replied, and turning to Milly with a smile asked:--

"Going out for him, Milly? He's all right, solid as a rock."

"Lighthouse," Milly corrected sulkily.

"And he's got plenty of his own money--has sense about investments."

"I haven't any to make!"

"Oh, come--you've got one...."

Nevertheless, when the two friends said their good-bys, kissing each
other affectionately on the cheek and saying, "Will you go with me to
the Drummonds Tuesday?" and "How about the meeting for the Old Man's
Mission?" Milly added, "Your financial rock asked if he might call. I
told him he could."

Milly squeaked the words in imitation of Mr. Parker's thin voice. They
both laughed.

But Milly trotted home around the corner to the little house in Acacia
Street in anything but a gay mood. The angular, white face of Mr.
Clarence Albert Parker was far from fulfilling the idea she had visioned
to herself in her Sunday morning dream. She knew well enough why Nettie
Gilbert had arranged this particular Sunday supper with the intimacy of
only four guests--Milly was very much awake now socially--and she had
taken pains to examine the new young man with critical care. He was
little, scarcely taller than Horatio, and Milly disliked men whose heads
she could look across. But with a silk hat it might not be too bad. And
he was slightly bald, as well as pale,--on the whole not robust,--but he
had keen little gray eyes that seemed to watch one from the side and
take in a great deal. He was a precise, neat, colorless man, the sort
turned out by a conservative New England family that invests its savings
with scrupulous care at four and three-quarters per cent. No, he was not
inspiring, this grandson of the Plymouth Rock, with the thin voice. But
he seemed substantial. Mr. Gilbert said so, and Roy Gilbert knew.

There were other sombre reflections in Milly's revery that night. The
sense of family stringency was urging her to "make good" in some way.
She was aware that she was slipping back in the social sands, might
become commonplace and neglected, if she did not do something to revive
the waning interest in herself. She realized, as she had not definitely
realized before, that outside of the social game her life held little or
nothing. To be sure, she helped Mrs. Gilbert with her missionary
business and charities: she read to a few old men once a week, and she
carried flowers over to St. Joseph's Hospital. But she could not pretend
to herself that charities occupied her whole being.... No, the only way
out was Matrimony. A marriage, suitable and successful, would start her
career once more. With something like a desperate resolve Milly put her
latch-key into the hole, and let herself into the paternal home, where a
familiar family odor greeted her sensitive nostrils. With a grimace of
disgust she swept upstairs. Decidedly it was time for her to settle
herself, as Nettie phrased it.

       *       *       *       *       *

This time Milly arrived, in spite of homely paw or lukewarm inclination
for the man. The young financier called at the Ridge home once, twice,
and there met Horatio and Grandma Ridge, who both thought very highly of
him. "A man with such principles, my dear," Grandma observed. The two
young people "attended divine service together," showed up afterwards on
the Drive, where Milly noted with satisfaction that Mr. Parker plus a
silk hat overtopped her gaze. She also noted that the friends she met
smiled and bowed with just an added touch of interest.... They
talked--chiefly Milly--on a variety of colorless topics. It appeared
that Mr. Parker had positive views only on financial matters. For all
the rest,--art, literature, religion, and life,--he began with a
cautious,--"Well, now, I don't know," and never got much farther.
However, Milly wisely reflected, one didn't marry for the sake of
exciting conversation.

The affair progressed quite smoothly; by the middle of winter Milly's
friends smiled when they spoke of "Milly's young man" and were ready
with their felicitations. On the whole they thought that Milly had "done
quite well...."

It happened naturally, in the course of an expedition which the two made
to the scene of the great new Exposition. They drove out in a smart
carriage with a pair of lively horses which Mr. Parker managed very
well, but which took all his attention. They first visited the
tumultuous fair grounds, where an army of workmen were making desperate
efforts to get the impromptu city in some shape for visitors. They
talked of the beauty of the buildings, the grandeur of the whole design,
the greatness of Chicago. Then they drove to a vast new hotel in which
Mr. Parker had taken a conservative interest, and they still talked of
the marvellous growth of the city, its Ultimate Destiny,--terms which
had a lugubrious sound in the New Englander's piping voice. As they
turned northwards around the great oval of Washington Park, the sun was
sinking into a golden haze of dust and smoke. The horses dropped to a
peaceful walk, and Milly knew that it was coming and braced herself for
it. It came, slowly.

First, by way of preliminary flourish, Mr. Parker declared all over
again his faith in the future of the city. He had come to stay, he
repeated with emphasis; had thrown in his fate with that of Chicago.

"I'm going to stay," he trilled, "and grow up with the city." (At this
point Milly almost upset the boat by laughing: the idea of the little
man's growing up with Chicago seemed funny.)

Having struck the personal note, the young man spoke of his own
"prospects," and outlined the dignified position he intended to occupy
in the forefront of the elect. This implied, of course, an establishment
and a suitable wife. Milly made the proper responses in the pauses. At
last the fateful words reached her ear, "Will you marry me, Miss Ridge?"
As Milly mimicked later his slow, solemn utterance, it sounded more
like, "Will you bury me, Miss Ridge?"

And Milly, with commendable directness, looked him straight in the eye
and said without a quiver,--"Yes, I will, Mr. Parker."

Afterwards, as if this effort had exhausted both, there was silence on
the way back. When they reached the house, he said impressively, "I will
call to-morrow and see your father."

"He'll be delighted to see you, I'm sure," Milly rejoined somewhat
flatly. Then she fled up the steps, as if she were afraid he might try
to kiss her or hold her hand. She escaped _that_, for the present....

So it was done at last.




IV

CONGRATULATIONS


If Milly had any misgivings or inner revolt that first night, it would
have been dispelled by the unfeigned joy of her father and her
grandmother the next morning when she told them the news. Little Horatio
said robustly as he kissed her:--

"Fine! Daughter! Fine!... He's a smart young man, I know that--the best
one of all your beaus.... And _he's_ lucky, too," he added
apologetically.

Grandma Ridge remarked with a certain malice, "You ought to be happy
with him, Milly; he will be able to give you all the things you want."

"I hope so," Milly responded briskly.

A few telephone messages to intimate friends and the news was spread
broadcast over the area of Milly's little world. For the rest of the day
and for several days afterwards she was kept busy receiving
congratulations by telephone and in person,--flowers, letters,
invitations,--all the little demonstrations of interest that give
importance and excitement to a woman's life.

She had "made good," at last--that was the pleasant sensation she was
bathed in from morning to night. She had done the right thing. The
congratulations sounded quite sincere. If not much was said of the young
man's personal charms, a great deal was made of his substantial
qualities, which were indubitable.

Nettie Gilbert was one of the first to arrive and took Milly to her arms
affectionately. "My dear," she murmured between kisses, "I'm _so_ glad
for you."

"You see I did it," Milly replied complacently, marvelling to herself
how easy it had been to do, once she had determined upon this way out.

"You must let me give you a party.... Thursday?" Mrs. Gilbert purred,
ignoring delicate analysis.

That was the beginning of a joyous whirl of engagements,--luncheons,
dinners, suppers, and theatre parties. It seemed as if Milly's little
world had been waiting for this occasion to renew its enthusiasm. Milly
had the happy self-importance that an engaged girl should have, and to
cap her triumphs, Mrs. Bowman gave one of her tremendous dinners, with
twenty-four covers, her second-best gold service, and a dance afterward
in the picture gallery. All in honor of obscure little Milly Ridge! She
had arrived.

She might look down the long, heavily laden table with the men-servants
inserting the courses between the guests, and scan the faces of
prominent citizens and their wives together with a few minor
diplomats--for this was the great summer of '93--and feel a pardonable
elation in her position. On her right sat that Mr. George Danner, the
wealthy merchant whose equipage with two men on the box she had once
admired, and on her left was the kindly, homely face of old Christian
Becker, the owner of _The Daily Star_. (You may be sure that the _Star_
had a full account of this function. But Milly's name appeared so
frequently in Madame Alpha's social column that it had almost lost
interest for her.)... At the other end of the table next to the
hostess's expansive person sat the Instrument of Accomplishment, like a
very refined little white mouse, his keen eyes taking in every gold fork
on the table. His mouth was often open, and Milly imagined she could
hear the familiar, "Well now, I don't know about that." However, his
hostess seemed to treat him with consideration.

       *       *       *       *       *

It should be said to Milly's credit that she took rather less
satisfaction in all this social flattery than in the happiness her
engagement brought into the little Acacia Street house. Horatio began to
chirp once more, after the interview with his prospective son-in-law.
The inspissated gloom of the days of stringency had passed. The golden
beams of prosperity seemed to radiate from the white-faced financier.

"I tell you Clarence is a smart one," Horatio announced after the first
interview. "He gave me some good pointers." For after the embarrassing
formalities of sentiment had been disposed of, the two men had naturally
dropped into business, and Parker had suggested a method of inserting
the tea and coffee business into the Exposition by getting concessions
for "Coffee Kiosks," which should advertise the Ridge brands of harmless
stimulants. The scheme had fired Horatio, who began once more to dream
dreams of wealth.

So when the ring came, which like everything else about Clarence Albert
was plain, costly, correct--and unlovely--Milly put the large diamond on
her stubby finger and reflected that even if its giver was not the Idol
of her Dreams, he was very good to her, and she ought to be happy. She
meant to make him a good wife as she understood that vague term, and
thus repay him for all his bounties. As a matter of fact the little
Parker man was getting repaid already in social matters for his generous
act in selecting a poor girl to share his affluence. The world knew him
to be sharp, and was glad to think him kind....

"It's a very handsome one, Clarence," Milly said of the ring, turning it
critically to the light. And she sweetly held up her face to be kissed.

That, to be frank, was the part she liked least of the whole affair,
"demonstrations," and she dealt out her favors to her lover sparingly.
However, her fiance was not demonstrative by nature: if he had amorous
passions, he kept them carefully concealed, so that Milly could manage
that side quite easily. It usually came merely to a pressure of hands, a
cold kiss on the brow, or a flutter along the bronze tendrils about the
neck. Sometimes Milly speculated what it might be like later in the
obscure intimacy of marriage, but she dismissed the subject easily,
confident that she could "manage" as she did now. And she had the sweet
sense of self-sacrifice in doing something personally disagreeable. "If
it hadn't been for poor old Dad," she would say to herself and sigh.
Which was not wholly sincere. At this period of their lives few mortals
can be square with themselves.

All such refinements of thought and feeling were rare because there was
no time for revery. Milly was determined to get the most out of her
triumph, and drove the peaceable Clarence Albert rather hard. All women,
he had supposed in his ignorance, were more or less fragile. But it was
astonishing what an amount of nerve-racking gayety Milly could get
through in a day and come up smiling the next morning for another
sixteen-hour bout with pleasure. Sometimes Clarence protested that he
was a working man and must be at his office by nine. But Milly had
slight mercy; she let him see plainly the social duty of the American
husband. He too reflected, it might be, that things would be different
after the wedding and yawned away the hours as best he could at dance or
dinner or late supper in Old Vienna on the famous Midway.

It was Chicago's wonderful festal year, the summer of the great Fair.
Responsible men of large affairs, who knew what was going on financially
behind the scenes, might look grave and whisper their apprehensions
among themselves. But the people were resolved to be gay. They were mad
with doing, especially the women. All the world was entertained in the
lavish western spirit of hospitality. Thus in addition to her own
private excitement, Milly shared the general festival spirit, and thanks
to her social charm and her young man's reputation for solid achievement
the two were part of many an important festivity. They helped to
entertain the European notables, dined and did the shows from morning
until morning in the best of company. Milly wished it might go on like
this forever.

"Chicago will not be large enough for you after this experience," her
old friend, Eleanor Kemp, observed, crossing her path at the ball for
the French ambassador. "You will have to move on to New York."

"Well, now, I don't know about that," Parker demurred, but Milly cut in
with,--

"We're going abroad first, you know."

She smiled graciously on her old friend, divining exactly that kind
lady's mixed feelings. "Come on, Clarence!" and she sailed off into the
press, bowing and smiling to her right and her left.

In the midst of all this feverish activity there was little time for
mutual examination and discovery for the engaged couple,--all the
better, Milly thought,--and yet she had already resolved upon certain
changes in her husband-to-be, like a competent wife. For one thing she
discovered quite early that Clarence Albert was inclined to be close in
money matters. He always counted his change carefully, like a good
puritan, and gave small tips. He ordered the less expensive dishes and
wines, and inquired whether a single portion might do for two when they
were lunching out together. He did not like to take cabs when the
street-cars were running. Milly had suffered all her life at the hands
of Grandma Ridge from such petty economies, and she did not intend that
it should continue. It was not so much any intentional meanness--if
Milly had but known--as the resultant habit of generations of enforced
thrift. Milly's fingers all turned outwards, and money ran through them
like sand. She was a born Spender and scattered Cash, her own or other
people's, with regal indifference. All her life she had suffered from
cramped means, and now that she was about to marry a rich man she meant
to get the good of it. What am I doing it for? she would ask herself in
her more cynical moments.... As soon as she was Mrs. Parker she would
come to an understanding with her husband on this cardinal point and
show him what was decent for a man in his position. Meanwhile she gave
him a few hints of what he might expect.

"I'm afraid," he remarked in his falsetto voice, not unkindly, "you like
to spend money."

"Of course I do! What woman doesn't?" Milly retorted brightly, as she
chucked the bunch of violets she had been wearing out of the cab window
because they were somewhat wilted, and she added warningly, "I hate mean
people!"

He laughed good naturedly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their first misunderstanding came over the question where they were to
live after their return from the European trip. It seems that Parker had
already bought land far out on the north shore of the Lake in a new and
promising neighborhood and proposed building a house there. Milly was
ready enough to build: she had large plans for her new home. But she had
set her mind on a lot on the Drive, a block from the Bowman place and
two from the Gilberts--"the most desirable site in the city, every one
says," she explained, "and so near all our friends."

Parker tried to make her understand that fifty thousand dollars was
altogether too much money to put into an "unproductive investment" like
that.

"You've got the money?" Milly demanded succinctly.

He admitted it reluctantly.

"Then I can't see why we shouldn't have the best."

Milly, who had secret plans of running the great Bowman a social race,
was thoroughly irritated at his obstinacy. They turned from the vacant
lot, which they had been examining for the second time, and walked down
the Drive at odds.

"My property at Lakehurst has twice the frontage and only cost me ten
thousand," the little man of means observed complacently.

"I don't care if it cost only ten dollars," Milly pouted. "It's in the
suburbs."

"The city's growing that way fast."

"It'll reach us when I'm an old woman!"

"Before that I guess...."

She dashed upstairs to her room, leaving her lover to the attentions of
Mrs. Ridge. The old lady approved of Clarence Albert. They discussed
religion together. They had the same Victorian standards and principles
about life. This afternoon he confided to her the real estate trouble
Milly and he had had.

"I'm sure, Clarence, you are quite right, and Milly must learn to be
more reasonable. The air will be so much cleaner out there."

"And the cars come within a block now."

"I'll speak to Milly about it."

She did.

"If you aren't careful, Milly," she warned her granddaughter, "you'll
frighten him. You aren't married yet," she added meaningly.

"He oughtn't to buy land without consulting me," Milly flared,
forgetting that this transaction had taken place before her
determination to become Mrs. Clarence Parker.

"I think you are a very ungrateful girl," Mrs. Ridge observed, with
pressed lips.

"Oh, you always take the men's side, grandma!... Clarence isn't the only
man in the world."

"Better take care before it's too late," the old lady repeated
warningly. "You don't treat Clarence as a girl should who is going to
marry. He's an admirable young man."

Mrs. Ridge ever croaked thus, foretelling disaster.

"If you say anything more, I'll never marry him!" Milly flamed in final
exasperation. "You don't understand. Women don't behave as they did when
you were a girl. They don't lie down before their husbands and let them
walk all over them."

"Perhaps not," grandma laughed icily in reply. "But I guess men aren't
so different from what they were in my time."

Grandma had her own understanding of male character.




V

THE CRASH


As events soon proved, Mrs. Ridge's croaking was not without
justification. The crash in Milly's affairs came, not until the autumn,
a few weeks before the day set for the wedding, and it came on the line
of cleavage already described, although quite unexpectedly and over a
trivial matter, as such things usually happen.

After the closing of the fairy city gloom had settled down over Chicago.
People were exhausted socially from their hectic summer and Panic
stalked forth from behind the festival trappings where it had lain
hidden. Times were frightfully bad, every one said,--never so bad before
in the experience of the country. There were strikes, a hundred thousand
idle men walking the cold streets, empty rows of buildings, shops and
factories closed--and a hard winter coming on. All this did not mean
much to Milly, busy with her own concerns and plans for the wedding,
except for the fact that few people entertained and everybody seemed
relaxed and depressed. Clarence Albert, like a prudent mariner of the
puritan type, dwelt upon the signs of dire storm, and counselled their
not building for the present, although he let her understand that his
own ventures were well under cover. Milly was less disappointed over not
building the house because she still had her mind on that vacant lot on
the Drive. Perhaps in the depression Clarence would be able to get it at
a bargain....

Then the quarrel came over nothing at all. They were to go to the
theatre or opera--later she forgot which--by themselves one evening. Her
fiance came to dinner, and he and Horatio talked dolefully of the
business outlook. When they started out, there was no cab before the
door. Milly, regarding her light raiment, demurred and telephoned for
one herself. When they reached the theatre and she proceeded to sail
down the centre aisle, she found that their seats were in the balcony.
Clarence, who never dealt with ticket brokers on principle, had not been
able to get good floor seats and thought the first row of the balcony
would answer, as the theatre was a small one. Where he had been brought
up, the balcony seats were considered "just as good," and better if they
could be had more cheaply. He did not understand the awfulness of
metropolitan standards to which Chicago was aspiring.

Milly, a cloud upon her pretty face, drew her wrap close about her and
sat dumb through the first act. Her mortification was increased by
discovering Sally Norton in a box below with Ted Leffingwell and some
gay folk. Sally's roaming eyes also discovered Milly and her young man
before the act was finished; she signalled markedly and communicated the
news to her party, who all looked at the glum pair, laughed and smiled
among themselves.

Milly's burning ears could hear Sally's jeers. At the close of the act
she got up and marched out without a word, followed by the bewildered
Clarence.

"What's the matter Milly? Where are you going?"

"Home."

At the entrance there were no cabs in sight at this hour, and they
walked to the end of the block where the cars passed. When a car came,
Milly got as far as the platform, pronounced it a "filthy box," which it
probably was, and made the conductor let her off. Then she marched
haughtily northwards, trailed by Clarence Albert, in whose white face a
dangerous pink was rising. Fortunately it was a still clear, night, and
they covered the mile to Acacia Street without misadventure and without
words. When they had reached the small front room and Milly had thrown
off her wrap, her eyes still flashing angrily, Parker said in a
carefully controlled voice:--

"I'm sorry, Milly, to have given you so much annoyance."

"As if a girl with a decent gown on could ride in a street-car!"

"I'm sorry--"

"If you can't afford--"

"I didn't know you were so dependent on carriages--"

It was a pardonable human revenge, but it was the straw. In a flash
Milly stripped the big diamond from her finger and dramatically held it
forth to him.

"Here's your ring," she said.

"Milly!..."

It isn't wise to follow such a scene any further. I do not know that
Milly finally flung the ring at her lover, though she was capable of
doing it like an angry child. At any rate the symbolic circle of
harmonious union lay on the floor between them when Grandma Ridge
arrived, stealthily coming from behind the portieres, her little gray
shawl hugged tight about her narrow shoulders.

"Why, Milly--what is this? Clarence!"

"It means that I'm not going to marry a man who cares more for his money
than for me," Milly said bluntly, picking up her wraps and stalking out
of the room. She paused in the hall, however, long enough to hear her
former lover say dolefully,--

"She don't love me, Mrs. Ridge. That's the trouble--Milly don't really
love me."

And she added from the hall:--

"Clarence is quite right, grandma. I don't love him--and what's more,
I'm never going to marry a man I can't love for all the money in the
world!"

With this defiant proclamation of principle Milly ascended to her room.

What passed between Mrs. Ridge and the discarded Clarence, it is
needless to relate. Even Mrs. Ridge became convinced after a time that
the rupture was both inevitable and irrevocable. Parker at last left the
house, and it must be added took with him the ring which had been
recovered from the floor.

After he had gone Mrs. Ridge knocked at Milly's door. But an obstinate
silence prevailed, and so she went away. Milly was sitting on her bed,
tears dropping from her eyes, tears of rage and mortification and
disappointment. She realized that she had failed, after all, in doing
what she had set out to do, and angry as she still was, disgusted with
Clarence's thin and parsimonious nature, she was beginning,
nevertheless, to be conscious of her own folly.

"I never liked him," she said to herself over and over, in justification
for her rash act. "I couldn't bear him near me. I only did it for Dad's
sake. And I could not, that's all there is to it--I just couldn't.... We
should have fought all the time--cold, mean little thing."

After a time she undressed and went to bed, calmer and more at peace
with herself than for some time. The inevitable does that for us. "I
can't live with a man I don't love--it isn't right," she thought, and
gradually a glow of self-appreciation for her courage in refusing, even
at the ninth hour, to make the woman's terrible sacrifice of her sacred
self came to her rescue. Her sentimental education, with its woman's
creed of the omnipotence of love, had reasserted itself.

"I tried," she said in her heart, "but I couldn't--it wasn't the real,
right thing."

Of course she had known this all along, but she treated it now as a new
discovery. And she went to sleep, sooner than one might expect under the
circumstances.




VI

THE DEPTHS


But the next day, as the French say, it was to pay. When Milly kissed
her father at the breakfast table, his mournful eyes and drooping mouth
showed plainly that he knew the disaster.

"I couldn't, father," she murmured weepily.

"It's all right, daughter," the little man responded bravely, fumbling
with his fork and knife.

But her grandmother did not mince matters. It was all well enough for a
girl to have her own way as Milly had had hers, but now she had made a
nice mess of things,--put them all in a ridiculous position. Who was she
to be so particular, to consider herself such a queen? etc., etc. Milly
took it all in silence. She knew that she deserved it in part.

At last Horatio intervened. He didn't want his daughter to feel forced
to marry a man she couldn't be happy with, not for all Danner's
millions. Business was bad, to be sure, but he was a man yet and could
find something to do to support his daughter.

"I hope it ends all this society business for good," Mrs. Ridge put in
with a hard little laugh. "If you don't want to marry, you can go to
work."

"I will," said Milly, humbly.

"Don't be hard on her, mother," Horatio whispered into the old lady's
ear. "It don't do no good now."

But after he had left, Mrs. Ridge turned on Milly again.

"I don't suppose you know the trouble your father is in."

"We're always hard up.... Anything new?"

She had been so fully preoccupied with her own affairs these past months
she had not realized that the tea and coffee business was getting into
worse straits than ever. Everything, she had optimistically reckoned,
would be smoothed out by her marriage.

"Bankruptcy--that's what's coming," her grandmother informed her, with
an acid satisfaction in being able to record the fulfilment of her
prophecies. "That comes of your father's trying a new business at his
age--and Hoppers' was so sure. He'd have been a department head by now,
if he had stayed."

"I thought the fair concession made a lot of money."

Mrs. Ridge gave her the facts. It seemed that Horatio, always optimistic
and trusting, had put this new venture in the hands of a man who had
talked well, but had cheated him outrageously, and finally absconded
after the close of the Fair, leaving behind debts contracted in the
firm's name. The losses had wiped out all the profits of the concession
and more, and this, added to the general business depression, was bad
enough. But there was worse. Snowden had suddenly demanded his money.
Using the defalcation as an excuse he alleged Horatio's bad management,
and wanted an immediate settlement of the firm's affairs. That meant the
end--bankruptcy, as Mrs. Ridge said. Awful word!

"But it's outrageous of Mr. Snowden!" Milly cried.

"It seems he's that kind. He got ahead of your father in the partnership
agreement, and now the lawyer says he can do anything he likes--sell out
the business if he wants to.... And we've got this house on our hands
for another year," she added sourly, bringing home to Milly her share in
the general misfortune.

Then the little old lady gathered up the breakfast dishes, while Milly
sat and looked at the dreary wall of the next house. It was pretty bad.
Still she could not feel sorry for what she had done....

"I'll see Mr. Snowden myself," she announced at last.

Her grandmother looked at her curiously.

"What good will that do?"

Milly, recollecting the old offence, blushed. Latterly as the
prospective wife of a rich man she had assumed certain airs of her
putative social position, and thought she could "manage" easily a common
sort of person like this Snowden man. Now she realized with a sudden
sinking of spirits it was all different. She possessed no longer any
authority other than that of an attractive, but poor, young woman with
"a good manner."

During the next few days she was destined to feel this change in her
position repeatedly. If the news of her engagement to an "eligible" man
had spread rapidly, the announcement of the disaster to her engagement
seemed miraculously immediate. She had just begun with her grandmother's
help to prepare to return her engagement gifts, as her grandmother
insisted was the proper thing to do, when in rushed the Norton girls,
quite breathless. Sally greeted her with a jovial laugh.

"So you've dropped him! I told Ted, Milly would never stand for those
balcony seats!" She rippled with laughter at the humor of the situation.
Milly, revived by her attitude, related the cab and car incidents. "He
was--horrid."

"They're all like that, those New Englanders--afraid to spend their
money," Sally commented lightly.

Vivie took the sentimental view.

"Your heart was never in it, dear," she said consolingly.

"Of course it wasn't--I never pretended it was!"

"That sort of thing can't last."

Milly, now quite reassured, gave a drole imitation of Clarence Albert's
last remarks,--"She doesn't love me, Mrs. Ridge--Milly doesn't really
love me!"

She trilled the words mischievously. Sally roared with pleasure. Vivie
said, "Of course you couldn't marry him--not that!"

And Milly felt that she was right. No, she could not do _that_: she had
been true to herself, true to her feelings,--woman's first duty,--a
little late, to be sure.

       *       *       *       *       *

But a full realization of her situation did not come until she appeared
in public. Then she began to understand what she had done in discarding
her suitable fiance. Nettie Gilbert hardly invited her to sit when she
called. She said severely:--

"Yes, Clarence told me all about it. He feels very badly. It was very
frivolous of you, Milly. I should not have _thought it possible_."

She treated Milly as the one soul saved who, after being redeemed, had
fled the flock. Milly protested meekly, "But I didn't care for him,
Nettie, not the least little bit."

Mrs. Gilbert, who remembered her Roy, replied severely, "At least you
ought to have known your own mind before this."

"He _is_ mean," Milly flared.

"And you are rather extravagant, I'm afraid, my dear!"

That relation ended there, at least its pleasant intimacy. And so it
went from house to house, especially among the settled married folk, who
regarded Milly as inconceivably foolish and silly. Who was she to be so
scrupulous about her precious heart? Even the younger, unmarried sort
had a knowing and disapproving look on their faces when she met them. As
for the stream of invitations, there was a sudden drought, as of a
parched desert, and the muteness of the telephone after its months of
perpetual twinkle was simply ghastly.

So Milly was learning that there is one worse experience in life than
not "making good," and that is, giving the appearance of it and then
collapsing. This was the collapse. Sympathy was all with Clarence
Albert, except among a few frivolous or sentimental souls, like Sally
and Vivie. Young women having the means, who found themselves in Milly's
situation,--with a broken engagement on their hands at the beginning of
the season,--would at once have gone abroad or to California or the
South, to distract themselves, rest their wounded hearts, and allow the
world to forget their affairs, as it promptly would. At least they would
have tried settlement work. But Milly had no money for such gentle
treatment. She had to run the risk of bruising her sensibilities
whenever she set foot out of doors, and she was too healthy-minded to
sit long at home and mope. And home was not a pleasant place these days.

Still, she said to herself defiantly, she was not sorry for what she had
done. A woman's first duty was to her heart, etc.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eleanor Kemp, who had been ill and away from the city, sent for Milly on
her return. She proved to be the most sympathetic of all her friends,
and Milly decided that Eleanor was her best, as she was her oldest,
friend. At the conclusion of Milly's tale, rendered partly in the comic
vein, Mrs. Kemp sighed, "It's too bad, Milly." The sigh implied that
Milly had damaged herself for the provincial marriage market, perhaps
irretrievably. She might marry, of course, probably would, being sobered
by this fiasco, but after such a failure, nothing "brilliant" might be
expected.

"I just couldn't sit opposite that cold, fishy creature all my life,"
Milly protested. "He got on my nerves--that was it."

"Yes, I understand--but--"

Milly suspected that banking and bankers might get on a woman's nerves,
too, though Walter Kemp was a much more human man than Clarence Albert
ever would be.

"And now what will you do?" her friend inquired. (Milly had confided to
her Horatio's coming disaster.)

"I don't know--something quick!"

"You might help me with my mail and buying--I never seem to get through
with everything--and this New Hospital committee."

"Could I, do you think?" Milly responded eagerly.

So it was arranged that Milly should become a sort of informal lady
secretary and assistant to the banker's wife, with unstated hours,
duties, and compensation,--one of those flexible, vague business and
social arrangements that women were more likely to make with one another
twenty years ago than now.

Milly's spirits revived quickly, and she left the Kemps buoyant. It
seemed easier than she had expected to "get something to do." She kissed
Eleanor Kemp with genuine gratitude.

"You've always been the kindest, dearest thing to me, Nelly."

"I'm very fond of you, dear, and always shall be."

"I know--and you were my first real friend."

Milly had a pleasant sense of returning to old ideals and ties in thus
drawing near once more to the Kemps, whom latterly she had found a
trifle dull.... Leaving the house, she bumped into old Mrs. Jonas
Haggenash, one of the Kemps' neighbors. The Haggenashes had made their
way in lumber and were among the most considered of the older,
unfashionable people in the city. Mrs. H. had a reputation as a wit, of
the kind that "has her say" under any and all circumstances. Latterly
she had rather taken up Milly Ridge, who fished in many pools.

"So you and your young man had a falling out, Milly," Mrs. Haggenash
rasped nasally.

"Our engagement has been broken," Milly acknowledged with dignity.

"That's a pity. It ain't every day a poor girl can marry a millionaire.
They don't grow on every bush."

"When I marry, it will be some one I can respect and love too."

The old lady smiled dubiously at the pretty sentiment.

"Most women want to. But they've got to be fed and clothed first."

She looked at Milly's smart walking costume and smiled again. Milly
always managed to have a becoming street dress and hat, even in her
poorest days, and lately she had let herself out, as the pile of
unopened bills on her dressing-table would show.

"I expect to eat and dress," Milly retorted, and trotted off with a
curse near her lips for Mrs. Jonas Haggenash and all her tribe.

       *       *       *       *       *

The way home took Milly near the office of the tea and coffee business,
and she thought to surprise her father and give him the good news of
Mrs. Kemp's offer. She would also get him to walk home with her. Horatio
had been very doleful of late and she wished to cheer him up. She had
not visited the office for many months, but its outward appearance was
much the same as it had been that first time when she had visited it
with her father. The sign had become dingy, was almost undecipherable,
as if it had anticipated the end of its usefulness. The same dreary
little cart for "city deliveries" stood before the door, but the thin
horse drooped disconsolately between the shafts, as if he too knew that
he was not there for long.

Horatio was not in the office. Snowden stood beside the bookkeeper,
looking over a ledger. As Milly opened the door both he and the
bookkeeper looked up. Milly recognized the hatchet-faced woman of
uncertain age, with the forbidding stare through her large spectacles.
This time when Milly came forward with a pleasant smile and "Miss
Simpson, how are you?" the stony face did not relax a muscle. Miss
Simpson looked her employer's daughter over as if she were about to
accuse her of being the cause for the firm's disaster. "Mr. Snowden,"
Milly continued, ignoring the woman's hostility, "I came for my
father.... How are you and Mrs. Snowden?"

"Your father's gone," the bookkeeper snapped with an unpleasant smile.
She eyed Milly's fashionable attire unsympathetically. It was the second
time that afternoon that Milly was made to feel apologetic for her good
clothes.

"Oh," she said hesitantly.

"Anything I can do for you, Miss Ridge?" Snowden asked, glancing down at
the ledger indifferently.

Milly had an inspiration.

"Why, yes, Mr. Snowden," she exclaimed pleasantly. "I should like to
talk with you a few moments, if I am not interrupting your work," she
added, for Snowden made no move.

"Well?" he said gruffly.

Milly turned towards the rear of the loft where there were a number of
little tables dotted with unwashed china cups, and grains of tea and
coffee. Snowden followed her slowly, and leaned against a table.

"What is it?"

"Mr. Snowden," Milly began gently, "you are my father's oldest friend in
the city."

"Guess I know that."

"He's very unhappy."

"Has good reason to be."

She made the direct appeal.

"Why do you do this thing, Mr. Snowden? Why do you want to ruin my
father--your old friend?"

"Guess you don't understand--he's pretty nearly ruined _me_!" Snowden
emitted with a snort.

"Yes, I understand," Milly replied glibly. "Business had been very bad.
My friends tell me all business has been dreadful since the
Fair--everybody feels poor. But why make things worse? A little time,
and it will be different."

She smiled at him persuasively.

"I want to save my own skin, what there is left to save," he grumbled.
"Your father's made a pretty bad mess of things, Milly."

"We won't discuss what my father has done," Milly retorted with dignity.
"He's been deceived--he's too trusting with men. He trusted you!"

At this thrust Snowden laughed loudly.

"And you want me to trust him with my money some more? No, thank you."

His tone changed insensibly. No one could be rough with Milly for long.
Snowden volunteered some explanations of the tea and coffee business not
related by Mrs. Ridge. It seemed that Horatio had made rather a mess of
things all around.

"So you see I must try and save what I can before it's _all_
gone.... I've got a family of my own, you know."

Milly knew that, and wished she had been nicer to Mrs. Snowden and the
uninteresting daughter when she had had the chance. She had never had
them to the Acacia Street house in all these years.

"Can't you wait a few months?... Please!..."

Entreaty was all the argument life had given Milly. There was a leap of
something in the man's flushed face that caused the girl to retreat a
step or two. She had not meant to rouse his graceless passion, but that
was what she had almost succeeded in doing by her coaxing. As she drew
back Snowden laughed.

"You see, Milly, people _pay_ in this world for what they want--men and
women too. They have to _pay_ somehow!"

And, this enigmatic taunt ringing in her ears, Milly departed with all
the dignity that remained to her. She was conscious of the bookkeeping
woman's hostile sneer upon her back as she disappeared. Her face burned
with the man's coarse words: "In this world people have to _pay_ for
what they want."

That was too true! She had not been willing to pay, except with smiles
and pretty speeches, the small change, and it seemed that was not
enough. She had not been willing to pay the price of a good position in
her world which she wanted, nor Snowden's price for mercy to her father.
Of course not that! But now she must pay somehow for what she got: for
her food and her clothes and her shelter first of all. It had come to
that. Thus Milly had her first lesson in the manifold realities of life.

Soberly but bravely she faced the winter wind and made her way home to
her father's house.




VII

MILLY TRIES TO PAY


The next months were in some respects the dreariest that Milly was ever
to know. It was not long before the illusion about her work for Eleanor
Kemp wore thin. It was, in a word, one of those polite, parasitic
occupations for women, provided by the rich for helpless friends, and it
was satisfying to neither party. A good deal of time for both was wasted
in "talking things over," with much discursive chatter on matters in
general, and all sorts of consulting back and forth about the job to be
done. There were letters to be carefully written, then rewritten after
delicately guarded criticisms had been made; shopping to be done where
it took hours to decide whether this "matched" or not and whether
Danner's or Dround's was a better place for purchasing this or that.
Milly still tried to keep up some social life, and so she usually came
in at the Kemps rather late in the morning, and after lunching with her
friend went back to the city on errands. She was a miracle of un-system,
and frequently forgot. But she was so genuinely penitent and abased when
her omissions were discovered that her friend had not the heart to be
severe. Milly, on the other hand, began to think that the work took a
great deal of time and that fifty dollars a month was small pay for her
services, yet did not like even to hint that she wanted more.

Walter Kemp summed the matter up in the brutal fashion of man-financier,
"Better give Milly her money and let me send you a trained woman from
the bank to do your work, Nell."

But Eleanor Kemp was shocked at this evidence of male tactlessness.

"Milly would never take a gift like that!"

That was the trouble: Milly belonged to the class too proud to take
charity and too incompetent to earn money. So Mrs. Kemp continued to do
as much as she had done before and to pay Milly fifty dollars a month
out of her private purse.

"Pity she didn't marry Parker," Kemp said brusquely. "He'll be a very
rich man one of these days."

"You see she couldn't, Walter," his wife explained eagerly. "She didn't
love him enough."

"Well," this raw male rejoined, "she'd better hurry up and find some one
she does love who can support her."

"Yes," Mrs. Kemp admitted, "she _ought_ to marry."

For in those days there didn't seem to be any other way of providing for
the Milly Ridges.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly realized her inadequacy, but naturally did not ascribe it wholly
to incompetency. She wanted to give up her irregular job: it could not
be concealed from her friends, and it marked her as a dependent. But the
stern fact remained that she needed the money, even the paltry fifty
dollars a month, as she had never needed anything in life. If she
refrained from spending a dollar for several years, she could hardly
clear herself of the accumulated bills from her halcyon days of hope.

And the household needed money, too. After that regrettable interview
with Snowden, the catastrophe in the tea and coffee business came with
the swiftness of long-delayed fate. One morning Horatio did not rise
from the breakfast table, as had been his wont for so many years, and
throwing out his chest with the sensual satisfaction of the well-fed
male shout boisterously:--

"Good-by, folks, I must be off to the office!"

For there was no longer any office to go to.

Instead, Horatio sat glumly at the table reading the want columns of the
morning paper, down and up, and then as the morning wore on he silently
departed for the city--"to look for something." Hopeless task, when the
streets were filled with men out of work, and businesses everywhere were
closing down and turning off old employees. Milly, watching Horatio
reach gropingly for his hat and coat, like a stricken animal, realized
that her father was no longer young and brave. He had passed fifty,--the
terrible deadline in modern industry. "Nobody wants an old dog, any
way," he said to his mother forlornly.

Then Milly was almost sorry for what she had done. But it was not really
her fault, she still thought.

It was a mournful experience, this, of having a grown man--the one male
of the family--sitting listlessly about the house of a morning and going
forth aimlessly at irregular times, only to return before he should be
expected. The habit of her life, as it had been the habit of Horatio's,
was to have the male sally forth early from the domestic hearth and
leave it free to the women of the family for the entire day.... Usually
optimistic to a fault, with a profound conviction that things must come
right of themselves somehow, Milly began to doubt and see dark visions
of the family future. What if her father should be unable to find
another place--any sort of work--and should come to hang about the house
always, getting seedier and sadder, to be supported by her feeble
efforts? Milly refused to contemplate the picture.

One day her grandmother asked money from Milly. The old lady was a grim
little nemesis for the girl these days,--a living embodiment of "See
what you have done," though never for a moment would Milly admit that
she was responsible for the accumulation of disaster. It should be said
in behalf of Grandma Ridge that now the blow of fate had fallen, which
she had so persistently predicted for four long years, she set her lips
in grim puritan silence and did that which must be done without
reproach.

Somehow she found the money for the rent from month to month and gave
Horatio his carfare and lunch money each morning. But she came to Milly
for money to buy food, and Milly gave it generously although she owed
all she earned and much more. But food came before bills. If it hadn't
been for Eleanor Kemp's luxurious luncheons, the girl would often have
gone hungry.... And through it all she never took refuge in tears.
"What's the use?" she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was during the darkest of these days that a new turn in Milly's fate
came unexpectedly. She had been to a Sunday luncheon at the Nortons, and
was walking back along the Drive, thinking a little sadly that even her
old pals had invited her only at the last moment, "to fill in." She was
no more any sort of social "card." She was revolving this and other
dreary thoughts in her worried mind when she heard her name,--"Miss
Ridge--I say, Miss Ridge!"

She turned to meet the beaming face of old Christian Becker, the
editor-proprietor of the _Morning Star_, who was hurrying towards her as
fast as his short, fat person would permit him. As he came along he
raised his shiny silk hat above his bald head, and his broad face broke
into a larger smile than was its wont. Becker was an amusing character,
tempting to set before the reader, but as he has to do only incidentally
with Milly Ridge it cannot be. Enough to say that after forty years of
hard struggle in the land of his adoption, he had preserved the virtues
of a simple countryman and the heart of a good-natured boy. Every one in
the city knew Christian Becker; every one laughed and growled at his
newspaper,--the God of his heart.

"Thought it must be you," he gasped. "Never forget how a pretty woman
walks!" (How _does_ she walk? Milly wondered.) "How are you, Miss Ridge?
Haven't seen you for some time--not since that swell dinner at the
Bowman place, d'ye remember?"

Milly remembered very well,--the apex moment of her career hitherto.

He smiled good naturedly, and Milly smiled, too. Then Becker added in a
childlike burst of confidence:--

"Let me tell you, you did just right, my girl! Don't tie yourself up
with any man you can't run with. It don't work. It saves tears and
trouble to quit before you're hitched by the parson."

Milly flushed at the frank reference to her broken engagement, then
laughed at the crude phrasing. But her heart warmed with the word of
sympathy. Gradually she unburdened herself of all her troubles, and at
the conclusion the kindly newspaper man said wisely:--

"Never you mind how folks behave, Miss Ridge. Keep a stiff upper
lip--hold up your head--and you'll have all of 'em running after you
like hens after corn 'fore you know it. That's what happened to me when
I went broke that time."

"But I'm not fit to do anything," Milly confessed truthfully, "and I
must support myself somehow."

"Why don't you try newspaper work? You are a clever girl and you know
the world.... Come to my office to-morrow noon--no, I've got a
Washington nob on my hands for lunch--" (Becker was vain of his
political influence, which consisted for the most part of entertaining
visiting politicians at luncheon.) "Come in 'bout four, and we'll see
what we can do to help you out."

With a fatherly nod he hurried off down a side street, and Milly went
home with a new fillip to her lively imagination.

As a matter of fact the proprietor of the _Star_ was not entirely
disinterested in his kindness. He had been looking for some woman to
take "Madame Alpha's" place and furnish the paper with that column of
intimate social tittle-tattle about people the readers knew only by
name, which every enterprising American newspaper considers a necessary
ingredient of the "news." The estimable lady, who signed herself "Madame
Alpha," had grown stale in the business, as such social chroniclers
usually do. The widow of an esteemed citizen, with wide connections in
the older society of the city, she had done very well at first. But she
had "fallen down" lamentably, to use Becker's phrase, during the recent
period of Chicago's social expansion. She neither knew the new gods and
goddesses, nor did she know how to invent stories about their doings.

Becker, who had seen Milly, not merely at the Bowmans, but at many of
the more brilliant functions of the Fair season, regarded her as
"up-to-date," and further, thought her a nice, lively young woman, who
would know the difference between Mrs. Patziki's card party on Garfield
Boulevard and a dinner to the French ambassador at the Danner's. It made
little difference whether she could write or not, so long as she had the
"entry" as he called it. At any rate he would try her.

So Milly began her new career as journalist with much enthusiasm and a
sense of self-importance that had been grievously lacking in her
enterprises for some time. She thought she had the ability to
write--what attractive young American woman doesn't? Her friends thought
her clever, and laughed at her little "stories" about people. She set
herself industriously to the composition of elaborate articles on "Our
Social Leaders," consisting largely of a retrospect and review, for "our
social leaders" kept very still during those terrible months of want and
panic that followed the gay doings of the great show, or were out of the
city. These articles appeared in the Sunday edition, over the _nom de
plume_ of the "_Debutante_." Other women of the regular staff did the
card-parties and club news and the West Side stuff.

There was a city editor, of course, and a ruthless blue pencil, but as
Milly was recognized on the paper as "the old man's" present hobby, she
was given a pretty free rein. She sailed into the dingy _Star_ offices
dressed quite smartly, dropped her sprawling manuscript on the Sunday
editor's table, and ambled into Mr. Becker's sanctum for a little social
chat. In the office she was known as "the Real Thing," and liked as she
was almost everywhere, though the youthful reporters laughed at her
pompous diction.

The _Star_ paid her the handsome sum of fifteen dollars a week.




VIII

MILLY RENEWS HER PROSPECTS


It did not take Milly long to realize that the sort of newspaper writing
she was doing was as parasitic in its nature as her first job, and even
less permanent. Of course it quickly leaked out who the _Debutante_ was
who wrote with such finality of "our social leaders," and though friends
were kind and even helpful, assuring Milly "it made no difference," and
they thought it "a good thing for her to do," she knew that in the end
her work would kill whatever social position she had retained through
her vicissitudes. The more "exclusive" women with social aspirations
liked secretly to have their presences and their doings publicly
chronicled, but they were fearful lest they should seem to encourage
such publicity. Although they said, "We'd rather have one of us do it if
it has to be done, you know," yet they preferred to have it thought that
the information came from the butler and the housemaid. Milly soon
perceived that a woman must cheapen herself at the job, and by
cheapening herself lose her qualification. Nevertheless, she had to keep
at it for the money.

That was the terrible fact about earning one's living, Milly learned:
the jobs--at least those she was fitted for--were all parasitic and
involved personal humiliations. From this arose Milly's growing
conviction of the social injustice in the world to women, of which view
later she became quite voluble....

Fortunately the summer came on, when "Society" moved away from the city
altogether. Becker, who had been somewhat disappointed in Milly's
indifferent success, now suggested that she do a series of articles on
inland summer resorts. "Show 'em," said the newspaper man, "that we've
got a society of our own out here in the middle west, as classy as any
in America,--Newport, Bar Harbor, or Lenox." He advised Lake Como for a
start, but Milly, for reasons of her own, preferred Mackinac, then a
popular resort on the cold water of Lake Superior.

By mid-July she was established in the most fashionable of the barny,
wooden hotels at the resort and prepared to put herself in touch with
the summer society. One of the first persons she met was a Mrs. Thornton
from St. Louis, a pleasant, ladylike young married woman, who had a
cottage near by and took her meals at the hotel. She was a summer widow
with three children,--a thoroughly well-bred woman of the sort Milly
instinctively took to and attracted. They became friends rapidly through
the children, whom Milly petted. She learned all about the Thorntons in
a few days. They were very nice people. He was an architect, and she had
been a Miss Duncan of Philadelphia,--also a very nice family of the
Quaker order, Milly gathered. Mrs. Thornton talked a great deal of an
older brother, who had gone to California for his health and had bought
a fruit ranch there in the Ventura mountains somewhere south of Santa
Barbara. This brother, Edgar Duncan, was expected to visit Mrs. Thornton
during the summer, and in the course of time he arrived at Mackinac.

Milly found him on the piazza of the Thornton cottage playing with the
children. As he got up awkwardly from the floor and raised his straw
hat, Milly remarked that his sandy hair was thin. He was slight, about
middle-aged, and seemed quite timid. Not at all the large westerner with
bronzed face and flapping cowboy hat she had vaguely pictured to
herself. Nevertheless, she smiled at him cordially,--

"You are the brother I've heard so much about?" she said, proffering a
hand.

"And you must be that new Aunt Milly the children are full of," he
replied, coloring bashfully.

So it began. For the next month, until Milly, having exhausted the
social possibilities of Mackinac, had to move on to another "resort" in
Wisconsin, she saw a great deal of Edgar Duncan. They walked through the
fir woods by moonlight, boated on the lake under the stars, and read
Milly's literary efforts on the piazza of the Thornton cottage. Duncan
told her much about his ranch on the slope of the Ventura hills above
the Pacific, of the indolent California life in the sunshine, with an
occasional excursion to Los Angeles or San Francisco. He was not
exciting in any sense, not very energetic, like the Chicago men she had
known, perhaps not very much alive; but he was gentle, and kindly, and
thoughtful for women, of a refined and high-minded race--the sort of man
"any woman could be sure of."

Mrs. Thornton, with much sisterly affection and no vulgar ambition,
encouraged unobtrusively the intimacy. "Edgar is so lonely out there on
his ranch," she explained to Milly, "I want him to come back east. He
might now, you know,--there's nothing really the matter with his health.
But he's got used to the life and doesn't like our hurry and the
scramble for money. Besides he's put all his money into those lemons and
olives.... I think a woman might be very happy out of the world in a
place like that, with a man who loved her a lot,--and children, of
course, children,--don't you?"

Milly thought so, too. She was becoming very tired of newspaper work,
and of her single woman's struggle to maintain herself in the roar of
Chicago. The future looked rather gray even through her habitually
rose-colored glasses. She was twenty-four. She knew the social game, and
its risks, better than two years before.... So she was very kind to
Duncan,--she really liked him extremely, rather for what he was without
than for what he had,--and when she left it was understood between them
that the Californian should return to his ranch by the way of Chicago
and meet Milly there on a certain day,--Monday, the first of September.
He was very particular, sentimentally so, about this date,--kept
repeating it,--and they made little jokes of it until Milly even
particularized the hour when she could be free to see him,--"Five
o'clock, 31 East Acacia Street,--hadn't you better write it down?" But
Duncan thought he could remember it very well. "We'll go somewhere for
dinner," Milly promised.

That was all, but it was a good deal for the shy Edgar Duncan to have
arrived at. Milly was content to leave it just that way,--vague and
pleasant, with no explicit understanding of what was to come afterwards.
She knew he would write--he was that kind; he would say more on paper
than by word of mouth, much more. Then, when they met again, she would
put her hand in his and without any talk it would have happened.... He
came with the children to see her off at the station, and as the
fir-covered northern landscape retreated from the moving train, Milly
relaxed in her Pullman seat, holding his roses in her lap, and decided
that Edgar Duncan was altogether the "best" man she had ever known well.
She surrendered herself to a dream of a wonderful land where the yellow
lemons gleamed among glossy green leaves, and the distant hills were
powdered with the gray tint of olive trees, as Duncan had described the
ranch, and also of a little low bungalow, a silent Jap in white clothes
moving back and forth, and far below the distant murmur of the Pacific
surges.... Her eyes became suffused: it wasn't the pinnacle of her
girlish hope, but it was Peace. And just now Milly wanted peace more
than anything else.

He wrote, as Milly knew he would, and though Milly found his letters
lacking in that warmth and color and glow in which she had bathed the
ranch, they were tender and true letters of a real lover, albeit a timid
one. "All his life he had longed for a real companion, for a woman who
could be a man's mate as his mother was to his father," and that sort of
thing. He implied again and again that not until he had met Milly had he
found such a creature, "but now," etc. Milly sighed. She was happy, but
not thrilled. Perhaps, she thought, she was too old for
thrills--twenty-four--and this was as near "the real right thing" as she
was ever to come. At any rate she meant to take the chance.

Ocanseveroc did not prove attractive: it was a hot little hole by a
steaming, smelly lake, like Como, only less select in its society and
more populous. Milly quickly "did" the resort and fled back to Chicago
for a breath of fresh air from the great cooling tub of Lake Michigan.
That was the nineteenth of August. She had twelve days in which to get
ready her articles before Duncan's arrival. On the hot train she planned
a little article on the search for the ideal resort with the result of a
hasty return to the city for comfort and coolness. She thought it might
be made amusing and resolved to see the editor about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Matters at home had scarcely improved during the languid summer. Horatio
sat on the stoop in his shirt-sleeves, unchided, or went for long hours
to a beer-garden he had found near by. He made no pretence of looking
for work. "What's the use--in the summer?" Milly stirred the stagnant
domestic atmosphere with her recovered cheerfulness. She told them of
her various adventures, especially of the Thorntons and of the new young
man. Duncan had given her some kodaks of the fruit ranch in the Ventura
mountains, which she displayed. _HE_ was coming to see her soon, and she
laughed prettily. Grandma maintained her sour indifference to Milly's
doings, but Horatio took a lively interest. He had always wanted to go
"back to a farm" since he was a young man, he said. It was the only
place for a poor man to live these days, and they said those California
ranches were wonderful money-makers. A man at Hoppers' had gone out
there, etc.

Father and daughter talked ranch far into the hot night.

The next afternoon Milly went to the newspaper office to report and to
discuss with the editor her last inspiration for an article. It was the
vacation season and a number of the desks in the editorial room were
vacant. Mr. Becker's door was closed and shrouded with an "Out of Town"
card. At the Sunday editor's table in the partitioned box reserved for
this official was an unfamiliar figure. Milly stopped at the threshold
and stared. A young man, fair-haired, in a fresh and fetching summer
suit with a flowing gauzy tie, looked up from the table and smiled at
Milly. He was distinctly not of the _Star_ type.

"Come right in," he called out genially. "Anything I can do for
you? No, I'm not the new Sunday editor--he's away cooling himself
somewheres.... I just came in here to finish this sketch."

Milly noticed the drawing-paper and the India-ink bottle on the table.

"You're not Kim?" Milly stammered.

"The same."

("Kim" was the name signed to some clever cartoons that had been
appearing all that winter in a rival paper, about which there had been
more or less talk in the circles where Milly moved.)

"So you've come over to the _Star_?" she said with immediate interest.

"The silver-tongued Becker got me--for a price--a small one," he added
with a laugh, as if nothing about him was of sufficient consequence to
hide.

"I'm _so_ glad. I like your pictures awfully well."

"Thanks!... And you, I take it, are _la belle Debutante_?"

"Yes!" Milly laughed. "How did you know?"

"Oh," he replied, and his tone said, "it's because you too are different
from the rest here," which flattered Milly.

"Won't you come in and sit down?"

The young man emptied a chair by the simple process of tipping it and
presented it to Milly with a gallant flourish. She sat on the edge and
drew up her veil as far as the tip of her nose. The young man smiled.
Milly smiled back. They understood each other at once, far better than
either could ever understand the other members of the _Star_ staff.
Their clothes, their accents, their manners announced that they came
from the same world,--that small "larger world," where they all use the
same idiom.

"Been doing Mackinac and Ocara-se-er-oc?" the young man drawled with
delightful irony. "Ye gods! What names!"

Both laughed with a pleasant sense of superiority over a primitive
civilization, though Milly at least had hardly known any other.

"And they're just like their names," Milly asserted, "awful places!"

"I've not yet had the privilege of seeing our best people in their
summer quarters," the young man continued, with his agreeable air of
genial mockery.

"You won't see them in those places."

"Or anywhere else at present," the artist sighed, glancing at his
unfinished sketch.

Milly asked to see the drawing, and another inspiration occurred to her.
She told the young artist of her idea for a comic article on the hunt
through the lake resorts for an ideal place of peace and coolness. He
thought it a good topic and suggested graciously that he could do a few
small pen-and-ink illustrations to elucidate the text.

"Oh, would you!" Milly exclaimed eagerly. It was what she had hoped he
would say, and it revived her waning interest in journalism immensely,
the prospect of collaboration with this attractive young artist. (She
had already forgotten that she was to abandon journalism after the first
Monday in September.)

Later they went out to tea together to discuss the article.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack Bragdon, who signed his pen-and-ink sketches with the name of
"Kim," was one of that considerable army of young adventurers in the
arts who pushed westward from the Atlantic seaboard at the time of the
World's Fair in Chicago; also one of the large number who had been left
stranded when the tidal wave of artistic effort had receded, exposing
the dead flats of hard times. After graduation from an eastern college
of the second class, where he had distinguished himself by composing the
comic opera libretto for his club and drawing for the college annual, he
had chosen for himself the career of art. With a year in a New York art
school and another spent knocking about various European capitals in a
somewhat aimless fashion, an amiable but financially restricted family
had declined to embarrass itself further for the present with his
career. Or, as his Big Brother in Big Business had put it, "the kid had
better show what he can do for himself before we go any deeper." Jack
had consequently taken an opportunity to see the Fair and remained to
earn his living as best he could by contributing cartoons to the
newspapers, writing paragraphs in a funny column, and occasional verse
of the humorous order. And he designed covers for ephemeral
magazines,--in a word, nimbly snatched the scanty dollars of Art.

All this he sketched lightly and entertainingly for Milly's benefit that
first time.

Already he had achieved something of a vogue socially in pleasant
circles, thanks to his vivacity and good breeding. Milly had heard of
his charms about the time of her Crash, but had never happened to meet
him. He had heard of Milly, of course,--many things which might well
stir a young man's curiosity. So they smiled at each other across a
little table in a deserted restaurant, and sat on into the August
twilight, sipping cooling drinks. He smoked many cigarettes which he
rolled with fascinating dexterity between his long white fingers, and
talked gayly, while Milly listened with ears and eyes wide open to the
engrossing story of Himself.

Jack Bragdon was a much rarer type in Chicago of the early nineties--or
in any American city--than he would be to-day. Milly's experience of the
world had never brought her into close touch with Art. And Art has a
fatal fascination for most women. They buzz around its white arc-light,
or tallow dip, like heedless moths bent on their own destruction. Art in
the person of a handsome, sophisticated youth like Jack Bragdon, who had
seen a little of drawing-rooms as well as the pavements of strange
cities, was irresistible. (Milly too felt that she had in her something
of the artistic temperament, which had never been properly developed.)

Thus far, even by his own account, Bragdon was not much of an artist. He
was clever with his fingers,--pen or pencil,--but at twenty-six he might
very truthfully state,--"I've been a rotten loafer always, you know. But
I'm reformed. Chicago's reformed me. That's what Brother meant.... Now
watch and see. I'm not going to draw ridiculous pot-bellied politicians
for a newspaper--not after I have saved the fare to Europe and a few
dollars over to keep me from starving while I learn to really paint."

"Of course you won't stay here!" Milly chimed sympathetically, with an
unconscious sigh....

It is marvellous what a vast amount of mutual biography two young
persons of the opposite sexes can exchange in a brief tete-a-tete. By
the time Milly and the young artist were strolling slowly northward in
the sombre city twilight, they had become old friends, and Milly was
hearing about the girl in Rome, the fascination of artist life in
Munich, the stunning things in the last Salon, and all the rest of it.
They parted at Milly's doorstep without speaking of another meeting, for
it never occurred to either that they should not meet--the next day.

The gardens of that California Hesperides were already getting dim in
Milly's memory, blotted out by a more intoxicating vision.




IX

MILLY IN LOVE


The next meeting was not farther off than the next noon. They lunched
together, to talk further of their collaboration, and from luncheon went
to the Art Institute to see the pictures, most of which Bragdon disposed
off condescendingly as "old-style stuff." Milly, who had been taught to
reverence this selection of masterpieces, which were the local
admiration, learned that there were realms beyond her ken.

The next day saw another meeting and the next yet another. Then there
was an intermission--Bragdon had to finish some work--and Milly felt
restless. But there ensued ten delicious days of music and beer-gardens
and walks in the parks, luncheons and suppers,--one starry Sunday spent
scrambling among the ravines on the north shore and picnicking on the
sandy beach, listening to the sadly soothing sweetness of Omar--(yes,
they read Omar in those days, the young did!)--with little opalescent
waves twinkling at their feet. Milly never paused to think one moment of
all those ten precious days. She was blissfully content with the world
as it was, except when she was at home, and then she was plotting
skilfully "another occasion." If she had stopped to think, she would
have murmured to herself, "At last! This must be the real, right thing!"

He was so handsome, so full of strong male youth and joy, of large hopes
and careless intentions, and he was also exotic to Milly,--a bit of that
older, more complex civilization she had always longed for in her
prairie limitations. His horizon had been broader than hers, she felt,
though he was a mere boy in worldly knowledge. He even dressed
differently from the men she knew, with a dash of daring color in
waistcoat and ties that proclaimed the budding artist. And above all he
embodied the Romance of Art,--that fatal lure for aspiring womankind.
The sphere of creation is hermaphroditic: he too was fine and feminine,
unlike the coarser types of men. He craved Reputation and would have it,
Milly assured him confidently. She was immediately convinced of his high
talent. Alas! She sighed when she said it, for she knew that his gifts
would quickly waft him beyond her reach on his upward way. Chicago could
not hold one like him long: he was for other, beautifuller ports of
destiny!

       *       *       *       *       *

At four forty-five on the afternoon of September first,--a Monday,--a
tall, somewhat nervous man rang the bell of 31 East Acacia Street and
inquired for Miss Ridge. He came in and waited when he learned from the
little old lady who opened the door that Milly was not at home. He
waited in the small front room, sombrely darkened, where the tragedy of
Milly's first engagement ring had taken place,--waited until six
forty-five, then at the signs of preparation for the evening meal
slipped out. But he was back at seven forty-five and again came in. This
time Mrs. Ridge introduced herself and invited him politely to await her
granddaughter's return. "She's very uncertain in her hours," the old
lady explained with a deprecatory little laugh, "since she has
undertaken this newspaper work. It seems to keep her at the office a
great deal of late...." We may leave Edgar Duncan there in the little
front room, being entertained by Mrs. Ridge in her most gracious manner,
while we go in search of the truant Milly.

       *       *       *       *       *

She might have been found at an unpretentious German beer-garden far out
on the North Side. Bragdon and Milly had discovered this particular
retreat, which was small and secluded and usually rather empty. It
seemed to Milly quite "Bohemian" to drop into the garden late in the
afternoon and rouse the sleepy proprietor to fetch them cool stone mugs
of foaming beer, which the artist drank and which she sipped at.

On this Monday afternoon they had installed themselves in the little
arbor at the remote end of the tiny garden, where they were shielded by
the dusty vines from any observation, and thus the quarter hours and the
halves slipped by unheeded. The artist told her again of his aspirations
to paint,--"the real thing," to "go in for the big stunts." Milly
listened sympathetically. That was what he should do, of course,--have a
career, a man's career,--even if it parted him from her for always. All
her life she had wished to be an "inspiration" in some man's life-work.
What greater thing than to inspire an Artist to his glorious
fulfilment?...

Imperceptibly their words became more personal and more tender. He
wanted to paint _her_ some day, as she had lain on the beach, with her
lovely bronze hair, her wide blue eyes, and the little waves curling up
towards her feet.... Dusk fell, and they forgot to eat.... At the moment
when Edgar Duncan was describing to Mrs. Ridge for the second time the
exact location of Arivista Ranch on the slope of the Ventura hills,
Milly's head was resting close to the artist's face and very real tears
were in her eyes--tears of joy--as her heart beat wildly under her
lover's kisses and her ears sang with his passionate words....

For the one thing that the young artist had sworn to himself should
never happen to HIM,--at any rate not until he was old and
successful,--the very thing that Milly had laughed at as
preposterous--"me fall in love with a poor man!"--had come to pass. Both
had done it.

"I shan't spoil all your future for you, shall I, dear?" she whispered,
her mouth close to his. He gave her the only proper answer....

"It shan't make any difference," she said later, in a calmer moment.
"You shall have your life, dear, and become a great painter."

"Of course!" Youth replied robustly. "And I'll do a great picture of
you!"

How wonderful! How wonderful it all was, Milly thought, as they threaded
their way homewards through the slovenly, garish Chicago streets,
mindful of naught but themselves and their Secret. How could anything so
poetically wonderful happen in workaday Chicago? And Milly thought to
herself how could any woman consider for a moment sacrificing
THIS--"the real, right thing"--for any bribe on earth?...

As they neared the little house, Milly perceived the light in the front
room and with an intuition of something unpleasant to follow dismissed
her lover peremptorily, with a last daring kiss beneath the
street-light, and tripped into the house.

It all came over her as soon as the tall figure rose from the
uncomfortable corner sofa: she knew what she had done and she was filled
with real concern for the Other One.

"Edgar!" she cried. "Have you been waiting long?"

"Some time," Mrs. Ridge observed with reproof.

"Since four forty-five," Duncan admitted, and added with a touch of
sentiment. "I came fifteen minutes before the time."

Milly cast a fleeting glance backward over what had happened to her
since four forty-five!

"But it doesn't matter now," he said with intention, "all the waiting!"

Mrs. Ridge discreetly withdrew at this point.

"I'm so glad to see you," Milly began lamely. "Do sit down."

"I've been sitting a long time," Edgar Duncan remarked, patiently
reseating himself on the stiff sofa.

"I'm so sorry!"

"Did you forget?"

"Yes, I forgot all about it," Milly admitted bluntly. "You see so much
has happened since--"

"Then you didn't get my letters?" he pressed on eagerly, ignoring
Milly's last words.

"Oh, yes, I got all your letters," she said hastily, remembering that
she had not found time or heart to open the last bulky three, which lay
upstairs on her dressing-table. "Beautiful letters they were," she added
sentimentally and irrelevantly, thinking, "What letters Jack will
write!"

It is useless to follow this painful scene in further detail. Timid as
Edgar Duncan was by nature he was man enough to strike for what he
wanted when he had his chance,--as he had struck manfully in those bulky
letters. And he repeated their message now in simple words.

"Milly, will you go back with me?... I've waited for you all my life."

Touched by the pathos of this genuine feeling, Milly's eyes filled with
tears and she stammered,--

"Oh, I can't--I really can't!"

"Why not?"

(She would have been quite willing to make the journey with him, if she
might have flown straightway back to the arms of her artist lover!)

"You see--it's different--I can't--" Milly could not bring herself to
deal the blow. It seemed too absurd to state baldly that in twelve days
a man had come into her life, whom she had never set eyes on thirteen
days before, but who nevertheless had made it impossible for her to do
what before that time she had looked forward to with serene content.
Such things happened in books, but were ridiculous to say!

"You care for some one else?"

Milly nodded, and her eyes dropped tears fast. It all seemed very sad,
almost tragic. She was sorry for herself as well as for him....

If he felt it inexplicable that he had not been allowed to suspect this
deep attachment before, he was too much of a man to mention it. He took
his blow and did not argue about it.

"I'm so sorry!" Milly cried.

"It had to be," he said, hastily putting out a hand to her. "I shall
love you always, Milly!" (It was the thing they said in books, but in
this case it sounded forlornly true.) "I'm glad I've had the chance to
love you," and he was gone.

Milly dropped tears all the way upstairs to her room, where she shut
herself in and locked herself against family intrusion. In spite of her
tears she was glad for what she had done. A woman's heart seemed to her
ample justification for inconsistencies, even if it jammed other hearts
on the way to its goal. It was fate, that was all,--fate that Jack
Bragdon should have walked into her life just twelve days before it
would have been too late. Fate is a wondrously consoling word,
especially in the concerns of the heart. It absolves from personal
responsibility.

So Milly went to sleep, with tears still on her eyelashes, but a smile
on her lips, and dreamed of her own happy fate. At last "the real, right
thing" was hers!




X

MILLY MARRIES


She awoke with a sensation of bliss--a never ending happiness to be
hers. Yet there were some disagreeable episodes before this bliss could
be perfected. For one thing Horatio took the announcement of the new
engagement very hard,--unexpectedly so. Grandma Ridge received it in
stony silence with a sarcastic curve to her wrinkled lips, as if to
say,--"Hope you know your mind this time!" But Horatio spluttered:--

"What? You don't mean that la-di-da newspaper pup who parts his hair in
the middle?"

(To part one's hair in the middle instead of upon the slope of the head
was Horatio's aversion--it indicated to him a lack of serious, masculine
purpose in a young man.)

"I thought you would do better than that, Milly.... What's he making
with his newspaper pictures?"

"I don't know," Milly replied loftily.

She might guess that it was in the neighborhood of thirty dollars a
week, sometimes increased by a few dollars through a magazine cover or
commercial poster. But in her present exalted mood it was completely
indifferent to Milly whether her lover was earning twenty dollars or two
thousand a week. They would live somehow--of course: all young lovers
did.... And was he not a genius? Milly had every confidence.

"You might just as well have married Ted Donovan," Horatio groaned.
(Donovan was the young man at Hoppers' whom Milly had disdained early in
her West Side career.) "I saw him on the street the other day, and he's
doing finely--got a rise last January."

"He's not fashionable enough for Milly," Grandma commented.

"I must say you treated that Mr. Duncan pretty badly," Horatio continued
with unusual severity.

"I should say so!" Grandma interposed.

Milly might think so too, but she was serenely indifferent to all the
defeated prospects, the bleeding hearts over which she must pass to the
fulfilment of her being. It was useless to explain to her father and her
grandmother the imperious call of "the real, right thing," and how
immeasurably Jack differed from Ted Donovan, Clarence Albert, or even
Edgar Duncan, and how indifferent to a true woman must be all the pain
in the world, once she had found her Ideal.

Horatio and his mother might feel the waste of all their efforts in
behalf of Milly,--the costly removal from the West Side home, the
disastrous venture in the tea and coffee business, and all the rest,--to
result in _this_, her engagement to a "mere newspaper feller who parts
his hair in the middle." It was another example of the mournful
experience of age,--the pouring forth of heart's blood in useless
sacrifice to Youth. But Milly saw that her artist lover,--and the flame
in her heart, the song in her ears,--could not have been without all the
devious turnings of her small career. Each step had been needed to bring
her at last into Jack's arms, and therefore the toil of the road was
nothing--in her eyes. That was the way Milly looked at it.

Could one blame her, remembering her sentimental education, the
sentimental ideals that for centuries upon centuries men have imposed
upon the more imitative sex? She could not see the simple selfishness of
her life,--not then, perhaps later when she too became a mother.

       *       *       *       *       *

The catastrophe of her first engagement had cut Milly off from her more
fashionable friends and the world outside, and this second emotional
crisis cut her off from the sympathy of her family. After that first
wail Horatio was glumly silent, as if his cup of sorrow was now filled,
and Grandma Ridge went her way in stern oblivion of Milly. The girl was
so happy--and so much away from home--that she hardly felt the cold
domestic atmosphere.

A few short weeks afterwards, however, Mrs. Ridge announced to her that
a tenant having been found for the house they should move the first of
the month.

"Where are you going?" Milly asked, a trifle bewildered.

"Your father and I are going to board on the West Side," her grandmother
replied shortly, implying that Milly could do as she pleased, now that
she was her own mistress.

"Why over there?"

"Your father has secured a place in his old business."

From the few further details offered by her grandmother Milly inferred
that it was a very humble place indeed, and that only dire necessity had
forced Horatio to accept it,--to sit at the gate in the great
establishment where once he had held some authority.

"Poor papa!" Milly sighed.

"It's rather late for you to be sorry, now," the old lady retorted
pitilessly. She was of the puritan temper that loves to scatter
irrefutable moral logic.

It was not until long afterward that Milly learned all the part the
indomitable old lady had played in this crisis of her son's affairs. She
had not only gone to see Mr. Baxter, one of the Hopper partners who
attended the Second Presbyterian Church, and begged him to give her son
employment once more, but she had humbled herself to appeal personally
to their enemy Henry Snowden and entreat him, for old friendship's sake,
to be magnanimous to a broken man. In these painful interviews she had
not spared Milly. She had succeeded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometime during the last hurried weeks of their occupancy of the Acacia
Street house, Milly managed to have her lover come to Sunday supper and
make formal announcement of their intentions to the old people. For long
years afterwards she would remember the final scene of her emotional
career in the little front room when her father had to shake hands with
the young artist on the exact spot where Clarence's glittering diamond
had lain disdained, where the faithful ranchman had received his blow,
standing, full in the face.

Little Horatio looked gray and old; his lips trembled and his hand shook
as he greeted Bragdon.

"Well, sir, so you and Milly have made up your minds to get married?"

"Yes, sir."

"Hope you'll make each other happy."

"We shall!" both chorused.

"And I hope you'll be able to support her."

"We'll live on nothing," Milly bubbled gayly.

"First time then I've known you to," Horatio retorted sourly.

It was the only bitter thing the little man ever said to his daughter,
and it was the bitterness of disappointed hopes for her that forced the
words from him then. Perhaps, too, Horatio had permitted himself to
dream of Hesperidian apples of gold in eternal sunshine on the slopes of
the Ventura hills and a peaceful old age far from the roaring, dirty
city where he had failed. But when he spoke he was not thinking of
himself, only of the dangers for his one loved child.

The meeting was hardly a cheerful one. Milly, in the exuberance of her
new joy, could see no reason why everybody should not be as happy and
hopeful as she was. But the older people, although they were
scrupulously polite to the young artist, let their aloofness be felt in
a chilly manner. This was Milly's affair, they implied: she was running
her life to suit herself, as American children were wont to do, without
advice from her elders. The young man was obviously ill at ease.

Milly felt that he was too large for the picture. She had never been
ashamed of her humble home,--not with all her fashionable friends, not
with her rich lover. But now she was conscious of the poor impression it
must make upon the artist youth, who was so immeasurably superior to it
in culture. When the old people had withdrawn after supper, leaving the
lovers to themselves in the little front parlor, there were several
moments of awkward silence between them. Milly was distressed for him,
but she did not try to apologize. She said in her heart that she would
make it up to him,--all that she lacked in family background. A woman
could, she was convinced.

Possibly she did not fully realize how depressingly his situation had
been brought home to him by this first contact with the Ridge household.
He knew quite well how far thirty dollars a week went, with one man,
and, as has been said, the last intention of his soul was to induce any
woman to share it with him. Nor had he meant to seek out a rich wife,
although having brought good introductions he had made his way easily
into pleasant circles in his new home. Marriage had no part in his
scheme of things. But he had been snared by the same tricksy sprite of
blood and youth that had inflamed Milly. Now his was the main
responsibility, and he must envisage the future he had chosen soberly.
No more pleasant dallying in rich drawing-rooms, no more daydreaming
over the varied paths of an entertaining career. It was Matrimony! No
wonder--and no discredit to him--that the young man was somewhat
overwhelmed when he contemplated what that meant in material terms.
Never for the fraction of a moment, it should be said, did he think of
evading the responsibility. His American chivalry would have made that
impossible, even if he had desired it. And Milly had his heart and his
senses completely enthralled.

"Dearest," she said to him that evening, divining the sombre course of
his thoughts, "it will be so different with us when we are married.
We'll have everything pretty, even if it's only two rooms, won't we?"
And her yielding lips sealed his bondage firmer than ever, though he
might know that beauty, even in two rooms, costs money. He shut his eyes
and hoped--which is the only way in such cases.

Milly did not tell him that within a fortnight she should be without
even this home.

       *       *       *       *       *

"There's going to be no engagement this time," Milly reported briskly to
Sally Norton, when she announced her news, "for I had enough of that
before, with all the fuss. Jack and I are both perfectly free. We're
just going to be married some day--that's all."

"Milly! Well I never!" Sally gasped, amid shrieks of laughter. "Not
really? You don't mean that kid?"

(Sally was conducting a serious affair herself, with a wary old
bachelor, whom ultimately she led in triumph to the altar. Ever after
she referred to Mr. John Bragdon as Milly's "kid lover").

"I think it splendid!" Vivie pronounced in a burst of appreciation.
"It's the real thing, dear. You are both young and brave. You are
willing to make sacrifices for your hearts."

Milly was not yet conscious of making any tremendous sacrifice.
Nevertheless, she adopted easily this sentimentalized view of her
marriage. And Vivie Norton went about among their friends proclaiming
Milly's heroism. Some people were amused; some were sceptical; a few
pitied the young man. "Milly, a poor man's wife--never! For he _is_
poor, isn't he, a newspaper artist?"

"He has a great deal of talent," Vivie Norton asserted with assurance.
Milly had so informed her.

"But an artist!" and Chicago shrugged its shoulders dubiously. An
artist, at least a resident specimen of the craft, might be a
drawing-room lap-dog, unmarried, but married he soon became a seedy
member of society, somewhere between a clerk and a college professor in
social standing. One of the smarter women Milly knew, Mrs. James
Lamereux, exclaimed when she heard the news,--"It's beautiful,--these
days when the women as well as the men are so keen for the main chance
in everything." It was rumored there had been a sentimental episode in
this lady's past, the fragrance of which still lay in her heart. Meeting
Milly on the street she congratulated the girl heartily,--"And, my dear,
you'll have such an interesting life--you'll know lots of clever people
and do unconventional things,--be free, you know, as WE are
not".... But Mrs. Jonas Haggenash remarked when some one told her the
news,--"The little fool! Now she's gone and done it."

In general the verdict of friends seemed to be suspended: they would
wait and see, preserving meantime an attitude of amiable neutrality and
good-will towards this outbreak of idealism. But Milly was not troubling
herself about what people thought or said. This time she had the full
courage of her convictions. The only one of her old friends she cared to
confide in deeply was Eleanor Kemp. That lady listened with troubled,
yet sympathetic eyes. "Oh, my dear," she murmured, kissing Milly many
times. "My dear! My dear!" she repeated as if she did not trust herself
to say more. "I so hope you'll be happy--that it will be right this
time."

"Of course it _is_," Milly retorted, hurt by the shadow of doubt
implied.

"You know it takes so much for two people to live together always, even
when they have plenty of money."

"But when they love," Milly rejoined, according to her creed.

"Even when they love," the older woman affirmed gravely.

She could see beyond the immediate glamor those monotonous years of
commonplace living,--struggle and effort. She knew from experience how
much of life has nothing to do with the emotions and the soul, but
merely with the stomach and other vulgar functions of the body.

"I haven't a doubt,--not one!" Milly affirmed.

"That's right--and I oughtn't to suggest any.... You must bring Mr.
Bragdon to dinner Sunday. Walter and I want to see him.... When are you
to be married?"

"Soon," Milly replied vaguely.

"That's best, too."

Then Milly confessed to her old friend the dark condition of the Ridge
fortunes, with the uncomfortable fact that very shortly she herself
would be without a home.

"I must find some place to stay--but it won't be for long."

"You must come here and stay with us as long as you will," Mrs. Kemp
promptly said with true kindliness. "I insist! Walter would want it, if
I didn't--he's very fond of you, too."

Thus fortune smiled again upon Milly, and the two friends plunged into
feminine details of dress and domestic contrivance. Eleanor Kemp, who
had a gift lying unused of being a capable manager, a poor man's
helpmate, tried her best to interest Milly in the little methods of
economizing and doing by which dollars are pushed to their utmost
usefulness. Milly listened politely, but she felt sure that "all that
would work out right in time." She could not believe that Jack would be
poor always.... The older woman smiled at her confidence, and after she
had gone shook her head.

       *       *       *       *       *

The young artist had his due share of pride. When he realized that the
woman he loved and meant to marry was staying with the Kemps because she
had no other refuge, he urged their immediate marriage, though he also
had a fair-sized package of bills in his desk drawer and needed a few
months in which to straighten out his affairs. Milly was eager to be
married,--"When all would come right somehow." So she opposed no
objection.

Indeed as she let her lover understand, she was indifferent about the
mere ceremony. She would go and live with him any time, anywhere, if it
weren't for the talk it would make and hurting her father's feelings.
Milly was, of course, an essentially monogamic creature, like any
normal, healthy woman. She meant simply that, once united with the man
she really loved, the thing was eternal. If he should cease to love her,
it would be the end of everything for her, no matter whether she had the
legal bond or not. However flattered her lover may have been by this
exhibition of trust, Bragdon was too American in instinct to entertain
the proposal seriously. "What's the use of that, anyway?" he said. "We
mean to stick--we might as well get the certificate."

So, as Milly confided to Eleanor Kemp, they determined "just to go
somewhere and have it done as quickly as possible, without fuss and
feathers."

And Mrs. Kemp, realizing what a sacrifice this sort of marriage must
mean to any girl,--without the pomp and ceremony,--felt that it was a
good sign for the couple's future, showing a real desire to seek the
essentials and dispense with the frills. She and her husband had planned
to give the young adventurers a quiet but conventional home wedding,
with friends and a reception. But she readily acquiesced in Milly's
idea, and one bleak Saturday in January slipped off with the lovers to a
neighboring church, and after seeing them lawfully wedded by a parson
left them to their two days' holiday, which was all the honeymoon they
allowed themselves at this time....

Milly was a fresh and blooming bride in a becoming gray broadcloth suit,
and as she stood before the faded parson beside her chosen man to take
the eternal vows of fidelity, no woman ever gave herself more completely
to the one of her heart. The wonderful song of bliss that had been
singing inside her all these last weeks burst into a triumphal poem. She
felt curiously exalted, scarcely herself. Was she not giving everything
she had as a woman to her loved one, without one doubt? Had she not been
true to woman's highest instinct, to her heart? She had rejected all the
bribes of worldliness in order to obtain "the real, right thing," and
she felt purified, ennobled, having thus fulfilled the ideals of her
creed.... She turned to her husband a radiant face to be kissed,--a face
in which shone pride, confidence, happiness.

As the older woman, with tear-dimmed eyes, watched the two bind
themselves together for the long journey, she murmured to herself like a
prayer,--"She's such a woman! Such a dear woman! She MUST be
happy."

That was the secret of Milly's hold upon all her women friends: they
felt the woman in her, the pure character of their sex more highly
expressed in her than in any one else they knew. She was the unconscious
champion of their hearts.

Again the older woman murmured prayerfully,--"What will she do with
life? What _will_ she do?"

For like the wise woman she was she knew that in most cases it is the
woman who makes marriage sing like a perpetual song or become a sullen
silence. All the way to her home she kept repeating to herself,--

"What will she make of it? Milly!"




PART THREE

ASPIRATIONS




I

THE NEW HOME


They took a tiny, four-room apartment far, far out on the North Side. It
was close to the sandy shore of the Lake; from the rear porch, which was
perched on wooden stilts in the fashion of Chicago apartments, the gray
blue waters of the great lake could be seen. In the next block there
were a few scrubby oak trees, still adorned, even in January, with
rustling brown leaves, which gave something of a country air to the
landscape. By an ironical accident the new apartment they had chosen
happened to be not far from the spot where Clarence Albert had wished to
build his home. There was still much vacant property in this
neighborhood, as well as the free lake beach, which attracted the
lovers, and though it was a tiresome car-ride to the centre of the city
Milly did not expect to make many journeys back and forth.

At first she had had some idea of resuming her newspaper work, but that
had become almost negligible of late, since her preoccupation with love,
and when she approached Mr. Becker, he showed slight interest. He felt
kindly towards the two young adventurers, but he was not disposed to
carry his sentiments into the newspaper business. They must "make good"
by themselves, like any other Tom and Gill, and Milly married to an
impecunious newspaper artist would not be a social asset for the _Star_.
So Milly, happily, was relegated to domesticity, and the management of
her one raw little maid. Anyway, as she told Eleanor Kemp, her husband
did not care to have his wife working--didn't think much of women in the
newspaper business. She was proud of his Pride....

The new home was a pretty little nest. Milly had rescued from the last
debacle of the Ridge household those few good pieces of old mahogany
that had been her mother's contribution to the conglomerate, and kind
friends had added a few essential articles. Especially Eleanor Kemp,
with a practical eye and generous hand, had taken delight in seeing that
all details of the new home were complete, and that everything was in
smiling order on their return from the brief wedding trip. She had even
taken pains to have flowers and plants sent in from the Como
greenhouses. (The plants speedily died, as Milly forgot to water them.)

So now they were embarked, cosily and cheerily, considering their
circumstances. As a shrewd worldly philosopher once put it on a similar
occasion: "Your John and my Amy got launched to-day on the long journey.
Poor dears! They think it's to be one long picnic. But we know they are
up against the Holy State of Matrimony--a very different proposition."
By which he meant, no doubt, that the young couple were to discover that
instead of passion and sentiment, verses and kisses, marriage was
largely a matter of feeding John and keeping him smoothly running as an
economic machine, and of clothing Milly and keeping her happily attuned
to the social cosmos,--later on of feeding, clothing, educating, and
properly launching the little Johns and Millys who might be expected to
put in an appearance....

But our lovers had not struck the prosaic bottom yet, though they
reached it sooner than either had expected. There were a good many
kisses and verses the first months, passion and temperament. John
discovered, of course, that Mrs. Bragdon was quite a different woman
from Milly Ridge,--a still fascinating, though occasionally
exasperating, creature, while Milly thought John was just what she had
known he would be,--an altogether adorable lover and perfect man. What
surprised her more as the early weeks of marriage slipped by was to find
that she herself had remained, in spite of her great woman's experience,
much the same person she had always been, with the same lively interests
in people and things outside and the same dislike of the sordid side of
existence. She had vaguely supposed that the state of love ecstasy which
had been aroused in her would continue forever, excluding all other
elements in her being, and thus transform her into something gloriously
new. Not at all. She still felt aggrieved when the maid boiled her eggs
more than two minutes or passed the vegetables on the wrong side.

When the two first seriously faced the budget question, they found that
they had started their sentimental partnership with a combined deficit
of over four hundred dollars. Luckily Mrs. Gilbert had sent to their new
address a chilly note of good wishes and a crisp cheque for one hundred
dollars. It was rather brutal of the good lady to put them so quickly on
the missionary list, and Milly wanted to return the cheque; but John
laughed and "entered it to the good," as he said. Then miraculously
Grandma Ridge had put into Milly's hand just before the wedding ten
fresh ten-dollar bills. Where had the old lady concealed such wealth all
these barren years, Milly wondered!... And finally, among other traces
of Eleanor Kemp's fairy hand, they found in a drawer of Milly's new desk
a bank-book on Walter Kemp's bank with a bold entry of $250 on the first
page. So, all told, they were able to start rather to the windward, as
Bragdon put it. Much to Milly's surprise, the artist proved to have a
sense of figures, light handed as he had shown himself before marriage.
At least he knew the difference between the debit and the credit side of
the ledger, and had grasped the fundamental principle of domestic
finance, viz. one cannot spend more than one earns, long. He insisted
upon paying up all the old bills and establishing a monthly budget.
When, after the rent had been deducted from the sum he expected to earn,
Milly proved to him that they could not live on what was left, he
whistled and said he must "dig it up somehow," and he did. He became
indefatigably industrious in picking up odd dollars, extending his funny
column, doing posters, and making extra sketches for the sporting sheet.
In spite of these added fives and tens, they usually exceeded the budget
by a third, and when Jack looked grave, Milly of course explained just
how exceptional the circumstances had been.

It is not worth while to go into the budgetary details of this
particular matrimonial venture. Other story-tellers have done that with
painful literalness, and nothing is drearier than the dead accounts of
the butcher and baker, necessary as they are. The essential truths of
domestic finance are very simple, and invariable: in the last analysis
they come to one horn of the eternal dilemma,--fewer wants or more
dollars. In America it is usually the second horn of the dilemma that
the husband valiantly embraces--it seems the easier one at the time, at
least the more comfortable horn upon which to be impaled. Milly was
convinced that the first horn was impossible, if they were to "live
decently." Bragdon began to think they might do better in New York,
where the market for incidental art was larger and the pay better. Milly
was eager for the venture. But both hesitated to cut themselves off from
a sure, if lean, subsistence. The _Star_ raised him during the
presidential campaign, when he was quite happy in caricaturing the
Democratic ass and the wide-mouthed Democratic candidate. (They always
had a tender feeling for the gentleman after that!) All in all, he made
nearly twenty-five hundred dollars the first year, and that was much
more than he had expected. But he found that even in those years of low
prices it was a small income for two--as Milly pointed out.

However, money was not their only concern. The young wife was properly
ambitious for her husband.

"It isn't so much the money," she told Eleanor Kemp. "I don't want Jack
to sink into mere newspaper work, though he's awfully clever at it. But
it leads nowhere, you know. I want him to be a real artist; he's got the
talent. And if he succeeds as a painter, it pays so much better. Just
think! That Varnot man charges fifteen hundred dollars for his portraits
and such daubs--don't you think so?"

(Emil Varnot was one of the tribe of foreign artists who periodically
descend upon American cities and reap in a few months a rich harvest of
portraits, if they are properly introduced--much to the disgust of local
talent.)

"Don't be impatient, Milly," Mrs. Kemp counselled. "It will come in
time, I've no doubt. You must save up to go abroad first."

But the dull way of thrift was not Milly's; it was not American.
Improvements there are financed by mortgage, not by savings. They must
borrow to make the next step.... Milly had lofty ideals of helping her
husband in his work. She was to be his inspiration in Art, of course:
that was to go on all the time. More practically she hoped to serve as
model from which his creations would issue to capture fame. She had
heard of artists who had painted themselves into fame through their
wives' figures, and she longed to emulate the wives. But this illusion
was shattered during the first year of their married life. When Bragdon
essayed a picture in the slack summer season, it was discovered that
Milly, for all her vivacious good looks, was not paintable in the full
figure. (They had tried her on the sands behind the flat, where they
rigged up an impromptu studio out of old sails.) Her legs were too short
between the thigh and the knee, and when the artist tried to correct
this defect of his model, the result was disastrous.... However, what
was of more practical purpose, her head answered very well, and Milly's
pretty face adorned the covers of various minor magazines, done in all
possible color schemes at twenty dollars per head. "I earn something,"
she said, by way of self-consolation.

She had another disappointment. She had imagined that her husband would
do most of his work at home, immediately under her fostering eye, and
that in this way she should have a finger, so to speak, in the creative
process; but for the present the sort of "art" they lived on was best
done in an office, with the thud of steam presses beneath and the eager
eye of the copy-reader at the door. So Milly was left to herself for
long hours in her new little home, and Milly was lonely. The trouble
obviously was that Milly had not enough to do to occupy her abundant
energy and interest in life. They were not to have children if possible:
in the modern way they had settled beforehand that _that_ was
impossible. And modern life had also so skilfully contrived the plebeian
machinery of living that there was little or nothing left for the woman
to do, if she were above the necessity of cooking and washing for her
man. Deliberately to set herself to find an interesting and inexpensive
occupation for her idle hours was not in Milly's nature,--few women of
her class did in those days. It was supposed to be enough for a married
woman to be "the head of her house"--even of a four-room modern
apartment--and to be a gracious and desirable companion to her lord in
his free hours of relaxation. Anything else was altogether "advanced"
and "queer."

So after the first egotistic weeks of young love, the social
instinct--Milly's dominant passion, in which her husband shared to some
extent--awoke with a renewed keenness, and she looked abroad for its
gratification. Their immediate neighbors, she quickly decided, were
"impossible" as intimates: they were honest young couples, clerks and
minor employees, who had come to the outskirts of the great city, like
themselves, for the sake of low rents and clean housing. There were no
signs of that "artistic and Bohemian" quality about them which she had
hoped to find in her new life. Her husband assured her that he had
failed to discover any such circle in Chicago, any at least whose
members she could endure. That was where America, except New York
possibly, differed from Europe. It had no class of cultivated poor.
Occasionally he brought a newspaper man from the city, and they had some
amusing talk over their dinner. A few of Milly's old friends
persistently followed her up, like the Norton girls, the kindly Mrs.
Lamereux, and the Kemps. But after accepting the hospitality of these
far-off friends, there was always the dreary long journey back to their
flat, with ample time for sleepy reflection on the futility of trying to
keep up with people who had ten times your means of existence. It was
not good for either of them, they knew, to taste surreptitiously the
_bourgeois_ social feast, when they were not able "to do their part."
Nevertheless, as the spring came on, Milly invited people more and more,
and in the long summer twilights they had some jolly "beach parties" on
the sandy lake shore, cooking messes over a driftwood fire, and also
moonlight swimming parties. By such means the dauntless Milly managed to
keep a sense of social movement about them.

       *       *       *       *       *

She saw her father rarely. It was a day's journey, as she expressed it,
to the West Side, and her father was never free until after six, except
on Sundays, which Milly consecrated to husband, of course. Really,
father and daughter were not congenial, and they discovered it, now that
fate had separated them. At long intervals Horatio would come to them
for Sunday dinner, when Milly had not some other festivity on foot. On
these occasions the little man seemed subdued, as if he had turned down
the hill and drearily contemplated the end, at the bottom. He liked best
to sit on the rear porch, read the Sunday _Star_, and watch the gleaming
lake. Perhaps it reminded him of that vision he had indulged himself
with for a few short weeks of the broad Pacific beneath the Ventura
hills. Milly felt sorry for her father and did her best to cheer him by
giving him a bountiful dinner of the sort of food he liked. She had a
faint sense of guilt towards him, as if she might have done more to make
life toothsome for him in his old age. And yet how could she have been
false to her heart, which she felt had been amply vindicated by her
marriage? Pity that her heart could not have chimed to another note, but
that was the way of hearts. She was relieved when she had put her father
aboard the car on his return. As for Jack, he was always kind and
polite, but frankly bored; the two men had nothing in common--how could
they? It was the two generations over again--that was all.

Old Mrs. Ridge never made the journey to the Bragdon flat, and Milly saw
her only once or twice after her marriage. She was not sorry. Years of
living with "Grandma" had eaten into even Milly's amiable soul. The
little old lady grimly pursued her narrow path between the
boarding-house and the church, reading her _Christian Vindicator_ for
all mental relaxation, until one autumn morning she was found placidly
asleep in her bed, forever.

That was the next event of importance in Milly's life.




II

A FUNERAL AND A SURPRISE


When Horatio telephoned the news, Milly hurried over to the West Side,
and was taken to her grandmother's room. The little old lady seemed
extraordinarily lifelike in her death--perhaps because there had been so
little outward animation to her life. Her thin, veined hands were folded
neatly over her decent black dress, as she had sat so many hours,
perfectly still. The neat bands of white hair curved around the
well-shaped ears, and the same grim smile of petty irony that Milly knew
so well and hated was graven on the thin lips.... She was taken to that
cemetery on the Western Boulevard which Milly as a girl had prevented
her from visiting on her daily walk. There were several old ladies from
the boarding-house at the funeral, and one other thin-faced woman, whom
Milly vaguely remembered to have seen somewhere.

Milly returned from the funeral with her husband, and they were both
silent and thoughtful, occupied not so much with the dead as with the
future her going must disturb. They had not dared voice to each other
the idea that had been troubling them both since the first news of Mrs.
Ridge's death had reached them. At last, when they had left the car and
were approaching their own home, Bragdon said,--"I suppose, Milly, we
ought to have your father live with us."

"I suppose so," Milly sighed. "Poor papa--he feels it
dreadfully.... He's done so much for me always, Jack."

Her husband might rejoin that Horatio had done little for him, but he
said instead,--

"We shall have to find a larger apartment."

Milly sighed. It was difficult enough to get on in the little one.

"You'll go over to-morrow to see him about it?" Bragdon continued
courageously.

"Father can't come 'way out here to live--it's too far from his
business."

"We'll have to move nearer the business then."

"Not to the West Side!" Milly exclaimed in horror.

"What difference does it make?" her husband asked, as he wearily took up
his drawing-board.

"You don't know the West Side," Milly muttered.

"Well, we can't leave him alone in that boarding-house, can we?"

That was exactly what Milly would have liked to do, but she had not the
courage to say so in the face of her husband's ready acceptance of the
burden. The next day, as she revolved the unpleasant situation on her
way to see her father, she said to herself again and again,--"Not the
West Side. I won't have that--anything but that!" For to return to the
West Side seemed like beginning life all over again at the very bottom
of the hill.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Milly announced her invitation to her father, Horatio exhibited a
strange diffidence.

"We'll find some nice little apartment nearer the city where you'll have
no trouble in getting to your business," Milly said in kindly fashion.

"I guess not," Horatio replied. "Not but that it's real kind of you and
John."

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, daughter, your husband ain't my kind," he stammered.
"He's all right--a good fellow, and he seems to make you happy--but I
don't much believe in mixing up families."

"What will you do?"

And after further embarrassment, Horatio confessed with a red face,--

"Perhaps I'll get married myself soon."

"Papa--you don't mean it!" Milly exclaimed, rather shocked, and inclined
to think it was one of Horatio's raw jokes.

"Why not?... I ain't as old as some, if I'm not as young as others."

"Who is the lady?"

"A fine young woman!... I've known her well for years, and I can tell
you she'll make the right sort of wife for any man."

"Who can it be?" demanded Milly, now quite excited, and running over in
her mind all of her father's female acquaintance, which was not
extensive.

"Miss Simpson," Horatio said. "Expect you don't remember Josephine
Simpson--she was the young woman who was in the office when I had the
coffee business."

"That woman!" Milly gasped, remembering vividly now the sour, keen
scrutiny the bookkeeper had given her the last time she had been in the
office of the tea and coffee business. It must have been Miss Simpson
who had stood a little to one side behind her father at the funeral. The
thin-faced woman had a familiar look, but in her best clothes Milly had
not recognized her.

Horatio resented the tone of his daughter's exclamation.

"Let me tell you, Milly," he asserted with dignity, "there are few
better women living on this earth than 'that woman.' She's looked after
a sick mother and a younger sister all her life, and now I mean she
shall have somebody look after her."

The little man rose an inch bodily with his intention.

"I think it's very nice of you, papa."

"Nice of me! An old hulks like me?... I guess it's nice of her to let
me.... We'll make out all right. Will you come to the wedding?" he
concluded with a laugh.

"Of course--and I'm so glad for you, really glad, papa. I hope
Josephine'll make you very happy."

And she kissed her father.

On her way back to the city Milly laughed aloud several times with
amusement mingled with relief. "Who would have thought it--and with such
a scarecrow!" She stopped at the _Star_ to tell Jack the news. They had
lunch together and laughed again and again at "love's young dream."

"He won't be lonely now!" Milly said.

"I suppose he had to have some woman attached to him," her husband
mused; "when a man has reached his age and has had 'em about always--"

"Well, I like that!" Milly pouted.

"Anyway, that let's us out," was the final comment of both upon the
approaching nuptials of Horatio.

It was not the only surprise that the little old lady's death provided
the young couple with. It was discovered that she had made a will, and,
what was still more wonderful, that she had really something to will!
Various savings-bank books were found neatly tied up with string in her
drawer below a pile of handkerchiefs. The will said, after duly
providing for the care of her grave, "To my beloved granddaughter, I
give and bequeath the residue of my estate," which upon examination of
the bank-books was found to be rather more than three thousand dollars
all told.

"To me!!" Milly almost shouted when her father read the slip of paper to
her. She was divided in her astonishment between surprise that there
should be any money left, and that the little old lady, who had fought
her all her life, should give it all to "her beloved granddaughter."

Bragdon could not appreciate the full irony of the situation.

"And why not to you?" he asked.

"You don't know grandma!" Milly replied oracularly, feeling that any
attempt to explain would be useless.--And, it may be added, Milly did
not know her grandmother, either. She could no more appreciate the
steady, stern self-denial that had gone to the gathering of that three
thousand dollars than she could the nature of a person who would nag for
twenty years the girl she meant to endow. That also belonged among the
puritan traits, as well as a sneaking admiration for the handsome,
self-willed, extravagant granddaughter.

"She ought to have left it to you," Milly said to her father.

"I guess she thought she had done enough for me already," Horatio said
lightly. "She knew about Josephine, too--expect she thought the green
parlor furniture would be the right thing for us. Josephine's likely to
appreciate that more'n you, Milly!"

Milly was amply content with this division.

       *       *       *       *       *

Husband and wife lay awake for long hours that night, in a flutter of
excitement, discussing Milly's marvellous windfall.

"Just think," Milly cried, snuggling very close to her husband. "We'll
go abroad as soon as we can pack up, shan't we? And you will paint! And
all thanks to poor old grandma."

"It _is_ luck," the artist agreed thankfully.

"And I brought it to you--poor little me, without a _sou_!... Three
thousand ought to last a long time."

(Milly was invariably optimistic about the expansibility of money.)

"It'll be a good starter, anyway," her husband agreed, "and before it's
gone I ought to be making good."

So that night two very happy married people went to sleep in each
other's arms to dream of a wonderful future.




III

ON BOARD SHIP


At last Milly was tucked up in a steamer chair beside her artist
husband, on board the old _Augusta Victoria_, bound for Europe, that
exhaustless haven of romance where with or without an excuse all good
Americans betake themselves when they can....

The last few weeks had been exciting ones. It had begun with Horatio's
wedding to the homely bookkeeper, which Milly dutifully attended with
her husband. In spite of the very handsome rug that they had sent the
couple, Mrs. Horatio preserved a cold demeanor towards her husband's
daughter, as if she still suspected the young woman of designs upon
Horatio and had married him for the sole purpose of protecting him for
the future from this rapacious creature. Milly, quickly perceiving the
situation, mischievously redoubled her demonstration over poor Horatio,
who was visibly torn between his loyalties.

"Lord, what a sour face she has!" Milly commented to her husband, when
they had left the bride and groom. "Poor old Dad, I hope she'll let him
smoke!... Why do you suppose he married her?"

"To have some one to work for," Bragdon, who was not without a sense of
humor, suggested.

"He might at least have found somebody better looking."

"She looks capable, at any rate."

Milly made a face. She did not like this appreciation of another woman's
capability by her husband....

Then came the farewell visits of old friends, who all wished the two
venturers great good luck and sadly prophesied they would never return
to the city by the lake. Milly was tearful over their departure, but a
delirious week in New York that followed did much to efface this
sentimental grief. Jack kept finding old friends at every corner, who
welcomed him "back to civilization" uproariously, and Milly felt fairly
launched on her new career already. A very good-natured Big
Brother-in-law took them to Sherry's for dinner, and, charmed by his new
sister, spontaneously offered to increase their small hoard by another
thousand, with the promise of still more help, in case their "stake" ran
out before the two years of Europe they planned had brought results.
Finally an old college acquaintance of Jack's, who had made his debut in
literature successfully and was engaged to provide a woman's magazine
with one of his tender stories with a pronounced "heart interest,"
promised to secure the illustrations for Bragdon. "If I can catch on,"
the artist told his wife, "it means--anything. Clive Reinhard turns out
one of his sloppy stories every six months, and they are all
illustrated."

Altogether when they set sail they calculated their resources, if
carefully managed, could be made to last three years. Three years of
Europe!... Milly had never looked so far ahead in all her life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly, snugly tucked up on the leeward side of the deck, closed her eyes
as the boat rolled with heavy dignity, and thought. To be perfectly
frank her married life in the four-room flat on the outskirts of Chicago
had begun to pall on her. It seemed to lead nowhere. It had not been
very different from the lives of the little people about her, from what
she would have done and been if she had married Ted Donovan, say. Only,
of course, Jack was different from Ted, and with him it could not last
in the commonplace rut. They were merely little people, and very poor
little people, in the big whirl of the western city--with their hope.
Suddenly in the most romantic manner the Hope had taken shape--and
Milly, thanks to grandma's surprising gift, arrogated to herself the
whole credit of that. She did not pause to think what might have
happened to them if they had been obliged to continue in the rut. She
did not realize that already "love was not enough."

But now heigho for Venture and the New Life--the life of Art! Milly
still thought vaguely that according to Mrs. Lamereux it would mean
meeting a lot of interesting people, endless clever talk over delightful
meals in queer little French restaurants or in picturesque and
fascinating studios. "Art" was the next thing to money or fashion. If
one couldn't be awfully rich or a "social leader," the best thing was to
be artistic and distinguished, which brought you into contact with all
sorts of people, among them "the fashionables," of course. She meant
that her husband should be a successful painter, not a mere illustrator.

Of the real nature of Art and the artist's life Milly had no better
conception than when she first fell in love with Jack Bragdon. She knew
nothing of the artist's despairs and triumphs, his tireless labor to
grasp the unseen, his rare and exalted joys, his strange valuation of
life,--in short the blind, unconscious purpose of Art in the terrestrial
scheme of things. Nor perhaps did John Bragdon at twenty-eight. The
crust of _bourgeois_ standards is so thick in American life that it
takes a rare and powerful nature to break through, and Bragdon had not
yet begun to knock his way.... Milly's idea of Art, like most women's,
was Decoration and Excitement. When successful, it made money and noise
in the world, and brought social rewards, naturally. She hadn't married
Jack for that, or for any reason except because of his own adorable
personality, as she told him frequently. But now that she was married
she meant to make the most of the Gift. Jack was to be a Creator, and
she aspired to be embodied somehow in the creation and share its
profits.

At last they were launched: their marriage was really just
beginning.... She snuggled closer to her husband under the common
rug and murmured in his sleepy ear,--

"Isn't it great, Jack?"

"What?" (Drowsily.)

"Europe! Everything!... That we're really here on the steamer!"

"Um!"

"And you're going to be a great painter--"

"Perhaps." (Dubiously.)

"What shall you do first?"

"Don't know--find a cab."

"Silly!... Don't make fun of me.... Kiss me!... Do you mind, dear, going
down into the cabin and looking for my hot-water bottle," etc.

Bragdon recovered first from the Atlantic languor, and in the course of
his rambles about the ship discovered an acquaintance in the second
cabin,--a young instructor in architecture at a technical school, who
with his wife and small child were also on their way to Paris for the
winter. He brought Milly to see the Reddons where they were established
behind a ventilator on the rear deck. Milly thought they seemed forlorn
and pitied them. Mrs. Reddon was a little pale New Englander, apparently
as fragile as a china cup, and in her arms was a mussy and peevish
child. She confided to Milly that she expected another child, and Milly,
whose one ever present terror was the fear of becoming inconveniently a
mother, was quite horrified.

"How can they do it!" she exclaimed to Jack, when they had returned to
their more spacious quarters. "Go over second-class like that--it's so
dirty and smelly and such common people all around one."

"I suppose Reddon can't afford anything better."

"Then I should stay at home until I could. With a baby, too, and another
one coming: it's like the emigrants!"

"Reddon is a clever chap: he's been over before, a couple of years at
the Beaux Arts. I suppose he wants more work and didn't like to leave
her behind."

"She shouldn't have babies, then," Milly pronounced seriously, feeling
her superiority in not thus handicapping her husband in his career.

"It is tough," Bragdon admitted....

They saw a good deal of the Reddons during the voyage. They proved to be
not in the least down-hearted over their lot, and quite unaware of
Milly's commiseration. They were going to Paris for some desirable
professional work, as they might go to San Francisco or Hong Kong, had
the path pointed that way. They had babies because that was part of the
game when one married, and they brought them along because there was
nothing else to do with them. It was all very simple from the Reddon
point of view.

Milly considered Mrs. Reddon to be a "nice little thing," and they
became chummy. Marion Reddon was a college-trained woman, with much more
real culture than her husband or either of the Bragdons. She had read
her Greek and Latin and forgotten them, liked pictures and music and
books, but preferred babies when they came. Sam Reddon was a
high-spirited American boy. He had never meant to study architecture and
he hadn't intended to marry or to teach; but having done all these
things he still found the world a merry place enough. He played the
piano a little and sang Italian songs in an odd falsetto and roamed over
the ship in disreputable corduroys, which he had preserved from his
student days in Paris, making himself thoroughly at home in all three
cabins.

They talked Paris, of course, about which Reddon knew a great deal more
than any of the others.

"Where are you going to live? In the Quarter?"

Mrs. Kemp had given Milly the address of an excellent pension near the
Arc, at which Sam Reddon expressed a frank disgust.

"Americans and English--the rotten _bourgeoisie_--why don't you stay in
New York?" He figuratively spat upon the proprieties, and Milly was
bewildered. "An _apartement meublee au cinquieme_, near the _Boul'
'Mich_ for us, eh, missus?"

Milly had heard that the "Latin Quarter" was dirty, and not "nice." None
of her Chicago friends ever stayed there.

"You'll come and call on us, won't you?" the young man said with
pleasant mockery. "Nobody will know, but we won't lay it up against you
if you don't."

Milly thought he was "fresh" and tried to snub him, but her manner only
provoked Reddon the more.

"What's your husband trying to paint for? There are two thousand nine
hundred and ninety-nine other chaps like him in Paris, and he'll just be
the three thousandth, who thinks he's going to make his fortune painting
rich people's portraits. I'd rather break stone than try to live by
paint."

"And how about building summer villas for a living?" Bragdon queried.

"Well," the young man replied with a grin. "You see I don't--I can't get
any to do!"

It was pleasant enough to joke about the arts, but Milly didn't expect
to see much of the Reddons once they were launched in the fascinating
life of Paris. She was becoming a little bored with them already, with
their sloppy unconventionality and with ship life in general. Most of
the first-cabin passengers, she discovered, were from Chilicothe, Ohio,
or similar metropoli of the middle west, and as ignorant as she of what
was before them.

But when they sighted the green shores of Normandy, her enthusiasm
revived at a bound. As they came into the harbor, the gray stone houses
with high-pitched red roofs, the fishing smacks with their dun-colored
sails, even the blue-coated men on the waiting tender had about them the
charm of another world. They were different and strange, exciting to the
thirsty soul of the American, so long sodden with the ugly monotony of a
pioneer civilization. From the moment that the fat little tender touched
the steamer, amid a babble of tongues, Milly was breathless with
excitement. She squeezed her husband's arm, like an ecstatic child who
had at last got what it wanted. "I'm _so_ happy," she chirped. "Isn't it
all wonderful,--that we are really here, you and I?"

He laughed in superior male fashion at her enthusiasm, and stroked his
small mustache, but in his own way he was excited at sight of the
promised land.

"Hang on tight," he said to her, as they began the ticklish descent to
the tender, "or it will be still more wonderful."

Milly tripped over the long, unsteady gangway towards the Future, the
great adventure of her life. There beyond, in the smiling green country
with the old gray houses, lay mysterious satisfactions that she had
hungered for all her life,--Experiences, Fame, and Fortune--in a word
her Happiness.




IV

BEING AN ARTIST'S WIFE


But it wasn't so different after all! As Sam Reddon had predicted, the
Bragdons went to live in the Etoile quarter,--in a very respectable
hotel-pension on the Rue Galilee. It was so much healthier in that
quarter, every one said, more comfortable for a wife, who must be left
to herself for long hours each day. They had lost sight of the Reddons
from the moment they entered the Paris train, for the Reddons, having
second-class tickets, were forced to wait for a slower train, which they
didn't seem to mind as it gave them a chance to see the little town and
lunch in a _cabaret_ instead of paying for an expensive meal on the
wagon-restaurant as the Bragdons did.

Bragdon enrolled himself among the seventy or eighty students at
Julian's and also shared a studio near the _Pont des Invalides_ with
another American, where he worked afternoons by himself. He plunged into
his painting very earnestly, realizing all that he had to accomplish.
But he lived the life of the alien in France, as so many of his
fellow-students did, preserving a stout Americanism in the midst of
Paris. Thanks to an education in an American college, after eight years'
study of foreign languages he could read easy French, but he could
scarcely order a meal in the language. And he did not try to learn
French, like most of the young Americans "studying" in Paris. What was
the use? he said. He did not intend to live his life there. In truth, he
disdained the French, like the others, and all things French, including
most of their art. His marriage had emphasized this Americanism. Like
most of his countrymen he regarded every Frenchman as a would-be seducer
of his neighbor's wife, and every Frenchwoman as a possible wanton; all
things French as either corrupt or frivolous or hopelessly behind the
times.

He inspired Milly to some extent with these ideas, though she was of a
more curious and trusting nature. He did not like to have her go out in
Paris even in the daytime unaccompanied, and as after the first weeks of
settlement in their new environment he was very busy all day, Milly
found herself more or less secluded and idle from nine in the morning
until five in the afternoon. It was worse than in the flat in Chicago!
For there she could go out when she pleased, and had some social
distraction. Here they knew almost nobody.

The hotel-pension on the Rue Galilee was frequented by the quieter sort
of middle-aged English, and a few American mothers with their children,
"doing Europe." Hardly a word of French was spoken within its doors, and
as far as possible the English habitues of the place had anglicized its
food. Milly found few congenial spirits there. She rather liked two
invalidish maiden ladies from Boston and went shopping with them
sometimes and to see the pictures in the Louvre. But the Misses Byron
were quite delicate and took their Paris in dainty sips.

Milly was far from sharing her husband's distrust of all things French,
but she supposed being a man and having been there before he must know
Paris. She would have liked to spend the lovely late autumn days on the
streets, drinking in the sights and sounds. Instead she went with Jack
to the picture galleries and did the other "monuments" starred in
Baedeker, conscientiously. But these did not stir her soul. The Louvre
was like some thronged wilderness and she had no clews. Life spoke to
her almost exclusively through her senses, not through her mind, which
was totally untrained. She was profoundly ignorant of all history, art,
and politics; so the "monuments" meant nothing but their
picturesqueness. She picked up the language with extraordinary avidity,
and soon became her husband's interpreter, when the necessity reached
beyond a commonplace phrase.

Occasionally as a spree they dined in the city at some recommended
restaurant and went to the theatre. But these were expensive
pleasures--indeed the scale of living was more costly than in Chicago,
if one wanted the same comforts; and by the end of the first winter
Bragdon became worried over the rapid inroads they were making on their
letter of credit. Every time he had to journey to the Rue Scribe he
shook his head and warned Milly they must be more careful if their funds
were to last them even two years. And he knew now that he needed every
day of training he could possibly get. He was behind many of these other
three thousand young Americans engaged in becoming great artists. Milly
thought their sprees were modest and far between, but as the dark,
chilly Paris winter drew on she was more and more confined to the stuffy
salon or their one cheerless room. She became depressed and bored. This
was not at all what she had expected of Europe. It seemed that Paris
could be as small a place as Chicago, or even less!

Sometimes, like a naughty child, Milly broke rules and sallied forth by
herself on bright days, wandering down the Champs Elysees, gazing at the
people, speculating upon the very pronounced ladies in the smart
victorias, even getting as far as the crowded boulevards and the
beguiling shops, which she did not dare to enter for fear she should
yield to temptation. Once she had a venture that was exciting. She was
followed all the way from the Rue Royale to the Rue Galilee by a man,
who tried to speak to her as she neared the pension, so that she fairly
ran to shelter. She decided not to tell Jack of her little adventure,
for he would be severe with her and have his prejudices confirmed. She
rather enjoyed the excitement of it all, and wouldn't have minded
repeating it, if she could be sure of escaping in the end without
trouble....

She read some books which her husband got for her,--those breakfast-food
culture books provided for just such people, about cities and monuments
and history. She was supposed to "read up" about Rome and Florence,
where they hoped to go in the spring. But books tired Milly very soon:
the unfamiliar names and places meant nothing at all to her. She decided
that, as in most cases, one had to have money and plenty of it to enjoy
Europe,--to travel and live at the gay hotels, to buy things and get
experiences "first hand." Evidently it was not for her, at present.

What she liked best in her life this first winter were the Sunday
excursions they made to Fontainebleau, St. Germain, Versailles, and St.
Cloud, and other smaller places where the people went. She liked the
mixed crowds of chattering French on the river boats and the third-class
trains,--loved to talk with the women and children in her careless
French, and watch their foreign domesticities.... Best of all, perhaps,
were the walks in the Bois with her husband, where she could see the
animation of the richer world. On their way back they would often stop
at Gage's for cakes and mild drinks. All the pastry-shops fascinated
Milly, they were so bright and clean and _chic_. The efficiency of
French civilization was summed up to her in the _patisserie_. She liked
sweet things and almost made herself ill with the delectable concoctions
at Gage's. That more than anything else this first year came to typify
to her Paris,--the people, men as well as women, who came in for their
cakes or syrop, the eagle-eyed _Madame_ perched high at the _comptoir_,
holding the entire business in her competent hand, and all the deft
girls in their black dresses, nimbly serving, _"Oui, Madame! Voici,
Monsieur! Que desirez-vous?"_ etc. She admired the neat glass trays of
tempting sweets, the round jars of bonbons, the colored _liqueurs_, the
neat little marble-topped tables. Apparently the _patisserie_ was a
popular institution, for people of all sorts and conditions flocked
there like flies.

"If you ever die and I have to earn my living," she would say jokingly
to her husband, "I know what I should do. I'd run a cake-shop!"

"You'd eat all the cakes yourself," Bragdon rejoined, tearing her away
after the eighth or tenth.

She went there by herself sometimes, and became good friends with the
reigning _Madame_, from whom she learned the routine of the manufacture
and the sales, as well as the trials and tribulations with _les
desmoiselles_ that the manager of a popular pastry shop must have. This
_Madame_ liked the pretty, sociable _Americaine_, always smiled when she
entered the shop with her husband, counselled her as to the choicest
dainties of the day, asked her opinion deferentially as that of a
connoisseur, and made her little gifts. Through the cake-shop Milly came
to realize the French, as her husband never did.

       *       *       *       *       *

So the winter wore away somehow,--the period that Milly remembered as,
on the whole, the dullest part of her married life. Her first season in
Paris! They might read a little in one of the culture books in their
room after dinner, then would take refuge from the damp chill in bed.
Jack was less gay here in Paris than he had ever been in Chicago,
preoccupied with his work, frequently gloomy, as if he foresaw the
failure of his ambitions. Milly felt that he was ungrateful for his
fate. Hadn't he the dearest wish of his heart--and her, too?...

Something was wrong, she never knew quite what. The trouble was that she
had no job whatever now, and no social distraction to take the place of
work. She was the victim of ideas that were utterly beyond her
knowledge, ideas that must impersonally carry the Milly Ridges along in
their momentum, to their ultimate destruction.

"I ought to be very happy," she said to herself piously. "We both ought
to be."

But they weren't.




V

WOMEN'S TALK


One day something dreadful happened. Milly realized that she was to have
a child. A strange kind of terror seized her at the conviction. _This_,
she had felt ever since her marriage, was the one impossible thing to
happen: she had promised herself when she married her poor young artist
it should never be. One could be "Bohemian," "artistic"--light and
gay--without money, if there were no children. And now, somehow, the
impossible had happened, in this unfamiliar city, far away from friends
and female counsellors.

She wandered out into the street in a dull despair, and after a time got
on top of an omnibus with a vague idea of going off somewhere, never to
return, and sat there in the drizzle until she reached the end of the
route, which happened to be the Luxembourg. She recognized the place
because she had visited the gallery with her husband and also dined at
Foyot's and gone to the Odeon on one of their expansive occasions. She
walked about aimlessly for a while, feeling that she must get farther
away somehow, then wandered into the garden and sat down near one of the
fountains among the nurses. The sun had come out from the watery sky,
and it was amusing to watch the funny French children and the chattering
nurses in their absurd headdresses. The graceful lines of the old Palais
made an elegant frame for the garden, the fountains, and the trees.
Milly couldn't brood long, but after a time the awful fact would intrude
and pull her up with a start. What should she do? There was no room in
their life for a child, especially just now. She could never tell Jack.
What useless things women were anyway! She didn't wonder that men
treated them badly, as they did sometimes, she had heard.

A familiar small figure came towards her. It was Elsie Reddon, the
two-year-old girl she had played with on the steamer.

"Where's Mama, Elsie?" Milly asked. The child pointed off to a corner of
the garden near by, and Milly followed her small guide to the bench
where Marion Reddon was seated. The other child hadn't yet come, but
evidently was not far off. Milly felt strangely glad to see the little
woman again, and before long confided in her her own trouble.

"That's good!" Marion Reddon said quickly and with evident sincerity.

"You think so!" Milly cried pettishly. "Well, I don't."

"It simplifies everything so."

"Simplifies?"

"Of course. When you're having children, there are some things you can't
do--just a few you can--and so you do what you can and don't worry about
the rest."

"It spoils your freedom."

The pale-faced little woman laughed.

"Freedom? That's book-talk. Most people do so much more when they aren't
free than when they are. Sam says it's the same with his work. When he's
free, he does nothing at all because there's so much time and so many
things he'd like to try. But when he's tied down with a lot of work at
the school, then he uses every spare moment and gets something
done--'just to spite the devil.'"

She smiled drolly.

"You'll see when it comes."

Milly looked unconvinced and said something about "the unfair burden on
women," the sort of talk her more advanced women friends were beginning
to indulge in. Mrs. Reddon had other views.

"It's the natural thing," she persisted. "If I didn't want children for
myself, I'd have 'em anyway for Sam."

"Does he like babies?"

"Not especially. Few men do at first. But it trains him. And it makes a
hold in the world for him."

"What do you mean?"

"Children make a home--you have to have one. The man can't run away and
forget it."

She smiled with her droll expression of worldly wisdom.

"Sam would be in mischief half the time, if it weren't for us. He'd be
running here and there, sitting up all hours, wasting his energies
smoking and drinking with everybody he met--and now he can't--very
much."

"But--but--how about you?"

"Oh," the little woman continued calmly, "I don't flatter myself that I
could hold my husband long alone, without the children." She looked
Milly straight in the eyes and smiled. "Few women can, you know."

"I don't see why not."

"They get used to us--in every way--and want change, don't you see that?
They know every idea we have, every habit, every look good and
bad--clever men, especially."

"So we know them!"

"Of course! But women don't like change, variety--the best of us don't.
We aren't venturesome. Men are, you see, and that's the difference.... I
don't know that we mightn't become so if we had the chance, but we've
been deprived of it for so long that we have lost the courage, the
desire for change almost. What we know we cling to, isn't that so?"

She rose to capture the wandering Elsie.

"I must go back now to get Sam's _dejeuner_. Won't you come? He'd love
to see you--he often speaks about you and your husband."

Milly accepted readily enough. Although she did not agree with all that
Marion Reddon had said, she was soothed by the talk, and she had a
curiosity to see the Reddon _menage_ in operation.

"So," she remarked, as they passed through the great gilt gate out to
the noisy street, "you think a woman should have children to keep a man
true to her."

"Tied to her," Marion Reddon emended, "and truer than he otherwise might
be. Then they are something in case the husband quits altogether--if he
turns out to be a bad lot. Most of them don't, of course; they are loyal
and faithful. But if they do, then a woman has the children, and that's
a world for any one."

"It makes it all the worse--if she has to support them without a man's
help."

"I wonder! It's the incentive that makes work effective, isn't it?"

They crossed the vivid stream of the boulevard, the child between them,
and mounted the hill towards the Pantheon.

"You know the time is coming when the woman will again be the
responsible head of the family in form as she is in fact to-day, and
then she will tolerate the man about her house just so long as she
thinks him a fit father, and take another if she prefers him as the
father of her children."

These anarchistic doctrines had a quaint absurdity on the lips of this
mild, little New England woman. Milly, not having lived in circles where
the fundamental relations of life were discussed with such philosophical
frankness, was puzzled. The Reddons must be "queer" people, she thought.

"So I tell Sam when he gets fussy that if he isn't careful, I'll
_flanquer la porte_ to him and run the shop myself."

"My!"

"I could, too, and he knows it--which is very salutary for him when he
gets uppish and dictatorial, as all men will at times."

"How could you?"

"You see I'm an expert taxidermist. I learned the thing vacations to
help an uncle out, who was a collector. I could always make a living at
it, and one for the kiddies too. That's the nub of the whole matter, as
we used to say in the country."

(Later, Milly remembered this talk in its every bearing, and had reason
to appreciate the profound truth of the last statement.)

"But you love your husband," Milly remarked as if to reassure herself.

"Of course I do, or I shouldn't be living with him and bearing his
children. But he needs me and the children rather more than I need
him--which is the better way."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Reddons lived on the fourth floor back of an old lantern-jawed
building that tilted uphill behind Ste. Genevieve. Milly found the
stairs steep and dark and the odor of the old building anything but
pleasant. Marion assured her cheerfully that the smell was not
unhealthy, and as they kept their windows open most of the time they did
not mind it. The three little rooms of the _apartement meublee_ were
dingy, to say the least, but they looked out over the clock tower of
Ste. Genevieve into an old college garden.

"I make Sam get the coffee mornings, and I do the _dejeuner_; then an
old woman comes in to clean us up and cook dinner, if we don't go out.
Sam is rather given to the student cafes."

Mrs. Reddon moved dexterously within the confined limits of the closet
kitchen and continued to describe her household. "You see we pay only
thirty dollars a month for this place, and I cover the housekeeping
bills with another thirty or a little more."

"Heavens! How can you do it?" Milly gasped.

Their pension was over that amount apiece.

"It's cheaper than anything at home, and lots more fun!"

Presently Sam Reddon came whistling upstairs. He stopped in histrionic
surprise at sight of Milly.

"Not really, Milady! How did you find your way?"

"By accident."

"Ma," he sang out to his wife, "you aren't going to try one of your
historic stews on Mrs. Bragdon--our one fashionable visitor of the
season? Don't you think we had better make an occasion of this and
adjourn to Foyot's?"

"No," his wife replied firmly, "you've had too many 'occasions' this
month. One of my _dejeuners_ won't hurt Mrs. Bragdon or you either."

"Well," he submitted dolefully, "she can't drink that red ink you
mistakenly bought for wine, my dear.... I'll just fetch a bottle of
something drinkable."

"Hurry then! _Dejeuner_ is quite ready."

"You see," she observed placidly as Reddon departed, "he takes every
excuse to escape his work and make a holiday. It wasn't altogether
_you_, my dear!"

"It's so human!"

"It's so--Sam."

They had a very jolly luncheon, and afterwards, the old servant having
arrived to take charge of the apartment and Elsie, the two women
accompanied Reddon down the hill as far as the Sorbonne, where Marion
was attending a course of lectures. Milly gathered that the little
woman, in spite of her housekeeping, the one child on the spot, and
another coming, had many lively interests and saw far more of Paris,
which she loved, than Milly and her husband did. Both the Reddons lived
carelessly, but lived hard every minute, taking all their chances, good
and bad, of the minutes to come. It was a useful philosophy, but not one
that Milly wholly admired.

Late that afternoon Milly met her husband in a frame of mind much more
serene than it was before she saw the Reddons, and told him her
momentous news. He seemed more pleased and less disturbed by it than she
had supposed possible. A few days later he got the proof-sheets of
Reinhard's novel from the trunk, where they had been lying neglected,
and worked diligently on the foolish sketches required by the text to
illustrate the hero and heroine in their "tense" moments. He finished
the job before they left Paris in March, which was his male way of
acknowledging the new obligation that was on its way.

Milly thought there might be something in Marion Reddon's ideas about
men, after all.




VI

THE CHILD


After much debate Milly resolved to take a leaf from Marion Reddon's
philosophy and not let her "condition" make any difference in her
husband's plans; they should not give up the trip to Italy because of
possible dangers or discomforts to her. So they went to Florence and
afterwards to Rome, where the Reddons, having miraculously procured the
price of the railroad tickets at the last moment, joined them and gave
them lessons in how to see Europe as the Europeans see it. After a short
visit to Venice, the two families settled for the summer in a quiet
little village of the Austrian Tyrol, where the men tried to work, but
for the most part climbed mountains and drank beer instead. Then in
September they were back in Paris; the Reddons, who had exhausted all
their resources, went home to America for the year's grind in the
technical school; and the Bragdons settled in a small house in Neuilly.
And there early in October Milly's little girl came safely into the
world.

The small brick house with its scrap of garden and gravelled drive
proved to be the pleasantest of Milly's European experiences. It was the
most regularly domestic thing they did. The artist still went to the
school in the mornings, but worked at home in the afternoons. Milly
convalesced healthily and was properly absorbed in her baby and her
house, so that she did not feel lonely during her husband's absences in
Paris. Now that the child had got into the world, after all her fears
and forebodings, Milly was surprised at the naturalness of the event. As
Marion Reddon had said, it really simplified life. First consideration
must always be the Baby. Mdle. Virginia, as she was called after Milly's
mother, could do so little in this world at present that its parents'
ambitions were necessarily curbed. Milly was an admirably devoted
mother. She had always liked babies since she was a very little girl,
and she became wholly wrapped up in her own human venture. The summer
while the child was coming had drawn her very close to Marion Reddon,
with whom she had established a staunch bond of the woman's league,
offensive and defensive, against men. Marion, she felt, understood both
babies and men. Although she could not approve of all Marion's ideas
about the relations of the sexes, she admired the frank, brave, humorous
way in which she solved her own life.

Curiously enough, the child seemed to set Milly apart from her
husband--and from the world of men in general. Jack was no longer the
supreme emotional fact in her life. He was a good husband; she was more
conscious of that than ever before. He had been very tender and
considerate of her during her pregnancy, keeping up her spirits,
guarding her against folly, insisting on luxuries in their travels so
that she might be thoroughly comfortable. Thus he went to Gossensass,
not for his own profit and pleasure, but because the doctor they
consulted in Venice advised this secluded mountain resort. And when the
time of the birth came, he had been properly solicitous to see that she
was provided with the best attendance and care, and Milly knew vaguely
that he had spent lavishly of their hoard for this purpose. Milly was
sure he loved her, and what was also very important to her, she was sure
that he was "a good man,"--clean-minded and unselfish with a woman. Even
if he should come to love her less passionately than at the beginning,
he was the loyal sort of American, who would not let that fact furnish
him with excuse for errancy. And she loved him, of course--was "quite
crazy" about him, as she expressed it to Marion--and still believed in
his glorious future as a great painter.

Yet in some indefinable way he had sunk from first to second place in
her thoughts and might soon--who knows?--descend to third place in the
family triangle. As for all other men, like Sam Reddon and the artists
Jack brought to the house, they began to have for her the aspect of
coarse and rather silly beings, essentially selfish and sensual. "Oh,
he's just a man" became more and more in her mouth the mocking formula
to indicate male inferiority. Later it was, "They're all alike, men."
Thus the child brought out in Milly the consciousness of womanhood. She
was more the mother now than the wife, as was natural, but she had no
desire to become again the wife, paramount, to any man....

Meanwhile any one of those who came in upon them in the Neuilly house
and saw the father and mother grouped about the baby's bassinet would
say,--"An ideal young pair--has he much talent?"

This winter when she grew stronger Milly saw more of people than before.
She had two very capable servants and her little household ran smoothly,
though its cost made severe inroads on the "hoard." People she knew
drifted through Paris and were glad to lunch or dine in the little
Neuilly house. Sally Norton, who was now Mrs. Willie Ashforth, having
finally secured the elderly bachelor, was one of the first to come.
Sally laughed over the small house, over Milly's baby, over Milly as a
mother. She seemed determined to consider Milly as an irresponsible joke
in everything she did, but she was good-natured and lively as always,
and absorbed in her own plans. The Ashforths were building at Highland
Forest, a fashionable suburb outside of Chicago. Vivie had had a
"desperate affair" with a divorced man, etc., etc. Then the Gilberts
turned up unexpectedly one day, gracious and forgiving to Milly, and
apparently very much bored with themselves in Paris. Milly gave them a
nice little dinner, to which she had the smartest people she knew, which
was her way of "getting even" with Nettie for the snubs. Others came
more frequently as the spring influx of Americans arrived. Occasionally
Jack complained of the time these idle wanderers consumed, especially of
the precious afternoons lost when they came for luncheon and stayed
until tea. Milly thought it selfish of him to object to "her one
pleasure," now that "she was tied up in the house." Perhaps he felt so
too, for he said no more, and remained at the school to work when there
was likely to be company at the Neuilly house. On the whole he was
amiably indulgent with his wife, according to the best American
tradition.... So with friends, new and old, the second year of their
foreign life drew on towards summer. The baby flourished, and all was
well. They began to talk of summer plans.

A cheap place in the country was imperative, for by this time their
"hoard" had shrunk to a mite in three figures, and unless Big Brother,
who had been doing well in Big Business by all accounts, should remember
to send over additional funds as he had promised, they must return to
America in the autumn. Jack seemed loath to remind Big Brother of their
needs as Milly wanted him to do. Yet he must have more time: he was not
yet ready to get a living out of his pictures. He had not done enough
work, he said. Milly, who had expected that in a year or so he would
become an accomplished painter, was disturbed. She found the oils he was
doing,--the picture of her beside the baby's bassinet on the terrace,
for instance,--disappointing. It was distinctly less understandable and
amusing than his pen-and-ink work had been, and she felt a certain
relief when he did some comic sketches of the Brittany nurses to send to
a magazine. His hand had not lost the old cunning, if it had not gained
the new. Was it possible that her husband was not born to be a great
painter?... "I don't know about such things," she murmured into the
baby's ear. "Jack must decide for himself what's best."

She found it very convenient to have a husband to take upon himself
decision and responsibility, the two most annoying things in life.




VII

BESIDE THE RESOUNDING SEA


After much of the usual futile discussion they decided upon Klerac, a
little place on the coast of Brittany, which certain artists whom
Bragdon knew recommended. One American landscapist of established
reputation painted in that region, and around him had gathered a number
of his countrymen, in the hope of acquiring if not his skill at least
some of his commercial talent for self-exploitation.

So the end of June found them settled comfortably enough in the Hotel du
Passage just across the bay from Douarnenez, where the great one had his
studio. Milly, who usually had some difficulty in adjusting herself to a
new situation and missed the freedoms of her own house, took to Klerac
after the first few days of strangeness. The tiny village and the sleepy
country were utterly unlike anything she had ever seen or dreamed of
before. Green branches of broad chestnut trees overhung the dark water
of the little bay, and a sea of the deepest purple lay out beyond the
headland and boomed against the sand-dunes. The bay and the brilliant
sea were perpetually alive with the fishing craft, which were
picturesquely adorned with colored sails. And inland, only a few steps
from all this vivid coloring of the sea, green lanes meandered between
lofty hedges of thick blackberry vines. Always, even among the remoter
fields, there was the muffled murmur of the sea on the sand and the tang
of salt in the air. The queer, dark little people of the place still
wore about their daily tasks their picturesque costumes, and spoke
little French. One met them as in an opera, gathering kelp on the beach,
driving their little tip carts through the lanes, or singing beside
their thatched cottages.

From her first exploratory walks with her husband Milly returned quite
ravished by the quality of the place, its beauty of colored sea and
peaceful country, and the little gray houses sheltered by large trees.
Here she dreamed, in this fragrant salty air, they would have an
enchanting summer withdrawn from the world, and great deeds would be
done by her husband. "I could almost paint myself here," she said to
him, "it all looks so quaint and lovely." Jack liked the place, and
quickly set up his easel under the trees down by the stone pier where
the fishing-boats landed and where there was always a noisy, lively
scene. Milly idled near by in the sand with the baby. But the work did
not go fast. She thought that Jack must be fagged after the long winter
indoors, and urged him to rest for a while. They took to walking through
the lanes and along the beaches. They found little to say to each other;
sometimes she thought that she bored him and he would rather be alone.
They were suffering, naturally, from the too great intimacy of the past
two years. Neither had a spontaneous thought to offer the other,--no
reaction to arouse surprise and discussion. Milly could not comprehend
her husband's restless depression, his wish to be at something which he
could not formulate to himself clearly enough to do. She decided that he
was developing nerves and recommended bathing in the sea. When he took
to painting again, she would wander along the beach by herself and watch
the boys fishing for _ecrevisses_ in the salt pools among the rocks, or
lay prone on the sand gazing at the colored sails on the dark sea. In
spite of all the peace and the beauty about her she was lonely, and
asked herself sometimes if this was what it meant to be an artist's
wife. Was this all? Was life to be like this for years and years?...

Their hotel was a rambling low building surrounded by high walls, with a
high terrace behind, from which there was a glimpse of the sea and which
was well shaded by branching plane trees. Here on calm summer nights the
dinner table was spread for the _pensionnaires_, who gradually arrived.
There were a few French, of a nondescript sort, a fat American from
Honolulu, who had been rolling about Europe since the Spanish War, in
which he had had some part. Then there was a Russian lady with two
children and a Finnish maid. She was already there when they arrived and
kept by herself, taking her meals at a little table with her oldest
child. This Russian, a Madame Saratoff, piqued Milly's curiosity, and
she soon became acquainted with her. One day when they happened to be
alone on the terrace, the Russian lady turned to her with a swift
smile,--

"You are American?" and when Milly admitted it, she added, "One can
always tell the American women from the English."

She spoke English easily, with the slightest sort of accent that merely
added distinction to whatever she said. Madame Saratoff was still young,
and though not a beautiful woman, had an air of privilege and breeding,
with something odd in the glitter of her eyes and the wolfish way in
which her curving upper lip revealed strong white teeth. She had a good
figure, as Milly had already recognized, and she dressed well, with
great simplicity. Milly felt interested in her, and the women talked for
an hour. Milly reported to her husband:--

"She's really a Baroness. Her husband is in the diplomatic service--off
in the east somewhere, and she's here alone with the children and her
maid. Don't you think she's interesting looking?"

The artist replied indifferently,--

"Not particularly--she has fine hands."

He seemed to have noticed that about her.

They quickly became better acquainted with Madame Saratoff, who, it
seemed, had been in Brittany before and knew the coast thoroughly. She
explained that the little hotel became unendurable later with the
_canaille des artistes_, and so she had rented an old _manoir_ in the
neighborhood, which was being put to rights for her. The next afternoon
the three walked to see the _manoir_ through a maze of little lanes. It
was a lovely old gray building with crumbling walls and had evidently
once been the seat of a considerable family. But only a half dozen rooms
were now habitable, and in the cracks of the great walls that surrounded
the garden thick roots of creepers twisted and curled upwards. From the
other end of the garden, through a break in the old hedge, there was a
glimpse of the sea, and in one corner was the ruin of a chapel
surmounted by an iron cross. Madame Saratoff showed them all the rooms,
into which men were putting some furniture she had bought in the
neighborhood--old _armoires_ and brass-bound chests of black oak as well
as some modern iron beds and dressing-tables. Milly admired the peaceful
gray _manoir_, and Bragdon observed as they retraced their way alone
through the lanes:--

"That woman has a lot of energy in her! It shows in her movements--she
has personality, character."

Milly had never heard him say as much as that about any other woman, and
she wondered how such large generalizations could be made from the fact
that a woman was fitting up an old house. She was vaguely jealous, as
any woman might be, that her husband should choose just those qualities
for commendation.

She went often thereafter to the _manoir_ while her husband was
painting, and marvelled at the ease and sureness with which the Russian
installed herself, her only helpers being the stupid peasants, who
seemed to understand no language but their own jargon.

"I'm used to driving cattle," the Russian explained to Milly with a
little laugh. "You see my father had estates in southern Russia, and I
lived there a good deal before I was married."

"They must be quite important," Milly reported to Jack. "They seem to
know people all over Europe."

"Oh, that's Russian," he explained.

"And Baron Saratoff is away on a most important mission."

"Absent husbands ought to be!"

"I don't believe she cares for him much."

"How can you tell that so soon?"

"Oh!" Milly replied vaguely, as if that were a point few women could
keep from other women.

As a matter of fact the Russian lady had given Milly some new and
startling lights upon marriage.

"I am," she told Milly in her precise speech, "what you call the 'show
wife.' I go to parties, to court--all rigged up,--you say rigged,
no?--dressed then very grand with my jewels. And I have children, see!"
She pointed to the healthy little Saratoffs playing in the garden. "My
husband goes away on his business--makes long journeys. He amuses
himself. When he comes back, I have a child,--_voila_." She laughed and
showed her white teeth. "But I have my vacations sometimes, too, like
this."

Milly thought that the Russian type of marriage must be much inferior to
the American, at least the Chicago variety, where if there was any going
away from home, it was usually the wife who went, and she confided this
opinion to Jack, who said with a laugh:--

"Oh, you can never understand these foreigners. She's probably like
every one else.... But I'd like to paint her and get that smile of
hers."

"Why don't you ask her?"

"Perhaps I will one of these days."

       *       *       *       *       *

The hotel gradually filled up. The great painter had come and with him
his satellites, chiefly young American women, who "painted all over the
place," as Bragdon put it. The long _table d'hote_ under the plane trees
was a cheerful if somewhat noisy occasion these summer nights, with the
black, star-strewn canopy above. They all drank the bottled cider and
talked pictures and joked and sang when so moved. Even if the spirit was
somewhat cheaply effervescent, like the cider, there was plenty of talk,
clashing of eager ideas, and Milly liked it even more than Bragdon. He
seemed older than the other artists, perhaps because he was married and
less given to idle chatter. The great man singled him out for
companionship after the first week, and gave patronizing praise to his
work.

"You are still young," he said, with a sigh for his own sixty years.
"Wait another ten years and you may find something to say."

Jack, repeating these words to his wife, added,--"And where do you
suppose we'd be if I should wait another ten years? On the street."

Tell an American to wait ten years in order to have something to say!

"He's jealous," Milly pronounced. "You're going to do something stunning
this summer, I just know it."

"How do you know it?" he asked teasingly.

"Because we can't wait ten years!"

"Um," the artist sighed, "I should think not."




VIII

THE PICTURE


Just how it came about Milly never remembered, but in the weeks that
followed it was arranged that Jack should do the Russian lady's
portrait. Milly flattered herself at the time that she had produced this
result. Madame Saratoff came rarely to the hotel after she was installed
in her old _manoir_, but she often drove to the beach for her bath and
took Milly home with her for luncheon. And Jack would join them late in
the long afternoon for tea. On one of these occasions the affair was
settled.

Bragdon decided to do the figure out of doors in a corner of the ruined
garden wall with a clustering festoon of purple creeper above and a
narrow slit of sea in the distant background. Against the gray and green
and purple of the wall he placed Madame Saratoff, who was tall, with a
supple, bony figure. It was for him a daring and difficult composition.
The first afternoon, while the figure was being lined in with charcoal,
Milly was much excited. She tried to keep quite still, but Madame
Saratoff persisted in making little jokes and impertinent comments upon
the artist. She did not seem to feel the importance of the event. Milly
thought to herself, "How wonderful if he should do a really stunning
picture and have it in the Salon next season!" and she said to herself,
"Portrait of the Baroness Saratoff by John Archer Bragdon." That would
be a start towards fame!

But the start was scarcely perceptible those first days. Milly could
make nothing of the blurred canvas and was depressed. Jack seemed more
intent on watching the lithe figure, with the mottled flesh tones, the
steel-blue eyes, the mocking mouth than in putting brush to canvas. When
Milly complained of his dawdling, the Baroness remarked with a curl of
her lips,--

"How do you expect an artist to work with his wife hanging over his
brushes and counting every stroke?"

Milly pretended to be hurt and ran off to the other end of the garden.
She asked her husband on their way back if she were really in the way,
and though he laughed at her question and considered the Russian woman's
remark as merely one of her rather feline jokes, Milly did not come the
next day. She said the baby was sick, and needed her attention. It was
several days before she returned to the _manoir_, and then because Jack
made a point of it. She was astonished at the progress which he had
made. The picture had suddenly leaped into life.

"See!" the Russian remarked, indicating the canvas with a slow sweep of
her long, thin fingers. "The painter has done all that without his
wife's help."

Milly resented the joke. But it was true that in these few days the
picture had grown surprisingly: the pose of the tall figure, the
background was all firmly worked in, and he had begun to define the
features,--the perilous part. Already something of the subtle mockery of
the Russian woman's expression was there. Milly turned away. For the
first time she felt outside her husband's world and in the way.
Presently, in spite of the Baroness's protests, she took little Paul
Saratoff to the beach. When her husband came in at the hotel just in
time for dinner and expressed surprise that she had not returned to the
_manoir_ for him, she said coldly,--

"Oh, I didn't care to--I didn't want to interrupt."

"Anna expected you back to tea."

"I guess not."

Bragdon gave her a swift glance, but said nothing. This was a new aspect
of his wife, and it evidently puzzled him. He was too much absorbed by
his picture, however, to give much heed to anything.

       *       *       *       *       *

Latterly another American had joined the circle around the dinner table
on the terrace,--a long, lanky young man who had been in the navy during
the late war and was now engaged in the production of literature. That
is, he contributed profusely to those American magazines with flaming
covers stories of love and adventure in strange seas,--the highly
seasoned bonbon entertainment for the young. He was southern by birth
with a pronounced manner towards women. And Milly found him attractive.
Roberts and the fat Hawaiian wit had many encounters that kept the table
stirred. To-night they were discussing the needs of the artist
nature,--and "temperament." That was a term not much in vogue in the
Chicago of Milly's time, but it seemed to occupy endlessly the talkers
about the table at the Hotel du Passage. Milly never understood exactly
what was meant by "having a temperament," or the "needs of the artistic
temperament" except vaguely that it was a license to do flighty things
that all reasonable Chicago folk would deplore.

To-night the Hawaiian was maintaining his favorite thesis,--that the
first duty of the artist was to himself, to preserve and make effective
his "temperament." Modern life, especially in America, he held, made
_bourgeois_ of us all. The inevitable ruin of the artist was to attempt
to live according to the _bourgeois_ ideal of morality. (That was
another term which puzzled Milly always,--_bourgeois_. These young
artists used it with infinite contempt, and yet she concluded shrewdly
that the people she had known best and respected all her life would have
to come under this anathema. To be healthy and normal, to pay one's
bills and be true to husband or wife, was to be just _bourgeois_.
According to that standard Jack was _bourgeois_, she supposed, and she
was glad of it, and yet a little afraid at the same time, because it
seemed to mark him out for artistic ineptitude.) But the fat man was
talking heatedly, and Milly was listening.

"In our society artists have no chance to experiment in life, to perfect
their natures untrammelled by public opinion, as the artists of old
did." (And he cited a lot of names, beginning, of course, with Benvenuto
and including Goethe, but Milly was not interested in these historical
cases. It was the immediate application of the principle she was waiting
for.)

"In those days," some one said, "artists were content to live in their
own class like actors and had no social ambitions."

"And much better for them, too!" the Honolulu man put in.

"How about Leonardo and Petrarch?" the great artist queried from his end
of the table, and then for a few moments the conversation got off into
the question of the social position of artists in the renaissance and
their relation to their patrons, which bored Milly, but the Hawaiian
brought it back to his point.

"So that's why we have no real creators to-day in any of the arts," he
asserted. "They're merely a lot of little citizens who daub canvass to
support a wife and a respectable house or pay the butcher's bill with
fluffy stories about silly women and impossible heroes." (This, Milly
thought, was a raw stab at young Roberts. She wondered how men could say
such things to one another and still remain friends.) "They have
bank-accounts and go to dinner-parties."

To which the story-teller retorted when he got his chance:--

"What you fellows always mean by 'living' is messing around with some
woman who isn't your own wife. A good many of our modern citizens manage
to live their own lives that way, and what does it do for them?"

Milly approved.

"That's just the trouble: society damns them and finishes them if they
don't behave like proper _bourgeois_. Take the case of----" and he cited
an instance of a young artist who was having much newspaper notoriety
over his passional experiments. "Women kill art, anyway," he concluded
with a growl.

Thereat Roberts' southern blood was touched, and he launched into a
glowing sentimental eulogy of Woman as the Inspirer of Men towards the
Noblest Things, and incidentally of the peace and the purity of
marriage. Milly liked what he said, although it seemed to her rather
florid in phrasing, and she felt an instinctive hostility towards the
fat gentleman from Honolulu, whom she suspected of disgusting
immorality. (Later in New York she was astonished to learn that Roberts
had had a very scandalous divorce from a wife, while the Hawaiian lived
a laborious and apparently upright life, supporting a mother, as a
newspaper correspondent. She learned then that men's expressed views had
very little to do with their conduct, and that an ideal was often merely
the sentimental reaction from experience.)

Just as Milly, thinking she heard Virginia cry in the room above,
slipped away from the table some one said,--

"A man who has anything to do in the world will never let a woman stand
in his way. If he does, he is soft, and that's the end of him."

Milly felt moved to put a word in here in behalf of her sex, but the
child's cry came more loudly and as she left she heard her husband ask
mildly,--

"And how about the children?"

"Oh, the kids--that's woman's business," the fat man replied carelessly.
"Pass the cigarettes, will you," and the talk went off somewhere
else....

Children were not all "woman's business," Milly felt indignantly. She
had surprised her pretty little maid Yvonne in a lonely lane one
moonlight night, in company with a tall man, who did not look like a
Breton. She had reported the fact to her husband, with her suspicions as
to the tall man, observing,--"Men are so horrid!" to which Jack had
merely laughed easily. She had scolded him for his frivolity, also
scolded Yvonne, who cried, yet somehow seemed to smile through her
tears.

To-night when her husband came up for bed, she asked seriously,--

"You don't believe all that stuff Steve Belchers was saying, do you?"

"What stuff?"

"About artists and women."

Bragdon yawned and laughed. Milly came close to him and put her arm
about his neck.

"You don't feel that your temperament is ruined by marriage, do you?"

"Never knew I had one before," he replied jokingly.

"Because you know if you ever want your freedom, you can have it."

"Thanks."

"If you need that sort of experience, I shan't stand in your way," she
concluded in a heroic burst....

Nevertheless she was glad that her husband had shown no symptoms
hitherto of this dangerous "temperament" and was content to be as
_bourgeois_ as the best. All the time there was growing in her a sense
of sex distinction, and a dislike, or rather disapproval, of men as a
whole. God, she was convinced, as the Southerner had said, had meant the
perfect type to be Woman, rather than Man.




IX

THE PARDON


One day the noisy chatter at the mid-day meal was interrupted by the
terrific splutter and throbbing of a motor-car. Those were still the
days when touring cars with strangely clad occupants were less familiar,
even on French roads, than they have since become, and the machines
announced themselves from afar by their ponderous groans. Very few cars,
indeed, got down to this secluded Brittany village which was reached by
only one road of the third class that penetrated the little peninsula
from Morlaix, a number of miles away to the north.

So every one left the table and crowded to the terrace wall to observe
the arrivals. As a dusty, becapped and begoggled figure got down from
the seat beside the driver, Milly exclaimed excitedly, "Why, it's Roy
Gilbert!" and ran towards the courtyard. The car finally disgorged
Nettie Gilbert and her uninteresting fourteen-year-old daughter. They
came in for luncheon, and their story was soon told. Paris was hot, and
in despair of dispelling Roy's thickening ennui at his European exile,
which threatened to terminate their trip, Mrs. Gilbert had induced her
husband to charter the car for a tour of Normandy and Brittany. Having
done all the north-coast watering-places and remembering that the
Bragdons were staying at this little place "with a funny name," they had
decided to make them a call. Roy Gilbert ate copiously and denounced
hotels, food, and the people, while Milly and Nettie Gilbert talked
Chicago and Baby.

"We want to see a '_Pardon_,'" Mrs. Gilbert announced at last, "and
we've come to take you and your husband with us."

It was the season of that famous Brittany festival, so Baedeker said,
and they had seen some evidences of it in the little villages through
which they had passed. Did Milly know of a good one? The Gilberts were
as aesthetically lazy as they were weak in French, and of course quite
helpless in Brittany, whose peasants seemed to them dirty baboons with a
monkey language. Milly quickly recalled that some of the artists had
been talking of the famous _Pardon_ at Poldau, a little
fisher-settlement at the extreme tip of the western coast, where the
costumes were said to be peculiarly rich and quaint. She had wanted to
visit it with Jack, but he had become so much absorbed in his new
picture that they had given up the idea. And there was Baby--she did not
like to leave her.

"Yvonne will do all right," her husband urged. "Better take the
chance--I'll look after Virgie."

So after much encouragement, though with misgivings, Milly consented to
accompany the Gilberts in their car for a couple of days and show them
the glories of the Brittany countryside.

"I owe Nettie so much," she explained privately to her husband, by way
of apology. "I can't very well refuse--and they are so helpless, poor
dears!"

"You'll have a bully time," he replied encouragingly. "Don't worry about
anything. I'll watch Yvonne like a cat."

"And telegraph me instantly if anything goes wrong."

"Of course.... Don't hurry back if they should want you to go farther.
It'll be good for you."

"Oh, not more than two days--I couldn't."

She did not give a thought to the Russian woman, or to anything but the
baby. (Afterwards she became convinced that the whole plan had been
arranged with skilful prescience by the wicked Baroness in order that
she might have the artist to herself these few days....)

       *       *       *       *       *

The departure in the freshness of the August morning was a great event.
Every one in the hotel, including the _patron_ in his cook's white
costume, the _patronne_, the grinning ape of a waiter, all the artists,
and half the village gathered to watch the motor get under way. The
lumbering ark of a car was laden with bags and trunks and bundles, for
the Americans meant to be comfortable. Then Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, their
natural amplitude swollen by their dust-coats, goggles, and veils,
mounted with stately complacency to their respective seats, and Milly
tucked herself into a corner. Then the ratlike French chauffeur
attempted to crank the engine, and perspiring, red in the face,
spluttering with oaths, made many desperate efforts to arouse his
monster. There were sympathetic murmurs from the audience. "Now he's got
her--ah--oh--no! Hang to it Pierrot, etc." Finally Pierre exploded in a
tragic _tirade_ to his employer, who sat stolidly through all the
rumpus, merely asking at the end, "What's he saying, Milly?"

"He can do nothing with the cursed beast," Milly abridged.

"That's evident," Gilbert remarked with cynical satisfaction.

"He thinks it's the water; he warned you not to come down here."

It seemed as if Milly's little trip was not to come off, after all, when
Bragdon, who had picked up some knowledge of the new machines in his
earlier singlestate, tipped up the hood and dove for the carburetor.
After a time he signalled to the Hawaiian to work the crank, and then
with a whir, a rumble, at last a clear bellow, the monster responded,
trembled, turned its snout up the narrow road, and disappeared. Milly
threw a kiss to her husband, who waved his hat in answer. He had saved
the day, and she was proud of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had a wonderful time, in spite of Pierre and his balky car, bowling
along the winding, leafy roads not far from the sea, through little gray
stone villages whose inhabitants turned out _en masse_, including
children and animals, to witness their stately progress of ten miles an
hour. They got stuck once in a ford and had to be fished out with three
yoke of cream-colored bulls and a long ship's rope. That was about noon,
and they decided to lunch at the next inn, though it did not look
inviting. However, Milly's French coaxed a tolerable meal from the fat
housewife whom they discovered cleaning fish in the kitchen, and even
the stodgy Roy mellowed under the influence of fresh fish and a
drinkable bottle of wine which he and Milly discovered somewhere.

That evening, without further mishap, they rumbled into the hamlet of
Poldau. For the last hour they had seen signs of the coming _fete_. All
the natives, arrayed in their best clothes, were drifting westward to
the rocky cape, where, perched on a lonely cliff, was the tiny chapel,
"Our Lady of the Guard," which was the scene of the _Pardon_ on the
morrow. Before they entered Poldau night had fallen, and the long yellow
beams from the powerful _Phare_ glanced out across the sullen waters and
the level land. It was beneath this lofty lighthouse they slept, in a
clean, bare little inn. Milly, lying in her cushiony bed, could hear the
waves grumbling around the rocks, and watch the sweep of that golden
beam of light,--speaking to the distant passers-by upon the Atlantic,
warning them of the dangers of this treacherous coast....

It was the first time she had been separated from her family, and she
lay awake long hours, restless and sleepless, wondering whether Yvonne
would remember to pull up the extra blanket over Virginia before the
early morning dampness. And she thought about her husband, fleetingly,
contrasting him with Roy Gilbert, who seemed to have grown heavier in
mind as well as in person these last years. Roy was surely what the
artists called _bourgeois_, but she liked him--he was so kind and good
to Nettie. She felt at home, getting back to the familiar _bourgeois_
atmosphere of the Gilberts, where life was made easy and comfortable,
and you knew every idea any one would advance before the words were half
spoken....

Milly was wakened before dawn by the sound of a drunken quarrel beneath
her window. Some Breton evidently had begun to celebrate the _Pardon_
too soon; a shrill woman's voice broke the silence with unintelligible
reproaches. There was the sound of blows, of crashing glass, a scuffle,
sobs,--then silence, broken now and again by fresh sobs. Ah, those
men,--men!... The lamp in the _Phare_ went out: it was dawn. Milly fell
into a broken sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Pardon_ itself, they all agreed, was wonderfully impressive and
picturesque, as Baedeker had promised. The little chapel on the cliffs
was stuffed with kneeling women in their stiff, starched coifs and heavy
velvet-trimmed skirts. The men, slinking up sheepishly, as always to
religious ceremonies, fell on their knees on the rocky ground all about
the chapel when the priests advanced with the sacred emblems, and prayed
vigorously with tight-closed eyes. The strangers, under the guidance of
the chauffeur, who maintained a supercilious disdain for these "stupid
Brittany pigs," took their position at the apex of the cliff, where they
could see everything to advantage. The Gilbert girl kodaked the kneeling
throng, which distressed Milly; she thought the people might resent it,
but they paid no attention to the Americans.

Her own eyes were filled with unaccountable tears. The symbols of the
Catholic religion always affected her in this way; while Nettie Gilbert
stared rather disapprovingly at the superstitious ceremony. In spite of
its quaint mediaevalism, it seemed to Milly quite human,--the gathering
together of suffering, sinning human beings around the gray chapel on
the storm-beaten coast--"Our Lady of the Guard"--their prayers, the
absolution granted by the robed priests, and the going forth to another
year of trials and temptations, efforts and sins.... Just below the
chapel, withdrawn only a few feet from the religious ceremony, was a
cluster of tents, sheltering hurdy-gurdys, merry-go-rounds, cook-shops,
and cider--plenty of cider. A few indifferent males, bedecked in their
short coats brightly trimmed with yellow braid, were already feasting,
even while the host was being elevated above the kneeling throng. But
most of the people, with reverently bent heads and murmuring lips,
received the sacrament, kneeling around the gray chapel. It was solemn
and moving, Milly thought, and she wished that Jack might have had the
experience....

"Baedeker says," Roy Gilbert pronounced in her ear, in the midst of the
ceremony, "that there must be Spanish blood among these people because
their costumes show Spanish designs.... They all look like Irish or
monkeys to me."

Milly smiled responsively to him.

"The costumes are lovely, aren't they?"

The crowd of women worshippers had burst forth from the chapel: there
was a swarm of white and black figures over the rocky headland. The
faces beneath the broad white caps did not seem to Milly monkeylike.
They were weather-beaten and bronzed like their coast, but eager and
smiling, and some of the younger ones quite bonny and sweet. And the
young men sidled up to the young women here as elsewhere in the world.
Milly was full of the spirit of forgiveness that the ceremony had
taught: men and women must mutually forgive and strive to do better. She
said this to Nettie Gilbert, who seemed only moderately impressed with
the semi-pagan scene.

They went down the hill to the booths, which were already thronged with
a noisy crowd of eating and drinking peasants, and straightway became
too evil-smelling for the Americans.

"If the ladies like this barbaric show," the chauffeur confided to
Gilbert, "there is an even larger one to be seen a day's run farther
north on the coast at the celebrated shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre."

So they went on that afternoon to "the other show," as Gilbert expressed
it. Milly's doubts were quickly overborne: they must have her longer now
that she was with them; she could return any time if necessary by rail;
they would telegraph that evening, etc. And they set forth hopefully
again in search of the picturesque. The larger _pardon_ proved
disappointing, less religious and characteristic, more like a country
fair. The next afternoon they meant to return to Klerac, in time for
dinner, but the car balked and finally gave out altogether. All Pierre's
ingenuity, as well as his heartfelt curses, availed nothing, and they
had to abandon it. They drove to the nearest railroad station, which
proved to be many kilometres distant, and waited there half a day for a
train.

Milly left the Gilberts at Morlaix. They were bound for Paris, and
judging from Roy Gilbert's remarks they would shortly be on their way
back to America and "some decent living." Four months of Europe and
strange beds was all he could endure at a stretch. Milly laughed at his
complaints. The way the rich spent their money had always seemed to her
a little stupid. If she and Jack had the Gilberts' money! She mused of
all the exciting freedom they could get out of it, while the little
one-horse trap she had hired at the station rattled her over the hard
road towards Klerac.

She had enjoyed her trip greatly, yet after the five days' absence she
was eager to get back and see her child. She even looked forward to the
noisy Hotel du Passage, with its cluttered table of talkative artists
and her own two small rooms. As she had said to Nettie Gilbert, "I'm
something of a cat and like my own garret best," even if it were a
traveller's garret. And though she had liked being with the Gilberts,
going over old Chicago times with Nettie, and had enjoyed the car and
the luxurious, easy way of travelling, she suspected that long contact
with these good people would be boresome. They were so persistently
occupied with how they should sleep and eat, with all their
multitudinous contrivances for comfort, with fear of the dust or of
getting tired, that they had little energy for other things. She decided
that the Gilbert sort made a fetich of comfort and missed most of the
landscape of life in their excessive attention to the roadbed. Perhaps
that was what clever folk meant by being _bourgeois_. If so, she hoped
that she should never be _bourgeois_ to the extent the Gilberts were.

Thus Milly, in a properly contented frame of mind, urged the peasant lad
to whip up his lazy pony and get her more quickly home to her family.




X

THE PAINTED FACE


There was a midsummer silence about the hotel in the early afternoon
when Milly arrived. Yvonne, so the _patronne_ informed her, had taken
the baby to the dunes, and thither Milly, without stopping to change her
dusty dress, set out to find her. She descried her little Brittany maid
on the sands safely above tide-water, and by her side a small white
bundle that made Milly's heart beat faster.

Virginia received her returned mother with disappointing indifference,
more concerned for the moment in the depth of the excavation into the
sand which her nurse was making for her benefit. Milly covered her with
kisses, nevertheless, while Yvonne explained that all had gone well,
"_tres, tres bien, Madame_." _Bebe_, it seemed, had slept and eaten
as a celestial _bebe_ should. They were looking for Madame yesterday,
but Monsieur had not been disturbed even before the _depeche_
arrived.... And Monsieur was at his work as usual at the other madame's
_manoir_.

After a time Milly, wearied of bestowing unreciprocated caresses upon
her daughter, left her to the mystery of the hole in the sand and
sauntered up the beach. Dotted here and there in the sunlight at
favorable points along the dunes were the broad umbrellas of the
artists, who were doubtless all busily engaged in trying to transfer a
bit of the dazzling sunlight and dancing purple sea to their little
squares of canvases. To Milly this ceaseless effort to comment on nature
had something of the ridiculous,--perhaps supererogatory would be a
better word. It was so much pleasanter to look at the landscape, and
easier! Offshore the dun-colored sails of the fishing fleet dipped and
fluttered where the sturdy men of Douarnenez were engaged in their task
of getting the herring from the sea. That seemed to Milly more real and
important in a world of fact. Such a view betrayed the _bourgeois_ in
her, she suspected, but according to the Hawaiian all women were
_bourgeois_ at heart.

After a time her feet turned into one of the lanes, and she followed
unconsciously the well-known path until the gray wall of the ruined
_manoir_ came in sight. She paused for a moment--she had not meant to go
there--then impulsively went forward, crossed the empty courtyard, and
finding the garden door ajar pushed it open. The drowsy midsummer
silence seemed to possess both house and garden. The place was deserted.
In the corner stood the painter's large canvas on the easel, with the
brushes and palette on the bench by its side, as if just abandoned, and
one of Madame Saratoff's large hats of coarse straw.

Milly went over and examined the picture. It was almost finished, in
that last stage where the artist can play with his creation, fondly
touching and perfecting infinitesimal details, knowing that the thing
has really been "pulled off." And it was triumphantly done! Even to
Milly's untutored eyes, the triumph of it was indubitable. There the
Russian stood on her thin, lithe haunches, her head tipped a little back
disdainfully as in life, the open mouth about to emit some cold
brutality, the long curving lip daringly drawn up over the teeth,--the
look of "one who eats what she wants," as she herself had said one day.
Milly shuddered before the insolence of the painted face. She felt that
this was one of the few creatures on the earth whom she feared and
hated. Instinctively she made a gesture as if she would deface the
portrait. The face seemed to answer her with a sneer,--"Well, and if you
did, what good would that do? Would he love _you_ any more for that?" it
said, and she paused.

Even the background and all the details were admirably conceived and
rendered,--the crumbling, lichened wall, in cold gray, with the gnarled
root of the creeper and the wreath of purple blossoms, in sharp contrast
to the pallor of the face and the bold assurance of the figure. The
light fell across the canvas, leading down to a slab of vivid purple
water in the far distance. There was nothing pretty or affected or
conventional about the painting: it was life caught and rendered with
the true boldness of actuality. Milly, gazing in fascination at the
creation of line and color and light, realized that here was the work of
a new man, totally unknown to her. Its maker was no youthful pupil,
stumbling at his set task. No dabbler, this one, no trivial illustrator
or petty drawing-room amuser, but a man who had found within himself
something long sought for. She shuddered and turned away. So that was
what it was to be an Artist! She understood, and she hated it,--Art and
all the tribe of artists big and little. In this strange woman, whom
chance had put in his way, he had seen what she had not noticed, and he
had projected what he saw. He was able to divine the soul of things
beneath their superficial appearance, and he was able, exultantly, to
project in material form that hidden meaning for others to see and
understand, if they would. And that was what an artist, a real artist,
was for.

Naturally Milly did not analyze closely her own troubled mind. Here was
plain evidence of her husband's being in which she no longer had the
smallest share. She had been slightly jealous, more than she would
admit, that other time at the beginning of the portrait because of
Jack's absorption in his subject and his work. Her egotism had been
wounded. But that was trifling compared with the present feeling. In
this completed creation she no more existed than the fly which rested
for a moment upon the painted canvas. His creation had nothing
whatsoever to do with her. And something deeper than egotism, far deeper
than jealousy, rose from the depths of her nature in antagonism--a
sex-antagonism to the whole affair. Her husband had a new mistress--not
necessarily the Russian woman, for that idea had not yet come to
her--but his Art. And he might follow this mistress whither she
beckoned,--to poverty, defeat, or victory,--unmindful of her and her
child, forgetting them like idle memories in the pursuit of his blind
purpose. It was a force inimical to her and antagonistic to all orderly
living, as the Hawaiian had said,--a demonic force which rises in the
midst of society to give the lie to all the pretences men make to
themselves and call "civilization."

Milly hated it, instinctively. Jack must paint no more such pictures for
love or for money, if their life were not to end in disaster. Did he
know what he had done with this Russian woman?... Where were they,
anyway?

She looked up at the silent _manoir_. The green blinds were drawn to
shut out the western sun. Milly knew the long, high room with its
timbered ceiling which Madame Saratoff had restored and furnished in
English style, and where, for the most part, she lived. The two were
there together now--she was sure of it. A new and fiercer emotion swept
Milly towards the house: she would discover them in their shame, in
their cruel selfishness. But she stopped on the stairs, suffocated by
her passion. She felt their presence just above her with a physical
sense of pain, but she lacked the strength to go forward. A terrible
sense of weakness in face of her defeat made her tremble. Her heart was
broken, she said; what mattered it now what they did. She had no doubts:
all was revealed as if she saw them in each other's arms. No man could
have discovered the secret of a woman's inmost being, if she had not
voluntarily yielded to him the key....

After a time she left the place, slipped out through the garden-gate
into the green field behind the _manoir_ and wandered unseeingly along
the hedge, and at length flung herself down on the ground, sobbing. She
was alone, so utterly alone. The one in whose hands she had put her
whole life had betrayed her and deserted her. It was worse than death.
They were there in that dim, silent room, in the utmost intimacy, and
she lay here outside, robbed and abandoned.... She rose to get farther
away from the place, when she heard steps approaching on the other side
of the hedge. Kneeling close to the ground, she could see through the
thick roots of the hedge and watch the two as they came up the lane. It
was her husband and the Russian woman. They were not closeted in the
house. She had been wrong. They had been for a stroll after his work,
and were coming back now for their tea, silently and companionably, side
by side. For the merest moment Milly had a sense of relief: it might not
be true what her heart had said, after all. But almost at once she knew
that it made no difference just what their relations were or had been.

She could read their faces as they came slowly towards her,--the Russian
woman's slanting glance from covered eyes of hateful content as she
looked at the artist. The "one who eats what she wants!"... They walked
very slowly, as if full of thoughts and weary with the day. Bragdon's
head was high, his glance fell far off across the fields, his mind
intent on something within, his brow slightly contracted as in stern
resolve. He was pale, and he seemed to his wife older, much older than
she remembered. He was a man, not the careless boy she had married so
many, many years ago, and her heart tightened anew with intolerable
pain.... His glance fell to the expectant face of his companion, and
both smiled with profound intimacy as at a meeting where words are
needless.... Milly's hand grasped the prickly vines of the hedge, and
she held herself still until they had passed. No, it made no difference
to her now what they thought or did. She knew.

She fled. She heard her name faintly through the din of rushing blood in
her ears, but she stumbled across the field out into the lane, towards
the sea. There followed the most atrocious hour Milly was ever to know
in her life, while she wandered aimlessly to and fro on the lonely
beach. Her marriage was over--that thought returned like a mournful
chant in the storm of blind feeling. Latterly she had come to take her
husband as a matter of course, as a part of the married life of a woman.
Though she had said to Nettie Gilbert, "I'm as much in love with Jack as
when I married him," and believed it, she hadn't been. But now that
another had dared to take her husband from her, if only for a few days
or hours, she was outraged. She persistently focussed her whole anguish
upon this foreign creature with her vampire mouth, though she might know
in the depth of her heart that her quarrel was not with the Russian or
any woman, but with fate.... She kept repeating to herself,--"He doesn't
love me any longer. He loves her--_her_!... He will be hers now--for a
time. They are all like that,--artists. It's _bourgeois_ to love one
woman always." So Womanhood from the beginning of time seemed outraged
in her person.

Had she not joyfully "given up everything for him," as all women did for
the men they loved? (Even her worldly prospects when she married the
penniless artist began to seem to her brighter than they really had
been.) Had she not, at any rate, given _herself_ to him, first, and
always, and only? And borne him a child in pain and danger? What more
could woman do? He was her debtor for eternity, as every man was to the
woman who gave herself to him. And four years had barely passed before
another one plucked him easily from her side!... Women were cheated
always in the game of life because of their hearts, fated unfairly in
the primal scheme of things. Marion Reddon knew--she probably had had
_her_ experiences. But at least she had the child.

On that note her heart became centred, and she hurried back to the hotel
and began aimlessly to gather her clothes together and throw them into
the trunks. She must take her child and leave at once. She did not want
to see him again.... But where should she go--how? Jack always arranged
everything for her: she couldn't even make out a time-table or buy a
railroad ticket. Marriage had made her dependent--she would have to
learn.

At this moment Bragdon entered the room. His face still wore the stern
expression she had noted, which gave him the look of age.

"What are you doing?" he demanded abruptly.

"Don't you see--packing!"

"What for?... I've cabled home for more money--I'm going to stay here
and paint."

She thought swiftly to herself that the Other had persuaded him to do
what he had refused to do for her. She made no reply, but continued to
put things blindly into the trunk.




XI

CRISIS


When two human beings--above all when man and wife--meet at such tense
moments, one of Virgil's beneficent clouds should descend upon them,
hiding all, and they should be wafted apart to remote places, there to
abide until once more a sense of the proportion and the harmony in this
mundane system has taken possession of them, and they have become, if
not gods and goddesses, at least reasonable human beings. The least the
historian can do under the circumstances is to imitate Virgil and draw a
merciful veil between the cruel battle-field and all profane eyes. The
more so as few of the hot words then uttered, the sharp agony displayed,
the giving and the baring of wounds have any real effect upon the
result. What is done counts, and that is about all, always.

It might be that afterwards Milly derived some deeper understanding of
herself, of her husband, and of the married way of life from the agony
she then experienced. It might be that the young artist, headstrong in
his first triumphant mastery, the first achievement of his whole being,
entertained, for some moments at least, the idea of cutting the knot
then and there and taking his freedom which he had surrendered at the
altar, choosing what might seem to him then spiritual life instead of
prolonged death. The blood was in his head, the scent of delirious deeds
which he knew now that he could do. But he was an honest and loyal young
American, no matter what he had done: he could not hesitate long. One
glance at the sleeping form of his small child, dependent upon him for
the best in life, probably settled the matter.

In the calm of the still night it _was_ settled--and by him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The little colony of the Hotel du Passage were genuinely concerned over
the hurried departure of the Bragdons, who were much liked. All--but
one--were at the pier that September morning to wish them farewell and
good luck and much happiness. It was understood that family matters had
recalled them unexpectedly to the States. Too bad! Bragdon was a
promising chap, the great painter pronounced at _dejeuner_,--willing to
work, intelligent, with his own ideas. Had any one seen Madame
Saratoff's portrait? He had kept very quiet about that--perhaps it had
not come off. Well, he needed years of hard work, which he wouldn't get
in America, worse luck. With a sigh he went to his day's task of
completing the thirty-seventh edition of the well-known
landscape,--"Beside the Bay at Klerac," with a fresh variation of four
colored sails on the horizon instead of three....

And meanwhile the slow train to Paris was carrying a man, who having
climbed his hill and looked upon the promised land from afar, must turn
his back for the present upon all its glories and await Opportunity.




XII

"COME HOME"


It is a long and tiresome journey in a second-class compartment from the
farther end of Brittany to Paris, even under the best of circumstances.
To Jack Bragdon and Milly, with the vivid memory of their personal wreck
on that rocky coast, it was monotonously painful. They dared not ask
each other,--"What next?" At first Milly thought there could be no next,
though she was really glad not to be making this journey alone with her
child, as she had expected to do. To the man who sat in the opposite
corner with closed eyes and set lips, it seemed to matter little for the
present what the next step was to be.

Happily an impersonal fate settled this for them. Bragdon found at the
bankers in Paris an answer to his appeal for funds. The curt cable read,
without the aid of code,--"Come Home." Probably that would have been the
wisest thing to do in any case. But it would have meant a hard struggle
with himself to turn his back so quickly upon the promised land of
accomplishment. Now it was beyond his power to do otherwise, unless he
were willing to force Milly and the child to starve on what he could
make. If that had ever been possible, it surely was not any longer.

So with the last of the hoard he bought their tickets, and all three
sailed for New York on the next steamer.




PART FOUR

REALITIES




I

HOME ONCE MORE


There was no one at the dock to greet them.

"Your friends come down to see you off," Milly reflected sadly, while
Bragdon was struggling with the inspectors, "but they let you find your
way back by yourself!"

It was hot and very noisy,--the New World,--and no one seemed to care
about anything. As they made their way up town through the crowded
streets, Milly felt it must be impossible for human beings to do more
than keep alive in this maelstrom. The aspect of an American city with
its savage roar, especially of New York in the full cry of the day's
work, was simply terrifying after two years of Europe. There was
something so sordidly repellent in the flimsily furnished rooms of the
hotel where they went first, that she shed a few tears of pure
homesickness. She longed to take the first train west; for the sights
and the sounds of Chicago, if no gentler, were at least more familiar.

She did not know what they would do; husband and wife had not discussed
plans on the homeward voyage or referred in any way to the future, both
shrinking from the quaking bog that lay between them. Now their course
must speedily be settled. When Bragdon went out after establishing them
in their hotel, Milly felt curiously like a passenger on a ship whose
ticket had been taken for her and all arrangements made by another. All
she could do, for the present at least, was to wait and see what would
happen....

Towards evening Big Brother came in with Jack and welcomed her back
nonchalantly. He had the New York air of unconcern over departures and
arrivals, living as he had all his life in a place where coming and
going was the daily order of life. He declared that Milly had grown
prettier than ever and accepted his niece with condescending
irony,--"Hello, missy, so you came along, too? Made in France, eh!" and
chuckled over the worn joke.

It seemed that no business disaster had caused him to send his cable
recalling them. Business, he declared, was "fine, fine, better all the
time," in the American manner. It was merely on general principles that
he had cabled,--"Come home." Two years was enough for any American to
spend out of his own country, even for an artist. Eying his younger
brother humorously, he remarked,--"I thought you'd better get a taste of
real life, and earn a few dollars. You can go back later on for another
vacation.... I saw Clive Reinhard on the Avenue the other day. He wanted
to know how you were getting on. Think he has another of his books on
the way. You'd better see him, Jack. He's a money-maker!"

The artist meantime sat cross-legged on his chair and stroked his
mustache meditatively, saying nothing. Milly glanced at him timidly, but
she could not divine what he was thinking of all this. As he was
American-trained he was probably realizing the force of Big Brother's
wholesome doctrine. He could not live on other people's bounty and
prosecute the artist's vague chimeras. Having taken to himself a wife
and added thereto a child, he must earn their living and his own, like
other men, by offering the world something it cared to pay for.

Nevertheless, there smouldered in his eyes the hint of another
thought,--a suggestion of the artist's fierce egotism, the desire to
fulfil his purpose no matter at whose cost,--the willingness to commit
crime rather than surrender his life purpose. It was the complement of
the Russian's "will to eat," only deeper, more impersonal, and more
tragic. But nowadays men like Jack Bragdon neither steal nor murder--nor
commit lesser crimes--for the sake of Art.

Instead he inquired casually,--"Where is Reinhard staying? The same
place?" and when his brother replied,--"He's got an apartment somewhere
up town. They'll know at the club--he's been very successful,"--Bragdon
merely nodded. And the next morning after breakfast he sallied from the
hotel, leaving Milly to dispose of herself and the child as she would.
For several days she hardly saw him. He had caught the key of the New
World symphony at once, and had set forth on the warpath without losing
time to get the Job. He succeeded without much difficulty in securing
the illustration of Reinhard's new piece of popular sentimentality and
also put himself in touch with the editors of a new magazine. Then to
work, not his own work, but the world's work,--what it apparently
wanted, at least would pay well for. And the first step was to find some
sort of abiding-place where his family could live less expensively than
at the hotel. Here Milly came in.

The one distinct memory Milly kept of that first year in New York was of
hunting apartments and moving. It seemed to her that she must have
looked at a cityful of dark, noisy rooms ambitiously called apartments,
each more impossible than the others. (As long as they lived in New York
she never gave up the desire for light and quiet,--the two most
expensive luxuries in that luxurious metropolis.) They settled
temporarily in a small furnished "studio-apartment" near Washington
Square, where they were constantly in each other's way. Milly called it
a tenement. Although they had done very well in two rooms in Brittany,
it required much more space than the studio-apartment offered to house
two people with divided hearts. So in the spring they moved farther
up-town to a larger and more expensive apartment without a studio.
Bragdon preferred, anyway, to do his work outside and shared a studio
with a friend. Milly regarded this new abode as merely temporary--they
had taken it for only one year--and they talked intermittently of
moving.

Once or twice Jack suggested going to one of the innumerable suburbs or
abandoning the city altogether for some small country place, as other
artists had done. It would be cheaper, and they could have a house,
their own patch of earth, and some quiet. Milly received this suggestion
in silence. Indeed they both shrank from facing each other in suburban
solitude. They were both by nature and training cockneys. Milly
especially had rather perch among the chimney-pots and see the
procession go by from the roof than possess all that Nature had to
offer. And they were still young, she felt: much might happen in the
city, "if they didn't give up." But she said equivocally,--

"Your work keeps you so much in the city; you have to see people."

What he wanted to reply was that he should abandon all this job-hunting
and live lean until he could sell his real work, instead of striving to
maintain the semblance of an expensive comfort in the city by selling
himself to magazines and publishers. But Milly would not understand the
urgency of that--how could she? And what had he to offer her now for the
sacrifice he should be demanding? What would she do with the long,
silent days in the country, while he worked and destroyed what he did,
only to begin again on the morrow at the ceaseless task, with its
doubtful result? If there had been real companionship, or if the flame
of their passion had still burned, then it might not have proved an
intolerable exile for the woman....

They did as others would do under the circumstances--hung on in the
great city as best they could, in the hope of a better fortune soon,
living expectantly from day to day. Each month the city life seemed to
demand more money, and each month Bragdon sank deeper into the mire of
journalistic art. Worst of all they got into the habit of regarding
their life as a temporary makeshift, which they expected to change when
they could, tolerating it for the present as best they could,--like most
of the workers of the world. Bragdon, at least, knew what he hoped for,
impossible as it might be,--a total escape from the debauching work he
was doing. Milly hoped vaguely for a pleasanter apartment and an easier
way of living,--more friends and more good times with them.

One of the first familiar faces Milly met in the bewildering new city
was Marion Reddon's. She came across the little New Englander standing
at the curb of a crowded street, a child by either hand, waiting until
the flow of traffic should halt long enough to permit crossing.

"Marion!" Milly cried, her eyes dancing with delight on recognizing her.
A smile came to the white, tired face of the other woman,--the smile
that gave something of beauty to the plain face. "Are you living here,
too--in New York?"

"Yes, since the autumn."

"Has Sam given up his teaching?"

"I made him resign."

They drew to one side where they could hear each other's voices. The
sight of Marion Reddon brought back happy days,--at least they seemed to
be happy now, by comparison. Marion continued:--

"The teaching was too easy for him--besides he didn't like it. And if a
man doesn't like that work, he's no business doing it. He had much
better get out into the fight with other men and make his way against
them."

"But you loved the college town: you must have hated to leave it."

"It was what I had known all my life, and it was a good sort of place to
bring the children up in--pleasant and easy. But New York is the big
game for men, of course. I wanted Sam to go up against it."

She smiled, but Milly might divine something of the courage it had taken
for Marion to launch her small craft in the seething city. They talked a
little longer, then parted, having exchanged addresses.

"Take the subway," Marion called out as she plunged into the street,
"get out when it stops, then walk! Don't forget!" and with a last smile
she was gone.

Milly went on her way about some errand, thinking that Marion was no
longer in the least pretty,--quite homely, in fact, she was so worn and
white. She had nice, regular features and a quaintly becoming way of
wearing her hair in simple Greek fashion, waving over her brows. If she
only dressed better and took more care of herself, she might be
attractive still. She had let herself fade. Milly wondered if Sam loved
her still, really loved her, as he seemed to in his rough way when they
were together that summer at Gossensass. How could he? That was the
cruelty in marriage for women. Men took the best they had to offer of
their youth and beauty, gave them the burdens of children, and then
wanted something else when they had become homely and unattractive. At
least Jack did not yet have that excuse with her.

Milly did not think that a man might love even a faded flower
like Marion Reddon, if she had kept the sweet savor of her spirit
alive.... So the Reddons were in New York, living far out in the
impossible _hinterland_ of the Bronx. When she told her husband at dinner
of meeting Marion Reddon and of their new move, Jack seemed neither
greatly surprised nor interested.

"We must try to see them," he remarked vaguely.

Perhaps, she thought, he did not care to recall those happier days in
Europe. The truth was that the New York struggle specialized men
intensely, removing to the vague background every one not directly in
the path. Bragdon's efforts were so supremely concentrated on rolling
his own small cart in the push, that he had little spirit to bestow
elsewhere, however well he might wish people like the Reddons and others
not in his immediate game.

"I thought you liked the Reddons," Milly said, half accusingly.

"I do--what makes you think I don't?" he asked, taking up a pipe
preparatory to work.

"You don't seem much interested in their being in New York."

"Oh," he said lightly, "every one comes to New York."

And he turned to his evening task. This habit of working evenings, which
Milly rather resented, served to prevent discussion--of all kinds. She
played a few bars on the piano, then settled herself comfortably with
Clive Reinhard's latest book. That was the way their evenings usually
went unless some one came in, which did not happen often, or Jack was
called out.

Even New York could be dull, Milly found.




II

"BUNKER'S"


Milly could not remember just when she first heard of _Bunker's
Magazine_,--certainly not before their return from Europe, but soon
thereafter, for its name was associated with her first experiences in
New York. Shortly after they landed, _Bunker's_ was added to the highly
colored piles on the news-stands among the other periodicals that
increased almost daily in number. During that first year of apartment
hunting and moving, the name of _Bunker's_ became a household word with
them. Some of the men Bragdon knew were interested in the new magazine,
and one of the first jobs he did was a cover design for an early number.
The magazine with his picture--a Brittany girl knee-deep in the dark
water helping to unload a fishing boat--lay on the centre table for
weeks. Clive Reinhard's new novel, for which Jack did the pictures, also
came out in _Bunker's_ this year. The novelist had been paid ten
thousand dollars for the serial rights, Jack told Milly, which seemed to
her a large price. Some forms of art, she concluded, were well paid.

_Bunker's_ was to be a magazine of a very special kind, of course,
altogether different from any other magazine,--literary and popular and
artistic all at once. Also it was to have an "uplift"--they were just
beginning to use that canting term and _Bunker's_ did much to popularize
it. The magazine was to be intensely American in spirit, optimistic and
enthusiastic in tone, and very chummy with its readers. Each month it
discussed confidentially with "our readers" the glorious success of the
previous issue and the astonishing triumphs in the way of amusement and
instruction that were to be expected in the future.... All this Milly
gathered from the editor's "talks" and also from the men who worked for
it or hoped to work for it, who were among their first friends in New
York. Its owner, who had boldly given to it his name, was a rich young
man, something of an amateur in life, but intensely ambitious of "making
himself felt." And this was his way of doing it, instead of buying a
newspaper, which would have been more expensive, or of running for
public office, which would have meant nothing at all to anybody. Jack
pointed him out to his wife one night at the theatre. He was in a box
with a party of men and women,--all very well dressed and quite
smart-looking. He had a regular, smooth-shaven face with a square jaw
like hundreds of other men in New York at that moment. Milly thought
Mrs. Bunker overdressed and "ordinary." She was a very blonde,
high-colored woman, of the kind a rich man might marry for her physical
charm.

All that first year _Bunker's_ came more and more to the fore in their
life. The wife of the Responsible Editor, Mrs. Montgomery Billman,
called on Milly in company with Mrs. Fredericks, the wife of the Fiction
Editor, and the two ladies, while critically examining Milly, talked of
"our magazine" and described the Howard Bunkers, who evidently played a
large role in their lives. Mrs. Billman, Milly decided, and so confided
to her husband, was hard and ambitious socially. Mrs. Fredericks she
"could not quite make out," and liked her better. Both the ladies seemed
to "go in for things" hard and meant to "count." They knew much more
about their husbands' affairs than Milly had ever cared to know about
Jack's. She decided that was the modern way, and that Jack ought to take
her more fully into his confidence. By the time she had returned these
visits and realized the importance felt by the editors' wives for their
husbands' work _Bunker's_ gained greatly in her eyes.

Then, unexpectedly, the magazine became of first importance to the
Bragdons. Jack was asked to become the Art Editor. He had been at
luncheon with Bunker himself and the Responsible Editor, who was a gaunt
and rather slouchy person from the other shore of the Mississippi. The
Responsible Editor, who had a way of looking through his spectacles as
if he were carrying heavy public burdens, unfolded to Bragdon the aims
and purposes of the magazine, while Bunker contented himself with
ordering the lunch and, at the close, making him the offer. Milly, when
she learned of the offer, was surprised that her husband did not show
more elation. She had a woman's respect for any institution, and Mrs.
Billman had made her feel that _Bunker's_ was a very important
institution.

"What will they give?" she asked.

"Six thousand."

It was more than she had ever dreamed an "artist" could make as an
assured income.

"Aren't you glad--all that!" she exclaimed.

"That's not much. Billman gets twelve thousand and Fredericks eight. But
I shall be able to make something 'on the side.'"

"I think it's wonderful!" Milly said.

But Jack exhibited slight enthusiasm.

"I'll have to see to getting illustrations for their idiotic stories and
half tones and colors--all that rubbish, you know."

There was nothing inspiring to him in "educating the people in the best
art," as the Responsible Editor had talked about the job.

"And they want me to contribute a series of articles on the new art
centres in the United States: Denver in Art, Pittsburgh in Art,
Milwaukee in Art--that sort of rot," he scoffed.

Milly saw nothing contemptible in this; all the magazines did the same
thing in one subject or another to arouse local enthusiasm for
themselves.

"You write so easily," she suggested, by way of encouragement,
remembering the newspaper paragraphs he used to contribute to the
_Star_.

"But I want to paint!" Bragdon growled, and dropped the subject.

In the intervals of pot boiling he had been working on several canvases
that he hoped to exhibit in the spring. Milly had lost confidence in
painting since she had come to New York and had heard about the lives of
young painters. Even if Jack could finish his pictures in time for the
exhibition, they might not be accepted, and if they were, would probably
be hung in some obscure corner of the crowded galleries for several
weeks, with a lot of other "good-enough" canvases, only to be returned
to the artist--a dead loss, the fate of most pictures, she had learned.

So Milly was for the Art Editorship. She took counsel with Big Brother,
who happened to call, and B. B., who regarded Milly as a sensible woman,
the right sort for an impracticable artist to have married, said: "Jack
would be crazy to let such a chance slip by him. I know Bunker--he's all
right." So when he saw Jack next, he went at him boisterously on the
subject, but the artist cut him short by remarking quietly,--"I've told
them I'd take it--the thing's settled."

When Milly heard this, she felt a little reaction. Would Marion Reddon
have done the same with Sam? But she put her doubts aside easily. "It'll
be a good start. Jack is still young, and he will have plenty of time to
paint--if he has it in him" (a reservation she would not have made two
years before), "and it will do him good to know more people."

Milly would like herself to know more people in this great city, which
was just beginning to interest her, and she was not at all inclined to
immure herself in a suburb or the depths of the country with a husband
who, after all, had not fully satisfied her heart. To know people, to
have a wide circle of acquaintance, seemed to her, as it did to most
people, of the highest importance, not merely for pleasure but for
business as well. How otherwise was one to get on in this life, except
through knowing people? Even an artist must make himself seen.... So she
considered that in urging her husband to become part of the Bunker
machine, she was acting wisely for both,--nay, for all three of the
family, for should not Virginia's future already be taken into account?

The wife of the Fiction Editor, with whom she had become intimate in her
rapid way, confirmed this view of things. Hazel Fredericks fascinated
Milly much more than the aggressive Mrs. Billman, perhaps because she
went out of her way to be nice to the artist's wife. Milly had not yet
convinced the wife of the Responsible Editor that she was important, and
she never wasted time over "negative" people. The dark little Hazel
Fredericks, with her muddy eyes and rather thick lips, was a more subtle
woman than Mrs. Billman and took the pains to cultivate "possibilities."
She had Milly at lunch one day and listened attentively to all her
dubitations about her husband's career. Then she pronounced:--

"Stanny was like that. He wanted to write stories. They are pretty good
stories, too, but you know there's not much sale for the merely good
thing. And unsuccessful art of any kind is hardly worth while, is
it?... When we were first married, he had an idea of going away somewhere
and living on nothing at all until he had made a name. But that is not
the way things are done, is it?"

She paused to laugh sympathetically and look at Milly, as if she must
understand what foolish creatures men often were and how wives like
Milly and herself had to save them from their follies.

"Of course," she continued, "if he had had Reinhard's luck, it would
have been another thing. Clive Reinhard's stuff is just rot, of course,
but people like it and he gets all kinds of prices."

She took a cigarette and throwing herself comfortably on a divan blew a
silvery wreath upwards. Meditatively she summed up the philosophy she
held,--

"It's better to stay with the game and make the most you can out of it,
don't you think so?"

Milly agreed.

"And _Bunker's_ is a very good game, if you haven't any money."

Milly admired her new friend's cleverness. She was the kind who knew how
to manage life,--her own life especially,--and get what she wanted out
of the game. Milly began to have great respect for that sort of women
and wished she were more like them. She felt that Hazel Fredericks never
did things waywardly: she always had a well-calculated purpose hidden in
her mind, just as she had a carefully conceived picture of herself that
she desired to leave upon the minds of others. If Mrs. Billman had put
her husband where he was in _Bunker's_ by force, as her rival hinted,
Mrs. Fredericks had also engineered "Stanny's" career with skilful
strategy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just at present she was involved in a project for a cooeperative
apartment building, which some people she knew were to put up in a
desirable neighborhood. She quite fired Milly with the desire to buy
space in the building.

"It's really the only way you can live in New York, if you haven't
money," Mrs. Fredericks said convincingly, displaying the plan of their
tiny apartment. "Of course we can't have children--there's no room for
them--but Stanny is so delicate I shouldn't feel it was right to have
them, anyway."

She spoke as if it were a sacrifice she had deliberately made for her
husband....

Milly talked enthusiastically to Jack that night of the new cooeperative
building and urged him to look into it. "I do so want a home of my own,"
she said with a touch of pathos. "Mrs. Fredericks still thinks there's
space to be had on one of the floors."

Bragdon looked into it, and reported that a good deal of space was to be
had. He was dubious of the wisdom of the scheme, even if by a
complicated arrangement of loans they could manage to buy a nominal
share. But Milly was persistent and proved to him with a sudden command
of figures that it would really reduce the cost of rent. She found out
more details, and she gained the support of Big Brother, who generously
offered to finance the undertaking for them. "It will make you feel
settled," he said, "to own your own home." Jack could not see that in
the end he should own much of anything unless by some surprising stroke
of luck a good many thousands of dollars fell into his lap. But he felt
that Milly should have a permanent place of her own, such as the slice
of the new ten-story building offered, and it would be better for the
child than to be wandering from rented apartment to apartment. So the
plans were drawn, the agreements practically made, when he had a final
misgiving.

The agreements lay on the table before him to be signed, and he had just
read them over carefully. They seemed to him like a chain that, once
signed, bound him to the city, to _Bunker's_ for an indefinite future.
His editorial chair had been specially galling that day, perhaps, or the
impulse to paint stronger than usual. He threw down the papers and
exclaimed,--

"Let's quit, Milly, before it's too late!"

"What do you mean?"

And he made his plea, for the last time seriously, to take their lives
in their hands and like brave people walk out of the city-maze to
freedom, to a simple, rational life without pretence.

"I want to cut out all this!" he cried with passion, waving his hand
carelessly over the huddle of city roofs, "get into some quiet spot and
paint, paint, paint! until I make 'em see that I have something to say.
It's the only way to do things!"

With passionate vividness he saw the years of his youth and desire
slipping away in the round of trivial "jobs" in the city; he saw the
slow decay of resolves under the ever increasing demands to "make good"
by earning money. And he shrank from it as from the pit.

"I don't see why you say that," Milly replied. "Most painters live in
the city part of the year. There's ---- and ----"

She argued the matter with him long into the night, obstinately refusing
to see the fatality of the choice they were making.

"We can get rid of the apartment any time, if we don't want it," she
said, and quoted Hazel Fredericks.

They came nearer to seeing into each other's souls that night than ever
before or ever again. They saw that their inmost interests were
antagonistic and must always remain so for all the active, creative
years of their lives, and the best they could do, for the sake of their
dead ideals, much more for the sake of the living child, was decently to
compromise between their respective egotisms and thus "live and let
live."

"If I had married a plain business man," Milly let fall in the heat of
the argument, revealing in that phrase the knowledge she had arrived at
of her mistake, "it would have been different."

Bragdon was not sure of that, but he was sure that in so far as he could
he must supply for her the things that "plain business man" could have
given her. Or they must part--they even looked into that gulf, from
which both shrank back. At the end Milly said:--

"If you don't think it's best, don't do it. You must do what you think
is best for your career."

Such was her present ideal of wifely submission to husband in all
matters that concerned his "career," but she let him plainly perceive
that in saying this she was merely putting the responsibility of their
lives wholly upon his shoulders, as he was the breadwinner.

With an impatient gesture, Bragdon drew the agreements towards him and
signed them.

"There!" he said, with a somewhat bitter laugh, "nothing in life is
worth so much talk."

Afterwards Milly reminded him that he had made this choice himself of
his own free will: he could not reproach her for their having bought a
slice in the East River Terrace Building.




III

MORE OF "BUNKER'S"


One of the notable incidents of this period was the visit they made to
the Bunker's place on Long Island. It was in the autumn after Bragdon
had been on the magazine staff for some months. Milly went out in the
train with Hazel Fredericks, who took this occasion to air her views of
the Bunkers and the Billmans more fully than she had before. She
described the magazine proprietor and his wife in a succinct sentence,--

"They're second-class New York: everything the others have but the right
crowd--you'll see."

Howard Bunker, she admitted, was likable,--a jolly, unpretentious,
shrewd business man, with a hearty American appetite for the bustle of
existence. As for the handsome Mrs. Bunker,--"She was from Waterbury,
Connecticut, you know," she said, assuming that Milly, who had heard of
the Connecticut town solely as a place where a popular cheap watch was
manufactured, would understand the depth of social inferiority Mrs.
Howard Bunker's origin implied. "She's too lazy to be really ambitious.
They have a box at the Opera, but that means nothing these days. She's
kind, if you don't put her to any trouble, and they have awfully good
food.... It's a bore coming out to their place, but you have to, once in
so often, you understand. You sit around and eat and look over the
stables and the garden and all that sort of thing."

She further explained that probably Grace Billman was motoring out with
their host. "She always manages that: she regards him as her property,
you know." It would be a "shop party," she expected. "That's all the
social imagination these people have: they get us together by
groups--we're the magazine group. Possibly she'll have Clive Reinhard.
He's different, though, because he's made a name for himself, so that
all sorts of people run after him."

Mrs. Bunker met the young women at the station, driving her own ponies.
Milly recognized the type at a glance, as much from her Chicago
experience as from Mrs. Fredericks' description. Mrs. Bunker was a
largish, violent blonde, with a plethora of everything about her,--hair
and blood and flesh. She was cordial in her greeting to the editors'
wives. She apparently regarded the magazine as one of her husband's
fads,--an incident of his wealth,--like a shooting-box or a racing
stable or a philanthropy. It gave prestige.

"I've got Clive Reinhard," she announced, as they started from the
station, a note of triumph in her languid voice. "My, but he's popular.
I've tried to get him for a month. This time I had him on the telephone,
and I said 'I won't let you go--simply won't ring off until you promise.
I'll tell Howard to turn down your next book.'"

She laughed at her own wit. Hazel Fredericks glanced at Milly with a
look of intelligence. Milly was much amused by the good lady and
listened appreciatively to her petty conversation....

It was all just as Mrs. Fredericks had predicted. Their host arrived
shortly in his car with Mrs. Montgomery Billman, who cast a scornful
glance at the "shop party," nodded condescendingly at Milly, kissed
Hazel on the tip of her nose, and retired to her room. The men came
along later, in time for dinner, all except the popular novelist, who
was motored over from another house party the next morning. Dinner was
long and dull. The Responsible Editress absorbed the host for the most
part. What little general talk there was turned on the magazine,
especially on the noise it was making with a series of "exposure"
articles on the "Crimes of Big Business." Milly could not understand how
Mr. Bunker, who seemed to have prospered under the rule of Big Business,
could permit such articles in his magazine. But Reinhard explained to
her the next day that Radicalism was the "new note." "You have to be
progressive and reform and all that to break into notice," he said.

After dinner there was a little music, some bridge, more talk; then the
women yawningly went to bed, while the men stayed up for another cigar
and further shop talk. The next day was also much as Hazel Fredericks
had said it would be. It was hot, and after the very late and copious
breakfast everybody was languid. Milly was much interested in being
shown over the place by her hostess. She admired the gardens, the
hothouses, the planting, the stables, and all the other appurtenances of
a modern country estate. Later she had a brief tete-a-tete with Bunker,
who had been prejudiced against her by Mrs. Billman and was bored by her
too evident flattery. She had also a talk with Clive Reinhard, with whom
she discussed his last story and his "ideas about women." For the rest
it was a torpid and sensual Sunday with much to eat and drink,--very
much like the Sunday of some thousands of rich Americans all over the
land. Most of the guests returned to the city on an evening train, bored
and unconsciously glad to get back into their respective ruts.

All but Milly! She had enjoyed herself quite genuinely, and with her
quick social perceptions had gathered a great deal from the visit, much
of which she imparted to her drowsing husband on the train. She mapped
out for his duller masculine apprehension the social hierarchy of
_Bunker's_. Mrs. Bunker patronized Mrs. Billman, invited her to her best
dinners and to her opera box, because she was striking in looks and had
made a place for herself in "interesting circles" in the great city and
was more or less talked about. "Hazel is jealous of her," Milly averred.
Nevertheless the junior editor's wife accepted Mrs. Billman's patronage
and invitations to Mrs. Bunker's opera box when it was given on off
nights or matinees to the chief editor's wife, and in turn she was
inclined to patronize Mrs. Bragdon by sending her tickets to improving
lectures and concerts.

Hazel Fredericks, in her quiet and self-effacing manner, had
aspirations, Milly suspected. She could not compete either with Mrs.
Howard Bunker or Mrs. Montgomery Billman, of course, but she aspired to
the Serious and the Distinguished, instead of the Rich or the merely
Artistic. She went in for "movements" of all sorts and was a member of
various leagues, and associations, and committees. Occasionally her name
got into public print. Just at present she was in the "woman movement,"
about which she talked to Milly a good deal. That promised to be the
most important of all her "movements."

Indeed, as Milly saw, all these women "went in" for something. They
tried to conduct their lives and their husbands' lives on lines of
definite accomplishment, and she was decidedly "old-fashioned" in living
hers from day to day for what it offered of amusement or ennui. She was
rather proud of the fact that she had never deliberately "gone in" for
anything in her life except Love.

Nevertheless, she found the flutter of women's ambitions exciting and
liked to observe the indirect working of their wills even in the man's
game....

"Mrs. Billman is too obvious, don't you think Jack?" she said to her
husband. But Jack had gone sound asleep.




IV

THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE


Before the winter they were established in their own home, in a corner
of the new East River Terrace Building, and thereafter their life
settled down on the lines it was to follow in New York. Their
acquaintance gradually widened from _Bunker's_ and the editorial set to
other circles, contiguous and remote, and the daily routine brought
husband and wife less often into contact, and they were thrown less and
less on each other's resources. As the artist no longer tried to work at
home, the large room designed for studio became the living-room of their
apartment. Bragdon went off immediately after his breakfast to the
magazine office, like a business man, and as Milly usually had her
coffee in bed they rarely met before dinner. Sometimes he came back from
the office early to play with Virgie before her supper time, but Milly
usually appeared about seven, just in time to dress for dinner.

If she ever stopped to think of it, this seemed the suitable, normal
relation of husband and wife. He had his business, and she had hers.
Sundays when he did not go to the office, he dawdled through the morning
at his club, talking with men or writing letters, and they often had
people to luncheon, which consumed the afternoons. On pleasant days he
might take the child to the Park or even into the distant country. He
was very devoted to his little girl and on the whole a considerate and
kindly husband. Milly thought she had forgiven him for breaking her
heart. As a matter of fact there is less forgiveness than forgetting in
this world. Milly felt that on the whole "they got on quite well" and
prided herself on her wise restraint and patience with her husband "at
that time."

The household ran smoothly. At first there were only two maids,--the
second one serving as nurse for Virginia and Milly's personal helper as
well,--a triumph of economic management, as Milly pointed out. For Hazel
Fredericks had two merely for household purposes and the Billman's house
boasted of four and a boy in buttons. They had to have the laundry done
outside and engage extra service when they entertained. By the end of
the first year Milly convinced herself it would be cheaper to have three
regular servants, and still they depended more or less on outside
help....

They saved nothing, of course. Few Americans of their class ever save.
They were young, and the future seemed large. Living in New York was
horribly expensive, as every one was saying, and it was worse the more
they got to know people and had their own little place to keep in the
world. It seemed to Milly hard that such perfectly nice people as they
were should be so cramped for the means to enjoy the opportunities that
came to them. The first year they spent only five thousand dollars and
paid something towards the huge loan on their apartment. The second year
it was seven thousand and they paid nothing, and the third year they
started at a rate of ten thousand dollars. The figures were really small
when one considered what the other people they knew were spending.
Bragdon began to suspect that here was the trouble--they didn't know any
poor people! Milly said they "barely lived," as it was. Of course there
were good people who got along on three or four thousand dollars a year
and even indulged occasionally in a child or two--professors and young
painters and that sort. Milly could not see how it was done,--probably
in ghastly apartments out in the _hinterland_, like the Reddons. The
newspapers advertised astonishing bargains in houses, but they were
always in fantastically named suburban places, "within commuting
distance." One had to live where one's friends could get to you, or go
without people, Milly observed.

Husband and wife discussed all this, as every one did. The cost of
living, the best way of meeting the problem, whether by city or suburb
or country, was the most frequent topic of conversation in all circles,
altogether crowding out the weather and scandal. At first Jack was
severe about the leaping scale of expenditure and inclined to hold his
wife accountable for it as "extravagance." He would even talk of giving
up their pretty home and going to some impossible suburb,--"and all that
nonsense," as Milly put it to her closest friend, Hazel Fredericks. But
Milly always proved to him that they could not do better and "get
anything out of life." So in the position of one who is sliding down
hill in a sandy soil, he saw that it was useless to stick his feet in
and hold on--he must instead learn to plunge and leap and thus make
progress. And he did what every one was doing,--tried to make more
money. It was easy, seemingly, in this tumultuous New York to make money
"on the side." There were many chances of what he cynically called
"artistic graft,"--editing, articles, and illustration. One had merely
to put out a hand and strip the fat branches of the laden tree. It was
killing to creative work, but it was much easier than sordid discussion
of budget with one's wife. For the American husband is ashamed to
confess poverty to the wife of his bosom.

Milly, perceiving this power of money-getting on her husband's part, did
not take very seriously his complaints of their expenditure. Even when
they were in debt, as they usually were, she was sure it would come out
right in the end. It always had. Jack had found a way to make the extra
sums needed to wipe out the accumulation of bills. Bragdon might feel
misgivings, but he was too busy these days in the gymnastic performance
of keeping his feet from the sliding sand to indulge in long reflection.
Perhaps, in a mood of depression, induced by grippe or the coming on of
languid spring days, he would say, "Milly, let's quit this game--it's no
good--you don't get anywhere!"

Milly, recognizing the symptoms, would bring him a cocktail, prepared by
her own skilful hand and murmur sweetly,--

"What would you like to do?"

This was her role of wife, submissive to the "head of the house."

       *       *       *       *       *

That archaic phrase, which Milly used with a malicious pompousness when
she wished to "put something hard up" to her lord, was of course an
ironical misnomer in this modern household. In the first place there was
no house, which demanded the service and the protection of a strong
male,--merely a partitioned-off corner in a ten-story brick box, where
no man was necessary even to shake the furnace or lock the front door.
It was "house" only symbolically, and within its limited space the
minimum of necessary service was performed by hirelings (engaged by the
mistress and under her orders). Almost all the necessities for existence
were manufactured outside and paid for at the end of each month
(supposably) by the mistress with little colored slips of paper called
cheques. In the modern world the function of the honorable head of the
house had thus been reduced to providing the banking deposit necessary
for the little strips of colored paper. He had been gradually relieved
of all other duties, stripped of his honors, and become Bank Account.
The woman was the real head of the house because she controlled the
expenditures.

"I draw all the cheques," Hazel Fredericks explained to Milly, "even for
Stanny's club bills--at is so much easier."

That was the perfect thing, Milly thought, forgetting that she had once
tried this plan with disastrous results and had returned to the
allowance system with relief. Most men, she felt, were tyrannical and
arbitrary by nature, especially in money matters, or as she sometimes
called her husband,--"Turks." She often discussed the relation of the
sexes in marriage with Hazel Fredericks, who had "modern" views and
leant her books on the woman movement and suffrage. Although she
instinctively disliked "strong-minded women," she felt there was great
injustice in the present situation between men and women. "It is a
man's-world," became one of her favorite axioms. She could not deny that
her husband was kind,--she often boasted of his generosity to her
friends,--and she knew that he spent very little on his own pleasures:
whatever there was the family had it. But it always humiliated her to go
to him for money, when she was behind, and in his sterner moods try to
coax it from him. This was the way women had always been forced to do
with their masters, and it was, of course, all wrong: it classed the
wife with "horrid" women, who made men pay them for their complaisance.

Ideas on all these subjects were in the air: all the women Milly knew
talked of the "dawn of the woman era," the coming emancipation of the
sex from its world-old degradation. Milly vaguely believed it would mean
that every woman should have her own check-book and not be accountable
to any man for what she chose to spend. She amplified this point of view
to Reinhard, who liked "the little Bragdons" and often came to their new
home. Milly especially amused him in his role of student of the coming
sex. He liked to see her experiment with ideas and mischievously
encouraged her "revolt" as he called it. They had tea together, took
walks in the Park, and sometimes went to concerts. He was very kind to
them both, and Milly regarded him as their most influential friend. She
felt that the novelist would make a very good husband, understanding as
he did so thoroughly the woman's point of view.

"I'm not a 'new woman,' of course," Milly always concluded her
discourse.

"Of course you're not!" the novelist heartily concurred. "That's why you
are so interesting,--you represent an almost extinct species,--just
woman."

"I know I'm old-fashioned--Hazel always says so. I believe in men doing
the voting and all that. Women should not try to be like men--their
strength is their difference!"

"You want just to be Queen?" Reinhard suggested.

"Oh," Milly sighed, "I want what every woman wants--just to be loved."

She implied that with the perfect love, all these minor difficulties
would adjust themselves easily. But the woman without love must fight
for her "rights," whatever they were.

"Oh, of course," the novelist murmured sympathetically. In all his
varied experience with the sex he had found few women who would admit
that they were properly loved.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly's daily programme at this time will be illuminating, because it
was much like the lives of many thousands of young married women, in our
transition period. As there was no complicated house and only one child
to be looked after, the mere housekeeping duties were not burdensome,
especially as Milly never thought of going to market or store for
anything, merely telephoned for what the cook said they must have, or
left it to the servant altogether. She woke late, read the newspaper and
her mail over her coffee, played with Virgie and told her charming
stories; then, by ten o'clock, dressed, and her housekeeping arranged
for, she was ready to set forth. Usually she had some sort of shopping
that took her down town until luncheon, and more often than not lunched
out with a friend.

Occasionally on a fine day when she had nothing better to do, she took
Virginia into the Park for an hour after luncheon. Usually, however, the
child's promenade was left to Louise. Her afternoons were varied and
crowded. Sometimes she went to lectures or to see pictures, because this
was part of that "culture" essential for the modern woman. Old friends
from Chicago had to be called upon or taken to tea and entertained, and
there was the ever enlarging circle of new friends, chiefly women, who
made constant demands on her time. She finished her day, breathlessly,
just in time to dress for dinner. They went out more and more, because
people liked them, and when they stayed at home, they had people in
"quite informally" and talked until late hours. On the rare occasions
when they were alone Milly curled up on the divan before the fire and
dozed until she went to bed,--"dead tired."

There was scarcely a single productive moment in these busy days. Yet
Milly would have resented the accusation that she was an idle woman in
any sense. She had the feeling of being pressed, of striving to overtake
her engagements, which gave a pleasant touch of excitement to city
existence. That she should DO anything more than keep their
small home running smoothly and pleasantly--an attractive spot for
friends to come to--and keep herself personally as smart and youthful
and desirable as her circumstances permitted, she would never admit. A
woman's hold on the world, she was convinced, lay in her looks and her
charms, not in her character. And what man who had anything of a man in
him would expect more of his wife?... Her husband, at any rate, gave no
sign of expecting more from _his_ wife. All their friends considered
them a contented and delightful young couple....

It should be added that Milly was a member of the "Consumers' League,"
though she paid no attention to their rules, and had been put on a
"Woman's Immigration Bureau" at the instance of Hazel Fredericks, who
was active in that movement just then. She also had a number of poor
families to look after, to whom she was supposed to act as friend and
guide. She fulfilled this obligation by raising money for them from the
men she knew. "What most people need most is money," Milly
philosophized.... All told, her public activities occupied Milly a
little more than an hour a week.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a whole, Milly looked back over her life in New York with
satisfaction. They had a pleasant if somewhat cramped home and a great
many warm friends who were very kind to them. They were both well, as a
rule, though usually tired, as every one was, and the child, though
delicate, was reasonably well. Jack was liked at _Bunker's_, and his
periods of depression and restlessness became less frequent. They were
settling down properly into their place in the scheme of things. But
sometimes Milly found life monotonous and a trifle gray, even in New
York.

"Love is the only thing in a woman's life that can compensate!" she
confided to Clive Reinhard.

And the novelist, trained confessor of women's souls, let her think that
he understood.




V

A SHOCK


Milly supposed their life would go on indefinitely like this. She lived
much in the slight fluctuations of the present, with its immediate
gratifications and tribulations. It seemed to her foolish to take long
views, as Jack did sometimes, and wonder what the years might bring
forth. Life had always been full enough of interesting change.

The most disturbing fact at present was the difficulty they had in
deciding where to go for the summers. The question came up every spring,
the first warm days of March, when Bragdon developed fag and headaches.
Then it was he would suggest "chucking the whole thing," but that
obviously, with their present way of living, they could not do. So it
resolved itself into a discussion of boarding-places. It had to be some
place near enough the city to permit of Bragdon's going to his office at
least three or four times a week. One summer they boarded at an inferior
hotel on Long Island. That had been unsatisfactory because of the food
and the people. Another summer they took a furnished cottage, in
Connecticut. That had been hot, and Milly found housekeeping throughout
the year burdensome--and it may be added expensive. As the third summer
approached, Bragdon talked of staying in the city until midsummer. Milly
and the child could go to the Maine coast with the Fredericks, and he
would join them for a few weeks in August. Milly accepted this
compromise as a happy solution and looked forward to a really cool and
restful summer.

While she was making her arrangements, there was a threatened upheaval
in their life. This time it was the magazine. There had been growing
friction in _Bunker's_ for some time. The magazine, having to maintain
its reputation, had become more and more radical, while the proprietor,
under the influence of prosperity and increasing years, had become more
conservative.

"You see," Hazel Fredericks explained, "the Bunkers find reform isn't
fashionable the farther up they get, and the magazine is committed to
reform and so is Billman. There must be a break some day."

She further hinted that if it had not been for Grace's strong hand, the
break would have already come.

"She's not ready for Montie to get out, yet," she said.

Milly was much interested in the intrigue, but she could learn little
from her husband, who always expressed a weary disgust with the topic.
One evening in early June, just before her departure, he told her that
_Bunker's_ had changed hands: a "syndicate" had bought it, and he
professed not to know whose money was in the syndicate. Hazel hinted
that Grace Billman knew....

Bragdon seemed more than usually fagged this spring, after his annual
attack of the grippe. He had not recovered quickly, and his face was
white and flabby, as the faces of city men commonly were in the spring.
Milly noticed the languor in his manner when he came to the train to see
her off for the summer.

"Do be careful of yourself, Jack," she counselled with genuine concern.
He did not reply, merely kissed the little girl, and smiled wearily.

"Try to get away early--in July," were her last words.

Jack nodded and turned back to the steaming city. Milly, reflecting with
a sigh that her husband was usually like this in the spring, sank back
into her chair and opened _Life_. For several weeks after that parting
she heard nothing from Jack, although she wrote with what for her was
great promptness. Then she received a brief letter that contained the
astonishing news of his having left the magazine. "There have been
changes in the new management," he wrote, "and it seemed best to get
out." But neither Billman nor Fredericks had felt obliged to leave the
magazine, she learned from Hazel.

She could not understand. She telegraphed for further details and urged
him to join her at once and take his vacation. He replied vaguely that
some work was detaining him in the city, and that he might come later.
"The city isn't bad," he said. And with that Milly had to content
herself.... The summer place filled rapidly, and she was occupied with
immediate interests. She said to Hazel,--"It's so foolish of Jack to
stay there in that hot city when he might be comfortably resting here
with us!" Hazel made no reply, and Milly vaguely wondered if she knew
more about the situation on the magazine than she would tell.

It was in August, in a sweltering heat which made itself felt even
beside the Maine sea, that a telegram came from Clive Reinhard, very
brief but none the less disturbing. "Your husband here ill--better
come." The telegram was dated from Caromneck,--Reinhard's place on the
Sound....

By the time Milly had made the long journey her husband was dead.
Reinhard met her at the station in his car. She always remembered
afterwards that gravelly patch before the station, with its rows of
motor-cars waiting for the men about to arrive from the city on the
afternoon trains, and Reinhard's dark little face, which did not smile
at her approach.

"He was sick when he came out," he explained brusquely; "don't believe
he ever got over that last attack of grippe.... It was pneumonia: the
doctor said his heart was too weak."

It was the commonplace story of the man working at high pressure, often
under stimulants, who has had the grippe to weaken him, so that when the
strain comes there is no resistance, no reserve. He snaps like a sapped
reed.... The tears rolled down Milly's face, and Reinhard looked away.
He said nothing, and for the first time Milly thought him hard and
unsympathetic. When the car drew up before his door, he helped her down
and silently led the way to the darkened room on the floor above, then
left her alone with her dead husband.

       *       *       *       *       *

When a woman looks on the face of her dead comrade, it should not be
altogether sad. Something of the joy and the tenderness of their
intimacy should rise then to temper the sharpness of her grief. It was
not so with Milly. It was wholly horrible to plunge thus, as it were,
from the blinding light of the full summer day into the gloom of death.
Her husband's face seemed shrunken and pallid, but curiously youthful.
Into it had crept again something of that boyish confidence--the joyous
swagger of youth--which he had when they sat in the Chicago beer-garden.
It startled Milly, who had not recalled those days for a long time.
Underneath his mustache the upper lip was twisted as if in pain, and the
sunken eyes were mercifully closed. He had gone back to his youth, the
happy time of strength and hope when he had expected to be a painter....

Milly fell on her knees by his side and sobbed without restraint. Yet
her grief was less for him than for herself,--rather, perhaps, for them
both. Somehow they had missed the beautiful dream they had dreamed
together eight years before in the beer-garden. She realized bitterly
that their married life, which should have been so wonderful, had come
to the petty reality of these latter days. So she sobbed and sobbed, her
head buried on the pillow beside his still head--grieved for him, for
herself, for life. And the dead man lay there on the white bed, in the
dim light, with his closed eyes, that mirage of recovered youth haunting
his pale cheeks.

When she left him after a time, Reinhard met her in the hall. She was
not conscious of the swift, furtive glance he gave her, as if he would
discover in her that last intimacy with her husband. When he spoke, he
was very gentle with her. He was about to motor into the city to make
some arrangements and would not return until the morning, leaving to her
the silent house with her dead. She was conscious of all his kindness
and delicate forethought, and mumbled her thanks. He had already
notified Bragdon's older brother, who was coming from the Adirondacks
and would attend to all the necessary things for her. As he turned to
leave, Milly stopped him with a half question,--

"I didn't know Jack was visiting you."

The novelist hastened to reply:--

"You see he had promised to do another book for me, and came out to talk
it over. That was last Saturday."

"Oh!"

"He was not well then," he added, and then he went.

       *       *       *       *       *

He never told her--she never knew--that he had run across Bragdon quite
by accident one day of awful heat, and stopped to exchange a few words
with an old friend he had not seen for some time. Bragdon had the limp
appearance of a man thoroughly done by the heat, and also to the
novelist's keen eye the mentally listless attitude of the man who has
been done by life before his time,--the look of one who knows he is not
"making good" in the fight. That was what had tortured the lip beneath
the mustache.

So on the spur of the moment he had suggested to the artist the new
book, though he knew that his publisher would demur. For his fame had
raised him altogether out of Bragdon's class. But it was the only
tangible way of putting out that helping hand the artist so obviously
needed just then. Bragdon had hesitated, as if he knew the motive
prompting the offer, then accepted, and the two had motored out of the
city together that evening. Even then the artist had a high fever....

       *       *       *       *       *

That night Milly lived over like a vivid nightmare her married life down
to the least detail,--the time of golden hopes and aspirations, Paris
and Europe, her disillusionment, the futile scurry of their life in New
York, which she realized was a compromise without much result.... It
ended in a choke rather than a sob. There was so little left!

In the morning Reinhard reappeared with her brother-in-law. She
remembered little of what was done afterwards, in the usual, ordered
way, until after the brief service and the journey to the grave she was
left alone in their old home. She had wished to be alone. So Hazel
Fredericks took Virginia to the Reddons and left Milly for this night
and day to collect herself from her blow and decide with her
brother-in-law's help just what she should do.




VI

THE SECRET


The large "studio" room of the apartment had an unfamiliar air of
disorderliness about it. Bragdon's easel was there and his uncleaned
palette. Also a number of canvases were scattered about. These last
weeks, after he had left the magazine--voluntarily as Milly now
learned--he had got together all his painter's things and worked in the
empty apartment. When Milly began to pick up the odds and ends, she was
surprised at the number of canvases. A few of them she recognized as
pictures he had attempted in his brief vacations. Almost everything was
unfinished--merely an impression seized here and there and vigorously
dashed down in color, as if the artist were afraid of losing its
definite outline in the rush and interruption of his life. Nothing was
really finished she saw, as she turned the canvases back to the wall,
one by one. Tears started to her eyes again. The tragedy of life was
like the tragedy of death--the incomplete! The nearest thing to a
finished picture was the group done in Brittany of herself, Yvonne, and
the baby on the gleaming sands, which he had tried to get ready for the
New York exhibition on their return. That had the superficial finish of
mechanical work from which the creator's inspiration has already
departed. With a sigh she turned it to the wall with the others, and
somehow she recalled what Reinhard has said once about her husband.

"He had more of the artist in him than any of us when he was in
college--what has become of it?"

The remark stabbed her now. What had he done with his gift--what had
they made of it?...

She came to the last things,--the canvas he had been working on the day
his friend had found him. The touch of fever was in it,--a grotesque
head,--but it was as vivid as fresh paint. Yes, he had been one who
could see things! She had a sense of pride in the belief.

Another of Reinhard's sayings came back to her,--

"It's all accident from the very beginning in the womb what comes to any
of us, and most of all whether we catch on in the game of life, whether
we fit!"

The novelist himself, she knew, had not "caught on" at first. He had
confessed to her that he had almost starved in New York, writing stories
that nobody would read and few publishers could be induced to
print--then. They were the uttermost best he had in him, and some had
been successful since, but they didn't fit then. Suddenly he arrived by
accident. A slight thing he had done caught the fancy of an actress, who
had a play made out of it, in which she was a great success. A sort of
reflected glory came to the author of the story, and the actress with
unusual generosity paid him a good sum of money. From that first touch
of golden success he had become a different man. His new and popular
period set in when he wrote stories about rich and childish boys and
girls and their silly love affairs. Hazel Fredericks and her set
affected to despise them, but they were immensely popular.

If he had sold himself, as his critics said, he had made a sharp bargain
with the devil. He had become prosperous, well-known, envied, invited.
Milly had always admired his intelligence in grasping his chance when it
came.

She remembered now another story about the popular novelist. He had
never married, and the flippant explanation of the fact was that he was
under contract with his publishers not to marry until he was fifty in
order not to impair his popularity among his bonbon-eating clientele,
who wrote him intimate, scented letters. But she knew the truth. She had
the story from the sister of the girl, whom she had met in Paris. The
girl was poor and trying to paint; they met in the garret-days when
Reinhard "was writing to please himself," as they say. The two were
obviously deeply in love, and only their common poverty, it was
supposed, prevented the marriage. It was still desperate love when the
fortunate accident befell Reinhard that led him out of obscurity to
fame. It was then that the affair had been broken off. The sister found
the poor girl in tears with a horrible resolve to throw herself away.
(Later she married a rich man, and was very happy with him, the sister
averred.) Milly had always felt that Reinhard must have been "hard" with
this poor girl,--he would not let his feeling for her stand in the way
of his career. Now she understood better why he would have none of her
sex except as buyers of his wares. She admired him and disliked him for
it all at once. That was what Jack should have done with her. But he was
too tender-hearted, too much the mere man.... Oh, well, these artists
with their needs and their temperaments!

Slowly Milly went over all the sketches, one by one. It was like a
fragmentary diary of the life she had lived beside and not looked at
closely while it was in being. She was surprised there were so many
recent ones--all unfinished. She could not recall when he had done them
or where. It proved that Bragdon had never really given up the idea of
painting. The desire had stung him all the time, and every now and then
he must have yielded to it, stealing away from the piffling duties of
the magazine office--spat on popular art, so to speak--and shut himself
away somewhere to forget and to do. Milly remembered certain unexplained
absences, which had mystified her at the time and aroused suspicions
that he "was having another affair." On his returns he had been morose
and dispirited. Evidently the mistress he had wooed in this intermittent
and casual fashion had not been kind. But the desire had never left
him,--the urge to paint, to create. And during these last desperate days
when, fevered, he was stumbling towards his end, he had seized the brush
and gone back to his real work....

At last she had reached the bottom of the pile--the Brittany sketches.
These she looked over as one might views of a past episode in life. The
memories of those foreign days rushed over her with a sad sort of joy.
There, they had been completely happy--at least she thought so
now--until that hateful woman had taken her husband from her. She had
almost forgotten the Russian baroness. Now with a start of fresh
interest she thought of the portrait and wondered where it was,--the
masterful picture of the one who had ruined her happiness. She looked
through the clutter again, thinking that it was probably with the
Russian wherever she was. But the portrait was there with the rest,
wrapped carefully in a piece of old silk.

With eager hands Milly undid the cover of the picture and dragged it
forward to the light. It was as if an old passion had burst from the
closet of the past. There she was, long, lean, cruel,--posed on her
haunches with upturned smiling face,--"The woman who would eat." She
lived there on the canvas, eternally young and strong. Milly could
admire the mastery of the painting even in the swell of her hatred for
the woman who had taken her lover-husband from her. He was young when he
had done that,--barely twenty-seven. A man who could paint like that at
twenty-seven ought to have gone far. Even Milly in the gloom of her
prejudiced soul felt something like awe for the power in him, which
seemingly justified the wrong he had done her. Even Milly perceived the
tragic laws stronger than herself, larger than her little world of
domestic moralities. And thus, gazing on her husband's masterpiece, she
realized that her hatred for the woman who she believed had done her the
greatest wrong one woman can do another was not real. It was not the
Baroness Saratoff who had cheated her: it was life itself! She no longer
felt eager to know whether they had been lovers,--as the saying is, had
"deceived" her. For this ghostly examination of her husband's work
convinced her that Jack did not belong to her, never had,--the stronger,
better part of him. She had lived for eight years, more or less happily,
with a stranger. She understood now that domestic intimacy, the petty
exchanges of daily life, even the habit of physical passion, cannot make
two souls one....

She turned at last from the picture with weariness, a heavy heart. It
had all been wrong, their marriage, and still more wrong their going on
with it "in the brave way." Well, _he_ was done with the mistake at
last, and he could not be sorry. She was almost glad for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her brother-in-law had asked her to look through her husband's papers
for an insurance policy he thought Jack had taken on his advice. In the
old desk Bragdon had used there was a mass of letters and bills, a great
many unpaid bills, some of which she had given him months and months
before and had supposed were paid. There were two letters in an odd
foreign hand that she knew instantly must be the Russian woman's. The
first was dated from the _manoir_ at Klerac on the evening of their
sudden departure. Milly hesitated a moment as if she must respect the
secrets of the dead, then with a last trace of jealousy tore it open and
read the lines:--

     ... "So you have decided--you are going back. You will give up all
     that you have won, all that might be yours,--and ours. I knew it
     would be so. The puritan in you has won the day,--the weak side.
     You will never be content with what you are doing, never. I have
     seen far enough within your soul to know that.... I ask nothing for
     myself--I have had enough,--no, not that,--but more than I could
     hope. But for you, who have the great power in you, it is not
     right. You cannot live like that.... Some day you will be glad as I
     am that we were not little people, but drank life when it was at
     our lips."

Milly dropped the letter and stared blankly at the dark wall opposite.
What it revealed did not come to her with shock, because she had always
felt sure that it had been so. What startled her was the realization for
the first time how much the experience had meant to both,--the
examination of the picture and the silence of death enabled her to
understand that. He had had the strength--or was it rather weakness?--to
do "the right thing," to renounce love and fulfilment and fame because
of her and their child. It came over her in a flash that she could not
have done as much. Give up love that was strong and creative--no, never,
not for all the right and convention on the earth. Any more than the
Russian woman would have given it up! Women were braver than men
sometimes.

She folded the letter and put it back in its envelope with a curious
feeling of relief, a sort of gladness that he had had even the little
there was--those few days of fulfilment, of the diviner other life which
with all the years between them they had failed to grasp.

It was the most generous, the most genuine, the most humiliating moment
of Milly's life. Yes, she was glad that in all the drab reality of their
life,--in spite of the bills, the worry, the defeat,--he had had his
great moments of art and love. They were not stolen from her: such
moments cannot be stolen from anybody. She wished that he might only
know how freely she was glad,--not forgave him, because forgiveness had
nothing to do with it. She understood, at last, and was glad. If he
should come back to life now by some miracle, she would have the courage
after this self-revelation to leave him, to send him back, if not to
her,--at least to his great work. Only that, too, might now be too
late--alas!

With a quiet dignity that was new, Milly opened the other letter. It was
dated only a few weeks before from some small place in Russia. Madame
Saratoff explained briefly that she was now living with her children on
her mother's estate in central Russia, and she described the life there
in its perfect monotony, like the flat country, with its half animal
people. "I live like one of those eastern people," she wrote, "dreaming
of what has been in my life." She had heard accidentally of the American
from some one who had met him in New York. He was no longer painting,
she understood, but engaged in other work. That was sad. It was a
mistake always not to do that which one could do with most joy. In the
whirlpool of this life there was so much waste matter, so little that
was complete and perfect, that no one with power had the right not to
exercise it.

She sent this letter with the picture he had made of her. It belonged
more to him than to her because he had created it--the man's part--while
she had merely offered the accidental cause,--the woman's share. And
further she wished to torture him always with this evidence of what once
had been in him; not with _her_ face,--that doubtless had already faded
from his mind. But no other one had he fixed eternally by his art as he
had hers. Of that she was sure. "Farewell."

It was cold; it was cruel. And it must have burned the artist like acid
on his wound. The letters should have gone with him to his grave....

With a sense of finality,--that this was the real end, the end of her
marriage,--Milly did up the letters carefully and folded the piece of
old silk about the portrait. They must be returned to the Baroness
Saratoff. And now for the first time since they had met and married,
everything seemed clear and settled between her and her husband. She was
left with her little girl "to face life," as the saying is.

And Milly bravely turned her face towards life.




VII

BEING A WIDOW


Many times during the ensuing months Milly had occasion to recall the
remark of a clever woman she had once heard. "There's no place in modern
society for the widow." She came to believe that the Suttee custom was a
frank and on the whole a merciful recognition of the situation. Every
one was kind to her,--unexpectedly, almost embarrassingly kind, as is
the way with humanity. But Milly knew well enough that no one can live
for any considerable period on sympathy and the kindness of friends. The
provoking cause for any emotion must be renewed constantly.

It would have been much easier, of course, if her husband had left her
and his child "comfortably off," or even with a tiny income. Instead,
there were the bills, which seemed to shower down like autumn leaves
from every quarter. The kindly brother-in-law, who undertook to
straighten out affairs, became impatient, then severe towards the end.
What had they done with their money? For Bragdon until the last weeks
had been earning a very fair income. Nothing seemed paid. On the
apartment only the first thousand dollars had been paid, and all the
rest was mortgage and loan from him. Even the housekeeping bills for the
year before had not been fully settled. (It seemed that one had merely
to live with a false appearance of prosperity to secure easy credit, in
a social system that compels only the very poor to pay on the nail.)

Milly could not explain the condition of their affairs. She had no idea
they were "so far behind." She was sure that she had given Jack most of
the bills and supposed that he had taken care of them. She protested
that she had always been economical, and she thought she had been,
because there were so many more things she wanted,--things that all
their friends seemed to have. When confronted by the figures showing
that they had spent seven, nine, eleven thousand dollars a year,--and
yet had many unpaid bills,--she could not believe them and
stammered,--"I know I'm not a good manager--not really. But all that!
You must be mistaken." Then the business man showed his irritation.
Figures did not lie: he wished every woman could be taught that axiom at
her mother's knee....

"We lived so simply," Milly protested. "Just two maids most of the
time,--three this winter, but," etc. In the end the brother-in-law
gathered up all the unsettled bills and promised to pay them. He would
not have his brother's name tarnished. And he arranged for an
advantageous lease of the apartment from the first of the next month, so
that after paying charges and interest there would be a little income
left over for Milly. Here he stopped and made it clear to Milly that
although he should do what he could for his brother's child, she must
see what she could do for herself, and what her own people offered her.
Big Business had been disturbed of late. He was obliged to cut his own
expenses. First and last he had done a good deal for Jack. His wife
called Milly "extravagant"--Milly had never found her congenial. In the
end Milly felt that her brother-in-law was "hard," and she resolved that
neither she nor her child should ever trouble him again.

She had already written her father of her bereavement, and received
promptly from Horatio a long, rambling letter, full of warm sympathy and
consolation of the religious sort. "We must remember, dear daughter,
that these earthly losses in our affections are laid upon us for our
spiritual good," etc. Milly smiled at the thoroughness with which her
volatile father had absorbed the style of the Reverend Herman Bowler of
the Second Presbyterian. To Milly's surprise, there was not a word of
practical help, beyond a vague invitation,--"I hope we shall see you
some day in our simple home in Elm Park. Josephine, I'm sure, will
welcome you and my granddaughter."

Milly very much doubted whether the hard-featured Josephine would
welcome her husband's widowed daughter. In fact she saw the fear of
Josephine in her father's restrained letter. She contemplated a return
to Chicago as a last resort, but it was sad to feel that she wasn't
wanted....

At this point Milly began to reproach her husband for failing to leave
her and his child with resources. "He ought to have made some sort of
provision for his family--every man should," she said to herself. There
was manifest injustice in this "man-made world," where a good wife could
be left penniless with a child to care for.

Milly always thought of herself as "a good wife," by which she meant
specifically that she had been a chaste and faithful wife. That was what
the phrase in its popular use meant, just as "a good woman" meant merely
"a pure woman." If any one had questioned Milly's virtue as a wife, she
would have felt outraged. If any one had said that she was a bad wife,
or at least an indifferent wife, she would have felt insulted. A girl
who gave herself to a man, lived with him for eight of her best years,
bore him a child and had been faithful to him in body, must be "a good
wife," and as such deserved a better fate of society than to be left
penniless. All her friends said it was a very hard situation.

       *       *       *       *       *

These same friends were endeavoring to do their best for her, pricked by
sympathy with her evident need. If it had not been for a cheque for two
thousand dollars, which Clive Reinhard sent her, "in payment for your
husband's work on the new contract," Milly would soon have been without
a dollar in her purse. She took Reinhard's cheque thankfully, without
suspecting her right to it. Others might suspect. For there was no
contract, no illustrations made--nothing but the novelist's recognition
of a need. The cheque was merely one of the ways he took of squaring
himself with his world.

When Milly's women friends heard of it, they said with one
voice,--"Thank heaven! If Clive Reinhard would only marry Milly--he
ought to!"

Which merely meant that, as he was a rich bachelor who had amassed money
by exploiting the sentimental side of their sex, there would be a poetic
justice in his chivalrously stepping into the breach and looking after
his dead friend's helpless widow. It would make up for "the others,"
they said, and were enthusiastic over their sentimental plan.

"Milly would make a charming hostess in that big country place of
Clive's. It would give her a free hand. What Milly has always wanted is
a free hand--she has the ability. And Clive is getting pudgy and set. He
ought to marry--he's too dreadfully selfish and self-centred," etc.

Mrs. Montgomery Billman took the affair specially in charge. Of course a
decent time must elapse after poor Jack's death, but meanwhile there was
no harm in bringing the two together. The masterful wife of the
Responsible Editor conceived the scheme of having a private exhibition
and sale of Bragdon's work, and that took many interviews and much
discussion on Sunday evenings when the hostess tactfully left the two to
themselves before the fire, while she retired "to finish my letters."
When she returned, however, she found them dry-eyed and silent or
chatting about some irrelevant commonplace. The private exhibition came
off during the winter in the "Bunker's Barn," as they called the big
Riverside Drive house. A good many cards were scattered about in
literary and artistic and moneyed circles; tea was poured by the ladies
interested; Milly appeared in her widow's black, young and charming. A
number of people came and a few bought. Mrs. Billman contented herself
with the sketch of a magazine cover representing a handsome woman and a
young boy, which was said to resemble herself and her son. On the whole
the sale would have been a dreary failure if it had not been for
Bunker's liberal purchases and Reinhard's taking all that was unsold "to
dispose of privately among Jack's friends."

The hard truth was that Jack Bragdon had not shaken the New York
firmament, certainly had not knocked a gilt star from its zenith. At
thirty-two he was just a promising failure, one of the grist that the
large city eats annually. And his friends were not powerful enough to
make up for his lack of _reclame_. "He had a gift--slight though.
Nothing much done--charming fellow--died just as he was starting, poor
chap!" so the words went. If the portrait of the Russian had been there,
the tone might have been less patronizing; but Milly had already sent
this off on its long journey.

The practical result was fifteen hundred dollars, of which Bunker
contributed a thousand, and various convenient sums that dribbled in
opportunely from the novelist, "whenever he was able to make a sale." (A
good many of Jack Bragdon's things ultimately will come under the hammer
when the Reinhard house is broken up.)

And that romance which Milly's friends had staged came to nothing.
Reinhard called on her often, was very kind to her, and really
solicitous for her welfare; he also was charming to little Virginia, who
called him Uncle Clive; and he had both at his country place for long
visits,--abundantly chaperoned. Nothing could have been "nicer" than the
novelist's attitude to his friend's widow, all the women declared, and
it must have been _her_ fault--or else that "other affair" had gone
deeper with him than any one supposed.

Milly herself was not averse to entertaining a new "hope." Her
marriage seemed so utterly dead that she felt free to indulge in a
new sentiment. But the novelist looked at her out of his beady, black
eyes,--indulgently, kindly,--but through and through, as if he had known
her before she was born and knew the worth of every heart-beat in
her.... Gradually beneath that scalping gaze she grew to dislike him,
almost to hate him for his indifference. "He must be horrid with women,"
she said to Hazel, who admitted that "there have been stories--a man
living by himself, as he does!"

And so this solution came to naught.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly was "up against it again," as she said to herself. Her small
bank-account was fast melting away. (She had her own sheaf of bills that
she had not cared to present to her brother-in-law, and she found that a
penniless widow has poor credit.) Collectors came with a disagreeable
promptness and followed her with an unerring scent through her various
changes of residence. It became known among her friends that "Milly must
really do something."

The competent wife of the Responsible Editor thought it ought not to be
difficult to find something of "a social nature" for Milly to do. "Your
gift is people," she said flatteringly. "Let me think it over for a day
or two, and I'm sure the right idea will come to me."

She promptly turned the problem over to Mrs. Bunker, with whom she still
maintained amicable relations. That lady in due time wrote Milly a note
and asked her to call the next morning. Milly went with humbled pride,
but with a misgiving due to her previous experiences in the parasitic
field of woman's work. When after many preambles and explanations,
punctuated by "like that, you know," "all that sort of thing," "we'll
have to see," etc., the good lady got to her offer, it sounded like a
combination of lady-housekeeper and secretary. With considerable
decision Milly said that she did not feel qualified for the work, but
Mrs. Bunker was most kind; she would consider her offer and let her
know, and left. She had decided already. The memory of her work for
Eleanor Kemp,--the humiliation and the triviality of this form of
disguised charity,--had convinced her, and Eleanor Kemp was a lady and a
friend and a competent person, all of which Mrs. Howard Bunker was not.
"I'd scrub floors first," Milly said stoutly, and straightway despatched
a ladylike refusal of the proffered job.

("I thought you said she was in great need," Mrs. Bunker telephoned Mrs.
Billman in an injured tone of voice. "She is!" "Well, you wouldn't think
so," the Bunkeress flashed back. "It's so hard to help that sort. You
know, the kind that have been ladies!" "I know," the Editress rejoined,
without the glimmer of a smile.)

       *       *       *       *       *

The only one of all Milly's friends beside the novelist who came
promptly to the rescue at this crisis was Marion Reddon,--the one Milly
had seen least of since she had been thoroughly launched in New York.
Marion with her puritan directness went to the point at once.

"What you want is a place to stay in while you look around. You and
Virginia come to us. The hang-out, as Sam calls it, isn't large, but
there's always room somehow."

Milly demurred at first, but later when Marion Reddon was obliged to
depart hurriedly for the south because one of the children was
threatened with tuberculosis, she gratefully accepted the offer of the
Reddons' apartment during their absence. She moved from the
boarding-house where she had been staying between visits to the top
floor of the flimsy building behind Grant's Tomb in which the Reddons
had perched themselves latterly. Virginia was obliged to leave her
school where "the very nicest children all went," which was a keen
regret to Milly, for she had already formed ambitions for her daughter.
The contrast of her own pretty apartment with the shabby, worn rooms of
the Reddon flat brought home to her, as nothing else had, her precarious
situation. And she set herself vigorously to meet it.




VIII

THE WOMAN'S WORLD


Milly's most intimate friend was Hazel Fredericks. That restless, keen
young woman, after experimenting variously in settlement work, hygiene
for the poor, and immigration, had concentrated her interests on the
woman movement then coming more and more into notice. The agitation for
the suffrage, it seemed to her, was the effective expression of all
advanced, radical ideas for which she had always worked. Her activity in
the movement had brought her into close relations with some of the local
leaders, among whom were a few women socially prominent, as everybody
knows. (In this way she had eclipsed her old rival, Mrs. Billman, who
had kept to Art and Society.) Hazel was on intimate terms with a very
rich young married woman, who lived apart from her husband, "for the
very best of reasons, my dear," and who spoke in private houses on the
Cause.

In those happier days when Milly still had her own little place in the
world, she had rather made fun of Hazel's views and imputed them to
social ambition. "She wants to be talked about," she said. But since the
experience of widowhood, Milly was changing her mind and listened much
more attentively to all that Hazel had to say about "the woman
movement,"--the "endowment of motherhood," the "necessity for the
vote,"--and read "What Forty Thousand Women Want," "Love and Marriage,"
and other handbooks of the Cause.

One of the theories with which Milly most heartily agreed was that the
labor of women in the home should be paid just as the labor of men.
Milly felt that she had a valid claim for a number of years' wages still
due her. This and other subjects she talked over with Hazel and became
fired with enthusiasm for the Cause. Now, in her need of work, she
asked,--

"Why shouldn't I do something for the movement?"

"I've been thinking of that," Hazel replied, with a shade of hesitation
in her voice.

"You said there were paid secretaries and organizers."

"Yes--there are some, and we need more."

She did not explain that there were hundreds of eager young women,
college graduates and social workers, younger and much better informed
and more modern than Milly,--in a word, trained women. She did not wish
to discourage Milly, and believed she had enough influence with Mrs.
Laverne (the pretty married worker) and with Mrs. Exeter, the social
leader most prominently identified with the Cause, to work Milly into
some paid place. So she said reflectively,--

"There's to be a most important meeting of the leaders in the movement
at Mrs. Exeter's, and I'll see what I can do."

With a laughing "Votes for Women" and "For a Woman's World," the two
friends kissed and parted. Shortly afterwards a card came to Milly from
a very grand person in the social world, a name that is quite familiar
wherever newspapers penetrate. The card invited Mrs. John Bragdon to
take part in a meeting of those interested in the Woman Forward Movement
on the evening of the twentieth, at which addresses would be made by
certain well-known people. The last name on the list of speakers was
that of Mrs. Stanfield Fredericks. Milly was much excited. She was eager
to go to the meeting, if for no better reason than from a natural
curiosity to see the famous house, so often the theme of newspaper
hyperbole. Also she was anxious to hear Hazel talk. But she doubted the
propriety of her going anywhere so early in her widowhood. While she was
debating this point with herself the telephone rang and Hazel Fredericks
asked if she had received the card.

"You're going, of course?"

There followed a long feminine discussion over the propriety of
accepting, the dress to be worn, etc. Hazel insisted that this occasion
was not really social, but business, and steadily bore down Milly's
scruples. "There'll be a great crush. It won't make any difference what
you wear--nobody'll know!"

Milly went. She had to bribe the raw Swedish servant to remain in that
evening with little Virginia, and she went to the expense of a cab in
order not to arrive at the grand house in a sloppy and tousled
condition. It was in many respects a thrilling experience. Once inside
the glassed vestibule on the marble steps, Milly felt that she would not
have missed it for a great deal. In the first place she enjoyed seeing
the solemn liveried men servants, one of whom proffered pamphlet
literature of the suffrage cause on a large silver tray. (The little
books were sold at a good price, and Milly dropped another dollar or two
in acquiring stuff that she could have had for nothing from Hazel
Fredericks, whose apartment ran over with this "literature.")

Having supplied herself with the ammunition of the Cause, she followed
the throng into the celebrated ball-room hung with beautiful old
tapestries and with a ceiling stolen bodily from a French chateau. For a
time the richness and the gayety of the scene sufficiently occupied
Milly's attention. After the sombre experiences through which she had
been and her present drab environment, it all seemed like fairyland. She
tried to guess who the important-looking people were. A few were already
known to her by sight, and others she recognized from their newspaper
portraits. There was a majority of elegantly dressed women, and a
minority of amused or bored-looking men.

At last the gathering was hushed by the voice of the hostess,--a plump
and plethoric person, who said wheezily that in assembling here to-night
there were two objects in view: first, to hear cheering words of wisdom
from the leaders of the Cause, and secondly, to show the world that the
cultivated and leisure classes were for the Emancipation of Woman. It
was a democratic movement, she observed, and the toiling sisters most in
need of the vote were not with them to-night. But all effective revolts,
she asserted, started from above, among the aristocrats. They must rouse
the womanhood of the nation, the common womanhood that now slumbered in
ignorant content, to a sense of their wrongs, their slavery. She
murmured _noblesse oblige_ and sat down. Thereat a little bespectacled
lady bobbed up at her side and began reading a poem in a low, intense
voice. There were interminable verses. The well-dressed, well-dined men
and women in the audience began to show signs of restlessness and
boredom, although they kept quiet in a well-bred way. One lone man with
a lean, humorous face, who was jammed into the corner beside Milly,
looked at her with a twinkle in his eye. She could not help smiling
back, but immediately recomposed her face to seriousness.

The verses ended after a time, as all things must end, and the speeches
followed,--the first by a very earnest, dignified woman,--a noted worker
among the poor,--who argued practically that this man-governed world was
a failure, from the point of view of the majority, the unprotected
workers, and therefore women should be permitted to do what they could
to better things. There was a slight murmur of appreciation--rather for
herself than for her argument--when she sat down. She was followed by a
pompous little man, who made a legal speech with lumbering attempts at
humor. Milly was much impressed by the long list of legal disabilities
he cited which women suffered in this "man-made world," and which she
had not hitherto suspected. The man by her side was yawning, and Milly
felt like reproving him.

After the pompous judge came the star of the performance,--the pretty
little woman who was separated from her husband. She was very becomingly
dressed, much excited apparently, and swayed to and fro as she talked.
Sometimes she closed her eye in a frenetic vision of women's wrongs,
then suddenly opened them wide upon her audience with flashing
indignation, as old-fashioned actresses once did. After the dull pleas
of the preceding speakers, based on general principles and equity, this
was an impassioned invective against the animal man. One felt that hers
was a personal experience. The low, degraded nature of the sex that had,
by physical force, usurped the rule of the universe was dramatically
exposed. Milly glowed with sympathy while she listened, though she could
not explain why, as her experience with men had not been with lechers,
drunkards, wife-beaters. The men she had known had been on the whole a
fairly clean, hard-working, kindly lot, yet she knew instinctively, as
she often said, that "All men are alike," by which she meant tyrannical
and corrupt in regard to women.... The audience listened closely to the
speaker. No doubt their interest was increased by the gossip every one
knew,--how her husband had struck her at a restaurant, how he had
dragged her by the hair, cut her with a bottle from her own
dressing-table, etc. Milly noticed that Hazel Fredericks and the
settlement worker kept their heads lowered disapprovingly. The man next
her twisted his quizzical face into a smile, and turning to Milly as the
speaker stopped, amid a burst of applause, said frankly and simply as to
an old friend,--

"Whew--what rot!"

Milly could not help smiling back at the engaging stranger, but she
protested stoutly,--

"I don't think so!"

Before they could extend their remarks, the next speaker, a rich widow
well-known for her large charities, was addressing the audience in low,
earnest tones. Her theme was taken from the poet's verses: she pleaded
for the full emancipation of Woman as man's equal comrade in the advance
of the race. It was a vague, poetic rhapsody, disconnected in thought,
and made slight impression on Milly. The last speaker was Hazel
Fredericks. Her subject was the intellectual equality of women with men
and their right to do their own thinking. Milly recognized many of the
pat phrases and all the ideas which were current in the magazine set
where she had lived,--woman's self-expression and self-development, etc.
It was the most carefully prepared of all the addresses and very well
delivered, and it made an excellent impression, though it contained
nothing original either in thought or in expression. Like Milly's famous
graduation essay on Plato it was a masterpiece of skilful quotation, but
in this case the theft was less obvious and the subject was certainly
fresher.

There was the usual movement of relieved humanity after it has been
talked to for two hours, and then the hostess rose again, and in her
languid drawl announced that all who felt interested in the Cause were
requested to sign the "Roster" and give their addresses, so that they
might be kept in touch with the movement. The "Roster" was a very
handsome gilt-edged, blue levatine-bound book, which was carried about
in the crowded room by a footman, another man carrying a gold inkstand
and pen.

The stranger beside Milly murmured in her ear,--

"So Society has taken up the Cause!"

"I'm afraid," Milly replied with an arch smile, "you don't take us quite
seriously."

"Don't think it for one moment!" he retorted. "I don't believe I have
ever taken anything so seriously in all my life as Women."

"In what way?"

"In every way."

He resumed in a moment, more seriously,--

"Frankly, I don't believe much is accomplished for your Cause by this
sort of thing!"

His gesture included comprehensively the gorgeous room, the gorgeous
assembly of socially elect, the speakers, and the liveried servants who
were now approaching their corner with the "Roster."

"But you have to start things somehow," Milly rejoined, remembering
Hazel's arguments. "Social prestige counts in everything."

"Is that what you need--social prestige?... I don't believe one of those
women who talked, including the poet, ever earned a dollar in her life!"
and with a glance about the room he added, "nor any woman in this room."

"Oh, yes--I have myself!" Milly replied promptly and proudly.

The man looked at her sharply.

"And that doesn't make any difference," she continued with a superior
air; "you men are always trying to bring things down to dollars and
cents."

"You'll admit it's a tangible basis of discussion."

"I've no doubt if they only had their rights many of them ought to be
paid a great deal for what they've done for you men."

"I mean that not one has ever done anything really productive in her
life--has added anything to the world's supply of necessities," he
continued with masculine arrogance.

"Oh?" Milly protested.

"Not even children!" he added triumphantly, and glanced at the names on
his programme. "I don't believe they could produce a child among 'em."

Milly knew that the women speakers of the evening happened all to be
childless women. One of them was not married, another was a widow, a
third separated from her husband, and of the others at least
one--Hazel--had deliberately evaded maternity.

"That may not be their fault!" Milly retorted with meaning.

"True," the man admitted. "But I'd like to hear something on the
question from Mothers."

"Having children isn't the only thing women are good for," Milly
suggested.

"It's one mighty fine thing, though!"

(Milly could never understand why men, as a rule, were so enthusiastic
over women who had children.)

"Aren't we getting away from the subject?" she suggested.

Their talk was interrupted by the presence of the solemn footman with
the book of irreproachable names. To Milly's surprise her unknown
companion grasped the pen and scrawled beneath her signature a name that
looked like "A. Vanniman," with the address of a well-known club. So he
was a single man!

"How could you do that?" Milly demanded accusingly.

"Why not? I want women to vote, just as soon and as often as they like.
Then they'll know how little there is in the vote and maybe get down to
brass tacks."

"You don't really believe in women," Milly remarked coquettishly.

"I don't believe in this sort of flummery, no.... I want to hear from
the waitresses, the clerks, the factory girls--the seven or eight
millions of women who are up against it every day of their lives to earn
a living. I want to hear what _they_ have to say about suffrage and the
rights of women--what _they_ want? Did you ever ask them?"

"No-o," Milly admitted, and then recalled another of Hazel's arguments.
"All those women need the vote, of course, to make laws to help them
earn their living. But they haven't the time to agitate and organize.
They are not educated--not expressive."

"Not expressive!" the man exclaimed. "I wish you and all these good
women here could listen to my stenographer for ten minutes on what women
need. She knows the game!"

Milly did not approve of her companion's sentiments: he clearly belonged
to the large class of prejudiced males whose indifference the Cause had
to combat. But he had an interesting face and was altogether an
attractive specimen of his species. She wondered who he might be. It
seemed to her that "Vanniman" had a familiar sound, and she believed he
was some man of importance in the city.

There was a general drift towards the supper room. But Milly hesitated.
She had promised Hazel to join her after the speaking and be introduced
to some of the leaders,--especially to the pretty young woman who had
denounced Man,--in the hope that a paid position could be found for her.
At first she could not find her friend, and then she saw Hazel
surrounded by a number of important-looking men and women, talking very
earnestly with them, and a sudden timidity came over her in the midst of
this distinguished gathering.

"We'd better get something to eat," her unknown acquaintance suggested.
He had waited for her, and she felt relieved to have some one to speak
to. "It makes one fearfully hungry to listen to a lot of talk, don't you
think?"

So Milly went out to supper with the agreeable stranger.

"No," he resumed, after presenting her with a comforting beaker of
champagne, "I've every sympathy with the woman with a job or with the
woman who wants a job. All this silly talk about the sexes makes me
tired. Man or woman, the job's the thing."

"Yes!" Milly assented with heartfelt emphasis.

"What every one needs is something to do, and women must be trained like
men for their jobs."

He began to talk more seriously and entertainingly on the economic
changes in modern society that had produced the present state of unrest
and readjustment. He sketched quite feelingly what he called the
old-fashioned woman, with her heavy duties and responsibilities in the
pioneer days. "The real pillar of Society--and often a domestic slave,
God bless her!" he said. "But her granddaughter has become either a
parasite, or another kind of slave,--an industrial slave. And the vote
isn't going to help her in either case."

Milly wondered in which class she fell. She didn't like the word
"parasite,"--it sounded like a disease,--and yet she was afraid that was
what she was.

"I think that I must be going," Milly said at last. She noticed that the
rooms were fast emptying after the food had been devoured, and she could
see Hazel nowhere. She would call her up in the morning and congratulate
her on her speech. And so with a nod to the stranger she went for her
wraps. But she found him again in the vestibule, and wondered if he had
waited for her to come down.

"What's the name?" he asked, as the servant came forward to call her
carriage.

"I haven't any cab," Milly replied bravely. It was her custom these days
Cinderella-like to dispense with a return cab.

"But it's raining," the man protested. "You must let me set you down at
your home."

A private hansom had drawn up to the curb before the awning. "Where?" he
insisted.

"It's an awful way out," Milly faltered; "just take me to the nearest
subway station."

Embarrassed by the gaze of the servant and by the waiting people behind,
she got into the hansom. The man gave some sort of order to his driver
and got in beside her. They trotted briskly around the corner on to the
Avenue, and as it was misting heavily the driver let down the glass
shield. It seemed cozy and pleasant to jog home from a party in a
private cab, with an agreeable man by one's side. Quite like old times,
Milly thought!

"You'd better let me take you all the way. Where shall I say?" and he
raised the top with his stick. For a moment Milly was about to yield.
She liked the sense of having a masterful man near her, overbearing her
doubts, but she still protested,--

"No, no--it's too far. Just put me down at Columbus Circle."

The man hesitated, looked at Milly curiously, then gave the driver the
direction. Milly wondered why he had not insisted as she had expected he
would or did not again suggest driving her out, when they had reached
the subway station. There was a time when men would not have taken no
for an answer. But he didn't--nor even ask her name. Instead he
courteously helped her to alight and raising his hat drove off.

       *       *       *       *       *

She was depressed going up-town in the crowded, smelly, shrieking train.
The meeting had not been as thrilling as she had anticipated. Hazel
would probably scold her to-morrow for not coming forward and meeting
the leaders. But she felt that the Woman Forward movement had little to
offer her in her perplexities. Hers was part of that economic
maladjustment that the good-looking stranger had talked about, and even
with the suffrage it would take generations to do anything for women
like her.

What really depressed her most was the fact that her unknown
acquaintance had not considered it worth while to find out her name and
pave the way for further relations. She realized cynically that for the
present at any rate the woman question came down to just this: men could
do many pleasant and useful things for women when they were so inclined.
And a woman failed when she could not interest a man sufficiently to
move him to make the advance. Of course Milly knew that the "modern
woman" would fiercely desire to be independent of all such male
patronage. But as Milly climbed wearily the long flight of stairs to her
apartment, feeling tired and forlorn and very much alone in the world,
she knew that in the bottom of her heart she had no wish to be "modern."
And she was even sceptical as to how sincerely the other women, like
Hazel Fredericks, desired that "complete independence of the male" they
chattered so much about.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Milly turned on the electric light in the little apartment, it was
forebodingly still. She glanced at once into the room where Virginia
slept and found it empty, with the bedclothes tumbled in a heap. She
rushed to the maid's room. That too was empty and the rear door was
locked on the outside. For a moment Milly's heart ceased beating, then
with a shriek,--"Virgie, Virgie--where are you!" she ran into the front
hall and plunged, still shrieking, down the stairs.

A door opened on the floor below, and the figure of a large woman in a
rose-pink negligee confronted Milly.

"Lookin' for yer little girl?" the stranger asked in a loud, friendly
voice. "Well, she's all right--just come in here!"

She held open the door and pointed to the front room, where under a
crocheted shawl little Virginia was curled up asleep on the divan. Milly
fell beside her with an hysterical sob. The child, partly awakened, put
out her thin arms and murmured sleepily, "The strange lady's very nice,
but she's queer. Take me home, mama, please."

The "strange lady," who was looking on interestedly, explained,--

"I heard the kid runnin' round up above and cryin'--oh, that was hours
ago when I first com' home--and as she kep it up cryin' as if she were
scared and callin', I went up there and brought her down to stay with me
till you got back.... Guess she woke up and was lonesome all by
herself."

"That brute Hilda," Milly gasped, "must have gone off and left her."

"They're all like that,--them Swedes," the woman of the rose-pink
negligee agreed. "Got no more heart than a brick."

She spoke as from a vast experience with the race.

"The little girl has been as nice as pie," the woman replied to Milly's
stammered thanks. "We've been real friendly. Good-by, girlie, I'll be up
to-morrer some time and tell you the last of that story.... Good-night!"

Milly gathered her precious bundle in her arms and with renewed thanks
staggered back to her own quarters.

"She's queer, mama, and something happened to her arm and leg, long ago,
but she's very kind," the small Virginia explained sleepily as her
mother dropped her on her own bed.

By "queer" Virginia merely meant that her good Samaritan was not of the
class she had been accustomed to, and did not use language precisely as
her mother and her mother's friends used it. To Virginia the janitor of
the building was "queer," and almost all of the many thousands of her
fellow-beings whom she saw daily on the streets of the great city.

So Milly thought no more about it.




IX

THE NEW WOMAN


But the "queer" woman in the rose-pink negligee who befriended Virginia
on the night when her mother had gone to the meeting of the Woman
Forward Movement in the very grand house and "the beast of a Swede"
Hilda had slipped out to meet her lover beside Grant's Tomb, has more to
do with Milly and the woman question itself than the suffrage meeting
and all the talk there. Ernestine Geyer, for such was the woman's name,
came into Milly's life rather late, but she will have much to do with it
hereafter and deserves a chapter to herself to begin with.

Incredible as it would seem to Milly, Ernestine's origin was not widely
separated from that of Milly Ridge. She might very well have been one of
the many little schoolmates, not exactly "nice," who sat beside Milly on
the benches of the St. Louis public school. Her ancestry, to be sure,
was more mongrel than Milly's; it would defy any genealogist to trace it
beyond father and mother or resolve it properly into its elements. The
name itself indicated that there must have been some German or Dutch
blood in the line. Neither would it be possible now to explain what
exigencies of the labor market compelled Ernestine's family to migrate
from St. Louis to New York.

All that Ernestine herself knew was that her father worked in breweries,
and that she with her five brothers and sisters lived in one of those
forbidding brick rookeries on the lower west side of New York. This was
when she was ten. When she reached fourteen--the legal age--she escaped
from the routine of school and joyfully went to work in a laundry. For
children of her class it was like coming of age,--to become wage-earners
with the accompanying independence and family respect.

The laundry where she found her first job was a small affair, of the
"domestic-hand laundry" type, situated in a low brick building that had
once served as a gentleman's private stable on one of the cross streets
near Gramercy Park. At that time Ernestine was a hearty, vigorous child,
strong for her age, or she never could have endured the long hours of
hard work on wet floors in a steaming room and with heavy bundles to
lift and carry. As a grown woman her squat figure, large and slightly
round-shouldered, betrayed these early years of stooping labor, and her
colorless complexion, not a sickly pallor but a neutral white beneath
the thick black hair, was the result of years spent in a dark, misty
atmosphere, through which even the gas-lights burned dimly. In those
early days when Ernestine scurried across the city in the procession of
working-girls, mornings at seven forty-five and evenings at six, she was
very much like all the others,--a not wholly unattractive young woman
with quick eyes. Perhaps she was a trifle quieter, less emotional than
her companions at the laundry--more reflective in disposition--but not
noticeably more intelligent than the many thousands in her class.

And if it had not been for an accident, which at the time seemed
frightful to her, Ernestine Geyer would probably have turned out, as
most of her kind turn out, either have become the wife of a workingman
with a brood of children to feed the labor hopper or gone to her end
more rapidly on the streets. But one day, owing to a defect in the
machinery that controlled the huge cauldron over which she was bending,
the thing tipped and scalded her with a flood of boiling water on her
right arm and leg. At the hospital it was thought she would have to lose
the arm; but she was too robustly made for that. A frightful red scar
from her hip to below the knee and a withered right hand and forearm
were the results. They took her back at the laundry when she left the
hospital out of pity and a sense of responsibility for her bad luck, and
gave her some light work sorting out clothes and checking pieces, which
she could do after a fashion with her left hand and the withered stump.

Ernestine quickly realized--and just here was the proof of her innate
superiority to the majority--that her only chance for existence was to
make herself so useful in the irregular labor she could perform that she
would not be discharged at the first opportunity. And she worked as she
had never before dreamed she could work! She counted, sorted, marked,
checked the huge piles of restaurant and office linen that the laundry
took. She had the sense to employ a younger brother to assist her with
his whole hands. She became, in a word, the order, the system, the
regulator of the small establishment, and hence indispensable to the
overworked proprietor. Her accident by depriving her of the ordinary
amusements of her fellows also made her more intelligent, because she
had nothing but her work to occupy her mind. The laundry became the one
thing she lived for: it had her every thought and emotion. She knew from
the first that no man would ever think of marrying her--she saw it in
the pitying glances that the girls gave her. No man would endure a woman
with a withered stump of a right hand, not to mention the ugly scar that
defaced her body. Thus the world of sex shut out with all its related
disturbances, she became by the process of intense specialization a most
efficient worker.

It is not necessary to recount all the steps of her progress upward.
When the small proprietor of the "hand laundry" acquired another
property farther up town she persuaded him to let her manage the old
business under his direction. (He was a widower now and no longer young;
he would have married her, perhaps. But she knew what that meant--a loss
of salary and double work; and she would have none of him as husband.)
She was twenty now, and earning more than she had ever expected to
make,--eighteen dollars a week. After that the years passed quickly
until she was twenty-five and getting thirty dollars a week. Her family
having broken up, she was living in a boarding-house not far from the
laundry....

Through the misty, dirty panes of the window in the rough office on the
upper floor of the old stable where Ernestine now had her desk, she
could look across the narrow street to the row of small brick houses
opposite. These houses had suffered various vicissitudes since Ernestine
had first come to work in the laundry. Then they had been shabby-genteel
boarding-houses like the one a block or two away where she herself now
lived. Gradually the character of the street had improved. Some young
couples, hunting for a spot in all this crowded, expensive city where
they might make their modest nests, had moved into the old-fashioned
houses and renovated them according to modern ideas. Number 232, almost
directly opposite Ernestine's loft, had been among the first thus to
renew its youth. The old iron balconies had been restored and little
green shutters with crescent-shaped peep-holes added, and also
flower-filled window-boxes.

Ernestine had taken a special interest in this house and often
speculated about the life going on within its sober brick walls, behind
the fresh muslin curtains of the upper windows. At first there was just
a man and his wife and a small child, whose young mother wheeled it out
each morning in a basket carriage, for the one maid was busy all day
long. Then another child had come and another. The first child went to
school with a maid--there were three maids in the house now. Ernestine
watched the orderly development of this family with all the interest of
a nature lover observing a nest of robins. At first when the shutters
were closed in the early hot days of June she was afraid lest other
hands might open them in the autumn, but after a time she knew her
family well enough to understand that they were not the kind that moves,
except for death or other cogent cause. She inferred that they were
becoming more prosperous, as was quite proper. There was an increasing
amount of coming and going at the old-fashioned door, and she got to
know the habitual visitors apart from the merely casual acquaintances.
In time she built up from her myriad glances across the street a
substantial family tree of uncles and aunts, cousins and brothers. What
interested her most were the occasional glimpses of the front rooms she
had when the maids opened wide the windows and pushed aside the
curtains. She was enabled thus to observe three layers of an orderly,
inviting domesticity: on the first floor she could see a large, soft
rug, an oil painting, a lovely silk hanging that shut off the inner
room, and a corner of a mahogany case with some foreign bric-a-brac. She
liked best the floor above, where the family mostly lived when they were
by themselves: here was one large recessed room where the crowded
book-shelves went to the ceiling, a real fire burned in a fireplace, and
real lamps lighted a large table, around which the members of the family
read or worked or played. Here the lady of the house--a vigorous little
body, with laughing eyes--sat and sewed, had tea with visitors, read to
her children, and wrote letters. Here in the winter twilight before the
day at the laundry was finished the man of the house entered with a
jerky little masterful step, crossed to the chair where his wife sat
reading, leaned over, kissed her, and having established himself with
back to the fire delivered himself, so Ernestine judged, of his daily
budget of news. How she would like to hear what he had to say!

It was all a little pantomime of domestic life,--a varied, yet orderly
pantomime, and it had continued with suitable variations for more than
seven years. Ernestine often thought about it, not so much during the
day when her mind was occupied with business wherever her eyes might be,
as at night when she returned to her forlorn boarding-house room. That
commonplace domestic interior of number 232 had more to do with
Ernestine Geyer's life than it would be easy to say. It was her dream,
her ideal of life as it should be--and almost never was.

Unconsciously it moved this solitary woman to listen favorably to the
advances of a man she met at her boarding place. He was not much of a
man--she knew that! A feeble body of a man, indeed, with a drooping,
sallow face, and as Ernestine shrewdly suspected, he was making less
money at the dry-goods shop where he worked than she made at the
laundry. But for a time they "went out together"--a better phrase than
became "engaged." Then Ernestine, with an unexpected keenness of vision
and readiness to recognize a fact, even if it hurt her pride, knew that
the man was marrying her to be taken care of. She had seen enough of
that sort of marriage and had no mind for it. If he had wanted her with
genuine passion, she would have lived with him--and gladly. But the
shame of it all was that he had no desire of any kind for her. And she
was not bad looking in spite of her deformity and her glasses. Her
large, regular face was full of intelligence, and her black hair was
thick and slightly curling. But no man wanted her, just for herself. She
looked the fact in the face--and moved to another boarding-house.

About that time another change took place in the laundry business. The
old proprietor sold out to two young men who knew little about the
business. They incorporated as the "Twentieth Century Domestic Laundry"
and left the management in Ernestine's competent hands. The old location
was bought for a loft building, and a new building to be wholly occupied
by the laundry business was put up farther north. Ernestine disliked
leaving her family, as she called "number 232," but she judged that even
they would not remain long after all their light had been cut off by the
loft building. Anyway she had no time for sentimental regrets, for the
business, with fresh blood and new capital, was growing past all belief.
"Everybody has to get washed some time," was one of Ernestine's sayings,
and it seemed as if a great many had to be washed by the Twentieth
Century Company. She was neck and neck with the expanding business, and
her salary went up rapidly until by the time she came into Milly's life
she was drawing five thousand dollars a year, and earning it all as the
responsible head of a business that netted twenty per cent on its
capital, with nearly a hundred operatives under her.

In trade circles Ernestine was known as the "Laundryman," a name in
which respect was mixed with chaff. Ernestine did not care. She knew
that she had "made good," and it was pleasant. She could afford now to
have a home of her own, and so she had installed herself in this
apartment, far out of the dirt and the noise in which she had lived her
life. She filled it with a strange assortment of furniture and
ornamental accessories that did not please her. Somehow after all her
years of longing, and all her efforts to make a home like other people,
she had failed lamentably, and she knew it.

"I guess it ain't in me!" she confessed to Milly.

Nevertheless, she kept the vision of it,--the vision she had had through
the swaying muslin curtains of "number 232."

Thus far Ernestine had come when she happened into Milly's life. Only
the merest outline of her strenuous, if monotonous, existence has been
given, and though Ernestine deserves much more,--deserves to be known in
her mind and her feelings, yes, and in her soul,--she must put up, as
she did in life, with getting less than her deserts, and let her rough
actions reveal her nature imperfectly.




X

MILLY'S NEW MARRIAGE


The next morning--it was Sunday--when Ernestine presented herself at the
Reddon flat to inquire in her heavy, grumbling voice for "the little
gurl," Milly had difficulty in recognizing the woman who had offered
Virginia an asylum the night before. Ernestine was now clothed in a
well-cut walking suit of dark blue broadcloth, which became her square
figure much better than the soft folds of the rose-pink negligee. Yet
Milly thought her "quite common," and had a momentary pang, realizing
how she and her daughter had come down in the world when they were
obliged to have such neighbors. But Ernestine Geyer was not "common,"
and Milly, with her quick instinct for personal values, realized it as
soon as she could recover from the shock of the harsh voice and the
ungrammatical idiom.

After the obvious remarks about the evening's episode and some
conversation with Virginia, for whom the stranger's withered hand had a
great fascination, there was a pause. It was time for Ernestine to
depart, and she knew it; but either her awkwardness kept her fixed in
her chair or she was too much fascinated by Milly to stir. This morning
Milly had put on a loose silk blouse, open at the neck, in which she
looked very pretty and girlish. Ernestine stared at her in frank
admiration. Milly could not understand that she embodied to this "queer"
woman all that her heart had secretly longed for,--all the feminism in
which she knew herself to be utterly lacking. She tried to take Virginia
in her lap to caress her, but that demure little lady, submitting
politely for a few moments, slipped off at the first chance and took
refuge in her mother's lap, where she snuggled with conscious pleasure.
Ernestine did not know how to hold a child.

"That's a nice picter," Ernestine grumbled, covering mother and daughter
with glowing eyes. "Wished I had one of 'em in my place!"

"Perhaps you will some day," Milly replied politely. But Ernestine shook
her head.

"Not unless I took one out of an asylum. I've thought of that, but I
guess it ain't the same thing."

"Are you all alone?" Virgie asked gravely.

Ernestine nodded and added in a burst of confidence to Milly,--

"And it _is_ lonely, I can tell you, coming home every night from your
work to find just a hired girl waitin' for you and your food on the
table!"

To which Milly made some commonplace rejoinder, and as another pause
threatened she remarked pleasantly,--

"Where do you suppose I was last night, when I should have been at home
looking after my little girl? At a suffrage meeting. Wasn't that like
the modern mother?"

"Were you at that swell Mrs. ----'s house with all those big-bugs?"
Ernestine questioned excitedly.

"Yes.... There were speeches about the suffrage,--the reasons why woman
should have the vote, you know."

"I read all about it in the paper this morning."

Milly recalled what the interesting stranger had said to her about the
point of view of actual women workers, and inquired,--

"What do you think about suffrage, Miss Geyer?"

Ernestine gave a hoarse laugh.

"I don't think much," she said succinctly.

Milly made some remarks on the subject, quoting freely from Hazel
Fredericks on the injustices to women in this man-made world. Ernestine
listened with a smile of sceptical amusement on her homely face, and
slowly shook her head.

"There ain't much in _that_," she pronounced dogmatically. "The trouble
ain't there. Any working-woman will tell you she ain't bothered much by
lack of political power. We've got all the political powers we can
use.... What does it amount to, anyhow? Things aren't done in this world
by voting about 'em."

She easily threw down the feeble structure of Milly's arguments, which
were largely borrowed from the talk she had heard the night before.
Ernestine spoke with the assurance of one who has had reason to know.

"What women want is money, ain't it? Same as the men?" she demanded
flatly.

"That's so!" Milly assented heartily.

"And they'll get it when they know how to do something somebody wants
done as well as a man can. They do get it now when they've got something
to give--that's truth!"

She gave Milly a brief account of her own struggles in the labor market,
which interested Milly deeply.

"Now how did I get where I am to-day?" she concluded dramatically,
drawing up her right sleeve and pointing to the withered arm. "Because
of that. It taught me a lesson when I was nothing but an empty-headed
girl. That and the burn on my leg made a man of me, because it took most
of the woman thing out of me. I learned to think like a man and to act
like a man. I learned my job, same as a man. Yes! And beat my boss at it
so he had to pay me a man's wages to keep me, and the company has to pay
me big money now--or I'd go out and get it somewheres else."

Milly was impressed. She said doubtfully,--

"But you had great ability to do all that."

Ernestine shook her head,--

"Not so much more'n most."

"And good health."

"Yes. My health don't trouble me--and that's partly because I've had no
chance to fool it away like most girls."

"So you think it all depends on the women," Milly said unconvinced.

"Women--oh, Lord!" Ernestine exclaimed irreverently, getting up and
walking about the room. She examined the books and the few sketches of
Jack's that Milly had kept and hung on the bare walls of the Reddons'
living-room.

"My husband did those," Milly explained.

"Widow?"

Milly nodded.

Examining a drawing, with her back to Milly, Ernestine continued her
remarks on the great question:--

"Women! I guess the trouble with 'em started 'way back--in the Garden of
Eden. They didn't like being put out, and they've never got reconciled
to it since. They're mostly looking for some soft snap,--working-women,
that is," she said deferentially for Milly's sake. "The ones I know at
any rate. When they're young they mostly expect to marry right
off--catch some feller who'll be nice to 'em and let 'em live off him.
But they'd oughter know there's nothin' in that sort of marriage. All
they have to do is to look at all the women the men get tired of and
desert. And the slaves the mothers are! I knew that!" she interpolated
with a woman's pride to prove to this other pretty woman that even she
was not single in the world because she had not had her chance. "I c'd
have married once, and came near making one great fool of myself like
the others. But I got wise in time. You see he weren't no good," she
explained frankly. "I expect, though, he's eatin' off some other woman
before this.... Girls always expect to draw the grand prize in the
lottery, where there's mostly blanks, and get a man who'll love 'em
more'n anythin' else in the world, and give 'em a good time all their
lives. Ain't that so?"

Milly agreed with reservations. Ernestine's observations had been
confined to a class of women with whom Milly was not familiar, but her
conclusions applied fairly well to the class Milly knew best,--the
so-called "educated" and well-to-do women.

"Well, that ain't life," Ernestine pronounced with clenching force.

"Women have hearts, you must remember," Milly sighed a little
sentimentally. "They'll always be foolish."

"Not that way--when they learn!"

"I wonder."

"And that's the reason I've been givin' yer why girls don't take to any
work seriously and make somethin' of it, same as a man has to. Oh, I've
seen lots of 'em--just lots!"

She waved a hand disgustedly.

Milly was now thoroughly interested in her new acquaintance, and they
went deeper into the complicated woman-question. Ernestine, she
perceived, had learned her lessons in the hard school of the man's world
of give and take, and learned them thoroughly. And she had the rare
ability to learn by experience. This with her good health and an innate
sense of orderliness and thrift, possibly due to the Teutonic strain in
her blood, had sufficed to put her ahead in the race. For she was even
less educated than Milly, and naturally less quick. But having touched
realities all her life, she had achieved an abiding sense of fact that
Milly was now totally incapable of acquiring. Her philosophy was simple,
but it embraced the woman question, suffrage, and the man-made world. To
live, she said, you must give something of yourself that is worth the
while of Somebody Else to take and pay for--pay as high as he can be
made to pay. To Milly it seemed a harsh philosophy. She wished to give
when and what she liked to whom she pleased and take whatever she
wanted. It was the failure of this system to work that had brought about
the present crisis in her affairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

One o'clock arrived, and Milly, who was genuinely aroused by the
harsh-voiced working-woman, invited Ernestine to stay for the mid-day
meal, which on account of the child was dinner rather than lunch. The
light in Ernestine's black eyes and the pleased, humble tone in which
she exclaimed,--"Oh, may I!" touched Milly.

So the three presently sat down around the small table, which Milly had
served in the front room of the flat rather than in the dark pocket of a
dining-room. That seemed to Ernestine a very brilliant idea, and she was
also much impressed by the daintiness of the table and the little
details of the meal. Milly had a faculty of getting some results even
from such unpromising material as Marion Reddon's sullen Swede. She knew
very well how food should be cooked and served, how gentlefolk were in
the habit of taking their food as a delightful occasion as well as a
chance to appease hunger, and she always insisted upon some sort of
form. So the mid-day meal, which seemed to Milly poor and forlorn
compared with what she had known in her life, was a revelation to
Ernestine of social grace and daintiness. Her keen eyes followed Milly's
every motion, and she noted how each dish, and spoon, and fork was
placed. All this, she realized, was what she had been after and failed
to get. Milly apologized for the simple meal,--"Hilda isn't much of a
cook, and since we've been by ourselves, I have lost interest in doing
things."

"It ain't the food," Ernestine replied oracularly.

(When Virgie went to take her nap, she inquired of her mother why the
nice "queer" lady said "ain't" so often.)

       *       *       *       *       *

It was raining in torrents, and the two women spent the long afternoon
in a series of intimate confidences. Milly's greatest gift was the
faculty of getting at all sorts of people. Now that she had become used
to the voice and the grammar of the street which Ernestine employed, and
also to the withered hand, she liked the working-woman more and more and
respected her fine quality. And Ernestine's simple, obvious admiration
for Milly and everything about her was flattering. In the plain woman's
eyes was the light of adoration that a man has for the thing most
opposite to his soul, most lacking in his experience.

In the course of this long talk Milly learned everything about Ernestine
Geyer's life contained in the previous chapter of this book and much
more that only a woman could confide in another woman,--intimate details
of her honorable struggle. Ernestine bared her hungry heart, her
loneliness in her new home, and her feeling of helplessness in not
getting, after all, what she wanted and what she had earned the money to
pay for.

"I guess I'm too much of a man," she said, after she had described her
solitary life in the apartment below. "There ain't enough of a woman
left in me to make a home!"

Milly tried to cheer her and encourage her, and promised to take dinner
with her some day and give her any suggestions she could.

       *       *       *       *       *

After that Sunday Milly saw Ernestine Geyer almost every day and often
on Sundays for the whole day. Ernestine was fertile in clumsy ways of
wooing the new-found friends. She brought Virgie fruit and candies and
toys and insisted upon thrusting flowers and dainties on Milly. The
latter heartily liked the "queer" lady, as Virginia still called
Ernestine, and invited her cordially to come in whenever she would. In
Milly's busier, more social days, Ernestine's devotion might have proved
a bore. But this was a lonely winter. Very few friends came to see her,
and Milly had many idle hours.

Hazel Fredericks had not been offended by Milly's neglect to take
advantage of her opportunities the night of the suffrage meeting,--at
least she showed no pique when Milly finally got around to telephoning
her friend and congratulating her on her successful speech. But Hazel
had become so involved in the movement by this time, especially so
intimate with the fascinating young married agitator, that she had less
time and less interest to spare for Milly's small affairs. She was
planning with her new friend, so she told Milly when she did get out to
the flat, a serious campaign that promised to be immensely
exciting,--nothing less than a series of drawing-room meetings in some
western cities, especially Chicago, where "Society" had shown a
lamentable indifference hitherto to the Cause. Presently this mission
took Hazel Fredericks altogether beyond Milly's narrow sphere for the
remainder of the winter. From time to time Milly received newspaper
clippings and an occasional hurried note from Hazel, recounting the
social flutter that they had created by their meetings, and the progress
the Cause was making in the most fashionable circles of the middle west.
Milly envied Hazel this new and exciting experience, and wished she
might be in Chicago to witness the triumphs of the two missionaries. But
she realized, nevertheless, more than ever before, her unfitness for the
work. She no longer had a very fervent faith in it....

So in her loneliness she came to accept Ernestine Geyer's companionship
and devotion, at first passively, then gratefully. Together they took
Virginia on holiday sprees to the theatre, and the three had many of
their meals together, usually in Milly's apartment, as she had found
Ernestine's home "impossible," a "barracks," and the food,--"just food."
Virginia had gotten used to the withered hand and no longer found
Ernestine so "queer." Like the little egotist she was, as most children,
she valued this new friend for all the good things that came from her,
and found she could "work" Ernestine much easier than her mother.

"We make a pretty cosey family," Ernestine said happily, summing it up
one day at dinner.

"Mama, papa, daughter," Virgie added, pointing demurely to Ernestine as
"Papa." After that the Laundryman was known as "Pa" by the trio.

Milly was occasionally embarrassed by Ernestine,--and she was ashamed of
her feeling,--as when Clive Reinhard came in on them one evening without
warning. Reinhard glanced at the squat figure of the Laundryman, and
tried to make her talk. Fortunately for Milly's feelings, Ernestine sat
bolt upright and tongue-tied in the novelist's presence and thus did not
betray her ungrammatical self. But she stayed on relentlessly until the
visitor went, and observed afterwards,--

"So that's the Johnnie that writes the books I see in the windows? And
the girls are crazy about 'em--humph!" All of which would have amused
the popular novelist.

It was inevitable, of course, that sooner or later Ernestine should meet
all of Milly's friends who still sought her out. And she always sat
through these occasions, quiet and sharp-eyed; when she trusted herself
to speak, her harsh, positive voice had the effect of dropping a piece
of china on the floor. Milly was often mortified at first, though by
this time she cared for Ernestine so genuinely that she would not let
her suspect or hurt her feelings. She convinced herself that Ernestine's
grammar was an accident of the slightest importance, and that as a
person she compared quite favorably with all the people she knew.

Ernestine's fondness for Milly's visitors was not due to any vulgar
desire to push herself into superior circles, merely a human curiosity
about these members of another world and a pathetic admiration for their
refinement. With the same attitude she was painstakingly, if shyly,
improving her table manners and her speech. To Virginia's relief she had
largely suppressed "ain't" already, and occasionally bestowed a final
syllable on the participles.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Milly had many more real worries than these trifling social
maladjustments between her old friends and her new one. Her small funds
were dwindling rapidly, as usual, even with the practice of a greater
economy than she had ever before attempted. All her feeble efforts to
find employment and earn money had failed. She felt herself slipping
down, and with all her courageous determination to save herself from
social chaos she was like a bird fluttering at the brink of a chasm,
unable to wing itself steadily out of danger. The Reddons, she knew,
would soon need their apartment, for Marion was coming north in the
first warm weather. Then there would be for herself and Virginia nothing
but a boarding-house, from which she shrank. And after that, what?
Mornings she woke to consciousness with a start of terror, realizing
that the weeks were melting to days,--days of grace as for a criminal!
What should she do? What _could_ she do? She envied Ernestine as she had
never envied any one in her life, when she saw her striding off in the
morning, her head in the air, a serious scowl on her plain face,
competent and equipped in the face of life....

Ernestine found her one evening at a low point in her depression over
her fate. Milly had told far less of her circumstances to the
working-woman than Ernestine had told of hers in their mutual
confidences. Social pride--a sense of caste--had prevented Milly from
confessing her miserable situation. But now she unfolded the whole
story, with a few tears.

"If it wasn't for Virgie," she sobbed, "I'd walk into the river
to-night--I'd do anything to end it. I'm no good."

"Don't you talk like that, dearie!" Ernestine said, getting up
impulsively and with her heavy tread crossing the room. She took Milly
in her strong arms and held her tight. "Don't ever say those things
again!" she murmured in an uncertain voice, hugging the yielding figure
to her. "Don't I know how you feel?... I guessed things weren't very
rosy with you, but I didn't like to ask you until you were ready to
say.... Now we'll straighten this thing out."

Her robust, confident manner cheered Milly as much as her embrace. She
trusted Ernestine's strength as she had once that of her husband.
Ernestine went at things like a man in more ways than one. Releasing
Milly, she stood over her frowningly, her hands on her hips, and looked
steadily, intently at the pitiful face of the other woman.

"Couldn't I do something in the laundry?" Milly suggested timidly. "You
employ so many women there," she faltered. It had taken a struggle with
her pride to contemplate this work. "I'm pretty strong."

Ernestine smiled and shook her head very positively.

"No, that's one thing that _wouldn't_ do. You'd be no good as a
working-woman now, dearie!"

"But I _must_ do something!" Milly wailed, "or starve and let Virgie go
to her father's people. Isn't there _anything_ I can do in the world?"

She had reached the ultimate bottom of life, she felt, and her demand
had a tragic pathos in it. She waited for her answer.

"Yes!" Ernestine exclaimed, a smile of successful thinking on her broad
face. "You can make a home for me--a real one--that's what you can
do--fine! Now listen," she insisted, as she saw the look of
disappointment on Milly's expectant face. "Listen to me--it ain't bad at
all."

And she unfolded her plan, recounting again her longing for her own
hearth, and proving to Milly that she could do a real, useful thing in
the world, if she would make life pleasanter and happier for one who was
able to earn money for three.

"Don't wait for your friends to come back," she urged. "Just pack right
up as soon as you can and move downstairs. Do you suppose Virgie's
asleep? We'll tell her to-morrer any way.... And you do with my shack
what you want,--any old thing, so's you let me sleep there. It'll be
fine, fine!"

And so it was agreed, although Milly was not greatly pleased with the
prospect of becoming homemaker and companion to the Laundryman. It was
not very different in essentials from her marriage with Jack, and she
recognized now that she had not made a success of that on the economic
side. In short, it was like so much else in her life, practically all
her life, she felt bitterly,--it was a shift, a compromise, a
_pis-aller_, and this time it was a social descent also. What would her
friends say? But Milly courageously put that cheap thought out of her
mind. If this was all that she could find to do to support herself and
her child,--if it was all that she was good for in this world,--she
would do it and swallow her pride with her tears.

And she was sincerely grateful to Ernestine for the warm-hearted way in
which she had put her proposal, as if it were a real favor to her. She
made this one mental reservation to herself,--it should last only until
she found "something better" as a solution. When Milly told the little
girl of the new move, Virgie was delighted. "It'll be like having a real
man in the house again," she said. "We'll have to teach her how to speak
like we do, shan't we, mama?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ernestine came bubbling in the next day with a new inspiration.

"Been thinking of our scheme all night," she announced breathlessly,
"and couldn't attend to business I was so excited. Now this is the
conclusion I got to. You can't make a home in one of these flat-boxes,
can you?"

Milly agreed listlessly that they were a poor compromise for the real
thing.

"Well, I said to myself,--'Why not a real house?' So this morning I quit
work and took a taxi so's I could get over ground faster and went
down--"

"I know," Milly interrupted with a laugh,--"to number 232!"

"Yes! And they're there still, and I've got number 236! What do you
think of that? It don't take me long to do business when I got an
idea.... Of course there is that loft building opposite, but it's thin
and don't take much light.... So to-morrow, Mrs. Bragdon, you meet me at
luncheon and we'll go down and look over our new home!"

How could any one be doleful under so much joy? Milly kissed Ernestine
with genuine emotion.

"It will be splendid. Virgie will like a house so much more than this."

"Of course, of course--it's the only proper thing for a
family.... You'll have to do the whole thing, Madam." (Ernestine had
a curious shyness about using Milly's name.) "I'll give you 'Carter
Blanch' as they say.... Only one thing!"

She shook her thick finger at Milly solemnly.

"What's that?"

"Muslin curtains at all the front windows, and a real fireplace in the
livin'-room--"

"And window boxes at the windows and real oil lamps on the table, Mr.
Geyer!" Milly completed, entering into Ernestine's spirit.

"We'll be comfy and homelike, don't you think so?" Ernestine shouted
gleefully, putting an arm around Milly's soft figure. "Now I've got what
I want," she said almost solemnly.

"Don't be too sure--I'm a pretty bad housekeeper."

"I know you're not."

"Careless and horribly extravagant--every one says so."

"I won't let you break _me_!... Say, you'd ought to be married to a real
man--that's what you are made for."

"Thanks!" Milly said a little sadly. "I've had all of _that_ I
want.... This suits me far better."

"Well, it does me, anyway!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus Milly's second marriage came off. In another month she and Virginia
were living quite happily in Ernestine Geyer's establishment at "number
236," with muslin curtains behind the windows, and flower-boxes.




PART FIVE

THE CAKE SHOP




I

"NUMBER 236"


Milly was content. At least she felt that she ought to be, and she
really was--for a time. Thanks to Ernestine's "Carter Blanch," she had
made a comfortable, homelike interior out of the little old house, in
which she installed her own furniture and almost nothing of Ernestine's.
Sam Reddon helped her make the alterations and decorate afresh "number
236," as the new home came to be known among Milly's friends. Reddon was
explosively enthusiastic over the Laundryman, whom he described as a
"regular old sport," "one of the finest," "the right sort," and the
climax of praise--"one first-class man." He took a mischievous delight
in drawing her out, especially on the aesthetic side, where she was
wildest, and he revelled in her idiom, which reminded him of the dear
_argot_ of his beloved city, and which he declared was "the language of
the future." Clive Reinhard, also, who came to dinner at the new house
very soon, approved warmly of Ernestine. In his more conventional
vocabulary she was "a character," "a true type," and "a trump." He liked
her all the better, perhaps, because he did not feel obliged to study
her professionally, and relaxed in her company.

Indeed, all the men Milly knew liked Ernestine Geyer and quickly got the
habit of dropping in at "number 236" at all hours,--it was so
conveniently near their offices and clubs, they said. They came for
breakfast and luncheon and tea, and even for whiskey and cigarettes
after the theatre. With the blunted sense of fine proprieties
characteristic of their sex, they approved unreservedly of Milly's new
marriage. In Reddon's frank phrase it was "an extraordinary fit." "You
two are complements--which is more than one can say of most regular
marriages."

(It was more than Milly could say of her union with Jack, alas!)

"I wonder more women don't do the same thing," the architect continued
in a vein of philosophical speculation; "get married to other women. Now
Ernestine has every good quality of a man, and she can't deceive you
with a chorus girl! It cuts out all the sex business, which is a horrid
nuisance--see the newspapers."

"Sam!" Milly warned, and then ventured,--"How about the children--where
would they come in?"

"That _is_ a difficulty," Reddon admitted, stretching his feet to the
fire.

"You see I had mine already,--bless her little heart!"

"One of 'em would have to do as you did," Sam mused, "get the children
on the side."

At this point Milly with a "Sam, don't be horrid" shut off further
social theorizing. Ernestine grinned and chuckled over Sam's sallies. As
Reddon said,--"You can say anything to her! She has a man's sense of
humor,--the only woman I ever saw except Marion who has."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the exception of Marion, Milly's women friends were much more
dubious than the men about the new household. Mrs. Bunker and Mrs.
Billman, of course, had long since lost sight of Milly in the course of
her migrations. Although Hazel Fredericks looked her up soon after her
return from the suffrage tour and praised the little house and said of
the domestic arrangement,--"How interesting!... Miss Geyer must be a
woman of remarkable force of character.... It is a wise experiment,"
etc., yet Milly knew that to others Hazel would shrug expressive
shoulders and drop eyelids over muddy eyes and in other feminine ways
indicate her sense of Milly's social descent. And from this time the
friendship between them declined swiftly. Hazel explained, "They were
interested in different things," and "Milly doesn't care for ideas, you
know." Mrs. Fredericks, who considered herself to be in the flood-tide
of the modern intellectual movement, had few moments to spare for her
insignificant friend. Milly realized this with a touch of bitterness. "I
can't do anything for her in any way. I can't help on her game." She
knew that these ambitious, modern, intellectual women, with whom she had
been thrown, had no use for people "out of the game."

It was that really, more than the fact that she had lost caste by
keeping house for a business woman, that cost her women's friendship.
Milly no longer in the least "counted." She had done something rather
"queer" from the feminine point of view, however sensible a solution of
her own problem it might be. She had confessed herself without ambition
and "aim," as Hazel would put it; had no social sense or wish "to be
Somebody," as Mrs. Billman would put it. She had become just plain Mrs.
Nobody. Of course she could not entertain in any but the most informal,
simple fashion as she entertained the men who came to the house, and
women find no distinction in that sort of hospitality and do not like to
offer it. All this Milly realized more and more, as any woman would
have, when the house had settled into its groove. She bravely put the
thoughts aside, although they rankled and later manifested themselves,
as such things must. For the first time her own sex dropped Milly, and
it cut.

Meantime there was much that was pleasant and comforting in her new life
in pretty little "number 236," and Milly got what joy there was out of
Virginia's delight in having a real home and Ernestine's beaming
happiness all the time she was in the house. The little girl could
return now to that "very nice school" where other nice little girls
went. She departed every morning beside the Laundryman, tugging at her
arm, skipping and chattering like a blackbird in June. Ernestine saw her
safely up the school steps and then took the car to her business. Milly,
after the housekeeping and her morning duties, walked up town for her
daughter and spent most of the afternoons with her, as she had not much
else to do. She had suggested at the beginning helping Ernestine in some
way in the business, but the Laundryman had not encouraged that. In
fact, she showed a curious reluctance in even having Milly visit the
office or call for her there.

"It ain't any place for you, dearie," she said. "You just stick to your
end of the business, the house--and that's enough."

Milly paid much more attention to the details of their simple
housekeeping than she had ever cared to do for herself and Jack. It may
have been from a sense of obligation in spending Ernestine's money, for
after all the Laundryman was not her legal husband. Or it may have been
due to the fact that Ernestine, being another woman, knew and could not
be easily bluffed with, "Everybody does that," "You can't get along with
less and live, anyhow," etc., as a mere man could. Nor did she like to
wheedle a woman. Whatever the cause, Milly gave up her lazy habit of
telephoning to the dearest stores for supplies or letting the servants
do the ordering, and went forth herself each morning to market. She
accepted Ernestine's suggestions about where things could be bought
cheaply, and even condescended to enter the large department stores
where groceries were sold for cash at wholesale rates. The Laundryman
purchased all the supplies for her business, and she knew that buying
was a science and a game combined,--a very ancient game which is the
basis of "trade." She took it for granted that Milly would play the game
to the best advantage for all of them, and after a few attempts at the
old slovenly, wasteful method of providing, Milly accepted the situation
and did the best she knew how to meet Ernestine's idea. "Number 236" was
to be well stocked with an abundance of wholesome food, but there was to
be no waste and no "flummery." In a word, "efficiency."

There was almost no friction between them. It would seem that the
Laundryman knew how to be both gentle and firm,--the requisites, so the
sages say, for successful domesticity. Jack had often been not gentle
with Milly, and almost never firm. Milly did not take seriously his
constant complaint over bills, and in some way sooner or later got what
she wanted. With Ernestine it was quite different: she did not dare let
the accounts run on or run over. After the first few equivocations she
had her bills ready for examination by the first of the month, and they
were reasonably near the figures agreed upon. So, as Ernestine put it,
slapping her knee with the cheque-book, "it all goes as slick as paint."

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, to sum it up in conventional terms, one might call Milly's new
marriage a success and expect that the modest little household of
"number 236" would go its peaceful way uneventfully to nature's
fulfilment of a comfortable middle age--and thus interest us no more.
For a time both Ernestine and Milly so believed it would be. But they
were deceived. Human affairs, even of the humblest, rarely arrange
themselves thus easily and logically.

Milly, in spite of her sincere resolve to be contented with what she
had, was growing restless. Once this orderly domestic life of the three
in the small house was running smoothly, she began to feel cramped, full
of unexpended energies. She would have spent them naturally in
entertaining and the usual social activity, to which she had become
accustomed as the fit expression of woman's life, but that obviously
could not be in the present circumstances. Milly recognized this and did
not attempt the impossible. Even if she had had the money, Ernestine was
not one who could be made a social figure, nor could she be ignored in
her own house. The situation, as has been described, had a flavor of
social irregularity, like an unauthorized union, and the social penalty
must be paid. With Milly's lean purse there was not much shopping to be
done, beyond the daily marketing, and it was dreary to walk the New York
streets and gaze into tempting shop windows, though Milly did a good
deal of that in her idle hours. She had never cared to read, except as
an occasional diversion, or to "improve her mind," as Grandma Ridge
might have put it, by lectures such as Hazel Fredericks had once
patronized. Lectures bored her, she admitted frankly, unless she knew
the lecturer personally. Perhaps Hazel and her set were justified in
condemning Milly's general lack of purpose and aim in life. But it
should be remembered that the generation with which Milly began had
never recognized the desirability of such ideals for women, and Milly,
like many of her sisters in the middle walk of life, always resented the
assumption that every human being, including women, should have a plan
and a purpose in this life. She liked to think of herself as an
irresponsible, instinctive vessel of divine fire to bless and inspire.
But such vessels very often go on the reefs of passion, and if Milly had
not been so thoroughly normal in her instincts, she might have suffered
shipwreck before this. Otherwise, they float out at middle age more or
less derelict in the human sea, unless they have been captured and
converted willy-nilly to some other's purpose. Now Milly was drifting
towards that dead sea of purposeless middle age, and instinctively
feared her fate.

She felt that her present life with the Laundryman offered her no outlet
for her powers, and this was the period when she became fertile in
launching schemes for which she displayed a few weeks' intense
enthusiasm that gradually died out before Ernestine's chilly good sense.
One of the first of these enthusiasms was "Squabs." She tried to
interest Ernestine in the business of raising squabs for the market. She
had read in some country-life magazine of a woman who had made a very
good income by breeding this delicacy for the New York market. Ernestine
had talked of buying a farm somewhere near the city for the summers, and
Milly thought this could be made into a productive enterprise. "With a
man and his wife to run it," they could raise squabs by the thousands.
But Ernestine, who had all the business she could attend to with her
laundry, was apathetic. She averred that any man and his wife who could
make money in the poultry business would be exploiting it for
themselves, not for "two green-horn women."

The next proposal was "Violets," and then "Mushrooms," to which
Ernestine was equally indifferent. You had to get your market in every
case, she suspected. "You don't know how to sell violets or mushrooms,
dearie, any more than you know how to raise 'em."

"But I could learn!" Milly pouted. She thought Ernestine was
unenterprising and also underrated her ability, just because she had not
been a working-woman.

"'Twould cost too much for you to learn," Ernestine replied dryly.

Milly's little schemes were oddly always of the luxury order,--to cater
to the luxury-class,--squabs, violets, mushrooms. Her ideas revolved
about the parasitic occupations because they seemed to promise large,
immediate returns. Rebuffed in these first attempts she brought forth no
new scheme for a time, but she was seeking. She envied Ernestine her
manlike independence, her Bank-Account aspect, and wanted to become a
Business Woman.

One invariable objection that Ernestine had made to all Milly's
proposals was:--

"I don't know anything about that business. I know the laundry business
from the skin to the clothes-line and home again--and that's all! It's a
good enough business for me. Everybody has to get washed sometimes!" She
was for the fundamental, basic occupations that dealt in universal human
necessities, and once said to Sam Reddon, who had banteringly offered
her the job of running his new office, "No, thank you! If I ever make a
change from the laundry, I'm going into the liquor business. Every man
seems to need his drink the same as he has to be washed." (This retort
had immensely pleased Reddon, and he was always asking Ernestine when
she would be ready to start a saloon with him.)

At last Milly thought she had cornered Ernestine's favorite objection by
a new scheme, which was nothing less than starting a model "Ideal
Laundry" in some pretty country spot near the city, "where the water is
clean and soft," and there were green lawns and hedges on which to
spread the clothes, "as they do abroad." It was to be manned by a force
of tidy, white-clothed laundresses, who might do their washing
bare-legged in the running brook. (She described to Ernestine the
picturesque, if primitive, laundry customs of the south of Europe.)
"They do such nice work over there: their linen is as soft and white as
snow," she said.

"And whose goin' to pay for all that gilt?" Ernestine demanded in
conclusion. For Milly had expatiated on the fortune they might
confidently expect from the new laundry. Milly was sure that all nice,
well-to-do families would be only too thankful to pay large prices for
their laundry work, if they could be assured that it would be done in
such sanitary, picturesque fashion by expert laundresses. And she had
thought of another plan which combined philanthropy with aestheticism and
business. They might employ "fallen women" as laundresses and teach them
also expert mending of linen. To all of which Ernestine smiled as one
would at the fancies of an engaging child. She said at the end in her
heavy-voiced way:--

"I don't know how it is in Europe, but in this country you don't make
money that way. You've got to do things cheap and do 'em for a whole lot
of people to get big money in anything. It's the little people with
their nickels and tens and quarters as pile up the fortunes."

Milly felt that Ernestine betrayed in this the limitations of her
plebeian origin.

"S'pose now you c'd get all the capital you need for your Ideal
Laundry--who'd patronize it? The swells, the families with easy money to
spend? There ain't so many of them, take the whole bunch, and I can tell
you, so far as I know, the rich want to get somethin' for nothin' as bad
as the little fellers--I don't know but worse! I guess that's why they
get rich."

Thus Ernestine would have nothing of any business that catered solely to
the rich and exclusive classes. A sure democratic and business instinct
made her rely for steady profits upon the multitude, who "must all get
washed sometime," in her favorite axiom, and as cheaply as possible.

"You never take any of my ideas seriously," Milly complained after this
rebuff.

       *       *       *       *       *

It happened to be a stormy winter's evening when the Ideal Laundry had
been up for discussion. They could hear occasional spats of snow against
the window-panes behind the long red curtains, which had been drawn. A
wood fire was crumbling into glowing coals on the hearth. Virginia had
long since gone to bed, and Sam Reddon, who had dropped in for dinner in
the absence of his wife from the city, had left after an evening of
banter and chit-chat.... At Milly's despairing exclamation, Ernestine
squatted down on a footstool at her feet and looked up at her mate with
the pained expression of a faithful dog, who wants to understand his
Idol's desires, but can't.

"What's the matter with _this_, dearie?" she grumbled, taking one of
Milly's hands in her powerful grip. "Can't you be satisfied just as it
is? Seems to me--" and she broke off to look around the cheerful room
with a glance of appreciation--"seems to me we're pretty comfortable, we
three, just as we are, without worrying 'bout making a lot more money
and trying things that would be a bother and might turn out badly in the
end."

As Milly's face still gloomed, unresponsive, she added contritely,--

"I know it's small. It ain't what you--"

"Oh, it isn't that!" Milly interrupted hastily. "You don't understand,
Ernestine; I want to do something for myself just to show I can. I'm so
useless--always have been, I suppose.... Well." She rose from her chair,
disengaging herself from the Laundryman's embrace, and stood musingly
with one foot on the fender, the firelight playing softly over the silk
of her gown. (The favorite attitude, by the way, of the heroine in
Jack's illustrations of Clive Reinhard's stories.)

"You ain't one mite useless to _me_!" Ernestine protested. (In her
emotional moments she lapsed into her native idiom in spite of herself.)

"You're kind, Ernestine," Milly replied almost coldly. "But I really
_am_ nearly useless. Can't you see why I want to do something for myself
and my child, as you have done for yourself? And not be always a
dependent!"

Ernestine threw herself on the lounge, looking quite miserable. The worm
in her swelling bud of happiness had already appeared.

"I'm content," she sighed, "just as it is."

"I'm not!" Milly retorted, rather unfeelingly.

"It suits me to a T, if it could only last."

For a time neither added anything to the subject. Milly, who was never
hard for more than a few moments, went over to the lounge and caressed
the Laundryman's face.

"That was horrid of me," she said. "It's going to last--forever, I
guess."

But in spite of herself she could not keep the droop from her voice at
this statement of the irrevocable, and Ernestine shook her head sadly.

"No, it ain't. You'll marry again sometime."

"I'll never do that!" Milly exclaimed impatiently.

"I s'pose it would really be the best thing for you," Ernestine
admitted, looking at Milly thoughtfully. Milly was now barely
thirty-four and more seductive as a woman than ever before. Ernestine's
jealous heart could understand why men would desire her mate. "And this
time," she continued more cheerfully, "you'll know enough to pick a good
provider."

"Don't talk such nonsense."

Nevertheless Milly was pleased at this proof that she was still
desirable, merely as a woman. What woman wouldn't, be? Her early
romantic notion that second marriages were impure had completely changed
since the failure of her marriage with Jack. Now she had merely a
feeling of disgust with the married state in general and with husbands
as a class.

"They ain't all bad, I expect," Ernestine remarked in a spirit of
fairness. "There must be exceptions among husbands the same as in
everything else in life."

"I don't care to take the risk."

"But I expect if you'd happened to marry one of those others who
wanted you to you'd felt different. You'd be on easy street to-day,
anyhow!... The trouble was, my dear, you trusted to your feelin' too
much, and not enough to your head."

She nodded her own large head sagely.

"Perhaps," Milly agreed vaguely.... "Well, will you shut the house up?"

Ernestine went downstairs to lock the doors and see that the lights were
out in the servants' quarters.




II

AT LAST, THE REAL RIGHT SCHEME


Whenever Eleanor Kemp came to New York--which happened usually at least
twice a year, on her way to and from Europe--she always endeavored to
see her old friend, if for only a few minutes. So when she landed this
spring, she went almost immediately from her hotel to number 236, and
Milly found her waiting in the little reception room on her return from
her marketing.

"You see I didn't forget the number, and just came over!" Mrs. Kemp said
gayly. "We docked at ten, and Walter has already disappeared to see some
pictures.... How are you, dear?"

The two friends had kissed, and then still holding each other by the
arms drew off for the preliminary scrutiny. Eleanor Kemp's black hair
showed gray about the temples, and there were lines around the trembling
mouth. "She's getting old, really," Milly thought in a flash. "But it
doesn't make so much difference to her, they are so rich!"

"Milly, you are prettier than ever--you always are when I see you--how
do you keep so young?" the older woman exclaimed admiringly, and drew
Milly's smiling face closer for another kiss. "And you have been through
so much since I saw you last--so much sadness."

"Yes," Milly admitted flatly.

Somehow she did not want to talk of her marriage and Jack's death with
Eleanor Kemp, who had been so near her during the ecstatic inception of
that passion.

"How pretty your house is!" Eleanor said, divining Milly's reluctance to
intimacy. "I've been peeking into the next room while I waited."

"Yes, it's pleasant," Milly replied unenthusiastically. "It's small and
the street is rather noisy. But it does well enough. You know it isn't
my house. It belongs to a friend,--Ernestine Geyer."

"Yes, you wrote me."

"She's in business, away all day, and I keep house for her," Milly
explained, as if she were eager not to have her position misunderstood.

"It must be much pleasanter for you and Virginia than being alone."

"Yes," Milly agreed, in the same negative voice, and then showed her
friend over the house, which Mrs. Kemp pronounced "sweet" and "cunning."
As Milly's manner remained listless, Eleanor Kemp suggested their
lunching at the hotel, and they walked over to the large hostelry on the
Avenue, where the Kemps usually stayed in New York.

Walter Kemp not having returned from his picture quest, the women had
luncheon by themselves at a little table near a window in the ornate
dining-room of the hotel. Milly grew more cheerful away from her home.
It always lightened her mind of its burdens to eat in a public place.
She liked the movement about her, the strange faces, the unaccustomed
food, and her opportunities of restaurant life had not been numerous of
late. It was pleasant to be again with her old friend and revive their
common memories of Chicago days. They discussed half the people they
knew. Milly told Eleanor of Vivie Norton's engagement finally to the
divorced man and the marriage, "a week after he got his decree." And
Eleanor told Milly of the approaching marriage of Nettie Gilbert's
daughter to a very attractive youth, etc.

"You must come to visit me this summer," she declared. "Your friends are
all dying to see you."

"Do you think they remember me still?"

"Remember you! My dear, they still talk about your engagement to
Clarence Parker."

Milly laughed gayly.

"That!"... She added quite unexpectedly, "I suppose I ought to have
married him really."

"Milly!"

"Why not?" Milly persisted in a would-be indifferent tone. "Then I
shouldn't be keeping house for somebody else for my living."

Mrs. Kemp gave her a quick look, and then turned it off with,--

"You should have stayed in Chicago, whatever you did. We all miss you
so!..."

In her glances about the crowded room Milly's eyes had rested upon a
little woman seated at a table not far away,--a blond, fluffy-haired,
much-dressed and much-jewelled creature, who was scrutinizing the long
menu with close attention.

"Do you know who she is, Nelly?" Milly asked, indicating the little
blond person. "It seems to me she's some one I ought to know."

Mrs. Kemp glanced out of her lowered eyes; then as the other looked up
both bowed. She said in a whisper to Milly,--

"You ought to know her, Milly! She was Annie Dove."

"Who is she now?"

Eleanor Kemp paused to laugh before replying and then whispered,--

"She's who you might have been--Mrs. Clarence Parker!"

"Oh!" Milly murmured and looked again with more curiosity at the
fluffy-haired little woman. "She dresses a good deal," she observed. "I
wonder how Clarence likes to pay the bills."

"We saw them at Wiesbaden this spring. They seemed quite happy. He was
taking the cure."

"Did it do him any good?" Milly inquired amiably....

Presently a short, bald-headed man took the place opposite their
neighbor, and Milly examined him with much care. Clarence Albert was
balder and whiter than ever, and his cold gray eyes were now concealed
by glasses which gave him the look of an eminent financier. His wife
coached him evidently about the menu. Milly thought she could hear his
squeaky voice saying, "Well, now, I don't know about that." A queer
little smile came around her lips as she considered that she might have
occupied the seat the richly dressed, bejewelled little lady had, and be
listening at that moment to Clarence Albert's observations on the
luncheon menu. Just then Parker looked over, recognized Mrs. Kemp, and
hurried across with outstretched hand. He did not see Milly until he
reached the table, and then he stopped as if he did not know what to do
next. Milly smiled and extended a hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Parker!" she said gayly. "Eleanor has just pointed
out your wife to me--such a pretty woman! How are you?"

"Very well now Miss--Mrs.--"

"Bragdon," Milly supplied.

"Very well indeed, Mrs. Bragdon, and I see you are the same."

He retreated at once, and Milly glancing roguishly at Eleanor Kemp
murmured,--

"I take it back.... No, I couldn't! Not even with all the clothes and
jewels."

"Of course you couldn't!"

"It's fate--it's all fate!" Milly sighed. That was her way of saying
that everything in this world depended upon the individual soul, and she
couldn't manage her soul differently. She felt relieved.

The dessert arriving just then, Milly's attention was distracted from
the Clarence Alberts and from her soul. She took much time and care in
selecting a piece of _patisserie_. French pastry, which had become a
common article in New York hotels by that time, always interested Milly.
She liked the sweet, seductive cakes, and they brought back to memory
happy times in Paris and her visits to Gage's with Jack.

"I am afraid they aren't very good," her hostess remarked, observing
that Milly after all her research into the dish merely tasted her cake
and pushed it away. "They don't seem able to make the nice French ones
over here--they're usually as heavy as lead."

"No, they're not a bit like those we used to get at Gage's. I wonder why
they don't find somebody who can make real French pastry.... Now there's
an idea!" she exclaimed with sudden illumination. "A cake shop like
Gage's with real cakes and a real _Madame_ in black at the desk!"

She gave Eleanor a vivid description of the charms of Gage's. Her friend
laughed indulgently.

"You funny child, to remember that all this time!"

"But why not?" Milly persisted. "Everybody likes French pastry. I
believe you could make heaps of money from a good cake shop in America."

"Well, when you are ready to open your cake shop, come to
Chicago!... And anyway you are coming to visit me next month."

Milly readily promised to make the visit when Virginia's school closed,
and shortly afterwards the friends parted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milly strolled home in a revery of Eleanor Kemp, who always brought back
her past, of Clarence Albert and Clarence Albert's expensive wife. "If I
had--" she mused. If somehow she had done differently and instead of
being a penniless widow she were happily married with ample means; if
the world was this or that or the other!... But back of all her
thoughts, beneath all her revery, simmered the idea of the Cake Shop. In
telling Ernestine of her day's adventure, however, she made no reference
to the New Idea. This time she would not expose her conception to the
chilling blast of the Laundryman's criticism until she had perfected it.
She nursed it like an artist within her own breast.




III

CHICAGO AGAIN


A month later Milly and Virginia went to Chicago to visit the Kemps.
Milly's heart leaped as the miles westward were covered by the rapid
train. Old friends, she thought, are nearest, warmest, dearest to us,
and again and again during the joyous weeks of her visit to the bustling
city by the Lake, Milly felt the truth of this platitude. Everybody
seemed delighted to see "Milly Ridge," as half the people she met still
called her. She could not go a block without some more or less familiar
figure stopping, and throwing up hands exclaiming, "Why, Milly! not
_you_--I'm _so_ glad." And they stopped to talk, obstructing traffic.

Milly was conscious of being at her very best. She had decided to
discard her mourning altogether on going back to Chicago, and had some
attractive new gowns to wear. Instead of a forlorn and weary widow, she
presented herself to her Chicago public fresher and prettier than ever,
beaming with delight over everything and very much alive. That is the
way Chicago likes.

"Chicago _is_ different," she repeated a dozen times a day, meaning by
that vague comment that Chicago was more generous, kindly, hospitable,
warmer and bigger-hearted than New York. Which was perfectly true, and
which Chicago liked to hear as often as possible. The purely human
virtues still nourished there, it seemed to Milly, in their primal
bloom, while they had become somewhat faded in the more hectic air of
the Atlantic seaboard. There was a feeling of frank good-fellowship and
an optimistic belief in everybody and in the world as well as in
yourself that was spoken of as the Spirit of the West. "In New York,"
Milly said to Eleanor Kemp, "unless you make a great noise all the time,
nobody knows you are there. And when you fail, it's like a stone dropped
into the ocean: nobody knows that you have gone under! I want to live
the rest of my life in Chicago," she concluded positively.

"Yes," all her friends assented with one voice, "you must come back to
us--you belong here!" (With the future, the setting sun, and all the
rest of it.)

And they laid their little plans to entrap her and hold her in their
midst for good,--obvious plans in which men, of course, were designedly
included. They said a great many nice things about her behind her back
as well as to her face.

"Milly has shown such pluck.... Her marriage was unfortunate--he left
her without a cent.... And treated her quite badly, I hear," etc., etc.

Her two weeks' visit to the Kemps stretched to a month; there were many
little parties and engagements made for her, and then she went to
several suburban places to visit. Unlike other American cities summer is
almost the liveliest season in and around Chicago, for having its own
refrigerating plant at its door Chicago prefers to stay at home during
the hot weather and take its vacation in the raw spring. So Milly found
life very full and gay. And she perceived after a time a new spirit in
her old home,--the metropolitan spirit, which was funnily self-conscious
and proud of itself. "We too," every one seemed to be saying, "are
natives of no mean city." Milly heartily approved of this spirit. She
liked to think and to say that after all, in spite of her husband's
errancy, Chicago was also _her_ city.

So she had the best of times the ten weeks she spent in the strong young
metropolis, and saw a great many people new and old, and was more
popular than ever. She was well enough aware of those little plans kind
friends were making for her, matrimonially, but her heart seemed dead to
all men. She looked at them critically, and her heart gave no sign.

"I'm going to be a business woman," she announced to the Kemps one day.

"Milly in business! What do you think of that now?" the banker responded
with a good-natured laugh that covered the jeer. "What next?"

But his wife, with jealous promptitude, added,--

"Milly, you are a wonder!"

"Yes," Milly affirmed stoutly. "Wait, and you will see."

For in spite of all the good times, the flattery, and the social
pleasures, the great New Idea still simmered in her head. She would do
something "unusual," and "in Chicago too," which was the place for
originality and venture,--this big-hearted, hopeful city whose breath of
life was business, always business, and where people believed in one
another and looked favorably at "the new thing."

One day Milly stepped into the shop of the smart man-milliner, where in
her opulent maiden days she had got her hats,--"just to see what Bamberg
has this season." After chatting with the amiable proprietor, who, like
every one who had dealings with Milly, was fond of her (even if she did
not pay him promptly), Bamberg called to one of his young ladies to
bring Mrs. Bragdon a certain hat he wished her to try on. "One of my
last Paris things," he explained, "an absolutely new creation," and he
whispered, "It was ordered for Mrs. Pelham--the young one, you know, but
it didn't suit her." He whispered still more confidentially, "She was
too old!"

After that how could Milly help "just trying it on"?

The girl who brought the hat exclaimed with a charming smile and a
decided French accent, "It cannot be--but it is--it _is_ Madame
Brag-donne!"

"Jeanne--Jeanine!" and they almost embraced, to the scandal of Bamberg.

It was one of the girls Milly had known at Gage's, the chief
_demoiselle_ of the pastry shop. And how was Madame Catteau, the
_patronne_, and when did Jeanne come to America? The hat was forgotten
while the two chattered half in French and half in English about Gage's,
Paris, and Chicago....

Of course Milly bought the hat in the end,--it was such a "jewel" and
became her as if "it were made for Madame Brag-donne," who, Jeanne
averred, was really more than half French. (Bamberg generously cut the
price to "nothing,--$35," and Milly promised to "pay when I can, you
know." Which perfectly contented the man-milliner. "We know _you_, Mrs.
Bragdon," he said, conducting her himself to the Kemps' motor in which
she had come.)

The negotiations over the hat, which had to be altered several times,
gave Milly a chance to confide in her old friend Jeanne the New Idea. A
Cake Shop--a real Paris _patisserie_, _chic_, and with French pastry,
here in this Chicago! The idea thrilled the pretty French woman, and
they discussed many of the details. "I must have a real French pastry
cook, and girls, Paris girls like you," Milly said with sudden
inspiration, "and a _madame_, of course, and the little marble-topped
tables and all the rest" as nearly as possible like the adorable Gage's.
Jeanne thought that it would be "furiously successful." There would be
nothing like it in Chicago or anywhere else in the new world, where
Madame Brag-donne would admit the eating was not all that it might be in
quality. Oh, yes, it was a brilliant idea and Jean remembered a
sister-in-law who would make a remarkable _dame de comptoir_. She was
living in strict retirement at Grenoble, the fault of a wretched man she
had been feeble enough to marry....

Thus by the time the hat was hers Milly's scheme had taken definite
form, and it was also time for her to return to New York. "But I shall
be back soon," she told all her friends confidently, with a mysterious
nod of her pretty head.

       *       *       *       *       *

She had seen Horatio, of course, had taken Virginia to spend a Sunday
with her unknown grandfather in the little Elm Park cottage. Josephine
received her husband's daughter and granddaughter with a carefully
guarded cordiality, which expanded as soon as she saw that Milly had
nothing to ask for. Horatio was very happy over the brief visit. He was
an old man now, Milly realized, but a chirping and contented old man,
who still went faithfully every working day in the year to his humble
desk in Hoppers' great establishment, on Sundays to the Second
Presbyterian, and in season watered the twenty-six square feet of turf
before his front door. He talked a great deal about Hoppers', which had
been growing with astounding rapidity, like everything in Chicago, and
now covered three entire city blocks. That and the church and Josephine
quite filled all the corners of Horatio's simple being. Milly promised
her father another, longer visit, but with her many engagements could
not "get it in." Horatio wrote her "a beautiful letter" and sent her on
the eve of her departure a box of flowers from his own garden.

Milly carried the flowers back to New York with her. She had much to
think over on that brief journey. Life seemed larger, much larger, than
it had ten weeks before, and her appetite for it had grown wonderfully
keener in the Chicago air. That was the virtue of the West, Milly
decided. It put vigor and hope into one. She also felt more mature and
independent. It had been a good thing for her to get away from New York,
out from under Ernestine's protecting wings, which closed uncomfortably
tight at times. She realized now that "she could do things for herself,"
and need not be so "dependent."

That, it must be observed, was the prevailing desire in Milly's new
ambitions. Like all poor mortals who have not either triumphed
indubitably in the world's eyes or sunk irretrievably into the mire, she
hungered for some definite self-accomplishment, something that would
give meaning and dignity to her own little life. All of her varied
experience,--all the phases and "ideas" through which she had lived from
her eager, unconscious girlhood to the present, were resolved and summed
up in this at last,--the desire to have some meaning to her life, some
dignity of purpose,--no longer to be the jetsam on the stream that so
many women are, buffeted by storms beyond their ken, the sport of men
and fate. She looked at her little daughter, who was absorbed in the
pictures of a magazine, and said to herself that she was doing it all
for her child, more than for herself. Virginia must have a very
different kind of life from hers! Parentlike she yearned to graft upon
the young tree the heavy branch of her own worldly experience. And
perhaps Milly realized, also, that the world into which little Virginia
was rapidly growing would be a very different sort of place--especially
for women--from the one in which Milly Ridge had fluttered about with
untutored instincts and a dominating determination "to have a good
time...."

Tired at last with so much meditation, Milly bought a novel from the
newsboy,--"Clive Reinhard's Latest and Best"--_A Woman's Will_, and
buried herself in its pages.




IV

GOING INTO BUSINESS


"Ernestine," Milly announced gravely that first night after Virginia was
tucked in bed, "I've something important to say to you."

"What is it, dearie?" Ernestine inquired apprehensively.

The Laundryman had taken a half holiday to welcome her family home after
their prolonged vacation. She and the old colored cook--a great admirer
of Milly's--had decorated the dining-room with wild flowers and
contrived a birthday cake with eight candles for Virginia, who had
celebrated her nativity a few days previously. Ernestine had also
indulged in a quart of champagne, a wine of which Milly was very fond.
But like poor Ernestine, in whom thrift usually fought a losing battle
with generosity, she had compromised upon a native brand that the dealer
had said was "just as good as the imported kind," but which Milly had
tasted and left undrunk.... She had also put on her best dress, a much
grander affair of black silk than the rose-pink negligee, which Milly
had compelled her to bestow upon Amelia. And she had lighted the fire in
the living-room and all the wax candles, though it was still warm
outdoors and they had to open the street windows and endure the thunder
of the traffic.

Milly, although she had received all Ernestine's efforts graciously, had
been wearied by the noise,--the fierce song of New York,--and had been
serious and non-communicative since her arrival. Virginia, however, had
been eloquently happy to return to her own home, her own things, her own
bed, and her own Amelia and Ernestine, which had somewhat made up to the
Laundryman for Milly's indifference.

Now Milly stood in the middle of the room, looking straight before her,
but seeing nothing. Ernestine, with hands clasped around her knees, sat
in a low chair and anxiously watched her friend,--

"Well, what is it?" she demanded, as Milly's silence continued after her
first announcement. Milly turned and looked at Ernestine, then said
slowly,--

"I'm going into business--in Chicago."

Ernestine gave a little gasp, of relief.

"What is it this time?" she asked.

Then Milly explained her project at great length, growing more eloquent
as she got deeper into the details of her conception, painting glowingly
the opportunities of providing hungry Chicagoans with toothsome
delicacies, and exhibiting a much more practical notion of the scheme
than she had had of her other ideas.

"Chicago is the place," she asserted with conviction. "I'm known there,
for one thing," she added with a touch of pride. "And it is the natural
home of enterprise. They do things out there, instead of talking about
them. You ought to know Chicago, Ernestine--I'm sure you'd like it."

The Laundryman asked in a dull tone:--

"Where'll you get the money to start your cake shop? For it will take
money, a sight of money, to do all those things you talk about."

Milly hesitated a moment before this question.

"I don't know yet," she said thoughtfully, "but I think I shan't have
much trouble in getting what capital I need. I have friends in Chicago,
who promised to help me."

(It was perfectly true that Walter Kemp had said half jestingly to Milly
when he last saw her,--"When you get ready to go into business, Milly,
you must let me be your banker!")

"But," Milly continued meaningly, "I wanted to talk it over with you
first. That's why I came back now."

Ernestine went over and closed the windows. It was a crisis. She
recognized it, indeed she had felt it coming for a long time. She would
have to choose some day between Milly and her own life--the laundry
business--and the day had come.

"Will you go in with me, Ernestine?" Milly asked directly...

They talked far into the night until the traffic had died to a distant
rumble. Probably in any case Ernestine would have yielded to Milly's
desires. Her heart was too deeply involved with Milly and Virginia--"her
family"--for her to allow them to take themselves out of her life, as
she saw that this time Milly would do should she refuse to share in the
new move. And as it happened the choice came when a crisis in her own
business was on the way. The two young men who owned all but a few
shares of the Twentieth Century Laundry stock had been bitten by the
trustifying germ and had agreed to go into a "laundry combine" with
several other large laundries. It was one thing, Ernestine realized, to
be the practical boss of a small business, and quite another to be a
subordinate in a large stock-gambling venture with an unknown crew of
masters.

This complication had come up in definite form since Milly's departure,
and Ernestine, after much consideration, had already resolved to sell to
the new company the few shares she owned in the Twentieth Century
Laundry, and look about for another opening in the business she knew.
But she hesitated with a woman's timidity before embarking alone in a
small independent business. She did not want the responsibility of being
the head of a business, especially in these days when, as she was well
aware, the little pots usually get smashed by the big kettles in the
stream.

So Milly's scheme happened to come at the right moment. As far as the
move to Chicago was concerned, Ernestine rather welcomed the change:
hers had been a monotonous treadmill in one environment. She was ready
for a venture in a new city, and curious about Chicago, of which Milly
had talked a great deal. But above all, the conclusive reason for her
consent was Milly--her affections. She could not lose her family, cost
what it might to keep them. She had no clear idea of Milly's soaring
ambition to transplant a French _patisserie_ to the alien soil of
Chicago. A cake shop, Ernestine supposed, was some sort of retail food
business like a bakeshop or delicatessen stand, and cake seemed to her
almost as elementally necessary to mankind as washing or liquor. But
even if the venture failed and took with it all her savings from
industrious years of toil, she would do it "like a sport," as Sam Reddon
had called her, and when the time came, face life anew....

"I'll go, Milly!" she said at the end, with a thump of her fist on her
knee. "And I'll put my own money into the thing. With what my stock will
bring and the cash in the bank, I'll have pretty nearly ten thousand
dollars. That ought to be enough to start a cake shop, I should think.
You won't have to go to any of your rich friends for help."

Milly thought so, too, and was surprised at the amount of Ernestine's
savings. She felt relieved not to have to go to the Kemps for money and
genuinely delighted to have Ernestine a partner in her venture.

"Now we must start at once!" she said gayly. "Mustn't lose a day, so
that we can open before the fall season is over."

She went to bed very happy and very confident. Ernestine, if less
confident, had sufficient self-reliance not to worry about the future.
Thanks to her eighteen years of successful self-support, she knew that
she could meet life anywhere any time, and get the best of it.

From the very next day there began for Milly the most active and the
happiest period of her existence. They packed hurriedly, and moved to
Chicago, Milly going on ahead to engage a house where they could live
and also have their cakes baked. With Eleanor's Kemp's advice Milly
wisely selected a large, old-fashioned brick house on the south side,
not far from the business district. Once the handsome residence of a
prosperous merchant, it had been abandoned in the movement outward from
the crowded city and was surrounded by lofty office buildings and
automobile shops. Its large rooms were cool and comfortable, and the
heavy cornices and woodwork gave an air of stately substantiality to the
old house that pleased Milly.

When Ernestine arrived the two partners went hunting for a suitable
shop. Milly wanted a location in the very centre of the fashionable
retail district on the avenue, somewhere between the Institute and the
Auditorium, the two most stable landmarks in the city. But the rents,
even at that time, were prohibitive, and they found they must content
themselves with one of the cross streets. There at last they found a
grimy little old building tucked in, as if forgotten, between two more
modern structures, which could be had entire for a rental that they
might (with a burst of courage) contemplate. It was only a few steps
from the great north and south thoroughfare and within the woman's zone.
Ernestine, indeed, was for going farther away after something more
modest in rental, so that they should not have to sink so much of their
capital at the start. But Milly argued cogently that for the special
clientele which they wished to attract they must be in the quarter such
people frequented, near the haberdashers and milliners and beauty
parlors, and Ernestine yielded the point because she did not know about
cake shops. When they came to the business of the lease, the good
services of Walter Kemp were enlisted. After he had met Ernestine in the
course of the negotiations with the agent of the property, he reported
more hopefully to his wife of Milly's new undertaking.

"Anyway, she's got a good partner," he declared. "The Geyer woman is not
much on looks, but she's solid--and if I'm not mistaken, she knows her
business."

In this last the banker was mistaken. Ernestine was being carried along
passively in the whirl of Milly's enterprise and hardly knew what she
was about, it was all so unfamiliar; but she kept her mouth shut and her
eyes open and was learning all the time. She had already found out that
their cake shop was not to be a plebeian provision business, but an
affair of fashion and taste--or, as she called it,--for the "swells,"
and had her first instinctive misgivings on that score. And that ten
thousand dollars, which had seemed to her a substantial sum, she saw
would look very small indeed by the time the doors of their shop were
opened to "trade." But Milly's spirits were never higher: she sparkled
with confidence and ideas. On the signing of the lease, which Walter
Kemp guaranteed, they had a very jolly luncheon at the large hotel near
by.

As soon as the lease had been signed Milly telegraphed--she never wrote
letters any more, it was so much more businesslike to telegraph--to Sam
Reddon to come on at once and superintend the rehabilitation of the
premises. Ernestine would have intrusted this important detail to a
scrub woman, and the agent's Chicago decorator, but Milly said
promptly,--"That would spoil everything!"

Reddon responded to "Milly's Macedonian cry," as he described her
telegram, with an admirable promptness, arriving the next day "with one
clean shirt and no collars," he confessed. Milly took him at once to the
dingy shop.

"Now, Sam," she said to him in her persuasive way, "I want you to make
this into the nicest little _patisserie_ you ever saw in Paris. _Vrai
chic_, you know!"

"Some stunt," he replied, looking at the grimy squalor of the abandoned
shop, with its ugly plate-glass windows and forbidding walls. "Don't you
want me to get you a frieze for those bare walls--some Chicago nymphs
taking a bath in the Lake with a company of leading citizens observing
them from the steps of the Art Institute, in the manner of the sainted
Puvis?"

"Don't be silly, Sam!" Milly replied in reproof. "This is business."

And Sam put it through for her. They had a good time over the
transformation of the Chicago shop to something "elegant and
spirituelle," as Sam called it. He entered into the spirit of the thing,
as Milly knew he would, and turned out a creditable imitation of a Paris
shop, with stucco marbles, black woodwork, and glass everywhere, even to
red plush sofas along the walls and a row of little tables and chairs in
front. It had a very gay appearance--"distinguished" in its sombre
setting. "No one could help walking in to buy a cake, could they?" Sam
appealed to Ernestine.

"Hope they'll have the price for more than one," the former Laundryman
observed.

"Oh, you'll do a big business," Sam rejoined encouragingly. "Mostly on
tick, if Milly runs the cash drawer."

"She won't!" Ernestine retorted.

The last touch was the sign,--a long, thin black board on which was
traced in a delicate gilt script,--_The Cake Shop--Madame Millernine_.
The firm name was Sam's personal contribution to the business. "You must
have a suitable name, and who ever heard of a Bragdon or a Geyer keeping
a cake shop? There are proprieties in all these things."

But long before the sign was in place, Milly had sailed away from New
York for Paris. It had been discovered that a good French pastry cook
was not to be found in Chicago. A few were said to exist in America,
chiefly in New York hotels, but their handiwork was not up to Milly's
standard and their demands for wages were exorbitant. Also real _chic_
French _dames des comptoirs_ were exceedingly rare. Jeanne's Grenoble
sister-in-law proved to be, in Reddon's words,--"so infernally homely
that she would scare the customers from the door." So it was agreed that
while Ernestine attended to the numerous details of the preparations in
Chicago, Milly should make a hurried trip abroad consult with her
friend, Madame Catteau, and secure among other things a competent
pastry-cook and a few good-looking girls for waitresses.

Milly enjoyed her trip immensely. She had an air of importance about her
that Sam Reddon described as "diplomatic." She was a woman of affairs
now--large affairs and getting larger all the time. She spent two
rapturous weeks, so breathlessly absorbed in consulting with Madame
Catteau (who was ravished by Milly's scheme and deplored almost
tearfully her fate in having a husband and two children to keep her from
returning with Madame Brag-donne) and in interviewing men cooks and
young Frenchwomen, that she had no time for memories or sentimental
griefs of any sort. Once, flitting through the rue Gallilee in a cab,
she saw the hotel-pension where she and Jack had spent their first
winter, and she conjured up a vivid picture of the chilly salon, the
table of elderly English women, and the long, dull hours in her close,
back room. How long ago all that was, and how young and stupid she had
been then! She felt very much more alive now, an altogether new person,
with her business on her hands,--but not old, oh, not that!...

An ideal man pastry-cook was finally engaged, one highly recommended by
Madame Catteau as _vrai Parisien_, skilful in every sort of pastry, and
also three young women were induced, for love of Madame Brag-donne, to
try their fortune in the great city of Chicago. Also, Milly bought
quantities of bonbons, liquors, sirops, and other specialities of the
business, which she knew could not be had "really, truly French" in
America. With a feeling of having accomplished much, Milly gathered her
flock and set sail from Havre on the French steamer. M. Paul--the
pastry-cook--insisted on having a first-class passage, and would
converse with Milly whenever he found her on deck. The girls were sick
in the second cabin. Milly was indulgent with them all by sympathy as
well as by policy, but she was glad to see Sandy Hook. She decided that
the French temperament needed occupation, and she hustled her conscripts
across the city and into the Chicago train without an hour's delay.

Ernestine, Virginia, and Sam Reddon met the party at the Chicago station
and escorted the exclamatory laborers to their new home on the upper
floor of the old mansion. Then Milly and Sam went to see the Cake Shop,
which was now ready for its sweet merchandise. Milly, though she was
fresh from Paris, was much pleased with Sam's results, and praised him
warmly.

"It's cost an awful sight of money," Ernestine observed lugubriously.

Milly waved one hand negligently. Ernestine was almost as bad as Grandma
had been. Would she never rise to the conception of modern business? It
was not the outgo that counted, but the receipts. Milly knew that
already.

"I'll do you a better one next time," Sam promised, "when you open your
first _succursale_, Milly."

"That will be next autumn--in New York," Milly announced.

"My stars!" said Ernestine.




V

MILLY'S SECOND TRIUMPH


They opened the Cake Shop just before the holidays, with a great party.
Milly was positive that was the right procedure, though Ernestine could
see no point to giving away so much "trade." Nearly a thousand finely
engraved cards were sent out to Milly's friends, the friends of Milly's
friends, and their friends and acquaintances, to meet "Mrs. John Bragdon
and Miss Ernestine Geyer at the Cake Shop on Saturday, December the
fifteenth, from two until eight o'clock." (Ernestine, to be sure, could
not be "met," because she was in the cellar most of the time attending
to many essential details of the occasion. But Milly was there in the
shop above, prettily gowned in a costume she had managed to capture,
incidentally, on her flying visit to the French capital.)

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a tremendous, resounding, thrilling success! Nearly everybody out
of the thousand must have come, they reckoned afterwards, and several
more besides who knew they had not been intentionally omitted from the
list of the invited. The guests began coming shortly after the doors
were thrown open (by a small colored boy, habited in Turkish costume),
and no sooner did any tear themselves away from the shop than twice as
many squeezed their way in somehow. At first the pretty French girls in
silk aprons and coquettish caps tried to execute the orders, but soon
their trays were seized by enthusiastic young men and the waitresses
took refuge behind the marble table beside the Madame and helped to hand
out the tempting cakes and bonbons and sorbets and sirops and liqueurs.
Even Milly pulled off her long white gloves, got in line with her
employees, and tried to appease her hungry guests. As a final touch a
dainty, gold-printed souvenir menu, with the list of delicacies to be
had at the Cake Shop, was handed to every comer, as long as they lasted.

There was one long glad chorus of praise for the Cake Shop and
everything it contained, from the mirrors, the fetching decoration, the
tables, the cakes (such as never had been dreamed of) to the pretty
girls, who were surrounded always by a cluster of men, trying with their
Chicago French to get attention.... And Milly, of course, was the
heroine of the occasion. Her health was drunk, and she had to get on a
chair to make a little speech of thanks and invitation to the Cake Shop
as a new Chicago Institution.

Many of the women who came knew their Paris better than New York, and
"adored" "this _chic_ little place." It recalled to them all most
delightful moments. And even in Paris they had never eaten anything so
delicious as M. Paul's cakes. Henceforth they should buy all their
desserts of "Madame Millernine," and there was a spatter of French
phrases all over the place.

"It was a wonder!" they declared, "this idea of creating a little of
Paris here in old Chicago. A touch of genius really--just like that
astonishing Milly Ridge to have thought of the one thing--and the cakes
were so good," etc., etc.

Milly's ears burned with the winged words, and she smiled all the time.
If Ernestine only could hear this, it would cure her of doubting. She
should hear! Milly felt that at last she had demonstrated herself. It
was like that other occasion so many, many years ago, when she had
surmounted all the difficulties and entertained her friends at "tea."
Then her triumph had been indubitable. But this time it was more
significant, for the affair was less childish: it meant money, Milly was
sure,--much money. So every one said.

At eight Milly was rescued by a party of friends and borne to a hotel in
triumph for a dinner which lasted long after midnight. Her health was
drunk again in real champagne; speeches were made to impromptu toasts of
"The New Woman in Business--God Bless Her." "The Poetry of the Palate,"
"The Creative Cake," etc.... At ten Ernestine and her aides, having
succeeded in gathering the debris and straightening out the place for
the public opening the next morning, went wearily home to bed. She was
told that it had been a great success; she hoped that the enthusiasm
would last; but all these people had eaten "a mighty sight of expensive
stuff" without paying for it, which seemed to the prosaic Ernestine "bad
business."

       *       *       *       *       *

But Milly knew. She was right. Those cakes cast upon the waters of
fashionable Chicago brought in a hundredfold return. The indulgent
newspapers, always patriotically loud over local enterprise, noted the
opening of the Cake Shop as a minor social event and so in the
succeeding days all those who hadn't been invited and couldn't talk
French with the waitresses crowded into the store. It was a
Novelty,--the New Thing,--and became overnight a popular fad. M. Paul
was hard pressed to turn off enough of his delectable tid-bits--they had
to employ assistants for him almost at once, and one may suspect that
the fairylike melt-in-the-mouth quality of his best work began to
deteriorate from the second day. He had never baked cakes on this
wholesale scale. Did these gluttonous barbarians devour them by the
platterful?... Telephone orders were numerous, and Ernestine must
organize an efficient delivery system, in which she was at home. Milly
spent her days at the shop, where it became the fashion for men as well
as women to drop in late in the afternoon, to eat a cake or six and chat
with one's friends, to sip an anisette or grenadine, and maybe carry
away a bagful of cakes for the little ones at home or to eke out Mary's
thick-crusted New England pie.

So it was a Success! Milly and Ernestine worked like willing
galley-slaves, getting things to run smoothly, fitting into all the
corners that their excitable French assistants created daily. Milly was
one broad beam these days, and went happily to bed so tired that she was
asleep before she touched her pillow. Even Ernestine's heavy brows
relaxed their tension, for the "queer" business seemed to be making good
beyond her expectations. Milly had been right. They charged outrageous
prices for their delicacies, which scandalized Ernestine, who could not
believe that people would be foolish enough to pay twice and three times
what things were worth. But Milly insisted. "The people we are after,"
she said, "like it all the better the more they have to pay." And to
Ernestine's astonishment she seemed to be right again, for the present.
That, Ernestine concluded, must be another freak of this "rich trade";
the "swells" expected to be done and would be disdainful if they
weren't. Ernestine had a good deal of contempt for their patrons. But
the glowing proof of their business success lay in the cash drawer,
which literally overflowed with money, and they had accounts with half
the families in Chicago who pretended to be "in society."

Business men began to compliment Milly upon her shrewdness and predicted
a marvellous growth for the business. One broker seriously suggested
incorporating the Cake Shop, as certain candy manufacturers had
incorporated, and offered to boom the stock on the local exchange, Milly
talked of opening a summer branch in Newport or Bar Harbor, she could
not decide which. But she was a little timid about the east. She felt
that she had been right in starting in Chicago. The west was less
accustomed to Paris and had a lustier appetite for cake than New York,
and the charm of their Gallic interior was more of a novelty beside Lake
Michigan than it would be on Fifth Avenue. A branch in St. Louis or
Omaha might pay: her mind was nimble with schemes.... She was also going
out more or less all the time, to dinners and theatre parties, which
with her long day's work took every ounce of her strength and more.
Virginia had to get along these days the best she could. But was her
mother not building up a fortune for her future?

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course they had their troubles from the very start. M. Paul's
Parisian morals, it was quickly found, could not be domesticated in a
Chicago home, and quarters had to be found for him outside the house.
Then the prettiest of the girls suddenly disappeared, much to Milly's
grief and anxiety. The men had been specially attentive to Lulu, and it
was found that she had taken a trip to the Pacific Coast with a young
broker. Then in the midst of their harvest the receipts began to fall
mysteriously, and Ernestine discovered an unauthorized trail from the
cash drawer to the large pocket of their _dame de comptoir_. Ernestine
resolutely handed her over to the police, which proved to be a very bad
move indeed, for no good French substitute could be found immediately
and her Nebraska successor spoke no French and twanged her English in
the good Omaha way. She gave the Cake Shop the air of a Childs'
Restaurant. Milly cabled her ally in Paris, Madame Catteau, for a new
Queen of the Counter, but she did not arrive until their first season
was drawing to a close.

There were other difficulties, new ones almost every day, but the two
partners met them all pluckily,--Ernestine with a determined look and a
heavy hand; Milly, with smiles and tactful suggestions. Ernestine
admired the wonderful way in which Milly managed "the French help,"
talking to them in their own language, flattering them, finding
companions and ways of forgetting their loneliness. And through their
troubles both were buoyed up by the stimulating sense of success and
prosperity. They were making money,--how much they did not know because
the business was complex and they hadn't time to figure it all out,--but
a good, deal they were sure. As the winter season came to a close there
was a lull naturally because many of their patrons left the city for
California and the south. It was a convenient breathing time in which
they could straighten out their affairs and plan the future campaign.
Trade revived at the end of May and held pretty well into July, then
dropped as the country season got into swing. Ernestine was for turning
the Cake Shop into a glorified ice-cream stand for the summer, but Milly
would not hear of this desecration of her Vision; they were both tired
and had earned a vacation. So while Ernestine took Virginia to one of
the lake resorts, Milly rested in the big, cool, empty house and played
around Chicago with her numerous friends.

She felt that she deserved a reward, and she took it.




VI

COMING DOWN


The Cake Shop started the autumn season rather dully. Some of its eclat
had evaporated by the second year, and M. Paul was decidedly getting
spoiled in the New World. His cakes were inferior in both quality and
variety, and he demanded a sixty per cent rise in wages, which they felt
obliged to give him. Another girl had drifted away during the summer, so
that one lone Parisian maiden--and the homeliest of the trio--remained
to "give an air" to the Cake Shop, and she, already corrupted by the
free air of the west, gave it sullenly and with a Chicago heaviness. The
shop itself was, of course, less fresh and dainty, having suffered from
ten months of smoke, although they had spent a good deal in having it
largely redecorated. Just as the cakes became heavier, tougher, more
ordinary, as the months passed, so the whole enterprise suffered
gradually from that coarsening and griming which seems an inevitable
result of Chicago use. Much of the fine artistic flavor of Milly's
conception had already been lost. It was becoming commercialized.
Ernestine did not perceive these changes, to be sure, though Milly did
in her less buoyant moments. What troubled Ernestine was the fact that
the receipts were falling off, and the accounts were hard to collect.

She suspected that Milly had lost something of her enthusiasm for the
Cake Shop. Milly certainly devoted less ardor to the enterprise. She
continued to go out a good deal, more than Ernestine felt was good for
her health or good for the business, and she often required the use of
the house and the servants for elaborate luncheons or dinner-parties.
This invariably put the machine out of order, although Milly always feed
the employees liberally for their extra service. Ernestine did not like
to complain, because it seemed selfish to deprive Milly of the social
relaxation she craved. So she took her supper with Virgie in the
latter's nursery. When she did demur finally, Milly, without a word,
transferred her party to an expensive new hotel, which was not good for
Milly's all-too-open purse.

Business picked up at the holiday season, but fell off again thereafter.
They were not making much money this second winter, and Ernestine was
becoming anxious.

"You're always worrying about something," Milly said, when Ernestine
pointed out this fact to her. "If the Cake Shop fails, I'll think up
something else that will put us right," she added lightly, in the role
of the fertile creator, and tripped off to the theatre.

But that wasn't Ernestine's idea of business. She got out the books and
went through them again.

The play proved to be entertaining, and Milly returned home in good
spirits. From the hall she heard the sounds of voices in altercation in
the rear room where Ernestine had her desk. M. Paul's excited accent
could be distinguished playing arpeggios all over Ernestine's grumbling
bass. "Oh, dear!" thought Milly, "Paul's off the hooks again and I'll
have to straighten him out...."

"See here, my man--" Ernestine growled, but what she was going to say
was cut off by a flood of Gallic impertinence.

"Your man! Ah, non, non, non! Indeed not the man of such a woman as you!
I call you 'my voman'? Not by--"

Here Milly intervened to prevent a more explicit illustration of M.
Paul's contempt for Ernestine's femininity.

"She call me her 'man'!" the pastry-cook flamed, pointing disdainfully
at Ernestine.

"The fellow's been thieving from us for months," Ernestine said angrily,
and pointing to the door she said,--"Get out!"

"Oh, Ernestine!" Milly protested.

But M. Paul had "got out" with a few further remarks uncomplimentary to
American women, and the damage was done. Ernestine could not be made to
see that with the departure of the pastry-cook, the last substantial
prop to Milly's fairy structure was gone.

"The beast has been selling our sugar and supplies," Ernestine
explained.

"It makes no difference what he has done!" Milly replied with
justifiable asperity.

The next morning she set forth to track the fugitive pastry-cook and
wile him back to their service. She found him after a time at one of the
new hotels, where he had already been engaged as pastry-cook. To Milly's
plea that he return to his old allegiance, he orated dramatically upon
Ernestine and _la femme_ in general.

"You, Madame Brag-donne, are _du vrai monde_," he testified tearfully.
"But that thing--bah! 'Her man'--_canaille du peuple_,"--etc.

Milly, touched by the compliment, tried to make him understand the
meaning of her partner's remark. But he shook his head wrathfully, and
she was forced to depart, defeated. It was some consolation to reflect
that this time it had been Ernestine's fault. Milly thought there might
be something in the Frenchman's criticism of Ernestine. Her good partner
lacked tact, and she was indisputably "of the people." Milly
philosophized,--"Servants always feel those things."

She walked across the city from the hotel in a depressed frame of
mind,--not so much crushed by approaching disaster as numbed. She had
something of the famous "artistic temperament," which is fervid and
buoyant in creation, but apt to lose interest and become cold when the
gauzy fabric of fancy's weaving fails to work out as it should. She
passed the Cake Shop, where through the long front windows she could see
the girls idling over the marble counter, and instead of turning in, as
she had meant to do, she kept on towards the Avenue. The place gave her
a chill these days. All the dazzling gilt was dropping from the creature
of her imagination, and it was becoming smudged, like the sign, by
reality. Ernestine had seriously suggested converting the Cake Shop into
a lunch-counter for the employees of the neighboring office buildings!
Milly saw a horrible vision of coarse sandwiches, machine-made pies, and
Bismarcks (a succulent western variety of doughnut) on the marble tables
instead of Paul's dainty confections; coffee and "soft drinks" in place
of the rainbow-hued "sirops." Her soul shuddered. No, they would take
down the pretty sign and close the doors of the Cake Shop before
admitting such desecration into the temple of her dreams....

People seemed to be hurrying towards the Avenue, their heads tilted
upwards, and a crowd had gathered on the steps of the Art Institute.
Milly, whose mind fortunately was easily distracted from her troubles,
joined the pushing, good-natured throng of men and women, who were
staring open-mouthed into the heavens. It was the opening day of
Chicago's first "Air Meet," which Milly had forgotten in the anxiety
caused by M. Paul. Far above the smoky haze of the city, in the dim,
distant depths of the blue sky there was a tiny object floating,
circling waywardly, as free apparently as a lark in the high heavens, on
which the eyes of the multitude were fastened in fascination. Milly
uttered a little, unconscious sigh of satisfaction. Ah, that would be to
live,--to soar above the murk and the roar of the city, free as a bird
in the vast, wind-swept spaces of the sky! It filled her, as it did the
eager crowd, with delight and yearning aspiration. She sighed again....

"It's a pretty sight, isn't it?" a familiar voice observed close behind
her. With a start Milly turned and perceived, on the step below,--Edgar
Duncan. His long face had an eager, wistful expression, also, caused
perhaps by the aerial phenomenon above, as much as by the sight of his
lost love; but the expression took Milly back immediately to the little
front room on Acacia Street, when Duncan had stood before her to receive
his blow.

"There!" Duncan exclaimed quickly, before Milly could collect an
appropriate remark. "He's coming down!" Speechless they both craned
their heads backwards to follow the aeroplane. The airman, tired of his
lofty wandering, or having done the day's stunt required of him, had
begun to descend and shot rapidly towards the spectators out of the sky.
As he came nearer the earth, he executed the reckless corkscrew
man[oe]uvre: the great winged machine seemed to be rushing, tumbling in
a perpendicular line just above the heads of the gazing crowd. There was
an agonized murmur, a prolonged,--"Ah!" It gave Milly delicious thrills
up and down her body. When the airman took another leap towards earth,
her heart stopped beating altogether. With only a few hundred feet
between him and the earth the airman turned his planes and began
circling in slow curves over the adjacent strip of park, as if he were
judiciously selecting the best spot for alighting.

"It doesn't take 'em long to come down!" Duncan remarked, and Milly,
with a swift mental comparison of the aeroplane flight and her own
little fate, replied,--

"It never takes long to come down, does it?"

She looked more closely now at her former lover. Apparently his blow had
not seriously damaged him. His figure was fuller and his face tanned to
a healthier color than she remembered. He seemed to be in good spirits,
and not perceptibly older than he was ten years before. They descended
the steps with the moving throng and strolled slowly up the crowded
boulevard, watching the distant flights and talking.

Edgar Duncan, she learned, had not spent the ten years nursing a wounded
heart. He had doubled the acreage of his ranch, he told her, and thanks
to the fatherly government at Washington, which had trebled the duty on
foreign lemons, he was doing very well indeed. The big yellow balls
among the glossy leaves were fast becoming golden balls. He was now on
his way east to see his people and also to look after the interests of a
fruit-growers' association in the matter of a railroad rate on lemons.
He seemed very much alive. The blow had probably done him good, Milly
concluded,--had waked him up.

There were a few hours between his trains, he explained to Milly, and so
he had wandered over to the park to watch the aeroplanes, which were the
first of the bird machines he had ever seen. It was almost time now for
him to leave. But he lost that Washington train. For he walked home with
Milly to see her little girl, stayed to luncheon, and was still at the
house telling Virginia about real oranges on real orange trees when
Ernestine came in. She was hot and tired, evidently much disturbed, and
more than usually short with Milly's guest. Duncan left soon afterwards,
and then Milly asked,--

"What's the matter, Ernestine?"

"I'd think you'd know!... If we can't get a cook, we might as well shut
up the shop to-morrow."

Milly had forgotten all about the loss of the pastry-cook and the
business in her surprise at meeting Edgar Duncan again and all the
memories he had revived.

"All right!" she said promptly. "Do it."

"Give up the business?" Ernestine asked in amazement. She could not
believe Milly meant to take her testy remark seriously. What had come
over Milly!

"We might try it in Pasadena," Milly remarked after a time. "There are a
lot of rich people out there."

This went beyond the bounds of Ernestine's patience.

"Pasadena!... Last time it was Palm Beach, and before that it was
Newport. What's the matter with staying right here and making good?"

Milly did not reply. Ernestine's pent-up irritation overflowed still
more.

"You ain't any business woman, Milly!"

"I never said I was."

"You always want to get in some society work--social pull! Rich folks!"
Ernestine groaned with disgust. "That kind of furor don't last. They're
too flighty in their notions."

"Like me," Milly interposed bitterly.

"Well, it ain't business to quit."

"Oh, business!" Milly exclaimed disgustedly. She felt like an artist
whose great work has been scorned by the philistines.

"Yes, business!" Ernestine asserted hotly. "If you're going into
business, you've got to play the game and play it _hard_ all the time,
too. Or you'd better marry and do the other thing."

"Perhaps I'll marry," Milly retorted with an enigmatical smile.

Ernestine stared at her agape. Was that what was the trouble with Milly?
She had not meant to go so far.




VII

CAPITULATIONS


They found another pastry-cook,--a French-Canadian woman. But if her
ancestors had ever seen the Isle de France, it must have been centuries
ago, and the family had become fatally corrupted since by British
gastronomic ideals. Her pastry was thicker and heavier than Paul's
worst, and she had "no more imagination than a cow" according to Milly.
How could one make fine cakes without imagination? "They make better
ones at the Auditorium Hotel even," Milly observed disgustedly. The Cake
Shop had gone down another peg. Now it served afternoon tea with English
wafers instead of the exotic "sirops" and "liqueurs," and advertised
"Dainty Luncheons for Suburban Shoppers." (That was Ernestine's
phrasing.) Milly almost never went near the place, and acted as if she
wanted to forget it altogether.

In her efforts to revive her partner's waning interest Ernestine even
suggested Milly's going again to Paris to engage a fresh crew, but Milly
only shrugged her shoulders. "What's the use? You know we haven't the
money."

"Borrow it!" Ernestine said desperately.

"When a thing is dead, it's dead," Milly pronounced, and added
oracularly, "Better to let the dead past bury its dead," and murmured
the lines from a celebrated new play, "Smashed to hell is smashed to
hell!" If she were willing to see her creation die, Ernestine ought to
be. But that was not Ernestine's nature: she was not artistic nor
temperamental, as Milly often proved to her. In her dumb, heavy fashion
she still tried to prop up the ill-fated Cake Shop and make it pay
expenses at least, in one way or another.

The time came, as it must come, when even this was more than Ernestine
could compass. She had tried every device she could think of, but, as
she reflected sadly, she had not been brought up to the "food business."
It was a peculiar business, like all businesses, especially the
delicatessen end, and needed an expert to diagnose its cure. So the
doors were closed, and a "To Rent" sign plastered on the front panes.
Ernestine acknowledged defeat.

Milly was outwardly unmoved. She had divined the outcome so much sooner
than her partner that she had already passed through the agonies of
failure and come to that other side where one looks about for the next
engagement with life. Possibly she had already in view what this was to
be. She assented indifferently to Ernestine's proposal that they should
meet Mr. Kemp and the agent at the Shop and decide what was to be done
about the lease, which had more than a year to run.

"They'll be there shortly after noon," Ernestine reminded Milly, as the
latter was about to leave the house that day.

"All right," she said evasively. "I'll try to be there, but it won't
make any difference if I'm not--you know about everything."

She was not there. Ernestine knew well enough that Milly would not come
to the funeral of their enterprise at the Cake Shop, and though she felt
hurt she said nothing to the men and went through with the last
formalities in the dusty, dismantled temple of cakes. At the end the
banker asked Ernestine kindly what she meant to do. He knew that the
Laundryman's capital had gone--all her savings--and that "the firm" was
in debt to his bank for a loan of several hundred dollars, which he
expected to pay himself and also to take care of the lease.

"I don't know yet," Ernestine replied. "I'll find some place.... And it
won't be in any fancy kind of business like this, you can bet," and she
cast a malevolent glance over the tarnished glories of the Cake Shop. "I
got my experience and I paid for it--with every cent I had in the world.
I ain't goin' to buy any more of that!"

The banker laughed sympathetically.

"What's Mrs. Bragdon going to do?" he inquired.

"I don't know--she hasn't told me yet."

Her answer was evasive because Ernestine suspected very well what Milly
was likely to do.... She turned the key in the lock, handed it over to
the agent, and with a curt nod to the two men strode away from the Cake
Shop for the last time. (That evening the banker, reporting the
occurrence to his wife, said,--"I feel sorry for that woman! She's lost
every cent she had--our Milly has milked her clean." "Walter, how can
you say that?" his wife replied indignantly. "It wasn't Milly's fault if
the business failed, any more than hers." "Well, I'd like to bet it's a
good big part the fault of our pretty friend." "Miss Geyer ought not to
have gone into something she knew nothing about." "Milly bewitched her,
I expect. The best thing she can do is to shake her and go back to the
laundry business.")

It was not Ernestine, however, who was to "shake" Milly. That lady
herself was busily evading their partnership, as Ernestine suspected.
While the short obsequies were being transacted at the Cake Shop, Milly
was lunching in the one good new hotel Chicago boasts with Edgar Duncan,
who had returned from Washington sooner than expected and had asked
Milly by telegraph to lunch with him. Seated in the spacious, cool room
overlooking the Boulevard and the Lake, at a little table cosily placed
beside the open window, Milly might easily have looked through the
fragrant plants in the flower-box and descried Ernestine doggedly
tramping homeward from her final task at the Cake Shop. Milly preferred
to study the menu through her little gold lorgnette, and when that
important matter had been settled to her satisfaction, she sat back
contentedly and smiled upon the man opposite her, who, after a
successful hearing before the Commerce Commission, had more than ever
the alert air of a man who knows his own business. Outside in the summer
sunlight, above the blue water of the Lake and over the dingy sward of
the Park, the airmen were man[oe]uvring their winged ships, casting
great shadows as they dipped and soared above the admiring throngs.

"See," Milly pointed excitedly through the open window. "He's going up
now!" And she twisted her neck to get the last glimpse of the mounting
machine.

"Yes," Duncan remarked indifferently, "they're doing a lot of stunts."
But he hadn't come back from Washington by the first train that left
after the hearing to talk aeroplanes. And Milly let him do the talking,
as she always had, listening with a childlike interest to what he had to
say.

By this time the reader must know Milly well enough to be able to divine
for himself what was passing in her mind as she daintily excavated the
lobster shell on her plate and listened to the plea of her rejected
lover. Probably this was no more able to stir her pulses to a mad rhythm
to-day than it had been ten years before. Edgar Duncan was somewhat
nearer being her Ideal,--not much. But Milly was ten years older and
"had had her throbs," as she once expressed it. She knew their meaning
now, their relative value, and she knew other values.

The value of a home and a stable position among her fellows, for
instance, no matter how small, and so she listens demurely while the man
talks hungrily of the Joy of Home and the Beauty of Woman in the Home,
"where they belong, not in business." (How Ernestine would give it to
him for that, and Hazel, too, Milly thought!)

"You are such a woman, Milly!" he exclaims.--"Just a woman!" and in his
voice the expression has a tender, reverential sound that falls
pleasantly on Milly's ears. But she says nothing: she does not mean to
be "soft" this time. Yet in reply to another compliment, she admits,
smiling delphically,--"Yes, I _am_ a woman!"

The man takes up another verse of his song, for he has planned this
attack carefully while the swift wheels were turning off the miles
between Washington and Chicago.

"You want your little girl to have a home, too, don't you? A real home,
_your_ home, where she can get the right sort of start in life?"

"Yes," Milly assents quickly. "The proper kind of home means so much
more to a girl than to a boy. If I myself had had--" But she stops
before this baseness to poor old Horatio. "I want Virgie's life to be
different from mine--so utterly different!"

A wave of self-pity for her loneliness after all her struggle sweeps
over her and casts a cloud on her face.

"You can't be a business woman and make that kind of home for your
daughter," Duncan persists, pushing forward his point.

Milly shakes her head.

"I'm afraid a woman can't!" she sighs.

(She doesn't feel it necessary to tell him that for almost one hour by
the clock she has not been a "business woman," even in the legal sense
of the term.)

"Oh," she murmurs, as if convinced by his logic, "I'm good for
nothing--I can't even be a good mother!"

"You are good for everything--for me!"

But Milly is not ready yet. In this sort of transaction she has grown to
be a more expert trader than she was once.

"It must be the right man," she observes impersonally.

And the Ranchman takes another start. He paints glowingly the freedom
and the beauty of that outdoors life on the Pacific Coast,--the fragrant
lemon orchard with its golden harvest of yellow balls, the velvety
heavens spangled with stars each night, the blooming roses, etc., etc.
But he cannot keep long off the personal note.

"I've sat there nights on my veranda, and thought and thought of you,
Milly, until it seemed as though you were really there by my side and I
could almost touch you."

"Really!" Milly is becoming moved in spite of herself. Somehow Duncan's
words have a genuine ring to them. "I believe," she muses, "that you
_are_ the sort of man who could care always for a woman."

"I always have cared for one woman!"

"You are good, Edgar."

"I don't know about that. Good hasn't much to do between men and women
when they love.... It's always love that counts, isn't it?"

(Milly is not as sure of that doctrine as she was once, but she is
content that the man should feel that way. She does not argue the
point.)

"Can't you sit there with me, Milly, and watch the stars for the rest of
our lives?"

Milly evades. She must have the terms set forth more explicitly.

"It wouldn't be right to keep Virgie out there away from people all the
time, would it?"

He sees the point and yields.

"We'll come here every year for the fall and see your friends."

"That would be nice," she accepts graciously. But Chicago doesn't appeal
to Milly as strongly as it had on her first return to its breezy, hearty
life.

"I should like to have Virgie study music," she suggests, "and
travel--have advantages."

"Of course!" he assents eagerly, and bids again, more daringly,--"We'll
take her to Europe."

"That would be pleasant."

"In a year or two," he explains, "the ranch will almost run itself and
be making big money--with the right rate on lemons and the tariff as it
is. Then we can do almost anything we please--live any place you like."

A pause here. So far it is wholly satisfactory, Milly is thinking, and
she wonders what more she wants. Then,--

"Milly?"

She looks at him with kind eyes.

"You won't make me wait--much longer?"

Milly slowly shakes her head, acceptingly.

"God, how I have longed for you!"

"Silly man!"

But she is pleased. She is thinking,--

"I'm doing it for Virginia. It's her only chance--I must do it."

Which was not altogether a falsehood, and she repeats this self-defence
to herself again when later on Duncan kisses her for the first
time,--"It's for _her_ sake--I would do anything for her." And with a
sigh of unconquerable sentimentalism she seals her bargain on the man's
lips. She has found a new sentimental faith,--a mother's sacrifice for
her child.... But she is really very glad, and quite tender with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In this mood she bade her lover good-by at the door and went back into
the house to meet her partner. Ernestine, who was not too obtuse to
recognize what had happened without the need of many words, listened to
Milly's announcement dumbly. At the end she put her hand on Milly's
shoulder and looked steadily at her for several moments. She was well
enough aware how false Milly had been to her, how careless of her stupid
heart, how she had betrayed her in the final hour of their tribulations.
Nevertheless, she said quite honestly,--"I'm so glad, dearie, for you!"
and kissed her.




VIII

THE SUNSHINE SPECIAL


A few weeks later a little party gathered in the murky railroad station
from which the California trains depart from Chicago. As they approached
the waiting train, which bore on its observation platform the brass
sign, "Sunshine Special," the negro porters showed their gleaming teeth
and the conductor muttered with an appropriate smile,--"Another of them
bridal parties!" At the head of the little procession the Ranchman
walked, conversing with Walter Kemp. Duncan had an air of apparent
detachment, but one eye usually rested on Milly, who was walking with
her father and was followed by a laughing group. Eleanor Kemp was not
among them. Somehow since the last evolution of Milly's affairs there
had been a coolness between these two old friends, and Mrs. Kemp had not
taken the trouble to leave her summer home "to see Milly off" again. She
had sent her instead a very pretty dressing-case with real
gold-stoppered bottles, which the new husband now handed over to the
porter.

Milly's arm was caressingly placed on her father's. Horatio was older,
more wizened, than when we first met him, but he was genial and happy,
with a boyish light in his eyes.

"You'll be sure to come, papa!" Milly said, squeezing his arm.

"I won't miss it this time, daughter," Horatio replied slyly,--"my
long-delayed trip to California." He chuckled reminiscently.

"You must bring Josephine with you, of course," Milly added hastily.

Mrs. Horatio, still stern behind her spectacles, even in the midst of a
merry bridal party, relented sufficiently to say,--

"I ain't much on travelling about in cars myself."

Milly, with the amiability of one who has at last "made good," remarked
patronizingly,--

"You'll get used to the cars in three days, my dear."

Horatio meanwhile was playing with little Virginia, teasing her about
her "new Papa." The little girl smiled rather dubiously. She had the
animal-like loyalty of childhood, and glanced suspiciously at the "New
Papa." However, she had already learned from the constant mutations of
her brief life to accept the New and the Unexpected without complaint.
At last perceiving Ernestine, who was hurrying breathlessly down the
long platform in search of the party, a huge bunch of long-stemmed roses
hugged close in her arms, Virginia ran to meet her old friend and clung
tight to the Laundryman.

"Take 'em!" Ernestine said, breathing hard and thrusting the prickly
flowers into Milly's arms. "My! I thought I'd miss the train."

"Oh, Ernestine! why did you do that, dear?" Milly exclaimed in a pleased
voice.

"It's the last of the Cake Shop!" Ernestine replied with a grim smile.
And the roses were almost literally the sole remains of that defunct
enterprise, having taken the last of Ernestine's dollars.

"They're perfectly gorgeous--it was lovely of you to think of bringing
them for me. I'll cut the stems and put them in water and they will keep
all the way to the Coast--and remind me of you," Milly said, who had
formed the habit of receiving floral offerings.

She handed the awkward bunch over to "Husband," who hastened dutifully
to place them in their compartment.

"He's on his job," Ernestine grinned. The banker laughed.

"That's what we men are made for, isn't it, Milly?"

"Of course!"

She was in her right element once more, the centre of the
picture,--becomingly dressed in a gray travelling suit, "younger than
ever," about to start on a wonderful three days' journey to a strange
new land, with her faithful and adoring knight. What more was there in
life?

       *       *       *       *       *

"All aboard!" the conductor droned.

Exclamations and final embraces. Milly came to Ernestine Geyer last.

"Good-by, dear! You've been awfully good to me--I can never forget it!"

"Yes, you will--that's all right," Ernestine replied gruffly, not
knowing exactly what she was saying.

"I hope you'll make a fortune in your new business--"

"Him and me," Ernestine interrupted, nodding jocularly towards the
banker, "are going into the laundry business together."

"You must write me all about it!"

"I will."

In a last confidential whisper Milly said,--"And some day marry a good
man, dear!"

"Marry!!" Ernestine hooted, so that all could hear. "Me, marry! Not
much--I'll leave the matrimony business to you."

Then they kissed.

There were tears in Ernestine's eyes as she stood waving a
pocket-handkerchief after the receding train. Milly was at the rail of
the observation platform, leaning on the brass sign and waving both
hands to her old friends, Chicago, her past. Little Virginia at her side
waved an inch or two of white also, while the smiling ranchman stood
over them benignantly, protectingly, one hand on his wife's shoulder to
keep her from falling over the rail.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the train had swept out into the yards, the little party broke up.
Horatio, who was choky, turned to his wife. Mrs. Horatio was already
studying through her spectacles a suburban time-card to ascertain the
next "local" for Elm Park. Ernestine and Walter Kemp slowly strolled up
the train-shed together. The banker was the first to break the
silence:--

"Guess they'll have a comfortable journey, not too dusty.... He seems to
be a good fellow, and he must have a fine place out there."

Ernestine said nothing.

"Well," the banker remarked, "Milly is settled now anyway--hope she'll
be happy! She wasn't much of a business woman, eh?" He looked at
Ernestine, who smiled grimly, but made no reply. "She's better off
married, I expect--most women are," he philosophized, "whether they like
it or not.... That's what a woman like Milly is meant for.... She's the
kind that men have run after from the beginning of the world, I
guess--the woman with beauty and charm, you know."

Ernestine nodded. She knew better than the banker.

"She'll never do much anywhere, but she'll always find some man crazy to
do for her," and he added something in German about the eternal
feminine, which Ernestine failed to get.

There was a steady drizzle from a lowering, greasy sky outside of the
train-shed, and the two paused at the door. With a long sigh Ernestine
emitted,--

"I only hope she'll be happy now!"

As if he had not heard this heartfelt prayer, the banker mused aloud,--

"She's Woman,--the old-fashioned kind,--just Woman!"

Ernestine looked steadily into the drizzle. Neither commented on what
both understood to be the banker's meaning,--that Milly was the type of
what men through the ages, in their paramount desire for exclusive sex
possession, had made of women, what civilization had made of her, and
society still encouraged her to become when she could,--an
adventuress,--in the banker's more sophisticated phrase,--a fortuitous,
somewhat parasitic creature. In Ernestine's more vulgar idiom, if she
had permitted herself to express her conviction, "Milly was a little
grafter." But Ernestine would not have let hot iron force the words
through her lips....

"And I suppose," the banker concluded, "that's the kind of women men
will always desire and want to work for."

"I guess so," Ernestine mumbled.

Had she not worked for Milly? She would have slaved for her cheerfully
all her life and felt it a privilege. Milly had stripped her to the
bone, and wounded her heart in addition,--but Ernestine loved her still.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Can I put you down anywhere?" Kemp asked, as his car came up to the
curb.

"No, thanks--I'll walk."

"Remember when you want some money for your new business to come and see
me!"

"I owe you too much now."

"Oh," he said good-naturedly, "that account is wiped off. The
partnership's been dissolved."

"That ain't the way I do business."

"I wish more of my men customers felt like _you_," the banker laughed as
the car drove away.

Ernestine plunged into the drizzle, and while the Sunshine Special was
hurrying the old-fashioned woman westward to the golden slopes of
California, with her pretty

    "face that burned the topless towers of Ilium,"

the new woman plodded sturdily through the mucky Chicago streets on her
way to the eternal Job.

Milly was settled at last, and, let us assume, "lived happily ever
after."




BY THE SAME AUTHOR




THE HEALER

"Distinctly unusual--and distinctly interesting."--_Chicago
Inter-Ocean._

"Mr. Herrick's finest."--_Omaha Herald._

"Had Ibsen been a novelist, and had he chosen Mr. Herrick's theme in
'The Healer,' he might have written much the same sort of a
novel."--_The Dial._

"Of extraordinary vividness--a book of power."--_Chicago Tribune._

"Mr. Herrick has written a novel in which every page has sustained
interest, though we think he does not intend the reader to grasp the
full moral purport of his story until he reveals it himself in the last
paragraph. We credit the writer not only with possessing a high ideal,
but also with having carried out his object with great artistic
success--two things which are unhappily not often found between the same
covers."--_London Athenaeum._

"...exceedingly well done."--_Bookman._

"...bears directly upon great evils in society to-day."--_N.Y. Times._


TOGETHER

"Scarce a page but is tense and strong."--_Record-Herald._

"A masterpiece of keen vision and vivid depiction."--_Mail._

"An absorbing story ... likely to make a sensation."--_New York Evening
Post._

"A book of the first magnitude, that handles a momentous theme boldly,
wisely, sympathetically, and with insight."--_The Forum._


A LIFE FOR A LIFE

"A serious attempt to treat a big living question in a new
way."--_Record-Herald._


THE GOSPEL OF FREEDOM

"A novel that may be truly called the greatest study of social life that
has ever been contributed to American fiction."--_Chicago Inter-Ocean._


THE WEB OF LIFE

"It is strong in that it faithfully depicts many phases of American
life, and uses them to strengthen a web of fiction, which is most
artistically wrought out."--_Buffalo Express._


THE COMMON LOT

Is a strong, virile picture of modern business life, with all its
temptations to "graft" and its fight for privilege.

"A novel which it would be difficult to overpraise."--_Philadelphia
Ledger._

"It is by long odds the greatest novel of the autumn."--_The New York
American._


THE REAL WORLD

"Unusually satisfying.... The hero steadily approaches the dividing line
between safety and ruin and you are kept in agitated suspense until the
dramatic climax. A number of powerful scenes add color and forcefulness
to a story in the main eminently satisfactory."--_Record-Herald_,
Chicago.





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