The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XVIII - Love, the Blunderer
As Dory had several months’ work before him at Paris, he and Del took a furnished apartment in the Rue de Rivoli, high up, attractive within, before its balconied windows the stately trees, the fountains, the bright flower beds, the thronged playgrounds of the Tuileries. But they were not long left to themselves; in their second week, the concierge’s little girl late one afternoon brought Janet’s card up to Adelaide. As Janet entered, Del regretted having yielded to impulse and admitted her. For, the granddaughter of “blue-jeans Jones,” the tavern keeper, was looking the elegant and idle aristocrat from the tip of the tall, graceful plume in her most Parisian of hats to the buckles of shoes which matched her dress, parasol, and jewels. A lovely Janet, a marvelous Janet; a toilette it must have taken her two hours to make, and spiritual hazel eyes that forbade the idea of her giving so much as a moment’s thought to any material thing, even to dress. Adelaide had spent with the dressmakers a good part of the letter of credit her mother slipped into her traveling bag at the parting; she herself was in a negligee which had as much style as Janet’s costume and, in addition, individual taste, whereof Janet had but little; and besides, while her beauty had the same American delicateness, as of the finest, least florid Sèvres or Dresden, it also had a look of durability which Janet’s beauty lacked–for Janet’s beauty depended upon those fragilities, coloring and contour. Adelaide was not notably vain, had a clear sense of her defects, tended to exaggerate them, rather than her many and decisive good points. It was not Janet’s appearance that unsettled Del; she brought into the room the atmosphere Del had breathed during all those important years of girlhood, and had not yet lost her fondness for. It depressed her at once about herself to note how this vision of the life that had been but would never be again affected her.
“You are sad, dear,” said Janet, as she kissed her on both cheeks with a diffusing of perfume that gave her a sense of a bouquet of priceless exotics waving before her face.
“You are sad, dear,” she repeated, with that air of tenderest sympathy which can be the safest cover for subtle malice.
“I’m so glad I’ve come when I may be able to do some good.”
“How cozy these rooms are–”
At “cozy” Adelaide shuddered. No one ever used, except apologetically, that word, which is the desperate last resort of compliment.
“And what a beautiful view from the windows–so much better than ours at the pompous old Bristol, looking out on that bare square!”
Adelaide laughed. Not by chance, she knew, did Miss Janet, with her softly sheathed but swift and sharp cat claws, drag in the delicate hint that while Adelaide was “cozy” in an unaristocratic maison meublée, she herself was ensconced in the haunts of royalty; and it suddenly came back to Del how essentially cheap was “aristocracy.”
“But I mustn’t look at those adorable gardens,” continued Janet. “They fill me with longing for the country, for the pure, simple things. I am so sick of the life mamma and I lead. And you are married to dear Dory–how romantic! And I hear that Arthur is to marry Margaret Schultz–or whatever her name was–that splendid creature! She was a dear friend of the trained nurse I had last spring, and what the nurse told me about her made me positively love her. Such character! And getting ready to lead such a useful life.” This without the least suggestion of struggle with a difficult subject. “Arthur is a noble fellow, too. If we had been in spiritual accord, I’d have loved to go and lead his life with him.”
Adelaide was in high good humor now–Janet was too preposterous to be taken seriously. “What do you want me to do for you, Jen?” said she.
“Why, nothing!” exclaimed Janet, looking a little wonder and much reproach.
Del laughed. “Now, really, Jen,” said she. “You know you never in the world went to all the trouble of getting my address, and then left royalty at the Bristol for a maison meublée, four flights up and no elevator, just to see me!”
“I had thought of something I was sure would give you pleasure,” said Janet, injured.
“What do you want me to do for you?” repeated Adelaide, with smiling persistence.
“Mamma and I have an invitation to spend a week at Besançon–you know, it’s the splendid old chateau Louis Treize used to love to visit. It’s still the seat of the Saint Berthè family, and the present Marquis, a dear friend of ours, is such a wonderful, fine old nobleman–so simple and gracious and full of epigrams. He really ought to wear lace and ruffles and a beautiful peruke. At any rate, as I was saying, he has asked us down. But mamma has to go to England to see papa before he sails, and I thought you’d love to visit the chateau–you and Dory. It’s so poetic–and historic, too.”
“Your mother is going away and you’ll be unable to make this visit unless you get a chaperon, and you want me to chaperon you,” said Adelaide, who was not minded to be put in the attitude of being the recipient of a favor from this particular young woman at this particular time, when in truth she was being asked to confer a favor. “Adversity” had already sharpened her wits to the extent of making her alert to the selfishness disguised as generosity which the prosperous love to shower upon their little brothers and sisters of the poor. She knew at once that Janet must have been desperately off for a chaperon to come to her.
A look of irritation marred Janet’s spiritual countenance for an instant. But she never permitted anything whatsoever to stand between her and what she wished. She masked herself and said sweetly: “Won’t you go, dear? I know you’ll enjoy it–you and Dory. And it would be a great favor to me. I don’t see how I can go unless you consent. You know, I mayn’t go with just anyone.”
Adelaide’s first impulse was to refuse; but she did not. She put off decision by saying, “I’ll ask Dory to-night, and let you know in the morning. Will that do?”
“Perfectly,” said Janet, rising to go. “I’ll count on you, for I know Dory will want to see the chateau and get a glimpse of life in the old aristocracy. It will be so educational.”
Dory felt the change in Del the instant he entered their little salon–felt that during the day some new element had intruded into their friendly life together, to interrupt, to unsettle, and to cloud the brightening vistas ahead. At the mention of Janet he began to understand. He saw it all when she said with a show of indifference that deceived only herself, “Wouldn’t you like to go down to Besançon?”
“Not I,” replied he coldly. “Europe is full of that kind of places. You can’t glance outdoors without seeing a house or a ruin where the sweat and blood of peasants were squandered.”
“Janet thought you’d be interested in it as history,” persisted Adelaide, beginning to feel irritated.
“That’s amusing,” said Dory. “You might have told her that scandal isn’t history, that history never was made in such places. As for the people who live there now, they’re certainly not worth while–the same pretentious ignoramuses that used to live there, except they no longer have fangs.”
“You ought not to be so prejudiced,” said Adelaide, who in those days often found common sense irritating. She had the all but universal habit of setting down to “prejudice” such views as are out of accord with the set of views held by one’s business or professional or social associates.
Her irritation confirmed Dory’s suspicions. “I spoke only for myself," said he. “Of course, you’ll accept Janet’s invitation. She included me only as a matter of form.”
“I couldn’t, without you.”
“But I urge you to go–want you to go! I can’t possibly leave Paris, not for a day–at present.”
“I shan’t go without you,” said Adelaide, trying hard to make her tone firm and final.
Dory leaned across the table toward her–they were in the garden of a cafe in the Latin Quarter. “If you don’t go, Del,” said he, “you’ll make me feel that I am restraining you in a way far meaner than a direct request not to go. You want to go. I want you to go. There is no reason why you shouldn’t.”
Adelaide smiled shamefacedly. “You honestly want to get rid of me?”
“Honestly. I’d feel like a jailer, if you didn’t go.”
“What’ll you do in the evenings?”
“Work later, dine later, go to bed and get up earlier.”
“Work–always work,” she said. She sighed, not wholly insincerely. “I wish I weren’t so idle and aimless. If I were the woman I ought to be–”
“None of that–none of that!” he cried, in mock sternness.
“I ought to be interested in your work.”
“Why, I thought you were!” he exclaimed, in smiling astonishment.
“Oh, of course, in a way–in an ’entertainment’ sort of way. I like to hear you talk about it–who wouldn’t? But I don’t give the kind of interest I should–the interest that thinks and suggests and stimulates.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” said Dory. “The ’helpful’ sort of people are usually a nuisance.”
But she knew the truth, though passion might still be veiling it from him. Life, before her father’s will forced an abrupt change, had been to her a showman, submitting his exhibits for her gracious approval, shifting them as soon as she looked as if she were about to be bored; and the change had come before she had lived long enough to exhaust and weary of the few things he has for the well-paying passive spectator, but not before she had formed the habit of making only the passive spectator’s slight mental exertion.
“Dory is so generous,” she thought, with the not acutely painful kind of remorse we lay upon the penitential altar for our own shortcomings, “that he doesn’t realize how I’m shirking and letting him do all the pulling." And to him she said, “If you could have seen into my mind while Janet was here, you’d give me up as hopeless.”
Dory laughed. “I had a glimpse of it just now–when you didn’t like it because I couldn’t see my way clear to taking certain people so seriously as you think they deserve.”
“But you are prejudiced on that subject,” she maintained.
“And ever shall be,” admitted he, so good-humoredly that she could not but respond. “It’s impossible for me to forget that every luxurious idler means scores who have to work long hours for almost nothing in order that he may be of no use to the world or to himself.”
“You’d have the whole race on a dead level,” said Adelaide.
“Of material prosperity–yes,” replied Dory. “A high dead level. I’d abolish the coarse, brutal contrasts between waste and want. Then there’d be a chance for the really interesting contrasts–the infinite varieties of thought and taste and character and individuality.”
“I see,” said Adelaide, as if struck by a new idea. “You’d have the contrasts, differences among flowers, not merely between flower and weed. You’d abolish the weeds.”
“Root and stalk,” answered Dory, admiring her way of putting it. “My objection to these aristocratic ideals is that they are so vulgar–and so dishonest. Is that prejudice?”
“No–oh, no!” replied Del sincerely. “Now, it seems to me, I don’t care to go with Janet.”
“Not to oblige me–very particularly? I want you to go. I want you to see for yourself, Del.”
She laughed. “Then I’ll go–but only because you ask it.”
That was indeed an elegant company at Besançon–elegant in dress, elegant in graceful carelessness of manners, elegant in graceful sinuosities of cleverly turned phrases. But after the passing of the first and second days’ sensations, Hiram and Ellen Ranger’s daughter began to have somewhat the same feeling she remembered having as a little girl, when she went to both the afternoon and the evening performances of the circus. These people, going through always the same tricks in the same old narrow ring of class ideas, lost much of their charm after a few repetitions of their undoubtedly clever and attractive performance; she even began to see how they would become drearily monotonous. “No wonder they look bored,” she thought. “They are.” What enormous importance they attached to trifles! What ludicrous tenacity in exploded delusions! And what self-complacent claiming of remote, powerful ancestors who had founded their families, when those ancestors would have disclaimed them as puny nonentities. Their ideas were wholly provided for them, precisely as were their clothes and every artistic thing that gave them “background.” They would have made as absurd a failure of trying to evolve the one as the other. Yet they posed–and were widely accepted–as the superiors of those who made their clothes and furniture and of those who made their ideas. And she had thought Dory partly insincere, partly prejudiced when he had laughed at them. Why, he had only shown the plainest kind of American good sense. As for snobbishness, was not the silly-child American brand of it less ridiculous than this unblushing and unconcealed self-reverence, without any physical, mental or material justification whatsoever? They hadn’t good manners even, because–as Dory had once said–no one could have really good manners who believed, and acted upon the belief, that he was the superior of most of the members of his own family–the human race.
“I suppose I could compress myself back into being satisfied with this sort of people and things,” she thought, as she looked round the ballroom from which pose and self-consciousness and rigid conventionality had banished spontaneous gayety. “I suppose I could even again come to fancying this the only life. But I certainly don’t care for it now.”
But, although Adelaide was thus using her eyes and her mind–her own eyes and her own mind–in observing what was going on around her, she did not disconcert the others, not even Janet, by expressing her thoughts. Common sense–absolute common sense–always sounds incongruous in a conventional atmosphere. In its milder forms it produces the effect of wit; in stronger doses it is a violent irritant; in large quantity, it causes those to whom it is administered to regard the person administering it as insane. Perhaps Adelaide might have talked more or less frankly to Janet had Janet not been so obviously in the highest of her own kind of heavens. She was raised to this pinnacle by the devoted attentions of the Viscount Brunais, eldest son of Saint Berthè and the most agreeable and adaptable of men, if the smallest and homeliest. Adelaide spoke of his intelligence to Janet, when they were alone before dinner on the fourth day, and Janet at once responded.
“And such a soul!” she exclaimed. “He inherits all the splendid, noble traditions of their old, old family. You see in his face that he is descended from generations of refinement and–and–freedom from contact with vulgarizing work, don’t you?”
“That hadn’t struck me,” said Adelaide amiably. “But he’s a well-meaning, good-hearted little man, and, of course, he feels as at home in the surroundings he’s had all his life as a bird on a bough. Who doesn’t?”
“But when you know him better, when you know him as I know him–” Janet’s expression disclosed the secret.
“But won’t you be lonely–away off here–among–foreign people?" said Adelaide.
“Oh, I should love it here!” exclaimed Janet. “It seems to me I–he and I–must have lived in this very chateau in a former existence. We have talked about it, and he agrees with me. We are so harmonious.”
“You’ve really made up your mind to–to marry him?” Adelaide had almost said “to buy him"; she had a sense that it was her duty to disregard Janet’s pretenses, and “buy” was so exactly the word to use with these people to whom money was the paramount consideration, the thought behind every other thought, the feeling behind every other feeling, the mainspring of their lives, the mainstay of all the fictions of their aristocracy.
“That depends on father,” replied Janet. “Mother has gone to talk to him about it.”
“I’m sure your father won’t stand between you and happiness,” said Adelaide.
“But he doesn’t understand these aristocratic people,” replied she. “Of course, if it depended upon Aristide and me, we should be married without consulting anybody. But he can’t legally marry without his father’s consent, and his father naturally wants proper settlements. It’s a cruel law, don’t you think?”
Adelaide thought not; she thought it, on the contrary, an admirable device to “save the face” of a mercenary lover posing as a sentimentalist and money-spurner. But she merely said, “I think it’s most characteristic, most aristocratic.” She knew Janet, how shrewd she was, how thoroughly she understood the “coarse side of life.” She added, “And your father’ll come round.”
“I wish I could believe it,” sighed Janet. “The Saint Berthès have an exaggerated notion of papa’s wealth. Besides, they need a good deal. They were robbed horribly by those dreadful revolutionists. They used to own all this part of the country. All these people round here with their little farms were once the peasants of Aristide’s ancestors. Now–even this chateau has a mortgage on it. I couldn’t keep back the tears, while Aristide was telling me.”
Adelaide thought of Charles Whitney listening to that same recital, and almost laughed. “Well, I feel sure it will turn out all right,” she said. “Your mother’ll see to that. And I believe you’ll be very, very happy." Theatricals in private life was Janet’s passion–why should she not be happy? Frenchmen were famous for their politeness and consideration to their wives; Aristide would never let her see or feel that she bored him, that her reverence for the things he was too intelligent and modern not to despise appealed to him only through his sense of humor. Janet would push her shrewd, soulful way into social leadership, would bring her children up to be more aristocratic than the children of the oldest aristocrats.
Adelaide smiled as she pictured it all–smiled, yet sighed. She was not under Janet’s fixed and unshakable delusions. She saw that high-sounding titles were no more part of the personalities bearing them than the mass of frankly false hair so grandly worn by Aristide’s grand-aunt was part of the wisp-like remnant of natural head covering. But that other self of hers, so reluctant to be laughed or frowned down and out by the self that was Hiram Ranger’s daughter, still forced her to share in the ancient, ignorant allegiance to “appearances.” She did not appreciate how bored she was, how impatient to be back with Dory, the never monotonous, the always interesting, until she discovered that Janet, with her usual subtlety, had arranged for them to stay another week, had made it impossible for her to refuse without seeming to be disobliging and even downright rude. They were to have returned to Paris on a Monday. On Sunday she wrote Dory to telegraph for her on Tuesday.
“I’d hate to be looking forward to that life of dull foolery,” thought she, as the mossy bastions of Besançon drifted from her horizon–she was journeying up alone, Janet staying on with one of the Saint Berthè women as chaperone. “It is foolery and it is dull. I don’t see how grown-up people endure it, unless they’ve never known any better. Yet I seem unable to content myself with the life father stands for–and Dory.” She appreciated the meaning of the legend of the creature with the two bodies and the two wills, each always opposed to the other, with the result that all motion was in a dazing circle in which neither wished to go. “Still,” she concluded, “I am learning"–which was the truth; indeed, she was learning with astonishing rapidity for a girl who had had such an insidiously wrong start and was getting but slight encouragement.
Dory, of course, was helping her, but not as he might. Instead of bringing to bear that most powerful of influences, the influence of passionate love, he held to his stupid compact with his supersensitive self–the compact that he would never intrude his longings upon her. He constantly reminded himself how often woman gives through a sense of duty or through fear of alienating or wounding one she respects and likes; and, so he saw in each impulse to enter Eden boldly a temptation to him to trespass, a temptation to her to mask her real feelings and suffer it. The mystery in which respectable womanhood is kept veiled from the male, has bred in him an awe of the female that she does not fully realize or altogether approve–though she is not slow to advantage herself of it. In the smaller cities and towns of the West, this awe of respectable womanhood exists in a degree difficult for the sophisticated to believe possible, unless they have had experience of it. Dory had never had that familiarity with women which breeds knowledge of their absolute and unmysterious humanness. Thus, not only did he not have the key which enables its possessor to unlock them; he did not even know how to use it when Del offered it to him, all but thrust it into his hand. Poor Dory, indeed–but let only those who have not loved too well to love wisely strut at his expense by pitying him; for, in matters of the heart, sophisticated and unsophisticated act much alike. “Men would dare much more, if they knew what women think,” says George Sand. It is also true that the men who dare most, who win most, are those who do not stop to bother about what the women think. Thought does not yet govern the world, but appetite and action–bold appetite and the courage of it.