The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXIV - Dr. Madelene Prescribes
Madelene’s anteroom was full of poor people. They flocked to her, though she did not pauperize them by giving her services free. She had got the reputation of miraculous cures, the theory in the tenements being that her father had swindled his satanic “familiar” by teaching his daughter without price what he had had to pay for with his immortal soul. Adelaide refused the chair a sick-looking young artisan awkwardly pressed upon her. Leaning against the window seat, she tried to interest herself in her fellow-invalids. But she had not then the secret which unlocks the mystery of faces; she was still in the darkness in which most of us proudly strut away our lives, deriding as dreamers or cranks those who are in the light and see. With almost all of us the innate sympathies of race, which give even wolves and vultures the sense of fraternal companionship in the storm and stress of the struggle for existence, are deep overlaid with various kinds of that egotistic ignorance called class feeling. Adelaide felt sorry for “the poor,” but she had yet to learn that she was of them, as poor in other and more important ways as they in money and drawing-room manners. Surfaces and the things of the surface obscured or distorted all the realities for her, as for most of us; and the fact that her intelligence laughed at and scorned her perverted instincts was of as little help to her as it is to most of us.
When Madelene was free she said to her sister-in-law, in mock seriousness, “Well, and what can I do for you!” as if she were another patient.
Adelaide’s eyes shifted. Clearly Madelene’s keen, pretense-scattering gaze was not one to invite to inspect a matter which might not look at all well stripped of its envelopes of phrase and haze. She wished she had not come; indeed, she had been half-wishing it during the whole three-quarters of an hour of watching and thinking on Madelene’s wonderful life, so crowded with interest, with achievement, with all that Hiram Ranger’s daughter called, and believed, “the real thing.”
“Nothing, nothing at all,” replied she to Madelene’s question. “I just dropped in to annoy you with my idle self–or, maybe, to please you. You know we’re taught at church that a large part of the joy of the saved comes from watching the misery of the damned.”
But Madelene had the instinct of the physician born. “She has something on her mind and wants me to help her,” she thought. Aloud she said: “I feel idle, myself. We’ll sit about for an hour, and you’ll stay to dinner with Arthur and me–we have it here to-day, as your mother is going out. Afterwards I must do my round.”
A silence, with Adelaide wondering where Ross was and just when he would return. Then Madelene went on: “I’ve been trying to persuade your mother to give up the house, change it into a hospital.”
The impudence of it! Their house, their home; and this newcomer into the family–a newcomer from nowhere–trying to get it away from them! “Mother said something about it,” said Adelaide frostily. “But she didn’t say you had been at her. I think she ought to be left alone in her old age.”
“The main thing is to keep her interested in life, don’t you think?" suggested Madelene, noting how Adelaide was holding herself in check, but disregarding it. “Your mother’s a plain, natural person and never has felt at home in that big house. Indeed, I don’t think any human being ever does feel at home in a big house. There was a time when they fitted in with the order of things; but now they’ve become silly, it seems to me, except for public purposes. When we all get sensible and go in for being somebody instead of for showing off, we’ll live in convenient, comfortable, really tasteful and individual houses and have big buildings only for general use.”
“I’m afraid the world will never grow up into your ideals, Madelene," said Del with restrained irony. “At least not in our day.”
“I’m in no hurry,” replied Madelene good-naturedly. “The most satisfactory thing about common sense is that one can act on it without waiting for others to get round to it. But we weren’t talking of those who would rather be ignorantly envied than intelligently happy. We were talking of your mother.”
“Mother was content with her mode of life until you put these ’advanced’ ideas into her head.”
“’Advanced’ is hardly the word,” said Madelene. “They used to be her ideas–always have been, underneath. If it weren’t that she is afraid of hurting your feelings, she’d not hesitate an instant. She’d take the small house across the way and give herself the happiness of helping with the hospital she’d install in the big house. You know she always had a passion for waiting on people. Here’s her chance to gratify it to good purpose. Why should she let the fact that she has money enough not to have to work stand between her and happy usefulness?”
“What does Arthur think?” asked Del. Her resentment was subsiding in spite of her determined efforts to keep it glowing; Madelene knew the secret of manner that enables one to be habitually right without giving others the sense of being put irritatingly in the wrong. “But,” smiling, “I needn’t inquire. Of course he assents to whatever you say.”
“You know Arthur better than that,” replied Madelene, with no trace of resentment. She had realized from the beginning of the conversation that Del’s nerves were on edge; her color, alternately rising and fading, and her eyes, now sparkling now dull, could only mean fever from a tempest of secret emotion. “He and I usually agree simply because we see things in about the same light.”
“You furnish the light,” teased Adelaide.
“That was in part so at first,” admitted her sister-in-law. “Arthur had got many foolish notions in his head through accepting thoughtlessly the ideas of the people he traveled with. But, once he let his good sense get the upper hand–He helps me now far more than I help him.”
“Has he consented to let them give him a salary yet?” asked Adelaide, not because she was interested, but because she desperately felt that the conversation must be kept alive. Perhaps Ross was even now on his way to Saint X.
“He still gets what he fixed on at first–ten dollars a week more than the foreman.”
“Honestly, Madelene,” said Adelaide, in a flush and flash of irritation, “don’t you think that’s absurd? With the responsibility of the whole business on his shoulders, you know he ought to have more than a common workman.”
“In the first place you must not forget that everyone is paid very high wages at the university works now.”
“And he’s the cause of that–of the mills doing so well,” said Del. She could see Ross entering the gates–at the house–inquiring–What was she talking to Madelene about? Yes, about Arthur and the mills. “Even the men that criticise him–Arthur, I mean–most severely for ’sowing discontent in the working class,’ as they call it,” she went on, “concede that he has wonderful business ability. So he ought to have a huge salary.”
“No doubt he earns it,” replied Madelene. “But the difficulty is that he can’t take it without it’s coming from the other workmen. You see, money is coined sweat. All its value comes from somebody’s labor. He deserves to be rewarded for happening to have a better brain than most men, and for using it better. But there’s no fund for rewarding the clever for being cleverer than most of their fellow-beings, any more than there’s a fund to reward the handsome for being above the average in looks. So he has to choose between robbing his fellow-workmen, who are in his power, and going without riches. He prefers going without.”
“That’s very noble of you both, I’m sure,” said Adelaide absently. The Chicago express would be getting in at four o’clock–about five hours. Absurd! The morning papers said Mr. Whitney had had a relapse. “Very noble,” she repeated absently. “But I doubt if anybody will appreciate it.”
Madelene smiled cheerfully. “That doesn’t worry Arthur or me,” said she, with her unaffected simplicity. “We’re not looking for appreciation. We’re looking for a good time.” Del, startled, began to listen to Madelene. A good time–"And it so happens,” came in Madelene’s sweet, honest voice, “that we’re unable to have it, unless we feel that we aren’t getting it by making some one else have a not-so-good time or a very bad time indeed. You’ve heard of Arthur’s latest scheme?”
“Some one told me he was playing smash at the mills, encouraging the workmen to idleness and all that sort of thing,” said Del. Somehow she felt less feverish, seemed compelled to attention by Madelene’s voice and eyes. “But I didn’t hear or understand just how.”
“He’s going to establish a seven-hours’ working day; and, if possible, cut it down to six.” Madelene’s eyes were sparkling. Del watched her longingly, enviously. How interested she was in these useful things. How fine it must be to be interested where one could give one’s whole heart without concealment–or shame! “And,” Madelene was saying, “the university is to change its schedules so that all its practical courses will be at hours when men working in the factory can take them. It’s simply another development of his and Dory’s idea that a factory belonging to a university ought to set a decent example–ought not to compel its men to work longer than is necessary for them to earn at honest wages a good living for themselves and their families.”
“So that they can sit round the saloons longer,” suggested Adelaide, and then she colored and dropped her eyes; she was repeating Ross’s comment on this sort of “concession to the working classes.” She had thought it particularly acute when he made it. Now–
“No doubt most of them will spend their time foolishly at first," Madelene conceded. “Working people have had to work so hard for others–twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day, just to be allowed to live–that they’ve had really no free time at all; so they’ve had no chance to learn how to spend free time sensibly. But they’ll learn, those of them that have capacity for improvement. Those that haven’t will soon drop out.”
“The factories can’t make money on such a plan as that,” said Adelaide, again repeating a remark of Ross’s, but deliberately, because she believed it could be answered, wished to hear it answered.
“No, not dividends,” replied Madelene. “But dividends are to be abolished in that department of the university, just as they are in the other departments. And the money the university needs is to come from tuition fees. Everyone is to pay for what he gets. Some one has to pay for it; why not the person who gets the benefit? Especially when the university’s farms and workshops and factories give every student, man and woman, a chance to earn a good living. I tell you Adelaide, the time is coming when every kind of school except kindergarten will be self-supporting. And then you’ll see a human race that is really fine, really capable, has a real standard of self-respect.”
As Madelene talked, her face lighted up and all her latent magnetism was radiating. Adelaide, for no reason that was clear to her, yielded to a surge of impulse and, half-laughing, half in tears, suddenly kissed Madelene. “No wonder Arthur is mad about you, stark mad,” she cried.
Madelene was for a moment surprised out of that perfect self-unconsciousness which is probably the rarest of human qualities, and which was her greatest charm to those who knew her well. She blushed furiously and angrily. Her and Arthur’s love was to her most sacred, absolutely between themselves. When any outsider could observe them, even her sister Walpurga, she seemed so much the comrade and fellow-worker in her attitude toward him that people thought and spoke of their married life as “charming, but cold.” Alone with him, she showed that which was for him alone–a passion whose strength had made him strong, as the great waves give their might to the swimmer who does not shrink from adventuring them. Adelaide’s impulsive remark, had violated her profoundest modesty; and in the shock she showed it.
“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Adelaide, though she did not realize wherein she had offended. Love was an unexplored, an unsuspected mystery to her then–the more a mystery because she thought she knew from having read about it and discussed it and reasoned about it.
“Oh, I understand,” said Madelene, contrite for her betraying expression. “Only–some day–when you really fall in love–you’ll know why I was startled.”
Adelaide shrank within herself. “Even Madelene,” thought she, “who has not a glance for other people’s affairs, knows how it is between Dory and me.”
It was Madelene’s turn to be repentant and apologetic. “I didn’t mean quite that,” she stammered. “Of course I know you care for Dory–”
The tears came to Del’s eyes and the high color to her cheeks. “You needn’t make excuses,” she cried. “It’s the truth. I don’t care–in that way.”
A silence; then Madelene, gently: “Was this what you came to tell me?”
Adelaide nodded slowly. “Yes, though I didn’t know it.”
“Why tell me?”
“Because I think I care for another man.” Adelaide was not looking away. On the contrary, as she spoke, saying the words in an even, reflective tone, she returned her sister-in-law’s gaze fully, frankly. “And I don’t know what to do. It’s very complicated–doubly complicated.”
“The one you were first engaged to?”
“Yes,” said Del. “Isn’t it pitiful in me?” And there was real self-contempt in her voice and in her expression. “I assumed that I despised him because he was selfish and calculating, and such a snob! Now I find I don’t mind his selfishness, and that I, too, am a snob.” She smiled drearily. “I suppose you feel the proper degree of contempt and aversion.”
“We are all snobs,” answered Madelene tranquilly. “It’s one of the deepest dyes of the dirt we came from, the hardest to wash out.”
“Besides,” pursued Adelaide, “he and I have both learned by experience–which has come too late; it always does.”
“Not at all,” said Madelene briskly. “Experience is never too late. It’s always invaluably useful in some way, no matter when it comes.”
Adelaide was annoyed by Madelene’s lack of emotion. She had thought her sister-in-law would be stirred by a recital so romantic, so dark with the menace of tragedy. Instead, the doctor was acting as if she were dealing with mere measles. Adelaide, unconsciously, of course–we are never conscious of the strong admixture of vanity in our “great” emotions–was piqued into explaining. “We can never be anything to each other. There’s Dory; then there’s Theresa. And I’d suffer anything rather than bring shame and pain on others.”
Madelene smiled–somehow not irritatingly–an appeal to Del’s sense of proportion. “Suffer,” repeated she. “That’s a good strong word for a woman to use who has health and youth and beauty, and material comfort–and a mind capable of an infinite variety of interests." Adelaide’s tragic look was slipping from her. “Don’t take too gloomy a view,” continued the physician. “Disease and death and one other thing are the only really serious ills. In this case of yours everything will come round quite smooth, if you don’t get hysterical and if Ross Whitney is really in earnest and not"–Madelene’s tone grew even more deliberate–"not merely getting up a theatrical romance along the lines of the ’high-life’ novels you idle people set such store by.” She saw, in Del’s wincing, that the shot had landed. “No,” she went on, “your case is one of the commonplaces of life among those people–and they’re in all classes–who look for emotions and not for opportunities to be useful.”
Del smiled, and Madelene hailed the returning sense of humor as an encouraging sign.
“The one difficult factor is Theresa,” said Madelene, pushing on with the prescription. “She–I judge from what I’ve heard–she’s what’s commonly called a ’poor excuse for a woman.’ We all know that type. You may be sure her vanity would soon find ways of consoling her. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred where one holds on after the other has let go the reason is vanity, wounded vanity–where it isn’t the material consideration that explains why there are so many abandoned wives and so few abandoned husbands. Theresa doesn’t really care for her husband; love that isn’t mutual isn’t love. So she’d come up smiling for a second husband.”
“She’s certainly vain,” said Del. “Losing him would all but kill her.”
“Not if it’s done tactfully,” replied Madelene. “Ross’ll no doubt be glad to sacrifice his own vanity and so arrange matters that she’ll be able to say and feel that she got rid of him, not he of her. Of course that means a large sacrifice of his vanity–and of yours, too. But neither of you will mind that.”
Adelaide looked uncomfortable; Madelene took advantage of her abstraction to smile at the confession hinted in that look.
“As for Dory–”
At that name Del colored and hung her head.
“As for Dory,” repeated Madelene, not losing the chance to emphasize the effect, “he’s no doubt fond of you. But no matter what he–or you–may imagine, his fondness cannot be deeper than that of a man for a woman between whom and him there isn’t the perfect love that makes one of two.”
“I don’t understand his caring for me,” cried Del. “I can’t believe he does.” This in the hope of being contradicted.
But Madelene simply said: “Perhaps he’d not feel toward you as he seems to think he does if he hadn’t known you before you went East and got fond of the sort of thing that attracts you in Ross Whitney. Anyhow, Dory’s the kind of man to be less unhappy over losing you than over keeping you when you didn’t want to stay. You may be like his eyes to him, but you know if that sort of man loses his sight he puts seeing out of the calculation and goes on just the same. Dory Hargrave is a man; and a real man is bigger than any love affair, however big.”
Del was trying to hide the deep and smarting wound to her vanity. “You are right, Madelene,” said she. “Dory is cold.”
“But I didn’t say that,” replied Madelene. “Most of us prefer people like those flabby sea creatures that are tossed aimlessly about by the waves and have no permanent shape or real purposes and desires, but take whatever their feeble tentacles can hold without effort.” Del winced, and it was the highest tribute to Dr. Madelene’s skill that the patient did not hate her and refuse further surgery. “We’re used to that sort," continued she. “So when a really alive, vigorous, pushing, and resisting personality comes in contact with us, we say, ’How hard! How unfeeling!’ The truth, of course, is that Ross is more like the flabby things–his environment dominates him, while Dory dominates his environment. But you like the Ross sort, and you’re right to suit yourself. To suit yourself is the only way to avoid making a complete failure of life. Wait till Dory comes home. Then talk it out with him. Then–free yourself and marry Ross, who will have freed himself. It’s quite simple. People are broad-minded about divorce nowadays. It never causes serious scandal, except among those who’d like to do the same, but don’t dare.”
It certainly was easy, and ought to have been attractive. Yet Del was not attracted. “One can’t deal with love in such a cold, calculating fashion,” thought she, by way of bolstering up her weakening confidence in the reality and depth of those sensations which had seemed so thrillingly romantic an hour before. “I’ve given you the impression that Ross and I have some–some understanding,” said she. “But we haven’t. For all I know, he may not care for me as I care for him.”
“He probably doesn’t,” was Madelene’s douche-like reply. “You attract him physically–which includes his feeling that you’d show off better than Theresa before the world for which he cares so much. But, after all, that’s much the way you care for him, isn’t it?”
Adelaide’s bosom was swelling and falling agitatedly. Her eyes flashed; her reserve vanished. “I’m sure he’d love me!” cried she. “He’d give me what my whole soul, my whole body cry out for. Madelene, you don’t understand! I am so starved, so out in the cold! I want to go in where it’s warm–and–human!” The truth, the deep-down truth, was out at last; Adelaide had wrenched it from herself.
“And Dory will not give you that?” said Madelene, all gentleness and sympathy, and treading softly on this dangerous, delicate ground.
“He gives me nothing!” exclaimed Adelaide bitterly. “He is waiting for me to learn to love him. He ought to know that a woman has to be taught to love–at least the sort of woman I am. He treats me as if I were his equal, when he ought to see that I’m not; that I’m like a child, and have to be shown what’s good for me, and made to take it.”
“Then, perhaps, after all,” said Madelene slowly, “you do care for Dory.”
“Of course I care for him; how could anyone help it? But he won’t let me–he won’t let me!” She was on the verge of hysteria, and her loss of self-control was aggravated by the feeling that she was making a weak, silly exhibition of herself.
“If you do care for Dory, and Dory cares for you, and you don’t care for Ross–” began Madelene.
“But I do care for Ross, too! Oh, I must be bad–bad! Could a nice woman care for two men at the same time?”
“I’d have said not,” was Madelene’s answer. “But now I see that she could–and I see why.”
“Dory means something to me that Ross does not. Ross means something that Dory does not. I want it all–all that both of them represent. I can’t give up Dory; I can’t give up Ross. You don’t understand, Madelene, because you’ve had the good luck to get it all from Arthur.”
After a silence, Madelene said: “Well, Del, what are you going to do?”
“That’s sensible!” approved Madelene. “If Ross really loves you, then, whether he can have you or not, he’ll free himself from Theresa. He simply couldn’t go on with her. And if you really care for him, then, when Dory comes home he’ll free you.”
“That ought to be so,” said Adelaide, not seeing the full meaning of Madelene’s last words. “But it isn’t. Neither Ross nor I is strong enough. We’re just ordinary people, the sort that most everybody is and that most everybody despises when they see them or read about them as they really are. No, he and I will each do the conventional thing. We’ll go our separate ways “–contemptuously–"the easiest ways. And we’ll regard ourselves as martyrs to duty–that’s how they put it in the novels, isn’t it?”
“At least,” said Madelene, with a calmness she was far from feeling, “both you and Ross have had your lesson in the consequence of doing things in a hurry.”
“That’s the only way people brought up as we’ve been ever do anything. If we don’t act on impulse, we don’t act at all; we drift on.”
“Drifting is action, the most decisive kind of action.” Madelene was again thinking what would surely happen the instant Dory found how matters stood; but she deemed it tactful to keep this thought to herself. Just then she was called to the telephone. When she came back she found Adelaide restored to her usual appearance–the fashionable, light-hearted, beautiful woman, mistress of herself, and seeming as secure against emotional violence from within as against discourtesy from without. But she showed how deep was the impression of Madelene’s common-sense analysis of her romance by saying: “A while ago you said there were only three serious ills, disease and death, but you didn’t name the third. What is it?”
“Dishonor,” said Madelene, with a long, steady look at her.
Adelaide paled slightly, but met her sister-in-law’s level gaze. “Yes," was all she said.
A silence; then Madelene: “Your problem, Del, is simple; is no problem at all, so far as Dory or Ross’s wife is concerned; or the whole outside world, for that matter. It’s purely personal; it’s altogether the problem of bringing pain and shame on yourself. The others’ll get over it; but can you?”
Del made no reply. A moment later Arthur came; after dinner she left before he did, and so was not alone with Madelene again. Reviewing her amazing confessions to her sister-in-law, she was both sorry and not sorry. Her mind was undoubtedly relieved, but at the price of showing to another her naked soul, and that other a woman–true, an unusual woman, by profession a confessor, but still a woman. Thenceforth some one other than herself would know her as she really was–not at all the nice, delicate lady with instincts as fine as those of the heroines of novels, who, even at their most realistic, are pictured as fully and grandly dressed of soul in the solitude of bedroom as in crowded drawing-room. “I don’t care!” concluded Adelaide. “If she, or anyone, thinks the worse of me for being a human being, it will show either hypocrisy or ignorance of human nature.”