Returning from the matinée, Belle and her friend Lou Dawson, before entering their house, crossed over to Fanny’s. Mrs. Worthington tried the door and finding it fastened, rang the bell, then commenced to beat a tattoo upon the pane with her knuckles; an ingenuous manner which she had of announcing her identity. Fanny opened to them herself, and the three walked into the parlor.
“I haven’t seen you for a coon’s age, Fanny,” commenced Belle, “where on earth have you been keeping yourself?”
“You saw me yesterday breakfast time, when you came to borrow the wrapper pattern,” returned Fanny, in serious resentment to her friend’s exaggeration.
“And much good the old wrapper pattern did me: a mile too small every way, no matter how much I let out the seams. But see here—”
“Belle’s the biggest idiot about her size: there’s no convincing her she’s not a sylph.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Dawson.”
“Well, it’s a fact. Didn’t you think Furgeson’s scales were all wrong the other day because you weighed a hundred and eighty pounds?”
“O that’s the day I had that heavy rep on.”
“Heavy nothing. We were coming over last night, Fanny, but we had company,” continued Mrs. Dawson.
“Who d’you have?” asked Fanny mechanically and glad of the respite.
“Bert Rodney and Mr. Grant. They’re so anxious to meet you. I’d ’a sent over for you, but Belle—”
“See here, Fanny, what the mischief was Dave Hosmer doing here to-day, and going down town with you and all that sort o’ thing?”
Fanny flushed uneasily. “Have you seen the evening paper?” she asked.
“How d’you want us to see the paper? we just come from the matinée.”
“David came yesterday,” Fanny said working nervously at the window shade. “He’d wrote me a note the postman brought right after you left with the pattern. When you saw us getting on the car, we were going down to Dr. Martin’s, and we’ve got married again.”
Mrs. Dawson uttered a long, low whistle by way of comment. Mrs. Worthington gave vent to her usual “Well I’ll be switched,” which she was capable of making expressive of every shade of astonishment, from the lightest to the most pronounced; at the same time unfastening the bridle of her bonnet which plainly hindered her free respiration after such a shock.
“Say that Fanny isn’t sly, after that, Belle.”
“Sly? My God, she’s a fool! If ever a woman had a snap! and to go to work and let a man get around her like that.”
Mrs. Worthington seemed powerless to express herself in anything but disconnected exclamations.
“What are you going to do, Fanny?” asked Lou, who having aired all the astonishment which she cared to show, in her whistle, was collected enough to want her natural curiosity satisfied.
“David’s living down South. I guess we’ll go down there pretty soon. Soon’s he can get things fixed up here.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Somewheres in Louisiana.”
“It’s to be hoped in New Orleans,” spoke Belle didactically, “that’s the only decent place in Louisiana where a person could live.”
“No, ’tain’t in New Orleans. He’s got a saw mill somewheres down there.”
“Heavens and earth! a saw mill?” shrieked Belle. Lou was looking calmly resigned to the startling news.
“Oh, I ain’t going to live in a saw mill. I wisht you’d all let me alone, any way,” she returned pettishly. “There’s a lady keeps a plantation, and that’s where he lives.”
“Well of all the rigmaroles! a lady, and a saw mill and a plantation. It’s my opinion that man could make you believe black’s white, Fanny Larimore.”
As Hosmer approached his house, he felt mechanically in his pocket for his latch key; so small a trick having come back to him with the old habit of misery. Of course he found no key. His ring startled Fanny, who at once sprang from her scat to open the door for him; but having taken a few steps, she hesitated and irresolutely re-seated herself. It was only his second ring that the servant unamiably condescended to answer.
“So you’re going to take Fanny away from us, Mr. Hosmer,” said Belle, when he had greeted them and seated himself beside Mrs. Dawson on the small sofa that stood between the door and window. Fanny sat at the adjoining window, and Mrs. Worthington in the center of the room; which was indeed so small a room that any one of them might have reached out and almost touched the hand of the others.
“Yes, Fanny has agreed to go South with me,” he answered briefly. “You’re looking well, Mrs. Worthington.”
“Oh, Law yes, I’m never sick. As I tell Mr. Worthington, he’ll never get rid of me, unless he hires somebody to murder me. But I tell you what, you came pretty near not having any Fanny to take away with you. She was the sickest woman! Did you tell him about it, Fanny? Come to think of it, I guess the climate down there’ll be the very thing to bring her round.”
Mrs. Dawson without offering apology interrupted her friend to inquire of Hosmer if his life in the South were not of the most interesting, and begging that he detail them something of it; with a look to indicate that she felt the deepest concern in anything that touched him.
A masculine presence had always the effect of rousing Mrs. Dawson into an animation which was like the glow of a slumbering ember, when a strong pressure of air is brought to bear upon it.
Hosmer had always considered her an amiable woman, with rather delicate perceptions; frivolous, but without the vulgarisms of Mrs. Worthington, and consequently a less objectionable friend for Fanny. He answered, looking down into her eyes, which were full of attentiveness.
“My life in the South is not one that you would think interesting. I live in the country where there are no distractions such as you ladies call amusements—and I work pretty hard. But it’s the sort of life that one grows attached to and finds himself longing for again if he have occasion to change it.”
“Yes, it must be very satisfying,” she answered; for the moment perfectly sincere.
“Oh very!” exclaimed Mrs. Worthington, with a loud and aggressive laugh. “It would just suit you to a T, Lou, but how it’s going to satisfy Fanny! Well, I’ve got nothing to say about it, thanks be; it don’t concern me.”
“If Fanny finds that she doesn’t like it after a fair trial, she has the privilege of saying so, and we shall come back again,” he said looking at his wife whose elevation of eyebrow, and droop of mouth gave her the expression of martyred resignation, which St. Lawrence might have worn, when invited to make himself comfortable on the gridiron—so had Mrs. Worthington’s words impressed her with the force of their prophetic meaning.
Mrs. Dawson politely hoped that Hosmer would not leave before Jack came home; it would distress Jack beyond everything to return and find that he had missed an old friend whom he thought so much of.
Hosmer could not say precisely when they would leave. He was in present negotiation with a person who wanted to rent the house, furnished; and just as soon as he could arrange a few business details, and Fanny could gather such belongings as she wished to take with her they would go.
“You seem mighty struck on Dave Hosmer, all of a sudden,” remarked Mrs. Worthington to her friend, as the two crossed over the street. “A feller without any more feelings than a stick; it’s what I always said about him.”
“Oh, I always did like Hosmer,” replied Mrs. Dawson. “But I thought he had more sense than to tie himself to that little gump again, after he’d had the luck to get rid of her.”
A few days later Jack came home. His return was made palpable to the entire neighborhood; for no cab ever announced itself with quite the dash and clatter and bang of door that Jack’s cabs did.
The driver had staggered behind him under the weight of the huge yellow valise, and had been liberally paid for the service.
Immediately the windows were thrown wide open, and the lace curtains drawn aside until no smallest vestige of them remained visible from the street. A condition of things which Mrs. Worthington upstairs bitterly resented, and naturally, spoiling as it necessarily did, the general coup d’œil of the flat to passers-by. But Mrs. Dawson had won her husband’s esteem by just such acts as this one of amiable permission to ventilate the house according to methods of his own and essentially masculine; regardless of dust that might be flying, or sun that might be shining with disastrous results to the parlor carpet.
Clouds of tobacco smoke were seen to issue from the open windows. Those neighbors whose openings commanded a view of the Dawson’s alley-gate might have noted the hired girl starting for the grocery with unusual animation of step, and returning with her basket well stocked with beer and soda bottles—a provision made against a need for “dutch-cocktails,” likely to assail Jack during his hours of domesticity.
In the evening the same hired girl, breathless from the multiplicity of errands which she had accomplished during the day, appeared at the Hosmers with a message that Mrs. Dawson wanted them to “come over.”
They were preparing to leave on the morrow, but concluded that they could spare a few moments in which to bid adieu to their friends.
Jack met them at the very threshold, with warm and hearty hand-shaking, and loud protest when he learned that they had not come to spend the evening and that they were going away next day.
“Great Scott! you’re not leaving to-morrow? And I ain’t going to have a chance to get even with Mrs. Hosmer on that last deal? By Jove, she knows how to do it,” he said, addressing Hosmer and holding Fanny familiarly by the elbow. “Drew to the middle, sir, and hang me, if she didn’t fill. Takes a woman to do that sort o’ thing; and me a laying for her with three aces. Hello there, girls! here’s Hosmer and Fanny,” in response to which summons his wife and Mrs. Worthington issued from the depths of the dining-room, where they had been engaged in preparing certain refreshments for the expected guests.
“See here, Lou, we’ll have to fix it up some way to go and see them off to-morrow. If you’d manage to lay over till Thursday I could join you as far as Little Rock. But no, that’s a fact,” he added reflectively, “I’ve got to be in Cincinnati on Thursday.”
They had all entered the parlor, and Mrs. Worthington suggested that Hosmer go up and make a visit to her husband, whom he would find up there “poring over those everlasting books.”
“I don’t know what’s got into Mr. Worthington lately,” she said, “he’s getting that religious. If it ain’t the Bible he’s poring over, well it’s something or other just as bad.”
The brightly burning light guided Hosmer to the kitchen, where he found Lorenzo Worthington seated beside his student lamp at the table, which was covered with a neat red cloth. On the gas-stove was spread a similar cloth and the floor was covered with a shining oil-cloth.
Mr. Worthington was startled, having already forgotten that his wife had told him of Hosmer’s return to St. Louis.
“Why, Mr. Hosmer, is this you? come, come into the parlor, this is no place,” shaking Hosmer’s hand and motioning towards the parlor.
“No, it’s very nice and cozy here, and I have only a moment to stay,” said Hosmer, seating himself beside the table on which the other had laid his book, with his spectacles between the pages to mark his place. Mr. Worthington then did a little hemming and hawing preparatory to saying something fitting the occasion; not wishing to be hasty in offering the old established form of congratulation, in a case whose peculiarity afforded him no precedential guide. Hosmer came to his relief by observing quite naturally that he and his wife had come over to say good-bye, before leaving for the South, adding “no doubt Mrs. Worthington has told you.”
“Yes, yes, and I’m sure we’re very sorry to lose you; that is, Mrs. Larimore—I should say Mrs. Hosmer. Isabella will certainly regret her departure, I see them always together, you know.”
“You cling to your old habit, I see, Mr. Worthington,” said Hosmer, indicating his meaning by a motion of the hand towards the book on the table.
“Yes, to a certain extent. Always within the forced limits, you understand. At this moment I am much interested in tracing the history of various religions which are known to us; those which have died out, as well as existing religions. It is curious, indeed, to note the circumstances of their birth, their progress and inevitable death; seeming to follow the course of nations in such respect. And the similitude which stamps them all, is also a feature worthy of study. You would perhaps be surprised, sir, to discover the points of resemblance which indicate in them a common origin. To observe the slight differences, indeed technical differences, distinguishing the Islam from the Hebrew, or both from the Christian religion. The creeds are obviously ramifications from the one deep-rooted trunk which we call religion. Have you ever thought of this, Mr. Hosmer?”
“No, I admit that I’ve not gone into it. Homeyer would have me think that all religions are but mythological creations invented to satisfy a species of sentimentality—a morbid craving in man for the unknown and undemonstrable.”
“That is where he is wrong; where I must be permitted to differ from him. As you would find, my dear sir, by following carefully the history of mankind, that the religious sentiment is implanted, a true and legitimate attribute of the human soul—with peremptory right to its existence. Whatever may be faulty in the creeds—that makes no difference, the foundation is there and not to be dislodged. Homeyer, as I understand him from your former not infrequent references, is an Iconoclast, who would tear down and leave devastation behind him; building up nothing. He would deprive a clinging humanity of the supports about which she twines herself, and leave her helpless and sprawling upon the earth.”
“No, no, he believes in a natural adjustment,” interrupted Hosmer. “In an innate reserve force of accommodation. What we commonly call laws in nature, he styles accidents—in society, only arbitrary methods of expediency, which, when they outlive their usefulness to an advancing and exacting civilization, should be set aside. He is a little impatient to always wait for the inevitable natural adjustment.”
“Ah, my dear Mr. Hosmer, the world is certainly to-day not prepared to stand the lopping off and wrenching away of old traditions. She must take her stand against such enemies of the conventional. Take religion away from the life of man—”
“Well, I knew it—I was just as sure as preaching,” burst out Mrs. Worthington, as she threw open the door and confronted the two men—resplendent in “baby blue” and much steel ornamentation. “As I tell Mr. Worthington, he ought to turn Christian Brother or something and be done with it.”
“No, no, my dear; Mr. Hosmer and I have merely been interchanging a few disjointed ideas.”
“I’ll be bound they were disjointed. I guess Fanny wants you, Mr. Hosmer. If you listen to Mr. Worthington he’ll keep you here till daylight with his ideas.”
Hosmer followed Mrs. Worthington down-stairs and into Mrs. Dawson’s. As he entered the parlor he heard Fanny laughing gaily, and saw that she stood near the sideboard in the dining-room, just clicking her glass of punch to Jack Dawson’s, who was making a gay speech on the occasion of her new marriage.
They did not leave when they had intended. Need the misery of that one day be told?
But on the evening of the following day, Fanny peered with pale, haggard face from the closed window of the Pullman car as it moved slowly out of Union depôt, to see Lou and Jack Dawson smiling and waving good-bye, Belle wiping her eyes and Mr. Worthington looking blankly along the line of windows, unable to see them without his spectacles, which he had left between the pages of his Schopenhauer on the kitchen table at home.