After a day of close and intense September heat, it had rained during the night. And now the morning had followed chill and crisp, yet with possibilities of a genial sunshine breaking through the mist that had risen at dawn from the great sluggish river and spread itself through the mazes of the city.
The change was one to send invigorating thrills through the blood, and to quicken the step; to make one like the push and jostle of the multitude that thronged the streets; to make one in love with intoxicating life, and impatient with the grudging dispensation that had given to mankind no wings wherewith to fly.
But with no reacting warmth in his heart, the change had only made Hosmer shiver and draw his coat closer about his chest, as he pushed his way through the hurrying crowd.
The St. Louis Exposition was in progress with all its many allurements that had been heralded for months through the journals of the State.
Hence, the unusual press of people on the streets this bright September morning. Home people, whose air of ownership to the surroundings classified them at once, moving unobservantly about their affairs. Women and children from the near and rich country towns, in for the Exposition and their fall shopping; wearing gowns of ultra fashionable tendencies; leaving in their toilets nothing to expediency; taking no chances of so much as a ribbon or a loop set in disaccordance with the book.
There were whole families from across the bridge, hurrying towards the Exposition. Fathers and mothers, babies and grandmothers, with baskets of lunch and bundles of provisional necessities, in for the day.
Nothing would escape their observation nor elude their criticism, from the creations in color lining the walls of the art gallery, to the most intricate mechanism of inventive genius in the basement. All would pass inspection, with drawing of comparison between the present, the past year and the “year before,” likely in a nasal drawl with the R’s brought sharply out, leaving no doubt as to their utterance.
The newly married couple walking serenely through the crowd, young, smiling, up-country, hand-in-hand; well pleased with themselves, with their new attire and newer jewelry, would likely have answered Hosmer’s “beg pardon” with amiability if he had knocked them down. But he had only thrust them rather violently to one side in his eagerness to board the cable car that was dashing by, with no seeming willingness to stay its mad flight. He still possessed the agility in his unpracticed limbs to swing himself on the grip, where he took a front seat, well buttoned up as to top-coat, and glad of the bodily rest that his half hour’s ride would bring him.
The locality in which he descended presented some noticeable changes since he had last been there. Formerly, it had been rather a quiet street, with a leisurely horse car depositing its passengers two blocks away to the north from it; awaking somewhat of afternoons when hordes of children held possession. But now the cable had come to disturb its long repose, adding in the office, nothing to its attractiveness.
There was the drug store still at the corner, with the same proprietor, tilted back in his chair as of old, and as of old reading his newspaper with only the change which a newly acquired pair of spectacles gave to his appearance. The “drug store boy” had unfolded into manhood, plainly indicated by the mustache that in adding adornment and dignity to his person, had lifted him above the menial office of window washing. A task relegated to a mustacheless urchin with a leaning towards the surreptitious abstraction of caramels and chewing gum in the intervals of such manual engagements as did not require the co-operation of a strategic mind.
Where formerly had been the vacant lot “across the street,” the Sunday afternoon elysium of the youthful base ball fiend from Biddle Street, now stood a row of brand new pressed-brick “flats.” Marvelous must have been the architectural ingenuity which had contrived to unite so many dwellings into so small a space. Before each spread a length of closely clipped grass plot, and every miniature front door wore its fantastic window furnishing; each set of decorations having seemingly fired the next with efforts of surpassing elaboration.
The house at which Hosmer rang—a plain two-storied red brick, standing close to the street—was very old-fashioned in face of its modern opposite neighbors, and the recently metamorphosed dwelling next door, that with added porches and appendages to tax man’s faculty of conjecture, was no longer recognizable for what it had been. Even the bell which he pulled was old-fashioned and its tingle might be heard throughout the house long after the servant had opened the door, if she were only reasonably alert to the summons. Its reverberations were but dying away when Hosmer asked if Mrs. Larimore were in. Mrs. Larimore was in; an admission which seemed to hold in reserve a defiant “And what if she is, sir.”
Hosmer was relieved to find the little parlor into which he was ushered, with its adjoining dining-room, much changed. The carpets which he and Fanny had gone out together to buy during the early days of their housekeeping, were replaced by rugs that lay upon the bare, well polished floors. The wall paper was different; so were the hangings. The furniture had been newly re-covered. Only the small household gods were as of old: things—trifles—that had never much occupied or impressed him, and that now, amid their altered surroundings stirred no sentiment in him of either pleased or sad remembrance.
It had not been his wish to take his wife unawares, and he had previously written her of his intended coming, yet without giving her a clue for the reason of it.
There was an element of the bull-dog in Hosmer. Having made up his mind, he indulged in no regrets, in no nursing of if’s and and’s, but stood like a brave soldier to his post, not a post of danger, true—but one well supplied with discomfiting possibilities.
And what had Homeyer said of it? He had railed of course as usual, at the submission of a human destiny to the exacting and ignorant rule of what he termed moral conventionalities. He had startled and angered Hosmer with his denunciation of Thérèse’s sophistical guidance. Rather—he proposed—let Hosmer and Thérèse marry, and if Fanny were to be redeemed—though he pooh-poohed the notion as untenable with certain views of what he called the rights to existence: the existence of wrongs—sorrows—diseases—death—let them all go to make up the conglomerate whole—and let the individual man hold on to his personality. But if she must be redeemed—granting this point to their littleness, let the redemption come by different ways than those of sacrifice: let it be an outcome from the capability of their united happiness.
Hosmer did not listen to his friend Homeyer. Love was his god now, and Thérèse was Love’s prophet.
So he was sitting in this little parlor waiting for Fanny to come.
She came after an interval that had been given over to the indulgence of a little feminine nervousness. Through the open doors Hosmer could hear her coming down the back stairs; could hear that she halted mid-way. Then she passed through the dining-room, and he arose and went to meet her, holding out his hand, which she was not at once ready to accept, being flustered and unprepared for his manner in whichever way it might direct itself.
They sat opposite each other and remained for a while silent; he with astonishment at sight of the “merry blue eyes” faded and sunken into deep, dark round sockets; at the net-work of little lines all traced about the mouth and eyes, and spreading over the once rounded cheeks that were now hollow and evidently pale or sallow, beneath a layer of rouge that had been laid on with an unsparing hand. Yet was she still pretty, or pleasing, especially to a strong nature that would find an appeal in the pathetic weakness of her face. There was no guessing at what her figure might be, it was disguised under a very fashionable dress, and a worsted shawl covered her shoulders, which occasionally quivered as with an inward chill. She spoke first, twisting the end of this shawl.
“What did you come for, David? why did you come now?” with peevish resistance to the disturbance of his coming.
“I know I have come without warrant,” he said, answering her implication. “I have been led to see—no matter how—that I made mistakes in the past, and what I want to do now is to right them, if you will let me.”
This was very unexpected to her, and it startled her, but neither with pleasure nor pain; only with an uneasiness which showed itself in her face.
“Have you been ill?” he asked suddenly as the details of change in her appearance commenced to unfold themselves to him.
“Oh no, not since last winter, when I had pneumonia so bad. They thought I was going to die. Dr. Franklin said I would ’a died if Belle Worthington hadn’t ’a took such good care of me. But I don’t see what you mean coming now. It’ll be the same thing over again: I don’t see what’s the use, David.”
“We won’t talk about the use, Fanny. I want to take care of you for the rest of your life—or mine—as I promised to do ten years ago; and I want you to let me do it.”
“It would be the same thing over again,” she reiterated, helplessly.
“It will not be the same,” he answered positively. “I will not be the same, and that will make all the difference needful.”
“I don’t see what you want to do it for, David. Why we’d haf to get married over again and all that, wouldn’t we?”
“Certainly,” he answered with a faint smile. “I’m living in the South now, in Louisiana, managing a sawmill down there.”
“Oh, I don’t like the South. I went down to Memphis, let’s see, it was last spring, with Belle and Lou Dawson, after I’d been sick; and I don’t see how a person can live down there.”
“You would like the place where I’m living. It’s a fine large plantation, and the lady who owns it would be the best of friends to you. She knew why I was coming, and told me to say she would help to make your life a happy one if she could.”
“It’s her told you to come,” she replied in quick resentment. “I don’t see what business it is of hers.”
Fanny Larimore’s strength of determination was not one to hold against Hosmer’s will set to a purpose, during the hour or more that they talked, he proposing, she finally acquiescing. And when he left her, it was with a gathering peace in her heart to feel that his nearness was something that would belong to her again; but differently as he assured her. And she believed him, knowing that he would stand to his promise.
Her life was sometimes very blank in the intervals of street perambulations and matinées and reading of morbid literature. That elation which she had felt over her marriage with Hosmer ten years before, had soon died away, together with her weak love for him, when she began to dread him and defy him. But now that he said he was ready to take care of her and be good to her, she felt great comfort in her knowledge of his honesty.