MoboReader > Literature > The Danger Mark

   Chapter 2 IN TRUST

The Danger Mark By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 40302

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The enfranchisement of the Seagrave twins proceeded too slowly to satisfy their increasing desire for personal liberty and their fast-growing impatience of restraint.

Occasionally, a few carefully selected and assorted children were permitted to visit them in relays, and play in the nursery for limited periods without the personal supervision of Kathleen or the nurses; but no serious innovation was attempted, no radical step taken without authority from old Remsen Tappan, the trust officer of the great Half Moon Trust Company.

There could be no arguing with Mr. Tappan.

Shortly before Anthony Seagrave died he had written to his old friend Tappan:

"If I live, I shall see to it that my grandchildren know nothing of the fortune awaiting them until they become of age-which will be after I am ended. Meanwhile, plain food and clothing, wholesome home seclusion from the promiscuity of modern child life, and an exhaustive education in every grace, fashion, and accomplishment of body and intellect is the training I propose for the development in them of the only thing in the world worth cultivating-unterrified individualism.

"The ignorance which characterises the conduct of modern institutes of education reduces us all to one mindless level, reproducing ad nauseam what is known as 'average citizens.' This nation is already crawling with them; art, religion, letters, government, business, human ideals remain embryonic because the 'average citizen' can conceive nothing higher, can comprehend nothing loftier even when the few who have escaped the deadly levelling grind of modern methods of education attempt to teach the masses to think for themselves.

"That is bad enough in itself-but add to cut-and-dried pedagogy the outrageous liberty which modern pupils are permitted in school and college, and add to that the unheard-of luxury in which they live-and the result is stupidity and utter ruin.

"My babies must have discipline, system, frugality, and leisure for individual development drilled into them. I do not wish them to be ignorant of one single modern grace and accomplishment; mind and body must be trained together like a pair of Morgan colts.

"But I will not have them victims of pedagogy; I will not have them masters of their time and money until they are of age; I will not permit them to choose companions or pursuits for their leisure until they are fitted to do so.

"If there is in them, latent, any propensity toward viciousness-any unawakened desire for that which has been my failing-hard work from dawn till dark is the antidote. An exhausted child is beyond temptation.

"If I pass forward, Tappan, before you-and it is likely because I am twenty years older and I have lived unwisely-I shall arrange matters in such shape that you can carry out something of what I have tried to begin, far better than I, old friend; for I am strong in theory and very weak in practice; they are such dear little things! And when they cry to be taken up-and a modern trained nurse says 'No! let them cry!' good God! Remsen, I sometimes sneak into their thoroughly modern and scientifically arranged nursery, which resembles an operating room in a brand-new hospital, and I take up my babies and rock them in my arms, terrified lest that modern and highly trained nurse discover my infraction of sanitary rule and precept.

"I don't know; babies were born, and survived cradles and mothers' arms and kisses long before sterilised milk and bacilli were invented.

"You see I am weak in more ways than one. But I do mean to give them every chance. It isn't that these old arms ache for them, that this rather tired heart weakens when they cry for God knows what, and modern science says let them cry!-it is that, deep in me, Tappan, a heathenish idea persists that what they need more than hygienics and scientific discipline is some of that old-fashioned love-love which rocks them when it is not good for them-love which overfeeds them sometimes so that they yell with old-fashioned colic-love which ventures a bacilli-laden kiss. Friend, friend-I am very unfit! It will be well for them when I move on. Only try to love them, Tappan. And if you ever doubt, kill them with indulgence, rather than with hygiene!"

He died of pneumonia a few weeks later. He had no chance. Remsen Tappan picked up the torch from the fallen hand and, blowing it into a brisk blaze, shuffled forward to light a path through life for the highly sterilised twins.

So the Half Moon Trust became father and mother to the Seagrave children; and Mr. Tappan as dry nurse prescribed the brand of intellectual pap for them and decided in what manner it should be administered.

Now home tuition and the "culture of the indiwidool" was a personal hobby of Mr. Tappan, and promiscuous schools his abomination. Had not his own son, Peter Stuyvesant Tappan, been reared upon unsteady legs to magnificent physical and intellectual manhood under this theory?

So there was to be no outside education for the youthful Seagraves; from the nursery schoolroom no chance of escape remained. As they grew older they became wild to go to school; stories of schoolrooms and playgrounds and studies and teachers and jolly fellowship and vacations, brought to them from outside by happier children, almost crazed them with the longing for it.

It was hard for them when their little friends the Malletts were sent abroad to school; Na?da, now aged twelve, to a convent, and Duane, who was now fifteen, three years older than the Seagrave twins, accompanied his mother and a tutor, later to enter some school of art in Paris and develop whatever was in him. For like all parents, Duane's had been terribly excited over his infantile efforts at picture-making-one of the commonest and earliest developed of talents, but which never fails to amaze and delight less gifted parents and which continues to overstock the world with mediocre artists.

So it was arranged that Colonel Mallett should spend every summer abroad with his wife to watch the incubation of Duane's Titianesque genius and Na?da's unbelievable talent for music; and when the children came to bid good-bye to the Seagrave twins, they seized each other with frantic embraces, vowing lifelong fidelity. Alas! it is those who depart who forget first; and at the end of a year, Geraldine's and Scott's letters remained unanswered.

At the age of thirteen, after an extraordinary meeting of the directors of the Half Moon Trust Company, it was formally decided that a series of special tutors should now be engaged to carry on to the bitter end the Tappan-Seagrave system of home culture; and the road to college was definitely closed.

"I want my views understood," said Mr. Tappan, addressing the board of solemn-visaged directors assembled in session to determine upon the fate of two motherless little children. "Indiwidoolism is nurtured in excloosion; the elimination of the extraneous is necessary for the dewelopment of indiwidoolism. I regard the human indiwidool as sacred. Like a pearl"-he pronounced it "poil"-"it can grow in beauty and symmetry and purity and polish only when nourished in seclusion. Indiwidoolism is a poil without price; and the natal mansion, gentlemen-if I may be permitted the simulcritude-is its oyster.

"My old friend, Anthony Seagrave, shared with me this unalterable conwiction. I remember in the autumn of 1859--"

The directors settled themselves in their wadded arm-chairs; several yawned; some folded their hands over their ample stomachs. The June atmosphere was pleasantly conducive to the sort of after-luncheon introspection which is easily soothed by monotones of the human voice.

And while Mr. Tappan droned on and on, some of the directors watched him with one eye half open, thinking of other things, and some listened, both eyes half closed, thinking of nothing at all.

Many considered Mr. Tappan a very terrible old man, though why terrible, unless the most rigid honesty and bigoted devotion to duty terrifies, nobody seemed to know.

Long Island Dutch-with all that it implies-was the dull stock he rooted in. Born a poor farmer's son, with a savage passion for learning, he almost destroyed his eyesight in lonely study under the flicker of tallow dips. All that had ever come to him of knowledge came in these solitary vigils. Miry and sweating from the plough he mastered the classics, law, chemistry, engineering; and finally emerging heavily from the reek of Long Island fertiliser, struck with a heavy surety at Fortune and brought her to her knees amidst a shower of gold. And all alone he gathered it in.

On Coenties Slip his warehouse still bore the legend: "R. Tappan: Iron." All that he had ever done he had done alone. He knew of no other way; believed in no other way.

Plain living, plainer clothing, tireless thinking undisturbed-that had been his childhood; and it had suited him.

Never but once had he made any concession to custom and nature, and that was only when, desiring an heir, he was obliged to enter into human partnership to realise the wish.

His son was what his father had made him under the iron cult of solitary development; and now, the father, loyal in his own way to the memory of his old friend Anthony Seagrave, meant to do his full duty toward the orphaned grandchildren.

So it came to pass that tutors and specialists replaced Kathleen in the schoolroom; and these ministered to the twin "poils," who were now fretting through their thirteenth year, mad with desire for boarding-school.

Four languages besides their own were adroitly stuffed into them; nor were letters, arts, and sciences neglected, nor the mundane and social patter, accomplishments, and refinements, including poise, pose, and deportment.

Specialists continued to guide them indoors and out; they rode every morning at eight with a specialist; they drove in the Park between four and five with the most noted of four-in-hand specialists; fencing, sparring, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, were all supervised by specialists in those several very important and scientific arts; and specialists also taught them hygiene: how to walk, sit, breathe; how to masticate; how to relax after the manner of the domestic cat.

They had memory lessons; lessons in personal physiology, and in first aid to themselves.

Specialists cared for their teeth, their eyes, their hair, their skin, their hands and feet.

Everything that was taught them, done for them, indirectly educated them in the science of self-consideration and deepened an unavoidably natural belief in their own overwhelming importance. They had not been born so.

But in the house of Seagrave everything revolved around and centred in them; everything began for them and ended for them alone. They had no chance.

True, they were also instructed in theology and religion; they became well grounded in the elements of both,-laws, by-laws, theory, legends, proverbs, truisms, and even a few abstract truths. But there was no meaning in either to these little prisoners of self. Seclusion is an enemy to youth; solitude its destruction.

When the twins were fifteen they went to their first party. A week of superficial self-restraint and inward delirium was their preparation, a brief hour of passive bewilderment the realisation. Dazed by the sight and touch and clamor of the throng, they moved and spoke as in a vision. The presence of their own kind in such numbers confused them; overwhelmed, they found no voices to answer the call of happiness. Their capacity to respond was too limited.

As in a dream they were removed earlier than anybody else-taken away by a footman and a maid with decorous pomp and circumstance, carefully muffled in motor robes, and embedded in a limousine.

The daily papers, with that lofty purpose which always characterises them, recorded next morning the important fact that the famous Seagrave twins had appeared at their first party.

Between the ages of fifteen and sixteen the twins might have entered Harvard, for the entrance examinations were tried on both children, and both passed brilliantly.

For a year or two they found a substitute for happiness in pretending that they were really at college; they simulated, day by day, the life that they supposed was led there; they became devoted to their new game. Excited through tales told by tutor and friend, they developed a passionate loyalty for their college and class; they were solemnly elected to coveted societies, they witnessed Harvard victories, they strove fiercely for honours; their ideals were lofty, their courage clean and high.

So completely absorbed in the pretence did they become that their own tutors ventured to suggest to Mr. Tappan that such fiercely realistic mimicry deserved to be rewarded. Unfortunately, the children heard of this; but the Trust Officer's short answer killed their interest in playing at happiness, and their junior year began listlessly and continued without ambition. There was no heart in the pretence. Their interest had died. They studied mechanically because they were obliged to; they no longer cared.

That winter they went to a few more parties-not many. However, they were gingerly permitted to witness their first play, and later, the same year, were taken to "Lohengrin" at the opera.

During the play, which was a highly moral one, they sat watching, listening, wide-eyed as children.

At the opera Geraldine's impetuous soul soared straight up to paradise with the first heavenly strains, and remained there far above the rigid, breathless little body, bolt upright in its golden sarcophagus of the grand tier.

Her physical consciousness really seemed to have fled. Until the end she sat unaware of the throngs, of Scott and Kathleen whispering behind her, of several tall, broad-shouldered, shy young fellows who came into their box between the acts and tried to discuss anything at all with her, only to find her blind, deaf, and dumb.

These were the only memories of her first opera-confused, chaotic brilliancy, paradise revealed: and long, long afterward, the carriage flying up Fifth Avenue through darkness all gray with whirling snow.

Their eighteenth year dragged, beginning in physical and intellectual indifference, but promised stormily as they became more accustomed to glimpses of an outside world-a world teeming with restless young people in unbelievable quantities.

Scott had begun to develop two traits: laziness and a tendency to sullen, unspoken wrath. He took more liberty than was officially granted him-more than Geraldine dared take-and came into collision with Kathleen more often now. He boldly overstayed his leave in visiting his few boy friends for an afternoon; he returned home alone on foot after dusk, telling the chauffeur to go to the devil. Again and again he remained out to dinner without permission, and, finally, one afternoon quietly and stealthily cut his studies, slipped out of the house, and reappeared about dinner-time, excited, inclined to be boisterously defiant, admitting that he had borrowed enough money from a friend to go to a matinée with some other boys, and that he would do it again if he chose.

Also, to Kathleen's horror, he swore deliberately at table when Mr. Tappan's name was mentioned; and Geraldine looked up with startled brown eyes, divining in her brother something new-something that unconsciously they both had long, long waited for-the revolt of youth ere youth had been crushed for ever from the body which encased it.

"Damn him," repeated Scott, a little frightened at his own words and attitude; "I've had enough of this baby business; I'm eighteen and I want two things: some friends to go about with freely, and some money to do what other boys do. And you can tell Mr. Tappan, for all I care."

"What would you buy with money that is not already provided for, Scott?" asked Kathleen, gently ignoring his excited profanity.

"I don't know; there is no pleasure in using things which that fool of a Trust Company votes to let you have. Anyway, what I want is liberty and money."

"What would you do with what you call liberty, dear?"

"Do? I'd-I'd-well, I'd go shooting if I wanted to. I'd buy a gun and go off somewhere after ducks."

"But your father's old club on the Chesapeake is open to you. Shall I ask Mr. Tappan?"

"Oh, yes: I know," he sneered, "and Mr. Tappan would send some chump of a tutor there to teach me. I don't want to be taught how to hit ducks. I want to find out for myself. I don't care for that sort of thing," he repeated savagely; "I just ache to go off somewhere with a boy of my own age where there's no club and no preserve and no tutor; and where I can knock about and get whatever there is to get without anybody's help."

Geraldine said: "You have more liberty now than I have, Scott. What are you howling for?"

"The only real liberty I have I take! Anyway, you have enough for a girl of your age. And you'd better shut up."

"I won't shut up," she retorted irritably. "I want liberty as much as you do. If I had any, I'd go to every play and opera in New York. And I'd go about with my friends and I'd have gowns fitted, and I'd have tea at Sherry's, and I'd shop and go to matinees and to the Exchange, and I'd be elected a member of the Commonwealth Club and play basket-ball there, and swim, and lunch and-and then have another fitting--"

"Is that what you'd do with your liberty?" he sneered. "Well, I don't wonder old Tappan doesn't give you any money."

"I do need money and decent gowns. I'm sick of the frumpy prunes-and-prisms frocks that Kathleen makes me wear--"

Kathleen's troubled laugh interrupted her:

"Dearest, I do the best I can on the allowance made you by Mr. Tappan. His ideas on modern feminine apparel are perhaps not yours or mine."

"I should say not!" returned Geraldine angrily. "There isn't a girl of my age who dresses as horridly as I do. I tell you, Mr. Tappan has got to let me have money enough to dress decently. If he doesn't, I-I'll begin to give him as much trouble as Scott does-more, too!"

She set her teeth and stared at her glass of water.

"What about my coming-out gown?" she asked.

"I have written him about your début," said Kathleen soothingly.

"Oh! What did the old beast say?"

"He writes," began Kathleen pleasantly, "that he considers eighteen an unsuitable age for a young girl to make her bow to New York society."

"Did he say that?" exclaimed Geraldine, furious. "Very well; I shall write to Colonel Mallett and tell him I simply will not endure it any longer. I've had enough education; I'm suffocated with it! Besides, I dislike it. I want a dinner-gown and a ball-gown and my hair waved and dressed on top of my head instead of bunched half way! I want to have an engagement pad-I want to have places to go to-people expecting me; I want silk stockings and pretty underclothes! Doesn't that old fool understand what a girl wants and needs?"

She half rose from her seat at the table, pushing away the fruit which a servant offered; and, laying her hands flat on the cloth, leaned forward, eyes flashing ominously.

"I'm getting tired of this," she said. "If it goes on, I'll probably run away."

"So will I," said Scott, "but I've good reasons. They haven't done anything to you. You're making a terrible row about nothing."

"Yes, they have! They've suppressed me, stifled me, bottled me up, tinkered at me, overgroomed me, dressed me ridiculously, and stuffed my mind. And I'm starved all the time! O Kathleen, I'm hungry! hungry! Can't you understand?

"They've made me into something I was not. I've never yet had a chance to be myself. Why couldn't they let me be it? I know-I know that when at last they set me free because they have to-I-I'll act like a fool; I'll not know what to do with my liberty-I'll not know how to use it-how to understand or be understood.... Tell Mr. Tappan that! Tell him that it is all silly and wrong! Tell him that a young girl never forgets when othe

r girls laugh at her because she never had any money, and dresses like a frump, and wears her hair like a baby!... And if he doesn't listen to us, some day Scott and I will show him and the others how we feel about it! I can make as much trouble as Scott can; I'll do it, too--"


"Very well. I'm boiling inside when I think of-some things. The injustice of a lot of hateful, snuffy old men deciding on what sort of underclothes a young girl shall wear!... And I will make my début! I will! I will!"


"Yes, I will! I'll write to them and complain of Mr. Tappan's stingy, unjust treatment of us both--"

"Let me do the writing, dear," said Kathleen quietly. And she rose from the table and left the dining-room, both arms around the necks of the Seagrave twins, drawing them close to her sides-closer when her sidelong glance caught the sullen bitterness on the darkening features of the boy, and when on the girl's fair face she saw the flushed, wide-eyed, questioning stare.

When the young, seeking reasons, gaze questioningly at nothing, it is well to divine and find the truthful answer, lest their other selves, evoked, stir in darkness, counselling folly.

The answer to such questions Kathleen knew; who should know better than she? But it was not for her to reply. All she could do was to summon out of the vasty deep the powers that ruled her wards and herself; and these, convoked in solemn assembly because of conflict with their Trust Officer, might decide in becoming gravity such questions as what shall be the proper quality and cost of a young girl's corsets; and whether or not real lace and silk are necessary for attire more intimate still.

During the next two years the steadily increasing friction between Remsen Tappan and his wards began seriously to disturb the directors of the Half Moon Trust. That worthy old line company viewed with uneasiness the revolutionary tendencies of the Seagrave twins as expressed in periodical and passionate letters to Colonel Mallett. The increasing frequency of these appeals for justice and for intervention fore-shadowed the desirability of a conference. Besides, there was a graver matter to consider, which implicated Scott.

When Kathleen wrote, suggesting a down-town conference to decide delicate questions concerning Geraldine's undergarments and Scott's new gun, Colonel Mallett found it more convenient to appoint the Seagrave house as rendezvous.

And so it came to pass one pleasant Saturday afternoon in late October that, in twos and threes, a number of solemn old gentlemen, faultlessly attired, entered the red drawing-room of the Seagrave house and seated themselves in an impressive semicircle upon the damask chairs.

They were Colonel Stuart Mallett, president of the institution, just returned from Paris with his entire family; Calvin McDermott, Joshua Hogg, Carl Gumble, Friedrich Gumble; the two vice-presidents, James Cray and Daniel Montross; Myndert Beekman, treasurer; Augustus Varick, secretary; the Hon. John D. Ellis; Magnelius Grandcourt 2d, and Remsen Tappan, Trust Officer.

If the pillars of the house of Seagrave had been founded upon millions, the damask and rosewood chairs in the red drawing-room now groaned under the weight of millions. Power, authority, respectability, and legitimate affluence sat there majestically enthroned in the mansion of the late Anthony Seagrave, awaiting in serious tribunal the appearance of the last of that old New York family.

Mrs. Severn came in first; the directors rose as one man, urbane, sprightly, and gallant. She was exceedingly pretty; they recognised it. They could afford to.

Compositely they were a smooth, soft-stepping, soft-voiced, company. An exception or two, like Mr. Tappan, merely accented the composite impression of rosy-cheeked, neatly shaven, carefully dressed prosperity. They all were cautious of voice, moderate of speech, chary of gesture. There was always an impressive pause before a director of the Half Moon Trust answered even the most harmless question addressed to him. Some among them made it a conservative rule to swallow nothing several times before speaking at all. It was a safe habit to acquire. Aut prudens aut nullus.

Geraldine's starched skirts rustled on the stairway. When she came into the room the directors of the Half Moon Trust were slightly astonished. During the youth of the twins, the wives of several gentlemen present had called at intervals to inspect the growth of Anthony Seagrave's grandchildren, particularly those worthy and acquisitive ladies who had children themselves. The far-sighted reap rewards. Some day these baby twins would be old enough to marry. It was prudent to remember such details. A position as an old family friend might one day prove of thrifty advantage in this miserably mercenary world where dog eats dog, and dividends are sometimes passed. God knows and pities the sorrows of the rich.

Geraldine, her slim hand in Colonel Mallett's, courtesied with old-time quaintness, then her lifted eyes swept the rosy, rotund countenances before her. To each she courtesied and spoke, offering the questioning hand of amity.

The thing that seemed to surprise them was that she had grown since they had seen her. Time flies when hunting safe investments. The manners she retained, like her fashion of wearing her hair, and the cut and length of her apparel were clearly too childish to suit the tall, slender, prettily rounded figure-the mature oval of the face, the delicately firm modelling of the features.

This was no child before them; here stood adorable adolescence, a hint of the awakening in the velvet-brown eyes which were long and slightly slanting at the corners; hints, too, in the vivid lips, in the finer outline of the profile, in faint bluish shadows under the eyes, edging the curved cheeks' bloom.

They had not seen her in two years or more, and she had grown up. They had merely stepped down-town for a hasty two years' glance at the market, and, behind their backs, the child had turned into a woman.

Hitherto they had addressed her as "Geraldine" and "child," when a rare interview had been considered necessary. Now, two years later, unconsciously, it was "Miss Seagrave," and considerable embarrassment when the subject of intimate attire could no longer be avoided.

But Geraldine, unconscious of such things, broached the question with all the directness characteristic of her.

"I am sorry I was rude in my last letter," she said gravely, turning to Mr. Tappan. "Will you please forgive me?... I am glad you came. I do not think you understand that I am no longer a little girl, and that things necessary for a woman are necessary for me. I want a quarterly allowance. I need what a young woman needs. Will you give these things to me, Mr. Tappan?"

Mr. Tappan's dry lips cracked apart; he swallowed grimly several times, then his long bony fingers sought the meagre ends of his black string tie:

"In the cultiwation of the indiwidool," he began harshly, and checked himself, when Geraldine flushed to her ear tips and stamped her foot. Self-control had gone at last.

"I won't listen to that!" she said, breathless; "I've listened to it for ten years-as long as I can remember. Answer me honestly, Mr. Tappan! Can I have what other women have-silk underwear and stockings-real lace on my night dresses-and plenty of it? Can I have suitable gowns and furs, and have my hair dressed properly? I want you to answer; can I make my début this winter and have the gowns I require-and the liberty that girls of my age have?" She turned on Colonel Mallett: "The liberty that Na?da has had is all I want; the sort of things you let her have all I ask for." And appealing to Magnelius Grandcourt, who stood pursing his thick lips, puffed out like a surprised pouter pigeon: "Your daughter Catherine has more than I ask; why do you let her have what you consider bad for me? Why?"

Mr. Grandcourt swallowed several times, and spoke in an undertone to Joshua Hogg. But he did not reply to Geraldine.

Remsen Tappan turned his iron visage toward Colonel Mallett-ignoring Geraldine's questions.

"In the cultiwation of the indiwidool," he began again dauntlessly--

"Isn't there anybody to answer me?" asked Geraldine, turning from one to another.

"Concerning the cultiwation--"

"Answer me!" she flashed back. There were tears in her voice, but her eyes blazed.

"Miss Seagrave," interposed old Mr. Montross gravely, "I beg of you to remember--"

"Let him answer me first! I asked him a perfectly plain question. It-it is silly to ignore me as though I were a foolish child-as though I didn't know my mind."

"I think, Mr. Tappan, perhaps if you could give Miss Seagrave a qualified answer to her questions-make some preliminary statement-" began Mr. Cray cautiously.

"Concerning what?" snapped Tappan with a grim stare.

"Concerning my stockings and my underwear," said Geraldine fiercely. "I'm tired of dressing like a servant!"

Mr. Tappan's rugged jaw opened and shut with another snap.

"I'm opposed to any such innowation," he said.

"And-my coming out this winter? And my quarterly allowance? Answer me!"

"Time enough when you turn twenty-one, Miss Seagrave. Cultiwation of mind concerns you now, not cultiwation of raiment."

"That-that-" stammered Geraldine, "is s-su-premely s-silly." The tears reached her eyes; she brushed them away angrily.

Mallett coughed and glanced at Myndert Beekman, then past the secretary, Mr. Varick, directly at Mr. Tappan.

"If you could see your way to-ah-accede to some-a number-perhaps, in a measure, to all of Miss Seagrave's not unreasonable requests, Mr. Tappan--"

"'Can I have what other women have-silk underwear and stockings?'"

He hesitated, looked dubiously at Mr. Montross, who nodded. Mr. Cray, also, made an almost imperceptible sign of concurrence. Magnelius Grandcourt, the sixty-year enfant terrible of the company, dreaded for his impulsive outbursts-though the effect of these outbursts was always very carefully considered before-hand-stepped jauntily across the floor, and lifting Geraldine's hand to his rather purplish lips, saluted it with a flourish.

"Oh, I say, Tappan, let Miss Seagrave have what she wants!" he exclaimed with a hearty disregard of caution, which outwardly disturbed but inwardly deceived nobody except Geraldine and Mrs. Severn.

Colonel Mallett thought: "The acquisitive beast is striking attitudes on his fool of a son's account."

Mr. Tappan's small iron-gray eyes bored two holes through the inward motives of Mr. Grandcourt, and his mouth tightened till the seamed lips were merely a line.

"I think, Magnelius," said Colonel Mallett coldly, "that it is, perhaps, the sense of our committee that the time has practically arrived for some change-perhaps radical change-in the-in the-ah-the hitherto exceedingly wise regulations--"

"May I have real lace?" cried Geraldine-"Oh, I beg your pardon, Colonel Mallett, for interrupting, but I was perfectly crazy to know what you were going to say."

Other people have been crazier and endured more to learn what hope the verdict of ponderous authority might hold for them.

Colonel Mallett, a trifle ruffled at the interruption, swallowed several times and then continued without haste to rid himself of a weighty opinion concerning the début and the petticoats of the Half Moon's ward. He might have made the child happy in one word. It took him twenty minutes.

Concurring opinions were then solemnly delivered by every director in turn except Mr. Tappan, who spoke for half an hour, doggedly dissenting on every point.

But the days of the old régime were evidently numbered. He understood it. He looked across at the crackled portrait of his old friend Anthony Seagrave; the faded, painted features were obliterated in a bar of slanting sunlight.

So, concluding his dissenting opinion, and having done his duty, he sat down, drawing the skirts of his frock-coat close around his bony thighs. He had done his best; his reward was this child's hatred-which she already forgot in the confused delight of her sudden liberation.

Dazed with happiness, to one after another Geraldine courtesied and extended the narrow childlike hand of amity-even to him. Then, as though treading on invisible pink clouds, she floated out and away up-stairs, scarcely conscious of passing her brother on the stairway, who was now descending for his turn before the altar of authority.

When Scott returned he appeared to be unusually red in the face. Geraldine seized him ecstatically:

"Oh, Scott! I am to come out, after all-and I'm to have my quarterly, and gowns, and everything. I could have hugged Mr. Grandcourt-the dear! I was so frightened-frightened into rudeness-and then that beast of a Tappan scared me terribly. But it is all right now-and what did they promise you, poor dear?"

Scott's face still remained flushed as he stood, hands in his pockets, head slightly bent, tracing with the toe of his shoe the carpet pattern.

"You want to know what they promised me?" he asked, looking up at his sister with an unpleasant laugh. She poured a few drops of cologne onto a lump of sugar, placed it between her lips, and nodded:

"They did promise you something-didn't they?"

"Oh, certainly. They promised to make it hot for me if I ever again borrowed money on notes."

"Scott! did you do that?"

"Give my note? Certainly. I needed money-I've told old tabby Tappan so again and again. In a year I'll have all the money I need-so what's the harm if I borrow a little and promise to pay when I'm of age?"

Geraldine considered a moment: "It's curious," she reflected, "but do you know, Scott, I never thought of doing that. It never occurred to me to do it! Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because," said her brother with an embarrassed laugh, "it's not exactly a proper thing to do, I believe. Anyway, they raised a terrible row about it. Probably that's why they have at last given me a decent quarterly allowance; they think it's safer, I suppose-and they're right. The stingy old fossils."

The boyish boast, the veiled hint of revolt and reprisal vaguely disturbed Geraldine's sense of justice.

"After all," she said, "they have meant to be kind. They didn't know how, that's all. And, Scott, do let us try to be better now. I'm ashamed of my rudeness to them. And I'm going to be very, very good to Kathleen and not do one single thing to make her unhappy or even to bother Mr. Tappan.... And, oh, Scott! my silks and laces! my darling clothes! All is coming true! Do you hear? And, Scott! Na?da and Duane are back and I'm dying to see them. Duane is twenty-three, think of it!"

She seized him and spun him around.

"If you don't hug me and tell me you're fond of me, I shall go mad. Tell me you're fond of me, Scott! You do love me, don't you?"

He kissed his sister with preoccupied toleration: "Whew!" he said, "your breath reeks of cologne!

"As for me," he added, half sullenly, "I'm going to have a few things I want, now.... And do a few things, too."

But what these things were he did not specify. Nor did Geraldine have time to speculate, so occupied was she now with preparations for the wonderful winter which was to come true at last-which was already beginning to come true with exciting visits to that magic country of brilliant show-windows which, like an enchanted city by itself, sparkles from Madison Square to the Plaza between Fourth Avenue and Broadway.

Into this sparkling metropolitan zone she hastened with Kathleen; all day long, week after week, she flitted from shop to shop, never satisfied, always eager to see, to explore. Yet two things Kathleen noticed: Geraldine seemed perfectly happy and contented to view the glitter of vanity fair without thought of acquiring its treasures for herself; and, when reminded that she was there to buy, she appeared to be utterly ignorant of the value of money, though a childhood without it was supposed to have taught her its rarity and preciousness.

The girl's personal tastes were expensive; she could linger in ecstasy all the morning over piles of wonderful furs without envy, without even thinking of them for herself; but when Kathleen mentioned the reason of their shopping, Geraldine always indicated sables as her choice, any single piece of which would have required half her yearly allowance to pay for.

And she was for ever wishing to present things to Kathleen; silks that were chosen, model gowns that they examined together, laces, velvets, jewels, always her first thought seemed to be that Kathleen should have what they both enjoyed looking at so ardently; and many a laughing contest they had as to whether her first quarterly allowance should be spent upon herself or her friends.

On the surface it would appear that unselfishness was the key to her character. That was impossible; she had lived too long alone. Yet Geraldine was clearly not acquisitive; though, when she did buy, her careless extravagance worried Kathleen. Spendthrift-in that she cared nothing for the money value of anything-her bright, piquant, eager face was a welcome sight to the thrifty metropolitan shopkeeper at Christmas-tide. A delicate madness for giving obsessed her; she bought a pair of guns for Scott, laces and silks for Kathleen, and for the servants everything she could think of. Nobody was forgotten, not even Mr. Tappan, who awoke Christmas morning to gaze grimly upon an antique jewelled fob all dangling with pencils and seals. In the first flush of independence it gave her more pleasure to give than to acquire.

Also, for the first time in her life, she superintended the distribution of her own charities, flying in the motor with Kathleen from church to mission, eager, curious, pitiful, appalled, by turns. Sentiment overwhelmed her; it was a new kind of pleasure.

One night she arose shivering from her warm bed, and with ink and paper sat figuring till nearly dawn how best to distribute what fortune she might one day possess, and live an exalted life on ten dollars a week.

Kathleen found her there asleep, head buried in the scattered papers, limbs icy to the knees; and there ensued an interim of bronchitis which threatened at one time to postpone her début.

But the medical profession of Manhattan came to the rescue in battalions, and Geraldine was soon afoot, once more drifting ecstatically among the splendours of the shops, thrilling with the nearness of the day that should set her free among unnumbered hosts of unknown friends.

Who would these unknown people turn out to be? What hearts were at that very moment destined to respond in friendship to her own?

Often lying awake, nibbling her scented lump of sugar, the darkness reddening, at intervals, as embers of her bedroom fire dropped glowing to the hearth, she pictured to herself this vast, brilliant throng awaiting to welcome her as one of them. And her imagination catching fire, through closed lids she seemed to see heavenly vistas of youthful faces-a thousand arms outstretched in welcome; and she, advancing, eyes dim with happiness, giving herself to this world of youth and friendship-crossing the threshold-leaving for ever behind her the past with its loneliness and isolation.

It was of friendships she dreamed, and the blessed nearness of others, and the liberty to seek them. She promised herself she would never, never again permit herself to be alone. She had no definite plans, except that. Life henceforth must be filled with the bright shapes of comrades. Life must be only pleasure. Never again must sadness come near her. A miraculous capacity for happiness seemed to fill her breast, expanding with the fierce desire for it, until under the closed lids tears stole out, and there, in the darkness, she held out her bare arms to the world-the kind, good, generous, warm-hearted world, which was waiting, just beyond her threshold, to welcome her and love her and companion her for ever.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top