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- The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 3/47 -
"And too--ambitious," suggested Arkwright.
"What do you mean?" demanded Josh, bristling.
"You thought you'd wait to marry until you were nearer your final place in the world. Being cut out for a king, you know--why, you thought you'd like a queen--one of those fine, delicate ladies you'd read about."
Craig's laugh might have been confession, it might have been mere amusement. "I want a wife that suits me," said he. "And I'll get her."
It was Arkwright's turn to be amused. "There's one game you don't in the least understand," said he.
"What game is that?"
"The woman game."
Craig shrugged contemptuously. "Marbles! Jacks!" Then he added: "Now that I'm about ready to marry, I'll look the offerings over." He clapped his friend on the shoulder. "And you can bet your last cent I'll take what I want."
"Don't be too sure," jeered Arkwright.
The brougham was passing a street lamp that for an instant illuminated Craig's face. Again Arkwright saw the expression that made him feel extremely uncertain of the accuracy of his estimates of the "wild man's" character.
"Yes, I'll get her," said Josh, "and for a reason that never occurs to you shallow people. I get what I want because what I want wants me--for the same reason that the magnet gets the steel."
Arkwright looked admiringly at his friend's strong, aggressive face.
"You're a queer one, Josh," said he. "Nothing ordinary about you."
"I should hope not!" exclaimed Craig. "Now for the plunge."
IN THE BEST SOCIETY
Grant's electric had swung in at the end of the long line of carriages of all kinds, from coach of ambassador and costly limousine of multi-millionaire to humble herdic wherein poor, official grandee's wife and daughter were feeling almost as common as if they had come in a street car or afoot. Josh Craig, leaning from the open window, could see the grand entrance under the wide and lofty porte-cochere--the women, swathed in silk and fur, descending from the carriages and entering the wide-flung doors of the vestibule; liveries, flowers, lights, sounds of stringed instruments, intoxicating glimpses of magnificence at windows, high and low. And now the electric was at the door. He and Arkwright sprang out, hastened up the broad steps. His expression amused Arkwright; it was intensely self-conscious, resolutely indifferent--the kind of look that betrays tempestuous inward perturbations and misgivings. "Josh is a good deal of a snob, for all his brave talk," thought he. "But," he went on to reflect, "that's only human. We're all impressed by externals, no matter what we may pretend to ourselves and to others. I've been used to this sort of thing all my life and I know how little there is in it, yet I'm in much the same state of bedazzlement as Josh."
Josh had a way of answering people's thoughts direct which Arkwright sometimes suspected was not altogether accidental. He now said: "But there's a difference between your point of view and mine. You take this seriously through and through. I laugh at it in the bottom of my heart, and size it up at its true value. I'm like a child that don't really believe in goblins, yet likes the shivery effects of goblin stories."
"I don't believe in goblins, either," said Arkwright.
"You don't believe in anything else," said Josh.
Arkwright steered him through the throng, and up to the hostess-- Mrs. Burke, stout, honest, with sympathy in her eyes and humor in the lines round her sweet mouth. "Well, Josh," she said in a slow, pleasant monotone, "you HAVE done a lot of growing since I saw you. I always knew you'd come to some bad end. And here you are-- in politics and in society. Gus!"
A tall, haughty-looking young woman, standing next her, turned and fixed upon Craig a pair of deep, deep eyes that somehow flustered him. Mrs. Burke presented him, and he discovered that it was her daughter-in-law. While she was talking with Arkwright, he examined her toilette. He thought it startling--audacious in its display of shoulders and back--until he got over his dazed, dazzled feeling, and noted the other women about. Wild horses could not have dragged it from him, but he felt that this physical display was extremely immodest; and at the same time that he eagerly looked his face burned. "If I do pick one of these," said he to himself, "I'm jiggered if I let her appear in public dressed this way. Why, out home women have been white-capped for less."
Arkwright had drifted away from him; he let the crowd gently push him toward the wall, into the shelter of a clump of palms and ferns. There, with his hands in his pockets, and upon his face what he thought an excellent imitation of Arkwright's easy, bored expression of thinly-veiled cynicism, he surveyed the scene and tried to judge it from the standpoint of the "common people." His verdict was that it was vain, frivolous, unworthy, beneath the serious consideration of a man of affairs such as he. But he felt that he was not quite frank, in fact was dishonest, with himself in this lofty disdain. It represented what he ought to feel, not what he actually was feeling. "At least," said he to himself, "I'll never confess to any one that I'm weak enough to be impressed by this sort of thing. Anyhow, to confess a weakness is to encourage it... No wonder society is able to suck in and destroy so many fellows of my sort! If _I_ am tempted what must it mean to the ordinary man?" He noted with angry shame that he felt a swelling of pride because he, of so lowly an origin, born no better than the machine-like lackeys, had been able to push himself in upon--yes, up among--these people on terms of equality. And it was, for the moment, in vain that he reminded himself that most of them were of full as lowly origin as he; that few indeed could claim to be more than one generation removed from jack-boots and jeans; that the most elegant had more relations among the "vulgar herd" than they had among the "high folks."
"What are you looking so glum and sour about?" asked Arkwright.
He startled guiltily. So, his mean and vulgar thoughts had been reflected in his face. "I was thinking of the case I have to try before the Supreme Court next week," said he.
"Well, I'll introduce you to one of the Justices--old Towler. He comes of the 'common people,' like you. But he dearly loves fashionable society--makes himself ridiculous going to balls and trying to flirt. It'll do you no end of good to meet these people socially. You'll be surprised to see how respectful and eager they'll all be if you become a recognized social favorite. For real snobbishness give me your friends, the common people, when they get up where they can afford to put on airs. Why, even the President has a sneaking hankering after fashionable people. I tell you, in Washington EVERYTHING goes by social favor, just as it does in London--and would in Paris if fashionable society would deign to notice the Republic."
"Introduce me to old Towler," said Craig, curt and bitter. He was beginning to feel that Arkwright was at least in part right; and it angered him for the sake of the people from whom he had sprung, and to whom he had pledged his public career. "Then," he went on, "I'm going home. And you'll see me among these butterflies and hoptoads no more."
"Can't trust yourself, eh?" suggested Arkwright.
Craig flashed exaggerated scorn that was confession.
"I'll do better than introduce you to Towler," proceeded Arkwright. "I'll present you to his daughter--a dyed and padded old horror, but very influential with her father and all the older crowd. Sit up to her, Josh. You can lay the flattery on as thick as her paint and as high as her topknot of false hair. If she takes to you your fortune's made."
"I tell you, my fortune is not dependent on--" began Craig vehemently.
"Cut it out, old man," interrupted Arkwright. "No stump speeches here. They don't go. They bore people and create an impression that you're both ridiculous and hypocritical."
Arkwright left Josh with Towler's daughter, Mrs. Raymond, who was by no means the horror Arkwright's language of fashionable exaggeration had pictured, and who endured Craig's sophomoric eulogies of "your great and revered father," because the eulogist was young and handsome, and obviously anxious to please her. As Arkwright passed along the edge of the dancers a fan reached out and touched him on the arm. He halted, faced the double line of women, mostly elderly, seated on the palm-roofed dais extending the length of that end of the ballroom.
"Hel-LO!" called he. "Just the person I was looking for. How is Margaret this evening?"
"As you see," replied the girl, unfurling the long fan of eagle plumes with which she had tapped him. "Sit down.... Jackie"--this to a rosy, eager-faced youth beside her--"run away and amuse yourself. I want to talk seriously to this elderly person."
"I'm only seven years older than you," said Arkwright, as he seated himself where Jackie had been vainly endeavoring to induce Miss Severence to take him seriously.
"And I am twenty-eight, and have to admit to twenty-four," said Margaret.
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