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- The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 5/47 -
"Marry him--marry Josh Craig. He'll not make much money out of politics. I doubt if even a woman could corrupt him that far. But you could take him out of politics and put him in the law. He could roll it up there. The good lawyers sell themselves dear nowadays, and he'd make a killing."
"This sounds interesting."
"It's a wonder I hadn't thought of it before."
The girl gave a curious, quiet smile. "I had," said she.
"YOU had!" exclaimed Arkwright.
"A woman always keeps a careful list of eligibles," explained she. "As Lucy Burke told me he was headed for Washington, I put him on my list that very night--well down toward the bottom, but, still, on it. I had quite forgotten him until to-night."
Arkwright was staring at her. Her perfect frankness, absolute naturalness with him, unreserved trust of him, gave him a guilty feeling for the bitter judgment on her character which he had secretly formed as the result of her confidences. "Yet, really," thought he, "she's quite the nicest girl I know, and the cleverest. If she had hid herself from me, as the rest do, I'd never for one instant have suspected her of having so much--so much--calm, good sense--for that's all it amounts to." He decided it was a mistake for any human being in any circumstances to be absolutely natural and unconcealingly candid. "We're such shallow fakers," reflected he, "that if any one confesses to us things not a tenth part as bad as what we privately think and do, why, we set him--or her--especially her--down as a living, breathing atrocity in pants or petticoats."
Margaret was of the women who seem never to think of what they are really absorbed in, and never to look at what they are really scrutinizing. She disconcerted him by interrupting his reflections with: "Your private opinion of me is of small consequence to me, Grant, beside the relief and the joy of being able to say my secret self aloud. Also"--here she grew dizzy at her own audacity in the frankness that fools--"Also, if I wished to get you, Grant, or any man, I'd not be silly enough to fancy my character or lack of it would affect him. That isn't what wins men--is it?"
"You and Josh Craig have a most uncomfortable way of answering people's thoughts," said Arkwright. "Now, how did you guess I was thinking mean things about you?"
"For the same reason that Mr. Craig is able to guess what's going on in your head."
"And that reason is--"
She laughed mockingly. "Because I know you, Grant Arkwright--you, the meanest-generous man, and the most generous-mean man the Lord ever permitted. The way to make you generous is to give you a mean impulse; the way to make you mean is to set you to fearing you're in danger of being generous."
"There's a bouquet with an asp coiled in it," said Arkwright, pleased; for with truly human vanity he had accepted the compliment and had thrown away the criticism. "I'll go bring Josh Craig." "No, not to-night," said Miss Severence, with a sudden compression of the lips and a stern, almost stormy contraction of the brows.
"Please don't do that, Rita," cried Arkwright. "It reminds me of your grandmother."
The girl's face cleared instantly, and all overt signs of strength of character vanished in her usual expression of sweet, reserved femininity. "Bring him to-morrow," said she. "A little late, please. I want others to be there, so that I can study him unobserved." She laughed. "This is a serious matter for me. My time is short, and my list of possible eligibles less extended than I could wish." And with a satiric smile and a long, languorous, coquettish glance, she waved him away and waved the waiting Jackie into his place.
Arkwright found Craig clear of "Patsy" Raymond and against the wall near the door. He was obviously unconscious of himself, of the possibility that he might be observed. His eyes were pouncing from blaze of jewels to white neck, to laughing, sensuous face, to jewels again or to lithe, young form, scantily clad and swaying in masculine arm in rhythm with the waltz. It gave Arkwright a qualm of something very like terror to note the contrast between his passive figure and his roving eyes with their wolfish gleam--like Blucher, when he looked out over London and said: "God! What a city to sack!"
Arkwright thought Josh was too absorbed to be aware of his approach; but as soon as he was beside him Josh said: "You were right about that apartment of mine. It's a squalid hole. Six months ago, when I got my seventy-five hundred a year, I thought I was rich. Rich? Why, that woman there has ten years' salary on her hair. All the money I and my whole family ever saw wouldn't pay for the rings on any one of a hundred hands here. It makes me mad and it makes me greedy."
"'I warned you," said Arkwright.
Craig wheeled on him. "You don't--can't--understand. You're like all these people. Money is your god. But I don't want money, I want power--to make all these snobs with their wealth, these millionaires, these women with fine skins and beautiful bodies, bow down before me--that's what I want!"
Arkwright laughed. "Well, it's up to you, Joshua."
Craig tossed his Viking head. "Yes, it's up to me, and I'll get what I want--the people and I.... Who's THAT frightful person?"
Into the room, only a few feet from them, advanced an old woman-- very old, but straight as a projectile. She carried her head high, and her masses of gray-white hair, coiled like a crown, gave her the seeming of royalty in full panoply. There was white lace over her black velvet at the shoulders; her train swept yards behind her. She was bearing a cane, or rather a staff, of ebony; but it suggested, not decrepitude, but power--perhaps even a weapon that might be used to enforce authority should occasion demand. In her face, in her eyes, however, there was that which forbade the supposition of any revolt being never so remotely possible.
As she advanced across the ballroom, dancing ceased before her and around her, and but for the noise of the orchestra there would have been an awed and painful silence. Mrs. Burke's haughty daughter-in-law, with an expression of eager desire to conciliate and to please, hastened forward and conducted the old lady to a gilt armchair in the center of the dais, across the end of the ballroom. It was several minutes before the gayety was resumed, and then it seemed to have lost the abandon which the freely- flowing champagne had put into it.
"WHO is that frightful person?" repeated Craig. He was scowling like a king angered and insulted by the advent of an eclipsing rival.
"Grandma,"' replied Arkwright, his flippancy carefully keyed low.
"I've never seen a more dreadful person!" exclaimed Craig angrily. "And a woman, too! She's the exact reverse of everything a woman should be--no sweetness, no gentleness. I can't believe she ever brought a child into the world."
"She probably doubts it herself," said Arkwright.
"Why does everybody cringe before her?"
"That's what everybody asks. She hasn't any huge wealth--or birth, either, for that matter. It's just the custom. We defer to her here precisely as we wear claw-hammer coats and low-neck dresses. Nobody thinks of changing the custom."
Josh's lip curled. "Introduce me to her," he said commandingly.
Arkwright looked amused and alarmed. "Not tonight. All in good time. She's the grandmother of a young woman I want you to meet. She's Madam Bowker, and the girl's name is Severence."
"I want to meet that old woman," persisted Josh. Never before had he seen a human being who gave him a sense of doubt as to the superiority of his own will.
"Don't be in too big a hurry for Waterloo," jested Arkwright. "It's coming toward you fast enough. That old lady will put you in your place. After ten minutes of her, you'll feel like a schoolboy who has 'got his' for sassing the teacher."
"I want to meet her," repeated Craig. And he watched her every movement; watched the men and women bowing deferentially about her chair; watched her truly royal dignity, as she was graciously pleased to relax now and then.
"Every society has its mumbo-jumbo to keep it in order," said Arkwright. "She's ours.... I'm dead tired. You've done enough for one night. It's a bad idea to stay too long; it creates an impression of frivolity. Come along!"
Craig went, reluctantly, with several halts and backward glances at the old lady of the ebon staff.
A DESPERATE YOUNG WOMAN
The house where the Severances lived, and had lived for half a century, was built by Lucius Quintus Severence, Alabama planter, suddenly and, for the antebellum days, notably rich through a cotton speculation. When he built, Washington had no distinctly fashionable quarter; the neighborhood was then as now small, cheap wooden structures where dwelt in genteel discomfort the families of junior Department clerks. Lucius Quintus chose the site partly for the view, partly because spacious grounds could be had at a nominal figure, chiefly because part of his conception of
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