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List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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his life?  What devil was tempting him to break his vows and forsake his
faith?  Should he fly from the city and from his work, or should he face
what seemed to him, in the light of his consecration, a monstrous
temptation, and try to conquer himself?  He began to doubt his power to
do this.  He had always believed that it was easy to conquer nature.
And now a little brown woman had taught him that he reckons ill who
leaves out the strongest human passion.  And yet suppose he should break
his solemn vows and throw away his ideal, and marry Ruth Leigh, would he
ever be happy?  Here was a mediaeval survival confronted by a nineteenth-
century skepticism.  The situation was plainly insoluble.  It was as
plainly so to the clear mind of the unselfish little woman without faith
as it was to him.  Perhaps she could not have respected him if he had
yielded.  Strangely enough, the attraction of the priest for her and for
other women who called themselves servants of humanity was in his
consecration, in his attitude of separation from the vanities and
passions of this world.  They believed in him, though they did not share
his faith.  To Ruth Leigh this experience of love was as unexpected as it
was to the priest.  Perhaps because her life was lived on a less exalted
plane she could bear it with more equanimity.  But who knows?  The habit
of her life was endurance, the sturdy meeting of the duty of every day,
with at least only a calm regard of the future.  And she would go on.
But who can measure the inner change in her life?  She must certainly be
changed by this deep experience, and, terrible as it was, perhaps
ennobled by it.  Is there not something supernatural in such a love
itself?  It has a wonderful transforming power.  It is certain that a new
light, a tender light, was cast upon her world.  And who can say that
some time, in the waiting and working future, this new light might not
change life altogether for this faithful soul?

There was one person upon whom the tragedy of life thus far sat lightly.
Even her enemies, if she had any, would not deny that Carmen had an
admirable temperament.  If she had been a Moslem, it might be predicted
that she would walk the wire 'El Serat' without a tremor.  In these days
she was busy with the plans of her new house.  The project suited her
ambition and her taste.  The structure grew in her mind into barbaric
splendor, but a barbaric splendor refined, which reveled in the exquisite
adornment of the Alhambra itself.  She was in daily conferences with her
architect and her artists, she constantly consulted Jack about it, and
Mavick whenever he was in town, and occasionally she awakened the
interest of Henderson himself, who put no check upon her proceedings,
although his mind was concerned with a vaster structure of his own.
She talked of little else, until in her small world there grew up a vast
expectation of magnificence, of which hints appeared from time to time in
the newspapers, mysterious allusions to Roman luxury, to Nero and his
Golden House.  Henderson read these paragraphs, as he read the paragraphs
about his own fortune, with a grim smile.

"Your house is getting a lot of free advertising," he said to Carmen one
evening after dinner in the library, throwing the newspaper on the table
as he spoke.

"They all seem to like the idea," replied Carmen.  "Did you see what one
of the papers said about the use of wealth in adorning the city?  That's
my notion."

"I suppose," said Henderson, with a smile, "that you put that notion into
the reporter's head."

"But he thought he suggested it to me."

"Let's look over the last drawing."  Henderson half rose from his chair
to pull the sheet towards him, but instantly sank back, and put his hand
to his heart.  Carmen saw that he was very pale, and ran round to his
chair.

"What is it?"

"Nothing," he said, taking a long breath.  "Just a stitch.  Indigestion.
It must have been the coffee."

Carmen ran to the dining-room, and returned with a wineglass of brandy.

"There, take that."

He drank it.  "Yes, that's better.  I'm all right now."  And he sat
still, slowly recovering color and control of himself.

"I'm going to send for the doctor."

"No, no; nonsense.  It has all passed," and he stretched out his arms
and threw them back vigorously.  "It was only a moment's faintness.  It's
quite gone."

He rose from his chair and took a turn or two about the room.  Yes, he
was quite himself, and he patted Carmen's head as he passed and took his
seat again.  For a moment or two there was silence.  Then he said, still
as if reflecting:

"Isn't it queer?  In that moment of faintness all my life flashed through
my mind."

"It has been a very successful life," Carmen said, by way of saying
something.

"Yes, yes; but I wonder if it was worth while?"

"If I were a man, I should enjoy the power you have, the ability to do
what you will."

"I suppose I do.  That is all there is.  I like to conquer obstacles, and
I like to command.  And money; I never did care for money in itself.
But there is a fascination in building up a great fortune.  It is like
conducting a political or a military campaign.  Now, I haven't much
interest in anything else."

As he spoke he looked round upon the crowded shelves of his library, and,
getting up, went to the corner where there was a shelf of rare editions
and took down a volume.

"Do you remember when I got this, Carmen?  It was when I was a bachelor.
It was rare then.  I saw it quoted the other day as worth twice the price
I gave for it."

He replaced it carefully, and walked along the shelves looking at the
familiar titles.

"I used to read then.  And you read still; you have time."

"Not those books," she replied, with a laugh.  "Those belong to the last
generation."

"That is where I belong," he said, smiling also.  "I don't think I have
read a book, not really read it, in ten years.  This modern stuff that
pretends to give life is so much less exciting than my own daily
experience that I cannot get interested in it.  Perhaps I could read
these calm old books."

"It is the newspapers that take your time," Carmen suggested.

"Yes, they pass the time when I am thinking.  And they are full of
suggestions.  I suppose they are as accurate about other things as about
me.  I used to think I would make this library the choicest in the city.
It is good as far as it goes.  Perhaps I will take it up some day--if I
live."  And he turned away from the shelves and sat down.  Carmen had
never seen him exactly in this humor and was almost subdued by it.

He began to talk again, philosophizing about life generally and his own
life.  He seemed to like to recall his career, and finally said: "Uncle
Jerry is successful too, and he never did care for anything else--except
his family.  There is a clerk in my office on five thousand a year who is
never without a book when he comes to the office and when I see him on
the train.  He has a wife and a nice little family in Jersey.  I ask him
sometimes about his reading.  He is collecting a library, but not of rare
books; says he cannot afford that.  I think he is successful too, or will
be if he never gets more than five thousand a year, and is content with
his books and his little daily life, coming and going to his family.
Ah, well!  Everybody must live his life.  I suppose there is some
explanation of it all."

"Has anything gone wrong?" asked Carmen, anxiously.

"No, not at all.  Nothing to interfere with the house of gold."  He spoke
quite gently and sincerely.  "I don't know what set me into this
moralizing.  Let's look at the plans."

The next day--it was the first of June--in consultation with the
architect, a project was broached that involved such an addition of cost
that Carmen hesitated.  She declared that it was a question of ways and
means, and that she must consult the chairman.  Accordingly she called
her carriage and drove down to Henderson's office.

It was a beautiful day, a little warm in the narrow streets of the lower
city, but when she had ascended by the elevator to the high story that
Henderson occupied in one of the big buildings that rise high enough to
give a view of New York Harbor, and looked from the broad windows upon
one of the most sparkling and animated scenes in the world, it seemed
to her appreciative eyes a day let down out of Paradise.

The clerks all knew Mrs. Henderson, and they rose and bowed as she
tripped along smiling towards her husband's rooms.  It did not seem to be
a very busy day, and she found no one waiting in the anteroom, and passed
into the room of his private secretary.

"Is Mr. Henderson in?"

"Yes, madam."

"And busy?"

"Probably busy," replied the secretary, with a smile, "but he is alone.
No one has disturbed him for over half an hour."

"Then I will go in."

She tapped lightly at the door.  There was no response.  She turned the
knob softly and looked in, and then, glancing back at the secretary, with
a finger uplifted, "I think he is asleep," opened the door, stepped in,
and closed it carefully.

The large room was full of light, and through the half-dozen windows
burst upon her the enchanting scene of the Bay, Henderson sat at his
table, which was covered with neatly arranged legal documents, but bowed
over it, his head resting upon his arms.

"So, Rodney, this is the way, old boy, that you wear yourself out in
business!"

She spoke laughingly, but he did not stir, and she tiptoed along to
awaken him.

She touched his hand.  It moved heavily away from her hand.  The left
arm, released, dropped at his side.

She started back, her eyes round with terror, and screamed.

Instantly the secretary was at her side, and supported her, fainting, to
a seat.  Other clerks rushed in at the alarm.  Henderson was lifted from
his chair and laid upon a lounge.  When the doctor who had been called
arrived, Carmen was in a heap by the low couch, one arm thrown across the
body, and her head buried in the cushion close to his.

The doctor instantly applied restoratives; he sent for an electric

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