"There is a later train at four. Take that, and we will get some lunch first." An hour of postponement was such a relief! Why, of course he could go at four. And instantly his heart leaped up with desire. "All right," he said, as he rose and closed his desk. "But I think I'd better not stay for lunch. I want to get something for the boy on my way uptown." "Very good. Tuesday, then. My best regards to Edith." As Jack came down the stairway from the elevated road at Twenty-third Street he ran against a man who was hurrying up--a man in a pronounced traveling-suit, grip-sack and umbrella in hand, and in haste. It was Mavick. Recognition was instantaneous, and it was impossible for either to avoid the meeting if he had desired to do so. "You in town!" said Mavick. "And you!" Jack retorted. "No, not really. I'm just going to catch the steamer. Short leave. We have all been kept by that confounded Chile business." "Going for the government?" "No, not publicly. Of course shall confer with our minister in London. Any news here?" "Yes; Henderson's dead." And Jack looked Mavick squarely in the face. "Ah!" And Mavick smiled faintly, and then said, gravely: "It was an awful business. So sudden, you know, that I couldn't do anything." He made a movement to pass on. "I suppose there has been no--no--" "I suppose not," said Jack, "except that Mrs. Henderson has gone to Europe." "Ah!" And Mr. Mavick didn't wait for further news, but hurried up, with a "Good-by." So Mavick was following Carmen to Europe. Well, why not? What an unreal world it all was, that of a few months ago! The gigantic Henderson; Jack's own vision of a great fortune; Carmen and her house of Nero; the astute and diplomatic Mavick, with his patronizing airs! It was like a scene in a play. He stepped into a shop and selected a toy for the boy. It was a real toy, and it was for a real boy. Jack experienced a genuine pleasure at the thought of pleasing him. Perhaps the little fellow would not know him. And then he thought of Edith--not of Edith the mother, but of Edith the girl in the days of his wooing. And he went into Maillard's. The pretty girl at the counter knew him. He was an old customer, and she had often filled orders for him. She had despatched many a costly box to addresses he had given her. It was in the recollection of those transactions that he said: "A box of marrons glaces, please. My wife prefers that." "Shall I send it?" asked the girl, when she had done it up. "No, thanks; we are not in town." "Of course," she said, beaming upon him; "nobody is yet." And this girl also seemed a part of the old life, with her little affectation of familiarity with its ways. He went to his room--it seemed a very mean little room now--packed his bag, told the janitor he should be absent a few days, and hurried to the ferry and the train as if he feared that some accident would delay him. When he was seated and the train moved off, his thoughts took another turn. He was in for it now. He began to regret that he had not delayed, to think it all out more thoroughly; perhaps it would have been better to have written. He bought an evening journal, but he could not read it. What he read between the lines was his own life. What a miserable failure! What a mess he had made of his own affairs, and how unworthy of such a woman as Edith he had been! How indifferent he had been to her happiness in the pursuit of his own pleasure! How would she receive him? He could hardly doubt that; but she must know, she must have felt cruelly his estrangement. What if she met him with a royal forgiveness, as if he were a returned prodigal? He couldn't stand that. If now he were only going back with his fortune recovered, with brilliant prospects to spread before her, and could come into the house in his old playful manner, with the assumed deference of the master, and say: "Well, Edith dear, the storm is over. It's all right now. I am awfully glad to get home. Where's the rascal of an heir?" Instead of that, he was going with nothing, humiliated, a clerk in a twine-store. And not much of a clerk at that, he reflected, with his ready humorous recognition of the situation. And yet he was for the first time in his life earning his living. Edith would like that. He had known all along that his idle life had been a constant grief to her. No, she would not reproach him; she never did reproach him. No doubt she would be glad that he was at work. But, oh, the humiliation of the whole thing! At one moment he was eager to see her, and the next the rattling train seemed to move too fast, and he welcomed every wayside stop that delayed his arrival. But even the Long Island trains arrive some time, and all too soon the cars slowed up at the familiar little station, and Jack got out. "Quite a stranger in these parts, Mr. Delancy," was the easy salutation of the station-keeper. "Yes. I've been away. All right down here?" "Right as a trivet. Hot summer, though. Calculate it's goin' to be a warm fall--generally is." It was near sunset. When the train had moved on, and its pounding on the rails became a distant roar and then was lost altogether, the country silence so impressed Jack, as he walked along the road towards the sea, that he became distinctly conscious of the sound of his own footsteps. He stopped and listened. Yes, there were other sounds--the twitter of birds in the bushes by the roadside, the hum of insects, and the faint rhythmical murmur of lapsing waves on the shore. And now the house came in view--first the big roof, and then the latticed windows, the balconies, where there were pots of flowers, and then the long veranda with its hammocks and climbing vines. There was a pink tone in the distant water answering to the flush in the sky, and away to the west the sand-dune that made out into the Sound was a point of light. But the house! Jack's steps were again arrested. The level last rays of the disappearing sun flashed upon the window-panes so that they glowed like painted windows illuminated from within, with a reddish lustre, and the roofs and the brown sides of the building, painted by those great masters in color, the sun and the sea-wind, in that moment were like burnished gold. Involuntarily Jack exclaimed: "It is the Golden House!" He made his way through the little fore yard. No one was about. The veranda was deserted. There was Edith's work-basket; there were the baby's playthings. The door stood open, and as he approached it he heard singing--not singing, either, but a fitful sort of recitation, with the occasional notes of an accompaniment struck as if in absence of mind. The tune he knew, and as he passed through the first room towards the sitting-room that looked on the sea he caught a line: "Wely, wely, but love is bonny, for a little while--when it is new." It was an old English ballad, the ballad of the "Cockle-shells," that Edith used to sing often in the old days, when its note of melancholy seemed best to express her happiness. It was only that line, and the voice seemed to break, and there was silence. He stole along and looked in. There was Edith, seated, her head bowed on her hands, at the piano. In an instant, before she could turn to the sound of his quick footsteps, he was at her side, kneeling, his head bowed in the folds of her dress. "Edith! I've been such a fool!" She turned, slid from her seat, and was kneeling also, with her arms thrown about his neck. "Oh, Jack! You've come. Thank God! Thank God!" And presently they stood, and his arms were still around her, and she was looking up into his face, with her hands on his shoulders, and saying "You've come to stay." "Yes, dear, forever." XXIV The whole landscape was golden, the sea was silver, on that October morning. It was the brilliant decline of the year. Edith stood with Jack on the veranda. He had his grip-sack in hand and was equipped for town. Both were silent in the entrancing scene. The birds, twittering in the fruit-trees and over the vines, had the air of an orchestra, the concerts of the season over, gathering their instruments and about to depart. One could detect in the lapse of the waves along the shore the note of weariness preceding the change into the fretfulness and the tumult of tempests. In the soft ripening of the season there was peace and hope, but it was the hope of another day. The curtain was falling on this. Was life beginning, then, or ending? If life only could change and renew itself like the seasons, with the perpetually recurring springs! But youth comes only once, and thereafter the man gathers the fruit of it, sweet or bitter. Jack was not given to moralizing, but perhaps a subtle suggestion of this came to him in the thought that an enterprise, a new enterprise, might have seemed easier in May, when the forces of nature were with him, than in October. There was something, at least, that fell in with his mood, a mood of acquiescence in failure, in this closing season of the year, when he stood empty-handed in the harvest-time. "Edith," he said, as they paced down the walk which was flaming with scarlet and crimson borders, and turned to look at the peaceful brown house, "I hate to go." "But you are not going," said Edith, brightly. "I feel all the time as if you were just coming back. Jack, do you know," and she put her hand on his shoulder, "this is the sweetest home in the world now!" "It is the only one, dear;" and Jack made the statement with a humorous sense of its truth. "Well, there's the train, and I'm off with the other clerks." "Clerk, indeed!" cried Edith, putting up her face to his; "you are going to be a Merchant Prince, Jack, that is what you are going to be." On the train there was an atmosphere of business. Jack felt that he was not going to the New York that he knew--not to his New York, but to a city of traffic; down into the streets of commercial enterprise, not at all to the metropolis of leisure, of pleasure, to the world of clubs and drawing-rooms and elegant loiterings and the rivalries of society life. That was all ended. Jack was hurrying to catch the down-town car for the dingy office of Fletcher & Co. at an hour fixed. It was ended, to be sure, but the struggle with Jack in his new life was not ended, his biographer knows, for months and years. It was long before he could pass his club windows without a pang of humiliation, or lift his hat to a lady of his acquaintance in her passing carriage without a vivid feeling of separateness from his old life. For the old life--he could see that any day in the Avenue, any evening by the flaming lights--went by in its gilded chariots and entrancing toilets, the fascinating whirl of Vanity Fair crowned with roses and with ennui. Did he regret it? No doubt. Not to regret would have been to change his nature, and that were a feat impossible for his biographer to accomplish. In a way his life was gone, and to build up a new life, serene and enduring, was not the work of a day. One thing he did not regret in the shock he had received, and that was the absence of Carmen and her world. When he thought of her he had a sense of escape. She was still abroad, and he heard from time to time that Mavick was philandering about from capital to capital in her train. Certainly he would have envied neither of them if he had been aware, as the reader is aware, of the guilty secret that drew them together and must be forever their torment. They knew each other. But this glittering world, to attain a place in which is the object of most of the struggles and hungry competition of modern life, seemed not so real nor so desirable when he was at home with Edith, and in his gradually growing interest in nobler pursuits. They had decided to take a modest apartment in town for the winter, and almost before the lease was signed, Edith, in her mind, had transformed it into a charming home. Jack used to rally her on her enthusiasm in its simple furnishing; it reminded him, he said, of Carmen's interest in her projected house of Nero. It was a great contrast, to be sure, to their stately house by the Park, but it was to them both what that had never been. To one who knows how life goes astray in the solicitations of the great world, there was something pathetic in Edith's pleasure. Even to Jack it might some day come with the force of keen regret for years wasted, that it is enough to break a body's heart to see how little a thing can make a woman happy. It was another summer. Major Fairfax had come down with Jack to spend Sunday at the Golden House. Edith was showing the Major the view from the end of the veranda. Jack was running through the evening paper. "Hi!" he cried; "here's news. Mavick is to have the mission to Rome, and it is rumored that the rich and accomplished Mrs. Henderson, as the wife of the minister, will make the Roman season very gay." "It's too bad," said Edith. "Nothing is said about the training-school?" "Nothing." "Poor Henderson!" was the Major's comment. "It was for this that he drudged and schemed and heaped up his colossal fortune! His life must look to him like a burlesque."
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