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List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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Jimmy, fourteen, had got a place in a store, and earned two dollars a
week.

"And Vicky?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, Vicky," piped up the eight-year-old boy.  "Vicky's up to the
'stution"--the hospital was probably the institution referred to--" ever
so long now.  I seen her there, me and Jim did.  Such a bootifer place!
'Nd chicken!" he added.  "Sis got hurt by a cart."

Vicky was seventeen, and had been in a fancy store.

"Yes," said Mulhaus, in reply to a question, "it pays pretty well raising
canaries, when they turn out singers.  I made fifteen dollars last year.
I hain't sold much lately.  Seems 's if people stopped wanting 'em such
weather.  I guess it 'll be better in the spring."

"No doubt it will be better for the poor fellow himself before spring,"
said the doctor as they made their way down the dirty stairways.  "Now
I'll show you one of my favorites."

They turned into a broader street, one of the busy avenues, and passing
under an archway between two tall buildings, entered a court of back
buildings.  In the third story back lived Aunt Margaret.  The room was
scarcely as big as a ship's cabin, and its one window gave little light,
for it opened upon a narrow well of high brick walls.  In the only chair
Aunt Margaret was seated close to the window.  In front of her was a
small work-table, with a kerosene lamp on it, but the side of the room
towards which she looked was quite occupied by a narrow couch-
ridiculously narrow, for Aunt Margaret was very stout.  There was a thin
chest of drawers on the other side, and the small coal stove that stood
in the centre so nearly filled the remaining space that the two visitors
were one too many.

"Oh, come in, come in," said the old lady, cheerfully, when the door
opened.  "I'm glad to see you."

"And how goes it?" asked the doctor.

"First rate.  I'm coming on, doctor.  Work's been pretty slack for two
weeks now, but yesterday I got work for two days.  I guess it will be
better now."

The work was finishing pantaloons.  It used to be a good business before
there was so much cutting in.

"I used to get fifteen cents a pair, then ten; now they don't pay but
five.  Yes, the shop furnishes the thread."

"And how many pairs can you finish in a day?" asked Edith.

"Three--three pairs, to do 'em nice--and they are very particular--if I
work from six in the morning till twelve at night.  I could do more, but
my sight ain't what it used to be, and I've broken my specs."

"So you earn fifteen cents a day?"

"When I've the luck to get work, my lady.  Sometimes there isn't any.
And things cost so much.  The rent is the worst."

It appeared that the rent was two dollars and a half a month.  That must
be paid, at any rate.  Edith made a little calculation that on a flush
average of ninety cents a week earned, and allowing so many cents for
coal and so many cents for oil, the margin for bread and tea must be
small for the month.  She usually bought three cents' worth of tea at a
time.

"It is kinder close," said the old lady, with a smile.  "The worst is,
my feet hurt me so I can't stir out.  But the neighbors is real kind.
The little boy next room goes over to the shop and fetches my pantaloons
and takes 'em back.  I can get along if it don't come slack again."

Sitting all day by that dim window, half the night stitching by a
kerosene lamp; lying for six hours on that narrow couch!  How to account
for this old soul's Christian resignation and cheerfulness!  "For," said
the doctor, "she has seen better days; she has moved in high society; her
husband, who died twenty years ago, was a policeman.  What the old lady
is doing is fighting for her independence.  She has only one fear--the
almshouse."

It was with such scenes as these in her eyes that Edith went to her
dressing-room to make her toilet for the Henderson dinner.




V

It was the first time they had dined with the Hendersons.  It was Jack's
doings.  "Certainly, if you wish it," Edith had said when the invitation
came.  The unmentioned fact was that Jack had taken a little flier in
Oshkosh, and a hint from Henderson one evening at the Union, when the
venture looked squally, had let him out of a heavy loss into a small
profit, and Jack felt grateful.

"I wonder how Henderson came to do it?" Jack was querying, as he and old
Fairfax sipped their five-o'clock "Manhattan."

"Oh, Henderson likes to do a good-natured thing still, now and then.
Do you know his wife?"

"No.  Who was she?"

"Why, old Eschelle's daughter, Carmen; of course you wouldn't know; that
was ten years ago.  There was a good deal of talk about it at the time."

"How?"

"Some said they'd been good friends before Mrs. Henderson's death."

"Then Carmen, as you call her, wasn't the first?"

"No, but she was an easy second.  She's a social climber; bound to get
there from the start."

"Is she pretty?"

"Devilish.  She's a little thing.  I saw her once at Homburg, on the
promenade with her mother.

"The kind of sweet blonde, I said to myself, that would mix a man up in a
duel before he knew where he was."

"She must be interesting."

"She was always clever, and she knows enough to play a straight game and
when to propitiate.  I'll bet a five she tells Henderson whom to be good
to when the chance offers."

"Then her influence on him is good?"

"My dear sir, she gets what she wants, and Henderson is going to the .  .
.  well, look at the lines in his face.  I've known Henderson since he
came fresh into the Street.  He'd rarely knife a friend when his first
wife was living.  Now, when you see the old frank smile on his face, it's
put on."

It was half-past eight when Mr. Henderson with Mrs. Delancy on his arm
led the way to the diningroom.  The procession was closed by Mrs.
Henderson and Mr. Delancy.  The Van Dams were there, and Mrs. Chesney and
the Chesney girls, and Miss Tavish, who sat on Jack's right, but the rest
of the guests were unknown to Jack, except by name.  There was a strong
dash of the Street in the mixture, and although the Street was tabooed in
the talk, there was such an emanation of aggressive prosperity at the
table that Jack said afterwards that he felt as if he had been at a
meeting of the board.

If Jack had known the house ten years ago, he would have noticed certain
subtle changes in it, rather in the atmosphere than in many alterations.
The newness and the glitter of cost had worn off.  It might still be
called a palace, but the city had now a dozen handsomer houses, and
Carmen's idea, as she expressed it, was to make this more like a home.
She had made it like herself.  There were pictures on the walls that
would not have hung there in the late Mrs. Henderson's time; and the
prevailing air was that of refined sensuousness.  Life, she said, was her
idea, life in its utmost expression, untrammeled, and yes, a little
Greek.  Freedom was perhaps the word, and yet her latest notion was
simplicity.  The dinner was simple.  Her dress was exceedingly simple,
save that it had in it somewhere a touch of audacity, revealing in a
flash of invitation the hidden nature of the woman.  She knew herself
better than any one knew her, except Henderson, and even he was forced to
laugh when she travestied Browning in saying that she had one soul-side
to face the world with, one to show the man she loved, and she declared
he was downright coarse when on going out of the door he muttered, "But
it needn't be the seamy side."  The reported remark of some one who had
seen her at church that she looked like a nun made her smile, but she
broke into a silvery laugh when she head Van Dam's comment on it, "Yes,
a devil of a nun."

The library was as cozy as ever, but did not appear to be used much as a
library.  Henderson, indeed, had no time to add to his collection or
enjoy it.  Most of the books strewn on the tables were French novels or
such American tales as had the cachet of social riskiness.  But Carmen
liked the room above all others.  She enjoyed her cigarette there, and
had a fancy for pouring her five-o'clock tea in its shelter.  Books which
had all sorts of things in them gave somehow an unconventional atmosphere
to the place, and one could say things there that one couldn't say in a
drawing-room.

Henderson himself, it must be confessed, had grown stout in the ten
years, and puffy under the eyes.  There were lines of irritation in his
face and lines of weariness.  He had not kept the freshness of youth so
well as Carmen, perhaps because of his New England conscience.  To his
guest he was courteous, seemed to be making an effort to be so, and
listened with well-assumed interest to the story of her day's pilgrimage.
At length he said, with a smile, "Life seems to interest you, Mrs.
Delancy."

"Yes, indeed," said Edith, looking up brightly; "doesn't it you?"

"Why, yes; not life exactly, but things, doing things--conflict."

"Yes, I can understand that.  There is so much to be done for everybody."

Henderson looked amused.  "You know in the city the gospel is that
everybody is to be done."

"Well," said Edith, not to be diverted, "but, Mr. Henderson, what is it
all for--this ,conflict?  Perhaps, however, you are fighting the devil?"

"Yes, that's it; the devil is usually the other fellow.  But, Mrs.
Delancy," added Henderson, with an accent of seriousness, "I don't know
what it's all for.  I doubt if there is much in it."

"And yet the world credits you with finding a great deal in it."

"The world is generally wrong.  Do you understand poker, Mrs. Delancy?
No!  Of course you do not.  But the interest of the game isn't so much in
the cards as in the men."

"I thought it was the stakes."

"Perhaps so.  But you want to win for the sake of winning.  If I gambled
it would be a question of nerve.  I suppose that which we all enjoy is
the exercise of skill in winning."

"And not for the sake of doing anything--just winning?  Don't you get
tired of that?" asked Edith, quite simply.

There was something in Edith's sincerity, in her fresh enthusiasm about
life, that appeared to strike a reminiscent note in Henderson.  Perhaps

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