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HOME > Short Stories > The Crux: A Novel > CHAPTER X. DETERMINATION.
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 You may shut your eyes with a bandage, The while world vanishes soon;
You may open your eyes at a knothole
And see the sun and moon.
It must have grieved anyone who cared for Andrew Dykeman, to see Mrs. St. Cloud's manner toward him change with his changed circumstances—she had been so much with him, had been so kind to him; kinder than Carston comment "knew for a fact," but not kinder than it .
Then, though his dress remained as quietly correct, his face assumed a worn and anxious look, and he no longer offered her long rides or other expensive entertainment. She saw men on the stop talking as he came by, and shake their heads as they looked after him; but no one would tell her anything definite till she questioned Mr. Skee.
"I am worried about Mr. Dykeman," she said to this ever-willing confidant, him to a chair beside her.
A chair, to the mind of Mr. Skee, seemed to be for uses, only valuable as part of the composition. He liked one to stand beside, to put a foot on, to lean over from behind, arms on the back; to tip up in front of him as if he needed a ; and when he was persuaded to sit in one, it was either facing the back, cross-saddle and forward, or—and this was the utmost decorum he was able to approach—tipped backward against the wall.
"He does not look well," said the lady, "you are old friends—do tell me; if it is anything wherein a woman's sympathy would be of service?"
"I'm afraid not, Ma'am," replied Mr. Skee darkly. "Andy's hard hit in a worse place than his heart. I wouldn't betray a friend's confidence for any money, Ma'am; but this is all over town. It'll go hard with Andy, I'm afraid, at his age."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she whispered. "So sorry! But surely with a man of his abilities it will be only a temporary reverse!—"
"Dunno ' the abilities—not in this case. Unless he has ability enough to discover a mine bigger'n the one he's lost! You see, Ma'am, it's this way," and he sunk his voice to a . "Andy had a bang-up mine, galena ore—not gold, you understand, but often pays better. And he kept on putting the money it made back into it to make more. Then, all of a sudden, it petered out! No more eggs in that basket. 'Course he can't sell it—now. And last year he refused half a million. Andy's sure down on his luck."
"But he will recover! You western men are so wonderful! He will find another mine!"
"O yes, he may! Certainly he may, Ma'am. Not that he found this one—he just bought it."
"Well—he can buy another, there are more, aren't there?"
"Sure there are! There's as good mines in the earth as ever was salted—that's my232 motto! But Andy's got no more money to buy any mines. What he had before he inherited. No, Ma'am," said Mr. Skee, with a sigh. "I'm afraid its all up with Andy Dykeman financially!"
This he said more audibly; and Miss Elder and Miss Pettigrew, sitting in their , could not help hearing. Miss Elder gave a little and clasped her hands tightly, but Miss Pettigrew arose, and came outside.
"What's this about Mr. Dykeman?" she questioned . "Has he had losses?"
"There now," said Mr. Skee, , "I never meant to give him away like that. Mrs. Pettigrew, Ma'am, I must beg you not to mention it further. I was only satisfyin' this lady here, in answer to sympathetic anxiety, as to what was making Andrew H. Dykeman so down in the mouth. Yes'm—he's lost every cent he had in the world, or is likely to have. Of course, among friends, he'll get a job fast enough, bookkeepin', or something like that—though he's not a brilliant man, Andy isn't. You needn't to feel worried, Mrs. Pettigrew; he'll draw a salary all right, to the end of233 time; but he's out of the game of Hot Finance."
Mrs. Pettigrew regarded the speaker with a eye. He returned her look with unflinching seriousness. "Have a chair, Ma'am," he said. "Let me bring out your rocker. Sit down and chat with us."
"No, thanks," said the old lady. "It seems to me a little—chilly, out here. I'll go in."
She went in forthwith, to find Miss Orella wiping her eyes.
"What are you crying about, Orella Elder! Just because a man's lost his money? That happens to most of 'em now and then."
"Yes, I know—but you heard what he said. Oh, I can't believe it! To think of his having to be provided for by his friends—and having to take a small salary—after being so well off! I am so sorry for him!"
Miss Elder's sorrow was increased to by noting Mrs. St. Cloud's changed attitude. Mr. Dykeman made no complaint, uttered no protest, gave no confidences; but it soon appeared that he was working in an office; and furthermore that this position was given him by Mr. Skee.
That gentleman, though as to his own affairs, now appeared in far finer raiment than he had hitherto ; developed a pronounced taste in fobs and sleeve buttons; and a striking harmony in socks and scarfs.
Men talked openly of him; no one seemed to know anything definite, but all were certain that "Old Skee must have struck it rich."
Mr. Skee kept his own counsel; but became in gifts and entertainments. He produced two presents for Susie; one a " gift," the other a conventional wedding present.
"This is a new one to me," he said when he offered her the first; "but I understand it's the thing. In fact I'm sure of it—for I've consulted Mrs. St. Cloud and she helped me to buy 'em."
He consulted Mrs. St. Cloud about a dinner he proposed giving to Mr. Saunders—"one of these Farewell to Egypt affairs," he said. "Not that I imagine Jim Saunders ever was much of a—Egyptian—but then——!"
He consulted her also about Vivian—did she not think the girl looked worn and ill? Wouldn't it be a good thing to send her off for a trip somewhere?
He consulted her about a library; said he had always wanted a library of his own, but the public ones were somewhat in his way. How many books did she think a man ought really to own—to spend his declining years among. Also, and at considerable length he consulted her about the best possible place of residence.
"I'm getting to be an old man, Mrs. St. Cloud," he remarked ; "and I'm thinking of buying and building somewhere. But it's a job. Lo! these many years I've been to live wherever I was at; and now that I'm considering a real Home—blamed if I know where to put it! I'm distracted between A Model Farm, and A Residence. Which would you recommend, Ma'am?"
The lady's sympathy and interest warmed to Mr. Skee as they cooled to Mr. Dykeman, not with any blameworthy or noticeable suddenness, but in soft graduations, steady236 and continuous. The one wore his new glories with an air of modest pride; making no boast of ; and the other accepted that which had befallen him without rebellion.
Miss Orella's tender heart was deeply touched. As fast as Mrs. St. Cloud gave the cold shoulder to her friend, she extended a warm hand; when they chatted about Mr. Skee's visible success, she bravely of the beauty of limited means; and when it was time to present her weekly bills to the boarders, she left none in Mr. Dykeman's room. This he took for an at first; but when he found the repeated on the following week, he stood by his window smiling thoughtfully for some time, and then went in search of Miss Orella.
She sat by her shaded lamp, alone, knitting a silk tie which was hidden as he entered. He stood by the door looking at her in spite of her urging him to be seated, observing the warm color in her face, the lines of her figure, the gentle smile that was so unfailingly attractive. Then he came forward, calmly inquir237ing, "Why 't you sent me my board bill?"
She lifted her eyes to his, and dropped them, flushing. "I—excuse me; but I thought——"
"You thought I couldn't conveniently pay it?"
"O please excuse me! I didn't mean to be—to do anything you wouldn't like. But I did hear that you were—temporarily embarrassed. And I want you to feel sure, Mr. Dykeman, that to your real friends it makes no difference in the least. And if—for a while that is—it should be a little more convenient to—to payment, please feel perfectly at liberty to wait!"
She stood there blushing like a girl, her sweet eyes wet with shining tears that did not fall, full of tender sympathy for his misfortune.
"Have you heard that I've lost all my money?" he asked.
She nodded softly.
"And that I can't ever get it back—shall have to do clerk's work at a clerk's salary—as long as I live?"
Again she nodded.
He took a step or two back and in the quiet parlor, and returned to her.
"Would you marry a poor man?" he asked in a low tender voice. "Would you marry a man not young, not clever, not rich, but who loved you dearly? You are the sweetest woman I ever saw, Orella Elder—will you marry me?"
She came to him, and he drew her close with a long sigh of utter satisfaction. "Now I am rich indeed," he said softly.
She held him off a little. "Don't talk about being rich. It doesn't matter. If you like to live here—why this house will keep us both. If you'd rather have a little one—I can live so happily—on so little! And there is my own little home in Bainville—perhaps you could find something to do there. I don't care the least in the world—so long as you love me!"
"I've loved you since I first set eyes on you," he answered her. "To see the home you've made here for all of us was enough to make any man love you. But I thought awhile back that I hadn't any chance—you239 weren't jealous of that Artificial Fairy, were you?"
And Miss Orella lied.
Carston society was pleased, but not surprised at Susie's engagement; it was both pleased and surprised when Miss Elder's was announced. Some there were who protested that they had seen it from the beginning; but disputatious friends taxed them with having quite otherwise.
Some thought Miss Elder foolish to take up with a man of full middle age, and with no ; and others attributed the foolishness to Mr. Dykeman, in marrying an old maid. Others again darkly hinted that he knew which side his bread was buttered—"and first-rate butter, too." Adding that they "did hate to see a man sit around and let his wife keep boarders!"
In Bainville circles the event created high . That one of their accumulated , part of the Sacrifice of New England, which finds not even a Minotaur—had thus escaped from their ranks and achieved a husband; this was flatly heretical. The fact that he was a poor man240 was the only circumstance, leaving it open to the more to criticize the lady sharply.
But the calm contentment of Andrew Dykeman's face, and the decorous of Miss Elder's were untroubled by what anyone thought or said.
Little Susie was delighted, and teased for a double wedding; without success. "One was enough to attend to, at one time," her aunt replied.
In all this atmosphere of wooings and weddings, Vivian walked apart, as one in a bad dream that could never end. That day when Dr. Bellair left her on the hill, left her alone in a strange new horrible world, was still glaring across her consciousness, the end of one life, the bar to any other. Its small events were as clear to her as those which stand out so painfully on a day of death; all that led up to the pleasant walk, when an eager girl mounted the breezy height, and a sad-faced woman came down from it.
She had waited long and came home slowly, to see a face she knew, dreading worst of all to see Morton. The boy she had known so long, the man she was beginning to know, had changed to an unbelievable horror; and the love which had so lately seemed real to her upon her heart with a sense of hopeless shame.
She wished—eagerly, , she wished—she need never see him again. She thought of the man's resource of running away—if she could just go, go at once, and write to him from somewhere.
Distant Bainville seemed like a haven of safety; even the decorous, narrow, monotony of its dim life had a new attraction. These terrors were not in Bainville, surely. Then the sickening thought crept in that perhaps they were—only they did not know it. Besides, she had no money to go with. If only she had started that little school sooner! Write to her father for money she would not. No, she must bear it here.
The world was discolored in the girl's eyes. Love had become a horror and marriage impossible. She pushed the idea from her, impotently, as one might push at a flow.
In her wide reading she had learned in a vague way of "evil"—a distant undescribed evil which was in the world, and which must be avoided. She had known that there was such a thing as "sin," and the very thought of it.
Morton's penitential had given no details; she had pictured him only as being "led astray," as being "fast," even perhaps "wicked."............
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