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Chapter 21 A SHORT HORSE SOON CURRIED

  • Sylvia sat beside Bassett at dinner that night, and it was on the whole _heerful party. Mrs. Bassett was restored to tranquillity, and before her aun_he always strove to hide her ills, from a feeling that that lady, who enjoye_erfect health, and carried on the most prodigious undertakings, had littl_atience with her less fortunate sisters whom the doctors never full_ischarge. Mrs. Owen had returned so late that Bassett was unable to dispos_f the lawsuit before dinner; she had greeted her niece's husband with he_sual cordiality. She always called him Morton, and she was Aunt Sally to hi_s to many hundreds of her fellow citizens. She discussed crops, markets, rumors of foreign wars, prospective changes in the President's Cabinet, th_rice of ice, and the automobile invasion. Talk at Sally Owen's table wa_lways likely to be spirited. Bassett's anxiety as to his relations with he_assed; he had never felt more comfortable in her house.
  • Only the most temerarious ever ventured to ask a forecast of Mrs. Owen'_lans. Marian, who had found a school friend with an automobile and ha_njoyed a run into the country, did not share the common fear of her great- aunt. Mrs. Owen liked Marian's straightforward ways even when they approache_ashness. It had occurred to her sometimes that there was a good deal o_ingleton in Marian; she, Sally Owen, was a Singleton herself, and admired th_raits of that side of her family. Marian amused her now by plunging into _escription of a new flat she had passed that afternoon which would provid_dmirably a winter home for the Bassetts. Mrs. Bassett shuddered, expectin_er aunt to sound a warning against the extravagance of maintaining two homes; but Mrs. Owen rallied promptly to her grandniece's support.
  • "If you've got tired of my house, you couldn't do better than to take a_partment in the Verona. I saw the plans before they began it, and it's first- class and up-to-date. My house is open to you and always has been, but _otice you go to the hotel about half the time. You'd better try a flat for _inter, Hallie, and let Marian see how we do things in town."
  • Instantly Mrs. Bassett was alert. This could only be covert notice that Sylvi_as to be installed in the Delaware Street house. Marian was engaging he_ather in debate upon the merits of her plan, fortified by Mrs. Owen'_nexpected approval. Mrs. Bassett raised her eyes to Sylvia. Sylvia, in one o_he white gowns with which she relieved her mourning, tranquilly unconsciou_f the dark terror she awakened in Mrs. Bassett, seemed to be sympatheticall_nterested in the Bassetts' transfer to the capital.
  • Sylvia was guilty of the deplorable sin of making herself agreeable to ever_ne. She had paused on the way to her room before dinner to proffer assistanc_o Mrs. Bassett. With a light, soothing touch she had brushed the invalid'_air and dressed it; and she had produced a new kind of salts that prove_elightfully refreshing. Since coming to the table Mrs. Bassett had severa_imes detected her husband in an exchange of smiles with the young woman, an_arian and the usurper got on famously.
  • Mrs. Bassett had observed that Sylvia's appetite was excellent, and this ha_eakened her belief in the girl's genius; there was a good deal of Early- Victorian superstition touching women in Hallie Bassett! But Mrs. Owen wa_peaking.
  • "I suppose I'd see less of you all if you moved to town. Marian used to ru_ff from Miss Waring's to cheer me up, mostly when her lessons were bad, wasn't it, Marian?"
  • "I love this house, Aunt Sally, but you can't have us all on your hands al_he time."
  • "Well," Mrs. Owen remarked, glancing round the table quizzically, "I might d_orse. But even Sylvia scorns me; she's going to move out to-morrow."
  • Mrs. Bassett with difficulty concealed her immeasurable relief. Mrs. Owen lef_xplanations to Sylvia, who promptly supplied them.
  • "That sounds as though I were about to take leave without settling my bill, doesn't it? But I thought it wise not to let it get too big; I'm going to mov_o Elizabeth House."
  • "Elizabeth House! Why, Sylvia!" cried Marian.
  • Mrs. Bassett smothered a sigh of satisfaction. If Aunt Sally was transferrin_er protégée to the home she had established for working girls (and it wa_nconceivable that the removal could be upon Sylvia's own initiative), th_assett prospects brightened at once. Aunt Sally was, in her way, a_ristocrat; she was rich and her eccentricities were due largely to he_indness of heart; but Mrs. Bassett was satisfied now that she was not a woma_o harbor in her home a girl who labored in a public school-house. Not onl_id Mrs. Bassett's confidence in her aunt rise, but she felt a thrill o_dmiration for Sylvia, who was unmistakably a girl who knew her place, and he_lace as a wage-earner was not in the home of one of the richest women in th_tate, but in a house provided through that lady's beneficence for the shelte_f young women occupied in earning a livelihood.
  • "It's very nice there," Sylvia was saying. "I stopped on my way home thi_fternoon and found that they could give me a room. It's all arranged."
  • "But it's only for office girls and department store clerks and dressmakers, Sylvia. I should think you would hate it. Why, my manicure lives there!"
  • Marian desisted, warned by her mother, who wished no jarring note to mar he_atisfaction in the situation.
  • "That manicure girl is a circus," said Mrs. Owen, quite oblivious of th_ndercurrent of her niece's thoughts. "When they had a vaudeville show las_inter she did the best stunts of any of 'em. You didn't mention thos_ewesses that I had such a row to get in? Smart girls. One of 'em is th_astest typewriter in town; she's a credit to Jerusalem, that girl. And a bor_anker. They've started a savings club and Miriam runs it. They won't lose an_oney." Mrs. Owen chuckled; and the rest laughed. There was no question o_rs. Owen's pride in Elizabeth House. "Did you see any plumbers around th_lace?" she demanded of Sylvia. "I've been a month trying to get anothe_athroom put in on the third floor, and plumbers do try the soul."
  • "That's all done," replied Sylvia. "The matron told me to tell you so."
  • "I'm about due to go over there and look over the linen," remarked Mrs. Owen, with an air of making a memorandum of a duty neglected.
  • "Well, I guess it's comfortable enough," said Marian. "But I should think yo_ould do better than that, Sylvia. You'll have to eat at the same table wit_ome typewriter pounder. With all your education I should think it would bor_ou."
  • "Sylvia will have to learn about it for herself, Marian," said Mrs. Bassett.
  • "I've always understood that the executive board is very careful not to admi_irls whose character isn't above reproach."
  • Mrs. Owen turned the key of her old-fashioned coffee urn sharply upon the cu_he was filling and looked her niece in the eye.
  • "Oh, we're careful, Hallie; we're careful; but I tell 'em not to be _too_areful!"
  • "Well, of course the aim is to protect girls," Mrs. Bassett replied, consciou_f a disconcerting acidity in her aunt's remark.
  • "I'm not afraid of contamination," observed Sylvia.
  • "Of course not _that_ ," rejoined Mrs. Bassett hastily. "I think it's fin_hat with your culture you will go and live in such a place; it shows _eautiful spirit of self-sacrifice."
  • "Oh, please don't say that! I'm going there just because I want to go!" An_hen, smiling to ease the moment's tension, "I expect to have the best o_imes at Elizabeth House."
  • "Sylvia"—remarked Mrs. Owen, drawling the name a trifle more tha_sual—"Sylvia can do what she pleases anywhere."
  • "I think," said Bassett, who had not before entered into the discussion, "tha_unt Sally has struck the right word there. In these days a girl can do as sh_ikes; and we haven't any business to discuss Miss Garrison's right to live a_lizabeth House."
  • "Of course, Sylvia, we didn't mean to seem to criticize you. You know that,"
  • said Mrs. Bassett, flushing.
  • "You are my friends," said Sylvia, glancing round the table, "and if there'_riticizing to be done, you have the first right."
  • "If Sylvia is to be criticized,—and I don't understand that any one has trie_t," remarked Mrs. Owen,—"I want the first chance at her myself." And with th_napping of her spectacle case they rose from the table.
  • They had barely settled themselves in the parlor when Harwood and Alle_rrived in Allen's motor. Dan had expected his friend to resent his part i_he convention, and he had sought Allen at Lüders's shop to satisfy himsel_hat their personal relations had not been disturbed. He had found Allen, a_he end of a day's work, perched upon a bench discoursing to the workmen o_he Great Experiment. Allen had, it seemed, watched the convention from a_bscure corner of the gallery. He pronounced Dan's speech "immense";
  • "perfectly bully"; he was extravagant in his praise of it. His father'_uccess in naming the ticket had seemed to him a great triumph. Allen viewe_he whole matter with a kind of detachment, as a spectator whose interest i_holly impersonal. He thought there would be a great fight between th_ombatants; his dad hadn't finished yet, he declared, sententiously. Th_ncidents of the convention had convinced him that the Great Experiment wa_rogressing according to some predestined formula. He and Harwood had dine_ogether at the University Club and he was quite in the humor to call on th_assetts at Mrs. Owen's; and the coming of Sylvia, as to whom Mrs. Owen ha_iqued his curiosity, was not to be overlooked.
  • He cleared the air by brushing away the convention with a word, addresse_aringly to Bassett:—
  • "Papa's come back from fishing! _My_ papa is digging bait," and they al_aughed.
  • "Miss Garrison, you must be the greatest of girls, for you have my own ideas!
  • Our invincible young orator here has been telling me so!"
  • "That was a grand speech; many happy returns of the day!" was Marian'_reeting to Dan.
  • "You certainly have a great voice, Daniel," remarked Mrs. Owen, "and you ha_our nerve with you."
  • "You were effective from the first moment, Mr. Harwood. You ought to conside_oing on the lecture platform," said Mrs. Bassett.
  • "Oh, Dan hasn't come to that yet; its only defeated statesmen who spout in th_hautauquas," Bassett remarked.
  • Harwood was in fine fettle. Many men had expressed their approval of him; a_he club he had enjoyed the chaffing of the young gentlemen with whom he at_uncheon daily, and whose tolerance of the universe was tinged with a certai_ynicism. They liked Harwood; they knew he was a "smart" fellow; and becaus_hey liked and admired him they rallied him freely. The president of _anufacturing company had called at the Boordman Building to retain him in _amage suit; a tribute to his growing fame. Dan was a victim of that error t_hich young men yield in exultant moments, when, after a first brush with th_ickets, they are confident of making their own terms with life. Dan'_ttitude toward the world was receptive; here in the Bassett domestic circl_e felt no shame at being a Bassett man. All but Sylvia had spoken to him o_is part in the convention, and she turned to him now after a passage wit_llen that had left the young man radiant.
  • "You have a devoted admirer in Mr. Thatcher. He must be a difficult friend t_atisfy," said Sylvia.
  • "Then do you think I don't satisfy him?"
  • "Oh, perfectly! He's a combination of optimist and fatalist, I judge. H_hinks nothing matters much, for everything is coming out all right in th_nd."
  • "Then where do you place me in his scheme of things?"
  • "That depends, doesn't it," she replied carelessly, "on whether you are th_aster of the ship or only a prisoner under the hatches."
  • He reddened, and she added nothing to relieve his embarrassment.
  • "You think, then—?" And he stopped, uneasy under her gaze.
  • "Some of the time I don't think; I just wonder. And that's very different, isn't it?"
  • He realized now how much he had counted on the kind things he had expected he_o say. He had plainly lost ground with her since their talk on the Madiso_ampus, and he wanted to justify himself, to convince her of his rectitude, and of her failure to understand his part in the convention, but the time an_lace were unpropitious.
  • Allen was calling attention to the moonlight and proposing an automobil_light into the country. His car would hold them all, and he announced himsel_he safest of chauffeurs. Mrs. Owen declined, on the double plea that she ha_usiness to attend to and did not ride in motor cars even to please Alle_hatcher; Bassett also excused himself; so the rest set off presently unde_rs. Bassett's chaperonage.
  • "Are you going downtown, Morton?" asked Mrs. Owen, as they watched the moto_oll away.
  • "No; I'd like to see you on a business matter, Aunt Sally, if you can give m_ few minutes."
  • "Certainly, Morton; come right in."
  • She flashed on the lights in her office where Thomas A. Hendricks still gaze_enevolently at Maud S. breaking her record.
  • "I owe you an apology, Aunt Sally," Bassett began at once. "I'm sorry I go_ou into a lawsuit, but things moved so fast that I didn't have a chance t_ull you out of the way. Thatcher and I have agreed to disagree, as yo_oubtless know."
  • Mrs. Owen drew her spectacle case from her pocket (there were pockets and dee_nes in all her gowns), wiped her glasses and put them on.
  • "You and Edward do seem to be having a little trouble. When I got home I foun_hat summons the sheriff left here. Let me see; it was away back in '82 that _as sued the last time. Agent for a cornplanter sued me for a machine I neve_rdered and it wasn't worth a farthing anyhow. That was on my Greene Count_lace. Just for that I had him arrested for trespass for going on the farm t_ake away the machine. He paid the costs all right, and I hope he learne_etter manners."
  • This reminiscence, recalled with evident enjoyment, was not wholl_ncouraging. It seemed darkly possible that she had cited a preceden_pplicable to every case where she was haled before a court. The chairs i_rs. Owen's office were decidedly uncomfortable; Bassett crossed and recrosse_is legs, and pressed his hand nervously to his pocket to make sure of hi_heck-book; for he was prepared to pay his wife's aunt for her shares in the
  • "Courier" newspaper to facilitate her elimination as a co-defendant in th_uit at bar.
  • "It was contemptible of Thatcher to drag you into this, for he knew you too_hose shares merely to help me out. I'm sorry it has turned out this way, bu_'m anxious to make it right with you, and I'm ready to buy your shares—a_our own price, of course."
  • She chose a letter from the afternoon's mail, and opened it with a horn- handled paper-cutter, crumpling the envelope and dropping it over her shoulde_nto a big waste-paper basket. She was not apparently overcome by hi_agnanimity.
  • "Well, well," she said, glancing over the letter; "that man I've got a_aupegan is turning out better than I expected when I put him there; or els_e's the greatest living liar. You never can tell about these people. Well, well!—Oh, yes, Morton; about that lawsuit. I saw Edward this afternoon and ha_ little talk with him about it."
  • "You saw Thatcher about the suit!"
  • "I most certainly did, Morton. I had him go down to the bank to talk to me."
  • "I'm sorry you took the trouble to do that. If you'd told me—"
  • "Oh, I'm not afraid of Edward Thatcher. If a man brings a lawsuit against me, the sooner I see him the better. I sent word to Edward and he was waiting a_he bank when I got there."
  • "I'd given Thatcher credit for being above dragging a woman who had alway_een his friend into a lawsuit. He certainly owed you an apology."
  • "I didn't see it just that way, Morton, and he didn't apologize. I wouldn'_ave let him!"
  • She looked at him over her glasses disconcertingly, and he could think of n_eply. It was possible that Thatcher had bought her stock or that she had mad_im bid for it. She had a reputation for driving hard bargains, and he judge_rom her manner that her conference with Thatcher, whatever its nature, ha_ot been unsatisfactory. He recalled with exasperation his wife's displeasur_ver this whole affair; it was incumbent upon him not only to reëstablis_imself with Mrs. Owen, but to do it in a way to satisfy Mrs. Bassett.
  • "You needn't worry about that lawsuit, Morton; there ain't going to be an_awsuit."
  • She gave this time to "soak in," as she would have expressed it, and the_oncluded:—
  • "It's all off; I persuaded Edward to drop the suit. The case will be dismisse_n the morning."
  • "Dismissed? How dismissed, Aunt Sally?"
  • "Just dismissed; that's all there is of it. I went to see Fitch, too, and gav_im a piece of my mind. He wrote me a letter I found here saying that in m_bsence he'd taken the liberty of entering an appearance for me, along wit_ou, in the case. I told him I'd attend to my own lawsuits, and that he coul_ust scratch his appearance off the docket."
  • The presumption of her lawyer seemed to obscure all other issues for th_oment. Morton Bassett was annoyed to be kept waiting for an explanation tha_as clearly due him as her co-defendant; he controlled his irritation wit_ifficulty. Her imprudence in having approached his enemy filled him wit_orebodings; there was no telling what compromises she might have negotiate_ith Edward G. Thatcher.
  • "I suppose you shamed him out of it?" he suggested.
  • "Shamed him? I _scared_ him out of it! He owns a lot of property in this tow_hat's rented for unlawful purposes, and I told him I'd prosecute him; that, and a few other things. He offered to buy me out at a good price, but h_idn't get very far with that. It was a good figure, though," she adde_eflectively.
  • His spirits rose at this proof of her loyalty and he hastened to manifest hi_ppreciation. His wife's fears would be dispelled by this evidence of he_unt's good will toward the family.
  • "I rather imagined that he'd be glad to quit if he saw an easy way out, and _uess you gave it to him. Now about your stock, Aunt Sally. I don't want yo_o be brought into my troubles with Thatcher any further. I appreciate you_elp so far, and I'm able now to pay for your shares. I don't doubt that E_ffered you a generous price to get a controlling interest. I'll write a chec_or any sum you name, and you'll have my gratitude besides."
  • He drew out his check-book and laid it on the table, with a feeling tha_oney, which according to tradition is a talkative commodity, might no_onclude the conversation. Mrs. Owen saw the check-book—looked at it over he_lasses, apparently without emotion.
  • "I'm not going to sell those shares, Morton; not to you or anybody else."
  • "But as a matter of maintaining my own dignity—"
  • "Your own dignity is something I want to speak to you about, Morton. I've bee_atching you ever since you married Hallie, and wondering just where you'_ump. You and Edward Thatcher have been pretty thick and you've had a lot o_un out of politics. This row you've got into with him was bound to come. _now Edward better—just a little better than I know you. He's not a beautifu_haracter, but he's not as bad as they make out. But you've given him a har_ub the wrong way and he's going to get even with you. He's might_itter—bitterer than it's healthy for one man to be against another. If i_adn't been for this newspaper fuss I shouldn't ever have said a word to yo_bout it; but I advise you to straighten things up with Edward. You'd bette_o it for your own good—for Hallie and the children. You've insulted him an_eld him up to the whole state of Indiana as a fool. You needn't think h_oesn't know just where you gripped that convention tight, and just where yo_et him have it to play with. He's got more money than you have, and he'_oing to spend it to give you some of your own medicine or worse, if he can.
  • He's like a mule that lays for the nigger that put burrs under his collar.
  • You're that particular nigger just now. You've made a mistake, Morton."
  • "But Aunt Sally—I didn't—"
  • "About that newspaper, Morton," she continued, ignoring him. "I've decide_hat I'll just hang on to my stock. You've built up the 'Courier' better tha_ expected, and that last statement showed it to be doing fine. I don't kno_ny place right now where I can do as well with the money. You see I've go_bout all the farms I can handle at my age, and it will be some fun to have _and in running a newspaper. I want you to tell 'em down at the 'Courier'
  • office—what's his name? Atwill? Well, you tell him I want this 'Stop, Look, Listen' business stopped. If you can't think of anything smarter to do tha_hat, you 'd better quit. You had no business to turn a newspaper against _an who owns half of it without giving him a chance to get off the track. Yo_histled, Morton, after you had pitched him and his side-bar buggy into th_itch and killed his horse."
  • "But who had put him on the track? I hadn't! He'd been running over the stat_or two years, to my knowledge, trying to undermine me. I was only giving hi_n broad daylight what he was giving me in the dark. You don't understan_his, Aunt Sally; he's been playing on your feelings."
  • "Morton Bassett, there ain't a man on earth that can play on my feelings. _idn't let him jump on you; and I don't intend to let you abuse him. I've tol_ou to stop nagging him, but I haven't any idea you'll do it. That's you_usiness. If you want a big bump, you go on and get it. About this newspaper, I'm going to keep my shares, and I've told Edward that you wouldn't use th_aper as a club on him while I was interested in it. You can print all th_olitics you want, but it must be clean politics, straight out from th_houlder."
  • He had lapsed into sullen silence, too stunned to interrupt the placid flow o_er speech. She had not only meddled in his affairs in a fashion that woul_fford comfort to his enemy, but she was now dictating terms—this old woma_hose mild tone was in itself maddening. The fear of incurring his wife'_rath alone checked an outburst of indignation. In all his life no one ha_ver warned him to his face that he was pursuing a course that led t_estruction. He had always enjoyed her capriciousness, her whimsical humor, but there was certainly nothing for him to smile at in this interview. She ha_o plied the lash that it cut to the quick. His pride and self-confidence wer_eeply wounded;—his wife's elderly aunt did not believe in his omnipotence!
  • This was a shock in itself; but what fantastic nonsense was she uttering now?
  • "Since I bought that stock, Morton, I've been reading the 'Courier' clea_hrough every day, and there are some things about that paper I don't like. _uess you and Edward Thatcher ain't so particularly religious, and when yo_ook hold of it you cut out that religious page they used to print ever_unday. You better tell Atwill to start that up again. I notice, too, that the
  • 'Courier' sneaks in little stingers at the Jews occasionally—they may just ge_n by mistake, but you ought to have a rule at the office against printin_tories as old as the hills about Jews burning down their clothing-stores t_et the insurance. I've known a few Gentiles that did that. The only man _now that I'd lend money to without security is a Jew. Let's not jump o_eople just to hurt their feelings. And besides, we don't any of us know muc_ore these days than old Moses knew. And that fellow who writes the littl_wo-line pieces under the regular editorials—he's too smart, and he ain'_lways as funny as he thinks he is. There's no use in popping bird-shot a_hings if they ain't right, and that fellow's always trying to hurt somebody'_eelings without doing anybody any good."
  • She opened a drawer of her desk and drew out a memorandum to refresh he_emory.
  • "You've got a whole page and on Sundays two pages about baseball an_utomobiles, and the horse is getting crowded down into a corner. We"—he wa_ot unmindful of the plural—"we must print more horse news. You tell Atwill t_end his young man that does the 'Horse and Track' around to see m_ccasionally and I'll be glad to help him get some horse news that is news. _ouldn't want to have you bounce a young man who's doing the best he can, bu_t doesn't do a newspaper any good to speak of Dan Patch as a trotting-hors_r give the record of my two-year-old filly Penelope O as 2:09-1/4 when sh_ade a clean 2:09. You've got to print facts in a newspaper if you want peopl_o respect it. How about that, Morton?"
  • "You're right, Aunt Sally. I'll speak to Atwill about his horse news."
  • He began to wonder whether she were not amusing herself at his expense; bu_he gave him no reason for doubting her seriousness. They might have bee_artners from the beginning of time from her businesslike manner o_riticizing the paper. She had not only flatly refused to sell her shares, bu_he was taking advantage of the opportunity (for which she seemed to b_repared) to tell him how the "Courier" should be conducted!
  • "About farming, Morton," she continued deliberately, "the 'Courier' has fu_very now and then over the poor but honest farmer, and prints pictures of hi_hen he comes to town for the State Fair that make him look like a scarecrow.
  • Farming, Morton, is a profession, nowadays, and those poor yaps Egglesto_rote about in 'The Hoosier Schoolmaster' were all dead and buried before yo_ere born. Farmers are up and coming I can tell you, and I wouldn't lose thei_usiness by poking fun at 'em. That Saturday column of farm news, by the way, is a fraud—all stolen out of the 'Western Farmers' Weekly' and no credit. The_ust keep that column in cold storage to run it the way they do. They'r_sually about a season behind time—telling how to plant corn along in Augus_nd planting winter wheat about Christmas. Our farm editor must have bee_aised on a New York roof-garden. Another thing I want to speak of is th_pace they give to farmers' and stockmen's societies when they meet here. Th_ast time the Hoosier State Mulefoot Hog Association met right here in town a_he Horticultural Society's room at the State House—all the notice they got i_he 'Courier' was five lines in 'Minor Mention.' The same day the Stat_ankers' Association filled three columns, and most of that was a speech b_om Adams on currency reform. You might tell that funny editorial man to giv_dams a poke now and then, and stop throwing chestnuts about gold bricks an_reen goods at farmers. And he needn't show the bad state of his liver b_arcastically speaking of farmers as honest husbandmen either; a farmer is _armer, unless, for lack of God's grace, he's a fool! I guess the folks ar_oming now. I hope Allen won't knock down the house with that threshing- machine of his. That's all this time. Let me see—you'd better tell your edito_o call on me now and then. What did you say his name was, Morton?"
  • "Atwill—Arthur P."
  • "Is he a son of that Ebenezer Atwill who used to be a professor in Asbur_ollege?"
  • "I'm afraid not, Aunt Sally; I don't think he ever heard of Ebenezer," replie_assett, with all the irony he dared.