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?"
"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.