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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Journey In The World - Chapter 4
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A Little Journey In The World - Chapter 4 Post by :Nicholas_Dixon Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2765

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A Little Journey In The World - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

In the evening, at our house, Margaret described the scene in the park.

"It's dreadful," was the comment of Miss Forsythe. "The authorities ought not to permit such a thing."

"It seemed to me as heroic as pitiful, aunt. I fear I should be incapable of making such a testimony."

"But it was so unnecessary."

"How do we know what is necessary to any poor soul? What impressed me most strongly was that there is in the world still this longing to suffer physically and endure public scorn for a belief."

"It may have been a disappointment to the little band," said Mr. Morgan, "that there was no demonstration from the spectators, that there was no loud jeering, that no snowballs were thrown by the boys."

"They could hardly expect that," said I; "the world has become so tolerant that it doesn't care."

"I rather think," Margaret replied, "that the spectators for a moment came under the spell of the hour, and were awed by something supernatural in the endurance of that frail girl."

"No doubt," said my wife, after a little pause. "I believe that there is as much sense of mystery in the world as ever, and as much of what we call faith, only it shows itself eccentrically. Breaking away from traditions and not going to church have not destroyed the need in the minds of the mass of people for something outside themselves."

"Did I tell you," interposed Morgan--"it is almost in the line of your thought--of a girl I met the other day on the train? I happened to be her seat-mate in the car-thin face, slight little figure--a commonplace girl, whom I took at first to be not more than twenty, but from the lines about her large eyes she was probably nearer forty. She had in her lap a book, which she conned from time to time, and seemed to be committing verses to memory as she looked out the window. At last I ventured to ask what literature it was that interested her so much, when she turned and frankly entered into conversation. It was a little Advent song-book. She liked to read it on the train, and hum over the tunes. Yes, she was a good deal on the cars; early every morning she rode thirty miles to her work, and thirty miles back every evening. Her work was that of clerk and copyist in a freight office, and she earned nine dollars a week, on which she supported herself and her mother. It was hard work, but she did not mind it much. Her mother was quite feeble. She was an Adventist. 'And you?' I asked. 'Oh, yes; I am. I've been an Adventist twenty years, and I've been perfectly happy ever since I joined--perfectly,' she added, turning her plain face, now radiant, towards me. 'Are you one?' she asked, presently. 'Not an immediate Adventist,' I was obliged to confess. 'I thought you might be, there are so many now, more and more.' I learned that in our little city there were two Advent societies; there had been a split on account of some difference in the meaning of original sin. 'And you are not discouraged by the repeated failure of the predictions of the end of the world?' I asked. 'No. Why should we be? We don't fix any certain day now, but all the signs show that it is very near. We are all free to think as we like. Most of our members now think it will be next year.'--'I hope not!' I exclaimed. 'Why?' she asked, turning to me with a look of surprise. 'Are you afraid?' I evaded by saying that I supposed the good had nothing to fear. 'Then you must be an Adventist, you have so much sympathy.'--'I shouldn't like to have the world come to an end next year, because there are so many interesting problems, and I want to see how they will be worked out.'--'How can you want to put it off'--and there was for the first time a little note of fanaticism in her voice--'when there is so much poverty and hard work? It is such a hard world, and so much suffering and sin. And it could all be ended in a moment. How can you want it to go on?' The train approached the station, and she rose to say good-by. 'You will see the truth some day,' she said, and went away as cheerful as if the world was actually destroyed. She was the happiest woman I have seen in a long time."

"Yes," I said, "it is an age of both faith and credulity."

"And nothing marks it more," Morgan added, "than the popular expectation among the scientific and the ignorant of something to come out of the dimly understood relation of body and mind. It is like the expectation of the possibilities of electricity."

"I was going on to say," I continued, "that wherever I walk in the city of a Sunday afternoon, I am struck with the number of little meetings going on, of the faithful and the unfaithful, Adventists, socialists, spiritualists, culturists, Sons and Daughters of Edom; from all the open windows of the tall buildings come notes of praying, of exhortation, the melancholy wail of the inspiring Sankey tunes, total abstinence melodies, over-the-river melodies, songs of entreaty, and songs of praise. There is so much going on outside of the regular churches!"

"But the churches are well attended," suggested my wife.

"Yes, fairly, at least once a day, and if there is sensational preaching, twice. But there is nothing that will so pack the biggest hall in the city as the announcement of inspirational preaching by some young woman who speaks at random on a text given her when she steps upon the platform. There is something in her rhapsody, even when it is incoherent, that appeals to a prevailing spirit."'

"How much of it is curiosity?" Morgan asked. "Isn't the hall just as jammed when the clever attorney of Nothingism, Ham Saversoul, jokes about the mysteries of this life and the next?"

"Very likely. People like the emotional and the amusing. All the same, they are credulous, and entertain doubt and belief on the slightest evidence."

"Isn't it natural," spoke up Mr. Lyon, who had hitherto been silent, "that you should drift into this condition without an established church?"

"Perhaps it's natural," Morgan retorted, "that people dissatisfied with an established religion should drift over here. Great Britain, you know, is a famous recruiting-ground for our socialistic experiments."

"Ah, well," said my wife, "men will have something. If what is established repels to the extent of getting itself disestablished, and all churches should be broken up, society would somehow precipitate itself again spiritually. I heard the other day that Boston, getting a little weary of the Vedas, was beginning to take up the New Testament."

"Yes," said Morgan, "since Tolstoi mentioned it."

After a little the talk drifted into psychic research, and got lost in stories of "appearances" and "long-distance" communications. It appeared to me that intelligent people accepted this sort of story as true on evidence on which they wouldn't risk five dollars if it were a question of money. Even scientists swallow tales of prehistoric bones on testimony they would reject if it involved the title to a piece of real estate.

Mr. Lyon still lingered in the lap of a New England winter as if it had been Capua. He was anxious to visit Washington and study the politics of the country, and see the sort of society produced in the freedom of a republic, where there was no court to give the tone and there were no class lines to determine position. He was restless under this sense of duty. The future legislator for the British Empire must understand the Constitution of its great rival, and thus be able to appreciate the social currents that have so much to do with political action.

In fact he had another reason for uneasiness. His mother had written him, asking why he stayed so long in an unimportant city, he who had been so active a traveler hitherto. Knowledge of the capitals was what he needed. Agreeable people he could find at home, if his only object was to pass the time. What could he reply? Could he say that he had become very much interested in studying a schoolteacher--a very charming school-teacher? He could see the vision raised in the minds of his mother and of the earl and of his elder sister as they should read this precious confession--a vision of a schoolma'am, of an American girl, and an American girl without any money at that, moving in the little orbit of Chisholm House. The thing was absurd. And yet why was it absurd? What was English politics, what was Chisholm House, what was everybody in England compared to this noble girl? Nay, what would the world be without her? He grew hot in thinking of it, indignant at his relations and the whole artificial framework of things.

The situation was almost humiliating. He began, to doubt the stability of his own position. Hitherto he had met no obstacle: whatever he had desired he had obtained. He was a sensible fellow, and knew the world was not made for him; but it certainly had yielded to him in everything. Why did he doubt now? That he did doubt showed him the intensity of his interest in Margaret. For love is humble, and undervalues self in contrast with that which it desires. At this touchstone rank, fortune, all that go with them, seemed poor. What were all these to a woman's soul? But there were women enough, women enough in England, women more beautiful than Margaret, doubtless as amiable and intellectual. Yet now there was for him only one woman in the world. And Margaret showed no sign. Was he about to make a fool of himself? If she should reject him he would seem a fool to himself. If she accepted him he would seem a fool to the whole circle that made his world at home. The situation was intolerable. He would end it by going.

But he did not go. If he went today he could not see her tomorrow. To a lover anything can be borne if he knows that he shall see her tomorrow. In short, he could not go so long as there was any doubt about her disposition towards him.

And a man is still reduced to this in the latter part of the nineteenth century, notwithstanding all our science, all our analysis of the passion, all our wise jabber about the failure of marriage, all our commonsense about the relation of the sexes. Love is still a personal question, not to be reasoned about or in any way disposed of except in the old way. Maidens dream about it; diplomats yield to it; stolid men are upset by it; the aged become young, the young grave, under its influence; the student loses his appetite--God bless him! I like to hear the young fellows at the club rattle on bravely, indifferent to the whole thing--skeptical, in fact, about it. And then to see them, one after another, stricken down, and looking a little sheepish and not saying much, and by-and-by radiant. You would think they owned the world. Heaven, I think, shows us no finer sarcasm than one of these young skeptics as a meek family man.

Margaret and Mr. Lyon were much together.

And their talk, as always happens when two persons find themselves much together, became more and more personal. It is only in books that dialogues are abstract and impersonal. The Englishman told her about his family, about the set in which he moved--and he had the English frankness in setting it out unreservedly--about the life he led at Oxford, about his travels, and so on to what he meant to do in the world. Margaret in return had little to tell, her own life had been so simple--not much except the maidenly reserves, the discontents with herself, which interested him more than anything else; and of the future she would not speak at all. How can a woman, without being misunderstood? All this talk had a certain danger in it, for sympathy is unavoidable between two persons who look ever so little into each other's hearts and compare tastes and desires.

"I cannot quite understand your social life over here," Mr. Lyon was saying one day. "You seem to make distinctions, but I cannot see exactly for what."

"Perhaps they make themselves. Your social orders seem able to resist Darwin's theory, but in a republic natural selection has a better chance."

"I was told by a Bohemian on the steamer coming over that money in America takes the place of rank in England."

"That isn't quite true."

"And I was told in Boston by an acquaintance of very old family and little fortune that 'blood' is considered here as much as anywhere."

"You see, Mr. Lyon, how difficult it is to get correct information about us. I think we worship wealth a good deal, and we worship family a good deal, but if any one presumes too much upon either, he is likely to come to grief. I don't understand it very well myself."

"Then it is not money that determines social position in America?"

"Not altogether; but more now than formerly. I suppose the distinction is this: family will take a person everywhere, money will take him almost everywhere; but money is always at this disadvantage--it takes more and more of it to gain position. And then you will find that it is a good deal a matter of locality. For instance, in Virginia and Kentucky family is still very powerful, stronger than any distinction in letters or politics or success in business; and there is a certain diminishing number of people in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, who cultivate a good deal of exclusiveness on account of descent."

"But I am told that this sort of aristocracy is succumbing to the new plutocracy."

"Well, it is more and more difficult to maintain a position without money. Mr. Morgan says that it is a disheartening thing to be an aristocrat without luxury; he declares that he cannot tell whether the Knickerbockers of New York or the plutocrats are more uneasy just now. The one is hungry for social position, and is morose if he cannot buy it; and when the other is seduced by luxury and yields, he finds that his distinction is gone. For in his heart the newly rich only respects the rich. A story went about of one of the Bonanza princes who had built his palace in the city, and was sending out invitations to his first entertainment. Somebody suggested doubts to him about the response. 'Oh,' he said, 'the beggars will be glad enough to come!'"

"I suppose, Mr. Lyon," said Margaret, demurely, "that this sort of thing is unknown in England?"

"Oh, I couldn't say that money is not run after there to some extent."

"I saw a picture in Punch of an auction, intended as an awful satire on American women. It struck me that it might have two interpretations."

"Yes, Punch is as friendly to America as it is to the English aristocracy."

"Well, I was only thinking that it is just an exchange of commodities. People will always give what they have for what they want. The Western man changes his pork in New York for pictures. I suppose that--what do you call it?--the balance of trade is against us, and we have to send over cash and beauty."

"I didn't know that Miss Debree was so much of a political economist."

"We got that out of books in school. Another thing we learned is that England wants raw material; I thought I might as well say it, for it wouldn't be polite for you."

"Oh, I'm capable of saying anything, if provoked. But we have got away from the point. As far as I can see, all sorts of people intermarry, and I don't see how you can discriminate socially--where the lines are."

Mr. Lyon saw the moment that he had made it that this was a suggestion little likely to help him. And Margaret's reply showed that he had lost ground.

"Oh, we do not try to discriminate--except as to foreigners. There is a popular notion that Americans had better marry at home."

"Then the best way for a foreigner to break your exclusiveness is to be naturalized." Mr. Lyon tried to adopt her tone, and added, "Would you like to see me an American citizen?"

"I don't believe you could be, except for a little while; you are too British."

"But the two nations are practically the same; that is, individuals of the nations are. Don't you think so?"

"Yes, if one of them gives up all the habits and prejudices of a lifetime and of a whole social condition to the other."

"And which would have to yield?"

"Oh, the man, of course. It has always been so. My great-great-grandfather was a Frenchman, but he became, I have always heard, the most docile American republican."

"Do you think he would have been the one to give in if they had gone to France?"

"Perhaps not. And then the marriage would have been unhappy. Did you never take notice that a woman's happiness, and consequently the happiness of marriage, depends upon a woman's having her own way in all social matters? Before our war all the men who married down South took the Southern view, and all the Southern women who married up North held their own, and sensibly controlled the sympathies of their husbands."

"And how was it with the Northern women who married South, as you say?"

"Well, it must be confessed that a good many of them adapted themselves, in appearance at least. Women can do that, and never let anyone see they are not happy and not doing it from choice."

"And don't you think American women adapt themselves happily to English life?"

"Doubtless some; I doubt if many do; but women do not confess mistakes of that kind. Woman's happiness depends so much upon the continuation of the surroundings and sympathies in which she is bred. There are always exceptions. Do you know, Mr. Lyon, it seems to me that some people do not belong in the country where they were born. We have men who ought to have been born in England, and who only find themselves really they go there. There are who are ambitious, and court a career different from any that a republic can give them. They are not satisfied here. Whether they are happy there I do not know; so few trees, when at all grown, will bear transplanting."

"Then you think international marriages are a mistake?"

"Oh, I don't theorize on subjects I am ignorant of."

"You give me very cold comfort."

"I didn't know," said Margaret, with a laugh that was too genuine to be consoling, "that you were traveling for comfort; I thought it was for information."

"And I am getting a great deal," said Mr. Lyon, rather ruefully. "I'm trying to find out where. I ought to have been born."

"I'm not sure," Margaret said, half seriously, "but you would have been a very good American."

This was not much of an admission, after all, but it was the most that Margaret had ever made, and Mr. Lyon tried to get some encouragement out of it. But he felt, as any man would feel, that this beating about the bush, this talk of nationality and all that, was nonsense; that if a woman loved a man she wouldn't care where he was born; that all the world would be as nothing to him; that all conditions and obstacles society and family could raise would melt away in the glow of a real passion. And he wondered for a moment if American girls were not "calculating"--a word to which he had learned over here to attach a new and comical meaning.

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CHAPTER VThe afternoon after this conversation Miss Forsythe was sitting reading in her favorite window-seat when Mr. Lyon was announced. Margaret was at her school. There was nothing un usual in this afternoon call; Mr. Lyon's visits had become frequent and informal; but Miss Forsythe had a nervous presentiment that something important was to happen, that showed itself in her greeting, and which was perhaps caught from a certain new diffidence in his manner. Perhaps the maiden lady preserves more than any other this sensitiveness, inborn in women, to the approach of the critical moment in the affairs of the heart.
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CHAPTER IIIMr. Lyon's invitation was for a week. Before the end of the week I was called to New York to consult Mr. Henderson in regard to a railway investment in the West, which was turning out more permanent than profitable. Rodney Henderson--the name later became very familiar to the public in connection with a certain Congressional investigation--was a graduate of my own college, a New Hampshire boy, a lawyer by profession, who practiced, as so many American lawyers do, in Wall Street, in political combinations, in Washington, in railways. He was already known as a rising man. When I returned
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