Read CHAPTER III of With Edge Tools, free online book, by Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, on ReadCentral.com.

TWO WOMEN.

We have all seen a manly young fellow go up to college. Full of life and vigor, he sees the world before him; but the thought of all its battles rouses no fear in his young heart, and, though his pranks are boyish and his manners rough, he stumbles good humoredly and persistently on into success. His upper classmen patronizingly smile upon him, while his natural enemy, the Soph, taunts and teases him, but is sometimes brought down and punished by his strong, young arms. Youthful, growing Chicago reminds one of this college boy. She has left the school of preparation and has taken her place among the great cities of the earth, where, full of energy and life, she is fighting her way to the front. Her mature colleagues of the Old World smile patronizingly at her efforts, but doubt her powers; while the cities of the East, seeing in her a young rival, taunt and ridicule her with jealous anger. She is young; but strong and active; and if she is sometimes carried away by the very energy of her youth, she is never daunted, and the older cities of the East have already felt the vigor of her sinewy grasp. Chicago, with her broad avenues and stupendous buildings, her spacious parks and stately homes, her far-reaching railways and towering chimneys, her bustling marts and busy, surging crowds of active men and women, is the archetype of American energy, the creation of yesterday and the marvel of to-day. But the mortar is scarcely dry and the stones are still undimmed by time. She is as the mason, the carpenter, and the builder have left her crude and fresh, without the dignified stains of age, without the majestic polish which time alone can give. Her social structure, like her brick and mortar buildings, is solidly laid and firmly built, but new. Her people built Chicago and she is the best memorial of their energy. They are still young and vigorous; in them the ardor of the pioneer is scarcely dead; the lethargy of long-held wealth has yet to come.

In the library of an imposing, but new, grey stone mansion on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive two women were dawdling together over Petrarch’s “Canzoniere” in the original. A well-thumbed dictionary was in the lap of one, and by the other’s side lay Volume IV. of Symond’s “Renaissance in Italy.” It was cold January, and the broad, low window showed the angry lake dashing against the great sea wall and splashing the sparkling spray far over the roadway. The moaning north wind furiously rattled the long casements and sent occasional puffs of smoke and cinders out from the brightly blazing hearth fire; but these outward signs of winter were unable to affect the inviting coziness of the apartment. Fortunately the decorator’s work had stopped at the walls; so, although artistically arranged, it was also a room to live in. Though the chairs were carved to match the panels, they were also pardon the term sittable; and though the bindings on the low book-shelves blended well with the tapestries and rugs, the books themselves were readable. The same judgment which had chosen the books had selected bronzes and porcelain, tiles and tapestries, and the tasteful arrangement of the art objects at once bespoke the dilettante.

The elder student of Italian lyrics, glancing up from the “Rime in vita e morte” said interrogatively to her friend: “I wish I knew, Florence, whether Madonna Laura were once a living woman or merely the divine creation of the poet’s soul.”

“I am sure she must have been a fancy,” the other replied. “She is too ideal for flesh and blood, and besides, she was married. I don’t think it is natural for any man so sincerely to love another man’s wife.”

“You horrid girl! You forget that Petrarch was a poet.”

“No, I don’t, my dear Marion; but so were Shelley, Byron, de Musset, and scores of others. The same broad collar and velvet jacket often cover both an artistic temperament and a fleshly nature. Now I, for one, don’t believe in pardoning in genius what we condemn in mediocrity. If Laura was an inspiration of Petrarch’s soul, the poet has my admiration; if she was merely another man’s wife with whom he was enamored, no matter how delightfully he may have sung of her, I lose respect for Petrarch.”

“You have no appreciation of the beautiful, Florence.”

“I appreciate the beautiful, but I also respect virtue. There is enough that is beautiful in this world but not enough that is good.”

“O, you Philistine. How can you go on reading these exquisite lyrics and not soar above Puritan casuistry in the enjoyment of beauty for its own sake?”

“You misunderstand me, my dear. I never said that I did not appreciate the beauties of this rhythm and the subtleties of this language. What I mean is that I see no reason why a poet’s errors should be pardoned because his quatrains are above criticism. Now Petrarch, by his own confession, was not exceptionally well-behaved, but whatever his morals may have been they should not be judged by his lyrics. Nor, for that matter, should his lyrics be judged by his behavior.”

“You have lived in a New Hampshire village too long to view the world through the broad lenses of cosmopolitanism.”

“I have been away from a New Hampshire village long enough to look through the sordid spectacles of worldliness, and I was glad enough to return to my Puritan blue glasses.”

“Stop talking such nonsense, Florence. I don’t believe a word of it. Here you are not quite twenty-four years old. You have had the same education I had; we went to the same school, studied the same books, lived in the same room, traveled about Europe together for nearly a year, met the same people, have almost the same tastes, and have spent a winter in Washington together, to say nothing of our countless letters to each other in the interim. The only real difference between us is that you were born in Fairville and I in Chicago, that I am married and you are not, and that I am fourteen months your senior; yet with all this affinity of tastes and education, you deliver a bit of straight-laced Calvinism which makes me shudder and smell sulphur and roasting flesh.”

“I deny the implied accusation, although, if finding fault with the recklessness of life of the present day constitutes being a Puritan, I fear I shall be compelled to plead guilty. They say one’s face is an index of one’s character, so I suppose mine is as long as the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, and as narrow as it is long.”

“No, Florence, you are a dissembler, for your sparkling blue eyes, bright cheeks, and soft brown hair are more Parisienne than Puritan, to say nothing of those white teeth and that sweet little mouth. No, my dear, there is nothing narrow about your face; in fact, I think it is almost round enough for a Breton peasant.”

“You cruel woman! I shall never forgive you for such an insulting remark. You could say nothing worse except to call me buxom. I know I am not classic, or antique Etruscan, or Ptolemaic, but I don’t think you need tell me to my face that I am paysanne.”

“Don’t lose your temper, dear. If I told the truth, I should say that your beauty is of that charming eclectic type which only America can produce. Intelligence and fidelity shine in your deep blue eyes, and any woman would give ten years of her life for your coloring, to say nothing of your superbly tall figure.”

“I feel a trifle better, but I can’t quite forgive you for the round face.”

“If Miss Florence Moreland is still provoked, she may have revenge by telling me exactly what she thinks of my personal appearance and character as interpreted by my features.”

“Mrs. Roswell Sanderson is most formal, but I assure her that if I speak, it will be to tell the truth.”

“Come, Florence, I am really in earnest, and I promise not to be angry. I should so like to know exactly what you think of me.”

“I think you are the dearest friend I ever had, and I don’t intend to lose you by criticism.”

“Nonsense, Florence, I promise not to be angry, and I feel that it will actually do me good.”

“Well, if you will hear things quite as disagreeable as ’the round face,’ here goes. I shall begin with your eyes. I believe novelists call them the lanterns of the soul. You have superb, dreamy, black eyes; eyes to fill a woman with envy or a man with love, but they are both absent-minded and ambitious; they show a restless longing after unattained hopes. In other words, they are dissatisfied and cold, but from an artistic standpoint that only enhances their attractiveness.”

“You horrid creature! But I promised to be quiet, so go on.”

“So much for the eyes; now the nose. It is exquisitely moulded and classic. I shall dismiss the nose as perfect.”

“O, thank you so much.”

“Now the mouth. It has a cupid’s bow and it droops at the corners. I like your mouth, but I think it also looks dissatisfied. An artist would rave over it, but when his eyes fell on that transparently white complexion, and that glossy hair so artistically knotted at the back, I am sure he would think you were a creation of Phidias lost from the Elgin rooms of the British Museum. If you did call me eclectic, I must admit that your type is pure, unalloyed Greek; but I won’t let you off altogether, for I consider your figure a trifle too stubby. Does that pay you up for ’the round face’?”

“I promised to keep my temper, so I will spare you; besides, I must confess that I did not come off so badly after all. ’The creation of Phidias’ was quite flattering; but what makes you think I look dissatisfied?”

“I am sure you should not look so, for of all women in the world you have the least to make you discontented.”

“O, Florence, don’t talk that way. You, who have been my best friend and my only confidante, ought to know that even the brightest surroundings have their shadows.” Then Marion looked out over the angry, grey waters, and Florence saw in her deep, black eyes just the dissatisfied, longing look she had described.

“I think,” said Florence, “that what you call shadows on your bright surroundings are but tarnish which neglect has left there. A little extra care will make all bright.”

“I want sympathy, not sermons, Florence. I was brought up on texts and tracts, and the Westminster catechism was my daily nourishment.”

“Why, Marion, dear, I don’t want to preach; I want to help you; but it is hard for me to understand why you should not be perfectly happy. Your husband adores you; he is rich and denies you nothing; you are a leader in society, young, handsome and admired. What more do you want?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t. If some fairy queen were to appear in a blaze of light and spangles out of that coal-scuttle and promise to fulfill any wish, I should be at a loss to tell her what I really want, but I am not happy. To myself I find fault with everything and everybody. Some people bore me, some people upset my nerves; at times I feel utterly lifeless, and at times I get into such a state of mind that I almost scream, and all over nothing at all. When I go out and meet the same old set over and over again, and such a narrow, prosaic set at that, it seems as though I should fairly go mad. What I want is a change. I am perfectly contented away from this depressing place. When I was in Washington last spring, I felt almost like another woman; in fact I don’t believe it is anything but the provincialism of Chicago which is putting me in such states of mind.”

“Don’t be foolish, Marion. As though such a cause could make you discontented. If it does, then you don’t appreciate your native city. I like Chicago and I would rather visit here than in any place I know.”

“Perhaps it is because your old friend, Harold Wainwright, lives here,” said Marion insinuatingly. Just a tinge of color rose in her friend’s cheeks, but she did not reply, so Marion continued: “You don’t have to live here nine months in the year, and you don’t know all the intricacies and peculiarities of our society.”

“Perhaps I don’t, but to me the peculiarities are all in Chicago’s favor. I love the go-ahead spirit, and I love the lack of affectation among the people one meets.”

“The go-ahead spirit you love,” Marion replied, “is but an insatiable craving for the ‘mighty dollar’, and the lack of affectation resolves itself into a lack of savoir faire.”

“Why, Marion, how can you say such things. You have friends here with as much knowledge of the world as any one.”

“Yes, but how many? Perhaps fifty, or be liberal and say a hundred, and they were all brought up away from Chicago, or, like myself, have lived away from here a good many years of their lives. If they remain here long enough they will stagnate like the natives.”

“You unpatriotic rebel. I have almost a mind to denounce you to the people you are slandering.”

“I am not slandering them. I am only speaking my convictions. You think I am captious, but I merely understand the subject, and I ought to, for heaven knows I have had a long enough experience. One has the choice here between parvenu vulgarity and Puritanic narrow mindedness. The one makes us the butt of the comic papers and the other is simply unbearable. I was brought up in the latter, and of course all ancient families, that is to say, those dating from before the fire, come under that eminently respectable classification, but I actually believe one would find the pork-packers more distracting.”

“What do you call Puritanic narrow-mindedness, Marion?”

“I call it that carping sanctimoniousness which makes certain people throw up their hands in horror at the slightest appearance of advanced and civilized ideas. It is scarcely more than five years since a woman who wore decollete evening gowns was one of the chosen of Beelzebub, a warm meal on Sunday night was a sacrilege, and wine at dinner the creation of the Devil himself; but the people who hold such ideas will talk scandal by the hour while making red flannel shirts for heathen babies. I don’t believe you know how a few of us have struggled to liberalize this city and raise its society a little above that of a country village.”

“You are too bitter, Marion.”

“No, I am not. You should have witnessed the tussle I had with mama, before I was married, in order to get livery on our coachman, and to abolish the anachronism of a one-o’clock dinner.”

“It seems to me, Marion, that your criticisms apply to the Chicago of the past and not to the Chicago of to-day. I am sure I never endured a noon dinner, and as for the turn-outs one meets, many of them are quite as well appointed as one could desire.”

“I grant you that, but then it is the same limited few that have wrought all these changes, and, improved as the city is, we have had to overcome almost insurmountable prejudices. I grant you that Chicago has passed the chrysalis age. It is no longer a village but it is far from being a metropolis.”

“You have everything here which makes a city: opera, theatres, parks, drives, shops, art galleries, libraries, restaurants, and even races. What more do you desire?”

“People, Florence; people. We want people with the instinctive sense of the fitness of things, people with refined tastes and cultivated minds, people whose souls are not bound up either in dollars or in psalms.”

“Why, Marion! I can name you, off-hand, twenty as advanced and cultivated people as I ever met.”

“Of course you can, and perhaps fifty more, but there you will have to stop. Three or four score of people do not make society.”

“If you talk that way I shall believe you are more bigoted than the sanctified families you have just described. I really believe you go about conjuring up imaginable faults in your friends merely to carry out your ideas.”

“Don’t be nasty, Florence.”

“No, my dear, I love you too much for that; but it is really dreadful for you to get into such states of mind. I think I understand what you feel; you have led a nomadic existence, and you were educated in a different atmosphere. An acquaintance with three languages, a season in London, a winter in Washington, and a strong love of variety all combine to make you discontented with the life here. You want a kaleidoscopic existence, an ever shifting scene, and because you are here, a thousand miles from the nearest city worthy of the name, it is quite natural that you should tire of meeting the same people day after day. You think of London, New York, and Washington, where society is continually shifting, where new people come and go, where every one does not know or care about his neighbor’s business; but, Marion, granting all this, are you not a little too bitter?”

“Perhaps; but just think of the lack of savoir faire that one finds here; the striving to do a thing correctly and missing it just sufficiently to ruin the effect.”

“That is a criticism which might be applied to American society in general. It is only a poor imitation of the English model. For my part, I almost wish we could go back to pumpkin-pie and Johnny-cake. I wish we could go ‘buggy riding with our beaux’ and ’spark in the back parlor.’ It was all more original, and, what is more to the point, more American.”

“You fairly make me shudder, Florence. Where did you get such Jeffersonian ideas?”

“In my New Hampshire home, perhaps; but despite my patriotism, I recognize that the buggy and the back parlor have gone never to return. I don’t regret it, either, for I am just as fond of refinement as you are; but what I do object to is the introduction of extraneous ideas which are contrary to the spirit of Americanism. I love Chicago because it is fairly American, and represents more truly than the older cities the Yankee spirit which made us a free people. You may have vulgar parvenus here, but where are they not to be found? This may be the only large city where New England Puritanism affects society, but it is, at least, American, and better than European immorality. There may be only a few people here who are initiated into the esoterics of manners and manías, but how many good husbands, loving wives, and happy children are there among your rich! you may dine at seven o’clock and go to dances at ten; some of you may talk with a twang and pronounce u like double o; but how many snobs and sycophants, how many unemployed and dissipated men, how many intriguers and gamblers have you in Chicago society? For my part I love refinement and les petits soins as much as you do, Marion; but if we can’t have the good of European life without the bad, if we can’t cultivate manners without vices, better far go back to sewing bees and church sociables, and keep our morals pure; better have baked beans and blue laws than truffled capon and depravity. There, I feel quite exhausted, but I have had my say.”

“Really, Florence, you almost take my breath away. I have not heard such a screeching of the American eagle since I can remember. It ought to make me very much ashamed, I suppose, but somehow the flapping of the bird of freedom’s wings never did inspire me.”

“I positively refuse to quarrel any more, but I do wish you could feel different; you would be so much happier,” Florence replied.

“O, it is of no use. I am discontented by nature, I suppose. My ideals are too high, my realities too low. Success among people of rank, reputation, and intellect, is what I desire; a position among merchants, manufacturers, and shop-keepers is what I have. For intellectual variety I read a few papers before the Renaissance Club, and meet such occasional notables as stop over here long enough to view the stock-yards. I am the wife of a Chicago banker with all the prerogatives of that position, but nothing more, and with no prospect of being anything more.”

“Nothing short of a coronet and a Court appointment would satisfy you, I fear. As for merchants and shop-keepers, all American society is composed mainly of them or their spendthrift children. But I am firm in my intention not to argue any more, so let us go back to Madonna Laura. If you want to feel better satisfied with Chicago, think about the sickening spectacle of Roman society at the time of Petrarch, and the futile efforts of his friend, Rienzi, to regenerate it.”

“We sha’n’t have time either for reading or discussion before dinner. There is Roswell’s key in the door, and he was never known to leave the office before six o’clock. What gown are you going to wear? Something charming, as usual; but don’t forget that the drapery in the Auditorium is old gold plush.”

“Why, Marion, I had quite forgotten we were going to the Opera to-night. Tamagno in ‘Otello’: that will be a treat.”