Read CHAPTER XVII of Flint His Faults‚ His Friendships and His Fortunes , free online book, by Maud Wilder Goodwin, on


“Wreathe the bowl with flowers of soul.”

The suppressed excitement of the afternoon lent an added flush and sparkle to Winifred’s face as she entered the study where her father and Miss Standish were playing chess together after the family dinner. Self-absorbed as she was at the moment, she found leisure to be struck with the picture of the two sitting there; her father’s head, with its austere profile outlined against the green curtain, which cast softened reflections over his white hair, and Miss Standish, crisp and dainty as a sprig of dried lavender, her gray curls quivering with the excitement, and her white hands hovering anxiously over rooks and pawns.

Miss Standish looked up as Winifred came in, radiant in her new evening gown, for she was to dine with the Hartington Grahams, who had recently returned from England and opened their town house for the season.

“I thought it was to be a little dinner,” said Miss Standish, looking with some disapproval at the bare shoulders rising above the billowy ruffles of rose-colored chiffon.

“It is ’just a small affair,’ Mrs. Graham wrote me. Besides, it is too early in the season for anything formal. In fact, she would hardly ask her most fashionable friends at this time of year. But she must get round somehow,” Winifred finished with a little laugh.

“In Boston,” said Miss Standish, “you would be overdoing it to wear that kind of a gown to such an affair, but here people seem to have no sense of gradation. They take literally Longfellow’s advice to the young poet seeking success: ‘Do your best every time.’”

“I don’t see,” said Winifred, “why the advice is not just as good for dress as for poetry, except that gowns wear out and poems don’t. Is the carriage there, McGregor, and Maria ready? Well, good-night, Papa; look out for your queen, and don’t let Miss Standish checkmate you with any of her Boston tricks!”

“I think,” Jimmy called out after her from the corner of the big sofa, where he lay curled up like a dormouse, “if you would do your best on my dress, instead of making me wear this old suit, it would strike a better average in the family.”

As McGregor closed the carriage door, Winifred was conscious of a certain satisfaction that she was not to spend the evening at home with the family. Her restlessness craved a vent, and she wanted to postpone =all= opportunity for reflection.

There was something about the Grahams which always appealed to the girl. Their environment suited her aesthetically. For themselves, why, one could not have everything and then they were never alone.

The carriage stopped before Mrs. Graham’s house, and the door opened almost before she had mounted the steps.

As she passed along the hall, a wave of fragrance from lavishly disposed flowers floated out to her through the drawn portieres, and she caught a glimpse of the softened light of many lamps-shaded to the eye but festive to the fancy. “Decidedly,” thought Winifred, “it is agreeable to be rich, and next to being rich one’s self, the best thing is to associate with rich people. Money is such a smoother of rough ways! and then the vast opportunities of being nice to other people that come of a purse at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathize.” She smiled to herself at her bold adaptation of the poet’s sentiments, and mounted the stairs with a quickened step, reflecting suddenly that she had not marked the time accurately and might be late. Her glance in at the door of the dressing-room reassured her. At least she was not the last, for in front of the mirror stood a portly, bediamonded dame, gazing intently into the glass and putting the last touches to her toilet with stolid equanimity.

“Want to come here?” she asked, pausing in her elaboration of her water-waves, and nodding affably to Winifred.

“No, =I= thank you,” Winifred answered, seating herself in the low easy-chair, while the maid pulled off her velvet overshoes.

“Chilly to-night, isn’t it?” the lady continued pleasantly, desirous of putting the new-comer at her ease.

Winifred acquiesced in the views of the weather expressed, and a hint of the chilliness seemed to have crept into the interior. Her agreeable anticipations of the evening were vaguely dampened, and she could not quite forgive the innocent cause. “Why will women with red necks wear light blue and diamonds!” she wondered, “and what can reconcile her to looking in the glass?”

With a little shake of the head to make sure that her hairpins were firmly anchored, and a futile effort to smooth the rebellious curls at her neck, Winifred glided past the lady in front of the mirror, who seemed no nearer the completion of her toilet than when she had entered. At the door of the rear room stood a short, bald-headed man with a patient expression on his face, as of one who had spent a large share of his life waiting for his wife. He glanced with some surprise at the swift reappearance of the girl whom he had watched as she came up the stairs so short a time before.

“That girl beats the ticker,” he said to himself as she passed him; “she’ll make some man happy if she keeps it up.”

The clock was striking eight as Winifred entered the drawing-room. “It is quite a feat to be on time in this city of long distances,” said her hostess.

“How delightful to be appreciated!” responded Winifred, with a brilliant smile. “I was just pluming myself on being so prompt, but I see the others are still more so.” Here she swept a rapid glance over a seated group at the other end of the room.

“I suppose it is hardly more prompt to be too early than too late, so you are still entitled to the palm.”

The voice which came from close beside her drew the blood to her cheek; but as the words went on, her nervous tremor subdued itself, for the tone said to her as clearly as words, “Everything is to be ignored. We are on the social stage, and must play our parts. You may trust me.”

Winifred felt a wave of relief sweep over her. She thanked the speaker with her eyes. To her hostess she said lightly, “Mr. Flint is as much of a purist as ever no; don’t leave us together. He and I have been quarrelling over the tea-cups this afternoon. I will let you take up the defence, while I go over to speak to your sister, Miss Wabash, in the corner and isn’t that Captain Blathwayt with her?”

“Yes, he crossed with us on the ‘Lucania’; remembered meeting you in Cheyenne or some other outlandish Western town thinks you the most charming American he ever met.”

“How clever of you!” said Winifred over her shoulder, as she moved away. “Reflected flattery is the most alluring kind.”

As Mrs. Graham turned to greet two newcomers, Flint was left alone, with no hindrance to the occupation of watching Winifred Anstice. She stood with her back toward him and her head slightly turned, so that his eye took in the delicate line of cheek and chin, broken by the shadows of a dimple, the curve of the neck, and the soft little curls that nestled at the base of the hair. A woman is always much handsomer or much plainer than usual in evening dress.

As Flint looked at Winifred, he felt an absurd jealousy of the monocled Englishman who presumed to show his admiration so plainly. His reflections were ended for the time being by the voice of his hostess saying, “Will you take my sister in to dinner?” As he moved across the room, Winifred and Captain Blathwayt passed out together, just ahead of Miss Wabash and himself. He scarcely knew whether to feel regret or relief to find that the width of the table was to be between him and Winifred. It certainly had the advantage of shutting off all necessity for the conversation farcie of the conventional dinner, which he felt would be an impossibility between him and her to-night.

With Miss Wabash the vol-au-vent of talk seemed the most natural thing; and Flint dashed at once into a jesting, somewhat daring tone, which she took quite in good part, and when her attention was claimed by the bald-headed broker on the other side, his neighbor on the left, a double-chinned dowager, with a pearl necklace half hidden in the creases of her neck and a diamond aigrette in her hair, proved no less garrulous if somewhat less sprightly.

She had much to tell of the loss of her diamonds by a burglary last week, and of their recovery through the agency of detectives whose charges were exorbitant. She acquainted Flint with every detail of the conduct of the family and the servants, the police and the detectives. As she went on, people began to listen, and the talk around the table, which had lagged a little, started up more briskly than before.

“I have noticed,” said Winifred to Captain Blathwayt, “that there are two subjects which will make even dull people lively, burglaries and mind-cure.”

“Aw, I don’t know much about burglaries, never had one in the family; but I think a lot about mind-cure and all that sort of thing.”

“Confirmation of my theory!” said Winifred, with an impertinence which felt safe in banking on the lack of perception in the person whose dignity was assailed.

“Do you believe in the mind-cure?” asked Miss Wabash, who had caught the phrase across the table.

“It depends on the mind,” Flint answered.

“Oh, no, it doesn’t; not at all. That’s the first principle of the science. You only need to resign yourself and let the influence flow over you.”

“Does it make any difference whose influence it is?”

“Oh, I suppose so. It must be trained influence, and it seems to work better when it is paid for.”

“Most things do,” observed Flint.

“My cousin says ”

Flint never knew exactly what Miss Wabash’s cousin did say, for at that point in the conversation his attention was irresistibly attracted by the talk of his opposite neighbors.

“Now there’s a lot in it, I’m sure,” the man of the monocle was saying, bending toward Winifred with what Flint considered objectionable propinquity, “telepathy, don’t you know, and and all that sort of thing. I had no idea I was to meet you to-night, but as I was standing on the doorstep I remembered how you looked at that dinner out in Cheyenne, and a remark you made to me do you recollect?”

“The dinner, perfectly; the remark, not at all.”

“Well, I sha’n’t repeat it, for it was deucedly severe on the English. Really, you know, we’re not half bad; but you don’t care for your cousins over the water, I am afraid. Do you?”

“I think the cousins over the water are much like those on this side, the relationship is simply an opportunity for intimate acquaintance. Some Englishmen are the most charming of their sex; others are well, quite the reverse.”

“To which do I belong?” asked the Captain, turning toward her more openly and leaving his terrapin untasted, which meant much with Blathwayt.

“Can you doubt?” Winifred responded with a radiant but wholly non-committal smile. Self-possessed as she was outwardly, however, she felt Flint’s eyes upon her, and experienced a sense of annoyance at the attitude of both men.

Her host on the other side came to her relief at the moment.

“Blathwayt,” he said, leaning over, “you must try this wine. It is some my wine-merchant in Paris sent over ten years ago, a special vintage, and don’t let the terrapin go by, for there’s nothing else worth while before the canvas-backs. I’ll let you into the secret too, Miss Anstice,” he added with an expression closely approaching a wink.

“Thanks,” said Winifred, rather wearily, “I am not an epicure.”

“Oh, but you can be trained to be!” Graham answered encouragingly. “It is mainly a question of practice, though I must say that I was born with the taste, inherited from my father, I believe; and I’ve heard him tell how once when I was five years old I scolded the butler for sending up the Burgundy iced.”

“How precocious!” murmured Winifred.

“Well, of course, that was unusual; but if children were taken young and had half the attention paid to their palates that folks give to their eyes and ears, with their fool drawing-teachers and music-masters in the attempt to enable them to bore somebody with their twopenny accomplishments, we should soon have a race of gourmets; and gourmets make cooks. No chef can do his best without appreciation. For the matter of that, a cook must be born, he must have the feeling for his business. Now there was a fellow in England My dear,” he called out to his wife at the other end of the table, “was it Windermere or Grassmere where we had those excellent breaded trout?”

“I forget,” Mrs. Graham answered; “but I know it was the one where Wordsworth lived. Which was that, Mr. Flint?”

“Now don’t interrupt us,” Miss Wabash said in her loud, unshaded tones; “Mr. Flint has just consented to let me tell his fortune by his hand.”

Flint looked rather foolish. He was in that awkward position where it seemed equally fatuous to assent or decline; but deciding on the former course, he held out his hand, saying, “Spare my character as far as you conscientiously can, Miss Wabash, and remember in extenuation of my shortcomings that I did not have the advantage of being brought up in Chicago.”

All tete-a-tete conversation now ceased, and the attention of the company was riveted upon Flint and his neighbor. Winifred felt herself growing intensely nervous. She had no fear of Miss Wabash’s extraordinary power of divination, but she had still less confidence in the delicacy of her perceptions, and she dreaded some remark which would embarrass her through Flint’s embarrassment.

In her present high-strung condition, her apprehension made her a little faint for a moment. The centrepiece of orchids and roses seemed a vague mass of rather oppressive color and perfume. The women’s faces and necks looked like reddish blobs with flashes of light where the jewels came. The broad white expanse of the men’s shirt fronts alone retained a certain steadiness. Hastily she grasped her glass of champagne and drained it dry. It was the first wine she had tasted that night, and it braced her nerves at once. Fortunately no one observed her paleness, for everybody’s attention was fixed upon Miss Wabash as she bent over Flint’s open palm.

“A surprising hand!” that young lady was saying; “really in some ways quite the most interesting I ever came across. I must report it to Chiro. The fingers very pointed that ought to indicate idealism, but the knots on the joints imply practical critical sense. It looks as though the mind were always grasping at some ideal and were held back by the critical faculty.”

“Don’t blink your points, Mamie!” called out the host, facetiously. At this allusion to sporting reminiscences, all the men laughed, but the women rather resented the interruption, as a frivolous treatment of a serious subject.

“You have learned your profession thoroughly,” said Flint, coloring a little in spite of himself. “I shall begin to be afraid of you in earnest, if you are so discerning.”

“Oh, I have only begun!” answered Miss Wabash, kindled by success to greater vivacity. “That thumb shows marked firmness (see, I can scarcely bend it back at all); perhaps, if I knew you better, I should say obstinacy.”

Every one laughed.

“The fingers,” she went on, “show more sensitiveness; and the mounds oh, those mean a great deal! Mars is firm and prominent what you undertake you will carry through, if it kills you and everybody else.”

“What a fellow to buy on margin!” said the broker.

“He doesn’t seem to have succeeded in getting married for all his perseverance,” laughed Mr. Graham.

Winifred, in spite of her emotion, found time to reflect on the vulgarity of the phrase, and shivered a little. Flint colored, though he held his hand quite steady.

“Perhaps he’ll buy her sixty,” chuckled the broker, pleased with his technical wit.

“He’d better hurry up,” said Miss Wabash, “for his life-line is short. He’s had experiences though. May I tell them, Mr. Flint?”

“I give you permission.”

“Well, then, you were in love once a long time ago, but there were reasons why you couldn’t marry, and so you gave up the affair and have never really cared for any one since; but two or three women have been desperately in love with you.”

“Mademoiselle, respect the seal of the confessional!” said Flint, smiling, but drawing away his hand with a quick instinctive motion which did not escape Winifred.

“Ho! ho!” called out Graham, “perhaps there is more in palmistry than I thought. Go on, Mamie, and give us the history of the Salvation Army episode and the Hallelujah lassie!”

Flint cursed inwardly, cursed everything and almost everybody, himself most of all. What was he here for? What if Graham was the chief stockholder in the “Trans-Continental,” he was a coarse-grained sensualist, with whom no gentleman should associate. (This estimate by no means did Graham justice, but Flint was not in a judicial mood.) Then this crack-brained girl with her foolish fake of a theory and he had been idiot enough to fall into this trap, and now Winifred would think he had boasted of Nora Costello as a conquest, perhaps bragged about saving her life. Oh, the whole thing was past endurance! Meanwhile everything around moved on mechanically. He heard his host say impatiently, “My dear, if you keep that épigramme of lamb waiting much longer, we’d better give up dining and take to holding hands all round.”

At this there was a general taking up of forks and a subdued buzz of conversation. It was rather a relief when the candle-shade took fire and Flint had an excuse for rising to seize it before the butler could reach it.

The dinner ended at last, though it seemed as if it never would. As he held aside the velvet curtains for the ladies to pass, Flint strove to catch Winifred’s eyes, to judge, if he might, what impression Graham’s remark had made; but Blathwayt held her in talk till the threshold was reached, and the curtain dropped behind her without a glance in Flint’s direction.

She held her head a little higher than usual as she moved beside Mrs. Graham into the music-room. A wave of contempt was sweeping over her, as she reviewed the dinner, its gilding, its gluttony, and its unspeakable dulness, and she felt that she had sold her birthright of self-respect for a mess of pottage.

Miss Wabash sat down at the piano and sang “Oh, Promise Me,” and one or two other gems from DeKoven’s latest opera, and then the ladies adjourned once more to the library.

The Grahams’ library was a large square room, diversified by two shallow bay-windows such as only a corner house permits. It was ceiled and finished in heavy Flemish oak, and the walls above the low bookcases were hung with tapestry. Easy-chairs and softly upholstered divans filled every nook and corner. It was really, Winifred decided, an ideal library, or would have been if there had been any books behind the silk curtains hung over the shelves.

As they entered the room Miss Wabash drew Winifred to a seat near herself on the sofa.

“Green mint or Chartreuse?” the hostess asked, as the little ice-filled glasses were set on the low table by her side.

Winifred declined the cordials, but sat sipping the coffee out of the tiny Dresden cup, while she listened to the wearisome platitudes of Mrs. Graham and her guests. From time to time her eye was caught by the flashing of the jewelled pendulum of the clock on the mantel, in the drawing-room across the hall, and her mind dwelt ironically on some lines she had read somewhere:

“Ah! who with clear account remarks
The ebbing of Time’s glass,
When all his sands are diamond sparks
That dazzle as they pass!”

She smiled a derisive little smile, all to herself, as she thought how small a power lay in jewelled pendulums to make a brilliant evening, and she felt a certain thrill of pride at the thought that her associations lay in a world removed from all this smothering materialism. The lavish sumptuousness which till now had appealed to her rather strongly, seemed suddenly tainted with vulgarity, and her thoughts wandered half unconsciously to the bare little room where she had gone to see Nora Costello. The name brought a slight quickening of her pulses, and she wanted time to think over things alone.

As the men came in from the dining-room Miss Anstice’s carriage was announced, and she rose to bid her hostess good-night.

“Must you run away so early, my dear?”

“Thank you, yes; I promised Papa to come home early. He likes to see me before he goes to bed, and to hear an account of my evening.”

“You will be at home at five to-morrow, and I may bring Captain Blathwayt?”

“Any friend of yours, of course,” murmured Winifred, in a tone which could hardly have proved encouraging to the vanity or incipient sentiment of the guardsman.

“If you will permit me,” said Flint to Graham as Winifred came down the stairs, “I will put Miss Anstice into her carriage, and then come back for that last cigar.”

Never in his life had Flint so raved against his own lack of readiness as now, when he felt the passing moments slipping by, and could find no words to set himself right in the eyes of the woman he loved, the woman whose little gloved hand rested on his arm. Judge then of his feeling when, smiling up into his eyes with perfect friendliness, Winifred said under her breath, “Why do we go there you and I? They really aren’t our kind at all.”

The remark carried with it full assurance that no words uttered by Hartington Graham had power to shake for an instant her faith in the man whom she had called her friend; but beyond that her confident use of the word our, as if their interests and associations were the same, thrilled him with a sort of intoxication.

“Oh, thank you!” was all that he could find to say to express his complicated state of mind.

“I do not deserve any thanks at all,” Winifred answered. “I ought to be well scolded for speaking slightingly of people whom I have just been visiting. I do not often do such ill-mannered things, and I should not have said it to any one but you.”

Again Flint thrilled at the unconscious flattery.

“Will you come in to-morrow afternoon?” she asked, as he shut the carriage door.

“To meet Captain Blathwayt? No, thank you.”

“The day after then.”

“So be it till then, farewell!”

Flint re-entered the house with his heart beating like a trip-hammer.