Read CHAPTER III of A Hazard of New Fortunes‚ Part Third, free online book, by William Dean Howells, on

That night Dryfoos was wakened from his after-dinner nap by the sound of gay talk and nervous giggling in the drawing-room.  The talk, which was Christine’s, and the giggling, which was Mela’s, were intershot with the heavier tones of a man’s voice; and Dryfoos lay awhile on the leathern lounge in his library, trying to make out whether he knew the voice.  His wife sat in a deep chair before the fire, with her eyes on his face, waiting for him to wake.

“Who is that out there?” he asked, without opening his eyes.

“Indeed, indeed, I don’t know, Jacob,” his wife answered.  “I reckon it’s just some visitor of the girls’.”

“Was I snoring?”

“Not a bit.  You was sleeping as quiet!  I did hate to have ’em wake you, and I was just goin’ out to shoo them.  They’ve been playin’ something, and that made them laugh.”

“I didn’t know but I had snored,” said the old man, sitting up.

“No,” said his wife.  Then she asked, wistfully, “Was you out at the old place, Jacob?”


“Did it look natural?”

“Yes; mostly.  They’re sinking the wells down in the woods pasture.”

“And ­the children’s graves?”

“They haven’t touched that part.  But I reckon we got to have ’em moved to the cemetery.  I bought a lot.”

The old woman began softly to weep.  “It does seem too hard that they can’t be let to rest in peace, pore little things.  I wanted you and me to lay there, too, when our time come, Jacob.  Just there, back o’ the beehives and under them shoomakes ­my, I can see the very place!  And I don’t believe I’ll ever feel at home anywheres else.  I woon’t know where I am when the trumpet sounds.  I have to think before I can tell where the east is in New York; and what if I should git faced the wrong way when I raise?  Jacob, I wonder you could sell it!” Her head shook, and the firelight shone on her tears as she searched the folds of her dress for her pocket.

A peal of laughter came from the drawing-room, and then the sound of chords struck on the piano.

“Hush!  Don’t you cry, ’Liz’beth!” said Dryfoos.  “Here; take my handkerchief.  I’ve got a nice lot in the cemetery, and I’m goin’ to have a monument, with two lambs on it ­like the one you always liked so much.  It ain’t the fashion, any more, to have family buryin’ grounds; they’re collectin’ ’em into the cemeteries, all round.”

“I reckon I got to bear it,” said his wife, muffling her face in his handkerchief.  “And I suppose the Lord kin find me, wherever I am.  But I always did want to lay just there.  You mind how we used to go out and set there, after milkin’, and watch the sun go down, and talk about where their angels was, and try to figger it out?”

“I remember, ’Liz’beth.”

The man’s voice in the drawing-room sang a snatch of French song, insolent, mocking, salient; and then Christine’s attempted the same strain, and another cry of laughter from Mela followed.

“Well, I always did expect to lay there.  But I reckon it’s all right.  It won’t be a great while, now, anyway.  Jacob, I don’t believe I’m a-goin’ to live very long.  I know it don’t agree with me here.”

“Oh, I guess it does, ’Liz’beth.  You’re just a little pulled down with the weather.  It’s coming spring, and you feel it; but the doctor says you’re all right.  I stopped in, on the way up, and he says so.”

“I reckon he don’t know everything,” the old woman persisted:  “I’ve been runnin’ down ever since we left Moffitt, and I didn’t feel any too well there, even.  It’s a very strange thing, Jacob, that the richer you git, the less you ain’t able to stay where you want to, dead or alive.”

“It’s for the children we do it,” said Dryfoos.  “We got to give them their chance in the world.”

“Oh, the world!  They ought to bear the yoke in their youth, like we done.  I know it’s what Coonrod would like to do.”

Dryfoos got upon his feet.  “If Coonrod ’ll mind his own business, and do what I want him to, he’ll have yoke enough to bear.”  He moved from his wife, without further effort to comfort her, and pottered heavily out into the dining-room.  Beyond its obscurity stretched the glitter of the deep drawing-room.  His feet, in their broad; flat slippers, made no sound on the dense carpet, and he came unseen upon the little group there near the piano.  Mela perched upon the stool with her back to the keys, and Beaton bent over Christine, who sat with a banjo in her lap, letting him take her hands and put them in the right place on the instrument.  Her face was radiant with happiness, and Mela was watching her with foolish, unselfish pleasure in her bliss.

There was nothing wrong in the affair to a man of Dryfoos’s traditions and perceptions, and if it had been at home in the farm sitting-room, or even in his parlor at Moffitt, he would not have minded a young man’s placing his daughter’s hands on a banjo, or even holding them there; it would have seemed a proper, attention from him if he was courting her.  But here, in such a house as this, with the daughter of a man who had made as much money as he had, he did not know but it was a liberty.  He felt the angry doubt of it which beset him in regard to so many experiences of his changed life; he wanted to show his sense of it, if it was a liberty, but he did not know how, and he did not know that it was so.  Besides, he could not help a touch of the pleasure in Christine’s happiness which Mela showed; and he would have gone back to the library, if he could, without being discovered.

But Beaton had seen him, and Dryfoos, with a nonchalant nod to the young man, came forward.  “What you got there, Christine?”

“A banjo,” said the girl, blushing in her father’s presence.

Mela gurgled.  “Mr. Beaton is learnun’ her the first position.”

Beaton was not embarrassed.  He was in evening dress, and his face, pointed with its brown beard, showed extremely handsome above the expanse of his broad, white shirt-front.  He gave back as nonchalant a nod as he had got, and, without further greeting to Dryfoos, he said to Christine:  “No, no.  You must keep your hand and arm so.”  He held them in position.  “There!  Now strike with your right hand.  See?”

“I don’t believe I can ever learn,” said the girl, with a fond upward look at him.

“Oh yes, you can,” said Beaton.

They both ignored Dryfoos in the little play of protests which followed, and he said, half jocosely, half suspiciously, “And is the banjo the fashion, now?” He remembered it as the emblem of low-down show business, and associated it with end-men and blackened faces and grotesque shirt-collars.

“It’s all the rage,” Mela shouted, in answer for all.  “Everybody plays it.  Mr. Beaton borrowed this from a lady friend of his.”

“Humph!  Pity I got you a piano, then,” said Dryfoos.  “A banjo would have been cheaper.”

Beaton so far admitted him to the conversation as to seem reminded of the piano by his mentioning it.  He said to Mela, “Oh, won’t you just strike those chords?” and as Mela wheeled about and beat the keys he took the banjo from Christine and sat down with it.  “This way!” He strummed it, and murmured the tune Dryfoos had heard him singing from the library, while he kept his beautiful eyes floating on Christine’s.  “You try that, now; it’s very simple.”

“Where is Mrs. Mandel?” Dryfoos demanded, trying to assert himself.

Neither of the girls seemed to have heard him at first in the chatter they broke into over what Beaton proposed.  Then Mela said, absently, “Oh, she had to go out to see one of her friends that’s sick,” and she struck the piano keys.  “Come; try it, Chris!”

Dryfoos turned about unheeded and went back to the library.  He would have liked to put Beaton out of his house, and in his heart he burned against him as a contumacious hand; he would have liked to discharge him from the art department of ‘Every Other Week’ at once.  But he was aware of not having treated Beaton with much ceremony, and if the young man had returned his behavior in kind, with an electrical response to his own feeling, had he any right to complain?  After all, there was no harm in his teaching Christine the banjo.

His wife still sat looking into the fire.  “I can’t see,” she said, “as we’ve got a bit more comfort of our lives, Jacob, because we’ve got such piles and piles of money.  I wisht to gracious we was back on the farm this minute.  I wisht you had held out ag’inst the childern about sellin’ it; ’twould ‘a’ bin the best thing fur ’em, I say.  I believe in my soul they’ll git spoiled here in New York.  I kin see a change in ’em a’ready ­in the girls.”

Dryfoos stretched himself on the lounge again.  “I can’t see as Coonrod is much comfort, either.  Why ain’t he here with his sisters?  What does all that work of his on the East Side amount to?  It seems as if he done it to cross me, as much as anything.”  Dryfoos complained to his wife on the basis of mere affectional habit, which in married life often survives the sense of intellectual equality.  He did not expect her to reason with him, but there was help in her listening, and though she could only soothe his fretfulness with soft answers which were often wide of the purpose, he still went to her for solace.  “Here, I’ve gone into this newspaper business, or whatever it is, on his account, and he don’t seem any more satisfied than ever.  I can see he hain’t got his heart in it.”

“The pore boy tries; I know he does, Jacob; and he wants to please you.  But he give up a good deal when he give up bein’ a preacher; I s’pose we ought to remember that.”

“A preacher!” sneered Dryfoos.  “I reckon bein’ a preacher wouldn’t satisfy him now.  He had the impudence to tell me this afternoon that he would like to be a priest; and he threw it up to me that he never could be because I’d kept him from studyin’.”

“He don’t mean a Catholic priest ­not a Roman one, Jacob,” the old woman explained, wistfully.  “He’s told me all about it.  They ain’t the kind o’ Catholics we been used to; some sort of ’Piscopalians; and they do a heap o’ good amongst the poor folks over there.  He says we ain’t got any idea how folks lives in them tenement houses, hundreds of ’em in one house, and whole families in a room; and it burns in his heart to help ’em like them Fathers, as he calls ’em, that gives their lives to it.  He can’t be a Father, he says, because he can’t git the eddication now; but he can be a Brother; and I can’t find a word to say ag’inst it, when it gits to talkin’, Jacob.”

“I ain’t saying anything against his priests, ’Liz’beth,” said Dryfoos.  “They’re all well enough in their way; they’ve given up their lives to it, and it’s a matter of business with them, like any other.  But what I’m talking about now is Coonrod.  I don’t object to his doin’ all the charity he wants to, and the Lord knows I’ve never been stingy with him about it.  He might have all the money he wants, to give round any way he pleases.”

“That’s what I told him once, but he says money ain’t the thing ­or not the only thing you got to give to them poor folks.  You got to give your time and your knowledge and your love ­I don’t know what all you got to give yourself, if you expect to help ’em.  That’s what Coonrod says.”

“Well, I can tell him that charity begins at home,” said Dryfoos, sitting up in his impatience.  “And he’d better give himself to us a little ­to his old father and mother.  And his sisters.  What’s he doin’ goin’ off there to his meetings, and I don’t know what all, an’ leavin’ them here alone?”

“Why, ain’t Mr. Beaton with ’em?” asked the old woman.  “I thought I heared his voice.”

“Mr. Beaton!  Of course he is!  And who’s Mr. Beaton, anyway?”

“Why, ain’t he one of the men in Coonrod’s office?  I thought I heared ­”

“Yes, he is!  But who is he?  What’s he doing round here?  Is he makin’ up to Christine?”

“I reckon he is.  From Mely’s talk, she’s about crazy over the fellow.  Don’t you like him, Jacob?”

“I don’t know him, or what he is.  He hasn’t got any manners.  Who brought him here?  How’d he come to come, in the first place?”

“Mr. Fulkerson brung him, I believe,” said the old woman, patiently.

“Fulkerson!” Dryfoos snorted.  “Where’s Mrs. Mandel, I should like to know?  He brought her, too.  Does she go traipsin’ off this way every evening?”

“No, she seems to be here pretty regular most o’ the time.  I don’t know how we could ever git along without her, Jacob; she seems to know just what to do, and the girls would be ten times as outbreakin’ without her.  I hope you ain’t thinkin’ o’ turnin’ her off, Jacob?”

Dryfoos did not think it necessary to answer such a question.  “It’s all Fulkerson, Fulkerson, Fulkerson.  It seems to me that Fulkerson about runs this family.  He brought Mrs. Mandel, and he brought that Beaton, and he brought that Boston fellow!  I guess I give him a dose, though; and I’ll learn Fulkerson that he can’t have everything his own way.  I don’t want anybody to help me spend my money.  I made it, and I can manage it.  I guess Mr. Fulkerson can bear a little watching now.  He’s been travelling pretty free, and he’s got the notion he’s driving, maybe.  I’m a-going to look after that book a little myself.”

“You’ll kill yourself, Jacob,” said his wife, “tryin’ to do so many things.  And what is it all fur?  I don’t see as we’re better off, any, for all the money.  It’s just as much care as it used to be when we was all there on the farm together.  I wisht we could go back, Ja ­”

“We can’t go back!” shouted the old man, fiercely.  “There’s no farm any more to go back to.  The fields is full of gas-wells and oil-wells and hell-holes generally; the house is tore down, and the barn’s goin’ ­”

“The barn!” gasped the old woman.  “Oh, my!”

“If I was to give all I’m worth this minute, we couldn’t go back to the farm, any more than them girls in there could go back and be little children.  I don’t say we’re any better off, for the money.  I’ve got more of it now than I ever had; and there’s no end to the luck; it pours in.  But I feel like I was tied hand and foot.  I don’t know which way to move; I don’t know what’s best to do about anything.  The money don’t seem to buy anything but more and more care and trouble.  We got a big house that we ain’t at home in; and we got a lot of hired girls round under our feet that hinder and don’t help.  Our children don’t mind us, and we got no friends or neighbors.  But it had to be.  I couldn’t help but sell the farm, and we can’t go back to it, for it ain’t there.  So don’t you say anything more about it, ’Liz’beth.”

“Pore Jacob!” said his wife.  “Well, I woon’t, dear.”