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X

THE END OF AN APPRENTICESHIP

One Saturday evening in midwinter Floyd and Mrs. Halket sat alone together in the library before the blazing fire. The fireplace was a large one, in keeping with the size of the room; it had great brass andirons surmounted by horses' heads; and on these andirons, symmetrically placed, were three huge artificial logs, perforated on all sides with little holes from which jets of flame issued. These unconsumable logs were cunningly devised; here and there a red glow would appear upon them and slowly fade, the flame leaped now and then irregularly, and the similitude to a wood fire was improved by the bed of real ashes which had been placed under the logs in the autumn and would be removed in the spring.

"Is n't it a sham!" Mrs. Halket murmured to Floyd.

She sat with her feet resting on a cushion and turned up toward the fire; her left hand hung over the arm of her chair, and the rings on it—opals and diamonds—gleamed and glittered in the light. Her husband liked to have her crowd her fingers with rings before she came to dinner; he considered that with the silver and flowers and glass they helped to make the table more cheerful.

Suddenly she rose, with a shiver, and stood, tall and graceful, with her back to the fire, looking down at Floyd.

"I think I have reached an age when it's more decent to cover one's shoulders," she said; "at least in private. Of course when one has people to dinner or goes to a ball, one must still display one's edifying bones. I suppose it helps to give confidence to the young and shy. I had the feeling the other night at the Assembly that every young thing in the room was flaunting her youth at me.—And speaking of the Assembly, Floyd, reminds me of something that I've had in my thoughts to say to you for a long time. It troubles me a little, the way you're shutting yourself off from all social life."

"But, good gracious," Floyd answered, "what am I to do? I get home Saturday afternoon and leave Sunday evening; there is n't much chance—"

"You don't seize what there is," objected his grandmother. "Now, your Saturday evenings. Generally after dinner, you call Ted Baldwin or Harry Stevens up on the telephone, and by the way I heard Ted speak of it the other day as the 'phone;' I trust you do not call it that?"

"Never," said Floyd.

"I could n't have borne it if you did. Well, as I was saying, usually on Saturday night you go with one of your friends to what you call a show. Then you drop in at the Avalon Club for something to—"

"Drink," said Floyd. "Yes, quite right. Grandmother."

"Then you come home, go to bed, get up in time for church the next morning—you are very dutiful about that and you please your grandfather very much. Personally I'd rather see you less dutiful,—either sleeping later, or, if you must go to church, now and then accompanying some attractive girl."

"You have such radical ideas," murmured Floyd.

"Radical! Not at all; highly conservative," replied Mrs. Halket. "They date back to my own youth—when Sunday morning, with its question as to who would be my escort, offered one of the chief excitements of the week. If girls are anything like what they used to be, they would be quite thrilled by your proposing to walk to church with them—such an interesting, aloof young man. Then Sunday afternoon, instead of going off again with Ted Baldwin or Harry Stevens to skate or snowshoe or what not, you ought to thrill a few other young ladies by calling on them. Now and then I would even resign myself to your absence from luncheon or dinner. It's quite wrong for you to be so backward or indifferent, Floyd. After all, to be socially awkward is never anything to a man's credit."

"I'm sorry., Grandmother," Floyd said, quite seriously. "But beside you and Grandfather—well, I am the ugly duckling sure."

"My dear, I refuse to admit it," replied Mrs. Halket, "and even if it were so, you would still be the whole brood. And whether you like it or not, you will some day have social duties to perform. I don't suppose it's very much fun really for me, but it's the penalty of position. Here was this week's programme: Monday, a dinner of twenty old people; Tuesday, a dinner for sixteen young ones, and afterwards the ball that I gave for Ann Phelps's little girl; Wednesday, another small dinner in honor of the New York publisher, Mr. Stark, who spent two days with us; Thursday, the Assembly; Friday, theatre party and supper, besides one or two luncheons and minor episodes. You may as well make up your mind to it, Floyd; some time you'll have to face that sort of thing—or your wife will have to. And you ought, at least, to be getting acquainted with the people of your own town. Why, you know hardly anybody here. Wherever I go, my ears are afflicted with that doleful cry, 'Are n't we ever going to meet Floyd, Mrs. Halket? Is n't he ever going anywhere? Why does he hate us?'"

Floyd laughed. "Only let me have the rest of the year," he said, "and next winter you can treat me like any debutante. When I 'm busy through the week at New Home, I want to spend Sunday in my own way. I don't think I take much interest in girls."

"Possibly that is why they have an interest in you," replied Mrs. Halket dryly. "Well, if you prefer to postpone social duties until next year, I shan't protest. It will make explanations easier when I'm asked the sort of question that Lydia Dunbar put to me to-day."

"What was that?"

"Oh, wondering if she had done anything to offend you, or some such foolishness. 'I've asked him to dinner twice by note and twice over the telephone,' she said, 'and always for a Saturday night. And he's refused every time. He has n't been near me for two months—and I thought I was going to see a lot of him this winter.' I must say I think you might bow and then make an exception in her favor—an engaged girl, with the young man in Paris, is likely to be forlorn."

"Where did you see her?" Floyd asked.

"She came here this afternoon to call. I have an idea she hoped that you would be home early and that she might have a glimpse of you. She said she had things to tell you about Stewart. I asked her to come to luncheon to-morrow, but she had an engagement; she's going out to the Country Club with a party to skate."

"Then I'll probably see her," Floyd said carelessly. "Harry Stevens and I are going out there, too. By the way, speaking of engaged persons, Letty and Hugh Farrell are going to be married in June. Hugh's been promoted to first roller in our turn. They're going to live with Mrs. Bell, so they can't get married till I'm out of the house. I offered to leave at once, but when they found I should be through with the works anyway by June, they insisted I should stay. You'll have to help me on a wedding present for them. Grandmother; I want to give 'em something worth while. I thought of a set of furniture for the parlor,—some time they'll be having a house of their own,—how would that do?"

"You'd better ask them what they would most like," Mrs. Halket suggested. "You must know them well enough for that."

"Oh, do you think so?" Floyd asked, pondering. "No, I think they 'd like it better if I went ahead and picked out the thing that I most liked."

Mrs. Halket admitted that he was right; it amused and pleased her to realize that his instinct of courtesy had been surer than hers. Still standing before the fire, she smiled down at him, thinking gayly, "What a good, well-balanced man he'll make!"

"It's funny," Floyd said presently, "to hear you exhorting for society. I don't believe you care about it."

She came and seated herself on the wide arm of his chair and caressed his face with her hand. "All that I really care about, my dear, are you and your grandfather," she said. "At my age nothing else matters much. Your grandfather has had many honorable ambitions which I have tried to further: we have ambitions for you that we want to help you to realize. Your grandfather has won an eminence here that is more than commercial; we want you to retain it and go beyond it. Your position will be one in which you'll be expected—you'll be more useful—if you can bear yourself royally toward women as well as men—without self-consciousness, without awkwardness, without stiffness and the effort to unbend. We want you to have with all the graces all your natural simplicity and kindness; we want you to keep a manner as unaffected always as it is now; we want you to be in the best sense all that an American gentleman may be who has wealth and position and opportunity. Arbiter elegantiarum need not be an unworthy office for a man—if he is something more."

"It is a large order," Floyd sighed. "And after all, does it pay? The frills, the formality—"

"Yes, it pays," Mrs. Halket responded, firmly. "Of course it is easy to overdo—and excesses, acquired late in life, are not, I fear, to be corrected. We might get along here with a little less—well, flourish of trumpets in our daily routine,—but in a large way I believe your grandfather's idea is sound. This city, where people are acquiring wealth so fast, is especially the place for a man to set a right standard—of how to spend, how to entertain, how to live. What people here need is the example of dignity. Of course it's necessary that you should have the right sort of wife to help you."

"Yes," Floyd said lightly. "It's early to think about that yet."

He observed that his grandmother was on the point of formulating a dissenting opinion, and he welcomed as a diversion Colonel Halket's dignified entrance.

"Grandmother's been giving me a lecture," Floyd said to him.

"Ah—and on what?" asked Colonel Halket. He took up a position before the fire and stood looking down on his wife and grandson with complacent affection.

"Oh, his whole duty to his neighbor," said Mrs. Halket.

"We're quite a family for lecturing, Floyd," observed the Colonel. "Your grandmother does it to me, and I do it to everybody else. It's one of my great pleasures, and I may say I do it rather well, too; the last one I delivered is going to have some very excellent results."

"Going to have!" echoed his wife, and Floyd, more respectful, asked, "What was that, Grandfather?"

"A little talk that I gave Gregg and the superintendents the other day—about the methods of dealing with the labor union sentiment that's taken possession out at New Rome. Gregg and some of the others were in favor of fighting. No, I said; let it work, let it work. This union enthusiasm is a passing fad. We have nothing to fear. The men are contented; they're proud of their connection with Halket & Company; they know they can't get as good treatment or as good pay elsewhere. Why, it's a gratification to me every time I go out to New Rome; I pass a workman on the street and he lifts his hat—no surliness in it, either; I've spent my life reading faces. Those men like me, Floyd; they have, I believe, a real affection for me; and I'm proud of it, and I'm going to show them that I trust them. I'm writing a thing now that will show them."

"What's the title of it?" Mrs. Halket asked.

Colonel Halket put his hands behind his back and expanded his broad chest braggingly. "It is the Autobiography of a Manufacturer."

"What!" cried Mrs. Halket.

"Exactly," responded her husband. "I am writing my life. It was suggested to me by Mr. Stark, the publisher. He came over from New York to discuss it with me. That was why he was here those two days last week."

"How on earth did he happen to think of such a thing!" Mrs. Halket exclaimed in wonder.

"Why," the Colonel answered with what modesty he could, "he said it was the biggest business of its kind in the United States—built up and controlled by one man—a typical American achievement—a part of American progress of the last forty years. It's known all over the country,—and he believes that people will be interested in hearing the story of it straight from the man who did it. I expect anyway I'll get a good deal of fun out of writing it. Better not speak of it to any one outside," he warned them.

"It's a very nice thing for you to be doing," said Mrs. Halket, with enthusiasm. "Mr. Stark is exactly right; it is something that ought to be written up."

Colonel Halket walked to the door of his study and there turned.

"There is one thing," he said, standing in the doorway with his white head thrown back, a figure of oratory; "in thinking back over the whole course of events, in going over records and letters and journals, I find nothing to conceal and nothing that needs apology or excuse. Such success as I have won has been won openly and honestly; it has n't been bought, it has n't been wrung from the poor or defrauded from the unwary; and if I have made mistakes, they need not shame my conscience. I'll tell the story truthfully, and if it can help any American boy or young man, I shall be glad."

Expressing this high and solemn hope, he returned to his literary task.

"Dear man," murmured Mrs. Halket to Floyd, with wistfulness saddening her smile. "It's a splendid thing, Floyd, at seventy-five to be so able to enjoy success."

"Is n't it!" said Floyd. "And, you know, it's all true —I mean about the men liking him so. When he was out at the works the other day with Mr. Stark, he went round beaming and smiling and nodding to everybody, from a superintendent to a Dago water-boy—and they all loved it. They have a personal feeling for him, which is wonderful in such a big and impersonal concern. He called me from the rolls and introduced me to Mr. Stark and patted me on the back; and when I went back to work again, it was funny,—the difference in the attitude of the men toward me. You see, they kind of forget who I am; generally I'm just one of them,—but after that—oh, the respect and awe did n't wear off for about an hour." Floyd laughed. "It was quite pleasant. I think I'll hire Grandfather to come out and speak to me two or three times a week."

"Your grandfather is a very wise man," said Mrs. Halket. "He realizes the value of not displaying himself too often. In that way he retains his dignity, and when he does appear he can be as genial as you say without cheapening himself."

"How cold-blooded of you to analyze it that way!" exclaimed Floyd.

"I think," she continued, with a somewhat cynical humor, "I will ask him if he means to expose that particular bit of wisdom in the autobiography. You know he said he had nothing to conceal." She laughed and patted Floyd on the head. "Don't be shocked, Floyd; your grandfather likes to be teased—by me."

"Just the same," Floyd said, standing in defense, "he's a big man, Grandmother; he has a grip on things. So don't you tease him too much."

"I won't, Floyd," she promised earnestly, and she added, "I'm glad to hear you talk in this way, my dear. It does me good. I hope I've never had a disloyal thought about your grandfather. Only sometimes—when I've been tired and depressed and cowardly—I've had a sort of fear—very vague, I can hardly describe it—as if something were lying in wait to mock all his serenity and confidence of power, make a ruin of his success and a sham of what had always seemed so real. Perhaps I've been afraid that in his very self-confidence was the germ of delusion and disappointment. It sounds disloyal, Floyd; but I've dreaded this only when I've been morbid and tired—and at least I've never shown my fear to him. It does me good to hear you speak so confidently,—for of course you know."

She stroked her grandson's hand for a moment; then she continued: "He has worked so hard, so honestly all his life, Floyd; his success has meant so much to him, and he's going on and on so industriously increasing it—that I don't want him to know tragedy now—the tragedy of failure. After he's attained and built up so much—if it were somehow to be broken down—the work of a long and ardent and patient life—well, he's a man and it might not crush his spirit; he'd set to work again. I don't know why I should sometimes have this dread; after the way you've talked I'll try not to be afraid any more."

Floyd did not answer. He had often shared his grandmother's vague apprehensiveness; he had often been made uneasy by Colonel Halket's sincere acceptance of himself as a great figure. That which had become reality to Colonel Halket was doubtless allowed to pass as pleasant fiction by many of his friends, and Floyd had a feeling that if the fiction ceased to be maintained, disaster of some kind would fall. It had been, therefore, with real alarm that he had begged his grandmother not to tease. It had been with some reservations that he had assured her of his grandfather's "grip on things." That fine, showy, picturesque, skillful personage—perhaps he had been stronger once.

Sunday morning Floyd went to the Avalon Country Club to skate. The day was mild, but the ice on the two rinks had not begun to soften. Having a contempt for fancy skating when anything more active was in progress, Floyd joined the hockey game that was beginning on the lower rink. The upper rink, just across the driveway, was reserved for the ladies, and for those of the men who preferred moderate and leisurely exercise. Mindful of the information he had received from his grandmother, Floyd looked for Lydia, but she was not to be seen. In a few moments he became entirely rapt in the excitement of the game; he was of all the players the swiftest skater and the most proficient, and he was easily exhilarated by success. At last, after he had made a long run and shot a goal, he leaned on his hockey-stick to recover his breath. Across the driveway Lydia, with her hands in her muff, was circling about doing the "outer edge" with casual ease and watching him intently.

"Good run!" she called to him, waving her muff.

He touched his cap, and went back into the game. But his enthusiasm had waned; when he was not in the scrimmage or running with the puck, he took his eyes from the play to glance at the lightly sailing figure, that wheeled and spun with such fantastic ease. Lydia seemed as much interested in watching the game as he in watching her,—doing her tricks merely by way of keeping warm. When he saw how intent on the game she was, a hot eagerness to distinguish himself in it again seized him; he dug into the ice with his skates, charged across the rink and, snatching the puck out from a scrimmage, made off with it toward the distant goal. As he approached flying, he heard Lydia's cry ringing out above the clash of skates,—"Go it, Floyd, go it!"—and then the next moment the goal-keeper had blocked his shot, and he had slid up against the bank, chagrined at the failure of his brilliant run.

Lydia swung out upon one foot and called to him as she floated on the long curve, "It's brutal the way you skate. Come and do this with me."

He deserted the game without a word, walked across the driveway on his skates, and stood beside her.

"This way," she said, and dropping her muff and holding out her hands to him she led him upon a long outward roll. In this light partnership, Floyd felt her buoyancy. A swift side glance gave him the dark autumnal color of her cheek, the gentle parting of her lips as she gazed down at the ice with pleased intentness. In that glance, the excitement of the game with which he still was throbbing became a more mad and possessing excitement.

They stopped, and at that moment Lydia made the unluckiest speech.

"If you'd only come round, so that we could practice together! Where have you been? Why have n't you been near me—after your promise?"

"Can't you guess?" Floyd cried. He paused, but in the pause he seemed only to gather force to hurl himself more recklessly into the pit. "It's because I care for you too much—and because I know I could make you care for me."

"Oh, Floyd!" They stood facing each other in silence; the dark autumnal color faded from her face, the light of gay-hearted fellowship left her eyes, and Floyd, looking into them unflinchingly, saw there only sad regret.

"I knew I'd tell you if I kept on seeing you," he said gloomily. "I did n't dare trust myself. And now—I've told."

He could not endure the pity in her eyes. It stung his pride; be would have none of it. And so he said deliberately,—

"If I had gone on seeing you, I'd have taken you from Stewart."

Her eyes showed her swift change from pity to wrath, though her voice was low as she asked,—

"And would I have had nothing to say?"

"Nothing," he answered gravely. "And so you need not wonder any more why I stay away from you." He held out his hand. "Good-by, Lydia."

She took his hand and held it a moment, looking at him as if she would give him the opportunity to retract; she did not speak. Then he turned and walked across the driveway. She followed him with her eyes; she saw him take up the hockey-stick that he had laid at the edge of the rink and glide out upon the ice. Some one sent the puck spinning out of a scrimmage; with a whoop he sprang forward to it and raced with it toward the farther goal.

Lydia turned her back; he might go on playing, but as for her she no longer had any heart for skating—for any of her pretty tricks. She sat down and took off her skates and then went, carrying them, forlornly to the club-house. Her eyes were wet with tears of anger and sorrow; but to her grieved, astounded senses Floyd turning from her, not broken-hearted and bowed down, but springing to play a game,—that was the Floyd she could not forgive. He had declared an arrogant confidence in his power over her and then—then he had spurned her!

A month later Floyd had his barren triumph. Lydia went abroad; in February she and Stewart were married. Mr. Dunbar, who journeyed over for the wedding and returned the week after it, announced to his friends lugubriously that his daughter had taken affairs into her own hands; he deplored the impatience that had insisted on a ceremony in a comparatively heathen land and a foreign tongue. At the same time he did not conceal a certain pride in such unconventional independence. "It's romance," he said to Floyd one day, meeting him at luncheon at the club. "They could n't wait. A year's housekeeping in Paris—I suppose an old fellow like me can't see the glamour of it. Mrs. Dunbar's staying over a couple of months to get them started right." He sighed a little over the vanished dream of a wedding at home—a wedding on which, as he said, he would have liked to lay himself out. "I'd almost got her to thinking that was what she wanted,—after another year," he complained. "She changed her mind suddenly."

"She was afraid—she was afraid of me, after all," thought Floyd. And that was his barren triumph.

In June of that year Letty and Hugh Farrell were married; at the wedding-supper at Mrs. Bell's—which Floyd had begged as a great privilege to be allowed to supply—he was the gayest of the party. He proposed the health of the bride and groom in a speech which the New Rome Gazette of that week, in its extensive comment upon the affair, declared to be "replete with witticisms." He distributed the rice with which the fleeing couple were pelted, and he himself hurled the slipper that landed on the roof of the carriage as they were driven away.

After the guests had dispersed and Mrs. Bell, who at the last had given way to tears, had been comforted, Floyd went up to his room to finish his packing. He had marked a period in his life. His work as a laborer in the mills was at an end. He was leaving forever the lowly people who had been his companions for a year; his friends they might always be, but never again his companions. He had failed in love; but failure, even in this, must not always cloud his face. The sound of Mrs. Bell moving about below in the lonely house, the thought of Letty and Hugh sitting together in their bedecked carriage made him feel somehow that in friendship at least he had not failed. What he had accomplished or gained, how he advanced to meet the future, he did not know; a year had passed and he had set up before him no definite mark for ambition. Under this deficiency he had sometimes chafed, fearing that it denoted a weakness; now he went forth to his freedom with humility and blind hope.