Payment in Full by Robert Herrick

The two black horses attached to the light buggy were chafing in the crisp October air. Their groom was holding them stiffly, as if bolted to the ground, in the approved fashion insisted upon by the mistress of the house. Old Stuart eyed them impatiently from the tower window of the breakfast-room where he was smoking his first cigar; Mrs. Stuart held him in a vise of astounding words.

"They will need not only the lease of a house in London for two years, but a great deal of money besides," she continued in even tones, ignoring his impatience.

"I've done enough for 'em already," the old fellow protested, drawing on his driving gloves over knotted hands stained by age.

Mrs. Stuart rustled the letter that lay, with its envelope, beside her untouched plate. It bore the flourishes of a foreign hotel and a foreign-looking stamp.

"My mother writes that their summer in Wiesbaden has made it surer that Lord Raincroft is interested in Helen. It is evidently a matter of time. I say two years—it may be less."

"Well," her husband broke in. "Haven't they enough to live on?"

"At my marriage," elucidated Mrs. Stuart, imperturbably, "you settled on them securities which yield about five thousand a year. That does not give them the means to take the position which I expect for my family in such a crisis. They must have a large house, must entertain lavishly," she swept an impassive hand toward him in royal emphasis, "and do all that that set expects—to meet them as equals. You could not imagine that Lord Raincroft would marry Helen out of a pension?"

"I don't care a damn how he marries her, or if he marries her at all." He rose, testily. "I guess my family would have thought five thousand a year enough to marry the gals on, and to spare, and it was more'n you ever had in your best days."

"Naturally," her voice showed scorn at his perverse lack of intelligence. "Out contract was made with that understanding."

"Let Helen marry a feller who is willing to go half way for her without a palace. Why didn't you encourage her marrying Blake, as smart a young man as I ever had? She was taken enough with him."

"Because I did not think it fit for my sister to marry your junior partner, who, five years ago, was your best floor-walker."

"Well, Blake is a college-educated man and a hustler. He's bound to get on if I back him. If Blake weren't likely enough, there's plenty more in Chicago like me—smart business men who want a handsome young wife."

"Perhaps we have had enough of Stuart, Hodgson, and Blake. There are other careers in the world outside Chicago."

"Tut, tut! I ain't going to fight here all day. What's the figure?
What's the figure?" He slapped his breeches with the morning paper.

"You will have to take the house in London (the Duke of Waminster's is to let, mamma writes), and give them two hundred thousand dollars in addition to their present income for the two years." She let her eyes fall on his toast and coffee. The old man turned about galvanically and peered at her.

"You're crazy! two hundred thousand these times, so's your sister can get married?"

"She's the last," interposed Mrs. Stuart, deftly.

"I tell you I've done more than most men. I've paid your old bills, your whole family's, your brothers' in college, to the tune of five thousand a year (worthless scamps!) and put 'em in business. You've had all of 'em at Newport and Paris, let alone their living here off and on nearly twenty years. Now you think I can shell out two hundred thousand and a London house as easily as I'd buy pop-corn."

"It was our understanding." Mrs. Stuart began on her breakfast.

"Not much. I've done better by you than I agreed to, because you've been a good wife to me. I settled a nice little fortune on you independent of your widder's rights or your folks."

"Your daughter will benefit by that," Mrs. Stuart corrected.

"Well, what's that to do with it?" He seemed to lose the scent.

"What was our understanding when I agreed to marry you?"

"I've done more'n I promised, I tell you."

"As you very well know, I married you because my family were in desperate circumstances. Our understanding was that I should be a good wife, and you were to make my family comfortable according to my views. Isn't that right?"

The old man blanched at this businesslike presentation; his voice grew feebler.

"And I have, Beatty. I have! I've done everything by you I promised. And I built this great house and another at Newport, and you ain't never satisfied."

"That was our agreement, then," she continued, without mercy. "I was just nineteen, and wise, for a girl, and you had forty-seven pretty wicked years. There wasn't any nonsense between us. I was a stunning girl, the most talked about in New York at that time. I was to be a good wife, and we weren't to have any words. Have I kept my promise?"

"Yes, you've been a good woman, Beatty, better'n I deserved. But won't you take less, say fifty thousand?" He advanced conciliatorily. "That's an awful figure!"

His wife rose, composed as ever and stately in her well-sustained forty years.

"Do you think any price is too great in payment for these twenty-one years?" Contempt crept in. "Not one dollar less, two hundred thousand, and I cable mamma to-day."

Stuart shrivelled up.

"Do you refuse?" she remarked, lightly, for he stood irresolutely near the door.

"I won't stand that!" and he went out.

When he had left Mrs. Stuart went on with her breakfast; a young woman Came in hastily from the hall, where she had bade her father good-by. She stood in the window watching the coachman surrender the horses to the old man. The groom moved aside quickly, and in a moment the two horses shot nervously through the ponderous iron gateway. The delicate wheels just grazed the stanchions, lifting the light buggy in the air to a ticklish angle. It righted itself and plunged down the boulevard. Fast horses and cigars were two of the few pleasures still left the old store-keeper. There was another—a costly one—which was not always forthcoming.

Miss Stuart watched the groom close the ornate iron gates, and then turned inquiringly to her mother.

"What's up with papa?"

Mrs. Stuart went on with her breakfast in silence. She was superbly preserved, and queenly for an American woman. It seemed as if something had stayed the natural decay of her powers, of her person, and had put her always at this impassive best. Something had stopped her heart to render her passionless, and thus to embalm her for long years of mechanical activity. She would not decay, but when her time should come she would merely stop—the spring would snap.

The daughter had her mother's height and her dark coloring. But her large, almost animal eyes, and her roughly moulded hands spoke of some homely, prairie inheritance. Her voice was timid and hesitating.

At last Mrs. Stuart, her mail and breakfast exhausted at the same moment, Rose to leave the room.

"Oh, Edith," she remarked, authoritatively, "if you happen to drive down town this morning, will you tell your father that we are going to Winetka for a few weeks? Or telephone him, if you find it more convenient. And send the boys to me. Miss Bates will make all arrangements. I think there is a train about three."

"Why, mamma, you don't mean to stay there! I thought we were to be here all winter. And my lessons at the Art Institute?"

Mrs. Stuart smiled contemptuously. "Lessons at the Art Institute are not the most pressing matter for my daughter, who is about to come out. You can amuse yourself with golf and tennis as long as they last. Then, perhaps, you will have a chance to continue your lessons in Paris."

"And papa!" protested the daughter, "I thought he couldn't leave this winter?"

Mrs. Stuart smiled again provokingly. "Yes?"

"Oh, I can't understand!" Her pleading was almost passionate, but still low and sweet. "I want so much to go on with my lessons with the other girls. And I want to go out here with all the girls I know."

"We will have them at Winetka. And Stuyvesant Wheelright—you liked him last summer."

The girl colored deeply. "I don't want him in the house. I had rather go away. I'll go to Vassar with Mary Archer. You needn't hunt up any man for me."

"Pray, do you think I would tolerate a college woman in my house? It's well enough for school-teachers. And what does your painting amount to? You will paint sufficiently well, I dare say, to sell a few daubs, and so take the bread and butter from some poor girl. But I am afraid, my dear, we couldn't admit your pictures to the gallery."

The girl's eyes grew tearful at this tart disdain. "I love it, and papa has money enough to let me paint 'daubs' as long as I like. Please, please let me go on with it!"

* * * * *

That afternoon the little caravan started for the deserted summer home at Winetka, on a high bluff above the sandy lake-shore. It had been bought years before, when not even the richest citizens dreamed of going East for the summer. Of late it had been used only rarely, in the autumn or late spring, or as a retreat in which to rusticate the boys with their tutor. When filled with a large house-party, it made a jolly place, though not magnificent enough for the developed hospitalities of Mrs. Stuart.

Old Stuart came home to an empty palace. He had not believed that his reserved wife would take such high measures, and he felt miserably lonely after the usual round of elaborate dinners to which he had grown grumblingly accustomed. His one senile passion was his pride in her, and he was avaricious of the lost days while she was absent from her usual victorious post as the mistress of that great house. The next day his heart sank still lower, for he saw in the Sunday papers a little paragraph to the effect that Mrs. Stuart had invited a brilliant house-party to her autumn home in Winetka, and that it was rumored she and her lovely young daughter would spend the winter in London with their relatives. It made the old man angry, for he could see with what deliberation she had planned for a long campaign. Even the comforts of his club were denied him; everyone knew him and everyone smiled at the little domestic disturbance. So he asked his secretary, young Spencer, to make his home for the present in the sprawling, brand-new "palace" that frowned out on the South Boulevard. Young Spencer accepted, out of pity for the old man; for he wasn't a toady and he knew his own worth.

People did talk in the clubs and elsewhere about the divided establishments. It would have been worse had the division come earlier, as had been predicted often enough, or had Mrs. Stuart ever given in her younger days a handle for any gossip. But her conduct had been so frigidly correct that it stood in good service at this crisis. She would not have permitted a scandal. That also was in the contract.

Of course there was communication between the two camps, the gay polo-playing, dinner-giving household on the bluff, and the forlorn, tottering old man with his one aide-de-camp, the blithe young secretary. Now and then the sons would turn up at the offices down-town, amiably expectant of large checks. Stuart grimly referred them to their mother. He had some vague idea of starving the opposition out, but his wife's funds were large and her credit, as long as there should be no recognized rupture, perfect.

The daughter, Edith, frequently established connections. In some way she had got permission to take her lessons at the Art Institute. Her mother's open contempt for her aesthetic impulses had ruined her illusion about her ability, for Mrs. Stuart knew her ground in painting. But she still loved the atmosphere of the great studio-room at the Art Institute. She liked the poor girls and the Western bohemianism and the queer dresses, and above all she liked to linger over her own little easel, undisturbed by the creative flurry around, dreaming of woods and soft English gardens and happy hours along a river where the water went gently, tenderly, on to the sea. And her sweet eyes, large and black like her mother's, but softer and gentler, to go with her low voice, would moisten a bit from the dream. "So nice," he would murmur to her picture, "to sit here and think of the quiet and rest, such as good pictures always paint. I'd like not to go back with Thomas to the train—to Winetka where they play polo and dress up and dance and flirt, but to sail away over the sea——"

Then her eyes would see in the purplish light of her picture a certain face that meant another life. She would blush to herself, and her voice would stop. For she couldn't think aloud about him.

Some days, when the murky twilight came on early, she would steal away altogether from the gay party in Winetka and spend the night with her lonely father. They would have a queer, stately dinner for three served in the grand dining-room by the English butler and footman. Stuart never had much to say to her; she wasn't his "smart," queenly wife who brought all people to her feet. When he came to his cigar and his whiskey, she would take young Spencer to the gallery, where they discussed the new French pictures, very knowingly, Spencer thought. She would describe for him the intricacies of a color-scheme of some tender Diaz, and that would lead them into the leafy woods about Barbizon and other realms of sentiment.

When they returned to the library she would feel that there were compensations for this dreary separation at Winetka and that her enormous home had never been so nice and comfortable before. As she bade the two men good-night, her father would come to the door, rubbing his eyes and forlorn over his great loss, and to her murmured "Good-night" he would sigh, "so like her mother." "Quite the softest voice in the world," thought Spencer.

Once in her old little tower room that she still preferred to keep, covered with her various attempts at sea, and sky, and forest, she was blissfully conscious of independence, so far from Stuyvesant Wheelright and his mother—quite an ugly old dame with no better manners than the plain Chicago people (who despised them all as "pork-packers" and "shop-keepers," nevertheless).

On one of these visits late in October, Edith had found her father ailing from a cold. He asked her, shamefacedly, to tell her mother that "he was very bad." Mrs. Stuart, leaving the house-party in full go, started at once for the town-house. Old Stuart had purposely stayed at home on the chances that his wife would relent. When she came in, she found him lying in the same morning-room, where hostilities had begun three months before. He grew confused, like an erring school-boy, as his wife kissed him and asked after his health in a neutral sort of way. He made out that he was threatened with a complication of diseases that might finally end him.

"Well, what can I do for you now," Mrs. Stuart said, with business-like directness.

"Spencer's looking after things pretty much. He's honest and faithful, but he ain't got any head like yours, Beatty, and times are awful hard. People won't pay rents, and I don't dare to throw 'em out. Stores and houses would lie empty these days. Then there's the North Shore Electric—I was a fool to go in so heavy the Fair year and tie up all my money. I s'pose you know the bonds ain't reached fifty this fall. I'm not so tremendously wealthy as folks think."

Mrs. Stuart exactly comprehended this sly speech; she knew also that there was some truth in it.

"Say, Beatty, it's so nice to have you here!" The old man raised himself and capered about like a gouty old house-dog.

He made the most of his illness, for he suspected that it was a condition of truce, not a bond of peace. While he was in bed Mrs. Stuart drove to the city each day and, with Spencer's help, conducted business for long hours. She had had experience in managing large charities; she knew people, and when a tenant could pay, with a little effort, he found Madam more pitiless than the old shop-keeper. Every afternoon she would take her stenographer to Stuart's room and consult with him.

"Ain't she a wonder?" the old man would exclaim to Spencer, in new admiration for his wife. And Spencer, watching the stately, authoritative woman day after day as she worked quickly, exactly, with the repose and dignity of a perfect machine, shivered back an unwilling assent.

"She's marvellous!"

All accidents played into the hands of this masterful woman. Her own presence in town kept her daughter at Winetka en evidence for Stuyvesant Wheelright and Mrs. Wheelright. For Mrs. Stuart had determined upon him as, on the whole, the most likely arrangement that she could make. He was American, but of the best, and Mrs. Stuart was wise enough to prefer the domestic aristocracy. So to her mind affairs were not going badly. The truce would conclude ultimately in a senile capitulation; meantime, she could advance money for the household in London.

When Stuart had been nursed back into comparative activity, the grand dinners began once more—a convenient rebuttal for all gossip. The usual lists of distinguished strangers, wandering English story-tellers in search of material for a new "shilling shocker," artists suing to paint her or "Mademoiselle l'Inconnue," crept from time to time into the genial social column of the newspaper.

Stuart spent the evenings in state on a couch at the head of the drawing-room, where he usually remained until the guests departed. In this way he got a few words with his wife before she sent him to bed. One night his enthusiasm over her bubbled out.

"You're a great woman, Beatty!" She looked a little pale, but otherwise unworn by her laborious month. It was not blood that fed those even pulses.

"You will not need my help now. You can see to your business yourself," she remarked.

"Say, Beatty, you won't leave me again, will you!" he quavered, beseechingly. "I need you these last years; 'twon't be for long."

"Oh, you are strong and quite well again," she asserted, not unkindly.

"Will a hundred thousand do?" he pleaded. "Times are bad and ready money is scarce, as you know."

"Sell the electric bonds," she replied, sitting down, as if to settle the matter.

"Sell them bonds at fifty?" The old shop-keeper grew red in the face.

"What's that!" she remarked, disdainfully. "What have I given?" Her husband said nothing. "As I told you when we first talked the matter over, I have done my part to the exact letter of the law. You admit I have been a good and faithful wife, don't you? You know," a note of passion crept into her colorless voice, "You know that there hasn't been a suggestion of scandal with our home. I married you, young, beautiful, admired; I am handsome now." She drew herself up disdainfully. "I have not wanted for opportunity, I think you might know; but not one man in all the world can boast I have dropped an eyelash for his words. Not one syllable of favor have I given any man but you. Am I not right?"

Stuart nodded.

"Then what do you haggle for over a few dollars? Have I ever given you reason to repent our arrangement? Have I not helped you in business, in social matters put you where you never could go by yourself? And do you think my price is high?"

"Money is so scarce," Stuart protested, feebly.

"Suppose it left you only half a million, all told! What's that, in comparison to what I have given? Think of that. I don't complain, but you know we women estimate things differently. And when we sell ourselves, we name the price; and it matters little how big it is,"

Her scorn pierced the old man's somewhat leathery sensibilities.

"Well, if it's a question of price, when is it going to end—when shall
I have paid up? Next year you'll want half a million hard cash."

"There is no end."

The next morning, Mrs. Stuart returned to Winetka; the rupture threatened to prolong itself indefinitely. Stuart found it hard to give in completely, and it made him sore to think that their marriage had remained a business matter for over twenty years. And yet it was hard to face death without all the satisfaction money could buy him. The crisis came, however, in an unexpected manner.

One morning Stuart found his daughter waiting for him at his office.
She had slipped away from Winetka, and taken an early train.

"What's up, Ede?"

"Oh, papa!" the young girl gasped "They make me so unhappy, every day, and I can't stand it. Mamma wants me to marry Stuyvesant Wheelright, and he's there all the time."

"Who's he?" Stuart asked, sharply. His daughter explained briefly.

"He is what mamma calls 'eligible'; he is a great swell in New York, and I don't like him. Oh, papa, I can't be a grande dame, like mamma, can I? Won't you tell her so, papa? Make up with her; pay her the money she wants for Aunt Helen, and then perhaps she'll let me paint."

"No, you're not the figure your mother is, and never will be," Stuart said, almost slightingly. "I don't think, Ede, you'll ever make a great lady like her."

"I don't think she is very happy," the girl bridled, in her own defence.

"Well, perhaps not, perhaps not. But who do you want to marry, anyway?
You had better marry someone, Ede, 'fore I die."

"I don't know—that is, it doesn't matter much just now. I should like to go to California, perhaps, with the Stearns girls. I want to paint, just daubs, you know—I can't do any better. But you tell mamma I can't be a great swell. I shouldn't be happy, either."'

The old man resolved to yield. That very afternoon he drove out to Winetka along the lake shore. He had himself gotten up in his stiffest best. He held the reins high and tight, his body erect in the approved form; while now and then he glanced back to see if the footmen were as rigid as my lady demanded. For Mrs. Stuart loved good form, and he felt nervously apprehensive, as if he were again suing for her maiden favors. He was conscious, too, that he had little enough to offer her—the last months had brought humility. Beside him young Spencer lolled, enjoying, with a free heart, his day off in the gentle, spring-like air. Perhaps he divined that his lady would not need so much propitiation.

They surprised a party just setting forth from the Winetka house as they drove up with a final flourish. Their unexpected arrival scattered the guests into little, curious groups; everyone anticipated immediate dissolution. They speculated on the terms, and the opinion prevailed that Stuart's expedition from town indicated complete surrender. Meanwhile Stuart asked for an immediate audience, and husband and wife went up at once to Mrs. Stuart's little library facing out over the bluff that descended to the lake.

"Well, Beatty," old Stuart cried, without preliminary effort, "I just can't live without you—that's the whole of it." She smiled. "I ain't much longer to live, and then you're to have it all. So why shouldn't you take what you want now?" He drew out several checks from his pocket-book.

"You can cable your folks at once and go ahead. You've been the best sort of wife, as you said, and—I guess I owe you more'n I've paid for your puttin' up with an old fellow like me all these years."

Mrs. Stuart had a new sensation of pity for his pathetic surrender.

"There's one thing, Beatty," he continued, "so long as I live you'll own I oughter rule in my own house, manage the boys, and that." Mrs. Stuart nodded. "Now I want you to come back with me and break up this party."

Mrs. Stuart took the checks.

"You've made it a bargain, Beatty. You said I was to pay your family what you wanted, and you were to obey me at that price?"

"Well," replied Mrs. Stuart, good-humoredly. "We'll all go up to-morrow. Isn't that early enough?"

"That ain't all, Beatty. You can't make everybody over; you couldn't brush me up much; you can't make a grand lady out of Edith."

Mrs. Stuart looked up inquiringly.

"Now you've had your way about your family, and I want you to let Ede alone."

"Why?"

"She doesn't want that Wheelright fellow, and if you think it over you'll see that she couldn't do as you have. She ain't the sort."

Mrs. Stuart twitched at the checks nervously.

"I sort of think Spencer wants her; in fact, he said so coming out here."

"Impertinent puppy!"

"And I told him he could have her, if she wanted him. I don't think I should like to see another woman of mine live the sort of life you have with me. It's hard on 'em." His voice quivered.

Beatrice, Lady Stuart of Winetka, as they called her, stood silently looking out to the lake, reviewing "the sort of life she had lived" from the time she had made up her mind to take the shop-keeper's millions to this moment of concession. It was a grim panorama, and she realized now that it had not meant complete satisfaction to either party. Her twenty or more frozen years made her uncomfortable. While they waited, young Spencer and Miss Stuart came slowly up the terraced bluff.

"Well, John," Mrs. Stuart smiled kindly. "I think this is the last payment,—in full. Let's go down to congratulate them."

CHICAGO, March, 1895.