In Trust by Edith Wharton
IN the good days, just after we all left college, Ned Halidon and I
used to listen, laughing and smoking, while Paul Ambrose set forth his
They were immense, these plans, involving, as it sometimes seemed, the
ultimate aesthetic redemption of the whole human race; and
provisionally restoring the sense of beauty to those unhappy millions
of our fellow country-men who, as Ambrose movingly pointed out, now
live and die in surroundings of unperceived and unmitigated ugliness.
"I want to bring the poor starved wretches back to their lost
inheritance, to the divine past they've thrown away—I want to make 'em
hate ugliness so that they'll smash nearly everything in sight," he
would passionately exclaim, stretching his arms across the shabby
black-walnut writing-table and shaking his thin consumptive fist in the
fact of all the accumulated ugliness in the world.
"You might set the example by smashing that table," I once suggested
with youthful brutality; and Paul, pulling himself up, cast a surprised
glance at me, and then looked slowly about the parental library, in
which we sat.
His parents were dead, and he had inherited the house in Seventeenth
Street, where his grandfather Ambrose had lived in a setting of black
walnut and pier glasses, giving Madeira dinners, and saying to his
guests, as they rejoined the ladies across a florid waste of Aubusson
carpet: "This, sir, is Dabney's first study for the Niagara—the
Grecian Slave in the bay window was executed for me in Rome twenty
years ago by my old friend Ezra Stimpson—" by token of which he passed
for a Maecenas in the New York of the 'forties,' and a poem had once
been published in the Keepsake or the Book of Beauty "On a picture in
the possession of Jonathan Ambrose, Esqre."
Since then the house had remained unchanged. Paul's father, a frugal
liver and hard-headed manipulator of investments, did not inherit old
Jonathan's artistic sensibilities, and was content to live and die in
the unmodified black walnut and red rep of his predecessor. It was only
in Paul that the grandfather's aesthetic faculty revived, and Mrs.
Ambrose used often to say to her husband, as they watched the little
pale-browed boy poring over an old number of the Art Journal: "Paul
will know how to appreciate your father's treasures."
In recognition of these transmitted gifts Paul, on leaving Harvard, was
sent to Paris with a tutor, and established in a studio in which
nothing was ever done. He could not paint, and recognized the fact
early enough to save himself much wasted labor and his friends many
painful efforts in dissimulation. But he brought back a touching
enthusiasm for the forms of beauty which an old civilization had
revealed to him and an apostolic ardour in the cause of their
He had paused in his harangue to take in my ill-timed parenthesis, and
the color mounted slowly to his thin cheek-bones.
"It is an ugly room," he owned, as though he had noticed the library
for the first time.
The desk was carved at the angles with the heads of helmeted knights
with long black-walnut moustaches. The red cloth top was worn
thread-bare, and patterned like a map with islands and peninsulas of
ink; and in its centre throned a massive bronze inkstand representing a
Syrian maiden slumbering by a well beneath a palm-tree.
"The fact is," I said, walking home that evening with Ned Halidon, "old
Paul will never do anything, for the simple reason that he's too
Ned, who was an idealist, shook his handsome head. "It's not that, my
dear fellow. He simply doesn't see things when they're too close to
him. I'm glad you woke him up to that desk."
The next time I dined with Paul he said, when we entered the library,
and I had gently rejected one of his cheap cigars in favour of a
superior article of my own: "Look here, I've been looking round for a
decent writing-table. I don't care, as a rule, to turn out old things,
especially when they've done good service, but I see now that this is
"For an apostle of beauty to write his evangel on," I agreed, "it is
a little inappropriate, except as an awful warning."
Paul colored. "Well, but, my dear fellow, I'd no idea how much a table
of this kind costs. I find I can't get anything decent—the plainest
mahogany—under a hundred and fifty." He hung his head, and pretended
not to notice that I was taking out my own cigar.
"Well, what's a hundred and fifty to you?" I rejoined. "You talk as if
you had to live on a book-keeper's salary, with a large family to
He smiled nervously and twirled the ring on his thin finger. "I know—I
know—that's all very well. But for twenty tables that I don't buy I
can send some fellow abroad and unseal his eyes."
"Oh, hang it, do both!" I exclaimed impatiently; but the writing-table
was never bought. The library remained as it was, and so did the
contention between Halidon and myself, as to whether this inconsistent
acceptance of his surroundings was due, on our friend's part, to a
congenital inability to put his hand in his pocket, or to a real
unconsciousness of the ugliness that happened to fall inside his point
"But he owned that the table was ugly," I agreed.
"Yes, but not till you'd called his attention to the fact; and I'll
wager he became unconscious of it again as soon as your back was
"Not before he'd had time to look at a lot of others, and make up his
mind that he couldn't afford to buy one."
"That was just his excuse. He'd rather be thought mean than insensible
to ugliness. But the truth is that he doesn't mind the table and is
used to it. He knows his way about the drawers."
"But he could get another with the same number of drawers."
"Too much trouble," argued Halidon.
"Too much money," I persisted.
"Oh, hang it, now, if he were mean would he have founded three
travelling scholarships and be planning this big Academy of Arts?"
"Well, he's mean to himself, at any rate."
"Yes; and magnificently, royally generous to all the world besides!"
Halidon exclaimed with one of his great flushes of enthusiasm.
But if, on the whole, the last word remained with Halidon, and
Ambrose's personal chariness seemed a trifling foible compared to his
altruistic breadth of intention, yet neither of us could help
observing, as time went on, that the habit of thrift was beginning to
impede the execution of his schemes of art-philanthropy. The three
travelling scholarships had been founded in the first blaze of his
ardour, and before the personal management of his property had awakened
in him the sleeping instincts of parsimony. But as his capital
accumulated, and problems of investment and considerations of interest
began to encroach upon his visionary hours, we saw a gradual arrest in
the practical development of his plan.
"For every thousand dollars he talks of spending on his work, I believe
he knocks off a cigar, or buys one less newspaper," Halidon grumbled
affectionately; "but after all," he went on, with one of the quick
revivals of optimism that gave a perpetual freshness to his spirit,
"after all, it makes one admire him all the more when one sees such a
nature condemned to be at war with the petty inherited instinct of
Still, I could see it was a disappointment to Halidon that the great
project of the Academy of Arts should languish on paper long after all
its details had been discussed and settled to the satisfaction of the
projector, and of the expert advisers he had called in council.
"He's quite right to do nothing in a hurry—to take advice and compare
ideas and points of view—to collect and classify his material in
advance," Halidon argued, in answer to a taunt of mine about Paul's
perpetually reiterated plea that he was still waiting for So-and-so's
report; "but now that the plan's mature—and such a plan! You'll
grant it's magnificent?—I should think he'd burn to see it carried
out, instead of pottering over it till his enthusiasm cools and the
whole business turns stale on his hands."
That summer Ambrose went to Europe, and spent his holiday in a frugal
walking-tour through Brittany. When he came back he seemed refreshed by
his respite from business cares and from the interminable revision of
his cherished scheme; while contact with the concrete manifestations of
beauty had, as usual, renewed his flagging ardour.
"By Jove," he cried, "whenever I indulged my unworthy eyes in a long
gaze at one of those big things—picture or church or statue—I kept
saying to myself: 'You lucky devil, you, to be able to provide such a
sight as that for eyes that can make some good use of it! Isn't it
better to give fifty fellows a chance to paint or carve or build, than
to be able to daub canvas or punch clay in a corner all by yourself?'"
"Well," I said, when he had worked off his first ebullition, "when is
the foundation stone to be laid?"
His excitement dropped. "The foundation stone—?"
"When are you going to touch the electric button that sets the thing
Paul, with his hands in his sagging pockets, began to pace the library
hearth-rug—I can see him now, setting his shabby red slippers between
its ramified cabbages.
"My dear fellow, there are one or two points to be considered
still—one or two new suggestions I picked up over there—"
I sat silent, and he paused before me, flushing to the roots of his
thin hair. "You think I've had time enough—that I ought to have put
the thing through before this? I suppose you're right; I can see that
even Ned Halidon thinks so; and he has always understood my
difficulties better than you have."
This insinuation exasperated me. "Ned would have put it through years
ago!" I broke out.
Paul pulled at his straggling moustache. "You mean he has more
executive capacity? More—no, it's not that; he's not afraid to spend
money, and I am!" he suddenly exclaimed.
He had never before alluded to this weakness to either of us, and I sat
abashed, suffering from his evident distress. But he remained planted
before me, his little legs wide apart, his eyes fixed on mine in an
agony of voluntary self-exposure.
"That's my trouble, and I know it. Big sums frighten me—I can't look
them in the face. By George, I wish Ned had the carrying out of this
scheme—I wish he could spend my money for me!" His face was lit by the
reflection of a passing thought. "Do you know, I shouldn't wonder if I
dropped out of the running before either of you chaps, and in case I do
I've half a mind to leave everything in trust to Halidon, and let him
put the job through for me."
"Much better have your own fun with it," I retorted; but he shook his
head, saying with a sigh as he turned away: "It's not fun to
me—that's the worst of it."
Halidon, to whom I could not help repeating our talk, was amused and
touched by his friend's thought.
"Heaven knows what will become of the scheme, if Paul doesn't live to
carry it out. There are a lot of hungry Ambrose cousins who will make
one gulp of his money, and never give a dollar to the work. Jove, it
would be a fine thing to have the carrying out of such a plan—but
he'll do it yet, you'll see he'll do it yet!" cried Ned, his old faith
in his friend flaming up again through the wet blanket of fact.
PAUL AMBROSE did not die and leave his fortune to Halidon, but the
following summer he did something far more unexpected. He went abroad
again, and came back married. Now our busy fancy had never seen Paul
married. Even Ned recognized the vague unlikelihood of such a
"He'd stick at the parson's fee—not to mention the best man's
scarf-pin. And I should hate," Ned added sentimentally, "to see 'the
touch of a woman's hand' desecrate the sublime ugliness of the
ancestral home. Think of such a house made 'cozy'!"
But when the news came he would own neither to surprise nor to
"Goodbye, poor Academy!" I exclaimed, tossing over the bridegroom's
eight-page rhapsody to Halidon, who had received its duplicate by the
"Now, why the deuce do you say that?" he growled. "I never saw such a
beast as you are for imputing mean motives."
To defend myself from this accusation I put out my hand and recovered
"Here: listen to this. 'Studying art in Paris when I met her—"the
vision and the faculty divine, but lacking the accomplishment," etc....
A little ethereal profile, like one of Piero della Francesca's angels
... not rich, thank heaven, but not afraid of money, and already
enamored of my project for fertilizing my sterile millions...'"
"Well, why the deuce—?" Ned began again, as though I had convicted
myself out of my friend's mouth; and I could only grumble obscurely:
"It's all too pat."
He brushed aside my misgivings. "Thank heaven, she can't paint, any
how. And now that I think of it, Paul's just the kind of chap who ought
to have a dozen children."
"Ah, then indeed: goodbye, poor Academy!" I croaked.
The lady was lovely, of that there could be no doubt; and if Paul now
for a time forgot the Academy, his doing so was but a vindication of
his sex. Halidon had only a glimpse of the returning couple before he
was himself snatched up in one of the chariots of adventure that seemed
perpetually waiting at his door. This time he was going to the far East
in the train of a "special mission," and his head was humming with new
hopes and ardors; but he had time for a last word with me about Ambrose.
"You'll see—you'll see!" he summed up hopefully as we parted; and what
I was to see was, of course, the crowning pinnacle of the Academy
lifting itself against the horizon of the immediate future.
It was in the nature of things that I should, meanwhile, see less than
formerly of the projector of that unrealized structure. Paul had a
personal dread of society, but he wished to show his wife to the world,
and I was not often a spectator on these occasions. Paul indeed, good
fellow, tried to maintain the pretense of an unbroken intercourse, and
to this end I was asked to dine now and then; but when I went I found
guests of a new type, who, after dinner, talked of sport and stocks,
while their host blinked at them silently through the smoke of his
The first innovation that struck me was a sudden improvement in the
quality of the cigars. Was this Daisy's doing? (Mrs. Ambrose was
Daisy.) It was hard to tell—she produced her results so noiselessly.
With her fair bent head and vague smile, she seemed to watch life flow
by without, as yet, trusting anything of her own to its current. But
she was watching, at any rate, and anything might come of that. Such
modifications as she produced were as yet almost imperceptible to any
but the trained observer. I saw that Paul wished her to be well
dressed, but also that he suffered her to drive in a hired brougham,
and to have her door opened by the raw-boned Celt who had bumped down
the dishes on his bachelor table. The drawing-room curtains were
renewed, but this change served only to accentuate the enormities of
the carpet, and perhaps discouraged Mrs. Ambrose from farther
experiments. At any rate, the desecrating touch that Halidon had
affected to dread made no other inroads on the serried ugliness of the
In the early summer, when Ned returned, the Ambroses had flown to
Europe again—and the Academy was still on paper.
"Well, what do you make of her?" the traveller asked, as we sat over
our first dinner together.
"Too many things—and they don't hang together. Perhaps she's still in
the chrysalis stage."
"Has Paul chucked the scheme altogether?"
"No. He sent for me and we had a talk about it just before he sailed."
"And what impression did you get?"
"That he had waited to send for me till just before he sailed."
"Oh, there you go again!" I offered no denial, and after a pause he
asked: "Did she ever talk to you about it?"
"Yes. Once or twice—in snatches."
"She thinks it all too beautiful. She would like to see beauty put
within the reach of everyone."
"And the practical side—?"
"She says she doesn't understand business."
Halidon rose with a shrug. "Very likely you frightened her with your
ugly sardonic grin."
"It's not my fault if my smile doesn't add to the sum-total of beauty."
"Well," he said, ignoring me, "next winter we shall see."
But the next winter did not bring Ambrose back. A brief line, written
in November from the Italian lakes, told me that he had "a rotten
cough," and that the doctors were packing him off to Egypt. Would I see
the architects for him, and explain to the trustees? (The Academy
already had trustees, and all the rest of its official hierarchy.) And
would they all excuse his not writing more than a word? He was really
too groggy—but a little warm weather would set him up again, and he
would certainly come home in the spring.
He came home in the spring—in the hold of the ship, with his widow
several decks above. The funeral services were attended by all the
officers of the Academy, and by two of the young fellows who had won
the travelling scholarships, and who shed tears of genuine grief when
their benefactor was committed to the grave.
After that there was a pause of suspense—and then the newspapers
announced that the late Paul Ambrose had left his entire estate to his
widow. The board of the Academy dissolved like a summer cloud, and the
secretary lighted his pipe for a year with the official paper of the
After a decent lapse of time I called at the house in Seventeenth
Street, and found a man attaching a real-estate agent's sign to the
window and a van-load of luggage backing away from the door. The
care-taker told me that Mrs. Ambrose was sailing the next morning. Not
long afterward I saw the library table with the helmeted knights
standing before an auctioneer's door in University Place; and I looked
with a pang at the familiar ink-stains, in which I had so often traced
the geography of Paul's visionary world.
Halidon, who had picked up another job in the Orient, wrote me an
elegiac letter on Paul's death, ending with—"And what about the
Academy?" and for all answer I sent him a newspaper clipping recording
the terms of the will, and another announcing the sale of the house and
Mrs. Ambrose's departure for Europe.
Though Ned and I corresponded with tolerable regularity I received no
direct answer to this communication till about eighteen months later,
when he surprised me by a letter dated from Florence. It began: "Though
she tells me you have never understood her—" and when I had reached
that point I laid it down and stared out of my office window at the
chimney-pots and the dirty snow on the roof.
"Ned Halidon and Paul's wife!" I murmured; and, incongruously enough,
my next thought was: "I wish I'd bought the library table that day."
The letter went on with waxing eloquence: "I could not stand the money
if it were not that, to her as well as to me, it represents the sacred
opportunity of at last giving speech to his inarticulateness ..."
"Oh, damn it, they're too glib!" I muttered, dashing the letter down;
then, controlling my unreasoning resentment, I read on. "You remember,
old man, those words of his that you repeated to me three or four years
ago: 'I've half a mind to leave my money in trust to Ned'? Well, it
has come to me in trust—as if in mysterious fulfillment of his
thought; and, oh, dear chap—" I dashed the letter down again, and
plunged into my work.
"WON'T you own yourself a beast, dear boy?" Halidon asked me gently,
one afternoon of the following spring.
I had escaped for a six weeks' holiday, and was lying outstretched
beside him in a willow chair on the terrace of their villa above
My eyes turned from the happy vale at our feet to the illuminated face
beside me. A little way off, at the other end of the terrace, Mrs.
Halidon was bending over a pot of carnations on the balustrade.
"Oh, cheerfully," I assented.
"You see," he continued, glowing, "living here costs us next to
nothing, and it was quite her idea, our founding that fourth
scholarship in memory of Paul."
I had already heard of the fourth scholarship, but I may have betrayed
my surprise at the plural pronoun, for the blood rose under Ned's
sensitive skin, and he said with an embarrassed laugh: "Ah, she so
completely makes me forget that it's not mine too."
"Well, the great thing is that you both think of it chiefly as his."
"Oh, chiefly—altogether. I should be no more than a wretched parasite
if I didn't live first of all for that!"
Mrs. Halidon had turned and was advancing toward us with the slow step
of leisurely enjoyment. The bud of her beauty had at last unfolded: her
vague enigmatical gaze had given way to the clear look of the woman
whose hand is on the clue of life.
"She's not living for anything but her own happiness," I mused, "and
why in heaven's name should she? But Ned—"
"My wife," Halidon continued, his eyes following mine, "my wife feels
it too, even more strongly. You know a woman's sensitiveness.
She's—there's nothing she wouldn't do for his memory—because—in
other ways.... You understand," he added, lowering his tone as she drew
nearer, "that as soon as the child is born we mean to go home for good,
and take up his work—Paul's work."
Mrs. Halidon recovered slowly after the birth of her child: the return
to America was deferred for six months, and then again for a whole
year. I heard of the Halidons as established first at Biarritz, then in
Rome. The second summer Ned wrote me a line from St. Moritz. He said
the place agreed so well with his wife—who was still delicate—that
they were "thinking of building a house there: a mere cleft in the
rocks, to hide our happiness in when it becomes too exuberant"—and the
rest of the letter, very properly, was filled with a rhapsody upon his
little daughter. He spoke of her as Paula.
The following year the Halidons reappeared in New York, and I heard
with surprise that they had taken the Brereton house for the winter.
"Well, why not?" I argued with myself. "After all, the money is hers:
as far as I know the will didn't even hint at a restriction. Why should
I expect a pretty woman with two children" (for now there was an heir)
"to spend her fortune on a visionary scheme that its originator hadn't
the heart to carry out?"
"Yes," cried the devil's advocate—"but Ned?"
My first impression of Halidon was that he had thickened—thickened all
through. He was heavier, physically, with the ruddiness of good living
rather than of hard training; he spoke more deliberately, and had less
frequent bursts of subversive enthusiasm. Well, he was a father, a
householder—yes, and a capitalist now. It was fitting that his manner
should show a sense of these responsibilities. As for Mrs. Halidon, it
was evident that the only responsibilities she was conscious of were
those of the handsome woman and the accomplished hostess. She was
handsomer than ever, with her two babies at her knee—perfect mother as
she was perfect wife. Poor Paul! I wonder if he ever dreamed what a
flower was hidden in the folded bud?
Not long after their arrival, I dined alone with the Halidons, and
lingered on to smoke with Ned while his wife went alone to the opera.
He seemed dull and out of sorts, and complained of a twinge of gout.
"Fact is, I don't get enough exercise—I must look about for a horse."
He had gone afoot for a good many years, and kept his clear skin and
quick eye on that homely regimen—but I had to remind myself that,
after all, we were both older; and also that the Halidons had champagne
"How do you like these cigars? They're some I've just got out from
London, but I'm not quite satisfied with them myself," he grumbled,
pushing toward me the silver box and its attendant taper.
I leaned to the flame, and our eyes met as I lit my cigar. Ned flushed
and laughed uneasily. "Poor Paul! Were you thinking of those execrable
weeds of his?—I wonder how I knew you were? Probably because I have
been wanting to talk to you of our plan—I sent Daisy off alone so that
we might have a quiet evening. Not that she isn't interested, only the
technical details bore her."
I hesitated. "Are there many technical details left to settle?"
Halidon pushed his armchair back from the fire-light, and twirled his
cigar between his fingers. "I didn't suppose there were till I began to
look into things a little more closely. You know I never had much of a
head for business, and it was chiefly with you that Paul used to go
over the figures."
"There it is, you see." He paused. "Have you any idea how much this
thing is going to cost?"
"And have you any idea how much we—how much Daisy's fortune amounts
"None whatever," I hastened to assert.
He looked relieved. "Well, we simply can't do it—and live."
"Paul didn't live," he said impatiently. "I can't ask a woman with
two children to think of—hang it, she's under no actual obligation—"
He rose and began to walk the floor. Presently he paused and halted in
front of me, defensively, as Paul had once done years before. "It's not
that I've lost the sense of my obligation—it grows keener with the
growth of my happiness; but my position's a delicate one—"
"Ah, my dear fellow—"
"You do see it? I knew you would." (Yes, he was duller!) "That's the
point. I can't strip my wife and children to carry out a plan—a plan
so nebulous that even its inventor.... The long and short of it is that
the whole scheme must be re-studied, reorganized. Paul lived in a world
I rose and tossed my cigar into the fire. "There were some things he
never dreamed of," I said.
Halidon rose too, facing me uneasily. "You mean—?"
"That you would taunt him with not having spent that money."
He pulled himself up with darkening brows; then the muscles of his
forehead relaxed, a flush suffused it, and he held out his hand in
"I stand a good deal from you," he said.
He kept up his idea of going over the Academy question—threshing it
out once for all, as he expressed it; but my suggestion that we should
provisionally resuscitate the extinct board did not meet with his
"Not till the whole business is settled. I shouldn't have the
face—Wait till I can go to them and say: 'We're laying the
foundation-stone on such a day.'"
We had one or two conferences, and Ned speedily lost himself in a maze
of figures. His nimble fancy was recalcitrant to mental discipline, and
he excused his inattention with the plea that he had no head for
"All I know is that it's a colossal undertaking, and that short of
living on bread and water—" and then we turned anew to the hard
problem of retrenchment.
At the close of the second conference we fixed a date for a third, when
Ned's business adviser was to be called in; but before the day came, I
learned casually that the Halidons had gone south. Some weeks later Ned
wrote me from Florida, apologizing for his remissness. They had rushed
off suddenly—his wife had a cough, he explained.
When they returned in the spring, I heard that they had bought the
Brereton house, for what seemed to my inexperienced ears a very large
sum. But Ned, whom I met one day at the club, explained to me
convincingly that it was really the most economical thing they could
do. "You don't understand about such things, dear boy, living in your
Diogenes tub; but wait till there's a Mrs. Diogenes. I can assure you
it's a lot cheaper than building, which is what Daisy would have
preferred, and of course," he added, his color rising as our eyes met,
"of course, once the Academy's going, I shall have to make my
head-quarters here; and I suppose even you won't grudge me a roof over
The Brereton roof was a vast one, with a marble balustrade about it;
and I could quite understand, without Ned's halting explanation, that
"under the circumstances" it would be necessary to defer what he called
"our work—" "Of course, after we've rallied from this amputation, we
shall grow fresh supplies—I mean my wife's investments will," he
laughingly corrected, "and then we'll have no big outlays ahead and
shall know exactly where we stand. After all, my dear fellow, charity
begins at home!"
THE Halidons floated off to Europe for the summer. In due course their
return was announced in the social chronicle, and walking up Fifth
Avenue one afternoon I saw the back of the Brereton house sheathed in
scaffolding, and realized that they were adding a wing.
I did not look up Halidon, nor did I hear from him till the middle of
the winter. Once or twice, meanwhile, I had seen him in the back of his
wife's opera box; but Mrs. Halidon had grown so resplendent that she
reduced her handsome husband to a supernumerary. In January the papers
began to talk of the Halidon ball; and in due course I received a card
for it. I was not a frequenter of balls, and had no intention of going
to this one; but when the day came some obscure impulse moved me to set
aside my rule, and toward midnight I presented myself at Ned's
I shall never forget his look when I accosted him on the threshold of
the big new ballroom. With celibate egoism I had rather fancied he
would be gratified by my departure from custom; but one glance showed
me my mistake. He smiled warmly, indeed, and threw into his hand-clasp
an artificial energy of welcome—"You of all people—my dear fellow!
Have you seen Daisy?"—but the look behind the smile made me feel cold
in the crowded room.
Nor was Mrs. Halidon's greeting calculated to restore my circulation.
"Have you come to spy on us?" her frosty smile seemed to say; and I
crept home early, wondering if she had not found me out.
It was the following week that Halidon turned up one day in my office.
He looked pale and thinner, and for the first time I noticed a dash of
gray in his hair. I was startled at the change in him, but I reflected
that it was nearly a year since we had looked at each other by
daylight, and that my shaving-glass had doubtless a similar tale to
He fidgeted about the office, told me a funny story about his little
boy, and then dropped into a chair.
"Look here," he said, "I want to go into business."
"Business?" I stared.
"Well, why not? I suppose men have gone to work, even at my age, and
not made a complete failure of it. The fact is, I want to make some
money." He paused, and added: "I've heard of an opportunity to pick up
for next to nothing a site for the Academy, and if I could lay my hands
on a little cash—"
"Do you want to speculate?" I interposed.
"Heaven forbid! But don't you see that, if I had a fixed job—so much a
quarter—I could borrow the money and pay it off gradually?"
I meditated upon this astounding proposition. "Do you really think it's
wise to buy a site before—"
"Well—seeing ahead a little?"
His face fell for a moment, but he rejoined cheerfully: "It's an
exceptional chance, and after all, I shall see ahead if I can get
regular work. I can put by a little every month, and by and bye, when
our living expenses diminish, my wife means to come forward—her idea
would be to give the building—"
He broke off and drummed on the table, waiting nervously for me to
speak. He did not say on what grounds he still counted on a diminution
of his household expenses, and I had not the cruelty to press this
point; but I murmured, after a moment: "I think you're right—I should
try to buy the land."
We discussed his potentialities for work, which were obviously still an
unknown quantity, and the conference ended in my sending him to a firm
of real-estate brokers who were looking out for a partner with a little
money to invest. Halidon had a few thousands of his own, which he
decided to embark in the venture; and thereafter, for the remaining
months of the winter, he appeared punctually at a desk in the brokers'
office, and sketched plans of the Academy on the back of their business
paper. The site for the future building had meanwhile been bought, and
I rather deplored the publicity which Ned gave to the fact; but, after
all, since this publicity served to commit him more deeply, to pledge
him conspicuously to the completion of his task, it was perhaps a wise
instinct of self-coercion that had prompted him.
It was a dull winter in realty, and toward spring, when the market
began to revive, one of the Halidon children showed symptoms of a
delicate throat, and the fashionable doctor who humoured the family
ailments counselled—nay, commanded—a prompt flight to the
"He says a New York spring would be simply criminal—and as for those
ghastly southern places, my wife won't hear of them; so we're off. But
I shall be back in July, and I mean to stick to the office all summer."
He was true to his word, and reappeared just as all his friends were
deserting town. For two torrid months he sat at his desk, drawing fresh
plans of the Academy, and waiting for the wind-fall of a "big deal";
but in September he broke down from the effect of the unwonted
confinement, and his indignant wife swept him off to the mountains.
"Why Ned should work when we have the money—I wish he would sell that
wretched piece of land!" And sell it he did one day: I chanced on a
record of the transaction in the realty column of the morning paper. He
afterward explained the sale to me at length. Owing to some spasmodic
effort at municipal improvement, there had been an unforeseen rise in
the adjoining property, and it would have been foolish—yes, I agreed
that it would have been foolish. He had made $10,000 on the sale, and
that would go toward paying off what he had borrowed for the original
purchase. Meanwhile he could be looking about for another site.
Later in the winter he told me it was a bad time to look. His position
in the real-estate business enabled him to follow the trend of the
market, and that trend was obstinately upward. But of course there
would be a reaction—and he was keeping his eyes open.
As the resuscitated Academy scheme once more fell into abeyance, I saw
Halidon less and less frequently; and we had not met for several
months, when one day of June, my morning paper startled me with the
announcement that the President had appointed Edward Halidon of New
York to be Civil Commissioner of our newly acquired Eastern possession,
the Manana Islands. "The unhealthy climate of the islands, and the
defective sanitation of the towns, make it necessary that vigorous
measures should be taken to protect the health of the American citizens
established there, and it is believed that Mr. Halidon's large
experience of Eastern life and well-known energy of character—" I read
the paragraph twice; then I dropped the paper, and projected myself
through the subway to Halidon's office. But he was not there; he had
not been there for a month. One of the clerks believed he was in
"It's true, then!" I said to myself. "But Mrs. Halidon in the
A day or two later Ned appeared in my office. He looked better than
when we had last met, and there was a determined line about his lips.
"My wife? Heaven forbid! You don't suppose I should think of taking
her? But the job is a tremendously interesting one, and it's the kind
of work I believe I can do—the only kind," he added, smiling rather
"But my dear Ned—"
He faced me with a look of quiet resolution. "I think I've been through
all the buts. It's an infernal climate, of course, but then I am used
to the East—I know what precautions to take. And it would be a big
thing to clean up that Augean stable."
"But consider your wife and children—"
He met this with deliberation. "I have considered my children—that's
the point. I don't want them to be able to say, when they look back:
'He was content to go on living on that money—'"
"My dear Ned—"
"That's the one thing they shan't say of me," he pressed on
vehemently. "I've tried other ways—but I'm no good at business. I see
now that I shall never make money enough to carry out the scheme
myself; but at least I can clear out, and not go on being his
pensioner—seeing his dreams turned into horses and carpets and
He broke off, and leaning on my desk hid his face in his hands. When he
looked up again his flush of wrath had subsided.
"Just understand me—it's not her fault. Don't fancy I'm trying for
an instant to shift the blame. A woman with children simply obeys the
instinct of her sex; she puts them first—and I wouldn't have it
otherwise. As far as she's concerned there were no conditions
attached—there's no reason why she should make any sacrifice." He
paused, and added painfully: "The trouble is, I can't make her see that
I am differently situated."
"But, Ned, the climate—what are you going to gain by chucking yourself
He lifted his brows. "That's a queer argument from you. And, besides,
I'm up to the tricks of all those ague-holes. And I've got to live,
you see: I've got something to put through." He saw my look of enquiry,
and added with a shy, poignant laugh—how I hear it still!—: "I don't
mean only the job in hand, though that's enough in itself; but Paul's
work—you understand.—It won't come in my day, of course—I've got
to accept that—but my boy's a splendid chap" (the boy was three), "and
I tell you what it is, old man, I believe when he grows up he'll put
Halidon went to the Mananas, and for two years the journals brought me
incidental reports of the work he was accomplishing. He certainly had
found a job to his hand: official words of commendation rang through
the country, and there were lengthy newspaper leaders on the efficiency
with which our representative was prosecuting his task in that lost
corner of our colonies. Then one day a brief paragraph announced his
death—"one of the last victims of the pestilence he had so
That evening, at my club, I heard men talking of him. One said: "What's
the use of a fellow wasting himself on a lot of savages?" and another
wiseacre opined: "Oh, he went off because there was friction at home. A
fellow like that, who knew the East, would have got through all right
if he'd taken the proper precautions. I saw him before he left, and I
never saw a man look less as if he wanted to live."
I turned on the last speaker, and my voice made him drop his lighted
cigar on his complacent knuckles.
"I never knew a man," I exclaimed, "who had better reasons for wanting
A handsome youth mused: "Yes, his wife is very beautiful—but it
And then some one nudged him, for they knew I was Halidon's friend.