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AFTER A SHADOW, AND OTHER STORIES
First digital edition 2017 by Gianluca Ruffini
I. AFTER A SHADOW
II. IN THE WAY OF TEMPTATION.
III. ANDY LOVELL.
IV. A MYSTERY EXPLAINED.
V. WHAT CAN I DO?
VI. ON GUARD.
VII. A VISIT WITH THE DOCTOR.
VIII. HADN’T TIME FOR TROUBLE.
IX. A GOOD NAME.
X. LITTLE LIZZIE.
XI. ALICE AND THE PIGEON.
XII. DRESSED FOR A PARTY.
XIII. COFFEE VS. BRANDY.
XIV. AMY’S QUESTION.
XV. AN ANGEL IN DISGUISE.
XVI. WHICH WAS MOST THE LADY?
XVII. OTHER PEOPLE’S EYES.
I. AFTER A SHADOW.
“ARTY! Arty!” called Mrs. Mayflower, from the window, one bright June morning. “Arty, darling! What is the child after? Just look at him, Mr. Mayflower!”
I leaned from the window, in pleasant excitement, to see what new and wonderful performance had been attempted by my little prodigy, my first born, my year-old bud of beauty, the folded leaves in whose bosom were just beginning to loosen themselves, and send out upon the air sweet intimations of an abounding fragrance. He had escaped from his nurse, and was running off in the clear sunshine, the slant rays of which threw a long shadow before him.
“Arty, darling!” His mother’s voice flew along and past his ear, kissing it in gentle remonstrance as it went by. But baby was in eager pursuit of something, and the call, if heard, was unheeded. His eyes were opening world-ward, and every new phenomenon, commonplace and unheeded by us, that addressed itself to his senses, became a wonder and a delight. Some new object was drawing him away from the loving heart and protecting arm.
“Run after him, Mr. Mayflower!” said my wife, with a touch of anxiety in her voice. “He might fall and hurt himself.”
I did not require a second intimation as to my duty in the case. Only a moment or two elapsed before I was on the pavement, and making rapid approaches towards my truant boy.
“What is it, darling? What is Arty running after?” I said, as I laid my hand on his arm, and checked his eager speed. He struggled a moment, and then stood still, stooping forward for something on the ground.
“O, papa see!” There was a disappointed and puzzled look in his face as he lifted his eyes to mine. He failed to secure the object of his pursuit.
“What is it, sweet?” My eyes followed his as they turned upon the ground.
He stooped again, and caught at something; and again, looked up in a perplexed, half-wondering way.
“Why, Arty!” I exclaimed, catching him up in my arms. “It’s only your shadow! Foolish child!” And I ran back to Mrs. Mayflower, with my baby-boy held close against my heart.
“After a shadow!” said I, shaking my head, a little soberly, as I resigned Arty to his mother. “So, life begins and so it ends! Poor Arty!”
Mrs. Mayflower laughed out right merrily.
“After a shadow! Why, darling!” And she kissed and hugged him in overflowing tenderness.
“So, life begins, so it ends,” I repeated to myself, as I left the house, and walked towards my store. “Always in pursuit of shadows! We lose to-day’s substantial good for shadowy phantoms that keep our eyes ever in advance, and our feet ever hurrying forward. No pause--no ease--no full enjoyment of now. O, deluded heart! ever bartering away substance for shadow!”
I grow philosophic sometimes. Thought will, now and then, take up a passing incident, and extract the moral. But how little the wiser are we for moralizing! we look into the mirror of truth, and see ourselves, then turn away, and forget what manner of men we are. Better for us if it were not so; if we remembered the image that held our vision.
The shadow lesson was forgotten by the time I reached my store, and thought entered into business with its usual ardor. I buried myself, amid letters, invoices, accounts, samples, schemes for gain, and calculations of profit. The regular, orderly progression of a fair and well-established business was too slow for my outreaching desires. I must drive onward at a higher speed, and reach the goal of wealth by a quicker way. So, my daily routine was disturbed by impatient aspirations. Instead of entering, in a calm self-possession of every faculty, into the day’s appropriate work, and finding, in its right performance, the tranquil state that ever comes as the reward of right-doing in the right place, I spent the larger part of this day in the perpetration of a plan for increasing my gains beyond, anything heretofore achieved.
“Mr. Mayflower,” said one of the clerks, coming back to where I sat at my private desk, busy over my plan, “we have a new man in from the West; a Mr. B…..., from Alton. He wants to make a bill of a thousand dollars. Do you know anything about him?”
Now, even this interruption annoyed me. What was a new customer and a bill of a thousand dollars to me just at that moment of time? I saw tens of thousands in prospective.
“Mr. B…..., of Alton?” said I, affecting an effort of memory. “Does he look like a fair man?”
“I don’t recall him. Mr. B…...? Hum-m-m. He impresses you favorably, Edward?”
“Yes, sir; but it may be prudent to send and get a report.”
“I’ll see to that, Edward,” said I. “Sell him what he wants. If everything is not on the square, I’ll give you the word in time. It’s all right, I’ve no doubt.”
“He’s made a bill at Kline & Co.’s, and wants his goods sent there to be packed,” said my clerk.
“Ah, indeed! Let him have what he wants, Edward. If Kline & Co. sell him, we needn’t hesitate.”
And turning to my desk, my plans, and my calculations, I forgot all about Mr. B…..., and the trifling bill of a thousand dollars that he proposed buying. How clear the way looked ahead! As thought created the means of successful adventure, and I saw myself moving forward and grasping results, the whole circle of life took a quicker motion, and my mind rose into a pleasant enthusiasm. Then I grew impatient for the initiatory steps that were to come, and felt as if the to-morrow, in which they must be taken, would never appear. A day seemed like a week or a month.
Six o’clock found me in not a very satisfactory state of mind. The ardor of my calculations had commenced abating. Certain elements, not seen and considered in the outset, were beginning to assume shape and consequence, and to modify, in many essential particulars, the grand result towards which I had been looking with so much pleasure. Shadowy and indistinct became the landscape, which seemed a little while before so fair and inviting. A cloud settled down upon it here, and a cloud there, breaking up its unity, and destroying much of its fair proportion. I was no longer mounting up, and moving forwards on the light wing of a castle-building imagination, but down upon the hard, rough ground, coming back into the consciousness that all progression, to be sure, must be slow and toilsome.
I had the afternoon paper in my hands, and was running my eyes up and down the columns, not reading, but, in a half-absent way, trying to find something of sufficient interest to claim attention, when, among the money and business items, I came upon a paragraph that sent the declining thermometer of my feelings away down towards the chill of zero. It touched, in the most vital part, my scheme of gain; and the shrinking bubble burst.
“Have the goods sold to that new customer from Alton been delivered?” I asked, as the real interest of my wasted day loomed up into sudden importance.
“Yes, sir,” was answered by one of my clerks; “they were sent to Kline & Co.’s immediately. Mr. B…... said they were packing up his goods, which were to be shipped today.”
“He’s a safe man, I should think. Kline & Co. sell him.” My voice betrayed the doubt that came stealing over me like a chilly air.
“They sell him only for cash,” said my clerk. “I saw one of their young men this afternoon, and asked after Mr. B…...’s standing. He didn’t know anything about him; said B…...was a new man, who bought a moderate cash bill, but was sending in large quantities of goods to be packed, five or six times beyond the amount of his purchases with them.”
“Is that so!” I exclaimed, rising to my feet, all awake now to the real things which I had permitted a shadow to obscure.
“Just what he told me,” answered my clerk.
“It has a bad look,” said I. “How large a bill did he make with us?”
The sales book was referred to. “Seventeen hundred dollars,” replied the clerk.
“What! I thought he was to buy only to the amount of a thousand dollars?” I returned, in surprise and dismay.
“You seemed so easy about him, sir,” replied the clerk, “that I encouraged him to buy; and the bill ran up more heavily than I was aware until the footing gave exact figures.”
I drew out my watch. It was close on to half past six.
“I think, Edward,” said I, “that you’d better step round to Kline & Co.’s, and ask if they’ve shipped B…...’s goods yet. If not, we’ll request them to delay long enough in the morning to give us time to sift the matter. If B…...’s after a swindling game, we’ll take a short course, and save our goods.”
“It’s too late,” answered my clerk. “B…... called a little after one o’clock, and gave notes for the amount of his bill. He was to leave in the five o’clock line for Boston.”
I turned my face a little aside, so that Edward might not see all the anxiety that was pictured there.
“You look very sober, Mr. Mayflower,” said my good wife, gazing at me with eyes a little shaded by concern, as I sat with Arty’s head leaning against my bosom that evening; “as sober as baby looked this morning, after his fruitless shadow chase.”
“And for the same reason,” said I, endeavoring to speak calmly and firmly.
“Why, Mr. Mayflower!” Her face betrayed a rising anxiety. My assumed calmness and firmness did not wholly disguise the troubled feelings that lay, oppressively, about my heart.
“For the same reason,” I repeated, steadying my voice, and trying to speak bravely. “I have been chasing a shadow all day; a mere phantom scheme of profit; and at night-fall I not only lose my shadow, but find my feet far off from the right path, and bemired. I called Arty a foolish child this morning. I laughed at his mistake. But, instead of accepting the lesson it should have conveyed, I went forth and wearied myself with shadow-hunting all day.”
Mrs. Mayflower sighed gently. Her soft eyes drooped away from my face, and rested for some moments on the floor.
“I am afraid we are all, more or less, in pursuit of shadows,” she said , “of the unreal things, projected by thought on the canvas of a too creative imagination. It is so with me; and I sigh, daily, over some disappointment. Alas! if this were all. Too often both the shadow-good and the real-good of to-day are lost. When night falls our phantom good is dispersed, and we sigh for the real good we might have enjoyed.”
“Shall we never grow wiser?” I asked.
“We shall never grow happier unless we do,” answered Mrs. Mayflower.
“Happiness!” I returned, as thought began to rise into clearer perception; “is it not the shadow after which we are all chasing, with such a blind and headlong speed?”
“Happiness is no shadow. It is a real thing,” said Mrs. Mayflower. “It does not project itself in advance of us; but exists in the actual and the now, if it exists at all. We cannot catch it by pursuit; that is only a cheating counterfeit, in guilt and tinsel, which dazzles our eyes in the ever-receding future. No; happiness is a state of life; and it comes only to those who do each day’s work peaceful self-forgetfulness, and a calm trust in the Giver of all good for the blessing that lies stored for each one prepared to receive it in every hour of the coming time.”
“Who so does each day’s work in a peaceful self-forgetfulness and patient trust in God?” I said, turning my eyes away from the now tranquil face of Mrs. Mayflower.
“Few, if any, I fear,” she answered; “and few, if any, are happy. The common duties and common things of our to-days look so plain and homely in their ungilded actualities, that we turn our thought and interest away from them, and create ideal forms of use and beauty, into which we can never enter with conscious life. We are always losing the happiness of our to-days; and our to-morrows never come.”
I sighed my response, and sat for a long time silent. When the tea bell interrupted me from my reverie, Arty lay fast asleep on my bosom. As I kissed him on his way to his mother’s arms, I said,
“Dear baby! may it be your first and last pursuit of a shadow.”
“No, no! Not yet, my sweet one!” answered Mrs. Mayflower, hugging him to her heart. “Not yet. We cannot spare you from our world of shadows.”
II. IN THE WAY OF TEMPTATION.
MARTIN GREEN was a young man of good habits and a good conceit of himself. He had listened, often and again, with as much patience as he could assume, to warning and suggestion touching the dangers that beset the feet of those who go out into this wicked world, and become subject to its legion of temptations. All these warnings and suggestions he considered as so many words wasted when offered to himself.
“I’m in no danger,” he would sometimes answer to relative or friend, who ventured a remonstrance against certain associations, or cautioned him about visiting certain places.
“If I wish to play a game of billiards, I will go to a billiard saloon,” was the firm position he assumed. “Is there any harm in billiards? I can’t help it if bad men play at billiards, and congregate in billiard saloons. Bad men may be found anywhere and everywhere; on the street, in stores, at all public places, even in church. Shall I stay away from church because bad men are there?”
This last argument Martin Green considered unanswerable. Then he would say,
“If I want a plate of oysters, I’ll go to a refectory, and I’ll take a glass of ale with my oysters, if it so pleases me. What harm, I would like to know? Danger of getting into bad company, you say? Hum-m! Complimentary to your humble servant! But I’m not the kind to which dirt sticks.”
So, confident of his own power to stand safely in the midst of temptation, and ignorant of its thousand insidious approaches, Martin Green, at the age of twenty-one, came and went as he pleased, mingling with the evil and the good, and seeing life under circumstances of great danger to the pure and innocent. But he felt strong and safe, confident of neither stumbling nor falling. All around him he saw young men yielding to the pressure of temptation and stepping aside into evil ways; but they were weak and vicious, while he stood firm-footed on the rock of virtue!
It happened, very naturally, as Green was a bright, social young man, that he made acquaintances with other young men, who were frequently met in billiard saloons, theatre lobbies, and eating houses. Some of these he did not understand quite as well as he imagined. The vicious, who have ends to gain, know how to cloak themselves, and easily deceive persons of Green’s character. Among, these acquaintances were a handsome, gentlemanly, affable young man, named Bland, who gradually intruded himself into his confidence. Bland never drank to excess, and never seemed inclined to sensual indulgences. He had, moreover, a way of moralizing that completely veiled his true quality from the not very penetrating Martin Green, whose shrewdness and knowledge of character were far less acute than he, in his self-conceit, imagined.
One evening, instead of going with his sister to the house of a friend, where a select company of highly-intelligent ladies and gentleman were to meet, and pass an evening together, Martin excused himself under the pretence of an engagement, and lounged away to an eating and drinking saloon, there to spend an hour in smoking, reading the newspapers, and enjoying a glass of ale, the desire for which was fast growing into a habit. Strong and safe as he imagined himself, the very fact of preferring the atmosphere of a drinking or billiard saloon to that in which refined and intellectual people breathe, showed that he was weak and in danger.
He was sitting with a cigar in his mouth, and a glass of ale beside him, reading with the air of a man who felt entirely satisfied with himself, and rather proud than ashamed of his position and surroundings, when his pleasant friend, Mr. Bland, crossed the room, and, reaching out his hand, said, with his smiling, hearty manner,
“How are you, my friend? What’s the news to-day?” And he drew a chair to the table, calling at the same time to a waiter for a glass of ale.
“I never drink anything stronger than ale,” he added, in a confidential way, not waiting for Green to answer his first remark. “Liquors are so drugged nowadays, that you never know what poison you are taking; besides, tippling is a bad habit, and sets a questionable example. We must, you know, have some regard to the effect of our conduct on weaker people. Man, is an imitative animal. By the way, did you see Booth’s Cardinal Wolsey?”
“A splendid piece of acting, was it not? You remember, after the cardinal’s fall, that noble passage to which he gives utterance. It has been running through my mind ever since: “Mark but my fall, and that that ruined me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by’t?
Love thyself last: Cherish those hearts that hate thee:
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues; be just, and fear not.
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall’st a blessed martyr.’
“‘Love thyself last. Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s, thy God’s, and truth’s.’ Could a man’s whole duty in life be expressed in fewer words, or said more grandly? I think not.”
And so, he went on, charming the ears of Green, and inspiring him with the belief that he was a person of the purest instincts and noblest ends. While they talked, two young men, strangers to Green came up, and were introduced by Bland as “My very particular friends.” Something about them did not at first impress Martin favorably. But this impression soon wore off, they were so intelligent and agreeable, Bland, after a little while, referred again to the Cardinal Wolsey of Booth, and, drawing a copy of Shakspeare’s Henry VIII. from his pocket, remarked,
“If it wasn’t so public here, I’d like to read a few of the best passages in Wolsey’s part.”
“Can’t we get a private room?” said one of the two young men who had joined Bland and Green. “There are plenty in the house. I’ll see.”
And away he went to the bar.
“Come,” he said, returning in a few minutes; and the party followed a waiter upstairs, and were shown into a small room, neatly furnished, though smelling villanously of stale cigar smoke.
“This is cosy,” was the approving remark of Bland, as they entered. Hats and overcoats were laid aside, and they drew around a table that stood in the centre of the room under the gaslight. A few passages were read from Shakspeare, then drink was ordered by one of the the party. The reading interspersed with critical comments, was again resumed; but the reading soon gave way entire to the comments, which, in a little while, passed from the text of Shakspeare to actors, actresses, prima donnas, and ballet-dancers, the relative merits of which were knowingly discussed for some time. In the midst of this discussion, oysters, in two or three styles, and a smoking dish of terrapin, ordered by a member of the company, which our young friend Green did not know were brought in, followed by a liberal supply of wine and brandy. Bland expressed surprise, but accepted the entertainment as quite agreeable to himself.
After the supper, cigars were introduced, and after the cigars, cards. A few games were played for shilling stakes. Green, under the influence of more liquor than his head could bear, and in the midst of companions whose sphere he could not, in consequence, resist, yielded in a new direction for him. Of gambling, he had always entertained a virtuous disapproval; yet, ere aware of the direction in which he was drifting, he was staking money at cards, the sums gradually increasing, until from shillings the ventures increased to dollars. Sometimes he won, and sometimes he lost; the winnings stimulating to new trials in the hope of further success, and the losses stimulating to new trials in order to recover, if possible; but, steadily, the tide, for all these little eddies of success, bore him downwards, and losses increased from single dollars to fives, and from fives to tens, his pleasant friend, Bland, supplying whatever he wanted in the most disinterested way, until an aggregate loss of nearly a hundred and fifty dollars sobered and appalled him.
The salary of Martin Green was only four hundred dollars, every cent of which was expended as fast as earned. A loss of a hundred and fifty dollars was, therefore, a serious and embarrassing matter.
“I’ll call and see you to-morrow, when we can arrange this little matter,” said Mr. Bland, “on parting with Green at his own door. He spoke pleasantly, but with something in his voice that chilled the nerves of his victim. On the next day while Green stood at his desk, trying to fix his mind upon his work, and do it correctly, his employer said,
“Martin, there’s a young man in the store who has asked for you.”
Green turned and saw the last man on the earth he desired to meet. His pleasant friend of the evening before had called to “arrange that little matter.”
“Not too soon for you, I hope,” remarked Bland, with his courteous, yet now serious, smile, as he took the victim’s hand.
“Yes, you are, too soon,” was soberly answered.
The smile faded off of Bland’s face.
“When will you arrange it?”
“In a few days.”
“But I want the money today. It was a simple loan, you know.”
“I am aware of that, but the amount is larger than I can manage at once,” said Green.
“Can I have a part today?”
“I’ll do the best in my power.”
“Very well. Tomorrow, at this time, I will call. Make up the whole sum if possible, for I want it badly.”
“Do you know that young man?” asked Mr. Phillips, the employer of Green, as the latter came back to his desk. The face of Mr. Phillips was unusually serious.
“His name is Bland.”
“Why has he called to see you?” The eyes of Mr. Phillips were fixed intently on his clerk.
“He merely dropped in. I have met him a few times in company.”
“Don’t you know his character?”
“I never heard a word against him,” said Green.
“Why, Martin!” replied Mr. Phillips, “he has the reputation of being one of the worst young men in our city; a base gambler’s stool-pigeon, some say.”
“I am glad to know it, sir,” Martin had the presence of mind, in the painful confusion that overwhelmed him, to say, “and shall treat him accordingly.” He went back to his desk, and resumed his work.