"Are we going to McVicker's Monday?" questioned Mrs. Hurstwood, without rising.
"Yes," he said indifferently.
They went on dining, while he went upstairs for his hat and coat. Presently the door clicked.
"I guess papa's gone," said Jessica.
The latter's school news was of a particular stripe.
"They're going to give a performance in the Lyceum, upstairs," she reported one day, "and I'm going to be in it."
"Are you?" said her mother.
"Yes, and I'll have to have a new dress. Some of the nicest girls in the school are going to be in it. Miss Palmer is going to take the part of Portia."
"Is she?" said Mrs. Hurstwood.
"They've got that Martha Griswold in it again. She thinks she can act."
"Her family doesn't amount to anything, does it?" said Mrs. Hurstwood sympathetically. "They haven't anything, have they?"
"No," returned Jessica, "they're poor as church mice."
She distinguished very carefully between the young boys of the school, many of whom were attracted by her beauty.
"What do you think?" she remarked to her mother one evening; "that Herbert Crane tried to make friends with me."
"Who is he, my dear?" inquired Mrs. Hurstwood.
"Oh, no one," said Jessica, pursing her pretty lips. "He's just a student there. He hasn't anything."
The other half of this picture came when young Blyford, son of Blyford, the soap manufacturer, walked home with her. Mrs. Hurstwood was on the third floor, sitting in a rocking-chair reading, and happened to look out at the time.
"Who was that with you, Jessica?" she inquired, as Jessica came upstairs.
"It's Mr. Blyford, mamma," she replied.
"Is it?" said Mrs. Hurstwood.
"Yes, and he wants me to stroll over into the park with him," explained Jessica, a little flushed with running up the stairs.
"All right, my dear," said Mrs. Hurstwood. "Don't be gone long."
As the two went down the street, she glanced interestedly out of the window. It was a most satisfactory spectacle indeed, most satisfactory.
In this atmosphere Hurstwood had moved for a number of years, not thinking deeply concerning it. His was not the order of nature to trouble for something better, unless the better was immediately and sharply contrasted. As it was, he received and gave, irritated sometimes by the little displays of selfish indifference, pleased at times by some show of finery which supposedly made for dignity and social distinction. The life of the resort which he managed was his life. There he spent most of his time. When he went home evenings the house looked nice. With rare exceptions the meals were acceptable, being the kind that an ordinary servant can arrange. In part, he was interested in the talk of his son and daughter, who always looked well. The vanity of Mrs. Hurstwood caused her to keep her person rather showily arrayed, but to Hurstwood this was much better than plainness. There was no love lost between them. There was no great feeling of dissatisfaction. Her opinion on any subject was not startling. They did not talk enough together to come to the argument of any one point. In the accepted and popular phrase, she had her ideas and he had his. Once in a while he would meet a woman whose youth, sprightliness, and humour would make his wife seem rather deficient by contrast, but the temporary dissatisfaction which such an encounter might arouse would be counterbalanced by his social position and a certain matter of policy. He could not complicate his home life, because it might affect his relations with his employers. They wanted no scandals. A man, to hold his position, must have a dignified manner, a clean record, a respectable home anchorage. Therefore he was circumspect in all he did, and whenever he appeared in the public ways in the afternoon, or on Sunday, it was with his wife, and sometimes his children. He would visit the local resorts, or those near by in Wisconsin, and spend a few stiff, polished days strolling about conventional places doing conventional things. He knew the need of it.
When some one of the many middle-class individuals whom he knew, who had money, would get into trouble, he would shake his head. It didn't do to talk about those things. If it came up for discussion among such friends as with him passed for close, he would deprecate the folly of the thing. "It was all right to do it — all men do those things — but why wasn't he careful? A man can't be too careful." He lost sympathy for the man that made a mistake and was found out.
On this account he still devoted some time to showing his wife about — time which would have been wearisome indeed if it had not been for the people he would meet and the little enjoyments which did not depend upon her presence or absence. He watched her with considerable curiosity at times, for she was still attractive in a way and men looked at her. She was affable, vain, subject to flattery, and this combination, he knew quite well, might produce a tragedy in a woman of her home position. Owing to his order of mind, his confidence in the sex was not great. His wife never possessed the virtues which would win the confidence and admiration of a man of his nature. As long as she loved him vigorously he could see how confidence could be, but when that was no longer the binding chain — well, something might happen.
During the last year or two the expenses of the family seemed a large thing. Jessica wanted fine clothes, and Mrs. Hurstwood, not to be outshone by her daughter, also frequently enlivened her apparel. Hurstwood had said nothing in the past, but one day he murmured.
"Jessica must have a new dress this month," said Mrs. Hurstwood one morning.