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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

His Wife’s Relations

By Ellen Warner Olney Kirk (1842–1928)

[Born in Southington, Conn., 1842. Died in Philadelphia, Penn., 1928. A Daughter of Eve. 1889.]

MRS. BARRYMORE often said that she was before all things a mother. Her maternal instinct was fully developed, and she loved to tear her own breast to line the nest for her young, and make it soft and downy. Still, when Valerie had come to her with tears, and implored her to get some money for her dear Benno, who was in the state of mind in which men commit suicide, not even Mrs. Barrymore could have enjoyed the role imposed upon her. But does any one suppose that the mother bird finds her best personal comfort in making provision for her ravenous offspring? When you watch a robin fly back to her brood with a wriggling worm, have you so little imagination as to take it for granted that it was her real choice to run the risks of cats and shotguns?

However, necessities like the baron’s have always governed circumstances, and, accordingly, some two minutes after Patty had left Mr. Litchfield, Mrs. Barrymore rang at his door, was admitted, and, walking along the hall majestically, waved the servant away, and said that she herself would find her son-in-law, and accordingly Bunce drew back and retreated to his pantry….

Accordingly, now putting every thought behind her of any possible unpleasantness in the coming interview, she tiptoed along the hall, opened the door of her son-in-law’s book-room, and looked in, meeting him face to face as he was pacing the room, thinking over his talk with Patty.

“Here I am,” said Mrs. Barrymore, in her sprightliest manner. “Dear David, I am so glad to see you!” And she put up her still fresh cheek to be kissed.

He did not evade the caress—shook hands, besides—placed a chair for her, and gave her the end of his tube to talk into.

“What do you suppose I have come for, David?” she asked, in her pretty, playful way, her head a little on one side, smiling, arch, all her face laughing but her eyes, which always seemed on the watch.

“I never guess,” said Mr. Litchfield; “you will have to tell me.”

“I came to ask a favor—just a little favor,” said Mrs. Barrymore. “Now, promise me you will grant it. It is nothing to you, literally nothing; yet to me it is everything.”

“If it is anything for yourself—anything for your individual self—consider it granted.”

Here was Mrs. Barrymore’s opportunity; she might have filled up this carte blanche in a way to make her comfortable for many a day to come, but we all have our ideal of character to live up to, and, fond of substantial gains although Mrs. Barrymore was, her consistency was dearer. She knew her own disinterestedness, and stood aghast at times at the world’s ingratitude towards such unrecorded virtues.

“For myself?” she shrieked into the tube. “Did you ever know me to make a personal request? None! I can suffer; I can go without; I can resign. My only thought is for my family, and I am a mother before all things. You have heard how the pelican”—

“You are a good mother, no doubt,” said Mr. Litchfield; “but you must reflect that all good mother birds, when the young ones are fully fledged, push them out of the nest, to teach them to fly alone.”

“Oh, but, dear David, we have not only the devotedness of birds; we need far more. We have to be patient even when our young ones stay in the nest. It is so important, indeed,” she pursued, carrying on the metaphor, “that they should not fly until the right time. David, my dear son, you are a self-made man.”

She glanced into his face winningly, and he looked back at her with his serene, meditative gaze.

“A self-made man!” he repeated. “I always supposed God made me, like the rest of his creatures.”

“I mean,” said Mrs. Barrymore, “that you began as a poor boy. You came to New York with a few dollars in your pocket.”

“The truth is,” said Mr. Litchfield, with a faint chuckle, “I came to New York without a penny in my pocket. I was born here.”

Mrs. Barrymore may have been impatient with this mild joke; at least she did not seem to discover any humor in it.

“Your success has been amazing—amazing,” she said, with animation, but with the most solemn emphasis. “You began at the very bottom of the ladder, but now you have reached a really proud position.”

“Still, I try not to be proud.”

“But you may well be proud,” insisted Mrs. Barrymore, “connected as you now are with the Careys, the Dorseys, the Barrymores, and not only with the first families of New York, but the very highest aristocracy of Europe.”

“But am I?” asked Mr. Litchfield, as if in consternation.

“You are brother-in-law to Baron Benno von Lindholm!” shouted Mrs. Barrymore, whose nerves began to feel the strain of this demand upon her voice and her patience. It was at such moments that a conviction flashed a clear illumination into the recesses of her inmost soul that her son-in-law was not deaf; that he was not even so innocent as he seemed to be.

“There is no better family in Germany than the Lindholm-Gatzbergs. They have forty quarterings and they live in a schloss.”

“A schloss, good Heavens!” said Mr. Litchfield, holding his tube with an air of the most sedulous attention.

“Yes, a schloss. Benno’s father, the baron, his mother, the baroness, and his brothers, and their wives, all live in this schloss.”

“It needs to be of good size,” suggested Mr. Litchfield; then, with a brightening eye, as if on the threshold of a new idea, he added: “I suppose the reason our baron does not take Valerie to the ancestral schloss is because there is no room.”

“He will take her next year,” said the long-suffering mother-in-law, with perfect sweetness. “He is simply waiting to realize on those shares, you know, and they are to begin work next month. It is of the greatest importance that he should be on the spot, for everybody predicts that the stock will go up like a rocket.”

“That is excellent news—excellent.”

“Benno is such a good fellow,” said Mrs. Barrymore. “So cultivated, so superior, such tastes! I wish your deafness did not cut you off from his conversation, for I should like to have you hear him talk about art. And he plays the flute exquisitely. I wonder if with your trumpet you could not hear some of his trills. And he has such manners! They bear the court stamp. He makes us poor Americans seem crude.”

“But then a baron like that is not a self-made man,” said Mr. Litchfield. “He came into the world with a gold spoon in his mouth.”

“Yes, indeed. A man like that is the product of centuries,” said Mrs. Barrymore, bent on hammering in these obvious truths.

“A costly product,” observed Mr. Litchfield, with a faint sigh.

“Of course, one has to pay for these luxuries,” said Mrs. Barrymore, with a lighter air. “It is very delightful to have a son-in-law who is a baron, but a connection with the aristocracy of Europe is expensive.”

“I wouldn’t have him, then,” said Mr. Litchfield, with a sudden air of decision. “I would get rid of him. Let the state support him.”

Such uncompromising hostility was enough to discourage the most ardent advocate. Mrs. Barrymore, however, could not afford to be discouraged. The lines in the corners of her mouth stiffened a little, and her eyes grew more vigilant; but she showed no sign of defeat, merely reënforced herself with a fresh argument, and advanced on a new line.

“You see, dear David,” she said, with as confidential an air as was possible in talking to a deaf man, “the baron married Valerie with high expectations. Naturally, any one of that rank expects a handsome dower with his wife, and, judging by dear Olive’s splendid position, he took it for granted that we were all very rich.”

“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Litchfield. “He supposed that Olive brought me my fortune.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Barrymore; and they looked at each other a moment in silence. He waited for her to proceed.

“And, since he made such a mistake as that, we owe him a little something. Don’t we, David?” she said, coaxingly.

“No doubt of it—no doubt of it.”

“I wonder if you could find it in your heart to give the dear fellow a little ready money; he is so sadly in need of it.”

“Certainly, certainly,” said Mr. Litchfield; “I’ll write you a check at once.”

He turned in his chair to his desk, opened his check-book for the second time, and took up his pen. But, in spite of his air of alacrity, Mrs. Barrymore watched his proceedings with a tremor. It was not his way to disburse large sums in such an offhand way.

“I will give him enough to pay his passage back to the paternal schloss,” said Mr. Litchfield. “I will give him a hundred dollars.”

“A hundred dollars!” shrieked Mrs. Barrymore. “Just think, David,—a man like that, a near connection, a baron”—

“I know—I know,” said Mr. Litchfield, his head bent, leaning his chin on his hand with a look of musing, “a baron—a schloss—forty quarterings, seven brothers, all barons. It is very little. But I shall not give him any more, Mrs. Barrymore,” he went on, with a mild, serious glance at her from beneath his eyebrows. “Neither now nor at any time in future will I give Baron Benno von Lindholm any more money.”

“But, dearest David,” said Mrs. Barrymore, entreatingly, “Valerie told me with sobs and tears last night that the baron had said unless he could have at least two hundred and fifty dollars he should go—to—the—devil.”

“My dear Mrs. Barrymore,” said Mr. Litchfield, with an air of conviction and relief, “why not let him go?”

Whether Mrs. Barrymore could have rallied from this rebuff we are not certain. She did not despair too easily, knowing that patient persistence wears out the sternest opposition in time. But at this moment her son Carey walked into the room, and, with an air of having accomplished his part of a serious obligation, walked up to Mr. Litchfield, lifted the end of the tube, and said, “I am here, as you requested.”

Mr. Litchfield nodded. “Carey and I have a very particular engagement,” he said to Mrs. Barrymore. “I hope you will excuse us. I dare say you will find Olive in her room.”

Mrs. Barrymore, realizing the importance of the interview to Carey’s peace of mind, withdrew at once. She had huddled the check into her bag as she heard the door opened, and knew, as she went upstairs to find Olive, who was still sitting over the fire, with her notes and invitations in her lap, that her mission had not, after all, resulted in complete failure.

Meanwhile, Mr. Litchfield had seated himself at his desk, and Carey had drawn a comfortable chair to his side.

“I have come,” he said again, impressively. “I made a point of coming.”

“That is extremely good of you,” said Mr. Litchfield.

“I am very punctilious about the least engagement,” said Carey, with due solemnity. “The baron wanted me to go over to Long Island and look at a horse he is interested in, but I told him I was coming here.”

“The baron is interested in horses, is he?”

“I fancy he means to back him for the spring races.”

“Oh, the baron bets, does he?”

“I suppose he does; but then I fancy he does it without much idea of winning, chiefly as a distraction; he is so confoundedly troubled about his money matters.”

Mr. Litchfield regarded his innocent-faced young visitor with an odd sort of smile.

“You are a little troubled, too, aren’t you, Carey?” said he. “Do you get along without any distractions?”

“I have got a stronger mind than the baron has,” said Carey, “and, besides, I have not had to shoulder my own responsibilities so far.”

“Exactly,—the actions are yours, the consequences are other people’s.”

“Of course I had to be educated. That is always an expensive process, which has to be paid for by somebody. I couldn’t do it myself, you know. But, now that I am educated, I am ready to do my duty in life.”

“That is very handsome of you, I think, Carey,” said Mr. Litchfield. “Some people like to go on shirking their responsibilities.”

“I am sure I want to be independent as soon I can,” said Carey.

Mr. Litchfield again regarded the young man attentively, his head a little on one side, and a smile lighting his face.

“I have looked over those bills,” said he.

“I should never have thought of troubling you with such details unless you had asked to see them,” said Carey.

“I prefer to understand such details,” said Mr. Litchfield.

“That is your business way of doing things,” said Carey, benevolently. “I myself footed them up and made a memorandum of the amount, which seemed all that was necessary.”

“That is your large way of doing things,” said Mr. Litchfield. “My business habits are of the old-fashioned sort, and I feel compelled to count odd dollars and cents.”

“I like round numbers, myself,” said Carey.

“Here is the schedule,” said Mr. Litchfield. “Do you know, it quite interested me.”

“I dare say. You have been a young man yourself.”

“Not exactly your sort of a young man. When I was twenty-three years of age I had been married and had lost my wife. My salary up to that time had been eight hundred a year, and it was then raised to fifteen hundred.”

“Oh, I say,” put in Carey, “unless you had somebody to pay your bills, life on such terms must have been a pretty poor affair.”

“I had no bills—or, if I had, I paid them myself,” said Mr. Litchfield. “But still, life, in spite of its poverty and its sorrows, indeed for its poverty and for its sorrows, was well worth having. Everywhere it opened before me wonderful vistas—everywhere was spread out a great banquet. It was not for me, it is true; even if I was admitted to it, I often fasted,—in fact, I generally fasted, for I resolutely told myself the sweets would not have been good for me.”

Carey listened with an air of bland condescension, putting up heroically with a disagreeable experience.

“Now, my boy, you have not fasted,” said Mr. Litchfield, with a half-humorous laugh. “You have revelled in the good things without stint or misgiving.”

Carey smiled, but did not speak.

“These bills show that you possess strong and diversified tastes,” said Mr. Litchfield.

“I always try not to be one-sided,” said Carey, modestly. “Of course I like some things better than I do others.”

Mr. Litchfield unrolled a sheet of legal cap on which he had neatly written out the list.

“Why, sir,” said Carey, “you remind me of Leporello with his roll of his master’s peccadilloes.”

But Mr. Litchfield had dropped his end of the tube and did not hear.

“I was much struck by your tailor’s bills,” said he. “I really did not suppose that a man could wear so many coats and trousers. It is hard for me to get enough wear out of two suits a year, and my evening clothes are ten years old. I have had my two top-coats some five years.”

“A fellow doesn’t expect to wear his clothes till they get shiny at the seams,” said Carey.

“No, apparently not. Now, I should suppose that you and the Prince of Wales had about the same wardrobe.”

“A gentleman is a gentleman; he can be no more. I have no court dress,” Carey remarked, blandly.

“Nor coronation robes, but I think you may congratulate yourself on being handsomely equipped for all other occasions. You will see that I have made a little comment on most of the items, and opposite your tailor’s and furnisher’s bills I have put ‘Princely.’”

He read out the amount, compared it with the bills which lay on his desk, then passed on to the bootmaker’s.

“I envy you your boots,” said he, plaintively. “I always thought it would be a pleasure to have a pair of every kind of boots known to civilized man.”

“Why don’t you try?” said Carey.

“I cannot afford it,” said Mr. Litchfield. “Two hundred a year is my limit for my personal expenses. But against your bootmaker’s and your shoemaker’s bills I have put ‘Cap-à-pie complete.’”

If Mr. Litchfield had an idea of amusing himself a little at the young man’s expense, he had gone successfully to work. He had given more than one epigrammatic touch to his schedule. The photographers had evidently done much for Carey. “Hold the mirror up to the glass of fashion and the mould of form,” said Mr. Litchfield. There were upholsterers’, picture-dealers’, book-binders’, jewellers’, livery-men’s, wine-merchants’, and confectioners’ accounts.

“I told you I would pay your bills, Carey,” said Mr. Litchfield, “but I confess that such extravagance as this was not only beyond my experience, but beyond my fancy of what a penniless young man could spend. Had I written what inevitably came into my mind, I should have put ‘A beggar on horseback,’ etc., after your livery bill.”

“Oh, if you call that extravagance,” said Carey, “I should really like to have you know what Standish and Waring’s bills were. That set of fellows considered me mean. But I always kept within bounds, and did not care what others thought of me. If one is governed by other men’s expectations of what one should do, one commits all sorts of follies; but I am lucky enough to have no vices. I like a good glass of wine, but there I stop. I have a contempt for a wine-bibber. A dozen bundles of cigarettes will last me a fortnight, and I never buy cigars; they are ruinous; a man has to give so many away. Then, as to jewellery, I am the most moderate of men. If one has half a dozen different sets of studs, and a good watch and chain, and a scarf-pin or so, what else does he want? I would as soon wear rings in my ears as on my fingers. I like to ride a good horse, but not every day,—only when I feel like it. I am willing to be hospitable on occasion, but I have no intention of ruining myself by feeding other people. I assure you, brother David, that, taking into account all the temptations that may beset a man in college, my bills are well within bounds.”

Pausing to see if his hearer had gone along with him, Carey saw that the old man sat bending forward with an abstracted gaze; he was shaking his head slowly, as if he found it impossible to accept his visitor’s views.

“You must remember, sir,” said Carey, “that we have all been young.”

Mr. Litchfield looked at him, still shaking his head.

“We have all been young,” he said, gently, “but we have not all been old.”

He rose and began to pace the floor with a troubled face.

“Suppose the bills are paid, Carey,” he said, after a little silence, “what is your outlook in life?”

“That is exactly what I want to know,” remarked Carey, as if glad that they were coming to the point.

“You are young, strong, decently intelligent. You ought to accomplish some useful work.”

“I am ready to do anything suitable.”

“What do you call suitable?”

“Anything a gentleman can do, and which has a fair salary attached to it. I should very much like to know what my career is to be. I hate to fling myself away. My theory is, that a man ought to take pains to do one thing well, and win success in that line. It does not make so much difference what it is, but if he does one thing admirably—say he dresses well, or dances well, has a really correct taste in art, or knows how to make money in Wall Street—he is master of the situation; everybody respects him and makes way for him. And it has really been a grievance with me that I have not known what to turn my attention to. I like to meet the world on equal terms.”

“Listen to me, Carey,” said David Litchfield, “I have a definite suggestion to make.”