That is exactly what you will do, what you would always do: explain afterwards. In other words, you plot to make Ben jealous but fear to make him too jealous lest he desert you. If on the evening of this visit you should forget "to explain," and if during the night you should remember, you would, if need were, walk barefoot through the streets in your nightgown and tap on his window-shutter, if you could reach it, and say: "Ben, that appointment wasn't with any other man; it was with Tilly. I could not sleep until I had told you! That is, you have already disposed of yourself, breath and soul, to Ben; and while you are waiting for the marriage ceremony, you have espoused in his behalf what you consider your best and strongest trait—loyalty.
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Under the goadings of this vampire trait you will, a few years after marriage, have devoured all there is of Ben alive and will have taken your seat beside what are virtually his bones. As the years pass, the more ravenously you will preside over the bones. Never shall the world say that Polly Boles was disloyal to whatever was left of her dear Ben Doolittle! Your loyalty! I believe the first I saw of it was years ago one night in Louisville when you and I were planning to come to New York to live.
Naturally we were much concerned by the difficulties of choosing our respective New York residences and we had written on and had received thumb-nailed libraries of romance about different places. As you looked over the recommendations of each, you came upon one called The Franklin Flats. The circular contained appropriate quotations from Poor Richard's Almanac.
I remember how your face brightened as you said: "This ought to be the very thing. In other words, you believed that a house named after Franklin could but resemble Franklin. A building put up in New York by a Tammany contractor, if named after Benjamin Franklin and advertised with quotations from Franklin's works, would embody the traits of that remote national hero! To your mind—not to your imagination, for you haven't any—to your mind, and you have a great deal of mind, the bell-boys, the superintendent, the scrub woman, the chambermaids, the flunkied knave who stands at the front door—all these were loyally congregated as about a beloved mausoleum.
You are still in the Franklin Flats! I know what you have long suffered there; but move away! Not Polly Boles.
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She will be loyal to the building as long as the building stands by the contractor and the contractor stands by profits and losses. While on the subject of loyalty, not your loyalty but woman's loyalty, I mean to finish with it. And I shall go on to say that occasionally I have sat behind a plate-glass window in some Fifth Avenue shop and have studied woman's organised loyalty, unionised loyalty, standardised loyalty.
This takes effect in those processions that now and then sweep up the Avenue as though they were Crusaders to the Holy Sepulchre. The marchers try first not to look self-conscious; all try, secondly, to look devoted to "the cause. At such times I have felt a wild desire, when I should hear of the next parade, to organise a company of unenthralled young girls who with unfettered natures and unfettered features should tramp up the Avenue under their own colours. If the women before them—those loyal ones—would actually carry, as they should, a banner with the legend I have described, then my company of girls should unfurl to the breeze their flag with the truth blazoned on it:.
The honest human crowd, watching and applauding us, would pack the Avenue from sidewalks to roofs. Between you and me everything seems to be summed up in one difference: all my life I have wanted to go barefoot and all your life, no matter what the weather, you have been solicitous to put on goloshes.
My very nature is rooted in rebellion that in a world alive and running over with irresistible people, a woman must be doomed to find her chief happiness in just one! The heart going out to so many in succession, and the hand held by one; year after year your hand held by the first man who impulsively got possession of it. Every instinct of my nature would be to jerk my hand away and be free! To give it again and again.
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This subject weighs crushingly on me as I struggle with this letter because I have tidings for you about myself. I am to write words which I have long doubted I should ever write, life's most iron-bound words. Polly, I suppose I am going to be married at last. Of course it is Beverley. Not without waverings, not without misgivings. But I'd feel those, be the man whoever he might.
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Why I feel thus I do not know, but I know I feel. I tell you this first because it was you who brought Beverley and me together, who have always believed in his career. Though I think that of late you have believed more in him and less in me. I, too, am beginning to believe in his career. He has lately ascertained that his work is making a splendid impression in England.
If he succeeds in England, he will succeed in this country. He has received an invitation to visit some delightful and very influential people in England and "to bring me along! If we should be entertained by these people [they are the Blackthornes], such is English social life, that we should also get to know the white Thornes and the red Thornes—the whole social forest. The iron rule of my childhood was economy; and the influence of that iron rule over me is inexorable still: I cannot even contemplate such prodigal wastage in life as not to accept this invitation and gather in its wealth of consequences.
More news of me, very, very important: at last I have made the acquaintance of George Marigold. I have become one of his patients. Beverley is furious. I enclose a letter from him. You need not return it. I shall not answer it. I shall leave things to his imagination and his imagination will give him no rest.
If Ben hurled at you a jealous letter about Dr. Mullen, you would immediately write to remove his jealousy. You would even ridicule Dr.
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Mullen to win greater favour in Ben's eyes. That is, you would do an abominable thing, never doubting that Ben would admire you the more. And you would be right; for as Ben observed you tear Dr. Mullen to pieces to feed his vanity, he would lean back in his chair and chuckle within himself: "Glorious, staunch old Polly! And what you would do in this instance you will do all your life: you will practise disloyalty to every other human being, as in this letter you have practised it with me, for the sake of loyalty to Ben: your most pronounced, most horrible trait.
I return Beverley's letter. Without comment, since I did not read it. You know how I love Beverley, respect him, believe in him. I have a feeling for him unlike that for any other human being, not even Ben; I look upon him as set apart and sacred because he has genius and belongs to the world. As for his faults, those that I have not already noticed I prefer to find out for myself. I have never cared to discover any human being's failings through a third person.
Instead of getting acquainted with the pardonable traits of the abused, I might really be introduced to the abominable traits of the abuser. Once more , you think you are going to marry Beverley!
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I shall reserve my congratulations for the event itself. Thank you for surrendering your claim on my friendship and society last night.
Ben and I had a most satisfactory evening, and when not suffocating we murmured "I do" to our hearts' content. Next time, should your visits clash, I'll push him out. Yet I feel in honour bound to say that this is only my present state of mind.
I might weaken at the last moment—even in the Franklin Flats. As to some things in your letter, I have long since learned not to bestow too much attention upon anything you say. You court a kind of irresponsibility in language. With your inborn and over-indulged willfulness you love to break through the actual and to revel in the imaginary. I have become rather used to this as one of your growing traits and I am therefore not surprised that in this letter you say things which, if seriously spoken, would insult your sex and would make them recoil from you—or make them wish to burn you at the stake.
When you march up Fifth Avenue with your company of girls in that kind of procession, there will not be any Fifth Avenue: you will be tramping through the slums where you belong. All this, I repeat, is merely your way—to take things out in talking. But we can make words our playthings in life's shallows until words wreck us as their playthings in life's deeps.
Still, in return for your compliments to me, which, of course, you really mean , I paid you one the other night when thinking of you quite by myself. It was this: nature seems to leave something out of each of us, but we presently discover that she perversely put it where it does not belong.
What she left out of you, my dear, was the domestic tea-kettle.