Franklin Kane
198 Pages

Franklin Kane


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Published 08 December 2010
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Franklin Kane, by Anne Douglas Sedgwick
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Title: Franklin Kane
Author: Anne Douglas Sedgwick
Release Date: July 22, 2006 [EBook #18886]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by Louise Pryor, Janet Blenkinship and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
'My dear Mr. Kane, I do congratulate you,' Helen said.
T. NELSON & SONS LONDON AND EDINBURGH PARIS: 189, rue Saint-Jacques LEIPZIG: 35-37 Königstrasse
Miss Althea Jakes was tired after her long journey from Basle. It was a brilliant summer afternoon, and though the shutters were half closed on the beating Parisian sunlight, the hotel sitting-room looked, i n its brightness, hardly shadowed. Unpinning her hat, laying it on the table beside her, passing her hands over the undisordered folds of her hair, Miss Jakes looked about her at the old-gold brocade of the furniture, the many mirrors in ornate gold frames, the photographs from Bougereau, the long, crisp lace curtains. It was the same sitting-room that she had had last year, the same that she had had the year before last—the same, indeed, to which she had been conducted on her first stay at the Hôtel Talleyrand, eight years ago. The brocade looked as new, the gilded frames as glittering, the lace curtains as snowy as ever. Everything was as she had always seen it, from the ugly Satsuma va ses flanking the ugly bronze clock on the mantelpiece, to the sheaf of pink roses lying beside her in their white paper wrappings. Even Miss Harriet Robi nson's choice of welcoming flowers was the same. So it had always been, and so, no doubt, it would continue to be for many years to come; and sh e, no doubt, for many summers, would arrive from Basle to sit, jadedly, looking at it.
Amélie, her maid, was unpacking in the next room; the door was ajar, and Miss Jakes could hear the creaking of lifted trays and the rustling of multitudinous tissue-paper layers. The sounds suggested an answer to a dim question that had begun to hover in her travel-worn mind. One came back every summer to the Hôtel Talleyrand for the purpose of getting clothes; that, perhaps, was a sufficient answer. Yet, to-day, it did not seem sufficient. She was not really so very much interested in her clothes; not nearly enough interested to make them a compensation for such fatigue and loneliness as she was now feeling. And as she realised this, a further question followed: in what was she particularly interested? What was a sufficient motive for all the European journeyings with which her life, for the past ten or twelve years, had been filled? In a less jaded mood, in her usual mood of mild, if rather wistful, assurance, she would have answered at once that she was interested in everything—in everything that was of the best—pictures, music, places, and people. Th ese surely were her objects.
She was that peculiarly civilised being, the American woman of independent means and discriminating tastes, whose cosmopolitan studies and acquaintances give, in their multiplicity, the impression of a full, if not a completed, life. But to-day the gloomy question hovered: was not the very pilgrimage to Bayreuth, the study of archæology in Rome, and of pictures in Florence, of much the same nature as the yearly visit to Paris for clothes? What was attained by it all? Was it not something merely superficial, to be put on and worn, as it were, not to be lived for with a growing satisfaction? Miss Jakes did not answer thisquestion; she dismissed it with some indignation, and shegot
up and rang rather sharply for tea, which was late; and after asking the garçon, with a smile that in its gentleness contrasted with the sharpness of the pull, that it might be brought at once, she paused near the table to lean over and smell her sheaf of roses, and to read again, listlessly, Miss Harriet Robinson's words of affectionate greeting. Miss Robinson was a middle-aged American lady who lived in Paris, and had long urged Althea to settle there near her. Ten years ago, when she had first met Miss Robinson in Boston, Althea had thought her a brilliant and significant figure; but she had by now met too many of her kind—in Rome, in Florence, in Dresden—to feel any wish for a more intimate relationship. She was fond of Miss Robinson, but she prayed that fate did not reserve for her a withering to the like brisk, colourless spinsterhood. This hope, the necessity for such hope, was the final depth of her gloomy mood, and she found herself looking at something very dark as she stood holding Miss Robinson's expensive roses. For, after all, what was going to become of her? The final depth shaped itself to-day in more grimly realistic fashion than ever before: what was she going to do with herself, in the last resort, unless something happened? Her mind dwelt upon all the visible alternatives. There was philanthropic lunch-going and lunch-giving spinsterhood in Boston; there was spinsterhood in Europe, semi-social, semi-intellectual, and monotonous in its very variety, for Althea had come to feel change as monotonous; or there was spinsterhood in England established near her friend, Miss Buckston, who raised poultry in the country, and went up to London for Bach choir practices and Woman's Suffrage meetings. Althea couldn't see herself as taking an interest in poultry or in Woman's Suffrage, nor did she feel herself fitted for patriotic duties in Boston. There was nothing for i t, then, but to continue her present nomadic life. After seeing herself shut in to this conclusion, it was a real relief to her to hear the tea-tray chink outside, and to see it enter, high on the garçon's shoulder, as if with a trivial but cheerfu l reply to her dreary questionings. Tea, at all events, would always happen and always be pleasant. Althea smiled sadly as she made the reflection, for she was not of an Epicurean temperament. After she had drunk her tea she felt strengthened to go in and ask Amélie about her clothes. She might have to get a g reat many new ones, especially if she went home for the autumn and winter, as she half intended to do. She took up the roses, as she passed them, to show to Amélie. Amélie was a bony, efficient Frenchwoman, with high cheek-bones and sleek black hair. She had come to Althea first, many years ago, as a courier-maid, to take her back to America. Althea's mother had died in Dresden, and Althea had been equipped by anxious friends with this competent attendant for her sad return journey. Amélie had proved intelligent and reliable in the highest degree, and though she had made herself rather disagreeable during her first year in Boston, she had stayed on ever since. She still made herself disagreeable from time to time, and Althea had sometimes lacked only the courage to dismiss her; but she could hardly imagine herself existing without Amélie, and in Europe Amélie was seldom disagreeable. In Europe, at the w orst, she was gruff and ungracious, and Althea was fond enough of her to ig nore these failings, although they frightened her a little; but though an easily intimidated person, and much at a loss in meeting opposition or rudeness, she was also tenacious. She might be frightened, but people could never make her do what she didn't want to do, not even Amélie. Her relations with Amélie were slightly strained just now, for she had not taken her advice as to th eir return journey from Venice. Amélie had insisted on Mont Cenis, and Alth ea had chosen the St.
Gothard; so that it was as a measure of propitiation that she selected three of the roses for Amélie as she went into the bedroom. Amélie, who was kneeling before one of the larger boxes and carefully lifting skirts from its trays, paused to sniff at the flowers, and to express a terse thanks and admiration. 'Ah, bien merci, mademoiselle,' she said, laying her share on the table beside her.
She was not very encouraging about the condition of Althea's wardrobe.
'Elles sont défraîchies—démodées—en vérité, mademoi selle,' she replied, when Althea asked if many new purchases were necessary.
Althea sighed. 'All the fittings!'
'Il faut souffrir pour être belle,' said Amélie unsympathetically.
Althea had not dared yet to tell her that she might be going back to America that winter. The thought of Amélie's gloom cast a shadow over the project, and she could not yet quite face it. She wandered back to the sitting-room, and, thinking of Amélie's last words, she stood for some time and looked at herself in the large mirror which rose from mantelpiece to cornice, enclosed in cascades of gilt. One of the things that Althea, in her mild assurance, was really secure of —for, as we have intimated, her assurance often covered a certain insecurity —was her own appearance. She didn't know about 'belle,' that seemed rather a trivial term, and the English equivalent better to express the distinctive characteristic of her face. She had so often been told she was nobly beautiful that she did not see herself critically, and she now leaned her elbow on the mantelpiece and gazed at herself with sad approbati on. The mirror reflected only her head and shoulders, and Miss Jakes's figure could not, even by a partisan, have been described as beautiful; she was short, and though immature in outline, her form was neither slender nor graceful. Althea did not feel these defects, and was well satisfied with her figure, especially with her carriage, which was full of dignity; but it was her head that best pleased her, and her head, indeed, had aspects of great benignity and sweetness. It was a large head, crowned with coils of dull gold hair; h er clothing followed the fashions obediently, but her fashion of dressing her hair did not vary, and the smooth parting, the carved ripples along her brow became her, though they did not become her stiffly conventional attire. Her face, though almost classic in its spaces and modelling, lacked in feature the classic decision and amplitude, so that the effect was rather that of a dignified room meagrely furnished. For these deficiencies, however, Miss Jakes's eyes might well be accepted as atonement. They were large, dark, and innocent; they lay far apart, heavily lidded and with wistful eyebrows above them; their expression varied easily from lucid serenity to a stricken, expectant look, like that of a threatened doe, and slight causes could make Miss Jakes's eyes look stricken. They did not look stricken now, but they looked profoundly melancholy.
Here she stood, in the heartless little French sitting-room, meaning so well, so desirous of the best, yet alone, uncertain of any a im, and very weary of everything.
Althea, though a cosmopolitan wanderer, had seldom stayed in an hotel unaccompanied. She did not like, now, going down to thetable d'hôte dinner alone, and was rather glad that her Aunt Julia and Aunt Julia's two daughters were to arrive in Paris next week. It was really almost the only reason she had for being glad of Aunt Julia's arrival, and she could imagine no reason for being glad of the girls'. Tiresome as it was to think of going to tea with Miss Harriet Robinson, to think of hearing from her all the latest gossip, and all the latest opinions of the latest books and pictures—alert, mechanical appreciations with which Miss Robinson was but too ready—it was yet mo re tiresome to look forward to Aunt Julia's appreciations, which were dogmatic and often belated, and to foresee that she must run once more the gaun tlet of Aunt Julia's disapproval of expatriated Americans. Althea was ac customed to these assaults and met them with weary dignity, at times expostulating: 'It is all very well for you, Aunt Julia, who have Uncle Tom and the girls; I have nobody, and all my friends are married.' But this brought upon her an invariable retort: 'Well, why don't you get married then? Franklin Winslow Kane asks nothing better.' This retort angered Althea, but she was too fond of Franklin Winslow Kane to reply that perhaps she, herself, did ask something better. So that it was as a convenience, and not as a comfort, that she looked forward to Aunt Julia; and to the girls she did not look forward at all. They were young, ebullient, slangy; they belonged to a later generation than her own, strange to her in that it seemed weighted with none of the responsibilities and reverences that she had grown up among. It was a generation that had no respect f or and no anxiety concerning Europe; that played violent outdoor games, and went without hats in summer.
The dining-room was full when she went down to dinner, her inward tremor of shyness sustained by the consciousness of the perfe ct fit and cut of her elaborate little dress. People sat at small tables, and the general impression was one of circumspection and withdrawal. Most of the occupants were of Althea's type—richly dressed, quiet-voiced Americans, careful of their own dignity and quick at assessing other people's. A French family loudly chattered and frankly stared in one corner; for the rest, all seemed to be compatriots.
But after Althea had taken her seat at her own table near the pleasantly open window, and had consulted the menu and ordered a half-bottle of white wine, another young woman entered and went to the last vacant table left in the room, the table next Althea's—so near, indeed, that the waiter found some difficulty in squeezing himself between them when he presented thecarte des vinsto the newcomer.
She was not an American, Althea felt sure of this a t once, and the mere negation was so emphatic that it almost constituted, for the first startled glance, a complete definition. But, glancing again and again, while she ate her soup, Althea realised there were so many familiar things the newcomer was not, that she seemed made up of differences. The fact that she was English—she spoke to the waiter absent-mindedly in that tongue—did not make her less different, for she was like no English person that Althea had ever seen. She engaged at once the whole of her attention, but at first Althea could not have said whether
this attention were admiring; her main impression w as of oddity, of something curiously arresting and noticeable.
The newcomer sat in profile to Althea, her back to the room, facing the open window, out of which she gazed vaguely and unseeingly. She was dressed in black, a thin dress, rather frayed along the edges—an evening dress; though, as a concession to Continental custom, she had a wi de black scarf over her bare shoulders. She sat, leaning forward, her elbow s on the table, and once, when she glanced round and found Althea's eyes fixed on her, she looked back for a moment, but with something of the same vagueness and unseeingness with which she looked out of the window.
She was very odd. An enemy might say that she had Chinese eyes and a beak-like nose. The beak was small, as were all the features—delicately, decisively placed in the pale, narrow face—yet it jutted over prominently, and the long eyes were updrawn at the outer corners and only opened widely with an effect of effort. She had quantities of hair, dense and dark, arranged with an ordered carelessness, and widely framing her face and throat. She was very thin, and she seemed very tired; and fatigue, which made Althea look wistful, made this young lady look bored and bitter. Her grey eyes, pe rhaps it was the strangeness of their straight-drawn upper lids, were dazed and dim in expression. She ate little, leaned limply on her elbows, and sometimes rubbed her hands over her face, and sat so, her fingers in her hair, for a languid moment. Dinner was only half over when she rose and went away, her black dress trailing behind her, and a moon-like space of neck visible between her heavily-clustered hair and the gauze scarf.
Althea could not have said why, but for the rest of the meal, and after she had gone back to her sitting-room, the thought of the young lady in black remained almost oppressively with her.
She had felt empty and aimless before seeing her; since seeing her she felt more empty, more aimless than ever. It was an absurd impression, and she tried to shake it off with the help of a recent vol ume of literary criticism, but it coloured her mind as though a drop of some potent chemical had been tipped into her uncomfortable yet indefinable mood, and had suddenly made visible in it all sorts of latent elements.
It was curious to feel, as a deep conviction about a perfect stranger, that though the young lady in black might often know moods, the y would never be undefined ones; to be sure that, however little she had, she would always accurately know what she wanted. The effect of seeing some one so hard, so clear, so alien, was much as if, a gracefully moulded but fragile earthenware pot, she had suddenly, while floating down the stream, found herself crashing against the bronze vessel of the fable.
A corrective to this morbid state of mind came to her with the evening post, and in the form of a thick letter bearing the Boston postmark. Franklin Winslow Kane had not occurred to Althea as an alternative to the various forms of dignified extinction with which her imagination had been occu pied that afternoon. Franklin often occurred to her as a solace, but he never occurred to her as an escape.
He was a young man of very homespun extraction, who hovered in Boston on the ambiguous verge between the social and the scholastic worlds; the sort of young man whom one asked to tea rather than to dinner. He was an earnest student, and was attached to the university by an official, though unimportant, tie. A physicist, and, in his own sober way, with something of a reputation, he was profoundly involved in theories that dealt with the smallest things and the largest—molecules and the formation of universes.
He had first proposed to Althea when she was eighteen. She was now thirty-three, and for all these years Franklin had proposed to her on every occasion that offered itself. He was deeply, yet calmly, determinedly, yet ever so patiently, in love with her; and while other more e ligible and more easily consoled aspirants had drifted away and got married and become absorbed in their growing families, Franklin alone remained admirably faithful. She had never given him any grounds for expecting that she might some day marry him, yet he evidently found it impossible to marry anybo dy else. This was the touching fact about Franklin, the one bright point, as it were, in his singularly colourless personality. His fidelity was like a fleck of orange on the wing of some grey, unobtrusive moth; it made him visible.
Althea's compassionate friendship seemed to sustain him sufficiently on his way; he did not pine or protest, though he punctually requested. He frequently appeared and he indefatigably wrote, and his long constancy, the unemotional trust and closeness of their intimacy, made him seem less a lover than the American husband of tradition, devoted and uncomplaining, who had given up hoping that his wife would ever come home and live with him.
Althea rather resented this aspect of their relation; she was well aware of its comicality; but though Franklin's devotion was at times something of a burden, though she could expect from him none of the glamour of courtship, she could ill have dispensed with his absorption in her. Franklin's absorption in her was part of her own personality; she would hardly have known herself without it; and her relation to him, irksome, even absurd as she so metimes found it, was perhaps the one thing in her life that most nearly linked her to reality; it was a mirage, at all events, of the responsible affections that her life lacked.
And now, in her mood of positive morbidity, the sight of Franklin's handwriting on the thick envelope brought her the keenest sense she had ever had of his value. One might have no aim oneself, yet to be some one else's aim saved one from that engulfing consciousness of nonentity; one might be uncertain and indefinite, but a devotion like Franklin's really d efined one. She must be significant, after all, since this very admirable p erson—admirable, though ineligible—had found her so for so many years. It was with a warming sense of restoration, almost of reconstruction, that she opened the letter, drew out the thickly-folded sheets of thin paper and began to read the neat, familiar writing. He told her everything that he was doing and thinki ng, and about everything that interested him. He wrote to her of kinetics and atoms as if she had been a fellow-student. It was as if, helplessly, he felt the whole bulk of his outlook to be his only chance of interesting her, since no detail was likely to do so. Unfortunately it didn't interest her much. Franklin's eagerness about some local election, or admiration for some talented pupil, or enthusiasm in regard to a new theory that delved deeper and circled wider tha n any before, left her
imagination inert, as did he. But to-night all these things were transformed by the greatness of her own need and of her own relief. And when she read that Franklin was to be in Europe in six weeks' time, and that he intended to spend some months there, and, if she would allow it, as near her as was possible, a sudden hope rose in her and seemed almost a joy.
Was it so impossible, after all, as an alternative? Equipped with her own outlooks, with her wider experience, and with her ample means, might not dear Franklin be eligible? To sink back on Franklin, after all these years, would be, of course, to confess to failure; but even in failu re there were choices, and wasn't this the best form of failure? Franklin was not, could never be, the lover she had dreamed of; she had never met that lover, a nd she had always dreamed of him. Franklin was dun-coloured; the lover of her dreams a Perseus-like flash of purple and gold, ardent, graceful, compelling, some one who would open doors to large, bright vistas, and lead her into a life of beauty. But this was a dream and Franklin was the fact, and to-night he seemed the only fact worth looking at. Wasn't dun-colour, after all, preferable to the trivial kaleidoscope of shifting tints which was all that the future, apart from Franklin, seemed to offer her? Might not dun-colour, even, illuminated by joy, turn to gold, like highway dust when the sun shines upon it? Althea wondered, leaning back in her chair and gazing before her; she wondered deeply.
If only Franklin would come in now with the right look. If only he would come in with the right word, or, if not with the word, with an even more compelling silence! Compulsion was needed, and could Franklin compel? Could he make her fall in love with him? So she wondered, sitting alone in the Paris hotel, the open letter in her hand.
When Althea went in to lunch next day, after an arduous morning of shopping, she observed, with mingled relief and disappointment, that the young lady in black was not in her place. She might very probably have gone away, and it was odd to think that an impression so strong was p robably to remain an impression merely. On the whole, she was sorry to think that it might be so, though the impression had not been altogether happy.
After lunch she lay down and read reviews for a lazy hour, and then dressed to receive Miss Harriet Robinson, who, voluble and beaming, arrived punctually at four.
Miss Robinson looked almost exactly as she had looked for the last ten years. She changed as little as the hotel drawing-room, but that the pictures on the wall, the vases on the shelf of her mental decoration varied with every season. She was always passionately interested in something, and it was surprising to note how completely in the new she forgot last year's passion. This year it was eugenics and Strauss; the welfare of the race had s uddenly engaged her attention, and the menaced future of music. She was slender, erect, and beautifully dressed. Her hands were small, and she constantly but