Robert Tronge 25

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

He had begun life with the assumption that to be a New York Lanley was in itself enough, a comfortable creed in which many of his relations had obscurely lived and died. But before he was graduated from Columbia College he began to doubt whether the profession of being an aristocrat in a democracy was a man's job. At no time in his life did he deny the value of birth and breeding; but he came to regard them as a responsibility solemn and often irritating to those who did not possess them, though he was no longer content with the current views of his family that they were a sufficient attainment in themselves. He was graduated from college in 1873, and after a summer at the family place on the Hudson, hot, fertile, and inaccessible, which his sister Alberta was at that time occupying, he had arranged a trip round the world. September of that year brought the great panic, and swept away many larger and solider fortunes than the Lanleys'. Mr. Lanley decided that he must go to work, though he abandoned his traditions no further than to study law. His ancestors, like many of the aristocrats of the early days, had allowed their opinions of fashion to influence too much their selection of real estate. All through the late seventies, while his brothers and sisters were clinging sentimentally to brownstone fronts in Stuyvesant Square or red-brick facades in Great Jones Street, Mr. Lanley himself, unaffected by recollections of Uncle Joel's death or grandma's marriage, had been parting with his share in such properties, and investing along the east side of the park. By the time he was forty he was once more a fairly rich man. He had left the practice of law to become the president of the Peter Stuyvesant Trust Company, for which he had been counsel. After fifteen years he had retired from this, too, and had become, what he insisted nature had always intended him to be, a gentleman of leisure. He retained a directorship in the trust company, was a trustee of his university, and was a thorny and inquiring member of many charitable boards. He prided himself on having emancipated himself from the ideas of his own generation. It bored him to listen to his cousins lamenting the vulgarities of modern life, the lack of elegance in present-day English, or to hear them explain as they borrowed money from him the sort of thing a gentleman could or could not do for a living. But on the subject of what a lady might do he still held fixed and unalterable notions; nor did he ever find it tiresome to hear his own daughter expound the axioms of this subject with a finality he had taught her in her youth. Having freed himself from fine-gentlemanism, he had quite unconsciously fallen the more easily a prey to fine-ladyism; all his conservatism had gone into that, as a man, forced to give up his garden, might cherish one lovely potted plant. At a time when private schools were beginning to flourish once more he had been careful to educate Adelaide entirely at home with governesses. Every summer he took her abroad, and showed her, and talked with her about, books, pictures, and buildings; he inoculated her with such fundamentals as that a lady never wears imitation lace on her underclothes, and the past of the verb to "eat" is pronounced to rhyme with "bet." She spoke French and German fluently, and could read Italian. He considered her a perfectly educated woman. She knew nothing of business, political economy, politics, or science. He himself had never been deeply interested in American politics, though very familiar with the lives of English statesmen. He was a great reader of memoirs and of the novels of Disraeli and Trollope. Of late he had taken to motoring. He kissed his daughter and nodded--a real New York nod--to his son-in-law. "I've come to tell you, Adelaide," he began. "Such a thing!" murmured Mathilde, shaking her golden head above the cup of tea she was making for him, making in just the way he liked; for she was a little person who remembered people's tastes. "I thought you'd rather hear it than read it in the papers." "Goodness, Papa, you talk as if you had been getting married!" "No." Mr. Lanley hesitated, and looked up at her brightly. "No; but I think I did have a proposal the other day." "From Mrs. Baxter?" asked Adelaide. This was almost war. Mrs. Baxter was a regal and possessive widow from Baltimore whose long and regular visits to Mr. Lanley had once occasioned his family some alarm, though time had now given them a certain institutional safety. Her father was not flurried by the reference. "No," he said; "though she writes me, I'm glad to say, that she is coming soon." "You don't tell me!" said Adelaide. The cream of the winter season was usually the time Mrs. Baxter selected for her visit. Her father did not notice her. "If Mrs. Baxter should ever propose to me," he went on thoughtfully, "I shouldn't refuse. I don't think I should have the--" "The chance?" said his daughter. "I was going to say the fortitude. But this," he went on, "was an elderly cousin, who expressed a wish to come and be my housekeeper. Perhaps matrimony was not intended. Mathilde, my dear, how does one tell nowadays whether one is being proposed to or not?" In this poignant and unexpected crisis Mathilde turned slowly and painfully crimson. How _did_ one tell? It was a question which at the moment was anything but clear to her. "I should always assume it in doubtful cases, sir," said Wayne, very distinctly. He and Mathilde did not even glance at each other. "It wasn't your proposal that you came to announce to us, though, was it, Papa?" said Adelaide. "No," answered Mr. Lanley. "The fact is, I've been arrested." "Again?"