Life has many descents from romance to reality that are far from agreeable. But every exalted hour, and every charming passage in our mortal pilgrimage, is a luxury that has to be paid for with something disagreeable. The German story teller, Tieck, has a pretty legend of a magical region where were marvelous golden castles, and fountains, and flowers, and bright-winged elves, living a life of ceaseless pleasure; but all this was visible only to the anointed eyes of some favored mortal to whom was granted the vision. To all others this elfin country was a desolate wilderness. I had had given me within a day or two that vision of Wonderland, and wandered—scarce knowing whether in the body or out—in its enchanted bowers. The first exhilarating joy of the moment when every mist rose up from the landscape of love; when there was perfect understanding, perfect union, perfect rest; was something that transfigured life. But having wandered in this blessed country and spoken the tongue of angels, I was now to return to every-day regions and try to translate its marvels and mysteries into the vernacular of mortals. In short, I was to wait upon Mr. Van Arsdel and ask of him the hand of his daughter.

Now however charming, with suitable encouragement, to make love to a beautiful lady, making love to a prospective father-in-law is quite another matter.

Men are not as a general thing inclined to look sympathetically on other men in love with any fine woman of their acquaintance, and are rather provoked than otherwise to have them accepted. "What any woman can see in that fellow!" is a sort of standing problem. But possessors of daughters, are, a fortiori, enemies ready made to every pretender to their hands. My own instincts made me aware of this, and I could easily fancy that had I a daughter like Eva I should be ready to shoot the fellow who came to take her from me.

Mr. Van Arsdel, it is true, had showed me, hitherto, in his quiet way, marked favor. He was seldom much of a talker, though a shrewd observer of all that was said by others. He had listened silently to all our discussions and conversations in Ida's library, and oftentimes to the reading of the articles I had subjected to the judgment of the ladies; sometimes, though very rarely, interposing little bits of common sense—criticism which showed keen good sense, and knowledge of the world.

Mr. Van Arsdel, like many of our merchant princes, had come from a rural distinct, and an early experience of the hard and frugal life of a farm. Good sense, acute observation, an ability to take wide and clear views of men and things, and an incorruptible integrity, had been the means of his rise to his present elevation. He was a true American man in another respect, and that was his devotion to women. In America, where we have a clear democracy, women hold that influence over men that is exerted by the aristocracy in other countries. They are something to be looked up to, petted, and courted. The human mind seems to require something of this kind. The faith and fealty that the middle-class Englishman has toward his nobility is not all snobbery. It has something of poetry in it—it is his romance of life. Up in those airy regions where walk the nobility, he is at liberty to fancy some higher, finer types of manhood and womanhood than he sees in the ordinary ways of life, and he adores the unseen and unknown. The American life would become vulgar and common-place did not a chivalrous devotion to women come in to supply the place of recognized orders of nobility. The true democrat sees no superior in rank among men, but all women are by courtesy his superiors.

Mr. Van Arsdel had married a beauty and a belle. When she chose him from among a crowd of suitors he could scarcely believe his own eyes or ears, or help marveling at the wondrous grace of the choice; and, as he told her so, Mrs. Van Arsdel believed him, and their subsequent life was arranged on that understanding. The Van Arsdel house was an empire where women ruled, though as the queen was a pretty, motherly woman, her reign was easy and flowery.

Mr. Van Arsdel delighted in the combinations of business for its own sake. It was his form of mental activity. He liked the effort, the strife, the care, the labor, the success of winning; but when money was once won he cared not a copper for all those forms of luxury and show, for the pride, pomp, and circumstance of fashion, which were all in all to his wife.

In his secret heart he considered the greater part of the proceedings in and about his splendid establishment as a rather expensive species of humbug; but then it was what the women wanted and desired, and he took it all quietly and without comment. I felt somewhat nervous when I asked a private interview with him in Ida's library.

"I have told mamma, Harry," whispered Eva, "and she is beginning to get over it."

Mrs. Van Arsdel received me with an air of patient endurance, as if I had been the toothache or any of the other inevitable inflictions of life, Miss Alice was distant and reserved, and only Ida was cordial.

I found Mr. Van Arsdel dry, cold, and wary, not in the least encouraging any sentimental effusion, and therefore I proceeded to speak to him with as matter-of-fact directness as if the treaty related to a bag of wool.

"Mr. Van Arsdel, I love your daughter. She has honored me so far as to accept of my love, and I have her permission to ask your consent to our marriage."

He took off his spectacles, wiped them deliberately while I was speaking, and coughed drily.

"Mr. Henderson," he said, "I have always had a great respect for you so far as I knew you, but I must confess I don't know why I should want to give you my daughter."

"Simply, sir, because in the order of nature you must give her to somebody, and I have the honor to be chosen by her."

"Eva could do better, her mother thinks."

"I am aware that Miss Van Arsdel could marry a man with more money than I have, but none who would love her more or be more devoted to her happiness. Besides I have the honor to be the man of her choice, and perhaps you may be aware that Miss Eva is a young lady of very decided preferences."

He smiled drily, and looked at me with a funny twinkle in his eye.

"Eva has always been used to having her own way," he remarked.

"Then, my dear sir, I must beg leave to say that the choice of a companion for life is a place where a lady has a good right to insist on her own way."

"Well, Mr. Henderson, you may be right. But perhaps her parents ought to insist that she shall not make an imprudent marriage."

"Mr. Van Arsdel, I do not conceive that I am proposing an imprudent marriage. I have not wealth to offer, it is true, but I have a reasonable prospect of being able to support a wife and family. I have good firm health, I have good business habits, I have a profession which already assures me a certain income, and an influential position in society."

"What do you call your profession?"

"Literature," I replied.

He looked skeptical, and I added—"Yes, Mr. Van Arsdel, in our day literature is a profession in which one may hope for both fame and money."

"It is rather an uncertain one, isn't it?" said he.

"I think not. A business which proposes to supply a great, permanent, constantly increasing demand you must admit to be a good one. The demand for current reading is just as wide and steady as any demand of our life, and the men who undertake to supply it have as certain a business as those that undertake to supply cotton cloth, or railroad iron. At this day fortunes are being made in and by literature."

Mr. Van Arsdel drummed on the table abstractedly.

"Now," said I, determined to speak in the language of men and things, "the case is just this: If a young man of good, reliable habits, good health, and good principles, has a capital of seventy thousand dollars invested in a fair paying business, has he not a prospect of supporting a family in comfort?"

"Yes," said Mr. Van Arsdel, regarding me curiously, "I should call that a good beginning."

"Well," rejoined I, "my health, my education, my power of doing literary work, are this capital. They secure to me for the next year an income equal to that of seventy thousand dollars at ten per cent. Now, I think a capital of that amount invested in a man, is quite as safe as the same sum invested in any stocks whatever. It seems to me that in our country a man who knows how to take care of his health is less likely to become unproductive in income than any stock you can name."

"There is something in that, I admit," replied Mr. Van Arsdel.

"And there's something in this, too, papa," said Eva, who entered at this moment and could not resist her desire to dip her oar in the current of conversation, "and that is, that an investment that you have got to take for better or worse and can't sell or get rid of all your life, had better be made in something you are sure you will like."

"And are you sure of that in this case, Pussy?" said her father, pinching her cheek.

"Tolerably, as men go. Mr. Henderson is the least tiresome man of my acquaintance, and you know, papa, it's time I took somebody; you don't want me to go into a convent, do you?"

"How about poor Mr. Sydney?"

"Poor Mr. Sydney has just called, and I have invited him to a private audience and convinced him that I am not, in the least, the person to make him happy—and he is one of the sort that feel that it is of the last importance that he should be made happy."

"Well, well! Mr. Henderson, I presume you have seen, in the course of your observations, that this is one of the houses where the women rule. You and Eva will have to settle it with her mother."

"Then I am to understand," exclaimed I, "that, as far as you are concerned——!"

"I submit," said Mr. Van Arsdel.

"The ayes have it, then," said Eva.

"I'm not so sure of that, young lady," said Mr. Van Arsdel, "if I may judge by the way your mother lamented to me last night."

"Oh, that's all Aunt Maria! You see, papa, this is an age of revolution, and there's going to be a revolution in the Aunt Maria dynasty in our house. She has governed mamma and all the rest of us long enough, and now she must go down and I must rule. Harry and I are going to start a new era and have things all our own way. I'm going to crown him King, and he then will crown me Queen, and then we shall proceed to rule and reign in our own dominions, and Aunt Maria, and Mrs. Grundy, and all the rest of them, may help themselves; they can't hinder us. We shall be happy in our own way, without consulting them."

"Well, well!" said Mr. Van Arsdel, following with an amused eye, a pirouette Eva executed at the conclusion of her speech, "you young folks are venturesome."

"Yes, papa, I am 'The woman who dared,'" said Eva.

"'Nothing venture, nothing have,'" quoted I.

"Eva knows no more about managing money than a this year's robin," said her father.

"Yet this year's robins know how to build respectable nests when their time comes," said she. "They don't bother about investments and stocks and all those things, but sing and have a good time. It all comes right for them, and I don't doubt it will for us."

"You have a decided talent for spending money most agreeably, I confess," said Mr. Van Arsdel.

"Now, papa, it's too bad for you to be running down your own daughter! I'm not appreciated. I have a world of undeveloped genius for management. Harry has agreed to teach me accounts, and as I belong to the class who always grow wiser than their teachers, I'm sure that before six months are over I shall be able to suggest improved methods to him. When I get a house you'll all be glad to come and see me, I shall make it so bright and sunny and funny, and give you such lovely things to eat; and in my house everybody shall do just as they please, and have their own way if they can find out what it is. I know people will like it."

"I believe you, Pussy," said Mr. Van Arsdel; "but houses don't grow on bushes, you know."

"Well, haven't I six thousand dollars, all my own, that grandma left me?"

"And how much of a house do you think that would buy?"

"Perhaps as big a one as you and mother began in."

"You never would be satisfied with such a house as we began in."

"Why not? Are we any better than you were?"

"No. But nowadays no young folks are contented to do as we did."

"Then, papa, you are going to see a new thing upon the earth, for Harry and I am going to be pattern folks for being rational and contented. We are going to start out on a new tack and bring in the golden age. But, bless me! there's Aunt Maria coming down the street! Now, Harry, comes the tug of war. I am going now to emancipate mamma and proclaim the new order of things," and out she flitted.

"Mr. Henderson," said Mr. Van Arsdel, when she had gone, "I think it is about certain that I am to look on you as a future member of our family. I'll be fair with you, that you may take steps with your eyes open. My daughters are supposed to be heiresses, but, as things are tending, in a very short time I may be put back to where I started in life and have all to begin over. My girls will have nothing. I see such a crisis impending and I have no power to help it."

"My dear sir," said I, "while I shall be sorry for your trouble, and hope it may not come, I shall be only too glad to prove my devotion to Eva."

"It is evident," said Mr. Arsdel, "that her heart is set on you, and, after all, the only true comfort is in having the one you want. I myself never cared for fashion, Mr. Henderson, nor parties, nor any of this kind of fuss and show the women think so much of; and I believe that Eva is a little like me. I like to go back to the old place in summer and eat huckleberries and milk, and see the cows come home from pasture, and sit in father's old arm-chair. It wouldn't take so much running and scheming and hard thinking and care to live, if folks were all of my mind. Why, up in New Hampshire where I came from, there's scarcely ever an estate administered upon that figures up more than five thousand dollars, and yet they all live well—have nice houses, nice tables, give money in charity, and make a good thing of life."

There was something really quite pathetic in this burst of confidence from the worthy man. Perhaps I was the first one to whom he had confessed the secret apprehensions with which he was struggling.

"You see, Mr. Henderson, you never can tell about investments. Stocks that seem to stand as firm as the foundations of the earth, that the very oldest and shrewdest and longest-headed put into, run down and depreciate—and when they get running you can't draw out, you see. Now I advanced capital for the new Lightning Line Railroad to the amount of two hundred thousand, and pledged my Guatemala stock for the money, and then arose this combination against the Guatemala stock, and it has fallen to a fourth of its value in six months, and it takes heavy rowing—heavy. I'd a great deal rather be in father's old place, with an estate of five thousand dollars, and read my newspaper in peace, than to have all I have with the misery of managing it. I may work out and I may not."

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