Consequently Ethel had no idea when she returned home one night from a rather stupid entertainment that she was about to open a new and important chapter of her life. Hitherto that life had been one of the sweetest and simplest character—the lessons and sports of childhood and girlhood had claimed her nineteen years; and Ethel was just at that wonderful age when, the brook and the river having met, she was feeling the first swell of those irresistible tides which would carry her day by day to the haven of all days.
It was Saturday night in the January of 1900, verging toward twelve o'clock. When she entered her room, she saw that one of the windows was open, and she stood a moment or two at it, looking across the straight miles of white lights, in whose illumined shadows thousands of sleepers were holding their lives in pause.
"It is not New York at all," she whispered, "it is some magical city that I have seen, but have never trod. It will vanish about six o'clock in the morning, and there will be only common streets, full of common people. Of course," and here she closed the window and leisurely removed her opera cloak, "of course, this is only dreaming, but to dream waking, or to dream sleeping, is very pleasant. In dreams we can have men as we like them, and women as we want them, and make all the world happy and beautiful."
She was in no hurry of feeling or movement. She had been in a crowd for some hours, and was glad to be quite alone and talk to herself a little. It was also so restful to gradually relinquish all the restraining gauds of fashionable attire, and as she leisurely performed these duties, she entered into conversation with her own heart—talked over with it the events of the past week, and decided that its fretless days, full of good things, had been, from the beginning to the end, sweet as a cup of new milk. For a woman's heart is very talkative, and requires little to make it eloquent in its own way.
These gracious days of Seventeen-Hundred-and-Ninety-One were also the early days of the French Revolution, and fugitives from the French court—princes and nobles, statesmen and generals, sufficient for a new Iliad, loitered about the pleasant places of Broadway and Wall Street, Broad Street, and Maiden Lane. They were received with courtesy, and even with hospitality, although America at that date almost universally sympathized with the French Republicans, whom they believed to be the pioneers of political freedom on the aged side of the Atlantic. The merchants on Exchange, the Legislators in their Council Chambers, the working men on the wharves and streets, the loveliest women in their homes, and walks, and drives, alike wore the red cockade. The Marseillaise was sung with The Star Spangled Banner; and the notorious Carmagnole could be heard every hour of the day—on stated days, officially, at the Belvedere Club. Love for France, hatred for England, was the spirit of the age; it effected the trend of commerce, it dominated politics, it was the keynote of conversation wherever men and women congregated.
Yet the most pronounced public feeling always carries with it a note of dissent, and it was just at this day that dissenting opinion began to make itself heard. The horrors of Avignon, and of Paris, the brutality with which the royal family had been treated, and the abolition of all religious ties and duties, had many and bitter opponents. The clergy generally declared that "men had better be without liberty, than without God," and a prominent judge had ventured to say publicly that "Revolution was a dangerous chief justice."
In these days of wonderful hopes and fears there was, in Maiden Lane, a very handsome residence—an old house even in the days of Washington, for Peter Van Clyffe had built it early in the century as a bridal present to his daughter when she married Philip Moran, a lawyer who grew to eminence among colonial judges. The great linden trees which shaded the garden had been planted by Van Clyffe; so also had the high hedges of cut boxwood, and the wonderful sweet briar, which covered the porch and framed all the windows filling the open rooms in summer time with the airs of Paradise. On all these lovely things the old Dutchman had stamped his memory, so that, even to the third generation, he was remembered with an affection, that every springtime renewed.