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A Fool's Paradise

Editorial Note: This story originally appeared in the November 24, 1888, issue of Family Fiction. The Chesnutt Archive was unable to obtain images of the original publication.


Went to the ball at Mrs. Gransville De Puyster's last night (December 15, 1878). It was a brilliant affair. The air was heavy with the perfume of rare flowers; the music throbbed voluptuously; the soft light of the multitudinous wax candles fell upon beautiful women and splendid men. The scene was elysian in its beauty. How can I thank Jenkyns for this invitation. It has opened up to me a new world. Hereafter I shall move upon a higher social plane, from which I can look down with generous pity upon my former associates. I shall treat them politely when we chance to meet noblesse oblige—but so far as a society is concerned, we must henceforth be strangers.

Jenkyns has procured me an invitaton to Mrs. Merriwether's for next Thursday evening. (By the way, I hope he will not ask me for another loan before that time; he is not as prompt in his payments as I could wish.) I wonder if Miss Ferrand will be there. I must find out who she is. Such a charming freshness and simplicity! The moment she entered the drawing-room door I was struck by her appearance. She is blonde, tall and stately, with eyes of deepest blue, from which truth seems to look out inquiringly upon an unfamiliar world. She wore a high-cut gown of dove-colored silk, with violets in her hair and at her throat. Jenkyns tells me it was her first ball. It was no wonder, then, that a blush should overspread her face as she looked around the room at the elaborate display of shoulders. What conventional purity! Women like her are the salt of society! Would that there were more of them to excercise a restraining influence upon the growing laxity of fashionable morals.

I had the inexpressible pleasure of taking her out to supper. How will I ever be able to pay my debt of gratitude to Jenkyns! It was interesting to hear Miss Ferrand's naive opinions on the ways of fashionable society. "Do ladies really drink wine?" she asked me in a horror-struck whisper.

"See for yourself," I answered.

"It is disgraceful," she continued, her cheeks flame with indignation. I noticed that she did not take wine herself, and that she went away early. A glorious creature! I hope she will be at Mrs. Merriwether's.

January 10, 1879—I met Miss Ferrand last night for the fourth time. She is more charming each time I see her. Last night her beauty was heightened by an elaborate full-dress toilet. She wore a gown of white satin, with a bunch of yellow roses at her waist. What superb shoulders she has! Her arms would put a Venus to the blush.

A short acquaintance with fashionable society brings a pretty woman out wonderfully. Miss Ferrand waltzes divinely. I understand she has been taking dancing lessons since she came to the city. She and young Van Dusen make a handsome couple. I saw no reason, however, for his clasping her so closely during the waltz. I have never heard any good of that fellow. He is a rich snob: his money is his only redeeming quality. His touch is pollution to a pure and unsullied soul like that of Miss Ferrand. She surely has not heard of his habits, or she would not dance with him.

I waltzed with her later in the evening, and—but I cannot describe my feelings. Let me confess it here in these pages, which no profane eye will ever desecrate: I am in love—deeply, desperately in love. Dearest Ida—Ida!—my pen lingers lovingly upon the name—could you not read my secret in my eyes—in every tone of my voice? I am thirty-five and this is the first time I have ever really been in love.

Van Dusen took her out to supper. Lucky scoundrel! I gave my arm to a faded wallflower, to whom I could not reasonably be expected to talk a great deal. I succeeded in getting seats opposite Miss Ferrand at the supper table, and feasted my eyes upon her from behind the pyramid of hothouse flowers that rose in front of my plate. I am afraid my companion was somewhat neglected.

Van Dusen was very attentive to Ida; he must be in love with her himself. The thought is maddening! In her innocent good-nature she seemed to encourage him. She laughed at his clumsy wit and appeared to listen—what a bore it must have been!—to the bits of stale gossip he had picked up at the clubs, about people she did not know, and events in which she could not have been interested. The fellow has not a single original idea. He piled her plate with dainties, and I watched her tapered fingers carry to her lips the champagne he forced upon her. Do I hate or envy him most?

I have found out all about her. She comes of a poor but highly cultivated family; her father is a professor in a theological seminary, and her mother writes articles for the magazines. I can seek her hand without incurring the imputation of mercenary motives. I shall call this evening with Jenkyns, who is acquainted with the family she is stopping with.

11 P.M.—Called with Jenkyns. Delightful time. Will go again by myself next Thursday evening. Miss Ferrand is as accomplished as she is beautiful. She plays brilliantly upon the piano and sings with a cultivated and very sympathetic voice. I could scarcely refrain from weeping at her rendition of "Way Down Upon de Swanee Ribber." She sang the ballad with a pathos and delicacy that redeemed it from its minstrel associations and appealed to the finer feelings of the heart. I looked over a number of her drawings: they show signs of unusual talent. She is familiar with the best literature of the day, and spoke of several authors with whose names I am unacquainted. I fear I am not worthy of her, and yet I will make the effort to win her love. I think she must have perceived something of my feeling toward her; I could not see how she had failed to do so.

March 10.—Black despair has fallen upon me. I have been refused—kindly, but firmly. Nothing could have been more delicate than her way of putting it; but alas! the blow is not less crushing because the hand that gave it was wrapped in velvet.

"Mr. Dunlap," she said, "I regret this exceedingly—more, indeed, than language can express. But, while I esteem you highly, I don not feel for you the affection which I must have for the man whom I marry."

"Is there no hope that your feelings toward me may change?" I asked.

"I am afraid not," she replied. "No, Mr. Dunlap, it is better for you not to cherish false hopes. But we can still be friends. Some other and better girl will make you happier than I could."

A decent self-respect would require me to forget her. But, groveling in the depths of self-abasement, I confess that I love her still, and shall ever love her.

April 15.—My worst fears are realized. Is it reserved for gilded vice and emptiness always to triumph over honorable poverty? Miss Ferrand has become Mrs. Van Dusen. I went to see her married. The brilliantly lighted church was crowded to the doors. From an obscure corner I watched the bride float down the aisle upon Van Dusen's arm, while the organ pealed forth a joyful wedding march. It was like seeing a lamb led to the sacrifice. The music ran together in a jumble of discords. I could bear no more, and hurried out of the church by the side door. I had recieved an invitation to the reception, but could not trust myself to attend; my heart was too full. May Ida never repent the step she took tonight.

May 20.—I have tried in vain to tear this unholy love from my heart. Ida is now the wife of another. But did she not say we might be friends? It cannot be wrong of me to watch over her; she may yet need a friend. I do not believe Van Dusen will make her a good husband, and I may yet have an opportunity to prove my friendship.

I met Mrs. Van Dusen last night.

"Why did you not come to my reception?" she said, reproachfully.

"Do not ask me," I replied; "I could not."

"Poor Mr. Dunlap!" she sighed.

What divine pity! It almost consoled me for my misery; and when she asked me to bring her fan from the sofa in the other room I felt an elation that lasted me all the evening.

August 1, 1881.—It has been a long time since I have written in my journal. I attended the soirée at Mrs. Van Dusen's last night. I suspect that my fears were well founded. Ida does not look happy, and there is an expression of sullen savagery about Van Dusen's heavy face that bodes ill for his wife's peace of mind.

I conversed with my hostess a few minutes at supper. She surely has some secret sorrow. She swallowed several glasses of wine with almost feverish haste. Would that I could comfort her—my poor darling! She must suffer, and I can do nothing.

March 2, 1882.—I can scarcely restrain my joy, and yet the sentiment is almost inhuman. Van Dusen is dead—killed in a railway accident. Ida is free! Having waited so long, I can wait a little longer, but when the period of her mourning is over I will again tempt my fate. If humble and patient devotion can win her love, she shall yet be mine.

March 10.—Fortune favors me. Van Dusen's affairs were found to be fearfully involved, and in all probability there will be nothing left for the widow and child. I have volunteered my services in straightening out the books of the estate, and getting her business in order. This brings me into frequent contact with Ida. Her resignation is almost divine; and the pensive smile that lights up her face now and then is like a ray of light escaping through a rift in the walls of paradise.

May 19.—My task is completed. There is scarcely anything left of the fine estate Van Dusen inherited. He has run through it all in a few brief years. Ida will have to find something to do to support herself and her child. What a shame that conventionality will not permit me to assume the burden; I would work my fingers to the bone for her.

May 20.—I have bestirred myself to find music pupils for Ida. She is a skillful musician, and will make, I think, an excellent teacher. Some of her former fashionable associates have interested themselves in her behalf, and she will be able to earn enough to live in comfort until the time arrives when I can offer her a humble home.

June 1, 1883.—When I called at Mrs. Van Dusen's last evening I found a tall, handsome fellow there. He is a Mr. Courcy, a banker, and the father of one of Ida's music pupils. I have learned today that he is a widower. How rapidly I hope the next few months fly, so that I may put the momentous question upon which my future happiness depends!

October 12.—I am dazed, dumbfounded, stupefied. All last night I tossed upon my bed in sleepless misery. I have not been to the office today, but went for a long walk in the park this morning, hoping that the fresh air and the sight of the green trees might give my throbbing brain relief. Perhaps I can get rid of some of my pain by pouring it out upon the pages of my journal. When I called upon Ida last evening, she said to me:

"Mr. Dunlap, I believe you are a true friend of mine, indeed my best friend, and I wish to confide in you with respect to a matter of vital importance to me. I am alone in the world, except for Nellie. My earnings are small at the best, and while at present adequate for my simple needs, they will not, even supposing them to remain constant, be sufficent to educate Nellie as the Ferrands have always been brought up."

"Dear Mrs. Van Dusen," I cried at this point, "let me—"

She interrupted me and continued: "Mr. Courcy has offered to marry me. He can give me wealth and luxury, a home for Nellie, and the means to educate her properly. I believe he loves me dearly, and I have accepted him. I hope you think I have acted wisely. Will you not congratulate me?"

For an answer I poured out my own love in a torrent of words. She looked pained and surprised.

"I did not dream that you felt such sentiments for me, Mr. Dunlap," she said, and with downcast eyes she continued, "You said nothing; what might have been if you spoken sooner it would not be right for me to say. But my word is given and I cannot break it. Can we not still be friends? I know I can never repay you for all your kindness to me."

I could not resist so much dignity, such integrity of character. With a sublime self-denial she had sacrificed her love for me to what she believed to be her duty. What might have been she should not say—she had plighted her word and I must go on in the dreary routine of my lonely life—cheered somewhat by a ray of friendship, when, if I had only spoken sooner, I might have basked in the sunshine of love.

January 3, 1884.—I see Mrs. Courcy occasionally. The happy intimacy of her widowhood is mine no more. I sometimes imagine that she tries to avoid me when we meet. I fear that she sacrificed too much to an abstract conception of duty, and that her loveless marriage is not a happy one.

March 10. 1886.—I see from the Morning Bugle that Mrs. Courcy met with an accident last night. In going to her carriage from Mrs. Merriwether's reception, she slipped upon the icy pavement and sprained her ankle.

March 12.—I have had quite a painful experience today. I was coming out of the club when I met Jenkyns.

"Hello, Dunlap!" he exclaimed, "did you hear about the accident to Mrs. Courcy?"

"Yes," I said, "I hope it is not serious."

"Do you know how it happened?" He leaned over me and whispered to me: "She was drunk—drunk as a fish."

I do not know whether horror or indignation was the stronger sentiment in my mind at that moment. As soon as I could command my voice, I replied hotly:

"Jenkyns, you are no gentleman. You slander as pure and noble a woman as ever walked upon the earth."

"Ah, well, old boy, if you're going to get huffy about it I can't help it, you know. That's what everybody says, and I have seen her take a drop too much myself."

I gave the fellow a look, into which I tried to throw all the contempt I felt for him, and then turned upon my heel. I did not wish to create a public scandal by treating him as he deserved to be treated. I regret that the code has fallen into disuse among us; if it were in force I should call him out.

March 18.—I learn that the injury sustained by Mrs. Courcy the other night is more serious than was at first supposed, and that her walk will be always characterized with a limp.

I saw her last night, for the first time since the accident, and I thought the slight limp added individuality to her movements, and did not in the least detract from her beauty. The defect is scarcely perceptible in her dancing. She looks a little pale and distrait. I fear her domestic life is not happy. How my heart bleeds for her!

September 13, 1887.—Mrs. Courcy is in distress; it can no longer be concealed. I met her at Mrs. Merriwether's several evenings since, and she told me the whole story in strictest confidence. Her husband no longer loves her; his affections have been alienated by another woman. As a consequence, he has treated his wife shamefully; he has even accused her—I blush to write it even in the privacy of my own journal—of unfaithfulness. This is a mere subterfuge, a transparent pretext by which he means to procure a divorce. He has employed private detectives, who watch his wife's movements and make her life miserable.

I could only advise her to suffer patiently; I assured her of my sympathy, and that I would stand by her if Courcy should attempt to carry out his plan.

October 18.—The blow has fallen. Today Mr. Courcy filed his petition in court, asking a divorce and the custody of his children. The affair has got into the newspapers, and is the all-absorbing topic of conversation. How Ida must suffer! I sought her out in her distress. She seemed glad to see me again, and to know that she had at least one true friend. She has left her husband's house, and says she will never return to it; nothing could induce her to enter the presence of the monster who has thus vilified her.

I implored her to accept my aid, and she has permitted me to retain as counsel for the defense Messrs. Snap & Doubleday, the eminent attorneys. Of course my connection with the matter is kept secret, as my poor stricken one must not give her enemies any material which they can distort into evidence against her.

I have read a copy of the divorce petition. It comprises a series of shameful attacks upon the character of a woman whom the plaintiff believes to be defenseless. But he shall find himself deceived. I will spend the savings of a lifetime before I will allow the saint to be imposed upon. He charges her with things that I cannot write—it is enough to say that he tries to saddle upon her his own crimes. I have notified Snap & Doubleday to spare no expense in defending her. They have filed a cross-petition, asking for a divorce and alimony. It will serve Courcy right if he loses her forever, and has to pay a sum which will secure her independence, and be a well-merited punishment for his infamous conduct. Such men are most easily affected through their pockets.

Ida is grateful to me. When I called last evening I found her with disheveled hair and eyes red with weeping. She told me, somewhat incoherently, of her great distress of mind. She had sought temporary relief in stimulants, but without avail. I comforted her as best I might, and left her somewhat calmer.

December 10.—The iniquity is accomplished. Perjury and villainy have prevailed against truth and virtue. Is there any such thing as justice upon the earth? In spite of unrighteousness of his cause, in spite of all the skill of Messrs. Snap & Doubleday, the court has granted Mr. Courcy a divorce from his wife, and has given him the custody of their two children. It is an iniquitous decision, from which, alas! the law gives no appeal.

I am alarmed about the effect this decision may have upon Mrs. Courcy. I called this afternoon, but could not see her. As I went up the door I met the servant-girl coming from the opposite direction. She had been out to get a bottle of wine for Ida to take her medicine in. I gave the girl some money, and begged for tidings of Ida. She said the poor creature was unwell, and that she had just fallen into a much-needed sleep. Of course I would not disturb her. I will ask her to let me send Dr. Barnes, the eminent specialist in nervous troubles, to visit her.

Courcy has left the city. Rumor says he is brokenhearted; that he has sold out his business, and gone where his children will never hear of their mother's shame; but I have it on good authority that he has gone to join the woman who is the cause of all of Ida's misfortunes.

Ida has recovered somewhat from the depression into which she was thrown by the decision in the divorce case. She is trying to bear her troubles with resignation. It must be a hard thing for a woman to hold up her head under such a blow. But the consciousness of innocence gives Ida strength, and will not bend before an unrighteous verdict.

I have determined to give her the right to look to me for protection. This very day I will offer her refuge for her poor bruised heart. I will not let my chance slip a second time.

March 3, 1888.—At last—at last I have reaped the reward of my patient fidelity! Ida has promised to be mine; next week my happiness will be complete. I called yesterday afternoon. I sat down upon the sofa beside her, and, taking her little hand in mine, told her the story of my love.

"I have loved you since I first saw you," I said "Time has only strengthened my passion. Your misfortunes have only served to make you dearer to me. You are still young and beautiful—I am fast growing old. Come to my waiting heart. Let me say to the world, 'This is my wife; I believe in her.' Let me give you a home, humble it is true, but a place where you can be at peace, and where, perhaps, when time has healed the wounds your poor heart has received, you may find a measure of happiness."

Her hand trembled with emotion as it lay in mine.

"Dearest Paul," she murmured, "I have loved you ever since your kindness to me during my widowhood. Your friendship and assistance during my recent period of trial have endeared you to me still more. Can the fragment of my life that is left compensate you in any degree for your years of devotion? But no, I scarcely dare burden you with a woman whose name has been dragged, as mine has, before the eyes of a heartless world."

"Forget it, darling," I interrupted her, "as I have forgotten about it. I have saved a little money. I cannot give you the wealth and luxury you have been accustomed to, but I will share with you what I have; I can keep you from want, and shield you from calumny."

She laid her head upon my shoulder. "Oh, Paul," she gently murmured, "such as I am, take me."

For the first time in our aquaintance of ten years I strained her to my bosom. The moment of happiness was compensation for all my weary years of waiting.

We spent an hour in sweet communion of soul. She told me how she had loved me during all those years, and how soon she had realized the fatal mistake of her second marriage. Before I left her she went to make me a cup of tea.

While she was gone from the room I noticed the corner of a newspaper sticking out from under a sofa cushion that had been carelessly thrown upon it. I pulled it out. It was a copy of the Evening Bugle. As I glanced carelessly down its columns, what was my delight to read the following paragraph:

DIED—At Westfield, Kan., Jabez Dunlap. Mr. Dunlap was one of the pioneers of Westfield, and leaves an estate valued at several hundred thousand dollars. We learn from good authority that he died intestate, and that his nearest relative is a Mr. Paul Dunlap, of ------, at present a bookkeeper in the employ of the Barton Iron Company of that city.

Do you wonder at my delight? I am Paul Dunlap. I had never met this uncle of mine, and could not be expected to weep over the death of a stranger who had left me very rich. I shall testify my respect to his memory by the erection of a handsome monument.

I could not conceal my elation when Ida returned with the tea. "Do you think you'll be content to share my poverty?" I asked.

"Yes, dear," she answered, looking at me with love-lit eyes, "poverty with you will be affluence after the loveless marriages that mine have been."

"Have you read the Evening Bugle?"

"No," she said, "except merely to look over the advertising columns in the hope of finding something by which I could increase my earnings. But I have a permanent situation now," she added playfully.

"Read this item." I handed her the paper.

"Oh, Paul," she cried, her eyes big with wonder, "is it you?"

"It is I," I replied, catching her in my arms. "Darling, the world is ours. We will sail for Europe as soon as I can get the estate settled up."

Am I not the most fortunate of men? Ida, wealth, leisure—all are mine! What have I done to deserve such happiness?

* * * * *

Extract from Chicago Daily News, September 3, 188-

***Yesterday Judge Dailey, after the briefest trial on record (it lasted just five and a quarter minutes by our reporter's reliable Waterbury chronometer) granted a divorce in the case of Dunlap vs. Dunlap on the petition of the husband. The grounds on which the application was made were drunkeness and gross neglect of duty. And thus the wheel goes merrily round.