St. George and the Dragon by Robert Grant
Paul Harrington, the reporter, shifted his eagle glance from one feature
to another of the obsequies with the comprehensive yet swift perception of
an artist. An experience of three years on the staff had made him an
expert on ceremonies, and, captious as he could be when the occasion
merited his scorn, his predilection was for praise, as he was an optimist
by instinct. This time he could praise unreservedly, and he was impatient
to transfer to the pages of his note-book his seething impressions of the
solemn beauty and simplicity of the last rites in the painful tragedy. In
the rustic church into which he had wormed his way he had already found
time to scribble a brief paragraph to the effect that the melancholy event
had "shrouded the picturesque little town of Carver in gloom," and now as
he stood on the greensward near, though not too near, he hastily jotted
down the points of interest with keen anticipation of working out some
telling description on the way home.
Out from the little church where the families of the pair of lovers had
worshipped in summer time for a generation, the two coffins, piled high
with flowers (Harrington knew them reportorially as caskets), were borne
by the band of pall-bearers, stalwart young intimate friends, and lifted
by the same hands tenderly into the hearse. The long blackness of their
frock-coats and the sable accompaniment of their silk hats, gloves, and
ties appealed to the observant faculties of Harrington as in harmony both
with the high social position of the parties and the peculiar sadness of
the occasion. That a young man and woman, on the eve of matrimony, and
with everything to live for, should be hurled into eternity (a
Harringtonian figure of speech) by a railroad train at a rustic crossing,
while driving, was certainly an affair heartrending enough to invite every
habiliment of woe. As he thus reasoned Harrington became aware that one of
the stalwart young men was looking at him with an expression which seemed
to ask only too plainly, "What the devil are you doing here?"
As a newspaper man of some years' standing Harrington was hardened. Such
an expression of countenance was an almost daily experience and slipped
off the armor of his self-respecting hardihood like water off the
traditional duck's back. When people looked at him like this he simply
took refuge in his consciousness of the necessities of the case and the
honesty of his own artistic purpose. The press must be served faithfully
and indefatigably—boldly, moreover, and at times officiously, in
order to attain legitimate results; yet he flattered himself that no one
could ever say of him that he had "butted in" where others of his craft
would have paused, or was lacking in reportorial delicacy. Was he not
simply doing his professional duty for hire, like any respectable lawyer
or doctor or architect, in order to support his family? Were he to trouble
his head because impetuous people frowned, his wife, Amelia, and infant
son, Tesla, would be the sufferers—a thought which was a constant
stimulus to enterprise. His "job" required "cheek" perhaps, but nine
people out of ten were not sensible enough to realize that he was a modern
necessity, and to ask themselves, "Is this man doing his work creditably?"
There was the essence of the situation for Harrington, and from the
world's lack of nice perception he had made for himself a grievance which
rendered him indifferent to ill-considered scowls.
But, however indifferent his attitude, nothing ever escaped Harrington,
and he noticed that the young man whose eyes met his with the expression
of annoyance was well set up and manly in appearance—a "dude," in
Harrington's parlance, but a pleasant-looking dude, with an open and
rather strong countenance. Such was Harrington's deduction, in spite of
the obvious hostility to himself, and in confirmation of this view he had
the satisfaction of perceiving the tension of the young man's face relax,
as though he had come to the conclusion, on second thoughts, that
interference was, on the whole, not worth while.
"He realizes," said the reporter to himself approvingly, "that there's no
sense in being peevish. A swell funeral must be written up like any other
While he thus soliloquized, the nearest relatives of the deceased victims
issued from the church, seeking the carriages in waiting for them. Among
those who came next was a handsome, spirited-looking girl of twenty-five,
who, though not of the family group, was a sincere mourner. As she stepped
forward with the elasticity of youth, glad of the fresh air on her
tear-stained cheeks, it happened that she also observed the presence of
the reporter, and she paused, plainly appalled. Her nostrils quivered with
horrified distress, and she turned her head as though seeking some one. It
proved to be the young man who had misjudged Harrington a few moments
before. At least, he sprang to her side with an agility which suggested
that his eyes had been following her every movement, thereby prompting
Harrington, who was ever on the alert for a touch of romance amid the
prose of every-day business, to remark shrewdly:
"That's plain as the nose on your face; he's her 'steady.'"
He realized at the same time that he was being pointed out in no
flattering terms by the young lady in question, who cast a single haughty
glance in his direction by way of identification. He saw her eyes flash,
and, though the brief dialogue which ensued was necessarily inarticulate
to him, it was plain that she was laying her outraged feelings at the feet
of her admirer, with a command for something summary and substantial by
way of relief.
At any rate, Harrington jumped at once to this conclusion, for he
murmured: "She's telling him I'm the scum of the earth, and that it's up
to him to get rid of me." He added, sententiously: "She'll find, I guess,
that this is about the most difficult billet a fair lady ever intrusted to
a gallant knight." Whereupon, inspired by his metaphor, he proceeded to
hum under his breath, by way of outlet to his amused sensibilities, the
dulcet refrain which runs:
In days of old, when knights were bold
And barons held their sway,
A warrior bold, with spurs of gold.
Sang merrily his lay,
Sang merrily his lay:
"My love is young and fair,
My love hath golden hair,
And eyes so blue and heart so true
That none with her compare.
So what care I, though death be nigh?
I'll live for love or die!
So what care I, though death be nigh,
I'll live for love or die!"
What was going to happen? How would Sir Knight set to work to slay or
expel the obnoxious dragon? Harrington felt mildly curious despite his
sardonic emotions, and while he took mental note of what was taking place
around him he contrived to keep an eye on his censors. He had observed
that the young man's face while she talked to him had worn a worried
expression, as though he were already meditating whether the situation was
not hopeless unless he had recourse to personal violence; but, having put
his Dulcinea into her carriage, he appeared to be in no haste to begin
hostilities. Indeed, without further ado, or even a glance in Harrington's
direction, he took his place in the line of mourners which was moving
toward the neighboring cemetery.
Harrington was for a moment divided in his own mind between the claims of
reportorial delicacy and proper self-respect. It had been his intention to
absent himself from the services at the grave, out of consideration for
the immediate family. It occurred to him now that it was almost his duty
to show himself there, in order not to avoid a meeting. But the finer
instinct prevailed. Why allow what was, after all, nothing save ignorant
disapproval to alter his arrangements? He had just time to walk leisurely
to the station without overheating himself, and delay would oblige him to
take a later train, as there was no vehicle at his disposal.
Consequently, after his brief hesitation, he followed a high-road at right
angles to that taken by the funeral procession, and gave himself up to the
beguilement of his own thoughts. They were concerned with the preparation
of his special article, and he indulged in the reflection that if it were
read by the couple who had looked at him askance they would be put to
shame by its accuracy and good taste.
Before Harrington had finished three-quarters of the distance which lay
between the church and his destination, the carriages of those returning
from the cemetery began to pass him. When the dust raised by their wheels
had subsided he looked for an undisturbed landscape during the remainder
of his walk, and had just given rein again to contemplation when a sound
which revealed unmistakably the approach of an automobile caused him to
turn his head. A touring car of large dimensions and occupied by two
persons was approaching at a moderate rate of speed, which the driver, who
was obviously the owner, reduced to a minimum as he ran alongside him.
"May I give you a lift?" asked a strong, friendly voice.
Before the question was put Harrington had recognized in the speaker the
young man whose mission it had become, according to his shrewd guess, to
call him to account for his presence at the funeral. He had exchanged his
silk hat for a cap, and drawn on a white dust-coat over his other sable
garments, but his identity was unmistakable. Viewing him close at hand
Harrington perceived that he had large, clear eyes, a smooth-shaven,
humorous, determined mouth, and full ruddy cheeks, the immobility of which
suggested the habit of deliberation. Physically and temperamentally he
appeared to be the antipodes of the reporter, who was thin, nervous, and
wiry, with quick, snappy ways and electric mental processes. It occurred
to him now at once that the offer concealed a trap, and he recalled,
knowingly, the warning contained in the classical adage concerning Greeks
who bear gifts. But, on the other hand, what had he to fear or to
apologize for? Besides, there was his boy Tesla to consider. How delighted
the little fellow, who already doted on electricity, would be to hear that
his father had ridden in a huge touring car! He would be glad, too, of the
experience himself, in order to compare the sensation with that of
travelling in the little puffing machines with which he was tolerably
familiar. Therefore he answered civilly, yet without enthusiasm:
"I don't mind if you do, as far as the station."
At his words the chauffeur at a sign made place for him, and he stepped in
beside his pseudo-enemy, who, as he turned on the power, met Harrington's
limitation as to distance with the remark:
"I'm going all the way to New York, if you care to go with me."
Harrington was tempted again. Apart from the peculiar circumstances of the
case he would like nothing better. Then, why not? What had he or his
self-respect to dread from a trip with this accommodating dude? He would
hardly sandbag him, and were he—Harrington grinned inwardly at the
cunning thought—intending to have the machine break down in an
inaccessible spot, and leave him stranded, what difference would it make?
His article was too late already for the evening papers, and he would take
excellent care to see that nothing should interfere with its appearance
the following morning, for at a pinch he was within walking distance of
the city. The thought of such an attempt to muzzle the liberty of the
press was rather an incentive than otherwise, for it savored of real
adventure and indicated that a moral issue was involved.
While he thus reflected he appeared not to have heard the observation.
Meanwhile the automobile was running swiftly and smoothly, as though its
owner were not averse to have his guest perceive what a superb machine it
"What make?" asked the reporter, wishing to show himself affable, yet a
man of the world. He had come to the conclusion that if the invitation
were repeated he would accept it.
His companion told him, and as though he divined that the inquiry had been
intended to convey admiration, added, "She's going now only at about half
Harrington grinned inwardly again. "Springes to catch woodcock!" he said
to himself, quoting Shakespeare, then went on to reflect in his own
vernacular: "The chap is trying to bribe me, confound him! Well, here
goes!" Thereupon he said aloud, for they were approaching the station: "If
you really would like my company on the way to town I'd be glad to see how
fast she can go." As he spoke he drew out his watch and added with
suppressed humorous intention: "I suppose you'll guarantee to get me there
in a couple of hours or so?"
"If we don't break down or are not arrested." The voice was gay and
without a touch of sinister suggestion.
"Here's a deep one, maybe," thought Harrington.
Already the kidnapper—if he were one—was steering the car into
a country way which diverged at a sharp curve from that in which they had
been travelling. It was a smooth, level stretch, running at first almost
parallel with the railroad, and in another moment they were spinning along
at a hair-lifting rate of speed, yet with so little friction that the
reporter's enthusiasm betrayed itself in a grunt of satisfaction, though
he was reflecting that his companion knew the way and did not intend to
allow him to change his mind. But Harrington was quite content with the
situation, and gave himself up unreservedly to the pleasant thrill of
skimming along the surface of the earth at such a pace that the summer
breeze buffeted his face so that his eyes watered. There was nothing in
sight but a clear, straight road flanked by hedges and ditches, save the
railroad bed, along which after a while the train came whizzing. A pretty
race ensued until it crossed their path at almost a right angle.
"Now he thinks he has me," thought Harrington.
It almost seemed so, for in another moment he of the humorous, determined
mouth diminished the power, and after they were on the other side of the
railroad track he proceeded at a much less strenuous pace and opened
"You're a reporter, I judge?"
Harrington, who was enjoying himself, would have preferred to avoid
business for a little longer and to talk as one gentleman to another on a
pleasure trip. So, in response to this direct challenge, he answered with
"Yes. I have the honor of representing the Associated Press."
"One of the great institutions of the country."
This was reasonable—so reasonable, indeed, that Harrington pondered
it to detect some sophistry.
"It must be in many respects an interesting calling."
"Yes, sir; a man has to keep pretty well up to date."
"Married or single, if I may be so bold?"
"I have a wife and a son nine years old."
"That is as it should be. Lucky dog!"
Harrington laughed in approval of the sentiment. "Then I must assume that
you are a bachelor, Mr. ——?"
"Dryden. Walter Dryden is my name. Yes, that's the trouble."
"She won't have you?" hazarded the reporter, wishing to be social in his
"Mrs. Harrington would not the first time I asked her."
"I have offered myself to her six separate times, and she has thus far
Harrington paused a moment. The temptation to reveal his own astuteness,
and at the same time enhance the personal flavor which the dialogue had
acquired, was not to be resisted. "May I venture to ask if she is the lady
with whom you exchanged a few words this forenoon at the door of the
The young man turned his glance from the road toward his questioner by way
of tribute to such acumen. "I see that nothing escapes your observation."
"It is my business to notice everything and to draw my own conclusions,"
said the reporter modestly.
"They are shrewdly correct in this case. Would you be surprised,"
continued Dryden in a confidential tone, "if I were to inform you that I
believe it lies in your power to procure me a home and happiness?"
Harrington chuckled in his secret soul. He would dissemble. "How could
that possibly be?"
"I don't mind telling you that the last time I offered myself the young
lady appeared a trifle less obdurate. She shook her head, but I thought I
observed signs of wavering—faint, yet appreciable. If now I could
only put her under an obligation and thus convince her of my
effectiveness, I am confident I could win her."
"Your effectiveness?" queried Harrington, to whom the interview was
becoming more psychologically interesting every moment.
"Yes, she considers me an unpractical person—not serious, you know.
I know what you consider me," he added with startling divergence—"a
Harrington found this searchlight on his own previous thought
disconcerting. "Well, aren't you one?" he essayed boldly.
Dryden pondered a moment. "I suppose so. I don't wear reversible cuffs and
I am disgustingly rich. I've shot tigers in India, lived in the Latin
quarter, owned a steam yacht, climbed San Juan Hill—but I have not
found a permanent niche. There are not places enough to go round for men
with millions, and she calls me a rolling stone. Come, now, I'll swap
places with you. You shall own this motor and—and I'll write the
press notice on the Ward-Upton funeral."
Harrington stiffened instinctively. He did not believe that the amazing,
splendid offer was genuine. But had he felt complete faith that the young
man beside him was in earnest, he would have been proof against the lure
of even a touring car, for he had been touched at his most sensitive
point. His artistic capacity was assailed, and his was just the nature to
take proper umbrage at the imputation. More; over, though this was a minor
consideration, he resented slightly the allusion to reversible cuffs.
Hence the answer sprang to his lips:
"Can you not trust me to write the notice, Mr. Dryden?"
"She would like me to write it."
"Ah, I see! Was that what she whispered to you this morning?"
Dryden hesitated. "Certainly words to that effect. Let me ask you in turn,
can you not trust me? If so, the automobile is yours and——"
Harrington laughed coldly. "I'm sorry not to oblige you, Mr. Dryden. If
you understood my point of view you would see that what you propose is out
of the question. I was commissioned to write up the Ward-Upton obsequies,
and I alone must do so."
As he spoke they were passing at a lively gait through the picturesquely
shaded main street of a small country town and were almost abreast of the
only tavern of the place, which wore the appearance of having been
recently remodelled and repainted to meet the demands of modern road
"Your point of view? What is your point of view?"
Before Harrington had time to begin to put into speech the statement of
his principles there was a sudden loud explosion beneath them like the
discharge of a huge pistol, and the machine came abruptly to a stop. So
unexpected and startling was the shock that the reporter sprang from the
car and in his nervous annoyance at once vented the hasty conclusion at
which he arrived in the words: "I see; this is a trap, and you are a
modern highwayman whose stunt will make good Sunday reading in cold
print." He wore a sarcastic smile, and his sharp eyes gleamed like a
Dryden regarded him humorously with his steady gaze. "Gently there; it's
only a tire gone. Do you suspect me of trying to trifle with the sacred
liberties of the press?"
"I certainly did, sir. It looks very much like it."
"Then you agree that I chose a very inappropriate place for my purpose.
'The Old Homestead' there is furnished with a telephone, a livery-stable,
and all the modern protections against highway robbery. Besides, there is
a cold chicken and a bottle of choice claret in the basket with which to
supplement the larder of our host of the inn. We will take luncheon while
my chauffeur is placing us on an even keel again, and no time will be
lost. You will even have ten minutes in which to put pen to paper while
the table is being laid."
Harrington as a nervous man was no less promptly generous in his impulses
when convinced of error than he was quick to scent out a hostile plot. "I
beg your pardon, Mr. Dryden. I see I was mistaken." He thrust out a lean
hand by way of amity. "Can't I help?"
"Oh, no, thank you. My man will attend to everything."
"You see I got the idea to begin with and then the explosion following so
close upon your offer——"
"Quite so," exclaimed Dryden. "A suspicious coincidence, I admit." He
shook the proffered fingers without a shadow of resentment. "I dare say my
dust-coat and goggles give me quite the highwayman effect," he continued
"They sort of got on my nerves, I guess." Under the spell of his generous
impulse various bits of local color flattering to his companion began to
suggest themselves to Harrington for his article, and he added: "I'll take
advantage of that suggestion of yours and get to work until luncheon is
Some fifteen minutes later they were seated opposite to each other at an
appetizing meal. As Dryden finished his first glass of claret, he asked:
"Did you know Richard Upton?"
"The man who was killed? Not personally. But I have read about him in the
"Ah!" There was a deep melancholy in the intonation which caused the
reporter to look at his companion a little sharply. For a moment Dryden
stirred in his chair as though about to make some comment, and twisted the
morsel of bread at his fingers' ends into a small pellet. But he poured
out another glass of claret for each of them and said:
"He was the salt of the earth."
"Tell me about him. I should be glad to know. I might——"
"There's so little to tell—it was principally charm. He was one of
the most unostentatious, unselfish, high-minded, consistent men I ever
knew. Completely a gentleman in the finest sense of that overworked word."
"That's very interesting. I should be glad——"
Dryden shook his head. "You didn't know him well enough. It was like the
delicacy of the rose—finger it and it falls to pieces. No offence to
you, of course. I doubt my own ability to do him justice, well as I knew
him. But you put a stopper on that—and you were right. My kind
regards," he said, draining his second glass of claret. "The laborer is
worthy of his hire, the artist must not be interfered with. It was an
impertinence of me to ask to do your work."
Harrington's eyes gleamed. "It's pleasant to be appreciated—to have
one's point of view comprehended. It isn't pleasant to butt in where
you're not wanted, but there's something bigger than that involved, the——"
"Quite so; it was a cruel bribe; and many men in your shoes would not have
been proof against it."
"And you were in dead earnest, too, though for a moment I couldn't believe
it. But the point is—and that's what I mean—that the public—gentlemen
like you and ladies like the handsome one who looked daggers at me this
morning—don't realize that the world is bound to have the news on
its breakfast-table and supper-table, and that when a man is in the
business and knows his business and is trying to do the decent thing and
the acceptable artistic thing, too, if I do say it, he is entitled to be
taken seriously and—and trusted. There are incompetent men—rascals
even—in my calling. What I contend is that you'd no right to assume
that I wouldn't do the inevitable thing decently merely because you saw me
there. For, if you only knew it, I was saying to myself at that very
moment that for a funeral it was the most tastefully handled I ever
"It is the inevitable thing; that's just it. My manners were bad to begin
to with, and later—" Dryden leaned forward with his elbows on the
table and his head between his hands, scanning his eager companion.
"Don't mention it. You see, it was a matter of pride with me. And now it's
up to me to state that if there's anything in particular you'd like me to
mention about the deceased gentleman or lady——"
Dryden sighed at the reminder, "One of the loveliest and most pure-hearted
"That shall go down," said the reporter, mistaking the apostrophe for an
answer, and he drew a note-book from his side pocket.
Dryden raised his hand by way of protest. "I was merely thinking aloud.
No, we must trust you."
Harrington bowed. He hesitated, then by way of noticing the plural
allusion in the speech added: "It was your young lady's look which wounded
me the most. And she said something. I don't suppose you'd care to tell me
what she said? It wasn't flattering, I'm sure of that, but it was on the
tip of her tongue. I admit I'm mildly curious as to what it was."
Dryden reflected a moment. "You've written your article?" he asked,
indicating the note-book.
"It's all mapped out in my mind, and I've finished the introduction."
"I won't ask to see it because we trust you. But I'll make a compact with
you." Dryden held out a cigar to his adversary and proceeded to light one
for himself. "Supposing what the lady said referred to something which you
have written there, would you agree to cut it out?"
Harrington looked gravely knowing. "You think you can tell what I have
written?" he asked, tapping his note-book.
Dryden took a puff. "Very possibly not. I am merely supposing. But in case
the substance of her criticism—for she did criticise—should
prove to be almost word for word identical with something in your
handwriting—would you agree?"
Harrington shrugged his shoulders. "Against the automobile as a stake, if
it proves not to be?" he inquired by way of expressing his incredulity.
"Let it be rather against another luncheon with you as agreeable as this."
"Done. I will write her exact language here on this piece of paper and
then we will exchange copy."
Harrington sat pleasantly amused, yet puzzled, while Dryden wrote and
folded the paper. Then he proffered his note-book with nervous alacrity.
"Read aloud until you come to the place," he said jauntily.
Dryden scanned for a moment the memoranda, then looked up. "It is all here
at the beginning, just as she prophesied," he said, with a promptness
which was almost radiant, and he read as follows: "The dual funeral of
Miss Josephine Ward, the leading society girl, and Richard Upton, the
well-known club man, took place this morning at—" He paused and
said: "Read now what you have there."
Harrington flushed, then scowled, but from perplexity. He was seeking
enlightenment before he proceeded further, so he unfolded the paper with a
deliberation unusual to him, which afforded time to Dryden to remark with
"Those were her very words."
Harrington read aloud: "'Look at that man; he is taking notes. Oh, he will
describe them in his newspaper as a leading society girl and a well-known
club man, and they will turn in their graves. If you love me, stop it.'"
There was a brief pause. The reporter pondered, visibly chagrined and
disappointed. The silence was broken by Dryden. "Do you not understand?"
"Frankly, I do not altogether. I—I thought they'd like it."
"Of course you did, my dear fellow; there's the ghastly humor of it; the
dire tragedy, rather." As he spoke he struck his closed hand gently but
firmly on the table, and regarded the reporter with the compressed lips of
one who is about to vent a long pent-up grievance.
"He was in four clubs; I looked him up," Harrington still protested in
"And they seemed to you his chief title to distinction? You thought they
did him honor? He would have writhed in his grave, as Miss Mayberry said.
Like it? When the cheap jack or the social climber dies, he may like it,
but not the gentleman or lady. Leading society girl? Why, every shop-girl
who commits suicide is immortalized in the daily press as 'a leading
society girl,' and every deceased Tom, Dick, or Harry has become a
'well-known club man.' It has added a new terror to death. Thank God, my
friends will be spared!"
Harrington felt of his chin. "You object to the promiscuity of it, so to
speak. It's because everybody is included?"
"No, man, to the fundamental indignity of it. To the baseness of the metal
which the press glories in using for a social crown."
Harrington drew himself up a little. "If the press does it, it's because
most people like it and regard it as a tribute."
"Ah! But my friends do not. You spoke just now of your point of view. This
is ours. Think it over, Mr. Harrington, and you will realize that there is
something in it." He sat back in his chair with the air of a man who has
pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat and is well content.
Harrington meditated a moment. "However that be, one thing is certain—it
has got to come out. It will come out. You may rest assured of that, Mr.
Dryden." So saying he reached for his note-book and proceeded to run a
pencil through the abnoxious paragraph.
"You have won your bet and—and the young lady, too, Sir Knight, I
trust. You seem to have found your niche." Which goes to prove that the
reporter was a magnanimous fellow at heart.
Dryden forbore to commit himself as to the condition of his hopes as he
thanked his late adversary for this expression of good-will. Ten minutes
later they were sitting in the rehabilitated motor-car and speeding
rapidly toward New York. When they reached the city Dryden insisted on
leaving the reporter at his doorsteps, a courtesy which went straight to
Harrington's heart, for, as he expected would be the case, his wife and
son Tesla were looking out of the window at the moment of his arrival and
saw him dash up to the curbstone. His sturdy urchin ran out forthwith to
inspect the mysteries of the huge machine. As it vanished down the street
Harrington put an arm round Tesla and went to meet the wife of his bosom.
"Who is your new friend, Paul?" she asked.
It rose to Harrington's lips to say—an hour before he would have
said confidently—"a well-known club man"; but he swallowed the
phrase before it was uttered and answered thoughtfully:
"It was one of the funeral guests, who gave me a lift in his motor, and
has taught me a thing or two about modern journalism on the way up. I got
"I thought you knew everything there is to know about that," remarked Mrs.
Harrington with the fidelity of a true spouse.
To this her husband at the moment made no response. When, six months
later, however, he received an invitation to the wedding of Walter Dryden
and Miss Florence Mayberry, he remarked in her presence, as he sharpened
his pencil for the occasion: "Those swells have trusted me to write it up