THE BEST SHORT STORIES

OF 1918
 
AND THE
YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN
SHORT STORY
 
EDITED BY
EDWARD J. O’BRIEN
 
EDITOR OF “THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915,”
“THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1916,”
“THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1917,” ETC.
 
 
BOSTON
SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
PUBLISHERS

Copyright, 1918, by The Boston Transcript Company.

Copyright, 1918, by The New York Tribune, Inc.

Copyright, 1918, by The Frank A. Munsey Company, Harper & Brothers, The Story-Press Corporation, Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., The Curtis Publishing Company, The Atlantic Monthly Company, Charles Scribner’s Sons, The Pictorial Review Company, The Stratford Journal, The Century Company, and P. F. Collier & Son, Inc.

Copyright, 1919, by Achmed Abdullah, Edwina Stanton Babcock, Charles Caldwell Dobie, George Humphrey, Arthur Johnson, Sinclair Lewis, Harrison Rhodes, Fleta Campbell Springer, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Edward C. Venable, Mary Heaton O’Brien, Frances Gilchrist Wood, William Dudley Pelley, Gordon Hall Gerould, Katharine Holland Brown, Burton Kline, Mary Mitchell Freedley, Katharine Prescott Moseley, and Julian Street.

Copyright, 1919, by Small, Maynard & Company, Inc.

TO ARTHUR JOHNSON
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Grateful acknowledgment for permission to include the stories and other material in this volume is made to the following authors, editors, publishers, and literary agents:

To the Editor of The All-Story Weekly, The Frank A. Munsey Company, Harper and Brothers, The Story-Press Corporation, the Editor of The Bookman, Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., The Curtis Publishing Company, The Atlantic Monthly Company, Charles Scribner’s Sons, The Pictorial Review Company, The Stratford Journal, The Century Company, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., Captain Achmed Abdullah, Miss Edwina Stanton Babcock, Mr. Charles Caldwell Dobie, Mr. George Humphrey, Captain Arthur Johnson, Mr. Sinclair Lewis, Mr. Harrison Rhodes, Mrs. Fleta Campbell Springer, Mr. Wilbur Daniel Steele, Mr. Edward C. Venable, Mrs. Mary Heaton O’Brien, Mrs. Frances Gilchrist Wood, Captain Gordon Hall Gerould, Miss Katharine Holland Brown, Mr. Burton Kline, Mrs. Mary Mitchell Freedley, Miss Katharine Prescott Moseley, Mr. Julian Street, and Mr. Paul R. Reynolds (on behalf of Mr. William Dudley Pelley).

Acknowledgments are specially due to The Boston Evening Transcript and The New York Tribune for permission to reprint the large body of material previously published in their pages.

I shall be grateful to my readers for corrections, and particularly for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume. In particular, I shall welcome the receipt, from authors, editors, and publishers, of stories published during 1919 which have qualities of distinction, and yet are not printed in periodicals falling under my regular notice. Such communications may be addressed to me at Bass River, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

E. J. O.

Contents
INTRODUCTION
THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1918
A SIMPLE ACT OF PIETY
CRUELTIES
BUSTER
THE OPEN WINDOW
BLIND VISION
IMAGINATION
IN MAULMAIN FEVER-WARD
THE FATHER’S HAND
THE VISIT OF THE MASTER
IN THE OPEN CODE
THE WILLOW WALK
THE STORY VINTON HEARD AT MALLORIE
THE TOAST TO FORTY-FIVE
EXTRA MEN
SOLITAIRE
THE DARK HOUR
THE BIRD OF SERBIA
AT ISHAM’S
DE VILMARTE’S LUCK
THE WHITE BATTALIONNote.

 

The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.

INTRODUCTION

In reviewing once more the short stories published in American periodicals during the year, it has been interesting, if partly disappointing, to observe the effect that the war has had upon this literary form. While I believe that this effect is not likely to be permanent, and that the final outcome will be a stiffening of fibre, the fact remains that the short stories published during the past ten months show clearly that the war has numbed most writers’ imaginations. This is true, not only of war stories, but of stories in which the war is not directly or indirectly introduced. There has been a marked ebb this year in the quality of the American short story. Life these days is far more imaginative than any fiction can be, and our writers are dazed by its forceful impact. But out of this present confusion a new literature will surely emerge, although the experience we are gaining now will not crystallize into art for at least ten years, and probably not for longer. If this war is to produce American masterpieces, they will be written by men of middle age looking back through the years’ perspective upon the personal experience of their youth. Such work, to quote the old formula, must be the product of “emotion remembered in tranquillity.”

Not long ago Mr. Van Wyck Brooks, the keenest of the younger critics, was pointing out to us the value of a usable past. Such a usable past has clearly failed us in this emergency, but the war is rapidly creating a new one for us, if we have the vision to make use of it. During the past four years English writers have had such a past to fall back upon, when their minds failed before the stupendous reality of the present, and so they have come off better than we on the whole. It was such a usable past, to point out the most signal instance of it, that inspired Rupert Brooke’s last sonnets, which will always stand as the perfect relation of a noble past to an unknowable present.

But if we are to make our war experience the beginning of a usable past, we must not sentimentalize it on the one hand, nor denaturalize it objectively on the other. Yet that is precisely what we have been doing for the most part, even in the better war stories of the past year. The superb exception is Wilbur Daniel Steele’s “The Dark Hour,” published last May in The Atlantic Monthly.

I can do no better than to refer the reader to Henry Seidel Canby’s two admirable articles during the past year, in which he has developed these points far more adequately than I can pretend to do here. In his essay, “On a Certain Condescension Towards Fiction,” published in The Century Magazine last January, and in the companion article entitled “Sentimental America,” published last April in The Atlantic Monthly, he has diagnosed the disease and suggested the necessary cure. While I am not a realist in my sympathies, and while the poetry of life seems to me of more spiritual value than its prose, I cannot help agreeing with Professor Canby that our literary failure, by reason of its sentimentality, is rooted in a suppressed or misdirected idealism, based on a false pragmatism of commercial prosperity, and insisting on ignoring the facts instead of facing and conquering them.

To repeat what I have said in these pages in previous years, for the benefit of the reader as yet unacquainted with my standards and principles of selection, I shall point out that I have set myself the task of disengaging the essential human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a criticism of life. I am not at all interested in formulæ, and organized criticism at its best would be nothing more than dead criticism, as all dogmatic interpretation of life is always dead. What has interested me, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh living current which flows through the best of our work, and the psychological and imaginative reality which our writers have conferred upon it.

No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is beating. Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic discrimination than we display at present.

The present record covers the period from January to October inclusive, 1918. During the past ten months I have sought to select from the stories published in American magazines those which have rendered life imaginatively in organic substance and artistic form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only attain substantial embodiment when the artist’s power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be conveniently called the test of substance.

But a second test is necessary if the story is to take rank above other stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skilful selection and arrangement of his material, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.

The short stories which I have examined in this study, as in previous years, have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the yearbook without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim that they survive either the test of substance or the test of form. Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title.

The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.

Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that these stories may fairly claim a position in our literature. If all of these stories by American authors were republished, they would not occupy more space than five novels of average length. My selection of them does not imply the critical belief that they are great stories. It is simply to be taken as meaning that I have found the equivalent of five volumes worthy of republication among all the stories published between January first and October thirty-first, 1918. These stories are indicated in the yearbook index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are listed in the special “Rolls of Honor.” In compiling these lists, I have permitted no personal preference or prejudice to influence my judgment consciously for or against a story. To the titles of certain stories, however, in the “Rolls of Honor,” an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected.

It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story, nor a translation from a foreign author. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume.

The Yearbook for 1918 contains three new features. I have compiled an index of all short stories published in a selected list of volumes issued during the year; another index is devoted to critical articles on the short story, and noteworthy reviews published in English and American magazines and newspapers this year; and I have added exact volume and page references to the index of short stories published in American magazines.

As in past years it has been my pleasure and honor to associate this annual with the names of Benjamin Rosenblatt, Richard Matthews Hallet, and Wilbur Daniel Steele, whose stories, “Zelig,” “Making Port,” and “Ching, Ching, Chinaman,” seemed to me respectively the best short stories of 1915, 1916, and 1917, so it is my wish this year to dedicate the best that I have found in the American magazines as the fruit of my labors to Arthur Johnson, whose stories, “The Little Family,” “His New Mortal Coil,” and “The Visit of the Master” seem to me to be among the finest imaginative contributions to the short story made by an American artist this year.

Edward J. O’Brien.
 
Bass River, Massachusetts,
November 6, 1918.

THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1918

A SIMPLE ACT OF PIETY

By ACHMED ABDULLAH
From The All-Story Weekly
Copyright, 1918, by The Frank A. Munsey Co.
Copyright, 1919, by Achmed Abdullah.

His affair that night was prosy. He was intending the murder of an old Spanish woman around the corner, on the Bowery, whom he had known for years, with whom he had always exchanged courteous greetings, and whom he neither liked nor disliked.

He did kill her; and she knew that he was going to the minute he came into her stuffy, smelly shop, looming tall and bland, and yellow, and unearthly Chinese from behind the shapeless bundles of second-hand goods that cluttered the doorway. He wished her good evening in tones that were silvery, but seemed tainted by something unnatural. She was uncertain what it was, and this very uncertainty increased her horror. She felt her hair rise as if drawn by a shivery wind.

At the very last she caught a glimmer of the truth in his narrow-lidded, purple-black eyes. But it was too late.

The lean, curved knife was in his hand and across her scraggy throat—there was a choked gurgle, a crimson line broadening to a crimson smear, a thudding fall—and that was the end of the affair as far as she was concerned.

――――

A minute later Nag Hong Fah walked over to the other end of Pell Street and entered a liquor-store which belonged to the Chin Sor Company, and was known as the “Place of Sweet Desire and Heavenly Entertainment.” It was the gathering-place for the Chinese-born members of the Nag family, and there he occupied a seat of honor because of his wealth and charity and stout rectitude.

He talked for about half an hour with the other members of his clan, sipping fragrant, sun-dried Formosa tea mixed with jessamine-flowers, until he had made for himself a bullet-proof alibi.

The alibi held.

For he is still at liberty. He is often heard to speak with regret—nor is it hypocritical regret—about the murder of Señora Garcia, the old Spanish woman who kept the shop around the corner. He is a good customer of her nephew, Carlos, who succeeded to her business. Nor does he trade there to atone, in a manner, for the red deed of his hands, but because the goods are cheap.

He regrets nothing. To regret, you must find sin in your heart, while the murder of Señora Garcia meant no sin to him. It was to him a simple action, respectable, even worthy.

For he was a Chinaman, and, although it all happened between the chocolate-brown of the Hudson and the murky, cloudy gray of the North River, the tale is of the Orient. There is about it an atmosphere of age-green bronze; of first-chop chandoo and spicy aloe-wood; of gilt, carved statues brought out of India when Confucius was young; of faded embroideries, musty with the scent of the dead centuries. An atmosphere which is very sweet, very gentle—and very unhuman.

The Elevated roars above. The bluecoat shuffles his flat feet on the greasy asphalt below. But still the tale is of China—and the dramatic climax, in a Chinaman’s story, from a Chinaman’s slightly twisted angle, differs from that of an American.

To Nag Hong Fah this climax came not with the murder of Señora Garcia, but with Fanny Mei Hi’s laugh as she saw him with the shimmering bauble in his hands and heard his appraisal thereof.

――――

She was his wife, married to him honorably and truly, with a narrow gold band and a clergyman and a bouquet of wired roses bought cheaply from an itinerant Greek vendor, and handfuls of rice thrown by facetious and drunken members of both the yellow race and the white.

Of course, at the time of his marriage, a good many people around Pell Street whispered and gossiped. They spoke of the curling black smoke and slavery and other gorgeously, romantically wicked things. Miss Edith Rutter, the social settlement investigator, spoke of—and to—the police.

Whereas Nag Hong Fah, who had both dignity and a sense of humor, invited them all to his house: gossipers, whisperers, Miss Edith Rutter, and Detective Bill Devoy of the Second Branch, and bade them look to their hearts’ content; and whereas they found no opium, no sliding panels, and hidden cupboards, no dread Mongol mysteries, but a neat little steam-heated flat, furnished by Grand Rapids via Fourteenth Street, German porcelain, a case of blond Milwaukee beer, a five-pound humidor of shredded Kentucky burlap tobacco, a victrola, and a fine, big Bible with brass clamp and edges and M. Doré’s illustrations.

“Call again,” he said as they were trooping down the narrow stairs. “Call again any time you please. Glad to have you—aren’t we, kid?” chucking his wife under the chin.

“You bet yer life, you fat old yellow sweetness!” agreed Fanny; and then—as a special barbed shaft leveled at Miss Rutter’s retreating back: “Say! Any time yer wanta lamp my wedding certificate—it’s hangin’ between the fottygraphs of the President and the Big Boss—all framed up swell!”

――――

He had met her first one evening in a Bowery saloon, where she was introduced to him by Mr. Brian Neill, the owner of the saloon, a gentleman from out the County Armagh, who had spattered and muddied his proverbial Irish chastity in the slime of the Bowery gutters, and who called himself her uncle.

This latter statement had to be taken with a grain of salt. For Fanny Mei Hi was not Irish. Her hair was golden, her eyes blue. But otherwise she was Chinese. Easily nine-tenths of her. Of course she denied it. But that is neither here nor there.

She was not a lady. Couldn’t be—don’t you see—with that mixed blood in her veins, Mr. Brian Neill acting as her uncle, and the standing pools of East Side vice about her.

But Nag Hong Fah, who was a poet and a philosopher, besides being the proprietor of the Great Shanghai Chop Suey Palace, said that she looked like a golden-haired goddess of evil, familiar with all the seven sins. And he added—this to the soothsayer of his clan, Nag Hop Fat—that he did not mind her having seven, nor seventeen, nor seven times seventeen bundles of sin, as long as she kept them in the sacred bosom of the Nag family.

“Yes,” said the soothsayer, throwing up a handful of painted ivory sticks and watching how they fell to see if the omens were favorable. “Purity is a jewel to the silly young. And you are old, honorable cousin—”

“Indeed,” chimed in Nag Hong Fah, “I am old and fat and sluggish and extremely wise. What price is there in purity higher than there is contained in the happiness and contentment of a respectable citizen when he sees men-children playing gently about his knees?”

He smiled when his younger brother, Nag Sen Yat, the opium merchant, spoke to him of a certain Yung Quai.

“Yung Quai is beautiful,” said the opium merchant, “and young—and of an honorable clan—and—”

And childless! And in San Francisco! And divorced from me!”

“But there is her older brother, Yung Long, the head of the Yung clan. He is powerful and rich—the richest man in Pell Street! He would consider this new marriage of yours a disgrace to his face. Chiefly since the woman is a foreigner!”

“She is not. Only her hair and her eyes are foreign.”

“Where hair and eyes lead, the call of the blood follows,” rejoined Nag Sen Yat, and he reiterated his warning about Yung Long.

But the other shook his head.

“Do not give wings to trouble. It flies swiftly without them,” he quoted. “Too, the soothsayer read in the painted sticks that Fanny Mei Hi will bear me sons. One—perhaps two. Afterward, if indeed it be so that the drop of barbarian blood has clouded the clear mirror of her Chinese soul, I can always take back into my household the beautiful and honorable Yung Quai, whom I divorced and sent to California because she is childless. She will then adopt the sons which the other woman will bear me—and everything will be extremely satisfactory.”

And so he put on his best American suit, called on Fanny, and proposed to her with a great deal of dignity and elaborate phrases.

――――

“Sure I’ll marry you,” said Fanny. “Sure! I’d rather be the wife of the fattest, yellowest Chink in New York than live the sorta life I’m livin’—see, Chinkie-Toodles?”

“Chinkie-Toodles” smiled. He looked her over approvingly. He said to himself that doubtless the painted sticks had spoken the truth, that she would bear him men-children. His own mother had been a river-girl, purchased during a drought for a handful of parched grain; and had died in the odor of sanctity, with nineteen Buddhist priests following her gaily lacquered coffin, wagging their shaven polls ceremoniously, and mumbling flattering and appropriate verses from “Chin-Kong-Ching.”

Fanny, on the other hand, though wickedly and lyingly insisting on her pure white blood, knew that a Chinaman is broad-minded and free-handed, that he makes a good husband, and beats his wife rather less often than a white man of the corresponding scale of society.

Of course, gutter-bred, she was aggressively insistent upon her rights.

“Chinkie-Toodles,” she said the day before the wedding, and the gleam in her eyes gave point to the words, “I’m square—see? An’ I’m goin’ to travel square. Maybe I haven’t always been a poifec’ lady, but I ain’t goin’ to bilk yer, get me? But—” She looked up, and suddenly, had Nag Hong Fah known it, the arrogance, the clamorings, and the tragedy of her mixed blood were in the words that followed: “I gotta have a dose of freedom. I’m an American—I’m white—say!”—seeing the smile which he hid rapidly behind his fat hand—“yer needn’t laugh. I am white, an’ not a painted Chinese doll. No sittin’ up an’ mopin’ for the retoin of my fat, yellow lord an’ master in a stuffy, stinky, punky five-by-four cage for me! In other woids, I resoive for my little golden-haired self the freedom of asphalt an’ electric lights, see? An’ I’ll play square—as long as you’ll play square,” she added under her breath.

“Sure,” he said. “You are free. Why not? I am an American. Have a drink?” And they sealed the bargain in a tumbler of Chinese rice whisky, cut with Bourbon, and flavored with aniseed and powdered ginger.

――――

The evening following the wedding, husband and wife, instead of a honeymoon trip, went on an alcoholic spree amid the newly varnished splendors of their Pell Street flat. Side by side, in spite of the biting December cold, they leaned from the open window and brayed an intoxicated pæan at the Elevated structure which pointed at the stars like a gigantic icicle stood on end, frozen, austere—desolate, for all its clank and rattle, amid the fragrant, warm reek of China which drifted from shutters and cellar-gratings.

Nag Hong Fah, seeing Yung Long crossing the street, thought with drunken sentimentality of Yung Long’s sister whom he had divorced because she had borne him no children, and extended a boisterous invitation to come up.

“Come! Have a drink!” he hiccuped.

Yung Long stopped, looked, and refused courteously, but not before he had leveled a slow, appraising glance at the golden-haired Mei Hi, who was shouting by the side of her obese lord. Yung Long was not a bad-looking man, standing there in the flickering light of the street-lamp, the black shadows cutting the pale-yellow, silky sheen of his narrow, powerful face as clean as with a knife.

“Swell looker, that Chink!” commented Fanny Mei Hi as Yung Long walked away; and her husband, the liquor warming his heart into generosity, agreed:

“Sure! Swell looker! Lots of money! Let’s have another drink!”

Arrived at the sixth tumbler, Nag Hong Fah, the poet in his soul released by alcohol, took his blushing bride upon his knee and improvised a neat Cantonese love-ditty; but when Fanny awakened the next morning with the sobering suspicion that she had tied herself for life to a drunkard, she found out that her suspicion was unfounded.

The whisky spree had only been an appropriate celebration in honor of the man-child on whom Nag Hong Fah had set his heart; and it was because of this unborn son and the unborn son’s future that her husband rose from his tumbled couch, bland, fat, without headache or heartache, left the flat, and bargained for an hour with Yung Long, who was a wholesale grocer, with warehouses in Canton, Manila, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

――――

Not a word was said about either Yung Quai or Fanny. The talk dealt entirely with canned bamboo sprouts and preserved leeches, and pickled star-fruit, and brittle almond cakes. It was only after the price had been decided upon and duly sealed with the right phrases and palm touching palm—afterwards, though nothing in writing had passed, neither party could recede from the bargain without losing face—that Yung Long remarked, very casually:

“By the way, the terms are cash—spot cash,” and he smiled.

For he knew that the restaurant proprietor was an audacious merchant who relied on long credits and future profits, and to whom in the past he had always granted ninety days’ leeway without question or special agreement.

Nag Hong Fah smiled in his turn; a slow, thin, enigmatic smile.

“I brought the cash with me,” he replied, pulling a wad of greenbacks from his pocket, and both gentlemen looked at each other with a great deal of mutual respect.

“Forty-seven dollars and thirty-three cents saved on the first business of my married life,” Nag Hong Fah said to his assembled clan that night at the Place of Sweet Desire and Heavenly Entertainment. “Ah, I shall have a fine, large business to leave to the man-child which my wife shall bear me!”

――――

And the man-child came—golden-haired, blue-eyed, yellow-skinned, and named Brian in honor of Fanny’s apocryphal uncle who owned the Bowery saloon. For the christening Nag Hong Fah sent out special invitations—pink cards lettered with virulent magenta and bordered with green forget-me-nots and purple roses; with an advertisement of the Great Shanghai Chop Suey Palace on the reverse side. He also bestowed upon his wife a precious bracelet of cloudy white jade, earrings of green jade cunningly inlaid with blue feathers, a chest of carved Tibetan soapstone, a bottle of French perfume, a pound of Mandarin blossom tea for which he paid seventeen dollars wholesale, a set of red Chinese sables, and a new Caruso record for the victrola.

Fanny liked the last two best; chiefly the furs, which she wore through the whirling heat of an August day, as soon as she was strong enough to leave her couch, on an expedition to her native pavements. For she held fast to her proclaimed right that hers was the freedom of asphalt and electric light—not to mention the back parlor of her uncle’s saloon, with its dingy, musty walls covered with advertisements of eminent Kentucky distilleries and the indelible traces of many generations of flies, with its gangrened tables, its battered cuspidors, its commingling atmosphere of poverty and sloth, of dust and stale beer, of cheese sandwiches, wet weeds, and cold cigars.

“Getta hell outa here!” she admonished a red-powdered bricklayer who came staggering across the threshold of the back parlor and was trying to encircle her waist with amatory intent. “I’m a respectable married woman—see?” And then to Miss Ryan, the side-kick of her former riotous spinster days, who was sitting at a corner table dipping her pretty little up-turned nose into a foaming schooner: “Take my tip, Mamie, an’ marry a Chink! That’s the life, believe me!”

Mamie shrugged her shoulders.

“All right for you, Fan, I guess,” she replied. “But not for me. Y’see—ye’re mostly Chink yerself—”

“I ain’t! I ain’t! I’m white—wottya mean callin’ me a Chink?” And then, seeing signs of contrition on her friend’s face: “Never mind. Chinkie-Toodles is good enough for me. He treats me white, all right, all right!”

――――

Nor was this an overstatement of the actual facts.

Nag Hong Fah was good to her. He was happy in the realization of his fatherhood, advertised every night by lusty cries which reverberated through the narrow, rickety Pell Street house to find an echo across the street in the liquor-store of the Chin Sor Company, where the members of his clan predicted a shining future for father and son.

The former was prospering. The responsibilities of fatherhood had brought an added zest and tang to his keen, bartering Mongol brain. Where before he had squeezed the dollar, he was now squeezing the cent. He had many a hard tussle with the rich Yung Long over the price of tea and rice and other staples, and never did either one of them mention the name of Yung Quai, nor that of the woman who had supplanted Yung Quai in the restaurant-keeper’s affections.

Fanny was honest. She traveled the straight and narrow, as she put it to herself. “Nor ain’t it any strain on my feet,” she confided to Miss Ryan. For she was happy and contented. Life, after all, had been good to her, had brought her prosperity and satisfaction at the hands of a fat Chinaman, at the end of her fantastic, twisted, unclean youth; and there were moments when, in spite of herself, she felt herself drawn into the surge of that Mongol race which had given her nine-tenths of her blood—a fact which formerly she had been in the habit of denying vigorously.

She laughed her happiness through the spiced, warm mazes of Chinatown, her first-born cuddled to her breast, ready to be friends with everybody.

It was thus that Yung Long would see her walking down Pell Street as he sat in the carved window-seat of his store, smoking his crimson-tassled pipe, a wandering ray of sun dancing through the window, breaking into prismatic colors, and wreathing his pale, serene face with opal vapors.

He never failed to wave his hand in courtly greeting.

She never failed to return the civility.

Some swell looker, that Chink. But—Gawd!—she was square, all right, all right!

――――

A year later, after Nag Hong Fah, in expectation of the happy event, had acquired an option on a restaurant farther up-town, so that the second son might not be slighted in favor of Brian, who was to inherit the Great Shanghai Chop Suey Palace, Fanny sent another little cross-breed into the reek and riot of the Pell Street world. But when Nag Hong Fah came home that night, the nurse told him that the second-born was a girl—something to be entered on the debit, not the credit, side of the family ledger.

It was then that a change came into the marital relations of Mr. and Mrs. Nag Hong Fah.

Not that the former disliked the baby daughter, called Fanny, after the mother. Far from it. He loved her with a sort of slow, passive love, and he could be seen on an afternoon rocking the wee bundle in his stout arms and whispering to her crooning Cantonese fairy-lilts: all about the god of small children whose face is a candied plum, so that the babes like to hug and kiss him and, of course, lick his face with their little pink tongues.

But this time there was no christening, no gorgeous magenta-lettered invitations sent to the chosen, no happy prophecies about the future.

This time there were no precious presents of green jade and white jade heaped on the couch of the young mother.

She noticed it. But she did not complain. She said to herself that her husband’s new enterprise was swallowing all his cash; and one night she asked him how the new restaurant was progressing.

“What new restaurant?” he asked blandly.

“The one up-town, Toodles—for the baby—”

Nag Hong Fah laughed carelessly.

“Oh—I gave up that option. Didn’t lose much.”

Fanny sat up straight, clutching little Fanny to her.

“You—you gave it up?” she asked. “Wottya mean—gave it up?”

Then suddenly inspired by some whisper of suspicion, her voice leaping up extraordinarily strong: “You mean you gave it up—because—because little Fanny is—a goil?”

He agreed with a smiling nod.

“To be sure! A girl is fit only to bear children and clean the household pots.”

He said it without any brutality, without any conscious male superiority; simply as a statement of fact. A melancholy fact, doubtless. But a fact, unchangeable, stony.

“But—but—” Fanny’s gutter flow of words floundered in the eddy of her amazement, her hurt pride and vanity. “I’m a woman myself—an’ I—”

“Assuredly you are a woman and you have done your duty. You have borne me a son. Perhaps, if the omens be favorable you will bear me yet another. But this—this girl—” He dismissed little Fanny with a wave of his pudgy, dimpled hand as a regrettable accident, and continued, soothingly: “She will be taken care of. Already I have written to friends of our clan in San Francisco to arrange for a suitable disposal when the baby has reached the right age.” He said it in his mellow, precise English. He had learned it at a night-school, where he had been the pride and honor of his class.

Fanny had risen. She left her couch. With a swish-swish of knitted bed-slippers she loomed up on the ring of faint light shed by the swinging petroleum lamp in the center of the room. She approached her husband, the baby held close to her heart with her left hand, her right hand aimed at Nag Hong Fah’s solid chest like a pistol. Her deep-set, violet-blue eyes seemed to pierce through him.

But the Chinese blood in her veins—shrewd, patient—scotched the violence of her American passion, her American sense of loudly clamoring for right and justice and fairness. She controlled herself. The accusing hand relaxed and fell gently on the man’s shoulder. She was fighting for her daughter, fighting for the drop of white blood in her veins, and it would not do to lose her temper.

“Looka here, Chinkie-Toodles,” she said. “You call yerself a Christian, don’t yer? A Christian an’ an American. Well, have a heart. An’ some sense! This ain’t China, Toodles. Lil Fanny ain’t goin’ to be weighed an’ sold to some rich brother Chink at so many seeds per pound. Not much! She’s gonna be eddycated. She’s gonna have her chance, see? She’s gonna be independent of the male beast an’ the sorta life wot the male beast likes to hand to a skoit. Believe me, Toodles, I know what I’m talkin’ about!”

But he shook his stubborn head. “All has been settled,” he replied. “Most satisfactorily settled!”

He turned to go. But she rushed up to him. She clutched his sleeve.

“Yer—yer don’t mean it? Yer can’t mean it!” she stammered.

“I do, fool!” He made a slight, weary gesture as if brushing away the incomprehensible. “You are a woman—you do not understand—”

“Don’t I, though!”

She spoke through her teeth. Her words clicked and broke like dropping icicles. Swiftly her passion turned into stone, and as swiftly back again, leaping out in a great, spattering stream of abuse.

“Yer damned, yellow, stinkin’ Chink! Yer—yer—Wottya mean—makin’ me bear children—yer own children—an’ then—” Little Fanny was beginning to howl lustily and she covered her face with kisses. “Say, kiddie, it’s a helluva dad you’ve drawn! A helluva dad! Look at him—standin’ there! Greasy an’ yellow an’— Say—he’s willin’ to sell yer into slavery to some other beast of a Chink! Say—”

“You are a—ah—a Chink yourself, fool!”

“I ain’t! I’m white—an’ square—an’ decent—an’—”

“Ah!”

He lit a cigarette and smiled placidly, and suddenly she knew that it would be impossible to argue, to plead with him. Might as well plead with some sardonic, deaf immensity, without nerves, without heart. And then, womanlike, the greater wrong disappeared in the lesser.

“Ye’re right. I’m part Chink myself—an’ damned sorry for myself because of it! An’ that’s why I know why yer gave me no presents when lil Fanny was born. Because she’s a girl! As if that was my fault, yer fat, sneerin’ slob, yer! Yah! That’s why yer gave me no presents—I know! I know what it means when a Chink don’t give no presents to his wife when she gives boith to a child! Make me lose face—that’s wottya call it, ain’t it? An’ I thought fer a while yer was savin’ up the ducats to give lil Fanny a start in life!

“Well, yer got another guess comin’! Yer gonna do wot I tell yer, see? Yer gonna open up that there new restaurant up-town, an’ yer gonna give me presents! A bracelet, that’s what I want! None o’ yer measly Chink jade, either; but the real thing, get me? Gold an’ diamonds, see?” and she was still talking as he, unmoved, silent, smiling, left the room and went down the creaking stairs to find solace in the spiced cups of the Palace of Sweet Desire and Heavenly Entertainment.

She rushed up to the window and threw it wide. She leaned far out, her hair framing her face like a glorious, disordered aureole, her loose robe slipping from her gleaming shoulders, her violet eyes blazing fire and hatred.

She shouted at his fat, receding back:

“A bracelet, that’s what I want! That’s what I’m gonna get, see? Gold an’ diamonds! Gold an’ diamonds, yer yellow pig, yer!”

It was at that moment that Yung Long passed her house. He heard, looked up, and greeted her courteously, as was his wont. But this time he did not go straight on his way. He looked at her for several seconds, taking in the soft lines of her neck and shoulders, the small, pale oval of her face with the crimson of her broad, generous mouth, the white flash of her small, even teeth, and the blue, sombre orbit of her eyes. With the light of the lamp shining in back, a breeze rushing in front past the open window, the wide sleeves of her dressing-gown fluttered like immense, rosy butterfly-wings.

Instinctively she returned his gaze. Instinctively, straight through her rage and heartache, the old thought came to her mind:

Swell looker—that Chink!

And then, without realizing what she was doing, her lips had formed the thought into words:

“Swell looker!”

She said it in a headlong and vehement whisper that drifted down, through the whirling reek of Pell Street—sharp, sibilant, like a message.

Yung Long smiled, raised his neat bowler hat, and went on his way.

――――

Night after night Fanny returned to the attack, cajoling, caressing, threatening, cursing.

“Listen here, Chinkie-Toodles—”

But she might as well have tried to argue with the sphinx for all the impression she made on her eternally smiling lord. He would drop his amorphous body into a comfortable rocker, moving it up and down with the tips of his felt-slippered feet, a cigarette hanging loosely from the right corner of his coarse, sagging lips, a cup of lukewarm rice whisky convenient to his elbow, and watch her as he might the gyrations of an exotic beetle whose wings had been burned off. She amused him. But after a while continuous repetition palled the amusement into monotony, and, correctly Chinese, he decided to make a formal complaint to Brian O’Neill, the Bowery saloon-keeper, who called himself her uncle.

Life, to that prodigal of Erin, was a rather sunny arrangement of small conveniences and small, pleasant vices. He laughed in his throat and called his “nephew” a damned, sentimental fool.

“Beat her up!” was his calm, matter-of-fact advice. “Give her a good old hiding, an’ she’ll feed outa yer hand, me lad!”

“I have—ah—your official permission, as head of her family?”

“Sure. Wait. I’ll lend ye me blackthorn. She knows the taste of it.”

Nag Hong Fah took both advice and blackthorn. That night he gave Fanny a severe beating and repeated the performance every night for a week until she subsided.

Once more she became the model wife, and happiness returned to the stout bosom of her husband. Even Miss Rutter, the social settlement investigator, commented upon it. “Real love is a shelter of inexpugnable peace,” she said when she saw the Nag Hong Fah family walking down Pell Street, little Brian toddling on ahead, the baby cuddled in her mother’s arms.

――――

Generously Nag Hong Fah overlooked his wife’s petty womanish vanities; and when she came home one afternoon, flushed, excited, exhibiting a shimmering bracelet that was encircling her wrist, “just imitation gold an’ diamonds, Chinkie-Toodles!” she explained. “Bought it outa my savings—thought yer wouldn’t mind, see? Thought it wouldn’t hurt yer none if them Chinks hereabouts think it was the real dope an’ yer gave it to me”—he smiled and took her upon his knee as of old.

“Yes, yes,” he said, his pudgy hand fondling the intense golden gleam of her tresses. “It is all right. Perhaps—if you bear me another son—I shall give you a real bracelet, real gold, real diamonds. Meanwhile you may wear this bauble.”

As before she hugged jealously her proclaimed freedom of asphalt and electric lights. Nor did he raise the slightest objections. He had agreed to it at the time of their marriage and, being a righteous man, he kept to his part of the bargain with serene punctiliousness.

Brian Neill, whom he chanced to meet one afternoon in Señora Garcia’s second-hand emporium, told him it was all right.

“That beatin’ ye gave her didn’t do her any harm, me beloved nephew,” he said. “She’s square. God help the lad who tries to pass a bit o’ blarney to her.” He chuckled in remembrance of a Finnish sailor who had beaten a sudden and undignified retreat from the back parlor into the saloon, with a ragged scratch crimsoning his face and bitter words about the female of the species crowding his lips. “Faith, she’s square! Sits there with her little glass o’ gin an’ her auld chum, Mamie Ryan—an’ them two chews the rag by the hour—talkin’ about frocks an’ frills, I doubt not—”

Of course, once in a while she would return home a little the worse for liquor. But Nag Hong Fah, being a Chinaman, would mantle such small shortcomings with the wide charity of his personal laxity.

“Better a drunken wife who cooks well and washes the children and keeps her tongue between her teeth, than a sober wife who reeks with virtue and breaks the household pots,” he said to Nag Hop Fat, the soothsayer. “Better an honorable pig than a cracked rose bottle.”

“Indeed! Better a fleet mule than a hamstrung horse,” the other wound up the pleasant round of Oriental metaphors, and he reënforced his opinion with a chosen and appropriate quotation from the “Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King.”

――――

When late one night that winter, a high wind booming from the north and washing the snow-dusted Pell Street houses with its cutting blast, Fanny came home with a jag, a chill, and a hacking cough, and went down with pneumonia seven hours later, Nag Hong Fah was genuinely sorry. He turned the management of his restaurant over to his brother, Nag Sen Yat, and sat by his wife’s bed, whispering words of encouragement, bathing her feverish forehead, changing her sheets, administering medicine, doing everything with fingers as soft and deft as a woman’s.

Even after the doctor had told him three nights later that the case was hopeless and that Fanny would die—even after, as a man of constructive and practical brain, he had excused himself for a few minutes and had sat down in the back room to write a line to Yung Quai, his divorced wife in San Francisco, bidding her hold herself in readiness and including a hundred dollars for transportation—he continued to treat Fanny Mei Hi with the utmost gentleness and patience.

Tossing on her hot pillows, she could hear him in the long watches of the night breathing faintly, clearing his throat cautiously so as not to disturb her; and on Monday morning—he had lifted her up and was holding her close to help her resist the frightful, hacking cough that was shaking her wasted frame—he told her that he had reconsidered about little Fanny.

“You are going to die,” he said placidly, in a way, apologetically, “and it is fitting that your daughter should make proper obeisance to your departed spirit. A child’s devotion is best stimulated by gratitude. And little Fanny shall be grateful to you. For she will go to a good American school and, to pay for it, I shall sell your possessions after you are dead. The white jade bracelet, the earrings of green jade, the red sables—they will bring over four thousand dollars. Even this little bauble”—he slipped the glittering bracelet from her thin wrist—“this, too, will bring a few dollars. Ten, perhaps twelve; I know a dealer of such trifles in Mott Street who—”

“Say!”

Her voice cut in, raucous, challenging. She had wriggled out of his arms. An opaque glaze had come over her violet-blue eyes. Her whole body trembled. But she pulled herself on her elbows with a terrible, straining effort, refusing the support of his ready hands.

“Say! How much did yer say this here bracelet’s worth?”

He smiled gently. He did not want to hurt her woman’s vanity. So he increased his first appraisal.

“Twenty dollars,” he suggested. “Perhaps twenty-one. Do not worry. It shall be sold to the best advantage—for your little daughter—”

And then, quite suddenly, Fanny burst into laughter—gurgling laughter that shook her body, choked her throat, and leaped out in a stream of blood from her tortured lungs.

“Twenty dollars!” she cried, “Twenty-one! Say, you poor cheese, that bracelet alone’ll pay for lil Fanny’s eddycation. It’s worth three thousand! It’s real, real—gold an’ diamonds! Gold an’ diamonds! Yung Long gave it to me, yer poor fool!” And she fell back and died, a smile upon her face, which made her look like a sleeping child, wistful and perverse.

――――

A day after his wife’s funeral Nag Hong Fah, having sent a ceremonious letter, called on Yung Long in the latter’s store. In the motley, twisted annals of Pell Street the meeting, in the course of time, has assumed the character of something epic, something Homeric, something almost religious. It is mentioned with pride by both the Nag and the Yung clans; the tale of it has drifted to the Pacific Coast; and even in far China wise men speak of it with a hush of reverence as they drift down the river on their painted house-boats in peach-blossom time.

――――

Yung Long received his caller at the open door of his shop.

“Deign to enter first,” he said, bowing.

Nag Hong Fah bowed still lower.

“How could I dare to?” he retorted, quoting a line from the “Book of Ceremonies and Exterior Demonstrations,” which proved that the manner is the heart’s inner feeling.

Please deign to enter first,” Yung Long emphasized, and again the other gave the correct reply: “How should I dare?”

Then, after a final request, still protesting, he entered as he was bidden. The grocer followed, walked to the east side of the store and indicated the west side to his visitor as Chinese courtesy demands.

“Deign to choose your mat,” he went on and, after several coy refusals, Nag Hong Fah obeyed again, sat down, and smiled gently at his host.

“A pipe?” suggested the latter.

“Thanks! A simple pipe of bamboo, please, with a plain bamboo mouthpiece and no ornaments!”

“No, no!” protested Yung Long. “You will smoke a precious pipe of jade with a carved amber mouthpiece and crimson tassels!”

He clapped his hands, whereupon one of his young cousins entered with a tray of nacre, supporting an opium-lamp, pipes and needles and bowls, and horn and ivory boxes neatly arranged. A minute later the brown opium cube was sizzling over the open flame, the jade pipe was filled and passed to Nag Hong Fah, who inhaled the gray, acrid smoke with all the strength of his lungs, then returned the pipe to the boy, who refilled it and passed it to Yung Long.

For a while the two men smoked in silence—men of Pell Street, men of lowly trade, yet men at whose back three thousand years of unbroken racial history, racial pride, racial achievements, and racial calm, were sitting in a solemn, graven row—thus dignified men.

Yung Long was caressing his cheek with his right hand. The dying, crimson sunlight danced and glittered on his well-polished finger-nails.

Finally he broke the silence.

“Your wife is dead,” he said with a little mournful cadence at the end of the sentence.

“Yes.” Nag Hong Fah inclined his head sadly; and after a short pause: “My friend, it is indeed reasonable to think that young men are fools, their brains hot and crimson with the blinding mists of passion, while wisdom and calm are the splendid attributes of older men—”

“Such as—you and I?”

“Indeed!” decisively.

Yung Long raised himself on his elbows. His oblique eyes flashed a scrutinizing look and the other winked a slow wink and remarked casually that a wise and old man must first peer into the nature of things, then widen his knowledge, then harden his will, then control the impulses of his heart, then entirely correct himself—then establish good order in his family.

“Truly spoken,” agreed Yung Long. “Truly spoken, O wise and older brother! A family! A family needs the strength of a man and the soft obedience of a woman.”

“Mine is dead,” sighed Nag Hong Fah. “My household is upset. My children cry.”

Yung Long slipped a little fan from his wide silken sleeves and opened it slowly.

“I have a sister,” he said gently, “Yung Quai, a childless woman who once was your wife, O wise and older brother.”

“A most honorable woman!” Nag Hong Fah shut his eyes and went on: “I wrote to her five days ago, sending her money for her railway fare to New York.”

“Ah!” softly breathed the grocer; and there followed another silence.

Yung Long’s young cousin was kneading, against the pipe, the dark opium cubes which the flame gradually changed into gold and amber.

“Please smoke,” advised the grocer.

Nag Hong Fah had shut his eyes completely, and his fat face, yellow as old parchment, seemed to have grown indifferent, dull, almost sleepy.

Presently he spoke:

“Your honorable sister, Yung Quai, will make a most excellent mother for the children of my late wife.”

“Indeed.”

There was another silence, again broken by Nag Hong Fah. His voice held a great calmness, a gentle singsong, a bronze quality which was like the soft rubbing of an ancient temple gong, green with the patina of the swinging centuries.

“My friend,” he said, “there is the matter of a shimmering bracelet given by you to my late wife—”

Yung Long looked up quickly; then down again as he saw the peaceful expression on the other’s bland features and heard him continue:

“For a while I misunderstood. My heart was blinded. My soul was seared with rage. I—I am ashamed to own up to it—I harbored harsh feelings against you. Then I considered that you were the older brother of Yung Quai and a most honorable man. I considered that in giving the bracelet to my wife you doubtless meant to show your appreciation for me, your friend, her husband. Am I not right?”

Yung Long had filled his lungs with another bowlful of opium smoke. He was leaning back, both shoulders on the mat so as the better to dilate his chest and to keep his lungs filled all the longer with the fumes of the kindly philosophic drug.

“Yes,” he replied after a minute or two. “Your indulgent lips have pronounced words full of harmony and reason. Only—there is yet another trifling matter.”

“Name it. It shall be honorably solved.”

Yung Long sat up and fanned himself slowly.

“At the time when I arranged a meeting with the mother of your children,” he said, “so as to speak to her of my respectful friendship for you and to bestow upon her a shimmering bracelet in proof of it, I was afraid of the wagging, leaky tongues of Pell Street. I was afraid of scandal and gossip. I therefore met your wife in the back room of Señora Garcia’s store, on the Bowery. Since then I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I acted foolishly. For the foreign woman may have misinterpreted my motives. She may talk, thus causing you as well as me to lose face, and besmirching the departed spirit of your wife. What sayeth the ‘Li-Ki’? ‘What is whispered in the private apartments must not be shouted outside.’ Do you not think that this foreign woman should—ah—”

Nag Hong Fah smiled affectionately upon the other.

“You have spoken true words, O wise and older brother,” he said rising. “It is necessary for your and my honor, as well as for the honor of my wife’s departed spirit, that the foreign woman should not wag her tongue. I shall see to it to-night.” He waved a fat, deprecating hand. “Yes—yes. I shall see to it. It is a simple act of family piety—but otherwise without much importance.”

And he bowed, left the store, and returned to his house to get his lean knife.

CRUELTIES

By EDWINA STANTON BABCOCK
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Edwina Stanton Babcock.

The bell tinkled as Mrs. Tyarck entered the little shop. She looked about her and smiled pityingly. The dim cases and counters were in dusty disarray, some cards of needlework had tumbled to the floor, a drawer showing a wrinkled jumble of tissue-paper patterns caught the last rays of the setting sun.

“Of all the sights!” was Mrs. Tyarck’s comment. “She needs some one to help her. She needs new taste. Them buttons, now, who’d buy ’em? They belong to the year one.”

Scornfully the shopper eyed the shelves where were boxes of buttons dating back to periods of red and black glass. There were transparent buttons with lions crouching within; there were bronze buttons with Japanese ladies smiling against gay parasols; speckled buttons with snow, hail, and planetary disturbances occurring within their circumscribed limits, and large mourning buttons with white lilies drooping upon their hard surfaces. Each box had a sample button sewn on its cover, and these sample buttons, like eyes of a bygone century, glimmered watchfully.

Mrs. Tyarck penetrated a screen of raw-colored worsteds suspended in fat hanks from a sort of clothes-line stretched above the counter. She sought the proprietor of the little shop. In the back of the store, barricaded by a hodge-podge of scattered merchandise, was a door leading to a private room. Toward this door she directed a commanding voice:

“Frenzy! Frenzy Giddings! How long I got to wait here?”

There was an apologetic stir in the back room, the genteel click of a spoon in a saucer, soft hurried creakings, then a bony hand pushed back a faded curtain. Miss Frances Giddings, known among her acquaintances as “Frenzy,” peered from the privacy of her kitchen into the uncertainties of the shop.

“I shall be with you presently.”

When the tall figure finally emerged, her feet shuffled in carpet-slippered indecision, her glasses glimmered irresolutely. In another woman there might have been, out of recognition of Mrs. Tyarck’s impatience, bustling haste and nervous despatch. In Miss Frenzy Giddings there was merely slow, gentle concern.

“I am at a loss to explain my unreadiness,” said the punctilious, cracked voice. “Usually on prayer-meeting nights I am, if anything, in advance of the hour, but to-night I regret exceedingly that, without realizing the extent of time, I became over-absorbed in the anxieties of my garden. Now select the article you desire and I will endeavor to make amends.”

“What ails your garden?” asked Mrs. Tyarck, carelessly adding, “I come in for some new kitchen toweling; that last I got down to the other store was slazy.”

Miss Frenzy, with careful inefficiency, lifted down and arranged on a dusty counter three bolts of toweling. With deliberation as unconscious as it was accustomed, she unwrapped the three, the cracked voice explaining, “The perturbation to which I allude is the extraordinary claims made upon me by rose-worms.”

Mrs. Tyarck, peering in the dim light, carefully examined the toweling. She pulled a few threads from one bolt and, with the air of one who protects herself against systematic fraud, proceeded ostentatiously to chew them.

“This here toweling gone up any?” The threads of the assayed linen still lingered on her thin lips as she decided. “If it’s the same price it was, I’ll take two yards.” Then, returning to the question of lesser importance, “Well, I can’t help you none with them worms until you tell me whether they’re chewers or suckers.”

Miss Frenzy, putting on a second pair of glasses over those she habitually wore, now essayed the project of cutting off the two yards of toweling.

“Chewers or—er—ahem, suckers? I really cannot say. Shall you be astonished at my negligence when I tell you that I have not yet taken the measures to determine whether these worms are, as you so grotesquely term them, chewers or—er—ahem, suckers?”

Mrs. Tyarck laughed sarcastically. “For Heaven’s sake, Frenzy Giddings! it’s a wonder to me you know anything, the time you take with your words! You ain’t acquainted with your own stock, I see, for here you’ve cut me off two yards of the twenty-cent when I asked for the ten-cent. Well, it’s your mistake, so I’ll take it as if ’t wuz what I’m payin’ for; but look here, Frenzy, you’ve no call to be wool-gatherin’ your time of life.”

The rough criticism had no effect upon the native elegance of the old shopkeeper. She smiled at Mrs. Tyarck’s outburst with an air of polite, if detached, sympathy. Dropping her scissors, she turned to the window, poking her head between hanging flannel nightgowns to remark:

“Pleasant weather and many taking advantage of it; were I not occupied I, too, should promenade.”

Mrs. Tyarck meanwhile creaked about the little store on a tour of inspection. Some especially frivolous sets of “Hair Goods” underwent her instant repudiation. “I wear my own, thank God!” she exclaimed, adding, “it’s good enough for Tyarck and me.” Picking up a cluster of children’s handkerchiefs, she carried them to the window for more complete condemnation, muttering: “Ark-animals and butterflies! Now what’s all that foolishness got to do with the nose?” As Mrs. Tyarck stood apostrophizing the handkerchiefs there was a whir outside the store, the toot of a claxon, a girl’s excited laugh, the flash of a scarlet jersey and tam-o’-shanter. The two women, lowering their heads after the furtive fashion that obtains in country districts, took the thing in. They stared after the automobile.

“Pleasure-riding, I see,” remarked the near-sighted Miss Frenzy. “Young folks appreciate the automobiles; the extreme velocity seems peculiarly to gratify their fancy!”

Mrs. Tyarck pursed up her lips; she looked with narrow speculation after the pair, her thin face hardening.

“Them two is going out to the Forked Road Supper House,” she prophesied. “No daughter of mine wouldn’t be allowed to set foot in that place. Well, you’re lookin’ at two of a kind. That red sweater of hern won’t help her none.”

Miss Frenzy, now sorting change in slow pensiveness, demurred. “She is young,” she remarked. “She entered the store recently for some scarlet wool for that very jersey” (Miss Frenzy was at pains to avoid the word “sweater”), “and I observed her young cheeks—quite like peaches, yes,” insisted Miss Frenzy, sentimentally, “quite like peaches—I could wish that she should be careful of her complexion and not ride too extensively in the cold air.”

“There’s more to be thought of than complexions, these days,” said the other woman, coldly. There was relentless judgment in her face, but she went on: “Well, ’tain’t meetin’-time yet. Say I step back and take a look at them worms ’n’ see ef there’s anything I can recommend.”

The thin figure of the shopkeeper preceding her, and Mrs. Tyarck casting looks of disparagement on all she passed, the two took their way into the little garden. Here, enclosed by high palings, shut away from everything but sun and air, was Miss Frenzy’s kingdom, and here there came a sudden change in her manner. She did not lose the careful elegance of the polite shopkeeper, but into gesture and voice crept an authority, the subtle sense of ownership and power invariably felt by those who own a bit of land, who can make things grow.

“Step judiciously,” she admonished her visitor; “my cucumber-frames are somewhat eliminated by the tall verdure: here and there I have set out new plants. I should deplore having my arrangements disturbed.”

Mrs. Tyarck sniffed. “You and your garden!” she ejaculated; but she resolutely made her way, eyes squinting with curiosity. Settling her hat, whose black wing stuck out with a virtuous swagger, Mrs. Tyarck gave herself all the married woman’s amusement over the puttering concerns of a spinster.

Soon, however, as the two women stole farther into the dense square of growing things, the envy of the natural flower-lover crept into her sharp comments. “My!” she said, jealously—“my! ain’t your white duchy doin’ good? Say, look at them gooseberries! I suspect you don’t have no particular use for ’em?” It was said of Mrs. Tyarck that she was skilful at paving the way for gifts of any kind. She made this last suggestion with a hard, conscious laugh.

All around the little garden was a fence like the high fences in London suburbs. Close against it honeysuckle poured saffron cascades, a mulberry-tree showed the beginning of conical fruitage. Blackberry vines sprayed white stars over a sunny bit of stone wall. Amid a patch of feathery grasses swayed the prim carillons of canterbury-bells; soft gaieties of sweet-williams and phlox were massed against the silvery weather-boarding of Miss Frenzy’s kitchen. As the two women, skirts held high, paused in front of the white-rose bush the indefatigability of the chewers and suckers was revealed. Already thousands of young rose leaves were eaten to the green framework. Miss Frenzy, with a sudden exclamation, bent to a branch on which were clusters of dainty buds.

“Ah-ah! Millions!” she whispered. Then, tremulously defying the worms: “No, no, no! How dare you? Hi, hi, hi! there’s another! Ugh! Look here! Mercy! See that spray!”

With every ejaculation, shudderingly emitted, the bony hand went out like lightning, plucked something gingerly from a leaf, gave it a swift, vindictive pinch, and abhorrently tossed it away.

“That’s right,” nodded Mrs. Tyarck. “Squeeze ’em and heave ’em—it’s about all you can do. They’ll try to take advantage of you every time! There’s no gratitude in worms! They ain’t pertikler. It don’t mean nothing to them that roses is pretty or grows good. They want to eat. Squeeze ’em and heave ’em! It’s all you can do!”

There was a distant tinkle of the store bell. Miss Frenzy, absorbed in her daily horror, did not hear this. “Ugh! Ugh!” she was moaning. Again the long hand went out in a capturing gesture. “There—there! I told you so; quantities more, quantities! Yet last night I was under the impression that I had disposed of the greater majority.”

Mrs. Tyarck’s attention was diverted from the rose-worms and concentrated on the deserted shop. “I heard the bell,” warned that accurate lady. Then, reprovingly: “Don’t you never have any one to keep store when you’re out here? You’ll lose custom, Frenzy. What’s more, if you ain’t careful, you’ll lose stock. Ivy Corners ain’t what it used to be; there’s them Eastern peddlers that walks around as big as life, and speakin’ English to fool everybody; and now, with the war and all, every other person you see is a German spy.”

As she spoke a large form appeared in the back doorway of Miss Frenzy’s shop and a primly dressed woman entered the garden. She had a curiously large and blank face. She wore a mannishly made suit of slate-gray, wiry material, and her hat had two large pins of green which, inserted in front, glittered high on her forehead like bulbous, misplaced eyes. This lady carried a netted catch-all distended with many knobby parcels and a bundle of tracts. As she saw the two in the garden she stretched her formless mouth over the white smile of recently installed porcelain, but the long reaches of her face had no radiance. The lady was, however, furnished with a curious catarrhal hawking which she used parenthetically, like comment. What she now had to say she prefaced with this juridic hawking.

“Well, there ain’t no responsibility here, I see! Store door open, nobody around! Them two young ones of Smedge’s lookin’ in at the things, rubbin’ their dirty hands all over the glass case, choosin’ what’s their favorite dry-goods! All I can say is, Frenzy, that either you trust yourself too much or you expect that Serapham and Cherabum is going to keep store for you.”

Mrs. Tyarck turned as to a kindred spirit, remarking, with a contemptuous wink: “Frenzy’s rose-worms is on her mind. Seems she’s overrun with ’em.”

Mrs. Capron, the newcomer, strode up the little path to the scene of action, but at the sharp exclamation of Miss Frenzy she halted.

“Have a care!” said the gaunt shopkeeper, authoritatively. She waved a bony hand in ceremonious warning. “I should have warned you before,” explained Miss Frenzy, “but the impediment in your way is my cat-trap. It would seem that I am systematically pestered with marauding cats. The annoyance continuing for some time, I am obliged to originate devices that curtail their penetrations.”

Mrs. Capron, indignantly whisking her skirt away from a strange-looking arrangement of corset steels and barrel staves connected by wires, strode into some deep grass, then gave vent to a majestic hawk of displeasure:

“What’s this I got on my shoes? Fly-paper? For the land’s sake! Now how in the name of Job do I get that off?”

Mrs. Tyarck, ingratiatingly perturbed, came to the rescue of her friend; the two wrestled with adhesive bits of paper, but certain fragments, affected by contact, fulfilled their utmost prerogative and were not detachable. When they were finally prevailed upon to leave the shoe of Mrs. Capron, they stuck with surprising pertinacity to the glove of her friend. The outcries of the two ladies were full of disgust and criticism.

“Well, Frenzy Giddings! You need a man in here! Some one to clean up after you. All this old paper ’n’ stuff around! It’s a wonder you don’t get into it yourself, but then you know where to step,” they said, grudgingly.

Miss Frenzy hardly heard them; she was still peering carefully under the leaves and around the many clusters of babyish rosebuds. “Ah-ah!” she was still saying, shudderingly. Out went her hand with the same abhorrent gesture. “After all my watchfulness! Another, and another!”

Mrs. Capron, indignant over this indifference to her fly-paper discomfort, now sought recognition of the damages she had sustained:

“I dun’no’ will this plaguey stuff ever come off my mohair! Well, I’ll never set foot in here again! Say, Frenzy, I can send up one of my boys to-morrow and he’ll clean up for you, fly-paper and all, for ten cents.”

For a moment Miss Frenzy hesitated. She stood tall and sheltering over the rose-bush, the little shawl thrown over her shoulders lifted in the breeze. She looked something like a gray moth: her arms long and thin like antennæ, her spectacled eyes, gave her a moth’s fateful look of flutter and blindness before light and scorching flame.

“You are most kind, but”—with a discouraged sigh—“it cannot be done.”

“It can’t be done?” hawked Mrs. Capron.

Mrs. Tyarck turned a sharp look of disapproval around the little garden, saying in a low tone, “It’s reel sloven in here; she’d ought to do something for it.”

“Yes,” insisted Mrs. Capron, “you want cleaning up in here; that’s what. That seedy grass! Them ragged vines! Your flowers overrun you—and that there fly-paper—”

Miss Frenzy sought to change the subject. With an air of obstinacy that sat curiously upon her, she directed the attention of her visitors to a young tree shooting up in green assurance.

“My mystery,” she announced, with gentle archness. “Not planted by human hands. Undoubtedly a seed dropped by a bird in flight. A fruit-tree, I suspect—possibly cherry, but whether wild or of the domestic species remains to be seen; only the fruit will solve the enigma.”

Mrs. Capron and Mrs. Tyarck regarded the little tree carelessly. “Wild,” they pronounced as one woman, adding: “Wild cherry. When it’s big, it will dirty your yard something fearful.”

“I had a friend,” related Mrs. Tyarck. “Her husband was a Mason. Seems she had a wild cherry-tree into her yard and she could never lay out a piece of light goods for bleachin’ without fear of stains, and then the flies and the sparrers racketin’ around all summer—why, it nearly druv her crazy!”

Miss Frenzy ignored these comments. “My mystery,” she repeated, with reflecting eyes. “The seed dropped by a bird in flight. Only the fruit will solve the enigma.” With an air of ceremonious explanation, Miss Giddings turned to the two visitors. “I should acquaint you,” she remarked in soft courtesy, “with the fact that, much as I regret the necessity of the fly-paper, it is, as you might say, calculated.”

“Calculated!” With a gasp Mrs. Tyarck took off and began to polish her glasses; she kept two hard little eyes fixed on the speaker.

Mrs. Capron forgot to hawk. “Calculated?

“It is to arrest the depredations of ants,” confessed Miss Frenzy. She looked from one to the other with great dignity, supplementing: “I have long suffered greatly from the onslaughts of ants, both red and black. With the fly-paper, judiciously placed, I have hoped to curtail their activities.”

It had grown a little grayer of twilight; the two visitors, trapped as it were within the high board enclosures, fenced all about with sweeps of tangled vine, the pale glimmering of ghostly blossoms, felt uncomfortable. With slow suspicion they moved away from one so frankly the author of gin and pitfall; from one who could so calmly admit that bits of fly-paper dribbling about her garden paths were “calculated.” “Who was it,” whispered Mrs. Tyarck, darkly—“who was it once said that Frenzy was sort of odd?” The two visitors moved instinctively toward a way of exit. With one more sigh Miss Frenzy reluctantly followed them. As they cast about in their minds for means of final reproof, she paused at the kitchen door. There, where a rain-barrel stood under a leader, was a bit of soap in a flower-pot saucer; seizing it, the old shopkeeper began vigorously washing her hands.

“Five waters,” sighed Miss Frenzy—“five waters, before I can feel that my hands are in any degree cleansed!”

The others stood watching her. Instantly they seized the opportunity.

“Well, I should think so.” Mrs. Capron hawked her superior virtue. “I’m glad to hear you say that, Frenzy. Nice work indeed you’ve been doin’ with them hands! Murderin’ and slayin’! Why can’t you live and let live (unless, of course, it’s rats or mosquitoes)? Now you go and get the blood of them innercent worms on your shoulders! Why couldn’t you let ’em go on feedin’ where their Creator wanted ’em to feed?”

They looked at her.

“All them different cruelties,” they commented—“fly-paper to track them ignorant ants onto, and that there trap for cats.... Well, you got more spots onto your soul than soap can take off. ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ it says. Why”—this burst of feeling from Mrs. Tyarck—“why, it’s all I can do to set foot on a spider!”

“And look at me with wasps!” exclaimed Mrs. Capron. “How many wasps I’ve let go for their enjoyment of life, even though, for all I know, next thing they might sting me or one of mine.”

Mrs. Capron, getting warm and virtuous, sat down in the kitchen doorway. Opening the netted catchall, she took out therefrom a bundle of tracts. This lady was the important local officer of many humanitarian societies and lost no opportunity to improve the morale of her community. The tract she selected for Miss Frenzy was of an impressive blue with the title, “Deal Tenderly with the Humble Animals that Cannot Speak.”

“Now think of them ants,” exhorted Mrs. Capron. She looked hard at Miss Frenzy Giddings. “Think of them thoughtless ants runnin’ onto that fly-paper and not able to call out to the others what’s happened to ’em!”

“You’re like me,” said Mrs. Tyarck. Taking her handkerchief, she wet it in the rain-barrel and obsequiously attempted to rub off a slight fly-paper stickiness still on the mohair of her friend. “You’re like me. I’m that tender-hearted I can’t even boil a lobster. I was so from a child. Come time the kettle boils it’s Tyarck always has to put the lobster in—me all of a tremble!”

“And flies,” suggested Mrs. Capron—“there’s a many thinks that flies has got souls (though not the Board of Health). But even flies—look at me! I keep sugar and molasses for ’em in their own saucer, and if they come to their last end that way, why, they must die likin’ it, and it’s what they chose for theirselves.”

Mrs. Capron drew the string of her netted catchall tight. She hawked, drew her upper lip down over the lower, and buttoned up the tight-fitting coat of mohair.

“Them cruelties of yourn will haunt you, Frenzy,” summed up both ladies; “there’s verses in the Bible for just such things,” exclaimed the visitors together; then they all went in, the two friends turning their attention to Miss Giddings’s household arrangements, offering her advice and counsel as to her clothes and the management of her kitchen range.

There were no more words about the cruelties except that that night in the long, wandering prayer in which Mrs. Capron, as leader of the meeting, had ample opportunity to score against any one whom she fancied delinquent, or against whom she had a private grudge, she inserted into her petition:

“And from all needless cruelties, keep us, O Lord. The bird that hops onto our sill”—Mrs. Capron did not specify whether sparrow or nightingale, but she implored fervently—“help us to remember it’s one of Thy birds and set no snare for it, and the—er—the innercent creepin’ things mindin’ their own business and praisin’ Thee—defend ’em from our impident croolties ... help us to live and let live and refrain from all light-minded killin’ and irreligious trap-settin’.”

Little Johnnie Tyarck, sitting big-eared and thin-faced alongside of his mother’s angular orisons, rubbed puzzled eyes. Johnnie wondered if Mrs. Capron, always severe in her attitude toward boys, could possibly have learned about those twenty-five hop-toads he had corralled in a sewer-pipe, carefully stopping up the ends of the pipe with mud and stones. The interned hop-toads had haunted Johnnie—and yet—and yet— Well, there was something insolent and forthputting about hop-toads—they breathed with their stomachs, had morose mouths, and proved themselves crassly superfluous and useless in the general scheme. Some one, it had seemed to Johnnie, should discipline hop-toads.

Behind Johnnie’s wispy little head was the grizzled one of Mr. Bloomby, the ragman. Mr. Bloomby, it was understood, was invariably haled to prayer-meeting by Mrs. Bloomby, a person of extreme virtue.

As Mrs. Capron’s prayer to be defended from cruelties proceeded, Mr. Bloomby became rather hot under the celluloid collar he had extracted from recent collections of rags—he wondered if it could have possibly got round that he had once built a fire, a small but provocative fire, under a recalcitrant mule in order to persuade the mule to draw a load which he, Mr. Bloomby, deemed entirely adapted to the mule’s capacity. Mr. Bloomby mentally confronted the inexperienced Supreme Being with data as to mules and the way a mule would try to get even with you.

But there was one person on whom Mrs. Capron’s prayer made little, if any, impression. Miss Frances Giddings bowed her sallow face into her wobbly, gloved hand. “Five waters must I pass my hands through, O Lord,” she prayed, “but never will I neglect Thy roses!” Into her mind swept clouds of fresh, heavenly bloom. With a dedication to beauty that she did not know was pagan, she lost herself in the dream of eternal gardening.

Nevertheless, the story of Frances Giddings’s “cruelties” got about. There was much discussion over the dark revelations made by Mrs. Capron and Mrs. Tyarck. Morning wrappers conferred in basements; lead-wrapped crimps met in cellars; in church there were eyeglasses that glittered judgment. Just how was the village of Ivy Corners to look upon a person whose backyard was full of contraptions—this one for cats, that one for locusts; pitfalls for inquiring chickens, fly-paper for migrating ants! Under the amazing elasticity of village imagination it was finally evolved and told with indrawn breath that there had been cruelty like that “in the family.” A Giddings, ancestor of Miss Frances, forgotten till now, but revamped for especial significance, was said to have been “dog-catcher,” and in this governmental disguise to have inflicted incredible torments upon the stray animals of his impounding. Then came horrified descriptions of Miss Frenzy, head tied up, a flaming wad of newspaper on a broom, attacking the diaphanous intrenchments of caterpillars. These recitals, all working up to an hysterical crescendo, were pounded like so many coffin-nails in the final burial of a shy, gentle personality. Little by little the impression grew stronger that Miss Frenzy, though still out of jail, was both cruel and “queer,” and between these judgments and her sensitive appreciation of them, the tall, stooping figure was seen less and less among intimate gatherings of Ivy Corners.

Months passed before another name came up for discussion; this time it was the name of the girl in the scarlet cap and sweater; a poor enough little country name; a name hardly destined for tragedy, but when the older townswomen had finished with it, it had become a foul thing—fouler, poor defenseless young name, than the great red-ember names of Catherine de’ Medici or the Empress Faustine. When autumn dragged its gritty brown leaves into the gutters of Ivy Corners this name, too, had become nearly buried. The little scarlet coat had vanished from the town, but every door-knob seemed to be aware of its history, every window was alert and cold to face it down. White curtains, carefully tied back, seemed to wait primly for the moment when they also would be called to impress themselves upon any one who should be so bold as to try to win their immaculate favor.

Yet one winter night when the wind-blown trees seemed to try to claw the stars out of the sky, the girl in the scarlet coat did come back. There was a push at Miss Frenzy’s door, the little shop bell jumped with a scared jangle. It was almost midnight; shadows shivered under the electric lights and the village streets were empty; a prickling drift of snow sifted past the blue bleakness of the windows. Things were at the relentless hour; a second desperate pull sent the store bell into a frightened spasm.

“Who’s there?” quavered Miss Frenzy. She sat up; then, looking like a nut-colored Persian in her strange-figured wrapper, she got out of bed and held high the lamp that burned all night on her chair. The cold made her gray face quiver, but she shuffled bravely into the store where the street light still flickered its bleak question.

On the shop floor lay a figure. Its abandon had a stark quality, as if it had been buffeted and abandoned to unappeased tortures of the elements. The old spinster, lamp in hand, leaned shivering over it. It was a little scrap of life’s tragedy that had blown like a dead leaf in Miss Frenzy’s path; she was not prepared for it. “Not dead? Not dead?” she quavered. Well, yes, it was dead. Miss Frenzy could see animation, the thing we call “life,” but even she knew that it was dead youth, with all its fairy powers lost, that she looked upon. She bent closely to stricken lips that muttered a tuneless kind of song:

The night train.... If I go back, if I go back ...” There was a long silence and then the young voice chanted, deliriously, “In Miss Frenzy’s garden ... the fences are high ...

The girl’s body lay with the stamp of primal woe fixed indelibly upon it. It was wastage in the social scheme, yet it had something of torn petal, of wind-blown butterfly, of wings that had been frozen while fluttering at the very center of the flower of life. Protest dragged at Miss Frenzy’s heart.

Young,” muttered the cracked voice. “Young.” The tears tore to the near-sighted eyes. Out of the old maid’s defeated being came the curious sense of being true to something; of loyalty to hidden forces life had hitherto kept her from recognizing. As she might have raised a vestal virgin struck down by her flame she raised the piteous form. Staggering to her deserted bed, Miss Frenzy laid the girl in its warmth. She drew off the wrecked red clothing, she made a hot drink and got it somehow between the locked lips. “There, there!” sobbed Miss Frenzy. She knew that “There, there” was what mothers said to their hurt children, and yet she was not a mother—and this—oh, this was not a child!

When at last the exhausted frame shuddered down to sleep the old storekeeper moved away, shutting the bedroom door. She went back into the shop and roamed restlessly hither and yon. The electric light had gone out and dawn was stealing in. On every hand some article of woman’s clothing interrogated her. Lace collars, immaculate in their set pattern, swayed fastidiously from her absent touch; the cards of buttons eyed her curiously; bolts of smooth, conventional satin ribbon conveyed calm judgments. With a frightened look, she turned out the lamp and sat sleepless at the store window....

All that winter Miss Frenzy held her little fort alone; her gentle face grew sterner, her careful speech more and more stilted. To all inquiries, curious, suave, or critical, she returned the invariable statement:

“I have long been in need of an assistant. This young girl is bright and willing; her friends have, most regrettably, cast her off—” A dark flush would come into Miss Frenzy’s face as she forced herself to add: “It appears that she has had a sad experience.... I intend to befriend her.”

An attitude like this held by a character already under the ban of local disapproval seemed to have only one significance for the leaders of thought in Ivy Corners. It conveyed to such leaders blatant immorality, the countenancing of a sinner who should be made to pay the full penalty for a misstep. Mrs. Tyarck, head held high, was theatrically outraged. With superb ostentation she took to patronizing the “other” dry-goods shop, where, in order to put down vice, she bought things of which she disapproved, did not want, or already possessed duplicates. At this store she made gloomy remarks, such as, “Ef we ain’t careful we’ll be back ag’in in Godom and Sommarah.” No one noticed the slight inaccuracy of pronunciation, but the angle of the wing on Mrs. Tyarck’s hat proclaimed to the world at large the direction of her virtuous sentiments.

Mrs. Capron, however, laid a loftier plan of attack. Entering the little shop of an evening, she would plant herself before the counter, sigh heavily, and produce from the knobby catch-all a tract. This she would hand to the drooping girl in attendance, saying, solemnly, “There is things, young woman, as will bear thinkin’ on.” Several days later the methodical Mrs. Capron would return with another tract, commanding, as one in authority, “Give that to your mistaken benefactor.” She would then hawk once with juridic deliberation, stare into the stricken young face, and majestically depart.

But spring, which, when it brings the surge of sap in the trees, also brings back something like kindness and pity in the withered human heart, came to Ivy Corners with its old tender ministry, until the very tufts of grass between the village stones had an air of escape from confining limitations; and until the little store’s isolation was pierced by one or two rays of human warmth. The minister’s wife called. One or two mothers of large families invented shopping errands in order to show some measure of interest in the young life Miss Frenzy was helping back to usefulness and sanity. The girl’s shamed eyes, eyes that would probably never again meet the world’s with the gaze of square integrity, often rested like tired birds in looks of sympathy and encouragement. Such persons as displayed these qualities, however, were sharply disapproved by the more decided voices in village conclaves.

“There is things which has limits,” criticized Mrs. Tyarck. This lady, in her effort to convey her idea of sustained condemnation, even went so far as once more to enter the little shop to inquire the price of some purple veiling hanging seductively in the window. Miss Giddings herself waited on the shopper; the girl sat near by cutting fresh paper for the shelves.

“I ain’t here because I’m any the less scandalized,” began Mrs. Tyarck in a loud whisper. “Your own reputation was none too safe, Frenzy, that you should go and get a Jezebel to keep store for you. Are you goin’ to reduce that veilin’ any? I know it’s loud, but Tyarck always wants I should dress young.”

Then there was short silence. The veiling was measured and cut off. Miss Giddings wrapped up the purple net without speaking. Under her glasses her eyes shot fire, her long face was suffused, but she spoke no word. Mrs. Tyarck leaned over the counter, her face poked between rows of hanging black stockings, taking on a look of bland counsel.

“It’s on account of them cruelties of yours,” she explained—continuing with ostentatious secrecy, “you ain’t in no position to take up for this girl, Frenzy.”

Then the whispers grew louder and louder until they were like hisses. Mrs. Tyarck’s head darted forward like a snake’s. At last in the back of the store the girl’s head fell forward, her weak shoulders were shaken by helpless sobs.

The hands of the old shopkeeper fumbling with the package trembled, but Miss Frenzy appeared outwardly calm. Before counting out change, however, she paused, regarding the shopper musingly.

“Pardon me. Did I rightly hear you use the word ‘cruelties’?” she questioned. To an onlooker her manner might have seemed suspiciously tranquil.

“Yes—cruelties,” repeated the other, patronizingly. “There’s no use denying it, Frenzy—there’s that fly-paper loomin’ up before you! There’s them cat-traps and killin’ devices, and, as if it wasn’t bad enough, what must you do but go and take up with a girl that the whole town says is—”

There was a sudden curious cessation of the speaker’s words. This was caused by a very sudden action on the part of Miss Giddings. Desperately seizing on a pair of the hanging black stockings, she darted with incredible swiftness around the end of the counter. With a curious sweep of her long arms she passed the black lengths around the shopper’s mouth, effectively muffling her.

“Cruelties!” gasped the old shopkeeper. “Cruelties indeed! You will [gasp] be so good [gasp] as to take the word cruelties and go home and reflect upon it.”

“Hey?” gasped Mrs. Tyarck. “Hey? Now, now, now!” Over the black gag her eyes looked frightened and uncomprehending. She suddenly saw herself in the grasp of the heaver and squeezer, of the chewers and suckers, and was full of consternation. “You’ve no call to get excited, Frenzy,” she mumbled through the cottony thicknesses of stocking; then, as she worked her mouth out of its leash, “I’ll have the law on you, Frenzy Giddings!”

“Leave the store!” was Miss Frenzy’s sole response. She said it between set jaws. She suddenly let go of the stockings and they dropped to the floor. She picked up the parcel of purple veiling and cast it through the door into the gutter. She stood, tall and withering, pointing with inexorable finger; then, as Mrs. Tyarck, the gag removed, began to chatter fierce intimations of reprisal the old shopkeeper’s eyes again flashed.

“Cruelties!” repeated Miss Frenzy, dwelling scornfully upon the word—“cruelties! Yes, I understand your reference.” She kept on pointing to the open door. “You refer to the worms, to those creatures that ate and defaced helpless roses; tender young things that couldn’t help themselves.... Very well. I am still, as it were, inexorable toward worms! So,” with a shrill, excited laugh, “I still heave them and squeeze them. Therefore depart—worm! Leave the store!”

Worm?” questioned Mrs. Tyarck, faintly. This lady had suddenly lost all her assurance, the very upstanding wing in her hat became spiritless. She looked aghast, puzzled. Her eyes, like those of a person in a trance, wandered to the package of purple veiling lying outside in the gutter, and she tried to rally. “Worm! Now look here, Frenzy Giddings, I don’t know whether it’s assault and battery to call a person such names, or whether it’s slander, but I tell you the law has had people up for saying less than ‘worm.’”

“But I said ‘worm,’” repeated the old shopkeeper, firmly—“worms, contemptible and crawling, chewers and suckers of reputations; you and Mrs. Capron, the whole town (with lamentably few exceptions) are a nest of small, mean, crawling, contemptible worms.... Worms, I repeat, worms!”

“Frenzy Giddings!” whispered the shocked Mrs. Tyarck. She stood frozen in horror under the last hissing, unsparing indictment, then turned and fled. As she scuttled, almost whimpering, through the door she was followed by the ceaseless, unsparing epithet, “Worm!”

The shopkeeper’s protégée found her stiff and still unyielding, bowed over the counter, her forehead reddened with shame, her hands twisted together in self-loathing.

“Get me some hot tea, my dear,” gasped Miss Frenzy. She still shook and her voice was as the voice of a dying person. The fine raiment of courtesy and punctilious speech that she had all her life worn had been torn from her by her own fierce old hands; in her own gentle eyes she was hopelessly degraded. Yet she smiled triumphantly at the anxious young face of the girl as she proffered the steaming tea. “Young,” muttered Miss Frenzy, her eyes following the movements of the other. “Young.”

At last she roused herself and went slowly toward the door of the little private room, the girl hurrying to assist her. She paused, took the dark young head between her wrinkled hands, and kissed it. “I called her a ‘worm,’ my dear,” said Miss Frenzy. “It was a regrettable circumstance, but she accused me of cruelties—cruelties?... I called her a ‘worm.’” The old shopkeeper’s eyes twinkled. “On the whole, I am glad I did so.”

Later, when the roses came again and the two sat with their sewing in the little garden, Miss Frenzy cheerfully remarked upon the entire absence of rose-worms. “Without conceit,” she remarked—“without conceit, I should be inclined to say that the Lord has endorsed my activities.” She looked affectionately at the slender figure sewing near the honeysuckle and called attention to the young cherry-tree shooting up in green assurance.

“My mystery!” announced Miss Frenzy. “Not planted by human hands. The seed doubtless dropped by a bird in flight. Whether the fruit will be sweet or bitter is to me a matter of pleasing conjecture.”

BUSTER

By KATHARINE HOLLAND BROWN
From Scribner’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Copyright, 1919, by Katharine Holland Brown.

Lucien, Mrs. Bellamy’s impeccable chauffeur, brought me home from Mrs. Bellamy’s bridge that green-gold summer afternoon of 1914. Looking down from the cliff road, all Gloucester Harbor was a floor of rippled amethyst. When we turned into the forest drive the air breathed deep of pine fragrance, heady as new wine.

“How few people are driving to-day, Lucien! Yet it’s so perfect—”

“One driver approaches, mademoiselle.” Lucien’s solid gray shape bore hard on the wheel. The big car swerved, shot half-way up the bank. I screamed. Past us like a streak of white lightning tore a headlong white monster, muffler cut out, siren whooping. Its huge wheels grazed our hubs; with a roar, it shot round the curve, plunged down the steep grade toward Gloucester, and vanished. Its shriek rang back to us like the shriek of a lost soul.

“Lucien! That car must have been making eighty miles an hour!”

“Mademoiselle speaks truth.” Lucien, frankly shaken, took off his cap and wiped a very damp brow. “It is the car of the great Doctor Lake, he who is guest of Madame Hallowell, at Greenacres.”

“Doctor Lake! That stodgy old specialist!” I was a bit shaken myself. “Nonsense. He never ventures out of a crawl.”

“Pardon, mademoiselle. It is the car of Doctor Lake. But at the wheel sat not monsieur the doctor. Instead, there sat, and drove”—here Lucien forgot himself completely—“that demon boy.”

“Buster!” I groaned. For there was only one demon boy on all Cape Ann, and that was my second cousin Isabella O’Brien’s only son, Richard Parke O’Brien, rechristened Buster since the days of his tempestuous infancy. Isabella (born Sears and Brattle Street, but she ran away and married Octavius O’Brien, descendant of an unknown race, at eighteen, and has lived ever since in the wilds of Oklahoma)—Isabella, I say, had sent her child to visit Aunt Charlotte and myself, while she and her Octavius went camping in the Yosemite. From her letters we had inferred that she needed a vacation from her Civic League work. Later, we came to realize that her base secret aim had been to win a vacation from Buster. What we two sedate Back Bay spinsters had endured from that unspeakable child!

Octavius O’Brien is a large, emphatic man with large, emphatic ideas as to the rearing of children. Buster once summarized his father’s method in a few simple words.

“Here in New England, when I want to learn how to do anything, you and Aunt Charlotte say: ‘Dear me, Richard, wait till you grow up. Then you’ll understand.’ Down in Oklahoma, dad just gives me a check and says: ‘Go to it.’”

Such eclecticism bears startling fruits. The maddening thing about Buster’s activities was that his blackest crimes, once sifted down, proved not to be crimes at all. Merely the by-products of his inquiring disposition. Although, to quote Aunt Charlotte, if your house is burnt down over your head, it matters little to you whether it was fired for malice or from a scientific desire to see how long it would take to burn.

To-day, as we drove on, I looked back on the summer. As a rule, our months at the shore are compact of slow and tranquil days, but this season had fled past like a demented moving-picture film. Buster had arrived at 9 A. M. the 8th of June. By noon he had made his presence felt. During the next five days he took the gas-range apart, to see how it worked, and put it together again, but inaccurately, so that it blew up and all but annihilated a perfectly good cook. I had to raise Louisiana’s wages three dollars a week. He drained all the water out of the fountain pool, to see how long it would take to refill it; then, at sight of a wayfaring organ-grinder he rushed away, to bribe the man to open up his instrument and let him see how its harmonious innards worked. Thus, he left nine fat, venerable goldfish to flop themselves to a miserable end. To be sure, he sniffled audibly at dinner that night and almost declined dessert; which didn’t bring back aunt’s beloved Chinese carp, alas! He tried to teach Gulliver, the Leonards’ Great Dane, to do German police-dog stunts. Gulliver, who is young, obedient, and muddle-headed, took his training seriously to heart and made breath-taking leaps at the Leonards’ gardener’s throat, to the up-blown pride of both Buster and the gardener. Unhappily, he saw fit to show off his new accomplishment on an irascible New York banker, to whom Commodore Leonard was trying his best to sell his early Pullman place at Beverly Farms. As Buster hotly declared, if the banker hadn’t squealed and acted such a sissy, Gulliver would have stopped with a mere snap at his lapel. But his cries so excited the poor pup that by the time the horrified commodore came to his aid most of the banker’s raiment was in tatters, to say nothing of his dignity. Commodore Leonard lost his one chance of the year to unload that white elephant of a house. At that, he congratulated himself because the banker didn’t sue him for damages.

Subdued and chastened, Buster took himself off to the harbor to seek diversion among the ancient mariners who had already found in him a stimulating audience. He spent, I judge, a pleasant afternoon. He rode back on the Magnolia ’bus just at dinner-time. He did not return alone. Proudly he strode up the steps, one eye cocked over his shoulder at the bland and tarry skipper who swaggered, all too jovially, behind. Eagerly he ran to the palsied Aunt Charlotte.

“Aunt Charlotte, this is my friend, Captain Harrigan, of the Lottie Foster. The captain has come to dinner and to spend the evening, and he’s promised to tell us all his adventures and draw the plans for my racing yacht, when I get one, and teach me how to make her torpedo-proof and—and everything! Cap Harrigan, meet Aunt Charlotte!”

Well, as Aunt Charlotte and I agreed later, we were bound and helpless. The child was so brimful of glad hospitality. You couldn’t strike him in the face by rebuffing his friend. But oh, the hours that followed! As Louisiana put it later, the genman wasn’t plumb drunk, but he cert’ny was happy drunk. The instant dinner was ended Aunt Charlotte fled up-stairs, locked her door, and pushed the bureau against it. I stayed on deck, a quaking Casabianca, till 11 P. M. Then, by way of a mild suggestion, I turned down the lights; and Captain Harrigan, now in mellow tears at the reminiscences of his own boyhood, kissed my hands and took a fervent leave.

“But Richard, child! The man was intoxicated! Disgustingly intoxicated!”

“Gosh, was he? Well, he was bully and interesting, anyhow. Look at all those sailors’ knots he’s taught me. And the story he told about crossing the equator the first time, and the one about the admiral who was always three sheets to the wind and wouldn’t tie his shoe-strings—what does three sheets to the wind mean, anyhow? And he’s showed me how to read a compass and all about sextants and transits, too. Gee, I bet I could steer a dreadnought, after what he’s taught me to-night.”

“He certainly was full of information. But don’t invite any more drunken sailors to the house, dear. Bring your friends home whenever you wish, but make sure first that they’re sober.”

“Well, I will. Though I kind o’ hate to ask ’em.”

With that I let the matter drop. You could not blame the child. Back of every calamity that he brought upon us lay his ravenous curiosity, his frantic longing to know how the world was made and ruled. But to-day was different. No hunger for knowledge could warrant a boy of fifteen in seizing the sacrosanct car of the most famous of Boston specialists, and going joy-riding down the Gloucester hills. Buster should be seriously rebuked.

Incidentally, I’d been playing bridge all afternoon with two stern dowagers and one irritable maiden lady, all crack players, while I’m a hopeless amateur. I had on a tea-rose crêpe de chine and the waitress had spilled coffee on it. Further, I was wearing brand-new patent-leather slippers. Yes, Buster would receive his full deserts.

Buster pranced home at dusk, afire with triumph from his crested red head to his comically massive young feet. Pallid and grave, Aunt Charlotte and I confronted him on the piazza.

“H’lo, Cousin Edith. Say, is dinner ready? Cracky, I could eat a whole barbecue!”

“Richard! Where is Doctor Lake’s car?”

Buster gasped slightly, but his jauntiness never flinched.

“Over at Mrs. Hallowell’s garage, of course.”

“You have just left it there. Richard, don’t you realize what a lawless thing you have done? To take another person’s car without permission—”

“I did too have permission!” Buster’s red crest reared. His black eyes flamed. “I had her opened up, and was studying the engine—gee, some peach!—and I told the doctor’s chauffeur that I’d bet him a box of Gibraltars I could take that car clear to Doctor Lake’s Boston office and back in two hours and not get pinched. And he said, ‘I’m from Saint Joe, son. You gotta show me.’ So I jumped aboard, and I’d beat it down the drive before he could say boo. And I made it in one hour and fifty-seven minutes, though I had to waste ten minutes, and a dollar besides, on the doctor’s mutt of a doorman—making him understand why he must sign his name to a card saying I’d reported there at five sharp. The big dummy, I don’t believe the real reason has dawned on him yet. But you oughter seen that chauffeur wilt when I whizzled her in, two minutes ago!”

“I feel wilted myself. When I think of the apologies I must make to Doctor Lake—”

“Apologies? What for? He ought to be delighted. It was a corking speed test for his car. Down that stem-winder cliff, let me tell you, she just naturally hung on by her eyebrows.”

“Richard, the chauffeur did not mean to give you permission. You know that.”

“W-Well. What if he didn’t?”

“Richard, you are inexcusable.” Aunt Charlotte ruffled her feathers and dashed into the fray. Whereat Richard exploded.

“Gee, ain’t it fierce? Ain’t it, now! How’s a fellow to learn about cars and engines and things if folks won’t ever give him a chance to try ’em out? And I’ve got to find out how to do things and make things and run things; I’ve got to know!”

His solid fists clinched; his voice skittered comically from a bass bellow to an angry treble crow. I choked. He was so exactly like a pin-feathered young Shanghai rooster, hotly contending his right to live his own life, against two glum, elderly hens. But that didn’t deter me from marching him over to Madam Hallowell’s later.

“Nonsense, my dear Miss Edith!” Thus Doctor Lake, just a bit too Olympian in large white waistcoat and eminent calm. “It was my chauffeur’s doing. He will answer to me. I beg you, give the matter no more thought.”

None the less, in his bland eye lurked a yearning to seize on Buster and boil him in oil. Buster saw that look.

“Grown-up folks are so darn stingy!” he mused bitterly as we went away. He aimed a vicious kick at the box hedge. “You’d think any man would be glad to let a fellow take his car to pieces and study it out, then test it for speed and endurance, ’specially when the fellow has never owned anything better than a measly little runabout in all his life. But no. There he stands, all diked out like a cold boiled owl, with his eyes rolled up and his lip rolled out—‘My chauffeur will answer to me.’ When, all the time, he’d lick the hide off me if he just dasted. Old stuffed shirt!”

“You need not speak so disrespectfully—”

“I wouldn’t—if folks wasn’t so disrespectful to me.” His eyes began to flash again, his sullen under-lip to quiver. “‘Learn it all,’ they tell you. ‘Investigate every useful art.’ That’s what everybody pours down your throat, teachers, and relations, an’ all the rest of ’em. How do they s’pose I’m going to learn about things if they lock everything up away from me? And I’ve got to find out about things; I’ve got to know!”

I didn’t say anything. What was the use? You might as well scold an active young dynamo for wanting to spark. But mild little Aunt Charlotte was quite sputtery, for her.

“Isabella and her Octavius have reared their child to have the tastes of a common mechanic. It is too ridiculous. Richard needs to understand problems of finance, not of cogs and axle-grease. If only American parents would adopt the German methods! They teach their children what is best for them to know. They don’t permit their young people to waste time and money on wild-goose flights.”

“N-no.” I shivered a little. For some reason, the annual percentage of school-boy suicides in Prussia flashed through my mind. When you multiplied that by a nation— “But perhaps it’s as well that we give our boys more rope.”

“To hang themselves with?” sniffed Aunt Charlotte. I subsided.

So did Buster, for some weeks—weeks so peaceful, they were all but sinister. Across the ocean, a harebrained student murdered a reigning duke and his duchess. It made the newspapers very unpleasant reading for several days. Across the harbor, the yacht-club gave the most charming dinner dance of the year. Down East Gloucester way, a lank and close-mouthed youth from Salem had set up a shack of a hangar and was giving brief and gaspy flights to the summer populace at five dollars a head. Whereat Buster gravitated to East Gloucester, as the needle to the pole. He bribed Louisiana to give him his breakfast at seven; he snatched a mouthful of lunch in the village; he seldom reached home before dusk.

“Richard, you are not spending your allowance in aeroplane rides?”

“Say, listen, Cousin Edie. Where’d I get the coin for five-dollar jitney trips? I’m overdrawn sixty dollars on my allowance now, all on account of that beanery down the harbor—”

“The beanery? You haven’t eaten sixty dollars’ worth of beans!”

Buster jumped. He turned a sheepish red.

“Gosh, I forgot. Why—well, you see, the boss at that joint has just put in the grandest big new oven ever—iron and cement and a steam-chamber and everything. One day last week he had to go to Boston, and I asked him to let me fire it for him. It was the most interesting thing, to watch that steam-gauge hop up, only she hopped too fast. So I shut off the drafts, but I wasn’t quick enough. There were forty-eight pounds of beans in the roaster, and they burnt up, crocks and all, and—well, between us, we hadn’t put enough water in the boiler. So she sort of—er—well, she blew up. I wired dad for the money, and he came across by return mail. Dad’s a pretty good sport. But I’ll bet he doesn’t loosen up again before Labor Day.”

Well, I was sorry for the baker. But Buster, penniless, was far less formidable than Buster with money in his purse.

The green and golden days flowed on. The North Shore was its loveliest. But the newspapers persisted in being unpleasant. Serbian complications, amazing pronunciamentos, rumors that were absurd past credence; then, appalling, half-believed, the winged horror-tale of Belgium. Then, in a trice, our bridge-tables were pushed back, our yacht dinners forgotten. Frowning, angrily bewildered, we were all making hurried trips to the village and heckling the scared young telegraph-operator with messages and money that must be cabled to marooned kinsfolk at Liverpool or Hamburg or Ostend. “This moment! Can’t you see how important it is?” A day or so more and we were all buying shoes and clothes for little children and rushing our first boggled first-aid parcels to the wharf. And, in the midst of all that dazed hurly, up rose Mrs. John B. Connable. Aglow with panicky triumph, she flung wide the gates of Dawn Towers, her spandy-new futurist palace, to the first bazaar of the Belgian relief!

As one impious damsel put it, Belgium’s extremity was Mrs. Connable’s opportunity. Seven weary years, with the grim patience of stalwart middle age and seventeen millions, has Mrs. John B. labored to mount the long, ice-coated stair that leads from a Montana cow-camp to the thresholds of Beacon Hill. Six cruel seasons have beheld her falter and slip back. But on this, the seventh, by this one soaring scramble, she gained the topmost gliddery round. A bazaar for the Belgians? For once, something new. And Dawn Towers, despite its two-fisted châtelaine, was said to be a poet’s dream.

Well, we went. All of us. Even to Madam Hallowell, in lilac chiffon and white fox fur, looking like the Wicked Fairy done by Drian; even to Aunt Charlotte, wearing the Curtice emeralds, her sainted nose held at an angle that suggested burnt flannel. I’ll say for Mrs. Connable that she did it extremely well. The great, beautiful house was thrown open from turret to foundation-stone. Fortune-tellers lurked in gilded tents; gay contadinas sang and sold their laces—the prettiest girls from the Folies at that; Carli’s band, brought from New York to play fox-trots; cleverest surprise of all, the arrival, at five o’clock, of a lordly limousine conveying three heavenborn “principals,” a haughty young director in puttees, a large camera. Would Mrs. Connable’s guests consent to group themselves upon the beach as background for the garden-party scene of “The Princess Patricia”—with Angela Meadow, from the Metropolitan, as the Princess, if you please, and Lou-Galuppi himself as the villain?

Mrs. Connable’s guests would. All the world loves a camera, I reflected, as I observed Madam Hallowell drift languidly to the centre-front, the chill Cadwalladers from Westchester drape themselves unwittingly but firmly in the foreground, the D’Arcy Joneses stand laughingly holding hands in the very jaws of the machine. But Doctor Lake was the strategist of the hour. Chuckling in innocent mirth, he chatted with the radiant Angela until the director’s signal brought the villain swaggering from the side-lines; then, gracefully dismayed, he stepped back at least six inches. If the camera caught Angela at all, the doctor would be there—every eminent inch of him.

“Ready—camera!”

The joyous chatter stilled. On every face fell smug sweetness, as a chrism. Clickety-click, click-click—

Then, amazingly, another sound mingled with that magic tick, rose, drowned it to silence—the high, snarling whine of a swift-coming aeroplane.

“Keep your places, please! Eyes right!”

Nobody heard him. Swung as on one pivot, the garden-party turned toward the harbor, mazed, agape. Across that silver water, flying so low its propeller flashed through diamond spray, straight toward the crowd on the beach it came—the aeroplane from East Gloucester.

“There, I knew he’d butt in just at the wrong minute! I ordered him for six, sharp!” Mrs. Connable’s voice rang hotly through the silence. “Hi, there! Land farther down the beach; we ain’t ready for you. Go on, I tell you! Oh, oh, my gracious goodness me! He’s a-headin’ right on top of us—”

That was all anybody heard. For in that second, pandemonium broke. The great, screaming bird drove down upon us with the speed of light, the blast of a howitzer shell. Whir-r-rip! The big marquee collapsed like a burst balloon. Crash! One landing-wheel grazed the band-stand; it tipped over like a fruit-basket, spilling out shrieking men. Through a dizzy mist I saw the garden-party, all its pose forgot, scuttle like terrified ants. I saw the scornful Cadwalladers leap behind an infant pine. I saw D’Arcy Jones seize his wedded wife by her buxom shoulders and fling her in front of him, a living shield. I saw—can I believe?—the august Doctor Lake, pop-eyed and shrieking, gallop headlong across the beach and burrow madly in the low-tide sands. I saw—but how could my spinning brain set down those thousand spectacles?

However, one eye saw it all—and set it down in cold, relentless truth—the camera. True to his faith, that camera-man kept on grinding, even when the monster all but grazed his head.

Then, swifter even than that goblin flight, it was all over. With a deafening thud, the aeroplane grounded on a bed of early asters. Out of the observer’s seat straddled a lean, tall shape—the aviator. From the pilot’s sheath leaped a white-faced, stammering boy. White to his lips; but it was the pallor of a white flame, the light of a glory past all words.

“H’lo, Cousin Edie! See me bring her across the harbor? Some little pilot!” Then, as if he saw for the first that gurgling multitude, the wrecked tent, the over-turned band-stand: “Gee, that last puff of wind was more than I’d counted on. But she landed like thistledown, just the same. Just thistledown!”

I’ll pass over the next few hours. And why attempt to chronicle the day that followed? Bright and early, I set forth to scatter olive-branches like leaves of Vallombrosa. Vain to portray the icy calm of the Misses Cadwallader, the smiling masks which hid the rage of the D’Arcy Joneses. Hopeless to depict the bland, amused aplomb of Doctor Lake. To hear him graciously disclaim all chagrin was to doubt the word of one’s own vision. Could I have dreamed the swoop of that mighty bird, the screech of a panic-stricken fat man galloping like a mad hippopotamus for the shelter of the surf?

As for Mrs. John B. Connable—hell hath no fury like the woman who has fought and bled for years to mount that treacherous flight; who, gaining the last giddy step, feels, in one sick heartbeat, the ladder give way from under. I went from that tearful and belligerent empress feeling as one who has gazed into the dusk fires of the Seventh Ledge.

“We’ll have to give a dinner for her, and ask the Cadwalladers and Cousin Sue Curtice and the Salem Bronsons. That will pacify her, if anything can.” Thus Aunt Charlotte, with irate gloom. There are times when Aunt Charlotte’s deep spiritual nature betrays a surprising grasp of mundane things.

“Especially if we can get that French secretary, and Madam Hallowell. Now I’m off to soothe the aviator. Where did I put my check-book?”

The aviator stood at his hangar door, winding a coil of wire. His lean body looked feather-light in its taut khaki; under the leathern helmet, his narrow, dark eyes glinted like the eyes of a falcon hooded against the sun. Blank, unsmiling, he heard my maunder of explanation. Somehow his cool aloofness daunted me a bit. But when I fumbled for my checkbook, he flashed alive.

“Money? What for? Because the kid scraped an aileron? Forget it. I ain’t puttin’ up any holler. He’s fetched an’ carried for me all summer. I’m owin’ him, if it comes down to that.”

“But Richard had no right to damage your machine—”

“Well, he never meant to. That squally gust put him off tack, else he’d ’a’ brought her down smooth’s a whistle. For, take it from me, he’s a flier born. Hand, eye, balance, feel, he’s got ’em all. And he’s patient and speedy and cautious and reckless all at once. And he knows more about engines than I do, this minute. There’s not a motor made that can faze him. Say, he’s one whale of a kid, all right. If his folks would let me, I’d take him on as flyin’ partner. Fifty-fifty at that.”

I stiffened a trifle.

“You are very kind. But such a position would hardly be fitting—”

“For a swell kid like him?” Under his helmet those keen eyes narrowed to twin points of light. “Likely not. You rich hill folks can’t be expected to know your own kids. You’ll send him to Harvard, then chain him up in a solid-mahogany office, with a gang of solid-mahogany clerks to kowtow to him, and teach him to make money. When he might be flyin’ with me. Flyin’—with me!” His voice shook on a hoarse, exultant note. He threw back his head; from under the leathern casque his eyes flamed out over the world of sea and sky, his conquered province. “When he might be a flier, the biggest flier the world has ever seen. Say, can you beat it? Can you beat it?”

His rudeness was past excuse. Yet I stood before him in the oddest guilty silence. Finally—

“But please let me pay you. That broken strut—”

“Nothing doing, sister. Forget it.” He bent to his work. “Pay me? No matter if my plane did get a knock, it was worth it. Just to see that fat guy in white pants hot-foot it for deep water! Yes, I’m paid. Good-by.”

Then, to that day of shards and ashes, add one more recollection—Buster’s face when Aunt Charlotte laid it upon him that he should never again enter that hangar door.

“Aunt Charlotte! For Pete’s sake, have a heart! I’ve got that plane eatin’ out of my hand. If that plaguy cat’s-paw hadn’t sprung up—”

“You will not go to East Gloucester again, Richard. That ends it.” Aunt Charlotte swept from the room.

“Gee!” Buster’s wide eyes filled. He slumped into the nearest chair. “Say, Cousin Edie! Ain’t I got one friend left on earth?”

“Now, Richard—”

“Can’t you see what I’m tryin’ to put over? I don’t expect Aunt Charlotte to see. She’s a pippin, all right, but that solid-ivory dome of hers—”

Richard!

“But you’re different. You aren’t so awful old. You ought to understand that a fellow just has to know about things—cars, ships, aeroplanes, motors, everything!”

“But—”

“Now, Cousin Edith, I’m not stringin’ you. I’m dead in earnest. I’m not tryin’ to bother anybody; I’m just tryin’ to learn what I’ve got to learn.” He leaped up, gripped my arm; his passionate boy voice shrilled; he was droll and pitiful and insolent all in a breath. “No, sirree, I ain’t bluffin’, not for a cent. Believe me, Cousin Edith, us fellows have got to learn how everything works, and learn it quick. I tell you, we’ve got to know!”

――――

Well.... All this was the summer of 1914. Three years ago. Three years and eight months ago, to be exact. Nowadays, I don’t wear tea-rose crêpe frocks nor slim French slippers. Our government’s daily Hints for Paris run more to coarse blue denim and dour woollen hose and clumping rubber boots. My once-lily hands clasp a scrubbing-brush far oftener than a hand at bridge. And I rise at five-thirty and gulp my scalding coffee in the hot, tight galley of Field Hospital 64, then set to work. For long before the dawn they come, that endless string of ambulances, with their terrible and precious freight. Then it’s baths and food and swift, tense minutes in the tiny “theatre,” and swifter, tenser seconds when we and the orderlies hurry through dressings and bandagings, while the senior nurse toils like a Turk alongside and bosses us meanwhile like a slave-driver. Every day my heart is torn open in my breast for the pain of my children, my poor, big, helpless, broken children. Every night, when I slip by to take a last peep at their sleepy, contented faces, my heart is healed for me again. Then I stumble off to our half-partitioned slit and throw myself on my bunk, tired to my last bone, happy to the core of my soul. But day by day the work heaps up. Every cot is full, every tent overflowing. We’re short of everything, beds, carbolic, dressings, food. And yesterday, at dusk, when we were all fagged to exhaustion, there streamed down a very flood of wounded, eight ambulance-loads, harvest of a bombed munitions depot.

“We haven’t an inch of room.”

“We’ve got to make room.” Doctor Lake, sweating, dog-tired, swaying on his feet from nine unbroken hours at the operating-table, took command. “Take my hut; it’ll hold four at a pinch. You nurses will give up your cubby-hole? Thought so. Plenty hot water, Octave? Bring ’em along.”

They brought them along. Every stretcher, every bunk, every crack was crowded now. Then came the whir of a racing motor. One more ambulance plunged up the sodden road.

“Ah! Grand blessé!” murmured old Octave.

Grand blessé! And not a blanket left, even. Put him in the coal-hole,” groaned the head nurse.

“Nix on the coal-hole.” Thus the muddy young driver, hauling out the stretcher with its long, moveless shape. “This is the candy kid—hear me? Our crack scout. Escadrille 32.”

“Escadrille 32?” The number held no meaning for me. Yet I pushed nearer. Grand blessé, indeed, that lax, pulseless body, that shattered flesh, that blood and mire. I bent closer. Red hair, shining and thick, the red that always goes with cinnamon freckles. A clean-cut, ashen young face, a square jaw, a stubborn, boyish chin with a deep-cleft dimple.

Then my heart stopped short. The room whirled round me.

“Buster!” I cried out. “You naughty, darling little scamp! So you got your way, after all. You ran off from school, and joined the escadrille—oh, sonny-boy, don’t you hear me? Listen! Listen!”

The gaunt face did not stir. Only that ashy whiteness seemed to grow yet whiter.

“We’ll do our best, Miss Preston. Go away now, dear.” The head nurse put me gently back. I knew too well what her gentleness meant.

“But Doctor Lake can save him! Doctor Lake can pull him through!”

“Doctor Lake is worn out. We’ll have to manage without him.”

“Don’t you believe it!” I flamed. Then I, the greenest, meekest slavey in the service, dashed straight to the operating-room, and gripped Doctor Lake by both wrists and jerked him bodily off the bench where he crouched, a sick, lubberly heap, blind with fatigue.

“No, you sha’n’t stop to rest. Not yet!” I stormed at him. Somehow I dragged him down the ward, to my boy’s side. At sight of that deathlike face, the limp, shivering man pulled himself together with all his weary might.

“I’ll do my level best, Miss Edith. Go away, now, that’s a good girl.”

I went away and listened to the ambulance-driver. He was having an ugly bullet scratch on his arm tied up. He was not a regular field-service man, but a young Y. M. C. A. helper who had taken the place of a driver shot down that noon.

“Well, you see, that kid took the air two hours ago to locate the battery that’s been spilling shells into our munitions station. He spotted it, and two others besides. Naturally, they spotted him. He scooted for home, with a shrapnel wound in his shoulder, and made a bad landing three miles back of the lines, and broke his leg and whacked his head. Luckily I wasn’t a hundred yards away. I got him aboard my car and gave him first aid and started to bring him straight over here. Would he stand for that? Not Buddy. ‘You’ll take me to headquarters first, to report,’ says he. ‘So let her out.’

“No use arguing. I let her out. We reported at headquarters, three miles out of our way, then started here. Two miles back, a shell struck just ahead and sent a rock the size of a paving-brick smack against our engine. The car stopped, dead. Did that faze the kid? Not so you could notice it. ‘You hoist me on the seat and let me get one hand on the wheel,’ says he, cool’s a cucumber. ‘There isn’t a car made but will jump through hoops for me.’ Go she did. With her engine knocked galley west, mind you, and him propped up, chirk as a cherub, with his broken leg and his smashed shoulder, and a knock on his head that would ’a’ stopped his clock if he’d had any brains to jolt. Skill? He drove that car like a racer. She only hit the high places. Pluck? He wrote it.

“We weren’t fifty yards from the hospital when he crumpled down, and I grabbed him. Hemorrhage, I guess. I sure do hope they pull him through. But—I don’t believe—”

Soon a very dirty-faced brigadier-general, whom I used to meet at dances long ago, came and sat down on a soap-box and held my hands and tried to comfort me, so gently and so patiently, the poor, kind, blundering dear. Most of his words just buzzed and glimmered round me. But one thought stuck in my dull brain.

“This isn’t your boy’s first service to his country, Miss Edith. He has been with the escadrille only a month, but he has brought down three enemy planes, and his scouting has been invaluable. He’s a wonder, anyhow. So are all our flying boys. They tell me that the German youngsters make such good soldiers because they’re trained to follow orders blindfold. All very well when it comes to following a bayonet charge over the top. But the escadrille—that’s another story. Take our boys, brought up to sail their own boats and run their own cars and chance any fool risk in sight. Couple up that impudence, that fearlessness, that splendid curiosity, and you’ve got a fighting-machine that not only fights but wins. All the drilled, stolid forces in creation can’t beat back that headlong young spirit. If—”

He halted, stammering.

“If—we can’t keep him with us, you must remember that he gave his best to his country, and his best was a noble gift. Be very glad that you could help your boy prepare himself to bestow it. You and his parents gave him his outdoor life and his daring sports and his fearless outlook, and his uncurbed initiative. You helped him build himself, mind and body, to flawless powers and to instant decisions. To-day came his chance to give his greatest service. No matter what comes now, you—you have your royal memory.”

But I could not hear any more. I cried out that I didn’t want any royal memories, I wanted my dear, bad, self-willed little boy. The general got up then and limped away and stood and looked out of the window.

I sat and waited. I kept on waiting—minutes on gray minutes, hours on hours.

Then a nurse grasped my shoulders, and tried to tell me something. I heard her clearly, but I couldn’t string her words together to make meaning. Finally, she drew me to my feet and led me back to the operating-room.

There stood Doctor Lake. He was leaning against the wall and wiping his face on a piece of gauze. He came straight to me and put out both big, kind hands.

“Tell me. You needn’t try to make it easy—”

“There, there, Miss Edith. There’s nothing to tell. Look for yourself.”

Gray-lipped, whiter than ashes, straight and moveless as a young knight in marble effigy, lay my boy. But a shadow pulse flickered in that bound temple, the cheek I kissed was warm.

“No,” said Doctor Lake very softly. “He won’t die. He’s steel and whipcord, that youngster. Heaven be praised, you can’t kill his sort with a hatchet.”

He leaned down, gave Buster a long, searching look. His puffy, fagged face twisted with bewilderment, then broke into chuckles of astonishment and delight.

“Well, on my word and honor! I’ve just this moment recognized him. This blessé is the imp of Satan who used to steal my car up the North Shore. He’s the chap who steered that confounded aeroplane into the garden-party.... I’ve always sworn that, let me once lay hands on that young scalawag, I’d lick the tar out of him!”

“Well, here’s your chance,” snivelled I.

He did not hear me. He had stooped again over Buster. Again he was peering into that still face. Over his own face came a strange look, mirthful, then deep with question, profoundly tender; then, flashing through, a gleam of amazing and most piteous jealousy, the bitter, comic jealousy of the most famous of all middle-aged American surgeons for insolent, fool-hardy, glorious youth.

Then he turned and went away, a big, dead-tired, shambling figure. And in that instant my boy’s heavy eyes lifted and stared at me. Slowly in them awoke a drowsy sparkle.

“Hello, Cousin Edith. When did you blow in?”

I didn’t try to speak. I looked past him at Doctor Lake, now plodding from the room. Buster’s eyes followed mine. Over his face came a smile of heaven’s own light.

“Old stuffed shirt,” sighed Buster with exquisite content. He turned his gaunt young head on the pillow; he tucked a brawny fist under his cheek. Before I could speak he had slipped away, far on a sea of dreams.

THE OPEN WINDOW

By CHARLES CALDWELL DOBIE
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Charles Caldwell Dobie.

“It happened just as I have said,” Fernet reiterated, tossing the wine-dregs from his glass.

The company at the table looked instinctively toward the kitchen. Berthe was bringing a fresh pot of coffee. They all followed Fernet’s example, lifting their empty glasses for her to serve them in their turn.

The regular boarders of the Hôtel de France, after the fashion of folks who find their meal a duty to be promptly despatched, had departed, but the transients still lingered over their café noir and cognac in the hope that something exciting might materialize.

As the sound of Fernet’s voice died away, a man who had been sitting in an extreme corner of the room scraped back his chair and rose. Fernet looked up. The man was a hunchback, and, instead of paying for his meal and leaving, he crossed over and said to Fernet, in the most perfect French imaginable:

“I see, my young fellow, that you are discussing something of interest with your friends here. Would it be impertinent for me to inquire into the subject?”

Fernet drew out a chair for the newcomer, who seated himself.

“By no means. We were discussing a murder and suicide. The murdered man was an Italian fisherman who lodged at the Hôtel des Alpes Maritimes, the suicide was a musician named Suvaroff.”

“Ah,” said the hunchback, cracking his fingers. “Why a murder and suicide? Why not two murders?”

“Because,” returned Fernet, pompously, “it was abundantly proved to the contrary. This man Suvaroff suffered from neuralgia; the Italian fisherman was given to playing the accordion at all hours of the night. Suvaroff was, in addition, a musician—a high-strung person. The Italian’s playing was abominable—even his landlady says as much. In short, Suvaroff deliberately killed this simple-minded peasant because of his music. Then, in a fit of remorse, he killed himself. I leave it to any one here to dispute the fact. Besides, I was on the coroner’s jury. I should know what I am talking about.”

“Oh, without doubt,” agreed the hunchback, smiling amiably. “But, as I remember, the knives in both cases were plunged hilt-deep into the backs of the victims. One does not usually commit suicide in this fashion.”

Fernet coldly eyed the curiously handsome face of his antagonist. “It seems you know more about this thing than a coroner’s jury,” he sneered.

“It seems I do—granting that such an important item was left out of the evidence.”

“Then, my good sir, will you be good enough to tell me who did kill Suvaroff, since you do not admit that he died by his own hand?”

The hunchback cracked his fingers again. “That is simple enough. Suvaroff was killed by the same person who stabbed the Italian.”

“And who might that be, pray?”

The hunchback rose with a malignant smile. “Ah, if I told you that you would know as much as I do, my friend.”

And with that he walked calmly over to the proprietor, put down thirty-five cents for his meal upon the counter, and without another word left the room.

A silence fell upon the group. Everybody stared straight ahead, avoiding the eye of his neighbor. It was as if something too terrifying to be remarked had passed them.

Finally, a thick-set man at Fernet’s right, with a purple wart on his cheek, said, uneasily, “Come, I must be going.”

The others rose; only Fernet remained seated.

“What,” said another, “haven’t you finished?”

“Yes,” returned Fernet, gloomily, “but I am in no hurry.”

He sat there for an hour, alone, holding his head between his hands. Berthe cleared off the soiled plates, wiped the oilcloth-covered tables, began noisily to lay the pewter knives and forks for the morning meal. At this Fernet stirred himself and, looking up at her, said:

“Tell me who was the hunchback who came and sat with us? Does he live here—in San Francisco?”

“His name is Flavio Minetti,” she replied, setting the lid back upon an uncovered sugar-bowl. “Beyond that I know nothing. But they tell me that he is quite mad.”

“Ah, that accounts for many things,” said Fernet, smiling with recovered assurance. “I must say he is strangely fascinating.”

Berthe looked at him sharply and shrugged. “For my part, he makes me shiver every time I see him come in the door. When I serve him my hand shakes. And he continually cracks his fingers and says to me: ‘Come, Berthe, what can I do to make you smile? Would you laugh if I were to dance for you? I would give half my life only to see you laughing. Why are you so sad?’ ... No, I wish he would never come again.”

“Nevertheless, I should like to see him once more.”

“He comes always on Thursdays for chicken.”

“Thanks,” said Fernet, as he put on his hat.

――――

Fernet walked directly to his lodgings that night. He had a room in an old-fashioned house on the east side of Telegraph Hill. The room was shabby enough, but it caught glimpses of the bay and there was a gnarled pepper-tree that came almost to its windows and gave Fernet a sense of eternal, though grotesque, spring. Even his landlord was unusual—a professional beggar who sat upon the curb, with a ridiculous French poodle for company, and sold red and green pencils.

This landlord was sitting out by the front gate as Fernet entered.

“Ah, Pollitto,” said Fernet, halting before the old man and snapping his fingers at the poodle who lay crouched before his master, “I see you are enjoying this fine warm night.”

“You are wrong,” replied the beggar. “I am merely sitting here hoping that some one will come along and rent my front room.”

“Then it is vacant?”

“Naturally,” replied the old man, with disagreeable brevity, and Fernet walked quickly up to his room.

“Why do I live in such a place?” he asked himself, surveying the four bare walls. “Everything about it is abominable, and that beggar, Pollitto, is a scoundrel. I shall move next week.”

He crossed over to the window and flung it open. The pepper-tree lay before him, crouching in the moonlight. He thought at once of Flavio Minetti.

“He is like this pepper-tree,” he said, aloud, “beautiful even in his deformity. No, I would not trade this pepper-tree for a dozen of the straightest trees in the world.” He stepped back from the window, and, lighting a lamp, set it upon a tottering walnut table. “Ah, André Fernet,” he mused, chidingly, “you are always snared by what is unusual. You should pray to God that such folly does not lead you to disaster.”

He went to the window and looked out again. The pepper-tree seemed to be bending close to the ground, as if seeking to hide something. Presently the wind parted its branches and the moonlight fell at its feet like a silver moth before a blackened candle.

André Fernet shivered and sighed. “Yes,” he repeated, again and again, “they are alike. They both are at once beautiful and hideous and they have strange secrets.... Well, I shall go on Thursday again, and maybe I shall see him. Who knows, if I am discreet he may tell me who killed this ridiculous musician Suvaroff.”

And with that he suddenly blew out the light.

On the next Thursday night, when Fernet entered the dining-room of the Hôtel de France his glance rested immediately upon Flavio Minetti. To his surprise the hunchback rose, drawing a chair out as he did so, and beckoning Fernet to be seated next him. For a moment Fernet hesitated, Berthe was just bringing on the soup.

“What! Are you afraid?” she said, mockingly, as she passed.

This decided Fernet. He went and sat beside Minetti without further ado.

“Ah, I was expecting you!” cried the hunchback, genially, as he passed the radishes.

“Expecting me?” returned Fernet. His voice trembled, though he tried to speak boldly.

“Yes. Women are not the only inquisitive animals in the world. What will you have—some wine?”

Fernet allowed Minetti to fill his glass.

Other boarders began to drift in. Minetti turned his back upon Fernet, speaking to a new-comer at his left. He did not say another word all evening.

Fernet ate and drank in silence. “What did I come for and why am I staying?” he kept asking himself. “This man is mocking me. First of all, he greets me as if I were his boon companion, and next he insults me openly and before everybody in the room. Even Berthe has noticed it and is smiling. As a matter of fact, he knows no more than I do about Suvaroff’s death.”

But he continued to sit beside the hunchback all through the meal, and as fruit was put on the table he touched Minetti on the arm and said, “Will you join me in a café royal?”

“Not here ... a little later. I can show you a place where they really know how to make them. And, besides, there are tables for just two. It is much more private.”

Fernet’s heart bounded and sank almost in one leap. “Let us go now, then,” he said, eagerly.

“As you wish,” replied Minetti.

Fernet paid for two dinners, and they reached for their hats.

“Where are you going?” asked Berthe, as she opened the door.

Fernet shrugged. “I am in his hands,” he answered, sweeping his arm toward Minetti.

“You mean you will be,” muttered the hunchback, in an undertone.

Fernet heard him distinctly.

“Perhaps I had better leave him while there is yet time!” flashed through his mind. But the next instant he thought, contemptuously: “What harm can he do me? Why, his wrist is no bigger than a pullet’s wing. Bah! You are a fool, André Fernet!”

――――

They stepped out into the street. A languorous note was in the air; the usual cool wind from the sea had not risen. A waning moon silvered the roof-tops, making a pretense of hiding its face in the thin line of smoke above Telegraph Hill.

The hunchback led the way, trotting along in a fashion almost Oriental. At the end of the second block he turned abruptly into a wine-shop; Fernet followed. They found seats in a far corner, away from the billiard-tables. A waiter came forward. They gave their orders.

“Be sure,” said Minetti to the waiter, “that we have plenty of anisette and cognac in the coffee.”

The man flicked a towel rather contemptuously and made no answer.

“Now,” Minetti continued, turning a mocking face toward Fernet, “what can I do for you, my friend?”

Fernet was filled with confusion. “I ... you ...” he stammered. “Really, there is nothing. Believe me—”

“Nonsense,” interrupted Minetti. “You wish to know who killed Suvaroff. But I warn you, my friend, it is a dreadful thing to share such a secret.”

He looked at Fernet intently. The younger man shuddered. “Nevertheless, I should like to know,” Fernet said, distinctly.

“Well, then, since you are so determined—it was I who killed him.”

Fernet stared, looked again at the hunchback’s puny wrists, and began to laugh. “You! Do you take me for a fool?” And as he said this he threw back his head and laughed until even the billiard-players stopped their game and looked around at him.

“What are you laughing at?” asked the hunchback, narrowing his eyes.

Fernet stopped. He felt a sudden chill as if some one had opened a door. “I am laughing at you,” he answered.

“I am sorry for that,” said Minetti, dryly.

“Why?”

The hunchback leaned forward confidentially. “Because I kill every one who laughs at me. It—it is a little weakness I have.”

The waiter came with two glasses of steaming coffee. He put them down on the table, together with a bottle of cognac and a bottle of anisette.

“Ah, that is good!” cried the hunchback, rubbing his hands together. “The proprietor is my friend. He is going to let us prepare our own poison!”

Fernet felt himself shivering. “Come,” he thought, “this will never do! The man is either mad or jesting.” He reached for the anisette.

“Let me pour it for you,” suggested Flavio Minetti. “Your hand is shaking so that you will spill half of it on the floor.”

The hunchback’s voice had a note of pity in it. Fernet relinquished his hold upon the bottle.

“Don’t look so frightened,” continued Minetti. “I shall not kill you here. The proprietor is a friend of mine, and, besides—”

“What nonsense!” cried Fernet, with a ghastly smile. “But I must confess, you did make my blood run cold for a minute.”

Minetti stirred some cognac into his glass. “And, besides,” he finished, coldly, “I give everybody a sporting chance. It adds to the game.”

――――

That night André Fernet was restless. He lay on his bed looking out at the blinking lights of the harbor. “I must stop drinking coffee,” he muttered to himself.

Finally he fell asleep, and when he did he had a strange dream. It seemed that the pepper-tree outside his window suddenly began to move in the night breeze and its long green boughs became alive, twisting like the relentless tentacles of a devil-fish. Its long green boughs became alive, crawling along the ground, flinging themselves into the air, creeping in at André Fernet’s open window. He lay upon the bed as he had done earlier in the evening, watching the harbor lights. Slowly the green boughs writhed over the faded carpet, scaled the bedpost and fell upon the bed. André Fernet waited, motionless. He felt the green tentacles close about his legs, clasp his hands, slide shudderingly across his throat. Yet he made no move to free himself. It was only when he felt a breath upon his cheek that he turned slightly, and instead of the tentacle-like boughs of the pepper-tree he fancied himself staring down at the hands of Flavio Minetti.... He awoke with a start. The sun was pouring in at the open window. He got up quickly. A noisy clatter issued from the passageway. Fernet opened his door. Two men were carrying a trunk up the stairs. Pollitto, the beggar, walked behind.

“Ah, I see you have rented your front room,” said Fernet, stepping out.

“Yes,” returned the other. “It was taken as early as six o’clock this morning—by a hunchback.”

Fernet stopped breathing. “A hunchback? Was his name Flavio Minetti?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

Fernet tried to smile. “He is a friend of mine,” he answered, as he walked back into his room. “Perhaps it would be better if I moved away,” he thought. “I do not like this room. Heaven knows why I have stayed this long. Is this fellow Minetti really mad or merely making sport of me? I should not like to have him think that I am afraid of him. As for his story about Suvaroff, that is, of course, ridiculous. If I thought otherwise I should go at once to the.... No, it is all a joke! I shall stay where I am. I shall not have it said that a little, mad, puny, twisted fellow frightened André Fernet out of his lodgings. Besides, it will be curious to watch his little game. What a beautiful morning it is, after all! And the pepper-tree—how it glistens in the sun! I should miss that pepper-tree if I moved away. But I must stop drinking cafés royal. They upset one. I do not know whether it is the coffee, or the cognac, or the anisette, or all three. Of course, that dream I had toward morning means nothing—but such dreams are unpleasant. I hate this place. But I shall not move now. No, I shall wait and see what happens.”

――――

Fernet did not see Minetti for some days. Indeed, he had dismissed the whole thing from his mind, when, one night, returning home early to get out of a drizzle, who should stop him on the stairway but the hunchback.

“Ah, so here you are!” called out Fernet, gaily, in spite of his rapidly beating heart. “I have been waiting for you to call on me ever since I heard that you were lodging under the same roof.”

“I have been busy,” replied the hunchback, laconically.

Fernet threw open his bedroom door and waved Minetti in.

“Busy?” he echoed, as he struck a light. “And what do you find that is so absorbing, pray?”

“You know my specialty,” replied Minetti, flinging off his cap.

Fernet looked up sharply. A malignant look had crept into the hunchback’s face.

“Oh, there is no doubt of it, he is quite mad!” said Fernet to himself. Then aloud: “Yes, I have been wanting to talk to you more about this. Take a seat and I shall make some coffee. For instance, do you always employ the knife in despatching your—”

“Scarcely,” interrupted Minetti, quickly. “Slow poison has its fascinations. There is a very delicate joy in watching a gradual decline. It is like watching a green leaf fading before the breath of autumn. First a sickly pallor, then a yellowing, finally the sap dries completely, a sharp wind, a fluttering in the air, and it is all over. I have tried nearly every slow way—except mental murder. I fancy that, too, would be exquisite.”

“Mental murder.... I do not understand.”

Minetti stretched himself out and yawned. “Accomplishing the thing without any weapon save the mind.”

Fernet picked up the coffee-pot and laughed. “Why, my dear fellow, it is too absurd! The thing cannot be done. You see I am laughing at you again, but no matter.”

“No, as you say, it is no matter. You can die only once.”

Fernet’s laughter stopped instantly. He went on with his preparation for coffee. Minetti changed the subject.

It turned out that there was no sugar in the cracked bowl. Fernet was putting on his hat to go out for some, when the hunchback stopped him.

“Sugar will not be necessary,” he said. And as he spoke he drew a vial from his vest pocket and laid it upon the table beside the cups. “You know what these are, of course.”

“Saccharine pellets?” inquired Fernet as he threw aside his hat.

Minetti replied with a grunt. Fernet poured out the coffee, set a spoon in each saucer, laid three French rolls upon a blue plate. Then he sat down.

“Permit me!” said Minetti, reaching for the vial and rolling a tiny pellet into his palm.

Fernet held up his cup; the hunchback dropped the pellet into it. Then he corked the vial tightly and laid it aside.

“You forgot to serve yourself,” said Fernet.

“So I did!” answered Minetti, nonchalantly. “Well, no matter. I very often drink my coffee so—without sweetening.”

Fernet drew back suddenly. Could it be possible that.... The hunchback was staring at him, an ironical smile was on his lips. Fernet shuddered.

“Drink your coffee!” Minetti commanded, sneeringly. “You are on the verge of a chill.”

Fernet obeyed meekly. He felt for all the world like an animal caught in a trap. He tried to collect his thoughts. What had the hunchback been talking about?

“Slow poison!” muttered Fernet, inaudibly to himself.

“What is that you are saying?” demanded the other.

“You were speaking of slow poison. How do you go about it?”

“Oh, that is easy! For instance, once in London I lodged next door to my victim. We became capital friends. And he was always calling me in for a bite of something to eat. Nothing elaborate—a bun and a cup of tea, or coffee and cake. Very much as we are doing now. He died in six months. It is no trick, you know, to poison a man who eats and drinks with you—especially drinks!”

As he said this the hunchback reached for the coffee-pot and poured Fernet another cupful. Then he uncorked the vial again and dropped a pellet into the steaming liquid.

“I do not think that I wish any more,” protested Fernet.

“Nonsense! You are still shivering like an old woman with the palsy. Hot coffee will do you good.”

“No,” said Fernet, desperately, “I never drink more than one cup at a sitting. It keeps me awake, and next morning my hand shakes and I am fit for nothing. I need a steady hand in my business.”

“And what may that be, pray?”

“At present I am a draftsman. Some day, if I live long enough, I hope to be an architect.”

“If you live long enough? You forget that you have laughed at me, my friend.”

Fernet tried to appear indifferent. “What a droll fellow you are!” he cried, with sudden gaiety, rubbing his hands together. And without thinking, he reached for his coffee-cup and downed the contents in almost one gulp. He laid the cup aside quickly. He could feel the sweat starting out upon his forehead.

“There, you see,” said Minetti, “the coffee has done you good already. You are perspiring, and that is a good sign. A hot drink at the right moment works wonders.”

――――

The next morning Pollitto stopped Fernet as he swung out the front gate to his work.

“What is the matter with you?” exclaimed the beggar, in a surprised tone.

“Why ... what?” demanded Fernet, in a trembling voice. “Do I look so ...? Pray, tell me, is there anything unusual about me?”

“Why, your face.... Have you looked at yourself in the glass? Your skin is the color of stale pastry.”

Fernet tried to laugh. “It is nothing. I have been drinking too much coffee lately. I must stop it.”

It was a fine morning. The sun was shining and the air was brisk and full of little rippling breezes. The bay lay like a blue-green peacock ruffling its gilded feathers. The city had a genial, smiling countenance. But Fernet was out of humor with all this full-blown content. He had spent a wretched night—not sleepless, but full of disturbing dreams. Dreams about Minetti and his London neighbor and the empty sugar-bowl. All night he had dreamed about this empty sugar-bowl. It seemed that as soon as he had it filled Minetti would slyly empty it again. He tried stowing sugar away in his pockets, but when he put his hand in to draw out a lump a score or more of pellets spilled over the floor. Then he remembered saying:

“I shall call on Minetti’s London neighbor. Maybe he will have some sugar.”

He walked miles and miles, and finally beat upon a strange door. A man wrapped in a black coat up to his eyebrows opened to his knock.

“Are you Flavio Minetti’s London neighbor?” he demanded, boldly.

The figure bowed. Fernet drew the cracked sugar-bowl from under his arm.

“Will you oblige me with a little sugar?” he asked, more politely.

The black-cloaked figure bowed and disappeared. Presently he came back. Fernet took the sugar-bowl from him. It struck him that the bowl felt very light. He looked down at his hands. The bowl had disappeared; only a glass vial lay in his palm. He removed the cork—a dozen or more tiny round pellets fell out. He glanced up quickly at Minetti’s London neighbor; a dreadful smile glowed through the black cloak. Fernet gave a cry and hurled the vial in the face of his tormentor. Minetti’s London neighbor let the black cloak fall, and André Fernet discovered that he was staring at himself.... He awakened soon after that and found that it was morning.

When he brushed his hair his hand had shaken so that the brush fell clattering to the floor. And he had spilled the cream for his morning coffee over the faded strip of carpet before the bureau. It had ended by his eating no breakfast at all. But he had drunk glass after glass of cold water.

After Pollitto’s words he trembled more and more like a man with the ague, and before every saloon-door mirror he halted and took a brief survey of his face. Pollitto was right—his skin was dead and full of unhealthy pallor. It was plain that he could not work in his present condition. His trembling fingers could scarcely hold a pencil, much less guide it through the precise demands of a drafting-board. He decided to go to the library and read. But the books on architecture which always enthralled him could not hold his shifting attention. Finally in despair he went up to the librarian and said:

“Have you any books on poison?”

The woman eyed him with a cold, incurious glance.

“Historical or medical?” she snapped out, as she went on stamping mysterious numbers in the pile of books before her.

“Both!”

She consulted a catalogue and made a list for him.

He sat all day devouring books which the librarian had recommended. He did not even go out for lunch. He read historical and romantic instances with a keen, morbid relish; but when it came to the medical books his heart quickened and he followed causes and effects breathlessly. By nightfall he had a relentless knowledge of every poison in the calendar. He knew what to expect from arsenic or strychnine or vitriol. He learned which poisons destroyed tissues, which acted as narcotics, which were irritants. He identified the hemlock, the horse-chestnut, the deadly toadstools. In short, he absorbed and retained everything on the subject. It seemed that the world teemed with poisons; one could be sure of nothing. Even beautiful flowers were not to be trusted.

He was so upset by all he had read that he could scarcely eat dinner. He went to an obscure pension in a wretched basement, where he was sure he would be unknown, and, after two or three mouthfuls of soup and a spoonful of rice boiled with tomato, he rose, paid for his meal, and went out to tramp up and down past the tawdry shops of middle Kearny Street. He was trotting aimlessly in the direction of Market Street when he felt a tug at his coat-sleeve. He turned. Minetti was smiling genially up at him.

“Come,” said the hunchback, “what is your hurry? Have you had coffee yet? I was thinking that—”

Fernet’s heart sank at once. And yet he managed to say boldly: “I have given up drinking coffee. You can see for yourself what a wretched complexion I have. And to-day I have scarcely eaten.”

“Pooh!” cried Minetti. “A cup of coffee will do you good.”

Fernet began to draw away in futile terror. “No!” he protested, with frightened vehemence. “No, I tell you! I won’t drink the stuff! It is useless for you to—”

Minetti began to laugh with scornful good-humor. “What has come over you?” he drawled, half-closing his eyes. “Are you afraid?”

And as he said this Fernet glanced instinctively at the puny wrists, no bigger than a pullet’s wing, and replied, boldly:

“Afraid? Of what? I told you last night I need a steady hand in my business, and to-day I have not been able to do any work.”

Minetti’s mirth softened into genial acquiescence. “Well, maybe you are right. But I must say you are not very companionable. Perhaps the coffee you have been drinking has not been made properly. You should take something. You do look badly. A glass of brandy?... No?... Ah, I have it—coffee made in the Turkish fashion. Have you ever drunk that?”

“No,” replied Fernet, helplessly, wondering all the time why he was foolish enough to tell the truth.

“Well, then,” announced the hunchback, confidently, “we shall cross over to Third Street and have some Turkish coffee. I know a Greek café where they brew a cup that would tempt the Sultan himself. Have you ever seen it made? They use coffee pounded to a fine powder—a teaspoonful to a cup, and sugar in the same proportion. It is all put in together and brought to a boil. The result is indescribable! Really, you are in for a treat.”

“If it is sweetened in the making,” flashed through Fernet’s mind, “at least we shall have no more of that pellet business.”

“Yes—the result is quite indescribable,” Minetti was repeating, “and positively no bad effects.”

And as he said this he slipped his arm into Fernet’s and guided him with gentle firmness toward the Greek café in question. Fernet felt suddenly helpless and incapable of offering the slightest objection.

A girl took their orders. She had a freckled nose and was frankly Irish. Naturally, she did not fit the picture, and Fernet could see that she was scornful of the whole business.

“Two coffees ... medium,” Minetti repeated, decisively. “And will you have a sweet with it? They sell taffy made of sesame seeds and honey. Or you can have Turkish delight or a pastry dusted with powdered sugar. Really they are all quite delicious.”

Fernet merely shrugged. Minetti ordered Turkish delight. The girl wiped some moisture from the marble table-top and walked toward the coffee-shelf.

“So you were not able to work to-day?” Minetti began, affably. “How did you put in the time?”

“At the library, reading.”

“Something droll? A French novel or—”

“Books on poison!” Fernet shot out with venomous triumph. “I know more than I did yesterday.”

“How distressing!” purred Minetti. “Ignorance is more invulnerable than one fancies. Of course we are taught otherwise, but knowledge, you remember, was the beginning of all trouble. But you choose a fascinating, subject. Some day when we get better acquainted I shall tell you all I know about it. Poison is such a subtle thing. It is everywhere—in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the food we eat. And it is at once swift and sluggish, painful and stupefying, obvious and incapable of analysis. It is like a beautiful woman, or a great joy, or love itself.”

Fernet glanced up sharply. The hunchback had slid forward in his seat and his eyes glowed like two shaded pools catching greedily at the yellow sunlight of midday. Fernet shuddered and looked about the room. Groups of swarthy men were drinking coffee, or sipping faintly red draughts of cherry syrup and sweet soda. At a near-by table a group of six shuffled cards and marked their scores upon a slate. And, of course, there were those who played backgammon, rattling the dice and making exaggerated gestures as they spurred on their adversaries with genial taunts.

The girl came back carrying cups of thick steaming coffee and soft lemon-colored sweetmeats speared with two tiny silver forks. She set the tray down. Minetti reached for his coffee greedily, but Fernet sat back in his seat and allowed the waitress to place the second cup before him. As she did so the table shook suddenly and half of the hot liquid spilled over on the marble tabletop. Fernet jumped up to escape the scalding trickle; the girl gave an apologetic scream; Minetti laughed strangely.

“It is all my fault!” cried the hunchback. “What stupidity! Pray be seated. My young woman, will you give the gentleman this coffee of mine? And get me another.”

“Pardon me,” Fernet protested, “but I cannot think of such a thing!” And with that he attempted to pass the coffee in question back to Minetti. But the hunchback would have none of it. Fernet broke into a terrified sweat.

“He has dropped poison into it!” he thought, in sudden panic. “Otherwise why should he be so anxious to have me drink it? He kicked the table deliberately, too. And this cup of his—why was it not spilled also? No, he was prepared—it is all a trick!”

“Come, come, my friend,” broke in Minetti, briskly, “drink your coffee while it is still hot! Do not wait for me. I shall be served presently. And try the sweetmeats; they are delicious.”

“I am not hungry,” replied Fernet, sullenly.

“No? Well, what of that? Sweetmeats and coffee are not matters of hunger. Really, you are more droll than you imagine!” Minetti burst into a terrifying laugh.

“He thinks I am afraid!” muttered Fernet.

And out of sheer bravado he lifted the cup to his lips. Minetti stopped laughing, but a wide smile replaced his diabolical mirth. The girl brought fresh coffee to the hunchback. He sipped it with frank enjoyment, but he did not once take his gaze from Fernet’s pale face.

“Well,” thought Fernet, “one cup of poison more or less will not kill me.... It is not as if he has made up his mind to finish me at once. He is counting on the exquisite joys of a prolonged agony.” And he remembered Minetti’s words: “It is like watching a green leaf fading before the breath of autumn. First a sickly pallor, then a yellowing, a sharp wind, a fluttering in the air....” He tossed off the coffee in one defiant gulp. “He thinks that he has me in his power. But André Fernet is not quite a fool. I shall go away to-morrow!”

――――

They went home as soon as Minetti finished his coffee. Fernet felt a sudden nausea; by the time he reached his lodgings his steps were unsteady and his head reeled. Minetti was kindness itself.

“Let me help you into bed,” he insisted. “You must have a congestion. Presently I shall heat some water and give you a hot gin.”

Fernet was too sick to protest. Minetti started the gas-stove and filled the kettle and went into his room for gin. Fernet dragged himself out of his clothes and crawled in between the sheets. Minetti came back. Fernet lay with his eyes half-closed, shivering. Finally the water boiled, and the hunchback brought Fernet a huge tumbler of gin and water with bits of lemon-peel and cloves floating in it. It tasted so good that Fernet forgot his terror for the moment. But when the tumbler was empty he felt helpless; he could scarcely lift his arms; so he lay flat upon his back, staring up at the ceiling. He tried to recall scraps of what he had been reading all afternoon. What was the name of the poison that left one paralyzed? He could not remember. He found his movements becoming more and more difficult; he could scarcely turn in bed. Minetti brewed another toddy. Fernet could not hold the glass! He tried to push the tumbler away from his lips, but his efforts were useless. Minetti hovered above him with a bland, gentle smile, and Fernet felt the warm liquid trickling into his mouth and down his throat. In the midst of all this he lost consciousness.... Once or twice during the night Fernet had a wakeful interlude. Whenever he opened his eyes he saw Minetti sitting before the open window, gazing down at the twisted pepper-tree.

“Yes, they are both alike!” passed dimly through his mind. “They both are at once beautiful and hideous and they have strange secrets! It is no use, I must go away—to-morrow.”

In the morning Minetti was standing by the bed. “I have sent for the doctor,” he said. But his voice sounded far away.

――――

The doctor came shortly after ten o’clock. He was a little wizened, dried-up old man with a profound air.

“He is a fraud!” thought Fernet. “He knows nothing!”

“Ah,” said the doctor, putting a sly finger against his sharp nose, “our friend here has a nervous collapse. He should have a nurse!”

“A nurse!” exclaimed Minetti, with indignation. “And, pray, what do you call me? Do you not think that—”

“Well, we shall see! we shall see!” replied the doctor, rubbing his hands together. “But he will need all sorts of delicacies and—”

Minetti moistened his lips with sleek satisfaction. “You cannot name a dish that I am not able to prepare.”

“How about a custard? To-day he should eat something light.”

“A custard is simplicity itself,” answered the hunchback, and he cracked his fingers.

Minetti went out with the doctor, and came back shortly, carrying eggs and a bottle of vanilla extract and sugar. Fernet lay helpless, watching him bustling about. Finally the delicacy was made and set away in a pan of water to cool. At noon Minetti brought a blue bowl filled with custard to the bedside. It looked inviting, but Fernet shook his head.

“I am not hungry,” he lied.

The hunchback set the bowl down on a chair so that Fernet gazed upon it all day. The hunchback did not leave the room. He sat before the open window, reading from a thick book. Toward nightfall Fernet said to him:

“What do you find so interesting?”

Minetti darted a sardonic glance at his patient. “A book on poison. I did not realize that I had grown so rusty on the subject. Why, I remember scarcely enough to poison a field-mouse!”

He rose and crossed over to the bedside. “Do you not feel ready for the custard?”

Fernet cast a longing eye upon the yellow contents of the blue bowl.

“No. To tell the truth, I never eat it.”

Minetti shrugged.

“But I should like a glass of water.”

The hunchback drew water from the faucet. Fernet watched him like a ferret.

“At least,” thought Fernet, “he cannot drop poison in the water secretly. It is well that I can see every move he makes at such a time. I should not like to die of thirst.”

A little later Minetti removed the bowl and threw out its contents. Fernet looked on with half-closed eyes.

“What better proof could I have?” he mused. “If the custard were harmless he would eat it himself. I must get away to-morrow.”

But the next day he felt weaker than ever, and when the doctor came Minetti said, in answer to questions:

“I made a delicious custard yesterday and he ate every bit.... An oyster stew? ... with milk? I shall see that he has it at noon.”

“God help me!” muttered Fernet. “Why does he lie like this? I must get the doctor’s ear and tell him how things stand. I shall eat nothing—nothing! Thank Heaven I can drink water without fear.”

At noon the oyster stew was ready. But Fernet would have none of it. “Oysters make me ill!” he said.

Minetti merely shrugged as he had done the previous day, and set the savory dish upon a chair before the bed. It exuded tantalizing odors, until Fernet thought he would go mad with longing. Toward evening Minetti threw out the stew. And as before, when the doctor called the hunchback said:

“He ate a quart of stew and there were plenty of oysters in it, I can tell you. Do you think that a chicken fried in olive-oil would be too hearty?”

Fernet groaned. “This is horrible—horrible!” he wept to himself. “I shall die like a starving rat with toasted cheese dangling just beyond reach. God help me to rouse myself! Surely the effects of the poison he has given me must soon wear off.... There he is, reading from that big book again. Perhaps he is contriving a way to put poison in my water even though I am able to watch him when he draws me a drink.... Poison—poison everywhere. It can even be administered with the prick of a needle. Why did I read about it? Chicken fried in olive-oil ... what torture!”

――――

The chicken fried in olive-oil was a triumph—Fernet knew all this by the wisps of appetizing fragrance which drifted from the sizzling pan. Minetti made a great stir over the preparations. The tender flesh had to be rubbed thoroughly with garlic and well dusted with salt and pepper. And a quarter of a bottle of yellow-green olive-oil was first placed in the pan. When everything was ready and the chicken cooked to a turn, Minetti carried it to Fernet with a great flourish. Fernet gritted his teeth and turned his face away. He did not have the courage to invent an excuse. Minetti laid it on the chair as usual. For two hours Fernet was tortured with the sight of this tempting morsel, but at the sound of the doctor’s step upon the stair the hunchback whisked away the chicken.

“His appetite?” Minetti said, echoing the doctor’s query. “Why, one could not wish for better! Only this morning he despatched a chicken as if it had been no more than a soft-boiled egg. As a matter of fact, he is always hungry.”

“Well, well,” beamed the doctor, “that is the best of signs, and it happens that way very often in nervous cases. You are a capital nurse, my good man, and by the end of the week, if you keep feeding him up in this fashion, he should be as hearty as a school-boy.”

At that moment Minetti was called down-stairs by his landlord. Fernet struggled to lift himself; the doctor bent toward him.

“This hunchback,” Fernet gasped, “he is trying to poison me. Already I have drunk four or five of his concoctions, and that is why I am in this condition ... helpless. And he is lying when he says that I have eaten. I have touched nothing for three days.”

The doctor laid the patient back upon the pillow.

“Poison you, my friend? And for what reason?”

“Because I laughed at him. In God’s name, Doctor, see that you keep a straight face in his presence or else—”

The doctor patted Fernet’s hand and straightened the sliding bedclothes. By this time Minetti had come back. The doctor and the hunchback whispered together in a far corner. Minetti laughed and tapped his head. At the door Fernet heard the doctor say:

“Just keep up the good work and the idea will pass. It happens that way very often in nervous cases. I shall not look in again until the first of next week unless....”

Fernet groaned aloud.

“I must get away to-morrow.... I must get away to-morrow!” he kept on repeating.

――――

By the end of the week the smell of food held no temptations for Fernet. Minetti stopped cooking. And when a glass of water was drawn from the faucet Fernet had difficulty in forcing his vision to answer the strain of a searching gaze.

“When my sight fails me,” Fernet thought, dimly, “I shall either die of thirst or take the consequences.”

When the doctor finally came again Fernet closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.

“He seems thinner,” remarked the doctor, as if he had made an important discovery.

“Well, to tell the truth,” replied the hunchback, “he has lost his appetite. I have fed him milk and eggs, but—”

“There is nothing to do but be patient,” said the doctor. “Medicine will do him no good. Just rest and food. Even a little starvation will not hurt him. People eat too much, anyway.”

At this Fernet opened his eyes and broke into a laugh that startled even Minetti. The doctor looked offended.

“Well, he is in your hands,” the old fraud said, pompously, to the hunchback. “Just keep up the good work—”

Fernet laughed again.

“He is hysterical,” proclaimed the doctor, with an air of supreme wisdom. “It happens that way very often in nervous cases.”

And he walked out with great solemnity.

“Ah, I have offended him!” thought Fernet. “Well, now they will finish me—together!”

――――

There followed days of delicious weakness. Fernet lay for the most part wrapt in the bliss of silver-blue visions. It seemed as if years were passing. He built shining cities, received the homage of kings, surrendered himself to the joys of ripe-lipped beauties. There were lucid intervals shot through with the malignant presence of Minetti and the puttering visits of the doctor. But these were like waking moments between darkness and dawn, filled with the half-conscious joy of a sleeper secure in the knowledge of a prolonged respite. In such moments Fernet would stir feebly and think:

“I must get away to-morrow!”

And there would succeed almost instantly a languid ecstasy at the thought that to-morrow was something remote and intangible that would never come.

At times the hunchback seemed like nothing so much as a heartless gaoler who, if he would, might open the door to some shining adventure. Gradually this idea became fixed and elaborated. Fernet’s sight grew dimmer and dimmer until he followed the presence of Minetti by the sounds he made.

“He is jingling something,” Fernet would repeat, weakly. “Ah, it must be his keys! He is searching for the one that will set me free!... Now he is oiling the lock.... He has shut the door again. I am to be held awhile longer.... I am a caged bird and just beyond is the pepper-tree. It must be glistening now in the sunlight. Well, let him lock the door, for all the good it will do him. Is not the window always open? When the time comes I shall fly out the window and leave him here—alone. Then we shall see who has the best of this bargain.”

And all the silver-blue visions would steal over him again, to be pierced briefly by the arrival of the wizened doctor.

“It is he who keeps me here!” Fernet would say to himself. “If it were not for him I could fly away—forever. Well, presently even he will lose his power.”

One day a strange man stood at his bedside. Minetti was there also, and the old fraud of a doctor. The strange man drew back the covers and put his ear to Fernet’s fluttering heart and went through other tiresome matters.... Finally he smoothed back the covers again, and as he did so he shook his head. He spoke softly, but Fernet heard him distinctly.

“It is too late.... You should have called me sooner. He wishes to die.... There is nothing to be done.”

“Yes, yes—it happens this way very often in nervous cases.”

“I have done my best. I have given him food and drink. I have even starved him. But nothing seemed to do any good.”

“No,” said the stranger; “it is his mind. He has made up his mind that.... You can do nothing with a man when....”

Fernet closed his eyes.

“A man! They think I am a man. What stupidity! Can they not see that I am a bird?... They have gone out. He is locking the door again.... I can hear the keys jingle.... Well, let him lock the door if it gives him any pleasure. The window is open and to-night....”

The footsteps of the departing visitors died away. A chuckling sound came to André Fernet and the thump of ecstatic fists brought down upon a bare table-top. The voice of Flavio Minetti was quivering triumphantly like the hot whisper of a desert wind through the room:

“Without any weapon save the mind! Ha! ha! ha!”

Fernet turned his face toward the wall. “He is laughing at me now. Well, let him laugh while he may.... Is not the window open? To-morrow I shall be free ... and he?... No, he cannot fly—he has a broken wing.... The window is open, André Fernet!”

BLIND VISION

By MARY MITCHELL FREEDLEY
From The Century Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by The Century Company.
Copyright, 1919, by Mary Mitchell Freedley.

Four months of pleasant meetings led to the superficial intimacy that war makes possible, so that I regretted the moving of the hospital and the need of a rest which took me to Paris.

It was there, one dreary evening in late November, that Marston’s name was brought to my dim little apartment, with the request that, if possible, I receive him at once. I was about to sit down to a lonely dinner, and the prospect of his company delighted me. Then he came into the room.

I had last seen him with his friend Esmè as they stood together waving me good-by, the rich, heavy summer sunshine all about them, though something more than a trick of golden light flooded their faces. They were both vitally alive in widely different ways; and yet they strangely seemed to be merely parts of each other. Esmè was an erratic dreamer and seer of visions, and lacked always, even in the unimportant aspects of living, any sense of the personal, the concrete; Marston, in curious contrast, was at all times practical, level-headed, full of the luster of life.

The man who stood hesitatingly just inside my door was not Marston, but some stone-sculptured image of the gay, glad boy I had known.

The cry I could not choke broke through his terrible immobility, and he spoke, the words sounding unreal, as though he had memorized them for a lesson and rehearsed their very intonation.

“I had to come. I had to tell some one. Then I will go away. I don’t know where; just away. You knew him, knew I loved him. Will you let me tell you? Then I will go away.”

It flashed across my mind in the second before I found words that I had half wondered why Esmè was not with him. It seemed impossible that even their bodies could be separated.

I tried to lead him to the fire and remove his overcoat, but he pushed me from him.

“No, no; don’t touch me. You don’t know, don’t understand. I’ve hunted two weeks trying to find some one—you, any one who knew us to whom I could tell it.” He hesitated, and I waited. His voice took on a curious quality of childlike appeal as he went on: “You know I loved him, know I’d given my life for his, don’t you?” Such phrasing was utterly unlike Marston, but I had seen their friendship in all the glory of its intensity, and I knew no sacrifice would have been too great. I assured him of this, and, remembering my nursing, insisted that he eat, promising to listen to anything he wanted to tell me.

We sat facing each other across the spread table, but neither of us thought of the food after the first few mouthfuls. Twice in the early part of his story I filled his glass with claret, but I cannot recollect his drinking any.

“You must think this strange of me, but I’m not really mad, not now. You see, I’ve lived with the horror ever since they gave me leave—just afterward, trying to find some one I could talk to, some one who would help me go on and finish the things we’d—

“I want to make it all as clear as possible, but I’ve got to tell it my own way, and that isn’t clear.

“Do you remember Brander? We brought him over once or twice. He was a mighty decent sort of fellow. Somehow, though, I hated his being such friends with Esmè, I’d been his only one for so long, you see. Brander was born in India, and somehow Esmè found it out; from hearing him curse in a dialect, I think. They used to talk some unheard-of jargon to each other and enjoyed it.

“Well, one day Brander got smashed in a fight up the lines, along the British front, and was dying. He kept asking for Esmè, calling his name, and when Esmè got word of it, of course he started at once. He took one of the baby Nieuports; they’re fast, and not much of a target from below. He knew the Germans had a masked battery which he’d have to cross.

“I thought I’d like to see him across the enemy country, so I let him get a good start, and then I went up. I lost sight of him in a cloud-bank, and must have flown beyond him, for when I cleared it, he was behind and below me, and coming toward him a big German fighting-plane.

“Esmè’s wasn’t a fighting-machine, and he should have tried to get away; but he must have seen the German a second after I did and judged it too late. He fired his revolver once, then suddenly seemed to lose control of his machine, and dropped to the level of the other. He must have thought he was done for and made his decision on the instant, counting it better to try to ram the German plane and go down to death together than to take the millionth chance of landing and let the enemy escape. He went head on at the other, and they fell, woven as one machine, just inside the German lines.

“Somehow I got back to our fellows; God knows I wish I hadn’t.

“Every man in our escadrille paid in his own way unconscious tribute to Esmè’s memory. We were awfully and justly proud of him,—it’s something to have died for France,—but for all of us the fun, the excitement, of the work had gone, been snuffed out. No one turned corkscrew somersaults, Esmè’s great stunt; no one did any of his special tricks any more, not even to show off before the new men.

“We got one of those French immortelle wreaths, tied to it his name and the number of the machine he was driving and dropped it inside their lines. The next morning just at sunrise one of their men flew over our hangars and threw down a stone. Painted on it in German was, ‘Your dead sends thanks’! That’s just like them, brutal, and the last word on their side.

“There’s always work to be done in war, each day’s effort to be made, and the mercy of constant doing helped me. I used to try to forget the fighting and the horrors and go back to the old days.

“Esmè never was like other men in certain ways—all the early things that were unconsciously part of him, I suppose. Even as a little shaver at school he couldn’t be made to understand the ‘why’ of a school-boy’s code. He used to rush headlong into anything and everything, and he generally came out on top. He did the most outrageous things calmly, unthinkingly, and we always made excuses, forgave him, because he was Esmè. At college the men were sometimes rather nasty to him, partly because he couldn’t understand their points of view; and he used to stare a minute and then loll away. He never hurried,—perhaps it was his Oriental blood,—but he always got there, and could make his very lolling an insult.

“I used to wonder just what it was that made Esmè a great aviator. He was a phenomenally good pilot, although he himself never seemed to realize his remarkable ability. His losing control of his machine that day was inexplicable. But one can’t tell. That high up the slightest thing uncounted on means death. Those days after—

“A month went by. One morning our anti-aircrafters started, and we rushed to see what was doing, and there, just a blot against the unclouded sky, was a plane turning corkscrew somersaults one after another as it came lower and lower. I went mad for a few minutes; only Esmè could turn corkscrews in such a way. I got the captain, and begged him to give orders for our gunners to stop. I must have made him feel the certainty of the wild thing I believed, for he gave the order. It was one of our own machines, in it Esmè, alone—Esmè in the flesh before us, drawn and haggard and old, but Esmè.

“At first he couldn’t speak. We called it strain; perhaps in any other man we shouldn’t, even in our minds, have given it its real name—emotion. He was like a girl. When I put my arm across his shoulders in the old, familiar way, he began to weep silently.

“The fellows were awfully decent and drifted away out of kindness, leaving him alone with me. We went to our tent, the one we’d shared together, and there, after a little while, he told me how it all happened.

“When the two machines fell together in a tangled heap, by some miraculous chance he was unhurt. The German was dead before they landed, he thought.

“Then began the slow, torturing weeks. They kept at him day and night, night and day. They never left him alone, not just guards, but some one always near him whose only business it was to watch him.

“He was a marked man. The Germans knew him to be our best, perhaps the best aviator in all the Allied armies, and they needed him. They tried every sort of hellish torture on him, things one mustn’t think about, to get him to take up one of their photographers over the French trenches, knowing he could do certain notorious tricks which would prove him our man and so render the taking of the necessary pictures comparatively safe. He stuck it out, growing weaker and weaker, until the order came that he was to take up their man in his own machine (they’d used their diabolical skill to reconstruct it), or— Perhaps if it had been an order to shoot him then and there, his courage would have held out; but the other— He was broken, weakened, driven; he gave in.

“They’d taken photographs for miles along the French and British fronts when Esmè noticed the strap which held the camera man was loosened. The man was busy adjusting the films for a new set. Esmè pulled, the strap gave way; he lurched the machine suddenly, and turned it over,—his famous somersault trick,—and then, without looking back or down, made for our camp.

“Sometimes one forgets to guard one’s expression. I suppose mine showed the horror I couldn’t help feeling. He put his hand out to touch me, but I jumped up and moved away. ‘Marston,’ he said, ‘what’s the matter? Aren’t you glad? There wasn’t any other way but to give in to them. You don’t know what it’s like to feel yourself dying by inches, a little piece more every day, all the time knowing you can’t die enough, and then the chance to be free once more, in the air, clean; you only fifty miles away, and one man between us—one man. What was his life among so many? It’s war, Marston; war.’

“I failed him then. I didn’t stop to think of his overwrought condition, mentally and physically. He simply wasn’t responsible. I had a quick vision of the way the other men would take it, of how I’d try and try to explain Esmè’s action because it was Esmè’s, and all the time I’d know the explanations weren’t any good. We have a code all our own; no rules, no mention ever made of its interpretation—just an aviator’s honor.

“Now, looking back, I can’t think why Esmè’s dropping the man out seemed so hideous. It did, though, and I failed him. He wanted to hear me say the words of welcome he’d counted on, and I just stood and looked at him. He was making queer, whimpering little noises, with his mouth wobbling all over his face, and I watched him. He was suffering, and I looked on.

“After a while the whimperings turned into words, and the words started with giggles. ‘A-aren’t you g-glad, Marston? A-aren’t you g-glad? A-aren’t you?’

“I turned on him, all the friendship and the memories of the years behind swept away. I didn’t know what I was saying. I’m not sure now; something about the things one doesn’t do, that it wasn’t war the way we fought it to drop a man thousands of feet who was only doing his duty. It was murder. Over and over I said it—that word murder. He wasn’t my friend; he was a murderer!

“I went out of the tent to escape his staring, pleading eyes—child’s eyes. Even while I was saying the words I knew he didn’t understand. He had done what he thought justifiable, necessary, he wanted to get back to me, and I called him a murderer.

“Once just as I started for the mess to get him something to eat I thought I heard him call my name; but I went on. I needed more time.

“I was gone perhaps ten minutes. When I reëntered the tent it was empty. Esmè was nowhere about, but I didn’t think of looking for him then, for I thought he’d probably joined one of the other men. Later I got worried, and we started a search. He wasn’t in our camp. No one had seen him.

“We waited and wondered. I prayed. Then I found a little scribbled note knocking about among my things.

“We never found any trace even of him or the smallest clue, just the note; that’s all I have left of Esmè. Here it is:

‘You’ve tried to tell me your opinion of the trick I played on an enemy. In any other arm of the service what I did would have gone, been all right, been smart. Isn’t that what you meant, Marston? But with our boys, because we’ve chosen to have a different, a higher standard, because we fight cleanly, what I did was—dirty. Well, I understand. You and the other men are different; I’m not, but I can pay. I’m going back. Don’t try to stop me before I reach their lines. You can’t. I go to render unto Cæsar. A life for a life. To give them at least my death, since I can no longer offer even that proudly to France.’

“There has been bravery and heroism in the war, but Esmè went back; he knew to what—yet he went.

“God grant he is dead! I tried to make words express an inexpressible thing. All my life to live out—remembering, knowing I killed my friend!”

Perhaps Marston went on speaking; I don’t know. I only remember the broken stem of his glass, the stain that was spreading slowly over the white cloth, and the dripping, dripping red of his hands.

IMAGINATION

By GORDON HALL GEROULD
From Scribner’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Copyright, 1919, by Gordon Hall Gerould.

As I gave my coat and hat to the boy, I caught sight of Orrington, waddling into the farther reaches of the club just ahead of me. “Here’s luck!” I thought to myself, and with a few hasty strides overtook him.

It is always good luck to run upon Harvey Orrington during the hour when he is loafing before dinner. In motion he resembles a hippopotamus, and in repose he produces the impression that the day is very hot, even in midwinter. But one forgets his red and raw corpulency when he has settled at ease in a big chair and begun to talk. Then the qualities that make him the valuable man he is, as the literary adviser of the Speedwell Company, come to the surface, and with them those perhaps finer attributes that have given him his reputation as a critic. Possibly the contrast between his Falstaffian body and his nicely discriminating mind gives savor to his comment on art and life; but in any case his talk is as good in its way as his essays are in theirs. Read his “Retrospective Impressions” if you wish to know what I mean—only don’t think that his colloquial diction is like the fine-spun phrasing of his essays. He inclines to be slangy in conversation.

I overtook Orrington, as I say, before he had reached his accustomed corner, and I greeted him with a becoming deference. He is fifteen years my senior, after all.

“Hello,” he said, turning his rather dull eyes full upon me. “Chasing will-o’-the-wisps this afternoon?”

“I’ve been pursuing you. If you call that—”

“Precision forbids! It can’t have been will-o’-the-wisps.” Orrington shook his head with utter solemnity. “I don’t know just what their figure is, but I’m sure it’s not like mine. Come along and save my life, won’t you?”

“With pleasure. I hoped you might be free.”

“Free as the air of a department-store elevator—yes. I’ve got to meet Reynolds here. He’s waiting for me yonder. You know Reynolds?”

“Yes, I know him.”

Every one knows Reynolds, I need hardly say—every one who can compass it. The rest of the world knows his books. Reynolds makes books with divine unconcern and profuseness: almost as a steel magnate makes steel. He makes them in every kind, and puts them out with a fine flourish, so that he is generally regarded as master of all the literary arts. People buy his output, too, which is lucky for Reynolds but perhaps less fortunate for literature; they buy his output—that is the only word to use—by the boxful, apparently. An edition in his sight is but as the twinkling of an eye before it is sold out. One can’t wonder that Reynolds is a little spoiled by all this, though he must have been a good fellow to begin with. He’s really a kind-hearted and brave man now, but he takes himself too seriously. He is sometimes a bore. Only that he would never recognize the portrait I am making of him, I should hardly dare to say what I am saying. Physically, he is undistinguished: he looks like a successful lawyer of a dark athletic type who has kept himself fit with much golf and who has got the habit of wearing his golfing-clothes to town. It is his manner that sets him apart from his fellows.

“I’m glad you know him.” Orrington chuckled as we drew near the corner where Reynolds was already seated. “I’d hate to be the innocent cause of your introduction.”

Reynolds rose and extended gracious hands to the two of us. “You add to my pleasure by bringing our friend,” he said to Orrington.

I fear that I acknowledged the compliment by looking foolish. It was Orrington’s corner that we were invading, if it was any one’s, and, in any case, Reynolds doesn’t own the club.

“I need tea to support my anæmia,” said Orrington gruffly. “If the rest of you wish strong drink, however, I’m not unwilling to order it. They’ve got a new lot of extremely old Bourbon, I am informed, that had to be smuggled out of Kentucky at dead of night for fear of a popular uprising. I should like to watch the effect of it on one or both of you.”

“I’m willing to be the subject of the experiment,” I said. “What about you, Reynolds?”

Reynolds cocked his head slightly to one side. “Though I dislike to deprive our good friend of any æsthetic pleasure, I think I will stick to my own special Scotch. I do not crave the dizzy heights of inebriety.”

“First time I ever knew you to be afraid of soaring, Reynolds,” commented Orrington. “I trust you won’t let caution affect your literary labors. It is one of the biggest things about you, you know, that you aren’t afraid to tackle any job you please. Most of us wait about, wondering whether we could ever learn to manage the Pegasus biplane, but you fly in whatever machine is handy.”

“Perhaps you think I adventure rashly.” It was neither question nor positive statement on the part of Reynolds, but a little compounded of both. He seemed hurt.

“Not at all.” Orrington’s tone was heartily reassuring. “You get away with it, and the rest of us get nowhere in comparison.”

“I have always believed,” said Reynolds, “that a proper self-confidence is a prime requisite for literary success. In all seriousness, I am sure both of you will agree with me that none of us could have reached his present position in the world without some degree of boldness. We have seized the main chance.”

“Then it got away from me,” I felt impelled to say. I could see no reason for accepting the flattery that Reynolds intended.

“You may believe it or not, as you please, Reynolds, but I’m incapable of seizing anything.” Orrington paused to direct the waiter, but went on after a moment, with a teacup in his fat hand. “As a matter of fact, I’ve never collared anything in my life except a few good manuscripts. Some mighty bad ones, too.” He chuckled.

“Ah! You know the difference between the good and the bad better than any one else in the country, I fancy. I always feel diffident when I send copy to you.” Reynolds somehow conveyed the impression, rather by his manner than by his words, of insufferable conceit. He made you certain that he was ready to challenge the assembly of the Immortals in behalf of anything he wrote.

“Oh, you’re in a position to dictate. It’s not for us to criticise,” Orrington answered very quietly. “By the way, I ventured to suggest our meeting here partly because I wished to know when your new book would be ready. Speedwell’s been worrying, and I told him I’d see you. Thought it would bother you less than a letter or coming round to the office.”

“My book!” Reynolds struck an attitude and wrinkled his forehead. “My dear fellow, I wish I knew.”

Orrington set down his cup and looked at Reynolds quizzically. “You must know better than anybody else.”

“It’s a question of the possibilities only.” Reynolds lifted his head proudly. “I will not fail you, Orrington. I have never yet left any one in the lurch, but I have been exceedingly busy of late. You can’t realize the pressure I am under from every side. So many calls—my time, my presence, my words! I must have a fortnight’s clear space to get my copy ready for you. Within the month, I feel sure, you shall have it.”

“That’ll do perfectly well. We don’t wish to bother you,” said Orrington briefly, “but you know as well as I do that the public cries for you. Speedwell gets restive if he can’t administer a dose once in so often.”

“What is the book to be?” I ventured to ask.

Reynolds bridled coquettishly. It was too absurd of a fellow with his physique and general appearance: I had difficulty in maintaining a decent gravity. “My book!” he said again. “It isn’t precisely a novel, and it isn’t precisely anything else. It is a simple story with perhaps a cosmic significance.”

“I see.” I didn’t, of course, but I couldn’t well say less. I knew, besides, pretty well what the book would be like. I had read two or three of Reynolds’s things. The mark of the beast was on them all, though variously imprinted.

“By the way of nothing,” said Orrington suddenly, “I had an odd experience to-day.”

“Ah! do tell us,” urged Reynolds. “Your experiences are always worth hearing. I suppose it is because your impressions are more vivid than those of most men.”

Orrington pursed his mouth deprecatingly and lighted a cigarette. “There’s no stuff for you fellows in this. You couldn’t make a story out of it if you tried. But it gave me a twinge and brought back something that happened twenty years ago.”

“What happened to-day?” I asked, to get the story properly begun.

“Oh, nothing much, in one way. I’ve been talking with a young chap who has sent us a manuscript lately. The book’s no good, commercially—a pretty crude performance—but it has some striking descriptive passages about the effects of hunger on the human body and the human mind. They interested me because I thought they showed some traces of imagination. There isn’t much real imagination lying round loose, you know: nothing but the derived and Burbankized variety. So I sent for the fellow. He came running, of course. Hope in his eye, and all that sort of thing. I felt like a brute beast to have to tell him we couldn’t take his book, though I coated the pill as sweetly as I could.

“He took it like a Trojan, though I could see that he was holding himself in to keep from crying. He was a mere boy, mind you, and a very shabby and lean one. I noticed that while I talked encouragingly to him, and I finally asked what set him going at such a rate about starvation. I might have known, of course! The kid has been up against it and has been living on quarter rations for I don’t know how many months. There wasn’t an ounce of imagination in his tale, after all: he had been describing his own sensations with decent accuracy—nothing more than that.”

“Poor fellow!” I interrupted. “We ought to find him some sort of job. Do you think he’d make good if he had a chance?”

Orrington shrugged his heavy shoulders. “I don’t know, I’m sure. I talked to him like a father and uncle and all his elderly relations, and I asked more questions than was polite. He’s in earnest at the moment, anyhow.”

“But if he’s actually starving—” I began.

Orrington looked at me in his sleepy way. “Oh, he’s had a good feed by this time. You must take me for a cross between a devil-fish and a blood-sucking bat. I could at least afford the luxury of seeing that he shouldn’t try to do the Chatterton act.”

Reynolds took a sip of whiskey, then held up his glass to command attention. “Dear, dear!” he said slowly, with the air of settling the case. “It’s a very great pity that young men without resources and settled employment try to make their way by writing. They ought not to be encouraged to do so. Most of them would be better off in business or on their fathers’ farms, no doubt; and the sooner they find their place, the better.”

“Still, if nobody made the venture,” I objected, “the craft wouldn’t flourish, would it? I think the question is whether something can’t be done to give this particular young man a show.”

“I’ve sent him to Dawbarn,” said Orrington almost sullenly. “He wants a space-filler and general utility man, he happened to tell me yesterday. It’s a rotten job, but it will seem princely to my young acquaintance. I shall watch him. He might make good and pay back my loan, you know.”

“It does credit to your heart, my dear Orrington—grub-staking him and getting him a job at once.” Reynolds frowned judicially. “I doubt the wisdom of it, however. A young man ought to succeed by his own efforts or not at all. Of course I know nothing of this particular case except what you’ve just told us, but I can’t see from your account of him that he has much chance to lift himself out of the ranks of unsuccessful hack writers. You admit that he shows little imagination.”

“Not yet; but he doesn’t write badly.”

“Ah! there are so many who don’t write badly, but who never go beyond that.”

Orrington laughed, shaking even his heavy chair with his heavier mirth. “Excuse me,” he murmured. “You’re very severe on us, Reynolds. You mustn’t forget that most of us aren’t Shakespeares. Indeed, to be strictly impersonal, I don’t know any member of this club—and we’re rather long on eminent pen-pushers—who is. It won’t do any harm to give my young friend his chance. To tell the truth, I think it’s a damned sight better for him than the end of a pier and the morgue.”

I wondered how the mighty Reynolds would take the snub, and I feared a scene. But I knew him less well than Orrington. He merely nursed his glass in silence and looked sulky. After all, Orrington’s argument was unanswerable.

To break the tension, I turned to Orrington with a question. “What happened twenty years ago?” I asked. “You said you were reminded of it.”

Orrington was silent for a minute as if deliberating. He seemed to be reviewing whatever it was he had in mind. “Yes, yes,” he said at last, “that’s more of a story, only it hasn’t any conclusion. It’s as devoid of a dénouement as the life-history of the youth whom Reynolds wishes to starve for his soul’s good.”

“You are very unjust to me,” Reynolds protested. “You speak as if I had a grudge against the young man, whereas I was merely making a general observation. It is no real kindness to encourage a youth to his ultimate hurt.”

Orrington looked at him doubtfully. “I suppose not,” he said after a moment’s pause. “I’ve often wondered what happened in this other case I have in mind.”

“What was it?” asked Reynolds.

“It was a small matter,” Orrington began apologetically; “at least I suppose it would seem so to any outsider. But it was a big thing to me and presumably to the other fellow involved. I never knew anything about him, directly.”

“I thought you said you had dealings with the other man,” I interjected.

“I did,” said Orrington, “but I never met him. It was this way. I was editing a cheap magazine at the time, the kind of thing that intends to be popular and isn’t. The man who published it was on his uppers, the wretched magazine was at death’s door, and I was getting about half of my regular stipend when I got anything at all—something like forty cents a week, if I remember correctly. I was young, of course, so all that didn’t so much matter. I was rather proud of being a real editor, even of a cheap and nasty thing like—but never mind the name. It died many years ago and was forgotten even before the funeral. I suspect now that the publisher took advantage of my youth and inexperience, but I bear him no grudge. I managed to keep afloat, and I liked it.

“Of course I had to live a double life in order to get enough to eat—a blameless double life that meant all work and no play. A fellow can do that in his twenties. After office hours I got jobs of hack writing, and occasionally I sold some little thing to one of the reputable magazines. It was hard sledding, though—a fact I emphasize not because my biography is interesting, but because it has its bearing on the incident in question.

“Well, one fine day I got hold of a job that was the best I’d ever landed. I suspect I apostrophized it, in the language of that era, as a ‘peach.’ It was hack work, of course, but hack work of a superior and exalted kind—the special article sort of thing. I went higher than a kite when I found the chance was coming my way. I dreamed dreams of opulence. Good Lord! I even looked forward to getting put up for this ill-run club which we are now honoring by our gracious presences.”

Orrington stopped and shook with silent laughter till he had to wipe his eyes. The joke seemed less good to me than to him, for I had been only six months a member of the club and had not yet acquired the proper Olympian disdain of it. Reynolds smiled. I fancy that he still regards the club as of importance. In spite of his vast renown, he is never quite easy in his dignity.

“One has no business to laugh at the enthusiasms of youth,” Orrington went on presently. “I suppose it’s bad manners to laugh even at one’s own, for we’re not the same creatures we were back there. It’s a temptation sometimes, all the same. And I was absurdly set up, I assure you, by my chance to do something of no conceivable importance at a quite decent figure. But I never did the job, after all.”

He nodded his head slowly, as if he had been some fat god of the Orient suddenly come to torpid life.

“You don’t mean that you came near starving?” I asked incredulously. The pattern of the story seemed to be getting confused.

“No, no. I wasn’t so poor as that, even though I gave up the rich job I’m telling you about. The point is that I was chronically hard up and needed the money. I couldn’t afford to do without it, but I had to. It was like this, you see. On the very day the plum dropped into my mouth, a story came into the office that bowled me over completely. I hadn’t much experience then; but I felt somehow sure that this thing wasn’t fiction at all, though it had a thin cloak of unreality flung about it. It was a cheerful little tale, the whole point of which was that the impossible hero killed himself rather than starve to death. It was very badly done in every respect, as far as I remember, but it gave me the unpleasant impression that the man who wrote it knew more about going without his dinner than about writing short stories. Of course I couldn’t accept the thing for my magazine, though I could take most kinds of drivel. Our readers didn’t exist, to be sure, but we thought they demanded bright, sunshiny rubbish. I used to fill up our numbers with saccharine mush, and I shouldn’t have dared print a gloomy story even if it had been good.

“This wasn’t good. It was punk. But it bothered me—just as the youngster’s book has been bothering me lately. I suppose I’m too undiscriminating and sentimental for the jobs I’ve had in life.”

“You!” Reynolds objected. “Every one’s afraid of you. Haven’t I said that I tremble, even now, when I send copy to you? It makes no difference that I have the contract signed and every business arrangement concluded.”

Orrington’s mouth twisted into a little grimace. “That’s merely my pose, Reynolds, as you know perfectly well. I’m the terror of the press because I have to be to hold my job. Inside I’m a welter of adipose sentiment. My physical exterior doesn’t belie me. While dining, I quite prefer to think of all the world as well fed; and, in spite of many years’ training, I can’t see anything delightful in the spectacle of a fellow going without his dinner because he’s ambitious. As a rule, I prefer to discourage authors who are millionaires. That’s a pleasant game in itself, but not very good hunting. All of which is beside the point.

“I did hate, as a matter of fact, to turn down the little story I speak of; and while I was writing a gentle note that tried to explain, but didn’t, I had a brilliant idea. I suppose I was the victim of what is known as a generous impulse. I’ve had so little to do with that sort of thing that I can’t be sure of naming it correctly, but I dare say it could be described in that way. I said to myself: ‘That son of a gun could do those special articles just as well as I can, and it’s dollars to doughnuts he’ll go under if he doesn’t get something to do before long.’

“If you’ve ever had anything to do with generous impulses, you know that they’re easier to come by than to put into practice. When I began to think what I should lose by turning over my job to the other fellow, I balked like an overloaded mule. After all, how could I be sure that the man wasn’t fooling me? He might have imagined everything he had written, after eating too much pâté de foie gras. I should be a fool to give a leg up to somebody who was already astride his beast. I couldn’t afford to do it. You know how one’s mind would work.”

“I regret to say,” I put in, “that I can see perfectly how my mind would have worked. It would have persuaded me that I had a duty to myself.”

Orrington laughed quietly. “Don’t you believe it. Your conscience or your softness—whatever you choose to call it—would have played the deuce with your peace of mind. Mine did. I tore up my note and went out for a walk. Naturally I saw nothing but beggars and poverty: misery stalked me from street to street. I wriggled and squirmed for half a day or more, but I couldn’t get away from the damnable necessities of the story-writer.

“In the end I wrote him, of course—the flattering note I had intended, and something more. I told him about my fat job and said I was recommending him for it. By the same mail I wrote to the people who’d offered me the chance, refusing it. I said I regretted that I couldn’t undertake the commission as I had expected, but that I found my other engagements made it impossible. I thought I might as well do the thing in grand style and chuck a bluff while I was about it. I added that I was sending a friend to them who would do the articles better than I could hope to. I didn’t give the fellow’s name, but I told them he’d turn up shortly.”

“What happened then?” I asked, for Orrington lighted another cigarette and seemed inclined to rest on his oars.

He turned his dull eyes on me and smiled a little sadly. “What happened? Why, nothing much, as far as I know. I suppose the other fellow got my job and saved his body alive. I never inquired. I somehow expected that he’d write to me or come to see me—he had my address, you know—but he never did. I was a little annoyed, I remember, at his not doing so after I’d cut off my nose for him, which is probably why I never tried to follow him up. I never even looked up the articles when they were published. But I’ve often wished I might meet the man and learn how he got on.”

“You’ve never seen his name?” I inquired. “He can’t have done much, or you’d have spotted him.”

“I suspect,” said Orrington, “that he sent in that story of his under a pseudonym and that he may have done very well for himself since. What do you think, Reynolds? I suppose you consider me a fool for my pains, on the theory that no man ought to be helped out.”

Reynolds had been silent for some time. As I looked at him now I could see that he was a good deal impressed by Orrington’s narrative. I wasn’t surprised, for I knew him to be a generous fellow in spite of his foibles.

“Yes, how about it, Reynolds?” I said.

“It is a very affecting story,” he answered. “You acted most generously, Orrington, though you make light of it. I can’t believe that the young man realized the sacrifice you made for him; otherwise his failure to thank you, bad enough in any case, would be unspeakable. He can’t have known.”

“But you insist that I’d better have let him alone,” persisted Orrington, clearly with the intention of teasing our magnificent acquaintance.

“That depends altogether on how it turned out, doesn’t it? You can’t tell us whether the young man was worth saving or not.”

Orrington laughed contentedly. “No. That’s the missing conclusion, but I’m not sorry to have given him a show. Besides, what I did wasn’t such a noble sacrifice, after all. Having basked in your admiration for a moment, I can afford to tell you. I’m not an accomplished hypocrite, and I’d hate to begin at my age. Let me tell you what happened.”

I felt aggrieved. Had Orrington been working on our feelings for his private amusement merely? “You said there wasn’t any conclusion,” I growled.

“Don’t get huffy,” Orrington returned imperturbably. “The story hasn’t any ending, as I warned you. Only my part in it turned out rather amusingly. I hope I shouldn’t be fatuous ass enough to brag about the incident if there were anything in it that demanded bouquets. I suspect the bubble of noble actions often bursts just as mine did.”

“What do you mean?” asked Reynolds—reasonably enough, I thought.

“Only this,” Orrington went on. “It turned out that the people who had offered to let me do the articles were tremendously impressed by my turning them down. The letter I wrote them must have been a corker. Somehow or other they got the notion that I was a very busy man and a person of importance. They ought to have known better, of course, but they evidently adopted that silly idea. They talked about me to their friends and cracked me up as a coming man. The upshot of it was that I began to be tempted with most flattering offers of one sort and another—before long I had my choice of several things. My self-constituted backers were rather powerful in those days, so it was useful to be in their good books. I left my moribund magazine and got so prosperous that I began to grow fat at once. Serene obscurity has been my lot ever since; and I’ve never got rid of the fat.”

“That’s a happy ending,” I remarked lazily. “It’s very like a real conclusion. What more do you want?”

“Oh, for the sake of argument, I’d like to prove that I was right and that Reynolds’s theory is all wrong.”

“I’m exceedingly glad that it turned out so well for you,” said Reynolds unctuously. “Then the young man whom you assisted didn’t need to feel quite so much under obligation to you as we’ve been thinking?”

I was outraged. Reynolds was a great gun in literature, at least in the opinion of himself and a huge circle of readers. He was also a dozen years older than I. At the same time, I couldn’t allow him to disparage what Orrington had done, merely because Orrington made light of it.

“You will observe,” I said with some heat, “that the effect on Orrington was purely secondary and fortuitous. Orrington didn’t know he could possibly gain by it when he took the bread out of his own mouth to feed the young cur. I hope, for my part, that the fellow eventually starved to death or took to digging ditches.”

Reynolds sat up very straight. His black eyes snapped with anger. “He didn’t,” he burst out. “I happen to know him.”

“You know him!” I exclaimed, while Orrington goggled.

“Yes.” Reynolds had grown very red, but he looked defiant. “Since I’ve been attacked like this, I may as well tell you. Not that I think it’s anybody’s business but my own. Orrington didn’t suffer by what he did.”

“You don’t mean—” I began.

“I mean just what I say—no less and no more. I was the man in question, and I admit that I ought to have thanked Orrington for his kindness. I meant to, of course; but I set to work at once on those articles that have assumed such importance in our discussion, and I was very busy. I had to make them as good as I knew how. I assumed, naturally, that I had merely received a useful tip from a man who didn’t care for the job. I’ve always assumed that till this afternoon. I wanted the job badly, myself.”

“Oh, well!” Orrington put in soothingly. “It doesn’t matter, does it? I’ve explained that the incident really set me on my feet. You don’t owe me anything, Reynolds. If I’d been a complete pig and kept the chance for myself, I’d probably have been much worse off for it. You needed it much more than I did, evidently.”

To my surprise, Reynolds was not quieted by Orrington’s magnanimous speech. Instead, he jumped up in a passion and stood before us, clinching and unclinching his fists like a small boy before his first fight.

“That isn’t the point,” he said in a voice so loud that various groups of men scattered about the room looked toward us with amusement. “I admit that I was glad of the opportunity to do the articles, but I was by no means in such straits as you suppose. So much for the critical sense for which you have such a reputation!” He turned on Orrington with a sneer.

Orrington remained very calm. He seemed in no wise disturbed by the fury of Reynolds’s tirade, nor by his insufferable rudeness, but puffed at a cigarette two or three times before he replied. “It’s a poor thing, critical sense,” he murmured. “I’ve never been proud of what mine has done for me. But you must admit that I paid you a pretty compliment, Reynolds, in believing that your story was founded on real experience. I don’t see why you need mind my saying that it wasn’t much of a yarn. Nobody need be sensitive about something he did twenty years back.”

“I don’t care a hang what you thought about the story then, or what you think of it now,” Reynolds snapped. “You might, however, grant the existence of imagination. You needn’t attribute everything anybody writes to actual experience. I never went hungry.”

So that was where the shoe pinched! Reynolds insisted on being proud of his prosperity at all stages. I laughed. “You’ve missed something, then,” I put in. “The sensation, if not agreeable, is unique. Every man should feel it once, in a way. A couple of times I’ve run short of provisions, and I assure you the experience is like nothing else.”

“That’s different,” said Reynolds a little more quietly. “I’m not saying that I owe nothing to Orrington. I acknowledge that I do, and I admit that I ought to have acknowledged it twenty years ago. I was anxious at the time to get a start in the world of letters, and I was looking for an opening. Orrington’s suggestion gave me my first little opportunity; but it certainly didn’t save my life.”

“Then it was all imagination, after all,” Orrington said gently. “What a mistake I made!”

“Of course it was all imagined!” Reynolds protested, and he added naïvely: “I was living at home at the time, and I had a sufficient allowance from my father.”

A twinkle crept into Orrington’s usually expressionless eyes. “I must apologize to you, Reynolds, or perhaps to your father, for so mistaking the circumstances of your youth. You have, at all events, lived down the opprobrium of inherited wealth. You’ve supported yourself quite nicely ever since I’ve known you.”

“As I remarked earlier,” Reynolds went on pompously, but in better humor, “I have never thought it wise for young men to embark on the literary life without sufficient means to live in comfort until they can establish their reputations. In my own case I should never have undertaken to do so.”

His declaration of principle seemed to restore him to complete self-satisfaction, and it must have seemed to him the proper cue for exit. As he was already standing, he was in a position to shake hands with Orrington and me rather condescendingly; and he took himself off with the swagger of conscious invincibility. I think he bore us no malice.

Orrington looked at me and raised his eyebrows. “I told you I needed you to save my life,” he said. “I hadn’t any notion, though, that this kind of thing would happen. I’m sorry to have let you in for such a scene.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” I answered. “It has been rather amusing and—well—illuminating.”

Orrington chuckled. “The devil tempted me, and I didn’t resist him unduly. As a matter of fact, it has been quite as illuminating to me as to you. I’ve been wishing for a dozen or fifteen years to try out the experiment.”

“What experiment?” I was puzzled.

“Oh, putting it up to Reynolds, of course. I’ve wondered why he did it and why he didn’t do it and, moreover, how he did it.”

“If you got light on a complication like that, you did better than I did. Do you mind explaining?”

“Reynolds has explained sufficiently, hasn’t he? Of course I knew long ago that he faked his story, but—”

“Then you knew it was Reynolds?” I interrupted.

“Knew? Of course I knew. Later, of course, much later. I never inquired, as I told you, but I spotted him after he made his first big hit. The man who had hired him to do those articles bragged about it to me—said he’d given him his start, but allowed me some credit for establishing the connection. I blinked, but didn’t let on I hadn’t known that Reynolds and my supposedly starving young author were one and the same person. By that time, of course, everybody was fully aware that Reynolds had emerged from heavily gilded circles of dulness. I don’t know why I’ve never had it out with him before. I suppose I shouldn’t have sailed in to-day if he hadn’t been so snippy about the boy of whom I was telling you. I couldn’t stand that.”

“I’m afraid,” I ventured to say, “that it won’t do Reynolds any special good.”

Orrington rose ponderously from his chair and spread his hands in a fantastic gesture of disclaim. “Who am I,” he asked, “to teach ethics to a genius who is also a moralist—‘with perhaps a cosmic significance’? The devil tempted me, I tell you, and I fell, for the sake of a little fun and a little information. I’ve never known Reynolds’s side of the story. Lord, no, it won’t do him any good. All the same, it will take him a week to explain to himself all over again just why he acted with perfect propriety in not acknowledging my little boost. I dare say his book may be a few days later on account of it, and I shall have to nurse Speedwell through an attack of the fidgets. A dreadful life, mine! No wonder the business man is tired. You ought to thank God on your knees every night that you haven’t been sitting all day in a publisher’s office.”

He held out his hand very solemnly, and very solemnly waddled across the big room, nodding every now and then to acquaintances who smiled up at him as he passed.

IN MAULMAIN FEVER-WARD

By GEORGE GILBERT
Copyright, 1918, by The Story-Press Corporation.

Flood-time on Salwin River, Burma! Pouk trees and stic-lac in flower. By day the rush, the roar of water fretting at the knees of Kalgai Gorge, above which the Thoungyeen enters the main current. And the music of the elephants’ bells as they come along the track bound down or mayhap up to work in the teak forests. By night the languorous scent of the serai vines luring the myriad moths, the wail of the gibbons, the rustle of the bamboos chafing their feathery leaves together in the winds that just falter between rest and motion.

At Kalgai the traders pause in going up or down, over or across. From everywhere they come, and coming, stay to chaffer, to chat, cheat, scheme, love—aye and even slay! Why not? It’s life—raw life!

Take away the medicine. Give me rice curry and chicken and fish cooked with green bamboo tips and sourish-sweet pilou of river mussels. And then a whiff of bhang or black Malay tobacco that the gypsies of the sea smuggle in....

My name? Paul Brandon will do. My father was a Stepney coster. Mother? Oh, a half-caste Mandalay woman. Yes, they were married at the mission. He took her home. I was born in London. But I ran away; came East....

Don’t mind if I babble, ma’am. And forgive me if I pull at the sheets. Or if the sight of a white woman, old, patient, trying to be kind to me, makes me shy. When my head clears, I’m white; when the fever mist comes over my brain, I see things through my brown mother’s eyes.

Thanks for fixing the ice pack on my head. No, that mark on my forehead is not from an old bruise. A Karen-Laos woman put it there with her tattoo needles. It has a meaning. It is the Third Eye of Siva.

Thanks for pulling-to the shade. Those bamboo things the yellow and brown folk use are not shades. They are full of holes where the weaving is that holds them together. Why, you can see through them—see the most unbelievable things....

Oh, yes, the mark on my forehead. A girl put it there with her needles. Now that you touch it, it is sore. Well, so would your head be sore if a giant python had smashed his wedge-shaped head in death stroke against your wrinkled brow, executing the Curse of Siva.

How long have I been in Maulmain?... A week? Well, I won’t be here another. But it’s queer how a man will drift—to his own people.

Thanks for the little morphine pills. Yes, I know what they are. Give me a dozen, and they may take hold. A man who has smoked bhang, black Malay tobacco and opium, and who has drunk bino isn’t going to be hurt by sugar pills. They only wake me up, steady me.

Why didn’t I know Pra Oom Bwaht was a liar?...

――――

Karen town on Thoungyeen River! Temple bells chiming or booming through the mystic, potent dusk; mynah-birds scolding in the thy-tsi trees. Frogs croaking under the banyans’ knees in the mud. Women coming to worship in the temples—women with songs on their full red lips and burdens on their heads—and mighty little else on them. And the fat, lazy priests and the monks going about, begging bowls in hand, with their cheelahs to lead them as they beg their evening rice.

Thanks for the lime juice, ma’am. Let me talk. It eases me.

To Karen town on Thoungyeen River—Karen town with its Temple of Siva—I came long before the rains. This year? Mayhap. Last? What do the dead years matter now?

To Karen town I brought wire rods for anklet-making, cloths, mirrors, sweetmeats—an elephant’s load. Once there, I let my elephant driver go.

Three days of good trade I had, and my goods were about gone, turned into money and antique carved silver and gold work. At the close of the third day, as I sat in front of the zana, smoking, smoking, smoking, listening to the buzz of the women and children, Pra Oom Bwaht came.

He was tall for a Karen man of the hills, all of five foot two. The Karen plainsmen are taller. He sat a space beside me in silence—sure mark of a man of degree among such chatterers.

“Have you seen the temples of Karen?” he asked finally.

Lazily I looked him over. He was sturdy—a brave man, I thought. He had a cunning eye, a twisty mouth, and in his forehead’s middle a black mark showing harsh against his yellow skin.

“What’s that?” I asked him, touching the mark. He winced when I did it.

“Dread Bhairava,” he said, using the Brahman word for Siva, Queen of the Nagas. He was a snake-worshiper, then. Mighty little of these people or their talk or dialects I don’t know.

“Come with me, white trader?” he asked me. “I am Pra Oom Bwaht.”

Idly I went. So, after visiting the other temples, we came to the Temple of Siva, perched on its rocks, with the river running near and its little grounds well kept. It was the hour of evening worship. The worshipers, mostly women, were coming in with votive offerings.

But among them all there was a Laos girl, shapely as a roe deer, graceful, brown, with flashing black eyes and shining black hair neatly coiled on top of her pretty head, and with full red lips. As she passed, Oom Bwaht just nudged me—pointed. She turned off at a fork of the path, alone.

I glanced at Pra Oom Bwaht. His twisty mouth was wreathed in a smile.

“She lives at the end of that little path,” he tempted. “She is Nagy N’Yang.”

“Alone?”

“Alone.”

He nodded again and went away. I turned down the side path after the Laos girl....

There was a full moon that night. About the middle of the night we came up the path to the temple again, the Laos girl and I.

“Come,” she had said to me when I had asked her for my heart’s desire, “come to the temple, and I can prove it is folly.”

So we came. The temple door was open. The priests were gone—no one has to watch a Naga temple at night. The dread of Siva is enough to protect it.

A rift in the temple roof let in a shaft of white moonlight. It struck upon the image of Siva. The image was seated on a white ox, carved of some white stone. A sash around the image was made up of human heads; it had six arms, each covered with carved snakes that were so lifelike they seemed to writhe in the wavering light. In the middle of the god’s forehead was the mark of the third eye—the scar of Siva.

We went slowly down toward the image. Before it was a huge chest. Nagy N’Yang motioned me to sit on it. She sat beside me. Again I pleaded with her for my heart’s desire.

She pushed me away.

“You are afraid to be near me,” I mocked.

“Hush,” she pleaded. “I am afraid—of yielding to you.”

I moved to clasp her, my heart leaping at her confession. She smote her little hands sharply together. I heard a shuffling of softly shod feet in the passage behind the image.

Wat Na Yang, chief priest of the temple, stood before us with his yellow robes, his yellow skin, his hands calmly folded across his paunch. “What seek ye, children?” he asked.

“The way of love,” I laughed. I plunged my hand into my robe and felt the gold against my middle.

In the great chest on which we sat something awoke to life. I heard a stir, a rustle, a noise as of straining.

“Nagy speaks,” the priest warned.

I felt the Laos girl shudder by my side.

“What is it?” I asked. I stood up. A creeping horror came over me.

Nagy N’Yang sprang up as I did and flung back the lid of the great chest with a strength I had not expected. Out over her shoulder shot a long coil, then another. When she stood erect in the moon-glow, a great rock python was wrapped about her matchless form. The mark of Siva on her forehead gleamed against her ivory brow like an evil blotch, yet it did not take from her beauty, her alluring grace; nor did the immense bulk of the python bear her down.

“The great serpent knows his own,” whispered the yellow priest. He pointed with his fat forefinger. I saw the red tongue of the python play over the ivory bosom of the girl.

Yet I did not shudder. It seemed fitting. They were so in harmony with their surroundings.

The eyes of the python blazed in the moon-glow like rubies of the pigeon-blood hue, then like garnets, then like glow-worms; then they sank to a lower range of colors and finally to rest. He was asleep under her caresses. She patted his wedge-shaped head, soothing him. Ah, that it had been my head she thus fondled!

Suddenly Nagy N’Yang seized the great serpent just back of the head, uncoiled it from her with a free, quick succession of movements and cast it into the great chest again. Then, with a curious indrawing of the breath, as if relieved from a nerve strain, she sat down on the chest.

“Well have I seen,” I said to her. “But little do I understand.”

“I may not wed,” she said. “I am Siva’s.”

“I can kill the snake—”

The thing in the chest stirred its coils uneasily.

“Be silent!” commanded the fat priest. “Would you slay little N’Yang?”

I shuddered. A great bat came in through the rift that let in the moon-glow. In the trees over the temple a gibbon wailed in his sleep like a sick child—“Hoop-oi-oi-oi”!

Wat Na Yang extended his arm before him in a gesture of dismissal.

“Go!” he commanded. Then he placed a heavy hand on my shoulder.

Nagy N’Yang stood up, bowed her head and went down the path the moonbeams made, went into the shadow near the door, and out.

The fat priest sat down on the chest beside me. The mottled terror in the chest was still again.

“She was wed,” the priest began, “but on her wedding-day we claimed her. Her husband cannot claim her. But if some one unwittingly kills the great python, she will be free. It must be some one not a friend of the husband. No one will kill the python here. She is temple-bound for life—”

The bulk inside thrilled to life again. I heard the scales rustling as the great coils rose and fell.

“Go, you!” he ordered. “The goddess likes you not. Even if you take the girl, I can call her back or kill her by touching her flesh with a single scale from the Naga in the chest.”

He walked with me to the door. At the portal we stood for a space, silent.

The tiled entrance was flooded with moonlight. In the middle of it a cobra lay, stretched out, seemingly asleep—a small cobra, deadly none the less.

“You see,” the gross priest said, pointing to the deadly serpent there. “Nagy’s spirit watches you here, too. But the girl she did not harm.”

Filled with some spirit of Western bravado I could not stifle, I stepped close to the cobra and stamped on its head.

“That for all scaly serpents!” I jeered at him. I stood on the cobra’s head while it lashed out its life.

The fat yellow priest watched me, and I could see hatred and horror struggle for mastery on his face.

Coming close to me he began to talk in long, rolling sentences, of which I here and there caught a word. But I caught the sense of what he was saying.

Oh, yes—the fat priest. It was there, in front of the temple, that he put on me, in Sanskrit, the Curse of Siva, ending:

“With gurgling drops of blood, that plenteous stream
From throats quickly cut by us—”

I laughed at him, threw a yellow coin at his face, kicked the dead cobra into the door of the temple—and went down the path toward the Laos girl’s hut.

At the hut door she sat, silent, wonderful.

“Come!” I commanded.

“Where?” she asked.

“To Kalgai town by Salwin River,” I answered. I took her in my arms.

Yes, I took her! Why not? She was mine, wasn’t she? Yes, I took her! Not down the Thoungyeen River or the road along it. Why? We feared pursuit. Five miles below Karen a little hill stream comes to the Thoungyeen River. I never heard its name. We went up that to its springs and then along to the Hlineboay Chuang.

We traveled slowly, afoot, on cattle-back, on elephant-back—as the hill-folk could take us, or as we cared to go. Nagy N’Yang at first was moody, but as we left her own village far behind and got among the greater hills, she was gayer and gayer. I think when we came to Shoaygoon Plains she was happy. I was. It was in Shoaygoon zana that I let her tattoo my forehead with the mark of Siva, to please her and quiet her superstitious fears. It was wrong, yes, for all-whites; but for me, with a brown mother? Mayhap not....

And so we came to Kalgai in Kalgai Gorge, and the rains were not yet come.

We were early. The traders’ huts were not filled. Only a few were taken. A Eurasian here, a Russian there, a Tibetan there, and yonder a Chinese.

So I had my choice of the best places and picked the best house in the gorge—on the rock spit that juts into the gorge’s biggest bend over the whirlpool.

The house we took was of teak beams and bamboo. For a few gold coins I had its use, entire, with its mats, pots, kettles.

There was a little shilly-shallying of trade, which I did not get into. Traders came up and down and across. I didn’t care for traffic just then.

Nagy N’Yang was happy, she told me. I believed it. She went about her little household tasks neatly.

“After the big rains,” I told her, “we two take boat for Maulmain and beyond.” I was due for a trip up past Rangoon for temple brasses and carved ivory. The air was heavy with the promise of the first of the rains.

“Where you go, I go,” she laughed, stuffing my mouth with rice and fish.

She cuddled closer to me on the eating mat we had spread out.

A shadow fell across the open doorway. She screamed.

It was Pra Oom Bwaht, who smiled down on us with his twisty smile.

“Welcome,” I said.

He came in boldly and sat down.

“You went quickly from Karen,” he said simply.

I could feel my Laos girl wince as she leaned against me. I clutched the dagger inside my robe.

Pra Oom Bwaht smiled his twisty smile.

“How come you here?” I demanded.

“Why should I not?” he asked. “Especially to see my sister—” He pointed to Nagy N’Yang.

She sighed and laughed a little nervous laugh.

“I did not know,” I said, “that she was your sister. You are welcome to our poor house.”

Pra Oom Bwaht smiled again, got up and stalked out. As he went, the first patter of the rains came, beating up the dust in the space before the door for a few seconds, then laying it all in a puddle of mud again as a great dash of fury came into the storm. But it was only the first baby rain, not enough to make Kalgai whirlpool talk out loud.

I turned to Nagy. She was staring out into the storm.

“I didn’t know he was your brother,” I said to her.

“All Laos are brother and sister,” she replied.

Well, I’ve found it best to keep out of native feuds and family jangles. “Some old village quarrel back of it,” I thought.

――――

All night it rained, and in the morning the river was talking to the cliffs in a louder voice. And the water was up and coming. Bits of drift were floating.

Among the traders I found Pra Oom Bwaht settled in a little hut off by himself. He had scant store of Karen cloths, Laos baskets, some hammered brass. He was sitting on a big box, and it was covered with a mat woven of tree-cotton fiber. He arose to meet me and came to the door.

“Let us chat here,” he said. “I like the sun better than the shade.”

It was queer to deny me a seat beside him, I thought; but I let it pass. I was not paying much attention to details then.

So we sat in the doorway and watched the rain and heard the river talking to Kalgai Gorge. Trade was slack and would be until the greater rains came bearing boats and rafts from above and over and beyond, from up the river and the little rivers coming into it.

I could make nothing of Pra Oom Bwaht, I say. I left him and went out to chaffer a bit.

“Who knows the Karen fool?” Ali Beg, just down from Szechuan after trading rifles to Chinese Mohammedans for opium, demanded of me from the door of his own place.

“Why?” I asked.

“He trades like a fool, letting a rupee’s worth go for a pice.”

“Let him,” I laughed, “so long as he keeps away from me.”

“And yours?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“Come in and drink of tea with me,” he invited.

So I went in and we sat eye to eye, face to face, across his little teakwood table, each squatting on his heels, and drank tea and talked of many things.

“Now that we have said all the useless things, tell me what is at the bottom of thy heart,” Ali demanded. Up there the important things are kept for the dessert of the talk.

He was an old friend, with his coal-black eyes, great hairy arms and rippling black beard.

“Thus it was, heart of my soul,” I said, laying hold of a lock of his beard up under his green turban, in token of entire truth-telling. “Thus it was”—and I tugged at the lock of beard. So I told him the tale, from the time of my going to Karen until the time of my coming to Kalgai town and the arrival of Pra Oom Bwaht.

He sat a long time in silence.

Then he reached into his robe and drew out a fine dagger of Sikh smithy work, hammered, figured on the blade, keen, heavy of hilt; in the tip of the handle a ball of polished steel, hollow and filled with mercury. It was a throwing knife.

“Take this,” Ali urged. “I taught thee how to cast it at a foe years ago when we first went up the great river together. I go from here to-night by boats toward Maulmain. It will fall out with thee as it will fall out.”

I took the dagger because it was Ali’s gift, not because I was afraid. Why should I fear anything that walked on two legs or four? Even though it wore a tail or horns?

At nightfall I went back to my house on the rock spit. The stream was roaring now—like a baby lion.

Nagy N’Yang was sitting in the open doorway as I came up the path. I saw she had her chin in her hand and was thinking deeply.

“I saw him,” I made answer to the question in her eyes.

“Did he receive you well?”

“Except that he did not have me to sit beside him on his big trader’s box in his hut, but took me to the doorway to talk. It was not friendly.”

“Aha!” Just like that—soft, thoughtful.

“But what do I care for him, with his Karen cloths or hammered brass?” I chattered at her. “Come to me, Sweet One of a Thousand Delights.”

――――

So the days and the evenings and nights went by, and the greater rains followed the lesser. The river crept up and up and up, roaring now to the cliffs, like old lions.

Then came a day when on going home at eve I stooped at the river’s brim near the house we had on the rock spit, and felt of the water. It was chilled. “The flood is full,” I thought. I had felt the snow-chill from the Tibetan Himalayas in hoary Salwin’s yellow flood. When that comes, the utmost sources of the world have been tapped for flood water.

“The river will begin to fall to-morrow,” I told Nagy N’Yang when I came into the place. “We will go soon after, when the big trading is over.”

She smiled at me. Then she patted with her soft hand the place where she had tattooed on my brow the mark of the third eye of Siva. It was healed.

“I care not where we go, or if we go or stay, so long as you are with me,” she whispered, close against my side.

After the evening meal we sat in the doorway and heard the river talking. Often the big whirlpool sighed or moaned.

“It will almost cover our rock spit,” I said. I knew by the lift of it by day and the noise of it by night that the flood was a mighty one and would spend its chief force that night.

She nodded and nestled closer to me.

Out of the shade before us a greater shade silently loomed.

“I greet you, my sister and brother,” Pra Oom Bwaht said, standing before us.

Nagy N’Yang shivered against my side. I felt the dagger under my robe.

A single beam from our brazier inside struck across his twisty face. He stretched out his hand toward Nagy N’Yang.

“A gift for my sister,” he said.

She half reached her hand out, took it back, reached again and took it back; then, as if impelled by a force too strong to resist, reached again. Into her palm dropped something that shone for a tiny space in the yellow gleam of the brazier’s ray. She shut her hand—caught it to her breast. I thought it was a tiny golden bangle—then.

“Come,” said Pra Oom Bwaht. “Let us walk apart for a moment. I have family matters to talk over. Your husband will permit.”

I wanted her to protest, but she did not. She got up calmly and went with him out onto the rock spit. I was between them and the mainland. They could not go away by river. No harm would come to her, it seemed. “Some tribal custom to be attended to,” I thought. It is best not to be too curious about such matters up among the hills of Burma and Siam, ma’am. If you are, your wife suffers, not you.

For a long time I could hear them talking out there in the dark, with the river talking in between whiles. Once I heard a sound like a great sigh or sobbing moan. “The whirlpool at the river’s bed,” I thought, “taking in a great tree or raft.”

Soon after that the back mat of the house lifted, and I thought they had come in by that way. I sat, peering into the gloom inside, ready to greet them, when something crashed on to the back of my head and I forgot for a time.

I came back to memory in a daze and feeling much pain in my head. The brazier flared beside me. Bending over me was Pra Oom Bwaht, with a knife in his hand.

“Son of a pig!” he said.

“Where is Nagy N’Yang?” I asked.

He smiled at me—his cursed twisty smile.

“On the river’s brink she waits, bound to a great teak log lodged at the end of the spit,” he cried hoarsely. “When the flood comes to its full, she will float away—”

I spat full into his face. I thought it would make him slay me.

He wiped the spittle from his chops calmly. When an Oriental takes an insult calmly, beware! There is more to come.

“She was my wife,” he said, as if that explained everything.

“Was or is, it makes no difference to me,” I stormed. “She is mine now.”

“She is Siva’s,” he jeered. “Think you that as she swirls down into the whirlpool at the river’s bend the great river python, mother of all the pythons, will not take her? Placed I the yellow scale of Nagy in her hand for naught?”

I shuddered. The legend of the great river python at Kalgai Gorge had been told to me oft. It slept in the great pool where the whirlpool formed in flood-time and only came out for prey when the depths were stirred by a monstrous flood such as this one, the natives said.

“Why did you tell me she was your sister?” I demanded.

“We made it up, she and I. She was wedded, as the priest told you, but to me. I was listening in the bamboos when you planned your trip here from Karen that night after the priest cursed you from the door of Siva’s temple. I heard him curse you and saw you turn down the path to our hut. If you had slain the python in the temple, without me helping, she would have been freed. We planned that you should make love, a little. Enough so you would kill the great snake and win her from it; I to come after and take her. But you won her whole heart, curse you—”

Up went his hand to slay. While he had raved and chattered at me, my head had been clearing. As he stiffened for the death stroke, I reached for the down-coming hand and caught his wrist—the wrist whose sinewy muscles were driving the knife home. I held his arm back. He clutched for my throat with his other hand. We strove, and I rolled him and came on top. Up I surged, dragging him with me. With one awful thrust I sent him crashing against the wall.

He had barely come to rest against the teak beams before his hand went up and I dodged—just as his knife whizzed past my ear. Plucking the great dagger of Ali Beg from my bosom, I cast it, in the manner of the Inner Mongolian Mohammedans. The great blade plunged forward. I had pinned him to the wall as a butterfly collector pins a specimen to a card in his collecting box.

I stepped forward to get my dagger. Pra Oom Bwaht, his throat full of blood, his heart seared with black hatred, glared at me.

“The Curse of Siva remain on you and yours....”

So he died.

Plucking my dagger from him, I kicked over the glowing brazier and raced for the rock spit’s end as he crashed down—mere battered clay.

As I came to it, the last of the rain for the night whipped my face, reviving me. The moon peeped forth. There was no teak log there!

Another rift in the clouds made plain my error. The flood was over all former flood-marks. The teak log, as the moon’s second peep showed, was on the point of rocks, but they were now in the stream, many paces from the present shore-line. The log, caught on the jagged stones, hung and swayed. It was just on the point of going out. I could see a dark mass, midway of the log. “It is Nagy N’Yang,” I thought. The hut was blazing now from the brazier’s scattered coals, giving me plenty of light.

I glanced about the rock spit. A few paces to the right something black showed in the gloom. I went to it quickly, hoping to find a boat. It was a great chest. Feeling for the key or handle, I clutched a catch. I turned it, threw up the lid, just as the moon came forth.

Out of the depths of the box reared a great python, hissing horribly. I recoiled in terror. The box, as I saw in the moon-glow, was the snake box of Karen temple, the one in which Nagy N’Yang’s serpent had been kept.

Pra Oom Bwaht had had it carried to Kalgai Gorge and also to our rock spit that night to suit some of his own black schemes of vengeance. His bearers had carried the box unwittingly. While I trembled, the great snake glided to the river’s brink and disappeared. I now had the big chest and thought to use it as a rough boat to rescue my love.

Then I turned to view the teak log again. I tugged at the chest. It was too heavy for me. Another fitful rift of moonlight came, and I saw the giant teak log sway. Without waiting for more ill fortune, I plunged into the river and swam through the swirling eddies for the log.

I just made it. But at the touch of my numbed finger on its root ends, it started. The mere touch was enough to set it adrift. I clutched, caught a root fiber, held, edged along the rootlet till I had a better hold, drew myself up on to the root end of the huge log—and then heard the sobbing moan of Kalgai whirlpool.

Already we were at the pool’s edge. The log began to whirl and sway. I made a prayer for my Laos girl, that she might be unconscious during the plunge below. If she were, she would live, as she would not be breathing. As for me, I felt I could hold my breath the two minutes necessary. I often had seen the logs go down the suck-hole and come up. The average time was two minutes for that. What happened to them under the pool I had no means of knowing. I hoped to be able to cling to the log. The girl was bound fast.... The log up-ended and went down!

We swirled through great depths, and often I felt us hit against rocks and other logs in the lower silences. At the pit’s bottom there seemed no sound, but on the way down and up there was a great roaring. It seemed that my lungs would burst. But I kept my breath, having, as you see, great lung space. We began to rise, and as I felt it, something slowed us down. I felt weak and was about to drop off when something bound me to the great log, pressing me tightly against the mass of roots. So we shot into the moonlight.

I was wrapped in the folds of the mighty python, who had thrown a coil about the tree-trunk in the lowest depths of the pool! That immense weight it was that had kept us from emerging sooner. We had come up below the maelstrom upon emerging.

My right arm was free. I reached my belt with it and found my dagger there. In the moonlight, over the coils of the monster, I could see the ivory-white face of my Laos girl as she lay out on the huge log like a crushed lily. I could not tell if she still lived or had died.

The motion of reaching for my dagger aroused the python. It thrust its head back toward my face, questing with its tongue, that queer organ with which it sees in the dark. I felt the darting, forked terror on my dripping features. The python threw back its coil a bit and thrust at my forehead with its wedge-shaped head, using the python’s death stroke. I had still sense enough to draw my head to one side, but not before the hornlike, rounded head-front had dazed me with a glancing blow on the brow, where the mark of Siva had been tattooed by Nagy N’Yang.

Again I saw the beast draw back its head for a surer stroke. As it struck, I held the dagger true in front of its oncoming head. The force of the blow, not my strength, caused the blade of the dagger to sink into the immense, hard, tense neck-muscles, through and through. The snake, furious with pain, stricken to death, in one awful convulsive struggle cast itself into the raging Salwin, taking the dagger of Ali Beg with it. Why it did not take me down in its coils, I know not....

Yes, I am sweating now. I feel better. My head is clearer....

I wish Nagy N’Yang were here to lay her cool, ivory-white hand on my forehead where the python’s wedge-shaped head crashed against mine—on the black mark of Siva....

But my fever is breaking.

Yes, I feel easier, much easier....

Yes, that is all of my story....

What? Ali Beg found us together on a giant teak log at the river’s bend at Maung Haut, where he had stopped to trade? And, tightly clasped in Nagy’s hand was something strange? Show it me!

It is the belly scale of a great river python.

Burn it! Hold the night taper flame to it! Ah, that ends the fat priest’s evil spell!

Where is Ali Beg? Here! And Nagy? Here, too!!

Wheel our cots together, ma’am!

Only let me clasp her hand again. Thanks; it is warm; she is alive!

No; we won’t go up-country again. Why? Because when our first child comes, I want it born outside—out from under the shadow of the dread Curse of Siva!

THE FATHER’S HAND

By G. HUMPHREY
From The Bookman
Copyright, 1918, by Dodd, Mead, and Company.
Copyright, 1919, by George Humphrey.

The Dean and I were sitting after dinner discussing the shortage of students at Oxford since the war began.

“You have no idea,” he was saying, “how strange it is to lecture to a class of four or five when one has been accustomed to forty or fifty. This morning, for instance....”

“Well, Dean,” I put in, “after the war there will be no lectures on Latin poetry. The times are changing.”

The old man threw back his head, and his silvery beard waved in the candle-light.

“Listen,” he began, “you remember the passage where a father was trying to carve a picture of his son’s death?”

Bis patriae manus cecidere,” I quoted. “Twice the hands of the father fell. Icarus, was it not, for whom his father had made wings, and who flew too near the sun and fell down to earth?”

He nodded. “Bis patriae manus cecidere—twice the father’s hands fell to his sides. In our village in the first few months of the war, there came an old man, a refugee from Alsace-Lorraine. By profession, he was a monument carver, and out of the exercise of his craft he had acquired a considerable familiarity with what one might call Phœnix-Latin, the kind that is only called into being when ‘Our Esteemed Fellow-Townsman’ dies. He had all the pedant’s love for the language. Often he would exchange tags with me when I met him in the street.

“‘Quomodo es? How are you,’ he would laugh in the tiny general store, to the mystification of the little spectacled proprietress.

“‘Bene, domine,’ was my grave answer,—‘Very well, sir.’

“Soon he became very popular in the village, though he was regarded as something of a crank. It appeared that he was of the old days when Alsace-Lorraine belonged to the French. Of his private affairs we could learn nothing, except that he had married young and that his wife had died at the birth of a son. When he was questioned about his early life, he would affect not to understand—‘Je ne comprend pas, m’sieu’—this and a shrug of the shoulders was all that we could get out of him.

“Well, the old fellow prided himself on his excellent eyesight, and in the fairly frequent air raids, he refused to go into shelter, preferring instead to remain lying down on the hill outside the village, where he would watch the hostile aeroplane pursued by our guns until it became a speck in the distance toward London. Then he would trudge back again.

“‘The pigs are gone,’ he would reassure us in our cellars, shaking his fist at the sky. ‘Ah the cochons! Sus Germanicus!’ and we would crawl out again into God’s air, pleased to see him and knowing that there was no longer any danger even if the ‘all clear’ signal had not yet sounded. For he was always right. He knew from bitter experience.

“One day I saw him in conference with the little knot of sailors that presided over our anti-aircraft defences. He was pointing to the sky rather excitedly and telling them in his broken English something about aeroplanes and ‘it is necessaire that they pass so,’ at the same time indicating a track of sky.

“‘What is it?’ I asked the petty officer.

“‘He’s got an idea for bringing down the Germans,’ explained the man, twitching his thumb rather contemptuously toward my old friend. ‘He says they always pass over that point above the headland before they turn to London. I never noticed it myself, but there may be something in it. I’ll tell the captain.’

“‘En hostes,’ cried the old man in Latin to me, pointing to the place. ‘Behold the enemy. It is quite necessaire that he pass by here what you call the landmark, is it not? The German precision, toujours the same.’

“I laughed and took him by the arm, down to the village, marvelling at the intense hatred with which he spat out the words. ‘The German pigs,’ he muttered as we went along. ‘They have my country.’

“Soon after there came another raid. We heard the gunfire, without paying much attention to it, so customary had it become. When the safety siren was heard, we all went back to our occupations as usual. I wondered why the old fellow had not appeared, and began to grow anxious, thinking he might have been killed. I was just setting out to look for him when I caught sight of him running toward me over a ploughed field, stopping every other moment to pick up his battered black hat, and looking, even at a quarter of a mile, as if he was full of news of some kind. When he came within a hundred yards or so, still running, he shouted something at me, raising his hands to the sky and then pointing to the earth.

“‘Fuit Ilium,’ I heard. ‘Troy is fallen. The German is destroyed. They have him shot, so,’ and he brought his arm from above his head to the ground in a magnificently dramatic sweep.

“‘What is it?’ I asked as I reached him.

“Perspiring and mopping his face with the tricolor handkerchief that some would-be wag had given him, he told his tale. The gunners had taken his advice, and fired at the spot he told them, and a German aeroplane had actually been brought down.

“That week the village was jubilant, and my old friend found himself suddenly a hero. The local papers brought out a long account of the affair, with a leader about the ‘victim of German autocracy, whom we are proud to shelter in our midst. With the courage that we know so well in our brave allies, he stayed out unprotected and discerned the weak spot in the foe’s armor. We are proud of our guest.’ It was, indeed, a proud time for our refugee.

“The naval authorities took over charge of the wrecked aeroplane, and the remains of the fallen aviator were gathered together to be buried the following week in the village cemetery. We were a simple, kind-hearted community, far away in the country, and many of the villagers had themselves sons fighting at the front. So we decided that the village should erect a simple tombstone over the fallen enemy—the resolution being made, I suspect, chiefly as the result of a sermon of the worthy pastor, who pointed out that the dead man was more sinned against than sinning, that he was the victim of the German system, and that we ought not to think bitterly of a fallen foe who died at what he conceived to be his duty.

“The next question was as to the inscription. The old Frenchman brought out a book, which he explained was the ‘Vade mecum for cutters of tombs.’ From it he produced a marvellous quotation, which he said came from Seneca. He was listened to now with respect, but I could see that the idea was not popular. No one liked to oppose him, until I finally remarked that something simpler would perhaps be better, and suggested, ‘Here lies a fallen German,’ with the date. The old refugee was obviously very reluctant to give up his wonderful epitaph, but my reading was clearly the favorite, and it was adopted in the end. The obvious man to do the carving was the old stonecutter who had brought down the aeroplane. He was given the commission.

“The burial took place, and the village went back to its normal routine, the old man being supposed to be working on the inscription.

“It was about the time of the discussion of the epitaph that the relics from the recent raid were exposed for view in the little museum at the school. There was no address found on the body, and almost the only personal effect that had survived the terrible fall was a photograph of a woman, young and fair-haired, with the inscription, ‘Meine Mutter,’ which I translated to the admiring villagers as meaning, ‘My Mother.’ Nothing else. I went to tell the old Frenchman and ask him if he had seen the curiosities. I found him sitting in the garden of the cottage where he lived, in the little shed he called his workshop, where the tombstone had been brought. To my surprise, he was lying on the ground, and beside his open hand lay a chisel.

“‘What is it?’ I asked him.

“He started up when he saw me. ‘I was tired,’ he answered confusedly. ‘Fatigatus opere, weary with labor. N’est-ce-pas?’ and his poor old face relapsed into a sad attempt at a smile.

“‘But you have not begun to labor,’ I answered, trying to joke away an impending feeling of tragedy that I but dimly understood. ‘Why do you not do the work?’

“‘Ah, I cannot. My hands are old, and I can no more.’

“Then I saw that his hands were shaking, and I grew alarmed. I could see that the strain of the last few days was telling on him. He seemed years older. So I gently helped him up and took him indoors, where the good woman of the house put him to bed. I asked her how long he had been sick, and she told me that he had gone out that afternoon, looking well, and intending to buy a chisel and visit the little museum. She had not seen him again till I brought him in from the garden.

“From that time the poor old man seemed to grow feebler and feebler, and we began to think that his last joke had been cracked and all his troubles ended. He seemed to lose all wish to live, lying on his bed without a word, and only taking food when it was almost forced down his throat. I frequently visited him and tried to console him. For the one thing that now troubled him was that he would not be able to execute his commission before he died. ‘Never have I promised and not perform,’ he would say. ‘Oh, for one day of my pristini roboris—my youthful strength.’

“I comforted him and told him, against my belief, that he would be out cutting the inscription next spring. But he shook his head sorrowfully, and at each visit he seemed to grow weaker and weaker. The climax came quite suddenly. Summer had turned to fall, and I was taking my usual walk by the light of the harvest moon, passing through the old churchyard, where the German had been buried and the cross had now been put, uncarved. For we boasted no other stonecutter in the village. I went up to look at it, and by the moonlight I caught sight of the figure of a man. Bending down, I saw my old friend, dead, by the work he had promised. It was not till the next day that they found his chisel by the tombstone, and about a dozen letters which he had chiselled. The villagers thought that the old man had gone out of his mind, for the letters on the stone were not the beginning of the epitaph we had agreed on. They think so yet. For I never told them, and I am the only man who can read what is written on the stone.”

Here the Dean was silent a moment or so.

“Well, what had he carved?” I asked.

Bis patriae m ... Twice the hand of the father failed. The dead man was his son.”

THE VISIT OF THE MASTER

By ARTHUR JOHNSON
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Arthur Johnson.

“Have you ever read any of Marian Haviland Norton?”

I didn’t expect, when I put the question, to fall right into a mine of information. It was out of my line, moreover, to talk about authors and books at dinner. But the topic had popped inconsequently into my head, and there was certainly something about the quiet, sly-looking Jane-Austenish woman at my left that inspired confidence.

“I’m distinctly curious about her,” I added. “She’s sprung up so soon, so authoritatively. And she’s so new.”

Up to this point my companion had only listened more quietly, more slyly, than ever; but her eyes now opened wide, her eyebrows went whimsically high, and she turned to me with a twinkling smile.

New? You really think so?”

She gave me no time, either, to correct my statement.

“I didn’t suppose any one still thought that—except, possibly— Have you ever read Hurrell Oaks?”

I nodded gropingly.

“Miss Haviland was a teacher of mine at Newfair when it happened. That was eight, ten years ago. D’you see?”

“I don’t ‘see’ anything.”

“But you do Hurrell Oaks—you’re, you’re really all ‘for’ him, I mean? So you’d adore it. It’s pathetic, too. Though it is funny!” she cried, avid to tell me more about whatever “it” was.

But the inevitable shift in table talk veered us apart at that moment; and it wasn’t until after the long meal was over that we came together again, and could choose a quiet corner away from interruptions.

“Here goes, now,” she began, “if you’re ready?”

――――

Miss Haviland must have been about thirty when I first saw her. She was tall, handsome in an angular way. Her face was large, her features regular, though somewhat heavy, her coloring brilliant, and her dark hair grayish even then. She was of a stocky leanness, a ruggedness indigenous to northern New England—and perhaps she did “come” from New England; wanderers from those climes can flourish so prodigiously, you know—which only made her pretentious garb and manner the more conspicuous.

To see her at those college parties! She wore black evening-gowns, and a string—a “rope,” I think you could call it—of imitation pearls, and carried a fan always, and a loose wrap with some bright lining, and fur on the neck and sleeves, which she’d just throw, as if carelessly, over her shoulders. We used irreverently to say that she had “corrupted” (one of her favorite words) the premise of the old motto, “When you’re in Rome” to “Whether or not you’re in Rome,” so did she insist on being—or trying to be—incongruously grande dame and not “of” the milieu she was privileged to adorn. Without ever letting herself mix with those gatherings really, she’d show her condescension by choosing a place in the most mixing group, and there carry out her aloofness by just smiling and peering reservedly at—at the way a man set a glass of water upon the table, for instance, as if that constituted enough to judge him by; as if he’d laid his soul, also, sufficiently bare to her in the process. And she must have been, as you’ve seen, a resourceful observer; she had a gift for reacting from people; though how much depended upon the people and what they did and said, and how much upon what she unconsciously—or consciously—adapted from Hurrell Oaks while she gauged them, is a question. The result at least fits the needs of a gaping public. But I’m drifting.

All this—in fact, everything about her—took George Norton by storm when he turned up, fresh from a freshwater university farther west, to fill the Slocum professorship. He found in her the splendor that he’d been stranded away from in “real life,” and had never had time or imagination to find in books. She represented great, glorious things beyond his ken—civilization, culture, society, foreign lands across the sea for which his appetite had been whetted by the holiday tour he took to Bermuda after getting his A.B. with highest honors in history and government. He was about forty or so, and lived alone with his mother.

Rumor had it (and it may have been well founded, it’s so difficult to tell what goes on in the minds of those small, meek men), that he had always wanted to discover an “Egeria-like woman,” and that, once he stepped into Mrs. Braxton’s drawing-room and saw—and heard—Miss Haviland discoursing on “The Overtones in Swinburne’s Prose,” his wildest hope was realized. Be that as it may, his recognition must have been overpowering to have won her attention so easily; for her standards wouldn’t have permitted her, by any stretch of imagination, to think of him as an Egeria’s man—however she may have felt she merited one.

But she wasn’t, with her looks and distinction and learning, the sort to attract men readily. She was too self-sufficient and flagrant, to begin with. She left no medium of approach suggested. She offered no tender, winning moments. Her aspect for men, as well as for women, implied that she thought she knew their ways and methods better than they did.... It shows as a weakness in her stories, I think—the temerity with which she assumes the masculine role, the possible hollowness of her assumptions not once daunting her. Remember the one that begins, “I had just peeked into the bar of the Savoy Hotel”? I could never, when I read it, think of anything except just how Marian Haviland herself would look, in a black evening gown and her other regalia, “peeking”—as she no doubt longed to do. But I’m drifting again.... Her favor might have fired the heart of a grand seigneur, I don’t know; to the men of Newfair it was too much like a corrective. George Norton, I guess, was the only one who ever craved it. He courted the slavedom of learning to be her foremost satellite.

His courting went on at all the assemblages. The moment he entered a room, you could see her drawing him like a magnet; and him drawn, atom-like, with his little round beard and swallow-tail coat and parsonish white cravat, to wherever she ensconced herself. No sooner would he get near than she’d address a remark almost lavishly to somebody on the other side, and not deign to notice until the topic had been well developed, and then she would only frown distantly and say:

“Mr. Norton, how are you this evening?”

But he would bob, and smirk consciously, up and down on his toes, and slap one hand against the other in an appreciative manner; undismayed if she looked away to talk quite exclusively to somebody else for another five minutes, just perhaps glancing fugitively over at him again to suggest:

“It’s too bad you must stand, Mr. Norton.” Or, when another pause came, “Can’t you find a chair?”

But you could see her still holding him fast behind her while she finished her own chat, and before she had leisure to release him at last with some cue like:

“That chair, perhaps, over there—no, there, Mr. Norton.”

Nice little man. He would fetch the very one. He would even keep it suspended in the air until she pointed out the exact spot and, with eyes and eyebrows tense, nodded approval of her scheme—asking him, however, after he was seated, to stand a moment, so she could move her own chair a bit farther to the right, away from the person whose foot had been planted, as she all the time knew, upon a rung of it.

He would yearn up to her presently and murmur, “A beautiful room, don’t you think, Miss Haviland?”

At which she would wince, and whisper down in his ear; and he wag his head and roll his eyes surreptitiously, sure of not appearing to observe any details she was kind enough to instruct him on. He would smile gratefully, proudly, after it was over, as if her words had put them into a state of blissful communion.

I remember well the day I met them together when she told me Hurrell Oaks was coming to Newfair. I can see her now as she sauntered across the campus, in slow, longish strides, and the would-be graceful little spring she gave when her feet touched the ground, and her head set conveniently forward on her shoulders. She looked at me, and then smiled as if to let me know that it wasn’t her fault if she had to take me all in so at a glance. Why, in a glance like that she’d stare you up and down. If your hat was right, she’d go on toward your feet, and if your shoe-lacings were tied criss-cross instead of straight, it meant something quite deplorable. And if she wasn’t fortunate enough to meet you or anybody else on the way, she doubtless scrutinized the sky and trees and grass with the same connoisseurship. I actually believe she had ideas on how birds ought to fly, and compared the way they flew at Ravenna with the way they flew at Newfair.

That was autumn of my senior year. Miss Haviland’s first book had been published by then, and acclaimed by the critics. The stories, as they appeared one by one in the magazines, had each in turn thrown Newfair into a panic of surprise and admiration.

Nobody ever knew, you see, until they began, what Miss Haviland did during the long periods she shut herself up in that little apartment of hers in the New Gainsborough. If, as you say, she seemed to burst so suddenly, so authoritatively, into print for you, think what it must have meant for us when we saw such dexterity and finish unfurled all at once in the pages of the Standard. Unbeknownst she had been working and writing and waiting for years, with an indefatigable and indomitable and clear-sighted vision of becoming an author. It was her aim, people have told me since, from the time she was a girl.

She had been to Harvard, summers, and taken all the courses which the vacation curriculum afforded—unnoticed, unapplauded, it is said, by her instructors. She had traveled—not so widely, either, but cleverly, eclectically, domineeringly, with her sole end in view. After five minutes with only—say—a timetable, acquired, let us suppose, at Cook’s, Topica, she could as showily allude to any express de luxe there mentioned—be it for Tonkin or Salamanca—as the most confirmed passenger ever upon it. She had mastered French and Italian. And she had—first and last and betweenwhiles—read Hurrell Oaks. I venture to say there wasn’t a vowel—or consonant, for that matter—of the seventy-odd volumes she hadn’t persistently, enamouredly, and enviously devoured.

At Newfair, people had by this time, of course, compared her “work” with the “works” of Hurrell Oaks; but you know how few people have the patience or the taste to “take him in”? And the result of comparisons almost invariably was that Marian Haviland was better. She had assimilated some of the psychology, much of the method, and a little of the charm; and had crossed all her T’s and dotted her I’s, and revised and simplified the style, as one person put it, for “the use of schools”; and brought what Hurrell Oaks called “the base rattle of the foreground” fully into play.

Instead of being accused of having got so much from him, she was credited, one thought, with having given him a good deal. You might have guessed, to hear people at Newfair talk, that she was partly responsible for the ovations being tendered him over the country during the season of his return—the first time in fifteen years—to his native land.

“Mrs. ——,” Miss Haviland explained, mentioning a well-known metropolitan name, “has written me” (of course she would be the one literary fact at Newfair to write to on such matters) “to ask if we can possibly do with Mr. Oaks overnight.”

I gaped under my handkerchief at the fluency of her “do.”

“But I don’t just know how,” she went on, “we could make him comfortable. Mrs. Edgerton won’t be well in time. And he mustn’t stay at the Greens’.” She waxed indignant at the very possibility. “In her guest-room, my dear? With those Honiton laces, and that scorbutic carpet, and the whirligig pattern on the walls—and the windows giving on the parti-colored slate roof of the gymnasium?”

I tried, in spite of myself, to think commensurately.

“And Mrs. Kneeland’s waitress wears ear-rings!... No. Now I’ve been thinking—don’t hurry along so, George. You never keep in line! It spoils the pleasure of walking when one constantly outsteps you like that.”

“Pardon,” said George, and fell back.

Miss Haviland winced and shifted her maroon parasol to the shoulder on his side, and smiled attentively at me to sweeten the interval, and continued:

“Now I, if you’re interested to hear—”

I was very interested, and told her so. It always piqued my curiosity, moreover, to think why Miss Haviland picked me out—young as I was—for such confidences. I believe it was mostly because I always stared at her so; which she mistook, characteristically, for sheer flattery.

Even as she spoke, I was remarking to myself the frilled languor of her dress, and her firm rather large-boned throat, and the moisture—for it was hot—under the imitation pearls, and the competent grip of her hand on the long onyx handle of her parasol.

She stopped short of a sudden. George took a few steps ahead. She lifted her parasol over to the other shoulder and looked at him, and he fell into line again, a sensitive, pleased, proud smile showing above his little round beard.

“Now I think it would be better—simpler, more dignified, and less ghastly for him—if he came, say, to luncheon, and if we arranged for a small, a very small, group of the people he’d care most to see—he doesn’t, poor fellow, want to see many of us!—a small group, I say, to come—George! Please! It makes me nervous, it interrupts me, and it is very bad for the path.... Cover it up now with your foot. No—here—let me do it.”

“Pardon,” said George, cheerfully.

Miss Haviland winced again. “I don’t know about trains,” she went on, “but we can look one out for him” (she facilely avoided the American idiom) “and then motor him to town in—in Mrs. Edgerton’s car. Don’t you think that will be more comme il faut?”

“He’ll be so pleased, he’ll enjoy so much meeting her!” exclaimed George to me, rising on his toes repeatedly and rubbing his small dry hands together. “Won’t he?”

Miss Haviland turned to him severely, and at a signal he drew his arm up and she slipped hers through it.

“To worry now is a bit premature, perhaps,” she called back. “We’re off to see the new Discobulus. I fear it’s modeled on a late Roman copy.”

And I saw her, when I glanced over my shoulder a second later, pause again and withdraw her arm to point to the Memorial Library.

“What will he think of a disgrace like that, George?” I heard her imprecating.... “What? You don’t see—that the architect’s left off a line of leaves from the capitals? Come on.”

Hurrell Oaks may have been over-fastidious. Yes. But his discernments were the needs of a glowing temperament; they grew naturally out of ideals his incomparable sensitiveness created. Whereas hers—Marian Haviland’s—though derived from him, had all the—what shall I say?—snobbishness, which his lacked utterly. I can’t estimate that side of her, even now, not in view of all her accomplishments, even, except as being a little bit cheap.

I didn’t, of course, though, gather at her first mention of his coming half that it meant to her. And she wouldn’t, I might have known, with her regard for the nuances, have let it baldly appear. But I discovered afterward that she had made all sorts of overtures—done her utmost to divert him to Newfair. She didn’t know him; had never set eyes on him; but her reputation, which was considerable even then, helped her a good deal. For she solicited news of him from her publishers; and she wrote Mrs. ——, whatever her name was, finally, when she learned that that was the real right source to appeal to, a no doubt handsome letter, whence came the reply Miss Haviland had quoted to me, but which, as I also afterward found out, only asked very simply, “in view of the uncertainty of Mr. Oaks’s plans,” whether or not he could, in case he had to, “spend the night there.”

Well, it eventuated, not strictly in accord with her wire-pulling, that Hurrell Oaks’s route was changed so he could “run through” in the late afternoon “for a look at the college.” He was to be motoring to a place somewhere near, as it happened, and the Newfair detour would lengthen his schedule by only an hour or two. Word of it didn’t come to her directly, either; that letter was addressed to the president. But it was humbly referred to Miss Haviland in the course of things, and she took the matter—what was left of it—into her own hands.

“No,” she answered, unyielding to the various suggestions that cropped up. “But I’ll tell you what I am willing to do: I will give up my own little flat. Living in London as he does, he will feel—quite at home there.”

Funny though it is, looking back over it, it had also, when all was said and done—particularly when all was done—its pathetic side. For Hurrell Oaks was the one sincere passion of her life. He was religion and—and everything to her. The prospect of seeing him in the flesh, of hearing him viva voce, was more than she had ever piously believed could come to pass.

However much she imitated him—and remember, a large following bears witness to her skill—however she failed in his beauty and poetry and thoroughbredness, she must have had a deep, a discriminating love of his genius to have taken her thus far. No wonder she couldn’t, with her precise sense of justice, not be the chosen person at Newfair to receive him. But nobody dared question the justice of it, really. Wasn’t she the raison d’être of his coming?—of his being anywhere at all, as some people thought?

Her very demeanor was mellowed by the prospect. She set about the task of preparation with an ardor as unprofessed as it was apparent. She doffed the need of impressing any one in her zeal to get ready to impress Hurrell Oaks.

Her tone became warm and affluent as she went about asking this person and that to lend things for the great day: Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, Mrs. Braxton’s brocades; a fur rug of Mrs. Green’s she solicited one noon on the campus as if from a generous impulse to slight no one. And even when Mrs. Green suggested timidly that she would be glad “to pay for having the invitations engraved,” Miss Haviland didn’t correct her. But—

“No, dear,” she said. “I think I won’t let you do that much—really. There aren’t to be so many, and I shall be able to write them myself in no time.”

I can see her now, fingering her pearls and peering as hospitably as she could manage into Mrs. Green’s commonplace eyes, and George Norton hurrying across the grass to catch a word with her without avail. He was the only person whom she was, during those perfervid preliminaries, one bit cruel to.

But him she overlooked entirely. She didn’t seem to see him that day at all. She just peered obliquely beyond him, and, engrossed quite genuinely, no doubt, in Mrs. Green’s fur rug, took her arm and strolled off. She had lost, for the time being, all use for him. He was left deserted and alone at the teas and gatherings, magnetized from one spot to another whither she moved forgetfully away.

I met him in the park and pitied his shy, inept efforts not to appear neglected.

“Well, I kind of think it may rain,” he essayed, half clasping his small hands behind him and looking sociably up around the sky for a cloud. “But I don’t know as it will, after all.” And then, “Have you seen Miss Haviland lately?” he asked out in spite of himself.

“Not since yesterday’s class.”

“How’s the improvements coming?”

“All right, I guess. The new stuff for the walls arrived, I heard. It hasn’t been put on yet.”

“Oh—she’s papering, is she?”

“And painting.”

He tried to sparkle appreciatively. “Well, it takes time to do those things. You never know what you’re in for. She’s well?”

And he swayed back and forth on his heels, and teetered his head nervously. Poor thing! The gap he had tried so hard to bridge was filled to brimming now by the promised advent of Hurrell Oaks.

Miss Haviland called me on the telephone one afternoon as the day was approaching to ask if I would lend her my samovar; and she wanted I should bring it over presently, if possible, as she was slowly getting things right, and didn’t like to leave any more than was necessary to the last moment. So I polished the copper up as best I could and went ’round that evening to the New Gainsborough to leave it.

The building looked very dismal to me, I recall. A forlorn place it seemed to receive the great guest. It had been a dormitory once, which had been given over, owing to the inconveniences of the location, to accommodate unmarried teachers. It was more like a refined factory than an apartment-house. The high stoop had no railing, and the pebbles which collected on the coarse granite steps added to the general bleakness of the entrance. The inner halls were grim, with plain match-board wainscots and dingy paint, and narrow staircases that ascended steeply from meager landings. Miss Haviland’s suite was three flights up.

But when I got inside it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Her door was slightly ajar—it was the way Miss Haviland avoided the bother and the squalor of having to let people in—and at my knock she called out in a restrained, serene tone, “Come!” And I stepped through the tiny vestibule into the study.

It was amazingly attractive—Hurrell Oaks himself would have remarked it, I’ll wager. Nobody except Marian Haviland could have wrought such a change.

Of course there were Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, and Mrs. Braxton’s brocades, and—yes—Mrs. Green’s fur rug, to say nothing of numberless other borrowed objets, to help out the lavishness of the effect; but the synthesis was magnificent. Everything looked as if it had grown there. One might have been in an Italian palace. And Miss Haviland, seated at her new antique walnut desk with the ormolu mounts, looked veritably like a chatelaine. She had always, too—I ought to have seen it before—a little resembled a chatelaine, a chatelaine without a castle.

But she had for the moment her castle now—enough of it to complete the picture, at any rate. There was a low smoldering fire on the hearth, and the breeze that played through the open window just swayed the heavy damask hangings rhythmically. My samovar, as I set it down on a carved consol near the door, looked too crude and crass to warrant the excuse of my coming.

She read my dazed approval in a glance and laid down her pen, and, with one experienced coup d’œil over the manuscript before her, leaned back, clasping the edge of her desk with both hands and staring at me. She was wearing one of those black evening gowns, and a feather fan was in easy reach of where she sat; and I noticed all at once that the string of pearls was dangling from the gas-jet above her head.

“The new fixtures—the electric ones—will be bronze,” she hastened to say.

I shall never forget, not to my dying day, the sight I had of her sitting there; in that room, at that desk, in a black evening gown—writing! And the string of pearls she had slung across the condemned gas-jet by way of subtle disarmament for her task! The whole place had the hushed grand air of having been cleared for action by some sophisticated gesture; as if—the thought whimsically struck me—she might have just rung for the “second man” and bidden him remove “all the Pomeranians” lest they distract her.

“It’s too lovely, Miss Haviland; I can’t tell you what I think it is,” I exclaimed, blankly.

She stood up, reached for the rope of pearls, and slipped them over her head.

“I want you to see the hall,” she said. “Isn’t it chic?... And the bedrooms. The men will leave their hats in the south chamber—my room—in here; and the women will have the other—this one.”

She preceded me. She was quite simple in her eagerness to point out everything she had done. Her childlike glee in it touched me. And she looked so tired. She looked, in spite of her pomp and enthusiasm, exhausted.

“How he—how Mr. Hurrell Oaks will love it,” I cried, sincerely. “If he only realized, if he only could know the pains you’ve taken for him.”

Pains?

She leaned forward and let me judge for myself how she felt. Her eyes glowed. I had never seen her with all the barriers down.

“It isn’t a crumb of what’s due him,” she pleaded. “Do you think I expect he’ll love it? No. It’s only the best I could do—the best I can do—to save him the shock of finding it all awful. Oh, I didn’t, I so don’t want him to think we are—barbarians!”

She gave it out to me from the depths of her heart, and I accepted it completely, with no reservations or comments. It was the one real passion of her life, as I’ve said. She was laying bare to me the utmost she had done and longed to do for Hurrell Oaks.

“To think that he is coming here!” she murmured. “I’ve waited and hoped so to see him—only to see him—it’s about the most I’ve ever wanted. And it’s going to happen, dear, in my own little rooms. He is coming to me! Oh, you can’t know what he’s meant to me in all the years—how I’ve studied and striven to learn to be worthy of him! All—the little all I’ve got—I owe to him—everything. He’s done more than anybody, alive or dead, to teach me to be interested in life—to make me happy.”

She threw her long arms around my shoulders and pressed me to her, and kissed me on the forehead. The chapel clock struck ten.

“You’ll come, too, won’t you?” she asked, stepping back away from me in sudden cheerfulness. “For I want you to see how wonderful he will be.”

She put her arms about me once more, and went with me to the door when I left. In her forgetfulness of all forms and codes she had become a perfect chatelaine. She opened the door almost reluctantly, and stepped out on to the meager landing, and stood there waving her hand and calling out after me until I had got well down the narrow staircase.

The day dawned at last. The hour had been set at five o’clock, as Miss Haviland’s Shakespeare course wasn’t over until three-thirty, and the faculty hadn’t seen fit, after “mature consideration,” to give her pupils a holiday. But the elect of Newfair were talking about the event, and discussing what to wear, and whether they ought to arrive on the dot of five or a few minutes after, or if they wouldn’t be surer of seeing him “at his best” by coming a few minutes before.

I met Professor Norton again in the park that morning.

“All ready for this afternoon?” I asked him.

His lips went tight together, and quivered in and out over his small round beard as he tried to face me. And then he looked down away, and began digging another hole in the gravel walk with the broad toe of his congress boot. He shot a glance at me, in a moment, and gazed off at the falling leaves.

“Aren’t you interested in Hurrell Oaks?” I persisted.

“I’m interested in everything Marian Haviland likes,” he declared, boldly, focusing his eyes full upon mine. “But—but the apartment’s small, and—and I reckon there wasn’t room.”

Room? Was any place too small for him? It made my blood—even at that age—boil.

“She’s had enough to do to keep half a dozen busy,” I said, tactlessly.

Has she?” he echoed in hope. “How—how’s she got on?”

“She’s been wonderful,” I said, feeling kindlier toward her as I spoke. “She’s made that apartment regal.”

“I’m glad, I’m glad! I knew she had it in her. Did the new sofa come?”

“Yes. Everything’s come. And you’d better come yourself at five o’clock. I know she’s just forgotten—perhaps your invitation got lost like Mrs. Purcell’s. She only got hers an hour ago, I heard.”

“Really, now! Well, I’ll just go home and see. I need a little nap, I guess. I haven’t been sleeping very well. Good-by.”

And he held out his hand, and nodded to me several times, and gave me a sad, cheery, uncertain smile.

It was too bad. I was sure Miss Haviland had forgotten him. I didn’t think—and I don’t think now—that she wilfully omitted to send him an invitation. It was only that her cup was too full to remember his small, meek existence. I wondered if I dared remind her. I was pretty busy all day, however. And I had to get dressed and out by four, as I hadn’t posted my daily theme yet, and the time would be up at half-past. But I thought, even so late as then, that I’d better go by way of the New Gainsborough, and if things seemed propitious, drop a hint to her, for I felt free to say almost anything after my experience of the other evening.

Things weren’t propitious, though, I can tell you.

I was still some distance from the building—it was about fifteen minutes’ walk, I should say—when I heard somebody calling to me in a distressed voice. I looked ’round behind me, and to the right and left; and when finally I walked ahead I saw Miss Haviland fly out through the swinging door of the New Gainsborough and stand there at the top of the high granite stoop, beckoning frantically. She had on a mauve-colored kimono, which she was holding together rather desperately in front, and her hair was uncaught behind and streaming in the wind.

“Edith! Edith!” she called out. “Quick!”

She had never called me by my first name before. What could it be?—at this late hour, too? She waited a second to be sure I was coming, then dodged back under cover.

I ran. I sprang up the granite steps.

“See if you see anybody!” she commanded, breathlessly, peeping out at me.

“No, I don’t,” I said, looking. “There’s nobody, Miss Haviland.”

“But there must be,” she insisted. “Look again! Look everywhere!”

I did so. “There isn’t, Miss Haviland,” I said back through the opening. “Why won’t you believe me?”

“Go down again, do go right down,” she kept saying, “and see!”

I shook my head. But at that she leaped out on to the stoop and took me by the shoulder and pushed me.

“Run out behind the building—oh, be quick!” she beseeched. “Look all along the road, and if you see anybody, stop him and tell me!”

I ran. The road was empty. I came dazedly back. “There’s nobody in sight,” I panted, “not a soul.”

“Run over to that tree where you can see ’round the turn in the avenue!”

I ran again. I stretched my eyes in vain, but there wasn’t a person of any sort or description.

“Once more—please!” She started down the steps as I started up. “Over by the chapel—you may find somebody walking. Hurry!

I hurried. I was out of breath and hardly knew what I was doing.

“They’re all in, getting ready, Miss Haviland. How can you expect me to find anybody now?” I asked, pointlessly, and in some indignation as I reapproached her.

But she rushed down the steps and stopped me halfway, her mauve kimono fluttering open, and the gilt high-heeled slippers she had donned in her haste gleaming garishly against the unswept stone.

“Listen! Harken!” she whispered. “Do you hear a motor? Don’t you? Try again!”

It was still as death.

I stared up at her in terror. Not till then did I realize how serious it was. But I had never seen a woman look like that. I had never seen the anguish of helplessness in the hour of need written so plain. Her eyes seemed to open wider and wider—I had to turn away—and awful lines came on her forehead. She stretched out both arms and uttered a long Oh-h! that started in her throat and went up into a high-pitched note of pain. She was to me positively like a wild woman.

I watched her slowly raise one hand and unclasp it; I saw within a small, a very small, white paper thing, which she held closer to her face and gaped at, as if she couldn’t believe the truth of what she saw.

“What is it? What is the matter, Miss Haviland?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she answered, quite calmly.... “Listen! Don’t you hear—”

But she shuddered. “They’ll be coming, Miss Haviland. Really! You’ve no time left.”

“Yes.”

She tried to smile. It was uncanny. It was hardly more than a distension of her pale wide lips—a relic, merely, of spent resourcefulness. Then the blankness went out of her face, her expression collapsed, and she sobbed aloud.

“Miss Haviland! Miss Haviland! Do let me help you,” I begged, and I put my arm through hers and led her inside the swinging door and up the narrow stairs. “Mayn’t I do anything?”

She dragged herself heavily on by my side. But her sobs ceased after the first flight. At the meager landing before her door she broke away and stood erect and faced me and held out her hand. The abruptness of the change in her awed me. I watched her push the hair from over her face and tilt her head back and shake it and gather the folds of the kimono nonchalantly together; and resume the old hard connoisseurship I had seen her exercise from the beginning. Her eyes dilated tensely, and her eyebrows went tensely up, and she gave me that envisaging smile as of yore.

“It was nothing,” she said, “quite nothing. Won’t you step in and wait?... I’m tired, I expect. I was alone here, do you see, taking my bath. The servants” (Mrs. Edgerton’s servants!) “hadn’t come. And that knock on the door upset me. I thought—I thought—it might be—the—the caterer” (she winced at the word, and the wince seemed to help her to proceed) “with the food. So I hurried out and down like mad.... Thanks awfully, though. You’ll be back, surely? Please do.”

I did go back, of course. I wouldn’t have missed it for worlds—sad as it was. There wasn’t such a long interval to wait, either. I wended my way, and found the theme-box closed, and returned at about quarter past five.

When I entered, the assemblage was in full swing, and Marian Haviland, in the black afternoon toilette she had sent to New York for in honor of Hurrell Oaks’s visit, was scintillating in the midst. She had donned her pearls, and subdued her cheeks unbecomingly, and tinted her lips; and, going from one person to another, she would, in response to the indiscriminating compliments they bestowed, just tap them each gaily on the shoulder with her fan and explain that:

“Mr. Oaks was so sorry, but he couldn’t wait. Yes, he was wonderful,” she would say, “perfectly. We had an immemorial hour together. I shall never forget it—never.”

To this day I don’t blame her for lying. If she hadn’t lied she never could have stood it. And she had to stand it. What else could she do? She couldn’t hang a sign on the door and turn the guests away after all their generous sacrifices to the occasion.

George Norton, needless to say, wasn’t there. She had forgotten—I insist upon that much—to ask him. But two days later she announced her engagement to marry him, and in another month’s time the knot was actually tied.

――――

My companion stopped short there, and leaned back in her chair, expectantly staring at me.

“Like Marian Haviland Norton’s readers,” I said, “I should like some of the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted a little more plainly. Don’t spare me, either, as far as the ‘base rattle of the foreground’ is concerned. But tell me, please, literally just what you think happened.”

She showed her disappointment at that; looked almost aggrieved. Then she laughed out in spite of herself.

“Hurrell Oaks didn’t expect a party,” she declared; “he didn’t, at all events, mean to have one. He didn’t—she was right about that—‘want to see many of us.’ He didn’t want to see anybody. He just wanted to do his manners. He couldn’t decently get out of that much. And, although he may have been asked to come at exactly five—nobody, of course, knows how his invitation was worded—he reached Newfair earlier, perhaps unintentionally so, and came instead at four, and knocked politely for admittance. But Mrs. Edgerton’s servants, unfortunately, hadn’t arrived, and Miss Haviland was, as she herself admitted, taking a bath. She was no doubt actually in the tub when Hurrell Oaks slipped his card under the door.”

IN THE OPEN CODE

By BURTON KLINE
From The Stratford Journal
Copyright, 1918, by The Stratford Journal.
Copyright, 1919, by Burton Kline.

The day’s work was finished and the entire job well started. I felt sure we should meet old Bankard’s wishes fully. The rare old Virginia manor and its wooded park were going to look again as the original designer meant them to appear. Gordon, I know, agreed with me—Gordon, who was to restore the house as I restored the grounds.

That evening he and I were sitting on a rusted iron bench in a corner of the park that looked off over the hills, watching the summer dusk steal up the eastern sky. I still wanted to talk of the day’s accomplishment, but Gordon seemed to have grown—I was going to say dreamy, but he was watchful instead.

Presently he drew out his watch and said, “In just about four minutes you will hear it.”

“Hear what?”

“See that notch between those two hills about a mile and a half away over there?” He pointed. “Keep your eye on that.”

“A blast?”

“Yes, a blast. But not the kind you think. Just watch.”

We smoked in silence, and my curiosity was about to break into speech again, or ebb altogether, when it happened.

An ordinary freight train passed, but the locomotive, as it emerged from the flat hillside and traversed the broad notch, let off a stream of white puffs from its whistle, and then disappeared behind the other hill, precisely like an episode on the stage.

In a moment the white puffs translated themselves from a sight in the eye to a sound in the ear. And I tell the truth when I say that they reproduced, with a mimicry that was startling, the notes of the last two bars of “Annie Laurie.”

“What do you make of that!” Gordon turned and exulted to me over his odd little discovery.

“How did you get on to it?”

“Oh, stumbled across it the first evening we were here. It goes every day at this time, as regular as clock-work.”

“Some engineer with a sense of humor amusing himself,” I conjectured.

“But regularity isn’t amusement. He blows it every day at this time. And always in the same way.”

I tried another hypothesis. “A code signal of some sort, most likely.”

“But what an odd code! What a poetic code, for a railroad!”

“Well, I’ve learned to expect a good deal of life in Virginia. It seems to be different here.”

“Yes, it’s a code.... Of course it’s a code!” Gordon amended himself. “But—I wonder if it’s a railroad code?”

“I see. A lover and his lass, eh? You’re crediting your railroad engineer with your own romantic soul, Gordon.” I patted his arm, as Jemima, our cook, rang her bell for supper. “Now there’s a code that I can understand!” And we hurried in to the table.

By next evening the whole gang had heard of the curious signal from the freight locomotive and assembled at the opening of the trees to hear it. Precisely at the moment due the obedient freight train crossed the notch in the distant hills, and as precisely as before the engine let off its string of puffs that in a moment became in our ears those last two bars of the song.

There were as many theories to account for it as there were men to hear it. In the end the congress bore down Gordon and pronounced it a simple railroad code, with the longs and shorts accidentally resembling the tune, or made so by a whimsical engineer.

Nevertheless the phenomenon was interesting enough to compel a bit of discussion about the fire in the great hall after we had despatched our supper. The talk drifted away into the curious tricks that artisans come to play with their implements—carpenters able to toss up edged tools and catch them deftly, and the like. But Gordon was not to be weaned from the subject of that whistle.

“There’s nothing to prevent that engineer from playing ‘Yankee Doodle’ on his whistle if he wants to. Haven’t you often lain awake at night listening to the blasts of the locomotives? You can tell when an engineer is ruffled, when he starts behind time out of the yard, and knows he must be extra alert that night. His toot is sharp and impatient. Or you can tell an engineer coming home from his run. His whistle fairly sighs his own contentment.”

“La, Gordon,” some one yawned, “you’re a poetic soul!”

“Well, I believe in that engineer,” he defended. “Next time I go down to the village I’m going to find out who blows that thing and why he does it.”

He did go down to the village and he did learn the secret of the whistle. It made a neat little story. The whistle was a code signal, of a surety, and of precisely the sort that Gordon figured it was. He knew his Virginia.

A fellow named George Roberts was the engineer of that freight, and his imitation of “Annie Laurie” was truly a signal—to a sweetheart of his. Rough devil at one time, this man Roberts, a tearing drinker and fighter, he was fast on the way to ruin and discharge, when he fell in love with this girl and braced up. Now every time he passed the little house where she lived he tooted his whistle like that in salutation.

“To let her know he’s safe,” Gordon finished.

Of course we charged him with making it up, but in the end we came to believe him. Every day for four weeks that whistle blew, always in the same way, always in the same place, and always on the dot. And somehow it had a sobering and softening effect upon the crowd of woodsmen that we were. The men quarreled less frequently, I noticed, were more considerate and helpful to each other. I swear we all felt the influence of that engineer. I’ll wager every man jack of us meant on going home to be a bit the more thoughtful to the wife. It cheered us all, that little touch of honest romance. The world seemed a bit the better for it. We even took to timing our supper not by Jemima’s bell but by George Roberts’ whistle.

Then another strange thing happened. The signal ceased.

The first time we missed it we could scarcely believe our ears. But on the second day it was silent, and the next. At the right time the train crossed the notch, but no puffs came from the engine, no sound from the whistle.

It gave us a drop. The world was as drab as ever. The cynics, of course, spoke up at once.

“Guess your friend the engineer is no better than the rest of us,” one of them jeered at Gordon. “He couldn’t keep it up.”

“Drunk again, probably,” jeered another.

“Maybe it’s only a little lovers’ tiff,” I argued in Gordon’s support.

“I’m going to find out,” Gordon finished the discussion.

And he did. Made a special errand to the village to find out. And returned with a smile.

“They’re married,” he reported. “Off on their honeymoon. They’ll be back in a week. Watch for the signal then.”

He was right. In a week the signal was resumed, but in another place.

“How’s that?” one of the men still girded at Gordon. “Guess he’s learned to respect his wife’s throwing arm. He pipes up now from a more respectful distance.”

“That’s easy,” Gordon let the caviller down gently. “He’s set her up in a little house farther along the line. Naturally that’s where he would whistle now.”

For three weeks more we heard the faithful signal, at its new place. A little more faintly, but always punctual, always the same. And again the men began to whistle at their work.

By then the job was nearly finished. In two or three weeks more we should be leaving, and the whole crowd began to allege a touch of regret. They protested it was because the old place was so beautiful, but privately I think George Roberts and his tooting had something to do with the homesickness. To whatever new place we might go, however pleasant it might be, there was going to be a trifle that was lacking.

Then again a strange thing happened. Again the whistle stopped. For four days it was silent.

“Family jar already!” came the usual good-natured jeer.

“She’s flung a plate and crippled his whistle arm.”

“Guess you’d better find out what’s the matter, Gordon,” a third man recommended.

“I will,” said Gordon.

That evening he returned from the village without the smile. Nevertheless, as he was still plodding up the long driveway, his head down, his step slow, we actually heard the whistle as we sat waiting for Gordon under the portico. There was no mistaking it. And yet its note seemed different; there was a new tone to it, something like Gordon’s air. And it seemed to come from still farther away.

Gordon paused as he heard it, and stood still, with his hat in his hand, till it died away. Then he came up the steps and sat down. We all leaned toward him.

“She fell ill,” he said. “They left her in the little cemetery down the line. She’d always been delicate. And I suppose that’s where he’s whistling now. To—to let her know he’s safe.”

THE WILLOW WALK

By SINCLAIR LEWIS
From The Saturday Evening Post
Copyright, 1918, by The Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1919, by Sinclair Lewis.

I

From the drawer of his table desk Jasper Holt took a pane of window glass. He laid a sheet of paper on the glass and wrote, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.” He studied his round business-college script, and rewrote the sentence in a small finicky hand, that of a studious old man. Ten times he copied the words in that false pinched writing. He tore up the paper, burned the fragments in his large ash tray and washed the delicate ashes down his stationary washbowl. He replaced the pane of glass in the drawer, tapping it with satisfaction. A glass underlay does not retain an impression.

Jasper Holt was as nearly respectable as his room, which, with its frilled chairs and pansy-painted pincushion, was the best in the aristocratic boarding house of Mrs. Lyons. He was a wiry, slightly bald, black-haired man of thirty-eight, wearing an easy gray flannel suit and a white carnation. His hands were peculiarly compact and nimble. He gave the appearance of being a youngish lawyer or bond salesman. Actually he was senior paying teller in the Lumber National Bank in the city of Vernon.

He looked at a thin expensive gold watch. It was six-thirty, on Wednesday—toward dusk of a tranquil spring day. He picked up his hooked walking stick and his gray silk gloves and trudged downstairs. He met his landlady in the lower hall and inclined his head. She effusively commented on the weather.

“I shall not be here for dinner,” he said amiably.

“Very well, Mr. Holt. My, but aren’t you always going out with your swell friends, though! I read in the Herald that you were going to be star in another of those society plays at the Community Theater. I guess you’d be an actor if you wasn’t a banker, Mr. Holt.”

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t much temperament.” His voice was cordial, but his smile was a mere mechanical sidewise twist of the lip muscles. “You’re the one that’s got the stage presence. Bet you’d be a regular Ethel Barrymore if you didn’t have to look out for us.”

“My, but you’re such a flatterer!”

He bowed his way out and walked sedately down the street to a public garage. Nodding to the night attendant, but saying nothing, he started his roadster and drove out of the garage, away from the center of Vernon, toward the suburb of Rosebank. He did not go directly to Rosebank. He went seven blocks out of his way, and halted on Fandall Avenue—one of those petty main thoroughfares which, with their motion-picture palaces, their groceries, laundries, undertakers’ establishments and lunch rooms, serve as local centers for districts of mean residences. He got out of the car and pretended to look at the tires, kicking them to see how much air they had. While he did so he covertly looked up and down the street. He saw no one whom he knew. He went into the Parthenon Confectionery Store.

The Parthenon Store makes a specialty of those ingenious candy boxes that resemble bound books. The back of the box is of imitation leather, with a stamping simulating the title of a novel. The edges are apparently the edges of a number of pages of paper. But these pages are hollowed out, and the inside is to be filled with candy.

Jasper gazed at the collection of book boxes and chose the two whose titles had the nearest approach to dignity—Sweets to the Sweet and The Ladies’ Delight. He asked the Greek clerk to fill these with the less expensive grade of mixed chocolates, and to wrap them.

From the candy shop he went to a drug store that carried an assortment of reprinted novels, and from these picked out two of the same sentimental type as the titles on the booklike boxes. These also he had wrapped. He strolled out of the drug store, slipped into a lunch room, got a lettuce sandwich, doughnuts and a cup of coffee at the greasy marble counter, took them to a chair with a tablet arm in the dim rear of the lunch room and hastily devoured them. As he came out and returned to his car he again glanced along the street.

He fancied that he knew a man who was approaching. He could not be sure. From the breast up the man seemed familiar, as did the customers of the bank whom he viewed through the wicket of the teller’s window. When he saw them in the street he could never be sure about them. It seemed extraordinary to find that these persons, who to him were nothing but faces with attached arms that held out checks and received money, could walk about, had legs and a gait and a manner of their own.

He walked to the curb and stared up at the cornice of one of the stores, puckering his lips, giving an impersonation of a man inspecting a building. With the corner of an eye he followed the approaching man. The man ducked his head as he neared, and greeted him, “Hello, Brother Teller.” Jasper seemed startled; gave the “Oh! Oh, how are you!” of sudden recognition; and mumbled, “Looking after a little bank property.”

“Always on the job, eh!”

The man passed on.

Jasper got into his car and drove back to the street that would take him out to the suburb of Rosebank. As he left Fandall Avenue he peered at his watch. It was five minutes of seven.

At a quarter past seven he passed through the main street of Rosebank, and turned into a lane that was but little changed since the time when it had been a country road. A few jerry-built villas of freckled paint did shoulder upon it, but for the most part it ran through swamps spotted with willow groves, the spongy ground covered with scatterings of dry leaves and bark. Opening on this lane was a dim-rutted grassy private road, which disappeared into one of the willow groves.

Jasper sharply swung his car between the crumbly gate posts and along the bumpy private road. He made an abrupt turn, came into sight of an unpainted shed and shot the car into it without cutting down his speed, so that he almost hit the back of the shed with his front fenders. He shut off the engine, climbed out quickly and ran back toward the gate. From the shield of a bank of alder bushes he peered out. Two chattering women were going down the public road. They stared in through the gate and half halted.

“That’s where that hermit lives,” said one of them.

“Oh, you mean the one that’s writing a religious book, and never comes out till evening? Some kind of a preacher?”

“Yes, that’s the one. John Holt, I think his name is. I guess he’s kind of crazy. He lives in the old Beaudette house. But you can’t see it from here—it’s clear through the block, on the next street.”

“I heard he was crazy. But I just saw an automobile go in here.”

“Oh, that’s his cousin or brother or something—lives in the city. They say he’s rich, and such a nice fellow.”

The two women ambled on, their chatter blurring with distance. Standing behind the alders Jasper rubbed the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other. The palm was dry with nervousness. But he grinned.

He returned to the shed and entered a brick-paved walk almost a block long, walled and sheltered by overhanging willows. Once it had been a pleasant path; carved wooden benches were placed along it, and it widened to a court with a rock garden, a fountain and a stone bench. The rock garden had degenerated into a riot of creepers sprawling over the sharp stones; the paint had peeled from the fountain, leaving its iron cupids and naiads eaten with rust. The bricks of the wall were smeared with lichens and moss and were untidy with windrows of dry leaves and cakes of earth. Many of the bricks were broken; the walk was hilly in its unevenness. From willows and bricks and scuffled earth rose a damp chill.

But Jasper did not seem to note the dampness. He hastened along the walk to the house—a structure of heavy stone which, for this newish Midwestern land, was very ancient. It had been built by a French fur trader in 1839. The Chippewas had scalped a man in its very dooryard. The heavy back door was guarded by an unexpectedly expensive modern lock. Jasper opened it with a flat key and closed it behind him. It locked on a spring. He was in a crude kitchen, the shades of which were drawn. He passed through the kitchen and dining room into the living room. Dodging chairs and tables in the darkness as though he was used to them he went to each of the three windows of the living room and made sure that all the shades were down before he lighted the student’s lamp on the game-legged table. As the glow crept over the drab walls Jasper bobbed his head with satisfaction. Nothing had been touched since his last visit.

The room was musty with the smell of old green rep upholstery and leather books. It had not been dusted for months. Dust sheeted the stiff red velvet chairs, the uncomfortable settee, the chill white marble fireplace, the immense glass-fronted bookcase that filled one side of the room.

The atmosphere was unnatural to this capable business man, this Jasper Holt. But Jasper did not seem oppressed. He briskly removed the wrappers from the genuine books and from the candy-box imitations of books. One of the two wrappers he laid on the table and smoothed out. Upon this he poured the candy from the two boxes. The other wrapper and the strings he stuffed into the fireplace and immediately burned. Crossing to the bookcase he unlocked one section and placed both the real books and the imitation books on the bottom shelf. There was a row of rather cheap-looking novels on this shelf, and of these at least six were actually such candy boxes as he had purchased that evening.

Only one shelf of the bookcase was given over to anything so frivolous as novels. The others were filled with black-covered, speckle-leaved, dismal books of history, theology, biography—the shabby-genteel sort of books you find on the fifteen-cent shelf at a secondhand bookshop. Over these Jasper pored for a moment as though he was memorizing their titles.

He took down “The Life of the Rev. Jeremiah Bodfish” and read aloud: “In those intimate discourses with his family that followed evening prayers I once heard Brother Bodfish observe that Philo Judæus—whose scholarly career always calls to my mind the adumbrations of Melanchthon upon the essence of rationalism—was a mere sophist—”

Jasper slammed the book shut, remarking contentedly, “That’ll do. Philo Judæus—good name to spring.”

He relocked the bookcase and went upstairs. In a small bedroom at the right of the upper hall an electric light was burning. Presumably the house had been deserted till Jasper’s entrance, but a prowler in the yard might have judged from this ever-burning light that some one was in residence. The bedroom was Spartan—an iron bed, one straight chair, a washstand, a heavy oak bureau. Jasper scrambled to unlock the lowest drawer of the bureau, yank it open, take out a wrinkled shiny suit of black, a pair of black shoes, a small black bow tie, a Gladstone collar, a white shirt with starched bosom, a speckly brown felt hat and a wig—an expensive and excellent wig with artfully unkempt hair of a faded brown.

He stripped off his attractive flannel suit, wing collar, blue tie, custom-made silk shirt and cordovan shoes, and speedily put on the wig and those gloomy garments. As he donned them the corners of his mouth began to droop. Leaving the light on and his own clothes flung on the bed he descended the stairs. He was obviously not the same man who had ascended them. As to features he was like Jasper, but by nature he was evidently less healthy, less practical, less agreeable, and decidedly more aware of the sorrow and long thoughts of the dreamer. Indeed it must be understood that now he was not Jasper Holt, but Jasper’s twin brother, John Holt, hermit and religious fanatic.

II

John Holt, twin brother of Jasper Holt, the bank teller, rubbed his eyes as though he had for hours been absorbed in study, and crawled through the living room, through the tiny hall, to the front door. He opened it, picked up a couple of circulars that the postman had dropped through the letter slot in the door, went out and locked the door behind him. He was facing a narrow front yard, neater than the willow walk at the back, on a suburban street more populous than the straggly back lane.

A street arc illuminated the yard and showed that a card was tacked on the door. John touched the card, snapped it with the nail of his little finger, to make certain that it was securely tacked. In that light he could not read it, but he knew that it was inscribed in a small finicky hand: “Agents kindly do not disturb, bell will not be answered, occupant of house engaged in literary work.”

John stood on the doorstep till he made out his neighbor on the right—a large stolid commuter, who was walking before his house smoking an after-dinner cigar. John poked to the fence and sniffed at a spray of lilac blossoms till the neighbor called over, “Nice evening.”

“Yes, it seems to be very pleasant.”

John’s voice was like Jasper’s; but it was more guttural, and his speech had less assurance.

“How’s the book going?”

“It is—it is very—very difficult. So hard to comprehend all the inner meanings of the prophecies. Well, I must be hastening to Soul Hope Hall. I trust we shall see you there some Wednesday or Sunday evening. I bid you good-night, sir.”

John wavered down the street to a drug store. He purchased a bottle of ink. In a grocery that kept open evenings he got two pounds of corn meal, two pounds of flour, a pound of bacon, a half pound of butter, six eggs and a can of condensed milk.

“Shall we deliver them?” asked the clerk.

John looked at him sharply. He realized that this was a new man, who did not know his customs. He said rebukingly: “No, I always carry my parcels. I am writing a book. I am never to be disturbed.”

He paid for the provisions out of a postal money order for thirty-five dollars, and received the change. The cashier of the store was accustomed to cashing these money orders, which were always sent to John from South Vernon, by one R. J. Smith. John took the bundle of food and walked out of the store.

“That fellow’s kind of a nut, isn’t he?” asked the new clerk.

The cashier explained: “Yep. Doesn’t even take fresh milk—uses condensed for everything! What do you think of that! And they say he burns up all his garbage—never has anything in the ash can except ashes. If you knock at his door he never answers it, fellow told me. All the time writing this book of his. Religious crank, I guess. Has a little income though—guess his folks were pretty well fixed. Comes out once in a while in the evening and pokes round town. We used to laugh about him, but we’ve kind of got used to him. Been here about a year, I guess it is.”

John was serenely passing down the main street of Rosebank. At the dingier end of it he turned in at a hallway marked by a lighted sign announcing in crude house-painter’s letters: “Soul Hope Fraternity Hall. Experience Meeting. All Welcome.”

It was eight o’clock. The members of the Soul Hope cult had gathered in their hall above a bakery. Theirs was a tiny, tight-minded sect. They asserted that they alone obeyed the scriptural tenets; that they alone were certain to be saved; that all other denominations were damned by unapostolic luxury; that it was wicked to have organs or ministers or any meeting places save plain halls. The members themselves conducted the meetings, one after another rising to give an interpretation of the scriptures or to rejoice in gathering with the faithful, while the others commented “Hallelujah!” and “Amen, brother, amen!” They were a plainly dressed, not overfed, rather elderly and rather happy congregation. The most honored of them all was John Holt.

John had come to Rosebank only six months before. He had bought the Beaudette house, with the library of the recent occupant, a retired clergyman, and had paid for them in new one-hundred-dollar bills. Already he had gained great credit in the Soul Hope cult. It appeared that he spent almost all his time at home, praying, reading and writing a book. The Soul Hope Fraternity were excited about the book. They had begged him to read it to them. So far he had read only a few pages, consisting mostly of quotations from ancient treatises on the prophecies. Nearly every Sunday and Wednesday evening he appeared at the meeting and in a halting but scholarly way lectured on the world and the flesh.

To-night he spoke polysyllabically of the fact that one Philo Judæus had been a mere sophist. The cult were none too clear as to what either a Philo Judæus or a sophist might be, but with heads all nodding in a row, they murmured: “You’re right, brother! Hallelujah!”

John glided into a sad earnest discourse on his worldly brother Jasper, and informed them of his struggles with Jasper’s itch for money. By his request the fraternity prayed for Jasper.

The meeting was over at nine. John shook hands all round with the elders of the congregation, sighing: “Fine meeting to-night, wasn’t it? Such a free outpouring of the Spirit!” He welcomed a new member, a servant girl just come from Seattle. Carrying his groceries and the bottle of ink he poked down the stairs from the hall at seven minutes after nine.

At sixteen minutes after nine John was stripping off his brown wig and the funereal clothes in his bedroom. At twenty-eight after, John Holt had again become Jasper Holt, the capable teller of the Lumber National Bank.

Jasper Holt left the light burning in his brother’s bedroom. He rushed downstairs, tried the fastening of the front door, bolted it, made sure that all the windows were fastened, picked up the bundle of groceries and the pile of candies that he had removed from the booklike candy boxes, blew out the light in the living room and ran down the willow walk to his car. He threw the groceries and candy into it, backed the car out as though he was accustomed to backing in this bough-scattered yard, and drove off along the lonely road at the rear.

When he was passing a swamp he reached down, picked up the bundle of candies, and steering with one hand removed the wrapping paper with the other hand and hurled out the candies. They showered among the weeds beside the road. The paper which had contained the candies, and upon which was printed the name of the Parthenon Confectionery Store, Jasper tucked into his pocket. He took the groceries item by item from the labeled bag containing them, thrust that bag also into his pocket, and laid the groceries on the seat beside him.

On the way from Rosebank to the center of the city of Vernon he again turned off the main avenue, and halted at a goat-infested shack occupied by a crippled Norwegian. He sounded the horn. The Norwegian’s grandson ran out.

“Here’s a little more grub for you,” bawled Jasper.

“God bless you, sir. I don’t know what we’d do if it wasn’t for you!” cried the old Norwegian from the door.

But Jasper did not wait for gratitude. He merely shouted: “Bring you some more in a couple days,” as he started away.

At a quarter past ten he drove up to the hall that housed the latest interest of Vernon society—the Community Theater. The Boulevard Set, the “best people in town,” belonged to the Community Theater Association, and the leader of it was the daughter of the general manager of the railroad. As a well-bred bachelor Jasper Holt was welcome among them, despite the fact that no one knew much about him except that he was a good bank teller and had been born in England. But as an actor he was not merely welcome: he was the best amateur actor in Vernon. His placid face could narrow with tragic emotion or puff out with comedy; his placid manner concealed a dynamo of emotion. Unlike most amateur actors he did not try to act—he became the thing itself. He forgot Jasper Holt, and turned into a vagrant or a judge, a Bernard Shaw thought, a Lord Dunsany symbol, a Susan Glaspell radical, a Clyde Fitch man-about-town.

The other one-act plays of the next program of the Community Theater had already been rehearsed. The cast of the play in which Jasper was to star were all waiting for him. So were the worried ladies responsible for the staging. They wanted his advice about the blue curtain for the stage window, about the baby-spot that was out of order, about the higher interpretation of the rôle of the page in the piece—a rôle consisting of only two lines, but to be played by one of the most popular girls in the younger set. After the discussions, and a most violent quarrel between two members of the play-reading committee, the rehearsal was called. Jasper Holt still wore his flannel suit and a wilting carnation; but he was not Jasper; he was the Duc de San Saba, a cynical, gracious, gorgeous old man, easy of gesture, tranquil of voice, shudderingly evil of desire.

“If I could get a few more actors like you!” cried the professional coach.

The rehearsal was over at half past eleven. Jasper drove his car to the public garage in which he kept it, and walked home. There, he tore up and burned the wrapping paper bearing the name of the Parthenon Confectionery Store and the labeled bag which had contained the groceries.

The Community Theater plays were given on the following Wednesday. Jasper Holt was highly applauded, and at the party at the Lakeside Country Club, after the play, he danced with the prettiest girls in town. He hadn’t much to say to them, but he danced fervently, and about him was a halo of artistic success.

That night his brother John did not appear at the meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity out in Rosebank.

On Monday, five days later, while he was in conference with the president and the cashier of the Lumber National Bank, Jasper complained of a headache. The next day he telephoned to the president that he would not come down to work—he would stay home and rest his eyes, sleep and get rid of the persistent headache. That was unfortunate, for that very day his twin brother John made one of his infrequent trips into Vernon and called at the bank.

The president had seen John only once before, and by a coincidence it had happened that on this occasion also Jasper had been absent—had been out of town. The president invited John into his private office.

“Your brother is at home; poor fellow has a bad headache. Hope he gets over it. We think a great deal of him here. You ought to be proud of him. Will you have a smoke?”

As he spoke the president looked John over. Once or twice when Jasper and the president had been out at lunch Jasper had spoken of the remarkable resemblance between himself and his twin brother. But the president told himself that he didn’t really see much resemblance. The features of the two were alike, but John’s expression of chronic spiritual indigestion, his unfriendly manner, and his hair—unkempt and lifeless brown, where Jasper’s was sleekly black above a shiny bald spot—made the president dislike John as much as he liked Jasper.

And now John was replying: “No, I do not smoke. I can’t understand how a man can soil this temple with drugs. I suppose I ought to be glad to hear you praise poor Jasper, but I am more concerned with his lack of respect for the things of the spirit. He sometimes comes to see me, at Rosebank, and I argue with him, but somehow I can’t make him see his errors. And his flippant ways—!”

“We don’t think he’s flippant. We think he’s a pretty steady worker.”

“But his play-acting! And reading love stories! Well, I try to keep in mind the injunction ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ But I am pained to find my own brother giving up immortal promises for mortal amusements. Well, I’ll go and call on him. I trust that some day we shall see you at Soul Hope Hall, in Rosebank. Good day, sir.”

Turning back to his work the president grumbled: “I’m going to tell Jasper that the best compliment I can hand him is that he is not like his brother.”

And on the following day, another Wednesday, when Jasper reappeared at the bank, the president did make this jesting comparison; and Jasper sighed: “Oh, John is really a good fellow, but he’s always gone in for metaphysics and Oriental mysticism and Lord knows what all, till he’s kind of lost in the fog. But he’s a lot better than I am. When I murder my landlady—or say, when I rob the bank, chief—you go get John; and I bet you the best lunch in town that he’ll do his best to bring me to justice. That’s how blame square he is!”

“Square, yes—corners just sticking out! Well, when you do rob us, Jasper, I’ll look up John. But do try to keep from robbing us as long as you can. I’d hate to have to associate with a religious detective in a boiled shirt!”

Both men laughed, and Jasper went back to his cage. His head continued to hurt, he admitted. The president advised him to lay off for a week. He didn’t want to, he said. With the new munition industries due to the war in Europe, there was much increase in factory pay rolls, and Jasper took charge of them.

“Better take a week off than get ill,” argued the president late that afternoon.

Jasper did let himself be persuaded to go away for at least a week-end. He would run up north, to Wakamin Lake, the coming Friday, he said; he would get some black-bass fishing, and be back on Monday or Tuesday. Before he went he would make up the pay rolls for the Saturday payments and turn them over to the other teller. The president thanked him for his faithfulness, and as was his not infrequent custom invited Jasper to his house for the evening of the next day—Thursday.

That Wednesday evening Jasper’s brother John appeared at the Soul Hope meeting in Rosebank. When he had gone home and had magically turned back into Jasper this Jasper did not return the wig and garments of John to the bureau but packed them into a suitcase, took the suitcase to his room in Vernon and locked it in his wardrobe.

Jasper was amiable at dinner at the president’s house on Thursday, but he was rather silent, and as his head still throbbed he left the house early—at nine-thirty. Sedately, carrying his gray silk gloves in one hand and pompously swinging his stick with the other, he walked from the president’s house on the fashionable boulevard back to the center of Vernon. He entered the public garage in which his car was stored.

He commented to the night attendant: “Head aches. Guess I’ll take the ’bus out and get some fresh air.”

He drove away at not more than fifteen miles an hour. He headed south. When he had reached the outskirts of the city he speeded up to a consistent twenty-five miles an hour. He settled down in his seat with the unmoving steadiness of the long-distance driver: his body quiet except for the tiny subtle movements of his foot on the accelerator, of his hands on the steering wheel—his right hand across the wheel, holding it at the top, his left elbow resting easily on the cushioned edge of his seat and his left hand merely touching the wheel.

He drove in that southern direction for fifteen miles—almost to the town of Wanagoochie. Then by a rather poor side road he turned sharply to the north and west, and making a huge circle about the city drove toward the town of St. Clair. The suburb of Rosebank, in which his brother John lived, is also north of Vernon. These directions were of some importance to him: Wanagoochie eighteen miles south of the mother city of Vernon; Rosebank, on the other hand, north, eight miles north, of Vernon; and St. Clair twenty miles north—about as far north of Vernon as Wanagoochie is south.

On his way to St. Clair, at a point that was only two miles from Rosebank, Jasper ran the car off the main road into a grove of oaks and maples and stopped it on a long-unused woodland road. He stiffly got out and walked through the woods up a rise of ground to a cliff overlooking a swampy lake. The gravelly farther bank of the cliff rose perpendicularly from the edge of the water. In that wan light distilled by stars and the earth he made out the reedy expanse of the lake. It was so muddy, so tangled with sedge grass that it was never used for swimming; and as its only inhabitants were slimy bullheads few people ever tried to fish there. Jasper stood reflective. He was remembering the story of the farmer’s team which had run away, dashed over this cliff and sunk out of sight in the mud bottom of the lake.

Swishing his stick he outlined an imaginary road from the top of the cliff back to the sheltered place where his car was standing. Once he hacked away with a large pocketknife a mass of knotted hazel bushes which blocked that projected road. When he had traced the road to his car he smiled. He walked to the edge of the woods and looked up and down the main highway. A car was approaching. He waited till it had passed, ran back to his own car, backed it out on the highway, and went on his northward course toward St. Clair, driving about thirty miles an hour.

On the edge of St. Clair he halted, took out his kit of tools, unscrewed a spark plug, and sharply tapping the plug on the engine block, deliberately cracked the porcelain jacket. He screwed the plug in again and started the car. It bucked and spit, missing on one cylinder, with the short-circuited plug.

“I guess there must be something wrong with the ignition,” he said cheerfully.

He managed to run the car into a garage in St. Clair. There was no one in the garage save an old negro, the night washer, who was busy over a limousine, with sponge and hose.

“Got a night repair man here?” asked Jasper.

“No, sir; guess you’ll have to leave it till morning.”

“Hang it! Something gone wrong with the carburetor or the ignition. Well, I’ll have to leave it, then. Tell him— Say, will you be here in the morning when the repair man comes on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, tell him I must have the car by to-morrow noon. No, say by to-morrow at nine. Now, don’t forget. This will help your memory.”

He gave a quarter to the negro, who grinned and shouted: “Yes, sir; that’ll help my memory a lot!” As he tied a storage tag on the car the negro inquired: “Name?”

“Uh—my name? Oh, Hanson. Remember now, ready about nine to-morrow.”

Jasper walked to the railroad station. It was ten minutes of one. Jasper did not ask the night operator about the next train into Vernon. Apparently he knew that there was a train stopping here at St. Clair at one-thirty-seven. He did not sit in the waiting room but in the darkness outside on a truck behind the baggage room. When the train came in he slipped into the last seat of the last car, and with his soft hat over his eyes either slept or appeared to sleep. When he reached Vernon he went off the direct route from the station to his boarding house, and came to the garage in which he regularly kept his car. He stepped inside. The night attendant was drowsing in a large wooden chair tilted back against the wall in the narrow runway which formed the entrance to the garage.

Jasper jovially shouted to the attendant: “Certainly ran into some hard luck. Ignition went wrong—I guess it was the ignition. Had to leave the car down at Wanagoochie.”

“Yuh, hard luck, all right,” assented the attendant.

“Yump. So I left it at Wanagoochie,” Jasper emphasized as he passed on.

He had been inexact in this statement. It was not at Wanagoochie, which is south, but at St. Clair, which is north, that he had left the car.

He returned to his boarding house, slept beautifully, hummed in his morning shower bath. Yet at breakfast he complained to his landlady of his continuous headache, and announced that he was going to run up north, to Wakamin, to get some bass fishing and rest his eyes. She urged him to go.

“Anything I can do to help you get away?” she queried.

“No, thanks. I’m just taking a couple of suitcases, with some old clothes and some fishing tackle. Fact, I have ’em all packed already. I’ll probably take the noon train north if I can get away from the bank. Pretty busy now, with these pay rolls for the factories that have war contracts for the Allies. What’s it say in the paper this morning?”

Jasper arrived at the bank, carrying the two suitcases and a neat, polite, rolled silk umbrella, the silver top of which was engraved with his name. The doorman, who was also the bank guard, helped him to carry the suitcases inside.

“Careful of that bag. Got my fishing tackle in it,” said Jasper to the doorman, apropos of one of the suitcases, which was heavy but apparently not packed full. “Well, I think I’ll run up to Wakamin to-day and catch a few bass.”

“Wish I could go along, sir. How is the head this morning? Does it still ache?” asked the doorman.

“Rather better, but my eyes still feel pretty rocky. Guess I been using ’em too much. Say, Connors, I’ll try to catch the train north at eleven-seven. Better have a taxicab here for me at eleven. Or no; I’ll let you know a little before eleven. Try to catch the eleven-seven north, for Wakamin.”

“Very well, sir.”

The president, the assistant cashier, the chief clerk—all asked Jasper how he felt; and to all of them he repeated the statement that he had been using his eyes too much, and that he would catch a few bass at Wakamin.

The other paying teller from his cage next to that of Jasper called heartily through the steel netting: “Pretty soft for some people! You wait! I’m going to have the hay fever this summer, and I’ll go fishing for a month!”

Jasper placed the two suitcases and the umbrella in his cage, and leaving the other teller to pay out current money he himself made up the pay rolls for the next day—Saturday. He casually went into the vault—a narrow, unimpressive, unaired cell, with a hard linoleum floor, one unshaded electric bulb, and a back wall composed entirely of steel doors of safes, all painted a sickly blue, very unimpressive, but guarding several millions of dollars in cash and securities. The upper doors, hung on large steel arms and each provided with two dials, could be opened only by two officers of the bank, each knowing one of the two combinations. Below these were smaller doors, one of which Jasper could open, as teller. It was the door of an insignificant steel box, which contained one hundred and seventeen thousand dollars in bills and four thousand dollars in gold and silver.

Jasper passed back and forth, carrying bundles of currency. In his cage he was working less than three feet from the other teller, who was divided from him only by the bands of the steel netting.

While he worked he exchanged a few words with this other teller.

Once as he counted out nineteen thousand dollars he commented: “Big pay roll for the Henschel Wagon Works this week. They’re making gun carriages and truck bodies for the Allies, I understand.”

“Uh-huh!” said the other teller, not much interested.

Mechanically, unobtrusively going about his ordinary routine of business, Jasper counted out bills to amounts agreeing with the items on a typed schedule of the pay rolls. Apparently his eyes never lifted from his counting and from this typed schedule which lay before him. The bundles of bills he made into packages, fastening each with a paper band. Each bundle he seemed to drop into a small black leather bag which he held beside him. But he did not actually drop the money into these pay-roll bags.

Both the suitcases at his feet were closed, and presumably fastened; but one was not fastened. And though it was heavy it contained nothing but a lump of pig iron. From time to time Jasper’s hand, holding a bundle of bills, dropped to his side. With a slight movement of his foot he opened that suitcase, and the bills slipped from his hand down into it.

The bottom part of his cage was a solid sheet of stamped steel, and from the front of the bank no one could see this suspicious gesture. The other teller could have seen it, but Jasper dropped the bills only when the other teller was busy talking to a customer or when his back was turned. In order to delay for such a favorable moment Jasper frequently counted packages of bills twice, rubbing his eyes as though they hurt him.

After each of these secret disposals of packages of bills Jasper made much of dropping into the pay-roll bags the rolls of coin for which the schedule called. It was while he was tossing these blue-wrapped cylinders of coin into the bags that he would chat with the other teller. Then he would lock up the bags and gravely place them at one side.

Jasper was so slow in making up the pay rolls that it was five minutes of eleven before he finished. He called the doorman to the cage and suggested: “Better call my taxi now.”

He still had one bag to fill. He could plainly be seen dropping packages of money into it, while he instructed the assistant teller: “I’ll stick all the bags in my safe, and you can transfer them to yours. Be sure to lock my safe. Lord, I better hurry or I’ll miss my train! Be back Tuesday morning, at latest. So long; take care of yourself.”

He hastened to pile the pay-roll bags into his safe in the vault. The safe was almost filled with them. And except for the last one not one of the bags contained anything except a few rolls of coin. Though he had told the other teller to lock his safe he himself twirled the combination—which was thoughtless of him, as the assistant teller would now have to wait and get the president to unlock it.

He picked up his umbrella and the two suitcases—bending over one of the cases for not more than ten seconds. Waving good-by to the cashier at his desk down front and hurrying so fast that the doorman did not have a chance to help him carry the suitcases he rushed through the bank, through the door, into the waiting taxicab, and loudly enough for the doorman to hear he cried to the driver, “M. & D. Station.”

At the M. & D. R. R. Station, refusing offers of redcaps to carry his bags, he bought a ticket for Wakamin, which is a lake-resort town one hundred and forty miles northwest of Vernon, hence one hundred and twenty beyond St. Clair. He had just time to get aboard the eleven-seven train. He did not take a chair car, but sat in a day coach near the rear door. He unscrewed the silver top of his umbrella, on which was engraved his name, and dropped it into his pocket.

When the train reached St. Clair, Jasper strolled out to the vestibule, carrying the suitcases but leaving the topless umbrella behind. His face was blank, uninterested. As the train started he dropped down on the station platform and gravely walked away. For a second the light of adventure crossed his face, and vanished.

At the garage at which he had left his car on the evening before he asked the foreman: “Did you get my car fixed—Mercury roadster, ignition on the bum?”

“Nope! Couple of jobs ahead of it. Haven’t had time to touch it yet. Ought to get at it early this afternoon.”

Jasper curled his tongue round his lips in startled vexation. He dropped his suitcases on the floor of the garage and stood thinking, his bent forefinger against his lower lip.

Then: “Well, I guess I can get her to go—sorry—can’t wait—got to make the next town,” he grumbled.

“Lot of you traveling salesmen making your territory by motor now, Mr. Hanson,” said the foreman civilly, glancing at the storage check on Jasper’s car.

“Yep. I can make a good many more than I could by train.”

He paid for overnight storage without complaining, though since his car had not been repaired this charge was unjust. In fact he was altogether prosaic and inconspicuous. He thrust the suitcases into the car and drove out, the motor spitting. At another garage he bought a new spark plug and screwed it in. When he went on, the motor had ceased spitting.

He drove out of St. Clair, back in the direction of Vernon—and of Rosebank, where his brother lived. He ran the car into that thick grove of oaks and maples only two miles from Rosebank where he had paced off an imaginary road to the cliff overhanging the reedy lake. He parked the car in a grassy space beside the abandoned woodland road. He laid a light robe over the suitcases. From beneath the seat he took a can of deviled chicken, a box of biscuits, a canister of tea, a folding cooking kit and a spirit lamp. These he spread on the grass—a picnic lunch.

He sat beside that lunch from seven minutes past one in the afternoon till dark. Once in a while he made a pretense of eating. He fetched water from a brook, made tea, opened the box of biscuits and the can of chicken. But mostly he sat still and smoked cigarette after cigarette.

Once a Swede, taking this road as a short cut to his truck farm, passed by and mumbled “Picnic, eh?”

“Yuh, takin’ a day off,” said Jasper dully.

The man went on without looking back.

At dusk Jasper finished a cigarette down to the tip, crushed out the light and made the cryptic remark: “That’s probably Jasper Holt’s last smoke. I don’t suppose you can smoke, John—damn you!”

He hid the two suitcases in the bushes, piled the remains of the lunch into the car, took down the top of the car and crept down to the main road. No one was in sight. He returned. He snatched a hammer and a chisel from his tool kit, and with a few savage cracks he so defaced the number of the car stamped on the engine block that it could not be made out. He removed the license numbers from fore and aft, and placed them beside the suitcases. Then, when there was just enough light to see the bushes as cloudy masses, he started the car, drove through the woods and up the incline to the top of the cliff, and halted, leaving the engine running.

Between the car and the edge of the cliff which overhung the lake there was a space of about a hundred and thirty feet, fairly level and covered with straggly red clover. Jasper paced off this distance, returned to the car, took his seat in a nervous, tentative way, and put her into gear, starting on second speed and slamming her into third. The car bolted toward the edge of the cliff. He instantly swung out on the running board. Standing there, headed directly toward the sharp drop over the cliff, steering with his left hand on the wheel, he shoved the hand throttle up—up—up with his right. He safely leaped down from the running board.

Of itself the car rushed forward, roaring. It shot over the edge of the cliff. It soared twenty feet out into the air as though it were a thick-bodied aëroplane. It turned over and over, with a sickening drop toward the lake. The water splashed up in a tremendous noisy circle. Then silence. In the twilight the surface of the lake shone like milk. There was no sign of the car on the surface. The concentric rings died away. The lake was secret and sinister and still. “Lord!” ejaculated Jasper, standing on the cliff; then: “Well, they won’t find that for a couple of years anyway.”

He returned to the suitcases. Squatting beside them he took from one the wig and black garments of John Holt. He stripped, put on the clothes of John, and packed those of Jasper in the bag. With the cases and the motor-license plates he walked toward Rosebank, keeping in various groves of maples and willows till he was within half a mile of the town. He reached the stone house at the end of the willow walk, and sneaked in the back way. He burned Jasper Holt’s clothes in the grate, melted down the license plates in the stove, and between two rocks he smashed Jasper’s expensive watch and fountain pen into an unpleasant mass of junk, which he dropped into the cistern for rain water. The silver head of the umbrella he scratched with a chisel till the engraved name was indistinguishable.

He unlocked a section of the bookcase and taking a number of packages of bills in denominations of one, five, ten and twenty dollars from one of the suitcases he packed them into those empty candy boxes which, on the shelves, looked so much like books. As he stored them he counted the bills. They came to ninety-seven thousand five hundred and thirty-five dollars.

The two suitcases were new. There were no distinguishing marks on them. But taking them out to the kitchen he kicked them, rubbed them with lumps of blacking, raveled their edges and cut their sides, till they gave the appearance of having been long and badly used in traveling. He took them upstairs and tossed them up into the low attic.

In his bedroom he undressed calmly. Once he laughed: “I despise those pretentious fools—bank officers and cops. I’m beyond their fool law. No one can catch me—it would take me myself to do that!”

He got into bed. With a vexed “Hang it!” he mused: “I suppose John would pray, no matter how chilly the floor was.”

He got out of bed and from the inscrutable Lord of the Universe he sought forgiveness—not for Jasper Holt, but for the denominations who lacked the true faith of Soul Hope Fraternity.

He returned to bed and slept till the middle of the morning, lying with his arms behind his head, a smile on his face.

Thus did Jasper Holt, without the mysterious pangs of death, yet cease to exist, and thus did John Holt come into being not merely as an apparition glimpsed on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, but as a being living twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

III

The inhabitants of Rosebank were familiar with the occasional appearances of John Holt, the eccentric recluse, and they merely snickered about him when on the Saturday evening following the Friday that has been chronicled he was seen to come out of his gate and trudge down to a news and stationery shop on Main Street.

He purchased an evening paper and said to the clerk: “You can have the Morning Herald delivered at my house every morning—27 Humbert Avenue.”

“Yuh, I know where it is. Thought you had kind of a grouch on newspapers and all those lowbrow things,” said the clerk pertly.

“Ah, did you indeed? The Herald, every morning, please. I will pay a month in advance,” was all John Holt said, but he looked directly at the clerk, and the man cringed.

John attended the meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity the next evening—Sunday—but he was not seen on the streets again for two and a half days.

There was no news of the disappearance of Jasper Holt till the following Wednesday, when the whole thing came out in a violent, small-city, front-page story, headed:

PAYING TELLER

Social Favorite—Makes Get-away

The paper stated that Jasper Holt had been missing for four days, and that the officers of the bank, after first denying that there was anything wrong with his accounts, had admitted that he was short one hundred thousand dollars—two hundred thousand, said one report. He had purchased a ticket for Wakamin, this state, on Friday, and a trainman, a customer of the bank, had noticed him on the train, but he had apparently never arrived at Wakamin.

A woman asserted that on Friday afternoon she had seen Holt driving an automobile between Vernon and St. Clair. This appearance near St. Clair was supposed to be merely a blind, however. In fact our able chief of police had proof that Holt was not headed north, in the direction of St. Clair, but south, beyond Wanagoochie—probably for Des Moines or St. Louis. It was definitely known that on the previous day Holt had left his car at Wanagoochie, and with their customary thoroughness and promptness the police were making search at Wanagoochie. The chief had already communicated with the police in cities to the south, and the capture of the man could confidently be expected at any moment. As long as the chief appointed by our popular mayor was in power it went ill with those who gave even the appearance of wrongdoing.

When asked his opinion of the theory that the alleged fugitive had gone north the chief declared that of course Holt had started in that direction, with the vain hope of throwing pursuers off the scent, but that he had immediately turned south and picked up his car. Though he would not say so definitely the chief let it be known that he was ready to put his hands on the fellow who had hidden Holt’s car at Wanagoochie.

When asked if he thought Holt was crazy the chief laughed and said: “Yes, he’s crazy two hundred thousand dollars’ worth. I’m not making any slams, but there’s a lot of fellows among our gentlemanly political opponents who would go a whole lot crazier for a whole lot less!”

The president of the bank, however, was greatly distressed, and strongly declared his belief that Holt, who was a favorite in the most sumptuous residences on the Boulevard, besides being well-known in local dramatic circles, and who bore the best of reputations in the bank, was temporarily out of his mind, as he had been distressed by pains in the head for some time past. Meantime the bonding company, which had fully covered the employees of the bank by a joint bond of two hundred thousand dollars, had its detectives working with the police on the case.

As soon as he had read the paper John took a trolley into Vernon and called on the president of the bank. John’s face drooped with the sorrow of the disgrace. The president received him. John staggered into the room, groaning: “I have just learned in the newspaper of the terrible news about my brother. I have come—”

“We hope it’s just a case of aphasia. We’re sure he’ll turn up all right,” insisted the president.

“I wish I could believe it. But as I have told you, Jasper is not a good man. He drinks and smokes and play-acts and makes a god of stylish clothes—”

“Good Lord, that’s no reason for jumping to the conclusion that he’s an embezzler!”

“I pray you may be right. But meanwhile I wish to give you any assistance I can. I shall make it my sole duty to see that my brother is brought to justice if it proves that he is guilty.”

“Good o’ you,” mumbled the president. Despite this example of John’s rigid honor he could not get himself to like the man. John was standing beside him, thrusting his stupid face into his.

The president pushed his chair a foot farther away and said disagreeably: “As a matter of fact we were thinking of searching your house. If I remember, you live in Rosebank?”

“Yes. And of course I shall be glad to have you search every inch of it. Or anything else I can do. I feel that I share fully with my twin brother in this unspeakable sin. I’ll turn over the key of my house to you at once. There is also a shed at the back, where Jasper used to keep his automobile when he came to see me.” He produced a large, rusty, old-fashioned door key and held it out, adding: “The address is 27 Humbert Avenue, Rosebank.”

“Oh, it won’t be necessary, I guess,” said the president, somewhat shamed, irritably waving off the key.

“But I just want to help somehow! What can I do? Who is—in the language of the newspapers—who is the detective on the case? I’ll give him any help—”

“Tell you what you do: Go see Mr. Scandling, of the Mercantile Trust and Bonding Company, and tell him all you know.”

“I shall. I take my brother’s crime on my shoulders—otherwise I’d be committing the sin of Cain. You are giving me a chance to try to expiate our joint sin, and, as Brother Jeremiah Bodfish was wont to say, it is a blessing to have an opportunity to expiate a sin, no matter how painful the punishment may seem to be to the mere physical being. As I may have told you I am an accepted member of the Soul Hope Fraternity, and though we are free from cant and dogma it is our firm belief—”

Then for ten dreary minutes John Holt sermonized; quoted forgotten books and quaint, ungenerous elders; twisted bitter pride and clumsy mysticism into a fanatical spider web. The president was a churchgoer, an ardent supporter of missionary funds, for forty years a pew-holder at St. Simeon’s Church, but he was alternately bored to a chill shiver and roused to wrath against this self-righteous zealot.

When he had rather rudely got rid of John Holt he complained to himself: “Curse it, I oughtn’t to, but I must say I prefer Jasper the sinner to John the saint. Uff! What a smell of damp cellars the fellow has! He must spend all his time picking potatoes. Say! By thunder, I remember that Jasper had the infernal nerve to tell me once that if he ever robbed the bank I was to call John in. I know why, now! John is the kind of egotistical fool that would muddle up any kind of a systematic search. Well, Jasper, sorry, but I’m not going to have anything more to do with John than I can help!”

John had gone to the Mercantile Trust and Bonding Company, had called on Mr. Scandling, and was now wearying him by a detailed and useless account of Jasper’s early years and recent vices. He was turned over to the detective employed by the bonding company to find Jasper. The detective was a hard, noisy man, who found John even more tedious. John insisted on his coming out to examine the house in Rosebank, and the detective did so—but sketchily, trying to escape. John spent at least five minutes in showing him the shed where Jasper had sometimes kept his car.

He also attempted to interest the detective in his precious but spotty books. He unlocked one section of the case, dragged down a four-volume set of sermons and started to read them aloud.

The detective interrupted: “Yuh, that’s great stuff, but I guess we aren’t going to find your brother hiding behind those books!”

The detective got away as soon as possible, after insistently explaining to John that if they could use his assistance they would let him know.

“If I can only expiate—”

“Yuh, sure, that’s all right!” wailed the detective, fairly running toward the gate.

John made one more visit to Vernon that day. He called on the chief of city police. He informed the chief that he had taken the bonding company’s detective through his house; but wouldn’t the police consent to search it also? He wanted to expiate— The chief patted John on the back, advised him not to feel responsible for his brother’s guilt and begged: “Skip along now—very busy.”

As John walked to the Soul Hope meeting that evening dozens of people murmured that it was his brother who had robbed the Lumber National Bank. His head was bowed with the shame. At the meeting he took Jasper’s sin upon himself, and prayed that Jasper would be caught and receive the blessed healing of punishment. The others begged John not to feel that he was guilty—was he not one of the Soul Hope brethren who alone in this wicked and perverse generation were assured of salvation?

On Thursday, on Saturday morning, on Tuesday and on Friday John went into the city to call on the president of the bank and the detective. Twice the president saw him, and was infinitely bored by his sermons. The third time he sent word that he was out. The fourth time he saw John, but curtly explained that if John wanted to help them the best thing he could do was to stay away.

The detective was “out” all four times.

John smiled meekly and ceased to try to help them. Dust began to gather on certain candy boxes on the lower shelf of his bookcase, save for one of them, which he took out now and then. Always after he had taken it out a man with faded brown hair and a wrinkled black suit, signing himself R. J. Smith, would send a fair-sized money order from the post office at South Vernon to John Holt, at Rosebank—as he had been doing for more than six months. These money orders could not have amounted to more than twenty-five dollars a week, but that was even more than an ascetic like John Holt needed. By day John sometimes cashed these at the Rosebank post office, but usually, as had been his custom, he cashed them at his favorite grocery when he went out in the evening.

In conversation with the commuter neighbor who every evening walked about and smoked an after-dinner cigar in the yard at the right John was frank about the whole lamentable business of his brother’s defalcation. He wondered, he said, if he had not shut himself up with his studies too much, and neglected his brother. The neighbor ponderously advised John to get out more. John let himself be persuaded, at least to the extent of taking a short walk every afternoon and of letting his literary solitude be disturbed by the delivery of milk, meat and groceries. He also went to the public library, and in the reference room glanced at books on Central and South America—as though he was planning to go south, some day.

But he continued his religious studies. It may be doubted if previous to the embezzlement John had worked very consistently on his book about Revelation. All that the world had ever seen of it was a jumble of quotations from theological authorities. Presumably the crime of his brother shocked him into more concentrated study, more patient writing. For during the year after his brother’s disappearance—a year in which the bonding company gradually gave up the search and came to believe that Jasper was dead—John became fanatically absorbed in somewhat nebulous work. The days and nights drifted together in meditation in which he lost sight of realities, and seemed through the clouds of the flesh to see flashes from the towered cities of the spirit.

It has been asserted that when Jasper Holt acted a rôle he veritably lived it. No one can ever determine how great an actor was lost in the smug bank teller. To him were imperial triumphs denied, yet was he not without material reward. For playing his most subtle part he received ninety-seven thousand dollars. It may be that he earned it. Certainly for the risk entailed it was but a fair payment. Jasper had meddled with the mystery of personality, and was in peril of losing all consistent purpose, of becoming a Wandering Jew of the spirit, a strangled body walking.

IV

The sharp-pointed willow leaves had twisted and fallen, after the dreary rains of October. Bark had peeled from the willow trunks, leaving gashes of bare wood that was a wet and sickly yellow. Through the denuded trees bulked the solid stone back of John Holt’s house. The patches of earth were greasy between the tawny knots of grass stems. The bricks of the walk were always damp now. The world was hunched up in this pervading chill.

As melancholy as the sick earth seemed the man who in a slaty twilight paced the willow walk. His step was slack, his lips moved with the intensity of his meditation. Over his wrinkled black suit and bleak shirt bosom was a worn overcoat, the velvet collar turned green. He was considering.

“There’s something to all this. I begin to see—I don’t know what it is I do see! But there’s lights—supernatural world that makes food and bed seem ridiculous. I am—I really am beyond the law! I made my own law! Why shouldn’t I go beyond the law of vision and see the secrets of life? But I sinned, and I must repent—some day. I need not return the money. I see now that it was given me so that I could lead this life of contemplation. But the ingratitude to the president, to the people who trusted me! Am I but the most miserable of sinners, and as the blind? Voices—I hear conflicting voices—some praising me for my courage, some rebuking—”

He knelt on the slimy black surface of a wooden bench beneath the willows, and as dusk clothed him round about he prayed. It seemed to him that he prayed not in words but in vast confusing dreams—the words of a language larger than human tongues. When he had exhausted himself he slowly entered the house. He locked the door. There was nothing definite of which he was afraid, but he was never comfortable with the door unlocked.

By candle light he prepared his austere supper—dry toast, an egg, cheap green tea with thin milk. As always—as it had happened after every meal, now, for eighteen months—he wanted a cigarette when he had eaten, but did not take one. He paced into the living room and through the long still hours of the evening he read an ancient book, all footnotes and cross references, about The Numerology of the Prophetic Books, and the Number of the Beast. He tried to make notes for his own book on Revelation—that scant pile of sheets covered with writing in a small finicky hand. Thousands of other sheets he had covered; through whole nights he had written; but always he seemed with tardy pen to be racing after thoughts that he could never quite catch, and most of what he had written he had savagely burned.

But some day he would make a masterpiece! He was feeling toward the greatest discovery that mortal men had encountered. Everything, he had determined, was a symbol—not just this holy sign and that, but all physical manifestations. With frightened exultation he tried his new power of divination. The hanging lamp swung tinily. He ventured: “If the arc of that moving radiance touches the edge of the bookcase, then it will be a sign that I am to go to South America, under an entirely new disguise, and spend my money.”

He shuddered. He watched the lamp’s unbearably slow swing. The moving light almost touched the bookcase. He gasped. Then it receded.

It was a warning; he quaked. Would he never leave this place of brooding and of fear—which he had thought so clever a refuge? He suddenly saw it all.

“I ran away and hid in a prison! Man isn’t caught by justice—he catches himself!”

Again he tried. He speculated as to whether the number of pencils on the table was greater or less than five. If greater, then he had sinned; if less, then he was veritably beyond the law. He began to lift books and papers, looking for pencils. He was coldly sweating with the suspense of the test.

Suddenly he cried “Am I going crazy?”

He fled to his prosaic bedroom. He could not sleep. His brain was smoldering with confused inklings of mystic numbers and hidden warnings.

He woke from a half sleep more vision haunted than any waking thought, and cried: “I must go back and confess! But I can’t! I can’t, when I was too clever for them! I can’t go back and let them win. I won’t let those fools just sit tight and still catch me!”

It was a year and a half since Jasper had disappeared. Sometimes it seemed a month and a half; sometimes gray centuries. John’s will power had been shrouded with curious puttering studies; long heavy-breathing sittings with the ouija board on his lap, midnight hours when he had fancied that tables had tapped and crackling coals had spoken. Now that the second autumn of his seclusion was creeping into winter he was conscious that he had not enough initiative to carry out his plans for going to South America. The summer before he had boasted to himself that he would come out of hiding and go south, leaving such a twisty trail as only he could make. But—oh, it was too much trouble. He hadn’t the joy in play-acting which had carried his brother Jasper through his preparations for flight.

He had killed Jasper Holt, and for a miserable little pile of paper money he had become a moldy recluse!

He hated his loneliness, but still more did he hate his only companions, the members of the Soul Hope Fraternity—that pious shrill seamstress, that surly carpenter, that tight-lipped housekeeper, that old shouting man with the unseemly frieze of whiskers. They were so unimaginative. Their meetings were all the same; the same persons rose in the same order and made the same intimate announcements to the Deity that they alone were his elect.

At first it had been an amusing triumph to be accepted as the most eloquent among them, but that had become commonplace, and he resented their daring to be familiar with him, who was, he felt, the only man of all men living who beyond the illusions of the world saw the strange beatitude of higher souls.

It was at the end of November, during a Wednesday meeting at which a red-faced man had for a half hour maintained that he couldn’t possibly sin, that the cumulative ennui burst in John Holt’s brain. He sprang up.

He snarled: “You make me sick, all of you! You think you’re so certain of sanctification that you can’t do wrong. So did I, once! Now I know that we are all miserable sinners—really are! You all say you are, but you don’t believe it. I tell you that you there, that have just been yammering, and you, Brother Judkins, with the long twitching nose, and I—I—I, most unhappy of men, we must repent, confess, expiate our sins! And I will confess right now. I st-stole—”

Terrified he darted out of the hall, and hatless, coatless, tumbled through the main street of Rosebank, nor ceased till he had locked himself in his house. He was frightened because he had almost betrayed his secret, yet agonized because he had not gone on, really confessed, and gained the only peace he could ever know now—the peace of punishment.

He never returned to Soul Hope Hall. Indeed for a week he did not leave his house, save for midnight prowling in the willow walk. Quite suddenly he became desperate with the silence. He flung out of the house, not stopping to lock or even close the front door. He raced uptown, no topcoat over his rotting garments, only an old gardener’s cap on his thick brown hair. People stared at him. He bore it with a resigned fury.

He entered a lunch room, hoping to sit inconspicuously and hear men talking normally about him. The attendant at the counter gaped. John heard a mutter from the cashier’s desk: “There’s that crazy hermit!”

All of the half dozen young men loafing in the place were looking at him. He was so uncomfortable that he could not eat even the milk and sandwich he had ordered. He pushed them away and fled, a failure in the first attempt to dine out that he had made in eighteen months; a lamentable failure to revive that Jasper Holt whom he had coldly killed.

He entered a cigar store and bought a box of cigarettes. He took joy out of throwing away his asceticism. But when, on the street, he lighted a cigarette it made him so dizzy that he was afraid he was going to fall. He had to sit down on the curb. People gathered. He staggered to his feet and up an alley.

For hours he walked, making and discarding the most contradictory plans—to go to the bank and confess; to spend the money riotously and never confess.

It was midnight when he returned to his house.

Before it he gasped. The front door was open. He chuckled with relief as he remembered that he had not closed it. He sauntered in. He was passing the door of the living room, going directly up to his bedroom, when his foot struck an object the size of a book, but hollow sounding. He picked it up. It was one of the booklike candy boxes. And it was quite empty. Frightened he listened. There was no sound. He crept into the living room and lighted the lamp.

The doors of the bookcase had been wrenched open. Every book had been pulled out on the floor. All of the candy boxes, which that evening had contained almost ninety-six thousand dollars, were in a pile; and all of them were empty. He searched for ten minutes, but the only money he found was one five-dollar bill, which had fluttered under the table. In his pocket he had one dollar and sixteen cents. John Holt had six dollars and sixteen cents, no job, no friends—and no identity.

V

When the president of the Lumber National Bank was informed that John Holt was waiting to see him he scowled.

“Lord, I’d forgotten that minor plague! Must be a year since he’s been here. Oh, let him— No, hanged if I will! Tell him I’m too busy to see him. That is, unless he’s got some news about Jasper. Pump him, and find out.”

The president’s secretary sweetly confided to John:

“I’m so sorry, but the president is in conference just now. What was it you wanted to see him about? Is there any news about—uh—about your brother?”

“There is not, miss. I am here to see the president on the business of the Lord.”

“Oh! If that’s all I’m afraid I can’t disturb him.”

“I will wait.”

Wait he did, through all the morning, through the lunch hour—when the president hastened out past him—then into the afternoon, till the president was unable to work with the thought of that scarecrow out there, and sent for him.

“Well, well! What is it this time, John? I’m pretty busy. No news about Jasper, eh?”

“No news, sir, but—Jasper himself! I am Jasper Holt! His sin is my sin.”

“Yes, yes, I know all that stuff—twin brothers, twin souls, share responsibility—”

“You don’t understand. There isn’t any twin brother. There isn’t any John Holt. I am Jasper. I invented an imaginary brother, and disguised myself— Why, don’t you recognize my voice?”

While John leaned over the desk, his two hands upon it, and smiled wistfully, the president shook his head and soothed: “No, I’m afraid I don’t. Sounds like good old religious John to me! Jasper was a cheerful, efficient sort of crook. Why, his laugh—”

“But I can laugh!” The dreadful croak which John uttered was the cry of an evil bird of the swamps. The president shuddered. Under the edge of the desk his fingers crept toward the buzzer by which he summoned his secretary.

They stopped as John urged: “Look—this wig—it’s a wig. See, I am Jasper!”

He had snatched off the brown thatch. He stood expectant, a little afraid.

The president was startled, but he shook his head and sighed.

“You poor devil! Wig, all right. But I wouldn’t say that hair was much like Jasper’s!”

He motioned toward the mirror in the corner of the room.

John wavered to it. And indeed he saw that day by slow day his hair had turned from Jasper’s thin sleek blackness to a straggle of damp gray locks writhing over a yellow skull.

He begged pitifully: “Oh, can’t you see I am Jasper? I stole ninety-seven thousand dollars from the bank. I want to be punished! I want to do anything to prove— Why, I’ve been at your house. Your wife’s name is Evelyn. My salary here was—”

“My dear boy, don’t you suppose that Jasper might have told you all these interesting facts? I’m afraid the worry of this has—pardon me if I’m frank, but I’m afraid it’s turned your head a little, John.”

“There isn’t any John! There isn’t! There isn’t!”

“I’d believe that a little more easily if I hadn’t met you before Jasper disappeared.”

“Give me a piece of paper. You know my writing—”

With clutching claws John seized a sheet of bank stationery and tried to write in the round script of Jasper. During the past year and a half he had filled thousands of pages with the small finicky hand of John. Now, though he tried to prevent it, after he had traced two or three words in large but shaky letters the writing became smaller, more pinched, less legible.

Even while John wrote the president looked at the sheet and said easily: “Afraid it’s no use. That isn’t Jasper’s fist. See here, I want you to get away from Rosebank—go to some farm—work outdoors—cut out this fuming and fussing—get some fresh air in your lungs.” The president rose and purred: “Now, I’m afraid I have some work to do.”

He paused, waiting for John to go.

John fiercely crumpled the sheet and hurled it away. Tears were in his weary eyes.

He wailed: “Is there nothing I can do to prove I am Jasper?”

“Why, certainly! You can produce what’s left of the ninety-seven thousand!”

John took from his ragged waistcoat pocket a five-dollar bill and some change. “Here’s all there is. Ninety-six thousand of it was stolen from my house last night.”

Sorry though he was for the madman the president could not help laughing. Then he tried to look sympathetic, and he comforted: “Well, that’s hard luck, old man. Uh, let’s see. You might produce some parents or relatives or somebody to prove that Jasper never did have a twin brother.”

“My parents are dead, and I’ve lost track of their kin—I was born in England—father came over when I was six. There might be some cousins or some old neighbors, but I don’t know. Probably impossible to find out, in these wartimes, without going over there.”

“Well, I guess we’ll have to let it go, old man.” The president was pressing the buzzer for his secretary and gently bidding her: “Show Mr. Holt out, please.”

From the door John desperately tried to add: “You will find my car sunk—”

The door had closed behind him. The president had not listened.

The president gave orders that never, for any reason, was John Holt to be admitted to his office again. He telephoned to the bonding company that John Holt had now gone crazy; that they would save trouble by refusing to admit him.

John did not try to see them. He went to the county jail. He entered the keeper’s office and said quietly: “I have stolen a lot of money, but I can’t prove it. Will you put me in jail?”

The keeper shouted: “Get out of here! You hoboes always spring that when you want a good warm lodging for the winter! Why the devil don’t you go to work with a shovel in the sand pits? They’re paying two-seventy-five a day.”

“Yes, sir,” said John timorously. “Where are they?”

THE STORY VINTON HEARD AT MALLORIE

By KATHARINE PRESCOTT MOSELEY
From Scribner’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Copyright, 1919, by Katharine Prescott Moseley.

“There is only one letter for you,” said Ware’s sister, and she turned the handle of the coffee-urn as she watched him slit the envelope, for Ware had exclaimed: “By Jove! It’s from Vinton.” And then, after a moment: “That’s a nice thing. Roberts posted this last night instead of telephoning it up directly it came. He’s on the ——nia, due in New York—let me see—you have the Herald there—look in the shipping, will you? Are they sighted?”

Abigail took up the paper. “Docked last night at nine,” she said.

“Then he’ll have caught the midnight from New York. If he’s not stopping in Boston he’ll be on the eight fifty-eight.”

“Is he coming here?”

“Yes, he says so. He’ll have quite a bit to tell if I know him.” And an hour or so later Abigail Ware saw Vinton lift his eyes to the columns of the white porch glistening in the morning sun behind her, and as he sprang out of the motor and took her hand: “My foot is on my native heath and my name is MacGregor!” he cried.

Abigail led the way into the dining-room. “Come in by the fire; I’ve kept some coffee hot,” she said.

Vinton approached the warmth of the pine logs that were sending out sparks against the screen of the Franklin stove. “There’s something fearfully penetrating about the air over here at this time of year,” he began. “Open fires are its saving complement.”

Abigail held out his cup.

“Warm as toast in England; perfect English spring this year.”

“Oh, no doubt of it; spring’s the time for England,” Ware asserted.

“Fall for New England,” said Ware’s sister. “But tell me,” she went on, “you were talking of saving complements. What are the saving complements over there just now?”

“There aren’t any.” Vinton’s voice was suddenly sombre.

“I should think not!” It came from brother and sister at once.

A moment passed before Vinton turned from the fire and let his eyes wander from the pale yellow heads of the daffodils nodding in the easterly May air outside to the cool tints of the Lowestoft bowl on which some Chinese artisan a century before had picked out the initials of a merchant-sailor grandfather in pale tints of blue and gold and which now stood in the centre of the table filled with sprays of the rhodora. “Yes,” he said slowly, “I suppose there are saving complements of a sort if one is heroic enough to find them, but—well, one can hardly— What shall I say? Everything over there—I mean all sorts of what you’d call merely material objects—is being charged, I believe, with some kind of spiritual essence that is going to be indefinitely active to future contact.”

He looked across the table to where Ware sat with his chair a little pushed back, and laughed. “The intolerant old Puritan thinks I’m off again, doesn’t he?” he said almost archly. Then he glanced about the room once more. “I think,” he continued, “that there is an extraordinary beauty of a kind about our old houses over here—a charm, too, although I’ve never been able to analyze it, for, after all, you know, there’s nothing in them!”

“The Puritan,” he began to explain, “belonged peculiarly to the race that in England had always opposed all of what one may call the sensory elements that were of such immense appeal to the race of the Cavaliers, for I believe that the two did spring from essentially different roots.

“‘A primrose by a river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.’”

“What more does it need to be?” Ware protested, and “Ah! there you are,” Vinton responded. “But don’t you see, after all, such negation never created”—he laughed a little again. “Never created an—an—”

“An eschatology?” supplemented Ware.

“A what? What on earth’s an eschatology?” gasped Ware’s sister.

“Say, for brevity, the material manifestation of spiritual things; not quite theological, but ’t will serve,” Vinton returned, and was silent; and after a time Abigail asked him what he thought of the legend of the Angel of Mons. Then it was that Vinton began to be truly cryptic. “What’s the use,” he said genially, “of talking about these things to two people who are made of stuff as splendidly solid and insensitive to the vibrations of what they’d call fantasy as their colonial pieces themselves.”

Abigail sighed. “I’m sorry that I’m too insensitive to hear of these saving complements of horror,” she said. “As for Billy, I suppose he wants the facts.”

“The horror,” returned Vinton, “for the facts are all horror. If it hadn’t been for the story that the Marquis of Mallorie’s daughter told me I should bring home nothing else.”

“Is this one of those manifestations you refuse to reveal to us?”

“It is the only one. It’s no use before Ware; perhaps some time—if you will listen.”

“Go on,” said Ware; “‘si non e vero, e ben trovato’”.

“Oh, I’m not making it up.”

“Well, what do they say about the Russian advance, over there? Did you see any of the big German guns in action?”

For days after this the conversation turned on the technical questions of war, with which Vinton’s opportunities as a war correspondent had made him familiar.

Then one night Vinton had come down from Boston on a late afternoon train. He had been lunching at one of the clubs with friends who had listed him to speak at two or three houses in aid of emergency funds. It was tea-time and suddenly he rose, with his cup and saucer in hand, and went over to one of the dining-room windows. “Hello,” he said. “We’re going to get a northeaster, I’ll be bound.”

“The sheep-shearer’s due,” said Ware from his desk.

And it was that very night, when the great easterly gale was enveloping the whole New England coast and was sending showers of sparks down the big fire-place before which they sat, in a low-ceiled room which had been the kitchen in colonial days, that Vinton told the story as he had heard it from the Marquis of Mallorie’s daughter.

――――

“It seems,” he began, “that the Mallories are of an immensely ancient family in the southwest of England; the title is one of the oldest in the realm, and one of the poorest. Away back in the time of the Tudor they became Protestant under protest, and have remained so under protest; only their chapel, like the worshipping places of the early Christians, was taken down into the bosom of the earth and there it rested, exhaling strange virtues over all the land above, and, as many thought, harboring much of good that the newer order of things had cast out. And so the Mallories are High-Church and when the Puseyites began their revolt they were only approaching what the Mallories had been for centuries. And about these delightful people there is none of the fanaticism of the convert.

“When war broke out there were two beautiful daughters living, most of their time, down there at Mallorie Abbey, and a son who went over with the expeditionary force as soon as war was declared. This young man was killed in action, under the most heroic circumstances. He was, apparently, the type of young soldier who might have been one of Arthur’s men, and I believe the clerical incumbent there used to quote the lines of the Puritan Milton: ‘Arthur stirring wars under the earth that hides him,’ or ‘Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen,’ as having a kind of ironic application to the whole Mallorie domain. When I came back from France I was pretty well used up, and Carteret Lyon asked me down to his place, which stands within four or five miles of Mallorie, in the south. They are, of course, in mourning and fearfully sad, but I met the eldest daughter at tea one afternoon, and, being the most natural people on earth, and as I could tell her some things she wished to hear about France, we became almost friends at once. After that they made me welcome at Mallorie whenever I dropped in at tea-time, and one day Lady Maurya took me over the abbey, telling me as we went through the dim old place with its stained and mullioned windows a lot of its curious, almost supernatural, history. Suddenly she broke off from the narrative, on which it had seemed to me that her mind had been only lightly fixed, and, sinking down on a window-seat in the low, long hall we had been passing through, she looked up at me and said: ‘Ah, this is nothing to something that has really happened here within the year.’

“I asked her if she could tell me, and she answered that she wished to, but that it was all so very extraordinary that she feared I would be unable to believe it, and she felt that she could not hear it doubted.

“I said to her that I was the most believing man since the Dark Ages, and so she told me.

“It was the anniversary of her brother’s death, and a quarter to three in the morning had just struck from the clock on a kind of tower that rises over the chapel and which has a circular stairway running down into the middle of a small lady-chapel where her brother’s body (which had finally been found after the engagement in which he had been killed) had been buried. She and the other members of her family were keeping vigil beside the tomb by turns while masses were being said, during the twelve hours that were passing, and she was just mounting the stairs to go to her room for a little rest, being nearly exhausted with fatigue and emotion, when suddenly the tower and stairway, which had been in inky darkness before, became as light as day. She knew in an instant what it was, and, looking up, straight over her head she saw a Zeppelin hovering exactly above where she stood and so low that it seemed to her that she could see the crew and their preparations for the hideous work afoot. Then she looked down and a single shaft of the search-light fell directly on the heads of those who were gathered on their knees about the tomb. They were praying, with their heads bent and their eyes closed, for not one of them seemed to be aware of it, and the priests, whose chanting came up to her fearfully from the altar, were protected from it by the high reredos. There was something so dreadful and so uncanny about it all that she was petrified, for she knew that annihilation was hanging over her and all her family, without the shadow of a doubt, for the aim was at the tower—which was a landmark for miles around—and that it would fall before she could warn one of her people to safety, when, as in a flash from nowhere, flying at a most terrific rate of speed yet without a sound and straight at the Zeppelin, there appeared an aeroplane. It approached almost within hailing distance of the great thing without firing, and then, as the Zeppelin started a little, the aeroplane began swirling about it. She could not tell how long a battle went on between them without a single shot from either. It seemed as if the aeroplane was winding the monster in some intangible net, in which it turned and twisted and writhed, trying to get away into the free air; and then, again without a single shot, it fell to earth.

“Every one of the crew had been killed when the men went out to it, and while she and her sister watched from the top of the tower they saw the aeroplane skim down and land just below them. Hastening below she threw back a little door that opened to the ground, and there she came face to face with the aeronaut. He wore no helmet, and, in this very early light, for it was in the first days of the year, he looked as if he stood in a shining black armor. His hair was golden, and the rising sun touched it, and he was the most beautiful creature that she had ever seen—so beautiful that she fell back against the wall behind her.

“Then the others came and showered him with thanks and insisted that he should be their guest at Mallorie, and, to every one’s astonishment, Lady Maurya’s mother called the man who had served her son for many years and directed him to take the stranger to her son’s rooms, that had not been open since the day he fell in battle, and also she said that as they were of about the same height his wardrobe should be at the stranger’s disposal. He accepted their invitation and stayed at Mallorie Abbey for nearly a week, saying that there were a few things he must do about his machine. And yet, during his whole stay, no one ever saw him at work on it. In fact, although the Mallories never mentioned it to him, they knew that there was much excitement, not only among their own people but in the countryside, because since the moment he had come to earth no one had been able to find the aeroplane. He would sometimes play tennis with Lady Maurya and her sister the whole morning or afternoon, and at sight of him in their brother’s flannels and with his gayest kummerbunds and ties they felt no pangs, only a great comfort in his presence, not exactly as if their brother was really back with them, but as if he had power to fill them with the same sort of happiness they had always felt when the young soldier was at home with them on leave.

“One night during that week a general officer back from France on an important mission dined at the abbey. After dinner, something calling the marquis out, the officer and the aeronaut, Lieutenant Templar, as he called himself, were left alone. As the officer was bidding Lady Maurya good-by, two hours later, he said: ‘This evening has been worth twenty trips from France. I have learned that which may be of such value to us that it will turn the tide of war. This young saviour of Mallorie Abbey may be the saviour of Europe. But how does he know?’

“Then it was that Lady Maurya took Lieutenant Templar by himself, and she brought him into the very hall where she told me the story, and she said to him (and how could any creature of earth or heaven have resisted her, for she has all the beauty and all the allurements of both?): ‘Why were your wings all purple and gold when you came flying to save us that morning?’

“And he answered her: ‘The shadow of the earth upon the skies, and a touch of dawn.’

“‘But there was no dawn,’ she said. ‘And when you came to the great monster why did your wings change to flaming scarlet, so bright that no eyes could rest upon them?’

“‘The rising sun,’ he said.

“And she answered: ‘But there was no rising sun.’

“And then he looked at her for a long time while neither spoke, and at last: ‘How could you send the thing to earth without a single shot?’ she asked.

“And he answered, after a moment: ‘Because in me is all the strength of that bright ardor which has led young warriors to die in battle for the right since earth began. And now my strength is most mightily renewed with the strength of all the lads who were the first to die for England. Was not your brother one of these? Such souls are the stuff of which are made the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host.’

“And as she looked at him, standing before her, it seemed to her, in the dim light, that instead of the evening clothes he had been wearing she saw again a glint of black armor as on the morning when he had first come to them, and then, like Elsa, she asked him who he was, and he, like Lohengrin, was gone.

“But from that day to this there has been no more sorrowing at Mallorie Abbey.”

――――

The great northeaster had stopped its wild howling at the very moment that Vinton was adding: “They have never known which of them it was—whether it was Michael—or Gabriel—or Raphael!”

Ware poked the fire and said nothing.

“Do you believe it?” asked Ware’s sister.

“What an impossible word that word ‘believe’ is! What does it mean?”

“And do you like the idea—the idea of losing one’s identity in one great superlative being like that?”

Vinton thought a moment, and then he said: “When I remember that all the trouble on this earth comes in the train of that infernal thing we call the ego it seems to me that the heavenly things must indeed arise from its complete surrender. Yes,” he continued more slowly, “yes, I think I like it very much.”

THE TOAST TO FORTY-FIVE

By WILLIAM DUDLEY PELLEY
From The Pictorial Review
Copyright, 1918, by The Pictorial Review Company.
Copyright, 1919, by William Dudley Pelley.

In this little Vermont town of Paris, on the top floor of the red-brick post-office block, over half a century have been located the quarters of Farrington Post, Paris Chapter, G. A. R.

In the rooms of Farrington Post—under a glass case filled with countless other relics belonging to Captain Jonathan Farrington’s company, that marched away one hundred and seven strong that forenoon in ’61—has been kept a bottle of rare old wine.

That wine was old when those stalwart young Vermonters who followed Captain John Farrington were children. Through half a century it has occupied its place in that glass case; during that long time it has been viewed by many visitors to our town; over and over again has the story of “The Toast to Forty-five” been told until that double-quart of priceless vintage has become one of our chief sights of interest to the stranger within the gates. It was not through accident or chance that this bottle of wine was saved. Up to last August there was a pretty sentiment connected with that bottle of wine and why it should have been preserved thus throughout the years.

Up to last August, indeed! Because that bottle is no longer under the glass case in the Grand Army rooms in the post-office block. It has been taken from among those relics of yesterday; the seal has been broken; the contents have been poured out. Glistening red as the blood which those lads of ’61 shed for the principles in which they believed, that liquor was consumed in the pledging of a toast.

――――

When the homefolks suggested that the county give a dinner to the returned heroes on the sixteenth day of August, 1866—Bennington Battle Day and a holiday in Vermont always—Dashing Captain Jack Fuller was not the one to quash the suggestion. “Dashing Jack” had been the man to take John Farrington’s place when John lost his life at Gettysburg. He was a great dude, was Captain Jack; a lover of the dramatic and the spectacular; with the pomp of soldiering verily in his blood and the vanity of many generations of Fullers in his fiber.

On the night of August 16, 1866, “The Toast to Forty-five Banquet” was held on the top floor of the old Vermont House. It took place in the big room with the spring dance-floor. That old Paris hostelry was burned in ’73. In the course of that affair, Dashing Jack arose and made a speech—likewise a proposal.

The flower of Vermont of the Sixties was gathered about those tables. There were young men to whom fame and fortune afterward would come. There were sturdy beautiful girls in quaint dresses that in succeeding years would mother sons and daughters who are the pride and glory of Vermont of the present. The lights shone on gloriously happy faces. Two hundred voices turned the room into vocal pandemonium. It was several minutes before Dashing Captain Jack could gain their attention and make himself heard.

When finally all eyes were turned upon him, they saw that he was holding high in his right hand a bottle of wine.

“Ye gallant sons and daughters of Vermont! Tonight is a great night!” cried Jack in ringing, self-confident, magnetic tones. “We are attending a dinner tonight that will be remembered in the history of our town and State long after the last comrade now within sound of my voice has gone to make his bivouac with the illustrious Company Forty-five—the name which we have given the forty-five brave lads who marched away with us but who were not destined by a higher providence to march back. On this night, therefore, beholding this wine before me, it has occurred to me to propose the inauguration of a rite—almost a sacred rite—the like of which no Post has ever heard.”

The room was now very quiet. And Captain Jack reveled in the drama of the scene.

“In this room,” he cried, “—in sound of my voice at this moment, are two boys who will be the very last to join Company Forty-five. Sooner or later we shall all be called to answer to our names in the Great Muster; but some will be called sooner than others. There will certainly come a day in the years which lie ahead when there will be only two remaining of this company of sixty-two here to-night. Think of it, boys! Just two! Look into one another’s faces and ask yourselves—who are those two—which of you will they be?”

The room was strangely silent. The smiles died on the faces of many women. Dashing Captain Jack indicated the wine he held in his hand.

“Here is the thing which I propose; to make the annual dinners of Farrington Post different from any other reunions which shall ever be held:

“I hold in my hand the last unsealed bottle of the vintage which we have tasted to-night in our first toast in peace to the missing lads that have made that peace possible. Let this last bottle be saved. Year after year we will have our annual dinners. Year after year, as we gather round the board, familiar faces will be missing. Many will fall by the way. At last—will be only two comrades—of this roomful here to-night. And when at last those two shall face one another and think back to this first banquet in the dim and sacred past—when they alone remain—when sixty have gone to join old Forty-five and they realize that perhaps before another year is passed, they will have joined that illustrious company also—let them break the seal on this bottle. Let them fill their glasses. Let them clink those crystal rims together and drink the last toast to those who have gone. And when the seal on this bottle thus is broken, let our reunions be held no more.”

They drank, and the next morning the banquet was a thing of history.

――――

Year after year those veterans have gathered about the board and gazed on that rare old vintage, wondering whether he was to be one of the two to drink that final toast to Forty-five—and under what circumstances. Each has realized that before another August sixteenth came around, certain familiar faces were to be missing. Dashing Captain Jack started something far more dramatic than he realized.

Poor Captain Jack! He married one of the Kingsley girls that year and a little son was born to them. A month and a day after the birth of that son he was killed in an accident on the old New York Railroad. He was the first to join Forty-five!

Sixty-two men sat down to that first banquet. In 1900 the number was thirty—less than half. In 1910 there were eleven veterans. Since 1910 the old soldiers have been going rapidly.

At the Post dinner of August 16, 1912, the ranks of Captain Jack’s company had dwindled to four old men. There was Uncle Joe Fodder, the commander; Martin Chisholm, who made his money in the grist-mill; Henry Weston, who for seven years had been an inmate of the State Soldier’s Home; and—old Wilbur Nieson, who spent his days hanging around the street corners and stores.

The reunion ended as forty-six other reunions had ended, excepting that they did not talk their battles over again so vehemently as on former occasions. Indeed, they had talked themselves out. They were “waiting” now, and the old bottle of wine set in the center of their table was a symbol of fatalism, mute testimony to the inexorable law of human life. Next day we reported it as usual in our local paper.

At about ten-thirty o’clock of the following evening—to be exact, the seventeenth day of August, 1912—Mrs. Samuel Hod, wife of the Telegraph’s editor, while working in her kitchen, heard a frightful scream come from somewhere in the neighborhood.

Mrs. Hod rushed to the door. Outside was a clear, warm summer night. Across the picket fence that separated the Hod yard from the rear yards of the houses facing on Pleasant Street, she could see a light in the kitchen of the Fuller boy’s house—young Jack Fuller, grandson of Dashing Captain Jack of years gone by. The neighborhood was very quiet during those two minutes she stood there listening in her fright.

Then suddenly that scream was repeated—sharp, clear, terrible! It came from the home across the picket fence. It was Betty Fuller screaming. From the agony in the cries something ghastly had happened. Mrs. Hod ran through her house and called to her husband. Sam helped his wife over the back fence and they made their way under the Fuller clothes-line, through the back shed, and into the little sitting-room.

Betty Fuller was down on the floor. She was face downward, her head protected by her arm. Two feet from her, between the reading-table and the door into the dining-room, was her nine-months-old baby. Holding himself unsteadily between the casings of the hall door was young Jack, his face the color of cold ashes, his lips parched, drops of sweat, heavy as glycerin, standing on his forehead.

“What’s happened?” demanded Sam.

But he saw what had happened; and his wife saw; and so did the neighbors. The baby’s crib was mute witness to what had occurred. It was overturned—between Jack and his little family.

“Betty! Betty!” cried Mrs. Hod, kneeling down to the young mother’s assistance.

“My baby! My only, only, little baby!” moaned the girl.

“Tell me,” roared Sam to the father, “how did this happen?”

“I came in—sick—I guess—I guess—I didn’t see the kid’s crib. I fell over against it! I knocked it over—”

The neighbor woman had picked up the little body.

“It’s—dead!” she whispered hoarsely.

Sam whirled on Jack.

“Sick!” he roared. “Sick! The h—— you was sick! You was drunk! You’re drunk now! See what you’ve done? You’ve killed your own kid—!”

At his words the girl shrieked again, that long agonizing terrible shriek that brought more neighbors.

“It was an accident,” whispered the Fuller boy thickly.

“It wouldn’t have been an accident if you’d behaved yourself and cut out this coming home drunk.”

The woman picked up the girl and got her to the sofa. Over and over she kept moaning: “My baby! My only, only, little baby!”

The place filled with neighbors. After a while came Doctor Johnson—who was our coroner—and Mike Hogan, our chief of police.

Mike was at a loss whether to arrest the father or not. Sam dispelled his doubts.

“When the boy comes to himself and gets the stuff out of his brain, he’ll feel bad enough, Mike,” the fatherly old editor said. “The memory of it will be enough punishment. After all, he didn’t do it intentionally.”

“He’s no good, sorr,” stormed Mike, indicating the young father while he grew husky-throated at the pathos of the little mother’s grief.

“Yes, he is, Mike. This is really Dick Fuller’s—his father’s—fault. He shouldn’t ever have left the lad ten thousand dollars and no balance-wheel. Let these two children alone. It’s for them to settle between themselves. Jack’s got the Fuller blood in him from away back; and I think this will bring out his manhood. It’s a fearful price for a young father to have to pay, Mike. But maybe, after all, it’s for the best.”

The neighbors left the boy and girl to their tragedy.

The marriage of old Wilbur Nieson’s daughter Elisabeth to young Jack Fuller had been talked of in our town for a month and a day. Richard Fuller, son of Dashing Captain Jack, had grown to manhood, made considerable money and died, leaving it to his boy, whereupon the lad started straight for the devil.

Before he had come into his inheritance, he had been “keeping company” with little Betty Nieson, who worked in the box-factory and lived with her derelict father in the scrubby old Nieson place out Cedar Street on the edge of town. The boy drank considerably and the rumor found its way into our newspaper office that, despite his money, Betty would not marry him until he had conquered the habit.

A town’s mind is a child’s mind and it readily sympathized with the struggle that the Nieson girl was making in her poor blind handicapped way to climb out of the environment which she had always known, and make something of herself. Then suddenly one day Jack Fuller sold his racy automobile. He and Betty were married and they furnished a modest home on Pleasant Street. One-half of the town said it was because Jack had gone through his inheritance. The other half said that it was his wife’s influence over him. Certainly to all appearances the girl was making a desperate and commendable struggle not only to raise herself up but to compel Jack to be a man. Then the half of the home-folks which had claimed the way Jack squandered his money had been at the bottom of his marriage, were apparently in the right. For shortly after the pitiful little marriage the boy was seen frequenting the Whitney House bar as much as ever.

Now came this additional sorrow into the girl’s life. She had married the lad trying to get away from the hereditary taint of the Nieson blood. It had come to her now that there appeared to be a taint also in the Fuller blood. She had lost her baby. The Hods said that there was a light burning in the Fuller tenement all that night.

The baby was buried the next day. It was a pathetic little funeral, just a prayer or two by Doctor Dodd of the Methodist Church, and then Blake Whipple, the undertaker, took care of the interment.

The evening of the day that the poor little shaver was laid underground, Mrs. Hod entered the tenement to console the bereaved girl. She entered without knocking. She paused at the threshold, made rigid by the sight before her.

For Jack Fuller was down on his knees before the girl he had married. His finely-shaped head was buried in her lap. He was sobbing freakishly, for men do not know how to weep. And the girl seated there on the sofa was staring into unseeing space with a holy look upon her beautifully plain face; her slender shapely fingers toying with the boy’s wavy hair.

“Never, never, never—will I touch a drop of the stuff as long as I live, Betty,” he choked between his tears. “I don’t care—what the provocation is—I won’t ever do it. I’ve been a cad, Betty. I haven’t been a Fuller at all—but I’ll show you I can be. I’ll make up for this. We’ve lost the baby, Betty—but it’s brought me to my senses. I’m—done! I swear it before God, Betty. I’m—done!”

The girl never knew a neighbor was looking on, unable to withdraw without disclosing her presence.

“If that’s the price, Jack,” she replied softly, divinely, “—if that’s the price—and you’ll keep your word—I’ll pay it! Jackie dear—I love you. I’ve loved you all along. But this has always been the way with me. There was Dad. Rum got him—rum stole him away from me. When he was himself he was all right. But he drank and then beat me—he made me want to kill myself just because I was a Nieson—because his blood half saturated with rum—was in my veins. I married you, Jackie—because I hoped to pull myself up from being a Nieson. I hoped to show folks what I wanted to be—what I tried so hard to be. Every one knows the Niesons are worthless trash, the scum of the town. And I thought—being your wife—the wife of a Fuller—things would be different. The liquor seemed robbing me of you too, Jack. But if this—has given you back to me—yes—I’ll pay the price. It’s all right, Jack. I’ll take your word that you’ll never, never take a drop of the stuff again.”

Mrs. Hod succeeded in getting out without being discovered. She went home and told her husband. Sam shook his head sadly.

“I hope so,” commented the worldly wise old newspaper man, who frequently understood two-legged human folks better than they understood themselves. “I hope so, indeed. I’d do anything under God’s heaven to help him. But I’m afraid for him—afraid for him and the girl. It sure will be hell for her if the lad breaks his promise—just once!”

But to his everlasting credit, let it be set down that the Fuller blood came uppermost in Jack. He did not break his promise. But what the poor boy went through in that succeeding six months only a reticent God in His heaven knows.

Jack had sold his automobile for two hundred dollars. Now he transferred what was left of his legacy from a checking account in the corner bank to the savings department. He went to work for Will Pease mending automobiles in the Paris Garage.

He grew thin and haggard with the struggle he was making. Some brainless young roustabouts in our town tried to get him to drink again just for the sake of winning him back to his old habits. They actually did get him into a bar one night with a glass of liquor before him. Then I guess it came to him what he was doing. The Fuller blood in him made a great convulsion for the upper hand—and won! He smashed the glass into the tempter’s eyes and stumbled out into the raw cold night—and home.

The boy came home to his childless wife one night and said:

“Betty—it’s hell!” he said. “I’m all burned out inside, Betty—”

“Jack,” she cried piteously, “you’re not going to give way after—after the price—we paid.”

“Not if I can help it, Betty,” he replied. “But I need help, girl. I need some sort of discipline that’ll straighten me out and help me physically. Betty—I’ve got a chance—to get into the quartermaster’s department of the Vermont National Guard—”

“You mean—be a soldier?” she cried.

“And why not, Betty?” he said. “My grandfather was a soldier. You know what he did in the Civil War; what he means to the Grand Army men. It’s in my blood, I guess, Betty—”

“Jack!” she cried. “Don’t leave me now! Don’t leave me alone! Don’t! Don’t! There’s too many memories, Jack. I ain’t—brave enough, Jack!”

He sank down on the sofa and hid his burning face in his hands.

“God help me!” he groaned. “I want to win out, but I’m all wrong inside. Oh, Betty!”

She tried in her poor pitiful way to help him. She did help him—a little bit. But Jack was nearer right than he knew. He joined the Y. M. C. A. that winter and went in for athletics. But two nights a week “on the floor” wasn’t rigorous enough for him.

Pinkie Price, our star reporter, came into the newspaper office one forenoon and exclaimed, “Hey, you know that Fuller chap that killed his kid when he come home stewed? Well, what do you suppose he’s up to? You know the preparedness scare and the trouble with Mexico and everything? Well, he’s startin’ to raise a company right here in Paris—a company o’ real soldiers—so’s to have ’em ready in case we get into the Europe scrap. They’re goin’ to drill four nights a week and Sundays in Academy Hall.”

“It isn’t surprising,” commented Sam Hod. “He comes from a family of soldiers. Well, I hope he does. If he’s captain of a company of men like his grandaddy was in ’63 he’ll have his position to maintain and that won’t mean flirting with whisky. Good for the boy! I said he had the right stuff in him. Go see him and write his scheme up, Pinkie. The Telegraph’ll give it all the preferred position it deserves.”

“Hey,” said Pinkie, shifting suddenly to another subject through the association of ideas, “—d’yer know that old Martin Chisholm kicked off last night? Yep; heart disease!”

Sam looked around the office at our faces.

“So ‘The Toast to Forty-five’ has narrowed down to Henry Weston, Uncle Joe Fodder, and Wilbur Nieson! Too bad, too bad!”

Jack Fuller, out of regard for the little wife’s feelings, did not take the quartermaster’s job. But he did organize the Paris Home Guard. Soldier blood ran in his veins. The “Fuller Fire-eaters” as our town named them, was a crack company. The place Jack held as head of that company was as a tonic to the lad; it gave him something to think about, to interest himself in when the hankering for the fellowship of our three saloons became too powerful. When the trouble with Mexico became acute there were weeks when the local boys, catching his enthusiasm, drilled six nights in succession in their rooms up-stairs in the Cedar Street Engine-house. They had regular army uniforms and were connected somehow with the State National Guard—we never could just understand the connection.

As for “The Toast to Forty-five,” the climax didn’t come in August, 1916. When Bennington Battle Day rolled around that year all three men were still living who had been alive the reunion before.

In February the United States severed relations with Germany. In April the United States declared war. In June ten million young Americans enrolled themselves for the draft. And in July, when all the confusion of the draft had cleared away, it was found that half of “Fuller’s Fire-eaters” had been called upon to fill the Paris quota of Vermont’s two thousand.

But Jack Fuller’s name was not drawn.

On a certain July night in the little tenement which they still kept on Pleasant Street, the Fuller boy stood beside the table in the same room where his small son had been killed in the overturning of the cradle a while before, with his face as white as chalk and Betty before him on her knees where she had sunk down in her misery, clutching him convulsively.

“Don’t go and leave me, Jack,” she moaned. “Oh, Jack, don’t do it. You’re all I’ve got, Jack—and there are so many unmarried men to go—!”

“My grandfather led the Paris boys in ’63, Betty,” he said hoarsely. “My great-great-grandfather led a company in the battle of Bennington. The country’s calling again, Betty. It’s up to a Fuller to take his place at the head of the Paris lads once more. I’ve got the company, Betty. They’re wild to enlist as a body and I can get the regular appointment as their captain—”

“Wait till your turn comes in the draft, Jack. Don’t leave me, now, Jack. There are so many unmarried men to go. If the country wants you so bad that they call all the married men, I’ll try to be brave and give you up, Jack. But wait for that—tell me you will!”

“I can’t stand it to see the boys I’ve drilled march away with another chap at their head, Betty.”

“Jack!” she cried hysterically, “it was you that took little Edward away from me! And now—you’re taking yourself. You don’t have to go—yet. You’re taking yourself—yourself—because—you don’t love me—”

It was the first time in two or three years that she had taunted him with what he had done to their child. It reacted upon him as though she had struck him a blow.

“Betty!” he cried hoarsely. “Don’t say that, Betty. You’re mad over this thing—you’re asking me to hide behind the skirts of women—”

“Jack—I’ve had so much sorrow—first with Mother, then with Father, then losing the baby so—now with you going away and leaving me—that I can’t stand much more, Jack. I’ll go mad—really mad, Jack! I can’t go back and live again with Father, and see his stumbling footsteps when he comes home drunk, and hear his talk, and see him gibber—I’ll have nobody, nobody, to live for! Oh, Jack!”

“You can be as brave as millions of other childless wives all over America, able for a while to care for themselves. You told me once that you hated the Nieson blood in you even if your father was a soldier. You said after we were married that you were trying to pull yourself up and be somebody. You said you were happy because our kids would have Fuller blood in them. And now instead of coming up to the scratch in a real crisis, Betty, you’re showing yellow and groveling round like a Nieson. If I’m willing to run the chance of getting shot—”

But he did not go on. Her screams of hysteria began. And the little wife who had stood so much broke down at last.

Doctor Johnson was called. He attended the girl for eight days. During that time, only regard for Jack made the boys hold off in enlisting as a unit altogether for France. Doctor Johnson said that if Jack volunteered with them, and Betty heard he was going, the shock would kill her. So the boy went around town, torn between love and duty.

And during those days something happened in our community. Wilbur Nieson and Henry Weston died—within a few days of one another. Henry Weston succumbed to kidney trouble which had afflicted him for years. And old Wilbur Nieson—Wilbur Nieson had the “tremors” as we say up here in New England—delirium tremens—one night in the rear of the Whitney House. The boys in the livery found him. The Sons of Veterans buried him. So much for the carefully cherished plans of humankind. For a half-century the members of Farrington Post had saved that rare old Vintage for “The Toast to Forty-five.” And there were not even two old soldiers left of that original company to observe the sentiment. “The Toast to Forty-five” could never be pledged, after all!

A couple of weeks slipped away. August sixteenth approached. The boy came into the office of our little local paper one morning and said:

“I’ve made up my mind; I’m going to France. Instead of having our ranks broken by the draft, all the ‘Fire-eaters’ are enlisting as a body in the National Guard. And I—am going—with them.”

“But your wife?”

“It won’t be any harder for her to stay behind than it is for me to leave. But I’ve got to get into this thing. Something inside of me is firing me to do it. She’ll bear it—somehow.”

“When are you boys going?” asked Sam.

“We’ll be leaving somewhere around the twentieth.”

“The twentieth!” exclaimed Sam. In that moment something occurred to him. “The twentieth!” he exclaimed over again. “And on the sixteenth—the old army men were going to hold their last reunion if only those two hadn’t died. Jack—!”

“Yes.”

“Why not—why not—why not have Paris give you boys a royal send-off on that night—the night of the sixteenth—a dinner for you fellows the sixteenth; a dinner for you fellows in place of the old Grand Army reunion!”

“I guess the boys would be willing,” replied Jack with a sad smile.

We printed a long piece in our little local paper about it, that night. Again the Vermont boys were going to war. Again a Fuller was to lead them. Tickets for the farewell dinner were on sale at the Metropolitan Drug-store, five dollars apiece, the proceeds to go to the Red Cross.

――――

Bennington Battle Day came. All preparations for the greatest banquet Paris ever saw were completed. The time-worn custom of having the dinner in the rooms of Farrington Post was abandoned. The Post rooms would never hold the crowd. The dinner was to be held in the assembly hall of the new high school. That was the largest floor-space procurable in Paris.

Sam Hod had three sons in Captain Jack’s company—more than any other father in Paris. He was designated as toastmaster for that epochal dinner. At a long table at the head of the hall he was to sit with Uncle Joe Fodder on his right and young Captain Jack Fuller on his left. Beyond, on either side there were grouped officers of the company. Then the rest of the places were filled up with the privates of Fuller’s Fire-eaters and the public. The dinner was set for eight o’clock and by ten minutes of eight there were hundreds of Parisians in the hallways and on the sidewalk unable to get standing room in the dining-room, to say nothing of obtaining a seat and a plate.

Promptly on the dot of eight, Otis Hawthorne, leader of the Paris Band, tapped his baton on his music-stand.

With a great crash the apartment was filled to the furthermost crevices with the thunderous tumult of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Every man and woman in that hall rose to his feet. They sang that song. They sang it as they had never sung it before. Because in that moment the real meaning of the words came home to them.

“—Oh, say, does the Star Spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?”

Sam Hod looked at his three lean boys in khaki, that in another week would be only a memory. And his face shone with an emotion he had never known the meaning of before. Women wept like—women. As the chorus died away, cheer on cheer arose and floated out the lowered windows into the soft summer night.

They resumed their chairs. Jack Fuller turned to the editor.

“Who’s this empty chair for on my left?” he demanded.

“Your wife, my son,” the editor replied simply, and Mrs. Hod brought the girl in.

She was white and weak. How the editor’s wife had broken the news to her—persuaded her to come to the hall and sit in the place of honor beside her husband—has been something that we bewhiskered males in the office of our little local paper have never been able to explain. Perhaps Mrs. Hod’s sacrifice of those three tall Yankee lads in Fuller’s Fire-eaters had something to do with it. Anyhow, Betty Fuller was persuaded to come in.

She put out her hands blindly before her as she reached the head table and heard them cheering her husband’s name—and her own. She felt her way into her place. She glanced down into her husband’s surprised face and gave a terrified semblance of a smile. Then the whole room seemed to fuse before her. She has never been able to recollect connectedly the events of that evening.

The dinner began, progressed, and, after the manner of all dinners, at last ended. Sam Hod arose. He clinked on a water-glass with his knife. The hallful saw him and gradually grew quiet.

It was a beautiful speech that the editor made. He began with the part Vermont has played in every war in which America has ever engaged. He told the story of the boys who marched away in ’61 behind John Farrington. He recounted the story of Captain Farrington’s death; the succession of “Jack Fuller the First” to the place of honor in the Company, the brilliant war-record of the regiment. He told of the home-coming; of the banquet fifty-two years before. He told smoothly of the events leading up to America’s entry into the war. His quotation of the President’s famous indictments against Germany brought ovation after ovation from the home-folks, who were worked up to hysterical pitch. And when it was over the editor said:

“To-night, before sitting down to this farewell banquet to our sons, many of whom are going away from us never to return—to-night I was the recipient of a strange request. It came from the last survivor of that famous Company of Sixty-two who fifty-two years ago saw Dashing Captain Jack Fuller of glorious memory, raise aloft this receptacle of rare vintage and propose a dramatic thing.

“This was the request: By some strange fate the evening when the last toast was to be given to the illustrious dead comes at the terrifically tragic moment when the sons of many of these men are going forward to offer their lives in a new democracy. It has been suggested that nothing could have more approval from Dashing Captain Jack himself—or from all of those one hundred and six brave men who have crossed from the battlefields of earthly life into a blessed reward for their altruism—than that this toast should be given after all—if not by the two survivors, then by the leader of the local heroes who have volunteered to go “Over There” and by their sacrifice make the earth a finer, fairer, better place in which to dwell. “The Toast to Forty-five,” famous for fifty-two years, will be given at last amid this assembly of another quota of the Union’s soldiers about to go forth to preserve the same great principle for which their fathers laid their all upon the altar.”

There was silence for a time. Then came another attempt at another ovation. But it died in the excitement of the thing transpiring at that speaker’s table.

Sam Hod was opening the famous vintage.

The seal was broken. Out of that glass retainer came costly sparkling liquor, fifty-two years the prize relic of Farrington Post. Sam reached over. The two glasses of Uncle Joe Fodder and Captain Jack he filled to the brim. He stepped back—back from between Uncle Joe and Captain Jack—that they might click the rims of their slender goblets together.

“Gentlemen,” cried Uncle Joe in that breathless moment—“The Toast—to—Forty-five!”

Every military man in that room arose to his feet.

Uncle Joe’s withered old lips moved in the sunken face. The skinny hand holding the wine-glass trembled so that the beverage spilled over the edge and splashed on the white table-cloth like a clot of blood.

“Here’s to the gallant Forty-five,” he cried in a high-pitched, crackly voice. “Here’s to Captain John Farrington. And here’s to the men of Company Sixty-two and their posterity. Here’s to—here’s to Captain Jack Fuller and his posterity—”

It was an unfortunate sentence at an unfortunate time.

Jack Fuller’s posterity!

Through the lad’s brain must have flashed a picture of a scene in his sitting-room months before when he had paid a fearful price for—something! He had promised— He had promised— He looked around the room. Hundreds of eyes were upon him as he stood there, splendid and erect in olive drab. He glanced around his own table, too. And in that instant he saw—the pale, wan features of his wife!

His arm still holding awkwardly aloft the glass, Jack looked into the faces of that crowd flanking the tables and walls of that great hall.

Something came to him—the scenes, the associations—reincarnation, perhaps—the blood of his forefathers—heredity—in that great instant he was prompted to do a great and dramatic thing for the joy of the spectacular, the call of the dramatic.

Out of Joe Fodder’s toothless mouth came voiceless words—

“I’ve—gone and forgot my speech! You say something, Jack. You say it!”

Sam Hod racked his brain for words to save the situation. All Paris waited. And then—in the silence—came a rich, strong, boyish voice:

“I’ll give a toast—to Forty-five!”

It was Captain Jack. Two hundred pairs of eyes were fixed upon him. He knew perfectly that two hundred pairs of eyes were fixed upon him.

This is the thing that he did:

Deliberately into his dirty coffee-cup he poured the blood-red liquid. As his grandfather would have done, with the same exaggerated flourish the boy took from his pocket a snow-white handkerchief. With that napkin he wiped flawlessly the delicate receptacle which had held the liquor. Then he leaned over. From a glass pitcher he poured into that cleansed wine-glass its fill of pure cold sparkling water. In an instant he held it aloft.

“Fellows!” he cried. “A toast! a toast not with wine—for wine with its blood-color belongs to the times which are going—which we hope are passing forever—I’m drinking a toast with crystal water—emblematic of the clean white civilization which is coming—for which we’re going ‘Over There’ to fight and die.

“Here’s to every man who ever did a noble thing; volunteering his strength to help protect the weak! Here’s to every lad who ever fought out the terrible question in his heart and put the Greater Good above his life-hopes and ambitions. Here’s to every soul that ever laid in the dark, thinking of those at home, knowing that in the charge of dawn he might become to them but a bitter-sweet memory of days when every hour was a golden moment and time but a thing to pass away. Here’s to the dead—the illustrious dead—those who fell in battle, those of Forty-five, the men of Sixty-two, the men of every age and every land who fought the good fight nobly, to the best that was in them—for the things they believed to be right—and have gone to take finer and better orders under a Greater General, the Commander of Commanders, the Prince of—Peace!”

He paused. He drew a long breath. He looked down the table. And he continued: “But along with our toast for the soldiers of the dead, boys—while the opportunity is ours—why not give also a toast—another kind of toast—to the soldiers of the living? Not ourselves, boys—but the ones—we’re leaving behind. It is little enough we can do for them!”

His gaze wandered up to his glass. In a strange, inspired voice, he cried softly:

“A toast!—a toast, also, to the truest and best soldiers of all—the mothers, the wives, and the girls we are leaving behind!

“Here’s to the toil-hardened hands who cared for us when as helpless little kids, we were unable to care for ourselves. Here’s to the tears they have shed over our little torn clothes; the pillows that have been wet in the midnight with anxiety, longing, and heartache that we might be spared to do our duty as men. Here’s to the anguish they have suffered, the prayers they have prayed, the sacrifices they have made, the toil they have borne—all to be laid on the altar of war, all to be wiped out in a moment, perhaps, by a splinter of shrapnel or the thrust of a bayonet. Here’s to the nobility of their anguish when they come to learn we are no more; and the beauty of their faces when the divinity in their hearts tells the story upon their care-lined foreheads that they would climb the same weary Golgotha again—go through the same Gethsemane—bear the same cross—though they knew all along the end which it meant.

“Here’s to the wives we loved in the days before War came upon us. Here’s to the promises they made us—to be ours until death came between us. Here’s to the suffering they have borne for our thoughtlessness; the hours when they have looked into the future and wondered if the love that we promised was worth the price they were paying. Here’s to the hopes and the fears, the joys and the sorrows that have come to them—that are coming to them now—that are coming to them in the years on ahead with ever greater portion. Here’s to their courage and noble endeavor, given so pathetically to us chaps who sometimes—forget. May we die as faithfully in the cause to which we have pledged ourselves as they will live in the memory of what-might-have-been in the lean years when there are forms sitting in fantasy beside them in the firelight and our voices are heard in the homes we made with them—no more.

“And here’s to the girls we are leaving behind! Here’s to the kisses they have given us under the stars of many summers—the memory of their hands and their lips and their eyes! Here’s to the weight in their souls and the pain that will hallow the memories that will haunt them through the years. Here’s to the sighs and the shadows, the heart-hopes and the longing! God grant in His goodness their fidelity is rewarded!

“These are the things to which we drink—the men of yesterday—and the memory of their heroism which has been—and the women of to-day and whose heroism is to be. With the great incentive of these two in our hearts, boys—let us drink and go away to fight like men—to honor the first—to sanctify the second.”

He clinked his glass against that of speechless Uncle Joe Fodder’s—and they drank—Uncle Joe drinking his wine with a hand which trembled so that the liquid stained his withered claw like a scarlet wound.

The hall was strangely silent.

Sam turned to his wife. “That boy never composed that beautiful speech alone, Mary,” he said—“not impromptu like that!”

Down the hall an old lady whispered to her daughter:

“Alice! Alice!—His grandaddy made just such a speech—almost word for word—the night John Farrington’s company bade us women-folks good-by.”

As the hall was being cleared for the big farewell dance, Sam came to the boy.

“Laddie,” he demanded, “where did you learn that speech?”

“What speech?” asked the boy.

“You know what speech—the toast!”

“I don’t know, Mr. Hod. I just looked at the faces—and the wine—and—and—Betty!—and it just came out.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Sure, it’s the truth. What was it I said that was so awful wonderful?”

“Don’t you remember what you said?”

The boy laughed ashamedly. “—I couldn’t repeat it if it cost me my life,” he replied. “It—just—came—out!”

Late that night the old editor lay in his bed thinking of many things.

“The things in life are far stranger than the things in story books,” he said. Then in the velvet dark he whispered: “Strange! Strange!”

――――

Dashing Captain Jack Fuller, true to his blood and his birthright, went away on the following day at the head of his sturdy volunteers. They entrained at ten o’clock for Fort Ethan Allen.

Truly the boy did not remember the words of that toast which he gave that memorable evening. But one thing he does remember. He remembers the words of the girl he had married as he took her in his arms in those last few sweet moments following the final breakfast in the little home:

“It was the Nieson in me that didn’t want you to go, Jack,” she choked brokenly. “Up to last night I didn’t want you to go. But when you wouldn’t drink the wine—when you had the courage to do what you did in front of all those people—I was ashamed of my selfishness. Jackie dear—I’m the proudest, happiest, miserablest woman in all this town!”

He pressed her to him. He kissed her—an embrace that left her weak and limp.

“And you can count on me, Jack,” she said, “I’ll—do—my—duty—too! Even—if you should never come back; remember I said—I was sorry for the way I’ve acted; I’ll—do—my—duty—too!”

“Good-by, Betty!” he choked.

“Good-by—my soldier!” she lisped—bravely—piteously.

But she sent him away—with a smile!

She’s working now at her old place in Amos Wheeler’s box-shop. She closed down the little home on Pleasant Street partly because she could not keep up the expense, partly because she could not endure—the memories. She’s living out in her father’s old place at the far end of Cedar Street.

Poor little, dear little, brave little woman!

We know from his letters to our local paper, that Jack Fuller has reached France. The girl is alone, earning five dollars a week in the box-factory to support herself. The lad is “Over There” in the Whirlpool and the Nightmare—and where the fighting is thickest, there we believe Jack Fuller will be found.

But somehow, we feel that Jack Fuller will not fall. We feel there is coming a great and a glorious day for our little town of Paris up here in these mountains. In fancy we can see a morning when a great crowd is going to mill around and through the platforms and the railroad yards of our station. The hour is coming when a train whistle will sound far down the Greene River valley. The minutes will pass. The whistle will sound nearer. Finally in the lower end of the yards we will see a great furl of seething smoke from an oncoming locomotive. Another and a third whistle will shriek as a great high-breasted mogul comes bearing down upon us, seeming to cry out to us from the decreasing distance: “I’ve got them! I’ve got them! I’m bringing them back! Every mother’s son of them! They’re in these coaches I’m pulling behind me now!” And the train will come to a grinding stop, and amid cheer after cheer and the gyrations of the Paris band seeking to blow itself inside out, down from that train will come the soldiers of Uncle Sam—the boys who never have been and never can be whipped—great bronzed men with lean jaws, faces the hue of copper and muscles as hard as billets of steel. Car after car will disgorge them—men who met the Great Problem, offered themselves, ran the risk, fought the fight, gave their last full measure of devotion, and have come back home to women who cannot trust themselves to speak—only hold out their arms mutely.

And we feel certain that in that great day, after the Nightmare is over and the world is a fairer, better world, that one of those great bronzed heroes will gather up in his war-hardened arms a slender little girl in the plainest of white shirt-waists and black skirts, with the paste dried on the poor little workaday clothes and the worn shoes turning her step over cruelly. He will gather her up while the tears fall clumsily, for men do not know how to weep. And there will be no more weariness in her homeward walk in that twilight. After all, not all the boys are going to die. Many are coming back, hundreds of thousands of them. There will be other toasts to Forty-five pledged by the living. It must be so, for God still rules in His heaven and will make all right with the world.

Yet just now—for Betty Fuller—the way is lonesome and her pillow is wet with her tears in the midnight. But—

She sent her man away with a smile.
Poor little, dear little, brave little woman!
All over America her name is legion!

EXTRA MEN

By HARRISON RHODES
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Harrison Rhodes.

The pretty, peaceful Jersey farm-land slopes gently up from the Delaware River to the little hill which Princeton crowns. It is uneventful country. The railway does not cross it, nor any of the great motor trunk roads. On the river itself there is no town of considerable size, though on the map you read the quaint name of Washington Crossing for a little hamlet of a few houses. This will remind you of the great days when on these sleepy fields great history was made. But the fields have lain quiet in the sun now for more than a century, and even the legends of Revolutionary days are for the most part forgotten along these country roads.

As for modern legends, the very phrase seems proof of their impossibility. And in spite of her spacious and resounding past, New Jersey’s name now seems to mean incorporations and mosquitoes and sea-bathing and popcorn-crisp rather than either legend or romance. But with the coming of the Great War strange things are stirring in the world, and in the farthest corners of the land the earth is shaken by the tramp of new armies. In the skies by day and night there is a sign. And the things one does not believe can happen may be happening, even in New Jersey.

The small events on the Burridge Road which are here set down cannot even be authenticated. There are people down by the river who say they saw a single horseman go through the village at dusk, but not one seems to know which way he came. There is no ferry at Washington Crossing and the bridge at Lambertville had, since three that afternoon, been closed for repairs. What facts are set down here—and indeed they are scarcely facts—were acquired because a chauffeur missed the road and a motor then broke down. What story there is—and indeed there is perhaps not much story—has been pieced together from fragments collected that afternoon and evening. And if the chronicle as now written is vague, it can be urged that, though it all happened so recently as last year, it is already as indeterminate and misty as a legend.

We may, however, begin with undisputed facts. When her grandson enlisted for the war old Mrs. Buchan became very genuinely dependent on the little farm that surrounded the lovely old Colonial house on the Burridge Road. (Meadows, and horses, and hay and the quality and price of it, have much to do with our story—as, indeed, befits a rural chronicle.) The farm had been larger once, and the hospitality which the old house could dispense more lavish. Indeed, the chief anecdote in its history had been the stopping there once of Washington, to dine and rest on his way to join the army in New York. Old Mrs. Buchan, who, for all her gentleness, was incurably proud, laid special stress on the fact that on that night the great man had not been at an inn—which was in the twentieth century to cheapen his memory by a sign-board appeal to automobile parties—but at a gentleman’s house. A gentleman’s house it still was; somehow the Buchans had always managed to live like gentlemen. But if George, the gay, agreeable last one of them, could also live that way, it was because his grandmother practised rigid heart-breaking economy. The stories of her shifts and expedients were almost fables of the countryside. When George came home—he had a small position in a New York broker’s office—there was gaiety and plenty. He might well have been deceived into thinking that the little he sent home from New York was ample for her needs. But when he went back his grandmother lived on nothing, or less than that. She dressed for dinner, so they said, in black silk and old lace, had the table laid with Lowestoft china and the Buchan silver, and ate a dish of corn-meal mush, or something cheaper if that could be found!

George Buchan’s enlistment—it was in the aviation service—had been early. And very early he was ordered to France to finish his training there. Two days before he expected his ship to sail the boy got a few hours’ furlough and came to the Burridge Road to say good-by to his grandmother.

What was said we must imagine. He was all the old lady had left in the world. But no one ever doubted that she had kissed him and told him to go, and to hold his head high as suited an American and a Buchan. Georgie would perhaps have had no very famous career in Wall Street, but no one doubted that he would make a good soldier. There had always been a Buchan in the armies of the Republic, his grandmother must have reminded him. And very likely Georgie, kissing her, had reminded her that there had always been a Buchan woman at home to wish the men God speed as they marched away, and told her too to hold her old head high.

There must have been some talk about the money that there wouldn’t be now; without his little weekly check she was indeed almost penniless. It is quite likely that they spoke of selling the house and decided against it. Part of the boy’s pay was of course to come to his grandmother, but, as she explained, there were so many war charities needing that, and then the wool for her knitting— She must manage mostly with the farm. There was always the vegetable-garden, and a few chickens, and the green meadow, which might be expected to yield a record crop of hay.

We may imagine that the two—old lady and boy—stepped out for a moment into the moonlit night to look at the poor little domain of Buchan that was left. Under the little breeze that drifted up from the Delaware the grass bent in long waves like those of the summer seas that Georgie was to cross to France. As the Buchans looked at it they might have felt some wonder at the century-old fertility of the soil. Back in the days of the Revolution Washington’s horse had pastured there one night. Then, and in 1812, and during the great battle of the States, the grass had grown green and the hay been fragrant, and the fat Jersey earth had out of its depths brought forth something to help the nation at war. Such a field as that by the old white house can scarcely be thought of as a wild, primeval thing; it has lived too long under the hand of man. This was a Buchan field, George’s meadow, and by moonlight it seemed to wave good-by to him.

“You aren’t dependent on me now, dear,” he may have said, with his arm around his grandmother. “I just leave you to our little garden patch and our chickens and the green meadow.”

“You mustn’t worry, dear. They’ll take care of me,” she must have answered.

So George went away; and the night after, the night before he sailed, the horseman and his company came.

――――

It was at dusk, and a gossamer silvery mist had drifted up from the Delaware. He had hitched his horse by the gate. He was in riding-breeches and gaiters and a rather old-fashioned riding-coat. And in the band of his hat he had stuck a small American flag which looked oddly enough almost like a cockade. He knocked at the door, quite ignoring the new electric bell which George had installed one idle Sunday morning when his grandmother had felt he should have been at church. As it happened, old Mrs. Buchan had been standing by the window, watching the mist creep up and the twilight come, thinking of Georgie so soon to be upon the water. As the horseman knocked she, quite suddenly and quite contrary to her usual custom, went herself to the door.

His hat was immediately off, swept through a nobler circle than the modern bow demands, and he spoke with the elaboration of courtesy which suited his age; for, though his stride was vigorous, he was no longer young. It was a severe, careworn face of a stern, almost hard, nobility of expression. Yet the smile when it came was engaging, and old Mrs. Buchan, as she smiled in return, found herself saying to herself that no Southerner, however stern, could fail to have this graceful lighter side. For his question had been put in the softer accents of Virginia and of the states farther south.

“I’ve lost my way,” he began, with the very slightest, small, gay laugh. But he was instantly serious. “It is so many, many years since I was here.”

Mrs. Buchan pointed up the road.

“That is the way to Princeton.”

“Princeton, of course. That’s where we fought the British and beat them. It seems strange, does it not, that we now fight with them?”

“We must forget the Revolution now, must we not?” This from Mrs. Buchan.

“Forget the Revolution!” he flashed back at her, almost angrily. Then more gently: “Perhaps. If we remember liberty!” He glanced an instant up the road to Princeton hill and then went on. “They fought well then, madam. As a soldier I am glad to have such good allies. But I was forgetting. Yonder lies Princeton, and from there there is the post-road to New York, is there not? I must be in New York by morning.”

Mrs. Buchan was old-fashioned, but she found herself murmuring amazedly something about railroads and motor-cars. But he did not seem to hear her.

“Yes,” he continued, “I must be in New York by morning. The first transport with our troops sails for France.”

“I know,” she said, proudly. “My grandson, George Buchan, sails for France.”

“George Buchan? There was a George Buchan fought at Princeton, I remember.”

“There was. And another George Buchan in the War of Eighteen-twelve. And a John in the Mexican War. And a William in eighteen sixty-three. There was no one in the Spanish War—my son was dead and my grandson was too young. But now he is ready.”

“Every American is ready,” her visitor answered. “I am ready.”

“You?” she broke out. And for the first time she seemed to see that his hair was white. “Are you going?”

“Every one who has ever fought for America is going. There is a company of them behind me. Listen.”

Down the road there was faintly to be heard the clatter of hoofs.

“Some joined me in Virginia, some as we crossed the Potomac by Arlington, where there is a house which once belonged to a relative of mine. And there were others, old friends, who met me as we came through Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. You would not now know Valley Forge,” he finished, half to himself.

The river mist had crept farther up and was a little thicker now. The moon had risen and the mist shimmered and shone almost as if by its own light. The world was indeed of the very substance of a dream. The hoofbeats on the road grew nearer, and at last, while old Mrs. Buchan stood in a kind of amazed silence, they came into sight, even then mere shadowy, dim, wavering figures behind the gossamer silver veil which had drifted there from the lovely Delaware. The horses looked lean and weary, though perhaps this was a trick of the moonlight. Yet they dropped their heads and began eagerly to crop the short, dusty grass by the roadside. The moonlight seemed to play tricks with their riders, too. For in the fog some of them seemed to have almost grotesquely old-fashioned clothes, though all had a sort of military cut to them. Some few, indeed, were trim and modern. But the greater part were, or seemed to Mrs. Buchan to be, in shabby blue or worn gray. The chance combination of the colors struck her. She was an old woman and she could remember unhappy far-off days when blue and gray had stood for the fight of brother against brother. Into her eyes the tears came, yet she suddenly smiled through them—a pair of quite young men lounged toward the fence, and then stood at ease there, the blue-clad arm of one affectionately and boyishly thrown around the other’s gray shoulder.

“These go with you?” asked old Mrs. Buchan, still held by her memories.

“Yes. They are of all kinds and all ages, and some of them were not always friends. But you see—” He smiled and pointed to the lads by the fence. “One of them is from Virginia and the other from Ohio. Virginia and Ohio fought once. But I only say that I can remember that Ohio was part of Virginia once long ago. And is not Virginia part of Ohio and Ohio part of Virginia again now? I should be pushing on, however, not talking. It is the horses that are tired, not the men.”

“And hungry?” suggested Mrs. Buchan.

“The horses, yes, poor beasts!” he answered. “For the men it does not matter. Yet we must reach New York by morning. And it is a matter of some five-and-fifty miles.”

“Rest a half-hour and let the horses graze. You can make it by sunrise.”

Mrs. Buchan went a little way down the path. It was lined with pink and white clove-pinks and their fragrance was sweet in the night.

“Open the gate there to the left, men,” she called out, and her voice rang, to her, unexpectedly strong and clear. “Let the horses graze in my green meadow if they will.”

They gave an answering cheer from out the mist. She saw the meadow gate swing open and the lean horses pass through, a long, long file of them.

“But they will spoil your hay crop,” objected the horseman. “And it should be worth a fair sum to you.”

Mrs. Buchan drew herself up. “It is of no consequence,” she answered.

He bowed again.

“But I don’t understand,” she almost pleaded, staring again at his white hair and the little flag in his hatband that looked so oddly like a cockade. “You say you sail to-morrow with my boy?”

“I think you understand as well as any one.”

“Do I?” she whispered. And the night suddenly seemed cold and she drew her little shawl of Shetland wool more tightly about her shoulders. Yet she was not afraid.

Her guest stooped and, rising, put one of her sweet-smelling clove-pinks in his button-hole.

“If you permit, I will carry it for your boy to France. We are extra men, supercargo,” he went on. “We shall cross with every boat-load of boys who sail for France—we who fought once as they must fight now. They said of me, only too flatteringly, that I was first in peace. Now I must be first in war again. I must be on the first troop-ship that goes. And I shall find friends in France. We have always had friends in France, I imagine, since those first days. Of course, madam, you are too young to remember the Marquis de la Fayette.”

“Yes, I am too young,” answered old Mrs. Buchan. And she smiled through her tears at the thought of her eighty years.

“You’re a mere chit of a girl, of course,” he laughed—one of the few times his gravity was relaxed. “Shall I know your boy, I wonder?” Then, without waiting for her answer, “The George Buchan who fought at the battle of Princeton was about twenty-two, slim and straight, with blue eyes and brown hair and an honest, gallant way with him, and a smile that one remembered.”

“You will know my boy,” she told him. “And I think he will know you, General.”

Even now she swears she does not quite know what she meant by this. The magic of the June night had for the moment made everything possible. Yet she will not to this day say who she thinks the horseman may have been. Only that George would know him, as she had.

“I want them all to know that I am there,” he had replied. “They will know. They will remember their country’s history even as we remember. And when the shells scream in the French sky they will not forget the many times America has fought for liberty. They will not forget those early soldiers. And they will not forget Grant and Lee and Lincoln. The American eagle, madam, has a very shrill note. I think it can be heard above the whistle of German shrapnel.”

――――

He drank a glass of sherry before he went, and ate a slice of sponge-cake. Perhaps altogether he delayed a scant quarter of an hour. The lean horses came streaming forth from the green meadow, a long, long file; and while the moon and the river mist still made it a world of wonder, the company, larger somehow than she had thought it at first, clattered off up the Princeton road toward New York and salt water and the ships.

The mist cleared for a moment and the great green meadow was seen, so trampled that it seemed that a thousand horses must have trampled it. Al Fenton, dignified by Mrs. Buchan as “the farmer,” had now belatedly roused and dressed himself. He stood by the old lady’s side and dejectedly surveyed the ruin of the hay crop. He is a sober, stupid, serious witness of what had happened. And this is important; for when the sun rose, and Mrs. Buchan opened her window, the breeze from the river rippled in long green waves over a great green meadow where the grass still pointed heavenward, untrampled, undisturbed. The Buchan meadow could still, as George had believed it would, take care of his grandmother.

This is the story, to be believed, or not, as you like. They do as they like about it in Jersey. But old Mrs. Buchan believes that with each American troop-ship there will sail supercargo, extra men. And she believes that with these extra men we cannot lose the fight. George, too, writes home to her that we shall win.

SOLITAIRE

By FLETA CAMPBELL SPRINGER
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Fleta Campbell Springer.

We were sitting—three Frenchmen, a young American named Homan, and I—in the café of one of those small Paris hotels much frequented, even then, by officers on leave. It was the winter of 1912, when the Balkans were playing out their colorful little curtain-raiser to the great drama which followed—playing it, as they say in the theater, “in one,” using only the very smallest part of the stage, and failing even in their most climactic moments to completely conceal the ominous sounds from behind the curtain where the stage was being set for the real business of the play.

At the tables a sprinkling of English and Americans of the usual transient type mingled with French from the provinces, and here and there a swarthy Balkan in uniform accented the room.

It was the presence of those other Americans—two or three, I should say, besides Homan and myself, though I hadn’t noticed particularly—that gave the special significance to Homan’s exclamation when he discovered Corey.

I saw him pause with his glass half raised—he was gazing straight past me over my shoulder—and a smile, meant for me, came into his eyes.

“Look!” he said, “at the American!”

I turned, because his manner indicated clearly enough that I might, squarely round in my chair, and immediately it was clear to me why he had said just that. Any one would have said it—any other American, I mean—which makes it more striking—and said it involuntarily, too. You couldn’t have helped it. And yet you would encounter a dozen perfectly unmistakable Americans every day in Paris without feeling the necessity for any remark. It was simply that Corey was so typically the kind of American you wouldn’t encounter in Paris, or any other place, you felt, outside his own country. The curious thing about him was that instantly on seeing him, almost before you thought of America, you thought of a particular and localized section of America. You thought of the Middle West. There was something wholesome and provincial and colloquial about him. He was like a boy you’d gone to grammar school with—the kind of fellow to succeed to his father’s business and marry and settle down in his home town, with New York City his farthest dream of venture and romance.

Yet there he sat across the table from a dark-visaged Balkan officer who was carrying on the conversation in careful English—it would have been unimaginable that he should speak in anything but English to him—and it may have been the brilliance of this man’s uniform which kept one, just at first, from seeing that he, too, our American, was wearing some sort of uniform, khaki color, very workman-like and shipshape, which might, if there had been the least chance of throwing us off, have thrown us. But his round, good-natured, uncomplicated face, his light brown hair and the way it was brushed—the very way it grew, like a school-boy’s—the comfortable set of his broad shoulders, his kind of energetic inclination to stoutness, and even the way he sat at the table, were pure American Middle West and nothing else, no matter what his uniform proclaimed. He was as American as the flag, as the opening bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as American as Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa.

And when, at young Homan’s exclamation, I had turned and found him looking straight toward me, the twinkle of his eyes had the effect of a friendly wave of his hand. He had, of course, as he said afterward, “spotted us,” too. Then he had seen—and it amused him—the little play of our discovery.

I was just turning back to applaud to Homan the obviousness of his designation, and to wonder, with him, what the uniform meant, when my eye was caught by a thin, brilliantly colored line drawn, it seemed, just above the left breast pocket of his coat, and about the same length.

My first impression of the man, of the familiarity of his type, had, I suppose, been so strong as to dull for a moment my reaction to this discovery. I had seen that vari-colored line often enough before, on the uniforms of British officers or French; I had perhaps seen it on an American, but certainly I had never seen it on an American like this. No wonder the connection was slow to establish itself. It was a decoration bar, and there must have been six ribbons at least, if not more.

For sheer incongruous association, I doubt if you’d find a more pat example in a lifetime than the man I had, on sight, conceived this one to be—the man I may as well say now he actually was—and that bar of ribbons pinned on his khaki-colored coat.

Young Homan had caught it, too, and was sending past me his deliberate stare of amazement.

It was not exactly as if we thought he hadn’t come by them honestly, but more as if we suggested to each other that he couldn’t surely have got them in the way decorations were usually got; it seemed somehow impossible that he understood their importance. And there was still something of that in our attitude when, later on, after dinner, we had drifted into the salon with the rest for our coffee, and by a kind of natural gravitation had found ourselves in conversation with our compatriot, whose jocose friendliness led young Homan to ask, half in fun to be sure, where he had got all the decorations. He showed certainly no very proper appreciation of their importance by his answer:

“Bought ’em, at the Galleries Lafayette. Get any kind you want there, y’ know.”

We laughed, all of us, for everybody had seen the cases of medals and decorations at the Galleries. I believe for an instant the youngster was half inclined to think he had bought them. I know I was. As some kind of outlandish practical joke, of course. It seemed, absurd as the idea was, so much likelier than that he could have been through the kind of experiences which result in being decorated by foreign governments. And such an imposing array! The scarlet ribbon of the Legion of Honor, the green of the Japanese “Rising Sun,” the brilliant stripes of Russian and English decorations, and strange ones I had never seen before!

You see, he had turned out much more Middle West than we had imagined. In the first ten minutes of our conversation he had spoken of “home,” and mentioned the name of the town—Dubuque, Iowa! And a few minutes later he gave us, by the merest chance phrase or two, involving the fact that his married sister lived “a block and a half down the street” from his mother’s house, a perfectly complete picture of that street—broad and shady and quiet, of his mother’s yellow frame house, and the other, white with a green lawn round it, where his sister lived. And the point was that he was making no effort toward such an effect. He was only being himself.

His dinner companion, the Balkan officer, came in presently and addressed Corey as “Doctor” (I adjusted myself to that, still with the Dubuque setting, however), and it was in the conversation following upon the new introduction that the object of his being in Paris came out. He told us, quite by the way, though not in the least depreciating the importance of his mission—that he was in Paris for a few days looking up anesthetics for the Serbian army. He had been working, he said, down in the Balkans since shortly after the outbreak of the war, in charge of a sanitary section. They’d been out of anesthetics for some time now—impossible to get them in—and they’d been operating, amputating the poor devils’ legs and arms, without anesthetics; and now at last he’d left things long enough to come up to Paris himself and see what could be done. He was starting back the next day or the day after that.

Corey, from Dubuque! In a makeshift Serbian field hospital, in that terrible cold, performing delicate and difficult operations—wholesale, as they must have been performed—on wounded Balkan soldiers; probing for bullets in raw wounds—that was a picture to set up beside the one we had of him in Dubuque!

And yet—it wasn’t at all a question of doubt (we’d read it all in the papers day after day); it wasn’t that we didn’t believe Corey was telling the truth; his evidence was too obvious for that—the picture didn’t somehow succeed in painting itself—I can’t to this day say why. Surely the Balkans just then—operations without anesthetics, the pageantry and blood-red color of war—surely there was pigment of more brilliant hue than any contained in the mere statement that his married sister lived a block and a half down the street from his mother’s. But the picture wasn’t painted. Corey wasn’t the artist to do it. Not, mind you, that he tried; he was as far from trying to impress one, from affectation, as a boy of fourteen.

I do remember my imagination taking me far enough to think that if I were a soldier, and wounded, and had to have a leg or an arm off, I couldn’t think of a man I’d rather have do it than Corey. Oh yes, I believed him; I knew he’d been down there in the Balkans, as he said, and was going back again to-morrow—but I went right on seeing him in Dubuque, practising his quiet, prosperous profession in the same suite of offices his father had used before him.

He himself lent, by the things he said, force and reality to the illusion. He’d like nothing better, he declared, than settling down in Dubuque for the rest of his life, and enjoying a home of his own. He intended, in fact, to do just that when he had finished the Balkan business. “I’m that type,” he said. “I never was meant to knock around the world like this.”

And he was that type, so much the type that it seemed hardly credible he shouldn’t turn out the exception to prove the rule. He had already, one would think, made a sufficient divergence.

And that, I suppose—the feeling that no personality could follow so undeviating a line, so obviously its own path—was responsible for my impression, when I came later to hear how completely he had followed it, of his being because of it much more unique than he could ever have made himself by turning aside. True enough, there are people who, if they heard the tale, might maintain that he could hardly have accomplished a more striking divergence from type. I’ll have to confess I thought so myself—at the first; certainly I thought so all the while I listened, long afterward, to the quiet, though somewhat nasal, and thoroughly puzzled voice of the gentle old man from Dubuque, who seemed, as he recounted the story, to be seeking in me some solution of Corey’s phenomenon.

I thought it even afterward, until, sitting there where he had left me, I began slowly to orient the facts in relation to Corey’s character. And then, all at once, it came to me that it was exactly because Corey hadn’t diverged that he did what he did. He went straight through everything to his predestined end. Any other man would have had stages, subtleties, degrees of divergence. But Corey knew none of those things.

It was from old Mr. Ewing of Dubuque that I had my first news of Corey after that night in the Paris hotel.

He must have gone back to his army in the Balkans the next day, for we were to have seen him that night again in case he had to stay over, and when I asked I was told that Monsieur had gone.

Things kept reminding me of him. The names of streets and places in Paris recalled his flat American mispronunciation of them—mispronunciations which sounded half as if he were in fun and half as if he didn’t know any better, or hadn’t paid enough attention to learn them correctly. I believe he saw, or was subconsciously aware of, his own incongruity. Still, one would think he’d have become, so to speak, accustomed to himself in the strange rôle by then.

I think I must have spoken of him rather often to people, so long as I remained in Paris; and it was, if not exactly curious, at least a little less than one would expect, that I never came in contact with any one else who knew him, until that day, a little while ago, when I met, in the smoking-car of a west-bound train out of Chicago, the man who told me all there was, or ever will be, for any man to tell about Corey.

He may have been sitting there near me all the time; I don’t know. But then he was not the kind of man one notices in a smoking-car, or any other place, for that matter. Certainly you would never suspect that so gray and uninteresting an envelope could inclose the manuscript of a story like Corey’s. You had seen hundreds like him before, and you knew what they contained—stereotyped circular letters full of dull, indisputable facts, nothing you wanted or cared to know. And it was precisely because I wished later on one of those very dull facts that I came to speak to my man.

The train coming to a sudden stop brought me out of my oblivion, and, looking idly out of the window to see what place it might be, I was seized by one of those fits of petty annoyance incident to such interruptions, for the train had run so far past the platform that I found it impossible to see the name of the station. I got myself out of my comfortable position, and tried, by turning completely about, to see back to the station. But we had gone too far. And then—I haven’t an idea why, for it was of absolutely no importance to me—I looked about for some one to ask. And nearest me, sitting rather uncomfortably upright in his big leather chair, the little rack at his elbow guiltless of any glass, and holding listlessly in his hand the latest popular magazine, sat a gray-haired, gray-suited old gentleman, looking lonesomely out of his window.

“I beg pardon,” I said. “Can you tell me what place this is?”

He turned gratefully at the sound of my voice. “It’s ——,” he told me. I’ve never been able to recall what name he said, because, I suppose, of what came after.

It was certainly not surprising that he should think, from my manner, that I had some interest in the place, and he went on, after a moment’s hesitating silence, to say, in his unobtrusive but unmistakable Middle-West voice, that the town was a milling center—flour and meal, and that kind of thing.

I saw that I had committed myself to something more in the way of conversation than my laconic word of thanks for his information and a lapse into silence. I wondered what I could say. He was such a nice, kindly old gentleman, and he would never in the world have addressed any one first. I hit upon the most obvious sequence, and asked if, then, he was familiar with that part of the country. He said, oh yes, he was “a native of Iowa.”

“Indeed?” I said, for lack of anything else to say, and his statement not having been a particularly provocative one.

“Yes,” he said. “My home is Dubuque.”

Dubuque! Dubuque! What was it I knew about Dubuque? The name struck me instantly with a sense of importance, as if it had rung the bell of a target concealed out of sight. I sought about in my mind for a full minute before I recalled, with a kind of start—Corey.

So many things had come in between—bigger things than any one man—and overlaid all the pictures that had gone before. Overlaid them with pigment so crude, so roughly applied, that one neither saw nor remembered anything else. All the nations of Europe loosed in the Great War, and America straining hard at her worn leash of neutrality. Small wonder that Corey, of Dubuque, along with countless other memories of that pale time, had faded into a dim, far perspective.

And yet, the sound of that name had brought him—as clearly as I had seen him that night in Paris—before me. I heard his voice, felt the vigor of his personality, saw him throw back his head and laugh. And here, in the chair next my own, and ready to talk, sat a man who, by every rule of probability and chance, would be able to tell me about him.

“I know a townsman of yours,” I said, and he evinced at once a kind of mild and flattered surprise.

“From Dubuque?” he said. “Well, well! What’s his name?”

“Corey,” I said. “Doctor Corey.”

It had upon him a most unexpected effect; very much, it seemed, the same effect his announcement had had upon me the moment before. He leaned forward no more than an inch, but his mild gray eyes kindled with a kind of excited intensity.

“You knew Jim Corey! Not here—not in Dubuque?”

“I met him in Paris,” I said, “quite a long while ago.”

“In Paris! Well, well—think of that!”

He shook his head, and regarded me suddenly with a stronger and new kind of interest. I was, apparently, the first person he had ever encountered who had really known Corey abroad, and I could see that the fact had established me immediately in his mind as an intimate friend of Corey’s. I suppose I should have told him that I had only seen Corey once; that I couldn’t, as a matter of fact, claim more than a passing acquaintance. But if I had, I should never have heard what I heard. And, anyway, it wouldn’t have been, in the sense in which such things count, exactly true—for it had never been, for me at least, a one night’s acquaintance. I had seemed to know Corey better in that one night than one knows most men in a month of companionship. Yes, it was something more than the curiosity of a passing acquaintance that caused me to let the old fellow keep his impression.

“It’s queer,” he said, suddenly, throwing up his head, and pressing open the pages of his popular magazine as if he were about to begin to read, “he was a kind of relative of mine. His father and I—third cousins on our mothers’ side.” He broke off and regarded me again silently, and I believe now that he was trying to persuade himself not to go on, not to say anything more. But the temptation, the maximum, I might say, of temptation, combined with the minimum of danger that he should ever see me again, overcame his natural shyness and discretion. He seemed to decide, upon my ejaculation, to go on.

“His house is just ’round the corner from mine. His wife lives there now.”

“His wife!” The surprise was plain enough in my voice. And this seemed, just for a second, to surprise him, too.

“You knew,” he said, “that he had married?”

I explained that I hadn’t seen Corey for several years, and added that I had, however, understood that he was thinking of settling down. It put, I could see, a different face upon what he had to tell, for he seemed to adjust himself, as if he must now go back to something he had thought already understood between us.

“You didn’t know, then,” he said, “that he was dead?”

Dead! Corey dead! So that was what he had to tell. There sprang up in my mind a vague, indefinite vision of something heroic in connection with the Great War. When, I asked, and where did he die?

“A little over three months ago, in Europe. I was his executor.”

There was something in the way he made his last statement which lent it a kind of special importance. And it proved, indeed, in the end, the fact of supreme importance. And here, as if it were due me, he told me his name—Ewing; and I told him mine.

“Yes,” he said. “I made a trip to New York to see a man who’d been with him before he died. He brought a message from Corey. Queer,” he said, “that message. He must have been—a little off, you know, at the last.”

It was clear that something had occurred on his trip to New York which had puzzled him then, and continued, in spite of his explanation, to puzzle him still. It was evident in the way he went back, presently, to the beginning, as if he were stating a problem or building up a case.

He began by saying that he supposed nobody in Dubuque ever had understood Corey—“and yet”—he faced me—“you wouldn’t say he was hard to understand?”

I said that he had seemed to me to have an extremely straightforward and simple personality; that that, to me, had been one of his charms.

“Exactly!” he said, “exactly! That’s what we always thought in Dubuque—and I’ve known Jim Corey since the day he was born. Why, he’d go away on one of his trips, and stay a year, sometimes two, and the day after he’d get back you’d think he’d never been out of Dubuque, except he was so glad to be home.”

And, talking with a growing and homely fluency, the nasal quality of his rather pleasant voice increasing according to the sharpness of his interest, he proceeded to sketch in, with the fine brush of his provincialism, all the details of that picture I had had so clearly of Corey that night in Paris, more than four years before.

It was astonishing how right my picture had been; how they, who had known him always, had been no better able than I to visualize Corey outside Dubuque.

And it seemed to have been the merest chance which had led him, the year of his graduation from medical school, to take his first trip away from his native State. He had “put himself” through college, and had come out with all the school had to give, wanting more. It was doubtful if Corey had ever read a novel through in his life, but the college library yielded up treasures in scientific and medical books whose plots he remembered as easily as boarding-school girls remember the plots of Laura Jean Libbey.

In the end he had happened to be engrossed in some experiments or other with herbs, and it was that which led him to decide upon going to China. He was going to study Chinese herbs. And he had gone, straight, without any stops en route, as he did everything. But when he had been in Pekin two weeks the Boxer Rebellion broke out, and there he was in the thick of it; and a god-send he was, too, in the foreign legations, fighting and caring for wounded by turns, day and night, youth and strength and his fresh fine skill counting for ten in that beleaguered handful of desperate men.

It was for that he had got his first decoration—Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, and a little later had come from France, for the same service, and quite to the surprise of Corey, the scarlet ribbon of the Legion of Honor.

There had been, of course, the appropriate furore—pictures and full-page interviews in the San Francisco papers on his way home, and Dubuque expecting to see him come back transformed, a hero, conscious of honors won. But he had arrived, to their amazement, merely himself, and they had accepted him, after a day or two, at his own valuation.

That was the first, and it seemed after that, although he was always off to one of the far corners of the earth, they were never able to look upon him when he came home as a distinguished traveler returned. He was simply, as he seemed to wish to be, “Jim,” or sometimes “Doc” Corey come home again. And yet they knew about the things he had done. They knew where he had been. And they knew, too, about his decorations. They had seen them on one or two occasions, when he had been the guest of the evening at the “Business Men’s Banquet,” and he had “dressed up,” the old gentleman said, in a full-dress suit and all his decorations. “Two rows, all kinds, by then.” One could imagine him doing that, in a spirit of comic masquerade. And one could imagine him also doing it merely to please them.

His wife, after he was married, used to get out his decorations and show them to her women friends, and at this Corey only laughed good-humoredly. But she never showed them to men; she seemed to sense how that would embarrass him.

I asked when he had married her, and who she was.

She had been visiting friends, he said, in Dubuque, when Corey came back, he believed, from the Balkan War, in the spring of 1913. Pretty quick work they made of it, too. In August that same summer they had the wedding at her house in Des Moines. But it had surprised nobody. They knew he’d been wanting to settle down; and she was just the right kind of girl—nice and wholesome, and fond of her home. At last, he said, he was going to begin to live.

He had dropped at once into his place, exactly as if he had never been away at all—as if, after his graduation, he had come home to practise his profession. There was nothing even about his house to indicate the traveler; no obtrusive trophies of strange lands; no bizarre knick-knacks. In a room in the attic were a half-full dunnage-bag, a traveler’s kit, and an officer’s trunk, small size, the lid pressed down but warped a little so that it would not lock. And in the corner three pairs of heavy, discarded boots, gathering dust. That was all.

And he was happy; naturally, sanely, unaffectedly happy. There was no room for doubt about that. “Honesty,” Mr. Ewing called it. He used that word over and over again in relation to Corey’s psychology at that time. “And there wasn’t,” he said, “a hypocritical bone in Jim Corey’s body.” One could see what he meant, and see, too, that it had, in his mind, some obscure bearing on what came after.

He waited a little here before he went on, as if he were going over to himself incidents too trivial to relate, but which would not separate themselves from his memory of Corey in those days.

“Well,” he began, abruptly, rousing himself from his secret contemplation, “there was that winter, nineteen-thirteen, and the next summer, nineteen-fourteen; and then the European war began.”

“And he went!” I supplemented, involuntarily, since from the trend of the narrative I had, of course, seen that coming.

“No,” said Mr. Ewing in a surprisingly quiet tone of contradiction. “No, he didn’t. I was like you. I thought he’d go.”

“You thought he would!” I exclaimed, for it seemed to me he had just been trying to make me see how unshakably he had believed Corey to be fixed in Dubuque.

“Certainly,” he said. “You’d think it would be only natural he’d want to go. Wouldn’t you?” he asked, as if he had detected in my expression some disposition not to agree.

I would,” I said, still wondering at the ease with which he had brushed aside what I had foreseen was to be his climax. For my imagination had long since outrun his story to the end of the usual domestic tragedy, wherein Corey had, at the first call of adventure, forsaken without a word his home and his wife, to find (had not Mr. Ewing told me in the very beginning of his death, three months before, some place in Europe?) his abrupt and unexpected dénouement.

There had been, then, something else. “But he did,” I put forth, “finally go? You said, I think, that he died over there?”

“Oh yes—finally. But that, you see, wasn’t what counted. It wasn’t the same. It was the way he went.”

“The way?” I repeated.

“Yes. He didn’t go the way, I mean, that I thought he’d go. The way you thought, too.”

I said I didn’t understand; that I couldn’t see what difference it made how he went, so long as he did go in the end.

“It made all the difference,” said Mr. Ewing. “You see, he didn’t rush off, at the first news of the fighting, the way you’d think a man would. Why, we used to read the papers and talk over the war news together, and every day I’d expect to hear him say something about going. He knew all the places, and the way everything was over there, but he never seemed to care to be there himself. He used to come round to my house just before supper-time in the evenings and we’d sit on the porch and talk, or maybe I’d go round to his porch. I asked him one day if he didn’t want to go, and all he said was, ‘Why should I?’ And I said I didn’t know, it seemed to me that he would. And he said he was comfortable for the first time in his life; he never had liked bumping around in all sorts of places; hated it as a matter of fact. I asked him why, if that was the case, he’d kept it up for so long, all those years; and he laughed, and said he didn’t know; he never had been able to figure that out.”

Mr. Ewing fell silent here, tapping his right foot on the carpet a little impatiently and looking speculatively, yet without seeing, at me. I had the impression that he felt he had utterly failed, up to now, in making some subtle point in his story clear, and was considering how best he might make me see. I was sure of it when, after a longish pause, he continued, for he seemed to have decided upon the abandonment of subtleties altogether, and to give me, for my own interpretation, the facts as they occurred.

Things had gone on without any change all that winter and the next summer. In August Corey went to some sort of convention of medical men in Philadelphia. He was to have been gone something over two weeks. At the end of that time Mrs. Corey had received a letter saying that some experiments in which he was specially interested had developed rather unexpectedly, and Corey, together with several others, had been detailed to stay on and work them out to their conclusion. He couldn’t say just how many days it would take; he would let her know.

At the end of another two weeks Corey was still away. The first phase of the experiments had unhappily come to grief, and they had had to begin from the first again. It was annoying, but since they had gone into it, there was nothing else to be done. He would leave for home on the moment of the work’s completion. Meantime there would be little opportunity for letter-writing. She was not to worry.

As the days went on Mrs. Corey began to regret not having gone along in the beginning, as he had wanted her to do. Mr. Ewing stopped in now and then to inquire. Her reticence made him wonder if she might not be hearing. It was plain that she did worry, but, as Mr. Ewing said, she was not the talkative kind.

And then, one morning, just two months from the day he had left, Corey arrived unexpectedly by the ten-fifty train. Mr. Ewing, passing the house on his way home that evening, had been surprised to see Corey, in his shirt-sleeves, trimming shrubs in the garden. And he had stopped to welcome him back, and they had talked about the war in quite the old way, so that from that evening on it was exactly the same as it had been before Corey had gone to his convention in Philadelphia.

It appears that all this time a very natural intimacy was growing up between these two, gentle old Mr. Ewing and Corey. And I can imagine that Corey, who became, as it were, the instantaneous friend of every one, had made in his life very few actual contacts, few, if any, real and intimate friendships. And perhaps that was why this friendship, based as it was on such small outward manifestations as talking over the news in the daily papers together, had prospered. Then, too, there was the relationship, distant enough to be free of demands.

Corey had returned from the Philadelphia trip the last week in October. It was on a Sunday afternoon near the middle of December that Mr. Ewing, sitting reading his weekly illustrated paper, looked up to see through the window Corey coming quickly along the walk. Mr. Ewing was struck by something peculiar in his friend’s appearance, something hurried in the set of his hat and overcoat, yet as if he himself were entirely unconscious of haste.

He turned in at the gate, and Mr. Ewing got up and opened the door. Corey came through it, Mr. Ewing said, as if escaping from something outside, something of which he was physically afraid. He almost pushed past Mr. Ewing and into the room, and with scarcely a glance to make sure they were alone, he spoke, and his voice was strained like a note on a too taut violin string:

“She’s found it! This—where I’d had it hid!”

He held extended in his open hand, as if there were no longer any reason for concealing it from any one, what appeared to Mr. Ewing’s bewildered eyes to be a bit of ribbon, striped green and red, and a bit of bronze metal attached.

“What is it?” he asked, stupefied by the completeness of the change that had come upon the man before him.

“It’s the Croix!” Corey’s voice was impatient, “The Croix de Guerre!”

Mr. Ewing stared at the bright-colored thing, trying to comprehend. Corey still held it outstretched in his hand, and the bronze Maltese cross with its crossed swords slipped through his fingers and hung down. Corey’s voice was going on. Mr. Ewing had missed something.

“... So now she knows,” was the end of what he heard—and in that instant his eye caught the words engraved on the cross, République Française, and the full meaning of its being there in Corey’s hand burst suddenly upon him.

The new French decoration! The Croix de Guerre!

“You’ve been there?” he managed to say. “You’ve been over there?”

“How else would I get it?” said Corey, with a kind of abandon, as if he were confessing now to some fullness of shame. “You see, she’s right. I couldn’t resist.”

Mr. Ewing was lost. “Resist what?”

“This!” Corey closed his fingers now on the Croix. “A new decoration!”

And then, as if every atom of his great, strong body had suddenly succumbed to some long-growing exhaustion, Corey dropped down into a chair and threw out his arm across the table as if he would put away from him as far as possible that offending decoration.

“But when?”—Mr. Ewing found himself reiterating—“when—when—you haven’t been away—”

“Oh, yes,” said Corey. “You remember, in August.”

And here Mr. Ewing confessed that he thought for a moment that Corey must be hopelessly mad. There was the question of time, and a dozen other questions besides. It seemed out of the realm of possibility, out of the realm of reason.

“How did you keep her from knowing?”

Mr. Ewing had not wanted to ask—had hoped the point would explain itself—and Corey looked for a moment as if he might be planning an evasion—then braced himself and looked Mr. Ewing straight in the eyes. A faint expression of scorn came round his mouth, as if he spoke of another—a scoundrel who hardly deserved his scorn.

“I left letters—dated ahead—with the scrubwoman at the laboratory to mail.” He said it, took his eyes from Mr. Ewing’s, and then he appeared to wait.

Mr. Ewing sat there filled with a kind of amazement, touched with fear for what should come next, and suddenly he became conscious that Corey was watching him with what seemed a tremendous anxiety, waiting for him to speak. And a moment later, apparently no longer able to bear that silence, Corey leaned nervously toward Mr. Ewing, and asked in the tone of one seeking an answer of utmost importance: “You don’t see it? You don’t see what she saw?”

“See what?” said Mr. Ewing—“what who saw?” Yet he knew that Corey had meant his wife. It was she who had found the Croix ... but what did he mean she had seen?

“Don’t keep it back—just to be decent! She said it was plain, plain enough for anybody to see. What I want to know is if everybody knew it but me!”

“Knew what?” cried poor Mr. Ewing, lost more completely now than before.

“Knew why I’ve done all the things I’ve done—run all the risks. Why I went over there this time, in August, without letting her know—God knows I didn’t know why!—why I’ve always gone!”

“Why have you?” The question asked itself.

“Because I wanted the decorations! The damned orders and medals and things! Because I couldn’t resist getting a new one—wherever I saw a chance. Do you believe a man could be as—as rotten as that, all his life, and not know it himself?”

Slowly, then, Mr. Ewing began to see. And remotely it began to dawn upon him—the thing “she” in her anger had done. For there was no doubt that the thing was done. The man’s faith and belief in himself, in the cleanness and simplicity of his own motives, were gone—and gone in a single devastating blow from which he had not, and could never, recover. And, searching for the right thing to say, Mr. Ewing stumbled, as one always will, upon the one thing he should never have said:

“But you know better than that. You know it’s not so.”

Corey’s answer was not argumentative; it only stated, wearily, the fact which from the first had seemed to possess his mind:

“No, I don’t know it’s not so. I’ve never been able to give any reasons for doing the things myself. You’ve asked me why.... I couldn’t tell.”

“Why, it was youth,” said Mr. Ewing, and one can imagine him saying it, gently, as an old-fashioned physician might offer his homely remedy to a patient whose knowledge exceeded his own. “Men do those things when they’re young.”

And Corey, rejecting the simple, old-fashioned cure, made an attempt at a smile for the kindness in which it was offered. “All men are young, some time,” he said; “all men don’t do them.”

“But you happened to be the kind who would.” And at this Corey made no attempt to smile.

“That’s it!” he said. “I wasn’t the kind. I was the kind to stay at home.... I know that. I was always happier here in Dubuque. And now—this last— You’d hardly say that was on account of my youth!”

“No—but it had got into your blood.”

Corey at this gave a start and looked up suddenly at Mr. Ewing. “Into my blood— It’s the very word she used! When she admitted I might not have known it myself, she said she supposed it was just ‘in my blood’!”

He made a gesture which began violently and ended in futility, and sat silent, looking off steadily into space, as if hearing again all those dreadful revelations of hers. And once or twice Mr. Ewing, who sat helplessly by, waiting, perhaps praying, for some inspiration, made a valiant but utterly vain effort to put out his hand, to show by some mere physical act, if no other, his unshaken belief in his friend.

And so, when the need for speech had become imperative, Mr. Ewing found himself saying something to the effect that these things pass; that she had only been angry, and had said the first thing that had come into her mind. And Corey, realizing the extremity into which he had led his friend, rose and, either ignoring or not hearing, from the depth of the chasm into which he had fallen, Mr. Ewing’s last remark, made some hurried attempt at apology, and awkwardly moved toward the door.

Mr. Ewing had only been able to follow after, and say, lamely, and in spite of himself, that he mustn’t say or do anything he might be sorry for, and that they would see each other again. And then he stood in the open door and watched Corey go down the path to the gate, and along the walk, until he had turned the corner, and so out of sight.

And then he had gone back into the house and spent the remainder of that afternoon trying to realize what had passed, trying to decide upon what he should say the next time they met.

But he had reached no conclusion, and in the end had decided to leave it to chance. And Chance had solved his problem with her usual original simplicity. She took away the need for his saying anything at all; for the following day the station cab drove up to Corey’s front gate and stopped. The driver got down from his seat and went up the walk and into the house. A moment later he came out again, bearing on his shoulder the small-size officer’s trunk, the lid forced down now and locked, and in one hand, dragging slightly, a full dunnage-bag. And after him followed Corey. And no one followed him. No one came out on the porch to say good-by. No one stood at the window. The driver put the trunk on the seat beside him, and the dunnage-bag into the seat beside Corey. And then, without a word or a sign, they drove away toward the station.

It was understood in Dubuque after the next few days that Corey had gone to help in the war; he had received an urgent message from France.

And Mr. Ewing received, the day after Corey’s departure, a little note of farewell, written in pencil, while he was waiting for his train, and mailed at the station. It said merely good-by, and that he hoped he would understand.

The next week Mrs. Corey closed up the house and went to Des Moines, to stay with her people, she said, until her husband’s return.

And that was all Mr. Ewing had ever known of what passed between those two, of the details that led to the sudden and final decision to go. And it was all that he had heard of Corey until that day, three months ago, when there came to him the unexpected letter from the man in New York, telling of Corey’s death, and of a message and papers he had to deliver. Mr. Ewing had replied at once that he would go, and had followed his letter almost immediately. He had seemed to feel, ever since that Sunday afternoon, when he had failed to be of use, an increasing sense of responsibility.

He had met the man at his club; and I had, as he told of the meeting, as he described the man, a curious impression of actually seeing them there, in the big Fifth Avenue club, sitting in deeply luxurious chairs and no table between—the gentle, gray-haired, gray-eyed, gray-garbed Mr. Ewing, who had never been in New York City before; and the other, tall, very tall, with black hair, black eyes, and brown burned skin, who looked, Mr. Ewing said, as if he’d done all the things Corey had done.

It had been quite by chance that this man, whose name was Burke, and Corey had been attached to the same section and were thrown in that way a good deal together. And his very first statement had shown, with all the force of the casual phrase, how tremendously Corey had changed.

“A queer fellow,” he said, “no one could understand.” And he was a man, one would say, well accustomed to the queerest of men.

Mr. Ewing said yes, he supposed one would call him that, and asked just in what way Burke had thought Corey queer.

And Burke, it seemed, had had more than enough to base the idea upon. He cast about in his mind to select one out of the many queer things. And he had hit upon the most revealing one of them all.

Corey, he said, had gone about covered with medals, two rows, overlapping, on duty and off, all the time. That in itself was queer, especially for an American. Most men wore bars, but Corey had worn the whole thing. And yet, Burke said, he was the least egotistical man he had ever known. And he had seen him wince when other men, passing, had smiled at sight of his decorations. He could never make it out.

There was no wonder in that. Mr. Ewing, who knew Corey well, and had, one might say, something to go on, couldn’t make it out. And no more, for that matter, could I. There was something in it a little bizarre, and certainly alien. Surely no normal Anglo-Saxon American had ever indulged in such extremes of self-flagellation as that!

And then, abruptly and unbidden, there came into my mind a story of the old West, the story of how in the pioneer days a gambler, sitting down to play solitaire, laid his gun on the table beside him and, if he caught himself cheating, administered justice first hand by shooting himself. To be sure, in those days a man was pretty certain of playing a straight game. Well, so had Corey been, too, sure of the straightness of his game. And I have heard it vouched for that, even in those robust times, the thing had been seen to happen, and to come, with just that appalling simplicity of psychology, from cause to effect, straight, and without hesitation.

The analogy grew, for Burke averred that the queerest thing of all about Corey was that he had been the only man he had ever seen lacking entirely the emotion of fear. He volunteered on every sort of hazardous enterprise, and came through safe when men beside him were killed, time after time, protected, they had got to believe, by the inscrutable quality of his fearlessness. It was, Burke said, as if against some other secret consideration death to Corey counted nothing at all.

Then there was something a little peculiar in so silent a man having so many friends. Corey silent! Remembering him, one could hardly credit that change. Burke qualified that by saying that when he used the word silent, he didn’t in any sense mean morose. Corey had never been that. He merely hadn’t, as people somehow seemed to expect him to do, talked. And what he had meant by “friends” he wished to qualify, too. He hadn’t meant pals. There had been nothing so active as that. But there were ways to tell when a man was well liked. For example, no one who knew him had ever seen anything funny about Corey’s decorations, and they never talked about it among themselves.

Somebody had once asked Corey how long he had been over the first time. It was evident that he had been there before, because of the Croix de Guerre he wore when he came. And Corey had answered, about six weeks, or a little less.

“And you got the Croix in that time?” An exclamation forced out of the fellow’s astonishment, and bringing from Corey an answer without a hint of rebuff, yet certainly nothing that a man could call brag.

“You forget,” he said, with an almost imperceptible glance down at his two rows of medals—“I knew the ropes.”

The man had afterward said to Burke that he was sorry he’d asked. But he didn’t see anything to be ashamed of in the Croix—and Corey wore it where a fellow couldn’t help seeing. There was, Burke said, a queer kind of apology in it. No, there had been nothing like brag in Corey’s answer. There had been none of that in anything he had done. And he had been, according to Burke, the best surgeon of them all, the best man at his work. But of course he had come to disaster in the end. A man can’t go on ignoring danger like that.

They were stationed at Jubécourt, outside Verdun, and for months the struggle had raged, attack and counterattack, for the possession of Hill 304. Corey had gone up to the front poste de secour at Esnes, where in an underground shelter fitted up in what had been the basement of an ancient château, reduced now to ruins by the German shells, he was giving first aid to the wounded brought in from the trenches.

Word had come into the poste one night that an officer, lying in a trench dugout, was too far gone to move. And Corey had volunteered to go, alone, on foot, along the zigzag communication trench that led to the dugout, under the incessant shelling, and see what he could do. And early that morning, about three o’clock, they had been carried in, Corey and his officer—the only two who had come out of that trench alive.

From the officer they had the story of what Corey had done; not many words, to be sure, and little embellishment, but such accounts need no flowers, no figures of speech. The facts are enough, told in gasps, as this one was, hurriedly, while yet there was strength, as one pays a debt, all at once, for fear he may never again have gold to pay.

A trench torpedo had found its mark. And Corey, bending above him, had deliberately braced himself, holding his arms out, and had received in his stead the exploding pieces of shell. He raised himself on his elbow to look at Corey, unconscious, on the next stretcher. He wanted it understood. He sent for an orderly and dictated a message which he managed to sign, and despatched it post-haste to Staff Headquarters. And then he resigned himself to the hands of those about him.

The news had come in to Jubécourt by telephone, and just before dawn Burke had gone up to see what could be done. When he reached the poste Corey had regained consciousness, and was waiting for him. He had sent word ahead that he was coming. And Corey was wounded, Burke said, in a way no other man could have withstood. And the “queer” thing now was that he knew it, and when Burke leaned over him there was a gleam in his eyes as if he were keeping it there by his own will power.

He seemed relieved then, and began at once—he had saved a surprising amount of strength—to speak. He knew Burke planned to go to New York, and he wanted him to deliver some papers. They were in his bag, at Jubécourt; he told him where he should find the key, and then he asked Burke to write down Mr. Ewing’s name and address.

It was while Burke was crossing the dim, lamp-lighted room in search of a pencil or pen that some one had stopped him to say that the General was coming at eleven to confer upon Corey the Medaille Militaire. It had given Burke a distinct kind of shock. Could it be, he wondered, that that was what Corey had saved himself for? For Corey knew, as well as they, that the Medaille Militaire was the one decoration never conferred upon dead men. He had gone on and borrowed the pen, and on the way back had asked if he might be allowed to tell Corey. It might, he said, do him some good. That news had turned the balance for more than one man.

But when, a few moments later, Burke, receiving permission, had told Corey his news, he had been for a moment afraid that the balance had turned—and in the wrong way. Corey had seemed hardly to comprehend, and then a sudden unaccountable change had come over his face.

“The Medaille!” he gasped. “What time did you say?”

“Eleven,” Burke told him—“three hours from now.”

He seemed then to be considering something deep within himself, so that Burke hardly heard when he said, “That’s time enough.” And Burke, thinking that he had been measuring his strength against the time, hastened a little awkwardly to reassure him. But Corey, ignoring his assurance, had seemed to arrive at some secret conclusion.

“Did you put down the name?” he asked.

Burke had forgotten the name, and Corey told him again, patiently, spelling out the address. He watched while Burke wrote.

“The papers all go to him.” He was silent a moment. Then: “Listen,” he said. “Will you give him this message for me?”

Burke promised, whatever he wished, word for word.

“Tell him,” he said, “that it breaks a man’s luck to know what he wants.”

“Yes,” said Burke. “Is there anything else?”

The strength had drained out of Corey’s voice with the last words. Again he waited while he seemed to decide. And when he spoke, at last, a strange gentleness had come into his tone, so that Burke was not surprised to hear that the message was meant now for a woman.

“Tell him,” said Corey, “there’s no use letting her know about the Medaille Militaire.”

And although Burke had divined some obscure meaning in Corey’s words, he was yet not quite certain that he had heard aright. “You mean that she’s not to know?”

Corey nodded his head, yes, and Burke saw that he was no longer able to speak. Turning, he motioned an orderly to his side, and whispered that he was afraid Corey would never last until eleven.

The orderly sped away, and a moment later the French doctor in charge stood beside Corey’s stretcher, opening his hypodermic case.

And then, Burke said, he had done what seemed to him the “queerest” thing of all. He had made a signal for Burke to come nearer, and when he had leaned down, he said, “Remember to tell him I didn’t take that.” He was looking at the hypodermic the doctor held in his hand.

“But the Medaille—” began Burke, and was stopped by the strangeness of Corey’s expression. He had, he said, smiled a secret mysterious smile, and closed his eyes with a curious look of contentment.

And even the French doctor had seen, by something in his faint gesture of refusal, that Corey would never submit to his restorative. He put the case down on a box, with a nod to the orderly, in case Corey should change his mind.

And Burke had stayed by until the Division General, just half an hour too late, had arrived at exactly eleven o’clock. Corey had not changed his mind....

That, then, was the end of the story.

So much affected was I at the nature of poor Corey’s death that I almost forgot Mr. Ewing, sitting there across from me in our comfortable smoking-car, and that he might, in all decency, expect some comment from me. Indeed, I think I should have forgotten altogether if I had not felt after a little a relaxation of his long-continued gaze, and I knew he was going to speak.

“Why,” he said, “do you think he didn’t want her to know?”

So that was the thing which had puzzled him in New York, the thing which still puzzled him now.

Well, it had puzzled me, too; and I could give him no answer, except to confess that I didn’t know. But long after the train had passed through Dubuque, and Mr. Ewing and I had said good-by, an answer, perhaps right, perhaps wrong, presented itself to my mind.

If one followed Corey at all, one must follow him all the way; perhaps he had wished to save her the pang of an added disgrace.

THE DARK HOUR

By WILBUR DANIEL STEELE
From The Atlantic Monthly
Copyright, 1918, by The Atlantic Monthly Co.
Copyright, 1919, by Wilbur Daniel Steele.

The returning ship swam swiftly through the dark; the deep, interior breathing of the engines, the singing of wire stays, the huge whispering rush of foam streaming the water-line made up a body of silence upon which the sound of the doctor’s footfalls, coming and going restlessly along the near deck, intruded only a little—a faint and personal disturbance. Charging slowly through the dark, a dozen paces forward, a dozen paces aft, his invisible and tormented face bent forward a little over his breast, he said to himself,—

“What fools! What blind fools we’ve been!”

Sweat stood for an instant on his brow, and was gone in the steady onrush of the wind.

The man lying on the cot in the shelter of the cabin companionway made no sound all the while. He might have been asleep or dead, he remained so quiet; yet he was neither asleep nor dead, for his eyes, large, wasted, and luminous, gazed out unwinking from the little darkness of his shelter into the vaster darkness of the night, where a star burned in slow mutations, now high, now sailing low, over the rail of the ship.

Once he said in a washed and strengthless voice, “That’s a bright star, doctor.”

If the other heard, he gave no sign. He continued charging slowly back and forth, his large dim shoulders hunched over his neck, his hands locked behind him, his teeth showing faintly gray between the fleshy lips which hung open a little to his breathing.

“It’s dark!” he said of a sudden, bringing up before the cot in the companionway. “God, Hallett, how dark it is!” There was something incoherent and mutilated about it, as if the cry had torn the tissues of his throat. “I’m not myself to-night,” he added, with a trace of shame.

Hallett spoke slowly from his pillow.

“It wouldn’t be the subs to-night? You’re not that kind, you know. I’ve seen you in the zone. And we’re well west of them by this, anyhow; and as you say, it’s very dark.”

“It’s not that darkness. Not that!”

Again there was the same sense of something tearing. The doctor rocked for a moment on his thick legs. He began to talk.

“It’s this war—” His conscience protested: “I ought not to go on so—it’s not right, not right at all—talking so to the wounded—the dying—I shouldn’t go on so to the dying—” And all the while the words continued to tumble out of his mouth. “No, I’m not a coward—not especially. You know I’m not a coward, Hallett. You know that. But just now, to-night, somehow, the whole black truth of the thing has come out and got me—jumped out of the dark and got me by the neck, Hallett. Look here; I’ve kept a stiff lip. Since the first I’ve said, ‘We’ll win this war.’ It’s been a matter of course. So far as I know, never a hint of doubt has shadowed my mind, even when things went bad. ‘In the end,’ I’ve said, ‘in the end, of course, we’re bound to win.’”

He broke away again to charge slowly through the dark with his head down, butting; a large, overheated animal endowed with a mind.

“But—do we want to win?”

Hallett’s question, very faint across the subdued breathings and showerings of the ship, fetched the doctor up. He stood for a moment, rocking on his legs and staring at the face of the questioner, still and faintly luminous on the invisible cot. Then he laughed briefly, shook himself, and ignored the preposterous words. He recollected tardily that the fellow was pretty well gone.

“No,” he went on. “Up to to-night I’ve never doubted. No one in the world, in our part of the world, has doubted. The proposition was absurd to begin with. Prussia, and her fringe of hangers-on, to stand against the world—to stand against the very drift and destiny of civilization? Impossible! A man can’t do the impossible; that’s logic, Hallett, and that’s common sense. They might have their day of it, their little hour, because they had the jump—but in the end! in the end!— But look at them, will you! Look at them! That’s what’s got me to-night, Hallett. Look at them! There they stand. They won’t play the game, won’t abide at all by the rules of logic, of common sense. Every day, every hour, they perform the impossible. Not once since the war was a year old have they been able to hang out another six months. They’d be wiped from the earth; their people would starve. They’re wiped from the earth, and they remain. They starve and lay down their skinny bodies on the ground, and they stand up again with sleek bellies. They make preposterous, blind boasts. They say, ‘We’ll over-run Roumania in a month.’ Fantastic! It’s done! They say, ‘Russia? New-born Russia? Strong young boy-Russia? We’ll put him out of it for good and all by Christmas.’ That was to cheer up the hungry ones in Berlin. Everybody saw through it. The very stars laughed. It’s done! God, Hallett! It’s like clockwork. It’s like a rehearsed and abominable programme—”

“Yes—a programme.”

The wounded man lay quite still and gazed at the star. When he spoke, his words carried an odd sense of authenticity, finality. His mind had got a little away from him, and now it was working with the new, oracular clarity of the moribund. It bothered the doctor inexplicably—tripped him up. He had to shake himself. He began to talk louder and make wide, scarcely visible gestures.

“We’ve laughed so long, Hallett. There was Mittel-Europa! We always laughed at that. A wag’s tale. To think of it—a vast, self-sufficient, brutal empire laid down across the path of the world! Ha-ha! Why, even if they had wanted it, it would be—”

“If they wanted it, it would be—inevitable.”

The doctor held up for a full dozen seconds. A kind of anger came over him and his face grew red. He couldn’t understand. He talked still louder.

“But they’re doing it! They’re doing that same preposterous thing before our eyes, and we can’t touch them, and they’re— Hallett! They’re damn near done! Behind that line there,—you know the line I mean,—who of us doesn’t know it? That thin line of smoke and ashes and black blood, like a bent black wire over France! Behind that line they’re at work, day by day, month after month, building the empire we never believed. And Hallett, it’s damn near done! And we can’t stop it. It grows bigger and bigger, darker and darker—it covers up the sky—like a nightmare—”

“Like a dream!” said Hallett softly; “a dream.”

The doctor’s boot-soles drummed with a dull, angry resonance on the deck.

“And we can’t touch them! They couldn’t conceivably hold that line against us—against the whole world—long enough to build their incredible empire behind it. And they have! Hallett! How could they ever have held it?”

“You mean, how could we ever have held it?”

Hallett’s words flowed on, smooth, clear-formed, unhurried, and his eyes kept staring at the star.

“No, it’s we have held it, not they. And we that have got to hold it—longer than they. Theirs is the kind of a Mittel-Europa that’s been done before; history is little more than a copybook for such an empire as they are building. We’ve got a vaster and more incredible empire to build than they—a Mittel-Europa, let us say, of the spirit of man. No, no, doctor; it’s we that are doing the impossible, holding that thin line.”

The doctor failed to contain himself.

“Oh, pshaw! pshaw! See here, Hallett! We’ve had the men, and there’s no use blinking the truth. And we’ve had the money and the munitions.”

“But back of all that, behind the last reserve, the last shell-dump, the last treasury, haven’t they got something that we’ve never had?”

“And what’s that?”

“A dream.”

“A what?”

“A dream. We’ve dreamed no dream. Yes—let me say it! A little while ago you said, ‘nightmare,’ and I said, ‘dream.’ Germany has dreamed a dream. Black as the pit of hell,—yes, yes,—but a dream. They’ve seen a vision. A red, bloody, damned vision,—yes, yes,—but a vision. They’ve got a programme, even if it’s what you called it, a ‘rehearsed and abominable programme.’ And they know what they want. And we don’t know what we want!”

The doctor’s fist came down in the palm of his hand.

“What we want? I’ll tell you what we want, Hallett. We want to win this war!

“Yes?”

“And by the living God, Hallett, we will win this war! I can see again. If we fight for half a century to come; if we turn the world wrong-side-out for men, young men, boys, babes; if we mine the earth to a hollow shell for coal and iron; if we wear our women to ghosts to get out the last grain of wheat from the fields—we’ll do it! And we’ll wipe this black thing from the face of the earth forever, root and branch, father and son of the bloody race of them to the end of time. If you want a dream, Hallett, there’s a—”

“There’s a—nightmare. An overweening muscular impulse to jump on the thing that’s scared us in the dark, to break it with our hands, grind it into the ground with our heels, tear ourselves away from it—and wake up.”

He went on again after a moment of silence.

“Yes, that’s it, that’s it. We’ve never asked for anything better; not once since those terrible August days have we got down on our naked knees and prayed for anything more than just to be allowed to wake up—and find it isn’t so. How can we expect, with a desire like that, to stand against a positive and a flaming desire? No, no! The only thing to beat a dream is a dream more poignant. The only thing to beat a vision black as midnight is a vision white as the noonday sun. We’ve come to the place, doctor, where half a loaf is worse than no bread.”

The doctor put his hands in his pockets and took them out again, shifted away a few steps and back again. He felt inarticulate, handless, helpless in the face of things, of abstractions, of the mysterious, unflagging swiftness of the ship, bearing him willy-nilly over the blind surface of the sea. He shook himself.

“God help us,” he said.

“What God?”

The doctor lifted a weary hand.

“Oh, if you’re going into that—”

“Why not? Because Prussia, doctor, has a god. Prussia has a god as terrible as the God of conquering Israel, a god created in her own image. We laugh when we hear her speaking intimately and surely to this god. I tell you we’re fools. I tell you, doctor, before we shall stand we shall have to create a god in our own image, and before we do that we shall have to have a living and sufficient image.”

“You don’t think much of us,” the doctor murmured wearily.

The other seemed not to hear. After a little while he said:

“We’ve got to say black or white at last. We’ve got to answer a question this time with a whole answer.”

“This war began so long ago,” he went on, staring at the star. “So long before Sarajevo, so long before the ‘balances of power’ were thought of, so long before the ‘provinces’ were lost and won, before Bismarck and the lot of them were begotten, or their fathers. So many, many years of questions put, and half-answers given in return. Questions, questions: questions of a power-loom in the North Counties; questions of a mill-hand’s lodging in one Manchester or another, of the weight of a headtax in India, of a widow’s mass for her dead in Spain; questions of a black man in the Congo, of an eighth-black man in New Orleans, of a Christian in Turkey, an Irishman in Dublin, a Jew in Moscow, a French cripple in the streets of Zabern; questions of an idiot sitting on a throne; questions of a girl asking her vote on a Hyde Park rostrum, of a girl asking her price in the dark of a Chicago doorway—whole questions half-answered, hungry questions half-fed, mutilated fag-ends of questions piling up and piling up year by year, decade after decade.— Listen! There came a time when it wouldn’t do, wouldn’t do at all. There came a time when the son of all those questions stood up in the world, final, unequivocal, naked, devouring, saying, ‘Now you shall answer me. You shall look me squarely in the face at last, and you shall look at nothing else; you shall take your hands out of your pockets and your tongues out of your cheeks, and no matter how long, no matter what the blood and anguish of it, you shall answer me now with a whole answer—or perish!’”

“And what’s the answer?”

The doctor leaned down a little, resting his hands on the foot of the cot.

The gray patch of Hallett’s face moved slightly in the dark.

“It will sound funny to you. Because it’s a word that’s been worn pretty thin by so much careless handling. It’s ‘Democracy’!”

The doctor stood up straight on his thick legs.

“Why should it sound funny?” he demanded, a vein of triumph in his tone. “It is the answer. And we’ve given it. ‘Make the world safe for democracy!’ Eh? You remember the quotation?”

“Yes, yes, that’s good. But we’ve got to do more than say it, doctor. Go further. We’ve got to dream it in a dream; we’ve got to see democracy as a wild, consuming vision. If the day ever comes when we shall pronounce the word ‘democracy’ with the same fierce faith with which we conceive them to be pronouncing ‘autocracy’—that day, doctor—”

He raised a transparent hand and moved it slowly over his eyes.

“It will be something to do, doctor, that will. Like taking hold of lightning. It will rack us body and soul; belief will strip us naked for a moment, leave us new-born and shaken and weak—as weak as Christ in the manger. And that day nothing can stand before us. Because, you see, we’ll know what we want.”

The doctor stood for a moment as he had been, a large, dark troubled body rocking slowly to the heave of the deck beneath him. He rubbed a hand over his face.

“Utopian!” he said.

“Utopian!” Hallett repeated after him. “To-day we are children of Utopia—or we are nothing. I tell you, doctor, to-day it has come down to this—Hamburg to Bagdad—or—Utopia!”

The other lifted his big arms and his face was red.

“You’re playing with words, Hallett. You do nothing but twist my words. When I say Utopian, I mean, precisely, impossible. Absolutely impossible. See here! You tell me this empire of theirs is a dream. I give you that. How long has it taken them to dream it? Forty years. Forty years! And this wild, transcendental empire of the spirit you talk about,—so much harder,—so many hundreds of times more incredible,—will you have us do that sort of a thing in a day? We’re a dozen races, a score of nations. I tell you it’s—it’s impossible!”

“Yes. Impossible.”

The silence came down between them, heavy with all the dark, impersonal sounds of passage, the rhythmical explosions of the waves, the breathing of engines, the muffled staccato of the spark in the wireless room, the note of the ship’s bell forward striking the hour and after it a hail, running thin in the wind: “Six bells, sir, and—all’s well!”

All’s well!

The irony of it! The infernal patness of it, falling so in the black interlude, like stage business long rehearsed.

All’s well!” the doctor echoed with the mirthless laughter of the damned.

Hallett raised himself very slowly on an elbow and stared at the star beyond the rail.

“Yes, I shouldn’t wonder. Just now—to-night—somehow—I’ve got a queer feeling that maybe it is. Maybe it’s going to be.—Maybe it’s going to be; who knows? The darkest hour of our lives, of history, perhaps, has been on us. And maybe it’s almost over. Maybe we’re going to do the impossible, after all, doctor. And maybe we’re going to get it done in time. I’ve got a queer sense of something happening—something getting ready.”

When he spoke again, his voice had changed a little.

“I wish my father could have lived to see this day. He’s in New York now, and I should like—”

The doctor moved forward suddenly and quietly, saying: “Lie down, Hallett. You’d better lie down now.”

But the other protested with a gray hand.

“No, no, you don’t understand. When I say—well—it’s just the shell of my father walking around and talking around, these ten years past. Prison killed his heart. He doesn’t even know it, that the immortal soul of him has gone out. You know him, doctor. Ben Hallett; the Radical—‘the Destroyer,’ they used to call him in the old days. He was a brave man, doctor; you’ve got to give him that; as brave as John the Baptist, and as mad. I can see him now,—to-night,—sitting in the back room in Eighth Street, he and old Radinov and Hirsch and O’Reilly and the rest, with all the doors shut and the windows shut and their eyes and ears and minds shut up tight, trying to keep the war out. They’re old men, doctor, and they must cling to yesterday, and to to-morrow. They mustn’t see to-day. They must ignore to-day. To-day is the tragic interruption. They too ask nothing but to wake up and find it isn’t so. All their lives they’ve been straining forward to see the ineffable dawn of the Day of Man, calling for the Commune and the red barricades of revolution. The barricades! Yesterday, it seems to them now, they were almost in sight of the splendid dawn—the dawn of the Day of Barricades. And then this war, this thing they call a ‘rich man’s plot’ to confound them, hold them up, turn to ashes all the fire of their lives. All they can do is sit in a closed room with their eyes shut and wait till this meaningless brawl is done. And then, to-morrow—to-morrow—some safely distant to-morrow (for they’re old men),—to-morrow, the barricades! And that’s queer. That’s queer.”

“Queer?”

“It seems to me that for days now, for weeks and months now, there’s been no sound to be heard in all the length and breadth of the world but the sound of barricades.”

The voice trailed off into nothing.

To the doctor, charging slowly back and forth along the near deck, his hands locked behind him and his face bent slightly over his breast, there came a queer sense of separation, from Hallett, from himself, his own everyday acts, his own familiar aspirations, from the ship which held him up in the dark void between two continents.

What was it all about, he asked himself over and over. Each time he passed the shadow in the companionway he turned his head, painfully, and as if against his will. Once he stopped squarely at the foot of the cot and stood staring down at the figure there, faintly outlined, motionless and mute. Sweat stood for a moment on his brow, and was gone in the steady onrush of the wind. And he was used to death.

But Hallett had fooled him. He heard Hallett’s whisper creeping to him out of the shadow:

“That’s a bright star, doctor.”

THE BIRD OF SERBIA

By JULIAN STREET
From Collier’s Weekly
Copyright, 1918, by P. F. Collier & Son, Inc.
Copyright, 1919, by Julian Street.

“Here’s a queer item,” remarked the man at the window end of the long leather-covered seat, looking up from his newspaper and apparently speaking in general to the other occupants of the Pullman smoking compartment. “There’s a dispatch here announcing the death from tuberculosis of that Serbian who shot the Archduke of Austria at Sarajevo. It seems he has been in prison ever since. I thought he had been executed long ago.”

Four of us, strangers to one another, had settled in the smoking compartment at the beginning of the journey from Chicago to New York, and as we had been on our way nearly an hour it seemed time for conversation.

“They didn’t execute him,” replied a man who sat in one of the chairs, “because he was under age. It’s against the law, over there, to execute a person under twenty-one. This boy was only nineteen.”

“The law wouldn’t have cut much figure over here in a case like that,” replied the first speaker.

“Perhaps not,” returned the man in the chair, “but respect for law is one of the few benefits that seem to go with autocratic government. I don’t find that dispatch in my paper. May I borrow yours?”

The other handed over the journal, indicating the item with his finger.

“I had almost forgotten that fellow,” spoke up a third traveler. “The rush and magnitude of the war have carried our thoughts—and for the matter of that, our soldiers too—a pretty long way since the assassination occurred. Yet I suppose historians, digging back into the minute beginnings of the war, will all trace down to the shot fired by that Serbian.”

“That’s what the paper says,” returned the one who had begun to talk. “It speaks of ‘the historic shot fired in Serbia’ as the thing that fired the world.”

“And in doing so,” declared the man who had borrowed the paper, “it falls into a popular error. The shot was not fired in Serbia, but in Austria-Hungary, and the boy who did the shooting was an Austro-Hungarian subject.”

“But that doesn’t seem possible,” interposed the man who had spoken of the historical aspect of the case. “If he was an Austrian subject and did the shooting in Austria, how could Austria make that an excuse for attacking Serbia?”

The other looked from the window for a moment before replying.

“It was one of the poorest excuses imaginable,” he returned. “Autocracies can do those things; that’s why they must be stamped out. As you said, historians will trace back to the assassination. It so happened that I was over there at the time and got a glimpse of what lay back of the assassination—microscopic, unclean forces of which historians will never hear, yet which seem peculiarly suitable in connection with Austria’s crime. But I had better not get to talking about all that.”

As though in indication of his intention to be silent, he closed his mouth firmly. It was a strong mouth and could shut with finality. Everything about him expressed strength and determination mixed, as these qualities often are in the highest type of American business man, with gentleness, good nature, and modesty. I liked his looks. He was the kind of man you would pick out to take care of your watch and pocketbook—or your wife—in case of emergency. I wanted him to go on talking, and said so, and when both the other men backed up my request, he began in a spirit evidently reluctant but obliging:

“For some years before the outbreak of this war,” he said, “I represented a large American oil company in southeastern Europe, where we had a considerable market. My headquarters were at Vienna, but my travels took me through various countries inhabited by people of the Serb race, and I found it advantageous to learn to speak the Serbian tongue, both for business reasons and because I enjoyed making friends among the people. In order to practice the language and form some knowledge of the people, I made it a custom, when traveling, to stop at small hotels used by the Serbs themselves, in preference to the more cosmopolitan establishments; or, where the small hotels were not clean, I would sometimes take a room with some Serbian family.

”In Bosnia there was one very attractive little city to which I was always particularly glad to go. It was a place of thirty or forty thousand inhabitants and lay in a lovely, fertile valley among the hills; and you may judge something of it by the fact that the Serbs coupled the adjective ‘golden’ with the town’s name. Not one American in a thousand—probably not one in a hundred thousand—had ever heard of the place then, yet it was the capital of Bosnia. The Austrian governor of Bosnia had his palace there, and the life of the place was like that of some great capital in miniature. One thing about the town which interested me was the way in which its people and its architecture reflected Bosnian history. In the first place there were many Serbs there, the more prosperous of them dressing like conventional Europeans—except that the fez was worn by almost all of them—and living in low, picturesque Serbian houses, with roofs of tile or flat stone shingle; the rest peasants in the Bosnian costume, who came in from the outlying agricultural regions. But also there were Mohammedans—leftovers from the days of Turkish dominion—and the town had minarets and other architectural signs of the Turk. And last there were the Austrians—the Austrian governor, Austrian soldiers in uniform about the streets, Austrian minor officials everywhere; and in new buildings, parks, and boulevards, Austrian taste. For, after taking Bosnia, under the Treaty of Berlin, in 1878, the Austrians, knowing well that their grabbing policy was criticized, went to some pains to beautify the Bosnian capital, with the object, it is commonly understood, of impressing visitors—and perhaps also the inhabitants themselves—with the ‘benefits’ of Austrian rule—as though palaces, parks, pavements, and prostitutes were sufficient compensation to the Serbs for the racial unity and freedom which have been denied them, first by one nation, then by another.“

“But,” some one broke in, “up to the time of the present war, didn’t the Serbs have Serbia?”

“The present kingdom of Serbia proper was inhabited by Serbs,” returned the other, “but the Serbia we know is only a small part of what was, long ago, the Serbian Empire. Since the fall of the empire, in the fourteenth century, it has been the great ambition of the Serbs to become again a unified nation. Bosnia was a part of the old empire, but was conquered by the Turks, and later taken over by the Austrians. The story I am about to tell shows, however, what an enduring race consciousness the Bosnian Serbs have maintained.

“Our district manager for Bosnia lived in the town of which I have been speaking, and when I first went there he took me to a small but particularly clean and attractive hotel, run by an Austrian Serb. As is usual in small hotels in Europe, the proprietor’s family took part in the work of running the place; and as I used to stay there frequently, sometimes for two or three weeks at a stretch, I soon came to know them all well. As the years passed I became really attached to them, and there were many signs to show that they were fond of me. Michael, the father, exercised general supervision—though he was not above carrying a trunk upstairs; Stana, the mother, kept the accounts and superintended the cooking, which was excellent; the two daughters worked in the kitchen and sometimes helped wait on table. Even the boy, Gavrilo, the youngest member of the family, helped after school with light work, though he studied hard and was not very strong. I often sat with them at their own family table at one end of the dining-room; I called them all by their given names, and addressed them with the ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ of familiarity.

“When I first knew Gavrilo he was twelve or thirteen years old. His father, though of pure Serb blood, had acquired, with years and experience in business, a certain resignation to the existing order of things. He had seen several wars and revolutions, and as he grew older had begun to think that peace under Austrian domination was better than continual conflict, whatever the cause.

“The boy Gavrilo was, however, more like Stana, his mother. Stana could grow old, but the flame in her, the poetry, the mysticism, and above all the Serbian racial feeling, never diminished. Gavrilo learned the Serbian folk stories and songs at her knee; also he learned from her Serbian history, which, under Austria, was not taught in the schools; for the Austrians have long desired to crush out Serbian racial feeling.

“Gavrilo and I became great friends. He was hungry for knowledge and never tired of asking me about the United States and our freedom, free speech, and free opportunity—all of which, of course, seemed very wonderful to one growing up in a decadent, bureaucratic empire, made up of various races held together against their will. In return I gathered from Gavrilo a considerable knowledge of Serb history and legend—and you may be sure that in what he told me, neither the Turks nor the Austrians came off very well. Even as a lad he always referred to the Austrians as shvaba—a Serbian word meaning something like our term boches—and by the time he was sixteen he had promoted them to be proclete shvaba, which may be freely translated as ‘damned boches.’

“For a long time I took his strong anti-Austrian utterances lightly, considering them the result of boyish ebullience of spirit, but as he grew nearer manhood, and the fierceness of his feeling seemed to increase rather than diminish, I became concerned about him; for it is no wiser for an Austrian Serb to call the Austrians shvaba than it would be for an Alsatian to call the Prussians boches.

“As Gavrilo grew up, his passionate racial feeling disturbed me more and more, though, of course, I sympathized with it. I determined to make an opportunity for a serious talk with him on the subject, and to that end suggested that he go with me to the neighboring hills for a couple of days’ gunning; for Bosnia abounds in game.

“Gavrilo proved to be a very good shot. He would shoot wild pigeons, grouse, and woodcock from the hip, and he even brought along a pistol with which he could hit a hare at a considerable distance. These exhibitions of skill were, however, accompanied by remarks which did not make it easier for me to broach the topic upon which I wished to speak to him. When he would hit a pigeon he would exclaim: ‘There goes another member of the Hapsburg family!’ or: ‘That one was a shvab tax collector!’ or, mock-heroically, ‘So much for you, you nobleman of brilliant plumage with a von before your name. No more will the peasants step out of the road and bow down before you!’

“‘Look here, Gavrilo,’ I said, when we sat to rest upon a fallen tree, ‘you are a Serb, and that is something to be proud of, but after all, you are an Austrian subject, and your forefathers have been Austrian subjects for a long time. You have your home here, so why not make the best of a bad bargain, and be like the rest of the young fellows?’

“‘You think I am not like them?’ he replied. ‘That is only because you do not know them as you know me. Every momche who is a worthy descendant of the race that fought to the death at Kossovo—the Field of the Black Bird—is of the comitajia. We younger fellows are to be comitajia also. We have our meetings in the same kafana where the others meet to make their plans. When we are a little older they will take us in and we shall all work together.’

“‘But what is this work you speak of?’

“‘Whatever it is,’ he returned, ‘you may be sure it is in the interest of our race.’

“‘But you speak of comitajia,’ I said. ‘Has not that word more than one significance? I know the military scouts with bombs are comitajia, but are not revolutionists called by the same term?’

“Gavrilo showed his strong white teeth in one of those extraordinary mischievous smiles which now and then illuminated his face. Instead of giving me a direct answer he said:

“‘Dear friend, I am glad to perceive that your knowledge of our beloved Serbian tongue becomes daily more accurate.’

“‘But, Gavrilo,’ I protested, refusing to be put off with a jest, ‘to be concerned in a revolution would be the worst thing that could happen to you.’

“‘No, not the worst thing. Worse than being a Serb and joining in a revolution would be to be a Serb and fail to lift a hand in the struggle for freedom.’

“‘Revolutions,’ I said, sententiously, ‘do not pay, Gavrilo.’

“‘But since when has that been so?’ he countered quickly. ‘There was, for instance, the French Revolution. Did not that pay? And there was the American Revolution. Surely that paid! And there was the revolution of Serbia against the Turks. That is paying too.’ His luminous black eyes, so like those of a wild deer, snapped as he spoke. Then his expression changed quickly to one of amusement over my discomfiture, and he added with a little laugh: ‘I have an American friend—a gentleman who manages the business of a large oil company over here. He can tell you, as he has me, of the benefits of the American Revolution and of American freedom. I promise you that some day you shall meet him face to face—let us say to-morrow morning when he is shaving.’

“It seemed to me that I had taken an unfortunate line with him there, so I tried another.

“‘Well, then, let us put it on selfish grounds. There is no great reason why you, personally, should be dissatisfied. You have good prospects in your father’s business. The thing for you to do, in the natural course, is to marry and settle down. And certainly a man who has a sweetheart such as yours hasn’t any business in a comitajia; for such things lead to prisons and executions, not to domesticity.’

“‘What makes you think I have a sweetheart?’ he demanded, flushing.

“‘Haven’t I seen Mara?’

“‘Well, what of it?’

“‘If you can resist Mara,’ I told him, ‘you have more strength than I would give you credit for.’ And it was quite true; for Mara, who lived next door to the hotel, was a beautiful young thing, and they were much together.

“‘Mara is a flirt,’ said he.

“‘What matter,’ I returned, ‘so long as she flirts most with you?’

“‘But does she like me best?’ he mused. ‘There is this fellow in the Government railways who comes as often as he can to see her. He has the advantage of being a connection by marriage, and is very handsome. Really too handsome for a man. I am glad he does not live here all the time.’

“‘You have the advantage of living next door,’ I encouraged. ‘The one thing that might interfere is this idea of yours about being one of the comitajia.’

“‘Still,’ he protested, shaking his head doubtfully, ‘a man’s first duty is not to the woman he loves, but to the race he loves, because both she and he belong to it. You know our old song?’ And he sang there in the woods:

“‘Doucho, my soul, I love thee second best;
Thou art the dearest part of Serbia to me;
But after all thou art but a part, even as I am a part;
And it is Serbia, always Serbia, that together we love most!

“Though not altogether satisfied with our conversation, I felt that in appealing to the boy’s love for Mara I had struck the right note, and I hoped that as time went on he would think more about her than about the comitajia. For, though one may be heartily in sympathy with revolutionary ideas, especially in the case of an oppressed race, one does not like to see a youth of whom one is really fond, heading toward disaster, even in such a cause. Moreover, as I have said, Gavrilo was not as solidly built as the average Serb, and I had the feeling that the burning spirit in him—and I assure you it was more like a living flame than anything I have seen in the nature of man or woman—must either be kept under control or else destroy his body.

“Consequently I was much relieved to see, as I returned from time to time, that the boy-and-girl romance between Gavrilo and Mara was naturally and charmingly developing into something more mature. This led me to hope the more that, as he turned from a youth into a man, Gavrilo would shed some of the violence of his revolutionary aspirations, and from the indications I judged that such a thing was indeed coming to pass. In order more fully to reassure myself, I more than once took occasion to lead conversations with him into such channels that, should he desire to do so, he could speak to me of the comitajia; but he always let the openings pass, seeming eager, now, to speak only of the lovely Mara.

“When, in the summer of 1913, I arrived for one of my periodical visits, Gavrilo came rushing to my room, and seizing both my hands told me that he and Mara were now betrothed. He was then eighteen and she seventeen—for you understand, of course, that these dark South Europeans develop younger than our people do. Both families were pleased, and I felt that the dangers I had feared for Gavrilo were past, and was duly thankful. I went out and bought a necklace for Mara, and when I gave it to her, she and Gavrilo made me clasp it around her neck, and he said to her, very seriously: ‘Yes, and our dear friend shall be the godfather of our first child. Is it not so, Maro doucho?’ And Mara, taking me by the hand, told me it was quite true, and that she was going to love me as much as Gavrilo loved me, and that, moreover, they were going to have hundreds of children, and that every one of the children should love me too. It was all indescribably naïve and pretty until Gavrilo unfortunately added: ‘Yes, our children will love you, and they will love us, but most of all they will love the idea of a free Serb race.’

“At that a cloud passed over Mara’s face.

“‘Oh, Gavrilo!’ she cried impatiently, ‘shall we never hear of anything but the Serb race? Is there nothing else in the world? Must that come before your thought of your friend, here’—indicating me—‘before your thought of me, of the children we hope to have, of everything? Must you have Serbian freedom on your bread in place of cheese, and in your glass in place of wine? Sometimes I think your eyes shine more brightly when you speak of our race than when you call me doucho—my soul. I ask myself, is it indeed the soul of Mara that he loves, or is it the soul of the race?’

“‘Mara, my dear child,’ I put in, ‘I believe you are jealous.’

“‘Of whom, pray?’ she demanded, turning upon me and flinging her head back proudly.

“‘Not of an individual,’ I answered, ‘but of a people.’

“‘Perhaps it is true,’ she returned with a shrug. ‘Well, what of it?’

“‘Only this: that a woman with nothing more concrete than a whole race to be jealous of is in no very sad plight.’

“‘But I tell you I demand to be loved for myself!’ Mara flashed back.

“Gavrilo sighed deeply, as though at the hopelessness of making her understand his point of view. Then, mournfully, he hummed:

“‘Thou art the dearest part of Serbia to me;
But after all thou art but a part, even as I am a part;
And it is Serbia, always Serbia—

“But Mara would not let him finish.

“‘Enough!’ she cried. ‘I detest that song! You know how I detest it!’

“Gavrilo looked at me and shook his head. ‘Oh, these women!’ he exclaimed. ‘What they do to one!’

“Then, gazing reflectively at Mara, he added in the tone of one attempting to be philosophical: ‘Well, when a little female looks as angelic as my Mara, naturally we expect her to think like an angel too.’

“At this Mara’s anger departed as quickly as it had come. ‘There!’ she exclaimed, flinging her arms about his neck and kissing him upon both cheeks, ‘there spoke my own dear Gavrilo! Poor Gavrilo! What have I been saying? You know I love the Serbs no less than you do! You do know it, don’t you? Well, then, say so!’

“‘God forbid that I should believe otherwise!’ answered Gavrilo, kissing her in return.

“As I left them I thought to myself that with Mara’s temperament, to say nothing of the ‘hundreds of children’ she promised him, Gavrilo’s married life would not prove monotonous, whatever else it might be. When, in the course of the subsequent fall and winter, I saw them again, they seemed as happy as a pair of wild birds.

“Once, in the spring, when I was with them, the comitajia chanced in some way to be mentioned, whereupon Mara at once darkened, saying to me:

“‘That is my one sorrow.’

“‘But why should it be?’ Gavrilo asked her. ‘Have I not plighted you my word that I shall not take part in any—well, in any indiscretions that may be proposed?’

“‘Yes, I have not forgotten. You said that as long as I loved you you would be my good Gavrilo.’

“‘So,’ he returned gaily, ‘all you need do is to continue to adore me as I deserve.’

“‘But you meet with them at the kafana,’ she said, uneasily.

“‘They are my friends,’ he answered. ‘Naturally, then, I meet with them. All men meet at the kafana. It is the way of men. A little wine or coffee or prune brandy and a little talk—that is all. I go also to church, but that does not make me a priest. And besides, dearest Maro, if I were not sometimes with the momchidia, how would I know the joy of returning to you?’

“‘If the devil had your tongue,’ laughed Mara, ‘he could talk all the saints out of heaven!’

“So it always was with Mara. Her ideas came and went—as Gavrilo once put it to me—like humming birds flitting in and out amongst the flowers. Never have I seen a human being turn from gay to grave, and back again, as rapidly as she.

“Arriving at the little hotel in the early part of June, 1914, I found them all full of plans for a great fête to be celebrated on Vidov-dan—Kossovo Day—June 28. This day might be called the Serbian Fourth of July, but it partakes also of the character of our Memorial Day, for it is the anniversary of that tragic event in Serbian history, the Battle of Kossovo, in which the Turks defeated the Serbs in 1389, leaving the entire Serbian nobility dead upon the field. That is one reason why Serbia has no nobles to-day. ‘Kossovo’ means ‘the field of the black bird,’ the kos being a black songbird resembling the starling. But this was to be no ordinary celebration of the holiday, for in the Balkan War of the two preceding years Serbia had consummated her independence and humbled the Turks, and a part of the Serbian racial dream was thereby realized. Mara, Gavrilo, and their parents united in urging me to return for the festival, and before departing I agreed to do so.

“True to my word, I arrived several days ahead of time. Gavrilo had not returned from the academy when I reached the hotel, but Michael and Stana gave me a warm welcome and produced the costumes they were intending to wear, and I remember that Stana said I ought to have a costume too—that even though I had not been so fortunate as to be born a Serb, they proposed to adopt me.

“‘But you should see Mara’s costume!’ she exclaimed, when I admired hers. ‘It is a true Serbian dress, very old, which came to her from her great-grandmother. Such beautiful embroidery you never saw.’

“That made a good excuse for me to go and see Mara, whom I found sewing in the little garden behind the house. The costume, which she showed me, was indeed beautiful, and I admired it in terms which were, I hope, sufficiently extravagant to please even a girl as exacting as she.

“While talking with her I observed a bird cage hanging on a hook by the window and, never having noticed it before, asked if she had a new bird.

“In reply she merely nodded, without looking up from her work.

“I strolled over and looked at the bird.

“‘Why,’ I said, ‘this bird appears to be a kos, Maro.’ Probably there was a note of surprise in my voice, for the kos is not supposed to live in captivity.

“Mara looked up sharply.

“‘Are you visiting blame upon me, then?’ she asked.

“‘Not at all,’ I answered, mystified at her tone. ‘I did not know that the kos could be tamed; that is all.’

“‘Did Gavrilo tell you to speak to me about this?’ she demanded.

“‘Certainly not,’ I answered. ‘I have not seen Gavrilo yet.’ Then, crossing to where she sat, and looking down at her, I asked: ‘What is the matter, Maro? How have I offended you?’

“Her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at me.

“‘You have not offended me, dear friend,’ she said. ‘It is only that I am made miserable by this subject. My relative who is employed in the railway caught this bird a few days since, placed it in a cage, and presented it to me. And if he is a handsome young fellow, am I to be censured for that? I am not his mother nor yet his father; I did not make him handsome! And even so, what is a little bird, to make words and black looks over?’

“‘You mean that Gavrilo is annoyed?’

“‘Since this bird came,’ she returned, ‘I have heard of nothing else. He begs me to let it go. He insists that it will die. He says the man who gave it me is cruel and that I am cruel too.’

“‘Then why not release it?’ I suggested. ‘It is dying in the cage, Maro.’

“‘Let it die, then!’ she cried, and burst into a flood of tears.

“‘Now, Maro,’ I urged when the paroxysm had abated, ‘what is all this about?’

“‘Well,’ she gulped, wiping her eyes, ‘a girl must have a little character, must she not? She must make up her own mind occasionally about some little thing! Is not that true? Is the man she loves to tell her when to draw in her breath and when to let it go again? Is he to tell her when to wink her eyes? Is she to cease to think and do only as he thinks? Here came this young man—with the miserable bird. I desired it not. Then came Gavrilo, black and angry like a storm out of the mountains, ordering me to let the bird go. I wished to do as Gavrilo said, but as my relative had caught it and given it to me I felt I should first speak to him. Besides, he is older and knows a great deal, being in the Government railroads. And what did he say? “Maro,” he said, “you do as you wish. If you wish to be a little fool, humor this boy. He is spoiled. He has everything as he desires it. They say you are to marry him. Very well. But if you think always with his mind, and hold no ideas of your own, I tell you you will make a wife no better than one of those stupid Turkish women....” That is why I determined to retain the bird. There is a kos in every second tree. Well, then, is it not better that this one die than that my soul shall wither? Why should I be called Mara if I shall no longer be a separate being, but only Gavrilo in another body?’

“As she finished, we heard Gavrilo calling her name from the street, and a moment later he came in through the garden gate.

“I saw at once that he was agitated.

“‘So you have come!’ he cried, seizing my hands. ‘But, alas, my friend, it is in vain. You have heard the evil tidings?’

“‘You mean about—?’ I had almost said ‘about the bird,’ but fortunately he interrupted, exclaiming:

“‘Yes, about the festival.’

“‘What tidings?’ demanded Mara.

“Gavrilo threw his arms above his head in a gesture of helpless fury.

“‘Those proclete shvaba!’ he burst out. ‘They issued an edict only an hour ago, forbidding entirely our festival of Vidov-dan!’

“‘No!’ cried Mara, dismayed, half rising from her seat.

“‘Yes. There shall be no celebration—not for the Serbs. Nothing! Attempts to commemorate the anniversary will result in arrest. It is announced that in place of our festival there will upon that day be extensive maneuvers of the Austrian army and that Grand Headquarters will be here in our city. We are given to understand that the Archduke himself will come and hold the review. Could anything be devised more to insult us upon our national holiday? Oh, of what vile tricks are not these accursed shvaba capable?’

“‘I am surprised,’ I said, ‘that the Archduke would be party to a thing of this kind, for it is understood that he is pro-Serb. Certainly his wife is a Slav.’

“‘The more shame to her, then, for marrying him,’ said Gavrilo, with a shrug. ‘He is the spawn, of an autocrat who is in turn the spawn of generations of autocrats. Scratch them and they are all the same. They play the game of empire—the dirty game of holding together, against their will, the people of seven races in Austria-Hungary; grinding them down, humiliating them, keeping them afraid. No man, no group of men, should have such power! It is medieval, grotesque, wicked!’

“‘More than that,’ put in Mara, ‘it is unwise. They take a poor way to gain favor with us Serbs. For my part, I do not think it safe for the Archduke to come here.’

“‘And there, my mila,’ he declared, with a shrewd, sinister smile, ‘your judgment is perhaps better than even you yourself suppose. Myself, I doubt he will be fool enough to come. At the last we shall be informed, with a grand flourish, that he is ‘indisposed.’ Not sick, you understand. Royalties are never sick. It is not etiquette. Peasants are sick. The middle-classes are ill. The great are only indisposed. Anything else is vulgar. Well, I hope he will know enough to stay away. Otherwise he may indeed become indisposed after his arrival.’

“‘What do you mean, Gavrilo?’ I asked.

“‘That the air of this place is not good for Austrian royalties just now,’ he said. ‘It is Serbian air. There are the germs of freedom in it, and such germs are more dangerous to autocrats than those of kuga,—cholera.’

“‘Be frank,’ I urged. ‘Do you mean that the Archduke’s life is threatened?’

“‘It is known,’ he replied, ‘that the governor has received warning letters. The Archduke is advised not to appear here on our holiday. One understands, moreover, that the Austrian secret police concur in this advice. Which shows that the filthy beasts are not so stupid as they might be.’

“‘Assure me, Gavrilo,’ Mara broke in, ‘that your comitajia has nought to do with this threat!’

“‘Long ago,’ he answered ‘I promised you that while you love me I will not actively participate in anything violent. You may be sure, Maro, mila, that I shall keep my word.’

“‘You keep your word always,’ she replied, ‘but these threats disturb me and I gain comfort from your reassurances.’

“Gavrilo walked slowly over and looked into the bird cage.

“‘You are certain, then, that you do requite my affection?’ he asked her over his shoulder.

“‘You are well aware,’ she said, ‘that I worship you.’

“‘Would that I were as well aware of it,’ he returned, ‘as that I am nothing to be worshiped.’ Then after a pause he added: ‘If you do love me, why not release this poor bird? See how wretchedly it huddles. Its eyes are becoming dull. It will surely die. How can we Serbs talk of freedom for ourselves, yet hold this wild creature prisoner? And of all birds, a kos—the bird of Kossovo! Permit me to open the door of the cage, Maro. Let us celebrate the Serbian holiday by liberating the poor kos. Shvabe cannot prevent that, with all their edicts.’

“Mara looked black.

“‘The holiday is not yet here!’ said she.

“‘When the day comes,’ he answered, ‘the kos will be dead.’

“‘I wish it were already dead!’ she exclaimed petulantly. ‘I wish I had never seen the accursed thing. It has brought me only sorrow!’

“‘Then,’ I interjected, ‘why not let it fly away?’

“‘I have told you both,’ she answered angrily. ‘This means more to me than the life or death of a bird. It is a symbol. I have the feeling that if it were to fly away all my will power would fly with it.’

“‘And to me also,’ returned the boy solemnly, ‘this means more than the life or death of a bird. And likewise to me the kos is a symbol. It should be so to every Serb. Think of Kossovo! This is a bird linked with our racial aspirations. If we free this one, we may, perhaps, ourselves deserve freedom. Otherwise, what do we deserve? Do we merit more than we ourselves give?’

“Having witnessed Mara’s agitation when she first told me of their differences over the bird, I would now have stopped Gavrilo could I have signaled him, but he was engaged in putting some green leaves through the door of the cage. As he finished speaking, Mara rose, dropped her sewing upon the ground, and bursting into tears ran into the house.

“‘Maro, mila!’ Gavrilo cried, attempting to catch her; but the door slammed in his face.

“He was white as he turned to me. ‘Tell me,’ he cried in a tone childlike and baffled, ‘can anyone understand the ways of woman? As men grow older do they understand better, or is it always like this?’

“Deeply concerned about them as I was, the naïveté of this question forced a smile from me.

“‘You must ask some man older than I,’ I answered.

“‘Perhaps we are not intended to understand them,’ he said reflectively. ‘No doubt the Lord made them as they are so that we should forever be enthralled by them, as by any other enigma beyond comprehension. I enjoy lying on my back at night, to gaze up at the stars and think profoundly of eternity whirling about us, and the infinity of space, but I assure you, when my lovely Mara becomes agitated those phenomena of nature seem, by contrast, trifling matters. I believe that if one could but understand Mara, one could understand the riddles of the ages.’

“I left Gavrilo in the garden. At dinner that night he was not with us. I did not see him again until next evening, when I came upon him whispering with three young men upon the stairs. As I passed them they became silent, nor did I like the nervous smile with which Gavrilo greeted me. On the day following I saw him go into a kafana with the same youths. I think he also saw me, and from the haste with which he moved into the little café I gathered the impression that he was avoiding me.

“On the day before the maneuvers I cornered him after luncheon. Clearly he was keyed to a highly nervous tension.

“‘Gavrilo,’ I said, ‘do not tell me anything you do not wish to. I have no desire to pry into your affairs. But I beg you to remember Mara and your promise to her, and not to become entangled in any rash escapade.’

“For a moment he stood looking at me without answering. It was as though he was carefully formulating a reply. Then he said:

“‘I have remembered. I have positively refused to participate in certain matters in which I have been pressed to become active. At this moment that is all that I am enabled to say.’

“‘It is all I desire to know,’ I said. ‘Tell me, what of Mara?’

“‘All is well between us,’ he returned, ‘so long as one mentions not the bird.’

“Later I found them together in the garden. Mara was, as usual, sewing. While I sat and talked with her, Gavrilo started picking fresh leaves to put into the bird cage. Mara, who had been telling me how, upon the morrow, the Serbs were to leave their shutters closed all day, so that they should not see the Austrians, ceased to speak as Gavrilo began gathering the leaves, and watched him narrowly for a moment.

“‘Gavrilo,’ she said, ‘please put no more leaves into the cage.’

“‘Why not?’

“‘Because it is not well for him. He has been pecking at the leaves and I think they poison him.’

“‘No,’ said Gavrilo.

“‘Yes,’ she insisted. ‘He appears miserable to-day.’

“‘But naturally!’ returned the youth. ‘That is not new. He is dying. See how he is huddled with closed eyes in the corner of the cage.’ As he spoke he plucked another leaf.

“Mara’s expression became ominous.

“‘If he should die,’ she said in a quavering voice, ‘it will be because of the leaves which you have given him!’

“‘Impossible,’ Gavrilo replied. ‘Does not a bird live among the leaves?’

“‘I tell you,’ she exclaimed, ‘I have asked the old bird man about it. He says some leaves are good and some are not. He is coming this evening to see the kos and give it medicine in its water.’

“I was relieved when Gavrilo pressed the point no farther but dropped the fresh leaves on the ground. Feeling that a situation had been narrowly averted, I thought best to leave them together.

“That evening, as I was walking toward the hotel from the square at the center of the town, I saw him coming out of the kafana with several of the youths I had come to recognize as his friends. He joined me and we walked along together. At Mara’s garden gate he halted, saying: ‘Let us enter and see the poor bird.’

“‘No, Gavrilo,’ I said warningly. ‘It is not the bird we go to see, but Mara.’

“‘So be it,’ he replied. ‘Let us then visit Mara.’

“Mara was not in the garden. Gavrilo called her name. She answered from the house, and a moment later came out to meet us.

“As she emerged I saw her glance at the bird cage. Then she gave a startled cry.

“‘Look!’ she wailed. ‘The kos is dead!’

“It was true; there lay the bird upon its back among the dry leaves at the bottom of the cage.

“For a time we stood in silence, regarding it through the bars. I knew that Gavrilo and Mara were filled with emotion, and for my own part I was surprised to discover how much the death of the bird seemed to mean to me. When, a day or two before, they had spoken of symbolism in connection with the kos, I knew what they meant, but did not feel it: yet now I felt it strongly, as though I myself were a Serb, with a Serb’s vision and superstition. It was not a dead bird that I saw, but a climax in a parable—a story of scriptural flavor, fraught with uncanny meaning.

“Gavrilo was the first to speak.

“‘Poor kos!’ he said in a low, tragic tone. ‘It is free at last. It was written that it should not be captive when to-morrow dawns.’

“‘What do you mean?’ demanded Mara.

“‘I told you it was destined to die unless you let it go,’ he answered gently.

“‘And as I would not let it go,’ she retorted, ‘you desired that it should die, in accordance with your prophecy! Yes, that is it! You made it die! You placed the leaves of henbane in its cage and killed it!’

“‘You are excited, Maro,’ he returned. ‘You must know that I desired the poor bird to live. Let us dig a little grave here in the garden and bury it, and cease to speak of it until we are calmer. We are overwrought—both of us—because of the bitterness of to-morrow. Where is the spade?’

“‘Do not touch the kos!’ she commanded: ‘It shall not be buried yet.’

“‘Why not?’ I interposed. ‘It will be better for us all.’

“‘The old bird man comes this evening,’ Mara flung back. ‘He will look at the bird and know that Gavrilo has poisoned it with henbane.’

“‘But, Maro,’ I returned, ‘Gavrilo has said that he did not. You know that he is truthful.’

“‘His words mean nothing!’ she cried. ‘Am I not a Serb? Do I not read the meanings in events? Gavrilo lies. Gavrilo killed the kos. He is a murderer. I hate him!’

“‘Ah!’ he exclaimed. ‘You give me the truth at last!’

“‘Yes, the truth!’

“‘So much the better that I know in time!’ cried Gavrilo, and without another word he ran frantically from the garden.

“As for Mara, she seemed almost on the brink of madness. I do not know how long I remained there trying to reason with her, calm her, make her see the folly and danger of what she had done. By the time her passion had abated the late June twilight had settled over the town. Presently I heard the garden gate open, and a moment later a venerable Serb appeared.

“‘Wait!’ Mara said to me. ‘Now you shall learn that I was right!’

“Then, to the old man, she said: ‘You are too late to cure my bird, but you are not too late to tell me from what cause came its death. Look at this leaf that was placed in its cage. Is not that the henbane?’

“The old man took the leaf, inspected it, and shook his head.

“‘No,’ said he. ‘Let me see the bird.’

“‘It lies there in the cage.’

“He opened the cage door and, reaching in, removed the little body.

“‘Ah,’ he said, ‘a kos. Do you not know, my child, that birds of this species cannot long survive captivity?’

“Mara hung her head.

“‘I have heard it said,’ she answered in a low voice.

“‘To imprison wild birds is cruel,’ remarked the old bird man. ‘These birds, in particular, are the Serbs of the air. They are descended from birds that saw the field of Kossovo. They desire only to be free.’ Then, as Mara did not reply, he said: ‘Bring a light.’

“She went into the house and emerged with a lamp, placing it upon a table near the door. The old bird man sat down beside the table and, holding the bird near the light, brushed back the soft plumage of its breast, much in the manner of peasant mothers whom one sees, occasionally, searching with unpleasant suggestiveness in their children’s hair.

“‘Look,’ he said, ‘the bird would have died of these, even had it survived captivity. It is covered with animalculæ. In a cage it could not rid itself of them as nature enables free creatures to do.’

“Looking at the bird’s breast, Mara and I could see the deadly vermin.

“‘Give me a spade,’ said the old man. ‘I will inter the bird here in the garden.’

“Mara indicated a spade leaning against the wall. Then, turning with beseeching eyes to me, she seized both my hands, and said in a low, intense voice:

“‘Go, I pray you, and find Gavrilo! Tell him that I implore his forgiveness. Say that I love him better than all the world and ask only that he come to me at once.’

“I went directly to the hotel and to Gavrilo’s room. He was not there. No one about the place had seen him. I then went to the kafana which I knew he patronized, but the proprietor declared that he knew nothing of his whereabouts. Through the remainder of the evening I diligently searched the town, going to the houses of all his friends, but nowhere could I find a trace of him. Obliged at last to acknowledge myself defeated, I returned to the hotel. Several times during the night I arose and stole to his room, but daylight came without his putting in an appearance. Early in the morning I went again to the kafana, but though I learned there that the Archduke had arrived the night before with his wife and his suite, and was housed at the governor’s palace, I got no word of the missing boy. Wherefore, after breakfast, it became my unpleasant duty to go to Mara, inform her of my failure, and comfort her as best I might.

“She looked ill and terrified. I wished that she would weep.

“Thinking perhaps to find him in the central square of the town before the Archduke, the governor, and the other officials set out for the review, I was moving in that direction when there came to my ears the dull sound of an explosion. Continuing on my way, I encountered as I rounded the next corner a scattering crowd of men, women, and children, running toward me, in the street.

“I asked two or three of them what had happened, but they ran on without reply. Presently, among them, I saw one of the youths with whom I had several times seen Gavrilo, and him I seized by the coat, demanding information.

“‘Let me go!’ he cried. ‘Some one threw a bomb into the Archduke’s carriage! They are arresting everyone. Get away!’ And he tugged violently to escape my hold.

“‘Have you seen Gavrilo?’

“‘Not to-day.’

“‘Is the Archduke dead?’

“‘No. He warded off the bomb and it exploded beneath the carriage which followed. For God’s sake, release me!’

“I did so, and walked on toward the square. Halfway down the block I met some Austrian police. After questioning me briefly they let me go, whereafter I questioned them. The horses drawing the second carriage had been killed, they said, and some officers of the archducal suite injured. The Archduke, however, insisted upon continuing to the review and would presently pass. They advised me to return to my hotel.

“I had hardly reached my room when I heard a bugle and the clatter of hoofs outside. Going to the window, I saw mounted men of the Royal Austrian Guard advancing around the corner. Behind them, between double rows of cavalry, came several landaus, carrying outriders, and driven by coachmen in white wigs and knee breeches. As the first of these vehicles came nearer, I saw that the occupants of the back seat were Francis Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, heir apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his morganatic wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg.

“The shutters of most of the houses were closed, but in a few windows I saw faces, and there were scattered knots of people on the sidewalks, closely watched by the policemen who rode ahead on horses and bicycles. As the archducal carriage came along, hats were raised, and once or twice I heard faint cheering, which the Archduke and his consort acknowledged, he by touching the visor of his helmet, she by inclining her head.

“As their carriage came below my window and I saw the expression of condescending good will frozen on both their faces, and thought of the constant apprehension there must be behind those polite masks, it struck me as amazing that a man and woman could be found, in these times, to play the royal part.

“As I was thinking thus I saw a dark-clad figure dart out suddenly from somewhere on the sidewalk, below, pass swiftly between the horses of the bodyguard, and reach the side of the royal carriage. Some of the guardsmen leaped at once from their horses and there was a dash of policemen toward the man, but before anyone laid hands upon him he raised one arm, as though pointing accusingly at the Archduke and his Countess, and there followed, in swift succession, two sharp reports.

“I saw the royal pair fall forward. Simultaneously the carriage stopped and was at once surrounded by an agitated group of soldiers, policemen, and servants; while another and more violent group pressed about the individual who had fired the shots, beating him as they swept him away down the street. Before they had gone a dozen yards, however, a high official, who had jumped out of the second carriage, ran up and directed them to take the man to the sidewalk. This brought the crowd in my direction, and it was only as they turned toward me that I caught a glimpse of the face of their prisoner. As I had dreaded, it was poor Gavrilo.”

――――

For a moment all of us were too thunderstruck to speak. Somehow the picture he had given us did not seem to be that of an assassin, as one imagines such a man.

“You mean to say,” asked the man by the window slowly, “that this very boy you’ve been telling us about was the one who shot the Archduke?”

“Yes,” said the other, “he was Gavrilo Prinzip of Sarajevo.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed the third. “The boy who brought on the war!”

“As we were saying earlier,” returned the one who had told the tale, “historians will doubtless trace the beginnings of the war to Gavrilo’s shot. Certainly Austria used the shot as her excuse, alleging that a plot to kill the Archduke had been hatched in Serbia—which was absolutely untrue, for Serbia was afraid of nothing so much as of giving offense to Austria, knowing well that Austria was only seeking a pretext to pounce upon her, precisely as she had earlier pounced upon Bosnia and Herzegovina, annexing them.”

After a thoughtful pause he added: “Poor Gavrilo! I am glad to know that he is free at last. Like Mara’s starling, he was not one to live long in a cage. And it is perhaps because I was so fond of him, and also because Austria’s excuse was so transparently despicable, that I shall always go behind the shooting in thinking of the beginning of the war. As I conceive it, it was Mara’s anger that released Gavrilo from the promise which, otherwise, would have withheld him. And it was the death of the caged starling that brought on her anger. And it was the animalculæ that caused the bird’s death.”

“That is,” put in the man by the window, “you prefer to trace the war down to such a small beginning as the death of that caged bird?”

“Rather,” replied the other, “to a still smaller and more repulsive beginning—to the vermin which destroyed the bird. It seems to me I see them always crawling through the explanations, apologies, excuses, war messages, and peace overtures of the Teutonic autocrats.”

AT ISHAM’S

By EDWARD C. VENABLE
From Scribner’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Copyright, 1919, by Edward C. Venable.

It was a place where men went who liked to talk of curious things. It was not, of course, advertised as that; there was no sign to the public saying as much. Indeed, the only sign of any sort said “Wines, Ales, and Liquors,” just below the name “Isham.” But, nevertheless, that is what it distinctively was—a place where men went who liked to talk of curious things.

It was a curious place to look at, too, in a way—the wrong way. It was a three-story house among houses fifteen, twenty, and thirty stories high; it was a house sixty years old, living usefully among houses, most of which were scarcely as many months old. But sixty years is no great age for a house in most places, and three stories is not out of the common. It is thirty stories that are extraordinary. In the right way Isham’s was a very ordinary place to look at, in very curious surroundings—only it took a moment’s thought to find it out.

Old Isham himself, though, would have been curious anywhere in the world. He was seventy years old, and he looked precocious. Perhaps having lived so long in an atmosphere of “wild surmise” had robbed him of the gift of wonderment, the last light of infancy to go out in the world, and so he was absolutely grown up. That is what he was, absolutely grown up. Looking into his face you could not imagine his ever being surprised, quite without a previous experience of the present. As one of his customers said, he could take the gayest dinner-party that ever was, and with a single glance of his faded blue eyes reduce it to a pile of dirty dishes and the bill. He was saturated with the gayety of thirty thousand dinners. He never condescended to the vulgarity of a dress suit, but always wore plain black with immaculate linen. So he would move in the evening, ponderously—for he must have weighed two hundred pounds—among the tables, listening imperturbably to praise and blame. Yes, chops were almost always properly broiled, beer had been flat from the beginning of the world—Lucullus with a dash of Cato.

Twinkle Sampson was his oldest patron. He was as old as Isham, and had been dining there once or twice a week ever since he was thirty; but he was the antithesis of Isham in appearance. He had the face of a very young child; it was all wonderment. The whole world was for him a wild surmise. His hobby was astronomy. He liked, as he said, to talk about the moon. Any of the heavenly bodies would interest him, but the moon was his own peculiar sphere. His knowledge was for the most laboriously gleaned, unassisted, from books; but twice in his life he had looked at the moon through a great telescope, and those two occasions were to Twinkle Sampson what one wedding and one funeral are to most men. He looked like a moon-lover, too, a pale, weak reflection of masculinity. The nearest he ever got to anger was when some ignorant person at Isham’s threatened to divert the talk from his hobby when once he had dragged it thither.

“I know a man—,” began one of these imprudently on one occasion.

“We don’t care if you know a million men,” interrupted Twinkle. “We want to talk about the moon.”

And he sat for five minutes thereafter, blinking at the interloper like an exasperated white-haired owl. Even in that outburst, though, he characteristically took refuge in the plural.

Such little “flare-ups” were very, very frequent at Isham’s. Indeed, they were inevitable, because there people talked of what they had thought about. It is the talk for talk’s sake that is only a string of wearying agreements; the drunkard over a bar, a débutante at a dinner-table, a statesman among his constituents. Talk at Isham’s was intelligently sharp, interrupted, disputative. And, in any case, Savelle would have made it so. He was eaten up by the zeal of his cause, which was Christianity and capitalism. Capitalism, he preached, was founded on Christianity, was a development and an inevitable development of the social implication of the Gospels. It was a curious plea; it had the power of exasperating human beings otherwise kindly and meditative, such as chiefly affected Isham’s, to something like fury when Savelle eloquently expounded it. He called it Christian economics. He argued that just as Christianity was developing the social relations of human beings to one of pure love, so it was developing also their economical relations to one of pure trust. The two developments had gone on side by side throughout the Christian era, from the days when merchants hauled ponderous “talents of silver” about with them in their trading, until now, when one could control all the wealth of the world by the tapping of a telegraph key. And not only was their growth thus synchronous, but each was the exactest exponent of the other; it was only in Christian countries, he explained, that the capitalistic system was to be found at all, and in the quasi-heathen it was invariably established in exact proportion with the spread of Christian ethics. He was full, too, of frequent instances and recondite dates, such as the invention of the bill of exchange by the Hebrews, and the advice of Jesus to his Apostles anent carrying money about with them. There were only two crimes in Christian economics, just as in the ethics; dishonesty, which he claimed was the commercial form of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and bankruptcy, or the refusal of trust, which was simply a denial of the economic implication of the teaching of love one another. Socialism, of course, was merely a new, subtle sacrilege, and Marx the newest incarnation of anti-Christ. His faith or fanaticism would always burn its fiercest in talking of these specific instances. Twinkle Sampson would sit blinking astigmatically at him for an hour in silence when he preached so. He was the only man of them all whom Twinkle Sampson never interrupted, never tried to drag away to the moon.

It was only an occasional horrified Christian or exasperated Socialist who ever diverted him, and then he would descend to embittering personalities with disconcerting quickness. He was of French descent, Gascon, a tall, fair, pale man, and had the racial instinct for combat. In the daytime he was the Wall Street reporter for one of the evening dailies, and people who knew him down there said he went about his work in that district like a pious pilgrim in Judea. But what you did daytimes never mattered at Isham’s. It was what you could say evenings after dinner, in the back of the dining-room beside the bar, that counted, and there Savelle, next to Twinkle, was the best listened-to man in Isham’s.

And, measured by that scale, little Norvel was his farthest neighbor. He was the least listened-to man, because he rarely spoke, and the best listener. Indeed, he was the only genuine listener. The others listened only under force majeure. He, on the contrary, would dine sparely, for he was very poor, apparently, and sit smoking all evening until ten o’clock, and go away without ever speaking to any one, except the waiter who served, and a “Good evening” and “Good night” to Mr. Isham himself. His prestige was due solely to one effort. He had propounded a query which Isham’s had discussed more than any other ever raised there, more than Twinkle’s lunar hypotheses, or Savelle’s Christian economics, and which had never been settled. It was the one common topic among them. Other subjects owed their existence and prosperity to the protection and loyalty of one man, but little Norvel, having put his afoot, retired into silence and cigar smoke, and left its life to the care of others. He had injected the conundrum into a conversation of Twinkle Sampson’s about the inhabitants of Mars, in whose existence Twinkle Sampson not only believed, but took a far deeper interest than in those of his fellow earthmen.

“If,” little Norvel began, “if Mars is inhabited by a race so similar to ourselves—if—”

“Well, well, Mr. Norvel,” Twinkle Sampson interrupted, “that is fairly well conceded, I think. If—what?”

“If,” continued little Norvel tranquilly, “if it is so, what means of communication between us is there that is so unmistakably of human origin that a sight of it, or a sound from it, would immediately convince them of our relationship?”

It had seemed, when the quiet little man first spoke, as if it was a question easily brushed aside; but a little discussion, genuine Ishamic, soon proved it to have greater weight. Norvel sat aside, contributing nothing then or ever thereafter. Indeed, the only result the question had, or seemed to have, for him was the winning by it of the deep affection of Twinkle Sampson.

The early discussion of the matter eliminated all possibilities of the sense of hearing. That one of the five senses had to be discarded from the possibilities of communication. There is no sound which humanity can create which nature, in some other form, cannot perfectly imitate. Except laughter? That suggestion was Savelle’s. But it was not successful, though he defended himself with his own peculiar fervor. It appealed to the intense emotionalism of the man, that idea of the ultimate expression of humanity being laughter. He took up its defense as recklessly as his school of economics, and with something of the same breadth of vision and indefinite reasoning. Laughter was, he claimed, beyond the narrow limits of the question discussed, that very thing, the ultimate expression of humanity. Man was distinctively not, as he has been defined, the unfeathered biped, not the tool-using animal; he was the animal who laughs, and in proof he instanced the great poet. When he wished to imbue men with his own immense pessimism that the wrath of the Zeus was not the mysterious working of nature but the malignity of men, he made that terrible phrase, the most terrible ever spoken, “The laughter of the gods.”

“Think of it yourselves,” he demanded. “Put it into your own words. The laughter of God!” He was standing up then in the heat of his pleading. “What that’s divine is left then? He can only be a man, a fearful superman.”

But they beat down the orator with instances of gurgling brooks and hyenas. He strove Homerically with his attackers, thundering his defense of his vision until old Isham had to come up to the table and look at them all with his faded blue eyes and precocious face of seventy years. But though he failed of conviction his argument did just what he said; it put the question outside the “narrow limits” Norvel had laid it in. Savelle always did that with every question. After he had spoken the phrase they all remembered was his—the ultimate expression of humanity. It was by such phrases, such ideas, Isham’s lived, as a place to which talk-hungry people learned to go.

Old Sampson, who always listened to Savelle, though he deplored his tendency “to wander in his talk,” away from the moon and kindred subjects, took a new lease of life from that night. At last a day had come when people really liked to talk about the moon, or Mars, which was almost as good. He became a mental manufacturer of objects of origin so exclusively human that once they were conveyed to Mars, once that difficulty overcome, would produce instant understanding. Almost nightly he would turn up with a new one, and invariably some one would overthrow his hopes by suggesting a natural, in distinction to his human, phenomenon. He would always feebly defend his invention, and then fall silent—apparently intent upon a new one.

It was Philbin, the novelist, whose hobby was “Weltpolitik,” and who revelled in prophecies those days of a European cataclysm, who put him, as it were, finally out of this particular misery.

“It seems to me,” complained Twinkle, in his plaintive voice, blinking almost tearfully at the table-cloth, “as if nature imitates everything.”

“Twinkle,” said Philbin, who was sitting next to him, “lend me your ears. I want ‘to whisper into their furry depths.’ Have you ever thought of going yourself?”

Twinkle, lifting his eyes to the other’s face, blinked and shook his head.

Savelle was the only man who did not laugh. He never laughed either at Sampson or Philbin. “Don’t you see,” he cried sharply, in his eager idea-driven way, “don’t you see what the man has discovered? Your ears will need cropping soon. ‘Nature imitates everything!’ That is, he has found, he has perceived, he is establishing by his own experiments that man, after all his effort and his boasting, after all his science and learning, which has made a joke of the teaching of Jesus and the poetry of Milton, that this creature itself has in turn created nothing. That man, after all, has only, can only, imitate nature.”

He let fall his fist on the table, looking around at his listeners. He always had listeners at Isham’s, and perhaps nowhere else in New York. For the moment he had forgotten his tiff with Philbin, had forgotten Philbin himself, and was all for rushing ahead on his idea-driven course to some unimaginable distance. But Philbin’s vanity never forgot slights. It was not the words—he gave and took sharper every day of his life—but the manner in which he was thrown aside as an unnoticeable obstruction in the other’s path of thought, the rush past him of the faster mind that mortified him. He knew Savelle, knew him better than any one in the room did, for that was his business, and he knew how fast he was going and how sharp he would fall, and then, like a mischievous little boy, with his foot, he stuck out his tongue and tripped him.

“That’s contrary to every teaching of Christ you ever raved about,” he said quickly.

Savelle did come down with rather a crash. Even his defenders admitted that much. But then he had been going very fast. Moreover, he was a man who habitually used too many words. He used too many to Philbin—a great deal too many. Philbin’s faults were almost all on the outside, and even through the casual communion of Isham’s he had made them pretty plain to every man there. He was vain, slightly arrogant, over-given to sneering. Savelle, in his defense of his position, managed to comment briefly upon each quality, and he put into the personalities the same vigor that he used to defend his theory of the universe. At the very best he showed a lamentable lack of proportion. At the worst he was vulgarly offensive.

That is the danger of such talk as men plunged into at Isham’s; it lacks proportion. Personalities and universalities get all mixed up, and sometimes it takes long patience and a good deal of humor to straighten out the tangle. Philbin and Savelle were in just such a tangle over little Norvel’s query. And neither of them had patience and Savelle had no grain of humor. If he had, he could not have come down from a discussion of his theory of the universe to criticism of Philbin’s personality. The matter was quite hopeless. The tangle only grew tighter until there was only one way of ending it. Philbin took it. He was a little man, and very nervous, and when he stood up his finger-tips just touched the table, and he was trembling so they played a tattoo on the table-cloth. Then he bowed and went out.

He had behaved the better of the two, but every one was glad to see him go—except old Sampson, to whom anything like ill-feeling gave genuine pain. He liked a placid world in which one could babble in amity about the moon. But to the rest Philbin was a bore. His Weltpolitik was uninteresting. His European cataclysm was a tale told by an idiot, full enough of learning, but signifying little or nothing. One could imagine baseball games on Mars, and make the matter realistic; but Philbin’s imaginings dealt in palpable absurdities. Even at Isham’s talk had limitations. Philbin had been a war correspondent in the Balkans, and they thought it had upset his mind.

Savelle affected to ignore his going away, and went on with his expounding of Twinkle Sampson’s discovery—so he was pleased to call it. He ridiculed Philbin’s criticism more fiercely than before. He, Sampson, had given a marvellously stimulating example, Savelle said, of what religious thought meant, that it was not in man to create, only in God. All that was human was imitation, even as man himself was God’s image. In truth, Philbin’s attack had stimulated him, and he talked that night better than he had ever talked. He felt that he had come off a second best in the encounter, and he determined to wipe out the remembrance from the memory of his hearers. Poor old Twinkle, hearing himself eulogized for the first time in his life, probably, sat in silence, winking almost tearfully, too amazed to be pleased.

And always after he made a point of emphasizing this theory of his—or of Sampson’s—as he called it. It became the rival in this talk of Christian economics. He did so without argument, for Philbin did not come back. A Futurist painter, who had found out Isham’s purely by accident, gradually took his place. At Isham’s places were always taken gradually. To make up for it they were generally taken for a very long time. Philbin’s was the first defection, in fact, since Twinkle’s low-toned monologues about the moon, with old Isham for the only listener, in the corner by the fireplace, had started it all eleven years ago. Philbin, too, had never been in very good standing; his trick of sarcasm hurt too many sensibilities. And then he was agnostic in everything, and Isham’s collectively believed in almost everything. Every man of them, except the Futurist painter who took his place and had scarcely known him, had some little hurt somewhere to remember him by, and so, of course, wanted to forget him.

They had almost succeeded, too, when suddenly that happened which brought his name up in all thoughts, the war. That night, the night when all rumors and surmises were solidified into the single, soul-stunning fact, nobody mentioned his name, though each knew the others were thinking of it. It seemed uncivil when they had each heard the rest make such fun of his theories. But after a few days some bolder soul broke the spell.

“Philbin—do you remember, he always prophesied it?”

But that was all, and Savelle sat silent even then.

In truth, the war changed Isham’s. Of course, it changed somehow almost everything in the world, but it changed Isham’s peculiarly. Before it had been a place where people went to talk of curious things, and now the same people went there—Sampson and Savelle and little Norvel and the Futurist painter, and old Isham himself was unchanged, nothing could alter him, and they still talked of curious things, more curious things than they had ever imagined before, but Isham’s had changed by ceasing to be different, because everywhere people were talking of the same things. Talk at Isham’s was just like talk on any street corner. In fact, the world had caught up with Isham’s.

Then one night Philbin did come back. It was in the second year of the great war, and it had been nearly five since he had gone away after his tiff with Savelle. He did not come directly into the back room, as he had been used to do, but dined by himself at a small table in front. He sat there a long time after dinner over his coffee, with his back turned to his old place. Every one of them had seen him and recognized him, and talk that night was slow. Though he had spoken to none of them and turned his back to them, each knew somehow that he would speak and that he had come there especially to speak, and that he would say something important, and they sat nervously waiting.

At last he did come, pushing back his chair and walking slowly up the room. They noticed then how he had changed. He had grown very much older. He had been scarcely fifty when he had left, and now he looked and walked like an old man, and his dress, which had always been very neat and careful, showed an old man’s carelessness. They all got up when he came and greeted him by name and with genuine cordiality. The little stings of five years since had vanished long ago. Savelle got up last and a little doubtfully, but it was Savelle he especially picked out.

“Ah, Savelle,” and he put out his hand.

Then he sat down in his old place and ordered more coffee and talked for a while quietly to his right-hand neighbor, who was little Norvel. He said nothing of himself and very little of any subject, seeming distrait and very depressed. After a little, abruptly he took the conversation in his own hands.

“Gentlemen,” he said, leaning forward with his hands folded on the cloth in front of him, “since I was here last I have had a very great sorrow. I have lost my son.”

Then he fell silent again, and apparently not hearing any of the things that were said to him.

“He was killed,” he began a second time, just as he had begun the first, “in Flanders, six weeks ago. He was twenty-two years and four months old. Before he died they pinned this on him.” He fumbled in his waistcoat, and picking out something threw it across the cloth over in front of Savelle. It was a little bronze cross known the world over, with two words on it, “For valor”. “I sent them my son and they sent me back that,” said Philbin.

It was the old Philbin voice—the same that had in turn galled each one of them.

“He went out in the night,” he went on, “and pulled back to life two London fishmongers. Then he died—going back for a third fishmonger. There is some six inches in a London newspaper telling about it. That same paper gave a column and a half last week to a story I wrote. And they gave six inches to my son. That’s queer, too, isn’t it?”

Nobody answered him. They were all afraid to—his tone was too bitter. No one was quite sure what he would say.

“We used to talk here years ago,” he went on presently, “about curious things. I think this curious enough to talk about. They gave a ‘stick’ to the death of my son and a column to the birth of my book. Savelle, you are a newspaper man, tell us about it?”

Savelle was looking at him with his eyes blazing, and he answered not a word.

“I suppose it’s logical,” said Philbin. “Any man may have a son. But I have written twenty books and had only one son.”

The only answer came from quite an unexpected quarter. It was little Norvel, who was sitting at Philbin’s elbow.

“Did you say, sir,” he asked, “that he went back three times?”

“Yes, Mr. Norvel, three times—three fishmongers.”

The man’s sneers would have been disgusting if they had not been so plainly aimed at himself first. As it was, they were almost terrible.

“Whether the three fishmongers lived or died,” he went on, “I don’t know. The six inches neglected to state. Want of space, possibly. You are a newspaper man, Savelle, perhaps you can explain.”

“I wish you would explain this, Mr. Savelle,” said little Norvel.

“What?” said Savelle.

“What part of nature Mr. Philbin was imitating when he went back?”

All the pent-up intensity of Savelle’s being rushed out in his answer: “I am maliciously misrepresented. There is no human element in such action. It is the divine phenomenon of Calvary.”

“Savelle,” put in Philbin, “when my son was alive he was a man. I believe, too, he died like a man. I prefer that to an imitation of anything—even God.”

The width of the table was between the two men, and the whole meaning of the universe. Their antagonism was irreconcilable. In that instant it had recovered all its bitterness of five years before. Time could do nothing. Not even chance could. It was literally immutable, the only thing in the world neither of those great forces can effect.

But the only pitiful part of it was, Sampson sitting between them, turning now to one, now to the other, with dim sight and faulty hearing, and wanting of either merely something human.

DE VILMARTE’S LUCK

By MARY HEATON VORSE
From Harper’s Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Mary Heaton O’Brien.

What Hazelton’s friends called his second manner had for a mother despair, and for a father irony, and for a godmother necessity. It leaped into his mind full-grown, charged with the vitality of his bitterness.

Success had always been scratching at Hazelton’s door, and then hurrying past. The world had always been saying to him, “Very well, very well indeed; just a little bit better and you shall have the recognition that should be yours.” Patrons came and almost bought pictures. He was accepted only to be hung so badly that his singing color was lost on the sky-line. Critics would infuriate him by telling him that he had almost—almost, mind you—painted the impossible; that his painting was what they called “a little too blond.”

How Hazelton hated that insincere phrase which meant nothing, for, as he explained to Dumont the critic, as they sat outside the Café de la Rotonde after their return from the Salon, Nature was blond—what else? He, Dumont, came from the Midi, didn’t he? Well, then, he knew what sunshine was! How could paint equal the color of a summer’s day, the sun shining on the flesh of a blond woman, a white dress against a white wall? Blond? Because he loved the vitality of light they wanted him to dip his brush in an ink-pot—hein? Dumont would be pleased if he harked back to the gloom of the old Dutch school, or if he imitated the massed insincerities of Boecklen, Hazelton opined from the depths of his scorn.

Dumont poised himself for flight on the edge of his hard metal chair. He was bored, but he had to admit that if ever Hazelton was justified in bitterness it was to-day when, after a long search through the miles of canvases, he had finally discovered his two pictures hung in such a position as to be as effective as two white spots. He escaped, leaving Hazelton hunched over the table, his forceful, pugnacious, red countenance contrasting oddly with the subtle anemia of his absinthe. He was followed by Hazelton’s choleric shouts, which informed him that he, Hazelton, could paint with mud for a medium if he chose.

His profession of art critic had accustomed Dumont to the difficulties of the artistic temperament, and he thought no more of Hazelton until he ran into him some ten days later. There was malice in Hazelton’s small, brilliant eyes, and an air of suppressed triumph in his muscular deep-chested figure. His face was red, partly from living out of doors and partly from drink. He rolled as he walked, not quite like a bear and not quite like a seafaring man—a vigorous, pugnacious person whose vehement greeting made Dumont apprehensive until he glanced at Hazelton’s hands, which were reassuringly small.

“Well,” he said, “you remember our conversation? It was the parent, my dear Dumont, of dead-sea fruit of the most mature variety.” Hazelton considered this a joke, and laughed at it with satisfaction. He was very much pleased with himself.

Dumont went with Hazelton to his studio. On Hazelton’s easel was a picture of dark, wind-swept trees beaten by a storm. They silhouetted themselves against a sinister and menacing sky. The thing was full of violence and fury, it was drenched with wet and blown with wind.

“Who did this?” asked Dumont. “It is magnificent!”

“You like it?” asked Hazelton, incredulously. And then he repeated himself, changing his accent, “You like it, Dumont?”

“Certainly I like it,” Dumont answered, a trifle stiffly. “There is vitality, form, color! Because you are not happy unless you are in the midst of a sunbath, at least permit others to vary their moods.”

At this Hazelton burst into loud laughter.

“You amuse yourself,” Dumont observed, but Hazelton continued to laugh uproariously, shaking his wide shoulders.

“Do you know the name of that picture? The name of that picture is ‘La Guigne Noire’—I painted it from the depths of my bad luck.”

Hein?” said Dumont. “You painted that picture?”

“This picture—if you call it that—I painted.”

“I call it a picture,” Dumont asserted, dryly.

“I call it a practical joke,” said Hazelton. “One does not paint pictures with the tongue in one’s cheek. I know how one paints pictures.”

“How one paints pictures makes no difference,” Dumont replied, impatiently. “Who cares if you had your tongue in your cheek? You had your brush in your hand. The result is that which matters. This work has completeness.”

Hazelton slapped his thigh with a mighty blow. “Mon Dieu!” he cried. “If this fools you, there are others it will fool as well—and I need the money! And from that bubbling artesian well from which this sprang I can see a million others like it—like it, but not like it. Hein, mon vieux? Come, come, my child, to Mercier’s, who will sell it for me. The day of glory has arrived!”

A sardonic malice sparkled on Hazelton’s ugly face, and his nose, which jutted out with a sudden truculency, was redder than ever. He took the picture up and danced solemnly around the studio.

It was in this indecorous fashion, to the echo of Hazelton’s bitter laughter, that his second manner was born, and that he achieved his first success, for his second manner was approved by the public.

Three years went past. Hazelton was medaled. He was well hung now, he sold moderately, but he never sold the work which he respected. At last his constant failure with what he called “his own pictures” had made him so sensitive that he no longer exposed them.

Hazelton’s position was that of the parent in the old-fashioned fairy tale who had two children, one beautiful and dark-haired, whom he despised and ill-treated and made work that the child of light might thrive. That, in his good-tempered moments, was how he explained the matter to his friends.

Dumont explained to Hazelton that he had two personalities and that he had no cause to be ashamed of this second and subjective one, even though he had discovered it by chance and in a moment of mockery.

“You have an artistic integrity that is proof even against yourself,” was his analysis.

The insistence of the public and of Dumont, in whose critical judgment he had believed, gave him something like respect for his foster-child. His belief in his judgment was subtly undermined.

“I shall leave you,” he told Dumont. “I shall secrete myself in the country undefiled by the artist’s paintbrush and there I will paint a chef d’œuvre entitled ‘Le Mal du Ventre.’ On its proceeds I will return to my blond.”

While engaged on this work, which later became Hazelton’s most successful picture, Hazelton met Raoul de Vilmarte. This young man was a poor painter, but a delightful companion, and he endeared himself to Hazelton at once by his naïve enthusiasm for Hazelton’s former pictures.

“What grace they had—what beauty—what light! What an extraordinary irony that you should throw away a gift that I should so have cherished!” he exclaimed.

His words were to Hazelton like rain to a dying plant. He stopped work on “Le Mal du Ventre,” and began to paint to “suit himself” again. He had a childish delight in surprising De Vilmarte with his new picture.

“Why, why,” cried his new friend, “do you permit yourself to bury this supreme talent? No one has painted sunlight as well! Compared with this, darkness enshrouds the canvases of all other masters! Why do you not claim your position as the apostle of light?”

Hazelton explained that critics and the public had forced these canvases into obscurity.

“Another name signed to them—a Frenchman preferably—and we might hear a different story,” he added.

A sudden idea came to De Vilmarte. “Listen!” he said. “I have exposed nothing for two years. Indeed, I have been doubtful as to whether I should expose again. I know well enough that were my family unknown and were not certain members of the jury my masters, and others friends of my family, I might never have been accepted at all—it has been a sensitive point with me. Unfortunately, my mother and my friends believe me to be a genius—”

“Well?” said Hazelton, seeing some plan moving darkly through De Vilmarte’s talk.

“Well,” said De Vilmarte, slowly, “we might play a joke upon the critics of France. There is a gap between this and my work—immeasurable—one I could never bridge—and yet it is plausible—” He glanced from a sketch of his he was carrying to Hazelton’s picture.

Hazelton looked from one to the other. Compared, a gulf was there, fixed, unbridgable, and yet— He twisted his small, nervous hands together. Malice sparkled from his eyes.

“It is plausible!” he agreed. He held out his hand. A sparkle of his malice gleamed in De Vilmarte’s pale eyes. They said no more. They shook hands. Later it seemed to Hazelton the ultimate irony that they should have entered into their sinister alliance with levity.

The second phase of the joke seemed as little menacing. You can imagine the three of them outside the Rotonde, Hazelton and De Vilmarte listening to Dumont’s praise of De Vilmarte’s picture. You can enter into the feelings of cynicism, of disillusion, that filled the hearts of the two farceurs. De Vilmarte’s picture had been accepted, hung well, then medaled. The critics had acclaimed him!

They sat there delicately baiting Dumont, bound together by the knowledge that they had against the world—for they, and they alone, knew the stuff of which fame is made. They were in the position of the pessimist who has proof of his pessimism. No one really believes the world as bad as he pretends, and here De Vilmarte and Hazelton had proof of their most ignoble suspicions; here was the corroding knowledge that Raoul’s position and popularity could achieve the recognition denied to an unknown man. He was French, and on the inside, and Hazelton was a foreigner and on the outside.

“Well,” said Raoul, when Dumont had left them, “we have a fine gaffe to spring on them, hein? It’s going to cost me something. My mother is charmed—she will take it rather badly, I am afraid.”

“Well, why should she take it?” asked Hazelton, after a pause. “Why should we share our joke with all the world?”

“You mean?” asked Raoul.

It was then that the voice of fate spoke through Hazelton.

“You can have the picture,” he said, jerking his big head impatiently.

“Do you mean that I can have it—to keep?”

“Have it if you like. Money and what money buys is all I want from now on,” said Hazelton, and he shook his shoulders grossly and sensually while his nervous hands, the hands whose work the picture was, twisted themselves as though in agonized protest.

Hazelton went back to his studio and stood before his blond pictures, the children of his heart. It was already evening, but they shone out in the dim light. He was a little tipsy.

“So,” he said to them—“so all these years you have deceived me, as many a man has been deceived before by his beloved. Your flaunting smiles made me think you were what you are not. Dumont was right—my foster-child is better than you, for she made her way alone and without favor. I tried to think I had painted the impossible. Light is beyond me. Why should I think I could paint light? I am a child of darkness and misfortune. I know who my beloved is. You shall no longer work to support your sister!”

“What are you doing?” came his wife’s querulous voice. “Talking and mumbling to yourself before your pictures in the dark? Are you drunk again?”

――――

Some months passed before De Vilmarte and Hazelton met again. They ran into each other on the corner of the Boulevard Raspail and the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

“Hey! What are you doing so far from home?” cried Hazelton.

“Looking for you.”

“I was going to you,” Hazelton acknowledged.

They stared at each other scrutinizingly, each measuring the other with dawning distrust. Each waited.

“Let us go to the Rotonde,” Hazelton suggested.

They talked of other things, each waiting for the other to begin. Hazelton had the most resistance; he had flipped a penny as to whether he should go to seek De Vilmarte, but De Vilmarte had made his decision with anguish. It was he who finally said:

“You know—about the matter of the picture—my mother is quite frantic about my success. She is failing—”

Toc!” cried Hazelton. “My poor wife has to go to the hospital.”

“Nothing to do, I know,” said De Vilmarte, looking away diffidently, “but for one’s mother—”

“But for one’s wife,” Hazelton capped him, genially. “An aged mother and a sick wife, and a joke on the world shared between two friends— What will a man not do for his sick wife and for his aged mother!”

A little shiver of cold disgust ran over Raoul. For the first time he felt a vague antipathy for Hazelton, his neck was so short and he rolled his big head in such a preposterous fashion.

They said good-by, Hazelton’s swagger, De Vilmarte’s averted eyes betraying their guilty knowledge that they had bought and sold things that should not be for sale.

Just how it came to be a settled affair neither De Vilmarte nor Hazelton could have told. Now an exhibition occurred for which De Vilmarte needed a picture; now Hazelton dogged by his need of money would come to him. Hazelton’s wife was always ailing. Her beauty and her disposition had been undermined by ill-health and self-indulgence, and he was one of those men temperamentally in debt and always on the edge of being sued or dispossessed.

But in Hazelton’s brain a fantastic and mad sense of rivalry grew. He had transferred his affection to his darker mood. Every notice of De Vilmarte’s name rankled in his mind. De Vilmarte’s growing vogue infuriated him. He felt that he must wring from the critics and the public the recognition that was his due so that this child of his, born of his irony and his despair, and that had been so faithful to him in spite of abuse, might be crowned. Just what had happened to both of them they realized after the opening of the Salon next year.

“Take care,” Hazelton had warned De Vilmarte, “that they do not hang you better than they do me. That I will not have.” He had said it jokingly; but while De Vilmarte’s exhibit was massed, and he had won the second medal, Hazelton’s was scattered, and he had but one picture on the line; worse still, the critics gave Hazelton formal praise while they acclaimed De Vilmarte as the most promising of the younger school of landscape-painters.

De Vilmarte sought out Hazelton, full of a sense of apology. He found him gazing morosely into his glass of absinthe like one seeing unpleasant visions.

“It is really too strong,” Raoul said. “I am sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Hazelton replied, listlessly. “It’s got to stop, though!” He did not look up, but he felt the shock that traveled through De Vilmarte’s well-knit body. “It’s got to stop!” he repeated. “It’s too strong, as you say.”

There was a long silence, a silence full of gravity, full of despair, the silence of a man who has suddenly and unexpectedly heard his death sentence, a silence in whose duration De Vilmarte saw his life as it was. He had begun this as a joke, after his first agonized indecision, and now suddenly he saw not only his mother but himself involved, and the honor of his name. He waited for Hazelton to say something—anything, but Hazelton was chasing chimeras in the depths of his pale drink. As usual, his resistance was the greater. He sat hunched and red, his black hair framing his truculent face, unmindful of Raoul.

“It has gone beyond a joke,” was what Raoul finally said.

“That’s just it,” Hazelton agreed. “My God! Think how they have hung you—think how they have hung me. Where do I get off? Have I got to work for nothing all my life?”

“The recognition—you know what that means—it means nothing!” cried Raoul.

Hazelton did not answer.

“But I can’t—confess now!” Raoul’s anguish dragged it out of him. “I could afford to be a farceur—I cannot afford to be a cheat.”

Hazelton looked at him suddenly. Then he laughed. “Ha! ha! The little birds!” he said. “They stepped in the lime and they gummed up their little feet, didn’t they?” He lifted up his own small foot, which was well shod in American shoes. “Poor little bird! Poor little gummed feet!” He laughed immoderately.

Disgust and shame had their will with Raoul.

Hazelton was enchanted with his own similes, and, unmindful of his friend’s mood, he placed his small hand next Raoul’s, which was nervous and brown, the hand of a horseman.

“Can you see the handcuffs linking us?” he chuckled. “‘Linked for Life’ or ‘The Critics’ Revenge.’” He laughed again, but there was bitterness in his mirth. “We should have told before,” he muttered. “I suppose it is too late now. I cannot blame you or myself, but, by God! I’m not going to paint for you all my days. Why should I? We had better stop it, you know.” He drank deeply. “Courage, my boy!” he cried, setting down his glass. “I will have the courage to starve my wife if you will have the courage to disappoint your mother.”

They left it this way.

――――

When De Vilmarte again entered Hazelton’s studio, Hazelton barked at him ungraciously: “Ho! So you are back!”

“Yes,” said Raoul, “I am back.” He stood leaning upon his cane, very elegant, very correct, a hint of austerity about him that vanished charmingly under the sunshine of his smile.

Hazelton continued painting. “Well,” he said, without turning around, “you have not come, I suppose, for the pleasure of my company; but let me tell you in advance that I have no time to do any painting for you. I am not your bonne à tout faire.”

By Hazelton’s tone De Vilmarte realized that he was ready to capitulate; he wanted to be urged, and he desired to make it as disagreeable as he could because he was not in a position to send De Vilmarte to the devil any more than De Vilmarte could follow his instinct and leave Hazelton to come crawling to him—for there was always the chance that Hazelton might be lucky and would not come crawling.

“It’s your mother again, I suppose,” said Hazelton, ungraciously.

De Vilmarte grew white around his mouth; he grasped his cane until his hand was bloodless. “Some one unfortunately told her that they were urging me to have a private exhibition, and her heart is set upon it.”

“There are a number of things upon which my wife’s heart is set,” Hazelton admitted after a pause, during which he painted with delicate deliberation and exquisite surety while, fascinated and full of envy, De Vilmarte watched the delicate hand that seemed to have an independent existence of its own that seemed to be the utterance of some other and different personality than that which was expressed in Hazelton’s body. He turned around suddenly, grinning at De Vilmarte.

“How much are you going to pay for my soul this time?” he asked.

They had never bargained before. In the midst of it Hazelton stopped and looked De Vilmarte over from top to toe. No detail of his charm and of his correctness escaped him.

“How are you able to stand it?” he asked. “It must be hard on you, too.” The thought came to him as something new.

“Oh,” said Raoul, with awful sarcasm, “you think it is hard on me?”

“You must be fond of your mother,” said Hazelton. This time he had not meant to be brutal, and he was sorry to see De Vilmarte wince, but he did not know how to mend matters. “How are we going to break through?” he said. “What end is there for us? I do it for my wife, whom I don’t love, poor wretch, but for whom I feel damned responsible; and you sell your soul to please your mother. And do you get nothing for yourself, I wonder—” He half closed his little eyes, which glinted like jewels between his black lashes. “Appreciation and applause must be pleasant. One can buy as much with stolen money as one can with money earned.... There is only one way out—it is for one of us to die, or for one of them. There is death in our little drama, hein, mon vieux?”

――――

It was the private exhibition that fixed De Vilmarte’s reputation as an artist. It also marked in his own mind the precariousness of his position. And now the matter was complicated for him because he fell in love with a young girl who cared for his talent as did his mother. She was one of those proud young daughters of France who had no interest in rich and idle young men. Each word of her praise was anguish to him. The praise of the feuilletons he could stand better, because some way they seemed to have nothing to do with him. It was the price which he paid willingly for his mother’s happiness.

He cared so much that he had tried not to care for her, and again his mother intervened. It was in every way a suitable match, and his mother told him that she did not wish to die without a grandchild. “You have obligations to your art,” she said, “but your obligations to your race are above those.”

She was now very feeble. His wedding and his next Salon picture filled her mind. She was haunted by the presentiment that she would not see the summer come to its close.

So Raoul would hurry from her room to Hazelton to see how the picture was coming on. Hazelton was painting as he had never painted before. It seemed, indeed, as if he had a double personality, and as if each one of these personalities was trying to outstrip the other. As happens sometimes to an artist, he had made a sudden leap ahead. No picture that he had painted had the depth or the beauty or the clear, flowing color of this one. But he lagged along. It was as though the beauty of the picture which De Vilmarte was to sign tortured him, and he did not wish to finish it. He would stand before it, lost in the contemplation of its excellences like a devotee, refusing to paint.

The picture Hazelton was painting for his own signature was dark and magnificent, but the picture which he was painting for De Vilmarte had a singular radiance. It was as though at last Hazelton had painted the impossible; light shone from that picture. Yet it was not finished. Days passed, and Hazelton had not brought the picture further toward completion.

One day when De Vilmarte came in he found Hazelton brooding before it. He had been drinking. Tears were in his eyes. “It is too beautiful—too beautiful! Light is more beautiful than darkness. The taste for the black, the menacing, is the decadent appreciation of a too sheltered world. I cannot finish this picture for another to sign.”

“No,” De Vilmarte soothed him, “of course not.”

“Oh, my beautiful!” cried Hazelton, addressing his picture. “I cannot finish you! Come, De Vilmarte, we will drink.”

De Vilmarte went with Hazelton. He watched over him as a mother over her child. He talked; he reasoned; he sat quiet, white-lipped, while Hazelton would speculate as to what De Vilmarte got out of it.

“You are, I think, like the victim of a drug,” he said, jeering at De Vilmarte, his brilliant eyes agleam. That was truer than Hazelton knew. He could not stop. His mother, his fiancée, his friends, the critics, his world, expected a picture from him. He visualized them sometimes pushing him on to some doom of whose exact nature he was ignorant. Again it was to him as though they dug a dark channel in which his life had to flow.

Meantime he had to nurse Hazelton’s sick spirit along. He would go with him as he drank, stand by him in his studio, urging him to paint. In this way they spent hideous days together.

Hazelton developed a passion for torture. He was tortured himself. Alcohol tortured him, his embittered nature tortured him. He loved to see De Vilmarte writhe. He was torn between his desire to finish the picture and the anguish which he felt at seeing it about to pass into another’s hands. There were days when its existence hung in the balance.

“You see this palette-knife,” he would tell De Vilmarte, “and this palette of dark paint? A twist, my friend, a little twist of the knife and a little splash, and where is this luminous radiance? Gone!” And he would watch De Vilmarte as he let his brush hover over the brilliant surface.

How it hurt Raoul he knew, because when he thought of destroying the picture it was as though a knife were twisted in his own heart.

One afternoon De Vilmarte nursed Hazelton from café to café, listening to his noble braggadocio.

“Remember,” Hazelton urged Raoul, “the wonderful Mongolian legend of the father and son who loved the same woman, and whom for their honor they threw over a cliff! That’s the idea—the cliff! You shall throw our love over the cliff—you shall destroy the picture yourself. Come back with me!” He was as though possessed. Full of apprehension, De Vilmarte followed him.

They stood before the picture. It shone out as though indeed light came from it. Hazelton put the palette into De Vilmarte’s hand.

“Now, my friend, go to it!” he cried. “Paint, De Vilmarte—paint in your own natural manner! A few strokes of the brush of the great master De Vilmarte, and color and light will vanish from it. Why not—why not? You suffer, too—your face is drawn. You think I do not know how you hate me. I don’t need to look at you to know that. We always hate those who have power over us. Paint—paint! If I can bear it, surely you can. Paint naturally, De Vilmarte! Paint into it your own meagerness and banality! Paint into my masterpiece the signature of your own defeat.”

The afternoon was ebbing. It seemed as though the room were full of silent people, all holding Raoul back—his world, the critics, his fiancée, his mother. Besides, he had no right to destroy this beautiful thing to save his honor.

“You are not yourself,” he said.

“Aha! I know what you think of me. Ha! De Vilmarte, but I am a master, a great painter. Paint, and betray yourself. Ha! sale voyou, you will not? You are waiting to steal from me my final beautiful expression. You stand there— How is it that you permit me to call the Vicomte de la Tour de Vilmarte names? Why do you not strike me?”

“Oh, call me what you like,” Raoul cried. “Only finish the picture. There is very little more to do.”

“I tell you what I shall call you,” Hazelton jeered at him. “I will call you nothing worse than Raoul—Ra-oul—Ra—o—u—l!” He meowed it like a tom-cat. “How can I be so vile when I paint like an angel, Ra—o—u—l ... Ra—o—u—l!”

Sweat stood on Raoul’s forehead. He stood quiet. The picture was finished.

“Sign, my little Raoul, sign!” cried Hazelton. And with murder in his heart, a bitter tide of dark and sluggish blood mounting, ever mounting, Raoul signed and then fled into the lovely spring evening.

“This is the end,” he thought. “There shall be no more of this. Not for any one—not for any one, can I be so defiled!” For he felt the mystic identity between himself and his mother—that he was flesh of her flesh, and that in some vicarious way she was being insulted through him.

But it was not the end. It was with horror that Raoul learned that the picture had been bought by the state, that he was to receive the Legion of Honor. His mother was wild with joy.

“Now,” she cried, embracing him—“now I can depart in peace.” She looked so fragile that it seemed as if indeed her spirit had lingered only for this joy. She looked at him narrowly. “But you have been working too hard—you look ill. A long rest is what you need.”

“A very long rest,” Raoul agreed. He left the house, and, as if it was a magnet, the great exhibition drew him to it, and in front of his picture stood the thick, familiar figure of Hazelton, his nose jutting out truculently from his face, which was red and black like a poster. He broke through his attitude of devoted contemplation to turn upon Raoul.

“Bought by the state!” he cried. “To be hung in the Luxembourg!” He pointed menacingly with his cane at De Vilmarte’s neat little signature. “Why, I ask, should I go to my grave unknown, poor, a pensioner of your bounty? Why should you be happy—fêted?”

The irony of being accused of happiness was too much for De Vilmarte. He laughed aloud.

“Wouldn’t it be better for you to be an honest man?” croaked Hazelton.

“Only death can make an honest man of me,” answered De Vilmarte.

My death could make an honest man of you,” Hazelton said slowly. It was as if he had read the dark and nameless secret that was lurking in the bottom of De Vilmarte’s heart.

For a moment they two seemed alone in all the earth, the only living beings. They stood alone, their secret in their hands.

Then Hazelton’s lips began to move. “My God!” he said. “Bought by the state and hung in the Luxembourg! Bought by the state and hung in the Luxembourg!” He repeated it as if trying to familiarize himself with some inexplicable fact. “I will not have it!” he went on. “I will not have it! If I’m not bought by the state I shall not go on!”

Raoul looked at him with entreaty. Hazelton came up to the surface of consciousness and his eyes followed Raoul’s. A very frail little old lady was being pushed in a wheel-chair near them.

“My mother,” Raoul whispered.

“I wish to meet her,” said Hazelton.

She bowed graciously and then sat in her chair gazing at the picture bought by the state. Pride was in every line of her old face. She seemed returned from the shadows only to gaze at this picture. Then, in a voice which was cracked with age, she said, turning to Hazelton:

“I know your work, too. Monsieur—the opposite of my son’s. It is as though between you you encompassed all of nature’s moods. To me there has always been—you will laugh I know—a strange similarity, as though you were two halves of a whole, as day and night.”

A cold wave flowed over Hazelton, a feeling as though his hair were lifting on the back of his head. It was as though this frail old lady was linking him irrevocably to Raoul. He was powerless now to take his own.

“Madame,” he said, “I feel as if no one had understood my work before.”

But she had turned to gaze upon her son’s painting. A sort of senility enveloped her, and his drunkenness reached out to it. His gaze had in it respect and tenderness and abnegation. His manner, more eloquent than words, said: “I give up; I resign. Take it.”

He went to the end of the gallery, and Raoul saw him sit down in the attitude of one who waits. When Mme. de Vilmarte left, Raoul joined him.

Hazelton’s head sank deeply between his shoulders; his pugnacity had oozed away. After a time he spoke with an effort. “I understand,” he said. “I understand—”

A curious sense of liberation seized De Vilmarte. His old liking for Hazelton returned. “I am sorry for all of us,” he said.

“My poor friend, there is no way out,” said Hazelton. “I am vile—a beast. But trust me—believe in me.”

“I will,” cried De Vilmarte, deeply touched.

Hazelton’s little jewel-like eyes were blurred with unwonted sentiment. “I am a king in exile,” he muttered over and over. “A king in exile,” he repeated. This sentimental simile seemed to be a well of bitter comfort for him.

This story should end here, for stories should end like this, on the high note; but life is different. Hazelton was a man with a bad liver, and he got no joy from his sacrifice. Moreover, in real life one seldom fights a decisive battle with one’s lower nature. One goes on fighting; it dies hard when it dies at all. There are the high moments when one thinks the battle won, and the next day the enemy attacks again, with the battle to be fought over.

Hazelton had formed the habit of cursing fate and De Vilmarte, and, to revenge himself, of threatening De Vilmarte’s exposure, and he continued to do these things. And De Vilmarte let his mind stray far in contemplating Hazelton’s possible vileness, and in doing this he himself became vile. What he could not recognize was the definite place where Hazelton’s vileness stopped. His life was like a fair fruit rotten within.

It was the summer of 1914, and Hazelton, whose drunkenness before had been occasional, now drank always, and forever in the background of De Vilmarte’s mind was this powerful figure with its red face and black hair and truculent bearing, drunken and obscene, who carried in his careless hand the honor of the De Vilmartes. At any moment Hazelton could rob Raoul of his pride, embitter his mother’s last hours, and make him the laughing stock of his world. Raoul became like an entrapped animal running around and around the implacable barriers of a cage. It is a terrible thing to have one’s honor in the hands of another.

He thought of everything that might end this torment, and he found no answer. Madness grew in him. Wherever Raoul de la Tour de Vilmarte went, there followed him unseen a shadow, swart, dark, and red-faced. It followed him, mouthing, “Ra-o-u-l—Ra-o-u-l!” like a cat. “Ra-o-u-l! Ra-o-u-l!” from morning till night. When De Vilmarte was at a table in a café a huge and mocking shadow sat beside him, and it said, wagging its head in a horrid fashion, “There’s death in our little drama, hein, mon vieux?”

The fate that had made their interests one, bound them together. They sought each other out to spend strange and tortured hours in each other’s company, while in the depths of Raoul’s heart a plan to end the torture was coming to its own slow maturity, and grew large and dark during the hot days of July. He could not continue to live. The burden of his secret weighed him down. Nor could he leave Hazelton behind him, the honor of the De Vilmartes in his hands.

The bloody answer to the riddle leaped out at him. Hazelton’s death—that was the answer. Then De Vilmarte could depart in peace. For two mad, happy days he saw life simply. First Hazelton, then himself.

One day he stopped short, for he realized he could not go until his mother—went. He must stay a while—until she died.

He had to wait until she died. He watched her, wondering if his endurance would outlast her life. He tried not to let her see him watching—for he knew there was madness in his eyes—and he would go out to find his dark shadow, for often it was less painful to be with him than away from him—he knew then what Hazelton was up to. He spent days in retracing the steps which had brought him to this desperate impasse. They had been easy, but he knew that weakness was at the bottom of it—perhaps, unless he did it now, he would never do it—perhaps an unworthy desire for life—and love—might hold back his hand.

So De Vilmarte lived his days and nights bound on the torturing pendulum of conflict.

――――

Suddenly Europe was aflame. France stood still and waited. And as he waited, with Europe, Raoul for a moment forgot his torment. War is a great destroyer, but among other things it destroys the smaller emotions. Its licking flame shrivels up personal loves and hates. When war was declared, old hates were blotted out, and hopeless lovers trembling on the brink of suicide were cured overnight. Small human atoms were drowned in the larger hate and the larger love. Men ceased to have power over their own lives since their lives belonged to France.

So when war was declared, choice was taken from Raoul’s hands. A high feeling of liberation possessed him. He walked along the street, and suddenly he realized that instead of going toward his home he was seeking his other half, the dark shadow to whom he had been so bound.

On Hazelton’s door a note was pinned, addressed to him.

“My friend,” it said, “you have luck! You will have your regiment, while nothing better than the ambulance, like a sale embusque, for me. If harm comes to you, don’t fear for your mother.”

This letter made him feel as though Hazelton had clasped his hand. He no longer felt toward Hazelton as an enemy, since France had also claimed him.

Madness had brushed him with its dark wings. By so slender a thread his life and Hazelton’s had hung! Yes—and his honor!

“Thank God!” he said, “for an honorable death!” It was the last personal thought that was his for a long time. War engulfed him. Instead of an individual he was a soldier of France, and his life was broken away from the old life which now seemed illusion, the days which streamed past him like pennants torn in the wind.

Later, in the monotony of trench warfare, he had time to think of Hazelton. He desired two things—to serve France, and to see Hazelton. Raoul wanted a word of friendship to pass between them, and especially he wanted to tell Hazelton that he need not worry about his wife. He wrote to him, but got no answer. Life went on; war had become the normal thing. The complexities of his former life receded further and further from him, and became more phantasmal, but the desire to see Hazelton before either of them should die remained with Raoul.

When he was wounded it was his last conscious thought before oblivion engulfed him. There followed a half-waking—pain—a penumbral land through which shapes moved vaguely; the smell of an anesthetic, an awakening, and again sleep. When he wakened fully he was in a white hospital ward with a sister bending over him.

“In the next bed,” she said, “there is a grand blessé.” She looked at him significantly. “He wishes to speak to you—he is a friend of yours.”

In the next bed lay Hazelton, the startling black of his shaggy hair framing the pallor of his face.

With difficulty Raoul raised his head. They smiled at each other. From the communion of their silence came Hazelton’s deep voice.

“Why the devil,” he said, “did we ever hate each other?”

Raoul shook his head. He didn’t know. He, too, had wanted to ask Hazelton this.

“It has bothered me,” said Hazelton. “I wanted to see you—” His voice trailed off. “I’ve wanted to ask you why we have needed this war—death—to make us know we don’t hate each other.”

“I don’t know,” said De Vilmarte. It was an effort for him to speak; his voice sounded frail and broken.

“Raoul,” Hazelton asked, tenderly, “where are you wounded? Is it bad?”

“I don’t know,” Raoul answered again.

“It’s his head,” the sister answered for him, “and his right hand.”

Hazelton raised his great head; a red mounted to his face; his old sardonic laughter boomed out through the ward. With a sharply indrawn breath of pain: “Oh, la—la!” he shouted. “’Cré nom! ’Cré nom! What luck—imperishable! I’m dying—your right hand—your right hand!” He sank back, his ironic laughter drowned in a swift crimson tide.

The nurse beckoned to an orderly to bring a screen....

Tears of grief and weakness streamed down Raoul’s face. To the last his ill luck had held. He hadn’t been able to make his friend understand, or to make amends. His right hand was wounded, and he could no longer serve France.

The sister looked at him with pity. She tried to console him.

“Death is not always so mercifully quick with these strong men,” she said.

THE WHITE BATTALION

By FRANCES GILCHRIST WOOD
From The Bookman
Copyright, 1918, by Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
Copyright, 1919, by Frances Gilchrist Wood.

An orderly ushered two officers of the Foreign Legion, young men in mud-stained khaki, through the door of a dugout back of the fighting line in France. As they entered the hut a French officer in horizon blue, equally muddy, rose and returned the American’s salute.

“You will be seated?” He pushed camp chairs toward them.

A guttering candle, stuck in a bottle neck, veiled rather than revealed the sordid interior. The light flickered across the young Frenchman’s face, threw gaunt shadows under his eyes emphasized the look of utter weariness and—there was something more.

The senior officer of the Legion, Captain Hailes, looked at him keenly.

“Major Fouquet, we report at headquarters in an hour, sir. Lieutenant Agor, commanding platoon at extreme right—contact platoon with your battalion, sir, reports we lost touch with the French forces between the advance and the first trench. Thought it might have been his watch, but the timepiece checks up to a second.”

The captain hesitated uneasily, “We are not presuming to question, sir, but Lieutenant Agor says he saw—we felt there might have been some cause, some reason that did not appear, so we came—”

The Frenchman lifted his head in a stupid way altogether foreign to his usual manner.

“Merci, Captain Hailes. We were—forty seconds slow in attacking the first trench, sir.” He went on mechanically as if delivering a rehearsed report. “Caught up and reached the second trench on time. Few prisoners besides the children. Enemy practically wiped out.”

He concluded heavily, a dazed look blotting all expression.

“There was a cause for the forty seconds delay, Major?”

Fouquet struggled up out of the curious apathy. He cleared his throat, made several attempts to speak and finally blurted out.

“You won’t believe it—I saw it and I cannot! But there are the children—and a first-line trench full of dead Huns—without a mark on them! Barres was flying over us—he saw the Battalion—knew them for old comrades. The women—all of them saw the faces of their dead! I don’t believe it, sir,—but how did we do it? The women never thrust once in the first trench—the children haven’t a wound—that’s got to prove it!”

He stopped abruptly—looking from one to the other with a gesture of hopeless protest. The Americans regarded him with puzzled eyes.

“Was it some new trick of the Huns? God knows they’ve given them to us in plenty! Can you tell us—it might—?”

Fouquet pulled himself forward, his knuckles whitening with his grip of the table edge.

“You know the history of the section of the Front the Avengers retook to-day?”

“No, Major Fouquet. We came in later, with the Canadians.”

“It began with the great retreat of 1914, sir, when the Germans were driving us back toward Paris. They had crowded our army against the river. Between the slow crossing and their terrible artillery fire, new to us then, we faced annihilation!”

There was a rustle at the door of the dugout and a whispered password. Fouquet did not pause.

“To the —nth Battalion was given the honor of acting as rear guard. Ah, sir,—” his voice steadied—guttural with pride and emotion, “our men stood like a barricade of rock against which the waves of German infantry dashed themselves, only to break and be withdrawn for re-formation. Each receding wave showed where it had bit into the red and blue barrier, for we were wearing the old uniform then, but the bits slid together, closing up the gaps to stand against the next flood. When the eroded wall went down, undermined and over-whelmed at last, the main army of France was across the river and safe.

“Only two of us lived to rejoin our army, Lieutenant Barres and myself. Barres’s leg was shattered, hopelessly crippling him for the infantry, but when the wounds healed—France could not spare so brave a man, so they strapped him to the seat of a plane in the winged section of the army, where he is still fighting!”

The sharp click, click of crutches tapped across the floor as Barres of the Aviation Squad came into the fringe of light. He saluted, then broke in upon Fouquet’s story.

“But you do not tell them, mon camarade, but for you I would have died with the rest! He does not tell you, sir, that he put his own chance of escape into peril by dragging me—a helpless burden—with him!”

He looked at Fouquet with an anxious frown, “I thought there might be enquiry about to-day. You are—?”

A look flashed between them, the love of men who have faced death together.

“Yes, Barres, I shall need you. It is the history of the Avengers I am telling—to explain—”

He turned to the Americans.

“In the years of struggle that came after the retreat, our women of France have taken the places of men behind the lines, while our soldiers held the Front. But when Russia freed herself the news filtered through the provinces that the women of Russia when the revolution needed them formed themselves into the Battalion of Death. We also heard that German women were in the army.

“Then the flame of a common inspiration touched the widows of the —nth. They sought and found each other and petitioned as their right that they be entered and drilled as the —nth Battalion of Avengers.

“Military objections refused them again and again, but the women stood as firm in their purpose as their men who had held the post of rear guard. Always they asked, Why should France be left a nation of sorrowful women only? Let the widowed women of the —nth take the place of men in the chance of death—they would welcome it—and so save men to France.

“At last they were accepted and trained. Each added to her equipment a small packet of cyanide of potassium as her Russian sisters had taught her. One further request they made, that the position assigned to them might be in the course of the advance to retake the ground held to the death by their men. To me was given the great honor to be their commander.”

He drew himself up with pride. “They have justified their petition for enlistment, sir, they wear the strap of a battalion commended for bravery. We have been fully trusted to hold our share of the Front in safety.”

As if at the significance of his own words his head dropped, then lifted again grimly.

“It was for to-day’s work that this battalion was assembled and trained to invincibility. We need no one to interpret the meaning of the Front to us, but to the women—to retake this strip of ground sodden with the blood of the rear guard barricade built of their men, meant being given the denied rite of closing glazed eyes, the crossing of arms on rigid breasts, the lighting of candles at head and feet and the last kiss on frozen lips. They were mad for it—not in revenge but to right a wrong.”

Fouquet’s voice thrilled, “That is the history, sir, and the temper of the Battalion of Avengers who held the trench at your right!

“When the order came for attack to-day, they waited, taut as arrows in held bowstrings, at the foot of the ladders for the signal to go over the top. Like shafts released they sprang up the sides of the ditch. There was sure death to the Hun in every gripped bayonet as they bent to follow the barrage of fire across the craters and snarled wire of No Man’s Land.

“No human sound comes through the hell of battle artillery and yet we knew the strangling gasp that ran the length of the line as the protective barrage made its final jump, lifted and showed us the trench we were to take. The women stood as motionless as the corpses of the old —nth!

“Thrust shield-wise above the heads of the Huns, crowning the ditch as with protective spikes, frightened and sobbing, cowering before us were hundreds of little children!”

Fouquet’s chair went spinning back as he leaned across the table.

“God! men—they knew! The devil tells them! They knew this section was held by women! For us to hold the Front—our share of the Front—these mothers must bayonet their way through crying, helpless babies!”

His groan found gasping echo.

“They were children of the French villages held by the Germans—we could tell! Some of them had been shot by the last of our barrage fire after the Huns had shoved them over the top. It was hell to see the children’s torn bodies writhing—we’re used to it with men! The smallest—babies—were clinging to the older ones—children of five or six—trying to hide—between the Huns and—us!

“If we went on—took the ditch—these mothers must cut through a barricade of children! If we did not go on, we betrayed our trust, lost our share of the Front—let the Huns behind the lines through a gap made by the failure of the women of the —nth!

“We seemed to stand there for hours, but it was only a second. The Huns had thrust their guns between the children, and were holding their fire—the devilish cat and mouse game!

“Then one of the women captains stumbled forward and made the sign of the cross. It is the voiceless battle cry of the Avengers and signs supreme sacrifice for all the Front means. She lifted her right hand in the sweep of victory—on her wrist was bound the packet of death they carry in case of capture by the kultur beasts—and fell, for the Huns opened fire the instant they saw her gesture.

“But the message had gotten over! They could charge—they must—and the cyanide would erase the intolerable memory forever! I looked at those nearest and saw they would go through with it, but men—their faces were set with the look of the face of Christ on the cross!”

He stopped, breathing heavily, and looked from one American to the other.

“You won’t believe it—I saw it and I cannot—but the proof is there! As the women gripped to thrust, leaning forward as if to force rebellious bodies toward that barricade, there swept down upon us from the rear or above, a sudden striding mist—a battalion of marching shadows in a blur of the old red and blue that outstripped the Avengers’ advance. There was a flash of charging steel and the waving colors of the old —nth as they swept over the untouched children into the trench.

“It’s all a blur, sir, I can’t tell you clearly, but they turned their faces as they passed and—we knew our dead. You could see the women cry out and lift their arms, each to her own man as he halted an instant beside her.

“Madame Arouet was sobbing as if caught by a bullet, ‘Jean—Jean!—to have seen you again! Ah, my God!’ The tall corporal, just beyond, threw herself with high piercing scream—arms outstretched—toward the smiling shadow that was passing.

“The bravest man in the old —nth, where all were brave, dropped behind as he bent over the fallen captain. There was a quivering smile of recognition just as the jerking heap settled into quiet; then, as if he waited for it, a slender blur in horizon blue sprang to his side and swept forward with the Battalion—though the captain still lay where she had fallen!”

Fouquet gripped his comrade, arm and crutch together, with a cry.

“Did you see our brave captain salute as he passed? Joyously I shouted as I fell into step beside him, but—I dropped back—I could not keep that pace! Barres—Barres—you saw them? You must have seen them? It was the old —nth come back to save their women from the last hellish trap set by fiends! We know they had the right. This was their battleground where once before they had saved an army of France!”

Lieutenant Agor was leaning across the table with staring eyes: “Then—that was what I—saw, sir?” He turned to his commander, “I told you it was like the fog blowing in off Frisco bay, and—”

Captain Hailes half rose, “My lieutenant said he lost you when a mist obscured the contact platoon. He said he saw—I—thought it was shell shock—I meant to send him behind the lines—”

Barres shook his head slowly as he caught Fouquet about the shoulder.

Mon ami—I saw—I know! Very low I flew over the gap to-day when it broke and widened. I felt the White Battalion first, rushing through the planes—then I saw them—a mist of the old red and blue with wondrous swords!” His voice sank low, “From above I saw one who led them—a shining one who, even as we have read, smote the camp of the Assyrians”.

“It was the old —nth that followed. I knew them!” His voice caught. “Did you see the rascals in the third squad goose-stepping as they closed in on the Hun?” With a break of unsteady laughter, “It was always their final joke with the German, sir, before they got him. No one could break them of it! Fouquet—we know! It was the old —nth, our White Battalion!”

“A White Battalion!” Agor repeated the words slowly, still staring.

The aviator shifted his crutch and drew himself erect. “Mes amis, the Huns fling the taunt that France has been bled white! To us it means a White Army—a crowding host killed in battle—the red life of gallant youth given so gloriously that it cannot die!

“And France bled white!... We know,” the words halted, “the country for which we went to war is maimed—scarred—she can never again be the same France, but—” his lifted face gleamed through the dim light, “our battle cry has changed! We no longer fight ‘Pour la Patrie!’ but ‘Pour le Droit!’—the right that is greater than country!”

With a sharp intake of breath he turned to his comrade. Fouquet’s protesting look was gone. With the sure touch of reality he picked up the story.

“It was all over in a breath, sir—like a mist swirling along the trenches shot through with phantom steel, and we knew our work was being done. When it lifted—the ditch lay motionless!

“The women had dropped on their knees with their arms about the children. We passed the poor little ones through to the rear in charge of the wounded.

“The first trench was piled with dead—unmarked dead! The communicating tunnels were cleared or quiet; that was how we made up the forty seconds and followed the barrage on time to the second ditch.

“I looked down the line as we made ready for the second charge. Not a Hun cried ‘Kamarad!’ or tried to surrender when they saw the faces of the Avengers. The second ditch was piled with nearly as many dead as the first—marked dead! The Avengers and the White Battalion had retaken the ground for which the —nth had given their lives.

“That is all, sir,” the gaunt figure in mud-stained blue straightened, “excepting that the fouling Beast is going in the end—we know! He cannot stand against the unconquerable dead. And when we march through Berlin, the White Armies will march at the head of the column—” he lifted his hand in salute, “Pour le Droit!

The crippled aviator balanced on crutches as he brought up his hand.

Pour le Droit!

Noiselessly the men of the Foreign Legion pushed back their chairs and stood at salute. Silently they faced each other in a long moment of understanding. The major in blue dropped his arm and with smiling eyes gripped the hand of the man in khaki.

He flung open the door of the dugout, humming the Song of France in marching time. The young officers, French and American, fell into step together.

“Gentlemen—to Headquarters!”

The lilting voices filled the low room to the accent of marching feet.

Allons, enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!