THE TROLL GARDEN
By Willa Cather
On the Divide
Eric Hermannson's Soul
The Enchanted Bluff
The Bohemian Girl
THE TROLL GARDEN
Flavia and Her Artists
The Sculptor's Funeral
"A Death in the Desert"
The Garden Lodge
The Marriage of Phaedra
A Wagner Matinee
On the Divide
Near Rattlesnake Creek, on the side of a little draw stood Canute's
shanty. North, east, south, stretched the level Nebraska plain of long
rust-red grass that undulated constantly in the wind. To the west the
ground was broken and rough, and a narrow strip of timber wound along the
turbid, muddy little stream that had scarcely ambition enough to crawl
over its black bottom. If it had not been for the few stunted cottonwoods
and elms that grew along its banks, Canute would have shot himself years
ago. The Norwegians are a timber-loving people, and if there is even a
turtle pond with a few plum bushes around it they seem irresistibly drawn
As to the shanty itself, Canute had built it without aid of any kind, for
when he first squatted along the banks of Rattlesnake Creek there was not
a human being within twenty miles. It was built of logs split in halves,
the chinks stopped with mud and plaster. The roof was covered with earth
and was supported by one gigantic beam curved in the shape of a round
arch. It was almost impossible that any tree had ever grown in that shape.
The Norwegians used to say that Canute had taken the log across his knee
and bent it into the shape he wished. There were two rooms, or rather
there was one room with a partition made of ash saplings interwoven and
bound together like big straw basket work. In one corner there was a cook
stove, rusted and broken. In the other a bed made of unplaned planks and
poles. It was fully eight feet long, and upon it was a heap of dark bed
clothing. There was a chair and a bench of colossal proportions. There was
an ordinary kitchen cupboard with a few cracked dirty dishes in it, and
beside it on a tall box a tin washbasin. Under the bed was a pile of pint
flasks, some broken, some whole, all empty. On the wood box lay a pair of
shoes of almost incredible dimensions. On the wall hung a saddle, a gun,
and some ragged clothing, conspicuous among which was a suit of dark
cloth, apparently new, with a paper collar carefully wrapped in a red silk
handkerchief and pinned to the sleeve. Over the door hung a wolf and a
badger skin, and on the door itself a brace of thirty or forty snake skins
whose noisy tails rattled ominously every time it opened. The strangest
things in the shanty were the wide windowsills. At first glance they
looked as though they had been ruthlessly hacked and mutilated with a
hatchet, but on closer inspection all the notches and holes in the wood
took form and shape. There seemed to be a series of pictures. They were,
in a rough way, artistic, but the figures were heavy and labored, as
though they had been cut very slowly and with very awkward instruments.
There were men plowing with little horned imps sitting on their shoulders
and on their horses' heads. There were men praying with a skull hanging
over their heads and little demons behind them mocking their attitudes.
There were men fighting with big serpents, and skeletons dancing together.
All about these pictures were blooming vines and foliage such as never
grew in this world, and coiled among the branches of the vines there was
always the scaly body of a serpent, and behind every flower there was a
serpent's head. It was a veritable Dance of Death by one who had felt its
sting. In the wood box lay some boards, and every inch of them was cut up
in the same manner. Sometimes the work was very rude and careless, and
looked as though the hand of the workman had trembled. It would sometimes
have been hard to distinguish the men from their evil geniuses but for one
fact, the men were always grave and were either toiling or praying, while
the devils were always smiling and dancing. Several of these boards had
been split for kindling and it was evident that the artist did not value
his work highly.
It was the first day of winter on the Divide. Canute stumbled into his
shanty carrying a basket of cobs, and after filling the stove, sat down on
a stool and crouched his seven foot frame over the fire, staring drearily
out of the window at the wide gray sky. He knew by heart every individual
clump of bunch grass in the miles of red shaggy prairie that stretched
before his cabin. He knew it in all the deceitful loveliness of its early
summer, in all the bitter barrenness of its autumn. He had seen it smitten
by all the plagues of Egypt. He had seen it parched by drought, and sogged
by rain, beaten by hail, and swept by fire, and in the grasshopper years
he had seen it eaten as bare and clean as bones that the vultures have
left. After the great fires he had seen it stretch for miles and miles,
black and smoking as the floor of hell.
He rose slowly and crossed the room, dragging his big feet heavily as
though they were burdens to him. He looked out of the window into the hog
corral and saw the pigs burying themselves in the straw before the shed.
The leaden gray clouds were beginning to spill themselves, and the snow
flakes were settling down over the white leprous patches of frozen earth
where the hogs had gnawed even the sod away. He shuddered and began to
walk, trampling heavily with his ungainly feet. He was the wreck of ten
winters on the Divide and he knew what that meant. Men fear the winters of
the Divide as a child fears night or as men in the North Seas fear the
still dark cold of the polar twilight. His eyes fell upon his gun, and he
took it down from the wall and looked it over. He sat down on the edge of
his bed and held the barrel towards his face, letting his forehead rest
upon it, and laid his finger on the trigger. He was perfectly calm, there
was neither passion nor despair in his face, but the thoughtful look of a
man who is considering. Presently he laid down the gun, and reaching into
the cupboard, drew out a pint bottle of raw white alcohol. Lifting it to
his lips, he drank greedily. He washed his face in the tin basin and
combed his rough hair and shaggy blond beard. Then he stood in uncertainty
before the suit of dark clothes that hung on the wall. For the fiftieth
time he took them in his hands and tried to summon courage to put them on.
He took the paper collar that was pinned to the sleeve of the coat and
cautiously slipped it under his rough beard, looking with timid expectancy
into the cracked, splashed glass that hung over the bench. With a short
laugh he threw it down on the bed, and pulling on his old black hat, he
went out, striking off across the level.
It was a physical necessity for him to get away from his cabin once in a
while. He had been there for ten years, digging and plowing and sowing,
and reaping what little the hail and the hot winds and the frosts left him
to reap. Insanity and suicide are very common things on the Divide. They
come on like an epidemic in the hot wind season. Those scorching dusty
winds that blow up over the bluffs from Kansas seem to dry up the blood in
men's veins as they do the sap in the corn leaves. Whenever the yellow
scorch creeps down over the tender inside leaves about the ear, then the
coroners prepare for active duty; for the oil of the country is burned out
and it does not take long for the flame to eat up the wick. It causes no
great sensation there when a Dane is found swinging to his own windmill
tower, and most of the Poles after they have become too careless and
discouraged to shave themselves keep their razors to cut their throats
It may be that the next generation on the Divide will be very happy, but
the present one came too late in life. It is useless for men that have cut
hemlocks among the mountains of Sweden for forty years to try to be happy
in a country as flat and gray and naked as the sea. It is not easy for men
that have spent their youth fishing in the Northern seas to be content
with following a plow, and men that have served in the Austrian army hate
hard work and coarse clothing on the loneliness of the plains, and long
for marches and excitement and tavern company and pretty barmaids. After a
man has passed his fortieth birthday it is not easy for him to change the
habits and conditions of his life. Most men bring with them to the Divide
only the dregs of the lives that they have squandered in other lands and
among other peoples.
Canute Canuteson was as mad as any of them, but his madness did not take
the form of suicide or religion but of alcohol. He had always taken liquor
when he wanted it, as all Norwegians do, but after his first year of
solitary life he settled down to it steadily. He exhausted whisky after a
while, and went to alcohol, because its effects were speedier and surer.
He was a big man and with a terrible amount of resistant force, and it
took a great deal of alcohol even to move him. After nine years of
drinking, the quantities he could take would seem fabulous to an ordinary
drinking man. He never let it interfere with his work, he generally drank
at night and on Sundays. Every night, as soon as his chores were done, he
began to drink. While he was able to sit up he would play on his mouth
harp or hack away at his window sills with his jackknife. When the liquor
went to his head he would lie down on his bed and stare out of the window
until he went to sleep. He drank alone and in solitude not for pleasure or
good cheer, but to forget the awful loneliness and level of the Divide.
Milton made a sad blunder when he put mountains in hell. Mountains
postulate faith and aspiration. All mountain peoples are religious. It was
the cities of the plains that, because of their utter lack of spirituality
and the mad caprice of their vice, were cursed of God.
Alcohol is perfectly consistent in its effects upon man. Drunkenness is
merely an exaggeration. A foolish man drunk becomes maudlin; a bloody man,
vicious; a coarse man, vulgar. Canute was none of these, but he was morose
and gloomy, and liquor took him through all the hells of Dante. As he lay
on his giant's bed all the horrors of this world and every other were laid
bare to his chilled senses. He was a man who knew no joy, a man who toiled
in silence and bitterness. The skull and the serpent were always before
him, the symbols of eternal futileness and of eternal hate.
When the first Norwegians near enough to be called neighbors came, Canute
rejoiced, and planned to escape from his bosom vice. But he was not a
social man by nature and had not the power of drawing out the social side
of other people. His new neighbors rather feared him because of his great
strength and size, his silence and his lowering brows. Perhaps, too, they
knew that he was mad, mad from the eternal treachery of the plains, which
every spring stretch green and rustle with the promises of Eden, showing
long grassy lagoons full of clear water and cattle whose hoofs are stained
with wild roses. Before autumn the lagoons are dried up, and the ground is
burnt dry and hard until it blisters and cracks open.
So instead of becoming a friend and neighbor to the men that settled about
him, Canute became a mystery and a terror. They told awful stories of his
size and strength and of the alcohol he drank.
They said that one night, when he went out to see to his horses just
before he went to bed, his steps were unsteady and the rotten planks of
the floor gave way and threw him behind the feet of a fiery young
stallion. His foot was caught fast in the floor, and the nervous horse
began kicking frantically. When Canute felt the blood trickling down into
his eyes from a scalp wound in his head, he roused himself from his kingly
indifference, and with the quiet stoical courage of a drunken man leaned
forward and wound his arms about the horse's hind legs and held them
against his breast with crushing embrace. All through the darkness and
cold of the night he lay there, matching strength against strength. When
little Jim Peterson went over the next morning at four o'clock to go with
him to the Blue to cut wood, he found him so, and the horse was on its
fore knees, trembling and whinnying with fear. This is the story the
Norwegians tell of him, and if it is true it is no wonder that they feared
and hated this Holder of the Heels of Horses.
One spring there moved to the next "eighty" a family that made a great
change in Canute's life. Ole Yensen was too drunk most of the time to be
afraid of any one, and his wife Mary was too garrulous to be afraid of any
one who listened to her talk, and Lena, their pretty daughter, was not
afraid of man nor devil. So it came about that Canute went over to take
his alcohol with Ole oftener than he took it alone, After a while the
report spread that he was going to marry Yensen's daughter, and the
Norwegian girls began to tease Lena about the great bear she was going to
keep house for. No one could quite see how the affair had come about, for
Canute's tactics of courtship were somewhat peculiar. He apparently never
spoke to her at all: he would sit for hours with Mary chattering on one
side of him and Ole drinking on the other and watch Lena at her work. She
teased him, and threw flour in his face and put vinegar in his coffee, but
he took her rough jokes with silent wonder, never even smiling. He took
her to church occasionally, but the most watchful and curious people never
saw him speak to her. He would sit staring at her while she giggled and
flirted with the other men.
Next spring Mary Lee went to town to work in a steam laundry. She came
home every Sunday, and always ran across to Yensens to startle Lena with
stories of ten cent theaters, firemen's dances, and all the other esthetic
delights of metropolitan life. In a few weeks Lena's head was completely
turned, and she gave her father no rest until he let her go to town to
seek her fortune at the ironing board. From the time she came home on her
first visit she began to treat Canute with contempt. She had bought a
plush cloak and kid gloves, had her clothes made by the dress maker, and
assumed airs and graces that made the other women of the neighborhood
cordially detest her. She generally brought with her a young man from town
who waxed his mustache and wore a red necktie, and she did not even
introduce him to Canute.
The neighbors teased Canute a good deal until he knocked one of them down.
He gave no sign of suffering from her neglect except that he drank more
and avoided the other Norwegians more carefully than ever, He lay around
in his den and no one knew what he felt or thought, but little Jim
Peterson, who had seen him glowering at Lena in church one Sunday when she
was there with the town man, said that he would not give an acre of his
wheat for Lena's life or the town chap's either; and Jim's wheat was so
wondrously worthless that the statement was an exceedingly strong one.
Canute had bought a new suit of clothes that looked as nearly like the
town man as possible. They had cost him half a millet crop; for tailors
are not accustomed to fitting giants and they charge for it. He had hung
those clothes in his shanty two months ago and had never put them on,
partly from fear of ridicule, partly from discouragement, and partly
because there was something in his own soul that revolted at the
littleness of the device.
Lena was at home just at this time. Work was slack in the laundry and Mary
had not been well, so Lena stayed at home, glad enough to get an
opportunity to torment Canute once more.
She was washing in the side kitchen, singing loudly as she worked. Mary
was on her knees, blacking the stove and scolding violently about the
young man who was coming out from town that night. The young man had
committed the fatal error of laughing at Mary's ceaseless babble and had
never been forgiven.
"He is no good, and you will come to a bad end by running with him! I do
not see why a daughter of mine should act so. I do not see why the Lord
should visit such a punishment upon me as to give me such a daughter.
There are plenty of good men you can marry."
Lena tossed her head and answered curtly, "I don't happen to want to marry
any man right away, and so long as Dick dresses nice and has plenty of
money to spend, there is no harm in my going with him."
"Money to spend? Yes, and that is all he does with it I'll be bound. You
think it very fine now, but you will change your tune when you have been
married five years and see your children running naked and your cupboard
empty. Did Anne Hermanson come to any good end by marrying a town man?"
"I don't know anything about Anne Hermanson, but I know any of the laundry
girls would have Dick quick enough if they could get him."
"Yes, and a nice lot of store clothes huzzies you are too. Now there is
Canuteson who has an 'eighty' proved up and fifty head of cattle and—"
"And hair that ain't been cut since he was a baby, and a big dirty beard,
and he wears overalls on Sundays, and drinks like a pig. Besides he will
keep. I can have all the fun I want, and when I am old and ugly like you
he can have me and take care of me. The Lord knows there ain't nobody else
going to marry him."
Canute drew his hand back from the latch as though it were red hot. He was
not the kind of man to make a good eavesdropper, and he wished he had
knocked sooner. He pulled himself together and struck the door like a
battering ram. Mary jumped and opened it with a screech.
"God! Canute, how you scared us! I thought it was crazy Lou—he has
been tearing around the neighborhood trying to convert folks. I am afraid
as death of him. He ought to be sent off, I think. He is just as liable as
not to kill us all, or burn the barn, or poison the dogs. He has been
worrying even the poor minister to death, and he laid up with the
rheumatism, too! Did you notice that he was too sick to preach last
Sunday? But don't stand there in the cold, come in. Yensen isn't here, but
he just went over to Sorenson's for the mail; he won't be gone long. Walk
right in the other room and sit down."
Canute followed her, looking steadily in front of him and not noticing
Lena as he passed her. But Lena's vanity would not allow him to pass
unmolested. She took the wet sheet she was wringing out and cracked him
across the face with it, and ran giggling to the other side of the room.
The blow stung his cheeks and the soapy water flew in his eyes, and he
involuntarily began rubbing them with his hands. Lena giggled with delight
at his discomfiture, and the wrath in Canute's face grew blacker than
ever. A big man humiliated is vastly more undignified than a little one.
He forgot the sting of his face in the bitter consciousness that he had
made a fool of himself He stumbled blindly into the living room, knocking
his head against the door jamb because he forgot to stoop. He dropped into
a chair behind the stove, thrusting his big feet back helplessly on either
side of him.
Ole was a long time in coming, and Canute sat there, still and silent,
with his hands clenched on his knees, and the skin of his face seemed to
have shriveled up into little wrinkles that trembled when he lowered his
brows. His life had been one long lethargy of solitude and alcohol, but
now he was awakening, and it was as when the dumb stagnant heat of summer
breaks out into thunder.
When Ole came staggering in, heavy with liquor, Canute rose at once.
"Yensen," he said quietly, "I have come to see if you will let me marry
your daughter today."
"Today!" gasped Ole.
"Yes, I will not wait until tomorrow. I am tired of living alone."
Ole braced his staggering knees against the bedstead, and stammered
eloquently: "Do you think I will marry my daughter to a drunkard? a man
who drinks raw alcohol? a man who sleeps with rattle snakes? Get out of my
house or I will kick you out for your impudence." And Ole began looking
anxiously for his feet.
Canute answered not a word, but he put on his hat and went out into the
kitchen. He went up to Lena and said without looking at her, "Get your
things on and come with me!"
The tones of his voice startled her, and she said angrily, dropping the
soap, "Are you drunk?"
"If you do not come with me, I will take you—you had better come,"
said Canute quietly.
She lifted a sheet to strike him, but he caught her arm roughly and
wrenched the sheet from her. He turned to the wall and took down a hood
and shawl that hung there, and began wrapping her up. Lena scratched and
fought like a wild thing. Ole stood in the door, cursing, and Mary howled
and screeched at the top of her voice. As for Canute, he lifted the girl
in his arms and went out of the house. She kicked and struggled, but the
helpless wailing of Mary and Ole soon died away in the distance, and her
face was held down tightly on Canute's shoulder so that she could not see
whither he was taking her. She was conscious only of the north wind
whistling in her ears, and of rapid steady motion and of a great breast
that heaved beneath her in quick, irregular breaths. The harder she
struggled the tighter those iron arms that had held the heels of horses
crushed about her, until she felt as if they would crush the breath from
her, and lay still with fear. Canute was striding across the level fields
at a pace at which man never went before, drawing the stinging north winds
into his lungs in great gulps. He walked with his eyes half closed and
looking straight in front of him, only lowering them when he bent his head
to blow away the snow flakes that settled on her hair. So it was that
Canute took her to his home, even as his bearded barbarian ancestors took
the fair frivolous women of the South in their hairy arms and bore them
down to their war ships. For ever and anon the soul becomes weary of the
conventions that are not of it, and with a single stroke shatters the
civilized lies with which it is unable to cope, and the strong arm reaches
out and takes by force what it cannot win by cunning.
When Canute reached his shanty he placed the girl upon a chair, where she
sat sobbing. He stayed only a few minutes. He filled the stove with wood
and lit the lamp, drank a huge swallow of alcohol and put the bottle in
his pocket. He paused a moment, staring heavily at the weeping girl, then
he went off and locked the door and disappeared in the gathering gloom of
Wrapped in flannels and soaked with turpentine, the little Norwegian
preacher sat reading his Bible, when he heard a thundering knock at his
door, and Canute entered, covered with snow and his beard frozen fast to
"Come in, Canute, you must be frozen," said the little man, shoving a
chair towards his visitor.
Canute remained standing with his hat on and said quietly, "I want you to
come over to my house tonight to marry me to Lena Yensen."
"Have you got a license, Canute?"
"No, I don't want a license. I want to be married."
"But I can't marry you without a license, man, it would not be legal."
A dangerous light came in the big Norwegian's eye. "I want you to come
over to my house to marry me to Lena Yensen."
"No, I can't, it would kill an ox to go out in a storm like this, and my
rheumatism is bad tonight."
"Then if you will not go I must take you," said Canute with a sigh.
He took down the preacher's bearskin coat and bade him put it on while he
hitched up his buggy. He went out and closed the door softly after him.
Presently he returned and found the frightened minister crouching before
the fire with his coat lying beside him. Canute helped him put it on and
gently wrapped his head in his big muffler. Then he picked him up and
carried him out and placed him in his buggy. As he tucked the buffalo
robes around him he said: "Your horse is old, he might flounder or lose
his way in this storm. I will lead him."
The minister took the reins feebly in his hands and sat shivering with the
cold. Sometimes when there was a lull in the wind, he could see the horse
struggling through the snow with the man plodding steadily beside him.
Again the blowing snow would hide them from him altogether. He had no idea
where they were or what direction they were going. He felt as though he
were being whirled away in the heart of the storm, and he said all the
prayers he knew. But at last the long four miles were over, and Canute set
him down in the snow while he unlocked the door. He saw the bride sitting
by the fire with her eyes red and swollen as though she had been weeping.
Canute placed a huge chair for him, and said roughly,—
Lena began to cry and moan afresh, begging the minister to take her home.
He looked helplessly at Canute. Canute said simply,
"If you are warm now, you can marry us."
"My daughter, do you take this step of your own free will?" asked the
minister in a trembling voice.
"No, sir, I don't, and it is disgraceful he should force me into it! I
won't marry him."
"Then, Canute, I cannot marry you," said the minister, standing as
straight as his rheumatic limbs would let him.
"Are you ready to marry us now, sir?" said Canute, laying one iron hand on
his stooped shoulder. The little preacher was a good man, but like most
men of weak body he was a coward and had a horror of physical suffering,
although he had known so much of it. So with many qualms of conscience he
began to repeat the marriage service. Lena sat sullenly in her chair,
staring at the fire. Canute stood beside her, listening with his head bent
reverently and his hands folded on his breast. When the little man had
prayed and said amen, Canute began bundling him up again.
"I will take you home, now," he said as he carried him out and placed him
in his buggy, and started off with him through the fury of the storm,
floundering among the snow drifts that brought even the giant himself to
After she was left alone, Lena soon ceased weeping. She was not of a
particularly sensitive temperament, and had little pride beyond that of
vanity. After the first bitter anger wore itself out, she felt nothing
more than a healthy sense of humiliation and defeat. She had no
inclination to run away, for she was married now, and in her eyes that was
final and all rebellion was useless. She knew nothing about a license, but
she knew that a preacher married folks. She consoled herself by thinking
that she had always intended to marry Canute someday, anyway.
She grew tired of crying and looking into the fire, so she got up and
began to look about her. She had heard queer tales about the inside of
Canute's shanty, and her curiosity soon got the better of her rage. One of
the first things she noticed was the new black suit of clothes hanging on
the wall. She was dull, but it did not take a vain woman long to interpret
anything so decidedly flattering, and she was pleased in spite of herself.
As she looked through the cupboard, the general air of neglect and
discomfort made her pity the man who lived there.
"Poor fellow, no wonder he wants to get married to get somebody to wash up
his dishes. Batchin's pretty hard on a man."
It is easy to pity when once one's vanity has been tickled. She looked at
the windowsill and gave a little shudder and wondered if the man were
crazy. Then she sat down again and sat a long time wondering what her Dick
and Ole would do.
"It is queer Dick didn't come right over after me. He surely came, for he
would have left town before the storm began and he might just as well come
right on as go back. If he'd hurried he would have gotten here before the
preacher came. I suppose he was afraid to come, for he knew Canuteson
could pound him to jelly, the coward!" Her eyes flashed angrily.
The weary hours wore on and Lena began to grow horribly lonesome. It was
an uncanny night and this was an uncanny place to be in. She could hear
the coyotes howling hungrily a little way from the cabin, and more
terrible still were all the unknown noises of the storm. She remembered
the tales they told of the big log overhead and she was afraid of those
snaky things on the windowsills. She remembered the man who had been
killed in the draw, and she wondered what she would do if she saw crazy
Lou's white face glaring into the window. The rattling of the door became
unbearable, she thought the latch must be loose and took the lamp to look
at it. Then for the first time she saw the ugly brown snake skins whose
death rattle sounded every time the wind jarred the door.
"Canute, Canute!" she screamed in terror.
Outside the door she heard a heavy sound as of a big dog getting up and
shaking himself. The door opened and Canute stood before her, white as a
"What is it?" he asked kindly.
"I am cold," she faltered.
He went out and got an armful of wood and a basket of cobs and filled the
stove. Then he went out and lay in the snow before the door. Presently he
heard her calling again.
"What is it?" he said, sitting up.
"I'm so lonesome, I'm afraid to stay in here all alone."
"I will go over and get your mother." And he got up.
"She won't come."
"I'll bring her," said Canute grimly.
"No, no. I don't want her, she will scold all the time."
"Well, I will bring your father."
She spoke again and it seemed as though her mouth was close up to the
key-hole. She spoke lower than he had ever heard her speak before, so low
that he had to put his ear up to the lock to hear her.
"I don't want him either, Canute,—I'd rather have you."
For a moment she heard no noise at all, then something like a groan. With
a cry of fear she opened the door, and saw Canute stretched in the snow at
her feet, his face in his hands, sobbing on the doorstep.
Eric Hermannson's Soul
It was a great night at the Lone Star schoolhouse—a night when the
Spirit was present with power and when God was very near to man. So it
seemed to Asa Skinner, servant of God and Free Gospeller. The schoolhouse
was crowded with the saved and sanctified, robust men and women, trembling
and quailing before the power of some mysterious psychic force. Here and
there among this cowering, sweating multitude crouched some poor wretch
who had felt the pangs of an awakened conscience, but had not yet
experienced that complete divestment of reason, that frenzy born of a
convulsion of the mind, which, in the parlance of the Free Gospellers, is
termed "the Light." On the floor before the mourners' bench lay the
unconscious figure of a man in whom outraged nature had sought her last
resort. This "trance" state is the highest evidence of grace among the
Free Gospellers, and indicates a close walking with God.
Before the desk stood Asa Skinner, shouting of the mercy and vengeance of
God, and in his eyes shone a terrible earnestness, an almost prophetic
flame. Asa was a converted train gambler who used to run between Omaha and
Denver. He was a man made for the extremes of life; from the most
debauched of men he had become the most ascetic. His was a bestial face, a
face that bore the stamp of Nature's eternal injustice. The forehead was
low, projecting over the eyes, and the sandy hair was plastered down over
it and then brushed back at an abrupt right angle. The chin was heavy, the
nostrils were low and wide, and the lower lip hung loosely except in his
moments of spasmodic earnestness, when it shut like a steel trap. Yet
about those coarse features there were deep, rugged furrows, the scars of
many a hand-to-hand struggle with the weakness of the flesh, and about
that drooping lip were sharp, strenuous lines that had conquered it and
taught it to pray. Over those seamed cheeks there was a certain pallor, a
greyness caught from many a vigil. It was as though, after Nature had done
her worst with that face, some fine chisel had gone over it, chastening
and almost transfiguring it. Tonight, as his muscles twitched with
emotion, and the perspiration dropped from his hair and chin, there was a
certain convincing power in the man. For Asa Skinner was a man possessed
of a belief, of that sentiment of the sublime before which all
inequalities are leveled, that transport of conviction which seems
superior to all laws of condition, under which debauchees have become
martyrs; which made a tinker an artist and a camel-driver the founder of
an empire. This was with Asa Skinner tonight, as he stood proclaiming the
vengeance of God.
It might have occurred to an impartial observer that Asa Skinner's God was
indeed a vengeful God if he could reserve vengeance for those of his
creatures who were packed into the Lone Star schoolhouse that night. Poor
exiles of all nations; men from the south and the north, peasants from
almost every country of Europe, most of them from the mountainous,
night-bound coast of Norway. Honest men for the most part, but men with
whom the world had dealt hardly; the failures of all countries, men
sobered by toil and saddened by exile, who had been driven to fight for
the dominion of an untoward soil, to sow where others should gather, the
advance guard of a mighty civilization to be.
Never had Asa Skinner spoken more earnestly than now. He felt that the
Lord had this night a special work for him to do. Tonight Eric Hermannson,
the wildest lad on all the Divide, sat in his audience with a fiddle on
his knee, just as he had dropped in on his way to play for some dance. The
violin is an object of particular abhorrence to the Free Gospellers. Their
antagonism to the church organ is bitter enough, but the fiddle they
regard as a very incarnation of evil desires, singing forever of worldly
pleasures and inseparably associated with all forbidden things.
Eric Hermannson had long been the object of the prayers of the
revivalists. His mother had felt the power of the Spirit weeks ago, and
special prayer-meetings had been held at her house for her son. But Eric
had only gone his ways laughing, the ways of youth, which are short enough
at best, and none too flowery on the Divide.
He slipped away from the prayer-meetings to meet the Campbell boys in
Genereau's saloon, or hug the plump little French girls at Chevalier's
dances, and sometimes, of a summer night, he even went across the dewy
cornfields and through the wild-plum thicket to play the fiddle for Lena
Hanson, whose name was a reproach through all the Divide country, where
the women are usually too plain and too busy and too tired to depart from
the ways of virtue. On such occasions Lena, attired in a pink wrapper and
silk stockings and tiny pink slippers, would sing to him, accompanying
herself on a battered guitar. It gave him a delicious sense of freedom and
experience to be with a woman who, no matter how, had lived in big cities
and knew the ways of town folk, who had never worked in the fields and had
kept her hands white and soft, her throat fair and tender, who had heard
great singers in Denver and Salt Lake, and who knew the strange language
of flattery and idleness and mirth.
Yet, careless as he seemed, the frantic prayers of his mother were not
altogether without their effect upon Eric. For days he had been fleeing
before them as a criminal from his pursuers, and over his pleasures had
fallen the shadow of something dark and terrible that dogged his steps.
The harder he danced, the louder he sang, the more was he conscious that
this phantom was gaining upon him, that in time it would track him down.
One Sunday afternoon, late in the fall, when he had been drinking beer
with Lena Hanson and listening to a song which made his cheeks burn, a
rattlesnake had crawled out of the side of the sod house and thrust its
ugly head in under the screen door. He was not afraid of snakes, but he
knew enough of Gospellism to feel the significance of the reptile lying
coiled there upon her doorstep. His lips were cold when he kissed Lena
goodbye, and he went there no more.
The final barrier between Eric and his mother's faith was his violin, and
to that he clung as a man sometimes will cling to his dearest sin, to the
weakness more precious to him than all his strength, In the great world
beauty comes to men in many guises, and art in a hundred forms, but for
Eric there was only his violin.
It stood, to him, for all the manifestations of art; it was his only
bridge into the kingdom of the soul.
It was to Eric Hermannson that the evangelist directed his impassioned
pleading that night.
"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Is there a Saul here tonight
who has stopped his ears to that gentle pleading, who has thrust a spear
into that bleeding side? Think of it, my brother; you are offered this
wonderful love and you prefer the worm that dieth not and the fire which
will not be quenched. What right have you to lose one of God's precious
souls? Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"
A great joy dawned in Asa Skinner's pale face, for he saw that Eric
Hermannson was swaying to and fro in his seat. The minister fell upon his
knees and threw his long arms up over his head.
"O my brothers! I feel it coming, the blessing we have prayed for. I tell
you the Spirit is coming! just a little more prayer, brothers, a little
more zeal, and he will be here. I can feel his cooling wing upon my brow.
Glory be to God forever and ever, amen!"
The whole congregation groaned under the pressure of this spiritual panic.
Shouts and hallelujahs went up from every lip. Another figure fell
prostrate upon the floor. From the mourners' bench rose a chant of terror
"Eating honey and drinking wine,
Glory to the bleeding Lamb!
I am my Lord's and he is mine,
Glory to the bleeding Lamb!"
The hymn was sung in a dozen dialects and voiced all the vague yearning of
these hungry lives, of these people who had starved all the passions so
long, only to fall victims to the barest of them all, fear.
A groan of ultimate anguish rose from Eric Hermannson's bowed head, and
the sound was like the groan of a great tree when it falls in the forest.
The minister rose suddenly to his feet and threw back his head, crying in
a loud voice:
"Lazarus, come forth! Eric Hermannson, you are lost, going down at
sea. In the name of God, and Jesus Christ his Son, I throw you the life
line. Take hold! Almighty God, my soul for his!" The minister threw his
arms out and lifted his quivering face.
Eric Hermannson rose to his feet; his lips were set and the lightning was
in his eyes. He took his violin by the neck and crushed it to splinters
across his knee, and to Asa Skinner the sound was like the shackles of sin
broken audibly asunder.
For more than two years Eric Hermannson kept the austere faith to which he
had sworn himself, kept it until a girl from the East came to spend a week
on the Nebraska Divide. She was a girl of other manners and conditions,
and there were greater distances between her life and Eric's than all the
miles which separated Rattlesnake Creek from New York City. Indeed, she
had no business to be in the West at all; but ah! across what leagues of
land and sea, by what improbable chances, do the unrelenting gods bring to
us our fate!
It was in a year of financial depression that Wyllis Elliot came to
Nebraska to buy cheap land and revisit the country where he had spent a
year of his youth. When he had graduated from Harvard it was still
customary for moneyed gentlemen to send their scapegrace sons to rough it
on ranches in the wilds of Nebraska or Dakota, or to consign them to a
living death in the sagebrush of the Black Hills. These young men did not
always return to the ways of civilized life. But Wyllis Elliot had not
married a half-breed, nor been shot in a cowpunchers' brawl, nor wrecked
by bad whisky, nor appropriated by a smirched adventuress. He had been
saved from these things by a girl, his sister, who had been very near to
his life ever since the days when they read fairy tales together and
dreamed the dreams that never come true. On this, his first visit to his
father's ranch since he left it six years before, he brought her with him.
She had been laid up half the winter from a sprain received while skating,
and had had too much time for reflection during those months. She was
restless and filled with a desire to see something of the wild country of
which her brother had told her so much. She was to be married the next
winter, and Wyllis understood her when she begged him to take her with him
on this long, aimless jaunt across the continent, to taste the last of
their freedom together. It comes to all women of her type—that
desire to taste the unknown which allures and terrifies, to run one's
whole soul's length out to the wind—just once.
It had been an eventful journey. Wyllis somehow understood that strain of
gypsy blood in his sister, and he knew where to take her. They had slept
in sod houses on the Platte River, made the acquaintance of the personnel
of a third-rate opera company on the train to Deadwood, dined in a camp of
railroad constructors at the world's end beyond New Castle, gone through
the Black Hills on horseback, fished for trout in Dome Lake, watched a
dance at Cripple Creek, where the lost souls who hide in the hills
gathered for their besotted revelry. And now, last of all, before the
return to thraldom, there was this little shack, anchored on the windy
crest of the Divide, a little black dot against the flaming sunsets, a
scented sea of cornland bathed in opalescent air and blinding sunlight.
Margaret Elliot was one of those women of whom there are so many in this
day, when old order, passing, giveth place to new; beautiful, talented,
critical, unsatisfied, tired of the world at twenty-four. For the moment
the life and people of the Divide interested her. She was there but a
week; perhaps had she stayed longer, that inexorable ennui which travels
faster even than the Vestibule Limited would have overtaken her. The week
she tarried there was the week that Eric Hermannson was helping Jerry
Lockhart thresh; a week earlier or a week later, and there would have been
no story to write.
It was on Thursday and they were to leave on Saturday. Wyllis and his
sister were sitting on the wide piazza of the ranchhouse, staring out into
the afternoon sunlight and protesting against the gusts of hot wind that
blew up from the sandy riverbottom twenty miles to the southward.
The young man pulled his cap lower over his eyes and remarked:
"This wind is the real thing; you don't strike it anywhere else. You
remember we had a touch of it in Algiers and I told you it came from
Kansas. It's the keynote of this country."
Wyllis touched her hand that lay on the hammock and continued gently:
"I hope it's paid you, Sis. Roughing it's dangerous business; it takes the
taste out of things."
She shut her fingers firmly over the brown hand that was so like her own.
"Paid? Why, Wyllis, I haven't been so happy since we were children and
were going to discover the ruins of Troy together some day. Do you know, I
believe I could just stay on here forever and let the world go on its own
gait. It seems as though the tension and strain we used to talk of last
winter were gone for good, as though one could never give one's strength
out to such petty things any more."
Wyllis brushed the ashes of his pipe away from the silk handkerchief that
was knotted about his neck and stared moodily off at the skyline.
"No, you're mistaken. This would bore you after a while. You can't shake
the fever of the other life. I've tried it. There was a time when the gay
fellows of Rome could trot down into the Thebaid and burrow into the
sandhills and get rid of it. But it's all too complex now. You see we've
made our dissipations so dainty and respectable that they've gone further
in than the flesh, and taken hold of the ego proper. You couldn't rest,
even here. The war cry would follow you."
"You don't waste words, Wyllis, but you never miss fire. I talk more than
you do, without saying half so much. You must have learned the art of
silence from these taciturn Norwegians. I think I like silent men."
"Naturally," said Wyllis, "since you have decided to marry the most
brilliant talker you know."
Both were silent for a time, listening to the sighing of the hot wind
through the parched morning-glory vines. Margaret spoke first.
"Tell me, Wyllis, were many of the Norwegians you used to know as
interesting as Eric Hermannson?"
"Who, Siegfried? Well, no. He used to be the flower of the Norwegian youth
in my day, and he's rather an exception, even now. He has retrograded,
though. The bonds of the soil have tightened on him, I fancy."
"Siegfried? Come, that's rather good, Wyllis. He looks like a
dragon-slayer. What is it that makes him so different from the others? I
can talk to him; he seems quite like a human being."
"Well," said Wyllis, meditatively, "I don't read Bourget
as much as my cultured sister, and I'm not so well up in analysis, but
I fancy it's because one keeps cherishing a perfectly unwarranted
suspicion that under that big, hulking anatomy of his, he may conceal a
soul somewhere. Nicht wahr?"
"Something like that," said Margaret, thoughtfully, "except that it's more
than a suspicion, and it isn't groundless. He has one, and he makes it
known, somehow, without speaking."
"I always have my doubts about loquacious souls," Wyllis remarked, with
the unbelieving smile that had grown habitual with him.
Margaret went on, not heeding the interruption. "I knew it from the first,
when he told me about the suicide of his cousin, the Bernstein boy. That
kind of blunt pathos can't be summoned at will in anybody. The earlier
novelists rose to it, sometimes, unconsciously. But last night when I sang
for him I was doubly sure. Oh, I haven't told you about that yet! Better
light your pipe again. You see, he stumbled in on me in the dark when I
was pumping away at that old parlour organ to please Mrs. Lockhart It's
her household fetish and I've forgotten how many pounds of butter she made
and sold to buy it. Well, Eric stumbled in, and in some inarticulate
manner made me understand that he wanted me to sing for him. I sang just
the old things, of course. It's queer to sing familiar things here at the
world's end. It makes one think how the hearts of men have carried them
around the world, into the wastes of Iceland and the jungles of Africa and
the islands of the Pacific. I think if one lived here long enough one
would quite forget how to be trivial, and would read only the great books
that we never get time to read in the world, and would remember only the
great music, and the things that are really worth while would stand out
clearly against that horizon over there. And of course I played the
intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana for him; it goes rather better
on an organ than most things do. He shuffled his feet and twisted his big
hands up into knots and blurted out that he didn't know there was any
music like that in the world. Why, there were tears in his voice, Wyllis!
Yes, like Rossetti, I heard his tears. Then it dawned upon me that
it was probably the first good music he had ever heard in all his life.
Think of it, to care for music as he does and never to hear it, never to
know that it exists on earth! To long for it as we long for other perfect
experiences that never come. I can't tell you what music means to that
man. I never saw any one so susceptible to it. It gave him speech, he
became alive. When I had finished the intermezzo, he began telling me
about a little crippled brother who died and whom he loved and used to
carry everywhere in his arms. He did not wait for encouragement. He took
up the story and told it slowly, as if to himself, just sort of rose up
and told his own woe to answer Mascagni's. It overcame me."
"Poor devil," said Wyllis, looking at her with mysterious eyes, "and so
you've given him a new woe. Now he'll go on wanting Grieg and Schubert the
rest of his days and never getting them. That's a girl's philanthropy for
Jerry Lockhart came out of the house screwing his chin over the unusual
luxury of a stiff white collar, which his wife insisted upon as a
necessary article of toilet while Miss Elliot was at the house. Jerry sat
down on the step and smiled his broad, red smile at Margaret.
"Well, I've got the music for your dance, Miss Elliot. Olaf Oleson will
bring his accordion and Mollie will play the organ, when she isn't lookin'
after the grub, and a little chap from Frenchtown will bring his fiddle—though
the French don't mix with the Norwegians much."
"Delightful! Mr. Lockhart, that dance will be the feature of our trip, and
it's so nice of you to get it up for us. We'll see the Norwegians in
character at last," cried Margaret, cordially.
"See here, Lockhart, I'll settle with you for backing her in this scheme,"
said Wyllis, sitting up and knocking the ashes out of his pipe. "She's
done crazy things enough on this trip, but to talk of dancing all night
with a gang of half-mad Norwegians and taking the carriage at four to
catch the six o'clock train out of Riverton—well, it's tommyrot,
that's what it is!"
"Wyllis, I leave it to your sovereign power of reason to decide whether it
isn't easier to stay up all night than to get up at three in the morning.
To get up at three, think what that means! No, sir, I prefer to keep my
vigil and then get into a sleeper."
"But what do you want with the Norwegians? I thought you were tired of
"So I am, with some people. But I want to see a Norwegian dance, and I
intend to. Come, Wyllis, you know how seldom it is that one really wants
to do anything nowadays. I wonder when I have really wanted to go to a
party before. It will be something to remember next month at Newport, when
we have to and don't want to. Remember your own theory that contrast is
about the only thing that makes life endurable. This is my party and Mr.
Lockhart's; your whole duty tomorrow night will consist in being nice to
the Norwegian girls. I'll warrant you were adept enough at it once. And
you'd better be very nice indeed, for if there are many such young
Valkyries as Eric's sister among them, they would simply tie you up in a
knot if they suspected you were guying them."
Wyllis groaned and sank back into the hammock to consider his fate, while
his sister went on.
"And the guests, Mr. Lockhart, did they accept?"
Lockhart took out his knife and began sharpening it on the sole of his
"Well, I guess we'll have a couple dozen. You see it's pretty hard to get
a crowd together here any more. Most of 'em have gone over to the Free
Gospellers, and they'd rather put their feet in the fire than shake 'em to
Margaret made a gesture of impatience. "Those Free Gospellers have just
cast an evil spell over this country, haven't they?"
"Well," said Lockhart, cautiously, "I don't just like to pass judgment on
any Christian sect, but if you're to know the chosen by their works, the
Gospellers can't make a very proud showin', an' that's a fact. They're
responsible for a few suicides, and they've sent a good-sized delegation
to the state insane asylum, an' I don't see as they've made the rest of us
much better than we were before. I had a little herdboy last spring, as
square a little Dane as I want to work for me, but after the Gospellers
got hold of him and sanctified him, the little beggar used to get down on
his knees out on the prairie and pray by the hour and let the cattle get
into the corn, an' I had to fire him. That's about the way it goes. Now
there's Eric; that chap used to be a hustler and the spryest dancer in all
this section-called all the dances. Now he's got no ambition and he's glum
as a preacher. I don't suppose we can even get him to come in tomorrow
"Eric? Why, he must dance, we can't let him off," said Margaret, quickly.
"Why, I intend to dance with him myself."
"I'm afraid he won't dance. I asked him this morning if he'd help us out
and he said, 'I don't dance now, any more,'" said Lockhart, imitating the
laboured English of the Norwegian.
"'The Miller of Hofbau, the Miller of Hofbau, O my Princess!'" chirped
Wyllis, cheerfully, from his hammock.
The red on his sister's cheek deepened a little, and she laughed
mischievously. "We'll see about that, sir. I'll not admit that I am beaten
until I have asked him myself."
Every night Eric rode over to St. Anne, a little village in the heart of
the French settlement, for the mail. As the road lay through the most
attractive part of the Divide country, on several occasions Margaret
Elliot and her brother had accompanied him. Tonight Wyllis had business
with Lockhart, and Margaret rode with Eric, mounted on a frisky little
mustang that Mrs. Lockhart had broken to the sidesaddle. Margaret regarded
her escort very much as she did the servant who always accompanied her on
long rides at home, and the ride to the village was a silent one. She was
occupied with thoughts of another world, and Eric was wrestling with more
thoughts than had ever been crowded into his head before.
He rode with his eyes riveted on that slight figure before him, as though
he wished to absorb it through the optic nerves and hold it in his brain
forever. He understood the situation perfectly. His brain worked slowly,
but he had a keen sense of the values of things. This girl represented an
entirely new species of humanity to him, but he knew where to place her.
The prophets of old, when an angel first appeared unto them, never doubted
its high origin.
Eric was patient under the adverse conditions of his life, but he was not
servile. The Norse blood in him had not entirely lost its self-reliance.
He came of a proud fisher line, men who were not afraid of anything but
the ice and the devil, and he had prospects before him when his father
went down off the North Cape in the long Arctic night, and his mother,
seized by a violent horror of seafaring life, had followed her brother to
America. Eric was eighteen then, handsome as young Siegfried, a giant in
stature, with a skin singularly pure and delicate, like a Swede's; hair as
yellow as the locks of Tennyson's amorous Prince, and eyes of a fierce,
burning blue, whose flash was most dangerous to women.
He had in those days a certain pride of bearing, a certain confidence of
approach, that usually accompanies physical perfection. It was even said
of him then that he was in love with life, and inclined to levity, a vice
most unusual on the Divide. But the sad history of those Norwegian exiles,
transplanted in an arid soil and under a scorching sun, had repeated
itself in his case. Toil and isolation had sobered him, and he grew more
and more like the clods among which he laboured. It was as though some
red-hot instrument had touched for a moment those delicate fibers of the
brain which respond to acute pain or pleasure, in which lies the power of
exquisite sensation, and had seared them quite away. It is a painful thing
to watch the light die out of the eyes of those Norsemen, leaving an
expression of impenetrable sadness, quite passive, quite hopeless, a
shadow that is never lifted. With some this change comes almost at once,
in the first bitterness of homesickness, with others it comes more slowly,
according to the time it takes each man's heart to die.
Oh, those poor Northmen of the Divide! They are dead many a year before
they are put to rest in the little graveyard on the windy hill where
exiles of all nations grow akin.
The peculiar species of hypochondria to which the exiles of his people
sooner or later succumb had not developed in Eric until that night at the
Lone Star schoolhouse, when he had broken his violin across his knee.
After that, the gloom of his people settled down upon him, and the gospel
of maceration began its work.
"If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," et cetera. The pagan
smile that once hovered about his lips was gone, and he was one with
sorrow. Religion heals a hundred hearts for one that it embitters, but
when it destroys, its work is quick and deadly, and where the agony of the
cross has been, joy will not come again. This man understood things
literally: one must live without pleasure to die without fear; to save the
soul, it was necessary to starve the soul.
The sun hung low above the cornfields when Margaret and her cavalier left
St. Anne. South of the town there is a stretch of road that runs for some
three miles through the French settlement, where the prairie is as level
as the surface of a lake. There the fields of flax and wheat and rye are
bordered by precise rows of slender, tapering Lombard poplars. It was a
yellow world that Margaret Elliot saw under the wide light of the setting
The girl gathered up her reins and called back to Eric, "It will be safe
to run the horses here, won't it?"
"Yes, I think so, now," he answered, touching his spur to his pony's
flank. They were off like the wind. It is an old saying in the West that
newcomers always ride a horse or two to death before they get broken in to
the country. They are tempted by the great open spaces and try to outride
the horizon, to get to the end of something. Margaret galloped over the
level road, and Eric, from behind, saw her long veil fluttering in the
wind. It had fluttered just so in his dreams last night and the night
before. With a sudden inspiration of courage he overtook her and rode
beside her, looking intently at her half-averted face. Before, he had only
stolen occasional glances at it, seen it in blinding flashes, always with
more or less embarrassment, but now he determined to let every line of it
sink into his memory. Men of the world would have said that it was an
unusual face, nervous, finely cut, with clear, elegant lines that
betokened ancestry. Men of letters would have called it a historic face,
and would have conjectured at what old passions, long asleep, what old
sorrows forgotten time out of mind, doing battle together in ages gone,
had curved those delicate nostrils, left their unconscious memory in those
eyes. But Eric read no meaning in these details. To him this beauty was
something more than colour and line; it was a flash of white light, in
which one cannot distinguish colour because all colours are there. To him
it was a complete revelation, an embodiment of those dreams of impossible
loveliness that linger by a young man's pillow on midsummer nights; yet,
because it held something more than the attraction of health and youth and
shapeliness, it troubled him, and in its presence he felt as the Goths
before the white marbles in the Roman Capitol, not knowing whether they
were men or gods. At times he felt like uncovering his head before it,
again the fury seized him to break and despoil, to find the clay in this
spirit-thing and stamp upon it. Away from her, he longed to strike out
with his arms, and take and hold; it maddened him that this woman whom he
could break in his hands should be so much stronger than he. But near her,
he never questioned this strength; he admitted its potentiality as he
admitted the miracles of the Bible; it enervated and conquered him.
Tonight, when he rode so close to her that he could have touched her, he
knew that he might as well reach out his hand to take a star.
Margaret stirred uneasily under his gaze and turned questioningly in her
"This wind puts me a little out of breath when we ride fast," she said.
Eric turned his eyes away.
"I want to ask you if I go to New York to work, if I maybe hear music like
you sang last night? I been a purty good hand to work," he asked, timidly.
Margaret looked at him with surprise, and then, as she studied the outline
of his face, pityingly.
"Well, you might—but you'd lose a good deal else. I shouldn't like
you to go to New York—and be poor, you'd be out of atmosphere, some
way," she said, slowly. Inwardly she was thinking: There he would be
altogether sordid, impossible—a machine who would carry one's trunks
upstairs, perhaps. Here he is every inch a man, rather picturesque; why is
it? "No," she added aloud, "I shouldn't like that."
"Then I not go," said Eric, decidedly.
Margaret turned her face to hide a smile. She was a trifle amused and a
trifle annoyed. Suddenly she spoke again.
"But I'll tell you what I do want you to do, Eric. I want you to dance
with us tomorrow night and teach me some of the Norwegian dances; they say
you know them all. Won't you?"
Eric straightened himself in his saddle and his eyes flashed as they had
done in the Lone Star schoolhouse when he broke his violin across his
"Yes, I will," he said, quietly, and he believed that he delivered his
soul to hell as he said it.
They had reached the rougher country now, where the road wound through a
narrow cut in one of the bluffs along the creek, when a beat of hoofs
ahead and the sharp neighing of horses made the ponies start and Eric rose
in his stirrups. Then down the gulch in front of them and over the steep
clay banks thundered a herd of wild ponies, nimble as monkeys and wild as
rabbits, such as horse-traders drive east from the plains of Montana to
sell in the farming country. Margaret's pony made a shrill sound, a neigh
that was almost a scream, and started up the clay bank to meet them, all
the wild blood of the range breaking out in an instant. Margaret called to
Eric just as he threw himself out of the saddle and caught her pony's bit.
But the wiry little animal had gone mad and was kicking and biting like a
devil. Her wild brothers of the range were all about her, neighing, and
pawing the earth, and striking her with their forefeet and snapping at her
flanks. It was the old liberty of the range that the little beast fought
"Drop the reins and hold tight, tight!" Eric called, throwing all his
weight upon the bit, struggling under those frantic forefeet that now beat
at his breast, and now kicked at the wild mustangs that surged and tossed
about him. He succeeded in wrenching the pony's head toward him and
crowding her withers against the clay bank, so that she could not roll.
"Hold tight, tight!" he shouted again, launching a kick at a snorting
animal that reared back against Margaret's saddle. If she should lose her
courage and fall now, under those hoofs—He struck out again and
again, kicking right and left with all his might. Already the negligent
drivers had galloped into the cut, and their long quirts were whistling
over the heads of the herd. As suddenly as it had come, the struggling,
frantic wave of wild life swept up out of the gulch and on across the open
prairie, and with a long despairing whinny of farewell the pony dropped
her head and stood trembling in her sweat, shaking the foam and blood from
Eric stepped close to Margaret's side and laid his hand on her saddle.
"You are not hurt?" he asked, hoarsely. As he raised his face in the soft
starlight she saw that it was white and drawn and that his lips were
"No, no, not at all. But you, you are suffering; they struck you!" she
cried in sharp alarm.
He stepped back and drew his hand across his brow.
"No, it is not that," he spoke rapidly now, with his hands clenched at his
side. "But if they had hurt you, I would beat their brains out with my
hands. I would kill them all. I was never afraid before. You are the only
beautiful thing that has ever come close to me. You came like an angel out
of the sky. You are like the music you sing, you are like the stars and
the snow on the mountains where I played when I was a little boy. You are
like all that I wanted once and never had, you are all that they have
killed in me. I die for you tonight, tomorrow, for all eternity. I am not
a coward; I was afraid because I love you more than Christ who died for
me, more than I am afraid of hell, or hope for heaven. I was never afraid
before. If you had fallen—oh, my God!" He threw his arms out blindly
and dropped his head upon the pony's mane, leaning limply against the
animal like a man struck by some sickness. His shoulders rose and fell
perceptibly with his laboured breathing. The horse stood cowed with
exhaustion and fear. Presently Margaret laid her hand on Eric's head and
"You are better now, shall we go on? Can you get your horse?"
"No, he has gone with the herd. I will lead yours, she is not safe. I will
not frighten you again." His voice was still husky, but it was steady now.
He took hold of the bit and tramped home in silence.
When they reached the house, Eric stood stolidly by the pony's head until
Wyllis came to lift his sister from the saddle.
"The horses were badly frightened, Wyllis. I think I was pretty thoroughly
scared myself," she said as she took her brother's arm and went slowly up
the hill toward the house. "No, I'm not hurt, thanks to Eric. You must
thank him for taking such good care of me. He's a mighty fine fellow. I'll
tell you all about it in the morning, dear. I was pretty well shaken up
and I'm going right to bed now. Good night."
When she reached the low room in which she slept, she sank upon the bed in
her riding dress, face downward.
"Oh, I pity him! I pity him!" she murmured, with a long sigh of
exhaustion. She must have slept a little. When she rose again, she took
from her dress a letter that had been waiting for her at the village
post-office. It was closely written in a long, angular hand, covering a
dozen pages of foreign note-paper, and began:
My Dearest Margaret: if I should attempt to say how like a winter hath
thine absence been, I should incur the risk of being tedious. Really,
it takes the sparkle out of everything. Having nothing better to do, and
not caring to go anywhere in particular without you, I remained in the
city until Jack Courtwell noted my general despondency and brought me down
here to his place on the sound to manage some open-air theatricals he is
getting up. As You Like It is of course the piece selected. Miss
Harrison plays Rosalind. I wish you had been here to take the part. Miss
Harrison reads her lines well, but she is either a maiden-all-forlorn or a
tomboy; insists on reading into the part all sorts of deeper meanings and
highly coloured suggestions wholly out of harmony with the pastoral
setting. Like most of the professionals, she exaggerates the emotional
element and quite fails to do justice to Rosalind's facile wit and really
brilliant mental qualities. Gerard will do Orlando, but rumor says he is
epris of your sometime friend, Miss Meredith, and his memory is
treacherous and his interest fitful.
My new pictures arrived last week on the Gascogne. The Puvis de
Chavannes is even more beautiful than I thought it in Paris. A pale
dream-maiden sits by a pale dream-cow and a stream of anemic water flows
at her feet. The Constant, you will remember, I got because you admired
it. It is here in all its florid splendour, the whole dominated by a
glowing sensuosity. The drapery of the female figure is as wonderful as
you said; the fabric all barbaric pearl and gold, painted with an easy,
effortless voluptuousness, and that white, gleaming line of African coast
in the background recalls memories of you very precious to me. But it is
useless to deny that Constant irritates me. Though I cannot prove the
charge against him, his brilliancy always makes me suspect him of
Here Margaret stopped and glanced at the remaining pages of this strange
love-letter. They seemed to be filled chiefly with discussions of pictures
and books, and with a slow smile she laid them by.
She rose and began undressing. Before she lay down she went to open the
window. With her hand on the sill, she hesitated, feeling suddenly as
though some danger were lurking outside, some inordinate desire waiting to
spring upon her in the darkness. She stood there for a long time, gazing
at the infinite sweep of the sky.
"Oh, it is all so little, so little there," she murmured. "When everything
else is so dwarfed, why should one expect love to be great? Why should one
try to read highly coloured suggestions into a life like that? If only I
could find one thing in it all that mattered greatly, one thing that would
warm me when I am alone! Will life never give me that one great moment?"
As she raised the window, she heard a sound in the plum bushes outside. It
was only the house-dog roused from his sleep, but Margaret started
violently and trembled so that she caught the foot of the bed for support.
Again she felt herself pursued by some overwhelming longing, some
desperate necessity for herself, like the outstretching of helpless,
unseen arms in the darkness, and the air seemed heavy with sighs of
yearning. She fled to her bed with the words, "I love you more than Christ
who died for me!" ringing in her ears.
About midnight the dance at Lockhart's was at its height. Even the old men
who had come to "look on" caught the spirit of revelry and stamped the
floor with the vigor of old Silenus. Eric took the violin from the
Frenchmen, and Minna Oleson sat at the organ, and the music grew more and
more characteristic—rude, half mournful music, made up of the
folksongs of the North, that the villagers sing through the long night in
hamlets by the sea, when they are thinking of the sun, and the spring, and
the fishermen so long away. To Margaret some of it sounded like Grieg's Peer
Gynt music. She found something irresistibly infectious in the mirth
of these people who were so seldom merry, and she felt almost one of them.
Something seemed struggling for freedom in them tonight, something of the
joyous childhood of the nations which exile had not killed. The girls were
all boisterous with delight. Pleasure came to them but rarely, and when it
came, they caught at it wildly and crushed its fluttering wings in their
strong brown fingers. They had a hard life enough, most of them. Torrid
summers and freezing winters, labour and drudgery and ignorance, were the
portion of their girlhood; a short wooing, a hasty, loveless marriage,
unlimited maternity, thankless sons, premature age and ugliness, were the
dower of their womanhood. But what matter? Tonight there was hot liquor in
the glass and hot blood in the heart; tonight they danced.
Tonight Eric Hermannson had renewed his youth. He was no longer the big,
silent Norwegian who had sat at Margaret's feet and looked hopelessly into
her eyes. Tonight he was a man, with a man's rights and a man's power.
Tonight he was Siegfried indeed. His hair was yellow as the heavy wheat in
the ripe of summer, and his eyes flashed like the blue water between the
ice packs in the north seas. He was not afraid of Margaret tonight, and
when he danced with her he held her firmly. She was tired and dragged on
his arm a little, but the strength of the man was like an all-pervading
fluid, stealing through her veins, awakening under her heart some
nameless, unsuspected existence that had slumbered there all these years
and that went out through her throbbing fingertips to his that answered.
She wondered if the hoydenish blood of some lawless ancestor, long asleep,
were calling out in her tonight, some drop of a hotter fluid that the
centuries had failed to cool, and why, if this curse were in her, it had
not spoken before. But was it a curse, this awakening, this wealth before
undiscovered, this music set free? For the first time in her life her
heart held something stronger than herself, was not this worthwhile? Then
she ceased to wonder. She lost sight of the lights and the faces and the
music was drowned by the beating of her own arteries. She saw only the
blue eyes that flashed above her, felt only the warmth of that throbbing
hand which held hers and which the blood of his heart fed. Dimly, as in a
dream, she saw the drooping shoulders, high white forehead and tight,
cynical mouth of the man she was to marry in December. For an hour she had
been crowding back the memory of that face with all her strength.
"Let us stop, this is enough," she whispered. His only answer was to
tighten the arm behind her. She sighed and let that masterful strength
bear her where it would. She forgot that this man was little more than a
savage, that they would part at dawn. The blood has no memories, no
reflections, no regrets for the past, no consideration of the future.
"Let us go out where it is cooler," she said when the music stopped;
thinking, I am growing faint here, I shall be all right in the open air.
They stepped out into the cool, blue air of the night.
Since the older folk had begun dancing, the young Norwegians had been
slipping out in couples to climb the windmill tower into the cooler
atmosphere, as is their custom.
"You like to go up?" asked Eric, close to her ear.
She turned and looked at him with suppressed amusement. "How high is it?"
"Forty feet, about. I not let you fall." There was a note of irresistible
pleading in his voice, and she felt that he tremendously wished her to go.
Well, why not? This was a night of the unusual, when she was not herself
at all, but was living an unreality. Tomorrow, yes, in a few hours, there
would be the Vestibule Limited and the world.
"Well, if you'll take good care of me. I used to be able to climb, when I
was a little girl."
Once at the top and seated on the platform, they were silent. Margaret
wondered if she would not hunger for that scene all her life, through all
the routine of the days to come. Above them stretched the great Western
sky, serenely blue, even in the night, with its big, burning stars, never
so cold and dead and far away as in denser atmospheres. The moon would not
be up for twenty minutes yet, and all about the horizon, that wide
horizon, which seemed to reach around the world, lingered a pale white
light, as of a universal dawn. The weary wind brought up to them the heavy
odours of the cornfields. The music of the dance sounded faintly from
below. Eric leaned on his elbow beside her, his legs swinging down on the
ladder. His great shoulders looked more than ever like those of the stone
Doryphorus, who stands in his perfect, reposeful strength in the Louvre,
and had often made her wonder if such men died forever with the youth of
"How sweet the corn smells at night," said Margaret nervously.
"Yes, like the flowers that grow in paradise, I think."
She was somewhat startled by this reply, and more startled when this
taciturn man spoke again.
"You go away tomorrow?"
"Yes, we have stayed longer than we thought to now."
"You not come back any more?"
"No, I expect not. You see, it is a long trip halfway across the
"You soon forget about this country, I guess." It seemed to him now a
little thing to lose his soul for this woman, but that she should utterly
forget this night into which he threw all his life and all his eternity,
that was a bitter thought.
"No, Eric, I will not forget. You have all been too kind to me for that.
And you won't be sorry you danced this one night, will you?"
"I never be sorry. I have not been so happy before. I not be so happy
again, ever. You will be happy many nights yet, I only this one. I will
dream sometimes, maybe."
The mighty resignation of his tone alarmed and touched her. It was as when
some great animal composes itself for death, as when a great ship goes
down at sea.
She sighed, but did not answer him. He drew a little closer and looked
into her eyes.
"You are not always happy, too?" he asked.
"No, not always, Eric; not very often, I think."
"You have a trouble?"
"Yes, but I cannot put it into words. Perhaps if I could do that, I could
He clasped his hands together over his heart, as children do when they
pray, and said falteringly, "If I own all the world, I give him you."
Margaret felt a sudden moisture in her eyes, and laid her hand on his.
"Thank you, Eric; I believe you would. But perhaps even then I should not
be happy. Perhaps I have too much of it already."
She did not take her hand away from him; she did not dare. She sat still
and waited for the traditions in which she had always believed to speak
and save her. But they were dumb. She belonged to an ultra-refined
civilization which tries to cheat nature with elegant sophistries. Cheat
nature? Bah! One generation may do it, perhaps two, but the third—Can
we ever rise above nature or sink below her? Did she not turn on Jerusalem
as upon Sodom, upon St. Anthony in his desert as upon Nero in his
seraglio? Does she not always cry in brutal triumph: "I am here still, at
the bottom of things, warming the roots of life; you cannot starve me nor
tame me nor thwart me; I made the world, I rule it, and I am its destiny."
This woman, on a windmill tower at the world's end with a giant barbarian,
heard that cry tonight, and she was afraid! Ah! the terror and the delight
of that moment when first we fear ourselves! Until then we have not lived.
"Come, Eric, let us go down; the moon is up and the music has begun
again," she said.
He rose silently and stepped down upon the ladder, putting his arm about
her to help her. That arm could have thrown Thor's hammer out in the
cornfields yonder, yet it scarcely touched her, and his hand trembled as
it had done in the dance. His face was level with hers now and the
moonlight fell sharply upon it. All her life she had searched the faces of
men for the look that lay in his eyes. She knew that that look had never
shone for her before, would never shine for her on earth again, that such
love comes to one only in dreams or in impossible places like this,
unattainable always. This was Love's self, in a moment it would die. Stung
by the agonized appeal that emanated from the man's whole being, she
leaned forward and laid her lips on his. Once, twice and again she heard
the deep respirations rattle in his throat while she held them there, and
the riotous force under her head became an engulfing weakness. He drew her
up to him until he felt all the resistance go out of her body, until every
nerve relaxed and yielded. When she drew her face back from his, it was
white with fear.
"Let us go down, oh, my God! let us go down!" she muttered. And the
drunken stars up yonder seemed reeling to some appointed doom as she clung
to the rounds of the ladder. All that she was to know of love she had left
upon his lips.
"The devil is loose again," whispered Olaf Oleson, as he saw Eric dancing
a moment later, his eyes blazing.
But Eric was thinking with an almost savage exultation of the time when he
should pay for this. Ah, there would be no quailing then! if ever a soul
went fearlessly, proudly down to the gates infernal, his should go. For a
moment he fancied he was there already, treading down the tempest of
flame, hugging the fiery hurricane to his breast. He wondered whether in
ages gone, all the countless years of sinning in which men had sold and
lost and flung their souls away, any man had ever so cheated Satan, had
ever bartered his soul for so great a price.
It seemed but a little while till dawn.
The carriage was brought to the door and Wyllis Elliot and his sister said
goodbye. She could not meet Eric's eyes as she gave him her hand, but as
he stood by the horse's head, just as the carriage moved off, she gave him
one swift glance that said, "I will not forget." In a moment the carriage
Eric changed his coat and plunged his head into the water tank and went to
the barn to hook up his team. As he led his horses to the door, a shadow
fell across his path, and he saw Skinner rising in his stirrups. His
rugged face was pale and worn with looking after his wayward flock, with
dragging men into the way of salvation.
"Good morning, Eric. There was a dance here last night?" he asked,
"A dance? Oh, yes, a dance," replied Eric, cheerfully.
"Certainly you did not dance, Eric?"
"Yes, I danced. I danced all the time."
The minister's shoulders drooped, and an expression of profound
discouragement settled over his haggard face. There was almost anguish in
the yearning he felt for this soul.
"Eric, I didn't look for this from you. I thought God had set his mark on
you if he ever had on any man. And it is for things like this that you set
your soul back a thousand years from God. O foolish and perverse
Eric drew himself up to his full height and looked off to where the new
day was gilding the corn-tassels and flooding the uplands with light. As
his nostrils drew in the breath of the dew and the morning, something from
the only poetry he had ever read flashed across his mind, and he murmured,
half to himself, with dreamy exultation:
"'And a day shall be as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day.'"
The Enchanted Bluff
We had our swim before sundown, and while we were cooking our supper the
oblique rays of light made a dazzling glare on the white sand about us.
The translucent red ball itself sank behind the brown stretches of
cornfield as we sat down to eat, and the warm layer of air that had rested
over the water and our clean sand bar grew fresher and smelled of the rank
ironweed and sunflowers growing on the flatter shore. The river was brown
and sluggish, like any other of the half-dozen streams that water the
Nebraska corn lands. On one shore was an irregular line of bald clay
bluffs where a few scrub oaks with thick trunks and flat, twisted tops
threw light shadows on the long grass. The western shore was low and
level, with cornfields that stretched to the skyline, and all along the
water's edge were little sandy coves and beaches where slim cottonwoods
and willow saplings flickered.
The turbulence of the river in springtime discouraged milling, and, beyond
keeping the old red bridge in repair, the busy farmers did not concern
themselves with the stream; so the Sandtown boys were left in undisputed
possession. In the autumn we hunted quail through the miles of stubble and
fodder land along the flat shore, and, after the winter skating season was
over and the ice had gone out, the spring freshets and flooded bottoms
gave us our great excitement of the year. The channel was never the same
for two successive seasons. Every spring the swollen stream undermined a
bluff to the east, or bit out a few acres of cornfield to the west and
whirled the soil away, to deposit it in spumy mud banks somewhere else.
When the water fell low in midsummer, new sand bars were thus exposed to
dry and whiten in the August sun. Sometimes these were banked so firmly
that the fury of the next freshet failed to unseat them; the little willow
seedlings emerged triumphantly from the yellow froth, broke into spring
leaf, shot up into summer growth, and with their mesh of roots bound
together the moist sand beneath them against the batterings of another
April. Here and there a cottonwood soon glittered among them, quivering in
the low current of air that, even on breathless days when the dust hung
like smoke above the wagon road, trembled along the face of the water.
It was on such an island, in the third summer of its yellow green, that we
built our watch fire; not in the thicket of dancing willow wands, but on
the level terrace of fine sand which had been added that spring; a little
new bit of world, beautifully ridged with ripple marks, and strewn with
the tiny skeletons of turtles and fish, all as white and dry as if they
had been expertly cured. We had been careful not to mar the freshness of
the place, although we often swam to it on summer evenings and lay on the
sand to rest.
This was our last watch fire of the year, and there were reasons why I
should remember it better than any of the others. Next week the other boys
were to file back to their old places in the Sandtown High School, but I
was to go up to the Divide to teach my first country school in the
Norwegian district. I was already homesick at the thought of quitting the
boys with whom I had always played; of leaving the river, and going up
into a windy plain that was all windmills and cornfields and big pastures;
where there was nothing wilful or unmanageable in the landscape, no new
islands, and no chance of unfamiliar birds—such as often followed
Other boys came and went and used the river for fishing or skating, but we
six were sworn to the spirit of the stream, and we were friends mainly
because of the river. There were the two Hassler boys, Fritz and Otto,
sons of the little German tailor. They were the youngest of us; ragged
boys of ten and twelve, with sunburned hair, weather-stained faces, and
pale blue eyes. Otto, the elder, was the best mathematician in school, and
clever at his books, but he always dropped out in the spring term as if
the river could not get on without him. He and Fritz caught the fat,
horned catfish and sold them about the town, and they lived so much in the
water that they were as brown and sandy as the river itself.
There was Percy Pound, a fat, freckled boy with chubby cheeks, who took
half a dozen boys' story-papers and was always being kept in for reading
detective stories behind his desk. There was Tip Smith, destined by his
freckles and red hair to be the buffoon in all our games, though he walked
like a timid little old man and had a funny, cracked laugh. Tip worked
hard in his father's grocery store every afternoon, and swept it out
before school in the morning. Even his recreations were laborious. He
collected cigarette cards and tin tobacco-tags indefatigably, and would
sit for hours humped up over a snarling little scroll-saw which he kept in
his attic. His dearest possessions were some little pill bottles that
purported to contain grains of wheat from the Holy Land, water from the
Jordan and the Dead Sea, and earth from the Mount of Olives. His father
had bought these dull things from a Baptist missionary who peddled them,
and Tip seemed to derive great satisfaction from their remote origin.
The tall boy was Arthur Adams. He had fine hazel eyes that were almost too
reflective and sympathetic for a boy, and such a pleasant voice that we
all loved to hear him read aloud. Even when he had to read poetry aloud at
school, no one ever thought of laughing. To be sure, he was not at school
very much of the time. He was seventeen and should have finished the High
School the year before, but he was always off somewhere with his gun.
Arthur's mother was dead, and his father, who was feverishly absorbed in
promoting schemes, wanted to send the boy away to school and get him off
his hands; but Arthur always begged off for another year and promised to
study. I remember him as a tall, brown boy with an intelligent face,
always lounging among a lot of us little fellows, laughing at us oftener
than with us, but such a soft, satisfied laugh that we felt rather
flattered when we provoked it. In after-years people said that Arthur had
been given to evil ways as a lad, and it is true that we often saw him
with the gambler's sons and with old Spanish Fanny's boy, but if he
learned anything ugly in their company he never betrayed it to us. We
would have followed Arthur anywhere, and I am bound to say that he led us
into no worse places than the cattail marshes and the stubble fields.
These, then, were the boys who camped with me that summer night upon the
After we finished our supper we beat the willow thicket for driftwood. By
the time we had collected enough, night had fallen, and the pungent, weedy
smell from the shore increased with the coolness. We threw ourselves down
about the fire and made another futile effort to show Percy Pound the
Little Dipper. We had tried it often before, but he could never be got
past the big one.
"You see those three big stars just below the handle, with the bright one
in the middle?" said Otto Hassler; "that's Orion's belt, and the bright
one is the clasp." I crawled behind Otto's shoulder and sighted up his arm
to the star that seemed perched upon the tip of his steady forefinger. The
Hassler boys did seine-fishing at night, and they knew a good many stars.
Percy gave up the Little Dipper and lay back on the sand, his hands
clasped under his head. "I can see the North Star," he announced,
contentedly, pointing toward it with his big toe. "Anyone might get lost
and need to know that."
We all looked up at it.
"How do you suppose Columbus felt when his compass didn't point north any
more?" Tip asked.
Otto shook his head. "My father says that there was another North Star
once, and that maybe this one won't last always. I wonder what would
happen to us down here if anything went wrong with it?"
Arthur chuckled. "I wouldn't worry, Ott. Nothing's apt to happen to it in
your time. Look at the Milky Way! There must be lots of good dead
We lay back and looked, meditating, at the dark cover of the world. The
gurgle of the water had become heavier. We had often noticed a mutinous,
complaining note in it at night, quite different from its cheerful daytime
chuckle, and seeming like the voice of a much deeper and more powerful
stream. Our water had always these two moods: the one of sunny
complaisance, the other of inconsolable, passionate regret.
"Queer how the stars are all in sort of diagrams," remarked Otto. "You
could do most any proposition in geometry with 'em. They always look as if
they meant something. Some folks say everybody's fortune is all written
out in the stars, don't they?"
"They believe so in the old country," Fritz affirmed.
But Arthur only laughed at him. "You're thinking of Napoleon, Fritzey. He
had a star that went out when he began to lose battles. I guess the stars
don't keep any close tally on Sandtown folks."
We were speculating on how many times we could count a hundred before the
evening star went down behind the cornfields, when someone cried, "There
comes the moon, and it's as big as a cart wheel!"
We all jumped up to greet it as it swam over the bluffs behind us. It came
up like a galleon in full sail; an enormous, barbaric thing, red as an
angry heathen god.
"When the moon came up red like that, the Aztecs used to sacrifice their
prisoners on the temple top," Percy announced.
"Go on, Perce. You got that out of Golden Days. Do you believe
that, Arthur?" I appealed.
Arthur answered, quite seriously: "Like as not. The moon was one of their
gods. When my father was in Mexico City he saw the stone where they used
to sacrifice their prisoners."
As we dropped down by the fire again some one asked whether the
Mound-Builders were older than the Aztecs. When we once got upon the
Mound-Builders we never willingly got away from them, and we were still
conjecturing when we heard a loud splash in the water.
"Must have been a big cat jumping," said Fritz. "They do sometimes. They
must see bugs in the dark. Look what a track the moon makes!"
There was a long, silvery streak on the water, and where the current
fretted over a big log it boiled up like gold pieces.
"Suppose there ever was any gold hid away in this old river?" Fritz
asked. He lay like a little brown Indian, close to the fire, his chin on
his hand and his bare feet in the air. His brother laughed at him, but
Arthur took his suggestion seriously.
"Some of the Spaniards thought there was gold up here somewhere. Seven
cities chuck full of gold, they had it, and Coronado and his men came up
to hunt it. The Spaniards were all over this country once."
Percy looked interested. "Was that before the Mormons went through?"
We all laughed at this.
"Long enough before. Before the Pilgrim Fathers, Perce. Maybe they came
along this very river. They always followed the watercourses."
"I wonder where this river really does begin?" Tip mused. That was an old
and a favorite mystery which the map did not clearly explain. On the map
the little black line stopped somewhere in western Kansas; but since
rivers generally rose in mountains, it was only reasonable to suppose that
ours came from the Rockies. Its destination, we knew, was the Missouri,
and the Hassler boys always maintained that we could embark at Sandtown in
floodtime, follow our noses, and eventually arrive at New Orleans. Now
they took up their old argument. "If us boys had grit enough to try it, it
wouldn't take no time to get to Kansas City and St. Joe."
We began to talk about the places we wanted to go to. The Hassler boys
wanted to see the stockyards in Kansas City, and Percy wanted to see a big
store in Chicago. Arthur was interlocutor and did not betray himself.
"Now it's your turn, Tip."
Tip rolled over on his elbow and poked the fire, and his eyes looked shyly
out of his queer, tight little face. "My place is awful far away. My Uncle
Bill told me about it."
Tip's Uncle Bill was a wanderer, bitten with mining fever, who had drifted
into Sandtown with a broken arm, and when it was well had drifted out
"Where is it?"
"Aw, it's down in New Mexico somewheres. There aren't no railroads or
anything. You have to go on mules, and you run out of water before you get
there and have to drink canned tomatoes."
"Well, go on, kid. What's it like when you do get there?"
Tip sat up and excitedly began his story.
"There's a big red rock there that goes right up out of the sand for about
nine hundred feet. The country's flat all around it, and this here rock
goes up all by itself, like a monument. They call it the Enchanted Bluff
down there, because no white man has ever been on top of it. The sides are
smooth rock, and straight up, like a wall. The Indians say that hundreds
of years ago, before the Spaniards came, there was a village away up there
in the air. The tribe that lived there had some sort of steps, made out of
wood and bark, bung down over the face of the bluff, and the braves went
down to hunt and carried water up in big jars swung on their backs. They
kept a big supply of water and dried meat up there, and never went down
except to hunt. They were a peaceful tribe that made cloth and pottery,
and they went up there to get out of the wars. You see, they could pick
off any war party that tried to get up their little steps. The Indians say
they were a handsome people, and they had some sort of queer religion.
Uncle Bill thinks they were Cliff-Dwellers who had got into trouble and
left home. They weren't fighters, anyhow.
"One time the braves were down hunting and an awful storm came up—a
kind of waterspout—and when they got back to their rock they found
their little staircase had been all broken to pieces, and only a few steps
were left hanging away up in the air. While they were camped at the foot
of the rock, wondering what to do, a war party from the north came along
and massacred 'em to a man, with all the old folks and women looking on
from the rock. Then the war party went on south and left the village to
get down the best way they could. Of course they never got down. They
starved to death up there, and when the war party came back on their way
north, they could hear the children crying from the edge of the bluff
where they had crawled out, but they didn't see a sign of a grown Indian,
and nobody has ever been up there since."
We exclaimed at this dolorous legend and sat up.
"There couldn't have been many people up there," Percy demurred. "How big
is the top, Tip?"
"Oh, pretty big. Big enough so that the rock doesn't look nearly as tall
as it is. The top's bigger than the base. The bluff is sort of worn away
for several hundred feet up. That's one reason it's so hard to climb."
I asked how the Indians got up, in the first place.
"Nobody knows how they got up or when. A hunting party came along once and
saw that there was a town up there, and that was all."
Otto rubbed his chin and looked thoughtful. "Of course there must be some
way to get up there. Couldn't people get a rope over someway and pull a
Tip's little eyes were shining with excitement. "I know a way. Me and
Uncle Bill talked it over. There's a kind of rocket that would take a rope
over—lifesavers use 'em—and then you could hoist a rope ladder
and peg it down at the bottom and make it tight with guy ropes on the
other side. I'm going to climb that there bluff, and I've got it all
Fritz asked what he expected to find when he got up there.
"Bones, maybe, or the ruins of their town, or pottery, or some of their
idols. There might be 'most anything up there. Anyhow, I want to see."
"Sure nobody else has been up there, Tip?" Arthur asked.
"Dead sure. Hardly anybody ever goes down there. Some hunters tried to cut
steps in the rock once, but they didn't get higher than a man can reach.
The Bluff's all red granite, and Uncle Bill thinks it's a boulder the
glaciers left. It's a queer place, anyhow. Nothing but cactus and desert
for hundreds of miles, and yet right under the Bluff there's good water
and plenty of grass. That's why the bison used to go down there."
Suddenly we heard a scream above our fire, and jumped up to see a dark,
slim bird floating southward far above us—a whooping crane, we knew
by her cry and her long neck. We ran to the edge of the island, hoping we
might see her alight, but she wavered southward along the rivercourse
until we lost her. The Hassler boys declared that by the look of the
heavens it must be after midnight, so we threw more wood on our fire, put
on our jackets, and curled down in the warm sand. Several of us pretended
to doze, but I fancy we were really thinking about Tip's Bluff and the
extinct people. Over in the wood the ring doves were calling mournfully to
one another, and once we heard a dog bark, far away. "Somebody getting
into old Tommy's melon patch," Fritz murmured sleepily, but nobody
answered him. By and by Percy spoke out of the shadows.
"Say, Tip, when you go down there will you take me with you?"
"Suppose one of us beats you down there, Tip?"
"Whoever gets to the Bluff first has got to promise to tell the rest of us
exactly what he finds," remarked one of the Hassler boys, and to this we
all readily assented.
Somewhat reassured, I dropped off to sleep. I must have dreamed about a
race for the Bluff, for I awoke in a kind of fear that other people were
getting ahead of me and that I was losing my chance. I sat up in my damp
clothes and looked at the other boys, who lay tumbled in uneasy attitudes
about the dead fire. It was still dark, but the sky was blue with the last
wonderful azure of night. The stars glistened like crystal globes, and
trembled as if they shone through a depth of clear water. Even as I
watched, they began to pale and the sky brightened. Day came suddenly,
almost instantaneously. I turned for another look at the blue night, and
it was gone. Everywhere the birds began to call, and all manner of little
insects began to chirp and hop about in the willows. A breeze sprang up
from the west and brought the heavy smell of ripened corn. The boys rolled
over and shook themselves. We stripped and plunged into the river just as
the sun came up over the windy bluffs.
When I came home to Sandtown at Christmas time, we skated out to our
island and talked over the whole project of the Enchanted Bluff, renewing
our resolution to find it.
Although that was twenty years ago, none of us have ever climbed the
Enchanted Bluff. Percy Pound is a stockbroker in Kansas City and will go
nowhere that his red touring car cannot carry him. Otto Hassler went on
the railroad and lost his foot braking; after which he and Fritz succeeded
their father as the town tailors.
Arthur sat about the sleepy little town all his life—he died before
he was twenty-five. The last time I saw him, when I was home on one of my
college vacations, he was sitting in a steamer chair under a cottonwood
tree in the little yard behind one of the two Sandtown saloons. He was
very untidy and his hand was not steady, but when he rose, unabashed, to
greet me, his eyes were as clear and warm as ever. When I had talked with
him for an hour and heard him laugh again, I wondered how it was that when
Nature had taken such pains with a man, from his hands to the arch of his
long foot, she had ever lost him in Sandtown. He joked about Tip Smith's
Bluff, and declared he was going down there just as soon as the weather
got cooler; he thought the Grand Canyon might be worth while, too.
I was perfectly sure when I left him that he would never get beyond the
high plank fence and the comfortable shade of the cottonwood. And, indeed,
it was under that very tree that he died one summer morning.
Tip Smith still talks about going to New Mexico. He married a slatternly,
unthrifty country girl, has been much tied to a perambulator, and has
grown stooped and grey from irregular meals and broken sleep. But the
worst of his difficulties are now over, and he has, as he says, come into
easy water. When I was last in Sandtown I walked home with him late one
moonlight night, after he had balanced his cash and shut up his store. We
took the long way around and sat down on the schoolhouse steps, and
between us we quite revived the romance of the lone red rock and the
extinct people. Tip insists that he still means to go down there, but he
thinks now he will wait until his boy Bert is old enough to go with him.
Bert has been let into the story, and thinks of nothing but the Enchanted
The Bohemian Girl
The transcontinental express swung along the windings of the Sand River
Valley, and in the rear seat of the observation car a young man sat
greatly at his ease, not in the least discomfited by the fierce sunlight
which beat in upon his brown face and neck and strong back. There was a
look of relaxation and of great passivity about his broad shoulders, which
seemed almost too heavy until he stood up and squared them. He wore a pale
flannel shirt and a blue silk necktie with loose ends. His trousers were
wide and belted at the waist, and his short sack coat hung open. His heavy
shoes had seen good service. His reddish-brown hair, like his clothes, had
a foreign cut. He had deep-set, dark blue eyes under heavy reddish
eyebrows. His face was kept clean only by close shaving, and even the
sharpest razor left a glint of yellow in the smooth brown of his skin. His
teeth and the palms of his hands were very white. His head, which looked
hard and stubborn, lay indolently in the green cushion of the wicker
chair, and as he looked out at the ripe summer country a teasing, not
unkindly smile played over his lips. Once, as he basked thus comfortably,
a quick light flashed in his eyes, curiously dilating the pupils, and his
mouth became a hard, straight line, gradually relaxing into its former
smile of rather kindly mockery. He told himself, apparently, that there
was no point in getting excited; and he seemed a master hand at taking his
ease when he could. Neither the sharp whistle of the locomotive nor the
brakeman's call disturbed him. It was not until after the train had
stopped that he rose, put on a Panama hat, took from the rack a small
valise and a flute case, and stepped deliberately to the station platform.
The baggage was already unloaded, and the stranger presented a check for a
battered sole-leather steamer trunk.
"Can you keep it here for a day or two?" he asked the agent. "I may send
for it, and I may not."
"Depends on whether you like the country, I suppose?" demanded the agent
in a challenging tone.
The agent shrugged his shoulders, looked scornfully at the small trunk,
which was marked "N.E.," and handed out a claim check without further
comment. The stranger watched him as he caught one end of the trunk and
dragged it into the express room. The agent's manner seemed to remind him
of something amusing. "Doesn't seem to be a very big place," he remarked,
"It's big enough for us," snapped the agent, as he banged the trunk into a
That remark, apparently, was what Nils Ericson had wanted. He chuckled
quietly as he took a leather strap from his pocket and swung his valise
around his shoulder. Then he settled his Panama securely on his head,
turned up his trousers, tucked the flute case under his arm, and started
off across the fields. He gave the town, as he would have said, a wide
berth, and cut through a great fenced pasture, emerging, when he rolled
under the barbed wire at the farther corner, upon a white dusty road which
ran straight up from the river valley to the high prairies, where the ripe
wheat stood yellow and the tin roofs and weathercocks were twinkling in
the fierce sunlight. By the time Nils had done three miles, the sun was
sinking and the farm wagons on their way home from town came rattling by,
covering him with dust and making him sneeze. When one of the farmers
pulled up and offered to give him a lift, he clambered in willingly. The
driver was a thin, grizzled old man with a long lean neck and a foolish
sort of beard, like a goat's. "How fur ye goin'?" he asked, as he clucked
to his horses and started off.
"Do you go by the Ericson place?"
"Which Ericson?" The old man drew in his reins as if he expected to stop
"Oh, the Old Lady Ericson's!" He turned and looked at Nils. "La, me! If
you're goin' out there you might a' rid out in the automobile. That's a
pity, now. The Old Lady Ericson was in town with her auto. You might 'a'
heard it snortin' anywhere about the post-office er the butcher shop."
"Has she a motor?" asked the stranger absently.
"'Deed an' she has! She runs into town every night about this time for her
mail and meat for supper. Some folks say she's afraid her auto won't get
exercise enough, but I say that's jealousy."
"Aren't there any other motors about here?"
"Oh, yes! we have fourteen in all. But nobody else gets around like the
Old Lady Ericson. She's out, rain er shine, over the whole county,
chargin' into town and out amongst her farms, an' up to her sons' places.
Sure you ain't goin' to the wrong place?" He craned his neck and looked at
Nils' flute case with eager curiosity. "The old woman ain't got any piany
that I knows on. Olaf, he has a grand. His wife's musical: took lessons in
"I'm going up there tomorrow," said Nils imperturbably. He saw that the
driver took him for a piano tuner.
"Oh, I see!" The old man screwed up his eyes mysteriously. He was a little
dashed by the stranger's noncommunicativeness, but he soon broke out
"I'm one o' Miss Ericson's tenants. Look after one of her places. I did
own the place myself once, but I lost it a while back, in the bad years
just after the World's Fair. Just as well, too, I say. Lets you out o'
payin' taxes. The Ericsons do own most of the county now. I remember the
old preacher's favorite text used to be, 'To them that hath shall be
given.' They've spread something wonderful—run over this here
country like bindweed. But I ain't one that begretches it to 'em. Folks is
entitled to what they kin git; and they're hustlers. Olaf, he's in the
Legislature now, and a likely man fur Congress. Listen, if that ain't the
old woman comin' now. Want I should stop her?"
Nils shook his head. He heard the deep chug-chug of a motor vibrating
steadily in the clear twilight behind them. The pale lights of the car
swam over the hill, and the old man slapped his reins and turned clear out
of the road, ducking his head at the first of three angry snorts from
behind. The motor was running at a hot, even speed, and passed without
turning an inch from its course. The driver was a stalwart woman who sat
at ease in the front seat and drove her car bareheaded. She left a cloud
of dust and a trail of gasoline behind her. Her tenant threw back his head
"Whew! I sometimes say I'd as lief be before Mrs. Ericson as behind
her. She does beat all! Nearly seventy, and never lets another soul touch
that car. Puts it into commission herself every morning, and keeps it
tuned up by the hitch-bar all day. I never stop work for a drink o' water
that I don't hear her a-churnin' up the road. I reckon her darter-in-laws
never sets down easy nowadays. Never know when she'll pop in. Mis' Otto,
she says to me: 'We're so afraid that thing'll blow up and do Ma some
injury yet, she's so turrible venturesome.' Says I: 'I wouldn't stew, Mis'
Otto; the old lady'll drive that car to the funeral of every darter-in-law
she's got.' That was after the old woman had jumped a turrible bad
The stranger heard vaguely what the old man was saying. Just now he was
experiencing something very much like homesickness, and he was wondering
what had brought it about. The mention of a name or two, perhaps; the
rattle of a wagon along a dusty road; the rank, resinous smell of
sunflowers and ironweed, which the night damp brought up from the draws
and low places; perhaps, more than all, the dancing lights of the motor
that had plunged by. He squared his shoulders with a comfortable sense of
The wagon, as it jolted westward, climbed a pretty steady up-grade. The
country, receding from the rough river valley, swelled more and more
gently, as if it had been smoothed out by the wind. On one of the last of
the rugged ridges, at the end of a branch road, stood a grim square house
with a tin roof and double porches. Behind the house stretched a row of
broken, wind-racked poplars, and down the hill slope to the left straggled
the sheds and stables. The old man stopped his horses where the Ericsons'
road branched across a dry sand creek that wound about the foot of the
"That's the old lady's place. Want I should drive in?" "No, thank you.
I'll roll out here. Much obliged to you. Good night."
His passenger stepped down over the front wheel, and the old man drove on
reluctantly, looking back as if he would like to see how the stranger
would be received.
As Nils was crossing the dry creek he heard the restive tramp of a horse
coming toward him down the hill. Instantly he flashed out of the road and
stood behind a thicket of wild plum bushes that grew in the sandy bed.
Peering through the dusk, he saw a light horse, under tight rein,
descending the hill at a sharp walk. The rider was a slender woman—barely
visible against the dark hillside—wearing an old-fashioned derby hat
and a long riding skirt. She sat lightly in the saddle, with her chin
high, and seemed to be looking into the distance. As she passed the plum
thicket her horse snuffed the air and shied. She struck him, pulling him
in sharply, with an angry exclamation, "Blazne!" in Bohemian. Once
in the main road, she let him out into a lope, and they soon emerged upon
the crest of high land, where they moved along the skyline, silhouetted
against the band of faint colour that lingered in the west. This horse and
rider, with their free, rhythmical gallop, were the only moving things to
be seen on the face of the flat country. They seemed, in the last sad
light of evening, not to be there accidentally, but as an inevitable
detail of the landscape.
Nils watched them until they had shrunk to a mere moving speck against the
sky, then he crossed the sand creek and climbed the hill. When he reached
the gate the front of the house was dark, but a light was shining from the
side windows. The pigs were squealing in the hog corral, and Nils could
see a tall boy, who carried two big wooden buckets, moving about among
them. Halfway between the barn and the house, the windmill wheezed lazily.
Following the path that ran around to the back porch, Nils stopped to look
through the screen door into the lamplit kitchen. The kitchen was the
largest room in the house; Nils remembered that his older brothers used to
give dances there when he was a boy. Beside the stove stood a little girl
with two light yellow braids and a broad, flushed face, peering anxiously
into a frying pan. In the dining-room beyond, a large, broad-shouldered
woman was moving about the table. She walked with an active, springy step.
Her face was heavy and florid, almost without wrinkles, and her hair was
black at seventy. Nils felt proud of her as he watched her deliberate
activity; never a momentary hesitation, or a movement that did not tell.
He waited until she came out into the kitchen and, brushing the child
aside, took her place at the stove. Then he tapped on the screen door and
"It's nobody but Nils, Mother. I expect you weren't looking for me."
Mrs. Ericson turned away from the stove and stood staring at him. "Bring
the lamp, Hilda, and let me look."
Nils laughed and unslung his valise. "What's the matter, Mother? Don't you
Mrs. Ericson put down the lamp. "You must be Nils. You don't look very
"Nor you, Mother. You hold your own. Don't you wear glasses yet?"
"Only to read by. Where's your trunk, Nils?"
"Oh, I left that in town. I thought it might not be convenient for you to
have company so near threshing-time."
"Don't be foolish, Nils." Mrs. Ericson turned back to the stove. "I don't
thresh now. I hitched the wheat land onto the next farm and have a tenant.
Hilda, take some hot water up to the company room, and go call little
The tow-haired child, who had been standing in mute amazement, took up the
tea-kettle and withdrew, giving Nils a long, admiring look from the door
of the kitchen stairs.
"Who's the youngster?" Nils asked, dropping down on the bench behind the
"One of your Cousin Henrik's."
"How long has Cousin Henrik been dead?"
"Six years. There are two boys. One stays with Peter and one with Anders.
Olaf is their guardeen."
There was a clatter of pails on the porch, and a tall, lanky boy peered
wonderingly in through the screen door. He had a fair, gentle face and big
grey eyes, and wisps of soft yellow hair hung down under his cap. Nils
sprang up and pulled him into the kitchen, hugging him and slapping him on
the shoulders. "Well, if it isn't my kid! Look at the size of him! Don't
you know me, Eric?"
The boy reddened tinder his sunburn and freckles, and hung his head. "I
guess it's Nils," he said shyly.
"You're a good guesser," laughed Nils giving the lad's hand a swing. To
himself he was thinking: "That's why the little girl looked so friendly.
He's taught her to like me. He was only six when I went away, and he's
remembered for twelve years."
Eric stood fumbling with his cap and smiling. "You look just like I
thought you would," he ventured.
"Go wash your hands, Eric," called Mrs. Ericson. "I've got cob corn for
supper, Nils. You used to like it. I guess you don't get much of that in
the old country. Here's Hilda; she'll take you up to your room. You'll
want to get the dust off you before you eat."
Mrs. Ericson went into the dining-room to lay another plate, and the
little girl came up and nodded to Nils as if to let him know that his room
was ready. He put out his hand and she took it, with a startled glance up
at his face. Little Eric dropped his towel, threw an arm about Nils and
one about Hilda, gave them a clumsy squeeze, and then stumbled out to the
During supper Nils heard exactly how much land each of his eight grown
brothers farmed, how their crops were coming on, and how much livestock
they were feeding. His mother watched him narrowly as she talked. "You've
got better looking, Nils," she remarked abruptly, whereupon he grinned and
the children giggled. Eric, although he was eighteen and as tall as Nils,
was always accounted a child, being the last of so many sons. His face
seemed childlike, too, Nils thought, and he had the open, wandering eyes
of a little boy. All the others had been men at his age.
After supper Nils went out to the front porch and sat down on the step to
smoke a pipe. Mrs. Ericson drew a rocking-chair up near him and began to
knit busily. It was one of the few Old World customs she had kept up, for
she could not bear to sit with idle hands.
"Where's little Eric, Mother?"
"He's helping Hilda with the dishes. He does it of his own will; I don't
like a boy to be too handy about the house."
"He seems like a nice kid."
"He's very obedient."
Nils smiled a little in the dark. It was just as well to shift the line of
conversation. "What are you knitting there, Mother?"
"Baby stockings. The boys keep me busy." Mrs. Ericson chuckled and clicked
"How many grandchildren have you?"
"Only thirty-one now. Olaf lost his three. They were sickly, like their
"I supposed he had a second crop by this time!"
"His second wife has no children. She's too proud. She tears about on
horseback all the time. But she'll get caught up with, yet. She sets
herself very high, though nobody knows what for. They were low enough
Bohemians she came of. I never thought much of Bohemians; always
Nils puffed away at his pipe in silence, and Mrs. Ericson knitted on. In a
few moments she added grimly: "She was down here tonight, just before you
came. She'd like to quarrel with me and come between me and Olaf, but I
don't give her the chance. I suppose you'll be bringing a wife home some
"I don't know. I've never thought much about it."
"Well, perhaps it's best as it is," suggested Mrs. Ericson hopefully.
"You'd never be contented tied down to the land. There was roving blood in
your father's family, and it's come out in you. I expect your own way of
life suits you best." Mrs. Ericson had dropped into a blandly agreeable
tone which Nils well remembered. It seemed to amuse him a good deal and
his white teeth flashed behind his pipe. His mother's strategies had
always diverted him, even when he was a boy—they were so flimsy and
patent, so illy proportioned to her vigor and force. "They've been waiting
to see which way I'd jump," he reflected. He felt that Mrs. Ericson was
pondering his case deeply as she sat clicking her needles.
"I don't suppose you've ever got used to steady work," she went on
presently. "Men ain't apt to if they roam around too long. It's a pity you
didn't come back the year after the World's Fair. Your father picked up a
good bit of land cheap then, in the hard times, and I expect maybe he'd
have give you a farm, it's too bad you put off comin' back so long, for I
always thought he meant to do something by you."
Nils laughed and shook the ashes out of his pipe. "I'd have missed a lot
if I had come back then. But I'm sorry I didn't get back to see father."
"Well, I suppose we have to miss things at one end or the other. Perhaps
you are as well satisfied with your own doings, now, as you'd have been
with a farm," said Mrs. Ericson reassuringly.
"Land's a good thing to have," Nils commented, as he lit another match and
sheltered it with his hand.
His mother looked sharply at his face until the match burned out. "Only
when you stay on it!" she hastened to say.
Eric came round the house by the path just then, and Nils rose, with a
yawn. "Mother, if you don't mind, Eric and I will take a little tramp
before bedtime. It will make me sleep."
"Very well; only don't stay long. I'll sit up and wait for you. I like to
lock up myself."
Nils put his hand on Eric's shoulder, and the two tramped down the hill
and across the sand creek into the dusty highroad beyond. Neither spoke.
They swung along at an even gait, Nils puffing at his pipe. There was no
moon, and the white road and the wide fields lay faint in the starlight.
Over everything was darkness and thick silence, and the smell of dust and
sunflowers. The brothers followed the road for a mile or more without
finding a place to sit down. Finally, Nils perched on a stile over the
wire fence, and Eric sat on the lower step.
"I began to think you never would come back, Nils," said the boy softly.
"Didn't I promise you I would?"
"Yes; but people don't bother about promises they make to babies. Did you
really know you were going away for good when you went to Chicago with the
cattle that time?"
"I thought it very likely, if I could make my way."
"I don't see how you did it, Nils. Not many fellows could." Eric rubbed
his shoulder against his brother's knee.
"The hard thing was leaving home you and father. It was easy enough, once
I got beyond Chicago. Of course I got awful homesick; used to cry myself
to sleep. But I'd burned my bridges."
"You had always wanted to go, hadn't you?"
"Always. Do you still sleep in our little room? Is that cottonwood still
by the window?"
Eric nodded eagerly and smiled up at his brother in the grey darkness.
"You remember how we always said the leaves were whispering when they
rustled at night? Well, they always whispered to me about the sea.
Sometimes they said names out of the geography books. In a high wind they
had a desperate sound, like someone trying to tear loose."
"How funny, Nils," said Eric dreamily, resting his chin on his hand. "That
tree still talks like that, and 'most always it talks to me about you."
They sat a while longer, watching the stars. At last Eric whispered
anxiously: "Hadn't we better go back now? Mother will get tired waiting
for us." They rose and took a short cut home, through the pasture.
The next morning Nils woke with the first flood of light that came with
dawn. The white-plastered walls of his room reflected the glare that shone
through the thin window shades, and he found it impossible to sleep. He
dressed hurriedly and slipped down the hall and up the back stairs to the
half-story room which he used to share with his little brother. Eric, in a
skimpy nightshirt, was sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes,
his pale yellow hair standing up in tufts all over his head. When he saw
Nils, he murmured something confusedly and hustled his long legs into his
trousers. "I didn't expect you'd be up so early, Nils," he said, as his
head emerged from his blue shirt.
"Oh, you thought I was a dude, did you?" Nils gave him a playful tap which
bent the tall boy up like a clasp knife. "See here: I must teach you to
box." Nils thrust his hands into his pockets and walked about. "You
haven't changed things much up here. Got most of my old traps, haven't
He took down a bent, withered piece of sapling that hung over the dresser.
"If this isn't the stick Lou Sandberg killed himself with!"
The boy looked up from his shoe-lacing.
"Yes; you never used to let me play with that. Just how did he do it,
Nils? You were with father when he found Lou, weren't you?"
"Yes. Father was going off to preach somewhere, and, as we drove along,
Lou's place looked sort of forlorn, and we thought we'd stop and cheer him
up. When we found him father said he'd been dead a couple days. He'd tied
a piece of binding twine round his neck, made a noose in each end, fixed
the nooses over the ends of a bent stick, and let the stick spring
straight; strangled himself."
"What made him kill himself such a silly way?"
The simplicity of the boy's question set Nils laughing. He clapped little
Eric on the shoulder. "What made him such a silly as to kill himself at
all, I should say!"
"Oh, well! But his hogs had the cholera, and all up and died on him,
"Sure they did; but he didn't have cholera; and there were plenty of hogs
left in the world, weren't there?"
"Well, but, if they weren't his, how could they do him any good?" Eric
asked, in astonishment.
"Oh, scat! He could have had lots of fun with other people's hogs. He was
a chump, Lou Sandberg. To kill yourself for a pig—think of that,
now!" Nils laughed all the way downstairs, and quite embarrassed little
Eric, who fell to scrubbing his face and hands at the tin basin. While he
was parting his wet hair at the kitchen looking glass, a heavy tread
sounded on the stairs. The boy dropped his comb. "Gracious, there's
Mother. We must have talked too long." He hurried out to the shed, slipped
on his overalls, and disappeared with the milking pails.
Mrs. Ericson came in, wearing a clean white apron, her black hair shining
from the application of a wet brush.
"Good morning, Mother. Can't I make the fire for you?"
"No, thank you, Nils. It's no trouble to make a cob fire, and I like to
manage the kitchen stove myself" Mrs. Ericson paused with a shovel full of
ashes in her hand. "I expect you will be wanting to see your brothers as
soon as possible. I'll take you up to Anders' place this morning. He's
threshing, and most of our boys are over there."
"Will Olaf be there?"
Mrs. Ericson went on taking out the ashes, and spoke between shovels. "No;
Olaf's wheat is all in, put away in his new barn. He got six thousand
bushel this year. He's going to town today to get men to finish roofing
"So Olaf is building a new barn?" Nils asked absently.
"Biggest one in the county, and almost done. You'll likely be here for the
barn-raising. He's going to have a supper and a dance as soon as
everybody's done threshing. Says it keeps the voters in good humour. I
tell him that's all nonsense; but Olaf has a head for politics."
"Does Olaf farm all Cousin Henrik's land?"
Mrs. Ericson frowned as she blew into the faint smoke curling up about the
cobs. "Yes; he holds it in trust for the children, Hilda and her brothers.
He keeps strict account of everything he raises on it, and puts the
proceeds out at compound interest for them."
Nils smiled as he watched the little flames shoot up. The door of the back
stairs opened, and Hilda emerged, her arms behind her, buttoning up her
long gingham apron as she came. He nodded to her gaily, and she twinkled
at him out of her little blue eyes, set far apart over her wide
"There, Hilda, you grind the coffee—and just put in an extra
handful; I expect your Cousin Nils likes his strong," said Mrs. Ericson,
as she went out to the shed.
Nils turned to look at the little girl, who gripped the coffee grinder
between her knees and ground so hard that her two braids bobbed and her
face flushed under its broad spattering of freckles. He noticed on her
middle finger something that had not been there last night, and that had
evidently been put on for company: a tiny gold ring with a clumsily set
garnet stone. As her hand went round and round he touched the ring with
the tip of his finger, smiling.
Hilda glanced toward the shed door through which Mrs. Ericson had
disappeared. "My Cousin Clara gave me that," she whispered bashfully.
"She's Cousin Olaf's wife."
Mrs. Olaf Ericson—Clara Vavrika, as many people still called her—was
moving restlessly about her big bare house that morning. Her husband had
left for the county town before his wife was out of bed—her lateness
in rising was one of the many things the Ericson family had against her.
Clara seldom came downstairs before eight o'clock, and this morning she
was even later, for she had dressed with unusual care. She put on,
however, only a tight-fitting black dress, which people thereabouts
thought very plain. She was a tall, dark woman of thirty, with a rather
sallow complexion and a touch of dull salmon red in her cheeks, where the
blood seemed to burn under her brown skin. Her hair, parted evenly above
her low forehead, was so black that there were distinctly blue lights in
it. Her black eyebrows were delicate half-moons and her lashes were long
and heavy. Her eyes slanted a little, as if she had a strain of Tartar or
gypsy blood, and were sometimes full of fiery determination and sometimes
dull and opaque. Her expression was never altogether amiable; was often,
indeed, distinctly sullen, or, when she was animated, sarcastic. She was
most attractive in profile, for then one saw to advantage her small,
well-shaped head and delicate ears, and felt at once that here was a very
positive, if not an altogether pleasing, personality.
The entire management of Mrs. Olaf's household devolved upon her aunt,
Johanna Vavrika, a superstitious, doting woman of fifty. When Clara was a
little girl her mother died, and Johanna's life had been spent in
ungrudging service to her niece. Clara, like many self-willed and
discontented persons, was really very apt, without knowing it, to do as
other people told her, and to let her destiny be decided for her by
intelligences much below her own. It was her Aunt Johanna who had humoured
and spoiled her in her girlhood, who had got her off to Chicago to study
piano, and who had finally persuaded her to marry Olaf Ericson as the best
match she would be likely to make in that part of the country. Johanna
Vavrika had been deeply scarred by smallpox in the old country. She was
short and fat, homely and jolly and sentimental. She was so broad, and
took such short steps when she walked, that her brother, Joe Vavrika,
always called her his duck. She adored her niece because of her talent,
because of her good looks and masterful ways, but most of all because of
Clara's marriage with Olaf Ericson was Johanna's particular triumph. She
was inordinately proud of Olaf's position, and she found a sufficiently
exciting career in managing Clara's house, in keeping it above the
criticism of the Ericsons, in pampering Olaf to keep him from finding
fault with his wife, and in concealing from every one Clara's domestic
infelicities. While Clara slept of a morning, Johanna Vavrika was bustling
about, seeing that Olaf and the men had their breakfast, and that the
cleaning or the butter-making or the washing was properly begun by the two
girls in the kitchen. Then, at about eight o'clock, she would take Clara's
coffee up to her, and chat with her while she drank it, telling her what
was going on in the house. Old Mrs. Ericson frequently said that her
daughter-in-law would not know what day of the week it was if Johanna did
not tell her every morning. Mrs. Ericson despised and pitied Johanna, but
did not wholly dislike her. The one thing she hated in her daughter-in-law
above everything else was the way in which Clara could come it over
people. It enraged her that the affairs of her son's big, barnlike house
went on as well as they did, and she used to feel that in this world we
have to wait overlong to see the guilty punished. "Suppose Johanna Vavrika
died or got sick?" the old lady used to say to Olaf. "Your wife wouldn't
know where to look for her own dish-cloth." Olaf only shrugged his
shoulders. The fact remained that Johanna did not die, and, although Mrs.
Ericson often told her she was looking poorly, she was never ill. She
seldom left the house, and she slept in a little room off the kitchen. No
Ericson, by night or day, could come prying about there to find fault
without her knowing it. Her one weakness was that she was an incurable
talker, and she sometimes made trouble without meaning to.
This morning Clara was tying a wine-coloured ribbon about her throat when
Johanna appeared with her coffee. After putting the tray on a sewing
table, she began to make Clara's bed, chattering the while in Bohemian.
"Well, Olaf got off early, and the girls are baking. I'm going down
presently to make some poppy-seed bread for Olaf. He asked for prune
preserves at breakfast, and I told him I was out of them, and to bring
some prunes and honey and cloves from town."
Clara poured her coffee. "Ugh! I don't see how men can eat so much sweet
stuff. In the morning, too!"
Her aunt chuckled knowingly. "Bait a bear with honey, as we say in the old
"Was he cross?" her niece asked indifferently.
"Olaf? Oh, no! He was in fine spirits. He's never cross if you know how to
take him. I never knew a man to make so little fuss about bills. I gave
him a list of things to get a yard long, and he didn't say a word; just
folded it up and put it in his pocket."
"I can well believe he didn't say a word," Clara remarked with a shrug.
"Some day he'll forget how to talk."
"Oh, but they say he's a grand speaker in the Legislature. He knows when
to keep quiet. That's why he's got such influence in politics. The people
have confidence in him." Johanna beat up a pillow and held it under her
fat chin while she slipped on the case. Her niece laughed.
"Maybe we could make people believe we were wise, Aunty, if we held our
tongues. Why did you tell Mrs. Ericson that Norman threw me again last
Saturday and turned my foot? She's been talking to Olaf."
Johanna fell into great confusion. "Oh, but, my precious, the old lady
asked for you, and she's always so angry if I can't give an excuse.
Anyhow, she needn't talk; she's always tearing up something with that
motor of hers."
When her aunt clattered down to the kitchen, Clara went to dust the
parlour. Since there was not much there to dust, this did not take very
long. Olaf had built the house new for her before their marriage, but her
interest in furnishing it had been short-lived. It went, indeed, little
beyond a bathtub and her piano. They had disagreed about almost every
other article of furniture, and Clara had said she would rather have her
house empty than full of things she didn't want. The house was set in a
hillside, and the west windows of the parlour looked out above the kitchen
yard thirty feet below. The east windows opened directly into the front
yard. At one of the latter, Clara, while she was dusting, heard a low
whistle. She did not turn at once, but listened intently as she drew her
cloth slowly along the round of a chair. Yes, there it was:
I dreamt that I dwelt in ma-a-arble halls.
She turned and saw Nils Ericson laughing in the sunlight, his hat in his
hand, just outside the window. As she crossed the room he leaned against
the wire screen. "Aren't you at all surprised to see me, Clara Vavrika?"
"No; I was expecting to see you. Mother Ericson telephoned Olaf last night
that you were here."
Nils squinted and gave a long whistle. "Telephoned? That must have been
while Eric and I were out walking. Isn't she enterprising? Lift this
screen, won't you?"
Clara lifted the screen, and Nils swung his leg across the window-sill. As
he stepped into the room she said: "You didn't think you were going to get
ahead of your mother, did you?"
He threw his hat on the piano. "Oh, I do sometimes. You see, I'm ahead of
her now. I'm supposed to be in Anders' wheat-field. But, as we were
leaving, Mother ran her car into a soft place beside the road and sank up
to the hubs. While they were going for the horses to pull her out, I cut
away behind the stacks and escaped." Nils chuckled. Clara's dull eyes lit
up as she looked at him admiringly.
"You've got them guessing already. I don't know what your mother said to
Olaf over the telephone, but be came back looking as if he'd seen a ghost,
and he didn't go to bed until a dreadful hour—ten o'clock, I should
think. He sat out on the porch in the dark like a graven image. It had
been one of his talkative days, too." They both laughed, easily and
lightly, like people who have laughed a great deal together; but they
"Anders and Otto and Peter looked as if they had seen ghosts, too, over in
the threshing field. What's the matter with them all?"
Clara gave him a quick, searching look. "Well, for one thing, they've
always been afraid you have the other will."
Nils looked interested. "The other will?"
"Yes. A later one. They knew your father made another, but they never knew
what he did with it. They almost tore the old house to pieces looking for
it. They always suspected that he carried on a clandestine correspondence
with you, for the one thing he would do was to get his own mail himself.
So they thought he might have sent the new will to you for safekeeping.
The old one, leaving everything to your mother, was made long before you
went away, and it's understood among them that it cuts you out—that
she will leave all the property to the others. Your father made the second
will to prevent that. I've been hoping you had it. It would be such fun to
spring it on them." Clara laughed mirthfully, a thing she did not often do
Nils shook his head reprovingly. "Come, now, you're malicious."
"No, I'm not. But I'd like something to happen to stir them all up, just
for once. There never was such a family for having nothing ever happen to
them but dinner and threshing. I'd almost be willing to die, just to have
a funeral. You wouldn't stand it for three weeks."
Nils bent over the piano and began pecking at the keys with the finger of
one hand. "I wouldn't? My dear young lady, how do you know what I can
stand? You wouldn't wait to find out."
Clara flushed darkly and frowned. "I didn't believe you would ever come
back—" she said defiantly.
"Eric believed I would, and he was only a baby when I went away. However,
all's well that ends well, and I haven't come back to be a skeleton at the
feast. We mustn't quarrel. Mother will be here with a search warrant
pretty soon." He swung round and faced her, thrusting his hands into his
coat pockets. "Come, you ought to be glad to see me, if you want something
to happen. I'm something, even without a will. We can have a little fun,
can't we? I think we can!"
She echoed him, "I think we can!" They both laughed and their eyes
sparkled. Clara Vavrika looked ten years younger than when she had put the
velvet ribbon about her throat that morning.
"You know, I'm so tickled to see mother," Nils went on. "I didn't know I
was so proud of her. A regular pile driver. How about little pigtails,
down at the house? Is Olaf doing the square thing by those children?"
Clara frowned pensively. "Olaf has to do something that looks like the
square thing, now that he's a public man!" She glanced drolly at Nils.
"But he makes a good commission out of it. On Sundays they all get
together here and figure. He lets Peter and Anders put in big bills for
the keep of the two boys, and he pays them out of the estate. They are
always having what they call accountings. Olaf gets something out of it,
too. I don't know just how they do it, but it's entirely a family matter,
as they say. And when the Ericsons say that—" Clara lifted her
Just then the angry honk-honk of an approaching motor sounded from
down the road. Their eyes met and they began to laugh. They laughed as
children do when they can not contain themselves, and can not explain the
cause of their mirth to grown people, but share it perfectly together.
When Clara Vavrika sat down at the piano after he was gone, she felt that
she had laughed away a dozen years. She practised as if the house were
burning over her head.
When Nils greeted his mother and climbed into the front seat of the motor
beside her, Mrs. Ericson looked grim, but she made no comment upon his
truancy until she had turned her car and was retracing her revolutions
along the road that ran by Olaf's big pasture. Then she remarked dryly:
"If I were you I wouldn't see too much of Olaf's wife while you are here.
She's the kind of woman who can't see much of men without getting herself
talked about. She was a good deal talked about before he married her."
"Hasn't Olaf tamed her?" Nils asked indifferently.
Mrs. Ericson shrugged her massive shoulders. "Olaf don't seem to have much
luck, when it comes to wives. The first one was meek enough, but she was
always ailing. And this one has her own way. He says if he quarreled with
her she'd go back to her father, and then he'd lose the Bohemian vote.
There are a great many Bohunks in this district. But when you find a man
under his wife's thumb you can always be sure there's a soft spot in him
Nils thought of his own father, and smiled. "She brought him a good deal
of money, didn't she, besides the Bohemian vote?"
Mrs. Ericson sniffed. "Well, she has a fair half section in her own name,
but I can't see as that does Olaf much good. She will have a good deal of
property some day, if old Vavrika don't marry again. But I don't consider
a saloonkeeper's money as good as other people's money."
Nils laughed outright. "Come, Mother, don't let your prejudices carry you
that far. Money's money. Old Vavrika's a mighty decent sort of
saloonkeeper. Nothing rowdy about him."
Mrs. Ericson spoke up angrily. "Oh, I know you always stood up for them!
But hanging around there when you were a boy never did you any good, Nils,
nor any of the other boys who went there. There weren't so many after her
when she married Olaf, let me tell you. She knew enough to grab her
Nils settled back in his seat. "Of course I liked to go there, Mother, and
you were always cross about it. You never took the trouble to find out
that it was the one jolly house in this country for a boy to go to. All
the rest of you were working yourselves to death, and the houses were
mostly a mess, full of babies and washing and flies. Oh, it was all right—I
understand that; but you are young only once, and I happened to be young
then. Now, Vavrika's was always jolly. He played the violin, and I used to
take my flute, and Clara played the piano, and Johanna used to sing
Bohemian songs. She always had a big supper for us—herrings and
pickles and poppy-seed bread, and lots of cake and preserves. Old Joe had
been in the army in the old country, and he could tell lots of good
stories. I can see him cutting bread, at the head of the table, now. I
don't know what I'd have done when I was a kid if it hadn't been for the
"And all the time he was taking money that other people had worked hard in
the fields for," Mrs. Ericson observed.
"So do the circuses, Mother, and they're a good thing. People ought to get
fun for some of their money. Even father liked old Joe."
"Your father," Mrs. Ericson said grimly, "liked everybody."
As they crossed the sand creek and turned into her own place, Mrs. Ericson
observed, "There's Olaf's buggy. He's stopped on his way from town." Nils
shook himself and prepared to greet his brother, who was waiting on the
Olaf was a big, heavy Norwegian, slow of speech and movement. His head was
large and square, like a block of wood. When Nils, at a distance, tried to
remember what his brother looked like, he could recall only his heavy
head, high forehead, large nostrils, and pale blue eyes, set far apart.
Olaf's features were rudimentary: the thing one noticed was the face
itself, wide and flat and pale; devoid of any expression, betraying his
fifty years as little as it betrayed anything else, and powerful by reason
of its very stolidness. When Olaf shook hands with Nils he looked at him
from under his light eyebrows, but Nils felt that no one could ever say
what that pale look might mean. The one thing he had always felt in Olaf
was a heavy stubbornness, like the unyielding stickiness of wet loam
against the plow. He had always found Olaf the most difficult of his
"How do you do, Nils? Expect to stay with us long?"
"Oh, I may stay forever," Nils answered gaily. "I like this country better
than I used to."
"There's been some work put into it since you left," Olaf remarked.
"Exactly. I think it's about ready to live in now—and I'm about
ready to settle down." Nils saw his brother lower his big head ("Exactly
like a bull," he thought.) "Mother's been persuading me to slow down now,
and go in for farming," he went on lightly.
Olaf made a deep sound in his throat. "Farming ain't learned in a day," he
brought out, still looking at the ground.
"Oh, I know! But I pick things up quickly." Nils had not meant to
antagonize his brother, and he did not know now why he was doing it. "Of
course," he went on, "I shouldn't expect to make a big success, as you
fellows have done. But then, I'm not ambitious. I won't want much. A
little land, and some cattle, maybe."
Olaf still stared at the ground, his head down. He wanted to ask Nils what
he had been doing all these years, that he didn't have a business
somewhere he couldn't afford to leave; why he hadn't more pride than to
come back with only a little sole-leather trunk to show for himself, and
to present himself as the only failure in the family. He did not ask one
of these questions, but he made them all felt distinctly.
"Humph!" Nils thought. "No wonder the man never talks, when he can butt
his ideas into you like that without ever saying a word. I suppose he uses
that kind of smokeless powder on his wife all the time. But I guess she
has her innings." He chuckled, and Olaf looked up. "Never mind me, Olaf. I
laugh without knowing why, like little Eric. He's another cheerful dog."
"Eric," said Olaf slowly, "is a spoiled kid. He's just let his mother's
best cow go dry because he don't milk her right. I was hoping you'd take
him away somewhere and put him into business. If he don't do any good
among strangers, he never will." This was a long speech for Olaf, and as
he finished it he climbed into his buggy.
Nils shrugged his shoulders. "Same old tricks," he thought. "Hits from
behind you every time. What a whale of a man!" He turned and went round to
the kitchen, where his mother was scolding little Eric for letting the
gasoline get low.
Joe Vavrika's saloon was not in the county seat, where Olaf and Mrs.
Ericson did their trading, but in a cheerfuller place, a little Bohemian
settlement which lay at the other end of the county, ten level miles north
of Olaf's farm. Clara rode up to see her father almost every day.
Vavrika's house was, so to speak, in the back yard of his saloon. The
garden between the two buildings was inclosed by a high board fence as
tight as a partition, and in summer Joe kept beer tables and wooden
benches among the gooseberry bushes under his little cherry tree. At one
of these tables Nils Ericson was seated in the late afternoon, three days
after his return home. Joe had gone in to serve a customer, and Nils was
lounging on his elbows, looking rather mournfully into his half-emptied
pitcher, when he heard a laugh across the little garden. Clara, in her
riding habit, was standing at the back door of the house, under the
grapevine trellis that old Joe had grown there long ago. Nils rose.
"Come out and keep your father and me company. We've been gossiping all
afternoon. Nobody to bother us but the flies."
She shook her head. "No, I never come out here any more. Olaf doesn't like
it. I must live up to my position, you know."
"You mean to tell me you never come out and chat with the boys, as you
used to? He has tamed you! Who keeps up these flower-beds?"
"I come out on Sundays, when father is alone, and read the Bohemian papers
to him. But I am never here when the bar is open. What have you two been
"Talking, as I told you. I've been telling him about my travels. I find I
can't talk much at home, not even to Eric."
Clara reached up and poked with her riding-whip at a white moth that was
fluttering in the sunlight among the vine leaves. "I suppose you will
never tell me about all those things."
"Where can I tell them? Not in Olaf's house, certainly. What's the matter
with our talking here?" He pointed persuasively with his hat to the bushes
and the green table, where the flies were singing lazily above the empty
Clara shook her head weakly. "No, it wouldn't do. Besides, I am going
"I'm on Eric's mare. Would you be angry if I overtook you?"
Clara looked back and laughed. "You might try and see. I can leave you if
I don't want you. Eric's mare can't keep up with Norman."
Nils went into the bar and attempted to pay his score. Big Joe, six feet
four, with curly yellow hair and mustache, clapped him on the shoulder.
"Not a Goddamn a your money go in my drawer, you hear? Only next time you
bring your flute, te-te-te-te-te-ty." Joe wagged his fingers in imitation
of the flute player's position.
"My Clara, she come all-a-time Sundays an' play for me. She not like to
play at Ericson's place." He shook his yellow curls and laughed. "Not a
Goddamn a fun at Ericson's. You come a Sunday. You like-a fun. No forget
de flute." Joe talked very rapidly and always tumbled over his English. He
seldom spoke it to his customers, and had never learned much.
Nils swung himself into the saddle and trotted to the west of the village,
where the houses and gardens scattered into prairie land and the road
turned south. Far ahead of him, in the declining light, he saw Clara
Vavrika's slender figure, loitering on horseback. He touched his mare with
the whip, and shot along the white, level road, under the reddening sky.
When he overtook Olaf's wife he saw that she had been crying. "What's the
matter, Clara Vavrika?" he asked kindly.
"Oh, I get blue sometimes. It was awfully jolly living there with father.
I wonder why I ever went away."
Nils spoke in a low, kind tone that he sometimes used with women: "That's
what I've been wondering these many years. You were the last girl in the
country I'd have picked for a wife for Olaf. What made you do it, Clara?"
"I suppose I really did it to oblige the neighbours"—Clara tossed
her head. "People were beginning to wonder."
"Yes—why I didn't get married. I suppose I didn't like to keep them
in suspense. I've discovered that most girls marry out of consideration
for the neighbourhood."
Nils bent his head toward her and his white teeth flashed. "I'd have
gambled that one girl I knew would say, 'Let the neighbourhood be
Clara shook her head mournfully. "You see, they have it on you, Nils; that
is, if you're a woman. They say you're beginning to go off. That's what
makes us get married: we can't stand the laugh."
Nils looked sidewise at her. He had never seen her head droop before.
Resignation was the last thing he would have expected of her. "In your
case, there wasn't something else?"
"I mean, you didn't do it to spite somebody? Somebody who didn't come
Clara drew herself up. "Oh, I never thought you'd come back. Not after I
stopped writing to you, at least. That was all over, long before I
"It never occurred to you, then, that the meanest thing you could do to me
was to marry Olaf?"
Clara laughed. "No; I didn't know you were so fond of Olaf."
Nils smoothed his horse's mane with his glove. "You know, Clara Vavrika,
you are never going to stick it out. You'll cut away some day, and I've
been thinking you might as well cut away with me."
Clara threw up her chin. "Oh, you don't know me as well as you think. I
won't cut away. Sometimes, when I'm with father, I feel like it. But I can
hold out as long as the Ericsons can. They've never got the best of me
yet, and one can live, so long as one isn't beaten. If I go back to
father, it's all up with Olaf in politics. He knows that, and he never
goes much beyond sulking. I've as much wit as the Ericsons. I'll never
leave them unless I can show them a thing or two."
"You mean unless you can come it over them?"
"Yes—unless I go away with a man who is cleverer than they are, and
who has more money."
Nils whistled. "Dear me, you are demanding a good deal. The Ericsons, take
the lot of them, are a bunch to beat. But I should think the excitement of
tormenting them would have worn off by this time."
"It has, I'm afraid," Clara admitted mournfully.
"Then why don't you cut away? There are more amusing games than this in
the world. When I came home I thought it might amuse me to bully a few
quarter sections out of the Ericsons; but I've almost decided I can get
more fun for my money somewhere else."
Clara took in her breath sharply. "Ah, you have got the other will! That
was why you came home!"
"No, it wasn't. I came home to see how you were getting on with Olaf."
Clara struck her horse with the whip, and in a bound she was far ahead of
him. Nils dropped one word, "Damn!" and whipped after her; but she leaned
forward in her saddle and fairly cut the wind. Her long riding skirt
rippled in the still air behind her. The sun was just sinking behind the
stubble in a vast, clear sky, and the shadows drew across the fields so
rapidly that Nils could scarcely keep in sight the dark figure on the
road. When he overtook her he caught her horse by the bridle. Norman
reared, and Nils was frightened for her; but Clara kept her seat.
"Let me go, Nils Ericson!" she cried. "I hate you more than any of them.
You were created to torture me, the whole tribe of you—to make me
suffer in every possible way."
She struck her horse again and galloped away from him. Nils set his teeth
and looked thoughtful. He rode slowly home along the deserted road,
watching the stars come out in the clear violet sky.
They flashed softly into the limpid heavens, like jewels let fall into
clear water. They were a reproach, he felt, to a sordid world. As he
turned across the sand creek, he looked up at the North Star and smiled,
as if there were an understanding between them. His mother scolded him for
being late for supper.
On Sunday afternoon Joe Vavrika, in his shirt sleeves and carpet slippers,
was sitting in his garden, smoking a long-tasseled porcelain pipe with a
hunting scene painted on the bowl. Clara sat under the cherry tree,
reading aloud to him from the weekly Bohemian papers. She had worn a white
muslin dress under her riding habit, and the leaves of the cherry tree
threw a pattern of sharp shadows over her skirt. The black cat was dozing
in the sunlight at her feet, and Joe's dachshund was scratching a hole
under the scarlet geraniums and dreaming of badgers. Joe was filling his
pipe for the third time since dinner, when he heard a knocking on the
fence. He broke into a loud guffaw and unlatched the little door that led
into the street. He did not call Nils by name, but caught him by the hand
and dragged him in. Clara stiffened and the colour deepened under her dark
skin. Nils, too, felt a little awkward. He had not seen her since the
night when she rode away from him and left him alone on the level road
between the fields. Joe dragged him to the wooden bench beside the green
"You bring de flute," he cried, tapping the leather case under Nils' arm.
"Ah, das-a good' Now we have some liddle fun like old times. I got
somet'ing good for you." Joe shook his finger at Nils and winked his blue
eye, a bright clear eye, full of fire, though the tiny bloodvessels on the
ball were always a little distended. "I got somet'ing for you from"—he
paused and waved his hand—"Hongarie. You know Hongarie? You wait!"
He pushed Nils down on the bench, and went through the back door of his
Nils looked at Clara, who sat frigidly with her white skirts drawn tight
about her. "He didn't tell you he had asked me to come, did he? He wanted
a party and proceeded to arrange it. Isn't he fun? Don't be cross; let's
give him a good time."
Clara smiled and shook out her skirt. "Isn't that like Father? And he has
sat here so meekly all day. Well, I won't pout. I'm glad you came. He
doesn't have very many good times now any more. There are so few of his
kind left. The second generation are a tame lot."
Joe came back with a flask in one hand and three wine glasses caught by
the stems between the fingers of the other. These he placed on the table
with an air of ceremony, and, going behind Nils, held the flask between
him and the sun, squinting into it admiringly. "You know dis, Tokai? A
great friend of mine, he bring dis to me, a present out of Hongarie. You
know how much it cost, dis wine? Chust so much what it weigh in gold.
Nobody but de nobles drink him in Bohemie. Many, many years I save him up,
dis Tokai." Joe whipped out his official corkscrew and delicately removed
the cork. "De old man die what bring him to me, an' dis wine he lay on his
belly in my cellar an' sleep. An' now," carefully pouring out the heavy
yellow wine, "an' now he wake up; and maybe he wake us up, too!" He
carried one of the glasses to his daughter and presented it with great
Clara shook her head, but, seeing her father's disappointment, relented.
"You taste it first. I don't want so much."
Joe sampled it with a beatific expression, and turned to Nils. "You drink
him slow, dis wine. He very soft, but he go down hot. You see!"
After a second glass Nils declared that he couldn't take any more without
getting sleepy. "Now get your fiddle, Vavrika," he said as he opened his
But Joe settled back in his wooden rocker and wagged his big carpet
slipper. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no! No play fiddle now any more: too much ache
in de finger," waving them, "all-a-time rheumatic. You play de flute,
te-tety-tetety-te. Bohemie songs."
"I've forgotten all the Bohemian songs I used to play with you and
Johanna. But here's one that will make Clara pout. You remember how her
eyes used to snap when we called her the Bohemian Girl?" Nils lifted his
flute and began "When Other Lips and Other Hearts," and Joe hummed the air
in a husky baritone, waving his carpet slipper. "Oh-h-h, das-a fine
music," he cried, clapping his hands as Nils finished. "Now 'Marble Halls,
Marble Halls'! Clara, you sing him."
Clara smiled and leaned back in her chair, beginning softly:
"I dreamt that I dwelt in ma-a-arble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my knee,"
and Joe hummed like a big bumblebee.
"There's one more you always played," Clara said quietly, "I remember that
best." She locked her hands over her knee and began "The Heart Bowed
Down," and sang it through without groping for the words. She was singing
with a good deal of warmth when she came to the end of the old song:
"For memory is the only friend
That grief can call its own."
Joe flashed out his red silk handkerchief and blew his nose, shaking his
head. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no! Too sad, too sad! I not like-a dat. Play
quick somet'ing gay now."
Nils put his lips to the instrument, and Joe lay back in his chair,
laughing and singing, "Oh, Evelina, Sweet Evelina!" Clara laughed, too.
Long ago, when she and Nils went to high school, the model student of
their class was a very homely girl in thick spectacles. Her name was
Evelina Oleson; she had a long, swinging walk which somehow suggested the
measure of that song, and they used mercilessly to sing it at her.
"Dat ugly Oleson girl, she teach in de school," Joe gasped, "an' she still
walks chust like dat, yup-a, yup-a, yup-a, chust like a camel she go! Now,
Nils, we have some more li'l drink. Oh, yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes!
Dis time you haf to drink, and Clara she haf to, so she show she not
jealous. So, we all drink to your girl. You not tell her name, eh?
No-no-no, I no make you tell. She pretty, eh? She make good sweetheart? I
bet!" Joe winked and lifted his glass. "How soon you get married?"
Nils screwed up his eyes. "That I don't know. When she says."
Joe threw out his chest. "Das-a way boys talks. No way for mans. Mans say,
'You come to de church, an' get a hurry on you.' Das-a way mans talks."
"Maybe Nils hasn't got enough to keep a wife," put in Clara ironically.
"How about that, Nils?" she asked him frankly, as if she wanted to know.
Nils looked at her coolly, raising one eyebrow. "Oh, I can keep her, all
"The way she wants to be kept?"
"With my wife, I'll decide that," replied Nils calmly. "I'll give her
what's good for her."
Clara made a wry face. "You'll give her the strap, I expect, like old
Peter Oleson gave his wife."
"When she needs it," said Nils lazily, locking his hands behind his head
and squinting up through the leaves of the cherry tree. "Do you remember
the time I squeezed the cherries all over your clean dress, and Aunt
Johanna boxed my ears for me? My gracious, weren't you mad! You had both
hands full of cherries, and I squeezed 'em and made the juice fly all over
you. I liked to have fun with you; you'd get so mad."
"We did have fun, didn't we? None of the other kids ever had so
much fun. We knew how to play."
Nils dropped his elbows on the table and looked steadily across at her.
"I've played with lots of girls since, but I haven't found one who was
such good fun."
Clara laughed. The late afternoon sun was shining full in her face, and
deep in the back of her eyes there shone something fiery, like the yellow
drops of Tokai in the brown glass bottle. "Can you still play, or are you
"I can play better than I used to, and harder."
"Don't you ever work, then?" She had not intended to say it. It slipped
out because she was confused enough to say just the wrong thing.
"I work between times." Nils' steady gaze still beat upon her. "Don't you
worry about my working, Mrs. Ericson. You're getting like all the rest of
them." He reached his brown, warm hand across the table and dropped it on
Clara's, which was cold as an icicle. "Last call for play, Mrs. Ericson!"
Clara shivered, and suddenly her hands and cheeks grew warm. Her fingers
lingered in his a moment, and they looked at each other earnestly. Joe
Vavrika had put the mouth of the bottle to his lips and was swallowing the
last drops of the Tokai, standing. The sun, just about to sink behind his
shop, glistened on the bright glass, on his flushed face and curly yellow
hair. "Look," Clara whispered, "that's the way I want to grow old."
On the day of Olaf Ericson's barn-raising, his wife, for once in a way,
rose early. Johanna Vavrika had been baking cakes and frying and boiling
and spicing meats for a week beforehand, but it was not until the day
before the party was to take place that Clara showed any interest in it.
Then she was seized with one of her fitful spasms of energy, and took the
wagon and little Eric and spent the day on Plum Creek, gathering vines and
swamp goldenrod to decorate the barn.
By four o'clock in the afternoon buggies and wagons began to arrive at the
big unpainted building in front of Olaf's house. When Nils and his mother
came at five, there were more than fifty people in the barn, and a great
drove of children. On the ground floor stood six long tables, set with the
crockery of seven flourishing Ericson families, lent for the occasion. In
the middle of each table was a big yellow pumpkin, hollowed out and filled
with woodbine. In one corner of the barn, behind a pile of green-and-white
striped watermelons, was a circle of chairs for the old people; the
younger guests sat on bushel measures or barbed-wire spools, and the
children tumbled about in the haymow. The box stalls Clara had converted
into booths. The framework was hidden by goldenrod and sheaves of wheat,
and the partitions were covered 'With wild grapevines full of fruit. At
one of these Johanna Vavrika watched over her cooked meats, enough to
provision an army; and at the next her kitchen girls had ranged the
ice-cream freezers, and Clara was already cutting pies and cakes against
the hour of serving. At the third stall, little Hilda, in a bright pink
lawn dress, dispensed lemonade throughout the afternoon. Olaf, as a public
man, had thought it inadvisable to serve beer in his barn; but Joe Vavrika
had come over with two demijohns concealed in his buggy, and after his
arrival the wagon shed was much frequented by the men.
"Hasn't Cousin Clara fixed things lovely?" little Hilda whispered, when
Nils went up to her stall and asked for lemonade.
Nils leaned against the booth, talking to the excited little girl and
watching the people. The barn faced the west, and the sun, pouring in at
the big doors, filled the whole interior with a golden light, through
which filtered fine particles of dust from the haymow, where the children
were romping. There was a great chattering from the stall where Johanna
Vavrika exhibited to the admiring women her platters heaped with fried
chicken, her roasts of beef, boiled tongues, and baked hams with cloves
stuck in the crisp brown fat and garnished with tansy and parsley. The
older women, having assured themselves that there were twenty kinds of
cake, not counting cookies, and three dozen fat pies, repaired to the
corner behind the pile of watermelons, put on their white aprons, and fell
to their knitting and fancywork. They were a fine company of old women,
and a Dutch painter would have loved to find them there together, where
the sun made bright patches on the floor and sent long, quivering shafts
of gold through the dusky shade up among the rafters. There were fat, rosy
old women who looked hot in their best black dresses; spare, alert old
women with brown, dark-veined hands; and several of almost heroic frame,
not less massive than old Mrs. Ericson herself. Few of them wore glasses,
and old Mrs. Svendsen, a Danish woman, who was quite bald, wore the only
cap among them. Mrs. Oleson, who had twelve big grandchildren, could still
show two braids of yellow hair as thick as her own wrists. Among all these
grandmothers there were more brown heads than white. They all had a
pleased, prosperous air, as if they were more than satisfied with
themselves and with life. Nils, leaning against Hilda's lemonade stand,
watched them as they sat chattering in four languages, their fingers never
lagging behind their tongues.
"Look at them over there," he whispered, detaining Clara as she passed
him. "Aren't they the Old Guard? I've just counted thirty hands. I guess
they've wrung many a chicken's neck and warmed many a boy's jacket for him
in their time."
In reality he fell into amazement when he thought of the Herculean labours
those fifteen pairs of hands had performed: of the cows they had milked,
the butter they had made, the gardens they had planted, the children and
grandchildren they had tended, the brooms they had worn out, the mountains
of food they had cooked. It made him dizzy. Clara Vavrika smiled a hard,
enigmatical smile at him and walked rapidly away. Nils' eyes followed her
white figure as she went toward the house. He watched her walking alone in
the sunlight, looked at her slender, defiant shoulders and her little
hard-set head with its coils of blue-black hair. "No," he reflected;
"she'd never be like them, not if she lived here a hundred years. She'd
only grow more bitter. You can't tame a wild thing; you can only chain it.
People aren't all alike. I mustn't lose my nerve." He gave Hilda's pigtail
a parting tweak and set out after Clara. "Where to?" he asked, as he came
upon her in the kitchen.
"I'm going to the cellar for preserves."
"Let me go with you. I never get a moment alone with you. Why do you keep
out of my way?"
Clara laughed. "I don't usually get in anybody's way."
Nils followed her down the stairs and to the far corner of the cellar,
where a basement window let in a stream of light. From a swinging shelf
Clara selected several glass jars, each labeled in Johanna's careful hand.
Nils took up a brown flask. "What's this? It looks good."
"It is. It's some French brandy father gave me when I was married. Would
you like some? Have you a corkscrew? I'll get glasses."
When she brought them, Nils took them from her and put them down on the
window-sill. "Clara Vavrika, do you remember how crazy I used to be about
Clara shrugged her shoulders. "Boys are always crazy about somebody or
another. I dare say some silly has been crazy about Evelina Oleson. You
got over it in a hurry."
"Because I didn't come back, you mean? I had to get on, you know, and it
was hard sledding at first. Then I heard you'd married Olaf."
"And then you stayed away from a broken heart," Clara laughed.
"And then I began to think about you more than I had since I first went
away. I began to wonder if you were really as you had seemed to me when I
was a boy. I thought I'd like to see. I've had lots of girls, but no one
ever pulled me the same way. The more I thought about you, the more I
remembered how it used to be—like hearing a wild tune you can't
resist, calling you out at night. It had been a long while since anything
had pulled me out of my boots, and I wondered whether anything ever could
again." Nils thrust his hands into his coat pockets and squared his
shoulders, as his mother sometimes squared hers, as Olaf, in a clumsier
manner, squared his. "So I thought I'd come back and see. Of course the
family have tried to do me, and I rather thought I'd bring out father's
will and make a fuss. But they can have their old land; they've put enough
sweat into it." He took the flask and filled the two glasses carefully to
the brim. "I've found out what I want from the Ericsons. Drink skoal,
Clara." He lifted his glass, and Clara took hers with downcast eyes. "Look
at me, Clara Vavrika. Skoal!"
She raised her burning eyes and answered fiercely: "Skoal!"
The barn supper began at six o'clock and lasted for two hilarious hours.
Yense Nelson had made a wager that he could eat two whole fried chickens,
and he did. Eli Swanson stowed away two whole custard pies, and Nick
Hermanson ate a chocolate layer cake to the last crumb. There was even a
cooky contest among the children, and one thin, slablike Bohemian boy
consumed sixteen and won the prize, a gingerbread pig which Johanna
Vavrika had carefully decorated with red candies and burnt sugar. Fritz
Sweiheart, the German carpenter, won in the pickle contest, but he
disappeared soon after supper and was not seen for the rest of the
evening. Joe Vavrika said that Fritz could have managed the pickles all
right, but he had sampled the demijohn in his buggy too often before
sitting down to the table.
While the supper was being cleared away the two fiddlers began to tune up
for the dance. Clara was to accompany them on her old upright piano, which
had been brought down from her father's. By this time Nils had renewed old
acquaintances. Since his interview with Clara in the cellar, he had been
busy telling all the old women how young they looked, and all the young
ones how pretty they were, and assuring the men that they had here the
best farmland in the world. He had made himself so agreeable that old Mrs.
Ericson's friends began to come up to her and tell how lucky she was to
get her smart son back again, and please to get him to play his flute. Joe
Vavrika, who could still play very well when he forgot that he had
rheumatism, caught up a fiddle from Johnny Oleson and played a crazy
Bohemian dance tune that set the wheels going. When he dropped the bow
every one was ready to dance.
Olaf, in a frock coat and a solemn made-up necktie, led the grand march
with his mother. Clara had kept well out of that by sticking to the
piano. She played the march with a pompous solemnity which greatly amused
the prodigal son, who went over and stood behind her.
"Oh, aren't you rubbing it into them, Clara Vavrika? And aren't you lucky
to have me here, or all your wit would be thrown away."
"I'm used to being witty for myself. It saves my life."
The fiddles struck up a polka, and Nils convulsed Joe Vavrika by leading
out Evelina Oleson, the homely schoolteacher. His next partner was a very
fat Swedish girl, who, although she was an heiress, had not been asked for
the first dance, but had stood against the wall in her tight, high-heeled
shoes, nervously fingering a lace handkerchief. She was soon out of
breath, so Nils led her, pleased and panting, to her seat, and went over
to the piano, from which Clara had been watching his gallantry. "Ask Olena
Yenson," she whispered. "She waltzes beautifully."
Olena, too, was rather inconveniently plump, handsome in a smooth, heavy
way, with a fine colour and good-natured, sleepy eyes. She was redolent of
violet sachet powder, and had warm, soft, white hands, but she danced
divinely, moving as smoothly as the tide coming in. "There, that's
something like," Nils said as he released her. "You'll give me the next
waltz, won't you? Now I must go and dance with my little cousin."
Hilda was greatly excited when Nils went up to her stall and held out his
arm. Her little eyes sparkled, but she declared that she could not leave
her lemonade. Old Mrs. Ericson, who happened along at this moment, said
she would attend to that, and Hilda came out, as pink as her pink dress.
The dance was a schottische, and in a moment her yellow braids were fairly
standing on end. "Bravo!" Nils cried encouragingly. "Where did you learn
to dance so nicely?"
"My Cousin Clara taught me," the little girl panted.
Nils found Eric sitting with a group of boys who were too awkward or too
shy to dance, and told him that he must dance the next waltz with Hilda.
The boy screwed up his shoulders. "Aw, Nils, I can't dance. My feet are
too big; I look silly."
"Don't be thinking about yourself. It doesn't matter how boys look."
Nils had never spoken to him so sharply before, and Eric made haste to
scramble out of his corner and brush the straw from his coat.
Clara nodded approvingly. "Good for you, Nils. I've been trying to get
hold of him. They dance very nicely together; I sometimes play for them."
"I'm obliged to you for teaching him. There's no reason why he should grow
up to be a lout."
"He'll never be that. He's more like you than any of them. Only he hasn't
your courage." From her slanting eyes Clara shot forth one of those keen
glances, admiring and at the same time challenging, which she seldom
bestowed on any one, and which seemed to say, "Yes, I admire you, but I am
Clara was proving a much better host than Olaf, who, once the supper was
over, seemed to feel no interest in anything but the lanterns. He had
brought a locomotive headlight from town to light the revels, and he kept
skulking about as if he feared the mere light from it might set his new
barn on fire. His wife, on the contrary, was cordial to every one, was
animated and even gay. The deep salmon colour in her cheeks burned
vividly, and her eyes were full of life. She gave the piano over to the
fat Swedish heiress, pulled her father away from the corner where he sat
gossiping with his cronies, and made him dance a Bohemian dance with her.
In his youth Joe had been a famous dancer, and his daughter got him so
limbered up that every one sat around and applauded them. The old ladies
were particularly delighted, and made them go through the dance again.
From their corner where they watched and commented, the old women kept
time with their feet and hands, and whenever the fiddles struck up a new
air old Mrs. Svendsen's white cap would begin to bob.
Clara was waltzing with little Eric when Nils came up to them, brushed his
brother aside, and swung her out among the dancers. "Remember how we used
to waltz on rollers at the old skating rink in town? I suppose people
don't do that any more. We used to keep it up for hours. You know, we
never did moon around as other boys and girls did. It was dead serious
with us from the beginning. When we were most in love with each other, we
used to fight. You were always pinching people; your fingers were like
little nippers. A regular snapping turtle, you were. Lord, how you'd like
Stockholm! Sit out in the streets in front of cafes and talk all night in
summer, just like a reception—officers and ladies and funny English
people. Jolliest people in the world, the Swedes, once you get them going.
Always drinking things—champagne and stout mixed, half-and-half,
serve it out of big pitchers, and serve plenty. Slow pulse, you know; they
can stand a lot. Once they light up, they're glowworms, I can tell you."
"All the same, you don't really like gay people."
"No; I could tell that when you were looking at the old women there this
afternoon. They're the kind you really admire, after all; women like your
mother. And that's the kind you'll marry."
"Is it, Miss Wisdom? You'll see who I'll marry, and she won't have a
domestic virtue to bless herself with. She'll be a snapping turtle, and
she'll be a match for me. All the same, they're a fine bunch of old dames
over there. You admire them yourself.
"No, I don't; I detest them."
"You won't, when you look back on them from Stockholm or Budapest. Freedom
settles all that. Oh, but you're the real Bohemian Girl, Clara Vavrika!"
Nils laughed down at her sullen frown and began mockingly to sing:
"Oh, how could a poor gypsy maiden like me
Expect the proud bride of a baron to be?"
Clara clutched his shoulder. "Hush, Nils; every one is looking at you."
"I don't care. They can't gossip. It's all in the family, as the Ericsons
say when they divide up little Hilda's patrimony amongst them. Besides,
we'll give them something to talk about when we hit the trail. Lord, it
will be a godsend to them! They haven't had anything so interesting to
chatter about since the grasshopper year. It'll give them a new lease of
life. And Olaf won't lose the Bohemian vote, either. They'll have the
laugh on him so that they'll vote two apiece. They'll send him to
Congress. They'll never forget his barn party, or us. They'll always
remember us as we're dancing together now. We're making a legend. Where's
my waltz, boys?" he called as they whirled past the fiddlers.
The musicians grinned, looked at each other, hesitated, and began a new
air; and Nils sang with them, as the couples fell from a quick waltz to a
long, slow glide:
"When other lips and other hearts
Their tale of love shall tell,
In language whose excess imparts
The power they feel so well."
The old women applauded vigorously. "What a gay one he is, that Nils!" And
old Mrs. Svendsen's cap lurched dreamily from side to side to the flowing
measure of the dance.
"Of days that have as ha-a-p-py been,
And you'll remember me."
The moonlight flooded that great, silent land. The reaped fields lay
yellow in it. The straw stacks and poplar windbreaks threw sharp black
shadows. The roads were white rivers of dust. The sky was a deep,
crystalline blue, and the stars were few and faint. Everything seemed to
have succumbed, to have sunk to sleep, under the great, golden, tender,
midsummer moon. The splendour of it seemed to transcend human life and
human fate. The senses were too feeble to take it in, and every time one
looked up at the sky one felt unequal to it, as if one were sitting deaf
under the waves of a great river of melody. Near the road, Nils Ericson
was lying against a straw stack in Olaf's wheat field. His own life seemed
strange and unfamiliar to him, as if it were something he had read about,
or dreamed, and forgotten. He lay very still, watching the white road that
ran in front of him, lost itself among the fields, and then, at a
distance, reappeared over a little hill. At last, against this white band
he saw something moving rapidly, and he got up and walked to the edge of
the field. "She is passing the row of poplars now," he thought. He heard
the padded beat of hoofs along the dusty road, and as she came into sight
he stepped out and waved his arms. Then, for fear of frightening the
horse, he drew back and waited. Clara had seen him, and she came up at a
walk. Nils took the horse by the bit and stroked his neck.
"What are you doing out so late, Clara Vavrika? I went to the house, but
Johanna told me you had gone to your father's."
"Who can stay in the house on a night like this? Aren't you out yourself?"
"Ah, but that's another matter."
Nils turned the horse into the field.
"What are you doing? Where are you taking Norman?"
"Not far, but I want to talk to you tonight; I have something to say to
you. I can't talk to you at the house, with Olaf sitting there on the
porch, weighing a thousand tons."
Clara laughed. "He won't be sitting there now. He's in bed by this time,
and asleep—weighing a thousand tons."
Nils plodded on across the stubble. "Are you really going to spend the
rest of your life like this, night after night, summer after summer?
Haven't you anything better to do on a night like this than to wear
yourself and Norman out tearing across the country to your father's and
back? Besides, your father won't live forever, you know. His little place
will be shut up or sold, and then you'll have nobody but the Ericsons.
You'll have to fasten down the hatches for the winter then."
Clara moved her head restlessly. "Don't talk about that. I try never to
think of it. If I lost Father I'd lose everything, even my hold over the
"Bah! You'd lose a good deal more than that. You'd lose your race,
everything that makes you yourself. You've lost a good deal of it now."
"Of your love of life, your capacity for delight."
Clara put her hands up to her face. "I haven't, Nils Ericson, I haven't!
Say anything to me but that. I won't have it!" she declared vehemently.
Nils led the horse up to a straw stack, and turned to Clara, looking at
her intently, as he had looked at her that Sunday afternoon at Vavrika's.
"But why do you fight for that so? What good is the power to enjoy, if you
never enjoy? Your hands are cold again; what are you afraid of all the
time? Ah, you're afraid of losing it; that's what's the matter with you!
And you will, Clara Vavrika, you will! When I used to know you—listen;
you've caught a wild bird in your hand, haven't you, and felt its heart
beat so hard that you were afraid it would shatter its little body to
pieces? Well, you used to be just like that, a slender, eager thing with a
wild delight inside you. That is how I remembered you. And I come back and
find you—a bitter woman. This is a perfect ferret fight here; you
live by biting and being bitten. Can't you remember what life used to be?
Can't you remember that old delight? I've never forgotten it, or known its
like, on land or sea."
He drew the horse under the shadow of the straw stack. Clara felt him take
her foot out of the stirrup, and she slid softly down into his arms. He
kissed her slowly. He was a deliberate man, but his nerves were steel when
he wanted anything. Something flashed out from him like a knife out of a
sheath. Clara felt everything slipping away from her; she was flooded by
the summer night. He thrust his hand into his pocket, and then held it out
at arm's length. "Look," he said. The shadow of the straw stack fell sharp
across his wrist, and in the palm of his hand she saw a silver dollar
shining. "That's my pile," he muttered; "will you go with me?"
Clara nodded, and dropped her forehead on his shoulder.
Nils took a deep breath. "Will you go with me tonight?"
"Where?" she whispered softly.
"To town, to catch the midnight flyer."
Clara lifted her head and pulled herself together. "Are you crazy, Nils?
We couldn't go away like that."
"That's the only way we ever will go. You can't sit on the bank and think
about it. You have to plunge. That's the way I've always done, and it's
the right way for people like you and me. There's nothing so dangerous as
sitting still. You've only got one life, one youth, and you can let it
slip through your fingers if you want to; nothing easier. Most people do
that. You'd be better off tramping the roads with me than you are here."
Nils held back her head and looked into her eyes. "But I'm not that kind
of a tramp, Clara. You won't have to take in sewing. I'm with a Norwegian
shipping line; came over on business with the New York offices, but now
I'm going straight back to Bergen. I expect I've got as much money as the
Ericsons. Father sent me a little to get started. They never knew about
that. There, I hadn't meant to tell you; I wanted you to come on your own
Clara looked off across the fields. "It isn't that, Nils, but something
seems to hold me. I'm afraid to pull against it. It comes out of the
ground, I think."
"I know all about that. One has to tear loose. You're not needed here.
Your father will understand; he's made like us. As for Olaf, Johanna will
take better care of him than ever you could. It's now or never, Clara
Vavrika. My bag's at the station; I smuggled it there yesterday."
Clara clung to him and hid her face against his shoulder. "Not tonight,"
she whispered. "Sit here and talk to me tonight. I don't want to go
anywhere tonight. I may never love you like this again."
Nils laughed through his teeth. "You can't come that on me. That's not my
way, Clara Vavrika. Eric's mare is over there behind the stacks, and I'm
off on the midnight. It's goodbye, or off across the world with me. My
carriage won't wait. I've written a letter to Olaf, I'll mail it in town.
When he reads it he won't bother us—not if I know him. He'd rather
have the land. Besides, I could demand an investigation of his
administration of Cousin Henrik's estate, and that would be bad for a
public man. You've no clothes, I know; but you can sit up tonight, and we
can get everything on the way. Where's your old dash, Clara Vavrika?
What's become of your Bohemian blood? I used to think you had courage
enough for anything. Where's your nerve—what are you waiting for?"
Clara drew back her head, and he saw the slumberous fire in her eyes. "For
you to say one thing, Nils Ericson."
"I never say that thing to any woman, Clara Vavrika." He leaned back,
lifted her gently from the ground, and whispered through his teeth: "But
I'll never, never let you go, not to any man on earth but me! Do you
understand me? Now, wait here."
Clara sank down on a sheaf of wheat and covered her face with her hands.
She did not know what she was going to do—whether she would go or
stay. The great, silent country seemed to lay a spell upon her. The ground
seemed to hold her as if by roots. Her knees were soft under her. She felt
as if she could not bear separation from her old sorrows, from her old
discontent. They were dear to her, they had kept her alive, they were a
part of her. There would be nothing left of her if she were wrenched away
from them. Never could she pass beyond that skyline against which her
restlessness had beat so many times. She felt as if her soul had built
itself a nest there on that horizon at which she looked every morning and
every evening, and it was dear to her, inexpressibly dear. She pressed her
fingers against her eyeballs to shut it out. Beside her she heard the
tramping of horses in the soft earth. Nils said nothing to her. He put his
hands under her arms and lifted her lightly to her saddle. Then he swung
himself into his own.
"We shall have to ride fast to catch the midnight train. A last gallop,
Clara Vavrika. Forward!"
There was a start, a thud of hoofs along the moonlit road, two dark
shadows going over the hill; and then the great, still land stretched
untroubled under the azure night. Two shadows had passed.
A year after the flight of Olaf Ericson's wife, the night train was
steaming across the plains of Iowa. The conductor was hurrying through one
of the day coaches, his lantern on his arm, when a lank, fair-haired boy
sat up in one of the plush seats and tweaked him by the coat.
"What is the next stop, please, sir?"
"Red Oak, Iowa. But you go through to Chicago, don't you?" He looked down,
and noticed that the boy's eyes were red and his face was drawn, as if he
were in trouble.
"Yes. But I was wondering whether I could get off at the next place and
get a train back to Omaha."
"Well, I suppose you could. Live in Omaha?"
"No. In the western part of the State. How soon do we get to Red Oak?"
"Forty minutes. You'd better make up your mind, so I can tell the
baggageman to put your trunk off."
"Oh, never mind about that! I mean, I haven't got any," the boy added,
"Run away," the conductor thought, as he slammed the coach door behind
Eric Ericson crumpled down in his seat and put his brown hand to his
forehead. He had been crying, and he had had no supper, and his head was
aching violently. "Oh, what shall I do?" he thought, as he looked dully
down at his big shoes. "Nils will be ashamed of me; I haven't got any
Ever since Nils had run away with his brother's wife, life at home had
been hard for little Eric. His mother and Olaf both suspected him of
complicity. Mrs. Ericson was harsh and faultfinding, constantly wounding
the boy's pride; and Olaf was always setting her against him.
Joe Vavrika heard often from his daughter. Clara had always been fond of
her father, and happiness made her kinder. She wrote him long accounts of
the voyage to Bergen, and of the trip she and Nils took through Bohemia to
the little town where her father had grown up and where she herself was
born. She visited all her kinsmen there, and sent her father news of his
brother, who was a priest; of his sister, who had married a horse-breeder—of
their big farm and their many children. These letters Joe always managed
to read to little Eric. They contained messages for Eric and Hilda. Clara
sent presents, too, which Eric never dared to take home and which poor
little Hilda never even saw, though she loved to hear Eric tell about them
when they were out getting the eggs together. But Olaf once saw Eric
coming out of Vavrika's house—the old man had never asked the boy to
come into his saloon—and Olaf went straight to his mother and told
her. That night Mrs. Ericson came to Eric's room after he was in bed and
made a terrible scene. She could be very terrifying when she was really
angry. She forbade him ever to speak to Vavrika again, and after that
night she would not allow him to go to town alone. So it was a long while
before Eric got any more news of his brother. But old Joe suspected what
was going on, and he carried Clara's letters about in his pocket. One
Sunday he drove out to see a German friend of his, and chanced to catch
sight of Eric, sitting by the cattle pond in the big pasture. They went
together into Fritz Oberlies' barn, and read the letters and talked things
over. Eric admitted that things were getting hard for him at home. That
very night old Joe sat down and laboriously penned a statement of the case
to his daughter.
Things got no better for Eric. His mother and Olaf felt that, however
closely he was watched, he still, as they said, "heard." Mrs. Ericson
could not admit neutrality. She had sent Johanna Vavrika packing back to
her brother's, though Olaf would much rather have kept her than Anders'
eldest daughter, whom Mrs. Ericson installed in her place. He was not so
highhanded as his mother, and he once sulkily told her that she might
better have taught her granddaughter to cook before she sent Johanna away.
Olaf could have borne a good deal for the sake of prunes spiced in honey,
the secret of which Johanna had taken away with her.
At last two letters came to Joe Vavrika: one from Nils, enclosing a postal
order for money to pay Eric's passage to Bergen, and one from Clara,
saying that Nils had a place for Eric in the offices of his company, that
he was to live with them, and that they were only waiting for him to come.
He was to leave New York on one of the boats of Nils' own line; the
captain was one of their friends, and Eric was to make himself known at
Nils' directions were so explicit that a baby could have followed them,
Eric felt. And here he was, nearing Red Oak, Iowa, and rocking backward
and forward in despair. Never had he loved his brother so much, and never
had the big world called to him so hard. But there was a lump in his
throat which would not go down. Ever since nightfall he had been tormented
by the thought of his mother, alone in that big house that had sent forth
so many men. Her unkindness now seemed so little, and her loneliness so
great. He remembered everything she had ever done for him: how frightened
she had been when he tore his hand in the corn-sheller, and how she
wouldn't let Olaf scold him. When Nils went away he didn't leave his
mother all alone, or he would never have gone. Eric felt sure of that.
The train whistled. The conductor came in, smiling not unkindly. "Well,
young man, what are you going to do? We stop at Red Oak in three minutes."
"Yes, thank you. I'll let you know." The conductor went out, and the boy
doubled up with misery. He couldn't let his one chance go like this. He
felt for his breast pocket and crackled Nils' letter to give him courage.
He didn't want Nils to be ashamed of him. The train stopped. Suddenly he
remembered his brother's kind, twinkling eyes, that always looked at you
as if from far away. The lump in his throat softened. "Ah, but Nils, Nils
would understand!" he thought. "That's just it about Nils; he
A lank, pale boy with a canvas telescope stumbled off the train to the Red
Oak siding, just as the conductor called, "All aboard!"
The next night Mrs. Ericson was sitting alone in her wooden rocking-chair
on the front porch. Little Hilda had been sent to bed and had cried
herself to sleep. The old woman's knitting was on her lap, but her hands
lay motionless on top of it. For more than an hour she had not moved a
muscle. She simply sat, as only the Ericsons and the mountains can sit.
The house was dark, and there was no sound but the croaking of the frogs
down in the pond of the little pasture.
Eric did not come home by the road, but across the fields, where no one
could see him. He set his telescope down softly in the kitchen shed, and
slipped noiselessly along the path to the front porch. He sat down on the
step without saying anything. Mrs. Ericson made no sign, and the frogs
croaked on. At last the boy spoke timidly.
"I've come back, Mother."
"Very well," said Mrs. Ericson.
Eric leaned over and picked up a little stick out of the grass.
"How about the milking?" he faltered.
"That's been done, hours ago."
"Who did you get?"
"Get? I did it myself. I can milk as good as any of you."
Eric slid along the step nearer to her. "Oh, Mother, why did you?" he
asked sorrowfully. "Why didn't you get one of Otto's boys?"
"I didn't want anybody to know I was in need of a boy," said Mrs. Ericson
bitterly. She looked straight in front of her and her mouth tightened. "I
always meant to give you the home farm," she added.
The boy stared and slid closer. "Oh, Mother," he faltered, "I don't care
about the farm. I came back because I thought you might be needing me,
maybe." He hung his head and got no further.
"Very well," said Mrs. Ericson. Her hand went out from her suddenly and
rested on his head. Her fingers twined themselves in his soft, pale hair.
His tears splashed down on the boards; happiness filled his heart.
THE TROLL GARDEN
Flavia and Her Artists
As the train neared Tarrytown, Imogen Willard began to wonder why she had
consented to be one of Flavia's house party at all. She had not felt
enthusiastic about it since leaving the city, and was experiencing a
prolonged ebb of purpose, a current of chilling indecision, under which
she vainly sought for the motive which had induced her to accept Flavia's
Perhaps it was a vague curiosity to see Flavia's husband, who had been the
magician of her childhood and the hero of innumerable Arabian fairy tales.
Perhaps it was a desire to see M. Roux, whom Flavia had announced as the
especial attraction of the occasion. Perhaps it was a wish to study that
remarkable woman in her own setting.
Imogen admitted a mild curiosity concerning Flavia. She was in the habit
of taking people rather seriously, but somehow found it impossible to take
Flavia so, because of the very vehemence and insistence with which Flavia
demanded it. Submerged in her studies, Imogen had, of late years, seen
very little of Flavia; but Flavia, in her hurried visits to New York,
between her excursions from studio to studio—her luncheons with this
lady who had to play at a matinee, and her dinners with that singer who
had an evening concert—had seen enough of her friend's handsome
daughter to conceive for her an inclination of such violence and assurance
as only Flavia could afford. The fact that Imogen had shown rather marked
capacity in certain esoteric lines of scholarship, and had decided to
specialize in a well-sounding branch of philology at the Ecole des
Chartes, had fairly placed her in that category of "interesting people"
whom Flavia considered her natural affinities, and lawful prey.
When Imogen stepped upon the station platform she was immediately
appropriated by her hostess, whose commanding figure and assurance of
attire she had recognized from a distance. She was hurried into a high
tilbury and Flavia, taking the driver's cushion beside her, gathered up
the reins with an experienced hand.
"My dear girl," she remarked, as she turned the horses up the street, "I
was afraid the train might be late. M. Roux insisted upon coming up by
boat and did not arrive until after seven."
"To think of M. Roux's being in this part of the world at all, and subject
to the vicissitudes of river boats! Why in the world did he come over?"
queried Imogen with lively interest. "He is the sort of man who must
dissolve and become a shadow outside of Paris."
"Oh, we have a houseful of the most interesting people," said Flavia,
professionally. "We have actually managed to get Ivan Schemetzkin. He was
ill in California at the close of his concert tour, you know, and he is
recuperating with us, after his wearing journey from the coast. Then there
is Jules Martel, the painter; Signor Donati, the tenor; Professor Schotte,
who has dug up Assyria, you know; Restzhoff, the Russian chemist; Alcee
Buisson, the philologist; Frank Wellington, the novelist; and Will
Maidenwood, the editor of Woman. Then there is my second cousin,
Jemima Broadwood, who made such a hit in Pinero's comedy last winter, and
Frau Lichtenfeld. Have you read her?"
Imogen confessed her utter ignorance of Frau Lichtenfeld, and Flavia went
"Well, she is a most remarkable person; one of those advanced German
women, a militant iconoclast, and this drive will not be long enough to
permit of my telling you her history. Such a story! Her novels were the
talk of all Germany when I was there last, and several of them have been
suppressed—an honor in Germany, I understand. 'At Whose Door' has
been translated. I am so unfortunate as not to read German."
"I'm all excitement at the prospect of meeting Miss Broadwood," said
Imogen. "I've seen her in nearly everything she does. Her stage
personality is delightful. She always reminds me of a nice, clean,
pink-and-white boy who has just had his cold bath, and come down all aglow
for a run before breakfast."
"Yes, but isn't it unfortunate that she will limit herself to those minor
comedy parts that are so little appreciated in this country? One ought to
be satisfied with nothing less than the best, ought one?" The peculiar,
breathy tone in which Flavia always uttered that word "best," the most
worn in her vocabulary, always jarred on Imogen and always made her
"I don't at all agree with you," she said reservedly. "I thought everyone
admitted that the most remarkable thing about Miss Broadwood is her
admirable sense of fitness, which is rare enough in her profession."
Flavia could not endure being contradicted; she always seemed to regard it
in the light of a defeat, and usually colored unbecomingly. Now she
changed the subject.
"Look, my dear," she cried, "there is Frau Lichtenfeld now, coming to meet
us. Doesn't she look as if she had just escaped out of Valhalla? She is
actually over six feet."
Imogen saw a woman of immense stature, in a very short skirt and a broad,
flapping sun hat, striding down the hillside at a long, swinging gait. The
refugee from Valhalla approached, panting. Her heavy, Teutonic features
were scarlet from the rigor of her exercise, and her hair, under her
flapping sun hat, was tightly befrizzled about her brow. She fixed her
sharp little eyes upon Imogen and extended both her hands.
"So this is the little friend?" she cried, in a rolling baritone.
Imogen was quite as tall as her hostess; but everything, she reflected, is
comparative. After the introduction Flavia apologized.
"I wish I could ask you to drive up with us, Frau Lichtenfeld."
"Ah, no!" cried the giantess, drooping her head in humorous caricature of
a time-honored pose of the heroines of sentimental romances. "It has never
been my fate to be fitted into corners. I have never known the sweet
privileges of the tiny."
Laughing, Flavia started the ponies, and the colossal woman, standing in
the middle of the dusty road, took off her wide hat and waved them a
farewell which, in scope of gesture, recalled the salute of a plumed
When they arrived at the house, Imogen looked about her with keen
curiosity, for this was veritably the work of Flavia's hands, the
materialization of hopes long deferred. They passed directly into a large,
square hall with a gallery on three sides, studio fashion. This opened at
one end into a Dutch breakfast room, beyond which was the large dining
room. At the other end of the hall was the music room. There was a smoking
room, which one entered through the library behind the staircase. On the
second floor there was the same general arrangement: a square hall, and,
opening from it, the guest chambers, or, as Miss Broadwood termed them,
When Imogen went to her room, the guests had begun to return from their
various afternoon excursions. Boys were gliding through the halls with ice
water, covered trays, and flowers, colliding with maids and valets who
carried shoes and other articles of wearing apparel. Yet, all this was
done in response to inaudible bells, on felt soles, and in hushed voices,
so that there was very little confusion about it.
Flavia had at last built her house and hewn out her seven pillars; there
could be no doubt, now, that the asylum for talent, the sanatorium of the
arts, so long projected, was an accomplished fact. Her ambition had long
ago outgrown the dimensions of her house on Prairie Avenue; besides, she
had bitterly complained that in Chicago traditions were against her. Her
project had been delayed by Arthur's doggedly standing out for the
Michigan woods, but Flavia knew well enough that certain of the rarae
aves—"the best"—could not be lured so far away from the
seaport, so she declared herself for the historic Hudson and knew no
retreat. The establishing of a New York office had at length overthrown
Arthur's last valid objection to quitting the lake country for three
months of the year; and Arthur could be wearied into anything, as those
who knew him knew.
Flavia's house was the mirror of her exultation; it was a temple to the
gods of Victory, a sort of triumphal arch. In her earlier days she had
swallowed experiences that would have unmanned one of less torrential
enthusiasm or blind pertinacity. But, of late years, her determination had
told; she saw less and less of those mysterious persons with mysterious
obstacles in their path and mysterious grievances against the world, who
had once frequented her house on Prairie Avenue. In the stead of this
multitude of the unarrived, she had now the few, the select, "the best."
Of all that band of indigent retainers who had once fed at her board like
the suitors in the halls of Penelope, only Alcee Buisson still retained
his right of entree. He alone had remembered that ambition hath a knapsack
at his back, wherein he puts alms to oblivion, and he alone had been
considerate enough to do what Flavia had expected of him, and give his
name a current value in the world. Then, as Miss Broadwood put it, "he was
her first real one,"—and Flavia, like Mohammed, could remember her
"The House of Song," as Miss Broadwood had called it, was the outcome of
Flavia's more exalted strategies. A woman who made less a point of
sympathizing with their delicate organisms, might have sought to plunge
these phosphorescent pieces into the tepid bath of domestic life; but
Flavia's discernment was deeper. This must be a refuge where the shrinking
soul, the sensitive brain, should be unconstrained; where the caprice of
fancy should outweigh the civil code, if necessary. She considered that
this much Arthur owed her; for she, in her turn, had made concessions.
Flavia had, indeed, quite an equipment of epigrams to the effect that our
century creates the iron genii which evolve its fairy tales: but the fact
that her husband's name was annually painted upon some ten thousand
threshing machines in reality contributed very little to her happiness.
Arthur Hamilton was born and had spent his boyhood in the West Indies, and
physically he had never lost the brand of the tropics. His father, after
inventing the machine which bore his name, had returned to the States to
patent and manufacture it. After leaving college, Arthur had spent five
years ranching in the West and traveling abroad. Upon his father's death
he had returned to Chicago and, to the astonishment of all his friends,
had taken up the business—without any demonstration of enthusiasm,
but with quiet perseverance, marked ability, and amazing industry. Why or
how a self-sufficient, rather ascetic man of thirty, indifferent in
manner, wholly negative in all other personal relations, should have
doggedly wooed and finally married Flavia Malcolm was a problem that had
vexed older heads than Imogen's.
While Imogen was dressing she heard a knock at her door, and a young woman
entered whom she at once recognized as Jemima Broadwood—"Jimmy"
Broadwood she was called by people in her own profession. While there was
something unmistakably professional in her frank savoir-faire,
"Jimmy's" was one of those faces to which the rouge never seems to stick.
Her eyes were keen and gray as a windy April sky, and so far from having
been seared by calcium lights, you might have fancied they had never
looked on anything less bucolic than growing fields and country fairs. She
wore her thick, brown hair short and parted at the side; and, rather than
hinting at freakishness, this seemed admirably in keeping with her fresh,
boyish countenance. She extended to Imogen a large, well-shaped hand which
it was a pleasure to clasp.
"Ah! You are Miss Willard, and I see I need not introduce myself. Flavia
said you were kind enough to express a wish to meet me, and I preferred to
meet you alone. Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Why, certainly not," said Imogen, somewhat disconcerted and looking
hurriedly about for matches.
"There, be calm, I'm always prepared," said Miss Broadwood, checking
Imogen's flurry with a soothing gesture, and producing an oddly fashioned
silver match-case from some mysterious recess in her dinner gown. She sat
down in a deep chair, crossed her patent-leather Oxfords, and lit her
cigarette. "This matchbox," she went on meditatively, "once belonged to a
Prussian officer. He shot himself in his bathtub, and I bought it at the
sale of his effects."
Imogen had not yet found any suitable reply to make to this rather
irrelevant confidence, when Miss Broadwood turned to her cordially: "I'm
awfully glad you've come, Miss Willard, though I've not quite decided why
you did it. I wanted very much to meet you. Flavia gave me your thesis to
"Why, how funny!" ejaculated Imogen.
"On the contrary," remarked Miss Broadwood. "I thought it decidedly lacked
"I meant," stammered Imogen, beginning to feel very much like Alice in
Wonderland, "I meant that I thought it rather strange Mrs. Hamilton should
fancy you would be interested."
Miss Broadwood laughed heartily. "Now, don't let my rudeness frighten you.
Really, I found it very interesting, and no end impressive. You see, most
people in my profession are good for absolutely nothing else, and,
therefore, they have a deep and abiding conviction that in some other line
they might have shone. Strange to say, scholarship is the object of our
envious and particular admiration. Anything in type impresses us greatly;
that's why so many of us marry authors or newspapermen and lead miserable
lives." Miss Broadwood saw that she had rather disconcerted Imogen, and
blithely tacked in another direction. "You see," she went on, tossing
aside her half-consumed cigarette, "some years ago Flavia would not have
deemed me worthy to open the pages of your thesis—nor to be one of
her house party of the chosen, for that matter. I've Pinero to thank for
both pleasures. It all depends on the class of business I'm playing
whether I'm in favor or not. Flavia is my second cousin, you know, so I
can say whatever disagreeable things I choose with perfect good grace. I'm
quite desperate for someone to laugh with, so I'm going to fasten myself
upon you—for, of course, one can't expect any of these gypsy-dago
people to see anything funny. I don't intend you shall lose the humor of
the situation. What do you think of Flavia's infirmary for the arts,
"Well, it's rather too soon for me to have any opinion at all," said
Imogen, as she again turned to her dressing. "So far, you are the only one
of the artists I've met."
"One of them?" echoed Miss Broadwood. "One of the artists? My
offense may be rank, my dear, but I really don't deserve that. Come, now,
whatever badges of my tribe I may bear upon me, just let me divest you of
any notion that I take myself seriously."
Imogen turned from the mirror in blank astonishment and sat down on the
arm of a chair, facing her visitor. "I can't fathom you at all, Miss
Broadwood," she said frankly. "Why shouldn't you take yourself seriously?
What's the use of beating about the bush? Surely you know that you are one
of the few players on this side of the water who have at all the spirit of
natural or ingenuous comedy?"
"Thank you, my dear. Now we are quite even about the thesis, aren't we?
Oh, did you mean it? Well, you are a clever girl. But you see it
doesn't do to permit oneself to look at it in that light. If we do, we
always go to pieces and waste our substance astarring as the unhappy
daughter of the Capulets. But there, I hear Flavia coming to take you
down; and just remember I'm not one of them—the artists, I mean."
Flavia conducted Imogen and Miss Broadwood downstairs. As they reached the
lower hall they heard voices from the music room, and dim figures were
lurking in the shadows under the gallery, but their hostess led straight
to the smoking room. The June evening was chilly, and a fire had been
lighted in the fireplace. Through the deepening dusk, the firelight
flickered upon the pipes and curious weapons on the wall and threw an
orange glow over the Turkish hangings. One side of the smoking room was
entirely of glass, separating it from the conservatory, which was flooded
with white light from the electric bulbs. There was about the darkened
room some suggestion of certain chambers in the Arabian Nights, opening on
a court of palms. Perhaps it was partially this memory-evoking suggestion
that caused Imogen to start so violently when she saw dimly, in a blur of
shadow, the figure of a man, who sat smoking in a low, deep chair before
the fire. He was long, and thin, and brown. His long, nerveless hands
drooped from the arms of his chair. A brown mustache shaded his mouth, and
his eyes were sleepy and apathetic. When Imogen entered he rose indolently
and gave her his hand, his manner barely courteous.
"I am glad you arrived promptly, Miss Willard," he said with an
indifferent drawl. "Flavia was afraid you might be late. You had a
pleasant ride up, I hope?"
"Oh, very, thank you, Mr. Hamilton," she replied, feeling that he did not
particularly care whether she replied at all.
Flavia explained that she had not yet had time to dress for dinner, as she
had been attending to Mr. Will Maidenwood, who had become faint after
hurting his finger in an obdurate window, and immediately excused herself
As she left, Hamilton turned to Miss Broadwood with a rather spiritless
"Well, Jimmy," he remarked, "I brought up a piano box full of fireworks
for the boys. How do you suppose we'll manage to keep them until the
"We can't, unless we steel ourselves to deny there are any on the
premises," said Miss Broadwood, seating herself on a low stool by
Hamilton's chair and leaning back against the mantel. "Have you seen
Helen, and has she told you the tragedy of the tooth?"
"She met me at the station, with her tooth wrapped up in tissue paper. I
had tea with her an hour ago. Better sit down, Miss Willard;" he rose and
pushed a chair toward Imogen, who was standing peering into the
conservatory. "We are scheduled to dine at seven, but they seldom get
around before eight."
By this time Imogen had made out that here the plural pronoun, third
person, always referred to the artists. As Hamilton's manner did not spur
one to cordial intercourse, and as his attention seemed directed to Miss
Broadwood, insofar as it could be said to be directed to anyone, she sat
down facing the conservatory and watched him, unable to decide in how far
he was identical with the man who had first met Flavia Malcolm in her
mother's house, twelve years ago. Did he at all remember having known her
as a little girl, and why did his indifference hurt her so, after all
these years? Had some remnant of her childish affection for him gone on
living, somewhere down in the sealed caves of her consciousness, and had
she really expected to find it possible to be fond of him again? Suddenly
she saw a light in the man's sleepy eyes, an unmistakable expression of
interest and pleasure that fairly startled her. She turned quickly in the
direction of his glance, and saw Flavia, just entering, dressed for dinner
and lit by the effulgence of her most radiant manner. Most people
considered Flavia handsome, and there was no gainsaying that she carried
her five-and-thirty years splendidly. Her figure had never grown matronly,
and her face was of the sort that does not show wear. Its blond tints were
as fresh and enduring as enamel—and quite as hard. Its usual
expression was one of tense, often strained, animation, which compressed
her lips nervously. A perfect scream of animation, Miss Broadwood had
called it, created and maintained by sheer, indomitable force of will.
Flavia's appearance on any scene whatever made a ripple, caused a certain
agitation and recognition, and, among impressionable people, a certain
uneasiness, For all her sparkling assurance of manner, Flavia was
certainly always ill at ease and, even more certainly, anxious. She seemed
not convinced of the established order of material things, seemed always
trying to conceal her feeling that walls might crumble, chasms open, or
the fabric of her life fly to the winds in irretrievable entanglement. At
least this was the impression Imogen got from that note in Flavia which
was so manifestly false.
Hamilton's keen, quick, satisfied glance at his wife had recalled to
Imogen all her inventory of speculations about them. She looked at him
with compassionate surprise. As a child she had never permitted herself to
believe that Hamilton cared at all for the woman who had taken him away
from her; and since she had begun to think about them again, it had never
occurred to her that anyone could become attached to Flavia in that deeply
personal and exclusive sense. It seemed quite as irrational as trying to
possess oneself of Broadway at noon.
When they went out to dinner Imogen realized the completeness of Flavia's
triumph. They were people of one name, mostly, like kings; people whose
names stirred the imagination like a romance or a melody. With the notable
exception of M. Roux, Imogen had seen most of them before, either in
concert halls or lecture rooms; but they looked noticeably older and
dimmer than she remembered them.
Opposite her sat Schemetzkin, the Russian pianist, a short, corpulent man,
with an apoplectic face and purplish skin, his thick, iron-gray hair
tossed back from his forehead. Next to the German giantess sat the Italian
tenor—the tiniest of men—pale, with soft, light hair, much in
disorder, very red lips, and fingers yellowed by cigarettes. Frau
Lichtenfeld shone in a gown of emerald green, fitting so closely as to
enhance her natural floridness. However, to do the good lady justice, let
her attire be never so modest, it gave an effect of barbaric splendor. At
her left sat Herr Schotte, the Assyriologist, whose features were
effectually concealed by the convergence of his hair and beard, and whose
glasses were continually falling into his plate. This gentleman had
removed more tons of earth in the course of his explorations than had any
of his confreres, and his vigorous attack upon his food seemed to suggest
the strenuous nature of his accustomed toil. His eyes were small and
deeply set, and his forehead bulged fiercely above his eyes in a bony
ridge. His heavy brows completed the leonine suggestion of his face. Even
to Imogen, who knew something of his work and greatly respected it, he was
entirely too reminiscent of the Stone Age to be altogether an agreeable
dinner companion. He seemed, indeed, to have absorbed something of the
savagery of those early types of life which he continually studied.
Frank Wellington, the young Kansas man who had been two years out of
Harvard and had published three historical novels, sat next to Mr. Will
Maidenwood, who was still pale from his recent sufferings and carried his
hand bandaged. They took little part in the general conversation, but,
like the lion and the unicorn, were always at it, discussing, every time
they met, whether there were or were not passages in Mr. Wellington's
works which should be eliminated, out of consideration for the Young
Person. Wellington had fallen into the hands of a great American syndicate
which most effectually befriended struggling authors whose struggles were
in the right direction, and which had guaranteed to make him famous before
he was thirty. Feeling the security of his position he stoutly defended
those passages which jarred upon the sensitive nerves of the young editor
of Woman. Maidenwood, in the smoothest of voices, urged the
necessity of the author's recognizing certain restrictions at the outset,
and Miss Broadwood, who joined the argument quite without invitation or
encouragement, seconded him with pointed and malicious remarks which
caused the young editor manifest discomfort. Restzhoff, the chemist,
demanded the attention of the entire company for his exposition of his
devices for manufacturing ice cream from vegetable oils and for
administering drugs in bonbons.
Flavia, always noticeably restless at dinner, was somewhat apathetic
toward the advocate of peptonized chocolate and was plainly concerned
about the sudden departure of M. Roux, who had announced that it would be
necessary for him to leave tomorrow. M. Emile Roux, who sat at Flavia's
right, was a man in middle life and quite bald, clearly without personal
vanity, though his publishers preferred to circulate only those of his
portraits taken in his ambrosial youth. Imogen was considerably shocked at
his unlikeness to the slender, black-stocked Rolla he had looked at
twenty. He had declined into the florid, settled heaviness of indifference
and approaching age. There was, however, a certain look of durability and
solidity about him; the look of a man who has earned the right to be fat
and bald, and even silent at dinner if he chooses.
Throughout the discussion between Wellington and Will Maidenwood, though
they invited his participation, he remained silent, betraying no sign
either of interest or contempt. Since his arrival he had directed most of
his conversation to Hamilton, who had never read one of his twelve great
novels. This perplexed and troubled Flavia. On the night of his arrival
Jules Martel had enthusiastically declared, "There are schools and
schools, manners and manners; but Roux is Roux, and Paris sets its watches
by his clock." Flavia had already repeated this remark to Imogen. It
haunted her, and each time she quoted it she was impressed anew.
Flavia shifted the conversation uneasily, evidently exasperated and
excited by her repeated failures to draw the novelist out. "Monsieur
Roux," she began abruptly, with her most animated smile, "I remember so
well a statement I read some years ago in your 'Mes Etudes des Femmes' to
the effect that you had never met a really intellectual woman. May I ask,
without being impertinent, whether that assertion still represents your
"I meant, madam," said the novelist conservatively, "intellectual in a
sense very special, as we say of men in whom the purely intellectual
functions seem almost independent."
"And you still think a woman so constituted a mythical personage?"
persisted Flavia, nodding her head encouragingly.
"Une Meduse, madam, who, if she were discovered, would transmute us
all into stone," said the novelist, bowing gravely. "If she existed at
all," he added deliberately, "it was my business to find her, and she has
cost me many a vain pilgrimage. Like Rudel of Tripoli, I have crossed seas
and penetrated deserts to seek her out. I have, indeed, encountered women
of learning whose industry I have been compelled to respect; many who have
possessed beauty and charm and perplexing cleverness; a few with
remarkable information and a sort of fatal facility."
"And Mrs. Browning, George Eliot, and your own Mme. Dudevant?" queried
Flavia with that fervid enthusiasm with which she could, on occasion,
utter things simply incomprehensible for their banality—at her feats
of this sort Miss Broadwood was wont to sit breathless with admiration.
"Madam, while the intellect was undeniably present in the performances of
those women, it was only the stick of the rocket. Although this woman has
eluded me I have studied her conditions and perturbances as astronomers
conjecture the orbits of planets they have never seen. if she exists, she
is probably neither an artist nor a woman with a mission, but an obscure
personage, with imperative intellectual needs, who absorbs rather than
Flavia, still nodding nervously, fixed a strained glance of interrogation
upon M. Roux. "Then you think she would be a woman whose first necessity
would be to know, whose instincts would be satisfied only with the best,
who could draw from others; appreciative, merely?"
The novelist lifted his dull eyes to his interlocutress with an
untranslatable smile and a slight inclination of his shoulders. "Exactly
so; you are really remarkable, madam," he added, in a tone of cold
After dinner the guests took their coffee in the music room, where
Schemetzkin sat down at the piano to drum ragtime, and give his celebrated
imitation of the boardingschool girl's execution of Chopin. He flatly
refused to play anything more serious, and would practice only in the
morning, when he had the music room to himself. Hamilton and M. Roux
repaired to the smoking room to discuss the necessity of extending the tax
on manufactured articles in France—one of those conversations which
particularly exasperated Flavia.
After Schemetzkin had grimaced and tortured the keyboard with malicious
vulgarities for half an hour, Signor Donati, to put an end to his torture,
consented to sing, and Flavia and Imogen went to fetch Arthur to play his
accompaniments. Hamilton rose with an annoyed look and placed his
cigarette on the mantel. "Why yes, Flavia, I'll accompany him, provided he
sings something with a melody, Italian arias or ballads, and provided the
recital is not interminable."
"You will join us, M. Roux?"
"Thank you, but I have some letters to write," replied the novelist,
As Flavia had remarked to Imogen, "Arthur really played accompaniments
remarkably well." To hear him recalled vividly the days of her childhood,
when he always used to spend his business vacations at her mother's home
in Maine. He had possessed for her that almost hypnotic influence which
young men sometimes exert upon little girls. It was a sort of phantom love
affair, subjective and fanciful, a precocity of instinct, like that tender
and maternal concern which some little girls feel for their dolls. Yet
this childish infatuation is capable of all the depressions and
exaltations of love itself, it has its bitter jealousies, cruel
disappointments, its exacting caprices.
Summer after summer she had awaited his coming and wept at his departure,
indifferent to the gayer young men who had called her their sweetheart and
laughed at everything she said. Although Hamilton never said so, she had
been always quite sure that he was fond of her. When he pulled her up the
river to hunt for fairy knolls shut about by low, hanging willows, he was
often silent for an hour at a time, yet she never felt he was bored or was
neglecting her. He would lie in the sand smoking, his eyes half-closed,
watching her play, and she was always conscious that she was entertaining
him. Sometimes he would take a copy of "Alice in Wonderland" in his
pocket, and no one could read it as he could, laughing at her with his
dark eyes, when anything amused him. No one else could laugh so, with just
their eyes, and without moving a muscle of their face. Though he usually
smiled at passages that seemed not at all funny to the child, she always
laughed gleefully, because he was so seldom moved to mirth that any such
demonstration delighted her and she took the credit of it entirely to
herself Her own inclination had been for serious stories, with sad
endings, like the Little Mermaid, which he had once told her in an
unguarded moment when she had a cold, and was put to bed early on her
birthday night and cried because she could not have her party. But he
highly disapproved of this preference, and had called it a morbid taste,
and always shook his finger at her when she asked for the story. When she
had been particularly good, or particularly neglected by other people,
then he would sometimes melt and tell her the story, and never laugh at
her if she enjoyed the "sad ending" even to tears. When Flavia had taken
him away and he came no more, she wept inconsolably for the space of two
weeks, and refused to learn her lessons. Then she found the story of the
Little Mermaid herself, and forgot him.
Imogen had discovered at dinner that he could still smile at one secretly,
out of his eyes, and that he had the old manner of outwardly seeming
bored, but letting you know that he was not. She was intensely curious
about his exact state of feeling toward his wife, and more curious still
to catch a sense of his final adjustment to the conditions of life in
general. This, she could not help feeling, she might get again—if
she could have him alone for an hour, in some place where there was a
little river and a sandy cove bordered by drooping willows, and a blue sky
seen through white sycamore boughs.
That evening, before retiring, Flavia entered her husband's room, where he
sat in his smoking jacket, in one of his favorite low chairs.
"I suppose it's a grave responsibility to bring an ardent, serious young
thing like Imogen here among all these fascinating personages," she
remarked reflectively. "But, after all, one can never tell. These grave,
silent girls have their own charm, even for facile people."
"Oh, so that is your plan?" queried her husband dryly. "I was wondering
why you got her up here. She doesn't seem to mix well with the faciles. At
least, so it struck me."
Flavia paid no heed to this jeering remark, but repeated, "No, after all,
it may not be a bad thing."
"Then do consign her to that shaken reed, the tenor," said her husband
yawning. "I remember she used to have a taste for the pathetic."
"And then," remarked Flavia coquettishly, "after all, I owe her mother a
return in kind. She was not afraid to trifle with destiny."
But Hamilton was asleep in his chair.
Next morning Imogen found only Miss Broadwood in the breakfast room.
"Good morning, my dear girl, whatever are you doing up so early? They
never breakfast before eleven. Most of them take their coffee in their
room. Take this place by me."
Miss Broadwood looked particularly fresh and encouraging in her blue serge
walking skirt, her open jacket displaying an expanse of stiff, white shirt
bosom, dotted with some almost imperceptible figure, and a dark
blue-and-white necktie, neatly knotted under her wide, rolling collar. She
wore a white rosebud in the lapel of her coat, and decidedly she seemed
more than ever like a nice, clean boy on his holiday. Imogen was just
hoping that they would breakfast alone when Miss Broadwood exclaimed, "Ah,
there comes Arthur with the children. That's the reward of early rising in
this house; you never get to see the youngsters at any other time."
Hamilton entered, followed by two dark, handsome little boys. The girl,
who was very tiny, blonde like her mother, and exceedingly frail, he
carried in his arms. The boys came up and said good morning with an ease
and cheerfulness uncommon, even in well-bred children, but the little girl
hid her face on her father's shoulder.
"She's a shy little lady," he explained as he put her gently down in her
chair. "I'm afraid she's like her father; she can't seem to get used to
meeting people. And you, Miss Willard, did you dream of the White Rabbit
or the Little Mermaid?"
"Oh, I dreamed of them all! All the personages of that buried
civilization," cried Imogen, delighted that his estranged manner of the
night before had entirely vanished and feeling that, somehow, the old
confidential relations had been restored during the night.
"Come, William," said Miss Broadwood, turning to the younger of the two
boys, "and what did you dream about?"
"We dreamed," said William gravely—he was the more assertive of the
two and always spoke for both—"we dreamed that there were fireworks
hidden in the basement of the carriage house; lots and lots of fireworks."
His elder brother looked up at him with apprehensive astonishment, while
Miss Broadwood hastily put her napkin to her lips and Hamilton dropped his
eyes. "If little boys dream things, they are so apt not to come true," he
reflected sadly. This shook even the redoubtable William, and he glanced
nervously at his brother. "But do things vanish just because they have
been dreamed?" he objected.
"Generally that is the very best reason for their vanishing," said Arthur
"But, Father, people can't help what they dream," remonstrated Edward
"Oh, come! You're making these children talk like a Maeterlinck dialogue,"
laughed Miss Broadwood.
Flavia presently entered, a book in her hand, and bade them all good
morning. "Come, little people, which story shall it be this morning?" she
asked winningly. Greatly excited, the children followed her into the
garden. "She does then, sometimes," murmured Imogen as they left the
"Oh, yes, to be sure," said Miss Broadwood cheerfully. "She reads a story
to them every morning in the most picturesque part of the garden. The
mother of the Gracchi, you know. She does so long, she says, for the time
when they will be intellectual companions for her. What do you say to a
walk over the hills?"
As they left the house they met Frau Lichtenfeld and the bushy Herr
Schotte—the professor cut an astonishing figure in golf stockings—returning
from a walk and engaged in an animated conversation on the tendencies of
"Aren't they the most attractive little children," exclaimed Imogen as
they wound down the road toward the river.
"Yes, and you must not fail to tell Flavia that you think so. She will
look at you in a sort of startled way and say, 'Yes, aren't they?' and
maybe she will go off and hunt them up and have tea with them, to fully
appreciate them. She is awfully afraid of missing anything good, is
Flavia. The way those youngsters manage to conceal their guilty presence
in the House of Song is a wonder."
"But don't any of the artist-folk fancy children?" asked Imogen.
"Yes, they just fancy them and no more. The chemist remarked the other day
that children are like certain salts which need not be actualized because
the formulae are quite sufficient for practical purposes. I don't see how
even Flavia can endure to have that man about."
"I have always been rather curious to know what Arthur thinks of it all,"
remarked Imogen cautiously.
"Thinks of it!" ejaculated Miss Broadwood. "Why, my dear, what would any
man think of having his house turned into an hotel, habited by freaks who
discharge his servants, borrow his money, and insult his neighbors? This
place is shunned like a lazaretto!"
"Well, then, why does he—why does he—" persisted Imogen.
"Bah!" interrupted Miss Broadwood impatiently, "why did he in the first
place? That's the question."
"Marry her, you mean?" said Imogen coloring.
"Exactly so," said Miss Broadwood sharply, as she snapped the lid of her
"I suppose that is a question rather beyond us, and certainly one which we
cannot discuss," said Imogen. "But his toleration on this one point
puzzles me, quite apart from other complications."
"Toleration? Why this point, as you call it, simply is Flavia. Who could
conceive of her without it? I don't know where it's all going to end, I'm
sure, and I'm equally sure that, if it were not for Arthur, I shouldn't
care," declared Miss Broadwood, drawing her shoulders together.
"But will it end at all, now?"
"Such an absurd state of things can't go on indefinitely. A man isn't
going to see his wife make a guy of herself forever, is he? Chaos has
already begun in the servants' quarters. There are six different languages
spoken there now. You see, it's all on an entirely false basis. Flavia
hasn't the slightest notion of what these people are really like, their
good and their bad alike escape her. They, on the other hand, can't
imagine what she is driving at. Now, Arthur is worse off than either
faction; he is not in the fairy story in that he sees these people exactly
as they are, but he is utterly unable to see Flavia as they see
her. There you have the situation. Why can't he see her as we do? My dear,
that has kept me awake o' nights. This man who has thought so much and
lived so much, who is naturally a critic, really takes Flavia at very
nearly her own estimate. But now I am entering upon a wilderness. From a
brief acquaintance with her you can know nothing of the icy fastnesses of
Flavia's self-esteem. It's like St. Peter's; you can't realize its
magnitude at once. You have to grow into a sense of it by living under its
shadow. It has perplexed even Emile Roux, that merciless dissector of
egoism. She has puzzled him the more because he saw at a glance what some
of them do not perceive at once, and what will be mercifully concealed
from Arthur until the trump sounds; namely, that all Flavia's artists have
done or ever will do means exactly as much to her as a symphony means to
an oyster; that there is no bridge by which the significance of any work
of art could be conveyed to her."
"Then, in the name of goodness, why does she bother?" gasped Imogen. "She
is pretty, wealthy, well-established; why should she bother?"
"That's what M. Roux has kept asking himself. I can't pretend to analyze
it. She reads papers on the Literary Landmarks of Paris, the Loves of the
Poets, and that sort of thing, to clubs out in Chicago. To Flavia it is
more necessary to be called clever than to breathe. I would give a good
deal to know that glum Frenchman's diagnosis. He has been watching her out
of those fishy eyes of his as a biologist watches a hemisphereless frog."
For several days after M. Roux's departure Flavia gave an embarrassing
share of her attention to Imogen. Embarrassing, because Imogen had the
feeling of being energetically and futilely explored, she knew not for
what. She felt herself under the globe of an air pump, expected to yield
up something. When she confined the conversation to matters of general
interest Flavia conveyed to her with some pique that her one endeavor in
life had been to fit herself to converse with her friends upon those
things which vitally interested them. "One has no right to accept their
best from people unless one gives, isn't it so? I want to be able to give—!"
she declared vaguely. Yet whenever Imogen strove to pay her tithes and
plunged bravely into her plans for study next winter, Flavia grew
absent-minded and interrupted her by amazing generalizations or by such
embarrassing questions as, "And these grim studies really have charm for
you; you are quite buried in them; they make other things seem light and
"I rather feel as though I had got in here under false pretenses," Imogen
confided to Miss Broadwood. "I'm sure I don't know what it is that she
wants of me."
"Ah," chuckled Jemima, "you are not equal to these heart to heart talks
with Flavia. You utterly fail to communicate to her the atmosphere of that
untroubled joy in which you dwell. You must remember that she gets no
feeling out of things herself, and she demands that you impart yours to
her by some process of psychic transmission. I once met a blind girl,
blind from birth, who could discuss the peculiarities of the Barbizon
school with just Flavia's glibness and enthusiasm. Ordinarily Flavia knows
how to get what she wants from people, and her memory is wonderful. One
evening I heard her giving Frau Lichtenfeld some random impressions about
Hedda Gabler which she extracted from me five years ago; giving them with
an impassioned conviction of which I was never guilty. But I have known
other people who could appropriate your stories and opinions; Flavia is
infinitely more subtle than that; she can soak up the very thrash and
drift of your daydreams, and take the very thrills off your back, as it
After some days of unsuccessful effort, Flavia withdrew herself, and
Imogen found Hamilton ready to catch her when she was tossed afield. He
seemed only to have been awaiting this crisis, and at once their old
intimacy reestablished itself as a thing inevitable and beautifully
prepared for. She convinced herself that she had not been mistaken in him,
despite all the doubts that had come up in later years, and this renewal
of faith set more than one question thumping in her brain. "How did he,
how can he?" she kept repeating with a tinge of her childish resentment,
"what right had he to waste anything so fine?"
When Imogen and Arthur were returning from a walk before luncheon one
morning about a week after M. Roux's departure, they noticed an absorbed
group before one of the hall windows. Herr Schotte and Restzhoff sat on
the window seat with a newspaper between them, while Wellington,
Schemetzkin, and Will Maidenwood looked over their shoulders. They seemed
intensely interested, Herr Schotte occasionally pounding his knees with
his fists in ebullitions of barbaric glee. When imogen entered the hall,
however, the men were all sauntering toward the breakfast room and the
paper was lying innocently on the divan. During luncheon the personnel of
that window group were unwontedly animated and agreeable all save
Schemetzkin, whose stare was blanker than ever, as though Roux's mantle of
insulting indifference had fallen upon him, in addition to his own
oblivious self-absorption. Will Maidenwood seemed embarrassed and annoyed;
the chemist employed himself with making polite speeches to Hamilton.
Flavia did not come down to lunch—and there was a malicious gleam
under Herr Schotte's eyebrows. Frank Wellington announced nervously that
an imperative letter from his protecting syndicate summoned him to the
After luncheon the men went to the golf links, and Imogen, at the first
opportunity, possessed herself of the newspaper which had been left on the
divan. One of the first things that caught her eye was an article headed
"Roux on Tuft Hunters; The Advanced American Woman as He Sees Her;
Aggressive, Superficial, and Insincere." The entire interview was nothing
more nor less than a satiric characterization of Flavia, aquiver with
irritation and vitriolic malice. No one could mistake it; it was done with
all his deftness of portraiture. Imogen had not finished the article when
she heard a footstep, and clutching the paper she started precipitately
toward the stairway as Arthur entered. He put out his hand, looking
critically at her distressed face.
"Wait a moment, Miss Willard," he said peremptorily, "I want to see
whether we can find what it was that so interested our friends this
morning. Give me the paper, please."
Imogen grew quite white as he opened the journal. She reached forward and
crumpled it with her hands. "Please don't, please don't," she pleaded;
"it's something I don't want you to see. Oh, why will you? it's just
something low and despicable that you can't notice."
Arthur had gently loosed her hands, and he pointed her to a chair. He lit
a cigar and read the article through without comment. When he had finished
it he walked to the fireplace, struck a match, and tossed the flaming
journal between the brass andirons.
"You are right," he remarked as he came back, dusting his hands with his
handkerchief. "It's quite impossible to comment. There are extremes of
blackguardism for which we have no name. The only thing necessary is to
see that Flavia gets no wind of this. This seems to be my cue to act; poor
Imogen looked at him tearfully; she could only murmur, "Oh, why did you
Hamilton laughed spiritlessly. "Come, don't you worry about it. You always
took other people's troubles too seriously. When you were little and all
the world was gay and everybody happy, you must needs get the Little
Mermaid's troubles to grieve over. Come with me into the music room. You
remember the musical setting I once made you for the Lay of the
Jabberwock? I was trying it over the other night, long after you were in
bed, and I decided it was quite as fine as the Erl-King music. How I wish
I could give you some of the cake that Alice ate and make you a little
girl again. Then, when you had got through the glass door into the little
garden, you could call to me, perhaps, and tell me all the fine things
that were going on there. What a pity it is that you ever grew up!" he
added, laughing; and Imogen, too, was thinking just that.
At dinner that evening, Flavia, with fatal persistence, insisted upon
turning the conversation to M. Roux. She had been reading one of his
novels and had remembered anew that Paris set its watches by his clock.
Imogen surmised that she was tortured by a feeling that she had not
sufficiently appreciated him while she had had him. When she first
mentioned his name she was answered only by the pall of silence that fell
over the company. Then everyone began to talk at once, as though to
correct a false position. They spoke of him with a fervid, defiant
admiration, with the sort of hot praise that covers a double purpose.
Imogen fancied she could see that they felt a kind of relief at what the
man had done, even those who despised him for doing it; that they felt a
spiteful hate against Flavia, as though she had tricked them, and a
certain contempt for themselves that they had been beguiled. She was
reminded of the fury of the crowd in the fairy tale, when once the child
had called out that the king was in his night clothes. Surely these people
knew no more about Flavia than they had known before, but the mere fact
that the thing had been said altered the situation. Flavia, meanwhile, sat
chattering amiably, pathetically unconscious of her nakedness.
Hamilton lounged, fingering the stem of his wineglass, gazing down the
table at one face after another and studying the various degrees of
self-consciousness they exhibited. Imogen's eyes followed his, fearfully.
When a lull came in the spasmodic flow of conversation, Arthur, leaning
back in his chair, remarked deliberately, "As for M. Roux, his very
profession places him in that class of men whom society has never been
able to accept unconditionally because it has never been able to assume
that they have any ordered notion of taste. He and his ilk remain, with
the mountebanks and snake charmers, people indispensable to our
civilization, but wholly unreclaimed by it; people whom we receive, but
whose invitations we do not accept."
Fortunately for Flavia, this mine was not exploded until just before the
coffee was brought. Her laughter was pitiful to hear; it echoed through
the silent room as in a vault, while she made some tremulously light
remark about her husband's drollery, grim as a jest from the dying. No one
responded and she sat nodding her head like a mechanical toy and smiling
her white, set smile through her teeth, until Alcee Buisson and Frau
Lichtenfeld came to her support.
After dinner the guests retired immediately to their rooms, and Imogen
went upstairs on tiptoe, feeling the echo of breakage and the dust of
crumbling in the air. She wondered whether Flavia's habitual note of
uneasiness were not, in a manner, prophetic, and a sort of unconscious
premonition, after all. She sat down to write a letter, but she found
herself so nervous, her head so hot and her hands so cold, that she soon
abandoned the effort, just as she was about to seek Miss Broadwood, Flavia
entered and embraced her hysterically.
"My dearest girl," she began, "was there ever such an unfortunate and
incomprehensible speech made before? Of course it is scarcely necessary to
explain to you poor Arthur's lack of tact, and that he meant nothing. But
they! Can they be expected to understand? He will feel wretchedly about it
when he realizes what he has done, but in the meantime? And M. Roux, of
all men! When we were so fortunate as to get him, and he made himself so
unreservedly agreeable, and I fancied that, in his way, Arthur quite
admired him. My dear, you have no idea what that speech has done.
Schemetzkin and Herr Schotte have already sent me word that they must
leave us tomorrow. Such a thing from a host!" Flavia paused, choked by
tears of vexation and despair.
Imogen was thoroughly disconcerted; this was the first time she had ever
seen Flavia betray any personal emotion which was indubitably genuine. She
replied with what consolation she could. "Need they take it personally at
all? It was a mere observation upon a class of people—"
"Which he knows nothing whatever about, and with whom he has no sympathy,"
interrupted Flavia. "Ah, my dear, you could not be expected to
understand. You can't realize, knowing Arthur as you do, his entire lack
of any aesthetic sense whatever. He is absolutely nil, stone deaf
and stark blind, on that side. He doesn't mean to be brutal, it is just
the brutality of utter ignorance. They always feel it—they are so
sensitive to unsympathetic influences, you know; they know it the moment
they come into the house. I have spent my life apologizing for him and
struggling to conceal it; but in spite of me, he wounds them; his very
attitude, even in silence, offends them. Heavens! Do I not know? Is it not
perpetually and forever wounding me? But there has never been anything so
dreadful as this—never! If I could conceive of any possible motive,
"But, surely, Mrs. Hamilton, it was, after all, a mere expression of
opinion, such as we are any of us likely to venture upon any subject
whatever. It was neither more personal nor more extravagant than many of
M. Roux's remarks."
"But, Imogen, certainly M. Roux has the right. It is a part of his art,
and that is altogether another matter. Oh, this is not the only instance!"
continued Flavia passionately, "I've always had that narrow, bigoted
prejudice to contend with. It has always held me back. But this—!"
"I think you mistake his attitude," replied Imogen, feeling a flush that
made her ears tingle. "That is, I fancy he is more appreciative than he
seems. A man can't be very demonstrative about those things—not if
he is a real man. I should not think you would care much about saving the
feelings of people who are too narrow to admit of any other point of view
than their own." She stopped, finding herself in the impossible position
of attempting to explain Hamilton to his wife; a task which, if once
begun, would necessitate an entire course of enlightenment which she
doubted Flavia's ability to receive, and which she could offer only with
very poor grace.
"That's just where it stings most"—here Flavia began pacing the
floor—"it is just because they have all shown such tolerance and
have treated Arthur with such unfailing consideration that I can find no
reasonable pretext for his rancor. How can he fail to see the value of
such friendships on the children's account, if for nothing else! What an
advantage for them to grow up among such associations! Even though he
cares nothing about these things himself he might realize that. Is there
nothing I could say by way of explanation? To them, I mean? If someone
were to explain to them how unfortunately limited he is in these things—"
"I'm afraid I cannot advise you," said Imogen decidedly, "but that, at
least, seems to me impossible."
Flavia took her hand and glanced at her affectionately, nodding nervously.
"Of course, dear girl, I can't ask you to be quite frank with me. Poor
child, you are trembling and your hands are icy. Poor Arthur! But you must
not judge him by this altogether; think how much he misses in life. What a
cruel shock you've had. I'll send you some sherry, Good night, my dear."
When Flavia shut the door Imogen burst into a fit of nervous weeping.
Next morning she awoke after a troubled and restless night. At eight
o'clock Miss Broadwood entered in a red and white striped bathrobe.
"Up, up, and see the great doom's image!" she cried, her eyes sparkling
with excitement. "The hall is full of trunks, they are packing. What bolt
has fallen? It's you, ma cherie, you've brought Ulysses home again
and the slaughter has begun!" she blew a cloud of smoke triumphantly from
her lips and threw herself into a chair beside the bed.
Imogen, rising on her elbow, plunged excitedly into the story of the Roux
interview, which Miss Broadwood heard with the keenest interest,
frequently interrupting her with exclamations of delight. When Imogen
reached the dramatic scene which terminated in the destruction of the
newspaper, Miss Broadwood rose and took a turn about the room, violently
switching the tasselled cords of her bathrobe.
"Stop a moment," she cried, "you mean to tell me that he had such a
heaven-sent means to bring her to her senses and didn't use it—that
he held such a weapon and threw it away?"
"Use it?" cried Imogen unsteadily. "Of course he didn't! He bared his back
to the tormentor, signed himself over to punishment in that speech he made
at dinner, which everyone understands but Flavia. She was here for an hour
last night and disregarded every limit of taste in her maledictions."
"My dear!" cried Miss Broadwood, catching her hand in inordinate delight
at the situation, "do you see what he has done? There'll be no end to it.
Why he has sacrificed himself to spare the very vanity that devours him,
put rancors in the vessels of his peace, and his eternal jewel given to
the common enemy of man, to make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! He
"Isn't he always that?" cried Imogen hotly. "He's like a pillar of sanity
and law in this house of shams and swollen vanities, where people stalk
about with a sort of madhouse dignity, each one fancying himself a king or
a pope. If you could have heard that woman talk of him! Why, she thinks
him stupid, bigoted, blinded by middleclass prejudices. She talked about
his having no aesthetic sense and insisted that her artists had always
shown him tolerance. I don't know why it should get on my nerves so, I'm
sure, but her stupidity and assurance are enough to drive one to the brink
"Yes, as opposed to his singular fineness, they are calculated to do just
that," said Miss Broadwood gravely, wisely ignoring Imogen's tears. "But
what has been is nothing to what will be. Just wait until Flavia's black
swans have flown! You ought not to try to stick it out; that would only
make it harder for everyone. Suppose you let me telephone your mother to
wire you to come home by the evening train?"
"Anything, rather than have her come at me like that again. It puts me in
a perfectly impossible position, and he is so fine!"
"Of course it does," said Miss Broadwood sympathetically, "and there is no
good to be got from facing it. I will stay because such things interest
me, and Frau Lichtenfeld will stay because she has no money to get away,
and Buisson will stay because he feels somewhat responsible. These
complications are interesting enough to cold-blooded folk like myself who
have an eye for the dramatic element, but they are distracting and
demoralizing to young people with any serious purpose in life."
Miss Broadwood's counsel was all the more generous seeing that, for her,
the most interesting element of this denouement would be eliminated by
Imogen's departure. "If she goes now, she'll get over it," soliloquized
Miss Broadwood. "If she stays, she'll be wrung for him and the hurt may go
deep enough to last. I haven't the heart to see her spoiling things for
herself." She telephoned Mrs. Willard and helped Imogen to pack. She even
took it upon herself to break the news of Imogen's going to Arthur, who
remarked, as he rolled a cigarette in his nerveless fingers:
"Right enough, too. What should she do here with old cynics like you and
me, Jimmy? Seeing that she is brim full of dates and formulae and other
positivisms, and is so girt about with illusions that she still casts a
shadow in the sun. You've been very tender of her, haven't you? I've
watched you. And to think it may all be gone when we see her next. 'The
common fate of all things rare,' you know. What a good fellow you are,
anyway, Jimmy," he added, putting his hands affectionately on her
Arthur went with them to the station. Flavia was so prostrated by the
concerted action of her guests that she was able to see Imogen only for a
moment in her darkened sleeping chamber, where she kissed her
hysterically, without lifting her head, bandaged in aromatic vinegar. On
the way to the station both Arthur and Imogen threw the burden of keeping
up appearances entirely upon Miss Broadwood, who blithely rose to the
occasion. When Hamilton carried Imogen's bag into the car, Miss Broadwood
detained her for a moment, whispering as she gave her a large, warm
handclasp, "I'll come to see you when I get back to town; and, in the
meantime, if you meet any of our artists, tell them you have left Caius
Marius among the ruins of Carthage."
The Sculptor's Funeral
A group of the townspeople stood on the station siding of a little Kansas
town, awaiting the coming of the night train, which was already twenty
minutes overdue. The snow had fallen thick over everything; in the pale
starlight the line of bluffs across the wide, white meadows south of the
town made soft, smoke-colored curves against the clear sky. The men on the
siding stood first on one foot and then on the other, their hands thrust
deep into their trousers pockets, their overcoats open, their shoulders
screwed up with the cold; and they glanced from time to time toward the
southeast, where the railroad track wound along the river shore. They
conversed in low tones and moved about restlessly, seeming uncertain as to
what was expected of them. There was but one of the company who looked as
though he knew exactly why he was there; and he kept conspicuously apart;
walking to the far end of the platform, returning to the station door,
then pacing up the track again, his chin sunk in the high collar of his
overcoat, his burly shoulders drooping forward, his gait heavy and dogged.
Presently he was approached by a tall, spare, grizzled man clad in a faded
Grand Army suit, who shuffled out from the group and advanced with a
certain deference, craning his neck forward until his back made the angle
of a jackknife three-quarters open.
"I reckon she's agoin' to be pretty late ag'in tonight, Jim," he remarked
in a squeaky falsetto. "S'pose it's the snow?"
"I don't know," responded the other man with a shade of annoyance,
speaking from out an astonishing cataract of red beard that grew fiercely
and thickly in all directions.
The spare man shifted the quill toothpick he was chewing to the other side
of his mouth. "It ain't likely that anybody from the East will come with
the corpse, I s'pose," he went on reflectively.
"I don't know," responded the other, more curtly than before.
"It's too bad he didn't belong to some lodge or other. I like an order
funeral myself. They seem more appropriate for people of some reputation,"
the spare man continued, with an ingratiating concession in his shrill
voice, as he carefully placed his toothpick in his vest pocket. He always
carried the flag at the G. A. R. funerals in the town.
The heavy man turned on his heel, without replying, and walked up the
siding. The spare man shuffled back to the uneasy group. "Jim's ez full ez
a tick, ez ushel," he commented commiseratingly.
Just then a distant whistle sounded, and there was a shuffling of feet on
the platform. A number of lanky boys of all ages appeared as suddenly and
slimily as eels wakened by the crack of thunder; some came from the
waiting room, where they had been warming themselves by the red stove, or
half-asleep on the slat benches; others uncoiled themselves from baggage
trucks or slid out of express wagons. Two clambered down from the driver's
seat of a hearse that stood backed up against the siding. They
straightened their stooping shoulders and lifted their heads, and a flash
of momentary animation kindled their dull eyes at that cold, vibrant
scream, the world-wide call for men. It stirred them like the note of a
trumpet; just as it had often stirred the man who was coming home tonight,
in his boyhood.
The night express shot, red as a rocket, from out the eastward marsh lands
and wound along the river shore under the long lines of shivering poplars
that sentineled the meadows, the escaping steam hanging in gray masses
against the pale sky and blotting out the Milky Way. In a moment the red
glare from the headlight streamed up the snow-covered track before the
siding and glittered on the wet, black rails. The burly man with the
disheveled red beard walked swiftly up the platform toward the approaching
train, uncovering his head as he went. The group of men behind him
hesitated, glanced questioningly at one another, and awkwardly followed
his example. The train stopped, and the crowd shuffled up to the express
car just as the door was thrown open, the spare man in the G. A. B. suit
thrusting his head forward with curiosity. The express messenger appeared
in the doorway, accompanied by a young man in a long ulster and traveling
"Are Mr. Merrick's friends here?" inquired the young man.
The group on the platform swayed and shuffled uneasily. Philip Phelps, the
banker, responded with dignity: "We have come to take charge of the body.
Mr. Merrick's father is very feeble and can't be about."
"Send the agent out here," growled the express messenger, "and tell the
operator to lend a hand."
The coffin was got out of its rough box and down on the snowy platform.
The townspeople drew back enough to make room for it and then formed a
close semicircle about it, looking curiously at the palm leaf which lay
across the black cover. No one said anything. The baggage man stood by his
truck, waiting to get at the trunks. The engine panted heavily, and the
fireman dodged in and out among the wheels with his yellow torch and long
oilcan, snapping the spindle boxes. The young Bostonian, one of the dead
sculptor's pupils who had come with the body, looked about him helplessly.
He turned to the banker, the only one of that black, uneasy,
stoop-shouldered group who seemed enough of an individual to be addressed.
"None of Mr. Merrick's brothers are here?" he asked uncertainly.
The man with the red heard for the first time stepped up and joined the
group. "No, they have not come yet; the family is scattered. The body will
be taken directly to the house." He stooped and took hold of one of the
handles of the coffin.
"Take the long hill road up, Thompson—it will be easier on the
horses," called the liveryman as the undertaker snapped the door of the
hearse and prepared to mount to the driver's seat.
Laird, the red-bearded lawyer, turned again to the stranger: "We didn't
know whether there would be anyone with him or not," he explained. "It's a
long walk, so you'd better go up in the hack." He pointed to a single,
battered conveyance, but the young man replied stiffly: "Thank you, but I
think I will go up with the hearse. If you don't object," turning to the
undertaker, "I'll ride with you."
They clambered up over the wheels and drove off in the starlight tip the
long, white hill toward the town. The lamps in the still village were
shining from under the low, snow-burdened roofs; and beyond, on every
side, the plains reached out into emptiness, peaceful and wide as the soft
sky itself, and wrapped in a tangible, white silence.
When the hearse backed up to a wooden sidewalk before a naked,
weatherbeaten frame house, the same composite, ill-defined group that had
stood upon the station siding was huddled about the gate. The front yard
was an icy swamp, and a couple of warped planks, extending from the
sidewalk to the door, made a sort of rickety footbridge. The gate hung on
one hinge and was opened wide with difficulty. Steavens, the young
stranger, noticed that something black was tied to the knob of the front
The grating sound made by the casket, as it was drawn from the hearse, was
answered by a scream from the house; the front door was wrenched open, and
a tall, corpulent woman rushed out bareheaded into the snow and flung
herself upon the coffin, shrieking: "My boy, my boy! And this is how
you've come home to me!"
As Steavens turned away and closed his eyes with a shudder of unutterable
repulsion, another woman, also tall, but flat and angular, dressed
entirely in black, darted out of the house and caught Mrs. Merrick by the
shoulders, crying sharply: "Come, come, Mother; you mustn't go on like
this!" Her tone changed to one of obsequious solemnity as she turned to
the banker: "The parlor is ready, Mr. Phelps."
The bearers carried the coffin along the narrow boards, while the
undertaker ran ahead with the coffin-rests. They bore it into a large,
unheated room that smelled of dampness and disuse and furniture polish,
and set it down under a hanging lamp ornamented with jingling glass prisms
and before a "Rogers group" of John Alden and Priscilla, wreathed with
smilax. Henry Steavens stared about him with the sickening conviction that
there had been some horrible mistake, and that he had somehow arrived at
the wrong destination. He looked painfully about over the clover-green
Brussels, the fat plush upholstery, among the hand-painted china plaques
and panels, and vases, for some mark of identification, for something that
might once conceivably have belonged to Harvey Merrick. It was not until
he recognized his friend in the crayon portrait of a little boy in kilts
and curls hanging above the piano that he felt willing to let any of these
people approach the coffin.
"Take the lid off, Mr. Thompson; let me see my boy's face," wailed the
elder woman between her sobs. This time Steavens looked fearfully, almost
beseechingly into her face, red and swollen under its masses of strong,
black, shiny hair. He flushed, dropped his eyes, and then, almost
incredulously, looked again. There was a kind of power about her face—a
kind of brutal handsomeness, even, but it was scarred and furrowed by
violence, and so colored and coarsened by fiercer passions that grief
seemed never to have laid a gentle finger there. The long nose was
distended and knobbed at the end, and there were deep lines on either side
of it; her heavy, black brows almost met across her forehead; her teeth
were large and square and set far apart—teeth that could tear. She
filled the room; the men were obliterated, seemed tossed about like twigs
in an angry water, and even Steavens felt himself being drawn into the
The daughter—the tall, rawboned woman in crepe, with a mourning comb
in her hair which curiously lengthened her long face sat stiffly upon the
sofa, her hands, conspicuous for their large knuckles, folded in her lap,
her mouth and eyes drawn down, solemnly awaiting the opening of the
coffin. Near the door stood a mulatto woman, evidently a servant in the
house, with a timid bearing and an emaciated face pitifully sad and
gentle. She was weeping silently, the corner of her calico apron lifted to
her eyes, occasionally suppressing a long, quivering sob. Steavens walked
over and stood beside her.
Feeble steps were heard on the stairs, and an old man, tall and frail,
odorous of pipe smoke, with shaggy, unkept gray hair and a dingy beard,
tobacco stained about the mouth, entered uncertainly. He went slowly up to
the coffin and stood, rolling a blue cotton handkerchief between his
hands, seeming so pained and embarrassed by his wife's orgy of grief that
he had no consciousness of anything else.
"There, there, Annie, dear, don't take on so," he quavered timidly,
putting out a shaking hand and awkwardly patting her elbow. She turned
with a cry and sank upon his shoulder with such violence that he tottered
a little. He did not even glance toward the coffin, but continued to look
at her with a dull, frightened, appealing expression, as a spaniel looks
at the whip. His sunken cheeks slowly reddened and burned with miserable
shame. When his wife rushed from the room her daughter strode after her
with set lips. The servant stole up to the coffin, bent over it for a
moment, and then slipped away to the kitchen, leaving Steavens, the
lawyer, and the father to themselves. The old man stood trembling and
looking down at his dead son's face. The sculptor's splendid head seemed
even more noble in its rigid stillness than in life. The dark hair had
crept down upon the wide forehead; the face seemed strangely long, but in
it there was not that beautiful and chaste repose which we expect to find
in the faces of the dead. The brows were so drawn that there were two deep
lines above the beaked nose, and the chin was thrust forward defiantly. It
was as though the strain of life had been so sharp and bitter that death
could not at once wholly relax the tension and smooth the countenance into
perfect peace—as though he were still guarding something precious
and holy, which might even yet be wrested from him.
The old man's lips were working under his stained beard. He turned to the
lawyer with timid deference: "Phelps and the rest are comin' back to set
up with Harve, ain't they?" he asked. "Thank 'ee, Jim, thank 'ee." He
brushed the hair back gently from his son's forehead. "He was a good boy,
Jim; always a good boy. He was ez gentle ez a child and the kindest of 'em
all—only we didn't none of us ever onderstand him." The tears
trickled slowly down his beard and dropped upon the sculptor's coat.
"Martin, Martin. Oh, Martin! come here," his wife wailed from the top of
the stairs. The old man started timorously: "Yes, Annie, I'm coming." He
turned away, hesitated stood for a moment in miserable indecision; then he
reached back and patted the dead man's hair softly, and stumbled from the
"Poor old man, I didn't think he had any tears left. Seems as if his eyes
would have gone dry long ago. At his age nothing cuts very deep," remarked
Something in his tone made Steavens glance up. While the mother had been
in the room the young man had scarcely seen anyone else; but now, from the
moment he first glanced into Jim Laird's florid face and bloodshot eyes,
he knew that he had found what he had been heartsick at not finding before—the
feeling, the understanding, that must exist in someone, even here.
The man was red as his beard, with features swollen and blurred by
dissipation, and a hot, blazing blue eye. His face was strained—that
of a man who is controlling himself with difficulty—and he kept
plucking at his beard with a sort of fierce resentment. Steavens, sitting
by the window, watched him turn down the glaring lamp, still its jangling
pendants with an angry gesture, and then stand with his hands locked
behind him, staring down into the master's face. He could not help
wondering what link there could have been between the porcelain vessel and
so sooty a lump of potter's clay.
From the kitchen an uproar was sounding; when the dining-room door opened
the import of it was clear. The mother was abusing the maid for having
forgotten to make the dressing for the chicken salad which had been
prepared for the watchers. Steavens had never heard anything in the least
like it; it was injured, emotional, dramatic abuse, unique and masterly in
its excruciating cruelty, as violent and unrestrained as had been her
grief of twenty minutes before. With a shudder of disgust the lawyer went
into the dining room and closed the door into the kitchen.
"Poor Roxy's getting it now," he remarked when he came back. "The Merricks
took her out of the poorhouse years ago; and if her loyalty would let her,
I guess the poor old thing could tell tales that would curdle your blood.
She's the mulatto woman who was standing in here a while ago, with her
apron to her eyes. The old woman is a fury; there never was anybody like
her for demonstrative piety and ingenious cruelty. She made Harvey's life
a hell for him when he lived at home; he was so sick ashamed of it. I
never could see how he kept himself so sweet."
"He was wonderful," said Steavens slowly, "wonderful; but until tonight I
have never known how wonderful."
"That is the true and eternal wonder of it, anyway; that it can come even
from such a dung heap as this," the lawyer cried, with a sweeping gesture
which seemed to indicate much more than the four walls within which they
"I think I'll see whether I can get a little air. The room is so close I
am beginning to feel rather faint," murmured Steavens, struggling with one
of the windows. The sash was stuck, however, and would not yield, so he
sat down dejectedly and began pulling at his collar. The lawyer came over,
loosened the sash with one blow of his red fist, and sent the window up a
few inches. Steavens thanked him, but the nausea which had been gradually
climbing into his throat for the last half-hour left him with but one
desire—a desperate feeling that he must get away from this place
with what was left of Harvey Merrick. Oh, he comprehended well enough now
the quiet bitterness of the smile that he had seen so often on his
He remembered that once, when Merrick returned from a visit home, he
brought with him a singularly feeling and suggestive bas-relief of a thin,
faded old woman, sitting and sewing something pinned to her knee; while a
full-lipped, full-blooded little urchin, his trousers held up by a single
gallows, stood beside her, impatiently twitching her gown to call her
attention to a butterfly he had caught. Steavens, impressed by the tender
and delicate modeling of the thin, tired face, had asked him if it were
his mother. He remembered the dull flush that had burned up in the
The lawyer was sitting in a rocking chair beside the coffin, his head
thrown back and his eyes closed. Steavens looked at him earnestly, puzzled
at the line of the chin, and wondering why a man should conceal a feature
of such distinction under that disfiguring shock of beard. Suddenly, as
though he felt the young sculptor's keen glance, he opened his eyes.
"Was he always a good deal of an oyster?" he asked abruptly. "He was
terribly shy as a boy."
"Yes, he was an oyster, since you put it so," rejoined Steavens. "Although
he could be very fond of people, he always gave one the impression of
being detached. He disliked violent emotion; he was reflective, and rather
distrustful of himself—except, of course, as regarded his work. He
was surefooted enough there. He distrusted men pretty thoroughly and women
even more, yet somehow without believing ill of them. He was determined,
indeed, to believe the best, but he seemed afraid to investigate."
"A burnt dog dreads the fire," said the lawyer grimly, and closed his
Steavens went on and on, reconstructing that whole miserable boyhood. All
this raw, biting ugliness had been the portion of the man whose tastes
were refined beyond the limits of the reasonable—whose mind was an
exhaustless gallery of beautiful impressions, and so sensitive that the
mere shadow of a poplar leaf flickering against a sunny wall would be
etched and held there forever. Surely, if ever a man had the magic word in
his fingertips, it was Merrick. Whatever he touched, he revealed its
holiest secret; liberated it from enchantment and restored it to its
pristine loveliness, like the Arabian prince who fought the enchantress
spell for spell. Upon whatever he had come in contact with, he had left a
beautiful record of the experience—a sort of ethereal signature; a
scent, a sound, a color that was his own.
Steavens understood now the real tragedy of his master's life; neither
love nor wine, as many had conjectured, but a blow which had fallen
earlier and cut deeper than these could have done—a shame not his,
and yet so unescapably his, to bide in his heart from his very boyhood.
And without—the frontier warfare; the yearning of a boy, cast ashore
upon a desert of newness and ugliness and sordidness, for all that is
chastened and old, and noble with traditions.
At eleven o'clock the tall, flat woman in black crepe entered, announced
that the watchers were arriving, and asked them "to step into the dining
room." As Steavens rose the lawyer said dryly: "You go on—it'll be a
good experience for you, doubtless; as for me, I'm not equal to that crowd
tonight; I've had twenty years of them."
As Steavens closed the door after him be glanced back at the lawyer,
sitting by the coffin in the dim light, with his chin resting on his hand.
The same misty group that had stood before the door of the express car
shuffled into the dining room. In the light of the kerosene lamp they
separated and became individuals. The minister, a pale, feeble-looking man
with white hair and blond chin-whiskers, took his seat beside a small side
table and placed his Bible upon it. The Grand Army man sat down behind the
stove and tilted his chair back comfortably against the wall, fishing his
quill toothpick from his waistcoat pocket. The two bankers, Phelps and
Elder, sat off in a corner behind the dinner table, where they could
finish their discussion of the new usury law and its effect on chattel
security loans. The real estate agent, an old man with a smiling,
hypocritical face, soon joined them. The coal-and-lumber dealer and the
cattle shipper sat on opposite sides of the hard coal-burner, their feet
on the nickelwork. Steavens took a book from his pocket and began to read.
The talk around him ranged through various topics of local interest while
the house was quieting down. When it was clear that the members of the
family were in bed the Grand Army man hitched his shoulders and,
untangling his long legs, caught his heels on the rounds of his chair.
"S'pose there'll be a will, Phelps?" he queried in his weak falsetto.
The banker laughed disagreeably and began trimming his nails with a
"There'll scarcely be any need for one, will there?" he queried in his
The restless Grand Army man shifted his position again, getting his knees
still nearer his chin. "Why, the ole man says Harve's done right well
lately," he chirped.
The other banker spoke up. "I reckon he means by that Harve ain't asked
him to mortgage any more farms lately, so as he could go on with his
"Seems like my mind don't reach back to a time when Harve wasn't bein'
edycated," tittered the Grand Army man.
There was a general chuckle. The minister took out his handkerchief and
blew his nose sonorously. Banker Phelps closed his knife with a snap.
"It's too bad the old man's sons didn't turn out better," he remarked with
reflective authority. "They never hung together. He spent money enough on
Harve to stock a dozen cattle farms and he might as well have poured it
into Sand Creek. If Harve had stayed at home and helped nurse what little
they had, and gone into stock on the old man's bottom farm, they might all
have been well fixed. But the old man had to trust everything to tenants
and was cheated right and left."
"Harve never could have handled stock none," interposed the cattleman. "He
hadn't it in him to be sharp. Do you remember when he bought Sander's
mules for eight-year-olds, when everybody in town knew that Sander's
father-in-law give 'em to his wife for a wedding present eighteen years
before, an' they was full-grown mules then."
Everyone chuckled, and the Grand Army man rubbed his knees with a spasm of
"Harve never was much account for anything practical, and he shore was
never fond of work," began the coal-and-lumber dealer. "I mind the last
time he was home; the day he left, when the old man was out to the barn
helpin' his hand hitch up to take Harve to the train, and Cal Moots was
patchin' up the fence, Harve, he come out on the step and sings out, in
his ladylike voice: 'Cal Moots, Cal Moots! please come cord my trunk.'"
"That's Harve for you," approved the Grand Army man gleefully. "I kin hear
him howlin' yet when he was a big feller in long pants and his mother used
to whale him with a rawhide in the barn for lettin' the cows git foundered
in the cornfield when he was drivin' 'em home from pasture. He killed a
cow of mine that-a-way onc't—a pure Jersey and the best milker I
had, an' the ole man had to put up for her. Harve, he was watchin' the sun
set acros't the marshes when the anamile got away; he argued that sunset
was oncommon fine."
"Where the old man made his mistake was in sending the boy East to
school," said Phelps, stroking his goatee and speaking in a deliberate,
judicial tone. "There was where he got his head full of traipsing to Paris
and all such folly. What Harve needed, of all people, was a course in some
first-class Kansas City business college."
The letters were swimming before Steavens's eyes. Was it possible that
these men did not understand, that the palm on the coffin meant nothing to
them? The very name of their town would have remained forever buried in
the postal guide had it not been now and again mentioned in the world in
connection with Harvey Merrick's. He remembered what his master had said
to him on the day of his death, after the congestion of both lungs had
shut off any probability of recovery, and the sculptor had asked his pupil
to send his body home. "It's not a pleasant place to be lying while the
world is moving and doing and bettering," he had said with a feeble smile,
"but it rather seems as though we ought to go back to the place we came
from in the end. The townspeople will come in for a look at me; and after
they have had their say I shan't have much to fear from the judgment of
God. The wings of the Victory, in there"—with a weak gesture toward
his studio—"will not shelter me."
The cattleman took up the comment. "Forty's young for a Merrick to cash
in; they usually hang on pretty well. Probably he helped it along with
"His mother's people were not long-lived, and Harvey never had a robust
constitution," said the minister mildly. He would have liked to say more.
He had been the boy's Sunday-school teacher, and had been fond of him; but
he felt that he was not in a position to speak. His own sons had turned
out badly, and it was not a year since one of them had made his last trip
home in the express car, shot in a gambling house in the Black Hills.
"Nevertheless, there is no disputin' that Harve frequently looked upon the
wine when it was red, also variegated, and it shore made an oncommon fool
of him," moralized the cattleman.
Just then the door leading into the parlor rattled loudly, and everyone
started involuntarily, looking relieved when only Jim Laird came out. His
red face was convulsed with anger, and the Grand Army man ducked his head
when he saw the spark in his blue, bloodshot eye. They were all afraid of
Jim; he was a drunkard, but he could twist the law to suit his client's
needs as no other man in all western Kansas could do; and there were many
who tried. The lawyer closed the door gently behind him, leaned back
against it and folded his arms, cocking his head a little to one side.
When he assumed this attitude in the courtroom, ears were always pricked
up, as it usually foretold a flood of withering sarcasm.
"I've been with you gentlemen before," he began in a dry, even tone, "when
you've sat by the coffins of boys born and raised in this town; and, if I
remember rightly, you were never any too well satisfied when you checked
them up. What's the matter, anyhow? Why is it that reputable young men are
as scarce as millionaires in Sand City? It might almost seem to a stranger
that there was some way something the matter with your progressive town.
Why did Ruben Sayer, the brightest young lawyer you ever turned out, after
he had come home from the university as straight as a die, take to
drinking and forge a check and shoot himself? Why did Bill Merrit's son
die of the shakes in a saloon in Omaha? Why was Mr. Thomas's son, here,
shot in a gambling house? Why did young Adams burn his mill to beat the
insurance companies and go to the pen?"
The lawyer paused and unfolded his arms, laying one clenched fist quietly
on the table. "I'll tell you why. Because you drummed nothing but money
and knavery into their ears from the time they wore knickerbockers;
because you carped away at them as you've been carping here tonight,
holding our friends Phelps and Elder up to them for their models, as our
grandfathers held up George Washington and John Adams. But the boys, worse
luck, were young and raw at the business you put them to; and how could
they match coppers with such artists as Phelps and Elder? You wanted them
to be successful rascals; they were only unsuccessful ones—that's
all the difference. There was only one boy ever raised in this borderland
between ruffianism and civilization who didn't come to grief, and you
hated Harvey Merrick more for winning out than you hated all the other
boys who got under the wheels. Lord, Lord, how you did hate him! Phelps,
here, is fond of saying that he could buy and sell us all out any time
he's a mind to; but he knew Harve wouldn't have given a tinker's damn for
his bank and all his cattle farms put together; and a lack of
appreciation, that way, goes hard with Phelps.
"Old Nimrod, here, thinks Harve drank too much; and this from such as
Nimrod and me!"
"Brother Elder says Harve was too free with the old man's money—fell
short in filial consideration, maybe. Well, we can all remember the very
tone in which brother Elder swore his own father was a liar, in the county
court; and we all know that the old man came out of that partnership with
his son as bare as a sheared lamb. But maybe I'm getting personal, and I'd
better be driving ahead at what I want to say."
The lawyer paused a moment, squared his heavy shoulders, and went on:
"Harvey Merrick and I went to school together, back East. We were dead in
earnest, and we wanted you all to be proud of us some day. We meant to be
great men. Even I, and I haven't lost my sense of humor, gentlemen, I
meant to be a great man. I came back here to practice, and I found you
didn't in the least want me to be a great man. You wanted me to be a
shrewd lawyer—oh, yes! Our veteran here wanted me to get him an
increase of pension, because he had dyspepsia; Phelps wanted a new county
survey that would put the widow Wilson's little bottom farm inside his
south line; Elder wanted to lend money at 5 per cent a month and get it
collected; old Stark here wanted to wheedle old women up in Vermont into
investing their annuities in real estate mortgages that are not worth the
paper they are written on. Oh, you needed me hard enough, and you'll go on
needing me; and that's why I'm not afraid to plug the truth home to you
"Well, I came back here and became the damned shyster you wanted me to be.
You pretend to have some sort of respect for me; and yet you'll stand up
and throw mud at Harvey Merrick, whose soul you couldn't dirty and whose
hands you couldn't tie. Oh, you're a discriminating lot of Christians!
There have been times when the sight of Harvey's name in some Eastern
paper has made me hang my head like a whipped dog; and, again, times when
I liked to think of him off there in the world, away from all this hog
wallow, doing his great work and climbing the big, clean upgrade he'd set
"And we? Now that we've fought and lied and sweated and stolen, and hated
as only the disappointed strugglers in a bitter, dead little Western town
know how to do, what have we got to show for it? Harvey Merrick wouldn't
have given one sunset over your marshes for all you've got put together,
and you know it. It's not for me to say why, in the inscrutable wisdom of
God, a genius should ever have been called from this place of hatred and
bitter waters; but I want this Boston man to know that the drivel he's
been hearing here tonight is the only tribute any truly great man could
ever have from such a lot of sick, side-tracked, burnt-dog, land-poor
sharks as the here-present financiers of Sand City—upon which town
may God have mercy!"
The lawyer thrust out his hand to Steavens as he passed him, caught up his
overcoat in the hall, and had left the house before the Grand Army man had
had time to lift his ducked head and crane his long neck about at his
Next day Jim Laird was drunk and unable to attend the funeral services.
Steavens called twice at his office, but was compelled to start East
without seeing him. He had a presentiment that he would hear from him
again, and left his address on the lawyer's table; but if Laird found it,
he never acknowledged it. The thing in him that Harvey Merrick had loved
must have gone underground with Harvey Merrick's coffin; for it never
spoke again, and Jim got the cold he died of driving across the Colorado
mountains to defend one of Phelps's sons, who had got into trouble out
there by cutting government timber.
"A Death in the Desert"
Everett Hilgarde was conscious that the man in the seat across the aisle
was looking at him intently. He was a large, florid man, wore a
conspicuous diamond solitaire upon his third finger, and Everett judged
him to be a traveling salesman of some sort. He had the air of an
adaptable fellow who had been about the world and who could keep cool and
clean under almost any circumstances.
The "High Line Flyer," as this train was derisively called among railroad
men, was jerking along through the hot afternoon over the monotonous
country between Holdridge and Cheyenne. Besides the blond man and himself
the only occupants of the car were two dusty, bedraggled-looking girls who
had been to the Exposition at Chicago, and who were earnestly discussing
the cost of their first trip out of Colorado. The four uncomfortable
passengers were covered with a sediment of fine, yellow dust which clung
to their hair and eyebrows like gold powder. It blew up in clouds from the
bleak, lifeless country through which they passed, until they were one
color with the sagebrush and sandhills. The gray-and-yellow desert was
varied only by occasional ruins of deserted towns, and the little red
boxes of station houses, where the spindling trees and sickly vines in the
bluegrass yards made little green reserves fenced off in that confusing
wilderness of sand.
As the slanting rays of the sun beat in stronger and stronger through the
car windows, the blond gentleman asked the ladies' permission to remove
his coat, and sat in his lavender striped shirt sleeves, with a black silk
handkerchief tucked carefully about his collar. He had seemed interested
in Everett since they had boarded the train at Holdridge, and kept
glancing at him curiously and then looking reflectively out of the window,
as though he were trying to recall something. But wherever Everett went
someone was almost sure to look at him with that curious interest, and it
had ceased to embarrass or annoy him. Presently the stranger, seeming
satisfied with his observation, leaned back in his seat, half-closed his
eyes, and began softly to whistle the "Spring Song" from Proserpine,
the cantata that a dozen years before had made its young composer famous
in a night. Everett had heard that air on guitars in Old Mexico, on
mandolins at college glees, on cottage organs in New England hamlets, and
only two weeks ago he had heard it played on sleighbells at a variety
theater in Denver. There was literally no way of escaping his brother's
precocity. Adriance could live on the other side of the Atlantic, where
his youthful indiscretions were forgotten in his mature achievements, but
his brother had never been able to outrun Proserpine, and here he
found it again in the Colorado sand hills. Not that Everett was exactly
ashamed of Proserpine; only a man of genius could have written it,
but it was the sort of thing that a man of genius outgrows as soon as he
Everett unbent a trifle and smiled at his neighbor across the aisle.
Immediately the large man rose and, coming over, dropped into the seat
facing Hilgarde, extending his card.
"Dusty ride, isn't it? I don't mind it myself; I'm used to it. Born and
bred in de briar patch, like Br'er Rabbit. I've been trying to place you
for a long time; I think I must have met you before."
"Thank you," said Everett, taking the card; "my name is Hilgarde. You've
probably met my brother, Adriance; people often mistake me for him."
The traveling man brought his hand down upon his knee with such vehemence
that the solitaire blazed.
"So I was right after all, and if you're not Adriance Hilgarde, you're his
double. I thought I couldn't be mistaken. Seen him? Well, I guess! I never
missed one of his recitals at the Auditorium, and he played the piano
score of Proserpine through to us once at the Chicago Press Club. I
used to be on the Commercial there before I began to
travel for the publishing department of the concern. So you're Hilgarde's
brother, and here I've run into you at the jumping-off place. Sounds like
a newspaper yarn, doesn't it?"
The traveling man laughed and offered Everett a cigar, and plied him with
questions on the only subject that people ever seemed to care to talk to
Everett about. At length the salesman and the two girls alighted at a
Colorado way station, and Everett went on to Cheyenne alone.
The train pulled into Cheyenne at nine o'clock, late by a matter of four
hours or so; but no one seemed particularly concerned at its tardiness
except the station agent, who grumbled at being kept in the office
overtime on a summer night. When Everett alighted from the train he walked
down the platform and stopped at the track crossing, uncertain as to what
direction he should take to reach a hotel. A phaeton stood near the
crossing, and a woman held the reins. She was dressed in white, and her
figure was clearly silhouetted against the cushions, though it was too
dark to see her face. Everett had scarcely noticed her, when the switch
engine came puffing up from the opposite direction, and the headlight
threw a strong glare of light on his face. Suddenly the woman in the
phaeton uttered a low cry and dropped the reins. Everett started forward
and caught the horse's head, but the animal only lifted its ears and
whisked its tail in impatient surprise. The woman sat perfectly still, her
head sunk between her shoulders and her handkerchief pressed to her face.
Another woman came out of the depot and hurried toward the phaeton,
crying, "Katharine, dear, what is the matter?"
Everett hesitated a moment in painful embarrassment, then lifted his hat
and passed on. He was accustomed to sudden recognitions in the most
impossible places, especially by women, but this cry out of the night had
While Everett was breakfasting the next morning, the headwaiter leaned
over his chair to murmur that there was a gentleman waiting to see him in
the parlor. Everett finished his coffee and went in the direction
indicated, where he found his visitor restlessly pacing the floor. His
whole manner betrayed a high degree of agitation, though his physique was
not that of a man whose nerves lie near the surface. He was something
below medium height, square-shouldered and solidly built. His thick,
closely cut hair was beginning to show gray about the ears, and his
bronzed face was heavily lined. His square brown hands were locked behind
him, and he held his shoulders like a man conscious of responsibilities;
yet, as he turned to greet Everett, there was an incongruous diffidence in
"Good morning, Mr. Hilgarde," he said, extending his hand; "I found your
name on the hotel register. My name is Gaylord. I'm afraid my sister
startled you at the station last night, Mr. Hilgarde, and I've come around
"Ah! The young lady in the phaeton? I'm sure I didn't know whether I had
anything to do with her alarm or not. If I did, it is I who owe the
The man colored a little under the dark brown of his face.
"Oh, it's nothing you could help, sir, I fully understand that. You see,
my sister used to be a pupil of your brother's, and it seems you favor
him; and when the switch engine threw a light on your face it startled
Everett wheeled about in his chair. "Oh! Katharine Gaylord! Is it
possible! Now it's you who have given me a turn. Why, I used to know her
when I was a boy. What on earth—"
"Is she doing here?" said Gaylord, grimly filling out the pause. "You've
got at the heart of the matter. You knew my sister had been in bad health
for a long time?"
"No, I had never heard a word of that. The last I knew of her she was
singing in London. My brother and I correspond infrequently and seldom get
beyond family matters. I am deeply sorry to hear this. There are more
reasons why I am concerned than I can tell you."
The lines in Charley Gaylord's brow relaxed a little.
"What I'm trying to say, Mr. Hilgarde, is that she wants to see you. I
hate to ask you, but she's so set on it. We live several miles out of
town, but my rig's below, and I can take you out anytime you can go."
"I can go now, and it will give me real pleasure to do so," said Everett,
quickly. "I'll get my hat and be with you in a moment."
When he came downstairs Everett found a cart at the door, and Charley
Gaylord drew a long sigh of relief as he gathered up the reins and settled
back into his own element.
"You see, I think I'd better tell you something about my sister before you
see her, and I don't know just where to begin. She traveled in Europe with
your brother and his wife, and sang at a lot of his concerts; but I don't
know just how much you know about her."
"Very little, except that my brother always thought her the most gifted of
his pupils, and that when I knew her she was very young and very beautiful
and turned my head sadly for a while."
Everett saw that Gaylord's mind was quite engrossed by his grief. He was
wrought up to the point where his reserve and sense of proportion had
quite left him, and his trouble was the one vital thing in the world.
"That's the whole thing," he went on, flicking his horses with the whip.
"She was a great woman, as you say, and she didn't come of a great family.
She had to fight her own way from the first. She got to Chicago, and then
to New York, and then to Europe, where she went up like lightning, and got
a taste for it all; and now she's dying here like a rat in a hole, out of
her own world, and she can't fall back into ours. We've grown apart, some
way—miles and miles apart—and I'm afraid she's fearfully
"It's a very tragic story that you are telling me, Gaylord," said Everett.
They were well out into the country now, spinning along over the dusty
plains of red grass, with the ragged-blue outline of the mountains before
"Tragic!" cried Gaylord, starting up in his seat, "my God, man, nobody
will ever know how tragic. It's a tragedy I live with and eat with and
sleep with, until I've lost my grip on everything. You see she had made a
good bit of money, but she spent it all going to health resorts. It's her
lungs, you know. I've got money enough to send her anywhere, but the
doctors all say it's no use. She hasn't the ghost of a chance. It's just
getting through the days now. I had no notion she was half so bad before
she came to me. She just wrote that she was all run down. Now that she's
here, I think she'd be happier anywhere under the sun, but she won't
leave. She says it's easier to let go of life here, and that to go East
would be dying twice. There was a time when I was a brakeman with a run
out of Bird City, Iowa, and she was a little thing I could carry on my
shoulder, when I could get her everything on earth she wanted, and she
hadn't a wish my $80 a month didn't cover; and now, when I've got a little
property together, I can't buy her a night's sleep!"
Everett saw that, whatever Charley Gaylord's present status in the world
might be, he had brought the brakeman's heart up the ladder with him, and
the brakeman's frank avowal of sentiment. Presently Gaylord went on:
"You can understand how she has outgrown her family. We're all a pretty
common sort, railroaders from away back. My father was a conductor. He
died when we were kids. Maggie, my other sister, who lives with me, was a
telegraph operator here while I was getting my grip on things. We had no
education to speak of. I have to hire a stenographer because I can't spell
straight—the Almighty couldn't teach me to spell. The things that
make up life to Kate are all Greek to me, and there's scarcely a point
where we touch any more, except in our recollections of the old times when
we were all young and happy together, and Kate sang in a church choir in
Bird City. But I believe, Mr. Hilgarde, that if she can see just one
person like you, who knows about the things and people she's interested
in, it will give her about the only comfort she can have now."
The reins slackened in Charley Gaylord's hand as they drew up before a
showily painted house with many gables and a round tower. "Here we are,"
he said, turning to Everett, "and I guess we understand each other."
They were met at the door by a thin, colorless woman, whom Gaylord
introduced as "my sister, Maggie." She asked her brother to show Mr.
Hilgarde into the music room, where Katharine wished to see him alone.
When Everett entered the music room he gave a little start of surprise,
feeling that he had stepped from the glaring Wyoming sunlight into some
New York studio that he had always known. He wondered which it was of
those countless studios, high up under the roofs, over banks and shops and
wholesale houses, that this room resembled, and he looked incredulously
out of the window at the gray plain that ended in the great upheaval of
The haunting air of familiarity about the room perplexed him. Was it a
copy of some particular studio he knew, or was it merely the studio
atmosphere that seemed so individual and poignantly reminiscent here in
Wyoming? He sat down in a reading chair and looked keenly about him.
Suddenly his eye fell upon a large photograph of his brother above the
piano. Then it all became clear to him: this was veritably his brother's
room. If it were not an exact copy of one of the many studios that
Adriance had fitted up in various parts of the world, wearying of them and
leaving almost before the renovator's varnish had dried, it was at least
in the same tone. In every detail Adriance's taste was so manifest that
the room seemed to exhale his personality.
Among the photographs on the wall there was one of Katharine Gaylord,
taken in the days when Everett had known her, and when the flash of her
eye or the flutter of her skirt was enough to set his boyish heart in a
tumult. Even now, he stood before the portrait with a certain degree of
embarrassment. It was the face of a woman already old in her first youth,
thoroughly sophisticated and a trifle hard, and it told of what her
brother had called her fight. The camaraderie of her frank, confident eyes
was qualified by the deep lines about her mouth and the curve of the lips,
which was both sad and cynical. Certainly she had more good will than
confidence toward the world, and the bravado of her smile could not
conceal the shadow of an unrest that was almost discontent. The chief
charm of the woman, as Everett had known her, lay in her superb figure and
in her eyes, which possessed a warm, lifegiving quality like the sunlight;
eyes which glowed with a sort of perpetual salutat to the world.
Her head, Everett remembered as peculiarly well-shaped and proudly poised.
There had been always a little of the imperatrix about her, and her pose
in the photograph revived all his old impressions of her unattachedness,
of how absolutely and valiantly she stood alone.
Everett was still standing before the picture, his hands behind him and
his head inclined, when he heard the door open. A very tall woman advanced
toward him, holding out her hand. As she started to speak, she coughed
slightly; then, laughing, said, in a low, rich voice, a trifle husky: "You
see I make the traditional Camille entrance—with the cough. How good
of you to come, Mr. Hilgarde."
Everett was acutely conscious that while addressing him she was not
looking at him at all, and, as he assured her of his pleasure in coming,
he was glad to have an opportunity to collect himself. He had not reckoned
upon the ravages of a long illness. The long, loose folds of her white
gown had been especially designed to conceal the sharp outlines of her
emaciated body, but the stamp of her disease was there; simple and ugly
and obtrusive, a pitiless fact that could not be disguised or evaded. The
splendid shoulders were stooped, there was a swaying unevenness in her
gait, her arms seemed disproportionately long, and her hands were
transparently white and cold to the touch. The changes in her face were
less obvious; the proud carriage of the head, the warm, clear eyes, even
the delicate flush of color in her cheeks, all defiantly remained, though
they were all in a lower key—older, sadder, softer.
She sat down upon the divan and began nervously to arrange the pillows. "I
know I'm not an inspiring object to look upon, but you must be quite frank
and sensible about that and get used to it at once, for we've no time to
lose. And if I'm a trifle irritable you won't mind?—for I'm more
than usually nervous."
"Don't bother with me this morning, if you are tired," urged Everett. "I
can come quite as well tomorrow."
"Gracious, no!" she protested, with a flash of that quick, keen humor that
he remembered as a part of her. "It's solitude that I'm tired to death of—solitude
and the wrong kind of people. You see, the minister, not content with
reading the prayers for the sick, called on me this morning. He happened
to be riding by on his bicycle and felt it his duty to stop. Of course, he
disapproves of my profession, and I think he takes it for granted that I
have a dark past. The funniest feature of his conversation is that he is
always excusing my own vocation to me—condoning it, you know—and
trying to patch up my peace with my conscience by suggesting possible
noble uses for what he kindly calls my talent."
Everett laughed. "Oh! I'm afraid I'm not the person to call after such a
serious gentleman—I can't sustain the situation. At my best I don't
reach higher than low comedy. Have you decided to which one of the noble
uses you will devote yourself?"
Katharine lifted her hands in a gesture of renunciation and exclaimed:
"I'm not equal to any of them, not even the least noble. I didn't study
She laughed and went on nervously: "The parson's not so bad. His English
never offends me, and he has read Gibbon's Decline and Fall, all
five volumes, and that's something. Then, he has been to New York, and
that's a great deal. But how we are losing time! Do tell me about New
York; Charley says you're just on from there. How does it look and taste
and smell just now? I think a whiff of the Jersey ferry would be as
flagons of cod-liver oil to me. Who conspicuously walks the Rialto now,
and what does he or she wear? Are the trees still green in Madison Square,
or have they grown brown and dusty? Does the chaste Diana on the Garden
Theatre still keep her vestal vows through all the exasperating changes of
weather? Who has your brother's old studio now, and what misguided
aspirants practice their scales in the rookeries about Carnegie Hall? What
do people go to see at the theaters, and what do they eat and drink there
in the world nowadays? You see, I'm homesick for it all, from the Battery
to Riverside. Oh, let me die in Harlem!" She was interrupted by a violent
attack of coughing, and Everett, embarrassed by her discomfort, plunged
into gossip about the professional people he had met in town during the
summer and the musical outlook for the winter. He was diagraming with his
pencil, on the back of an old envelope he found in his pocket, some new
mechanical device to be used at the Metropolitan in the production of the
Rheingold, when he became conscious that she was looking at him
intently, and that he was talking to the four walls.
Katharine was lying back among the pillows, watching him through
half-closed eyes, as a painter looks at a picture. He finished his
explanation vaguely enough and put the envelope back in his pocket. As he
did so she said, quietly: "How wonderfully like Adriance you are!" and he
felt as though a crisis of some sort had been met and tided over.
He laughed, looking up at her with a touch of pride in his eyes that made
them seem quite boyish. "Yes, isn't it absurd? It's almost as awkward as
looking like Napoleon—but, after all, there are some advantages. It
has made some of his friends like me, and I hope it will make you."
Katharine smiled and gave him a quick, meaning glance from under her
lashes. "Oh, it did that long ago. What a haughty, reserved youth you were
then, and how you used to stare at people and then blush and look cross if
they paid you back in your own coin. Do you remember that night when you
took me home from a rehearsal and scarcely spoke a word to me?"
"It was the silence of admiration," protested Everett, "very crude and
boyish, but very sincere and not a little painful. Perhaps you suspected
something of the sort? I remember you saw fit to be very grown-up and
"I believe I suspected a pose; the one that college boys usually affect
with singers—'an earthen vessel in love with a star,' you know. But
it rather surprised me in you, for you must have seen a good deal of your
brother's pupils. Or had you an omnivorous capacity, and elasticity that
always met the occasion?"
"Don't ask a man to confess the follies of his youth," said Everett,
smiling a little sadly; "I am sensitive about some of them even now. But I
was not so sophisticated as you imagined. I saw my brother's pupils come
and go, but that was about all. Sometimes I was called on to play
accompaniments, or to fill out a vacancy at a rehearsal, or to order a
carriage for an infuriated soprano who had thrown up her part. But they
never spent any time on me, unless it was to notice the resemblance you
"Yes", observed Katharine, thoughtfully, "I noticed it then, too; but it
has grown as you have grown older. That is rather strange, when you have
lived such different lives. It's not merely an ordinary family likeness of
feature, you know, but a sort of interchangeable individuality; the
suggestion of the other man's personality in your face like an air
transposed to another key. But I'm not attempting to define it; it's
beyond me; something altogether unusual and a trifle—well, uncanny,"
she finished, laughing.
"I remember," Everett said seriously, twirling the pencil between his
fingers and looking, as he sat with his head thrown back, out under the
red window blind which was raised just a little, and as it swung back and
forth in the wind revealed the glaring panorama of the desert—a
blinding stretch of yellow, flat as the sea in dead calm, splotched here
and there with deep purple shadows; and, beyond, the ragged-blue outline
of the mountains and the peaks of snow, white as the white clouds—"I
remember, when I was a little fellow I used to be very sensitive about it.
I don't think it exactly displeased me, or that I would have had it
otherwise if I could, but it seemed to me like a birthmark, or something
not to be lightly spoken of. People were naturally always fonder of Ad
than of me, and I used to feel the chill of reflected light pretty often.
It came into even my relations with my mother. Ad went abroad to study
when he was absurdly young, you know, and mother was all broken up over
it. She did her whole duty by each of us, but it was sort of generally
understood among us that she'd have made burnt offerings of us all for Ad
any day. I was a little fellow then, and when she sat alone on the porch
in the summer dusk she used sometimes to call me to her and turn my face
up in the light that streamed out through the shutters and kiss me, and
then I always knew she was thinking of Adriance."
"Poor little chap," said Katharine, and her tone was a trifle huskier than
usual. "How fond people have always been of Adriance! Now tell me the
latest news of him. I haven't heard, except through the press, for a year
or more. He was in Algeria then, in the valley of the Chelif, riding
horseback night and day in an Arabian costume, and in his usual
enthusiastic fashion he had quite made up his mind to adopt the Mohammedan
faith and become as nearly an Arab as possible. How many countries and
faiths has he adopted, I wonder? Probably he was playing Arab to himself
all the time. I remember he was a sixteenth-century duke in Florence once
for weeks together."
"Oh, that's Adriance," chuckled Everett. "He is himself barely long enough
to write checks and be measured for his clothes. I didn't hear from him
while he was an Arab; I missed that."
"He was writing an Algerian suite for the piano then; it must be in the
publisher's hands by this time. I have been too ill to answer his letter,
and have lost touch with him."
Everett drew a letter from his pocket. "This came about a month ago. It's
chiefly about his new opera, which is to be brought out in London next
winter. Read it at your leisure."
"I think I shall keep it as a hostage, so that I may be sure you will come
again. Now I want you to play for me. Whatever you like; but if there is
anything new in the world, in mercy let me hear it. For nine months I have
heard nothing but 'The Baggage Coach Ahead' and 'She Is My Baby's
He sat down at the piano, and Katharine sat near him, absorbed in his
remarkable physical likeness to his brother and trying to discover in just
what it consisted. She told herself that it was very much as though a
sculptor's finished work had been rudely copied in wood. He was of a
larger build than Adriance, and his shoulders were broad and heavy, while
those of his brother were slender and rather girlish. His face was of the
same oval mold, but it was gray and darkened about the mouth by continual
shaving. His eyes were of the same inconstant April color, but they were
reflective and rather dull; while Adriance's were always points of
highlight, and always meaning another thing than the thing they meant
yesterday. But it was hard to see why this earnest man should so
continually suggest that lyric, youthful face that was as gay as his was
grave. For Adriance, though he was ten years the elder, and though his
hair was streaked with silver, had the face of a boy of twenty, so mobile
that it told his thoughts before he could put them into words. A
contralto, famous for the extravagance of her vocal methods and of her
affections, had once said to him that the shepherd boys who sang in the
Vale of Tempe must certainly have looked like young Hilgarde; and the
comparison had been appropriated by a hundred shyer women who preferred to
As Everett sat smoking on the veranda of the Inter-Ocean House that night,
he was a victim to random recollections. His infatuation for Katharine
Gaylord, visionary as it was, had been the most serious of his boyish love
affairs, and had long disturbed his bachelor dreams. He was painfully
timid in everything relating to the emotions, and his hurt had withdrawn
him from the society of women. The fact that it was all so done and dead
and far behind him, and that the woman had lived her life out since then,
gave him an oppressive sense of age and loss. He bethought himself of
something he had read about "sitting by the hearth and remembering the
faces of women without desire," and felt himself an octogenarian.
He remembered how bitter and morose he had grown during his stay at his
brother's studio when Katharine Gaylord was working there, and how he had
wounded Adriance on the night of his last concert in New York. He had sat
there in the box while his brother and Katharine were called back again
and again after the last number, watching the roses go up over the
footlights until they were stacked half as high as the piano, brooding, in
his sullen boy's heart, upon the pride those two felt in each other's work—spurring
each other to their best and beautifully contending in song. The
footlights had seemed a hard, glittering line drawn sharply between their
life and his; a circle of flame set about those splendid children of
genius. He walked back to his hotel alone and sat in his window staring
out on Madison Square until long after midnight, resolving to beat no more
at doors that he could never enter and realizing more keenly than ever
before how far this glorious world of beautiful creations lay from the
paths of men like himself. He told himself that he had in common with this
woman only the baser uses of life.
Everett's week in Cheyenne stretched to three, and he saw no prospect of
release except through the thing he dreaded. The bright, windy days of the
Wyoming autumn passed swiftly. Letters and telegrams came urging him to
hasten his trip to the coast, but he resolutely postponed his business
engagements. The mornings he spent on one of Charley Gaylord's ponies, or
fishing in the mountains, and in the evenings he sat in his room writing
letters or reading. In the afternoon he was usually at his post of duty.
Destiny, he reflected, seems to have very positive notions about the sort
of parts we are fitted to play. The scene changes and the compensation
varies, but in the end we usually find that we have played the same class
of business from first to last. Everett had been a stopgap all his life.
He remembered going through a looking glass labyrinth when he was a boy
and trying gallery after gallery, only at every turn to bump his nose
against his own face—which, indeed, was not his own, but his
brother's. No matter what his mission, east or west, by land or sea, he
was sure to find himself employed in his brother's business, one of the
tributary lives which helped to swell the shining current of Adriance
Hilgarde's. It was not the first time that his duty had been to comfort,
as best he could, one of the broken things his brother's imperious speed
had cast aside and forgotten. He made no attempt to analyze the situation
or to state it in exact terms; but he felt Katharine Gaylord's need for
him, and he accepted it as a commission from his brother to help this
woman to die. Day by day he felt her demands on him grow more imperious,
her need for him grow more acute and positive; and day by day he felt that
in his peculiar relation to her his own individuality played a smaller and
smaller part. His power to minister to her comfort, he saw, lay solely in
his link with his brother's life. He understood all that his physical
resemblance meant to her. He knew that she sat by him always watching for
some common trick of gesture, some familiar play of expression, some
illusion of light and shadow, in which he should seem wholly Adriance. He
knew that she lived upon this and that her disease fed upon it; that it
sent shudders of remembrance through her and that in the exhaustion which
followed this turmoil of her dying senses, she slept deep and sweet and
dreamed of youth and art and days in a certain old Florentine garden, and
not of bitterness and death.
The question which most perplexed him was, "How much shall I know? How
much does she wish me to know?" A few days after his first meeting with
Katharine Gaylord, he had cabled his brother to write her. He had merely
said that she was mortally ill; he could depend on Adriance to say the
right thing—that was a part of his gift. Adriance always said not
only the right thing, but the opportune, graceful, exquisite thing. His
phrases took the color of the moment and the then-present condition, so
that they never savored of perfunctory compliment or frequent usage. He
always caught the lyric essence of the moment, the poetic suggestion of
every situation. Moreover, he usually did the right thing, the opportune,
graceful, exquisite thing—except, when he did very cruel things—bent
upon making people happy when their existence touched his, just as he
insisted that his material environment should be beautiful; lavishing upon
those near him all the warmth and radiance of his rich nature, all the
homage of the poet and troubadour, and, when they were no longer near,
forgetting—for that also was a part of Adriance's gift.
Three weeks after Everett had sent his cable, when he made his daily call
at the gaily painted ranch house, he found Katharine laughing like a
schoolgirl. "Have you ever thought," she said, as he entered the music
room, "how much these seances of ours are like Heine's 'Florentine
Nights,' except that I don't give you an opportunity to monopolize the
conversation as Heine did?" She held his hand longer than usual, as she
greeted him, and looked searchingly up into his face. "You are the kindest
man living; the kindest," she added, softly.
Everett's gray face colored faintly as he drew his hand away, for he felt
that this time she was looking at him and not at a whimsical caricature of
his brother. "Why, what have I done now?" he asked, lamely. "I can't
remember having sent you any stale candy or champagne since yesterday."
She drew a letter with a foreign postmark from between the leaves of a
book and held it out, smiling. "You got him to write it. Don't say you
didn't, for it came direct, you see, and the last address I gave him was a
place in Florida. This deed shall be remembered of you when I am with the
just in Paradise. But one thing you did not ask him to do, for you didn't
know about it. He has sent me his latest work, the new sonata, the most
ambitious thing he has ever done, and you are to play it for me directly,
though it looks horribly intricate. But first for the letter; I think you
would better read it aloud to me."
Everett sat down in a low chair facing the window seat in which she
reclined with a barricade of pillows behind her. He opened the letter, his
lashes half-veiling his kind eyes, and saw to his satisfaction that it was
a long one—wonderfully tactful and tender, even for Adriance, who
was tender with his valet and his stable boy, with his old gondolier and
the beggar-women who prayed to the saints for him.
The letter was from Granada, written in the Alhambra, as he sat by the
fountain of the Patio di Lindaraxa. The air was heavy, with the warm
fragrance of the South and full of the sound of splashing, running water,
as it had been in a certain old garden in Florence, long ago. The sky was
one great turquoise, heated until it glowed. The wonderful Moorish arches
threw graceful blue shadows all about him. He had sketched an outline of
them on the margin of his notepaper. The subtleties of Arabic decoration
had cast an unholy spell over him, and the brutal exaggerations of Gothic
art were a bad dream, easily forgotten. The Alhambra itself had, from the
first, seemed perfectly familiar to him, and he knew that he must have
trod that court, sleek and brown and obsequious, centuries before
Ferdinand rode into Andalusia. The letter was full of confidences about
his work, and delicate allusions to their old happy days of study and
comradeship, and of her own work, still so warmly remembered and
appreciatively discussed everywhere he went.
As Everett folded the letter he felt that Adriance had divined the thing
needed and had risen to it in his own wonderful way. The letter was
consistently egotistical and seemed to him even a trifle patronizing, yet
it was just what she had wanted. A strong realization of his brother's
charm and intensity and power came over him; he felt the breath of that
whirlwind of flame in which Adriance passed, consuming all in his path,
and himself even more resolutely than he consumed others. Then he looked
down at this white, burnt-out brand that lay before him. "Like him, isn't
it?" she said, quietly.
"I think I can scarcely answer his letter, but when you see him next you
can do that for me. I want you to tell him many things for me, yet they
can all be summed up in this: I want him to grow wholly into his best and
greatest self, even at the cost of the dear boyishness that is half his
charm to you and me. Do you understand me?"
"I know perfectly well what you mean," answered Everett, thoughtfully. "I
have often felt so about him myself. And yet it's difficult to prescribe
for those fellows; so little makes, so little mars."
Katharine raised herself upon her elbow, and her face flushed with
feverish earnestness. "Ah, but it is the waste of himself that I mean; his
lashing himself out on stupid and uncomprehending people until they take
him at their own estimate. He can kindle marble, strike fire from putty,
but is it worth what it costs him?"
"Come, come," expostulated Everett, alarmed at her excitement. "Where is
the new sonata? Let him speak for himself."
He sat down at the piano and began playing the first movement, which was
indeed the voice of Adriance, his proper speech. The sonata was the most
ambitious work he had done up to that time and marked the transition from
his purely lyric vein to a deeper and nobler style. Everett played
intelligently and with that sympathetic comprehension which seems peculiar
to a certain lovable class of men who never accomplish anything in
particular. When he had finished he turned to Katharine.
"How he has grown!" she cried. "What the three last years have done for
him! He used to write only the tragedies of passion; but this is the
tragedy of the soul, the shadow coexistent with the soul. This is the
tragedy of effort and failure, the thing Keats called hell. This is my
tragedy, as I lie here spent by the racecourse, listening to the feet of
the runners as they pass me. Ah, God! The swift feet of the runners!"
She turned her face away and covered it with her straining hands. Everett
crossed over to her quickly and knelt beside her. In all the days he had
known her she had never before, beyond an occasional ironical jest, given
voice to the bitterness of her own defeat. Her courage had become a point
of pride with him, and to see it going sickened him.
"Don't do it," he gasped. "I can't stand it, I really can't, I feel it too
much. We mustn't speak of that; it's too tragic and too vast."
When she turned her face back to him there was a ghost of the old, brave,
cynical smile on it, more bitter than the tears she could not shed. "No, I
won't be so ungenerous; I will save that for the watches of the night when
I have no better company. Now you may mix me another drink of some sort.
Formerly, when it was not if I should ever sing Brunnhilde, but
quite simply when I should sing Brunnhilde, I was always starving
myself and thinking what I might drink and what I might not. But broken
music boxes may drink whatsoever they list, and no one cares whether they
lose their figure. Run over that theme at the beginning again. That, at
least, is not new. It was running in his head when we were in Venice years
ago, and he used to drum it on his glass at the dinner table. He had just
begun to work it out when the late autumn came on, and the paleness of the
Adriatic oppressed him, and he decided to go to Florence for the winter,
and lost touch with the theme during his illness. Do you remember those
frightful days? All the people who have loved him are not strong enough to
save him from himself! When I got word from Florence that he had been ill
I was in Nice filling a concert engagement. His wife was hurrying to him
from Paris, but I reached him first. I arrived at dusk, in a terrific
storm. They had taken an old palace there for the winter, and I found him
in the library—a long, dark room full of old Latin books and heavy
furniture and bronzes. He was sitting by a wood fire at one end of the
room, looking, oh, so worn and pale!—as he always does when he is
ill, you know. Ah, it is so good that you do know! Even his red
smoking jacket lent no color to his face. His first words were not to tell
me how ill he had been, but that that morning he had been well enough to
put the last strokes to the score of his Souvenirs d'Automne. He
was as I most like to remember him: so calm and happy and tired; not gay,
as he usually is, but just contented and tired with that heavenly
tiredness that comes after a good work done at last. Outside, the rain
poured down in torrents, and the wind moaned for the pain of all the world
and sobbed in the branches of the shivering olives and about the walls of
that desolated old palace. How that night comes back to me! There were no
lights in the room, only the wood fire which glowed upon the hard features
of the bronze Dante, like the reflection of purgatorial flames, and threw
long black shadows about us; beyond us it scarcely penetrated the gloom at
all, Adriance sat staring at the fire with the weariness of all his life
in his eyes, and of all the other lives that must aspire and suffer to
make up one such life as his. Somehow the wind with all its world-pain had
got into the room, and the cold rain was in our eyes, and the wave came up
in both of us at once—that awful, vague, universal pain, that cold
fear of life and death and God and hope—and we were like two
clinging together on a spar in midocean after the shipwreck of everything.
Then we heard the front door open with a great gust of wind that shook
even the walls, and the servants came running with lights, announcing that
Madam had returned, 'and in the book we read no more that night.'"
She gave the old line with a certain bitter humor, and with the hard,
bright smile in which of old she had wrapped her weakness as in a
glittering garment. That ironical smile, worn like a mask through so many
years, had gradually changed even the lines of her face completely, and
when she looked in the mirror she saw not herself, but the scathing
critic, the amused observer and satirist of herself. Everett dropped his
head upon his hand and sat looking at the rug. "How much you have cared!"
"Ah, yes, I cared," she replied, closing her eyes with a long-drawn sigh
of relief; and lying perfectly still, she went on: "You can't imagine what
a comfort it is to have you know how I cared, what a relief it is to be
able to tell it to someone. I used to want to shriek it out to the world
in the long nights when I could not sleep. It seemed to me that I could
not die with it. It demanded some sort of expression. And now that you
know, you would scarcely believe how much less sharp the anguish of it
Everett continued to look helplessly at the floor. "I was not sure how
much you wanted me to know," he said.
"Oh, I intended you should know from the first time I looked into your
face, when you came that day with Charley. I flatter myself that I have
been able to conceal it when I chose, though I suppose women always think
that. The more observing ones may have seen, but discerning people are
usually discreet and often kind, for we usually bleed a little before we
begin to discern. But I wanted you to know; you are so like him that it is
almost like telling him himself. At least, I feel now that he will know
some day, and then I will be quite sacred from his compassion, for we none
of us dare pity the dead. Since it was what my life has chiefly meant, I
should like him to know. On the whole I am not ashamed of it. I have
fought a good fight."
"And has he never known at all?" asked Everett, in a thick voice.
"Oh! Never at all in the way that you mean. Of course, he is accustomed to
looking into the eyes of women and finding love there; when he doesn't
find it there he thinks he must have been guilty of some discourtesy and
is miserable about it. He has a genuine fondness for everyone who is not
stupid or gloomy, or old or preternaturally ugly. Granted youth and
cheerfulness, and a moderate amount of wit and some tact, and Adriance
will always be glad to see you coming around the corner. I shared with the
rest; shared the smiles and the gallantries and the droll little sermons.
It was quite like a Sunday-school picnic; we wore our best clothes and a
smile and took our turns. It was his kindness that was hardest. I have
pretty well used my life up at standing punishment."
"Don't; you'll make me hate him," groaned Everett.
Katharine laughed and began to play nervously with her fan. "It wasn't in
the slightest degree his fault; that is the most grotesque part of it.
Why, it had really begun before I ever met him. I fought my way to him,
and I drank my doom greedily enough."
Everett rose and stood hesitating. "I think I must go. You ought to be
quiet, and I don't think I can hear any more just now."
She put out her hand and took his playfully. "You've put in three weeks at
this sort of thing, haven't you? Well, it may never be to your glory in
this world, perhaps, but it's been the mercy of heaven to me, and it ought
to square accounts for a much worse life than yours will ever be."
Everett knelt beside her, saying, brokenly: "I stayed because I wanted to
be with you, that's all. I have never cared about other women since I met
you in New York when I was a lad. You are a part of my destiny, and I
could not leave you if I would."
She put her hands on his shoulders and shook her head. "No, no; don't tell
me that. I have seen enough of tragedy, God knows. Don't show me any more
just as the curtain is going down. No, no, it was only a boy's fancy, and
your divine pity and my utter pitiableness have recalled it for a moment.
One does not love the dying, dear friend. If some fancy of that sort had
been left over from boyhood, this would rid you of it, and that were well.
Now go, and you will come again tomorrow, as long as there are tomorrows,
will you not?" She took his hand with a smile that lifted the mask from
her soul, that was both courage and despair, and full of infinite loyalty
and tenderness, as she said softly:
For ever and for ever, farewell, Cassius;
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.
The courage in her eyes was like the clear light of a star to him as he
On the night of Adriance Hilgarde's opening concert in Paris Everett sat
by the bed in the ranch house in Wyoming, watching over the last battle
that we have with the flesh before we are done with it and free of it
forever. At times it seemed that the serene soul of her must have left
already and found some refuge from the storm, and only the tenacious
animal life were left to do battle with death. She labored under a
delusion at once pitiful and merciful, thinking that she was in the
Pullman on her way to New York, going back to her life and her work. When
she aroused from her stupor it was only to ask the porter to waken her
half an hour out of Jersey City, or to remonstrate with him about the
delays and the roughness of the road. At midnight Everett and the nurse
were left alone with her. Poor Charley Gaylord had lain down on a couch
outside the door. Everett sat looking at the sputtering night lamp until
it made his eyes ache. His head dropped forward on the foot of the bed,
and he sank into a heavy, distressful slumber. He was dreaming of
Adriance's concert in Paris, and of Adriance, the troubadour, smiling and
debonair, with his boyish face and the touch of silver gray in his hair.
He heard the applause and he saw the roses going up over the footlights
until they were stacked half as high as the piano, and the petals fell and
scattered, making crimson splotches on the floor. Down this crimson
pathway came Adriance with his youthful step, leading his prima donna by
the hand; a dark woman this time, with Spanish eyes.
The nurse touched him on the shoulder; he started and awoke. She screened
the lamp with her hand. Everett saw that Katharine was awake and
conscious, and struggling a little. He lifted her gently on his arm and
began to fan her. She laid her hands lightly on his hair and looked into
his face with eyes that seemed never to have wept or doubted. "Ah, dear
Adriance, dear, dear," she whispered.
Everett went to call her brother, but when they came back the madness of
art was over for Katharine.
Two days later Everett was pacing the station siding, waiting for the
westbound train. Charley Gaylord walked beside him, but the two men had
nothing to say to each other. Everett's bags were piled on the truck, and
his step was hurried and his eyes were full of impatience, as he gazed
again and again up the track, watching for the train. Gaylord's impatience
was not less than his own; these two, who had grown so close, had now
become painful and impossible to each other, and longed for the wrench of
As the train pulled in Everett wrung Gaylord's hand among the crowd of
alighting passengers. The people of a German opera company, en route to
the coast, rushed by them in frantic haste to snatch their breakfast
during the stop. Everett heard an exclamation in a broad German dialect,
and a massive woman whose figure persistently escaped from her stays in
the most improbable places rushed up to him, her blond hair disordered by
the wind, and glowing with joyful surprise she caught his coat sleeve with
her tightly gloved hands.
"Herr Gott, Adriance, lieber Freund," she cried,
Everett quickly withdrew his arm and lifted his hat, blushing. "Pardon me,
madam, but I see that you have mistaken me for Adriance Hilgarde. I am his
brother," he said quietly, and turning from the crestfallen singer, he
hurried into the car.
The Garden Lodge
When Caroline Noble's friends learned that Raymond d'Esquerre was to spend
a month at her place on the Sound before he sailed to fill his engagement
for the London opera season, they considered it another striking instance
of the perversity of things. That the month was May, and the most mild and
florescent of all the blue-and-white Mays the middle coast had known in
years, but added to their sense of wrong. D'Esquerre, they learned, was
ensconced in the lodge in the apple orchard, just beyond Caroline's
glorious garden, and report went that at almost any hour the sound of the
tenor's voice and of Caroline's crashing accompaniment could be heard
floating through the open windows, out among the snowy apple boughs. The
Sound, steel-blue and dotted with white sails, was splendidly seen from
the windows of the lodge. The garden to the left and the orchard to the
right had never been so riotous with spring, and had burst into
impassioned bloom, as if to accommodate Caroline, though she was certainly
the last woman to whom the witchery of Freya could be attributed; the last
woman, as her friends affirmed, to at all adequately appreciate and make
the most of such a setting for the great tenor.
Of course, they admitted, Caroline was musical—well, she ought to
be!—but in that, as in everything, she was paramountly cool-headed,
slow of impulse, and disgustingly practical; in that, as in everything
else, she had herself so provokingly well in hand. Of course, it would be
she, always mistress of herself in any situation, she, who would never be
lifted one inch from the ground by it, and who would go on superintending
her gardeners and workmen as usual—it would be she who got him.
Perhaps some of them suspected that this was exactly why she did get him,
and it but nettled them the more.
Caroline's coolness, her capableness, her general success, especially
exasperated people because they felt that, for the most part, she had made
herself what she was; that she had cold-bloodedly set about complying with
the demands of life and making her position comfortable and masterful.
That was why, everyone said, she had married Howard Noble. Women who did
not get through life so well as Caroline, who could not make such good
terms either with fortune or their husbands, who did not find their health
so unfailingly good, or hold their looks so well, or manage their children
so easily, or give such distinction to all they did, were fond of stamping
Caroline as a materialist, and called her hard.
The impression of cold calculation, of having a definite policy, which
Caroline gave, was far from a false one; but there was this to be said for
her—that there were extenuating circumstances which her friends
could not know.
If Caroline held determinedly to the middle course, if she was apt to
regard with distrust everything which inclined toward extravagance, it was
not because she was unacquainted with other standards than her own, or had
never seen another side of life. She had grown up in Brooklyn, in a shabby
little house under the vacillating administration of her father, a music
teacher who usually neglected his duties to write orchestral compositions
for which the world seemed to have no especial need. His spirit was warped
by bitter vindictiveness and puerile self-commiseration, and he spent his
days in scorn of the labor that brought him bread and in pitiful devotion
to the labor that brought him only disappointment, writing interminable
scores which demanded of the orchestra everything under heaven except
It was not a cheerful home for a girl to grow up in. The mother, who
idolized her husband as the music lord of the future, was left to a
lifelong battle with broom and dustpan, to neverending conciliatory
overtures to the butcher and grocer, to the making of her own gowns and of
Caroline's, and to the delicate task of mollifying Auguste's neglected
The son, Heinrich, a painter, Caroline's only brother, had inherited all
his father's vindictive sensitiveness without his capacity for slavish
application. His little studio on the third floor had been much frequented
by young men as unsuccessful as himself, who met there to give themselves
over to contemptuous derision of this or that artist whose industry and
stupidity had won him recognition. Heinrich, when he worked at all, did
newspaper sketches at twenty-five dollars a week. He was too indolent and
vacillating to set himself seriously to his art, too irascible and
poignantly self-conscious to make a living, too much addicted to lying
late in bed, to the incontinent reading of poetry, and to the use of
chloral to be anything very positive except painful. At twenty-six he shot
himself in a frenzy, and the whole wretched affair had effectually
shattered his mother's health and brought on the decline of which she
died. Caroline had been fond of him, but she felt a certain relief when he
no longer wandered about the little house, commenting ironically upon its
shabbiness, a Turkish cap on his head and a cigarette hanging from between
his long, tremulous fingers.
After her mother's death Caroline assumed the management of that bankrupt
establishment. The funeral expenses were unpaid, and Auguste's pupils had
been frightened away by the shock of successive disasters and the general
atmosphere of wretchedness that pervaded the house. Auguste himself was
writing a symphonic poem, Icarus, dedicated to the memory of his son.
Caroline was barely twenty when she was called upon to face this tangle of
difficulties, but she reviewed the situation candidly. The house had
served its time at the shrine of idealism; vague, distressing, unsatisfied
yearnings had brought it low enough. Her mother, thirty years before, had
eloped and left Germany with her music teacher, to give herself over to
lifelong, drudging bondage at the kitchen range. Ever since Caroline could
remember, the law in the house had been a sort of mystic worship of things
distant, intangible and unattainable. The family had lived in successive
ebullitions of generous enthusiasm, in talk of masters and masterpieces,
only to come down to the cold facts in the case; to boiled mutton and to
the necessity of turning the dining-room carpet. All these emotional
pyrotechnics had ended in petty jealousies, in neglected duties, and in
cowardly fear of the little grocer on the corner.
From her childhood she had hated it, that humiliating and uncertain
existence, with its glib tongue and empty pockets, its poetic ideals and
sordid realities, its indolence and poverty tricked out in paper roses.
Even as a little girl, when vague dreams beset her, when she wanted to lie
late in bed and commune with visions, or to leap and sing because the
sooty little trees along the street were putting out their first pale
leaves in the sunshine, she would clench her hands and go to help her
mother sponge the spots from her father's waistcoat or press Heinrich's
trousers. Her mother never permitted the slightest question concerning
anything Auguste or Heinrich saw fit to do, but from the time Caroline
could reason at all she could not help thinking that many things went
wrong at home. She knew, for example, that her father's pupils ought not
to be kept waiting half an hour while he discussed Schopenhauer with some
bearded socialist over a dish of herrings and a spotted tablecloth. She
knew that Heinrich ought not to give a dinner on Heine's birthday, when
the laundress had not been paid for a month and when he frequently had to
ask his mother for carfare. Certainly Caroline had served her
apprenticeship to idealism and to all the embarrassing inconsistencies
which it sometimes entails, and she decided to deny herself this diffuse,
ineffectual answer to the sharp questions of life.
When she came into the control of herself and the house she refused to
proceed any further with her musical education. Her father, who had
intended to make a concert pianist of her, set this down as another item
in his long list of disappointments and his grievances against the world.
She was young and pretty, and she had worn turned gowns and soiled gloves
and improvised hats all her life. She wanted the luxury of being like
other people, of being honest from her hat to her boots, of having nothing
to hide, not even in the matter of stockings, and she was willing to work
for it. She rented a little studio away from that house of misfortune and
began to give lessons. She managed well and was the sort of girl people
liked to help. The bills were paid and Auguste went on composing, growing
indignant only when she refused to insist that her pupils should study his
compositions for the piano. She began to get engagements in New York to
play accompaniments at song recitals. She dressed well, made herself
agreeable, and gave herself a chance. She never permitted herself to look
further than a step ahead, and set herself with all the strength of her
will to see things as they are and meet them squarely in the broad day.
There were two things she feared even more than poverty: the part of one
that sets up an idol and the part of one that bows down and worships it.
When Caroline was twenty-four she married Howard Noble, then a widower of
forty, who had been for ten years a power in Wall Street. Then, for the
first time, she had paused to take breath. It took a substantialness as
unquestionable as his; his money, his position, his energy, the big vigor
of his robust person, to satisfy her that she was entirely safe. Then she
relaxed a little, feeling that there was a barrier to be counted upon
between her and that world of visions and quagmires and failure.
Caroline had been married for six years when Raymond d'Esquerre came to
stay with them. He came chiefly because Caroline was what she was; because
he, too, felt occasionally the need of getting out of Klingsor's garden,
of dropping down somewhere for a time near a quiet nature, a cool head, a
strong hand. The hours he had spent in the garden lodge were hours of such
concentrated study as, in his fevered life, he seldom got in anywhere. She
had, as he told Noble, a fine appreciation of the seriousness of work.
One evening two weeks after d'Esquerre had sailed, Caroline was in the
library giving her husband an account of the work she had laid out for the
gardeners. She superintended the care of the grounds herself. Her garden,
indeed, had become quite a part of her; a sort of beautiful adjunct, like
gowns or jewels. It was a famous spot, and Noble was very proud of it.
"What do you think, Caroline, of having the garden lodge torn down and
putting a new summer house there at the end of the arbor; a big rustic
affair where you could have tea served in midsummer?" he asked.
"The lodge?" repeated Caroline looking at him quickly. "Why, that seems
almost a shame, doesn't it, after d'Esquerre has used it?"
Noble put down his book with a smile of amusement.
"Are you going to be sentimental about it? Why, I'd sacrifice the whole
place to see that come to pass. But I don't believe you could do it for an
"I don't believe so, either," said his wife, smiling.
Noble took up his book again and Caroline went into the music room to
practice. She was not ready to have the lodge torn down. She had gone
there for a quiet hour every day during the two weeks since d'Esquerre had
left them. It was the sheerest sentiment she had ever permitted herself.
She was ashamed of it, but she was childishly unwilling to let it go.
Caroline went to bed soon after her husband, but she was not able to
sleep. The night was close and warm, presaging storm. The wind had fallen,
and the water slept, fixed and motionless as the sand. She rose and thrust
her feet into slippers and, putting a dressing gown over her shoulders,
opened the door of her husband's room; he was sleeping soundly. She went
into the hall and down the stairs; then, leaving the house through a side
door, stepped into the vine-covered arbor that led to the garden lodge.
The scent of the June roses was heavy in the still air, and the stones
that paved the path felt pleasantly cool through the thin soles of her
slippers. Heat-lightning flashed continuously from the bank of clouds that
had gathered over the sea, but the shore was flooded with moonlight and,
beyond, the rim of the Sound lay smooth and shining. Caroline had the key
of the lodge, and the door creaked as she opened it. She stepped into the
long, low room radiant with the moonlight which streamed through the bow
window and lay in a silvery pool along the waxed floor. Even that part of
the room which lay in the shadow was vaguely illuminated; the piano, the
tall candlesticks, the picture frames and white casts standing out as
clearly in the half-light as did the sycamores and black poplars of the
garden against the still, expectant night sky. Caroline sat down to think
it all over. She had come here to do just that every day of the two weeks
since d'Esquerre's departure, but, far from ever having reached a
conclusion, she had succeeded only in losing her way in a maze of memories—sometimes
bewilderingly confused, sometimes too acutely distinct—where there
was neither path, nor clue, nor any hope of finality. She had, she
realized, defeated a lifelong regimen; completely confounded herself by
falling unaware and incontinently into that luxury of reverie which, even
as a little girl, she had so determinedly denied herself, she had been
developing with alarming celerity that part of one which sets up an idol
and that part of one which bows down and worships it.
It was a mistake, she felt, ever to have asked d'Esquerre to come at all.
She had an angry feeling that she had done it rather in self-defiance, to
rid herself finally of that instinctive fear of him which had always
troubled and perplexed her. She knew that she had reckoned with herself
before he came; but she had been equal to so much that she had never
really doubted she would be equal to this. She had come to believe,
indeed, almost arrogantly in her own malleability and endurance; she had
done so much with herself that she had come to think that there was
nothing which she could not do; like swimmers, overbold, who reckon upon
their strength and their power to hoard it, forgetting the ever-changing
moods of their adversary, the sea.
And d'Esquerre was a man to reckon with. Caroline did not deceive herself
now upon that score. She admitted it humbly enough, and since she had said
good-by to him she had not been free for a moment from the sense of his
formidable power. It formed the undercurrent of her consciousness;
whatever she might be doing or thinking, it went on, involuntarily, like
her breathing, sometimes welling up until suddenly she found herself
suffocating. There was a moment of this tonight, and Caroline rose and
stood shuddering, looking about her in the blue duskiness of the silent
room. She had not been here at night before, and the spirit of the place
seemed more troubled and insistent than ever it had in the quiet of the
afternoons. Caroline brushed her hair back from her damp forehead and went
over to the bow window. After raising it she sat down upon the low seat.
Leaning her head against the sill, and loosening her nightgown at the
throat, she half-closed her eyes and looked off into the troubled night,
watching the play of the heat-lightning upon the massing clouds between
the pointed tops of the poplars.
Yes, she knew, she knew well enough, of what absurdities this spell was
woven; she mocked, even while she winced. His power, she knew, lay not so
much in anything that he actually had—though he had so much—or
in anything that he actually was, but in what he suggested, in what he
seemed picturesque enough to have or be and that was just anything that
one chose to believe or to desire. His appeal was all the more persuasive
and alluring in that it was to the imagination alone, in that it was as
indefinite and impersonal as those cults of idealism which so have their
way with women. What he had was that, in his mere personality, he
quickened and in a measure gratified that something without which—to
women—life is no better than sawdust, and to the desire for which
most of their mistakes and tragedies and astonishingly poor bargains are
D'Esquerre had become the center of a movement, and the Metropolitan had
become the temple of a cult. When he could be induced to cross the
Atlantic, the opera season in New York was successful; when he could not,
the management lost money; so much everyone knew. It was understood, too,
that his superb art had disproportionately little to do with his peculiar
position. Women swayed the balance this way or that; the opera, the
orchestra, even his own glorious art, achieved at such a cost, were but
the accessories of himself; like the scenery and costumes and even the
soprano, they all went to produce atmosphere, were the mere mechanics of
the beautiful illusion.
Caroline understood all this; tonight was not the first time that she had
put it to herself so. She had seen the same feeling in other people,
watched for it in her friends, studied it in the house night after night
when he sang, candidly putting herself among a thousand others.
D'Esquerre's arrival in the early winter was the signal for a feminine
hegira toward New York. On the nights when he sang women flocked to the
Metropolitan from mansions and hotels, from typewriter desks, schoolrooms,
shops, and fitting rooms. They were of all conditions and complexions.
Women of the world who accepted him knowingly as they sometimes took
champagne for its agreeable effect; sisters of charity and overworked
shopgirls, who received him devoutly; withered women who had taken
doctorate degrees and who worshipped furtively through prism spectacles;
business women and women of affairs, the Amazons who dwelt afar from men
in the stony fastnesses of apartment houses. They all entered into the
same romance; dreamed, in terms as various as the hues of fantasy, the
same dream; drew the same quick breath when he stepped upon the stage,
and, at his exit, felt the same dull pain of shouldering the pack again.
There were the maimed, even; those who came on crutches, who were pitted
by smallpox or grotesquely painted by cruel birth stains. These, too,
entered with him into enchantment. Stout matrons became slender girls
again; worn spinsters felt their cheeks flush with the tenderness of their
lost youth. Young and old, however hideous, however fair, they yielded up
their heat—whether quick or latent—sat hungering for the
mystic bread wherewith he fed them at this eucharist of sentiment.
Sometimes, when the house was crowded from the orchestra to the last row
of the gallery, when the air was charged with this ecstasy of fancy, he
himself was the victim of the burning reflection of his power. They acted
upon him in turn; he felt their fervent and despairing appeal to him; it
stirred him as the spring drives the sap up into an old tree; he, too,
burst into bloom. For the moment he, too, believed again, desired again,
he knew not what, but something.
But it was not in these exalted moments that Caroline had learned to fear
him most. It was in the quiet, tired reserve, the dullness, even, that
kept him company between these outbursts that she found that exhausting
drain upon her sympathies which was the very pith and substance of their
alliance. It was the tacit admission of disappointment under all this
glamour of success—the helplessness of the enchanter to at all
enchant himself—that awoke in her an illogical, womanish desire to
in some way compensate, to make it up to him.
She had observed drastically to herself that it was her eighteenth year he
awoke in her—those hard years she had spent in turning gowns and
placating tradesmen, and which she had never had time to live. After all,
she reflected, it was better to allow one's self a little youth—to
dance a little at the carnival and to live these things when they are
natural and lovely, not to have them coming back on one and demanding
arrears when they are humiliating and impossible. She went over tonight
all the catalogue of her self-deprivations; recalled how, in the light of
her father's example, she had even refused to humor her innocent taste for
improvising at the piano; how, when she began to teach, after her mother's
death, she had struck out one little indulgence after another, reducing
her life to a relentless routine, unvarying as clockwork. It seemed to her
that ever since d'Esquerre first came into the house she had been haunted
by an imploring little girlish ghost that followed her about, wringing its
hands and entreating for an hour of life.
The storm had held off unconscionably long; the air within the lodge was
stifling, and without the garden waited, breathless. Everything seemed
pervaded by a poignant distress; the hush of feverish, intolerable
expectation. The still earth, the heavy flowers, even the growing
darkness, breathed the exhaustion of protracted waiting. Caroline felt
that she ought to go; that it was wrong to stay; that the hour and the
place were as treacherous as her own reflections. She rose and began to
pace the floor, stepping softly, as though in fear of awakening someone,
her figure, in its thin drapery, diaphanously vague and white. Still
unable to shake off the obsession of the intense stillness, she sat down
at the piano and began to run over the first act of the Walkure,
the last of his roles they had practiced together; playing listlessly and
absently at first, but with gradually increasing seriousness. Perhaps it
was the still heat of the summer night, perhaps it was the heavy odors
from the garden that came in through the open windows; but as she played
there grew and grew the feeling that he was there, beside her, standing in
his accustomed place. In the duet at the end of the first act she heard
him clearly: "Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold
embraces." Once as he sang it, he had put his arm about her, his one
hand under her heart, while with the other he took her right from the
keyboard, holding her as he always held Sieglinde when he drew her
toward the window. She had been wonderfully the mistress of herself at the
time; neither repellent nor acquiescent. She remembered that she had
rather exulted, then, in her self-control—which he had seemed to
take for granted, though there was perhaps the whisper of a question from
the hand under her heart. "Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in
Winter's cold embraces." Caroline lifted her hands quickly from the
keyboard, and she bowed her head in them, sobbing.
The storm broke and the rain beat in, spattering her nightdress until she
rose and lowered the windows. She dropped upon the couch and began
fighting over again the battles of other days, while the ghosts of the
slain rose as from a sowing of dragon's teeth, The shadows of things,
always so scorned and flouted, bore down upon her merciless and
triumphant. It was not enough; this happy, useful, well-ordered life was
not enough. It did not satisfy, it was not even real. No, the other
things, the shadows-they were the realities. Her father, poor Heinrich,
even her mother, who had been able to sustain her poor romance and keep
her little illusions amid the tasks of a scullion, were nearer happiness
than she. Her sure foundation was but made ground, after all, and the
people in Klingsor's garden were more fortunate, however barren the sands
from which they conjured their paradise.
The lodge was still and silent; her fit of weeping over, Caroline made no
sound, and within the room, as without in the garden, was the blackness of
storm. Only now and then a flash of lightning showed a woman's slender
figure rigid on the couch, her face buried in her hands.
Toward morning, when the occasional rumbling of thunder was heard no more
and the beat of the raindrops upon the orchard leaves was steadier, she
fell asleep and did not waken until the first red streaks of dawn shone
through the twisted boughs of the apple trees. There was a moment between
world and world, when, neither asleep nor awake, she felt her dream grow
thin, melting away from her, felt the warmth under her heart growing cold.
Something seemed to slip from the clinging hold of her arms, and she
groaned protestingly through her parted lips, following it a little way
with fluttering hands. Then her eyes opened wide and she sprang up and sat
holding dizzily to the cushions of the couch, staring down at her bare,
cold feet, at her laboring breast, rising and falling under her open
The dream was gone, but the feverish reality of it still pervaded her and
she held it as the vibrating string holds a tone. In the last hour the
shadows had had their way with Caroline. They had shown her the
nothingness of time and space, of system and discipline, of closed doors
and broad waters. Shuddering, she thought of the Arabian fairy tale in
which the genie brought the princess of China to the sleeping prince of
Damascus and carried her through the air back to her palace at dawn.
Caroline closed her eyes and dropped her elbows weakly upon her knees, her
shoulders sinking together. The horror was that it had not come from
without, but from within. The dream was no blind chance; it was the
expression of something she had kept so close a prisoner that she had
never seen it herself, it was the wail from the donjon deeps when the
watch slept. Only as the outcome of such a night of sorcery could the
thing have been loosed to straighten its limbs and measure itself with
her; so heavy were the chains upon it, so many a fathom deep, it was
crushed down into darkness. The fact that d'Esquerre happened to be on the
other side of the world meant nothing; had he been here, beside her, it
could scarcely have hurt her self-respect so much. As it was, she was
without even the extenuation of an outer impulse, and she could scarcely
have despised herself more had she come to him here in the night three
weeks ago and thrown herself down upon the stone slab at the door there.
Caroline rose unsteadily and crept guiltily from the lodge and along the
path under the arbor, terrified lest the servants should be stirring,
trembling with the chill air, while the wet shrubbery, brushing against
her, drenched her nightdress until it clung about her limbs.
At breakfast her husband looked across the table at her with concern. "It
seems to me that you are looking rather fagged, Caroline. It was a beastly
night to sleep. Why don't you go up to the mountains until this hot
weather is over? By the way, were you in earnest about letting the lodge
Caroline laughed quietly. "No, I find I was not very serious. I haven't
sentiment enough to forego a summer house. Will you tell Baker to come
tomorrow to talk it over with me? If we are to have a house party, I
should like to put him to work on it at once."
Noble gave her a glance, half-humorous, half-vexed. "Do you know I am
rather disappointed?" he said. "I had almost hoped that, just for once,
you know, you would be a little bit foolish."
"Not now that I've slept over it," replied Caroline, and they both rose
from the table, laughing.
The Marriage of Phaedra
The sequence of events was such that MacMaster did not make his pilgrimage
to Hugh Treffinger's studio until three years after that painter's death.
MacMaster was himself a painter, an American of the Gallicized type, who
spent his winters in New York, his summers in Paris, and no inconsiderable
amount of time on the broad waters between. He had often contemplated
stopping in London on one of his return trips in the late autumn, but he
had always deferred leaving Paris until the prick of necessity drove him
home by the quickest and shortest route.
Treffinger was a comparatively young man at the time of his death, and
there had seemed no occasion for haste until haste was of no avail. Then,
possibly, though there had been some correspondence between them,
MacMaster felt certain qualms about meeting in the flesh a man who in the
flesh was so diversely reported. His intercourse with Treffinger's work
had been so deep and satisfying, so apart from other appreciations, that
he rather dreaded a critical juncture of any sort. He had always felt
himself singularly inept in personal relations, and in this case he had
avoided the issue until it was no longer to be feared or hoped for. There
still remained, however, Treffinger's great unfinished picture, the Marriage
of Phaedra, which had never left his studio, and of which MacMaster's
friends had now and again brought report that it was the painter's most
The young man arrived in London in the evening, and the next morning went
out to Kensington to find Treffinger's studio. It lay in one of the
perplexing bystreets off Holland Road, and the number he found on a door
set in a high garden wall, the top of which was covered with broken green
glass and over which a budding lilac bush nodded. Treffinger's plate was
still there, and a card requesting visitors to ring for the attendant. In
response to MacMaster's ring, the door was opened by a cleanly built
little man, clad in a shooting jacket and trousers that had been made for
an ampler figure. He had a fresh complexion, eyes of that common uncertain
shade of gray, and was closely shaven except for the incipient muttonchops
on his ruddy cheeks. He bore himself in a manner strikingly capable, and
there was a sort of trimness and alertness about him, despite the
too-generous shoulders of his coat. In one hand he held a bulldog pipe,
and in the other a copy of Sporting Life. While MacMaster was
explaining the purpose of his call he noticed that the man surveyed him
critically, though not impertinently. He was admitted into a little tank
of a lodge made of whitewashed stone, the back door and windows opening
upon a garden. A visitor's book and a pile of catalogues lay on a deal
table, together with a bottle of ink and some rusty pens. The wall was
ornamented with photographs and colored prints of racing favorites.
"The studio is h'only open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays,"
explained the man—he referred to himself as "Jymes"—"but of
course we make exceptions in the case of pynters. Lydy Elling Treffinger
'erself is on the Continent, but Sir 'Ugh's orders was that pynters was to
'ave the run of the place." He selected a key from his pocket and threw
open the door into the studio which, like the lodge, was built against the
wall of the garden.
MacMaster entered a long, narrow room, built of smoothed planks, painted a
light green; cold and damp even on that fine May morning. The room was
utterly bare of furniture—unless a stepladder, a model throne, and a
rack laden with large leather portfolios could be accounted such—and
was windowless, without other openings than the door and the skylight,
under which hung the unfinished picture itself. MacMaster had never seen
so many of Treffinger's paintings together. He knew the painter had
married a woman with money and had been able to keep such of his pictures
as he wished. These, with all of his replicas and studies, he
had left as a sort of common legacy to the younger men of the school he
As soon as he was left alone MacMaster sat down on the edge of the model
throne before the unfinished picture. Here indeed was what he had come
for; it rather paralyzed his receptivity for the moment, but gradually the
thing found its way to him.
At one o'clock he was standing before the collection of studies done for
Boccaccio's Garden when he heard a voice at his elbow.
"Pardon, sir, but I was just about to lock up and go to lunch. Are you
lookin' for the figure study of Boccaccio 'imself?" James queried
respectfully. "Lydy Elling Treffinger give it to Mr. Rossiter to take down
to Oxford for some lectures he's been agiving there."
"Did he never paint out his studies, then?" asked MacMaster with
perplexity. "Here are two completed ones for this picture. Why did he keep
"I don't know as I could say as to that, sir," replied James, smiling
indulgently, "but that was 'is way. That is to say, 'e pynted out very
frequent, but 'e always made two studies to stand; one in watercolors and
one in oils, before 'e went at the final picture—to say nothink of
all the pose studies 'e made in pencil before he begun on the composition
proper at all. He was that particular. You see, 'e wasn't so keen for the
final effect as for the proper pyntin' of 'is pictures. 'E used to say
they ought to be well made, the same as any other h'article of trade. I
can lay my 'and on the pose studies for you, sir." He rummaged in one of
the portfolios and produced half a dozen drawings, "These three," he
continued, "was discarded; these two was the pose he finally accepted;
this one without alteration, as it were."
"That's in Paris, as I remember," James continued reflectively. "It went
with the Saint Cecilia into the Baron H—-'s collection. Could
you tell me, sir, 'as 'e it still? I don't like to lose account of them,
but some 'as changed 'ands since Sir 'Ugh's death."
"H—-'s collection is still intact, I believe," replied MacMaster.
"You were with Treffinger long?"
"From my boyhood, sir," replied James with gravity. "I was a stable boy
when 'e took me."
"You were his man, then?"
"That's it, sir. Nobody else ever done anything around the studio. I
always mixed 'is colors and 'e taught me to do a share of the varnishin';
'e said as 'ow there wasn't a 'ouse in England as could do it proper. You
ayn't looked at the Marriage yet, sir?" he asked abruptly, glancing
doubtfully at MacMaster, and indicating with his thumb the picture under
the north light.
"Not very closely. I prefer to begin with something simpler; that's rather
appalling, at first glance," replied MacMaster.
"Well may you say that, sir," said James warmly. "That one regular killed
Sir 'Ugh; it regular broke 'im up, and nothink will ever convince me as
'ow it didn't bring on 'is second stroke."
When MacMaster walked back to High Street to take his bus his mind was
divided between two exultant convictions. He felt that he had not only
found Treffinger's greatest picture, but that, in James, he had discovered
a kind of cryptic index to the painter's personality—a clue which,
if tactfully followed, might lead to much.
Several days after his first visit to the studio, MacMaster wrote to Lady
Mary Percy, telling her that he would be in London for some time and
asking her if he might call. Lady Mary was an only sister of Lady Ellen
Treffinger, the painter's widow, and MacMaster had known her during one
winter he spent at Nice. He had known her, indeed, very well, and Lady
Mary, who was astonishingly frank and communicative upon all subjects, had
been no less so upon the matter of her sister's unfortunate marriage.
In her reply to his note Lady Mary named an afternoon when she would be
alone. She was as good as her word, and when MacMaster arrived he found
the drawing room empty. Lady Mary entered shortly after he was announced.
She was a tall woman, thin and stiffly jointed, and her body stood out
under the folds of her gown with the rigor of cast iron. This rather
metallic suggestion was further carried out in her heavily knuckled hands,
her stiff gray hair, and her long, bold-featured face, which was saved
from freakishness only by her alert eyes.
"Really," said Lady Mary, taking a seat beside him and giving him a sort
of military inspection through her nose glasses, "really, I had begun to
fear that I had lost you altogether. It's four years since I saw you at
Nice, isn't it? I was in Paris last winter, but I heard nothing from you."
"I was in New York then."
"It occurred to me that you might be. And why are you in London?"
"Can you ask?" replied MacMaster gallantly.
Lady Mary smiled ironically. "But for what else, incidentally?"
"Well, incidentally, I came to see Treffinger's studio and his unfinished
picture. Since I've been here, I've decided to stay the summer. I'm even
thinking of attempting to do a biography of him."
"So that is what brought you to London?"
"Not exactly. I had really no intention of anything so serious when I
came. It's his last picture, I fancy, that has rather thrust it upon me.
The notion has settled down on me like a thing destined."
"You'll not be offended if I question the clemency of such a destiny,"
remarked Lady Mary dryly. "Isn't there rather a surplus of books on that
"Such as they are. Oh, I've read them all"—here MacMaster faced Lady
Mary triumphantly. "He has quite escaped your amiable critics," he added,
"I know well enough what you think, and I daresay we are not much on art,"
said Lady Mary with tolerant good humor. "We leave that to peoples who
have no physique. Treffinger made a stir for a time, but it seems that we
are not capable of a sustained appreciation of such extraordinary methods.
In the end we go back to the pictures we find agreeable and unperplexing.
He was regarded as an experiment, I fancy; and now it seems that he was
rather an unsuccessful one. If you've come to us in a missionary spirit,
we'll tolerate you politely, but we'll laugh in our sleeve, I warn you."
"That really doesn't daunt me, Lady Mary," declared MacMaster blandly. "As
I told you, I'm a man with a mission."
Lady Mary laughed her hoarse, baritone laugh. "Bravo! And you've come to
me for inspiration for your panegyric?"
MacMaster smiled with some embarrassment. "Not altogether for that
purpose. But I want to consult you, Lady Mary, about the advisability of
troubling Lady Ellen Treffinger in the matter. It seems scarcely
legitimate to go on without asking her to give some sort of grace to my
proceedings, yet I feared the whole subject might be painful to her. I
shall rely wholly upon your discretion."
"I think she would prefer to be consulted," replied Lady Mary judicially.
"I can't understand how she endures to have the wretched affair
continually raked up, but she does. She seems to feel a sort of moral
responsibility. Ellen has always been singularly conscientious about this
matter, insofar as her light goes,—which rather puzzles me, as hers
is not exactly a magnanimous nature. She is certainly trying to do what
she believes to be the right thing. I shall write to her, and you can see
her when she returns from Italy."
"I want very much to meet her. She is, I hope, quite recovered in every
way," queried MacMaster, hesitatingly.
"No, I can't say that she is. She has remained in much the same condition
she sank to before his death. He trampled over pretty much whatever there
was in her, I fancy. Women don't recover from wounds of that sort—at
least, not women of Ellen's grain. They go on bleeding inwardly."
"You, at any rate, have not grown more reconciled," MacMaster ventured.
"Oh I give him his dues. He was a colorist, I grant you; but that is a
vague and unsatisfactory quality to marry to; Lady Ellen Treffinger found
"But, my dear Lady Mary," expostulated MacMaster, "and just repress me if
I'm becoming too personal—but it must, in the first place, have been
a marriage of choice on her part as well as on his."
Lady Mary poised her glasses on her large forefinger and assumed an
attitude suggestive of the clinical lecture room as she replied. "Ellen,
my dear boy, is an essentially romantic person. She is quiet about it, but
she runs deep. I never knew how deep until I came against her on the issue
of that marriage. She was always discontented as a girl; she found things
dull and prosaic, and the ardor of his courtship was agreeable to her. He
met her during her first season in town. She is handsome, and there were
plenty of other men, but I grant you your scowling brigand was the most
picturesque of the lot. In his courtship, as in everything else, he was
theatrical to the point of being ridiculous, but Ellen's sense of humor is
not her strongest quality. He had the charm of celebrity, the air of a man
who could storm his way through anything to get what he wanted. That sort
of vehemence is particularly effective with women like Ellen, who can be
warmed only by reflected heat, and she couldn't at all stand out against
it. He convinced her of his necessity; and that done, all's done."
"I can't help thinking that, even on such a basis, the marriage should
have turned out better," MacMaster remarked reflectively.
"The marriage," Lady Mary continued with a shrug, "was made on the basis
of a mutual misunderstanding. Ellen, in the nature of the case, believed
that she was doing something quite out of the ordinary in accepting him,
and expected concessions which, apparently, it never occurred to him to
make. After his marriage he relapsed into his old habits of incessant
work, broken by violent and often brutal relaxations. He insulted her
friends and foisted his own upon her—many of them well calculated to
arouse aversion in any well-bred girl. He had Ghillini constantly at the
house—a homeless vagabond, whose conversation was impossible. I
don't say, mind you, that he had not grievances on his side. He had
probably overrated the girl's possibilities, and he let her see that he
was disappointed in her. Only a large and generous nature could have borne
with him, and Ellen's is not that. She could not at all understand that
odious strain of plebeian pride which plumes itself upon not having risen
above its sources."
As MacMaster drove back to his hotel he reflected that Lady Mary Percy had
probably had good cause for dissatisfaction with her brother-in-law.
Treffinger was, indeed, the last man who should have married into the
Percy family. The son of a small tobacconist, he had grown up a
sign-painter's apprentice; idle, lawless, and practically letterless until
he had drifted into the night classes of the Albert League, where Ghillini
sometimes lectured. From the moment he came under the eye and influence of
that erratic Italian, then a political exile, his life had swerved sharply
from its old channel. This man had been at once incentive and guide,
friend and master, to his pupil. He had taken the raw clay out of the
London streets and molded it anew. Seemingly he had divined at once where
the boy's possibilities lay, and had thrown aside every canon of orthodox
instruction in the training of him. Under him Treffinger acquired his
superficial, yet facile, knowledge of the classics; had steeped himself in
the monkish Latin and medieval romances which later gave his work so naive
and remote a quality. That was the beginning of the wattle fences, the
cobble pave, the brown roof beams, the cunningly wrought fabrics that gave
to his pictures such a richness of decorative effect.
As he had told Lady Mary Percy, MacMaster had found the imperative
inspiration of his purpose in Treffinger's unfinished picture, the Marriage
of Phaedra. He had always believed that the key to Treffinger's
individuality lay in his singular education; in the Roman de la Rose,
in Boccaccio, and Amadis, those works which had literally transcribed
themselves upon the blank soul of the London street boy, and through which
he had been born into the world of spiritual things. Treffinger had been a
man who lived after his imagination; and his mind, his ideals and, as
MacMaster believed, even his personal ethics, had to the last been colored
by the trend of his early training. There was in him alike the freshness
and spontaneity, the frank brutality and the religious mysticism, which
lay well back of the fifteenth century. In the Marriage of Phaedra
MacMaster found the ultimate expression of this spirit, the final word as
to Treffinger's point of view.
As in all Treffinger's classical subjects, the conception was wholly
medieval. This Phaedra, just turning from her husband and maidens to greet
her husband's son, giving him her first fearsome glance from under her
half-lifted veil, was no daughter of Minos. The daughter of heathenesse
and the early church she was; doomed to torturing visions and scourgings,
and the wrangling of soul with flesh. The venerable Theseus might have
been victorious Charlemagne, and Phaedra's maidens belonged rather in the
train of Blanche of Castile than at the Cretan court. In the earlier
studies Hippolytus had been done with a more pagan suggestion; but in each
successive drawing the glorious figure had been deflowered of something of
its serene unconsciousness, until, in the canvas under the skylight, he
appeared a very Christian knight. This male figure, and the face of
Phaedra, painted with such magical preservation of tone under the heavy
shadow of the veil, were plainly Treffinger's highest achievements of
craftsmanship. By what labor he had reached the seemingly inevitable
composition of the picture—with its twenty figures, its plenitude of
light and air, its restful distances seen through white porticoes—countless
studies bore witness.
From James's attitude toward the picture MacMaster could well conjecture
what the painter's had been. This picture was always uppermost in James's
mind; its custodianship formed, in his eyes, his occupation. He was
manifestly apprehensive when visitors—not many came nowadays—lingered
near it. "It was the Marriage as killed 'im," he would often say,
"and for the matter 'o that, it did like to 'av been the death of all of
By the end of his second week in London MacMaster had begun the notes for
his study of Hugh Treffinger and his work. When his researches led him
occasionally to visit the studios of Treffinger's friends and erstwhile
disciples, he found their Treffinger manner fading as the ring of
Treffinger's personality died out in them. One by one they were stealing
back into the fold of national British art; the hand that had wound them
up was still. MacMaster despaired of them and confined himself more and
more exclusively to the studio, to such of Treffinger's letters as were
available—they were for the most part singularly negative and
colorless—and to his interrogation of Treffinger's man.
He could not himself have traced the successive steps by which he was
gradually admitted into James's confidence. Certainly most of his adroit
strategies to that end failed humiliatingly, and whatever it was that
built up an understanding between them must have been instinctive and
intuitive on both sides. When at last James became anecdotal, personal,
there was that in every word he let fall which put breath and blood into
MacMaster's book. James had so long been steeped in that penetrating
personality that he fairly exuded it. Many of his very phrases,
mannerisms, and opinions were impressions that he had taken on like wet
plaster in his daily contact with Treffinger. Inwardly he was lined with
cast-off epitheliums, as outwardly he was clad in the painter's discarded
coats. If the painter's letters were formal and perfunctory, if his
expressions to his friends had been extravagant, contradictory, and often
apparently insincere—still, MacMaster felt himself not entirely
without authentic sources. It was James who possessed Treffinger's legend;
it was with James that he had laid aside his pose. Only in his studio,
alone, and face to face with his work, as it seemed, had the man
invariably been himself. James had known him in the one attitude in which
he was entirely honest; their relation had fallen well within the
painter's only indubitable integrity. James's report of Treffinger was
distorted by no hallucination of artistic insight, colored by no
interpretation of his own. He merely held what he had heard and seen; his
mind was a sort of camera obscura. His very limitations made him the more
literal and minutely accurate.
One morning, when MacMaster was seated before the Marriage of Phaedra,
James entered on his usual round of dusting.
"I've 'eard from Lydy Elling by the post, sir," he remarked, "an' she's
give h'orders to 'ave the 'ouse put in readiness. I doubt she'll be 'ere
by Thursday or Friday next."
"She spends most of her time abroad?" queried MacMaster; on the subject of
Lady Treffinger James consistently maintained a very delicate reserve.
"Well, you could 'ardly say she does that, sir. She finds the 'ouse a bit
dull, I daresay, so durin' the season she stops mostly with Lydy Mary
Percy, at Grosvenor Square. Lydy Mary's a h'only sister." After a few
moments he continued, speaking in jerks governed by the rigor of his
dusting: "H'only this morning I come upon this scarfpin," exhibiting a
very striking instance of that article, "an' I recalled as 'ow Sir 'Ugh
give it me when 'e was acourting of Lydy Elling. Blowed if I ever see a
man go in for a 'oman like 'im! 'E was that gone, sir. 'E never went in on
anythink so 'ard before nor since, till 'e went in on the Marriage
there—though 'e mostly went in on things pretty keen; 'ad the
measles when 'e was thirty, strong as cholera, an' come close to dyin' of
'em. 'E wasn't strong for Lydy Elling's set; they was a bit too stiff for
'im. A free an' easy gentleman, 'e was; 'e liked 'is dinner with a few
friends an' them jolly, but 'e wasn't much on what you might call big
affairs. But once 'e went in for Lydy Elling 'e broke 'imself to new
paces; He give away 'is rings an' pins, an' the tylor's man an' the
'aberdasher's man was at 'is rooms continual. 'E got 'imself put up for a
club in Piccadilly; 'e starved 'imself thin, an' worrited 'imself white,
an' ironed 'imself out, an' drawed 'imself tight as a bow string. It was a
good job 'e come a winner, or I don't know w'at'd 'a been to pay."
The next week, in consequence of an invitation from Lady Ellen Treffinger,
MacMaster went one afternoon to take tea with her. He was shown into the
garden that lay between the residence and the studio, where the tea table
was set under a gnarled pear tree. Lady Ellen rose as he approached—he
was astonished to note how tall she was—and greeted him graciously, saying
that she already knew him through her sister. MacMaster felt a certain
satisfaction in her; in her reassuring poise and repose, in the charming
modulations of her voice and the indolent reserve of her full, almond
eyes. He was even delighted to find her face so inscrutable, though it
chilled his own warmth and made the open frankness he had wished to permit
himself impossible. It was a long face, narrow at the chin, very
delicately featured, yet steeled by an impassive mask of self-control. It
was behind just such finely cut, close-sealed faces, MacMaster reflected,
that nature sometimes hid astonishing secrets. But in spite of this
suggestion of hardness he felt that the unerring taste that Treffinger had
always shown in larger matters had not deserted him when he came to the
choosing of a wife, and he admitted that he could not himself have
selected a woman who looked more as Treffinger's wife should look.
While he was explaining the purpose of his frequent visits to the studio
she heard him with courteous interest. "I have read, I think, everything
that has been published on Sir Hugh Treffinger's work, and it seems to me
that there is much left to be said," he concluded.
"I believe they are rather inadequate," she remarked vaguely. She
hesitated a moment, absently fingering the ribbons of her gown, then
continued, without raising her eyes; "I hope you will not think me too
exacting if I ask to see the proofs of such chapters of your work as have
to do with Sir Hugh's personal life. I have always asked that privilege."
MacMaster hastily assured her as to this, adding, "I mean to touch on only
such facts in his personal life as have to do directly with his work—such
as his monkish education under Ghillini."
"I see your meaning, I think," said Lady Ellen, looking at him with wide,
When MacMaster stopped at the studio on leaving the house he stood for
some time before Treffinger's one portrait of himself, that brigand of a
picture, with its full throat and square head; the short upper lip
blackened by the close-clipped mustache, the wiry hair tossed down over
the forehead, the strong white teeth set hard on a short pipestem. He
could well understand what manifold tortures the mere grain of the man's
strong red and brown flesh might have inflicted upon a woman like Lady
Ellen. He could conjecture, too, Treffinger's impotent revolt against that
very repose which had so dazzled him when it first defied his daring; and
how once possessed of it, his first instinct had been to crush it, since
he could not melt it.
Toward the close of the season Lady Ellen Treffinger left town.
MacMaster's work was progressing rapidly, and he and James wore away the
days in their peculiar relation, which by this time had much of
friendliness. Excepting for the regular visits of a Jewish picture dealer,
there were few intrusions upon their solitude. Occasionally a party of
Americans rang at the little door in the garden wall, but usually they
departed speedily for the Moorish hall and tinkling fountain of the great
show studio of London, not far away.
This Jew, an Austrian by birth, who had a large business in Melbourne,
Australia, was a man of considerable discrimination, and at once selected
the Marriage of Phaedra as the object of his especial interest.
When, upon his first visit, Lichtenstein had declared the picture one of
the things done for time, MacMaster had rather warmed toward him and had
talked to him very freely. Later, however, the man's repulsive personality
and innate vulgarity so wore upon him that, the more genuine the Jew's
appreciation, the more he resented it and the more base he somehow felt it
to be. It annoyed him to see Lichtenstein walking up and down before the
picture, shaking his head and blinking his watery eyes over his nose
glasses, ejaculating: "Dot is a chem, a chem! It is wordt to gome den
dousant miles for such a bainting, eh? To make Eurobe abbreciate such a
work of ardt it is necessary to take it away while she is napping. She has
never abbreciated until she has lost, but," knowingly, "she will buy
James had, from the first, felt such a distrust of the man that he would
never leave him alone in the studio for a moment. When Lichtenstein
insisted upon having Lady Ellen Treffinger's address James rose to the
point of insolence. "It ayn't no use to give it, noway. Lydy Treffinger
never has nothink to do with dealers." MacMaster quietly repented his rash
confidences, fearing that he might indirectly cause Lady Ellen annoyance
from this merciless speculator, and he recalled with chagrin that
Lichtenstein had extorted from him, little by little, pretty much the
entire plan of his book, and especially the place in it which the Marriage
of Phaedra was to occupy.
By this time the first chapters of MacMaster's book were in the hands of
his publisher, and his visits to the studio were necessarily less
frequent. The greater part of his time was now employed with the engravers
who were to reproduce such of Treffinger's pictures as he intended to use
He returned to his hotel late one evening after a long and vexing day at
the engravers to find James in his room, seated on his steamer trunk by
the window, with the outline of a great square draped in sheets resting
against his knee.
"Why, James, what's up?" he cried in astonishment, glancing inquiringly at
the sheeted object.
"Ayn't you seen the pypers, sir?" jerked out the man.
"No, now I think of it, I haven't even looked at a paper. I've been at the
engravers' plant all day. I haven't seen anything."
James drew a copy of the Times from his pocket and handed it to
him, pointing with a tragic finger to a paragraph in the social column. It
was merely the announcement of Lady Ellen Treffinger's engagement to
Captain Alexander Gresham.
"Well, what of it, my man? That surely is her privilege."
James took the paper, turned to another page, and silently pointed to a
paragraph in the art notes which stated that Lady Treffinger had presented
to the X—gallery the entire collection of paintings and sketches now
in her late husband's studio, with the exception of his unfinished
picture, the Marriage Of Phaedra, which she had sold for a large
sum to an Australian dealer who had come to London purposely to secure
some of Treffinger's paintings.
MacMaster pursed up his lips and sat down, his overcoat still on. "Well,
James, this is something of a—something of a jolt, eh? It never
occurred to me she'd really do it."
"Lord, you don't know 'er, sir," said James bitterly, still staring at the
floor in an attitude of abandoned dejection.
MacMaster started up in a flash of enlightenment, "What on earth have you
got there, James? It's not-surely it's not—"
"Yes, it is, sir," broke in the man excitedly. "It's the Marriage
itself. It ayn't agoing to H'Australia, no'ow!"
"But man, what are you going to do with it? It's Lichtenstein's property
now, as it seems."
"It ayn't, sir, that it ayn't. No, by Gawd, it ayn't!" shouted James,
breaking into a choking fury. He controlled himself with an effort and
added supplicatingly: "Oh, sir, you ayn't agoing to see it go to
H'Australia, w'ere they send convic's?" He unpinned and flung aside the
sheets as though to let Phaedra plead for herself.
MacMaster sat down again and looked sadly at the doomed masterpiece. The
notion of James having carried it across London that night rather appealed
to his fancy. There was certainly a flavor about such a highhanded
proceeding. "However did you get it here?" he queried.
"I got a four-wheeler and come over direct, sir. Good job I 'appened to
'ave the chaynge about me."
"You came up High Street, up Piccadilly, through the Haymarket and
Trafalgar Square, and into the Strand?" queried MacMaster with a relish.
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir," assented James with surprise.
MacMaster laughed delightedly. "It was a beautiful idea, James, but I'm
afraid we can't carry it any further."
"I was thinkin' as 'ow it would be a rare chance to get you to take the Marriage
over to Paris for a year or two, sir, until the thing blows over?"
suggested James blandly.
"I'm afraid that's out of the question, James. I haven't the right stuff
in me for a pirate, or even a vulgar smuggler, I'm afraid." MacMaster
found it surprisingly difficult to say this, and he busied himself with
the lamp as he said it. He heard James's hand fall heavily on the trunk
top, and he discovered that he very much disliked sinking in the man's
"Well, sir," remarked James in a more formal tone, after a protracted
silence; "then there's nothink for it but as 'ow I'll 'ave to make way
with it myself."
"And how about your character, James? The evidence would be heavy against
you, and even if Lady Treffinger didn't prosecute you'd be done for."
"Blow my character!—your pardon, sir," cried James, starting to his
feet. "W'at do I want of a character? I'll chuck the 'ole thing, and
damned lively, too. The shop's to be sold out, an' my place is gone
any'ow. I'm agoing to enlist, or try the gold fields. I've lived too long
with h'artists; I'd never give satisfaction in livery now. You know 'ow it
is yourself, sir; there ayn't no life like it, no'ow."
For a moment MacMaster was almost equal to abetting James in his theft. He
reflected that pictures had been whitewashed, or hidden in the crypts of
churches, or under the floors of palaces from meaner motives, and to save
them from a fate less ignominious. But presently, with a sigh, he shook
"No, James, it won't do at all. It has been tried over and over again,
ever since the world has been agoing and pictures amaking. It was tried in
Florence and in Venice, but the pictures were always carried away in the
end. You see, the difficulty is that although Treffinger told you what was
not to be done with the picture, he did not say definitely what was to be
done with it. Do you think Lady Treffinger really understands that he did
not want it to be sold?"
"Well, sir, it was like this, sir," said James, resuming his seat on the
trunk and again resting the picture against his knee. "My memory is as
clear as glass about it. After Sir 'Ugh got up from 'is first stroke, 'e
took a fresh start at the Marriage. Before that 'e 'ad been working
at it only at night for a while back; the Legend was the big
picture then, an' was under the north light w'ere 'e worked of a morning.
But one day 'e bid me take the Legend down an' put the Marriage
in its place, an' 'e says, dashin' on 'is jacket, 'Jymes, this is a start
for the finish, this time.'
"From that on 'e worked at the night picture in the mornin'—a thing
contrary to 'is custom. The Marriage went wrong, and wrong—an'
Sir 'Ugh agettin' seedier an' seedier every day. 'E tried models an'
models, an' smudged an' pynted out on account of 'er face goin' wrong in
the shadow. Sometimes 'e layed it on the colors, an' swore at me an'
things in general. He got that discouraged about 'imself that on 'is low
days 'e used to say to me: 'Jymes, remember one thing; if anythink 'appens
to me, the Marriage is not to go out of 'ere unfinished. It's worth
the lot of 'em, my boy, an' it's not agoing to go shabby for lack of
pains.' 'E said things to that effect repeated.
"He was workin' at the picture the last day, before 'e went to 'is club.
'E kept the carriage waitin' near an hour while 'e put on a stroke an'
then drawed back for to look at it, an' then put on another, careful like.
After 'e 'ad 'is gloves on, 'e come back an' took away the brushes I was
startin' to clean, an' put in another touch or two. 'It's acomin', Jymes,'
'e says, 'by gad if it ayn't.' An' with that 'e goes out. It was cruel
sudden, w'at come after.
"That night I was lookin' to 'is clothes at the 'ouse when they brought
'im 'ome. He was conscious, but w'en I ran downstairs for to 'elp lift 'im
up, I knowed 'e was a finished man. After we got 'im into bed 'e kept
lookin' restless at me and then at Lydy Elling and ajerkin' of 'is 'and.
Finally 'e quite raised it an' shot 'is thumb out toward the wall. 'He
wants water; ring, Jymes,' says Lydy Elling, placid. But I knowed 'e was
pointin' to the shop.
"'Lydy Treffinger,' says I, bold, 'he's pointin' to the studio. He means
about the Marriage; 'e told me today as 'ow 'e never wanted it sold
unfinished. Is that it, Sir 'Ugh?'
"He smiled an' nodded slight an' closed 'is eyes. 'Thank you, Jymes,' says
Lydy Elling, placid. Then 'e opened 'is eyes an' looked long and 'ard at
"'Of course I'll try to do as you'd wish about the picture, 'Ugh, if
that's w'at's troublin' you,' she says quiet. With that 'e closed 'is eyes
and 'e never opened 'em. He died unconscious at four that mornin'.
"You see, sir, Lydy Elling was always cruel 'ard on the Marriage.
From the first it went wrong, an' Sir 'Ugh was out of temper pretty
constant. She came into the studio one day and looked at the picture an
'asked 'im why 'e didn't throw it up an' quit aworriting 'imself. He
answered sharp, an' with that she said as 'ow she didn't see w'at there
was to make such a row about, no'ow. She spoke 'er mind about that
picture, free; an' Sir 'Ugh swore 'ot an' let a 'andful of brushes fly at
'is study, an' Lydy Elling picked up 'er skirts careful an' chill, an'
drifted out of the studio with 'er eyes calm and 'er chin 'igh. If there
was one thing Lydy Elling 'ad no comprehension of, it was the usefulness
of swearin'. So the Marriage was a sore thing between 'em. She is
uncommon calm, but uncommon bitter, is Lydy Elling. She's never come anear
the studio since that day she went out 'oldin' up of 'er skirts. W'en 'er
friends goes over she excuses 'erself along o' the strain. Strain—Gawd!"
James ground his wrath short in his teeth.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, James, and it's our only hope. I'll see Lady
Ellen tomorrow. The Times says she returned today. You take the
picture back to its place, and I'll do what I can for it. If anything is
done to save it, it must be done through Lady Ellen Treffinger herself,
that much is clear. I can't think that she fully understands the
situation. If she did, you know, she really couldn't have any motive—"
He stopped suddenly. Somehow, in the dusky lamplight, her small,
close-sealed face came ominously back to him. He rubbed his forehead and
knitted his brows thoughtfully. After a moment he shook his head and went
on: "I am positive that nothing can be gained by highhanded methods,
James. Captain Gresham is one of the most popular men in London, and his
friends would tear up Treffinger's bones if he were annoyed by any scandal
of our making—and this scheme you propose would inevitably result in
scandal. Lady Ellen has, of course, every legal right to sell the picture.
Treffinger made considerable inroads upon her estate, and, as she is about
to marry a man without income, she doubtless feels that she has a right to
replenish her patrimony."
He found James amenable, though doggedly skeptical. He went down into the
street, called a carriage, and saw James and his burden into it. Standing
in the doorway, he watched the carriage roll away through the drizzling
mist, weave in and out among the wet, black vehicles and darting cab
lights, until it was swallowed up in the glare and confusion of the
Strand. "It is rather a fine touch of irony," he reflected, "that he, who
is so out of it, should be the one to really care. Poor Treffinger," he
murmured as, with a rather spiritless smile, he turned back into his
hotel. "Poor Treffinger; sic transit gloria."
The next afternoon MacMaster kept his promise. When he arrived at Lady
Mary Percy's house he saw preparations for a function of some sort, but he
went resolutely up the steps, telling the footman that his business was
urgent. Lady Ellen came down alone, excusing her sister. She was dressed
for receiving, and MacMaster had never seen one so beautiful. The color in
her cheeks sent a softening glow over her small, delicately cut features.
MacMaster apologized for his intrusion and came unflinchingly to the
object of his call. He had come, he said, not only to offer her his
warmest congratulations, but to express his regret that a great work of
art was to leave England.
Lady Treffinger looked at him in wide-eyed astonishment. Surely, she said,
she had been careful to select the best of the pictures for the X—-
gallery, in accordance with Sir Hugh Treffinger's wishes.
"And did he—pardon me, Lady Treffinger, but in mercy set my mind at
rest—did he or did he not express any definite wish concerning this
one picture, which to me seems worth all the others, unfinished as it is?"
Lady Treffinger paled perceptibly, but it was not the pallor of confusion.
When she spoke there was a sharp tremor in her smooth voice, the edge of a
resentment that tore her like pain. "I think his man has some such
impression, but I believe it to be utterly unfounded. I cannot find that
he ever expressed any wish concerning the disposition of the picture to
any of his friends. Unfortunately, Sir Hugh was not always discreet in his
remarks to his servants."
"Captain Gresham, Lady Ellingham, and Miss Ellingham," announced a
servant, appearing at the door.
There was a murmur in the hall, and MacMaster greeted the smiling Captain
and his aunt as he bowed himself out.
To all intents and purposes the Marriage of Phaedra was already
entombed in a vague continent in the Pacific, somewhere on the other side
of the world.
A Wagner Matinee
I received one morning a letter, written in pale ink on glassy, blue-lined
notepaper, and bearing the postmark of a little Nebraska village. This
communication, worn and rubbed, looking as though it had been carried for
some days in a coat pocket that was none too clean, was from my Uncle
Howard and informed me that his wife had been left a small legacy by a
bachelor relative who had recently died, and that it would be necessary
for her to go to Boston to attend to the settling of the estate. He
requested me to meet her at the station and render her whatever services
might be necessary. On examining the date indicated as that of her arrival
I found it no later than tomorrow. He had characteristically delayed
writing until, had I been away from home for a day, I must have missed the
good woman altogether.
The name of my Aunt Georgiana called up not alone her own figure, at once
pathetic and grotesque, but opened before my feet a gulf of recollection
so wide and deep that, as the letter dropped from my hand, I felt suddenly
a stranger to all the present conditions of my existence, wholly ill at
ease and out of place amid the familiar surroundings of my study. I
became, in short, the gangling farm boy my aunt had known, scourged with
chilblains and bashfulness, my hands cracked and sore from the corn
husking. I felt the knuckles of my thumb tentatively, as though they were
raw again. I sat again before her parlor organ, fumbling the scales with
my stiff, red hands, while she, beside me, made canvas mittens for the
The next morning, after preparing my landlady somewhat, I set out for the
station. When the train arrived I had some difficulty in finding my aunt.
She was the last of the passengers to alight, and it was not until I got
her into the carriage that she seemed really to recognize me. She had come
all the way in a day coach; her linen duster had become black with soot,
and her black bonnet gray with dust, during the journey. When we arrived
at my boardinghouse the landlady put her to bed at once and I did not see
her again until the next morning.
Whatever shock Mrs. Springer experienced at my aunt's appearance she
considerately concealed. As for myself, I saw my aunt's misshapen figure
with that feeling of awe and respect with which we behold explorers who
have left their ears and fingers north of Franz Josef Land, or their
health somewhere along the Upper Congo. My Aunt Georgiana had been a music
teacher at the Boston Conservatory, somewhere back in the latter sixties.
One summer, while visiting in the little village among the Green Mountains
where her ancestors had dwelt for generations, she had kindled the callow
fancy of the most idle and shiftless of all the village lads, and had
conceived for this Howard Carpenter one of those extravagant passions
which a handsome country boy of twenty-one sometimes inspires in an
angular, spectacled woman of thirty. When she returned to her duties in
Boston, Howard followed her, and the upshot of this inexplicable
infatuation was that she eloped with him, eluding the reproaches of her
family and the criticisms of her friends by going with him to the Nebraska
frontier. Carpenter, who, of course, had no money, had taken a homestead
in Red Willow County, fifty miles from the railroad. There they had
measured off their quarter section themselves by driving across the
prairie in a wagon, to the wheel of which they had tied a red cotton
handkerchief, and counting off its revolutions. They built a dugout in the
red hillside, one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so often reverted
to primitive conditions. Their water they got from the lagoons where the
buffalo drank, and their slender stock of provisions was always at the
mercy of bands of roving Indians. For thirty years my aunt had not been
further than fifty miles from the homestead.
But Mrs. Springer knew nothing of all this, and must have been
considerably shocked at what was left of my kinswoman. Beneath the soiled
linen duster which, on her arrival, was the most conspicuous feature of
her costume, she wore a black stuff dress, whose ornamentation showed that
she had surrendered herself unquestioningly into the hands of a country
dressmaker. My poor aunt's figure, however, would have presented
astonishing difficulties to any dressmaker. Originally stooped, her
shoulders were now almost bent together over her sunken chest. She wore no
stays, and her gown, which trailed unevenly behind, rose in a sort of peak
over her abdomen. She wore ill-fitting false teeth, and her skin was as
yellow as a Mongolian's from constant exposure to a pitiless wind and to
the alkaline water which hardens the most transparent cuticle into a sort
of flexible leather.
I owed to this woman most of the good that ever came my way in my boyhood,
and had a reverential affection for her. During the years when I was
riding herd for my uncle, my aunt, after cooking the three meals—the
first of which was ready at six o'clock in the morning-and putting the six
children to bed, would often stand until midnight at her ironing board,
with me at the kitchen table beside her, hearing me recite Latin
declensions and conjugations, gently shaking me when my drowsy head sank
down over a page of irregular verbs. It was to her, at her ironing or
mending, that I read my first Shakespeare', and her old textbook on
mythology was the first that ever came into my empty hands. She taught me
my scales and exercises, too—on the little parlor organ, which her
husband had bought her after fifteen years, during which she had not so
much as seen any instrument, but an accordion that belonged to one of the
Norwegian farmhands. She would sit beside me by the hour, darning and
counting while I struggled with the "Joyous Farmer," but she seldom talked
to me about music, and I understood why. She was a pious woman; she had
the consolations of religion and, to her at least, her martyrdom was not
wholly sordid. Once when I had been doggedly beating out some easy
passages from an old score of Euryanthe I had found among her music
books, she came up to me and, putting her hands over my eyes, gently drew
my head back upon her shoulder, saying tremulously, "Don't love it so
well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh, dear boy, pray that whatever
your sacrifice may be, it be not that."
When my aunt appeared on the morning after her arrival she was still in a
semi-somnambulant state. She seemed not to realize that she was in the
city where she had spent her youth, the place longed for hungrily half a
lifetime. She had been so wretchedly train-sick throughout the journey
that she had no recollection of anything but her discomfort, and, to all
intents and purposes, there were but a few hours of nightmare between the
farm in Red Willow County and my study on Newbury Street. I had planned a
little pleasure for her that afternoon, to repay her for some of the
glorious moments she had given me when we used to milk together in the
straw-thatched cowshed and she, because I was more than usually tired, or
because her husband had spoken sharply to me, would tell me of the
splendid performance of the Huguenots she had seen in Paris, in her
youth. At two o'clock the Symphony Orchestra was to give a Wagner program,
and I intended to take my aunt; though, as I conversed with her I grew
doubtful about her enjoyment of it. Indeed, for her own sake, I could only
wish her taste for such things quite dead, and the long struggle
mercifully ended at last. I suggested our visiting the Conservatory and
the Common before lunch, but she seemed altogether too timid to wish to
venture out. She questioned me absently about various changes in the city,
but she was chiefly concerned that she had forgotten to leave instructions
about feeding half-skimmed milk to a certain weakling calf, "old Maggie's
calf, you know, Clark," she explained, evidently having forgotten how long
I had been away. She was further troubled because she had neglected to
tell her daughter about the freshly opened kit of mackerel in the cellar,
which would spoil if it were not used directly.
I asked her whether she had ever heard any of the Wagnerian operas and
found that she had not, though she was perfectly familiar with their
respective situations, and had once possessed the piano score of The
Flying Dutchman. I began to think it would have been best to get her
back to Red Willow County without waking her, and regretted having
suggested the concert.
From the time we entered the concert hall, however, she was a trifle less
passive and inert, and for the first time seemed to perceive her
surroundings. I had felt some trepidation lest she might become aware of
the absurdities of her attire, or might experience some painful
embarrassment at stepping suddenly into the world to which she had been
dead for a quarter of a century. But, again, I found how superficially I
had judged her. She sat looking about her with eyes as impersonal, almost
as stony, as those with which the granite Rameses in a museum watches the
froth and fret that ebbs and flows about his pedestal-separated from it by
the lonely stretch of centuries. I have seen this same aloofness in old
miners who drift into the Brown Hotel at Denver, their pockets full of
bullion, their linen soiled, their haggard faces unshaven; standing in the
thronged corridors as solitary as though they were still in a frozen camp
on the Yukon, conscious that certain experiences have isolated them from
their fellows by a gulf no haberdasher could bridge.
We sat at the extreme left of the first balcony, facing the arch of our
own and the balcony above us, veritable hanging gardens, brilliant as
tulip beds. The matinee audience was made up chiefly of women. One lost
the contour of faces and figures—indeed, any effect of line
whatever-and there was only the color of bodices past counting, the
shimmer of fabrics soft and firm, silky and sheer: red, mauve, pink, blue,
lilac, purple, ecru, rose, yellow, cream, and white, all the colors that
an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape, with here and there the dead
shadow of a frock coat. My Aunt Georgiana regarded them as though they had
been so many daubs of tube-paint on a palette.
When the musicians came out and took their places, she gave a little stir
of anticipation and looked with quickening interest down over the rail at
that invariable grouping, perhaps the first wholly familiar thing that had
greeted her eye since she had left old Maggie and her weakling calf. I
could feel how all those details sank into her soul, for I had not
forgotten how they had sunk into mine when I came fresh from plowing
forever and forever between green aisles of corn, where, as in a
treadmill, one might walk from daybreak to dusk without perceiving a
shadow of change. The clean profiles of the musicians, the gloss of their
linen, the dull black of their coats, the beloved shapes of the
instruments, the patches of yellow light thrown by the green-shaded lamps
on the smooth, varnished bellies of the cellos and the bass viols in the
rear, the restless, wind-tossed forest of fiddle necks and bows-I recalled
how, in the first orchestra I had ever heard, those long bow strokes
seemed to draw the heart out of me, as a conjurer's stick reels out yards
of paper ribbon from a hat.
The first number was the Tannhauser overture. When the horns drew
out the first strain of the Pilgrim's chorus my Aunt Georgiana clutched my
coat sleeve. Then it was I first realized that for her this broke a
silence of thirty years; the inconceivable silence of the plains. With the
battle between the two motives, with the frenzy of the Venusberg theme and
its ripping of strings, there came to me an overwhelming sense of the
waste and wear we are so powerless to combat; and I saw again the tall,
naked house on the prairie, black and grim as a wooden fortress; the black
pond where I had learned to swim, its margin pitted with sun-dried cattle
tracks; the rain-gullied clay banks about the naked house, the four dwarf
ash seedlings where the dishcloths were always hung to dry before the
kitchen door. The world there was the flat world of the ancients; to the
east, a cornfield that stretched to daybreak; to the west, a corral that
reached to sunset; between, the conquests of peace, dearer bought than
those of war.
The overture closed; my aunt released my coat sleeve, but she said
nothing. She sat staring at the orchestra through a dullness of thirty
years, through the films made little by little by each of the three
hundred and sixty-five days in every one of them. What, I wondered, did
she get from it? She had been a good pianist in her day I knew, and her
musical education had been broader than that of most music teachers of a
quarter of a century ago. She had often told me of Mozart's operas and
Meyerbeer's, and I could remember hearing her sing, years ago, certain
melodies of Verdi's. When I had fallen ill with a fever in her house she
used to sit by my cot in the evening—when the cool, night wind blew
in through the faded mosquito netting tacked over the window, and I lay
watching a certain bright star that burned red above the cornfield—and
sing "Home to our mountains, O, let us return!" in a way fit to break the
heart of a Vermont boy near dead of homesickness already.
I watched her closely through the prelude to Tristan and Isolde,
trying vainly to conjecture what that seething turmoil of strings and
winds might mean to her, but she sat mutely staring at the violin bows
that drove obliquely downward, like the pelting streaks of rain in a
summer shower. Had this music any message for her? Had she enough left to
at all comprehend this power which had kindled the world since she had
left it? I was in a fever of curiosity, but Aunt Georgiana sat silent upon
her peak in Darien. She preserved this utter immobility throughout the
number from The Flying Dutchman, though her fingers worked
mechanically upon her black dress, as though, of themselves, they were
recalling the piano score they had once played. Poor old hands! They had
been stretched and twisted into mere tentacles to hold and lift and knead
with; the palms unduly swollen, the fingers bent and knotted—on one
of them a thin, worn band that had once been a wedding ring. As I pressed
and gently quieted one of those groping hands I remembered with quivering
eyelids their services for me in other days.
Soon after the tenor began the "Prize Song," I heard a quick drawn breath
and turned to my aunt. Her eyes were closed, but the tears were glistening
on her cheeks, and I think, in a moment more, they were in my eyes as
well. It never really died, then—the soul that can suffer so
excruciatingly and so interminably; it withers to the outward eye only;
like that strange moss which can lie on a dusty shelf half a century and
yet, if placed in water, grows green again. She wept so throughout the
development and elaboration of the melody.
During the intermission before the second half of the concert, I
questioned my aunt and found that the "Prize Song" was not new to her.
Some years before there had drifted to the farm in Red Willow County a
young German, a tramp cowpuncher, who had sung the chorus at Bayreuth,
when he was a boy, along with the other peasant boys and girls. Of a
Sunday morning he used to sit on his gingham-sheeted bed in the hands'
bedroom which opened off the kitchen, cleaning the leather of his boots
and saddle, singing the "Prize Song," while my aunt went about her work in
the kitchen. She had hovered about him until she had prevailed upon him to
join the country church, though his sole fitness for this step, insofar as
I could gather, lay in his boyish face and his possession of this divine
melody. Shortly afterward he had gone to town on the Fourth of July, been
drunk for several days, lost his money at a faro table, ridden a saddled
Texan steer on a bet, and disappeared with a fractured collarbone. All
this my aunt told me huskily, wanderingly, as though she were talking in
the weak lapses of illness.
"Well, we have come to better things than the old Trovatore at any
rate, Aunt Georgie?" I queried, with a well-meant effort at jocularity.
Her lip quivered and she hastily put her handkerchief up to her mouth.
From behind it she murmured, "And you have been hearing this ever since
you left me, Clark?" Her question was the gentlest and saddest of
The second half of the program consisted of four numbers from the Ring,
and closed with Siegfried's funeral march. My aunt wept quietly, but
almost continuously, as a shallow vessel overflows in a rainstorm. From
time to time her dim eyes looked up at the lights which studded the
ceiling, burning softly under their dull glass globes; doubtless they were
stars in truth to her. I was still perplexed as to what measure of musical
comprehension was left to her, she who had heard nothing but the singing
of gospel hymns at Methodist services in the square frame schoolhouse on
Section Thirteen for so many years. I was wholly unable to gauge how much
of it had been dissolved in soapsuds, or worked into bread, or milked into
the bottom of a pail.
The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the
shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what
happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that
before the last numbers she had been carried out where the myriad graves
are, into the gray, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some
world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope
has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.
The concert was over; the people filed out of the hall chattering and
laughing, glad to relax and find the living level again, but my kinswoman
made no effort to rise. The harpist slipped its green felt cover over his
instrument; the flute players shook the water from their mouthpieces; the
men of the orchestra went out one by one, leaving the stage to the chairs
and music stands, empty as a winter cornfield.
I spoke to my aunt. She burst into tears and sobbed pleadingly. "I don't
want to go, Clark, I don't want to go!"
I understood. For her, just outside the door of the concert hall, lay the
black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs; the tall, unpainted house, with
weather-curled boards; naked as a tower, the crook-backed ash seedlings
where the dishcloths hung to dry; the gaunt, molting turkeys picking up
refuse about the kitchen door.
A Study in Temperament
It was Paul's afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh
High School to account for his various misdemeanors. He had been suspended
a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal's office and
confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room
suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet
on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that
there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his
neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole.
This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly
significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of
Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and
a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical
brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort
of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large,
as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter
about them which that drug does not produce.
When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there Paul stated,
politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie,
but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable
for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their respective
charges against him, which they did with such a rancor and aggrievedness
as evinced that this was not a usual case, Disorder and impertinence were
among the offenses named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was
scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which
lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy's; in the contempt
which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the
least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a
paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side
and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and
thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely
have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was
so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. In one way
and another he had made all his teachers, men and women alike, conscious
of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat
with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the
window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on
the lecture, with humorous intention.
His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by
his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him
without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack. He stood through it
smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were
continually twitching, and he had a habit of raising his eyebrows that was
contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than Paul had
broken down and shed tears under that baptism of fire, but his set smile
did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous
trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and
an occasional jerking of the other hand that held his hat. Paul was always
smiling, always glancing about him, seeming to feel that people might be
watching him and trying to detect something. This conscious expression,
since it was as far as possible from boyish mirthfulness, was usually
attributed to insolence or "smartness."
As the inquisition proceeded one of his instructors repeated an
impertinent remark of the boy's, and the Principal asked him whether he
thought that a courteous speech to have made a woman. Paul shrugged his
shoulders slightly and his eyebrows twitched.
"I don't know," he replied. "I didn't mean to be polite or impolite,
either. I guess it's a sort of way I have of saying things regardless."
The Principal, who was a sympathetic man, asked him whether he didn't
think that a way it would be well to get rid of. Paul grinned and said he
guessed so. When he was told that he could go he bowed gracefully and went
out. His bow was but a repetition of the scandalous red carnation.
His teachers were in despair, and his drawing master voiced the feeling of
them all when he declared there was something about the boy which none of
them understood. He added: "I don't really believe that smile of his comes
altogether from insolence; there's something sort of haunted about it. The
boy is not strong, for one thing. I happen to know that he was born in
Colorado, only a few months before his mother died out there of a long
illness. There is something wrong about the fellow."
The drawing master had come to realize that, in looking at Paul, one saw
only his white teeth and the forced animation of his eyes. One warm
afternoon the boy had gone to sleep at his drawing board, and his master
had noted with amazement what a white, blue-veined face it was; drawn and
wrinkled like an old man's about the eyes, the lips twitching even in his
sleep, and stiff with a nervous tension that drew them back from his
His teachers left the building dissatisfied and unhappy; humiliated to
have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy, to have uttered this feeling in
cutting terms, and to have set each other on, as it were, in the gruesome
game of intemperate reproach. Some of them remembered having seen a
miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors.
As for Paul, he ran down the hill whistling the "Soldiers' Chorus" from Faust,
looking wildly behind him now and then to see whether some of his teachers
were not there to writhe under his lightheartedness. As it was now late in
the afternoon and Paul was on duty that evening as usher at Carnegie Hall,
he decided that he would not go home to supper. When he reached the
concert hall the doors were not yet open and, as it was chilly outside, he
decided to go up into the picture gallery—always deserted at this
hour—where there were some of Raffelli's gay studies of Paris
streets and an airy blue Venetian scene or two that always exhilarated
him. He was delighted to find no one in the gallery but the old guard, who
sat in one corner, a newspaper on his knee, a black patch over one eye and
the other closed. Paul possessed himself of the peace and walked
confidently up and down, whistling under his breath. After a while he sat
down before a blue Rico and lost himself. When he bethought him to look at
his watch, it was after seven o'clock, and he rose with a start and ran
downstairs, making a face at Augustus, peering out from the cast room, and
an evil gesture at the Venus de Milo as he passed her on the stairway.
When Paul reached the ushers' dressing room half a dozen boys were there
already, and he began excitedly to tumble into his uniform. It was one of
the few that at all approached fitting, and Paul thought it very
becoming-though he knew that the tight, straight coat accentuated his
narrow chest, about which he was exceedingly sensitive. He was always
considerably excited while he dressed, twanging all over to the tuning of
the strings and the preliminary flourishes of the horns in the music room;
but tonight he seemed quite beside himself, and he teased and plagued the
boys until, telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor
and sat on him.
Somewhat calmed by his suppression, Paul dashed out to the front of the
house to seat the early comers. He was a model usher; gracious and smiling
he ran up and down the aisles; nothing was too much trouble for him; he
carried messages and brought programs as though it were his greatest
pleasure in life, and all the people in his section thought him a charming
boy, feeling that he remembered and admired them. As the house filled, he
grew more and more vivacious and animated, and the color came to his
cheeks and lips. It was very much as though this were a great reception
and Paul were the host. Just as the musicians came out to take their
places, his English teacher arrived with checks for the seats which a
prominent manufacturer had taken for the season. She betrayed some
embarrassment when she handed Paul the tickets, and a hauteur which
subsequently made her feel very foolish. Paul was startled for a moment,
and had the feeling of wanting to put her out; what business had she here
among all these fine people and gay colors? He looked her over and decided
that she was not appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit
downstairs in such togs. The tickets had probably been sent her out of
kindness, he reflected as he put down a seat for her, and she had about as
much right to sit there as he had.
When the symphony began Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long
sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico. It was
not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but
the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious and potent
spirit within him; something that struggled there like the genie in the
bottle found by the Arab fisherman. He felt a sudden zest of life; the
lights danced before his eyes and the concert hall blazed into
unimaginable splendor. When the soprano soloist came on Paul forgot even
the nastiness of his teacher's being there and gave himself up to the
peculiar stimulus such personages always had for him. The soloist chanced
to be a German woman, by no means in her first youth, and the mother of
many children; but she wore an elaborate gown and a tiara, and above all
she had that indefinable air of achievement, that world-shine upon her,
which, in Paul's eyes, made her a veritable queen of Romance.
After a concert was over Paul was always irritable and wretched until he
got to sleep, and tonight he was even more than usually restless. He had
the feeling of not being able to let down, of its being impossible to give
up this delicious excitement which was the only thing that could be called
living at all. During the last number he withdrew and, after hastily
changing his clothes in the dressing room, slipped out to the side door
where the soprano's carriage stood. Here he began pacing rapidly up and
down the walk, waiting to see her come out.
Over yonder, the Schenley, in its vacant stretch, loomed big and square
through the fine rain, the windows of its twelve stories glowing like
those of a lighted cardboard house under a Christmas tree. All the actors
and singers of the better class stayed there when they were in the city,
and a number of the big manufacturers of the place lived there in the
winter. Paul had often hung about the hotel, watching the people go in and
out, longing to enter and leave schoolmasters and dull care behind him
At last the singer came out, accompanied by the conductor, who helped her
into her carriage and closed the door with a cordial auf wiedersehen
which set Paul to wondering whether she were not an old sweetheart of his.
Paul followed the carriage over to the hotel, walking so rapidly as not to
be far from the entrance when the singer alighted, and disappeared behind
the swinging glass doors that were opened by a Negro in a tall hat and a
long coat. In the moment that the door was ajar it seemed to Paul that he,
too, entered. He seemed to feel himself go after her up the steps, into
the warm, lighted building, into an exotic, tropical world of shiny,
glistening surfaces and basking ease. He reflected upon the mysterious
dishes that were brought into the dining room, the green bottles in
buckets of ice, as he had seen them in the supper party pictures of the Sunday
World supplement. A quick gust of wind brought the rain down with
sudden vehemence, and Paul was startled to find that he was still outside
in the slush of the gravel driveway; that his boots were letting in the
water and his scanty overcoat was clinging wet about him; that the lights
in front of the concert hall were out and that the rain was driving in
sheets between him and the orange glow of the windows above him. There it
was, what he wanted—tangibly before him, like the fairy world of a
Christmas pantomime—but mocking spirits stood guard at the doors,
and, as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were destined
always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it.
He turned and walked reluctantly toward the car tracks. The end had to
come sometime; his father in his nightclothes at the top of the stairs,
explanations that did not explain, hastily improvised fictions that were
forever tripping him up, his upstairs room and its horrible yellow
wallpaper, the creaking bureau with the greasy plush collarbox, and over
his painted wooden bed the pictures of George Washington and John Calvin,
and the framed motto, "Feed my Lambs," which had been worked in red
worsted by his mother.
Half an hour later Paul alighted from his car and went slowly down one of
the side streets off the main thoroughfare. It was a highly respectable
street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and where businessmen of
moderate means begot and reared large families of children, all of whom
went to Sabbath school and learned the shorter catechism, and were
interested in arithmetic; all of whom were as exactly alike as their
homes, and of a piece with the monotony in which they lived. Paul never
went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing. His home was next
to the house of the Cumberland minister. He approached it tonight with the
nerveless sense Of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever
into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home. The
moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the waters close above his
head. After each of these orgies of living he experienced all the physical
depression which follows a debauch; the loathing of respectable beds, of
common food, of a house penetrated by kitchen odors; a shuddering
repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of everyday existence; a
morbid desire for cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers.
The nearer he approached the house, the more absolutely unequal Paul felt
to the sight of it all: his ugly sleeping chamber; the cold bathroom with
the grimy zinc tub, the cracked mirror, the dripping spiggots; his father,
at the top of the stairs, his hairy legs sticking out from his nightshirt,
his feet thrust into carpet slippers. He was so much later than usual that
there would certainly be inquiries and reproaches. Paul stopped short
before the door. He felt that he could not be accosted by his father
tonight; that he could not toss again on that miserable bed. He would not
go in. He would tell his father that he had no carfare and it was raining
so hard he had gone home with one of the boys and stayed all night.
Meanwhile, he was wet and cold. He went around to the back of the house
and tried one of the basement windows, found it open, raised it
cautiously, and scrambled down the cellar wall to the floor. There he
stood, holding his breath, terrified by the noise he had made, but the
floor above him was silent, and there was no creak on the stairs. He found
a soapbox, and carried it over to the soft ring of light that streamed
from the furnace door, and sat down. He was horribly afraid of rats, so he
did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still
terrified lest he might have awakened his father. In such reactions, after
one of the experiences which made days and nights out of the dreary blanks
of the calendar, when his senses were deadened, Paul's head was always
singularly clear. Suppose his father had heard him getting in at the
window and had come down and shot him for a burglar? Then, again, suppose
his father had come down, pistol in hand, and he had cried out in time to
save himself, and his father had been horrified to think how nearly he had
killed him? Then, again, suppose a day should come when his father would
remember that night, and wish there had been no warning cry to stay his
hand? With this last supposition Paul entertained himself until daybreak.
The following Sunday was fine; the sodden November chill was broken by the
last flash of autumnal summer. In the morning Paul had to go to church and
Sabbath school, as always. On seasonable Sunday afternoons the burghers of
Cordelia Street always sat out on their front stoops and talked to their
neighbors on the next stoop, or called to those across the street in
neighborly fashion. The men usually sat on gay cushions placed upon the
steps that led down to the sidewalk, while the women, in their Sunday
"waists," sat in rockers on the cramped porches, pretending to be greatly
at their ease. The children played in the streets; there were so many of
them that the place resembled the recreation grounds of a kindergarten.
The men on the steps—all in their shirt sleeves, their vests
unbuttoned—sat with their legs well apart, their stomachs
comfortably protruding, and talked of the prices of things, or told
anecdotes of the sagacity of their various chiefs and overlords. They
occasionally looked over the multitude of squabbling children, listened
affectionately to their high-pitched, nasal voices, smiling to see their
own proclivities reproduced in their offspring, and interspersed their
legends of the iron kings with remarks about their sons' progress at
school, their grades in arithmetic, and the amounts they had saved in
their toy banks.
On this last Sunday of November Paul sat all the afternoon on the lowest
step of his stoop, staring into the street, while his sisters, in their
rockers, were talking to the minister's daughters next door about how many
shirtwaists they had made in the last week, and how many waffles someone
had eaten at the last church supper. When the weather was warm, and his
father was in a particularly jovial frame of mind, the girls made
lemonade, which was always brought out in a red-glass pitcher, ornamented
with forget-me-nots in blue enamel. This the girls thought very fine, and
the neighbors always joked about the suspicious color of the pitcher.
Today Paul's father sat on the top step, talking to a young man who
shifted a restless baby from knee to knee. He happened to be the young man
who was daily held up to Paul as a model, and after whom it was his
father's dearest hope that he would pattern. This young man was of a ruddy
complexion, with a compressed, red mouth, and faded, nearsighted eyes,
over which he wore thick spectacles, with gold bows that curved about his
ears. He was clerk to one of the magnates of a great steel corporation,
and was looked upon in Cordelia Street as a young man with a future. There
was a story that, some five years ago—he was now barely twenty-six—he
had been a trifle dissipated, but in order to curb his appetites and save
the loss of time and strength that a sowing of wild oats might have
entailed, he had taken his chief's advice, oft reiterated to his
employees, and at twenty-one had married the first woman whom he could
persuade to share his fortunes. She happened to be an angular
schoolmistress, much older than he, who also wore thick glasses, and who
had now borne him four children, all nearsighted, like herself.
The young man was relating how his chief, now cruising in the
Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business,
arranging his office hours on his yacht just as though he were at home,
and "knocking off work enough to keep two stenographers busy." His father
told, in turn, the plan his corporation was considering, of putting in an
electric railway plant in Cairo. Paul snapped his teeth; he had an awful
apprehension that they might spoil it all before he got there. Yet he
rather liked to hear these legends of the iron kings that were told and
retold on Sundays and holidays; these stories of palaces in Venice, yachts
on the Mediterranean, and high play at Monte Carlo appealed to his fancy,
and he was interested in the triumphs of these cash boys who had become
famous, though he had no mind for the cash-boy stage.
After supper was over and he had helped to dry the dishes, Paul nervously
asked his father whether he could go to George's to get some help in his
geometry, and still more nervously asked for carfare. This latter request
he had to repeat, as his father, on principle, did not like to hear
requests for money, whether much or little. He asked Paul whether he could
not go to some boy who lived nearer, and told him that he ought not to
leave his schoolwork until Sunday; but he gave him the dime. He was not a
poor man, but he had a worthy ambition to come up in the world. His only
reason for allowing Paul to usher was that he thought a boy ought to be
earning a little.
Paul bounded upstairs, scrubbed the greasy odor of the dishwater from his
hands with the ill-smelling soap he hated, and then shook over his fingers
a few drops of violet water from the bottle he kept hidden in his drawer.
He left the house with his geometry conspicuously under his arm, and the
moment he got out of Cordelia Street and boarded a downtown car, he shook
off the lethargy of two deadening days and began to live again.
The leading juvenile of the permanent stock company which played at one of
the downtown theaters was an acquaintance of Paul's, and the boy had been
invited to drop in at the Sunday-night rehearsals whenever he could. For
more than a year Paul had spent every available moment loitering about
Charley Edwards's dressing room. He had won a place among Edwards's
following not only because the young actor, who could not afford to employ
a dresser, often found him useful, but because he recognized in Paul
something akin to what churchmen term "vocation."
It was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the
rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul's fairy tale, and it
had for him all the allurement of a secret love. The moment he inhaled the
gassy, painty, dusty odor behind the scenes, he breathed like a prisoner
set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid,
brilliant, poetic things. The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the
overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto,
all stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously,
yet delicately fired.
Perhaps it was because, in Paul's world, the natural nearly always wore
the guise of ugliness, that a certain element of artificiality seemed to
him necessary in beauty. Perhaps it was because his experience of life
elsewhere was so full of Sabbath-school picnics, petty economies,
wholesome advice as to how to succeed in life, and the inescapable odors
of cooking, that he found this existence so alluring, these smartly clad
men and women so attractive, that he was so moved by these starry apple
orchards that bloomed perennially under the limelight.
It would be difficult to put it strongly enough how convincingly the stage
entrance of that theater was for Paul the actual portal of Romance.
Certainly none of the company ever suspected it, least of all Charley
Edwards. It was very like the old stories that used to float about London
of fabulously rich Jews, who had subterranean halls there, with palms, and
fountains, and soft lamps and richly appareled women who never saw the
disenchanting light of London day. So, in the midst of that smoke-palled
city, enamored of figures and grimy toil, Paul had his secret temple, his
wishing carpet, his bit of blue-and-white Mediterranean shore bathed in
Several of Paul's teachers had a theory that his imagination had been
perverted by garish fiction, but the truth was that he scarcely ever read
at all. The books at home were not such as would either tempt or corrupt a
youthful mind, and as for reading the novels that some of his friends
urged upon him—well, he got what he wanted much more quickly from
music; any sort of music, from an orchestra to a barrel organ. He needed
only the spark, the indescribable thrill that made his imagination master
of his senses, and he could make plots and pictures enough of his own. It
was equally true that he was not stagestruck—not, at any rate, in the
usual acceptation of that expression. He had no desire to become an actor,
any more than he had to become a musician. He felt no necessity to do any
of these things; what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float
on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after blue league, away
After a night behind the scenes Paul found the schoolroom more than ever
repulsive; the bare floors and naked walls; the prosy men who never wore
frock coats, or violets in their buttonholes; the women with their dull
gowns, shrill voices, and pitiful seriousness about prepositions that
govern the dative. He could not bear to have the other pupils think, for a
moment, that he took these people seriously; he must convey to them that
he considered it all trivial, and was there only by way of a jest, anyway.
He had autographed pictures of all the members of the stock company which
he showed his classmates, telling them the most incredible stories of his
familiarity with these people, of his acquaintance with the soloists who
came to Carnegie Hall, his suppers with them and the flowers he sent them.
When these stories lost their effect, and his audience grew listless, he
became desperate and would bid all the boys good-by, announcing that he
was going to travel for a while; going to Naples, to Venice, to Egypt.
Then, next Monday, he would slip back, conscious and nervously smiling;
his sister was ill, and he should have to defer his voyage until spring.
Matters went steadily worse with Paul at school. In the itch to let his
instructors know how heartily he despised them and their homilies, and how
thoroughly he was appreciated elsewhere, he mentioned once or twice that
he had no time to fool with theorems; adding—with a twitch of the
eyebrows and a touch of that nervous bravado which so perplexed them—that
he was helping the people down at the stock company; they were old friends
The upshot of the matter was that the Principal went to Paul's father, and
Paul was taken out of school and put to work. The manager at Carnegie Hall
was told to get another usher in his stead; the doorkeeper at the theater
was warned not to admit him to the house; and Charley Edwards remorsefully
promised the boy's father not to see him again.
The members of the stock company were vastly amused when some of Paul's
stories reached them—especially the women. They were hardworking
women, most of them supporting indigent husbands or brothers, and they
laughed rather bitterly at having stirred the boy to such fervid and
florid inventions. They agreed with the faculty and with his father that
Paul's was a bad case.
The eastbound train was plowing through a January snowstorm; the dull dawn
was beginning to show gray when the engine whistled a mile out of Newark.
Paul started up from the seat where he had lain curled in uneasy slumber,
rubbed the breath-misted window glass with his hand, and peered out. The
snow was whirling in curling eddies above the white bottom lands, and the
drifts lay already deep in the fields and along the fences, while here and
there the long dead grass and dried weed stalks protruded black above it.
Lights shone from the scattered houses, and a gang of laborers who stood
beside the track waved their lanterns.
Paul had slept very little, and he felt grimy and uncomfortable. He had
made the all-night journey in a day coach, partly because he was ashamed,
dressed as he was, to go into a Pullman, and partly because he was afraid
of being seen there by some Pittsburgh businessman, who might have noticed
him in Denny & Carson's office. When the whistle awoke him, he
clutched quickly at his breast pocket, glancing about him with an
uncertain smile. But the little, clay-bespattered Italians were still
sleeping, the slatternly women across the aisle were in open-mouthed
oblivion, and even the crumby, crying babies were for the nonce stilled.
Paul settled back to struggle with his impatience as best he could.
When he arrived at the Jersey City station he hurried through his
breakfast, manifestly ill at ease and keeping a sharp eye about him. After
he reached the Twenty-third Street station, he consulted a cabman and had
himself driven to a men's-furnishings establishment that was just opening
for the day. He spent upward of two hours there, buying with endless
reconsidering and great care. His new street suit he put on in the fitting
room; the frock coat and dress clothes he had bundled into the cab with
his linen. Then he drove to a hatter's and a shoe house. His next errand
was at Tiffany's, where he selected his silver and a new scarf pin. He
would not wait to have his silver marked, he said. Lastly, he stopped at a
trunk shop on Broadway and had his purchases packed into various traveling
It was a little after one o'clock when he drove up to the Waldorf, and
after settling with the cabman, went into the office. He registered from
Washington; said his mother and father had been abroad, and that he had
come down to await the arrival of their steamer. He told his story
plausibly and had no trouble, since he volunteered to pay for them in
advance, in engaging his rooms; a sleeping room, sitting room, and bath.
Not once, but a hundred times, Paul had planned this entry into New York.
He had gone over every detail of it with Charley Edwards, and in his
scrapbook at home there were pages of description about New York hotels,
cut from the Sunday papers. When he was shown to his sitting room on the
eighth floor he saw at a glance that everything was as it should be; there
was but one detail in his mental picture that the place did not realize,
so he rang for the bellboy and sent him down for flowers. He moved about
nervously until the boy returned, putting away his new linen and fingering
it delightedly as he did so. When the flowers came he put them hastily
into water, and then tumbled into a hot bath. Presently he came out of his
white bathroom, resplendent in his new silk underwear, and playing with
the tassels of his red robe. The snow was whirling so fiercely outside his
windows that he could scarcely see across the street, but within the air
was deliciously soft and fragrant. He put the violets and jonquils on the
taboret beside the couch, and threw himself down, with a long sigh,
covering himself with a Roman blanket. He was thoroughly tired; he had
been in such haste, he had stood up to such a strain, covered so much
ground in the last twenty-four hours, that he wanted to think how it had
all come about. Lulled by the sound of the wind, the warm air, and the
cool fragrance of the flowers, he sank into deep, drowsy retrospection.
It had been wonderfully simple; when they had shut him out of the theater
and concert hall, when they had taken away his bone, the whole thing was
virtually determined. The rest was a mere matter of opportunity. The only
thing that at all surprised him was his own courage-for he realized well
enough that he had always been tormented by fear, a sort of apprehensive
dread that, of late years, as the meshes of the lies he had told closed
about him, had been pulling the muscles of his body tighter and tighter.
Until now he could not remember the time when he had not been dreading
something. Even when he was a little boy it was always there—behind
him, or before, or on either side. There had always been the shadowed
corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which
something seemed always to be watching him—and Paul had done things
that were not pretty to watch, he knew.
But now he had a curious sense of relief, as though he had at last thrown
down the gauntlet to the thing in the corner.
Yet it was but a day since he had been sulking in the traces; but
yesterday afternoon that he had been sent to the bank with Denny &
Carson's deposit, as usual—but this time he was instructed to leave
the book to be balanced. There was above two thousand dollars in checks,
and nearly a thousand in the bank notes which he had taken from the book
and quietly transferred to his pocket. At the bank he had made out a new
deposit slip. His nerves had been steady enough to permit of his returning
to the office, where he had finished his work and asked for a full day's
holiday tomorrow, Saturday, giving a perfectly reasonable pretext. The
bankbook, he knew, would not be returned before Monday or Tuesday, and his
father would be out of town for the next week. From the time he slipped
the bank notes into his pocket until he boarded the night train for New
York, he had not known a moment's hesitation. It was not the first time
Paul had steered through treacherous waters.
How astonishingly easy it had all been; here he was, the thing done; and
this time there would be no awakening, no figure at the top of the stairs.
He watched the snowflakes whirling by his window until he fell asleep.
When he awoke, it was three o'clock in the afternoon. He bounded up with a
start; half of one of his precious days gone already! He spent more than
an hour in dressing, watching every stage of his toilet carefully in the
mirror. Everything was quite perfect; he was exactly the kind of boy he
had always wanted to be.
When he went downstairs Paul took a carriage and drove up Fifth Avenue
toward the Park. The snow had somewhat abated; carriages and tradesmen's
wagons were hurrying soundlessly to and fro in the winter twilight; boys
in woolen mufflers were shoveling off the doorsteps; the avenue stages
made fine spots of color against the white street. Here and there on the
corners were stands, with whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases,
against the sides of which the snowflakes stuck and melted; violets,
roses, carnations, lilies of the valley—somehow vastly more lovely
and alluring that they blossomed thus unnaturally in the snow. The Park
itself was a wonderful stage winterpiece.
When he returned, the pause of the twilight had ceased and the tune of the
streets had changed. The snow was falling faster, lights streamed from the
hotels that reared their dozen stories fearlessly up into the storm,
defying the raging Atlantic winds. A long, black stream of carriages
poured down the avenue, intersected here and there by other streams,
tending horizontally. There were a score of cabs about the entrance of his
hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were running in and out
of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and down the red velvet
carpet laid from the door to the street. Above, about, within it all was
the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of thousands of human beings as
hot for pleasure as himself, and on every side of him towered the glaring
affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth.
The boy set his teeth and drew his shoulders together in a spasm of
realization; the plot of all dramas, the text of all romances, the
nerve-stuff of all sensations was whirling about him like the snowflakes.
He burnt like a faggot in a tempest.
When Paul went down to dinner the music of the orchestra came floating up
the elevator shaft to greet him. His head whirled as he stepped into the
thronged corridor, and he sank back into one of the chairs against the
wall to get his breath. The lights, the chatter, the perfumes, the
bewildering medley of color—he had, for a moment, the feeling of not
being able to stand it. But only for a moment; these were his own people,
he told himself. He went slowly about the corridors, through the writing
rooms, smoking rooms, reception rooms, as though he were exploring the
chambers of an enchanted palace, built and peopled for him alone.
When he reached the dining room he sat down at a table near a window. The
flowers, the white linen, the many-colored wineglasses, the gay toilettes
of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the
Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul's dream with
bewildering radiance. When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added—that
cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass—Paul
wondered that there were honest men in the world at all. This was what all
the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was what all the struggle
was about. He doubted the reality of his past. Had he ever known a place
called Cordelia Street, a place where fagged-looking businessmen got on
the early car; mere rivets in a machine they seemed to Paul,—sickening
men, with combings of children's hair always hanging to their coats, and
the smell of cooking in their clothes. Cordelia Street—Ah, that
belonged to another time and country; had he not always been thus, had he
not sat here night after night, from as far back as he could remember,
looking pensively over just such shimmering textures and slowly twirling
the stem of a glass like this one between his thumb and middle finger? He
rather thought he had.
He was not in the least abashed or lonely. He had no especial desire to
meet or to know any of these people; all he demanded was the right to look
on and conjecture, to watch the pageant. The mere stage properties were
all he contended for. Nor was he lonely later in the evening, in his lodge
at the Metropolitan. He was now entirely rid of his nervous misgivings, of
his forced aggressiveness, of the imperative desire to show himself
different from his surroundings. He felt now that his surroundings
explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it
passively. He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself
that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him.
He found it hard to leave his beautiful sitting room to go to bed that
night, and sat long watching the raging storm from his turret window. When
he went to sleep it was with the lights turned on in his bedroom; partly
because of his old timidity, and partly so that, if he should wake in the
night, there would be no wretched moment of doubt, no horrible suspicion
of yellow wallpaper, or of Washington and Calvin above his bed.
Sunday morning the city was practically snowbound. Paul breakfasted late,
and in the afternoon he fell in with a wild San Francisco boy, a freshman
at Yale, who said he had run down for a "little flyer" over Sunday. The
young man offered to show Paul the night side of the town, and the two
boys went out together after dinner, not returning to the hotel until
seven o'clock the next morning. They had started out in the confiding
warmth of a champagne friendship, but their parting in the elevator was
singularly cool. The freshman pulled himself together to make his train,
and Paul went to bed. He awoke at two o'clock in the afternoon, very
thirsty and dizzy, and rang for icewater, coffee, and the Pittsburgh
On the part of the hotel management, Paul excited no suspicion. There was
this to be said for him, that he wore his spoils with dignity and in no
way made himself conspicuous. Even under the glow of his wine he was never
boisterous, though he found the stuff like a magician's wand for
wonder-building. His chief greediness lay in his ears and eyes, and his
excesses were not offensive ones. His dearest pleasures were the gray
winter twilights in his sitting room; his quiet enjoyment of his flowers,
his clothes, his wide divan, his cigarette, and his sense of power. He
could not remember a time when he had felt so at peace with himself. The
mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every
day, restored his self-respect. He had never lied for pleasure, even at
school; but to be noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other
Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good deal more manly, more honest,
even, now that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could,
as his actor friends used to say, "dress the part." It was characteristic
that remorse did not occur to him. His golden days went by without a
shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could.
On the eighth day after his arrival in New York he found the whole affair
exploited in the Pittsburgh papers, exploited with a wealth of detail
which indicated that local news of a sensational nature was at a low ebb.
The firm of Denny & Carson announced that the boy's father had
refunded the full amount of the theft and that they had no intention of
prosecuting. The Cumberland minister had been interviewed, and expressed
his hope of yet reclaiming the motherless lad, and his Sabbath-school
teacher declared that she would spare no effort to that end. The rumor had
reached Pittsburgh that the boy had been seen in a New York hotel, and his
father had gone East to find him and bring him home.
Paul had just come in to dress for dinner; he sank into a chair, weak to
the knees, and clasped his head in his hands. It was to be worse than
jail, even; the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over him
finally and forever. The gray monotony stretched before him in hopeless,
unrelieved years; Sabbath school, Young People's Meeting, the
yellow-papered room, the damp dishtowels; it all rushed back upon him with
a sickening vividness. He had the old feeling that the orchestra had
suddenly stopped, the sinking sensation that the play was over. The sweat
broke out on his face, and he sprang to his feet, looked about him with
his white, conscious smile, and winked at himself in the mirror, With
something of the old childish belief in miracles with which he had so
often gone to class, all his lessons unlearned, Paul dressed and dashed
whistling down the corridor to the elevator.
He had no sooner entered the dining room and caught the measure of the
music than his remembrance was lightened by his old elastic power of
claiming the moment, mounting with it, and finding it all-sufficient. The
glare and glitter about him, the mere scenic accessories had again, and
for the last time, their old potency. He would show himself that he was
game, he would finish the thing splendidly. He doubted, more than ever,
the existence of Cordelia Street, and for the first time he drank his wine
recklessly. Was he not, after all, one of those fortunate beings born to
the purple, was he not still himself and in his own place? He drummed a
nervous accompaniment to the Pagliacci music and looked about him, telling
himself over and over that it had paid.
He reflected drowsily, to the swell of the music and the chill sweetness
of his wine, that he might have done it more wisely. He might have caught
an outbound steamer and been well out of their clutches before now. But
the other side of the world had seemed too far away and too uncertain
then; he could not have waited for it; his need had been too sharp. If he
had to choose over again, he would do the same thing tomorrow. He looked
affectionately about the dining room, now gilded with a soft mist. Ah, it
had paid indeed!
Paul was awakened next morning by a painful throbbing in his head and
feet. He had thrown himself across the bed without undressing, and had
slept with his shoes on. His limbs and hands were lead heavy, and his
tongue and throat were parched and burnt. There came upon him one of those
fateful attacks of clearheadedness that never occurred except when he was
physically exhausted and his nerves hung loose. He lay still, closed his
eyes, and let the tide of things wash over him.
His father was in New York; "stopping at some joint or other," he told
himself. The memory of successive summers on the front stoop fell upon him
like a weight of black water. He had not a hundred dollars left; and he
knew now, more than ever, that money was everything, the wall that stood
between all he loathed and all he wanted. The thing was winding itself up;
he had thought of that on his first glorious day in New York, and had even
provided a way to snap the thread. It lay on his dressing table now; he
had got it out last night when he came blindly up from dinner, but the
shiny metal hurt his eyes, and he disliked the looks of it.
He rose and moved about with a painful effort, succumbing now and again to
attacks of nausea. It was the old depression exaggerated; all the world
had become Cordelia Street. Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was
absolutely calm; perhaps because he had looked into the dark corner at
last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so
bad as his long fear of it had been. He saw everything clearly now. He had
a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he had lived the sort of
life he was meant to live, and for half an hour he sat staring at the
revolver. But he told himself that was not the way, so he went downstairs
and took a cab to the ferry.
When Paul arrived in Newark he got off the train and took another cab,
directing the driver to follow the Pennsylvania tracks out of the town.
The snow lay heavy on the roadways and had drifted deep in the open
fields. Only here and there the dead grass or dried weed stalks projected,
singularly black, above it. Once well into the country, Paul dismissed the
carriage and walked, floundering along the tracks, his mind a medley of
irrelevant things. He seemed to hold in his brain an actual picture of
everything he had seen that morning. He remembered every feature of both
his drivers, of the toothless old woman from whom he had bought the red
flowers in his coat, the agent from whom he had got his ticket, and all of
his fellow passengers on the ferry. His mind, unable to cope with vital
matters near at hand, worked feverishly and deftly at sorting and grouping
these images. They made for him a part of the ugliness of the world, of
the ache in his head, and the bitter burning on his tongue. He stooped and
put a handful of snow into his mouth as he walked, but that, too, seemed
hot. When he reached a little hillside, where the tracks ran through a cut
some twenty feet below him, he stopped and sat down.
The carnations in his coat were drooping with the cold, he noticed, their
red glory all over. It occurred to him that all the flowers he had seen in
the glass cases that first night must have gone the same way, long before
this. It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their brave
mockery at the winter outside the glass; and it was a losing game in the
end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is
run. Paul took one of the blossoms carefully from his coat and scooped a
little hole in the snow, where he covered it up. Then he dozed awhile,
from his weak condition, seemingly insensible to the cold.
The sound of an approaching train awoke him, and he started to his feet,
remembering only his resolution, and afraid lest he should be too late. He
stood watching the approaching locomotive, his teeth chattering, his lips
drawn away from them in a frightened smile; once or twice he glanced
nervously sidewise, as though he were being watched. When the right moment
came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with
merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone. There
flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of Adriatic
water, the yellow of Algerian sands.
He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown
swiftly through the air, on and on, immeasurably far and fast, while his
limbs were gently relaxed. Then, because the picture-making mechanism was
crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back
into the immense design of things.