Home Seekers' Goal, by Samuel Hopkins Adams
From A Bench
in Our Square
Long ago I made an important discovery. It comes under the general head
of statics and is this: by occupying an invariable bench in Our Square,
looking venerable and contemplative and indigenous, as if you had grown
up in that selfsame spot, you will draw people to come to you for
information, and they will frequently give more than they get of it.
Such, I am informed, is the method whereby the flytrap orchid achieves a
satisfying meal. Not that I seek to claim for myself the colorful
splendors of the Cypripedium, being only a tired old pedagogue with a
taste for the sunlight and for observing the human bubbles that float
and bob on the current in our remote eddy of life. Nevertheless, I can
follow a worthy example, even though the exemplar be only a carnivorous
bloom. And, I may confess, on the afternoon of October 1st, I was in a
receptive mood for such flies of information as might come to me
concerning two large invading vans which had rumbled into our quiet
precincts and, after a pause for inquiry, stopped before the Mordaunt
Estate's newly repaired property at Number 37.
The Mordaunt Estate in person was painting the front wall. The design
which he practiced was based less upon any previsioned concept of art
than upon the purchase, at a price, of a rainbow-end job lot of colors.
The vanners descended, bent on negotiations. Progress was obviously
unsatisfactory, the artist, after brief and chill consideration,
reverting to his toil. Now, tact and discretion are essential in
approaching the Mordaunt Estate, for he is a prickly institution. I was
sure that the newcomers had taken the wrong tack with him.
Discomfiture was in their mien as they withdrew in my direction. I mused
upon my bench, with a metaphysical expression which I have found useful
in such cases. They conferred. They approached. They begged my pardon.
With an effort which can hardly have failed to be effective, I dragged
myself back to the world of actualities and opened languid eyes upon
them. It is possible that I opened them somewhat wider than the normal,
for they fell at once upon the nearer and smaller of the pair, a
butterfly of the most vivid and delightful appearance.
"Is the house with the 'To Let' sign on it really to let, do you know,
sir?" she inquired, adding music to color with her voice.
"So I understand," said I, rising.
"And the party with the yellow nose, who is desecrating the front," put
in the butterfly's companion. "Is he a lunatic or a designer of
"He is a proud and reserved ex-butcher, named Wagboom, now doing a
limited but high-class business in rentals as the Mordaunt Estate."
"He may be the butcher, but he talks more like the pig. All we could get
out of him was a series of grunts when we addressed him by name."
"Ah, but you used the wrong name. For all business purposes he should be
addressed as the Mordaunt Estate, his duly incorporated title. Wagboom
is an irritant to a haughty property-owner's soul."
"Shall we go back and try a counter-irritant?" asked the young man of
"With a view to renting?" I inquired.
"Do you keep dogs?"
"No," said the young man.
"Or clocks by the hundred?"
"Certainly not," answered the butterfly.
Upon their combined and emphatic negative they looked at each other with
a wild surmise which said plainly: "Are they all crazy down here?"
"If you do," I explained kindly, "you might have trouble in dealing. The
latest tenant of Number 37 was a fluffy poodle who pushed one of two
hundred clocks into the front area so that it exploded and blew away the
front wall." And I outlined the history of that canine clairvoyant,
Willy Woolly. "The Mordaunt Estate is sensitive about his tenants,
anyway. He rents, not on profits, but on prejudice. Perhaps it would be
well for you to flatter him a little; admire his style of house
Accepting this counsel with suitable expressions, they returned to the
charge, addressed the proprietor of Number 37 by his official title and
delivered the most gratifying opinions regarding his artistry.
"That," said the Mordaunt Estate, wiping his painty hands on his knees
with brilliant results, as he turned a fat and smiling face to them, "is
after the R. Noovo style. I dunno who R. Noovo was, but he's a bear for
color. Are you artists?"
"We're house-hunters," explained the young man.
"As for tenants," said the Mordaunt Estate, "I take 'em or leave 'em as
I like 'em or don't. I like you folks. You got an eye for a tasty bit of
colorin'. Eight rooms, bath, and kitchen. By the week in case we don't
suit each other. Very choice and classy for a young married couple.
Eight dollars, in advance. Prices for R. Noovo dwellings has riz."
"We're not married," said the young man.
"Hey? Whaddye mean, not married?" demanded that highly respectable
institution, the Mordaunt Estate, severely. His expression mollified as
he turned to the butterfly. "Aimin' to be, I s'pose."
"We only met this morning; so we haven't decided yet," answered the
young man. "At least," he added blandly, as his companion seemed to be
struggling for utterance, "she hasn't informed me of her decision, if
she has made it."
Bewilderment spread like a gray mist across the painty features of the
Mordaunt Estate. "Nothin' doin'," he began, "until—"
"Don't decide hastily," adjured the young man. "Take this coin." He
forced a half-dollar into the reluctant hand of the decorator.
"Nothin' doin' on account, either. Pay as you enter."
"Only one of us is going to enter. The coin decides. Spin it. Your
call," he said to the butterfly.
"Heads," cried the butterfly.
"Tails," proclaimed the arbiter, as the silver shivered into silence on
"Then the house is yours," said the butterfly. "Good luck go with it."
She smiled, gamely covering her disappointment.
"I don't want it," returned the young man.
"Play fair," she exhorted him. "We both agreed solemnly to stand by the
toss. Didn't we?"
"What did we agree?"
"That the winner should have the choice."
"Very well. I won, didn't I?"
"You certainly did."
"And I choose not to take the house," he declared triumphantly. "It's a
very nice house, but"—he shaded his eyes as he directed them upon the
proud-pied façade, blinking significantly—"I'd have to wear smoked
glasses if I lived in it, and they don't suit my style of beauty."
"You'd not get it now, young feller, if you was to go down on your knees
with a thousand dollars in each hand," asserted the offended Estate.
"See!" said the young man to the butterfly. "Fate decides for you."
"But what will you do?" she asked solicitously.
"Perhaps I can find some other place in the Square."
She held out her hand. "You've been very nice and helpful, but—I think
He regarded the hand blankly. "Not—what?"
"Not here in this Square, if you don't mind."
"But where else is there?" he asked piteously. "You know yourself there
are countless thousands of homeless drifters floating around on this
teeming island in vans, with no place to land."
"Try Jersey. Or Brooklyn," was her hopeful suggestion.
"'And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea,'"
he quoted with dramatic intonation, adding helpfully: "Matthew Arnold.
Or is it Arnold Bennett? Anyway, think how far away those places are,"
he pleaded. "From you!" he concluded.
A little decided frown crept between her eyebrows. "I've accepted you as
a gentleman on trust," she began, when he broke in:
"Don't do it. It's a fearfully depressing thing to be reminded that
you're a gentleman on trust and expected to live up to it. Think how it
cramps one's style, not to mention limiting one's choice of real estate.
A gentleman may stake his future happiness and his hope of a home on the
toss of a coin, but he mustn't presume to want to see the other party to
the gamble again, even if she's the only thing in the whole sweep of his
horizon worth seeing. Is that fair? Where is Eternal Justice, I ask you,
when such things—"
"Oh, do stop!" she implored. "I don't think you're sane."
"No such claim is put forth on behalf of the accused. He confesses to
complete loss of mental equilibrium since—let me see—since 11.15 A.M."
Here the Mordaunt Estate, who had been doing some shrewd thinking on his
own behalf, interposed.
"I'd rather rent to two than one," he said insinuatingly. "More reliable
and steady with the rent. Settin' aside the young feller's weak eyes,
you're a nice-matched pair. Gittin' a license is easy, if you know the
ropes. I'd even be glad to go with you to—"
"As to not being married," broke in the butterfly, with the light of a
great resolve in her eye, "this gentleman may speak for himself. I am."
"Am what?" queried the Estate.
"Damn!" exploded the young man. "I mean, congratulations and all that
sort of thing. I—I'm really awfully sorry. You'll forgive my making
such an ass of myself, won't you?"
To her troubled surprise there was real pain in the eyes which he turned
rather helplessly away from her. Had she kept her own gaze fixed on
them, she would have experienced a second surprise a moment later, at a
sudden alteration and hardening of their expression. For his groping
regard had fallen upon her left hand, which was gloved. Now, a wedding
ring may be put on and off at will, but the glove, beneath which it has
been once worn, never thereafter quite regains the maidenly smoothness
of the third finger. The butterfly's gloves were not new, yet there
showed not the faintest trace of a ridge in the significant locality.
While admitting to himself that the evidence fell short of
conclusiveness, the young man decided to accept it as a working theory
and to act, win or lose, do or die, upon the hopeful hypothesis that his
delightful but elusive companion was a li—that is to say, an inventor.
He would give that invention the run of its young life!
"We—ell," the Mordaunt Estate was saying, "that's too bad. Ain't a
widdah lady are you?"
"My husband is in France."
With a prayer that his theory was correct, the young man rushed in where
many an angel might have feared to tread. "Maybe he'll stay there,"
In a musical but unappreciated barytone he hummed the initial line of
"The Girl I Left Behind Me."
"'The maids of France are fond and free.'
"Besides," he added, "it's quite unhealthy there at this season. I
wouldn't be surprised"—he halted—"at anything," he finished darkly.
Outraged by this ruthless if hypothetical murder of an equally
hypothetical spouse, she groped vainly for adequate words. Before she
could find them—
"I'll wait around—in hopes," he decided calmly.
So, that was the attitude this ruffian took with a respectable and
ostensibly married woman! And she had mistaken him for a gentleman! She
had even begun to feel a reluctant sort of liking for him; at any rate,
an interest in his ambiguous and perplexing personality. Now—how dared
he! She put it to him at once: "How dare you!"
"Flashing eye, stamp of the foot, hands outstretched in gesture of
loathing and repulsion; villain registers shame and remorse," prescribed
the unimpressed subject of her retort. "As a wife, you are, of course,
unapproachable. As a widow, grass-green, crepe-black, or only
prospective"—he suddenly assumed a posture made familiar through the
public prints by a widely self-exploited savior of the suffering—"there
is H-O-P-E!" he intoned solemnly, wagging a benignant forefinger at her.
The butterfly struggled with an agonizing desire to break down into
unbridled mirth and confess. Pride restrained her; pride mingled with
foreboding as to what this exceedingly progressive and by no means
unattractive young suitor—for he could be relegated to no lesser
category—might do next. She said coolly and crisply:
"I wish nothing more to do with you whatever."
"Then I needn't quit the Garden of Ed—I mean, Our Square?"
"You may do as you see fit," she replied loftily.
"Act the gent, can't chuh?" reproved the Mordaunt Estate. "You're makin'
the lady cry."
"He isn't," denied the lady, with ferocity. "He couldn't."
"He'll find no spot to lay his head in Our Square, ma'am," the polite
Estate assured her.
"If he wants to stay, he'll have to live in his van."
"Grand little idea! I'll do it. I'll be a van hermit and fast and watch
and pray beneath your windows."
"You may live in your van forever," retorted the justly incensed
butterfly, "but I'll never speak to you as long as I live in this house.
Never, never, never!"
She vanished beyond the outrageous decorations of the wall. The Mordaunt
Estate took down the "To Let" sign, and went in search of a helper to
unload the van. The deserted and denounced young man crawled into his
own van and lay down with his head on a tantalus and his feet on the
collected works of Thackeray, to consider what had happened to him. But
his immediate memories were not conducive to sober consideration, shot
through as they were with the light of deep-gray eyes and the fugitive
smile of lips sensitive to every changeful thought. So he fell to
dreams. As to the meeting which had brought the now parted twain to Our
Square, it had come about in this wise:
Two miles northwest of Our Square as the sparrow flies, on the brink of
a maelstrom of traffic, two moving-vans which had belied their name by
remaining motionless for five impassioned minutes, disputed the right of
way, nose to nose, while the injurious remarks of the respective drivers
inflamed the air. A girlish but decided voice from within the recesses
of the larger van said: "Don't give an inch."
Deep inside the other vehicle a no less decisive barytone said what
sounded like "Give an ell," but probably was not, as there was no
corresponding movement of the wheels.
What the van drivers said is the concern of the censor. What they did
upon descending to the sidewalk comes under the head of direct action,
and as such was the concern of the authorities which pried them asunder
and led them away. Thereupon the inner habitants of the deserted
equipages emerged from amid their lares and penates, and met face to
face. The effect upon the occupant of the smaller van was electric, not
to say paralytic.
"Oh, glory!" he murmured faintly, with staring eyes.
"Would you kindly move?" said the girl, in much the same tone that one
would employ toward an obnoxious beetle, supposing that one ever
addressed a beetle with freezing dignity.
The young man directed a suffering look upon his van. "I've done nothing
else for the last three days. Tell me where I can move to and I'll bless
you as a benefactress of the homeless."
"Anywhere out of my way," she replied with a severity which the corners
of her sensitive mouth were finding it hard to live up to.
"Behold me eliminated, deleted, expunged," he declared humbly. "But
first let me explain that when I told my idiot chauffeur to give
'em—that is, to hold his ground, I didn't know who you were."
She wrinkled dainty brows at him. "Well, you don't know who I am now, do
"I don't have to," he responded with fervor. "Just on sight you may have
all of this street and as many of the adjoining avenues as you can use.
By the way, who are you?" The question was put with an expression of
sweet and innocent simplicity.
The girl looked at him hard and straight. "I don't think that
introductions are necessary."
He sighed outrageously. "They Met but to Part; Laura Jean Libbey;
twenty-fourth large edition," he murmured. "And I was just about to
present myself as Martin Dyke, vagrant, but harmless, and very much at
your service. However, I perceive with pain that it is, indeed, my move.
May I help you up to the wheel of your ship? I infer that you intend
"I'll have to, if I'm to get anywhere." A look of dismay overspread her
piquant face. "Oh, dear! I don't in the least understand this machinery.
I can't drive this kind of car."
"Glory be!" exclaimed Mr. Dyke. "I mean, that's too bad," he amended
gracefully. "Won't you let me take you where you want to go?"
"What'll become of your van, then? Besides, I haven't any idea where I
want to go."
"What! Are you, too, like myself, a wandering home-seeker on the face of
an overpopulated earth, Miss?"
The "Miss" surprised her. Why the sudden lapse on the part of this
extraordinary and self-confident young person into the terminology of
the servant class?
"Yes, I am," she admitted.
"A hundred thousand helpless babes in the wood," he announced
sonorously, "are wandering about, lost and homeless on this melancholy
and moving day of October 1st, waiting for the little robins to come and
bury them under the brown and withered leaves. Ain't it harrowing, Miss!
Personally I should prefer to have the last sad dirge sung over me by a
quail on toast, or maybe a Welsh rabbit. What time did you breakfast,
Miss? I had a ruined egg at six-fifteen."
The girl surrendered to helpless and bewildered laughter. "You ask the
most personal questions as if they were a matter of course."
"By way of impressing you with my sprightly and entertaining
individuality, so that you will appreciate the advantages to be derived
from my continued acquaintance, and grapple me to your soul with hooks
of steel, as Hamlet says. Or was it Harold Bell Wright? Do you care for
reading, Miss? I've got a neat little library inside, besides an
automatic piano and a patent ice-box…. By the way, Miss, is that
policeman doing setting-up exercises or motioning us to move on? I
think he is."
"But I can't move on," she said pathetically.
"Couldn't you work my van, Miss? It's quite simple."
She gave it a swift examination. "Yes," said she. "It's almost like my
"Then I'll lead, and you follow, Miss."
"But I can't—I don't know who—I don't want your van. Where shall
"Go?" he supplied. "To jail, I judge, unless we go somewhere else and do
it now. Come on! We're off!"
Overborne by his insistence and further influenced by the scowl of the
approaching officer, she took the wheel. At the close of some involved
but triumphant maneuverings the exchanged vans removed themselves from
the path of progress, headed eastward to Fourth Avenue and bore
downtownward. Piloting a strange machine through rush traffic kept the
girl in the trailer too busy for speculation, until, in the recesses of
a side street, her leader stopped and she followed suit. Mr. Dyke's
engaging and confident face appeared below her.
"Within," he stated, pointing to a quaint Gothic doorway, "they dispense
the succulent pig's foot and the innocuous and unconvincing
near-but-not-very-beer. It is also possible to get something to eat and
drink. May I help you down, Miss?"
"No," said the girl dolefully. "I want to go home."
"But on your own showing, you haven't any home."
"I've got to find one. Immediately."
"You'll need help, Miss. It'll take some finding."
"I wish you wouldn't call me Miss," she said with evidences of
"Have it your own way, Lady. We strive to please, as R.L. Stevenson
says. Or is it R.H. Macy? Anyway, a little bite of luncheon Lady, while
we discuss the housing problem—"
"Why are you calling me Lady, now?"
He shook a discouraged head. "You seem very hard to please, Sister. I've
tried you with Miss and I've tried you with Lady—"
"Are you a gentleman or are you a—a—"
"Don't say it, Duchess. Don't! Remember what Tennyson says: 'One hasty
line may blast a budding hope.' Or was it Burleson? When you deny to the
companion of your wanderings the privilege of knowing your name, what
can he do but fall back for guidance upon that infallible chapter in the
Gents' Handbook of Classy Behavior, entitled, 'From Introduction's
Uncertainties to Friendship's Fascinations'?"
"We haven't even been introduced," she pointed out.
"Pardon me. We have. By the greatest of all Masters of Ceremonies, Old
Man Chance. Heaven knows what it may lead to," he added piously. "Now,
Miss—or Lady—or Sister, as the case may be; or even Sis (I believe
that form is given in the Gents' Handbook), if you will put your lily
hand in mine—"
"Wait. Promise me not to call me any of those awful things during
luncheon, and afterward I may tell you my name. It depends."
"A test! I'm on. We're off."
Mr. Martin Dyke proved himself capable of selecting a suitable repast
from an alien-appearing menu. In the course of eating it they pooled
their real-estate impressions and information. He revealed that there
was no available spot fit to dwell in on the West Side, or in mid-town.
She had explored Park Avenue and the purlieus thereof extensively and
without success. There remained only the outer darkness to the southward
for anything which might meet the needs of either. In the event of a
discovery they agreed, on her insistence, to gamble for it by the
approved method of the tossed coin: "The winner has the choice."
Throughout the luncheon the girl approved her escort's manner and
bearing as unexceptionable. No sooner had they entered into the implied
intimacy of the tête-à-tête across a table than a subtle change
manifested itself in his attitude. Gayety was still the keynote of his
talk, but the note of the personal and insistent had gone. And, at the
end, when he had paid the bill and she asked:
"What's my share, please?"
"Two-ten," he replied promptly and without protest.
"My name," said she, "is Anne Leffingwell."
"Thank you," he replied gravely. But the twinkle reappeared in his eye
as he added: "Of course, that was rudimentary about the check."
Before she had fully digested this remark they were on the sidewalk
again. In the act of escorting her to his van, now under her guidance,
he suddenly stopped in front of hers and lost himself in wondering
contemplation of the group painted on the side in the best style of
"Suffering Raphael!" he exclaimed at length. "What's the lady in the
pink shroud supposed to be saying to the bearded patriarch in the
nightie? What's it all about, anyway?"
"The title," replied Anne Leffingwell, indicating a line of
insignificant lettering, "is 'Swedish Wedding Feast.'"
"Wedding feast," he repeated thoughtfully, looking from the picture to
his companion. "Well," he raised an imaginary glass high, "prosit omen!"
The meaning was not to be mistaken. "Well, really," she began
indignantly. "If you are going to take advantage—"
"You're not supposed to understand Latin," interposed Mr. Dyke hastily.
He grew flustered and stood, for once, at a loss. For some subtle reason
her heart warmed to his awkwardness as it never would have done to his
"We must be going on," she said.
He gave her a grateful glance. "I was afraid I'd spilled the apple cart
and scared Eve clean out of the orchard that time," he murmured. Having
helped her to her place at the wheel, he stood bareheaded for a moment,
turned away, came back, and asked abruptly:
"Sister of Budge Leffingwell, the Princeton half-back?"
"I knew Old Man Chance had a happy coincidence up his sleeve somewhere,"
he declared with profound and joyous conviction.
"Are you a friend of Budge's?"
"Friend doesn't half express it! He made the touchdown that won me a
clean hundred last season. Outside of that I wouldn't know him from
Henry Ford. You see how Fate binds us together."
"Will you tell me one thing, please?" pleaded Anne Leffingwell
desperately. "Have you ever been examined for this sort of thing?"
"Not yet. But then, you see, I'm only a beginner. This is my first
attempt. I'll get better as I go on."
"Will you please crank my car?" requested Anne Leffingwell faintly.
Not until they reached Our Square did they speak again.
* * * * *
All things come to him who, sedulously acting the orchid's part,
vegetates and bides his time. To me in the passage of days came Anne
Leffingwell, to talk of many things, the conversation invariably
touching at some point upon Mr. Martin Dyke—and lingering there. She
was solicitous, not to say skeptical, regarding Mr. Dyke's reason. Came
also Martin Dyke to converse intelligently upon labor, free verse,
ouija, the football outlook, O. Henry, Crucible Steel, and Mr.
Leffingwell. He was both solicitous and skeptical regarding Mr.
Leffingwell's existence. Now when two young persons come separately to
an old person to discuss each other's affairs, it is a bad sign. Or
perhaps a good sign. Just as you choose.
Adopting the Mordaunt Estate's sardonic suggestion, Martin Dyke had
settled down to van life in a private alleyway next to Number 37. Anne
Leffingwell deemed this criminally extravagant since the rental of a van
must be prodigious. ("Tell her not to worry; my family own the storage
and moving plant," was one of his many messages that I neglected to
deliver.) On his part he worried over the loneliness and simplicity of
her establishment—one small but neat maid—which he deemed incongruous
with her general effect of luxury and ease of life, and wondered whether
she had split with her family. (She hadn't; "I've always been brought up
like a—a—an artichoke," she confided to me. "So when father went West
for six months, I just moved, and I'm going to be a potato and see how I
like it. Besides, I've got some research work to do.")
Every morning a taxi called and took her to an uptown library, and every
afternoon she came back to the harlequin-fronted house at Number 37.
Dyke's hours were such that he saw her only when she returned early, for
he slept by day in his van, and worked most of the night on electrical
experiments which he was conducting over on the river front, and which
were to send his name resounding down the halls of fame. (The newspapers
have already caught an echo or two.) On his way back from his
experiments, he daily stopped at the shop of Eberling the Florist,
where, besides chaste and elegant set pieces inscribed "Gates Ajar" and
"Gone But Not Forgotten," one may, if expert and insistent, obtain
really fresh roses. What connection these visits had with the matutinal
arrival of deep pink blossoms addressed to nobody, but delivered
regularly at the door of Number 37, I shall not divulge; no, not though
a base attempt was made to incriminate me in the transaction.
Between the pair who had arrived in Our Square on such friendly and
promising terms, there was now no communication when they met. She was
steadfastly adhering to that "Never. Never. Never!" What less, indeed,
could be expected of a faithful wife insulted by ardent hopes of her
husband's early demise from a young man whom she had known but four
hours? So it might have gone on to a sterile conclusion but for a
manifestation of rebellious artistic tastes on her part. The Mordaunt
Estate stopped at my bench to complain about them one afternoon when
Martin Dyke, having just breakfasted, had strolled over to discuss his
favorite topic. (She was, at that very moment, knitting her dainty brows
over the fifteenth bunch of pink fragrance and deciding regretfully that
this thing must come to an end even if she had to call in Terry
"That lady in Number 37," said the Mordaunt Estate bitterly, "ain't the
lady I thought she was."
Martin Dyke, under the impulse of his persistent obsession, looked up
hopefully. "You mean that she isn't really Mrs. Leffingwell?"
"I mean I'm disappointed in her; that's what I mean. She wants the house
front painted over."
"No!" I protested with polite incredulity.
"Where's her artistic sense? I thought she admired your work so deeply."
"She does, too," confirmed the Estate. "But she says it's liable to be
misunderstood. She says ladies come there and order tea, and men ask the
hired girl when the barbers come on duty, and one old bird with whiskers
wanted to know if Ashtaroth, the Master of Destiny, told fortunes there.
So she wants I should tone it down. I guess," pursued the Mordaunt
Estate, stricken with gloom over the difficulty of finding the Perfect
Tenant in an imperfect world, "I'll have to notice her to quit."
"No; don't do that!" cried the young man. "Here! I'll repaint the whole
wall for you free of charge."
"What do you know about R. Noovo art? Besides, paints cost money."
"I'll furnish the paint, too," offered the reckless youth. "I'm crazy
about art. It's the only solace of my declining years. And," he added
cunningly and with evil intent to flatter and cajole, "I can tone down
that design of yours without affecting its beauty and originality
Touched by this ingenuous tribute hardly less than by the appeal to his
frugality, the Estate accepted the offer. From four to five on the
following afternoon, Martin Dyke, appropriately clad in overalls, sat on
a plank and painted. On the afternoon following that the lady of the
house came home at four-thirty and caught him at it.
"That's going to be ever so much nicer," she called graciously, not
recognizing him from the view of his industrious-appearing back.
"Thank you for those few kind words."
"You!" she exclaimed indignantly as he turned a mild and benevolent beam
of the eye upon her. "What are you doing to my house?"
"Art. High art."
"How did you get up there?"
"Ladder. High ladder."
"You know that isn't what I mean at all."
"Oh! Well, I've taken a contract to tone down the Midway aspect of your
highly respectable residence. One hour per day."
"If you think that this performance is going to do you any good—" she
began with withering intonation.
"It's done that already," he hastened to assert. "You've recognized my
"Only through trickery."
"On the contrary, it's no trick at all to improve on the Mordaunt
Estate's art. Now that we've made up again, Miss or Mrs. Leffingwell, as
the case may be—"
"We haven't made up. There's nothing to make up."
"Amended to 'Now that we're on speaking terms once more.' Accepted?
Thank you. Then let me thank you for those lovely flowers you've been
sending me. You can't imagine how they brighten and sweeten my simple
and unlovely van life, with their—"
"Mr. Dyke!" Her eyes were flashing now and her color was deeper than the
pink of the roses which she had rejected. "You must know that you had no
right to send me flowers and that in returning them—"
"Returning? But, dear lady—or girl, as the case may be [here she
stamped a violent foot]—if you feel it your duty to return them, why
not return them to the florist or the sender? Marked though my
attentions may have been, does that justify you in assuming that I am,
so to speak, the only floral prospect in the park? There's the Dominie,
for instance. He's notoriously your admirer, and I've seen him at
Eberling's quite lately." (Mendacious young scoundrel!)
For the moment she was beguiled by the plausibility of his manner.
"How should he know that pink roses are my favorites?" she said
"How should I, for that matter?" he retorted at once. "Though any
idiot could see at a glance that you're at least half sister to the
whole rose tribe."
"Now you're beginning again," she complained. "You see, it's impossible
to treat you as an ordinary acquaintance."
"But what do you think of me as a painter-man?" inquired the bewildering
Preparatory to entering the house she had taken off her gloves, and now
one pinky-brown hand rested on the door lintel below him. "The question
is," said she, "wasn't it really you that sent the roses, and don't you
realize that you mustn't?"
"The question is," he repeated, "whether, being denied the ordinary
avenues of approach to a shrine, one is justified in jumping the fence
with one's votive offerings. Now I hold—"
Her left hand, shifting a little, flashed a gleam of gold into his eager
eyes, striking him into silence. When he spoke again, all the vividness
was gone from his voice. "I beg your pardon," he said. "Yes; I sent the
roses. You shan't be troubled again in that way—or any other way. Do
you mind if I finish this job?"
Victory for the defense! Yet the rosebud face of Anne Leffingwell
expressed concern and doubt rather than gratification. There is such a
thing as triumph being too complete.
"I think you're doing it very nicely," was the demure reply.
Notwithstanding this encomium, the workman knocked off early to sit on
my bench and indulge in the expression of certain undeniable but vague
truisms, such as that while there is life there is hope, and it isn't
necessary to display a marriage license in order to purchase a plain
gold band. But his usual buoyant optimism was lacking; he spoke like one
who strives to convince himself. Later on the lady in the case paused to
offer to me some contumelious if impersonal reflections upon love at
first sight, which she stigmatized as a superstition unworthy of the
consideration of serious minds. But there was a dreamy light in her
eyes, and the smile on her lips, while it may not have been expressive
of serious consideration, was not wholly condemnatory. The carnivorous
orchid was having a good day and keeping its own counsel as a sensible
orchid expectant of continued patronage should do.
There was an obviously somber tinge to Mr. Dyke's color scheme on the
following afternoon, tending to an over-employment of black, when an
impressive and noiseless roadster purred its way to the curb, there
discharging a quite superb specimen of manhood in glorious raiment. The
motorist paused to regard with unfeigned surprise the design of the
house front. Presently he recovered sufficiently to ask:
"Could you tell me if Miss Leffingwell lives here?"
The painter turned upon his precarious plank so sharply that he was all
but precipitated into the area. "Who?" he said.
"You don't mean Mrs. Leffingwell?" queried the aerial operator in a
"No; I don't. I mean Miss Anne Leffingwell."
The painter flourished the implement of his trade to the peril of the
immaculate garments below. "Toora-loo!" he warbled.
"I beg your pardon," said the new arrival.
"I said 'Toora-loo.' It's a Patagonian expression signifying
satisfaction and relief; sort of I-thought-so-all-the-time effect."
"You seem a rather unusual and learned sort of house painter," reflected
the stalwart Adonis. "Is that Patagonian art?"
"Symbolism. It represents hope struggling upward from the oppression of
doubt and despair. That," he added, splashing in a prodigal streak of
whooping scarlet, "is resurgent joy surmounting the misty
The opening door below him cut short the disquisition.
"Reg!" cried the tenant breathlessly. Straight into the big young man's
ready arms she dived, and the petrified and stricken occupant of the
dizzy plank heard her muffled voice quaver: "Wh—wh—wh—why didn't you
To which the young giant responded in gallingly protective tones: "You
The door closed after them. Martin Dyke, amateur house painter,
continued blindly to bedeck the face of a ruinous world with radiant
hues. After interminable hours (as he reckoned the fifteen elapsed
minutes) the tenant escorted her visitor to the door and stood watching
him as the powerful and unassertive motor departed. Dazedly the artist
descended from his plank to face her.
"Are you going?" he demanded.
A perfectly justifiable response to this unauthorized query would have
been that it was no concern of his. But there was that in Martin Dyke's
face which hurt the girl to see.
"Yes," she replied.
"He isn't your husband."
"You haven't any husband."
She hung her head guiltily.
"Why did you invent one?"
Instead of replying verbally she raised her arm and pointed across the
roadway to a patch of worn green in the park. He followed the indication
with his eyes. A Keep-Off-the-Grass sign grinned spitefully in his face.
"I see. The invention was for my special benefit."
"Safety first," she murmured.
"I never really believed it—except when you took me by surprise," he
pursued. "That's why I—I went ahead."
"You certainly went ahead," she confirmed. "What are speed laws to you!"
"You're telling me that I haven't played the game according to the
rules. I know I haven't. One has to make his own rules when Fate is in
the game against him." He seemed to be reviewing something in his mind.
"Fate," he observed sententiously, "is a cheap thimble-rigger."
"Fate," she said, "is the ghost around the corner."
"A dark green, sixty-horse-power ghost, operated by a matinée hero, a
movie close-up, a tailor's model—"
"If you mean Reg, it's just as well for you he isn't here."
"Pooh!" retorted the vengeful and embittered Dyke. "I could wreck his
loveliness with one flop of my paint-brush."
"Doubtless," she agreed with a side glance at the wall, now bleeding
from every pore. "It's a fearful weapon. Spare my poor Reg."
"I suppose," said Dyke, desperate now, but not quite bankrupt of hope,
"you'd like me to believe that he's your long-lost brother."
She lowered her eyes, possibly to hide the mischief in them. "No," she
returned hesitantly and consciously. "He isn't—exactly my brother."
He recalled the initials, "R.B.W.," on the car's door. Hope sank for the
third time without a bubble. "Good-bye," said Martin Dyke.
"Surely you're not going to quit your job unfinished," she protested.
Dyke said something forcible and dismissive about the job.
"What will the Mordaunt Estate think?"
Dyke said something violent and destructive about the Mordaunt Estate.
"Perhaps you'd like to take the house, now that it's vacant."
Dyke, having expressed a preference for the tomb as a place of
residence, went on his gloomful way shedding green paint on one side and
red on the other.
Insomnia, my old enemy, having clutched me that night, I went to my
window and looked abroad over Our Square, as Willy Woolly's memorial
clock was striking four (it being actually five-thirty). A shocking
sight afflicted my eyes. My bench was occupied by a bum. Hearing the
measured footsteps of Terry the Cop, guardian of our destinies, I looked
for a swift and painful eviction. Terry, after a glance, passed on.
Nothing is worse for insomnia than an unsolved mystery. Slipping into my
clothes, I made my way softly to the spot. There in the seat where I was
wont to pursue my even tenor as an orchid slumbered Martin Dyke, amateur
desecrator of other men's houses, challenger of the wayward fates,
fanatic of a will-o'-the-wisp pursuit, desperate adventurer in the
uncharted realms of love; and in his face, turned toward the
polychromatic abominations of the house, so soon to be deserted, was all
the pathos and all the beauty of illusion-haunted youth.
Ah, youth! Blundering, ridiculous youth! An absurd period, excusable
only on the score of its brevity. A parlous condition! A traitorous
guide, froward, inspired of all manner of levity, pursuant of hopeless
phantasms, dupe of roseate and pernicious myths (love-at-first-sight,
and the like), butt of the High Gods' stinging laughter, deserving of
nothing kinder than mockery from the aged and the wise—which is
doubtless why we old and sage folk thank Heaven daily, uplifting cracked
voices and withered hands, that we are no longer young. A pious and
fraudulent litany for which may we be forgiven! My young friend on the
bench stirred. A shaft of moonlight, streaming through the bush upon his
face, bewitched him to unguarded speech:
"Dominie, I have been dreaming."
Fearing to break the spell, I stood silent.
"A fairy came down to me and touched her lips to mine, so lightly, so
softly. Did you know there were fairies in Our Square, Dominie?"
"I think her name is Happiness. Is there such a fairy in this world,
"There has been."
"Then there will always be. I think it was Happiness because she went
away so quickly."
"Happiness does. Did you try to hold her?"
"So hard! But I was clumsy and rough. She slipped through my arms."
"Did she leave nothing?"
"Then what is this?" I lifted from the ground at his feet a single petal
of pink rose, fragrant, unwithered, and placed it in his hand.
"The fairy's kiss," he said dreamily. "That's for farewell."
The moon, dipped beyond a cloud, dissolved the spell. Youth straightened
up brusquely on its bench, rubbing enchantment from its eyes.
"Have I been talking in my sleep, Dominie?"
"What kind of talk? Nonsense?"
"Nonsense—or wisdom. How should I know?"
"Dominie, is there a perfume in the air? A smell of roses?"
"Look in your hand."
He opened his fingers slowly and closed them again, tenderly, jealously.
"I must go now," he said vaguely. "May I come back to see you
"Perhaps you'll bring Happiness with you," I said.
But he only shook his head. On the morrow his van was gone from the
alley and the house at Number 37, which had once been the House of
Silvery Voices, was voiceless again.
* * * * *
Something of the savor of life went with the vanners out of Our Square.
I missed their broad-ranging and casual talk of politics, art, religion,
the fourth dimension, and one another. Yet I felt sure that I should see
them both again. There is a spell woven in Our Square—it has held me
these sixty years and more, and I wonder at times whether Death himself
can break it—which draws back the hearts that have once known the
place. It was a long month, though, before the butterfly fluttered back.
More radiant than ever she looked, glowing softly in the brave November
sun, as she approached my bench. But there was something indefinably
wistful about her. She said that she had come to satisfy her awakened
appetite for the high art of R. Noovo, as she faced the unaltered and
violent frontage of Number 37.
"Empty," said I.
"Then he didn't take my advice and rent it. The painter-man, I mean."
"I haven't an idea."
"Doesn't he ever come back?"
"You must not assume," said I with severity, "that you are the only
devotee of high art. You may perhaps compare your devotion to that of
another whom I might mention when you, too, have lost ten pounds and
gained ten years—"
"Dominie! Has he?"
"Has he what?"
"G-g-g-gained ten pounds. I mean, lost ten years."
"I haven't said so."
"Dominie, you are a cruel old man," accused the butterfly.
"And you are a wicked woman."
"I'm not. I'm only twenty," was her irrelevant but natural defense.
"Witness, on your oath, answer; were you at any time in the evening or
night before you departed from this, Our Square, leaving us
desolate—were you, I say, abroad in the park?
"Y-y-yes, your Honor."
"In the immediate vicinity of this bench?"
"Benches are very alike in the dark."
"But occupants of them are not. Don't fence with the court. Were you
wearing one or more roses of the general hue and device of those now
displayed in your cheeks?"
"The honorable court has nothing to do with my face," said the witness
"On the contrary, your face is the corpus delicti. Did you, taking
advantage of the unconscious and hence defenseless condition of my
client, that is, of Mr. Martin Dyke, lean over him and deliberately
"No! No! No! No! No!" cried the butterfly with great and unconvincing
fervor. "How dare you accuse me of such a thing?"
"On the circumstantial evidence of a pink rose petal. But worse is
coming. The charge is unprovoked and willful murder."
Butterflies are strange creatures. This one seemed far less concerned
over the latter than the former accusation. "Of whom?" she inquired.
"You have killed a budding poet." Here I violated a sacred if implied
confidence by relating what the bewitched sleeper on the bench had said
under the spell of the moon.
The result was most gratifying. The butterfly assured me with
indignation that it was only a cold in her head, which had been annoying
her for days: that was what made her eyes act so, and I was a
suspicious and malevolent old gentleman—and—and—and perhaps some day
she and Mr. Martin Dyke might happen to meet.
"Is that a message?" I asked.
"No," answered the butterfly with a suspicion of panic in her eyes.
"Then?" I queried.
"He's so—so awfully go-aheadish," she complained.
"I'll drop him a hint," I offered kindly.
"It might do some good. I'm afraid of him," she confessed.
"And a little bit of yourself?" I suggested.
The look of scorn which she bent upon me would have withered
incontinently anything less hardy than a butterfly-devouring orchid. It
passed and thoughtfulness supplanted it. "If you really think that he
could be influenced to be more—well, more conventional—"
"I guarantee nothing; but I'm a pedagogue by profession and have taught
some hard subjects in my time."
"Then do you think you could give him a little message, word for word as
I give it to you?"
"Senile decay," I admitted, "may have paralyzed most of my faculties,
but as a repeater of messages verbatim, I am faithful as a phonograph."
"Tell him this, then." She ticked the message off on her fingers. "A
half is not exactly the same as a whole. Don't forget the 'exactly.'"
"Is this an occasion for mathematical axioms?" I demanded. But she had
already gone, with a parting injunction to be precise.
When, three days thereafter, I retailed that banality to young Mr. Dyke,
it produced a startling though not instantaneous effect.
"I've got it!" he shouted.
"Don't scare me off my bench! What is it you've got?"
"The answer. She said he was not exactly her brother."
"That bully-looking big chap in the roadster who took her away." He
delivered this shameless reversal of a passionately asserted opinion
without a quiver. "Now she says a half isn't exactly the same as a
whole. He wasn't exactly her brother, she said; he's her half brother.
'Toora-loora-loo,' as we say in Patagonia."
"For Patagonia it sounds reasonable. What next?"
"Next and immediately," said Mr. Dyke, "I am obtaining an address from
the Mordaunt Estate, and I am then taking this evening off."
"Take some advice also, my boy," said I, mindful of the butterfly's
alarms. "Go slow."
"Slow! Haven't I lost time enough already?"
"Perhaps. But now you've got all there is. Don't force the game. You've
frightened that poor child so that she never can feel sure what you're
going to do next."
"Neither can I, Dominie," confessed the candid youth. "But you're quite
right. I'll clamp on the brakes. I'll be as cool and conventional as a
slice of lemon on an iced clam. 'How well you're looking to-night, Miss
Leffingwell'—that'll be my nearest approach to unguarded personalities.
Trust me, Dominie, and thank you for the tip."
The memorial and erratic clock of Our Square was just striking seven of
the following morning, meaning approximately eight-forty, when my
astonished eyes again beheld Martin Dyke seated on my bench, beautifully
though inappropriately clad in full evening dress with a pink rose in
his coat lapel, and gazing at Number 37 with a wild, ecstatic glare.
"What have you been doing here all night?" I asked.
I pointed to the flower. "Where did you get that?"
"A fairy gift."
"Martin," said I, "did you abide by my well-meant and inspired advice?"
"Dominie," replied the youth with a guilty flush, "I did my best. I—I
tried to. You mustn't think—Nothing is settled. It's only that—"
"It's only that Age is a fool to advise Youth. Why should I expect you
to abide by my silly counsels? Who am I to interfere with the dominant
fates! Says the snail to the avalanche: 'Go slow!' and the avalanche—"
"Hey! Hi! You Mordaunt Estate!" broke in young Mr. Dyke, shouting. "I
beg your pardon, Dominie, I've got to see the Estate for a minute."
Rushing across the street, he intercepted that institutional gentleman
in the act of dipping a brush into a can in front of Number 37.
"Don't, for Heaven's sake, touch that front!" implored the improver of
"Why not?" demanded the Estate.
"I want to rent it. As it is. From to-day."
The Mordaunt Estate turned a dull, Wagboomish look of denial upon him.
"Nope," said he. "I've had enough of short rentals. It don't pay. I'm
going to paint her up and lease her for good."
"I'll take your lease," insisted Martin Dyke.
"For how long a period?" inquired the other, in terms of the Estate
The light that never was, on sea or land, the look that I had surprised
on the face of illusion-haunted Youth in the moon glow, gleamed in
Martin Dyke's eyes.
"Say a million years," he answered softly.