Barbran, by Samuel Hopkins Adams
From A Bench in Our
Immediately upon hearing of my fell design MacLachan, the tailor, paid a
visit of protest to my bench.
"Is it true fact that I hear, Dominie?"
"What do you hear, MacLachan?"
"That ye're to make one of yer silly histories about Barbran?"
"Perfectly true," said I, passing over the uncomplimentary adjective.
"'Tis a feckless waste of time."
"'Twill encourage the pair, when a man of yer age and influence in Our
Square should be dissuadin' them."
"Perhaps they need a friendly word."
MacLachan frowned. "Ye're determined?"
"Then I'll give ye a title for yer romance."
"That's very kind of you. Give it."
"The Story of Two Young Fools. By an Old One," said MacLachan
witheringly, and turned to depart.
"Wait a moment."
I held him with my glittering eye. Also, in case that should be
inadequate, with the crook of my cane firmly fixed upon his ankle.
"I'll waste na time from the tailorin'," began the Scot disdainfully,
but paused as I pointed a loaded finger at his head. "Well?" he said,
showing a guilty inclination to flinch.
"Mac, was I an original accomplice in this affair?"
"Will ye purtend to deny—"
"Did I scheme and plot with Cyrus the Gaunt and young Stacey?"
MacLachan mumbled something about undue influence.
"Did I get arrested?"
"In a cellar?"
"With my nose painted green?"
MacLachan groaned. "There was others," he pleaded.
"A man of your age and influence in Our Square," I interrupted sternly,
"should have been dissuading them."
"Arr ye designin' to put all that in yer sil—in yer interestin'
MacLachan dislodged my crook from his leg, gave me such a look as
mid-Victorian painters strove for in pictures of the Dying Stag, and
retired to his Home of Fashion.
* * * * *
That men of the sobriety and standing of Cyrus the Gaunt, MacLachan,
Leon Coventry, the Little Red Doctor, and Boggs (I do not count young
Phil Stacey, for he was insane at the time, and has been so, with
modifications and glorifications, ever since) should paint their noses
green and frequent dubious cellars, calls for explanation. The
explanation is Barbran.
Barbran came to us from the immeasurable distances; to wit, Washington
Let me confess at once that we are a bit supercilious in our attitude
toward the sister Square far to our West, across the Alps of Broadway.
Our Square was an established center of the social respectabilities when
the foot of Fifth Avenue was still frequented by the occasional cow
whose wanderings are responsible for the street-plan of Greenwich
Village. Our Square remains true to the ancient and simple traditions,
whereas Washington Square has grown long hair, smeared its fingers with
paint and its lips with free verse, and gone into debt for its
inconsiderable laundry bills. Washington Square we suspect of playing at
life; Our Square has a sufficiently hard time living it. We have little
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are veritable humans, not
wholly submerged in the crowd of self-conscious mummers who crowd the
Occidental park-space, and it was at the house of one of these, a woman
architect with a golden dream of rebuilding Greenwich Village, street by
street, into something simple and beautiful and, in the larger sense
urban, that the Bonnie Lassie, whose artistic deviations often take her
far afield, met Barbran.
They went for coffee to a queer little burrow decorated with improving
sentiments from the immortal Lewis Carroll which, Barbran told the
Bonnie Lassie, was making its blue-smocked, bobbed-haired, attractive
and shrewd little proprietress quite rich. Barbran hinted that she was
thinking of improving on the Mole's Hole idea if she could find a
suitable location, not so much for the money, of course—her tone
implied a lordly indifference to such considerations—as for the fun of
The Bonnie Lassie was amused but not impressed. What did impress her
about Barbran was a certain gay yet restful charm; the sort of difficult
thing that our indomitable sculptress loves to catch and fix in her
wonderful little bronzes. She set about catching Barbran.
Now the way of a snake with a bird is as nothing for fascination
compared to the way of the Bonnie Lassie with the doomed person whom she
has marked down as a subject. Barbran hesitated, capitulated, came to
the Bonnie Lassie's house, moused about Our Square in a rapt manner and
stayed. She rented a room from the Angel of Death ("Boggs Kills Bugs" is
the remainder of his sign, which is considered to lend tone and local
interest to his whole side of the Square), just over Madame Tallafferr's
apartments, and, in the course of time, stopped at my bench and looked
at me contemplatively. She was a small person with shy, soft eyes.
"The Bonnie Lassie sent you," said I.
"You've come here to live—Heaven only knows why—but we're glad to see
you. And you want to know about the people; so the Bonnie Lassie said,
'Ask the Dominie; he landed here from the ark.' Didn't she?"
Barbran sat down and smiled at me.
"Having sought information," I pursued, "on my own account, I learn that
you are the only daughter of a Western millionaire ranch-owner. How does
it feel to revel in millions?"
"Romantic," said she.
"Of course you have designs upon us."
"Humanitarian, artistic, or sociological?"
"Oh, nothing long and clever like that."
"You grow more interesting. Having designs upon us, you doubtless wish
"No," she answered softly: "I've done it already."
"Rash and precipitate adventuress! What have you done already?"
"Started my designs. I've rented the basement of Number 26."
"Are you a rag-picker in disguise?"
"I'm going to start a coffee cellar. I was thinking of calling it 'The
Coffee Pot.' What do you think?"
"So you do wish my advice. I will give it to you. Do you see that
plumber's shop next to the corner saloon?" I pointed to the Avenue whose
ceaseless stream of humanity flows past Our Square without ever sweeping
us into its current. "That was once a tea-shop. It was started by a dear
little, prim little old maiden lady. The saloon was run by Tough Bill
Manigan. The little old lady had a dainty sign painted and hung it up
outside her place, 'The Teacup.' Tough Bill took a board and painted a
sign and hung it up outside his place; 'The Hiccup.' The dear little,
prim little old maiden lady took down her sign and went away. Yet there
are those who say that competition is the life of trade."
"Is there a moral to your story, Mr. Dominie?"
"Take it or leave it," said I amiably.
"I will not call my cellar 'The Coffee Pot' lest a worse thing befall
"You are a sensible young woman, Miss Barbara Ann Waterbury."
"It is true that my parents named me that," said she, "but my friends
call me 'Barbran' because I always used to call myself that when I was
little, and I want to be called Barbran here."
"That's very friendly of you," I observed.
She gave me a swift, suspicious look. "You think I'm a fool," she
observed calmly. "But I'm not. I'm going to become a local institution.
A local institution can't be called Barbara Ann Waterbury, unless it's a
crêche or a drinking-fountain or something like that, can it?"
"It cannot, Barbran."
"Thank you, Mr. Dominie," said Barbran gratefully. She then proceeded to
sketch out for me her plans for making her Coffee Cellar and herself a
Local Institution, which should lure hopeful seekers for Bohemia from
the far parts of Harlem and Jersey City, and even such outer realms of
darkness as New Haven and Cohoes.
"That's what I intend to do," said Barbran, "as soon as I get my Great
Idea worked out."
What the Great Idea was, I was to learn later and from other lips. In
fact, from the lips of young Phil Stacey, who appeared, rather
elaborately loitering out from behind the fountain, shortly after my new
friend had departed, a peculiar look upon his extremely plain and
friendly face. Young Mr. Stacey is notable, if for no other reason than
that he represents a flat artistic failure on the part of the Bonnie
Lassie, who has tried him in bronze, in plaster, and in clay with equal
lack of success. There is something untransferable in the boy's face;
perhaps its outshining character. I know that I never yet have said to
any woman who knew him, no matter what her age, condition, or
sentimental predilections, "Isn't he a homely cub!" that she didn't
reply indignantly: "He's sweet!" Now when women—wonderful women like
the Bonnie Lassie and stupid women like Mrs. Rosser, the twins' aunt,
and fastidious women like Madame Tallafferr—unite in terming a smiling
human freckle "sweet," there is nothing more to be said. Adonis may as
well take a back seat and the Apollo Belvedere seek the helpful
resources of a beauty parlor. Said young Phil carelessly:
"Dominie, who's the newcomer?"
"That," said I, "is Barbran."
"Barbran," he repeated with a rising inflection. "It sounds like a
"As she pronounces it, it sounds like a strain of music," said I.
"What's the rest of her name?"
"I am not officially authorized to communicate that."
"Are you officially authorized to present your friends to her?"
"On what do you base your claim to acquaintanceship, my boy?" I asked
"Oh, claim! Well, you see, a couple of days ago, she was on the
cross-town car; and I—well, I just happened to notice her, you know.
"Yet I am informed on good and sufficient authority that her appearance
is not such as to commend her, visually, if I may so express myself, to
the discriminating eye."
"Who's the fool—" began Mr. Stacey hotly.
"Tut-tut, my young friend," said I. "Certain ladies whom we both esteem
can and will prove, to the satisfaction of the fair-minded, that none of
the young person's features is exactly what it should be or precisely
where it ought to be. Nevertheless, the net result is surprising and
"She's a peach!" asseverated my companion.
"Substantially what I was remarking. As for your other hint, you need no
introduction to Barbran. Nobody does."
"What?" Phil Stacey's plain face became ugly; a hostile light
glittered in his eyes. "What do you mean by that?" he growled.
"Simply that she's about to become a local institution. She's plotting
against the peace and security of Our Square, to the extent of starting
a coffee-house at Number 26."
"No!" cried Phil joyously. "Good news!"
"As a fad. She's a budding millionairess from the West."
"No!" growled Phil, his face falling.
"Bad news; eh? It occurred to me that she might want some decorations,
and that you might be the one to do them." In his leisure hours, my
young friend, who is an expert accountant by trade (the term "expert"
appears to be rather an empty compliment, since his stipend is only
twenty-five dollars a week), perpetrates impressionistic decorations and
scenery for such minor theaters as will endure them.
"You're a grand old man, Dominie!" said he. "Let's go."
We went. We found Barbran. We conversed. Half an hour later when I left
them—without any strenuous protests on the part of either—they were
deeply engrossed in a mutual discussion upon decorations, religion, the
high cost of living, free verse, two-cent transfers, Charley Chaplin,
aviation, ouija, and other equally safe topics. Did I say safe?
Dangerous is what I mean. For when a youth who is as homely as young
Phil Stacey and in that particular style of homeliness, and a girl who
is as far from homely as Barbran begin, at first sight, to explore each
other's opinions, they are venturing into a dim and haunted region,
lighted by will-o'-the-wisps and beset with perils and pitfalls. Usually
they smile as they go. Phil was smiling as I left them. So was Barbran.
I may have smiled myself.
Anything but a smile was on Phil Stacey's normally cheerful face when,
some three days thereafter, he came to my rooms.
"Dominie," said he, "I want to tap your library. Have you got any of the
works of Harvey Wheelwright?"
"God forbid!" said I.
Phil looked surprised. "Is it as bad as that? I didn't suppose there was
anything wrong with the stuff."
"Don't you imperil your decent young soul with it," I advised earnestly.
"It reeks of poisonous piety. The world he paints is so full of
nauseating virtues that any self-respecting man would rather live in
hell. His characters all talk like a Sunday-school picnic out of the
Rollo books. No such people ever lived or ever could live, because a
righteously enraged populace would have killed 'em in early childhood.
He's the smuggest fraud and best seller in the United States.
Wheelwright? The crudest, shrewdest, most preposterous panderer to
"Whew! Help! I didn't know what I was starting," protested my visitor.
"As a literary critic you're some Big Bertha, Dominie. I begin to
suspect that you don't care an awful lot about Mr. Wheelwright's style
of composition. Just the same, I've got to read him. All of him. Do you
think I'll find his stuff in the Penny Circulator?"
"My poor, lost boy! Probably not. It is doubtless all out in the hands
of eager readers."
However, Phil contrived to round it up somewhere. The awful and
unsuspected results I beheld on my first visit of patronage to Barbran's
cellar, the occasion being the formal opening. A large and curious crowd
of five persons, including myself and Phil Stacey, were there. Outside,
an old English design of a signboard with a wheel on it creaked
despairingly in the wind. Below was a legend: "At the Sign of the
Wheel—The Wrightery." The interior of the cellar was decorated with
scenes from the novels of Harvey Wheelwright, triumphant virtue,
discomfited villains, benignant blessings, chaste embraces, edifying
death-beds, and orange-blossoms. They were unsigned; but well I knew
whose was the shame. Over the fireplace hung a framed letter from the
Great Soul. It began, "Dear Young Friend and Admirer," and ended, "Yours
for the Light. Harvey Wheelwright."
The guests did as well as could be expected. They ate and drank
everything in sight. They then left; that is to say, four of them did.
Finally Phil departed, glowering at me. I am a patient soul. No sooner
had the door slammed behind him than I turned to Barbran, who was
"Well, what have you to say in your defense?"
The way Barbran's eyebrows went up constituted in itself a defense fit
to move any jury to acquittal.
"For what?" she asked.
"For corrupting my young friend Stacey. You made him paint those
"They're very nice," returned Barbran demurely. "Quite true to the
"They're awful. They're an offense to civilization. They're an insult to
Our Square. Of all subjects in the world, Harvey Wheelwright! Why,
Barbran? Why? Why? Why?"
"Business," said Barbran.
"Explain, please," said I.
"I got the idea from a friend of mine in Washington Square. She got up a
little cellar café built around Alice. Alice in Wonderland, you know,
and the Looking Glass. Though I don't suppose a learned and serious
person like you would ever have read such nonsense."
"It happened to be Friday and there wasn't a hippopotamus in the house,"
"Oh," said Barbran, brightening. "Well, I thought if she could do it
with Alice, I could do it with Harvey Wheelwright."
"In the name of Hatta and the March Hare, why?"
"Because, for every one person who reads Alice nowadays, ten read the
author of 'Reborn Through Righteousness' and 'Called by the Cause.'
Isn't it so?"
"Therefore I ought to get ten times as many people as the other place.
Don't you think so?" she inquired wistfully.
Who am I to withhold a comforting fallacy from a hopeful soul.
"Undoubtedly," I agreed. "But do you love him?"
"Who?" said Barbran, with a start. The faint pink color ran up her
"Harvey Wheelwright, of course. Whom did you think I meant?"
"He is a very estimable writer," returned Barbran primly, quite ignoring
my other query.
"Good-night, Barbran," said I sadly. "I'm going out to mourn your lost
One might reasonably expect to find peace and quiet in the vicinity of
one's own particular bench at 11.45 P.M. in Our Square. But not at all
on this occasion. There sat Phil Stacey. I challenged him at once.
"What did you do it for?"
To do him justice he did not dodge or pretend to misunderstand. "Pay,"
"Phil! Did you take money for that stuff?"
"Not exactly. I'm taking it out in trade. I'm going to eat there."
"You'll starve to death."
"I haven't got much of an appetite."
"The inevitable effect of overfeeding on sweets. An uninterrupted diet
of Harvey Wheelwright—"
"Don't speak the swine's name," implored Phil, "or I'll be sick."
"You've sold your artistic birthright for a mess of pottage, probably
indigestible at that."
"I don't care," he averred stoutly. "I don't care for anything
except—Dominie, who told you her father was a millionaire?"
"It's well known," I said vaguely. "He's a cattle king or an emperor of
sheep or the sultan of the piggery or something. A good thing for
Barbran, too, if she expects to keep her cellar going. The kind of
people who read Har—our unmentionable author, don't frequent Bohemian
coffee cellars. They would regard it as reckless and abandoned
debauchery. Barbran has shot at the wrong mark."
"The place has got to be a success," declared Phil between his teeth,
his plain face expressing a sort of desperate determination.
"Otherwise the butterfly will fly back West," I suggested. The boy
What man could do to make it a success, Phil Stacey did and heroically.
Not only did he eat all his meals there, but he went forth into the
highways and byways and haled in other patrons (whom he privately paid
for) to an extent which threatened to exhaust his means.
Our Square is conservative, not to say distrustful in its bearing toward
innovations. Thornsen's Élite Restaurant has always sufficed for our
inner cravings. We are, I suppose, too old to change. Nor does Harvey
Wheelwright exercise an inspirational sway over us. We let the little
millionairess and her Washington Square importation pretty well alone.
She advertised feebly in the "Where to Eat" columns, catching a few
stray outlanders, but for the most part people didn't come. Until the
first of the month, that is. Then too many came. They brought their
bills with them.
Evening after evening Barbran and Phil Stacey sat in the cellar almost
or quite alone. So far as I could judge from my occasional visits of
patronage (Barbran furnished excellent sweet cider and cakes for late
comers), they endured the lack of custom with fortitude, not to say
indifference. But in the mornings her soft eyes looked heavy, and once,
as she was passing my bench deep in thought, I surprised a look of blank
terror on her face. One can understand that even a millionaire's
daughter might spend sleepless nights brooding over a failure. But that
look of mortal dread! How well I know it! How often have I seen it,
preceding some sordid or brave tragedy of want and wretchedness in Our
Square! What should it mean, though, on Barbran's sunny face? Puzzling
over the question I put it to the Bonnie Lassie.
"Read me a riddle, O Lady of the Wise Heart. Of what is a child of
fortune, young, strong, and charming, afraid?"
At the time we were passing the house in which the insecticidal Angel of
Death takes carefully selected and certified lodgers.
"I know whom you mean," said the Bonnie Lassie, pointing up to the
little dormer window which was Barbran's outlook on life. "Interpret me
a signal. What do you see up there?"
"It appears to be a handkerchief pasted to the window," said I adjusting
"Upside down," said the Bonnie Lassie.
"How can a handkerchief be upside down?" I inquired, in what was
intended to be a tone of sweet reasonableness.
Contempt was all that it brought me. "Metaphorically, of course! It's a
signal of distress."
"In what distress can Barbran be?"
"In what kind of distress are most people who live next under the roof
in Our Square?"
"She's doing that just to get into our atmosphere. She told me so
herself. A millionaire's daughter—"
"Do millionaires' daughters wash their own handkerchiefs and paste them
on windows to dry? Does any woman in or out of Our Square ever soak
her own handkerchiefs in her own washbowl except when she's desperately
saving pennies? Did you ever wash one single handkerchief in your
"Certainly not. It isn't manly. Then you think she isn't a
"Look at her shoes when next you see her," answered the Bonnie Lassie
conclusively. "I think the poor little thing has put her every cent in
the world into her senseless cellar, and she's going under."
"But, good Heavens!" I exclaimed. "Something has got to be done."
"It's going to be."
"Who's going to do it?"
"Me," returned the Bonnie Lassie, who is least grammatical when most
"Then," said I, "the Fates may as well shut up shop and Providence take
a day off; the universe has temporarily changed its management. Can
The Bonnie Lassie focused her gaze in a peculiar manner upon the exact
center of my countenance. A sort of fairy grin played about her lips. "I
wonder if—No," she sighed. "No. I don't think it would do, Dominie.
Anyway, I've got six without you."
"Including Phil Stacey?"
"Of course," retorted the Bonnie Lassie. "It was he who came to me for
help. I'm really doing this for him."
"I thought you were doing it for Barbran."
"Oh; she's just a transposed Washington Squarer," answered the tyrant of
Our Square. "Though she's a dear kiddie, too, underneath the nonsense."
"Do I understand—"
"I don't see," interrupted the Bonnie Lassie sweetly, "how you could. I
haven't told you. And the rest are bound to secrecy. But don't be unduly
alarmed at anything queer you may see in Our Square within the next
Only by virtue of that warning was I able to command the emotions
aroused by an encounter with Cyrus the Gaunt some evenings later. He was
hurrying across the park space in the furtive manner of one going to a
shameful rendezvous, and upon my hailing him he at first essayed to
sheer off. When he saw who it was he came up with a rather swaggering
and nonchalant effect. I may observe here that nobody has a monopoly of
nonchalance in this world.
"Good-evening, Cyrus," I said.
"Beautiful weather we're having."
"Couldn't be finer."
"Do you think it will hold?"
"The paper says rain to-morrow."
"Why is the tip of your nose painted green?"
"Is it green?" inquired Cyrus, as if he hadn't given the matter any
special consideration, but thought it quite possible.
"Emerald," said I. "It looks as if it were mortifying."
"It would be mortifying," admitted Cyrus the Gaunt, "if it weren't in a
"What cause?" I asked.
"Come out of there!" said Cyrus the Gaunt, not to me, but to a figure
lurking in the shrubbery.
The Little Red Doctor emerged. I took one look at his most distinctive
"You, too!" I said. "What do you mean by it?"
"Ask Cyrus," returned the Little Red Doctor glumly.
"It's a cult," said Cyrus. "The credit of the notion belongs not to me,
but to my esteemed better half. A few chosen souls—"
"Here comes another of them," I conjectured, as a bowed form approached.
"Who is it? MacLachan!"
The old Scot appeared to be suffering from a severe cold. His
handkerchief was pressed to his face.
"Take it down, Mac," I ordered. "It's useless." He did so, and my worst
suspicions were confirmed.
"He bullied me into it," declared the tailor, glowering at Cyrus the
"It'll do your nose good," declared Cyrus jauntily. "Give it a change.
Complementary colors, you know. What ho! Our leader."
Phil Stacey appeared. He appeared serious; that is, as serious as one
can appear when his central feature glows like the starboard light of an
incoming steamship. Following him were Leon Coventry, huge and shy, and
the lethal Boggs looking unhappy.
"Where are you all going?" I demanded.
"To the Wrightery," said Phil.
"Is it a party?"
"It's a gathering."
"Am I included?"
"Not on any account," I declared firmly. It had just occurred to me why
the Bonnie Lassie had centered her gaze upon my features. "Follow your
indecent noses as far as you like. I stay."
Still lost in meditation, I may have dozed on my bench, when heavy,
measured footsteps aroused me. I looked up to see Terry the Cop,
guardian of our peace, arbiter of differences, conservator of our
morals. I peered at him with anxiety.
"Terry," I inquired, "how is your nose?"
"Keen, Dominie," said Terry. He sniffed the air. "Don't you detect the
smell of illegal alcohol?"
"I can't say I do."
"It's very plain," declared the officer wriggling his nasal organ which,
I was vastly relieved to observe, retained its original hue. "Wouldn't
you say, Dominie, it comes from yonder cellar?"
"I am informed that a circle of dangerous char-_ack_ters with green
noses gather there and drink cider containing more than two-seventy-five
per cent of apple juice. I'm about to pull the place."
"For Heaven's sake, Terry; don't do that! You'll scare—"
"Whisht, Dominie!" interrupted Terry with an elaborate wink. "There'll
be no surprise, except maybe to the Judge in the morning. You better
drop in at the court."
Of the round-up I have no details, except that it seemed to be quietly
conducted. The case was called the next day, before Magistrate Wolf Tone
Hanrahan, known as the "Human Judge." Besides being human, his Honor is,
as may be inferred from his name, somewhat Irish. He heard the evidence,
tested the sample, announced his intention of coming around that evening
for some more, and honorably discharged Barbran.
"And what about these min?" he inquired, gazing upon the dauntless six.
"Dangerous suspects, Yeronner," said Terry the Cop.
"They look mild as goat's milk to me," returned the Magistrate, "though
now I get me eye on the rid-hidded wan [with a friendly wink at the
Little Red Doctor] I reckonize him as a desprit charackter that'd save
your life as soon as look at ye. What way are they dang'rous?"
"When apprehended," replied Terry, looking covertly about to see that
the reporters were within hearing distance, "their noses were
"Is this true?" asked the Magistrate of the six.
"It is, your Honor," they replied.
"An', why not!" demanded the Human Judge hotly. "'Tis a glorious color!
Erin go bragh! Off'cer, ye've exceeded yer jooty. D' ye think this is
downtrodden an' sufferin' Oireland an' yerself the tyrant Gineral
French? Let 'em paint their noses anny color they loike; but green for
preference. I'm tellin' ye, this is the land of freedom an' equality,
an' ivery citizen thereof is entitled to life, liberty, and the purshoot
of happiness, an' a man's nose is his castle, an' don't ye fergit it.
Dis-charrrrged! Go an' sin no more. I mane, let the good worruk go awn!"
"Now watch for the evening papers," said young Phil Stacey exultantly.
"The Wrightery will get some free advertising that'll crowd it
Alas for youth's golden hopes! The evening papers ignored the carefully
prepared event. One morning paper published a paragraph, attributing the
green noses to a masquerade party. The conspirators, gathered at the
cellar with their war-paints on (in case of reporters), discussed the
fiasco in embittered tones. Young Stacey raged against a stupid and
corrupt press. MacLachan expressed the acidulous hope that thereafter
Cyrus the Gaunt would be content with making a fool of himself without
implicating innocent and confiding friends. The Bonnie Lassie was not
present, but sent word (characteristically) that they must have done it
all wrong; men had no sense, anyway. The party then sent out for
turpentine and broke up to reassemble no more. Only Phil Stacey,
inventor of the great idea, was still faithful to and hopeful of it.
Each evening he conscientiously greened himself and went to eat
Time justified his faith. One evening there dropped in a plump man who
exhaled a mild and comforting benevolence, like a gentle country parson.
He smiled sweetly at Phil, and introduced himself as a reporter for the
"Sunday World Magazine"—and where was the rest of the circle? In a
flurry of excitement, the pair sent for Cyrus the Gaunt to do the
talking. Cyrus arrived, breathless and a trifle off color (the Bonnie
Lassie had unfortunately got a touch of bronze scenic paint mixed with
the green, so that he smelled like an over-ripe banana), and proceeded
"This," he explained, "is a new cult. It is based on the
back-to-the-spring idea. The well-spring of life, you know.
The—er—spring of eternal youth, and—and so forth. You understand?"
"I hope to," said the reporter politely. "Why on the nose?"
"I will explain that," returned Cyrus, getting his second wind; "but
first let me get the central idea in your mind. It's a nature movement;
a readjustment of art to nature. All nature is green. Look about you."
Here he paused for effect, which was unfortunate.
"Quite so," agreed the reporter. "The cable-car, for instance, and the
dollar bill, not to mention the croton bug and the polar bear. But,
pardon me, I interrupt the flow of your eloquence."
"You do," said Cyrus severely. "Inanimate nature I speak of. All
inanimate nature is green. But we poor fellow creatures have gotten away
from the universal mother-color. We must get back to it. We must learn
to think greenly. But first we must learn to see greenly. How shall we
accomplish this? Put green in our eyes? Impossible, unfortunately. But,
our noses—there is the solution. In direct proximity to the eye, the
color, properly applied, tints one's vision of all things. Green shadows
in a green world," mooned Cyrus the Gaunt poetically. "As the bard
"'Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.'"
"Wait a minute," said the visitor, and made a note on an envelope-back.
"Accordingly, Miss Barbran, the daughter and heiress of a millionaire
cattle owner in Wyoming [here the reporter made his second note], has
established this center where we meet to renew and refresh our souls."
"Good!" said the benevolent reporter. "Fine! Of course it's all bunk—"
"Bunk!" echoed Barbran and Phil, aghast, while Cyrus sat with his lank
"You don't see any of your favorite color in my eye, do you?" inquired
the visitor pleasantly. "Just what you're putting over I don't know.
Some kind of new grease paint, perhaps. Don't tell me. It's good enough,
anyway. I'll fall for it. It's worth a page story. Of course I'll want
some photographs of the mural paintings. They're almost painfully
beautiful…. What's wrong with our young friend; is he sick?" he added,
looking with astonishment at Phil Stacey who was exhibiting
"He painted 'em," explained Cyrus, grinning.
"And he's sorry," supplemented Barbran.
"Yes; I wouldn't wonder. Well, I won't give him away," said the kindly
journalist. "Now, as to the membership of your circle…."
The Sunday "story" covered a full page. The "millionairess" feature was
played up conspicuously and repeatedly, and the illustrations did what
little the text failed to do. It was a "josh-story" from beginning
"I'll kill that pious fraud of a reporter," declared Phil.
"Now the place is ruined," mourned Barbran.
"Wait and see," advised the wiser Cyrus.
Great is the power of publicity. The Wrightery was swamped with custom
on the Monday evening following publication, and for the rest of that
week and the succeeding week.
"I never was good at figures," said the transported Barbran to Phil
Stacey at the close of the month, "but as near as I can make out, I've a
clear profit of eight dollars and seventy cents. My fortune is made. And
it's all due to you."
Had the Bonnie Lassie been able to hold her painted retainers in line,
the owner's golden prophecy might have been made good. But they had
other matters on hand for their evenings than sitting about in a dim
cellar gazing cross-eyed at their own scandalous noses. MacLachan was
the first defection. He said that he thought he was going crazy and he
knew he was going blind. The Little Red Doctor was unreliable owing to
the pressure of professional calls. He complained with some justice that
a green nose on a practicing physician tended to impair confidence. Then
Leon Coventry went away, and Boggs discovered (or invented) an important
engagement with a growing family of clothes-moths in a Connecticut
country house. So there remained only the faithful Phil. One swallow
does not make a summer; nor does one youth with a vernal proboscis
convince a skeptical public that it is enjoying the fearful
companionship of a subversive and revolutionary cult. Patronage ebbed
out as fast as it had flooded in. Barbran's eyes were as soft and happy
as ever in the evenings, when she and Phil sat in a less and less
interrupted solitude. But in the mornings palpable fear stalked her.
Phil never saw it. He was preoccupied with a dread of his own.
One evening of howling wind and hammering rain, when all was cosy and
home-like for two in the little firelit Wrightery, she nerved herself up
to facing the facts.
"It's going to be a failure," she said dismally.
"Then you're going away?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from
She set her little chin quite firmly. "Not while there's a chance left
of pulling it out."
"Well; it doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned," he muttered. "I'm
going away myself."
"You?" She sat up very straight and startled. "Where?"
"Oh! What for?"
"Do you remember a fat old grandpa who was here last month and came back
to ask about the decorations?"
"He's built him a new house—he calls it a mansion—and he wants me to
paint the music-room. He likes"—Phil gulped a little—"my style
"Isn't that great!" said Barbran in the voice of one giving three cheers
for a funeral. "How does he want his music-room decorated?"
Young Phil put his head in his hands. "Scenes from Moody and Sankey," he
said in a muffled voice.
"Good gracious! You aren't going to do it?"
"I am," retorted the other gloomily. "It's good money." Almost
immediately he added, "Damn the money!"
"No; no; you mustn't do that. You must go, of course. Would—will it
"I'm not coming back."
"I don't want you not to come back," said Barbran, in a queer,
frightened voice. She put out her hand to him and hastily withdrew it.
He said desperately: "What's the use? I can't sit here forever looking
at you and—and dreaming of—of impossible things, and eating my heart
out with my nose painted green."
"The poor nose!" murmured Barbran.
With one of her home-laundered handkerchiefs dipped in turpentine, she
gently rubbed it clean. It then looked (as she said later in a feeble
attempt to palliate her subsequent conduct) very pink and boyish and
pathetic, but somehow faithful and reliable and altogether lovable.
So she kissed it. Then she tried to run away. The attempt failed.
It was not Barbran's nose that got kissed next. Nor, for that matter,
was it young Phil's. Then he held her off and shut his eyes, for the
untrammeled exercise of his reasoning powers, and again demanded of
Barbran and the fates:
"What's the use?"
"What's the use of what?" returned Barbran tremulously.
"Of all this? Your father's a millionaire, and I won't—I can't—"
"He isn't!" cried Barbran. "And you can—you will."
"He isn't?" ejaculated Phil. "What is he?"
"He's a school-teacher, and I haven't got a thing but debts."
Phil received this untoward news as if a flock of angels, ringing joy
bells, had just brought him the gladdest tidings in history. After an
interlude he said:
"Because," said Barbran, burrowing her nose in his coat: "I thought it
would be an asset. I thought people would consider it romantic and it
would help business. See how much that reporter made of it! Phil!
Wh-wh-why are you treating me like a—a—a—dumbbell?"
For he had thrust her away from him at arm's-length again.
"There's one other thing between us, Barbran."
"If there is, it's your fault. What is it?"
"Harvey Wheelwright," he said solemnly. "Do you really like that
She raised to him eyes in which a righteous hate quivered. "I loathe
him. I've always loathed him. I despise the very ink he writes with and
the paper it's printed on."
When I happened in a few minutes later, they were ritually burning the
"Dear Friend and Admirer" letter in a slow candle-flame, and Harvey
Wheelwright, as represented by his unctuously rolling signature, was
writhing in merited torment. Between them they told me their
"And he's not going to Kansas City," said Barbran defiantly.
"I'm not going anywhere, ever, away from Barbran," said young Phil.
"And he's going to paint what he wants to."
"Pictures of Barbran," said young Phil.
"And we're going to burn the Wheel sign in effigy, and wipe off the
walls and make the place a success," said Barbran.
"And we're going to be married right away," said Phil.
"Next week," said Barbran.
"What do you think?" said both.
Now I know what I ought to have said just as well as MacLachan himself.
I should have pointed out the folly and recklessness of marrying on
twenty-five dollars a week and a dowry of debts. I should have preached
prudence and caution and delay, and have pointed out—The wind blew the
door open: Young Spring was in the park, and the wet odor of little
burgeoning leaves was borne in, wakening unwithered memories in my
"Bless you, my children!" said I.
It was actually for this, as holding out encouragement to their
reckless, feckless plans, that Wisdom, in the person of MacLachan, the
tailor, reprehended me, rather than for my historical intentions
regarding the pair.
"What'll they be marryin' on?" demanded Mac Wisdom—that is to say,
"Spring and youth," I said. "The fragrance of lilac in the air, the glow
of romance in their hearts. What better would you ask?"
"A bit of prudence," said MacLachan.
"Prudence!" I retorted scornfully. "The miser of the virtues. It may pay
its own way through the world. But when did it ever take Happiness along
for a jaunt?"
I was quite pleased with my little epigram until the Scot countered upon
me with his observation about two young fools and an old one.
Oh, well! Likely enough. Most unwise, and rash and inexcusable, that
headlong mating; and there will be a reckoning to pay. Babies, probably,
and new needs and pressing anxieties, and Love will perhaps flutter at
the window when Want shows his grim face at the door; and Wisdom will be
justified of his forebodings, and yet—and yet—who am I, old and lonely
and uncompanioned, yet once touched with the spheral music and the
sacred fire, that I should subscribe to the dour orthodoxies of
MacLachan and that ilk?
Years and years ago a bird flew in at my window, a bird of wonderful and
flashing hues, and of lilting melodies. It came; it tarried—and I let
the chill voice of Prudence overbear its music. It left me. But the song
endures; the song endures, and all life has been the richer for its
echoes. So let them hold and cherish their happiness, the two
As for the old one, would that some good fairy, possessed of the pigment
and secret of perishable youth, might come down and paint his