TALES FROM THE JAZZ AGE
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
A TABLE OF CONTENTS
MY LAST FLAPPERS
This is a Southern story, with the scene laid in the small Lily of
Tarleton, Georgia. I have a profound affection for Tarleton, but
somehow whenever I write a story about it I receive letters from all
over the South denouncing me in no uncertain terms. "The Jelly-Bean,"
published in "The Metropolitan," drew its full share of these
It was written under strange circumstances shortly after my first
novel was published, and, moreover, it was the first story in which I
had a collaborator. For, finding that I was unable to manage the
crap-shooting episode, I turned it over to my wife, who, as a Southern
girl, was presumably an expert on the technique and terminology of
that great sectional pastime.
THE CAMEL'S BACK
I suppose that of all the stories I have ever written this one cost me
the least travail and perhaps gave me the most amusement. As to the
labor involved, it was written during one day in the city of New
Orleans, with the express purpose of buying a platinum and diamond
wrist watch which cost six hundred dollars. I began it at seven in the
morning and finished it at two o'clock the same night. It was
published in the "Saturday Evening Post" in 1920, and later included
in the O. Henry Memorial Collection for the same year. I like it least
of all the stories in this volume.
My amusement was derived from the fact that the camel part of the
story is literally true; in fact, I have a standing engagement with
the gentleman involved to attend the next fancy-dress party to which
we are mutually invited, attired as the latter part of the camel—this
as a sort of atonement for being his historian.
This somewhat unpleasant tale, published as a novelette in the "Smart
Set" in July, 1920, relates a series of events which took place in the
spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great
impression upon me. In life they were unrelated, except by the general
hysteria of that spring which inaugurated the Age of Jazz, but in my
story I have tried, unsuccessfully I fear, to weave them into a
pattern—a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New
York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the
PORCELAIN AND PINK.
"And do you write for any other magazines?" inquired the young lady.
"Oh, yes," I assured her. "I've had some stories and plays in the
'Smart Set,' for instance——"
The young lady shivered.
"The 'Smart Set'!" she exclaimed. "How can you? Why, they publish
stuff about girls in blue bathtubs, and silly things like that."
And I had the magnificent joy of telling her that she was referring to
"Porcelain and Pink," which had appeared there several months before.
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ.
These next stories are written in what, were I of imposing stature, I
should call my "second manner." "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,"
which appeared last summer in the "Smart Set," was designed utterly
for my own amusement. I was in that familiar mood characterized by a
perfect craving for luxury, and the story began as an attempt to feed
that craving on imaginary foods.
One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza
better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer "The Offshore
Pirate." But, to tamper slightly with Lincoln: If you like this sort
of thing, this, possibly, is the sort of thing you'll like.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.
This story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain's to the effect that
it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the
worst part at the end. By trying the experiment upon only one man in a
perfectly normal world I have scarcely given his idea a fair trial.
Several weeks after completing it, I discovered an almost identical
plot in Samuel Butler's "Note-books."
The story was published in "Collier's" last summer and provoked this
startling letter from an anonymous admirer in Cincinnati:
I have read the story Benjamin Button in Colliers and I wish to say
that as a short story writer you would make a good lunatic I have seen
many peices of cheese in my life but of all the peices of cheese I
have ever seen you are the biggest peice. I hate to waste a peice of
stationary on you but I will."
TARQUIN OF CHEAPSIDE.
Written almost six years ago, this story is a product of undergraduate
days at Princeton. Considerably revised, it was published in the
"Smart Set" in 1921. At the time of its conception I had but one
idea—to be a poet—and the fact that I was interested in the ring of
every phrase, that I dreaded the obvious in prose if not in plot,
shows throughout. Probably the peculiar affection I feel for it
depends more upon its age than upon any intrinsic merit.
"O RUSSET WITCH!"
When this was written I had just completed the first draft of my
second novel, and a natural reaction made me revel in a story wherein
none of the characters need be taken seriously. And I'm afraid that I
was somewhat carried away by the feeling that there was no ordered
scheme to which I must conform. After due consideration, however, I
have decided to let it stand as it is, although the reader may find
himself somewhat puzzled at the time element. I had best say that
however the years may have dealt with Merlin Grainger, I myself was
thinking always in the present. It was published in the
THE LEES OF HAPPINESS.
Of this story I can say that it came to me in an irresistible form,
crying to be written. It will be accused perhaps of being a mere piece
of sentimentality, but, as I saw it, it was a great deal more. If,
therefore, it lacks the ring of sincerity, or even, of tragedy, the
fault rests not with the theme but with my handling of it.
It appeared in the "Chicago Tribune," and later obtained, I believe,
the quadruple gold laurel leaf or some such encomium from one of the
anthologists who at present swarm among us. The gentleman I refer to
runs as a rule to stark melodramas with a volcano or the ghost of John
Paul Jones in the role of Nemesis, melodramas carefully disguised by
early paragraphs in Jamesian manner which hint dark and subtle
complexities to follow. On this order:
"The case of Shaw McPhee, curiously enough, had no hearing on the
almost incredible attitude of Martin Sulo. This is parenthetical and,
to at least three observers, whose names for the present I must
conceal, it seems improbable, etc., etc., etc.," until the poor rat of
fiction is at last forced out into the open and the melodrama begins.
This has the distinction of being the only magazine piece ever written
in a New York hotel. The business was done in a bedroom in the
Knickerbocker, and shortly afterward that memorable hostelry closed
its doors forever.
When a fitting period of mourning had elapsed it was published in the
Written, like "Tarquin of Cheapside," while I was at Princeton, this
sketch was published years later in "Vanity Fair." For its technique I
must apologize to Mr. Stephen Leacock.
I have laughed over it a great deal, especially when I first wrote it,
but I can laugh over it no longer. Still, as other people tell me it
is amusing, I include it here. It seems to me worth preserving a few
years—at least until the ennui of changing fashions suppresses me, my
books, and it together.
With due apologies for this impossible Table of Contents, I tender
these tales of the Jazz Age into the hands of those who read as they
run and run as they read.
MY LAST FLAPPERS
Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean. Much as I desire to make him an appealing
character, I feel that it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that
point. He was a bred-in-the-bone, dyed-in-the-wool, ninety-nine
three-quarters per cent Jelly-bean and he grew lazily all during
Jelly-bean season, which is every season, down in the land of the
Jelly-beans well below the Mason-Dixon line.
Now if you call a Memphis man a Jelly-bean he will quite possibly pull
a long sinewy rope from his hip pocket and hang you to a convenient
telegraph-pole. If you Call a New Orleans man a Jelly-bean he will
probably grin and ask you who is taking your girl to the Mardi Gras
ball. The particular Jelly-bean patch which produced the protagonist
of this history lies somewhere between the two—a little city of forty
thousand that has dozed sleepily for forty thousand years in southern
Georgia occasionally stirring in its slumbers and muttering something
about a war that took place sometime, somewhere, and that everyone
else has forgotten long ago.
Jim was a Jelly-bean. I write that again because it has such a
pleasant sound—rather like the beginning of a fairy story—as if Jim
were nice. It somehow gives me a picture of him with a round,
appetizing face and all sort of leaves and vegetables growing out of
his cap. But Jim was long and thin and bent at the waist from stooping
over pool-tables, and he was what might have been known in the
indiscriminating North as a corner loafer. "Jelly-bean" is the name
throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life
conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular—I am
idling, I have idled, I will idle.
Jim was born in a white house on a green corner, It had four
weather-beaten pillars in front and a great amount of lattice-work in
the rear that made a cheerful criss-cross background for a flowery
sun-drenched lawn. Originally the dwellers in the white house had
owned the ground next door and next door to that and next door to
that, but this had been so long ago that even Jim's father, scarcely
remembered it. He had, in fact, thought it a matter of so little
moment that when he was dying from a pistol wound got in a brawl he
neglected even to tell little Jim, who was five years old and
miserably frightened. The white house became a boarding-house run by a
tight-lipped lady from Macon, whom Jim called Aunt Mamie and detested
with all his soul.
He became fifteen, went to high school, wore his hair in black snarls,
and was afraid of girls. He hated his home where four women and one
old man prolonged an interminable chatter from summer to summer about
what lots the Powell place had originally included and what sorts of
flowers would be out next. Sometimes the parents of little girls in
town, remembering Jim's mother and fancying a resemblance in the dark
eyes and hair, invited him to parties, but parties made him shy and he
much preferred sitting on a disconnected axle in Tilly's Garage,
rolling the bones or exploring his mouth endlessly with a long straw.
For pocket money, he picked up odd jobs, and it was due to this that
he stopped going to parties. At his third party little Marjorie Haight
had whispered indiscreetly and within hearing distance that he was a
boy who brought the groceries sometimes. So instead of the two-step
and polka, Jim had learned to throw, any number he desired on the dice
and had listened to spicy tales of all the shootings that had occurred
in the surrounding country during the past fifty years.
He became eighteen. The war broke out and he enlisted as a gob and
polished brass in the Charleston Navy-yard for a year. Then, by way of
variety, he went North and polished brass in the Brooklyn Navy-yard
for a year.
When the war was over he came home, He was twenty-one, has trousers
were too short and too tight. His buttoned shoes were long and narrow.
His tie was an alarming conspiracy of purple and pink marvellously
scrolled, and over it were two blue eyes faded like a piece of very
good old cloth, long exposed to the sun.
In the twilight of one April evening when a soft gray had drifted down
along the cottonfields and over the sultry town, he was a vague figure
leaning against a board fence, whistling and gazing at the moon's rim
above the lights of Jackson Street. His mind was working persistently
on a problem that had held his attention for an hour. The Jelly-bean had
been invited to a party.
Back in the days when all the boys had detested all the girls, Clark
Darrow and Jim had sat side by side in school. But, while Jim's social
aspirations had died in the oily air of the garage, Clark had
alternately fallen in and out of love, gone to college, taken to
drink, given it up, and, in short, become one of the best beaux of the
town. Nevertheless Clark and Jim had retained a friendship that,
though casual, was perfectly definite. That afternoon Clark's ancient
Ford had slowed up beside Jim, who was on the sidewalk and, out of a
clear sky, Clark invited him to a party at the country club. The
impulse that made him do this was no stranger than the impulse which
made Jim accept. The latter was probably an unconscious ennui, a
half-frightened sense of adventure. And now Jim was soberly thinking
He began to sing, drumming his long foot idly on a stone block in the
sidewalk till it wobbled up and down in time to the low throaty tune:
"One smile from Home in Jelly-bean town,
Lives Jeanne, the Jelly-bean Queen.
She loves her dice and treats 'em nice;
No dice would treat her mean."
He broke off and agitated the sidewalk to a bumpy gallop.
"Daggone!" he muttered, half aloud. They would all be there—the old
crowd, the crowd to which, by right of the white house, sold long
since, and the portrait of the officer in gray over the mantel, Jim
should have belonged. But that crowd had grown up together into a
tight little set as gradually as the girls' dresses had lengthened
inch by inch, as definitely as the boys' trousers had dropped suddenly
to their ankles. And to that society of first names and dead puppy
loves Jim was an outsider—a running mate of poor whites. Most of the
men knew him, condescendingly; he tipped his hat to three or four
girls. That was all.
When the dusk had thickened into a blue setting for the moon, he
walked through the hot, pleasantly pungent town to Jackson Street. The
stores were closing and the last shoppers were drifting homeward, as
if borne on the dreamy revolution of a slow merry-go-round. A
street-fair farther down a brilliant alley of varicolored booths and
contributed a blend of music to the night—an oriental dance on a
calliope, a melancholy bugle in front of a freak show, a cheerful
rendition of "Back Home in Tennessee" on a hand-organ.
The Jelly-bean stopped in a store and bought a collar. Then he
sauntered along toward Soda Sam's, where he found the usual three or
four cars of a summer evening parked in front and the little darkies
running back and forth with sundaes and lemonades.
It was a voice at his elbow—Joe Ewing sitting in an automobile with
Marylyn Wade. Nancy Lamar and a strange man were in the back seat.
The Jelly-bean tipped his hat quickly.
"Hi Ben—" then, after an almost imperceptible pause—"How y' all?"
Passing, he ambled on toward the garage where he had a room up-stairs.
His "How y'all" had been said to Nancy Lamar, to whom he had not
spoken in fifteen years.
Nancy had a mouth like a remembered kiss and shadowy eyes and
blue-black hair inherited from her mother who had been born in
Budapest. Jim passed her often on the street, walking small-boy
fashion with her hands in her pockets and he knew that with her
inseparable Sally Carrol Hopper she had left a trail of broken hearts
from Atlanta to New Orleans.
For a few fleeting moments Jim wished he could dance. Then he laughed
and as he reached his door began to sing softly to himself:
"Her Jelly Roll can twist your soul,
Her eyes are big and brown,
She's the Queen of the Queens of the Jelly-beans—
My Jeanne of Jelly-bean Town."
At nine-thirty, Jim and Clark met in front of Soda Sam's and started
for the Country Club in Clark's Ford. "Jim," asked Clark casually, as
they rattled through the jasmine-scented night, "how do you keep
The Jelly-bean paused, considered.
"Well," he said finally, "I got a room over Tilly's garage. I help him
some with the cars in the afternoon an' he gives it to me free.
Sometimes I drive one of his taxies and pick up a little thataway. I
get fed up doin' that regular though."
"Well, when there's a lot of work I help him by the day—Saturdays
usually—and then there's one main source of revenue I don't generally
mention. Maybe you don't recollect I'm about the champion crap-shooter
of this town. They make me shoot from a cup now because once I get the
feel of a pair of dice they just roll for me."
Clark grinned appreciatively,
"I never could learn to set 'em so's they'd do what I wanted. Wish
you'd shoot with Nancy Lamar some day and take all her money away from
her. She will roll 'em with the boys and she loses more than her daddy
can afford to give her. I happen to know she sold a good ring last
month to pay a debt."
The Jelly-bean was noncommittal.
"The white house on Elm Street still belong to you?"
Jim shook his head.
"Sold. Got a pretty good price, seein' it wasn't in a good part of
town no more. Lawyer told me to put it into Liberty bonds. But Aunt
Mamie got so she didn't have no sense, so it takes all the interest to
keep her up at Great Farms Sanitarium.
"I got an old uncle up-state an' I reckin I kin go up there if ever I
get sure enough pore. Nice farm, but not enough niggers around to work
it. He's asked me to come up and help him, but I don't guess I'd take
much to it. Too doggone lonesome—" He broke off suddenly. "Clark, I
want to tell you I'm much obliged to you for askin' me out, but I'd be
a lot happier if you'd just stop the car right here an' let me walk
back into town."
"Shucks!" Clark grunted. "Do you good to step out. You don't have to
dance—just get out there on the floor and shake."
"Hold on," exclaimed. Jim uneasily, "Don't you go leadin' me up to any
girls and leavin' me there so I'll have to dance with 'em."
"'Cause," continued Jim desperately, "without you swear you won't do
that I'm agoin' to get out right here an' my good legs goin' carry me
back to Jackson street."
They agreed after some argument that Jim, unmolested by females, was
to view the spectacle from a secluded settee in the corner where Clark
would join him whenever he wasn't dancing.
So ten o'clock found the Jelly-bean with his legs crossed and his arms
conservatively folded, trying to look casually at home and politely
uninterested in the dancers. At heart he was torn between overwhelming
self-consciousness and an intense curiosity as to all that went on
around him. He saw the girls emerge one by one from the dressing-room,
stretching and pluming themselves like bright birds, smiling over
their powdered shoulders at the chaperones, casting a quick glance
around to take in the room and, simultaneously, the room's reaction to
their entrance—and then, again like birds, alighting and nestling in
the sober arms of their waiting escorts. Sally Carrol Hopper, blonde
and lazy-eyed, appeared clad in her favorite pink and blinking like an
awakened rose. Marjorie Haight, Marylyn Wade, Harriet Cary, all the
girls he had seen loitering down Jackson Street by noon, now, curled
and brilliantined and delicately tinted for the overhead lights, were
miraculously strange Dresden figures of pink and blue and red and
gold, fresh from the shop and not yet fully dried.
He had been there half an hour, totally uncheered by Clark's jovial
visits which were each one accompanied by a "Hello, old boy, how you
making out?" and a slap at his knee. A dozen males had spoken to him
or stopped for a moment beside him, but he knew that they were each
one surprised at finding him there and fancied that one or two were
even slightly resentful. But at half past ten his embarrassment
suddenly left him and a pull of breathless interest took him
completely out of himself—Nancy Lamar had come out of the
She was dressed in yellow organdie, a costume of a hundred cool
corners, with three tiers of ruffles and a big bow in back until she
shed black and yellow around her in a sort of phosphorescent lustre.
The Jelly-bean's eyes opened wide and a lump arose in his throat. For
she stood beside the door until her partner hurried up. Jim recognized
him as the stranger who had been with her in Joe Ewing's car that
afternoon. He saw her set her arms akimbo and say something in a low
voice, and laugh. The man laughed too and Jim experienced the quick
pang of a weird new kind of pain. Some ray had passed between the
pair, a shaft of beauty from that sun that had warmed him a moment
since. The Jelly-bean felt suddenly like a weed in a shadow.
A minute later Clark approached him, bright-eyed and glowing.
"Hi, old man" he cried with some lack of originality. "How you making
Jim replied that he was making out as well as could be expected.
"You come along with me," commanded Clark. "I've got something that'll
put an edge on the evening."
Jim followed him awkwardly across the floor and up the stairs to the
locker-room where Clark produced a flask of nameless yellow liquid.
"Good old corn."
Ginger ale arrived on a tray. Such potent nectar as "good old corn"
needed some disguise beyond seltzer.
"Say, boy," exclaimed Clark breathlessly, "doesn't Nancy Lamar look
"Mighty beautiful," he agreed.
"She's all dolled up to a fare-you-well to-night," continued Clark.
"Notice that fellow she's with?"
"Big fella? White pants?"
"Yeah. Well, that's Ogden Merritt from Savannah. Old man Merritt makes
the Merritt safety razors. This fella's crazy about her. Been chasing,
after her all year.
"She's a wild baby," continued Clark, "but I like her. So does
everybody. But she sure does do crazy stunts. She usually gets out
alive, but she's got scars all over her reputation from one thing or
another she's done."
"That so?" Jim passed over his glass. "That's good corn."
"Not so bad. Oh, she's a wild one. Shoot craps, say, boy! And she do
like her high-balls. Promised I'd give her one later on."
"She in love with this—Merritt?"
"Damned if I know. Seems like all the best girls around here marry
fellas and go off somewhere."
He poured himself one more drink and carefully corked the bottle.
"Listen, Jim, I got to go dance and I'd be much obliged if you just
stick this corn right on your hip as long as you're not dancing. If a
man notices I've had a drink he'll come up and ask me and before I
know it it's all gone and somebody else is having my good time."
So Nancy Lamar was going to marry. This toast of a town was to become
the private property of an individual in white trousers—and all
because white trousers' father had made a better razor than his
neighbor. As they descended the stairs Jim found the idea inexplicably
depressing. For the first time in his life he felt a vague and
romantic yearning. A picture of her began to form in his
imagination—Nancy walking boylike and debonnaire along the street,
taking an orange as tithe from a worshipful fruit-dealer, charging a
dope on a mythical account, at Soda Sam's, assembling a convoy of
beaux and then driving off in triumphal state for an afternoon of
splashing and singing.
The Jelly-bean walked out on the porch to a deserted corner, dark
between the moon on the lawn and the single lighted door of the
ballroom. There he found a chair and, lighting a cigarette, drifted
into the thoughtless reverie that was his usual mood. Yet now it was a
reverie made sensuous by the night and by the hot smell of damp powder
puffs, tucked in the fronts of low dresses and distilling a thousand
rich scents, to float out through the open door. The music itself,
blurred by a loud trombone, became hot and shadowy, a languorous
overtone to the scraping of many shoes and slippers.
Suddenly the square of yellow light that fell through the door was
obscured by a dark figure. A girl had come out of the dressing-room
and was standing on the porch not more than ten feet away. Jim heard a
low-breathed "doggone" and then she turned and saw him. It was Nancy
Jim rose to his feet.
"Hello—" she paused, hesitated and then approached. "Oh, it's—Jim
He bowed slightly, tried to think of a casual remark.
"Do you suppose," she began quickly, "I mean—do you know anything
"What?" "I've got gum on my shoe. Some utter ass left his or her gum
on the floor and of course I stepped in it."
Jim blushed, inappropriately.
"Do you know how to get it off?" she demanded petulantly. "I've tried
a knife. I've tried every damn thing in the dressing-room. I've tried
soap and water—and even perfume and I've ruined my powder-puff trying
to make it stick to that."
Jim considered the question in some agitation.
"Why—I think maybe gasolene—"
The words had scarcely left his lips when she grasped his hand and
pulled him at a run off the low veranda, over a flower bed and at a
gallop toward a group of cars parked in the moonlight by the first
hole of the golf course.
"Turn on the gasolene," she commanded breathlessly.
"For the gum of course. I've got to get it off. I can't dance with gum
Obediently Jim turned to the cars and began inspecting them with a
view to obtaining the desired solvent. Had she demanded a cylinder he
would have done his best to wrench one out.
"Here," he said after a moment's search. "'Here's one that's easy. Got
"It's up-stairs wet. I used it for the soap and water."
Jim laboriously explored his pockets.
"Don't believe I got one either."
"Doggone it! Well, we can turn it on and let it run on the ground."
He turned the spout; a dripping began.
He turned it on fuller. The dripping became a flow and formed an oily
pool that glistened brightly, reflecting a dozen tremulous moons on
its quivering bosom.
"Ah," she sighed contentedly, "let it all out. The only thing to do is
to wade in it."
In desperation he turned on the tap full and the pool suddenly widened
sending tiny rivers and trickles in all directions.
"That's fine. That's something like."
Raising her skirts she stepped gracefully in.
"I know this'll take it off," she murmured.
"There's lots more cars."
She stepped daintily out of the gasolene and began scraping her
slippers, side and bottom, on the running-board of the automobile. The
jelly-bean contained himself no longer. He bent double with explosive
laughter and after a second she joined in.
"You're here with Clark Darrow, aren't you?" she asked as they walked
back toward the veranda.
"You know where he is now?"
"Out dancin', I reckin."
"The deuce. He promised me a highball."
"Well," said Jim, "I guess that'll be all right. I got his bottle right
here in my pocket."
She smiled at him radiantly.
"I guess maybe you'll need ginger ale though," he added.
"Not me. Just the bottle."
She laughed scornfully.
"Try me. I can drink anything any man can. Let's sit down."
She perched herself on the side of a table and he dropped into one of
the wicker chairs beside her. Taking out the cork she held the flask
to her lips and took a long drink. He watched her fascinated.
She shook her head breathlessly.
"No, but I like the way it makes me feel. I think most people are that
"My daddy liked it too well. It got him."
"American men," said Nancy gravely, "don't know how to drink."
"What?" Jim was startled.
"In fact," she went on carelessly, "they don't know how to do anything
very well. The one thing I regret in my life is that I wasn't born in
"Yes. It's the one regret of my life that I wasn't."
"Do you like it over there?" "Yes. Immensely. I've never been there in
person, but I've met a lot of Englishmen who were over here in the
army, Oxford and Cambridge men—you know, that's like Sewanee and
University of Georgia are here—and of course I've read a lot of
Jim was interested, amazed.
"D' you ever hear of Lady Diana Manner?" she asked earnestly.
No, Jim had not.
"Well, she's what I'd like to be. Dark, you know, like me, and wild as
sin. She's the girl who rode her horse up the steps of some cathedral
or church or something and all the novelists made their heroines do it
Jim nodded politely. He was out of his depths.
"Pass the bottle," suggested Nancy. "I'm going to take another little
one. A little drink wouldn't hurt a baby.
"You see," she continued, again breathless after a draught. "People
over there have style, Nobody has style here. I mean the boys here
aren't really worth dressing up for or doing sensational things for.
Don't you know?"
"I suppose so—I mean I suppose not," murmured Jim.
"And I'd like to do 'em an' all. I'm really the only girl in town that
She stretched, out her arms and yawned pleasantly.
"Sure is," agreed Jim.
"Like to have boat" she suggested dreamily. "Like to sail out on a
silver lake, say the Thames, for instance. Have champagne and caviare
sandwiches along. Have about eight people. And one of the men would
jump overboard to amuse the party, and get drowned like a man did with
Lady Diana Manners once."
"Did he do it to please her?"
"Didn't mean drown himself to please
her. He just meant to jump overboard and make everybody laugh."
"I reckin they just died laughin' when he drowned."
"Oh, I suppose they laughed a little," she admitted. "I imagine she
did, anyway. She's pretty hard, I guess—like I am."
"Like nails." She yawned again and added, "Give me a little more from
Jim hesitated but she held out her hand defiantly, "Don't treat me
like a girl;" she warned him. "I'm not like any girl you ever
saw," She considered. "Still, perhaps you're right. You got—you got
old head on young shoulders."
She jumped to her feet and moved toward the door. The Jelly-bean rose
"Good-bye," she said politely, "good-bye. Thanks, Jelly-bean."
Then she stepped inside and left him wide-eyed upon the porch.
At twelve o'clock a procession of cloaks issued single file from the
women's dressing-room and, each one pairing with a coated beau like
dancers meeting in a cotillion figure, drifted through the door with
sleepy happy laughter—through the door into the dark where autos
backed and snorted and parties called to one another and gathered
around the water-cooler.
Jim, sitting in his corner, rose to look for Clark. They had met at
eleven; then Clark had gone in to dance. So, seeking him, Jim wandered
into the soft-drink stand that had once been a bar. The room was
deserted except for a sleepy negro dozing behind the counter and two
boys lazily fingering a pair of dice at one of the tables. Jim was
about to leave when he saw Clark coming in. At the same moment Clark
"Hi, Jim" he commanded. "C'mon over and help us with this bottle. I
guess there's not much left, but there's one all around."
Nancy, the man from Savannah, Marylyn Wade, and Joe Ewing were lolling
and laughing in the doorway. Nancy caught Jim's eye and winked at him
They drifted over to a table and arranging themselves around it waited
for the waiter to bring ginger ale. Jim, faintly ill at ease, turned
his eyes on Nancy, who had drifted into a nickel crap game with the
two boys at the next table.
"Bring them over here," suggested Clark.
Joe looked around.
"We don't want to draw a crowd. It's against club rules.
"Nobody's around," insisted Clark, "except Mr. Taylor. He's walking up
and down, like a wild-man trying find out who let all the gasolene out
of his car."
There was a general laugh.
"I bet a million Nancy got something on her shoe again. You can't park
when she's around."
"O Nancy, Mr. Taylor's looking for you!"
Nancy's cheeks were glowing with excitement over the game. "I haven't
seen his silly little flivver in two weeks."
Jim felt a sudden silence. He turned and saw an individual of
uncertain age standing in the doorway.
Clark's voice punctuated the embarrassment.
"Won't you join us Mr. Taylor?"
Mr. Taylor spread his unwelcome presence over a chair. "Have to, I
guess. I'm waiting till they dig me up some gasolene. Somebody got
funny with my car."
His eyes narrowed and he looked quickly from one to the other. Jim
wondered what he had heard from the doorway—tried to remember what
had been said.
"I'm right to-night," Nancy sang out, "and my four bits is in the
"Faded!" snapped Taylor suddenly.
"Why, Mr. Taylor, I didn't know you shot craps!" Nancy was overjoyed
to find that he had seated himself and instantly covered her bet. They
had openly disliked each other since the night she had definitely
discouraged a series of rather pointed advances.
"All right, babies, do it for your mamma. Just one little seven."
Nancy was cooing to the dice. She rattled them with a brave
underhand flourish, and rolled them out on the table.
"Ah-h! I suspected it. And now again with the dollar up."
Five passes to her credit found Taylor a bad loser. She was making it
personal, and after each success Jim watched triumph flutter across
her face. She was doubling with each throw—such luck could scarcely
last. "Better go easy," he cautioned her timidly.
"Ah, but watch this one," she whispered. It was eight on the dice and
she called her number.
"Little Ada, this time we're going South."
Ada from Decatur rolled over the table. Nancy was flushed and
half-hysterical, but her luck was holding.
She drove the pot up and up, refusing to drag. Taylor was drumming
with his fingers on the table but he was in to stay.
Then Nancy tried for a ten and lost the dice. Taylor seized them
avidly. He shot in silence, and in the hush of excitement the clatter
of one pass after another on the table was the only sound.
Now Nancy had the dice again, but her luck had broken. An hour passed.
Back and forth it went. Taylor had been at it again—and again and
again. They were even at last—Nancy lost her ultimate five dollars.
"Will you take my check," she said quickly, "for fifty, and we'll
shoot it all?" Her voice was a little unsteady and her hand shook as
she reached to the money.
Clark exchanged an uncertain but alarmed glance with Joe Ewing. Taylor
shot again. He had Nancy's check.
"How 'bout another?" she said wildly. "Jes' any bank'll do—money
everywhere as a matter of fact."
Jim understood—the "good old corn" he had given her—the "good old
corn" she had taken since. He wished he dared interfere—a girl of
that age and position would hardly have two bank accounts. When the
clock struck two he contained himself no longer.
"May I—can't you let me roll 'em for you?" he suggested, his low,
lazy voice a little strained.
Suddenly sleepy and listless, Nancy flung the dice down before him.
"All right—old boy! As Lady Diana Manners says, 'Shoot 'em,
Jelly-bean'—My luck's gone."
"Mr. Taylor," said Jim, carelessly, "we'll shoot for one of those
there checks against the cash."
Half an hour later Nancy swayed forward and clapped him on the back.
"Stole my luck, you did." She was nodding her head sagely.
Jim swept up the last check and putting it with the others tore them
into confetti and scattered them on the floor. Someone started singing
and Nancy kicking her chair backward rose to her feet.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "Ladies—that's you Marylyn. I
want to tell the world that Mr. Jim Powell, who is a well-known
Jelly-bean of this city, is an exception to the great rule—'lucky in
dice—unlucky in love.' He's lucky in dice, and as matter of fact I—I
love him. Ladies and gentlemen, Nancy Lamar, famous dark-haired
beauty often featured in the Herald as one the most popular
members of younger set as other girls are often featured in this
particular case; Wish to announce—wish to announce, anyway,
Gentlemen—" She tipped suddenly. Clark caught her and restored her
"My error," she laughed, "she—stoops to—stoops to—anyways—We'll
drink to Jelly-bean … Mr. Jim Powell, King of the Jelly-beans."
And a few minutes later as Jim waited hat in hand for Clark in the
darkness of that same corner of the porch where she had come searching
for gasolene, she appeared suddenly beside him.
"Jelly-bean," she said, "are you here, Jelly-bean? I think—" and her
slight unsteadiness seemed part of an enchanted dream—"I think you
deserve one of my sweetest kisses for that, Jelly-bean."
For an instant her arms were around his neck—her lips were pressed to
"I'm a wild part of the world, Jelly-bean, but you did me a good
Then she was gone, down the porch, over the cricket-loud lawn. Jim saw
Merritt come out the front door and say something to her angrily—saw
her laugh and, turning away, walk with averted eyes to his car.
Marylyn and Joe followed, singing a drowsy song about a Jazz baby.
Clark came out and joined Jim on the steps. "All pretty lit, I guess,"
he yawned. "Merritt's in a mean mood. He's certainly off Nancy."
Over east along the golf course a faint rug of gray spread itself
across the feet of the night. The party in the car began to chant a
chorus as the engine warmed up.
"Good-night everybody," called Clark.
There was a pause, and then a soft, happy voice added,
The car drove off to a burst of singing. A rooster on a farm across
the way took up a solitary mournful crow, and behind them, a last
negro waiter turned out the porch light, Jim and Clark strolled over
toward the Ford, their shoes crunching raucously on the gravel drive.
"Oh boy!" sighed Clark softly, "how you can set those dice!"
It was still too dark for him to see the flush on Jim's thin
cheeks—or to know that it was a flush of unfamiliar shame.
Over Tilly's garage a bleak room echoed all day to the rumble and
snorting down-stairs and the singing of the negro washers as they
turned the hose on the cars outside. It was a cheerless square of a
room, punctuated with a bed and a battered table on which lay half a
dozen books—Joe Miller's "Slow Train thru Arkansas," "Lucille," in an
old edition very much annotated in an old-fashioned hand; "The Eyes of
the World," by Harold Bell Wright, and an ancient prayer-book of the
Church of England with the name Alice Powell and the date 1831 written
on the fly-leaf.
The East, gray when Jelly-bean entered the garage, became a rich and
vivid blue as he turned on his solitary electric light. He snapped it
out again, and going to the window rested his elbows on the sill and
stared into the deepening morning. With the awakening of his emotions,
his first perception was a sense of futility, a dull ache at the utter
grayness of his life. A wall had sprung up suddenly around him hedging
him in, a wall as definite and tangible as the white wall of his bare
room. And with his perception of this wall all that had been the
romance of his existence, the casualness, the light-hearted
improvidence, the miraculous open-handedness of life faded out. The
Jelly-bean strolling up Jackson Street humming a lazy song, known at
every shop and street stand, cropful of easy greeting and local wit,
sad sometimes for only the sake of sadness and the flight of
time—that Jelly-bean was suddenly vanished. The very name was a
reproach, a triviality. With a flood of insight he knew that Merritt
must despise him, that even Nancy's kiss in the dawn would have
awakened not jealousy but only a contempt for Nancy's so lowering
herself. And on his part the Jelly-bean had used for her a dingy
subterfuge learned from the garage. He had been her moral laundry; the
stains were his.
As the gray became blue, brightened and filled the room, he crossed to
his bed and threw himself down on it, gripping the edges fiercely.
"I love her," he cried aloud, "God!"
As he said this something gave way within him like a lump melting in
his throat. The air cleared and became radiant with dawn, and turning
over on his face he began to sob dully into the pillow.
In the sunshine of three o'clock Clark Darrow chugging painfully along
Jackson Street was hailed by the Jelly-bean, who stood on the curb
with his fingers in his vest pockets.
"Hi!" called Clark, bringing his Ford to an astonishing stop
alongside. "Just get up?"
The Jelly-bean shook his head.
"Never did go to bed. Felt sorta restless, so I took a long walk this
morning out in the country. Just got into town this minute."
"Should think you would feel restless. I been feeling thataway
"I'm thinkin' of leavin' town" continued the Jelly-bean, absorbed by
his own thoughts. "Been thinkin' of goin' up on the farm, and takin' a
little that work off Uncle Dun. Reckin I been bummin' too long."
Clark was silent and the Jelly-bean continued:
"I reckin maybe after Aunt Mamie dies I could sink that money of mine
in the farm and make somethin' out of it. All my people originally
came from that part up there. Had a big place."
Clark looked at him curiously.
"That's funny," he said. "This—this sort of affected me the same
The Jelly-bean hesitated.
"I don't know," he began slowly, "somethin' about—about that girl
last night talkin' about a lady named Diana Manners—an English lady,
sorta got me thinkin'!" He drew himself up and looked oddly at Clark,
"I had a family once," he said defiantly.
"And I'm the last of 'em," continued the Jelly-bean his voice rising
slightly, "and I ain't worth shucks. Name they call me by means
jelly—weak and wobbly like. People who weren't nothin' when my folks
was a lot turn up their noses when they pass me on the street."
Again Clark was silent.
"So I'm through, I'm goin' to-day. And when I come back to this town
it's going to be like a gentleman."
Clark took out his handkerchief and wiped his damp brow.
"Reckon you're not the only one it shook up," he admitted gloomily.
"All this thing of girls going round like they do is going to stop
right quick. Too bad, too, but everybody'll have to see it thataway."
"Do you mean," demanded Jim in surprise, "that all that's leaked out?"
"Leaked out? How on earth could they keep it secret. It'll be
announced in the papers to-night. Doctor Lamar's got to save his name
Jim put his hands on the sides of the car and tightened his long
fingers on the metal.
"Do you mean Taylor investigated those checks?"
It was Clark's turn to be surprised.
"Haven't you heard what happened?"
Jim's startled eyes were answer enough.
"Why," announced Clark dramatically, "those four got another bottle of
corn, got tight and decided to shock the town—so Nancy and that fella
Merritt were married in Rockville at seven o'clock this morning."
A tiny indentation appeared in the metal under the Jelly-bean's
"Sure enough. Nancy sobered up and rushed back into town, crying and
frightened to death—claimed it'd all been a mistake. First Doctor
Lamar went wild and was going to kill Merritt, but finally they got it
patched up some way, and Nancy and Merritt went to Savannah on the
Jim closed his eyes and with an effort overcame a sudden sickness.
"It's too bad," said Clark philosophically. "I don't mean the
wedding—reckon that's all right, though I don't guess Nancy cared a
darn about him. But it's a crime for a nice girl like that to hurt her
family that way."
The Jelly-bean let go the car and turned away. Again something was
going on inside him, some inexplicable but almost chemical change.
"Where you going?" asked Clark.
The Jelly-bean turned and looked dully back over his shoulder.
"Got to go," he muttered. "Been up too long; feelin' right sick."
* * * * *
The street was hot at three and hotter still at four, the April dust
seeming to enmesh the sun and give it forth again as a world-old joke
forever played on an eternity of afternoons. But at half past four a
first layer of quiet fell and the shades lengthened under the awnings
and heavy foliaged trees. In this heat nothing mattered. All life was
weather, a waiting through the hot where events had no significance
for the cool that was soft and caressing like a woman's hand on a
tired forehead. Down in Georgia there is a feeling—perhaps
inarticulate—that this is the greatest wisdom of the South—so after
a while the Jelly-bean turned into a poolhall on Jackson Street where
he was sure to find a congenial crowd who would make all the old
jokes—the ones he knew.
THE CAMEL'S BACK
The glazed eye of the tired reader resting for a second on the above
title will presume it to be merely metaphorical. Stories about the cup
and the lip and the bad penny and the new broom rarely have anything,
to do with cups or lips or pennies or brooms. This story Is the
exception. It has to do with a material, visible and large-as-life
Starting from the neck we shall work toward the tail. I want you to
meet Mr. Perry Parkhurst, twenty-eight, lawyer, native of Toledo.
Perry has nice teeth, a Harvard diploma, parts his hair in the middle.
You have met him before—in Cleveland, Portland, St. Paul,
Indianapolis, Kansas City, and so forth. Baker Brothers, New York,
pause on their semi-annual trip through the West to clothe him;
Montmorency & Co. dispatch a young man post-haste every three months
to see that he has the correct number of little punctures on his
shoes. He has a domestic roadster now, will have a French roadster if
he lives long enough, and doubtless a Chinese tank if it comes into
fashion. He looks like the advertisement of the young man rubbing his
sunset-colored chest with liniment and goes East every other year to
his class reunion.
I want you to meet his Love. Her name is Betty Medill, and she would
take well in the movies. Her father gives her three hundred a month to
dress on, and she has tawny eyes and hair and feather fans of five
colors. I shall also introduce her father, Cyrus Medill. Though he is
to all appearances flesh and blood, he is, strange to say, commonly
known in Toledo as the Aluminum Man. But when he sits in his club
window with two or three Iron Men, and the White Pine Man, and the
Brass Man, they look very much as you and I do, only more so, if you
know what I mean.
Now during the Christmas holidays of 1919 there took place in Toledo,
counting only the people with the italicized the, forty-one
dinner parties, sixteen dances, six luncheons, male and female, twelve
teas, four stag dinners, two weddings, and thirteen bridge parties. It
was the cumulative effect of all this that moved Perry Parkhurst on
the twenty-ninth day of December to a decision.
This Medill girl would marry him and she wouldn't marry him. She was
having such a good time that she hated to take such a definite step.
Meanwhile, their secret engagement had got so long that it seemed as
if any day it might break off of its own weight. A little man named
Warburton, who knew it all, persuaded Perry to superman her, to get a
marriage license and go up to the Medill house and tell her she'd have
to marry him at once or call it off forever. So he presented himself,
his heart, his license, and his ultimatum, and within five minutes
they were in the midst of a violent quarrel, a burst of sporadic open
fighting such as occurs near the end of all long wars and engagements.
It brought about one of those ghastly lapses in which two people who
are in love pull up sharp, look at each other coolly and think it's
all been a mistake. Afterward they usually kiss wholesomely and assure
the other person it was all their fault. Say it all was my fault! Say
it was! I want to hear you say it!
But while reconciliation was trembling in the air, while each was, in
a measure, stalling it off, so that they might the more voluptuously
and sentimentally enjoy it when it came, they were permanently
interrupted by a twenty-minute phone call for Betty from a garrulous
aunt. At the end of eighteen minutes Perry Parkhurst, urged on by
pride and suspicion and injured dignity, put on his long fur coat,
picked up his light brown soft hat, and stalked out the door.
"It's all over," he muttered brokenly as he tried to jam his car into
first. "It's all over—if I have to choke you for an hour, damn you!".
The last to the car, which had been standing some time and was quite
He drove downtown—that is, he got into a snow rut that led him
downtown. He sat slouched down very low in his seat, much too
dispirited to care where he went.
In front of the Clarendon Hotel he was hailed from the sidewalk by a
bad man named Baily, who had big teeth and lived at the hotel and had
never been in love.
"Perry," said the bad man softly when the roadster drew up beside him
at the curb, "I've got six quarts of the doggonedest still champagne
you ever tasted. A third of it's yours, Perry, if you'll come
up-stairs and help Martin Macy and me drink it."
"Baily," said Perry tensely, "I'll drink your champagne. I'll drink
every drop of it, I don't care if it kills me."
"Shut up, you nut!" said the bad man gently. "They don't put wood
alcohol in champagne. This is the stuff that proves the world is more
than six thousand years old. It's so ancient that the cork is
petrified. You have to pull it with a stone drill."
"Take me up-stairs," said Perry moodily. "If that cork sees my heart
it'll fall out from pure mortification."
The room up-stairs was full of those innocent hotel pictures of little
girls eating apples and sitting in swings and talking to dogs. The
other decorations were neckties and a pink man reading a pink paper
devoted to ladies in pink tights.
"When you have to go into the highways and byways——" said the pink
man, looking reproachfully at Baily and Perry.
"Hello, Martin Macy," said Perry shortly, "where's this stone-age
"What's the rush? This isn't an operation, understand. This is a
Perry sat down dully and looked disapprovingly at all the neckties.
Baily leisurely opened the door of a wardrobe and brought out six
"Take off that darn fur coat!" said Martin Macy to Perry. "Or maybe
you'd like to have us open all the windows."
"Give me champagne," said Perry.
"Going to the Townsends' circus ball to-night?"
"Why not go?"
"Oh, I'm sick of parties," exclaimed Perry. "I'm sick of 'em. I've
been to so many that I'm sick of 'em."
"Maybe you're going to the Howard Tates' party?"
"No, I tell you; I'm sick of 'em."
"Well," said Macy consolingly, "the Tates' is just for college kids
"I tell you——"
"I thought you'd be going to one of 'em anyways. I see by the papers
you haven't missed a one this Christmas."
"Hm," grunted Perry morosely.
He would never go to any more parties. Classical phrases played in his
mind—that side of his life was closed, closed. Now when a man says
"closed, closed" like that, you can be pretty sure that some woman has
double-closed him, so to speak. Perry was also thinking that other
classical thought, about how cowardly suicide is. A noble thought that
one—warm and inspiring. Think of all the fine men we should lose if
suicide were not so cowardly!
An hour later was six o'clock, and Perry had lost all resemblance to
the young man in the liniment advertisement. He looked like a rough
draft for a riotous cartoon. They were singing—an impromptu song of
"One Lump Perry, the parlor snake,
Famous through the city for the way he drinks his tea;
Plays with it, toys with it
Makes no noise with it,
Balanced on a napkin on his well-trained knee—"
"Trouble is," said Perry, who had just banged his hair with Baily's
comb and was tying an orange tie round it to get the effect of Julius
Caesar, "that you fellas can't sing worth a damn. Soon's I leave the
air and start singing tenor you start singin' tenor too."
"'M a natural tenor," said Macy gravely. "Voice lacks cultivation,
tha's all. Gotta natural voice, m'aunt used say. Naturally good
"Singers, singers, all good singers," remarked Baily, who was at the
telephone. "No, not the cabaret; I want night egg. I mean some
dog-gone clerk 'at's got food—food! I want——"
"Julius Caesar," announced Perry, turning round from the mirror. "Man
of iron will and stern 'termination."
"Shut up!" yelled Baily. "Say, iss Mr. Baily Sen' up enormous supper.
Use y'own judgment. Right away."
He connected the receiver and the hook with some difficulty, and then
with his lips closed and an expression of solemn intensity in his eyes
went to the lower drawer of his dresser and pulled it open.
"Lookit!" he commanded. In his hands he held a truncated garment of
"Pants," he exclaimed gravely. "Lookit!"
This was a pink blouse, a red tie, and a Buster Brown collar.
"Lookit!" he repeated. "Costume for the Townsends' circus ball. I'm
li'l' boy carries water for the elephants."
Perry was impressed in spite of himself.
"I'm going to be Julius Caesar," he announced after a moment of
"Thought you weren't going!" said Macy.
"Me? Sure I'm goin', Never miss a party. Good for the nerves—like
"Caesar!" scoffed Baily. "Can't be Caesar! He is not about a circus.
Caesar's Shakespeare. Go as a clown."
Perry shook his head.
Light dawned on Baily.
"That's right. Good idea."
Perry looked round the room searchingly.
"You lend me a bathrobe and this tie," he said finally. Baily
"Sure, tha's all I need. Caesar was a savage. They can't kick if I
come as Caesar, if he was a savage."
"No," said Baily, shaking his head slowly. "Get a costume over at a
costumer's. Over at Nolak's."
After a puzzling five minutes at the phone a small, weary voice
managed to convince Perry that it was Mr. Nolak speaking, and that
they would remain open until eight because of the Townsends' ball.
Thus assured, Perry ate a great amount of filet mignon and drank his
third of the last bottle of champagne. At eight-fifteen the man in the
tall hat who stands in front of the Clarendon found him trying to
start his roadster.
"Froze up," said Perry wisely. "The cold froze it. The cold air."
"Yes. Cold air froze it."
"Can't start it?"
"Nope. Let it stand here till summer. One those hot ole August days'll
thaw it out awright."
"Goin' let it stand?"
"Sure. Let 'er stand. Take a hot thief to steal it. Gemme taxi."
The man in the tall hat summoned a taxi.
"Where to, mister?"
"Go to Nolak's—costume fella."
Mrs. Nolak was short and ineffectual looking, and on the cessation of
the world war had belonged for a while to one of the new
nationalities. Owing to unsettled European conditions she had never
since been quite sure what she was. The shop in which she and her
husband performed their daily stint was dim and ghostly, and peopled
with suits of armor and Chinese mandarins, and enormous papier-mâché
birds suspended from the ceiling. In a vague background many rows of
masks glared eyelessly at the visitor, and there were glass cases full
of crowns and scepters, and jewels and enormous stomachers, and
paints, and crape hair, and wigs of all colors.
When Perry ambled into the shop Mrs. Nolak was folding up the last
troubles of a strenuous day, so she thought, in a drawer full of pink
"Something for you?" she queried pessimistically. "Want costume of
Julius Hur, the charioteer."
Mrs. Nolak was sorry, but every stitch of charioteer had been rented
long ago. Was it for the Townsends' circus ball?
"Sorry," she said, "but I don't think there's anything left that's
This was an obstacle.
"Hm," said Perry. An idea struck him suddenly. "If you've got a piece
of canvas I could go's a tent."
"Sorry, but we haven't anything like that. A hardware store is where
you'd have to go to. We have some very nice Confederate soldiers."
"No. No soldiers."
"And I have a very handsome king."
He shook his head.
"Several of the gentlemen" she continued hopefully, "are wearing
stovepipe hats and swallow-tail coats and going as ringmasters—but
we're all out of tall hats. I can let you have some crape hair for a
"Want somep'n 'stinctive."
"Something—let's see. Well, we have a lion's head, and a goose, and a
"Camel?" The idea seized Perry's imagination, gripped it fiercely.
"Yes, but It needs two people."
"Camel, That's the idea. Lemme see it."
The camel was produced from his resting place on a top shelf. At first
glance he appeared to consist entirely of a very gaunt, cadaverous
head and a sizable hump, but on being spread out he was found to
possess a dark brown, unwholesome-looking body made of thick, cottony
"You see it takes two people," explained Mrs. Nolak, holding the camel
in frank admiration. "If you have a friend he could be part of it. You
see there's sorta pants for two people. One pair is for the fella in
front, and the other pair for the fella in back. The fella in front
does the lookin' out through these here eyes, an' the fella in back
he's just gotta stoop over an' folla the front fella round."
"Put it on," commanded Perry.
Obediently Mrs. Nolak put her tabby-cat face inside the camel's head
and turned it from side to side ferociously.
Perry was fascinated.
"What noise does a camel make?"
"What?" asked Mrs. Nolak as her face emerged, somewhat smudgy. "Oh,
what noise? Why, he sorta brays."
"Lemme see it in a mirror."
Before a wide mirror Perry tried on the head and turned from side to
side appraisingly. In the dim light the effect was distinctly
pleasing. The camel's face was a study in pessimism, decorated with
numerous abrasions, and it must be admitted that his coat was in that
state of general negligence peculiar to camels—in fact, he needed to
be cleaned and pressed—but distinctive he certainly was. He was
majestic. He would have attracted attention in any gathering, if only
by his melancholy cast of feature and the look of hunger lurking round
his shadowy eyes.
"You see you have to have two people," said Mrs. Nolak again.
Perry tentatively gathered up the body and legs and wrapped them about
him, tying the hind legs as a girdle round his waist. The effect on
the whole was bad. It was even irreverent—like one of those mediaeval
pictures of a monk changed into a beast by the ministrations of Satan.
At the very best the ensemble resembled a humpbacked cow sitting on
her haunches among blankets.
"Don't look like anything at all," objected Perry gloomily.
"No," said Mrs. Nolak; "you see you got to have two people."
A solution flashed upon Perry.
"You got a date to-night?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly——"
"Oh, come on," said Perry encouragingly. "Sure you can! Here! Be good
sport, and climb into these hind legs."
With difficulty he located them, and extended their yawning depths
ingratiatingly. But Mrs. Nolak seemed loath. She backed perversely
"C'mon! You can be the front if you want to. Or we'll flip a coin."
"Make it worth your while."
Mrs. Nolak set her lips firmly together.
"Now you just stop!" she said with no coyness implied. "None of the
gentlemen ever acted up this way before. My husband——"
"You got a husband?" demanded Perry. "Where is he?"
"Wha's telephone number?"
After considerable parley he obtained the telephone number pertaining
to the Nolak penates and got into communication with that small, weary
voice he had heard once before that day. But Mr. Nolak, though taken
off his guard and somewhat confused by Perry's brilliant flow of
logic, stuck staunchly to his point. He refused firmly, but with
dignity, to help out Mr. Parkhurst in the capacity of back part of a
Having rung off, or rather having been rung off on, Perry sat down on
a three-legged stool to think it over. He named over to himself those
friends on whom he might call, and then his mind paused as Betty
Medill's name hazily and sorrowfully occurred to him. He had a
sentimental thought. He would ask her. Their love affair was over, but
she could not refuse this last request. Surely it was not much to
ask—to help him keep up his end of social obligation for one short
night. And if she insisted, she could be the front part of the camel
and he would go as the back. His magnanimity pleased him. His mind
even turned to rosy-colored dreams of a tender reconciliation inside
the camel—there hidden away from all the world….
"Now you'd better decide right off."
The bourgeois voice of Mrs. Nolak broke in upon his mellow fancies and
roused him to action. He went to the phone and called up the Medill
house. Miss Betty was out; had gone out to dinner.
Then, when all seemed lost, the camel's back wandered curiously into
the store. He was a dilapidated individual with a cold in his head and
a general trend about him of downwardness. His cap was pulled down low
on his head, and his chin was pulled down low on his chest, his coat
hung down to his shoes, he looked run-down, down at the heels,
and—Salvation Army to the contrary—down and out. He said that he was
the taxicab-driver that the gentleman had hired at the Clarendon
Hotel. He had been instructed to wait outside, but he had waited some
time, and a suspicion had grown upon him that the gentleman had gone
out the back way with purpose to defraud him—gentlemen sometimes
did—so he had come in. He sank down onto the three-legged stool.
"Wanta go to a party?" demanded Perry sternly.
"I gotta work," answered the taxi-driver lugubriously. "I gotta keep
"It's a very good party."
"'S a very good job."
"Come on!" urged Perry. "Be a good fella. See—it's pretty!" He held
the camel up and the taxi-driver looked at it cynically.
Perry searched feverishly among the folds of the cloth.
"See!" he cried enthusiastically, holding up a selection of folds.
"This is your part. You don't even have to talk. All you have to do is
to walk—and sit down occasionally. You do all the sitting down. Think
of it. I'm on my feet all the time and you can sit down some of
the time. The only time I can sit down is when we're lying
down, and you can sit down when—oh, any time. See?"
"What's 'at thing?" demanded the individual dubiously. "A shroud?"
"Not at all," said Perry indignantly. "It's a camel."
Then Perry mentioned a sum of money, and the conversation left the
land of grunts and assumed a practical tinge. Perry and the
taxi-driver tried on the camel in front of the mirror.
"You can't see it," explained Perry, peering anxiously out through the
eyeholes, "but honestly, ole man, you look sim'ly great! Honestly!"
A grunt from the hump acknowledged this somewhat dubious compliment.
"Honestly, you look great!" repeated Perry enthusiastically. "Move
round a little."
The hind legs moved forward, giving the effect of a huge cat-camel
hunching his back preparatory to a spring.
"No; move sideways."
The camel's hips went neatly out of joint; a hula dancer would have
writhed in envy.
"Good, isn't it?" demanded Perry, turning to Mrs. Nolak for approval.
"It looks lovely," agreed Mrs. Nolak.
"We'll take it," said Perry.
The bundle was stowed under Perry's arm and they left the shop.
"Go to the party!" he commanded as he took his seat in the back.
"Where'bouts is it?"
This presented a new problem. Perry tried to remember, but the names
of all those who had given parties during the holidays danced
confusedly before his eyes. He could ask Mrs. Nolak, but on looking
out the window he saw that the shop was dark. Mrs. Nolak had already
faded out, a little black smudge far down the snowy street.
"Drive uptown," directed Perry with fine confidence. "If you see a
party, stop. Otherwise I'll tell you when we get there."
He fell into a hazy daydream and his thoughts wandered again to
Betty—he imagined vaguely that they had had a disagreement because
she refused to go to the party as the back part of the camel. He was
just slipping off into a chilly doze when he was wakened by the
taxi-driver opening the door and shaking him by the arm.
"Here we are, maybe."
Perry looked out sleepily. A striped awning led from the curb up to a
spreading gray stone house, from which issued the low drummy whine of
expensive jazz. He recognized the Howard Tate house.
"Sure," he said emphatically; "'at's it! Tate's party to-night. Sure,
"Say," said the individual anxiously after another look at the awning,
"you sure these people ain't gonna romp on me for comin' here?"
Perry drew himself up with dignity.
"'F anybody says anything to you, just tell 'em you're part of my
The visualization of himself as a thing rather than a person seemed to
reassure the individual.
"All right," he said reluctantly.
Perry stepped out under the shelter of the awning and began unrolling
"Let's go," he commanded.
Several minutes later a melancholy, hungry-looking camel, emitting
clouds of smoke from his mouth and from the tip of his noble hump,
might have been seen crossing the threshold of the Howard Tate
residence, passing a startled footman without so much as a snort, and
heading directly for the main stairs that led up to the ballroom. The
beast walked with a peculiar gait which varied between an uncertain
lockstep and a stampede—but can best be described by the word
"halting." The camel had a halting gait—and as he walked he
alternately elongated and contracted like a gigantic concertina.
The Howard Tates are, as every one who lives in Toledo knows, the most
formidable people in town. Mrs. Howard Tate was a Chicago Todd before
she became a Toledo Tate, and the family generally affect that
conscious simplicity which has begun to be the earmark of American
aristocracy. The Tates have reached the stage where they talk about
pigs and farms and look at you icy-eyed if you are not amused. They
have begun to prefer retainers rather than friends as dinner guests,
spend a lot of money in a quiet way, and, having lost all sense of
competition, are in process of growing quite dull.
The dance this evening was for little Millicent Tate, and though all
ages were represented, the dancers were mostly from school and
college—the younger married crowd was at the Townsends' circus ball
up at the Tallyho Club. Mrs. Tate was standing just inside tie
ballroom, following Millicent round with her eyes, and beaming
whenever she caught her bye. Beside her were two middle-aged
sycophants, who were saying what a perfectly exquisite child Millicent
was. It was at this moment that Mrs. Tate was grasped firmly by the
skirt and her youngest daughter, Emily, aged eleven, hurled herself
with an "Oof!" into her mother's arms.
"Why, Emily, what's the trouble?"
"Mamma," said Emily, wild-eyed but voluble, "there's something out on
"There's a thing out on the stairs, mamma. I think it's a big dog,
mamma, but it doesn't look like a dog."
"What do you mean, Emily?"
The sycophants waved their heads sympathetically.
"Mamma, it looks like a—like a camel."
Mrs. Tate laughed.
"You saw a mean old shadow, dear, that's all."
"No, I didn't. No, it was some kind of thing, mamma—big. I was going
down-stairs to see if there were any more people, and this dog or
something, he was coming up-stairs. Kinda funny, mamma, like he was
lame. And then he saw me and gave a sort of growl, and then he slipped
at the top of the landing, and I ran."
Mrs. Tate's laugh faded.
"The child must have seen something," she said.
The sycophants agreed that the child must have seen something—and
suddenly all three women took an instinctive step away from the door
as the sounds of muffled steps were audible just outside.
And then three startled gasps rang out as a dark brown form rounded
the corner, and they saw what was apparently a huge beast looking down
at them hungrily.
"Oof!" cried Mrs. Tate.
"O-o-oh!" cried the ladies in a chorus.
The camel suddenly humped his back, and the gasps turned to shrieks.
"What is it?"
The dancing stopped, bat the dancers hurrying over got quite a
different impression of the invader; in fact, the young people
immediately suspected that it was a stunt, a hired entertainer come to
amuse the party. The boys in long trousers looked at it rather
disdainfully, and sauntered over with their hands in their pockets,
feeling that their intelligence was being insulted. But the girls
uttered little shouts of glee.
"It's a camel!"
"Well, if he isn't the funniest!"
The camel stood there uncertainly, swaying slightly from side to aide,
and seeming to take in the room in a careful, appraising glance; then
as if he had come to an abrupt decision, he turned and ambled swiftly
out the door.
Mr. Howard Tate had just come out of the library on the lower floor,
and was standing chatting with a young man in the hall. Suddenly they
heard the noise of shouting up-stairs, and almost immediately a
succession of bumping sounds, followed by the precipitous appearance
at the foot of the stairway of a large brown beast that seemed to be
going somewhere in a great hurry.
"Now what the devil!" said Mr. Tate, starting.
The beast picked itself up not without dignity and, affecting an air
of extreme nonchalance, as if he had just remembered an important
engagement, started at a mixed gait toward the front door. In fact,
his front legs began casually to run.
"See here now," said Mr. Tate sternly. "Here! Grab it, Butterfield!
The young man enveloped the rear of the camel in a pair of compelling
arms, and, realizing that further locomotion was impossible, the front
end submitted to capture and stood resignedly in a state of some
agitation. By this time a flood of young people was pouring
down-stairs, and Mr. Tate, suspecting everything from an ingenious
burglar to an escaped lunatic, gave crisp directions to the young man:
"Hold him! Lead him in here; we'll soon see."
The camel consented to be led into the library, and Mr. Tate, after
locking the door, took a revolver from a table drawer and instructed
the young man to take the thing's head off. Then he gasped and
returned the revolver to its hiding-place.
"Well, Perry Parkhurst!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"Got the wrong party, Mr. Tate," said Perry sheepishly. "Hope I didn't
"Well—you gave us a thrill, Perry." Realization dawned on him.
"You're bound for the Townsends' circus ball."
"That's the general idea."
"Let me introduce Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Parkhurst." Then turning to
Perry; "Butterfield is staying with us for a few days."
"I got a little mixed up," mumbled Perry. "I'm very sorry."
"Perfectly all right; most natural mistake in the world. I've got a
clown rig and I'm going down there myself after a while." He turned to
Butterfield. "Better change your mind and come down with us."
The young man demurred. He was going to bed.
"Have a drink, Perry?" suggested Mr. Tate.
"Thanks, I will."
"And, say," continued Tate quickly, "I'd forgotten all about
your—friend here." He indicated the rear part of the camel. "I didn't
mean to seem discourteous. Is it any one I know? Bring him out."
"It's not a friend," explained Perry hurriedly. "I just rented him."
"Does he drink?"
"Do you?" demanded Perry, twisting himself tortuously round.
There was a faint sound of assent.
"Sure he does!" said Mr. Tate heartily. "A really efficient camel
ought to be able to drink enough so it'd last him three days."
"Tell you," said Perry anxiously, "he isn't exactly dressed up enough
to come out. If you give me the bottle I can hand it back to him and
he can take his inside."
From under the cloth was audible the enthusiastic smacking sound
inspired by this suggestion. When a butler had appeared with bottles,
glasses, and siphon one of the bottles was handed back; thereafter the
silent partner could be heard imbibing long potations at frequent
Thus passed a benign hour. At ten o'clock Mr. Tate decided that they'd
better be starting. He donned his clown's costume; Perry replaced the
camel's head, arid side by side they traversed on foot the single
block between the Tate house and the Tallyho Club.
The circus ball was in full swing. A great tent fly had been put up
inside the ballroom and round the walls had been built rows of booths
representing the various attractions of a circus side show, but these
were now vacated and over the floor swarmed a shouting, laughing
medley of youth and color—downs, bearded ladies, acrobats, bareback
riders, ringmasters, tattooed men, and charioteers. The Townsends had
determined to assure their party of success, so a great quantity of
liquor had been surreptitiously brought over from their house and was
now flowing freely. A green ribbon ran along the wall completely round
the ballroom, with pointing arrows alongside and signs which
instructed the uninitiated to "Follow the green line!" The green line
led down to the bar, where waited pure punch and wicked punch and
plain dark-green bottles.
On the wall above the bar was another arrow, red and very wavy, and
under it the slogan: "Now follow this!"
But even amid the luxury of costume and high spirits represented,
there, the entrance of the camel created something of a stir, and
Perry was immediately surrounded by a curious, laughing crowd
attempting to penetrate the identity of this beast that stood by the
wide doorway eying the dancers with his hungry, melancholy gaze.
And then Perry saw Betty standing in front of a booth, talking to a
comic policeman. She was dressed in the costume of an Egyptian
snake-charmer: her tawny hair was braided and drawn through brass
rings, the effect crowned with a glittering Oriental tiara. Her fair
face was stained to a warm olive glow and on her arms and the half
moon of her back writhed painted serpents with single eyes of venomous
green. Her feet were in sandals and her skirt was slit to the knees,
so that when she walked one caught a glimpse of other slim serpents
painted just above her bare ankles. Wound about her neck was a
glittering cobra. Altogether a charming costume—one that caused the
more nervous among the older women to shrink away from her when she
passed, and the more troublesome ones to make great talk about
"shouldn't be allowed" and "perfectly disgraceful."
But Perry, peering through the uncertain eyes of the camel, saw only
her face, radiant, animated, and glowing with excitement, and her arms
and shoulders, whose mobile, expressive gestures made her always the
outstanding figure in any group. He was fascinated and his fascination
exercised a sobering effect on him. With a growing clarity the events
of the day came back—rage rose within him, and with a half-formed
intention of taking her away from the crowd he started toward her—or
rather he elongated slightly, for he had neglected to issue the
preparatory command necessary to locomotion.
But at this point fickle Kismet, who for a day had played with him
bitterly and sardonically, decided to reward him in full for the
amusement he had afforded her. Kismet turned the tawny eyes of the
snake-charmer to the camel. Kismet led her to lean toward the man
beside her and say, "Who's that? That camel?"
"Darned if I know."
But a little man named Warburton, who knew it all, found it necessary
to hazard an opinion:
"It came in with Mr. Tate. I think part of it's probably Warren
Butterfield, the architect from New York, who's visiting the Tates."
Something stirred in Betty Medill—that age-old interest of the
provincial girl in the visiting man.
"Oh," she said casually after a slight pause.
At the end of the next dance Betty and her partner finished up within
a few feet of the camel. With the informal audacity that was the
key-note of the evening she reached out and gently rubbed the camel's
"Hello, old camel."
The camel stirred uneasily.
"You 'fraid of me?" said Betty, lifting her eyebrows in reproof.
"Don't be. You see I'm a snake-charmer, but I'm pretty good at camels
The camel bowed very low and some one made the obvious remark about
beauty and the beast.
Mrs. Townsend approached the group.
"Well, Mr. Butterfield," she said helpfully, "I wouldn't have
Perry bowed again and smiled gleefully behind his mask.
"And who is this with you?" she inquired.
"Oh," said Perry, his voice muffled by the thick cloth and quite
unrecognizable, "he isn't a fellow, Mrs. Townsend. He's just part of
Mrs. Townsend laughed and moved away. Perry turned again to Betty,
"So," he thought, "this is how much she cares! On the very day of our
final rupture she starts a flirtation with another man—an absolute
On an impulse he gave her a soft nudge with his shoulder and waved his
head suggestively toward the hall, making it clear that he desired her
to leave her partner and accompany him.
"By-by, Rus," she called to her partner. "This old camel's got me.
Where we going, Prince of Beasts?"
The noble animal made no rejoinder, but stalked gravely along in the
direction of a secluded nook on the side stairs.
There she seated herself, and the camel, after some seconds of
confusion which included gruff orders and sounds of a heated dispute
going on in his interior, placed himself beside her—his hind legs
stretching out uncomfortably across two steps.
"Well, old egg," said Betty cheerfully, "how do you like our happy
The old egg indicated that he liked it by rolling his head
ecstatically and executing a gleeful kick with his hoofs.
"This is the first time that I ever had a tête-à-tête with a man's
valet 'round"—she pointed to the hind legs—"or whatever that is."
"Oh," mumbled Perry, "he's deaf and blind."
"I should think you'd feel rather handicapped—you can't very well
toddle, even if you want to."
The camel hang his head lugubriously.
"I wish you'd say something," continued Betty sweetly. "Say you like
me, camel. Say you think I'm beautiful. Say you'd like to belong to a
The camel would.
"Will you dance with me, camel?"
The camel would try.
Betty devoted half an hour to the camel. She devoted at least half an
hour to all visiting men. It was usually sufficient. When she
approached a new man the current débutantes were accustomed to scatter
right and left like a close column deploying before a machine-gun. And
so to Perry Parkhurst was awarded the unique privilege of seeing his
love as others saw her. He was flirted with violently!
This paradise of frail foundation was broken into by the sounds of a
general ingress to the ballroom; the cotillion was beginning. Betty
and the camel joined the crowd, her brown hand resting lightly on his
shoulder, defiantly symbolizing her complete adoption of him.
When they entered the couples were already seating themselves at
tables round the walls, and Mrs. Townsend, resplendent as a super
bareback rider with rather too rotund calves, was standing in the
centre with the ringmaster in charge of arrangements. At a signal to
the band every one rose and began to dance.
"Isn't it just slick!" sighed Betty. "Do you think you can possibly
Perry nodded enthusiastically. He felt suddenly exuberant. After all,
he was here incognito talking to his love—he could wink
patronizingly at the world.
So Perry danced the cotillion. I say danced, but that is stretching
the word far beyond the wildest dreams of the jazziest terpsichorean.
He suffered his partner to put her hands on his helpless shoulders and
pull him here and there over the floor while he hung his huge head
docilely over her shoulder and made futile dummy motions with his
feet. His hind legs danced in a manner all their own, chiefly by
hopping first on one foot and then on the other. Never being sure
whether dancing was going on or not, the hind legs played safe by
going through a series of steps whenever the music started playing. So
the spectacle was frequently presented of the front part of the camel
standing at ease and the rear keeping up a constant energetic motion
calculated to rouse a sympathetic perspiration in any soft-hearted
He was frequently favored. He danced first with a tall lady covered
with straw who announced jovially that she was a bale of hay and coyly
begged him not to eat her.
"I'd like to; you're so sweet," said the camel gallantly.
Each time the ringmaster shouted his call of "Men up!" he lumbered
ferociously for Betty with the cardboard wienerwurst or the photograph
of the bearded lady or whatever the favor chanced to be. Sometimes he
reached her first, but usually his rushes were unsuccessful and
resulted in intense interior arguments.
"For Heaven's sake," Perry would snarl, fiercely between his clenched
teeth, "get a little pep! I could have gotten her that time if you'd
picked your feet up."
"Well, gimme a little warnin'!"
"I did, darn you."
"I can't see a dog-gone thing in here."
"All you have to do is follow me. It's just like dragging a load of
sand round to walk with you."
"Maybe you wanta try back hare."
"You shut up! If these people found you in this room they'd give you
the worst beating you ever had. They'd take your taxi license away
Perry surprised himself by the ease with which he made this monstrous
threat, but it seemed to have a soporific influence on his companion,
for he gave out an "aw gwan" and subsided into abashed silence.
The ringmaster mounted to the top of the piano and waved his hand for
"Prizes!" he cried. "Gather round!"
Self-consciously the circle swayed forward. The rather pretty girl who
had mustered the nerve to come as a bearded lady trembled with
excitement, thinking to be rewarded for an evening's hideousness. The
man who had spent the afternoon having tattoo marks painted on him
skulked on the edge of the crowd, blushing furiously when any one told
him he was sure to get it.
"Lady and gent performers of this circus," announced the ringmaster
jovially, "I am sure we will all agree that a good time has been had
by all. We will now bestow honor where honor is due by bestowing the
prizes. Mrs. Townsend has asked me to bestow the prices. Now, fellow
performers, the first prize is for that lady who has displayed this
evening the most striking, becoming"—at this point the bearded lady
sighed resignedly—"and original costume." Here the bale of hay
pricked up her ears. "Now I am sure that the decision which has been
agreed upon will be unanimous with all here present. The first prize
goes to Miss Betty Medill, the charming Egyptian snake-charmer." There
was a burst of applause, chiefly masculine, and Miss Betty Medill,
blushing beautifully through her olive paint, was passed up to receive
her award. With a tender glance the ringmaster handed down to her a
huge bouquet of orchids.
"And now," he continued, looking round him, "the other prize is for
that man who has the most amusing and original costume. This prize
goes without dispute to a guest in our midst, a gentleman who is
visiting here but whose stay we all hope will be long and merry—in
short, to the noble camel who has entertained us all by his hungry
look and his brilliant dancing throughout the evening."
He ceased and there was a violent clapping, and yeaing, for it was a
popular choice. The prize, a large box of cigars, was put aside for
the camel, as he was anatomically unable to accept it in person.
"And now," continued the ringmaster, "we will wind up the cotillion
with the marriage of Mirth to Folly!
"Form for the grand wedding march, the beautiful snake-charmer and the
noble camel in front!"
Betty skipped forward cheerily and wound an olive arm round the
camel's neck. Behind them formed the procession of little boys, little
girls, country jakes, fat ladies, thin men, sword-swallowers, wild men
of Borneo, and armless wonders, many of them well in their cups, all
of them excited and happy and dazzled by the flow of light and color
round them, and by the familiar faces, strangely unfamiliar under
bizarre wigs and barbaric paint. The voluptuous chords of the wedding
march done in blasphemous syncopation issued in a delirious blend from
the trombones and saxophones—and the march began.
"Aren't you glad, camel?" demanded Betty sweetly as they stepped off.
"Aren't you glad we're going to be married and you're going to belong
to the nice snake-charmer ever afterward?"
The camel's front legs pranced, expressing excessive joy.
"Minister! Minister! Where's the minister?" cried voices out of the
revel. "Who's going to be the clergyman?"
The head of Jumbo, obese negro, waiter at the Tally-ho Club for many
years, appeared rashly through a half-opened pantry door.
"Get old Jumbo. He's the fella!"
"Come on, Jumbo. How 'bout marrying us a couple?"
Jumbo was seized by four comedians, stripped of his apron, and
escorted to a raised daïs at the head of the ball. There his collar
was removed and replaced back side forward with ecclesiastical effect.
The parade separated into two lines, leaving an aisle for the bride
"Lawdy, man," roared Jumbo, "Ah got ole Bible 'n' ev'ythin', sho
He produced a battered Bible from an interior pocket.
"Yea! Jumbo's got a Bible!"
"Razor, too, I'll bet!"
Together the snake-charmer and the camel ascended the cheering aisle
and stopped in front of Jumbo.
"Where's yo license, camel?"
A man near by prodded Perry.
"Give him a piece of paper. Anything'll do."
Perry fumbled confusedly in his pocket, found a folded paper, and
pushed it out through the camel's mouth. Holding it upside down Jumbo
pretended to scan it earnestly.
"Dis yeah's a special camel's license," he said. "Get you ring ready,
Inside the camel Perry turned round and addressed his worse half.
"Gimme a ring, for Heaven's sake!"
"I ain't got none," protested a weary voice.
"You have. I saw it."
"I ain't goin' to take it offen my hand."
"If you don't I'll kill you."
There was a gasp and Perry felt a huge affair of rhinestone and brass
inserted into his hand.
Again he was nudged from the outside.
"I do!" cried Perry quickly.
He heard Betty's responses given in a debonair tone, and even in this
burlesque the sound thrilled him.
Then he had pushed the rhinestone through a tear in the camel's coat
and was slipping it on her finger, muttering ancient and historic
words after Jumbo. He didn't want any one to know about this ever. His
one idea was to slip away without having to disclose his identity, for
Mr. Tate had so far kept his secret well. A dignified young man,
Perry—and this might injure his infant law practice.
"Embrace the bride!"
"Unmask, camel, and kiss her!"
Instinctively his heart beat high as Betty turned to him laughingly
and began to strike the card-board muzzle. He felt his self-control
giving way, he longed to surround her with his arms and declare his
identity and kiss those lips that smiled only a foot away—when
suddenly the laughter and applause round them died off and a curious
hush fell over the hall. Perry and Betty looked up in surprise. Jumbo
had given vent to a huge "Hello!" in such a startled voice that all
eyes were bent on him.
"Hello!" he said again. He had turned round the camel's marriage
license, which he had been holding upside down, produced spectacles,
and was studying it agonizingly.
"Why," he exclaimed, and in the pervading silence his words were heard
plainly by every one in the room, "this yeah's a sho-nuff marriage
"Say it again, Jumbo!"
"Sure you can read?"
Jumbo waved them to silence and Perry's blood burned to fire in his
veins as he realized the break he had made.
"Yassuh!" repeated Jumbo. "This yeah's a sho-nuff license, and the
pa'ties concerned one of 'em is dis yeah young lady, Miz Betty Medill,
and th' other's Mistah Perry Pa'khurst."
There was a general gasp, and a low rumble broke out as all eyes fell
on the camel. Betty shrank away from him quickly, her tawny eyes
giving out sparks of fury.
"Is you Mistah Pa'khurst, you camel?"
Perry made no answer. The crowd pressed up closer and stared at him.
He stood frozen rigid with embarrassment, his cardboard face still
hungry and sardonic as he regarded the ominous Jumbo.
"Y'all bettah speak up!" said Jumbo slowly, "this yeah's a mighty
serious mattah. Outside mah duties at this club ah happens to be a
sho-nuff minister in the Firs' Cullud Baptis' Church. It done look to
me as though y'all is gone an' got married."
The scene that followed will go down forever in the annals of the
Tallyho Club. Stout matrons fainted, one hundred per cent Americans
swore, wild-eyed débutantes babbled in lightning groups instantly
formed and instantly dissolved, and a great buzz of chatter, virulent
yet oddly subdued, hummed through the chaotic ballroom. Feverish
youths swore they would kill Perry or Jumbo or themselves or some one,
and the Baptis' preacheh was besieged by a tempestuous covey of
clamorous amateur lawyers, asking questions, making threats, demanding
precedents, ordering the bonds annulled, and especially trying to
ferret out any hint of prearrangement in what had occurred.
In the corner Mrs. Townsend was crying softly on the shoulder of Mr.
Howard Tate, who was trying vainly to comfort her; they were
exchanging "all my fault's" volubly and voluminously. Outside on a
snow-covered walk Mr. Cyrus Medill, the Aluminum Man, was being paced
slowly up and down between two brawny charioteers, giving vent now to
a string of unrepeatables, now to wild pleadings that they'd just let
him get at Jumbo. He was facetiously attired for the evening as a wild
man of Borneo, and the most exacting stage-manager would have
acknowledged any improvement in casting the part to be quite
Meanwhile the two principals held the real centre of the stage. Betty
Medill—or was it Betty Parkhurst?—storming furiously, was surrounded
by the plainer girls—the prettier ones were too busy talking about
her to pay much attention to her—and over on the other side of the
hall stood the camel, still intact except for his headpiece, which
dangled pathetically on his chest. Perry was earnestly engaged in
making protestations of his innocence to a ring of angry, puzzled men.
Every few minutes, just as he had apparently proved his case, some one
would mention the marriage certificate, and the inquisition would
A girl named Marion Cloud, considered the second best belle of Toledo,
changed the gist of the situation by a remark she made to Betty.
"Well," she said maliciously, "it'll all blow over, dear. The courts
will annul it without question."
Betty's angry tears dried miraculously in her eyes, her lips shut
tight together, and she looked stonily at Marion. Then she rose and,
scattering her sympathizers right and left, walked directly across the
room to Perry, who stared at her in terror. Again silence crept down
upon the room.
"Will you have the decency to grant me five minutes' conversation—or
wasn't that included in your plans?"
He nodded, his mouth unable to form words.
Indicating coldly that he was to follow her she walked out into the
hall with her chin uptilted and headed for the privacy of one of the
Perry started after her, but was brought to a jerky halt by the
failure of his hind legs to function.
"You stay here!" he commanded savagely.
"I can't," whined a voice from the hump, "unless you get out first and
let me get out."
Perry hesitated, but unable any longer to tolerate the eyes of the
curious crowd he muttered a command and the camel moved carefully from
the room on its four legs.
Betty was waiting for him.
"Well," she began furiously, "you see what you've done! You and that
crazy license! I told you you shouldn't have gotten it!"
"My dear girl, I—"
"Don't say 'dear girl' to me! Save that for your real wife if you ever
get one after this disgraceful performance. And don't try to pretend
it wasn't all arranged. You know you gave that colored waiter money!
You know you did! Do you mean to say you didn't try to marry me?"
"Yes, you'd better admit it! You tried it, and now what are you going
to do? Do you know my father's nearly crazy? It'll serve you right if
he tries to kill you. He'll take his gun and put some cold steel in
you. Even if this wed—this thing can be annulled it'll hang
over me all the rest of my life!"
Perry could not resist quoting softly: "'Oh, camel, wouldn't you like
to belong to the pretty snake-charmer for all your—"
"Shut-up!" cried Betty.
There was a pause.
"Betty," said Perry finally, "there's only one thing to do that will
really get us out clear. That's for you to marry me."
"Yes. Really it's the only—"
"You shut up! I wouldn't marry you if—if—"
"I know. If I were the last man on earth. But if you care anything
about your reputation—"
"Reputation!" she cried. "You're a nice one to think about my
reputation now. Why didn't you think about my reputation before
you hired that horrible Jumbo to—to—"
Perry tossed up his hands hopelessly.
"Very well. I'll do anything you want. Lord knows I renounce all
"But," said a new voice, "I don't."
Perry and Betty started, and she put her hand to her heart.
"For Heaven's sake, what was that?"
"It's me," said the camel's back.
In a minute Perry had whipped off the camel's skin, and a lax, limp
object, his clothes hanging on him damply, his hand clenched tightly
on an almost empty bottle, stood defiantly before them.
"Oh," cried Betty, "you brought that object in here to frighten me!
You told me he was deaf—that awful person!"
The camel's back sat down on a chair with a sigh of satisfaction.
"Don't talk 'at way about me, lady. I ain't no person. I'm your
The cry was wrung simultaneously from Betty and Perry.
"Why, sure. I'm as much your husband as that gink is. The smoke didn't
marry you to the camel's front. He married you to the whole camel.
Why, that's my ring you got on your finger!"
With a little yelp she snatched the ring from her finger and flung it
passionately at the floor.
"What's all this?" demanded Perry dazedly.
"Jes' that you better fix me an' fix me right. If you don't I'm
a-gonna have the same claim you got to bein' married to her!"
"That's bigamy," said Perry, turning gravely to Betty.
Then came the supreme moment of Perry's evening, the ultimate chance
on which he risked his fortunes. He rose and looked first at Betty,
where she sat weakly, aghast at this new complication, and then at the
individual who swayed from side to side on his chair, uncertainly,
"Very well," said Perry slowly to the individual, "you can have her.
Betty, I'm going to prove to you that as far as I'm concerned our
marriage was entirely accidental. I'm going to renounce utterly my
rights to have you as my wife, and give you to—to the man whose ring
you wear—your lawful husband."
There was a pause and four horror-stricken eyes were turned on him,
"Good-by, Betty," he said brokenly. "Don't forget me in your new-found
happiness. I'm going to leave for the Far West on the morning train.
Think of me kindly, Betty."
With a last glance at them he turned and his head rested on his chest
as his hand touched the door-knob.
"Good-by," he repeated. He turned the door-knob.
But at this sound the snakes and silk and tawny hair precipitated
themselves violently toward him.
"Oh, Perry, don't leave me! Perry, Perry, take me with you!"
Her tears flowed damply on his neck. Calmly he folded his arms about
"I don't care," she cried. "I love you and if you can wake up a
minister at this hour and have it done over again I'll go West with
Over her shoulder the front part of the camel looked at the back part
of the camel—and they exchanged a particularly subtle, esoteric sort
of wink that only true camels can understand.
There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the
conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with
thrown flowers of white, red, and rose. All through the long spring
days the returning soldiers marched up the chief highway behind the
strump of drums and the joyous, resonant wind of the brasses, while
merchants and clerks left their bickerings and figurings and, crowding
to the windows, turned their white-bunched faces gravely upon the
Never had there been such splendor in the great city, for the
victorious war had brought plenty in its train, and the merchants had
flocked thither from the South and West with their households to taste
of all the luscious feasts and witness the lavish entertainments
prepared—and to buy for their women furs against the next winter and
bags of golden mesh and varicolored slippers of silk and silver and
rose satin and cloth of gold.
So gaily and noisily were the peace and prosperity impending hymned by
the scribes and poets of the conquering people that more and more
spenders had gathered from the provinces to drink the wine of
excitement, and faster and faster did the merchants dispose of their
trinkets and slippers until they sent up a mighty cry for more
trinkets and more slippers in order that they might give in barter
what was demanded of them. Some even of them flung up their hands
"Alas! I have no more slippers! and alas! I have no more trinkets! May
heaven help me for I know not what I shall do!"
But no one listened to their great outcry, for the throngs were far
too busy—day by day, the foot-soldiers trod jauntily the highway and
all exulted because the young men returning were pure and brave, sound
of tooth and pink of cheek, and the young women of the land were
virgins and comely both of face and of figure.
So during all this time there were many adventures that happened in
the great city, and, of these, several—or perhaps one—are here set
At nine o'clock on the morning of the first of May, 1919, a young man
spoke to the room clerk at the Biltmore Hotel, asking if Mr. Philip
Dean were registered there, and if so, could he be connected with Mr.
Dean's rooms. The inquirer was dressed in a well-cut, shabby suit. He
was small, slender, and darkly handsome; his eyes were framed above
with unusually long eyelashes and below with the blue semicircle of
ill health, this latter effect heightened by an unnatural glow which
colored his face like a low, incessant fever.
Mr. Dean was staying there. The young man was directed to a telephone
at the side.
After a second his connection was made; a sleepy voice hello'd from
"Mr. Dean?"—this very eagerly—"it's Gordon, Phil. It's Gordon
Sterrett. I'm down-stairs. I heard you were in New York and I had a
hunch you'd be here."
The sleepy voice became gradually enthusiastic. Well, how was Gordy,
old boy! Well, he certainly was surprised and tickled! Would Gordy
come right up, for Pete's sake!
A few minutes later Philip Dean, dressed in blue silk pajamas, opened
his door and the two young men greeted each other with a
half-embarrassed exuberance. They were both about twenty-four, Yale
graduates of the year before the war; but there the resemblance
stopped abruptly. Dean was blond, ruddy, and rugged under his thin
pajamas. Everything about him radiated fitness and bodily comfort. He
smiled frequently, showing large and prominent teeth.
"I was going to look you up," he cried enthusiastically. "I'm taking a
couple of weeks off. If you'll sit down a sec I'll be right with you.
Going to take a shower."
As he vanished into the bathroom his visitor's dark eyes roved
nervously around the room, resting for a moment on a great English
travelling bag in the corner and on a family of thick silk shirts
littered on the chairs amid impressive neckties and soft woollen
Gordon rose and, picking up one of the shirts, gave it a minute
examination. It was of very heavy silk, yellow, with a pale blue
stripe—and there were nearly a dozen of them. He stared
involuntarily at his own shirt-cuffs—they were ragged and linty at
the edges and soiled to a faint gray. Dropping the silk shirt, he held
his coat-sleeves down and worked the frayed shirt-cuffs up till they
were out of sight. Then he went to the mirror and looked at himself
with listless, unhappy interest. His tie, of former glory, was faded
and thumb-creased—it served no longer to hide the jagged buttonholes
of his collar. He thought, quite without amusement, that only three
years before he had received a scattering vote in the senior elections
at college for being the best-dressed man in his class.
Dean emerged from the bathroom polishing his body.
"Saw an old friend of yours last night," he remarked.
"Passed her in the lobby and couldn't think of her name to save my
neck. That girl you brought up to New Haven senior year."
"Edith Bradin? That whom you mean?"
"'At's the one. Damn good looking. She's still sort of a pretty
doll—you know what I mean: as if you touched her she'd smear."
He surveyed his shining self complacently in the mirror, smiled
faintly, exposing a section of teeth.
"She must be twenty-three anyway," he continued.
"Twenty-two last month," said Gordon absently.
"What? Oh, last month. Well, I imagine she's down for the Gamma Psi
dance. Did you know we're having a Yale Gamma Psi dance to-night at
Delmonico's? You better come up, Gordy. Half of New Haven'll probably
be there. I can get you an invitation."
Draping himself reluctantly in fresh underwear, Dean lit a cigarette
and sat down by the open window, inspecting his calves and knees under
the morning sunshine which poured into the room.
"Sit down, Gordy," he suggested, "and tell me all about what you've
been doing and what you're doing now and everything."
Gordon collapsed unexpectedly upon the bed; lay there inert and
spiritless. His mouth, which habitually dropped a little open when his
face was in repose, became suddenly helpless and pathetic.
"What's the matter?" asked Dean quickly.
"What's the matter?"
"Every God damn thing in the world," he said miserably, "I've
absolutely gone to pieces, Phil. I'm all in."
"I'm all in." His voice was shaking.
Dean scrutinized him more closely with appraising blue eyes.
"You certainly look all shot."
"I am. I've made a hell of a mess of everything." He paused. "I'd
better start at the beginning—or will it bore you?"
"Not at all; go
on." There was, however, a hesitant note in Dean's voice. This trip
East had been planned for a holiday—to find Gordon Sterrett in
trouble exasperated him a little.
"Go on," he repeated, and then added half under his breath, "Get it
"Well," began Gordon unsteadily, "I got back from France in February,
went home to Harrisburg for a month, and then came down to New York to
get a job. I got one—with an export company. They fired me
"I'm coming to that, Phil. I want to tell you frankly. You're about
the only man I can turn to in a matter like this. You won't mind if I
just tell you frankly, will you, Phil?"
Dean stiffened a bit more. The pats he was bestowing on his knees grew
perfunctory. He felt vaguely that he was being unfairly saddled with
responsibility; he was not even sure he wanted to be told. Though
never surprised at finding Gordon Sterrett in mild difficulty, there
was something in this present misery that repelled him and hardened
him, even though it excited his curiosity.
"It's a girl."
"Hm." Dean resolved that nothing was going to spoil his trip. If
Gordon was going to be depressing, then he'd have to see less of
"Her name is Jewel Hudson," went on the distressed voice from the bed.
"She used to be 'pure,' I guess, up to about a year ago. Lived here
in New York—poor family. Her people are dead now and she lives with
an old aunt. You see it was just about the time I met her that
everybody began to come back from France in droves—and all I did was
to welcome the newly arrived and go on parties with 'em. That's the
way it started, Phil, just from being glad to see everybody and having
them glad to see me."
"You ought to've had more sense."
"I know," Gordon paused, and then continued listlessly. "I'm on my own
now, you know, and Phil, I can't stand being poor. Then came this darn
girl. She sort of fell in love with me for a while and, though I never
intended to get so involved, I'd always seem to run into her
somewhere. You can imagine the sort of work I was doing for those
exporting people—of course, I always intended to draw; do
illustrating for magazines; there's a pile of money in it."
"Why didn't you? You've got to buckle down if you want to make good,"
suggested Dean with cold formalism.
"I tried, a little, but my stuff's crude. I've got talent, Phil; I can
draw—but I just don't know how. I ought to go to art school and I
can't afford it. Well, things came to a crisis about a week ago. Just
as I was down to about my last dollar this girl began bothering me.
She wants some money; claims she can make trouble for me if she
doesn't get it."
"I'm afraid she can. That's one reason I lost my job—she kept calling
up the office all the time, and that was sort of the last straw down
there. She's got a letter all written to send to my family. Oh, she's
got me, all right. I've got to have some money for her."
There was an awkward pause. Gordon lay very still, his hands clenched
by his side.
"I'm all in," he continued, his voice trembling. "I'm half crazy,
Phil. If I hadn't known you were coming East, I think I'd have killed
myself. I want you to lend me three hundred dollars."
Dean's hands, which had been patting his bare ankles, were suddenly
quiet—and the curious uncertainty playing between the two became taut
After a second Gordon continued:
"I've bled the family until I'm ashamed to ask for another nickel."
Still Dean made no answer.
"Jewel says she's got to have two hundred dollars."
"Tell her where she can go."
"Yes, that sounds easy, but she's got a couple of drunken letters I
wrote her. Unfortunately she's not at all the flabby sort of person
Dean made an expression of distaste.
"I can't stand that sort of woman. You ought to have kept away."
"I know," admitted Gordon wearily.
"You've got to look at things as they are. If you haven't got money
you've got to work and stay away from women."
"That's easy for you to say," began Gordon, his eyes narrowing.
"You've got all the money in the world."
"I most certainly have not. My family keep darn close tab on what I
spend. Just because I have a little leeway I have to be extra careful
not to abuse it."
He raised the blind and let in a further flood of sunshine.
"I'm no prig, Lord knows," he went on deliberately. "I like
pleasure—and I like a lot of it on a vacation like this, but
you're—you're in awful shape. I never heard you talk just this way
before. You seem to be sort of bankrupt—morally as well as
"Don't they usually go together?"
Dean shook his head impatiently.
"There's a regular aura about you that I don't understand. It's a sort
"It's an air of worry and poverty and sleepless nights," said Gordon,
"I don't know."
"Oh, I admit I'm depressing. I depress myself. But, my God, Phil, a
week's rest and a new suit and some ready money and I'd be like—like
I was. Phil, I can draw like a streak, and you know it. But half the
time I haven't had the money to buy decent drawing materials—and I
can't draw when I'm tired and discouraged and all in. With a little
ready money I can take a few weeks off and get started."
"How do I know you wouldn't use it on some other woman?"
"Why rub it in?" said Gordon, quietly.
"I'm not rubbing it in. I hate to see you this way."
"Will you lend me the money, Phil?"
"I can't decide right off. That's a lot of money and it'll be darn
inconvenient for me."
"It'll be hell for me if you can't—I know I'm whining, and it's all
my own fault but—that doesn't change it."
"When could you pay it back?"
This was encouraging. Gordon considered. It was probably wisest to be
"Of course, I could promise to send it back next month, but—I'd
better say three months. Just as soon as I start to sell drawings."
"How do I know you'll sell any drawings?"
A new hardness in Dean's voice sent a faint chill of doubt over
Gordon. Was it possible that he wouldn't get the money?
"I supposed you had a little confidence in me."
"I did have—but when I see you like this I begin to wonder."
"Do you suppose if I wasn't at the end of my rope I'd come to you like
this? Do you think I'm enjoying it?" He broke off and bit his lip,
feeling that he had better subdue the rising anger in his voice. After
all, he was the suppliant.
"You seem to manage it pretty easily," said Dean angrily. "You put me
in the position where, if I don't lend it to you, I'm a sucker—oh,
yes, you do. And let me tell you it's no easy thing for me to get hold
of three hundred dollars. My income isn't so big but that a slice like
that won't play the deuce with it."
He left his chair and began to dress, choosing his clothes carefully.
Gordon stretched out his arms and clenched the edges of the bed,
fighting back a desire to cry out. His head was splitting and
whirring, his mouth was dry and bitter and he could feel the fever in
his blood resolving itself into innumerable regular counts like a slow
dripping from a roof.
Dean tied his tie precisely, brushed his eyebrows, and removed a piece
of tobacco from his teeth with solemnity. Next he filled his cigarette
case, tossed the empty box thoughtfully into the waste basket, and
settled the case in his vest pocket.
"Had breakfast?" he demanded.
"No; I don't eat it any more."
"Well, we'll go out and have some. We'll decide about that money
later. I'm sick of the subject. I came East to have a good time.
"Let's go over to the Yale Club," he continued moodily, and then added
with an implied reproof: "You've given up your job. You've got nothing
else to do."
"I'd have a lot to do if I had a little money," said Gordon pointedly.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake drop the subject for a while! No point in
glooming on my whole trip. Here, here's some money."
He took a five-dollar bill from his wallet and tossed it over to
Gordon, who folded it carefully and put it in his pocket. There was an
added spot of color in his cheeks, an added glow that was not fever.
For an instant before they turned to go out their eyes met and in that
instant each found something that made him lower his own glance
quickly. For in that instant they quite suddenly and definitely hated
Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street swarmed with the noon crowd. The
wealthy, happy sun glittered in transient gold through the thick
windows of the smart shops, lighting upon mesh bags and purses and
strings of pearls in gray velvet cases; upon gaudy feather fans of
many colors; upon the laces and silks of expensive dresses; upon the
bad paintings and the fine period furniture in the elaborate show
rooms of interior decorators.
Working-girls, in pairs and groups and swarms, loitered by these
windows, choosing their future boudoirs from some resplendent display
which included even a man's silk pajamas laid domestically across the
bed. They stood in front of the jewelry stores and picked out their
engagement rings, and their wedding rings and their platinum wrist
watches, and then drifted on to inspect the feather fans and opera
cloaks; meanwhile digesting the sandwiches and sundaes they had eaten
All through the crowd were men in uniform, sailors from the great
fleet anchored in the Hudson, soldiers with divisional insignia from
Massachusetts to California, wanting fearfully to be noticed, and
finding the great city thoroughly fed up with soldiers unless they
were nicely massed into pretty formations and uncomfortable under the
weight of a pack and rifle. Through this medley Dean and Gordon
wandered; the former interested, made alert by the display of humanity
at its frothiest and gaudiest; the latter reminded of how often he had
been one of the crowd, tired, casually fed, overworked, and
dissipated. To Dean the struggle was significant, young, cheerful; to
Gordon it was dismal, meaningless, endless.
In the Yale Club they met a group of their former classmates who
greeted the visiting Dean vociferously. Sitting in a semicircle of
lounges and great chairs, they had a highball all around.
Gordon found the conversation tiresome and interminable. They lunched
together en masse, warmed with liquor as the afternoon began.
They were all going to the Gamma Psi dance that night—it promised to
be the best party since the war.
"Edith Bradin's coming," said some one to Gordon. "Didn't she used to
be an old flame of yours? Aren't you both from Harrisburg?"
"Yes." He tried to change the subject. "I see her brother
occasionally. He's sort of a socialistic nut. Runs a paper or
something here in New York."
"Not like his gay sister, eh?" continued his eager informant. "Well,
she's coming to-night—with a junior named Peter Himmel."
Gordon was to meet Jewel Hudson at eight o'clock—he had promised to
have some money for her. Several times he glanced nervously at his
wrist watch. At four, to his relief, Dean rose and announced that he
was going over to Rivers Brothers to buy some collars and ties. But as
they left the Club another of the party joined them, to Gordon's great
dismay. Dean was in a jovial mood now, happy, expectant of the
evening's party, faintly hilarious. Over in Rivers' he chose a dozen
neckties, selecting each one after long consultations with the other
man. Did he think narrow ties were coming back? And wasn't it a shame
that Rivers couldn't get any more Welsh Margotson collars? There never
was a collar like the "Covington."
Gordon was in something of a panic. He wanted the money immediately.
And he was now inspired also with a vague idea of attending the Gamma
Psi dance. He wanted to see Edith—Edith whom he hadn't met since one
romantic night at the Harrisburg Country Club just before he went to
France. The affair had died, drowned in the turmoil of the war and
quite forgotten in the arabesque of these three months, but a picture
of her, poignant, debonnaire, immersed in her own inconsequential
chatter, recurred to him unexpectedly and brought a hundred memories
with it. It was Edith's face that he had cherished through college
with a sort of detached yet affectionate admiration. He had loved to
draw her—around his room had been a dozen sketches of her—playing
golf, swimming—he could draw her pert, arresting profile with his
They left Rivers' at five-thirty and parsed for a moment on the
"Well," said Dean genially, "I'm all set now. Think I'll go back to
the hotel and get a shave, haircut, and massage."
"Good enough," said the other man, "I think I'll join you."
Gordon wondered if he was to be beaten after all. With difficulty he
restrained himself from turning to the man and snarling out, "Go on
away, damn you!" In despair he suspected that perhaps Dean had spoken
to him, was keeping him along in order to avoid a dispute about the
They went into the Biltmore—a Biltmore alive with girls—mostly from
the West and South, the stellar débutantes of many cities gathered for
the dance of a famous fraternity of a famous university. But to Gordon
they were faces in a dream. He gathered together his forces for a last
appeal, was about to come out with he knew not what, when Dean
suddenly excused himself to the other man and taking Gordon's arm led
"Gordy," he said quickly, "I've thought the whole thing over carefully
and I've decided that I can't lend you that money. I'd like to oblige
you, but I don't feel I ought to—it'd put a crimp in me for a month."
Gordon, watching him dully, wondered why he had never before noticed
how much those upper teeth projected.
"I'm—mighty sorry, Gordon," continued Dean, "but that's the way it
He took out his wallet and deliberately counted out seventy-five
dollars in bills.
"Here," he said, holding them out, "here's seventy-five; that makes
eighty all together. That's all the actual cash I have with me,
besides what I'll actually spend on the trip."
Gordon raised his clenched hand automatically, opened it as though it
were a tongs he was holding, and clenched it again on the money.
"I'll see you at the dance," continued Dean. "I've got to get along to
the barber shop."
"So-long," said Gordon in a strained and husky voice.
Dean, began to smile, but seemed to change his mind. He nodded briskly
But Gordon stood there, his handsome face awry with distress, the roll
of bills clenched tightly in his hand. Then, blinded by sudden tears,
he stumbled clumsily down the Biltmore steps.
About nine o'clock of the same night two human beings came out of a
cheap restaurant in Sixth Avenue. They were ugly, ill-nourished,
devoid of all except the very lowest form of intelligence, and without
even that animal exuberance that in itself brings color into life;
they were lately vermin-ridden, cold, and hungry in a dirty town of a
strange land; they were poor, friendless; tossed as driftwood from
their births, they would be tossed as driftwood to their deaths. They
were dressed in the uniform of the United States Army, and on the
shoulder of each was the insignia of a drafted division from New
Jersey, landed three days before.
The taller of the two was named Carrol Key, a name hinting that in his
veins, however thinly diluted by generations of degeneration, ran
blood of some potentiality. But one could stare endlessly at the long,
chinless face, the dull, watery eyes, and high cheek-bones, without
finding suggestion of either ancestral worth or native resourcefulness.
His companion was swart and bandy-legged, with rat-eyes and a
much-broken hooked nose. His defiant air was obviously a pretense, a
weapon of protection borrowed from that world of snarl and snap, of
physical bluff and physical menace, in which he had always lived. His
name was Gus Rose.
Leaving the café they sauntered down Sixth Avenue, wielding toothpicks
with great gusto and complete detachment.
"Where to?" asked Rose, in a tone which implied that he would not be
surprised if Key suggested the South Sea Islands.
"What you say we see if we can getta holda some liquor?" Prohibition
was not yet. The ginger in the suggestion was caused by the law
forbidding the selling of liquor to soldiers.
Rose agreed enthusiastically.
"I got an idea," continued Key, after a moment's thought, "I got a
"In New York?"
"Yeah. He's an old fella." He meant that he was an elder brother.
"He's a waiter in a hash joint."
"Maybe he can get us some."
"I'll say he can!"
"B'lieve me, I'm goin' to get this darn uniform off me to-morra. Never
get me in it again, neither. I'm goin' to get me some regular
"Say, maybe I'm not."
As their combined finances were something less than five dollars, this
intention can be taken largely as a pleasant game of words, harmless
and consoling. It seemed to please both of them, however, for they
reinforced it with chuckling and mention of personages high in
biblical circles, adding such further emphasis as "Oh, boy!" "You
know!" and "I'll say so!" repeated many times over.
The entire mental pabulum of these two men consisted of an offended
nasal comment extended through the years upon the institution—army,
business, or poorhouse—which kept them alive, and toward their
immediate superior in that institution. Until that very morning the
institution had been the "government" and the immediate superior had
been the "Cap'n"—from these two they had glided out and were now in
the vaguely uncomfortable state before they should adopt their next
bondage. They were uncertain, resentful, and somewhat ill at ease.
This they hid by pretending an elaborate relief at being out of the
army, and by assuring each other that military discipline should never
again rule their stubborn, liberty-loving wills. Yet, as a matter of
fact, they would have felt more at home in a prison than in this
new-found and unquestionable freedom.
Suddenly Key increased his gait. Rose, looking up and following his
glance, discovered a crowd that was collecting fifty yards down the
street. Key chuckled and began to run in the direction of the crowd;
Rose thereupon also chuckled and his short bandy legs twinkled beside
the long, awkward strides of his companion.
Reaching the outskirts of the crowd they immediately became an
indistinguishable part of it. It was composed of ragged civilians
somewhat the worse for liquor, and of soldiers representing many
divisions and many stages of sobriety, all clustered around a
gesticulating little Jew with long black whiskers, who was waving his
arms and delivering an excited but succinct harangue. Key and Rose,
having wedged themselves into the approximate parquet, scrutinized him
with acute suspicion, as his words penetrated their common
"—What have you got outa the war?" he was crying fiercely. "Look
arounja, look arounja! Are you rich? Have you got a lot of money
offered you?—no; you're lucky if you're alive and got both your legs;
you're lucky if you came back an' find your wife ain't gone off with
some other fella that had the money to buy himself out of the war!
That's when you're lucky! Who got anything out of it except J. P.
Morgan an' John D. Rockerfeller?"
At this point the little Jew's oration was interrupted by the hostile
impact of a fist upon the point of his bearded chin and he toppled
backward to a sprawl on the pavement.
"God damn Bolsheviki!" cried the big soldier-blacksmith, who had
delivered the blow. There was a rumble of approval, the crowd closed
The Jew staggered to his feet, and immediately went down again before
a half-dozen reaching-in fists. This time he stayed down, breathing
heavily, blood oozing from his lip where it was cut within and
There was a riot of voices, and in a minute Rose and Key found
themselves flowing with the jumbled crowd down Sixth Avenue under the
leadership of a thin civilian in a slouch hat and the brawny soldier
who had summarily ended the oration. The crowd had marvellously
swollen to formidable proportions and a stream of more non-committal
citizens followed it along the sidewalks lending their moral support
by intermittent huzzas.
"Where we goin'?" yelled Key to the man nearest him
His neighbor pointed up to the leader in the slouch hat.
"That guy knows where there's a lot of 'em! We're goin' to show 'em!"
"We're goin' to show 'em!" whispered Key delightedly to Rose, who
repeated the phrase rapturously to a man on the other side.
Down Sixth Avenue swept the procession, joined here and there by
soldiers and marines, and now and then by civilians, who came up with
the inevitable cry that they were just out of the army themselves, as
if presenting it as a card of admission to a newly formed Sporting and
Then the procession swerved down a cross street and headed for Fifth
Avenue and the word filtered here and there that they were bound for a
Red meeting at Tolliver Hall.
"Where is it?"
The question went up the line and a moment later the answer floated
hack. Tolliver Hall was down on Tenth Street. There was a bunch of
other sojers who was goin' to break it up and was down there now!
But Tenth Street had a faraway sound and at the word a general groan
went up and a score of the procession dropped out. Among these were
Rose and Key, who slowed down to a saunter and let the more
enthusiastic sweep on by.
"I'd rather get some liquor," said Key as they halted and made their
way to the sidewalk amid cries of "Shell hole!" and "Quitters!"
"Does your brother work around here?" asked Rose, assuming the air of
one passing from the superficial to the eternal.
"He oughta," replied Key. "I ain't seen him for a coupla years. I been
out to Pennsylvania since. Maybe he don't work at night anyhow. It's
right along here. He can get us some o'right if he ain't gone."
They found the place after a few minutes' patrol of the street—a
shoddy tablecloth restaurant between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Here
Key went inside to inquire for his brother George, while Rose waited
on the sidewalk.
"He ain't here no more," said Key emerging. "He's a waiter up to
Rose nodded wisely, as if he'd expected as much. One should not be
surprised at a capable man changing jobs occasionally. He knew a
waiter once—there ensued a long conversation as they waited as to
whether waiters made more in actual wages than in tips—it was decided
that it depended on the social tone of the joint wherein the waiter
labored. After having given each other vivid pictures of millionaires
dining at Delmonico's and throwing away fifty-dollar bills after their
first quart of champagne, both men thought privately of becoming
waiters. In fact, Key's narrow brow was secreting a resolution to ask
his brother to get him a job.
"A waiter can drink up all the champagne those fellas leave in
bottles," suggested Rose with some relish, and then added as an
afterthought, "Oh, boy!"
By the time they reached Delmonico's it was half past ten, and they
were surprised to see a stream of taxis driving up to the door one
after the other and emitting marvelous, hatless young ladies, each one
attended by a stiff young gentleman in evening clothes.
"It's a party," said Rose with some awe. "Maybe we better not go in.
He'll be busy."
"No, he won't. He'll be o'right."
After some hesitation they entered what appeared to them to be the
least elaborate door and, indecision falling upon them immediately,
stationed themselves nervously in an inconspicuous corner of the small
dining-room in which they found themselves. They took off their caps
and held them in their hands. A cloud of gloom fell upon them and both
started when a door at one end of the room crashed open, emitting a
comet-like waiter who streaked across the floor and vanished through
another door on the other side.
There had been three of these lightning passages before the seekers
mustered the acumen to hail a waiter. He turned, looked at them
suspiciously, and then approached with soft, catlike steps, as if
prepared at any moment to turn and flee.
"Say," began Key, "say, do you know my brother? He's a waiter here."
"His name is Key," annotated Rose.
Yes, the waiter knew Key. He was up-stairs, he thought. There was a
big dance going on in the main ballroom. He'd tell him.
Ten minutes later George Key appeared and greeted his brother with the
utmost suspicion; his first and most natural thought being that he was
going to be asked for money.
George was tall and weak chinned, but there his resemblance to his
brother ceased. The waiter's eyes were not dull, they were alert and
twinkling, and his manner was suave, in-door, and faintly superior.
They exchanged formalities. George was married and had three children.
He seemed fairly interested, but not impressed by the news that Carrol
had been abroad in the army. This disappointed Carrol.
"George," said the younger brother, these amenities having been
disposed of, "we want to get some booze, and they won't sell us none.
Can you get us some?"
"Sure. Maybe I can. It may be half an hour, though."
"All right," agreed Carrol, "we'll wait."
At this Rose started to sit down in a convenient chair, but was hailed
to his feet by the indignant George.
"Hey! Watch out, you! Can't sit down here! This room's all set for a
twelve o'clock banquet."
"I ain't goin' to hurt it," said Rose resentfully. "I been through the
"Never mind," said George sternly, "if the head waiter seen me here
talkin' he'd romp all over me."
The mention of the head waiter was full explanation to the other two;
they fingered their overseas caps nervously and waited for a
"I tell you," said George, after a pause, "I got a place you can wait;
you just come here with me."
They followed him out the far door, through a deserted pantry and up a
pair of dark winding stairs, emerging finally into a small room
chiefly furnished by piles of pails and stacks of scrubbing brushes,
and illuminated by a single dim electric light. There he left them,
after soliciting two dollars and agreeing to return in half an hour
with a quart of whiskey.
"George is makin' money, I bet," said Key gloomily as he seated
himself on an inverted pail. "I bet he's making fifty dollars a week."
Rose nodded his head and spat.
"I bet he is, too."
"What'd he say the dance was of?"
"A lot of college fellas. Yale College."
They, both nodded solemnly at each other.
"Wonder where that crowda sojers is now?"
"I don't know. I know that's too damn long to walk for me."
"Me too. You don't catch me walkin' that far."
Ten minutes later restlessness seized them.
"I'm goin' to see what's out here," said Rose, stepping cautiously
toward the other door.
It was a swinging door of green baize and he pushed it open a cautious
For answer Rose drew in his breath sharply.
"Doggone! Here's some liquor I'll say!"
Key joined Rose at the door, and looked eagerly.
"I'll tell the world that's liquor," he said, after a moment of
It was a room about twice as large as the one they were in—and in it
was prepared a radiant feast of spirits. There were long walls of
alternating bottles set along two white covered tables; whiskey, gin,
brandy, French and Italian vermouths, and orange juice, not to mention
an array of syphons and two great empty punch bowls. The room was as
"It's for this dance they're just starting," whispered Key; "hear the
violins playin'? Say, boy, I wouldn't mind havin' a dance."
They closed the door softly and exchanged a glance of mutual
comprehension. There was no need of feeling each other out.
"I'd like to get my hands on a coupla those bottles," said Rose
"Do you suppose we'd get seen?"
"Maybe we better wait till they start drinkin' 'em. They got 'em all
laid out now, and they know how many of them there are."
They debated this point for several minutes. Rose was all for getting
his hands on a bottle now and tucking it under his coat before anyone
came into the room. Key, however, advocated caution. He was afraid he
might get his brother in trouble. If they waited till some of the
bottles were opened it'd be all right to take one, and everybody'd
think it was one of the college fellas.
While they were still engaged in argument George Key hurried through
the room and, barely grunting at them, disappeared by way of the green
baize door. A minute later they heard several corks pop, and then the
sound of cracking ice and splashing liquid. George was mixing the
The soldiers exchanged delighted grins.
"Oh, boy!" whispered Rose.
"Just keep low, boys," he said quickly. "Ill have your stuff for you
in five minutes."
He disappeared through the door by which he had come.
As soon as his footsteps receded down the stairs, Rose, after a
cautious look, darted into the room of delights and reappeared with a
bottle in his hand.
"Here's what I say," he said, as they sat radiantly digesting their
first drink. "We'll wait till he comes up, and we'll ask him if we
can't just stay here and drink what he brings us—see. We'll tell him
we haven't got any place to drink it—see. Then we can sneak in there
whenever there ain't nobody in that there room and tuck a bottle under
our coats. We'll have enough to last us a coupla days—see?"
"Sure," agreed Rose enthusiastically. "Oh, boy! And if we want to we
can sell it to sojers any time we want to."
They were silent for a moment thinking rosily of this idea. Then Key
reached up and unhooked the collar of his O. D. coat.
"It's hot in here, ain't it?"
Rose agreed earnestly.
"Hot as hell."
She was still quite angry when she came out of the dressing-room and
crossed the intervening parlor of politeness that opened onto the
hall—angry not so much at the actual happening which was, after all,
the merest commonplace of her social existence, but because it had
occurred on this particular night. She had no quarrel with herself.
She had acted with that correct mixture of dignity and reticent pity
which she always employed. She had succinctly and deftly snubbed him.
It had happened when their taxi was leaving the Biltmore—hadn't gone
half a block. He had lifted his right arm awkwardly—she was on his
right side—and attempted to settle it snugly around the crimson
fur-trimmed opera cloak she wore. This in itself had been a mistake.
It was inevitably more graceful for a young man attempting to embrace
a young lady of whose acquiescence he was not certain, to first put
his far arm around her. It avoided that awkward movement of raising
the near arm.
His second faux pas was unconscious. She had spent the
afternoon at the hairdresser's; the idea of any calamity overtaking
her hair was extremely repugnant—yet as Peter made his unfortunate
attempt the point of his elbow had just faintly brushed it. That was
his second faux pas. Two were quite enough.
He had begun to murmur. At the first murmur she had decided that he
was nothing but a college boy—Edith was twenty-two, and anyhow, this
dance, first of its kind since the war, was reminding her, with the
accelerating rhythm of its associations, of something else—of another
dance and another man, a man for whom her feelings had been little
more than a sad-eyed, adolescent mooniness. Edith Bradin was falling
in love with her recollection of Gordon Sterrett.
So she came out of the dressing-room at Delmonico's and stood for a
second in the doorway looking over the shoulders of a black dress in
front of her at the groups of Yale men who flitted like dignified
black moths around the head of the stairs. From the room she had left
drifted out the heavy fragrance left by the passage to and fro of many
scented young beauties—rich perfumes and the fragile memory-laden
dust of fragrant powders. This odor drifting out acquired the tang of
cigarette smoke in the hall, and then settled sensuously down the
stairs and permeated the ballroom where the Gamma Psi dance was to be
held. It was an odor she knew well, exciting, stimulating, restlessly
sweet—the odor of a fashionable dance.
She thought of her own appearance. Her bare arms and shoulders were
powdered to a creamy white. She knew they looked very soft and would
gleam like milk against the black backs that were to silhouette them
to-night. The hairdressing had been a success; her reddish mass of
hair was piled and crushed and creased to an arrogant marvel of mobile
curves. Her lips were finely made of deep carmine; the irises of her
eyes were delicate, breakable blue, like china eyes. She was a
complete, infinitely delicate, quite perfect thing of beauty, flowing
in an even line from a complex coiffure to two small slim feet.
She thought of what she would say to-night at this revel, faintly
prestiged already by the sounds of high and low laughter and slippered
footsteps, and movements of couples up and down the stairs. She would
talk the language she had talked for many years—her line—made up of
the current expressions, bits of journalese and college slang strung
together into an intrinsic whole, careless, faintly provocative,
delicately sentimental. She stalled faintly as she heard a girl
sitting on the stairs near her say: "You don't know the half of it,
And as she smiled her anger melted for a moment, and closing her eyes
she drew in a deep breath of pleasure. She dropped her arms to her
side until they were faintly touching the sleek sheath that covered
and suggested her figure. She had never felt her own softness so much
nor so enjoyed the whiteness of her own arms.
"I smell sweet," she said to herself simply, and then came another
thought "I'm made for love."
She liked the sound of this and thought it again; then inevitable
succession came her new-born riot of dreams about Gordon. The twist of
her imagination which, two months before, had disclosed to her her
unguessed desire to see him again, seemed now to have been leading up
to this dance, this hour.
For all her sleek beauty, Edith was a grave, slow-thinking girl. There
was a streak in her of that same desire to ponder, of that adolescent
idealism that had turned her brother socialist and pacifist. Henry
Bradin had left Cornell, where he had been an instructor in economies,
and had come to New York to pour the latest cures for incurable evils
into the columns of a radical weekly newspaper.
Edith, less fatuously, would have been content to cure Gordon
Sterrett. There was a quality of weakness in Gordon that she wanted to
take care of; there was a helplessness in him that she wanted to
protect. And she wanted someone she had known a long while, someone
who had loved her a long while. She was a little tired; she wanted to
get married. Out of a pile of letters, half a dozen pictures and as
many memories, and this weariness, she had decided that next time she
saw Gordon their relations were going to be changed. She would say
something that would change them. There was this evening. This was her
evening. All evenings were her evenings.
Then her thoughts were interrupted by a solemn undergraduate with a
hurt look and an air of strained formality who presented himself
before her and bowed unusually low. It was the man she had come with,
Peter Himmel. He was tall and humorous, with horned-rimmed glasses and
an air of attractive whimsicality. She suddenly rather disliked
him—probably because he had not succeeded in kissing her.
"Well," she began, "are you still furious at me?"
"Not at all."
She stepped forward and took his arm.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I don't know why I snapped out that
way. I'm in a bum humor to-night for some strange reason. I'm sorry."
"S'all right," he mumbled, "don't mention it."
He felt disagreeably embarrassed. Was she rubbing in the fact of his
"It was a mistake," she continued, on the same consciously gentle key.
"We'll both forget it." For this he hated her.
A few minutes later they drifted out on the floor while the dozen
swaying, sighing members of the specially hired jazz orchestra
informed the crowded ballroom that "if a saxophone and me are left
alone why then two is com-pan-ee!"
A man with a mustache cut in.
"Hello," he began reprovingly. "You don't remember me."
"I can't just think of your name," she said lightly—"and I know you
"I met you up at—" His voice trailed disconsolately off as a man with
very fair hair cut in. Edith murmured a conventional "Thanks,
loads—cut in later," to the inconnu.
The very fair man insisted on shaking hands enthusiastically. She
placed him as one of the numerous Jims of her acquaintance—last name
a mystery. She remembered even that he had a peculiar rhythm in
dancing and found as they started that she was right.
"Going to be here long?" he breathed confidentially.
She leaned back and looked up at him.
"Couple of weeks."
"Where are you?"
"Biltmore. Call me up some day."
"I mean it," he assured her. "I will. We'll go to tea."
"So do I—Do."
A dark man cut in with intense formality.
"You don't remember me, do you?" he said gravely.
"I should say I do. Your name's Harlan."
"Well, I knew there were two syllables anyway. You're the boy that
played the ukulele so well up at Howard Marshall's house party.
"I played—but not—"
A man with prominent teeth cut in. Edith inhaled a slight cloud of
whiskey. She liked men to have had something to drink; they were so
much more cheerful, and appreciative and complimentary—much easier to
"My name's Dean, Philip Dean," he said cheerfully. "You don't remember
me, I know, but you used to come up to New Haven with a fellow I
roomed with senior year, Gordon Sterrett."
Edith looked up quickly.
"Yes, I went up with him twice—to the Pump and Slipper and the Junior
"You've seen him, of course," said Dean carelessly. "He's here
to-night. I saw him just a minute ago."
Edith started. Yet she had felt quite sure he would be here.
"Why, no, I haven't—"
A fat man with red hair cut in.
"Hello, Edith," he began.
She slipped, stumbled lightly.
"I'm sorry, dear," she murmured mechanically.
She had seen Gordon—Gordon very white and listless, leaning against
the side of a doorway, smoking, and looking into the ballroom. Edith
could see that his face was thin and wan—that the hand he raised to
his lips with a cigarette, was trembling. They were dancing quite
close to him now.
"—They invite so darn many extra fellas that you—" the short man was
"Hello, Gordon," called Edith over her partner's shoulder. Her heart
was pounding wildly.
His large dark eyes were fixed on her. He took a step in her
direction. Her partner turned her away—she heard his voice
"—but half the stags get lit and leave before long, so—" Then a low
tone at her side.
"May I, please?"
She was dancing suddenly with Gordon; one of his arms was around her;
she felt it tighten spasmodically; felt his hand on her back with the
fingers spread. Her hand holding the little lace handkerchief was
crushed in his.
"Why Gordon," she began breathlessly.
She slipped again—was tossed forward by her recovery until her face
touched the black cloth of his dinner coat. She loved him—she knew
she loved him—then for a minute there was silence while a strange
feeling of uneasiness crept over her. Something was wrong.
Of a sudden her heart wrenched, and turned over as she realized what
it was. He was pitiful and wretched, a little drunk, and miserably
"Oh—" she cried involuntarily.
His eyes looked down at her. She saw suddenly that they were
blood-streaked and rolling uncontrollably.
"Gordon," she murmured, "we'll sit down; I want to sit down."
They were nearly in mid-floor, but she had seen two men start toward
her from opposite sides of the room, so she halted, seized Gordon's
limp hand and led him bumping through the crowd, her mouth tight shut,
her face a little pale under her rouge, her eyes trembling with tears.
She found a place high up on the soft-carpeted stairs, and he sat down
heavily beside her.
"Well," he began, staring at her unsteadily, "I certainly am glad to
see you, Edith."
She looked at him without answering. The effect of this on her was
immeasurable. For years she had seen men in various stages of
intoxication, from uncles all the way down to chauffeurs, and her
feelings had varied from amusement to disgust, but here for the first
time she was seized with a new feeling—an unutterable horror.
"Gordon," she said accusingly and almost crying, "you look like the
He nodded, "I've had trouble, Edith."
"All sorts of trouble. Don't you say anything to the family, but I'm
all gone to pieces. I'm a mess, Edith."
His lower lip was sagging. He seemed scarcely to see her.
"Can't you—can't you," she hesitated, "can't you tell me about it,
Gordon? You know I'm always interested in you."
She bit her lip—she had intended to say something stronger, but found
at the end that she couldn't bring it out.
Gordon shook his head dully. "I can't tell you. You're a good woman. I
can't tell a good woman the story."
"Rot," she said, defiantly. "I think it's a perfect insult to call any
one a good woman in that way. It's a slam. You've been drinking,
"Thanks." He inclined his head gravely. "Thanks for the information."
"Why do you drink?"
"Because I'm so damn miserable."
"Do you think drinking's going to make it any better?"
"What you doing—trying to reform me?"
"No; I'm trying to help you, Gordon. Can't you tell me about it?"
"I'm in an awful mess. Best thing you can do is to pretend not to know
"I'm sorry I cut in on you—its unfair to you. You're pure woman—and
all that sort of thing. Here, I'll get some one else to dance with
He rose clumsily to his feet, but she reached up and pulled him down
beside her on the stairs.
"Here, Gordon. You're ridiculous. You're hurting me. You're acting
like a—like a crazy man—"
"I admit it. I'm a little crazy. Something's wrong with me, Edith.
There's something left me. It doesn't matter."
"It does, tell me."
"Just that. I was always queer—little bit different from other boys.
All right in college, but now it's all wrong. Things have been
snapping inside me for four months like little hooks on a dress, and
it's about to come off when a few more hooks go. I'm very gradually
He turned his eyes full on her and began to laugh, and she shrank away
"What is the matter?"
"Just me," he repeated. "I'm going loony. This whole place is like a
dream to me—this Delmonico's—"
As he talked she saw he had changed utterly. He wasn't at all light
and gay and careless—a great lethargy and discouragement had come
over him. Revulsion seized her, followed by a faint, surprising
boredom. His voice seemed to come out of a great void.
"Edith," he said, "I used to think I was clever, talented, an artist.
Now I know I'm nothing. Can't draw, Edith. Don't know why I'm telling
She nodded absently.
"I can't draw, I can't do anything. I'm poor as a church mouse." He
laughed, bitterly and rather too loud. "I've become a damn beggar, a
leech on my friends. I'm a failure. I'm poor as hell."
Her distaste was growing. She barely nodded this time, waiting for her
first possible cue to rise.
Suddenly Gordon's eyes filled with tears.
"Edith," he said, turning to her with what was evidently a strong
effort at self-control, "I can't tell you what it means to me to know
there's one person left who's interested in me."
He reached out and patted her hand, and involuntarily she drew it
"It's mighty fine of you," he repeated.
"Well," she said slowly, looking him in the eye, "any one's always
glad to see an old friend—but I'm sorry to see you like this,
There was a pause while they looked at each other, and the momentary
eagerness in his eyes wavered. She rose and stood looking at him, her
face quite expressionless.
"Shall we dance?" she suggested, coolly.
—Love is fragile—she was thinking—but perhaps the pieces are saved,
the things that hovered on lips, that might have been said. The new
love words, the tendernesses learned, are treasured up for the next
Peter Himmel, escort to the lovely Edith, was unaccustomed to being
snubbed; having been snubbed, he was hurt and embarrassed, and ashamed
of himself. For a matter of two months he had been on special delivery
terms with Edith Bradin, and knowing that the one excuse and
explanation of the special delivery letter is its value in sentimental
correspondence, he had believed himself quite sure of his ground. He
searched in vain for any reason why she should have taken this
attitude in the matter of a simple kiss.
Therefore when he was cut in on by the man with the mustache he went
out into the hall and, making up a sentence, said it over to himself
several times. Considerably deleted, this was it:
"Well, if any girl ever led a man on and then jolted him, she did—and
she has no kick coming if I go out and get beautifully boiled."
So he walked through the supper room into a small room adjoining it,
which he had located earlier in the evening. It was a room in which
there were several large bowls of punch flanked by many bottles. He
took a seat beside the table which held the bottles.
At the second highball, boredom, disgust, the monotony of time, the
turbidity of events, sank into a vague background before which
glittering cobwebs formed. Things became reconciled to themselves,
things lay quietly on their shelves; the troubles of the day arranged
themselves in trim formation and at his curt wish of dismissal,
marched off and disappeared. And with the departure of worry came
brilliant, permeating symbolism. Edith became a flighty, negligible
girl, not to be worried over; rather to be laughed at. She fitted like
a figure of his own dream into the surface world forming about him. He
himself became in a measure symbolic, a type of the continent
bacchanal, the brilliant dreamer at play.
Then the symbolic mood faded and as he sipped his third highball his
imagination yielded to the warm glow and he lapsed into a state
similar to floating on his back in pleasant water. It was at this
point that he noticed that a green baize door near him was open about
two inches, and that through the aperture a pair of eyes were watching
"Hm," murmured Peter calmly.
The green door closed—and then opened again—a bare half inch this
"Peek-a-boo," murmured Peter.
The door remained stationary and then he became aware of a series of
tense intermittent whispers.
"What's he doin'?"
"He's sittin' lookin'."
"He better beat it off. We gotta get another li'l' bottle."
Peter listened while the words filtered into his consciousness.
"Now this," he thought, "is most remarkable."
He was excited. He was jubilant. He felt that he had stumbled upon a
mystery. Affecting an elaborate carelessness he arose and waited
around the table—then, turning quickly, pulled open the green door,
precipitating Private Rose into the room.
"How do you do?" he said.
Private Rose set one foot slightly in front of the other, poised for
fight, flight, or compromise.
"How do you do?" repeated Peter politely.
"Can I offer you a drink?"
Private Rose looked at him searchingly, suspecting possible sarcasm.
"O'right," he said finally.
Peter indicated a chair.
"I got a friend," said Rose, "I got a friend in there." He pointed to
the green door.
"By all means let's have him in."
Peter crossed over, opened the door and welcomed in Private Key, very
suspicious and uncertain and guilty. Chairs were found and the three
took their seats around the punch bowl. Peter gave them each a
highball and offered them a cigarette from his case. They accepted
both with some diffidence.
"Now," continued Peter easily, "may I ask why you gentlemen prefer to
lounge away your leisure hours in a room which is chiefly furnished,
as far as I can see, with scrubbing brushes. And when the human race
has progressed to the stage where seventeen thousand chairs are
manufactured on every day except Sunday—" he paused. Rose and Key
regarded him vacantly. "Will you tell me," went on Peter, "why you
choose to rest yourselves on articles, intended for the transportation
of water from one place to another?"
At this point Rose contributed a grunt to the conversation.
"And lastly," finished Peter, "will you tell me why, when you are in a
building beautifully hung with enormous candelabra, you prefer to
spend these evening hours under one anemic electric light?"
Rose looked at Key; Key looked at Rose. They laughed; they laughed
uproariously; they found it was impossible to look at each other
without laughing. But they were not laughing with this man—they were
laughing at him. To them a man who talked after this fashion was
either raving drunk or raving crazy.
"You are Yale men, I presume," said Peter, finishing his highball and
They laughed again.
"So? I thought perhaps you might be members of that lowly section of
the university known as the Sheffield Scientific School."
"Hm. Well, that's too bad. No doubt you are Harvard men, anxious to
preserve your incognito in this—this paradise of violet blue, as the
"Na-ah," said Key scornfully, "we was just waitin' for somebody."
"Ah," exclaimed Peter, rising and filling their glasses, "very
interestin'. Had a date with a scrublady, eh?"
They both denied this indignantly.
"It's all right," Peter reassured them, "don't apologize. A
scrublady's as good as any lady in the world."
"Kipling says 'Any lady and Judy O'Grady under the skin.'"
"Sure," said Key, winking broadly at Rose.
"My case, for instance," continued Peter, finishing his glass. "I got
a girl up here that's spoiled. Spoildest darn girl I ever saw. Refused
to kiss me; no reason whatsoever. Led me on deliberately to think sure
I want to kiss you and then plunk! Threw me over! What's the younger
generation comin' to?"
"Say tha's hard luck," said Key—"that's awful hard luck."
"Oh, boy!" said Rose.
"Have another?" said Peter.
"We got in a sort of fight for a while," said Key after a pause, "but
it was too far away."
"A fight?—tha's stuff!" said Peter, seating himself unsteadily.
"Fight 'em all! I was in the army."
"This was with a Bolshevik fella."
"Tha's stuff!" exclaimed Peter, enthusiastic. "That's what I say!
Kill the Bolshevik! Exterminate 'em!"
"We're Americuns," said Rose, implying a sturdy, defiant patriotism.
"Sure," said Peter. "Greatest race in the world! We're all Americans!
They had another.
At one o'clock a special orchestra, special even in a day of special
orchestras, arrived at Delmonico's, and its members, seating
themselves arrogantly around the piano, took up the burden of
providing music for the Gamma Psi Fraternity. They were headed by a
famous flute-player, distinguished throughout New York for his feat of
standing on his head and shimmying with his shoulders while he played
the latest jazz on his flute. During his performance the lights were
extinguished except for the spotlight on the flute-player and another
roving beam that threw flickering shadows and changing kaleidoscopic
colors over the massed dancers.
Edith had danced herself into that tired, dreamy state habitual only
with débutantes, a state equivalent to the glow of a noble soul after
several long highballs. Her mind floated vaguely on the bosom of her
music; her partners changed with the unreality of phantoms under the
colorful shifting dusk, and to her present coma it seemed as if days
had passed since the dance began. She had talked on many fragmentary
subjects with many men. She had been kissed once and made love to six
times. Earlier in the evening different under-graduates had danced
with her, but now, like all the more popular girls there, she had her
own entourage—that is, half a dozen gallants had singled her out or
were alternating her charms with those of some other chosen beauty;
they cut in on her in regular, inevitable succession.
Several times she had seen Gordon—he had been sitting a long time on
the stairway with his palm to his head, his dull eyes fixed at an
infinite spark on the floor before him, very depressed, he looked, and
quite drunk—but Edith each time had averted her glance hurriedly. All
that seemed long ago; her mind was passive now, her senses were lulled
to trance-like sleep; only her feet danced and her voice talked on in
hazy sentimental banter.
But Edith was not nearly so tired as to be incapable of moral
indignation when Peter Himmel cut in on her, sublimely and happily
drunk. She gasped and looked up at him.
"I'm a li'l' stewed, Edith."
"Why, Peter, you're a peach, you are! Don't you think it's a
bum way of doing—when you're with me?"
Then she smiled unwillingly, for he was looking at her with owlish
sentimentality varied with a silly spasmodic smile.
"Darlin' Edith," he began earnestly, "you know I love you, don't you?"
"You tell it well."
"I love you—and I merely wanted you to kiss me," he added sadly.
His embarrassment, his shame, were both gone. She was a mos' beautiful
girl in whole worl'. Mos' beautiful eyes, like stars above. He wanted
to 'pologize—firs', for presuming try to kiss her; second, for
drinking—but he'd been so discouraged 'cause he had thought she was
mad at him——
The red-fat man cut in, and looking up at Edith smiled radiantly.
"Did you bring any one?" she asked.
No. The red-fat man was a stag.
"Well, would you mind—would it be an awful bother for you to—to take
me home to-night?" (this extreme diffidence was a charming affectation
on Edith's part—she knew that the red-fat man would immediately
dissolve into a paroxysm of delight).
"Bother? Why, good Lord, I'd be darn glad to! You know I'd be darn
"Thanks loads! You're awfully sweet."
She glanced at her wrist-watch. It was half-past one. And, as she said
"half-past one" to herself, it floated vaguely into her mind that her
brother had told her at luncheon that he worked in the office of his
newspaper until after one-thirty every evening.
Edith turned suddenly to her current partner.
"What street is Delmonico's on, anyway?"
"Street? Oh, why Fifth Avenue, of course."
"I mean, what cross street?"
"Why—let's see—it's on Forty-fourth Street."
This verified what she had thought. Henry's office must be across the
street and just around the corner, and it occurred to her immediately
that she might slip over for a moment and surprise him, float in on
him, a shimmering marvel in her new crimson opera cloak and "cheer him
up." It was exactly the sort of thing Edith revelled in doing—an
unconventional, jaunty thing. The idea reached out and gripped at her
imagination—after an instant's hesitation she had decided.
"My hair is just about to tumble entirely down," she said pleasantly
to her partner; "would you mind if I go and fix it?"
"Not at all."
"You're a peach."
A few minutes later, wrapped in her crimson opera cloak, she flitted
down a side-stairs, her cheeks glowing with excitement at her little
adventure. She ran by a couple who stood at the door—a weak-chinned
waiter and an over-rouged young lady, in hot dispute—and opening the
outer door stepped into the warm May night.
The over-rouged young lady followed her with a brief, bitter
glance—then turned again to the weak-chinned waiter and took up her
"You better go up and tell him I'm here," she said defiantly, "or I'll
go up myself."
"No, you don't!" said George sternly.
The girl smiled sardonically.
"Oh, I don't, don't I? Well, let me tell you I know more college
fellas and more of 'em know me, and are glad to take me out on a
party, than you ever saw in your whole life."
"Maybe so," she interrupted. "Oh, it's all right for any of 'em like
that one that just ran out—God knows where she went—it's all
right for them that are asked here to come or go as they like—but
when I want to see a friend they have some cheap, ham-slinging,
bring-me-a-doughnut waiter to stand here and keep me out."
"See here," said the elder Key indignantly, "I can't lose my job.
Maybe this fella you're talkin' about doesn't want to see you."
"Oh, he wants to see me all right."
"Anyways, how could I find him in all that crowd?"
"Oh, he'll be there," she asserted confidently. "You just ask anybody
for Gordon Sterrett and they'll point him out to you. They all know
each other, those fellas."
She produced a mesh bag, and taking out a dollar bill handed it to
"Here," she said, "here's a bribe. You find him and give him my
message. You tell him if he isn't here in five minutes I'm coming up."
George shook his head pessimistically, considered the question for a
moment, wavered violently, and then withdrew.
In less than the allotted time Gordon came down-stairs. He was drunker
than he had been earlier in the evening and in a different way. The
liquor seemed to have hardened on him like a crust. He was heavy and
lurching—almost incoherent when he talked.
"'Lo, Jewel," he said thickly. "Came right away, Jewel, I couldn't get
that money. Tried my best."
"Money nothing!" she snapped. "You haven't been near me for ten days.
What's the matter?"
He shook his head slowly.
"Been very low, Jewel. Been sick."
"Why didn't you tell me if you were sick. I don't care about the money
that bad. I didn't start bothering you about it at all until you began
Again he shook his head.
"Haven't been neglecting you. Not at all."
"Haven't! You haven't been near me for three weeks, unless you been so
drunk you didn't know what you were doing."
"Been sick. Jewel," he repeated, turning his eyes upon her wearily.
"You're well enough to come and play with your society friends here
all right. You told me you'd meet me for dinner, and you said you'd
have some money for me. You didn't even bother to ring me up."
"I couldn't get any money."
"Haven't I just been saying that doesn't matter? I wanted to see
you, Gordon, but you seem to prefer your somebody else."
He denied this bitterly.
"Then get your hat and come along," she suggested. Gordon
hesitated—and she came suddenly close to him and slipped her arms
around his neck.
"Come on with me, Gordon," she said in a half whisper. "We'll go over
to Devineries' and have a drink, and then we can go up to my
"I can't, Jewel,——"
"You can," she said intensely.
"I'm sick as a dog!"
"Well, then, you oughtn't to stay here and dance."
With a glance around him in which relief and despair were mingled,
Gordon hesitated; then she suddenly pulled him to her and kissed him
with soft, pulpy lips.
"All right," he said heavily. "I'll get my hat."
When Edith came out into the clear blue of the May night she found the
Avenue deserted. The windows of the big shops were dark; over their
doors were drawn great iron masks until they were only shadowy tombs
of the late day's splendor. Glancing down toward Forty-second Street
she saw a commingled blur of lights from the all-night restaurants.
Over on Sixth Avenue the elevated, a flare of fire, roared across the
street between the glimmering parallels of light at the station and
streaked along into the crisp dark. But at Forty-fourth Street it was
Pulling her cloak close about her Edith darted across the Avenue. She
started nervously as a solitary man passed her and said in a hoarse
whisper—"Where bound, kiddo?" She was reminded of a night in her
childhood when she had walked around the block in her pajamas and a
dog had howled at her from a mystery-big back yard.
In a minute she had reached her destination, a two-story,
comparatively old building on Forty-fourth, in the upper window of
which she thankfully detected a wisp of light. It was bright enough
outside for her to make out the sign beside the window—the New
York Trumpet. She stepped inside a dark hall and after a second
saw the stairs in the corner.
Then she was in a long, low room furnished with many desks and hung on
all sides with file copies of newspapers. There were only two
occupants. They were sitting at different ends of the room, each
wearing a green eye-shade and writing by a solitary desk light.
For a moment she stood uncertainly in the doorway, and then both men
turned around simultaneously and she recognized her brother.
"Why, Edith!" He rose quickly and approached her in surprise, removing
his eye-shade. He was tall, lean, and dark, with black, piercing eyes
under very thick glasses. They were far-away eyes that seemed always
fixed just over the head of the person to whom he was talking.
He put his hands on her arms and kissed her cheek.
"What is it?" he repeated in some alarm.
"I was at a dance across at Delmonico's, Henry," she said excitedly,
"and I couldn't resist tearing over to see you."
"I'm glad you did." His alertness gave way quickly to a habitual
vagueness. "You oughtn't to be out alone at night though, ought you?"
The man at the other end of the room had been looking at them
curiously, but at Henry's beckoning gesture he approached. He was
loosely fat with little twinkling eyes, and, having removed his collar
and tie, he gave the impression of a Middle-Western farmer on a Sunday
"This is my sister," said Henry. "She dropped in to see me."
"How do you do?" said the fat man, smiling. "My name's Bartholomew,
Miss Bradin. I know your brother has forgotten it long ago."
Edith laughed politely.
"Well," he continued, "not exactly gorgeous quarters we have here, are
Edith looked around the room.
"They seem very nice," she replied. "Where do you keep the bombs?"
"The bombs?" repeated Bartholomew, laughing. "That's pretty good—the
bombs. Did you hear her, Henry? She wants to know where we keep the
bombs. Say, that's pretty good."
Edith swung herself onto a vacant desk and sat dangling her feet over
the edge. Her brother took a seat beside her.
"Well," he asked, absent-mindedly, "how do you like New York this
"Not bad. I'll be over at the Biltmore with the Hoyts until Sunday.
Can't you come to luncheon to-morrow?"
He thought a moment.
"I'm especially busy," he objected, "and I hate women in groups."
"All right," she agreed, unruffled. "Let's you and me have luncheon
"I'll call for you at twelve."
Bartholomew was obviously anxious to return to his desk, but
apparently considered that it would be rude to leave without some
"Well"—he began awkwardly.
They both turned to him.
"Well, we—we had an exciting time earlier in the evening."
The two men exchanged glances.
"You should have come earlier," continued Bartholomew, somewhat
encouraged. "We had a regular vaudeville."
"Did you really?"
"A serenade," said Henry. "A lot of soldiers gathered down there in
the street and began to yell at the sign."
"Why?" she demanded.
"Just a crowd," said Henry, abstractedly. "All crowds have to howl.
They didn't have anybody with much initiative in the lead, or they'd
probably have forced their way in here and smashed things up."
"Yes," said Bartholomew, turning again to Edith, "you should have been
He seemed to consider this a sufficient cue for withdrawal, for he
turned abruptly and went back to his desk.
"Are the soldiers all set against the Socialists?" demanded Edith of
her brother. "I mean do they attack you violently and all that?"
Henry replaced his eye-shade and yawned.
"The human race has come a long way," he said casually, "but most of
us are throw-backs; the soldiers don't know what they want, or what
they hate, or what they like. They're used to acting in large bodies,
and they seem to have to make demonstrations. So it happens to be
against us. There've been riots all over the city to-night. It's May
Day, you see."
"Was the disturbance here pretty serious?"
"Not a bit," he said scornfully. "About twenty-five of them stopped in
the street about nine o'clock, and began to bellow at the moon."
"Oh"—She changed the subject. "You're glad to see me, Henry?"
"You don't seem to be."
"I suppose you think I'm a—a waster. Sort of the World's Worst
"Not at all. Have a good time while you're young. Why? Do I seem like
the priggish and earnest youth?"
"No—" she paused,"—but somehow I began thinking how absolutely
different the party I'm on is from—from all your purposes. It seems
sort of—of incongruous, doesn't it?—me being at a party like that,
and you over here working for a thing that'll make that sort of party
impossible ever any more, if your ideas work."
"I don't think of it that way. You're young, and you're acting just as
you were brought up to act. Go ahead—have a good time?"
Her feet, which had been idly swinging, stopped and her voice dropped
"I wish you'd—you'd come back to Harrisburg and have a good time. Do
you feel sure that you're on the right track——"
"You're wearing beautiful stockings," he interrupted. "What on earth
"They're embroidered," she replied, glancing down; "Aren't they
cunning?" She raised her skirts and uncovered slim, silk-sheathed
calves. "Or do you disapprove of silk stockings?"
He seemed slightly exasperated, bent his dark eyes on her piercingly.
"Are you trying to make me out as criticizing you in any way, Edith?"
"Not at all——"
She paused. Bartholomew had uttered a grunt. She turned and saw that
he had left his desk and was standing at the window.
"What is it?" demanded Henry.
"People," said Bartholomew, and then after an instant: "Whole jam of
them. They're coming from Sixth Avenue."
The fat man pressed his nose to the pane.
"Soldiers, by God!" he said emphatically. "I had an idea they'd come
Edith jumped to her feet, and running over joined Bartholomew at the
"There's a lot of them!" she cried excitedly. "Come here, Henry!"
Henry readjusted his shade, but kept his seat.
"Hadn't we better turn out the lights?" suggested Bartholomew.
"No. They'll go away in a minute."
"They're not," said Edith, peering from the window. "They're not even
thinking of going away. There's more of them coming. Look—there's a
whole crowd turning the corner of Sixth Avenue."
By the yellow glow and blue shadows of the street lamp she could see
that the sidewalk was crowded with men. They were mostly in uniform,
some sober, some enthusiastically drunk, and over the whole swept an
incoherent clamor and shouting.
Henry rose, and going to the window exposed himself as a long
silhouette against the office lights. Immediately the shouting became
a steady yell, and a rattling fusillade of small missiles, corners of
tobacco plugs, cigarette-boxes, and even pennies beat against the
window. The sounds of the racket now began floating up the stairs as
the folding doors revolved.
"They're coming up!" cried Bartholomew.
Edith turned anxiously to Henry.
"They're coming up, Henry."
From down-stairs in the lower hall their cries were now quite audible.
"—God Damn Socialists!"
"Second floor, front! Come on!"
"We'll get the sons—"
The next five minutes passed in a dream. Edith was conscious that the
clamor burst suddenly upon the three of them like a cloud of rain,
that there was a thunder of many feet on the stairs, that Henry had
seized her arm and drawn her back toward the rear of the office. Then
the door opened and an overflow of men were forced into the room—not
the leaders, but simply those who happened to be in front.
"Up late, ain't you!"
"You an' your girl. Damn you!"
She noticed that two very drunken soldiers had been forced to the
front, where they wobbled fatuously—one of them was short and dark,
the other was tall and weak of chin.
Henry stepped forward and raised his hand.
"Friends!" he said.
The clamor faded into a momentary stillness, punctuated with
"Friends!" he repeated, his far-away eyes fixed over the heads of the
crowd, "you're injuring no one but yourselves by breaking in here
to-night. Do we look like rich men? Do we look like Germans? I ask you
in all fairness—"
"I'll say you do!"
"Say, who's your lady friend, buddy?"
A man in civilian clothes, who had been pawing over a table, suddenly
held up a newspaper.
"Here it is!" he shouted, "They wanted the Germans to win the war!"
A new overflow from the stairs was shouldered in and of a sudden the
room was full of men all closing around the pale little group at the
back. Edith saw that the tall soldier with the weak chin was still in
front. The short dark one had disappeared.
She edged slightly backward, stood close to the open window, through
which came a clear breath of cool night air.
Then the room was a riot. She realized that the soldiers were surging
forward, glimpsed the fat man swinging a chair over his
head—instantly the lights went out and she felt the push of warm
bodies under rough cloth, and her ears were full of shouting and
trampling and hard breathing.
A figure flashed by her out of nowhere, tottered, was edged sideways,
and of a sudden disappeared helplessly out through the open window
with a frightened, fragmentary cry that died staccato on the bosom of
the clamor. By the faint light streaming from the building backing on
the area Edith had a quick impression that it had been the tall
soldier with tie weak chin.
Anger rose astonishingly in her. She swung her arms wildly, edged
blindly toward the thickest of the scuffling. She heard grunts,
curses, the muffled impact of fists.
"Henry!" she called frantically, "Henry!"
Then, it was minutes later, she felt suddenly that there were other
figures in the room. She heard a voice, deep, bullying, authoritative;
she saw yellow rays of light sweeping here and there in the fracas.
The cries became more scattered. The scuffling increased and then
Suddenly the lights were on and the room was full of policemen,
clubbing left and right. The deep voice boomed out:
"Here now! Here now! Here now!"
"Quiet down and get out! Here now!"
The room seemed to empty like a wash-bowl. A policeman fast-grappled
in the corner released his hold on his soldier antagonist and started
him with a shove toward the door. The deep voice continued. Edith
perceived now that it came from a bull-necked police captain standing
near the door.
"Here now! This is no way! One of your own sojers got shoved out of
the back window an' killed hisself!"
"Henry!" called Edith, "Henry!"
She beat wildly with her fists on the back of the man in front of her;
she brushed between two others; fought, shrieked, and beat her way to
a very pale figure sitting on the floor close to a desk.
"Henry," she cried passionately, "what's the matter? What's the
matter? Did they hurt you?"
His eyes were shut. He groaned and then looking up said disgustedly—
"They broke my leg. My God, the fools!"
"Here now!" called the police captain. "Here now! Here now!"
"Childs', Fifty-ninth Street," at eight o'clock of any morning differs
from its sisters by less than the width of their marble tables or the
degree of polish on the frying-pans. You will see there a crowd of
poor people with sleep in the corners of their eyes, trying to look
straight before them at their food so as not to see the other poor
people. But Childs', Fifty-ninth, four hours earlier is quite unlike
any Childs' restaurant from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.
Within its pale but sanitary walls one finds a noisy medley of chorus
girls, college boys, debutantes, rakes, filles de joie—a not
unrepresentative mixture of the gayest of Broadway, and even of Fifth
In the early morning of May the second it was unusually full. Over the
marble-topped tables were bent the excited faces of flappers whose
fathers owned individual villages. They were eating buckwheat cakes
and scrambled eggs with relish and gusto, an accomplishment that it
would have been utterly impossible for them to repeat in the same
place four hours later.
Almost the entire crowd were from the Gamma Psi dance at Delmonico's
except for several chorus girls from a midnight revue who sat at a
side table and wished they'd taken off a little more make-up after the
show. Here and there a drab, mouse-like figure, desperately out of
place, watched the butterflies with a weary, puzzled curiosity. But
the drab figure was the exception. This was the morning after May Day,
and celebration was still in the air.
Gus Rose, sober but a little dazed, must be classed as one of the drab
figures. How he had got himself from Forty-fourth Street to
Fifty-ninth Street after the riot was only a hazy half-memory. He had
seen the body of Carrol Key put in an ambulance and driven off, and
then he had started up town with two or three soldiers. Somewhere
between Forty-fourth Street and Fifty-ninth Street the other soldiers
had met some women and disappeared. Rose had wandered to Columbus
Circle and chosen the gleaming lights of Childs' to minister to his
craving for coffee and doughnuts. He walked in and sat down.
All around him floated airy, inconsequential chatter and high-pitched
laughter. At first he failed to understand, but after a puzzled five
minutes he realized that this was the aftermath of some gay party.
Here and there a restless, hilarious young man wandered fraternally
and familiarly between the tables, shaking hands indiscriminately and
pausing occasionally for a facetious chat, while excited waiters,
bearing cakes and eggs aloft, swore at him silently, and bumped him
out of the way. To Rose, seated at the most inconspicuous and least
crowded table, the whole scene was a colorful circus of beauty and
He became gradually aware, after a few moments, that the couple seated
diagonally across from him with their backs to the crowd, were not the
least interesting pair in the room. The man was drunk. He wore a
dinner coat with a dishevelled tie and shirt swollen by spillings of
water and wine. His eyes, dim and blood-shot, roved unnaturally from
side to side. His breath came short between his lips.
"He's been on a spree!" thought Rose.
The woman was almost if not quite sober. She was pretty, with dark
eyes and feverish high color, and she kept her active eyes fixed on
her companion with the alertness of a hawk. From time to time she
would lean and whisper intently to him, and he would answer by
inclining his head heavily or by a particularly ghoulish and repellent
Rose scrutinized them dumbly for some minutes until the woman gave him
a quick, resentful look; then he shifted his gaze to two of the most
conspicuously hilarious of the promenaders who were on a protracted
circuit of the tables. To his surprise he recognized in one of them
the young man by whom he had been so ludicrously entertained at
Delmonico's. This started him thinking of Key with a vague
sentimentality, not unmixed with awe. Key was dead. He had fallen
thirty-five feet and split his skull like a cracked cocoa-nut.
"He was a darn good guy," thought Rose mournfully. "He was a darn good
guy, o'right. That was awful hard luck about him."
The two promenaders approached and started down between Rose's table
and the next, addressing friends and strangers alike with jovial
familiarity. Suddenly Rose saw the fair-haired one with the prominent
teeth stop, look unsteadily at the man and girl opposite, and then
begin to move his head disapprovingly from side to side.
The man with the blood-shot eyes looked up.
"Gordy," said the promenader with the prominent teeth, "Gordy."
"Hello," said the man with the stained shirt thickly.
Prominent teeth shook his finger pessimistically at the pair, giving
the woman a glance of aloof condemnation.
"What'd I tell you Gordy?"
Gordon stirred in his seat.
"Go to hell!" he said.
Dean continued to stand there shaking his finger. The woman began to
"You go way!" she cried fiercely. "You're drunk, that's what you are!"
"So's he," suggested Dean, staying the motion of his finger and
pointing it at Gordon.
Peter Himmel ambled up, owlish now and oratorically inclined.
"Here now," he began as if called upon to deal with some petty dispute
between children. "Wha's all trouble?"
"You take your friend away," said Jewel tartly. "He's bothering us."
"You heard me!" she said shrilly. "I said to take your drunken friend
Her rising voice rang out above the clatter of the restaurant and a
waiter came hurrying up.
"You gotta be more quiet!"
"That fella's drunk," she cried. "He's insulting us."
"Ah-ha, Gordy," persisted the accused. "What'd I tell you." He turned
to the waiter. "Gordy an' I friends. Been tryin' help him, haven't I,
Gordy looked up.
"Help me? Hell, no!"
Jewel rose suddenly, and seizing Gordon's arm assisted him to his
"Come on, Gordy!" she said, leaning toward him and speaking in a half
whisper. "Let's us get out of here. This fella's got a mean drunk on."
Gordon allowed himself to be urged to his feet and started toward the
door. Jewel turned for a second and addressed the provoker of their
"I know all about you!" she said fiercely. "Nice friend, you
are, I'll say. He told me about you."
Then she seized Gordon's arm, and together they made their way through
the curious crowd, paid their check, and went out.
"You'll have to sit down," said the waiter to Peter after they had
"What's 'at? Sit down?"
"Yes—or get out."
Peter turned to Dean.
"Come on," he suggested. "Let's beat up this waiter."
They advanced toward him, their faces grown stern. The waiter
Peter suddenly reached over to a plate on the table beside him and
picking up a handful of hash tossed it into the air. It descended as a
languid parabola in snowflake effect on the heads of those near by.
"Hey! Ease up!"
"Put him out!"
"Sit down, Peter!"
"Cut out that stuff!"
Peter laughed and bowed.
"Thank you for your kind applause, ladies and gents. If some one will
lend me some more hash and a tall hat we will go on with the act."
The bouncer bustled up.
"You've gotta get out!" he said to Peter.
"He's my friend!" put in Dean indignantly.
A crowd of waiters were gathering. "Put him out!"
"Better go, Peter."
There was a short, struggle and the two were edged and pushed toward
"I got a hat and a coat here!" cried Peter.
"Well, go get 'em and be spry about it!"
The bouncer released his hold on Peter, who, adopting a ludicrous air
of extreme cunning, rushed immediately around to the other table,
where he burst into derisive laughter and thumbed his nose at the
"Think I just better wait a l'il longer," he announced.
The chase began. Four waiters were sent around one way and four
another. Dean caught hold of two of them by the coat, and another
struggle took place before the pursuit of Peter could be resumed; he
was finally pinioned after overturning a sugar-bowl and several cups
of coffee. A fresh argument ensued at the cashier's desk, where Peter
attempted to buy another dish of hash to take with him and throw at
But the commotion upon his exit proper was dwarfed by another
phenomenon which drew admiring glances and a prolonged involuntary
"Oh-h-h!" from every person in the restaurant.
The great plate-glass front had turned to a deep blue, the color of a
Maxfield Parrish moonlight—a blue that seemed to press close upon the
pane as if to crowd its way into the restaurant. Dawn had come up in
Columbus Circle, magical, breathless dawn, silhouetting the great
statue of the immortal Christopher, and mingling in a curious and
uncanny manner with the fading yellow electric light inside.
Mr. In and Mr. Out are not listed by the census-taker. You will search
for them in vain through the social register or the births, marriages,
and deaths, or the grocer's credit list. Oblivion has swallowed them
and the testimony that they ever existed at all is vague and shadowy,
and inadmissible in a court of law. Yet I have it upon the best
authority that for a brief space Mr. In and Mr. Out lived, breathed,
answered to their names and radiated vivid personalities of their own.
During the brief span of their lives they walked in their native
garments down the great highway of a great nation; were laughed at,
sworn at, chased, and fled from. Then they passed and were heard of no
They were already taking form dimly, when a taxi cab with the top open
breezed down Broadway in the faintest glimmer of May dawn. In this car
sat the souls of Mr. In and Mr. Out discussing with amazement the blue
light that had so precipitately colored the sky behind the statue of
Christopher Columbus, discussing with bewilderment the old, gray faces
of the early risers which skimmed palely along the street like blown
bits of paper on a gray lake. They were agreed on all things, from the
absurdity of the bouncer in Childs' to the absurdity of the business
of life. They were dizzy with the extreme maudlin happiness that the
morning had awakened in their glowing souls. Indeed, so fresh and
vigorous was their pleasure in living that they felt it should be
expressed by loud cries.
"Ye-ow-ow!" hooted Peter, making a megaphone with his hands—and Dean
joined in with a call that, though equally significant and symbolic,
derived its resonance from its very inarticulateness.
"Yo-ho! Yea! Yoho! Yo-buba!"
Fifty-third Street was a bus with a dark, bobbed-hair beauty atop;
Fifty-second was a street cleaner who dodged, escaped, and sent up a
yell of, "Look where you're aimin'!" in a pained and grieved voice. At
Fiftieth Street a group of men on a very white sidewalk in front of a
very white building turned to stare after them, and shouted:
"Some party, boys!"
At Forty-ninth Street Peter turned to Dean. "Beautiful morning," he
said gravely, squinting up his owlish eyes.
"Go get some breakfast, hey?"
Dean agreed—with additions.
"Breakfast and liquor."
"Breakfast and liquor," repeated Peter, and they looked at each other,
nodding. "That's logical."
Then they both burst into loud laughter.
"Breakfast and liquor! Oh, gosh!"
"No such thing," announced Peter.
"Don't serve it? Ne'mind. We force 'em serve it Bring pressure bear."
"Bring logic bear."
The taxi cut suddenly off Broadway, sailed along a cross street, and
stopped in front of a heavy tomb-like building in Fifth Avenue.
The taxi-driver informed them that this was Delmonico's.
This was somewhat puzzling. They were forced to devote several minutes
to intense concentration, for if such an order had been given there
must have been a reason for it.
"Somep'm 'bouta coat," suggested the taxi-man.
That was it. Peter's overcoat and hat. He had left them at
Delmonico's. Having decided this, they disembarked from the taxi and
strolled toward the entrance arm in arm.
"Hey!" said the taxi-driver.
"You better pay me."
They shook their heads in shocked negation.
"Later, not now—we give orders, you wait."
The taxi-driver objected; he wanted his money now. With the scornful
condescension of men exercising tremendous self-control they paid him.
Inside Peter groped in vain through a dim, deserted check-room in
search of his coat and derby.
"Gone, I guess. Somebody stole it."
"Some Sheff student."
"Never mind," said Dean, nobly. "I'll leave mine here too—then we'll
both be dressed the same."
He removed his overcoat and hat and was hanging them up when his
roving glance was caught and held magnetically by two large squares of
cardboard tacked to the two coat-room doors. The one on the left-hand
door bore the word "In" in big black letters, and the one on the
right-hand door flaunted the equally emphatic word "Out."
"Look!" he exclaimed happily—
Peter's eyes followed his pointing finger.
"Look at the signs. Let's take 'em."
"Probably pair very rare an' valuable signs. Probably come in handy."
Peter removed the left-hand sign from the door and endeavored to
conceal it about his person. The sign being of considerable
proportions, this was a matter of some difficulty. An idea flung
itself at him, and with an air of dignified mystery he turned his
back. After an instant he wheeled dramatically around, and stretching
out his arms displayed himself to the admiring Dean. He had inserted
the sign in his vest, completely covering his shirt front. In effect,
the word "In" had been painted upon his shirt in large black letters.
"Yoho!" cheered Dean. "Mister In."
He inserted his own sign in like manner.
"Mister Out!" he announced triumphantly. "Mr. In meet Mr. Out."
They advanced and shook hands. Again laughter overcame them and they
rocked in a shaken spasm of mirth.
"We probably get a flock of breakfast."
"We'll go—go to the Commodore."
Arm in arm they sallied out the door, and turning east in Forty-fourth
Street set out for the Commodore.
As they came out a short dark soldier, very pale and tired, who had
been wandering listlessly along the sidewalk, turned to look at them.
He started over as though to address them, but as they immediately
bent on him glances of withering unrecognition, he waited until they
had started unsteadily down the street, and then followed at about
forty paces, chuckling to himself and saying, "Oh, boy!" over and over
under his breath, in delighted, anticipatory tones.
Mr. In and Mr. Out were meanwhile exchanging pleasantries concerning
their future plans.
"We want liquor; we want breakfast. Neither without the other. One and
"We want both 'em!"
It was quite light now, and passers-by began to bend curious eyes on
the pair. Obviously they were engaged in a discussion, which afforded
each of them intense amusement, for occasionally a fit of laughter
would seize upon them so violently that, still with their arms
interlocked, they would bend nearly double.
Reaching the Commodore, they exchanged a few spicy epigrams with the
sleepy-eyed doorman, navigated the revolving door with some
difficulty, and then made their way through a thinly populated but
startled lobby to the dining-room, where a puzzled waiter showed them
an obscure table in a corner. They studied the bill of fare
helplessly, telling over the items to each other in puzzled mumbles.
"Don't see any liquor here," said Peter reproachfully.
The waiter became audible but unintelligible.
"Repeat," continued Peter, with patient tolerance, "that there seems
to be unexplained and quite distasteful lack of liquor upon bill of
"Here!" said Dean confidently, "let me handle him." He turned to the
waiter—"Bring us—bring us—" he scanned the bill of fare anxiously.
"Bring us a quart of champagne and a—a—probably ham sandwich."
The waiter looked doubtful.
"Bring it!" roared Mr. In and Mr. Out in chorus.
The waiter coughed and disappeared. There was a short wait during
which they were subjected without their knowledge to a careful
scrutiny by the head-waiter. Then the champagne arrived, and at the
sight of it Mr. In and Mr. Out became jubilant.
"Imagine their objecting to us having, champagne for breakfast—jus'
They both concentrated upon the vision of such an awesome possibility,
but the feat was too much for them. It was impossible for their joint
imaginations to conjure up a world where any one might object any one
else having champagne for breakfast. The waiter drew the cork with an
enormous pop and their glasses immediately foamed with pale
"Here's health, Mr. In."
"Here's same to you, Mr. Out."
The waiter withdrew; the minutes passed; the champagne became low in
"It's—it's mortifying," said Dean suddenly.
"The idea their objecting us having champagne breakfast."
"Mortifying?" Peter considered. "Yes, tha's word—mortifying."
Again they collapsed into laughter, howled, swayed, rocked back and
forth in their chairs, repeating the word "mortifying" over and over
to each other—each repetition seeming to make it only more
After a few more gorgeous minutes they decided on another quart. Their
anxious waiter consulted his immediate superior, and this discreet
person gave implicit instructions that no more champagne should be
served. Their check was brought.
Five minutes later, arm in arm, they left the Commodore and made their
way through a curious, staring crowd along Forty-second Street, and up
Vanderbilt Avenue to the Biltmore. There, with sudden cunning, they
rose to the occasion and traversed the lobby, walking fast and
standing unnaturally erect.
Once in the dining-room they repeated their performance. They were
torn between intermittent convulsive laughter and sudden spasmodic
discussions of politics, college, and the sunny state of their
dispositions. Their watches told them that it was now nine o'clock,
and a dim idea was born in them that they were on a memorable party,
something that they would remember always. They lingered over the
second bottle. Either of them had only to mention the word
"mortifying" to send them both into riotous gasps. The dining-room was
whirring and shifting now; a curious lightness permeated and rarefied
the heavy air.
They paid their check and walked out into the lobby.
It was at this moment that the exterior doors revolved for the
thousandth time that morning, and admitted into the lobby a very pale
young beauty with dark circles under her eyes, attired in a
much-rumpled evening dress. She was accompanied by a plain stout man,
obviously not an appropriate escort.
At the top of the stairs this couple encountered Mr. In and Mr. Out.
"Edith," began Mr. In, stepping toward her hilariously and making a
sweeping bow, "darling, good morning."
The stout man glanced questioningly at Edith, as if merely asking her
permission to throw this man summarily out of the way.
"'Scuse familiarity," added Peter, as an afterthought. "Edith,
He seized Dean's elbow and impelled him into the foreground.
"Meet Mr. In, Edith, my bes' frien'. Inseparable. Mr. In and Mr. Out."
Mr. Out advanced and bowed; in fact, he advanced so far and bowed so
low that he tipped slightly forward and only kept his balance by
placing a hand lightly on Edith's shoulder.
"I'm Mr. Out, Edith," he mumbled pleasantly. "S'misterin Misterout."
"'Smisterinanout," said Peter proudly.
But Edith stared straight by them, her eyes fixed on some infinite
speck in the gallery above her. She nodded slightly to the stout man,
who advanced bull-like and with a sturdy brisk gesture pushed Mr. In
and Mr. Out to either side. Through this alley he and Edith walked.
But ten paces farther on Edith stopped again—stopped and pointed to a
short, dark soldier who was eying the crowd in general, and the
tableau of Mr. In and Mr. Out in particular, with a sort of puzzled,
"There," cried Edith. "See there!"
Her voice rose, became somewhat shrill. Her pointing finger shook
"There's the soldier who broke my brother's leg."
There were a dozen exclamations; a man in a cutaway coat left his
place near the desk and advanced alertly; the stout person made a sort
of lightning-like spring toward the short, dark soldier, and then the
lobby closed around the little group and blotted them from the sight
of Mr. In and Mr. Out.
But to Mr. In and Mr. Out this event was merely a particolored
iridescent segment of a whirring, spinning world.
They heard loud voices; they saw the stout man spring; the picture
Then they were in an elevator bound skyward.
"What floor, please?" said the elevator man.
"Any floor," said Mr. In.
"Top floor," said Mr. Out.
"This is the top floor," said the elevator man.
"Have another floor put on," said Mr. Out.
"Higher," said Mr. In.
"Heaven," said Mr. Out.
In a bedroom of a small hotel just off Sixth Avenue Gordon Sterrett
awoke with a pain in the back of his head and a sick throbbing in all
his veins. He looked at the dusky gray shadows in the corners of the
room and at a raw place on a large leather chair in the corner where
it had long been in use. He saw clothes, dishevelled, rumpled clothes
on the floor and he smelt stale cigarette smoke and stale liquor. The
windows were tight shut. Outside the bright sunlight had thrown a
dust-filled beam across the sill—a beam broken by the head of the
wide wooden bed in which he had slept. He lay very quiet—comatose,
drugged, his eyes wide, his mind clicking wildly like an unoiled
It must have been thirty seconds after he perceived the sunbeam with
the dust on it and the rip on the large leather chair that he had the
sense of life close beside him, and it was another thirty seconds
after that before that he realized that he was irrevocably married to
He went out half an hour later and bought a revolver at a sporting
goods store. Then he took a took a taxi to the room where he had been
living on East Twenty-seventh Street, and, leaning across the table
that held his drawing materials, fired a cartridge into his head just
behind the temple.
PORCELAIN AND PINK
A room in the down-stairs of a summer cottage. High around the wall
runs an art frieze of a fisherman with a pile of nets at his feet and
a ship on a crimson ocean, a fisherman with a pile of nets at his feet
and a ship on a crimson ocean, a fisherman with a pile of nets at his
feet and so on. In one place on the frieze there is an overlapping—here
we have half a fisherman with half a pile of nets at his foot,
crowded damply against half a ship on half a crimson ocean.
The frieze is not in the plot, but frankly it fascinates me. I could
continue indefinitely, but I am distracted by one of the two objects
in the room—a blue porcelain bath-tub. It has character, this
bath-tub. It is not one of the new racing bodies, but is small with a
high tonneau and looks as if it were going to jump; discouraged,
however, by the shortness of its legs, it has submitted to its
environment and to its coat of sky-blue paint. But it grumpily refuses
to allow any patron completely to stretch his legs—which brings us
neatly to the second object in the room:
It is a girl—clearly an appendage to the bath-tub, only her head and
throat—beautiful girls have throats instead of necks—and a
suggestion of shoulder appearing above the side. For the first ten
minutes of the play the audience is engrossed in wondering if she
really is playing the game fairly and hasn't any clothes on or whether
it is being cheated and she is dressed.
The girl's name is JULIE MARVIS. From the proud way she sits
up in the bath-tub we deduce that she is not very tall and that she
carries herself well. When she smiles, her upper tip rolls a little
and reminds you of an Easter Bunny, She is within whispering distance
of twenty years old.
One thing more—above and to the right of the bath-tub is a window.
It is narrow and has a wide sill; it lets in much sunshine, but
effectually prevents any one who looks in from seeing the bath-tub.
You begin to suspect the plot?
We open, conventionally enough, with a song, but, as the startled
gasp of the audience quite drowns out the first half, we will give
only the last of it:
JULIE: (In an airy sophrano—enthusiastico)
When Caesar did the Chicago
He was a graceful child,
Those sacred chickens
Just raised the dickens
The Vestal Virgins went wild.
Whenever the Nervii got nervy
He gave them an awful razz
They shook is their shoes
With the Consular blues
The Imperial Roman Jazz
(During the wild applause that follows JULIE modestly moves
her arms and makes waves on the surface of the water—at least we
suppose she does. Then the door on the left opens and LOIS MARVIS
enters, dressed but carrying garments and towels. LOIS is a
year older than JULIE and is nearly her double in face and
voice, but in her clothes and expression are the marks of the
conservative. Yes, you've guessed it. Mistaken identity is the old
rusty pivot upon which the plot turns.)
LOIS: (Starting) Oh, 'scuse me. I didn't know you were here.
JULIE: Oh, hello. I'm giving a little concert—
LOIS: (Interrupting) Why didn't you lock the door?
JULIE: Didn't I?
LOIS: Of course you didn't. Do you think I just walked through it?
JULIE: I thought you picked the lock, dearest.
LOIS: You're so careless.
JULIE: No. I'm happy as a garbage-man's dog and I'm giving a little
LOIS: (Severely) Grow up!
JULIE: (Waving a pink arm around the room) The walls reflect
the sound, you see. That's why there's something very beautiful about
singing in a bath-tub. It gives an effect of surpassing loveliness.
Can I render you a selection?
LOIS: I wish you'd hurry out of the tub.
JULIE: (Shaking her head thoughtfully) Can't be hurried. This
is my kingdom at present, Godliness.
LOIS: Why the mellow name?
JULIE: Because you're next to Cleanliness. Don't throw anything
LOIS: How long will you be?
JULIE: (After some consideration) Not less than fifteen nor
more than twenty-five minutes.
LOIS: As a favor to me will you make it ten?
JULIE: (Reminiscing) Oh, Godliness, do you remember a day in
the chill of last January when one Julie, famous for her Easter-rabbit
smile, was going out and there was scarcely any hot water and young
Julie had just filled the tub for her own little self when the wicked
sister came and did bathe herself therein, forcing the young Julie to
perform her ablutions with cold cream—which is expensive and a darn
lot of troubles?
LOIS: (Impatiently) Then you won't hurry?
JULIE: Why should I?
LOIS: I've got a date.
JULIE: Here at the house?
LOIS: None of your business.
(JULIE shrugs the visible tips of her shoulders and stirs the water
JULIE: So be it.
LOIS: Oh, for Heaven's sake, yes! I have a date here, at the house—in
JULIE: In a way?
LOIS: He isn't coming in. He's calling for me and we're walking.
JULIE: (Raising her eyebrows) Oh, the plot clears. It's that
literary Mr. Calkins. I thought you promised mother you wouldn't
invite him in.
LOIS: (Desperately) She's so idiotic. She detests him because
he's just got a divorce. Of course she's had more expedience than I
JULIE: (Wisely) Don't let her kid you! Experience is the
biggest gold brick in the world. All older people have it for sale.
LOIS: I like him. We talk literature.
JULIE: Oh, so that's why I've noticed all these weighty, books around
the house lately.
LOIS: He lends them to me.
JULIE: Well, you've got to play his game. When in Rome do as the
Romans would like to do. But I'm through with books. I'm all educated.
LOIS: You're very inconsistent—last summer you read every day.
JULIE: If I were consistent I'd still be living on warm milk out of a
LOIS: Yes, and probably my bottle. But I like Mr. Calkins.
JULIE: I never met him.
LOIS: Well, will you hurry up?
JULIE: Yes. (After a pause) I wait till the water gets tepid
and then I let in more hot.
LOIS: (Sarcastically) How interesting!
JULIE: 'Member when we used to play "soapo"?
LOIS: Yes—and ten years old. I'm really quite surprised that you
don't play it still.
JULIE: I do. I'm going to in a minute.
LOIS: Silly game.
JULIE: (Warmly) No, it isn't. It's good for the nerves. I'll
bet you've forgotten how to play it.
LOIS: (Defiantly) No, I haven't. You—you get the tub all full
of soapsuds and then you get up on the edge and slide down.
JULIE: (Shaking her head scornfully) Huh! That's only part of
it. You've got to slide down without touching your hand or feet—
LOIS:(Impatiently) Oh, Lord! What do I care? I wish we'd either
stop coming here in the summer or else get a house with two bath-tubs.
JULIE: You can buy yourself a little tin one, or use the hose——
LOIS: Oh, shut up!
JULIE: (Irrelevantly) Leave the towel.
JULIE: Leave the towel when you go.
LOIS: This towel?
JULIE: (Sweetly) Yes, I forgot my towel.
LOIS: (Looking around for the first time) Why, you idiot! You
haven't even a kimono.
JULIE: (Also looking around) Why, so I haven't.
LOIS: (Suspicion growing on her) How did you get here?
JULIE: (Laughing) I guess I—I guess I whisked here. You know—a
white form whisking down the stairs and—
LOIS: (Scandalized) Why, you little wretch. Haven't you any
pride or self-respect?
JULIE: Lots of both. I think that proves it. I looked very well. I
really am rather cute in my natural state.
LOIS: Well, you—
JULIE: (Thinking aloud) I wish people didn't wear any clothes.
I guess I ought to have been a pagan or a native or something.
LOIS: You're a—
JULIE: I dreamt last night that one Sunday in church a small boy
brought in a magnet that attracted cloth. He attracted the clothes
right off of everybody; put them in an awful state; people were crying
and shrieking and carrying on as if they'd just discovered their skins
for the first time. Only I didn't care. So I just laughed. I
had to pass the collection plate because nobody else would.
LOIS: (Who has turned a deaf ear to this speech) Do you mean to
tell me that if I hadn't come you'd have run back to your
JULIE: Au naturel is so much nicer.
LOIS: Suppose there had been some one in the living-room.
JULIE: There never has been yet.
LOIS: Yet! Good grief! How long—
JULIE: Besides, I usually have a towel.
LOIS: (Completely overcome) Golly! You ought to be spanked. I
hope, you get caught. I hope there's a dozen ministers in the
living-room when you come out—and their wives, and their daughters.
JULIE: There wouldn't be room for them in the living-room, answered
Clean Kate of the Laundry District.
LOIS: All right. You've made your own—bath-tub; you can lie in it.
(LOIS starts determinedly for the door.)
JULIE: (In alarm) Hey! Hey! I don't care about the k'mono, but
I want the towel. I can't dry myself on a piece of soap and a wet
LOIS: (Obstinately). I won't humor such a creature. You'll have
to dry yourself the best way you can. You can roll on the floor like
the animals do that don't wear any clothes.
JULIE: (Complacent again) All right. Get out!
LOIS: (Haughtily) Huh!
(JULIE turns on the cold water and with her finger directs a
parabolic stream at LOIS. LOIS retires quickly, slamming the door
after her. JULIE laughs and turns off the water)
When the Arrow-collar man
Meets the D'jer-kiss girl
On the smokeless Sante Fé
Her Pebeco smile
Her Lucile style
De dum da-de-dum one day—
(She changes to a whistle and leans forward to turn on the taps,
but is startled by three loud banging noises in the pipes. Silence for
a moment—then she puts her mouth down near the spigot as if it were a
JULIE: Hello! (No answer) Are you a plumber? (No answer)
Are you the water department? (One loud, hollow bang) What do
you want? (No answer) I believe you're a ghost. Are you? (No
answer) Well, then, stop banging. (She reaches out and turns on
the warm tap. No water flows. Again she puts her mouth down close to
the spigot) If you're the plumber that's a mean trick. Turn it on
for a fellow. (Two loud, hollow bangs) Don't argue! I want
(A young man's head appears in the window—a head decorated with a
slim mustache and sympathetic eyes. These last stare, and though they
can see nothing but many fishermen with nets and much crimson ocean,
they decide him to speak)
THE YOUNG MAN: Some one fainted?
JULIE: (Starting up, all ears immediately) Jumping cats!
THE YOUNG MAN: (Helpfully) Water's no good for fits.
JULIE: Fits! Who said anything about fits!
THE YOUNG MAN: You said something about a cat jumping
JULIE: (Decidedly) I did not!
THE YOUNG MAN: Well, we can talk it over later, Are you ready to go
out? Or do you still feel that if you go with me just now everybody
JULIE: (Smiling) Gossip! Would they? It'd be more than
gossip—it'd be a regular scandal.
THE YOUNG MAN: Here, you're going it a little strong. Your family
might be somewhat disgruntled—but to the pure all things are
suggestive. No one else would even give it a thought, except a few old
women. Come on.
JULIE: You don't know what you ask.
THE YOUNG MAN: Do you imagine we'd have a crowd following us?
JULIE: A crowd? There'd be a special, all-steel, buffet train leaving
New York hourly.
THE YOUNG MAN: Say, are you house-cleaning?
THE YOUNG MAN: I see all the pictures are off the walls.
JULIE: Why, we never have pictures in this room.
THE YOUNG MAN: Odd, I never heard of a room without pictures or
tapestry or panelling or something.
JULIE: There's not even any furniture in here.
THE YOUNG MAN: What a strange house!
JULIE: It depend on the angle you see it from.
THE YOUNG MAN: (Sentimentally) It's so nice talking to you like
this—when you're merely a voice. I'm rather glad I can't see you.
JULIE; (Gratefully) So am I.
THE YOUNG MAN: What color are you wearing?
JULIE: (After a critical survey of her shoulders) Why, I guess
it's a sort of pinkish white.
THE YOUNG MAN: Is it becoming to you?
JULIE: Very. It's—it's old. I've had it for a long while.
THE YOUNG MAN: I thought you hated old clothes.
JULIE: I do but this was a birthday present and I sort of have to wear
THE YOUNG MAN: Pinkish-white. Well I'll bet it's divine. Is it in
JULIE: Quite. It's very simple, standard model.
THE YOUNG MAN: What a voice you have! How it echoes! Sometimes I shut
my eyes and seem to see you in a far desert island calling for me. And
I plunge toward you through the surf, hearing you call as you stand
there, water stretching on both sides of you—
(The soap slips from the side of the tub and splashes in. The young
YOUNG MAN: What was that? Did I dream it?
JULIE: Yes. You're—you're very poetic, aren't you?
THE YOUNG MAN: (Dreamily) No. I do prose. I do verse only when
I am stirred.
JULIE: (Murmuring) Stirred by a spoon—
THE YOUNG MAN: I have always loved poetry. I can remember to this day
the first poem I ever learned by heart. It was "Evangeline."
JULIE: That's a fib.
THE YOUNG MAN: Did I say "Evangeline"? I meant "The Skeleton in
JULIE: I'm a low-brow. But I can remember my first poem. It had one
Parker and Davis
Sittin' on a fence
Tryne to make a dollar
Outa fif-teen cents.
THE YOUNG MAN: (Eagerly) Are you growing fond of literature?
JULIE: If it's not too ancient or complicated or depressing. Same way
with people. I usually like 'em not too ancient or complicated or
THE YOUNG MAN: Of course I've read enormously. You told me last night
that you were very fond of Walter Scott.
JULIE: (Considering) Scott? Let's see. Yes, I've read "Ivanhoe"
and "The Last of the Mohicans."
THE YOUNG MAN: That's by Cooper.
JULIE: (Angrily) "Ivanhoe" is? You're crazy! I guess I know. I
read it. THE YOUNG MAN: "The Last of the Mohicans" is by Cooper.
JULIE: What do I care! I like O. Henry. I don't see how he ever wrote
those stories. Most of them he wrote in prison. "The Ballad of Reading
Gaol" he made up in prison.
THE YOUNG MAN: (Biting his lip) Literature—literature! How
much it has meant to me!
JULIE: Well, as Gaby Deslys said to Mr. Bergson, with my looks and
your brains there's nothing we couldn't do.
THE YOUNG MAN: (Laughing) You certainly are hard to keep up
with. One day you're awfully pleasant and the next you're in a mood.
If I didn't understand your temperament so well—
JULIE: (Impatiently) Oh, you're one of these amateur
character-readers, are you? Size people up in five minutes and then
look wise whenever they're mentioned. I hate that sort of thing.
THE YOUNG MAN: I don't boast of sizing you up. You're most mysterious,
JULIE: There's only two mysterious people in history.
THE YOUNG MAN: Who are they?
JULIE: The Man with the Iron Mask and the fella who says "ug uh-glug
uh-glug uh-glug" when the line is busy.
THE YOUNG MAN: You are mysterious, I love you. You're
beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous, and that's the rarest known
JULIE: You're a historian. Tell me if there are any bath-tubs in
history. I think they've been frightfully neglected.
THE YOUNG MAN: Bath-tubs! Let's see. Well, Agamemnon was stabbed in
his bath-tub. And Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat in his bath-tub.
JULIE: (Sighing) Way back there! Nothing new besides the sun,
is there? Why only yesterday I picked up a musical-comedy score that
mast have been at least twenty years old; and there on the cover it
said "The Shimmies of Normandy," but shimmie was spelt the old way,
with a "C."
THE YOUNG MAN: I loathe these modern dances. Oh, Lois, I wish I could
see you. Come to the window.
(There is a loud bang in the water-pipe and suddenly the flow
starts from the open taps. Julie turns them off quickly)
THE YOUNG MAN: (Puzzled) What on earth was that?
JULIE: (Ingeniously) I heard something, too.
THE YOUNG MAN: Sounded like running water.
JULIE: Didn't it? Strange like it. As a matter of fact I was filling
the gold-fish bowl.
THE YOUNG MAN: (Still puzzled) What was that banging noise?
JULIE: One of the fish snapping his golden jaws.
THE YOUNG MAN: (With sudden resolution) Lois, I love you. I am
not a mundane man but I am a forger—
JULIE: (Interested at once) Oh, how fascinating.
THE YOUNG MAN:—a forger ahead. Lois, I want you.
JULIE: (Skeptically) Huh! What you really want is for the world
to come to attention and stand there till you give "Rest!"
THE YOUNG MAN: Lois I—Lois I—
(_He stops as Lois opens the door, comes in, and bangs it behind
her. She looks peevishly at _JULIE and then suddenly catches
sight of the young man in the window)
LOIS: (In horror) Mr. Calkins!
THE YOUNG MAN: (Surprised) Why I thought you said you were
wearing pinkish white!
(_After one despairing stare LOIS shrieks, throws up her
hands in surrender, and sinks to the floor._)
THE YOUNG MAN: (In great alarm) Good Lord! She's fainted! I'll
be right in.
(JULIE'S eyes light on the towel which has slipped from LOIS'S
JULIE: In that case I'll be right out.
(_She puts her hands on the side of the tub to lift herself out and
a murmur, half gasp, half sigh, ripples from the audience.
A Belasco midnight comes quickly down and blots out the stage._)
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ
John T. Unger came from a family that had been well known in Hades—a
small town on the Mississippi River—for several generations. John's
father had held the amateur golf championship through many a heated
contest; Mrs. Unger was known "from hot-box to hot-bed," as the local
phrase went, for her political addresses; and young John T. Unger, who
had just turned sixteen, had danced all the latest dances from New
York before he put on long trousers. And now, for a certain time, he
was to be away from home. That respect for a New England education
which is the bane of all provincial places, which drains them yearly
of their most promising young men, had seized upon his parents.
Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas's School
near Boston—Hades was too small to hold their darling and gifted son.
Now in Hades—as you know if you ever have been there—the names of
the more fashionable preparatory schools and colleges mean very
little. The inhabitants have been so long out of the world that,
though they make a show of keeping up-to-date in dress and manners and
literature, they depend to a great extent on hearsay, and a function
that in Hades would be considered elaborate would doubtless be hailed
by a Chicago beef-princess as "perhaps a little tacky."
John T. Unger was on the eve of departure. Mrs. Unger, with maternal
fatuity, packed his trunks full of linen suits and electric fans, and
Mr. Unger presented his son with an asbestos pocket-book stuffed with
"Remember, you are always welcome here," he said. "You can be sure,
boy, that we'll keep the home fires burning."
"I know," answered John huskily.
"Don't forget who you are and where you come from," continued his
father proudly, "and you can do nothing to harm you. You are an
So the old man and the young shook hands, and John walked away with
tears streaming from his eyes. Ten minutes later he had passed outside
the city limits and he stopped to glance back for the last time. Over
the gates the old-fashioned Victorian motto seemed strangely
attractive to him. His father had tried time and time again to have it
changed to something with a little more push and verve about it, such
as "Hades—Your Opportunity," or else a plain "Welcome" sign set over
a hearty handshake pricked out in electric lights. The old motto was a
little depressing, Mr. Unger had thought—but now ….
So John took his look and then set his face resolutely toward his
destination. And, as he turned away, the lights of Hades against the
sky seemed full of a warm and passionate beauty.
* * * * *
St. Midas's School is half an hour from Boston in a Rolls-Pierce
motor-car. The actual distance will never be known, for no one, except
John T. Unger, had ever arrived there save in a Rolls-Pierce and
probably no one ever will again. St. Midas's is the most expensive and
the most exclusive boys' preparatory school in the world.
John's first two years there passed pleasantly. The fathers of all the
boys were money-kings, and John spent his summer visiting at
fashionable resorts. While he was very fond of all the boys he
visited, their fathers struck him as being much of a piece, and in his
boyish way he often wondered at their exceeding sameness. When he told
them where his home was they would ask jovially, "Pretty hot down
there?" and John would muster a faint smile and answer, "It certainly
is." His response would have been heartier had they not all made this
joke—at best varying it with, "Is it hot enough for you down there?"
which he hated just as much.
In the middle of his second year at school, a quiet, handsome boy
named Percy Washington had been put in John's form. The new-comer was
pleasant in his manner and exceedingly well dressed even for St.
Midas's, but for some reason he kept aloof from the other boys. The
only person with whom he was intimate was John T. Unger, but even to
John he was entirely uncommunicative concerning his home or his
family. That he was wealthy went without saying, but beyond a few such
deductions John knew little of his friend, so it promised rich
confectionery for his curiosity when Percy invited him to spend the
summer at his home "in the West." He accepted, without hesitation.
It was only when they were in the train that Percy became, for the
first time, rather communicative. One day while they were eating lunch
in the dining-car and discussing the imperfect characters of several
of the boys at school, Percy suddenly changed his tone and made an
"My father," he said, "is by far the richest man in the world."
"Oh," said John politely. He could think of no answer to make to this
confidence. He considered "That's very nice," but it sounded hollow
and was on the point of saying, "Really?" but refrained since it would
seem to question Percy's statement. And such an astounding statement
could scarcely be questioned.
"By far the richest," repeated Percy.
"I was reading in the World Almanac," began John, "that there
was one man in America with an income of over five million a years and
four men with incomes of over three million a year, and—"
"Oh, they're nothing." Percy's mouth was a half-moon of scorn.
"Catch-penny capitalists, financial small-fry, petty merchants and
money-lenders. My father could buy them out and not know he'd done
"But how does he—"
"Why haven't they put down his income-tax? Because he doesn't
pay any. At least he pays a little one—but he doesn't pay any on his
"He must be very rich," said John simply, "I'm glad. I like very rich
"The richer a fella is, the better I like him." There was a look of
passionate frankness upon his dark face. "I visited the
Schnlitzer-Murphys last Easter. Vivian Schnlitzer-Murphy had rubies as
big as hen's eggs, and sapphires that were like globes with lights
"I love jewels," agreed Percy enthusiastically. "Of course I wouldn't
want any one at school to know about it, but I've got quite a
collection myself. I used to collect them instead of stamps."
"And diamonds," continued John eagerly. "The Schnlitzer-Murphys had
diamonds as big as walnuts—"
"That's nothing." Percy had leaned forward and dropped his voice to a
low whisper. "That's nothing at all. My father has a diamond bigger
than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel."
The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise
from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. An
immense distance under the sky crouched the village of Fish, minute,
dismal, and forgotten. There were twelve men, so it was said, in the
village of Fish, twelve sombre and inexplicable souls who sucked a
lean milk from the almost literally bare rock upon which a mysterious
populatory force had begotten them. They had become a race apart,
these twelve men of Fish, like some species developed by an early whim
of nature, which on second thought had abandoned them to struggle and
Out of the blue-black bruise in the distance crept a long line of
moving lights upon the desolation of the land, and the twelve men of
Fish gathered like ghosts at the shanty depot to watch the passing of
the seven o'clock train, the Transcontinental Express from Chicago.
Six times or so a year the Transcontinental Express, through some
inconceivable jurisdiction, stopped at the village of Fish, and when
this occurred a figure or so would disembark, mount into a buggy that
always appeared from out of the dusk, and drive off toward the bruised
sunset. The observation of this pointless and preposterous phenomenon
had become a sort of cult among the men of Fish. To observe, that was
all; there remained in them none of the vital quality of illusion
which would make them wonder or speculate, else a religion might have
grown up around these mysterious visitations. But the men of Fish were
beyond all religion—the barest and most savage tenets of even
Christianity could gain no foothold on that barren rock—so there was
no altar, no priest, no sacrifice; only each night at seven the silent
concourse by the shanty depot, a congregation who lifted up a prayer
of dim, anaemic wonder.
On this June night, the Great Brakeman, whom, had they deified any
one, they might well have chosen as their celestial protagonist, had
ordained that the seven o'clock train should leave its human (or
inhuman) deposit at Fish. At two minutes after seven Percy Washington
and John T. Unger disembarked, hurried past the spellbound, the agape,
the fearsome eyes of the twelve men of Fish, mounted into a buggy
which had obviously appeared from nowhere, and drove away.
After half an hour, when the twilight had coagulated into dark, the
silent negro who was driving the buggy hailed an opaque body somewhere
ahead of them in the gloom. In response to his cry, it turned upon
them a luminous disc which regarded them like a malignant eye out of
the unfathomable night. As they came closer, John saw that it was the
tail-light of an immense automobile, larger and more magnificent than
any he had ever seen. Its body was of gleaming metal richer than
nickel and lighter than silver, and the hubs of the wheels were
studded with iridescent geometric figures of green and yellow—John
did not dare to guess whether they were glass or jewel.
Two negroes, dressed in glittering livery such as one sees in pictures
of royal processions in London, were standing at attention beside the
car and, as the two young men dismounted from the buggy, they were
greeted in some language which the guest could not understand, but
which seemed to be an extreme form of the Southern negro's dialect.
"Get in," said Percy to his friend, as their trunks were tossed to the
ebony roof of the limousine. "Sorry we had to bring you this far in
that buggy, but of course it wouldn't do for the people on the train
or those God-forsaken fellas in Fish to see this automobile."
"Gosh! What a car!" This ejaculation was provoked by its interior.
John saw that the upholstery consisted of a thousand minute and
exquisite tapestries of silk, woven with jewels and embroideries, and
set upon a background of cloth of gold. The two armchair seats in
which the boys luxuriated were covered with stuff that resembled
duvetyn, but seemed woven in numberless colours of the ends of ostrich
"What a car!" cried John again, in amazement.
"This thing?" Percy laughed. "Why, it's just an old junk we use for a
By this time they were gliding along through the darkness toward the
break between the two mountains.
"We'll be there in an hour and a half," said Percy, looking at the
clock. "I may as well tell you it's not going to be like anything you
ever saw before."
If the car was any indication of what John would see, he was prepared
to be astonished indeed. The simple piety prevalent in Hades has the
earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its
creed—had John felt otherwise than radiantly humble before them, his
parents would have turned away in horror at the blasphemy.
They had now reached and were entering the break between the two
mountains and almost immediately the way became much rougher.
"If the moon shone down here, you'd see that we're in a big gulch,"
said Percy, trying to peer out of the window. He spoke a few words
into the mouthpiece and immediately the footman turned on a
searchlight and swept the hillsides with an immense beam.
"Rocky, you see. An ordinary car would be knocked to pieces in half an
hour. In fact, it'd take a tank to navigate it unless you knew the
way. You notice we're going uphill now."
They were obviously ascending, and within a few minutes the car was
crossing a high rise, where they caught a glimpse of a pale moon newly
risen in the distance. The car stopped suddenly and several figures
took shape out of the dark beside it—these were negroes also. Again
the two young men were saluted in the same dimly recognisable dialect;
then the negroes set to work and four immense cables dangling from
overhead were attached with hooks to the hubs of the great jewelled
wheels. At a resounding "Hey-yah!" John felt the car being lifted
slowly from the ground—up and up—clear of the tallest rocks on both
sides—then higher, until he could see a wavy, moonlit valley
stretched out before him in sharp contrast to the quagmire of rocks
that they had just left. Only on one side was there still rock—and
then suddenly there was no rock beside them or anywhere around.
It was apparent that they had surmounted some immense knife-blade of
stone, projecting perpendicularly into the air. In a moment they were
going down again, and finally with a soft bump they were landed upon
the smooth earth.
"The worst is over," said Percy, squinting out the window. "It's only
five miles from here, and our own road—tapestry brick—all the way.
This belongs to us. This is where the United States ends, father
"Are we in Canada?"
"We are not. We're in the middle of the Montana Rockies. But you are
now on the only five square miles of land in the country that's never
"Why hasn't it? Did they forget it?"
"No," said Percy, grinning, "they tried to do it three times. The
first time my grandfather corrupted a whole department of the State
survey; the second time he had the official maps of the United States
tinkered with—that held them for fifteen years. The last time was
harder. My father fixed it so that their compasses were in the
strongest magnetic field ever artificially set up. He had a whole set
of surveying instruments made with a slight defection that would allow
for this territory not to appear, and he substituted them for the ones
that were to be used. Then he had a river deflected and he had what
looked like a village up on its banks—so that they'd see it, and
think it was a town ten miles farther up the valley. There's only one
thing my father's afraid of," he concluded, "only one thing in the
world that could be used to find us out."
Percy sank his voice to a whisper.
"Aeroplanes," he breathed. "We've got half a dozen anti-aircraft guns
and we've arranged it so far—but there've been a few deaths and a
great many prisoners. Not that we mind that, you know, father
and I, but it upsets mother and the girls, and there's always the
chance that some time we won't be able to arrange it."
Shreds and tatters of chinchilla, courtesy clouds in the green moon's
heaven, were passing the green moon like precious Eastern stuffs
paraded for the inspection of some Tartar Khan. It seemed to John that
it was day, and that he was looking at some lads sailing above him in
the air, showering down tracts and patent medicine circulars, with
their messages of hope for despairing, rock-bound hamlets. It seemed
to him that he could see them look down out of the clouds and
stare—and stare at whatever there was to stare at in this place
whither he was bound—What then? Were they induced to land by some
insidious device to be immured far from patent medicines and from
tracts until the judgment day—or, should they fail to fall into the
trap, did a quick puff of smoke and the sharp round of a splitting
shell bring them drooping to earth—and "upset" Percy's mother and
sisters. John shook his head and the wraith of a hollow laugh issued
silently from his parted lips. What desperate transaction lay hidden
here? What a moral expedient of a bizarre Croesus? What terrible and
The chinchilla clouds had drifted past now and, outside the Montana
night was bright as day the tapestry brick of the road was smooth to
the tread of the great tyres as they rounded a still, moonlit lake;
they passed into darkness for a moment, a pine grove, pungent and
cool, then they came out into a broad avenue of lawn, and John's
exclamation of pleasure was simultaneous with Percy's taciturn "We're
Full in the light of the stars, an exquisite château rose from the
borders of the lake, climbed in marble radiance half the height of an
adjoining mountain, then melted in grace, in perfect symmetry, in
translucent feminine languor, into the massed darkness of a forest of
pine. The many towers, the slender tracery of the sloping parapets,
the chiselled wonder of a thousand yellow windows with their oblongs
and hectagons and triangles of golden light, the shattered softness of
the intersecting planes of star-shine and blue shade, all trembled on
John's spirit like a chord of music. On one of the towers, the
tallest, the blackest at its base, an arrangement of exterior lights
at the top made a sort of floating fairyland—and as John gazed up in
warm enchantment the faint acciaccare sound of violins drifted down in
a rococo harmony that was like nothing he had ever beard before. Then
in a moment the car stepped before wide, high marble steps around
which the night air was fragrant with a host of flowers. At the top of
the steps two great doors swung silently open and amber light flooded
out upon the darkness, silhouetting the figure of an exquisite lady
with black, high-piled hair, who held out her arms toward them.
"Mother," Percy was saying, "this is my friend, John Unger, from
Afterward John remembered that first night as a daze of many colours,
of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in love, and of
the beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions and faces. There
was a white-haired man who stood drinking a many-hued cordial from a
crystal thimble set on a golden stem. There was a girl with a flowery
face, dressed like Titania with braided sapphires in her hair. There
was a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls yielded to the
pressure of his hand, and a room that was like a platonic conception
of the ultimate prison—ceiling, floor, and all, it was lined with an
unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size and shape, until,
lit with tail violet lamps in the corners, it dazzled the eyes with a
whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish,
Through a maze of these rooms the two boys wandered. Sometimes the
floor under their feet would flame in brilliant patterns from lighting
below, patterns of barbaric clashing colours, of pastel delicacy, of
sheer whiteness, or of subtle and intricate mosaic, surely from some
mosque on the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes beneath layers of thick crystal
he would see blue or green water swirling, inhabited by vivid fish and
growths of rainbow foliage. Then they would be treading on furs of
every texture and colour or along corridors of palest ivory, unbroken
as though carved complete from the gigantic tusks of dinosaurs extinct
before the age of man ….
Then a hazily remembered transition, and they were at dinner—where
each plate was of two almost imperceptible layers of solid diamond
between which was curiously worked a filigree of emerald design, a
shaving sliced from green air. Music, plangent and unobtrusive,
drifted down through far corridors—his chair, feathered and curved
insidiously to his back, seemed to engulf and overpower him as he
drank his first glass of port. He tried drowsily to answer a question
that had been asked him, but the honeyed luxury that clasped his body
added to the illusion of sleep—jewels, fabrics, wines, and metals
blurred before his eyes into a sweet mist ….
"Yes," he replied with a polite effort, "it certainly is hot enough
for me down there."
He managed to add a ghostly laugh; then, without movement, without
resistance, he seemed to float off and away, leaving an iced dessert
that was pink as a dream …. He fell asleep.
When he awoke he knew that several hours had passed. He was in a great
quiet room with ebony walls and a dull illumination that was too
faint, too subtle, to be called a light. His young host was standing
"You fell asleep at dinner," Percy was saying. "I nearly did, too—it
was such a treat to be comfortable again after this year of school.
Servants undressed and bathed you while you were sleeping."
"Is this a bed or a cloud?" sighed John. "Percy, Percy—before you go,
I want to apologise."
"For doubting you when you said you had a diamond as big as the
"I thought you didn't believe me. It's that mountain, you know."
"The mountain the chateau rests on. It's not very big, for a mountain.
But except about fifty feet of sod and gravel on top it's solid
diamond. One diamond, one cubic mile without a flaw. Aren't you
But John T. Unger had again fallen asleep.
Morning. As he awoke he perceived drowsily that the room had at the
same moment become dense with sunlight. The ebony panels of one wall
had slid aside on a sort of track, leaving his chamber half open to
the day. A large negro in a white uniform stood beside his bed.
"Good-evening," muttered John, summoning his brains from the wild
"Good-morning, sir. Are you ready for your bath, sir? Oh, don't get
up—I'll put you in, if you'll just unbutton your pyjamas—there.
Thank you, sir."
John lay quietly as his pyjamas were removed—he was amused and
delighted; he expected to be lifted like a child by this black
Gargantua who was tending him, but nothing of the sort happened;
instead he felt the bed tilt up slowly on its side—he began to roll,
startled at first, in the direction of the wall, but when he reached
the wall its drapery gave way, and sliding two yards farther down a
fleecy incline he plumped gently into water the same temperature as
He looked about him. The runway or rollway on which he had arrived had
folded gently back into place. He had been projected into another
chamber and was sitting in a sunken bath with his head just above the
level of the floor. All about him, lining the walls of the room and
the sides and bottom of the bath itself, was a blue aquarium, and
gazing through the crystal surface on which he sat, he could see fish
swimming among amber lights and even gliding without curiosity past
his outstretched toes, which were separated from them only by the
thickness of the crystal. From overhead, sunlight came down through
"I suppose, sir, that you'd like hot rosewater and soapsuds this
morning, sir—and perhaps cold salt water to finish."
The negro was standing beside him.
"Yes," agreed John, smiling inanely, "as you please." Any idea of
ordering this bath according to his own meagre standards of living
would have been priggish and not a little wicked.
The negro pressed a button and a warm rain began to fall, apparently
from overhead, but really, so John discovered after a moment, from a
fountain arrangement near by. The water turned to a pale rose colour
and jets of liquid soap spurted into it from four miniature walrus
heads at the corners of the bath. In a moment a dozen little
paddle-wheels, fixed to the sides, had churned the mixture into a
radiant rainbow of pink foam which enveloped him softly with its
delicious lightness, and burst in shining, rosy bubbles here and there
"Shall I turn on the moving-picture machine, sir?" suggested the negro
deferentially. "There's a good one-reel comedy in this machine to-day,
or I can put in a serious piece in a moment, if you prefer it.
"No, thanks," answered John, politely but firmly. He was enjoying his
bath too much to desire any distraction. But distraction came. In a
moment he was listening intently to the sound of flutes from just
outside, flutes dripping a melody that was like a waterfall, cool and
green as the room itself, accompanying a frothy piccolo, in play more
fragile than the lace of suds that covered and charmed him.
After a cold salt-water bracer and a cold fresh finish, he stepped out
and into a fleecy robe, and upon a couch covered with the same
material he was rubbed with oil, alcohol, and spice. Later he sat in a
voluptuous while he was shaved and his hair was trimmed.
"Mr. Percy is waiting in your sitting-room," said the negro, when
these operations were finished. "My name is Gygsum, Mr. Unger, sir. I
am to see to Mr. Unger every morning."
John walked out into the brisk sunshine of his living-room, where he
found breakfast waiting for him and Percy, gorgeous in white kid
knickerbockers, smoking in an easy chair.
This is a story of the Washington family as Percy sketched it for John
The father of the present Mr. Washington had been a Virginian, a
direct descendant of George Washington, and Lord Baltimore. At the
close of the Civil War he was a twenty-five-year-old Colonel with a
played-out plantation and about a thousand dollars in gold.
Fitz-Norman Culpepper Washington, for that was the young Colonel's
name, decided to present the Virginia estate to his younger brother
and go West. He selected two dozen of the most faithful blacks, who,
of course, worshipped him, and bought twenty-five tickets to the West,
where he intended to take out land in their names and start a sheep
and cattle ranch.
When he had been in Montana for less than a month and things were
going very poorly indeed, he stumbled on his great discovery. He had
lost his way when riding in the hills, and after a day without food he
began to grow hungry. As he was without his rifle, he was forced to
pursue a squirrel, and, in the course of the pursuit, he noticed that
it was carrying something shiny in its mouth. Just before it vanished
into its hole—for Providence did not intend that this squirrel should
alleviate his hunger—it dropped its burden. Sitting down to consider
the situation Fitz-Norman's eye was caught by a gleam in the grass
beside him. In ten seconds he had completely lost his appetite and
gained one hundred thousand dollars. The squirrel, which had refused
with annoying persistence to become food, had made him a present of a
large and perfect diamond.
Late that night he found his way to camp and twelve hours later all
the males among his darkies were back by the squirrel hole digging
furiously at the side of the mountain. He told them he had discovered
a rhinestone mine, and, as only one or two of them had ever seen even
a small diamond before, they believed him, without question. When the
magnitude of his discovery became apparent to him, he found himself in
a quandary. The mountain was a diamond—it was literally
nothing else but solid diamond. He filled four saddle bags full of
glittering samples and started on horseback for St. Paul. There he
managed to dispose of half a dozen small stones—when he tried a
larger one a storekeeper fainted and Fitz-Norman was arrested as a
public disturber. He escaped from jail and caught the train for New
York, where he sold a few medium-sized diamonds and received in
exchange about two hundred thousand dollars in gold. But he did not
dare to produce any exceptional gems—in fact, he left New York just
in time. Tremendous excitement had been created in jewellery circles,
not so much by the size of his diamonds as by their appearance in the
city from mysterious sources. Wild rumours became current that a
diamond mine had been discovered in the Catskills, on the Jersey
coast, on Long Island, beneath Washington Square. Excursion trains,
packed with men carrying picks and shovels, began to leave New York
hourly, bound for various neighbouring El Dorados. But by that time
young Fitz-Norman was on his way back to Montana.
By the end of a fortnight he had estimated that the diamond in the
mountain was approximately equal in quantity to all the rest of the
diamonds known to exist in the world. There was no valuing it by any
regular computation, however, for it was one solid diamond—and
if it were offered for sale not only would the bottom fall out of the
market, but also, if the value should vary with its size in the usual
arithmetical progression, there would not be enough gold in the world
to buy a tenth part of it. And what could any one do with a diamond
It was an amazing predicament. He was, in one sense, the richest man
that ever lived—and yet was he worth anything at all? If his secret
should transpire there was no telling to what measures the Government
might resort in order to prevent a panic, in gold as well as in
jewels. They might take over the claim immediately and institute a
There was no alternative—he must market his mountain in secret. He
sent South for his younger brother and put him in charge of his
coloured following, darkies who had never realised that slavery was
abolished. To make sure of this, he read them a proclamation that he
had composed, which announced that General Forrest had reorganised the
shattered Southern armies and defeated the North in one pitched
battle. The negroes believed him implicitly. They passed a vote
declaring it a good thing and held revival services immediately.
Fitz-Norman himself set out for foreign parts with one hundred
thousand dollars and two trunks filled with rough diamonds of all
sizes. He sailed for Russia in a Chinese junk, and six months after
his departure from Montana he was in St. Petersburg. He took obscure
lodgings and called immediately upon the court jeweller, announcing
that he had a diamond for the Czar. He remained in St. Petersburg for
two weeks, in constant danger of being murdered, living from lodging
to lodging, and afraid to visit his trunks more than three or four
times during the whole fortnight.
On his promise to return in a year with larger and finer stones, he
was allowed to leave for India. Before he left, however, the Court
Treasurers had deposited to his credit, in American banks, the sum of
fifteen million dollars—under four different aliases.
He returned to America in 1868, having been gone a little over two
years. He had visited the capitals of twenty-two countries and talked
with five emperors, eleven kings, three princes, a shah, a khan, and a
sultan. At that time Fitz-Norman estimated his own wealth at one
billion dollars. One fact worked consistently against the disclosure
of his secret. No one of his larger diamonds remained in the public
eye for a week before being invested with a history of enough
fatalities, amours, revolutions, and wars to have occupied it from the
days of the first Babylonian Empire.
From 1870 until his death in 1900, the history of Fitz-Norman
Washington was a long epic in gold. There were side issues, of
course—he evaded the surveys, he married a Virginia lady, by whom he
had a single son, and he was compelled, due to a series of unfortunate
complications, to murder his brother, whose unfortunate habit of
drinking himself into an indiscreet stupor had several times
endangered their safety. But very few other murders stained these happy
years of progress and expansion.
Just before he died he changed his policy, and with all but a few
million dollars of his outside wealth bought up rare minerals in bulk,
which he deposited in the safety vaults of banks all over the world,
marked as bric-a-brac. His son, Braddock Tarleton Washington, followed
this policy on an even more tensive scale. The minerals were converted
into the rarest of all elements—radium—so that the equivalent of a
billion dollars in gold could be placed in a receptacle no bigger than
a cigar box.
When Fitz-Norman had been dead three years his son, Braddock, decided
that the business had gone far enough. The amount of wealth that he
and his father had taken out of the mountain was beyond all exact
computation. He kept a note-book in cipher in which he set down the
approximate quantity of radium in each of the thousand banks he
patronised, and recorded the alias under which it was held. Then he
did a very simple thing—he sealed up the mine.
He sealed up the mine. What had been taken out of it would support all
the Washingtons yet to be born in unparalleled luxury for generations.
His one care must be the protection of his secret, lest in the
possible panic attendant on its discovery he should be reduced with
all the property-holders in the world to utter poverty.
This was the family among whom John T. Unger was staying. This was the
story he heard in his silver-walled living-room the morning after his
After breakfast, John found his way out the great marble entrance, and
looked curiously at the scene before him. The whole valley, from the
diamond mountain to the steep granite cliff five miles away, still
gave off a breath of golden haze which hovered idly above the fine
sweep of lawns and lakes and gardens. Here and there clusters of elms
made delicate groves of shade, contrasting strangely with the tough
masses of pine forest that held the hills in a grip of dark-blue
green. Even as John looked he saw three fawns in single file patter
out from one clump about a half-mile away and disappear with awkward
gaiety into the black-ribbed half-light of another. John would not
have been surprised to see a goat-foot piping his way among the trees
or to catch a glimpse of pink nymph-skin and flying yellow hair
between the greenest of the green leaves.
In some such cool hope he descended the marble steps, disturbing
faintly the sleep of two silky Russian wolfhounds at the bottom, and
set off along a walk of white and blue brick that seemed to lead in no
He was enjoying himself as much as he was able. It is youth's felicity
as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present,
but must always be measuring up the day against its own radiantly
imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are only
prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable young
John rounded a soft corner where the massed rosebushes filled the air
with heavy scent, and struck off across a park toward a patch of moss
under some trees. He had never lain upon moss, and he wanted to see
whether it was really soft enough to justify the use of its name as an
adjective. Then he saw a girl coming toward him over the grass. She
was the most beautiful person he had ever seen.
She was dressed in a white little gown that came just below her knees,
and a wreath of mignonettes clasped with blue slices of sapphire bound
up her hair. Her pink bare feet scattered the dew before them as she
came. She was younger than John—not more than sixteen.
"Hallo," she cried softly, "I'm Kismine."
She was much more than that to John already. He advanced toward her,
scarcely moving as he drew near lest he should tread on her bare toes.
"You haven't met me," said her soft voice. Her blue eyes added, "Oh,
but you've missed a great deal!"… "You met my sister, Jasmine, last
night. I was sick with lettuce poisoning," went on her soft voice, and
her eye continued, "and when I'm sick I'm sweet—and when I'm well."
"You have made an enormous impression on me," said John's eyes, "and
I'm not so slow myself"—"How do you do?" said his voice. "I hope
you're better this morning."—"You darling," added his eyes
John observed that they had been walking along the path. On her
suggestion they sat down together upon the moss, the softness of which
he failed to determine.
He was critical about women. A single defect—a thick ankle, a hoarse
voice, a glass eye—was enough to make him utterly indifferent. And
here for the first time in his life he was beside a girl who seemed to
him the incarnation of physical perfection.
"Are you from the East?" asked Kismine with charming interest.
"No," answered John simply. "I'm from Hades."
Either she had never heard of Hades, or she could think of no pleasant
comment to make upon it, for she did not discuss it further.
"I'm going East to school this fall" she said. "D'you think I'll like
it? I'm going to New York to Miss Bulge's. It's very strict, but you
see over the weekends I'm going to live at home with the family in our
New York house, because father heard that the girls had to go walking
two by two."
"Your father wants you to be proud," observed John.
"We are," she answered, her eyes shining with dignity. "None of us has
ever been punished. Father said we never should be. Once when my
sister Jasmine was a little girl she pushed him downstairs and he just
got up and limped away.
"Mother was—well, a little startled," continued Kismine, "when she
heard that you were from—from where you are from, you know.
She said that when she was a young girl—but then, you see, she's a
Spaniard and old-fashioned."
"Do you spend much time out here?" asked John, to conceal the fact
that he was somewhat hurt by this remark. It seemed an unkind allusion
to his provincialism.
"Percy and Jasmine and I are here every summer, but next summer
Jasmine is going to Newport. She's coming out in London a year from
this fall. She'll be presented at court."
"Do you know," began John hesitantly, "you're much more sophisticated
than I thought you were when I first saw you?"
"Oh, no, I'm not," she exclaimed hurriedly. "Oh, I wouldn't think of
being. I think that sophisticated young people are terribly
common, don't you? I'm not all, really. If you say I am, I'm going to
She was so distressed that her lip was trembling. John was impelled to
"I didn't mean that; I only said it to tease you."
"Because I wouldn't mind if I were," she persisted, "but I'm
not. I'm very innocent and girlish. I never smoke, or drink, or read
anything except poetry. I know scarcely any mathematics or chemistry.
I dress very simply—in fact, I scarcely dress at all. I think
sophisticated is the last thing you can say about me. I believe that
girls ought to enjoy their youths in a wholesome way."
"I do, too," said John, heartily,
Kismine was cheerful again. She smiled at him, and a still-born tear
dripped from the comer of one blue eye.
"I like you," she whispered intimately. "Are you going to spend all
your time with Percy while you're here, or will you be nice to me?
Just think—I'm absolutely fresh ground. I've never had a boy in love
with me in all my life. I've never been allowed even to see
boys alone—except Percy. I came all the way out here into this grove
hoping to run into you, where the family wouldn't be around."
Deeply flattered, John bowed from the hips as he had been taught at
dancing school in Hades.
"We'd better go now," said Kismine sweetly. "I have to be with mother
at eleven. You haven't asked me to kiss you once. I thought boys
always did that nowadays."
John drew himself up proudly.
"Some of them do," he answered, "but not me. Girls don't do that sort
of thing—in Hades."
Side by side they walked back toward the house.
John stood facing Mr. Braddock Washington in the full sunlight. The
elder man was about forty, with a proud, vacuous face, intelligent
eyes, and a robust figure. In the mornings he smelt of horses—the
best horses. He carried a plain walking-stick of gray birch with a
single large opal for a grip. He and Percy were showing John around.
"The slaves' quarters are there." His walking-stick indicated a
cloister of marble on their left that ran in graceful Gothic along the
side of the mountain. "In my youth I was distracted for a while from
the business of life by a period of absurd idealism. During that time
they lived in luxury. For instance, I equipped every one of their
rooms with a tile bath."
"I suppose," ventured John, with an ingratiating laugh, "that they
used the bathtubs to keep coal in. Mr. Schnlitzer-Murphy told me that
"The opinions of Mr. Schnlitzer-Murphy are of little importance, I
should imagine," interrupted Braddock Washington coldly. "My slaves
did not keep coal in their bathtubs. They had orders to bathe every
day, and they did. If they hadn't I might have ordered a sulphuric
acid shampoo. I discontinued the baths for quite another reason.
Several of them caught cold and died. Water is not good for certain
races—except as a beverage."
John laughed, and then decided to nod his head in sober agreement.
Braddock Washington made him uncomfortable.
"All these negroes are descendants of the ones my father brought North
with him. There are about two hundred and fifty now. You notice that
they've lived so long apart from the world that their original dialect
has become an almost indistinguishable patois. We bring a few of them
up to speak English—my secretary and two or three of the house
"This is the golf course," he continued, as they strolled along the
velvet winter grass. "It's all a green, you see—no fairway, no rough,
He smiled pleasantly at John.
"Many men in the cage, father?" asked Percy suddenly.
Braddock Washington stumbled, and let forth an involuntary curse.
"One less than there should be," he ejaculated darkly—and then added
after a moment, "We've had difficulties."
"Mother was telling me," exclaimed Percy, "that Italian teacher—"
"A ghastly error," said Braddock Washington angrily. "But of course
there's a good chance that we may have got him. Perhaps he fell
somewhere in the woods or stumbled over a cliff. And then there's
always the probability that if he did get away his story wouldn't be
believed. Nevertheless, I've had two dozen men looking for him in
different towns around here."
"And no luck?"
"Some. Fourteen of them reported to my agent they'd each killed a man
answering to that description, but of course it was probably only the
reward they were after—"
He broke off. They had come to a large cavity in the earth about the
circumference of a merry-go-round, and covered by a strong iron
grating. Braddock Washington beckoned to John, and pointed his cane
down through the grating. John stepped to the edge and gazed.
Immediately his ears were assailed by a wild clamor from below.
"Come on down to Hell!"
"Hallo, kiddo, how's the air up there?"
"Hey! Throw us a rope!"
"Got an old doughnut, Buddy, or a couple of second-hand sandwiches?"
"Say, fella, if you'll push down that guy you're with, we'll show you
a quick disappearance scene."
"Paste him one for me, will you?"
It was too dark to see clearly into the pit below, but John could tell
from the coarse optimism and rugged vitality of the remarks and voices
that they proceeded from middle-class Americans of the more spirited
type. Then Mr. Washington put out his cane and touched a button in the
grass, and the scene below sprang into light.
"These are some adventurous mariners who had the misfortune to
discover El Dorado," he remarked.
Below them there had appeared a large hollow in the earth shaped like
the interior of a bowl. The sides were steep and apparently of
polished glass, and on its slightly concave surface stood about two
dozen men clad in the half costume, half uniform, of aviators. Their
upturned faces, lit with wrath, with malice, with despair, with
cynical humour, were covered by long growths of beard, but with the
exception of a few who had pined perceptibly away, they seemed to be a
well-fed, healthy lot.
Braddock Washington drew a garden chair to the edge of the pit and sat
"Well, how are you, boys?" he inquired genially.
A chorus of execration, in which all joined except a few too
dispirited to cry out, rose up into the sunny air, but Braddock
Washington heard it with unruffled composure. When its last echo had
died away he spoke again.
"Have you thought up a way out of your difficulty?"
From here and there among them a remark floated up.
"We decided to stay here for love!"
"Bring us up there and we'll find us a way!"
Braddock Washington waited until they were again quiet. Then he said:
"I've told you the situation. I don't want you here, I wish to heaven
I'd never seen you. Your own curiosity got you here, and any time that
you can think of a way out which protects me and my interests I'll be
glad to consider it. But so long as you confine your efforts to
digging tunnels—yes, I know about the new one you've started—you
won't get very far. This isn't as hard on you as you make it out, with
all your howling for the loved ones at home. If you were the type who
worried much about the loved ones at home, you'd never have taken up
A tall man moved apart from the others, and held up his hand to call
his captor's attention to what he was about to say.
"Let me ask you a few questions!" he cried. "You pretend to be a
"How absurd. How could a man of my position be fair-minded
toward you? You might as well speak of a Spaniard being fair-minded
toward a piece of steak."
At this harsh observation the faces of the two dozen fell, but the
tall man continued:
"All right!" he cried. "We've argued this out before. You're not a
humanitarian and you're not fair-minded, but you're human—at least
you say you are—and you ought to be able to put yourself in our place
for long enough to think how—how—how—"
"How what?" demanded Washington, coldly.
"Not to me."
"We've covered that. Cruelty doesn't exist where self-preservation is
involved. You've been soldiers; you know that. Try another."
"Well, then, how stupid."
"There," admitted Washington, "I grant you that. But try to think of
an alternative. I've offered to have all or any of you painlessly
executed if you wish. I've offered to have your wives, sweethearts,
children, and mothers kidnapped and brought out here. I'll enlarge
your place down there and feed and clothe you the rest of your lives.
If there was some method of producing permanent amnesia I'd have all
of you operated on and released immediately, somewhere outside of my
preserves. But that's as far as my ideas go."
"How about trusting us not to peach on you?" cried some one.
"You don't proffer that suggestion seriously," said Washington, with
an expression of scorn. "I did take out one man to teach my daughter
Italian. Last week he got away."
A wild yell of jubilation went up suddenly from two dozen throats and
a pandemonium of joy ensued. The prisoners clog-danced and cheered and
yodled and wrestled with one another in a sudden uprush of animal
spirits. They even ran up the glass sides of the bowl as far as they
could, and slid back to the bottom upon the natural cushions of their
bodies. The tall man started a song in which they all joined—
"Oh, we'll hang the kaiser
On a sour apple-tree—"
Braddock Washington sat in inscrutable silence until the song was
"You see," he remarked, when he could gain a modicum of attention. "I
bear you no ill-will. I like to see you enjoying yourselves. That's
why I didn't tell you the whole story at once. The man—what was his
name? Critchtichiello?—was shot by some of my agents in fourteen
Not guessing that the places referred to were cities, the tumult of
rejoicing subsided immediately.
"Nevertheless," cried Washington with a touch of anger, "he tried to
run away. Do you expect me to take chances with any of you after an
experience like that?"
Again a series of ejaculations went up.
"Would your daughter like to learn Chinese?"
"Hey, I can speak Italian! My mother was a wop."
"Maybe she'd like t'learna speak N'Yawk!"
"If she's the little one with the big blue eyes I can teach her a lot
of things better than Italian."
"I know some Irish songs—and I could hammer brass once't."
Mr. Washington reached forward suddenly with his cane and pushed the
button in the grass so that the picture below went out instantly, and
there remained only that great dark mouth covered dismally with the
black teeth of the grating.
"Hey!" called a single voice from below, "you ain't goin' away without
givin' us your blessing?"
But Mr. Washington, followed by the two boys, was already strolling on
toward the ninth hole of the golf course, as though the pit and its
contents were no more than a hazard over which his facile iron had
triumphed with ease.
July under the lee of the diamond mountain was a month of blanket
nights and of warm, glowing days. John and Kismine were in love. He
did not know that the little gold football (inscribed with the legend
Pro deo et patria et St. Mida) which he had given her rested on
a platinum chain next to her bosom. But it did. And she for her part
was not aware that a large sapphire which had dropped one day from her
simple coiffure was stowed away tenderly in John's jewel box.
Late one afternoon when the ruby and ermine music room was quiet, they
spent an hour there together. He held her hand and she gave him such a
look that he whispered her name aloud. She bent toward him—then
"Did you say 'Kismine'?" she asked softly, "or—"
She had wanted to be sure. She thought she might have misunderstood.
Neither of them had ever kissed before, but in the course of an hour
it seemed to make little difference.
The afternoon drifted away. That night, when a last breath of music
drifted down from the highest tower, they each lay awake, happily
dreaming over the separate minutes of the day. They had decided to be
married as soon as possible.
Every day Mr. Washington and the two young men went hunting or fishing
in the deep forests or played golf around the somnolent course—games
which John diplomatically allowed his host to win—or swam in the
mountain coolness of the lake. John found Mr. Washington a somewhat
exacting personality—utterly uninterested in any ideas or opinions
except his own. Mrs. Washington was aloof and reserved at all times.
She was apparently indifferent to her two daughters, and entirely
absorbed in her son Percy, with whom she held interminable
conversations in rapid Spanish at dinner.
Jasmine, the elder daughter, resembled Kismine in appearance—except
that she was somewhat bow-legged, and terminated in large hands and
feet—but was utterly unlike her in temperament. Her favourite books
had to do with poor girls who kept house for widowed fathers. John
learned from Kismine that Jasmine had never recovered from the shock
and disappointment caused her by the termination of the World War,
just as she was about to start for Europe as a canteen expert. She had
even pined away for a time, and Braddock Washington had taken steps to
promote a new war in the Balkans—but she had seen a photograph of
some wounded Serbian soldiers and lost interest in the whole
proceedings. But Percy and Kismine seemed to have inherited the
arrogant attitude in all its harsh magnificence from their father. A
chaste and consistent selfishness ran like a pattern through their
John was enchanted by the wonders of the château and the valley.
Braddock Washington, so Percy told him, had caused to be kidnapped a
landscape gardener, an architect, a designer of state settings, and a
French decadent poet left over from the last century. He had put his
entire force of negroes at their disposal, guaranteed to supply them
with any materials that the world could offer, and left them to work
out some ideas of their own. But one by one they had shown their
uselessness. The decadent poet had at once begun bewailing his
separation, from the boulevards in spring—he made some vague remarks
about spices, apes, and ivories, but said nothing that was of any
practical value. The stage designer on his part wanted to make the
whole valley a series of tricks and sensational effects—a state of
things that the Washingtons would soon have grown tired of. And as for
the architect and the landscape gardener, they thought only in terms
of convention. They must make this like this and that like that.
But they had, at least, solved the problem of what was to be done with
them—they all went mad early one morning after spending the night in
a single room trying to agree upon the location of a fountain, and
were now confined comfortably in an insane asylum at Westport,
"But," inquired John curiously, "who did plan all your wonderful
reception rooms and halls, and approaches and bathrooms—?"
"Well," answered Percy, "I blush to tell you, but it was a
moving-picture fella. He was the only man we found who was used to
playing with an unlimited amount of money, though he did tuck his
napkin in his collar and couldn't read or write."
As August drew to a close John began to regret that he must soon go
back to school. He and Kismine had decided to elope the following
"It would be nicer to be married here," Kismine confessed, "but of
course I could never get father's permission to marry you at all. Next
to that I'd rather elope. It's terrible for wealthy people to be
married in America at present—they always have to send out bulletins
to the press saying that they're going to be married in remnants, when
what they mean is just a peck of old second-hand pearls and some used
lace worn once by the Empress Eugenie."
"I know," agreed John fervently. "When I was visiting the
Schnlitzer-Murphys, the eldest daughter, Gwendolyn, married a man
whose father owns half of West Virginia. She wrote home saying what a
tough struggle she was carrying on on his salary as a bank clerk—and
then she ended up by saying that 'Thank God, I have four good maids
anyhow, and that helps a little.'"
"It's absurd," commented Kismine—"Think of the millions and millions
of people in the world, labourers and all, who get along with only two
One afternoon late in August a chance remark of Kismine's changed the
face of the entire situation, and threw John into a state of terror.
They were in their favourite grove, and between kisses John was
indulging in some romantic forebodings which he fancied added
poignancy to their relations.
"Sometimes I think we'll never marry," he said sadly. "You're too
wealthy, too magnificent. No one as rich as you are can be like other
girls. I should marry the daughter of some well-to-do wholesale
hardware man from Omaha or Sioux City, and be content with her
"I knew the daughter of a wholesale hardware man once," remarked
Kismine. "I don't think you'd have been contented with her. She was a
friend of my sister's. She visited here."
"Oh, then you've had other guests?" exclaimed John in surprise.
Kismine seemed to regret her words.
"Oh, yes," she said hurriedly, "we've had a few."
"But aren't you—wasn't your father afraid they'd talk outside?"
"Oh, to some extent, to some extent," she answered, "Let's talk about
But John's curiosity was aroused.
"Something pleasanter!" he demanded. "What's unpleasant about that?
Weren't they nice girls?"
To his great surprise Kismine began to weep.
"Yes—th—that's the—the whole t-trouble. I grew qu-quite attached to
some of them. So did Jasmine, but she kept inv-viting them anyway. I
couldn't under_stand_ it."
A dark suspicion was born in John's heart.
"Do you mean that they told, and your father had
"Worse than that," she muttered brokenly. "Father took no chances—and
Jasmine kept writing them to come, and they had such a good
She was overcome by a paroxysm of grief.
Stunned with the horror of this revelation, John sat there
open-mouthed, feeling the nerves of his body twitter like so many
sparrows perched upon his spinal column.
"Now, I've told you, and I shouldn't have," she said, calming suddenly
and drying her dark blue eyes.
"Do you mean to say that your father had them murdered before
"In August usually—or early in September. It's only natural for us to
get all the pleasure out of them that we can first."
"How abominable! How—why, I must be going crazy! Did you really admit
"I did," interrupted Kismine, shrugging her shoulders. "We can't very
well imprison them like those aviators, where they'd be a continual
reproach to us every day. And it's always been made easier for Jasmine
and me, because father had it done sooner than we expected. In that
way we avoided any farewell scene-"
"So you murdered them! Uh!" cried John.
"It was done very nicely. They were drugged while they were
asleep—and their families were always told that they died of scarlet
fever in Butte."
"But—I fail to understand why you kept on inviting them!"
"I didn't," burst out Kismine. "I never invited one. Jasmine did. And
they always had a very good time. She'd give them the nicest presents
toward the last. I shall probably have visitors too—I'll harden up to
it. We can't let such an inevitable thing as death stand in the way of
enjoying life while we have it. Think of how lonesome it'd be out here
if we never had any one. Why, father and mother have sacrificed
some of their best friends just as we have."
"And so," cried John accusingly, "and so you were letting me make love
to you and pretending to return it, and talking about marriage, all
the time knowing perfectly well that I'd never get out of here
"No," she protested passionately. "Not any more. I did at first. You
were here. I couldn't help that, and I thought your last days might as
well be pleasant for both of us. But then I fell in love with you,
and—and I'm honestly sorry you're going to—going to be put
away—though I'd rather you'd be put away than ever kiss another
"Oh, you would, would you?" cried John ferociously.
"Much rather. Besides, I've always heard that a girl can have more fun
with a man whom she knows she can never marry. Oh, why did I tell you?
I've probably spoiled your whole good time now, and we were really
enjoying things when you didn't know it. I knew it would make things
sort of depressing for you."
"Oh, you did, did you?" John's voice trembled with anger. "I've heard
about enough of this. If you haven't any more pride and decency than
to have an affair with a fellow that you know isn't much better than a
corpse, I don't want to have any more to with you!"
"You're not a corpse!" she protested in horror. "You're not a corpse!
I won't have you saying that I kissed a corpse!"
"I said nothing of the sort!"
"You did! You said I kissed a corpse!"
Their voices had risen, but upon a sudden interruption they both
subsided into immediate silence. Footsteps were coming along the path
in their direction, and a moment later the rose bushes were parted
displaying Braddock Washington, whose intelligent eyes set in his
good-looking vacuous face were peering in at them.
"Who kissed a corpse?" he demanded in obvious disapproval.
"Nobody," answered Kismine quickly. "We were just joking."
"What are you two doing here, anyhow?" he demanded gruffly. "Kismine,
you ought to be—to be reading or playing golf with your sister. Go
read! Go play golf! Don't let me find you here when I come back!"
Then he bowed at John and went up the path.
"See?" said Kismine crossly, when he was out of hearing. "You've
spoiled it all. We can never meet any more. He won't let me meet you.
He'd have you poisoned if he thought we were in love."
"We're not, any more!" cried John fiercely, "so he can set his mind at
rest upon that. Moreover, don't fool yourself that I'm going to stay
around here. Inside of six hours I'll be over those mountains, if I
have to gnaw a passage through them, and on my way East." They had
both got to their feet, and at this remark Kismine came close and put
her arm through his.
"I'm going, too."
"You must be crazy—"
"Of course I'm going," she interrupted impatiently.
"You most certainly are not. You—"
"Very well," she said quietly, "we'll catch up with father and talk it
over with him."
Defeated, John mustered a sickly smile.
"Very well, dearest," he agreed, with pale and unconvincing affection,
"we'll go together."
His love for her returned and settled placidly on his heart. She was
his—she would go with him to share his dangers. He put his arms about
her and kissed her fervently. After all she loved him; she had saved
him, in fact.
Discussing the matter, they walked slowly back toward the château.
They decided that since Braddock Washington had seen them together
they had best depart the next night. Nevertheless, John's lips were
unusually dry at dinner, and he nervously emptied a great spoonful of
peacock soup into his left lung. He had to be carried into the
turquoise and sable card-room and pounded on the back by one of the
under-butlers, which Percy considered a great joke.
Long after midnight John's body gave a nervous jerk, he sat suddenly
upright, staring into the veils of somnolence that draped the room.
Through the squares of blue darkness that were his open windows, he
had heard a faint far-away sound that died upon a bed of wind before
identifying itself on his memory, clouded with uneasy dreams. But the
sharp noise that had succeeded it was nearer, was just outside the
room—the click of a turned knob, a footstep, a whisper, he could not
tell; a hard lump gathered in the pit of his stomach, and his whole
body ached in the moment that he strained agonisingly to hear. Then
one of the veils seemed to dissolve, and he saw a vague figure
standing by the door, a figure only faintly limned and blocked in upon
the darkness, mingled so with the folds of the drapery as to seem
distorted, like a reflection seen in a dirty pane of glass.
With a sudden movement of fright or resolution John pressed the button
by his bedside, and the next moment he was sitting in the green sunken
bath of the adjoining room, waked into alertness by the shock of the
cold water which half filled it.
He sprang out, and, his wet pyjamas scattering a heavy trickle of
water behind him, ran for the aquamarine door which he knew led out on
to the ivory landing of the second floor. The door opened noiselessly.
A single crimson lamp burning in a great dome above lit the
magnificent sweep of the carved stairways with a poignant beauty. For
a moment John hesitated, appalled by the silent splendour massed about
him, seeming to envelop in its gigantic folds and contours the
solitary drenched little figure shivering upon the ivory landing. Then
simultaneously two things happened. The door of his own sitting-room
swung open, precipitating three naked negroes into the hall—and, as
John swayed in wild terror toward the stairway, another door slid back
in the wall on the other side of the corridor, and John saw Braddock
Washington standing in the lighted lift, wearing a fur coat and a pair
of riding boots which reached to his knees and displayed, above, the
glow of his rose-colored pyjamas.
On the instant the three negroes—John had never seen any of them
before, and it flashed through his mind that they must be the
professional executioners paused in their movement toward John, and
turned expectantly to the man in the lift, who burst out with an
"Get in here! All three of you! Quick as hell!"
Then, within the instant, the three negroes darted into the cage, the
oblong of light was blotted out as the lift door slid shut, and John
was again alone in the hall. He slumped weakly down against an ivory
It was apparent that something portentous had occurred, something
which, for the moment at least, had postponed his own petty disaster.
What was it? Had the negroes risen in revolt? Had the aviators forced
aside the iron bars of the grating? Or had the men of Fish stumbled
blindly through the hills and gazed with bleak, joyless eyes upon the
gaudy valley? John did not know. He heard a faint whir of air as the
lift whizzed up again, and then, a moment later, as it descended. It
was probable that Percy was hurrying to his father's assistance, and
it occurred to John that this was his opportunity to join Kismine and
plan an immediate escape. He waited until the lift had been silent for
several minutes; shivering a little with the night cool that whipped
in through his wet pyjamas, he returned to his room and dressed
himself quickly. Then he mounted a long flight of stairs and turned
down the corridor carpeted with Russian sable which led to Kismine's
The door of her sitting-room was open and the lamps were lighted.
Kismine, in an angora kimono, stood near the window Of the room in a
listening attitude, and as John entered noiselessly she turned toward
"Oh, it's you!" she whispered, crossing the room to him. "Did you hear
"I heard your father's slaves in my—"
"No," she interrupted excitedly. "Aeroplanes!"
"Aeroplanes? Perhaps that was the sound that woke me."
"There're at least a dozen. I saw one a few moments ago dead against
the moon. The guard back by the cliff fired his rifle and that's what
roused father. We're going to open on them right away."
"Are they here on purpose?"
"Yes—it's that Italian who got away—"
Simultaneously with her last word, a succession of sharp cracks
tumbled in through the open window. Kismine uttered a little cry, took
a penny with fumbling fingers from a box on her dresser, and ran to
one of the electric lights. In an instant the entire chateau was in
darkness—she had blown out the fuse.
"Come on!" she cried to him. "We'll go up to the roof garden, and
watch it from there!"
Drawing a cape about her, she took his hand, and they found their way
out the door. It was only a step to the tower lift, and as she pressed
the button that shot them upward he put his arms around her in the
darkness and kissed her mouth. Romance had come to John Unger at last.
A minute later they had stepped out upon the star-white platform.
Above, under the misty moon, sliding in and out of the patches of
cloud that eddied below it, floated a dozen dark-winged bodies in a
constant circling course. From here and there in the valley flashes of
fire leaped toward them, followed by sharp detonations. Kismine
clapped her hands with pleasure, which, a moment later, turned to
dismay as the aeroplanes, at some prearranged signal, began to release
their bombs and the whole of the valley became a panorama of deep
reverberate sound and lurid light.
Before long the aim of the attackers became concentrated upon the
points where the anti-aircraft guns were situated, and one of them was
almost immediately reduced to a giant cinder to lie smouldering in a
park of rose bushes.
"Kismine," begged John, "you'll be glad when I tell you that this
attack came on the eve of my murder. If I hadn't heard that guard
shoot off his gun back by the pass I should now be stone dead—"
"I can't hear you!" cried Kismine, intent on the scene before her.
"You'll have to talk louder!"
"I simply said," shouted John, "that we'd better get out before they
begin to shell the chateau!"
Suddenly the whole portico of the negro quarters cracked asunder, a
geyser of flame shot up from under the colonnades, and great fragments
of jagged marble were hurled as far as the borders of the lake.
"There go fifty thousand dollars' worth of slaves," cried Kismine, "at
pre-war prices. So few Americans have any respect for property."
John renewed his efforts to compel her to leave. The aim of the
aeroplanes was becoming more precise minute by minute, and only two of
the anti-aircraft guns were still retaliating. It was obvious that the
garrison, encircled with fire, could not hold out much longer.
"Come on!" cried John, pulling Kismine's arm, "we've got to go. Do you
realise that those aviators will kill you without question if they
She consented reluctantly.
"We'll have to wake Jasmine!" she said, as they hurried toward the
lift. Then she added in a sort of childish delight: "We'll be poor,
won't we? Like people in books. And I'll be an orphan and utterly
free. Free and poor! What fun!" She stopped and raised her lips to him
in a delighted kiss.
"It's impossible to be both together," said John grimly. "People have
found that out. And I should choose to be free as preferable of the
two. As an extra caution you'd better dump the contents of your jewel
box into your pockets."
Ten minutes later the two girls met John in the dark corridor and they
descended to the main floor of the chateau. Passing for the last time
through the magnificence of the splendid halls, they stood for a
moment out on the terrace, watching the burning negro quarters and the
flaming embers of two planes which had fallen on the other side of the
lake. A solitary gun was still keeping up a sturdy popping, and the
attackers seemed timorous about descending lower, but sent their
thunderous fireworks in a circle around it, until any chance shot
might annihilate its Ethiopian crew.
John and the two sisters passed down the marble steps, turned sharply
to the left, and began to ascend a narrow path that wound like a
garter about the diamond mountain. Kismine knew a heavily wooded spot
half-way up where they could lie concealed and yet be able to observe
the wild night in the valley—finally to make an escape, when it
should be necessary, along a secret path laid in a rocky gully.
It was three o'clock when they attained their destination. The
obliging and phlegmatic Jasmine fell off to sleep immediately, leaning
against the trunk of a large tree, while John and Kismine sat, his arm
around her, and watched the desperate ebb and flow of the dying battle
among the ruins of a vista that had been a garden spot that morning.
Shortly after four o'clock the last remaining gun gave out a clanging
sound, and went out of action in a swift tongue of red smoke. Though
the moon was down, they saw that the flying bodies were circling
closer to the earth. When the planes had made certain that the
beleaguered possessed no further resources they would land and the
dark and glittering reign of the Washingtons would be over.
With the cessation of the firing the valley grew quiet. The embers of
the two aeroplanes glowed like the eyes of some monster crouching in
the grass. The château stood dark and silent, beautiful without light
as it had been beautiful in the sun, while the woody rattles of
Nemesis filled the air above with a growing and receding complaint.
Then John perceived that Kismine, like her sister, had fallen sound
It was long after four when he became aware of footsteps along the
path they had lately followed, and he waited in breathless silence
until the persons to whom they belonged had passed the vantage-point
he occupied. There was a faint stir in the air now that was not of
human origin, and the dew was cold; he knew that the dawn would break
soon. John waited until the steps had gone a safe distance up the
mountain and were inaudible. Then he followed. About half-way to the
steep summit the trees fell away and a hard saddle of rock spread
itself over the diamond beneath. Just before he reached this point he
slowed down his pace warned by an animal sense that there was life
just ahead of him. Coming to a high boulder, he lifted his head
gradually above its edge. His curiosity was rewarded; this is what he
Braddock Washington was standing there motionless, silhouetted against
the gray sky without sound or sign of life. As the dawn came up out of
the east, lending a gold green colour to the earth, it brought the
solitary figure into insignificant contrast with the new day.
While John watched, his host remained for a few moments absorbed in
some inscrutable contemplation; then he signalled to the two negroes
who crouched at his feet to lift the burden which lay between them. As
they struggled upright, the first yellow beam of the sun struck
through the innumerable prisms of an immense and exquisitely chiselled
diamond—and a white radiance was kindled that glowed upon the air
like a fragment of the morning star. The bearers staggered beneath its
weight for a moment—then their rippling muscles caught and hardened
under the wet shine of the skins and the three figures were again
motionless in their defiant impotency before the heavens.
After a while the white man lifted his head and slowly raised his arms
in a gesture of attention, as one who would call a great crowd to
hear—but there was no crowd, only the vast silence of the mountain
and the sky, broken by faint bird voices down among the trees. The
figure on the saddle of rock began to speak ponderously and with an
"You—out there—!" he cried in a trembling voice.
"You—there——!" He paused, his arms still uplifted, his head held
attentively as though he were expecting an answer. John strained his
eyes to see whether there might be men coming down the mountain, but
the mountain was bare of human life. There was only sky and a mocking
flute of wind along the treetops. Could Washington be praying? For a
moment John wondered. Then the illusion passed—there was something in
the man's whole attitude antithetical to prayer.
"Oh, you above there!"
The voice was become strong and confident. This was no forlorn
supplication. If anything, there was in it a quality of monstrous
"You there—" Words, too quickly uttered to be understood, flowing
one into the other …. John listened breathlessly, catching a phrase
here and there, while the voice broke off, resumed, broke off
again—now strong and argumentative, now coloured with a slow, puzzled
impatience, Then a conviction commenced to dawn on the single
listener, and as realisation crept over him a spray of quick blood
rushed through his arteries. Braddock Washington was offering a bribe
That was it—there was no doubt. The diamond in the arms of his slaves
was some advance sample, a promise of more to follow.
That, John perceived after a time, was the thread running through his
sentences. Prometheus Enriched was calling to witness forgotten
sacrifices, forgotten rituals, prayers obsolete before the birth of
Christ. For a while his discourse took the farm of reminding God of
this gift or that which Divinity had deigned to accept from men—great
churches if he would rescue cities from the plague, gifts of myrrh and
gold, of human lives and beautiful women and captive armies, of
children and queens, of beasts of the forest and field, sheep and
goats, harvests and cities, whole conquered lands that had been
offered up in lust or blood for His appeasal, buying a meed's worth of
alleviation from the Divine wrath—and now he, Braddock Washington,
Emperor of Diamonds, king and priest of the age of gold, arbiter of
splendour and luxury, would offer up a treasure such as princes before
him had never dreamed of, offer it up not in suppliance, but in pride.
He would give to God, he continued, getting down to specifications,
the greatest diamond in the world. This diamond would be cut with many
more thousand facets than there were leaves on a tree, and yet the
whole diamond would be shaped with the perfection of a stone no bigger
than a fly. Many men would work upon it for many years. It would be
set in a great dome of beaten gold, wonderfully carved and equipped
with gates of opal and crusted sapphire. In the middle would be
hollowed out a chapel presided over by an altar of iridescent,
decomposing, ever-changing radium which would burn out the eyes of any
worshipper who lifted up his head from prayer—and on this altar there
would be slain for the amusement of the Divine Benefactor any victim
He should choose, even though it should be the greatest and most
powerful man alive.
In return he asked only a simple thing, a thing that for God would be
absurdly easy—only that matters should be as they were yesterday at
this hour and that they should so remain. So very simple! Let but the
heavens open, swallowing these men and their aeroplanes—and then
close again. Let him have his slaves once more, restored to life and
There was no one else with whom he had ever needed: to treat or
He doubted only whether he had made his bribe big enough. God had His
price, of course. God was made in man's image, so it had been said: He
must have His price. And the price would be rare—no cathedral whose
building consumed many years, no pyramid constructed by ten thousand
workmen, would be like this cathedral, this pyramid.
He paused here. That was his proposition. Everything would be up to
specifications, and there was nothing vulgar in his assertion that it
would be cheap at the price. He implied that Providence could take it
or leave it.
As he approached the end his sentences became broken, became short and
uncertain, and his body seemed tense, seemed strained to catch the
slightest pressure or whisper of life in the spaces around him. His
hair had turned gradually white as he talked, and now he lifted his
head high to the heavens like a prophet of old—magnificently mad.
Then, as John stared in giddy fascination, it seemed to him that a
curious phenomenon took place somewhere around him. It was as though
the sky had darkened for an instant, as though there had been a sudden
murmur in a gust of wind, a sound of far-away trumpets, a sighing like
the rustle of a great silken robe—for a time the whole of nature
round about partook of this darkness; the birds' song ceased; the
trees were still, and far over the mountain there was a mutter of
dull, menacing thunder.
That was all. The wind died along the tall grasses of the valley. The
dawn and the day resumed their place in a time, and the risen sun sent
hot waves of yellow mist that made its path bright before it. The
leaves laughed in the sun, and their laughter shook until each bough
was like a girl's school in fairyland. God had refused to accept the
For another moment John, watched the triumph of the day. Then,
turning, he saw a flutter of brown down by the lake, then another
flutter, then another, like the dance of golden angels alighting from
the clouds. The aeroplanes had come to earth.
John slid off the boulder and ran down the side of the mountain to the
clump of trees, where the two girls were awake and waiting for him.
Kismine sprang to her feet, the jewels in her pockets jingling, a
question on her parted lips, but instinct told John that there was no
time for words. They must get off the mountain without losing a
moment. He seized a hand of each, and in silence they threaded the
tree-trunks, washed with light now and with the rising mist. Behind
them from the valley came no sound at all, except the complaint of the
peacocks far away and the pleasant of morning.
When they had gone about half a mile, they avoided the park land and
entered a narrow path that led over the next rise of ground. At the
highest point of this they paused and turned around. Their eyes rested
upon the mountainside they had just left—oppressed by some dark sense
of tragic impendency.
Clear against the sky a broken, white-haired man was slowly descending
the steep slope, followed by two gigantic and emotionless negroes, who
carried a burden between them which still flashed and glittered in the
sun. Half-way down two other figures joined them—John could see that
they were Mrs. Washington and her son, upon whose arm she leaned. The
aviators had clambered from their machines to the sweeping lawn in
front of the chateau, and with rifles in hand were starting up the
diamond mountain in skirmishing formation.
But the little group of five which had formed farther up and was
engrossing all the watchers' attention had stopped upon a ledge of
rock. The negroes stooped and pulled up what appeared to be a
trap-door in the side of the mountain. Into this they all disappeared,
the white-haired man first, then his wife and son, finally the two
negroes, the glittering tips of whose jewelled head-dresses caught the
sun for a moment before the trap-door descended and engulfed them all.
Kismine clutched John's arm.
"Oh," she cried wildly, "where are they going? What are they going to
"It must be some underground way of escape—"
A little scream from the two girls interrupted his sentence.
"Don't you see?" sobbed Kismine hysterically. "The mountain is wired!"
Even as she spoke John put up his hands to shield his sight. Before
their eyes the whole surface of the mountain had changed suddenly to a
dazzling burning yellow, which showed up through the jacket of turf as
light shows through a human hand. For a moment the intolerable glow
continued, and then like an extinguished filament it disappeared,
revealing a black waste from which blue smoke arose slowly, carrying
off with it what remained of vegetation and of human flesh. Of the
aviators there was left neither blood nor bone—they were consumed as
completely as the five souls who had gone inside.
Simultaneously, and with an immense concussion, the château literally
threw itself into the air, bursting into flaming fragments as it rose,
and then tumbling back upon itself in a smoking pile that lay
projecting half into the water of the lake. There was no fire—what
smoke there was drifted off mingling with the sunshine, and for a few
minutes longer a powdery dust of marble drifted from the great
featureless pile that had once been the house of jewels. There was no
more sound and the three people were alone in the valley.
At sunset John and his two companions reached the huge cliff which had
marked the boundaries of the Washington's dominion, and looking back
found the valley tranquil and lovely in the dusk. They sat down to
finish the food which Jasmine had brought with her in a basket.
"There!" she said, as she spread the table-cloth and put the
sandwiches in a neat pile upon it. "Don't they look tempting? I always
think that food tastes better outdoors."
"With that remark," remarked Kismine, "Jasmine enters the middle
"Now," said John eagerly, "turn out your pocket and let's see what
jewels you brought along. If you made a good selection we three ought
to live comfortably all the rest of our lives."
Obediently Kismine put her hand in her pocket and tossed two handfuls
of glittering stones before him. "Not so bad," cried John
enthusiastically. "They aren't very big, but-Hallo!" His expression
changed as he held one of them up to the declining sun. "Why, these
aren't diamonds! There's something the matter!
"By golly!" exclaimed Kismine, with a startled look. "What an idiot I
"Why, these are rhinestones!" cried John.
"I know." She broke into a laugh. "I opened the wrong drawer. They
belonged on the dress of a girl who visited Jasmine. I got her to give
them to me in exchange for diamonds. I'd never seen anything but
precious stones before."
"And this is what you brought?"
"I'm afraid so." She fingered the brilliants wistfully. "I think I
like these better. I'm a little tired of diamonds."
"Very well," said John gloomily. "We'll have to live in Hades. And you
will grow old telling incredulous women that you got the wrong drawer.
Unfortunately, your father's bank-books were consumed with him."
"Well, what's the matter with Hades?"
"If I come home with a wife at my age my father is just as liable as
not to cut me off with a hot coal, as they say down there."
Jasmine spoke up.
"I love washing," she said quietly. "I have always washed my own
handkerchiefs. I'll take in laundry and support you both."
"Do they have washwomen in Hades?" asked Kismine innocently.
"Of course," answered John. "It's just like anywhere else."
"I thought—perhaps it was too hot to wear any clothes."
"Just try it!" he suggested. "They'll run you out before you're half
"Will father be there?" she asked.
John turned to her in astonishment.
"Your father is dead," he replied sombrely. "Why should he go to
Hades? You have it confused with another place that was abolished long
After supper they folded up the table-cloth and spread their blankets
for the night.
"What a dream it was," Kismine sighed, gazing up at the stars. "How
strange it seems to be here with one dress and a penniless fiancée!
"Under the stars," she repeated. "I never noticed the stars before. I
always thought of them as great big diamonds that belonged to some
one. Now they frighten me. They make me feel that it was all a dream,
all my youth."
"It was a dream," said John quietly. "Everybody's youth is a
dream, a form of chemical madness."
"How pleasant then to be insane!"
"So I'm told," said John gloomily. "I don't know any longer. At any
rate, let us love for a while, for a year or so, you and me. That's a
form of divine drunkenness that we can all try. There are only
diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift of
disillusion. Well, I have that last and I will make the usual nothing
of it." He shivered. "Turn up your coat collar, little girl, the
night's full of chill and you'll get pneumonia. His was a great sin
who first invented consciousness. Let us lose it for a few hours."
So wrapping himself in his blanket he fell off to sleep.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At
present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the
first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anaesthetic air of
a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger
Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in
the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a
hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the
astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.
I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself.
The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both social and
financial, in ante-bellum Baltimore. They were related to the This
Family and the That Family, which, as every Southerner knew, entitled
them to membership in that enormous peerage which largely populated
the Confederacy. This was their first experience with the charming old
custom of having babies—Mr. Button was naturally nervous. He hoped it
would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale College in
Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button himself had been known
for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname of "Cuff."
On the September morning consecrated to the enormous event he arose
nervously at six o'clock dressed himself, adjusted an impeccable
stock, and hurried forth through the streets of Baltimore to the
hospital, to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in
new life upon its bosom.
When he was approximately a hundred yards from the Maryland Private
Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor Keene, the family
physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his hands together with
a washing movement—as all doctors are required to do by the unwritten
ethics of their profession.
Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale
Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with much less dignity than
was expected from a Southern gentleman of that picturesque period.
"Doctor Keene!" he called. "Oh, Doctor Keene!"
The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood waiting, a curious
expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as Mr. Button drew
"What happened?" demanded Mr. Button, as he came up in a gasping rush.
"What was it? How is she? A boy? Who is it? What—"
"Talk sense!" said Doctor Keene sharply, He appeared somewhat
"Is the child born?" begged Mr. Button.
Doctor Keene frowned. "Why, yes, I suppose so—after a fashion." Again
he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.
"Is my wife all right?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Here now!" cried Doctor Keene in a perfect passion of irritation,
"I'll ask you to go and see for yourself. Outrageous!" He snapped the
last word out in almost one syllable, then he turned away muttering:
"Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation?
One more would ruin me—ruin anybody."
"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Button appalled. "Triplets?"
"No, not triplets!" answered the doctor cuttingly. "What's more, you
can go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you
into the world, young man, and I've been physician to your family for
forty years, but I'm through with you! I don't want to see you or any
of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!"
Then he turned sharply, and without another word climbed into his
phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and drove severely away.
Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, stupefied and trembling from
head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred? He had suddenly lost
all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and
Gentlemen—it was with the greatest difficulty that, a moment later,
he forced himself to mount the steps and enter the front door.
A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall.
Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.
"Good-morning," she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.
"Good-morning. I—I am Mr. Button."
At this a look of utter terror spread itself over girl's face. She
rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining
herself only with the most apparent difficulty.
"I want to see my child," said Mr. Button.
The nurse gave a little scream. "Oh—of course!" she cried
hysterically. "Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go—up!"
She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed in cool
perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to mount to the second
floor. In the upper hall he addressed another nurse who approached
him, basin in hand. "I'm Mr. Button," he managed to articulate. "I
want to see my——"
Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled in the direction of
the stairs. Clank! Clank! It began a methodical descent as if sharing
in the general terror which this gentleman provoked.
"I want to see my child!" Mr. Button almost shrieked. He was on the
verge of collapse.
Clank! The basin reached the first floor. The nurse regained control
of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty contempt.
"All right, Mr. Button," she agreed in a hushed voice. "Very
well! But if you knew what a state it's put us all in this
morning! It's perfectly outrageous! The hospital will never have
a ghost of a reputation after——"
"Hurry!" he cried hoarsely. "I can't stand this!"
"Come this way, then, Mr. Button."
He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long hall they reached a
room from which proceeded a variety of howls—indeed, a room which, in
later parlance, would have been known as the "crying-room." They
"Well," gasped Mr. Button, "which is mine?"
"There!" said the nurse.
Mr. Button's eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he
saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into
one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years
of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a
long smoke-coloured beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned
by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with
dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.
"Am I mad?" thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. "Is
this some ghastly hospital joke?
"It doesn't seem like a joke to us," replied the nurse severely. "And
I don't know whether you're mad or not—but that is most certainly
The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button's forehead. He closed
his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no
mistake—he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten—a baby
of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the
crib in which it was reposing.
The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and
then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. "Are you my
father?" he demanded.
Mr. Button and the nurse started violently.
"Because if you are," went on the old man querulously, "I wish you'd
get me out of this place—or, at least, get them to put a comfortable
rocker in here."
"Where in God's name did you come from? Who are you?" burst out Mr.
"I can't tell you exactly who I am," replied the querulous
whine, "because I've only been born a few hours—but my last name is
"You lie! You're an impostor!"
The old man turned wearily to the nurse. "Nice way to welcome a
new-born child," he complained in a weak voice. "Tell him he's wrong,
why don't you?"
"You're wrong. Mr. Button," said the nurse severely. "This is your
child, and you'll have to make the best of it. We're going to ask you
to take him home with you as soon as possible-some time to-day."
"Home?" repeated Mr. Button incredulously.
"Yes, we can't have him here. We really can't, you know?"
"I'm right glad of it," whined the old man. "This is a fine place to
keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I
haven't been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to
eat"—here his voice rose to a shrill note of protest—"and they
brought me a bottle of milk!"
Mr. Button, sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face
in his hands. "My heavens!" he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror.
"What will people say? What must I do?"
"You'll have to take him home," insisted the nurse—"immediately!"
A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful clarity before the
eyes of the tortured man—a picture of himself walking through the
crowded streets of the city with this appalling apparition stalking by
"I can't. I can't," he moaned.
People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He
would have to introduce this—this septuagenarian: "This is my son,
born early this morning." And then the old man would gather his
blanket around him and they would plod on, past the bustling stores,
the slave market—for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately
that his son was black—past the luxurious houses of the residential
district, past the home for the aged….
"Come! Pull yourself together," commanded the nurse.
"See here," the old man announced suddenly, "if you think I'm going to
walk home in this blanket, you're entirely mistaken."
"Babies always have blankets."
With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling
garment. "Look!" he quavered. "This is what they had ready for
"Babies always wear those," said the nurse primly.
"Well," said the old man, "this baby's not going to wear anything in
about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given
me a sheet."
"Keep it on! Keep it on!" said Mr. Button hurriedly. He turned to the
nurse. "What'll I do?"
"Go down town and buy your son some clothes."
Mr. Button's son's voice followed him down into the hall: "And a
cane, father. I want to have a cane."
Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely….
"Good-morning," Mr. Button said nervously, to the clerk in the
Chesapeake Dry Goods Company. "I want to buy some clothes for my
"How old is your child, sir?"
"About six hours," answered Mr. Button, without due consideration.
"Babies' supply department in the rear."
"Why, I don't think—I'm not sure that's what I want. It's—he's an
unusually large-size child. Exceptionally—ah large."
"They have the largest child's sizes."
"Where is the boys' department?" inquired Mr. Button, shifting his
ground desperately. He felt that the clerk must surely scent his
"Well——" He hesitated. The notion of dressing his son in men's
clothes was repugnant to him. If, say, he could only find a very large
boy's suit, he might cut off that long and awful beard, dye the white
hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the worst, and to retain
something of his own self-respect—not to mention his position in
But a frantic inspection of the boys' department revealed no suits to
fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course—in such
cases it is the thing to blame the store.
"How old did you say that boy of yours was?" demanded the clerk
"Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you said six hours. You'll
find the youths' department in the next aisle."
Mr. Button turned miserably away. Then he stopped, brightened, and
pointed his finger toward a dressed dummy in the window display.
"There!" he exclaimed. "I'll take that suit, out there on the dummy."
The clerk stared. "Why," he protested, "that's not a child's suit. At
least it is, but it's for fancy dress. You could wear it
"Wrap it up," insisted his customer nervously. "That's what I want."
The astonished clerk obeyed.
Back at the hospital Mr. Button entered the nursery and almost threw
the package at his son. "Here's your clothes," he snapped out.
The old man untied the package and viewed the contents with a
"They look sort of funny to me," he complained, "I don't want to be
made a monkey of—"
"You've made a monkey of me!" retorted Mr. Button fiercely. "Never you
mind how funny you look. Put them on—or I'll—or I'll spank
you." He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate word, feeling
nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say.
"All right, father"—this with a grotesque simulation of filial
respect—"you've lived longer; you know best. Just as you say."
As before, the sound of the word "father" caused Mr. Button to start
"I'm hurrying, father."
When his son was dressed Mr. Button regarded him with depression. The
costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, and a belted blouse
with a wide white collar. Over the latter waved the long whitish
beard, drooping almost to the waist. The effect was not good.
Mr. Button seized a hospital shears and with three quick snaps
amputated a large section of the beard. But even with this improvement
the ensemble fell far short of perfection. The remaining brush of
scraggly hair, the watery eyes, the ancient teeth, seemed oddly out of
tone with the gaiety of the costume. Mr. Button, however, was
obdurate—he held out his hand. "Come along!" he said sternly.
His son took the hand trustingly. "What are you going to call me,
dad?" he quavered as they walked from the nursery—"just 'baby' for a
while? till you think of a better name?"
Mr. Button grunted. "I don't know," he answered harshly. "I think
we'll call you Methuselah."
Even after the new addition to the Button family had had his hair cut
short and then dyed to a sparse unnatural black, had had his face
shaved so close that it glistened, and had been attired in small-boy
clothes made to order by a flabbergasted tailor, it was impossible for
Button to ignore the fact that his son was a poor excuse for a first
family baby. Despite his aged stoop, Benjamin Button—for it was by
this name they called him instead of by the appropriate but invidious
Methuselah—was five feet eight inches tall. His clothes did not
conceal this, nor did the clipping and dyeing of his eyebrows disguise
the fact that the eyes under—were faded and watery and tired. In
fact, the baby-nurse who had been engaged in advance left the house
after one look, in a state of considerable indignation.
But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering purpose. Benjamin was a
baby, and a baby he should remain. At first he declared that if
Benjamin didn't like warm milk he could go without food altogether,
but he was finally prevailed upon to allow his son bread and butter,
and even oatmeal by way of a compromise. One day he brought home a
rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no uncertain terms that
he should "play with it," whereupon the old man took it with—a weary
expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals
throughout the day.
There can be no doubt, though, that the rattle bored him, and that he
found other and more soothing amusements when he was left alone. For
instance, Mr. Button discovered one day that during the preceding week
he had smoked more cigars than ever before—a phenomenon, which was
explained a few days later when, entering the nursery unexpectedly, he
found the room full of faint blue haze and Benjamin, with a guilty
expression on his face, trying to conceal the butt of a dark Havana.
This, of course, called for a severe spanking, but Mr. Button found
that he could not bring himself to administer it. He merely warned his
son that he would "stunt his growth."
Nevertheless he persisted in his attitude. He brought home lead
soldiers, he brought toy trains, he brought large pleasant animals
made of cotton, and, to perfect the illusion which he was
creating—for himself at least—he passionately demanded of the clerk
in the toy-store whether "the paint would come oft the pink duck if
the baby put it in his mouth." But, despite all his father's efforts,
Benjamin refused to be interested. He would steal down the back stairs
and return to the nursery with a volume of the Encyclopedia
Britannica, over which he would pore through an afternoon, while his
cotton cows and his Noah's ark were left neglected on the floor.
Against such a stubbornness Mr. Button's efforts were of little avail.
The sensation created in Baltimore was, at first, prodigious. What the
mishap would have cost the Buttons and their kinsfolk socially cannot
be determined, for the outbreak of the Civil War drew the city's
attention to other things. A few people who were unfailingly polite
racked their brains for compliments to give to the parents—and
finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring that the baby
resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to the standard state of
decay common to all men of seventy, could not be denied. Mr. and Mrs.
Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin's grandfather was
Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he found it. Several
small boys were brought to see him, and he spent a stiff-jointed
afternoon trying to work up an interest in tops and marbles—he even
managed, quite accidentally, to break a kitchen window with a stone
from a sling shot, a feat which secretly delighted his father.
Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something every day, but he did
these things only because they were expected of him, and because he
was by nature obliging.
When his grandfather's initial antagonism wore off, Benjamin and that
gentleman took enormous pleasure in one another's company. They would
sit for hours, these two, so far apart in age and experience, and,
like old cronies, discuss with tireless monotony the slow events of
the day. Benjamin felt more at ease in his grandfather's presence than
in his parents'—they seemed always somewhat in awe of him and,
despite the dictatorial authority they exercised over him, frequently
addressed him as "Mr."
He was as puzzled as any one else at the apparently advanced age of
his mind and body at birth. He read up on it in the medical journal,
but found that no such case had been previously recorded. At his
father's urging he made an honest attempt to play with other boys, and
frequently he joined in the milder games—football shook him up too
much, and he feared that in case of a fracture his ancient bones would
refuse to knit.
When he was five he was sent to kindergarten, where he initiated into
the art of pasting green paper on orange paper, of weaving coloured
maps and manufacturing eternal cardboard necklaces. He was inclined to
drowse off to sleep in the middle of these tasks, a habit which both
irritated and frightened his young teacher. To his relief she
complained to his parents, and he was removed from the school. The
Roger Buttons told their friends that they felt he was too young.
By the time he was twelve years old his parents had grown used to him.
Indeed, so strong is the force of custom that they no longer felt that
he was different from any other child—except when some curious
anomaly reminded them of the fact. But one day a few weeks after his
twelfth birthday, while looking in the mirror, Benjamin made, or
thought he made, an astonishing discovery. Did his eyes deceive him,
or had his hair turned in the dozen years of his life from white to
iron-gray under its concealing dye? Was the network of wrinkles on his
face becoming less pronounced? Was his skin healthier and firmer, with
even a touch of ruddy winter colour? He could not tell. He knew that
he no longer stooped, and that his physical condition had improved
since the early days of his life.
"Can it be——?" he thought to himself, or, rather, scarcely dared to
He went to his father. "I am grown," he announced determinedly. "I
want to put on long trousers."
His father hesitated. "Well," he said finally, "I don't know. Fourteen
is the age for putting on long trousers—and you are only twelve."
"But you'll have to admit," protested Benjamin, "that I'm big for my
His father looked at him with illusory speculation. "Oh, I'm not so
sure of that," he said. "I was as big as you when I was twelve."
This was not true-it was all part of Roger Button's silent agreement
with himself to believe in his son's normality.
Finally a compromise was reached. Benjamin was to continue to dye his
hair. He was to make a better attempt to play with boys of his own
age. He was not to wear his spectacles or carry a cane in the street.
In return for these concessions he was allowed his first suit of long
Of the life of Benjamin Button between his twelfth and twenty-first
year I intend to say little. Suffice to record that they were years of
normal ungrowth. When Benjamin was eighteen he was erect as a man of
fifty; he had more hair and it was of a dark gray; his step was firm,
his voice had lost its cracked quaver and descended to a healthy
baritone. So his father sent him up to Connecticut to take
examinations for entrance to Yale College. Benjamin passed his
examination and became a member of the freshman class.
On the third day following his matriculation he received a
notification from Mr. Hart, the college registrar, to call at his
office and arrange his schedule. Benjamin, glancing in the mirror,
decided that his hair needed a new application of its brown dye, but
an anxious inspection of his bureau drawer disclosed that the dye
bottle was not there. Then he remembered—he had emptied it the day
before and thrown it away.
He was in a dilemma. He was due at the registrar's in five minutes.
There seemed to be no help for it—he must go as he was. He did.
"Good-morning," said the registrar politely. "You've come to inquire
about your son."
"Why, as a matter of fact, my name's Button——" began Benjamin, but
Mr. Hart cut him off.
"I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Button. I'm expecting your son here
"That's me!" burst out Benjamin. "I'm a freshman."
"I'm a freshman."
"Surely you're joking."
"Not at all."
The registrar frowned and glanced at a card before him. "Why, I have
Mr. Benjamin Button's age down here as eighteen."
"That's my age," asserted Benjamin, flushing slightly.
The registrar eyed him wearily. "Now surely, Mr. Button, you don't
expect me to believe that."
Benjamin smiled wearily. "I am eighteen," he repeated.
The registrar pointed sternly to the door. "Get out," he said. "Get
out of college and get out of town. You are a dangerous lunatic."
"I am eighteen."
Mr. Hart opened the door. "The idea!" he shouted. "A man of your age
trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years old, are you? Well,
I'll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town."
Benjamin Button walked with dignity from the room, and half a dozen
undergraduates, who were waiting in the hall, followed him curiously
with their eyes. When he had gone a little way he turned around, faced
the infuriated registrar, who was still standing in the door-way, and
repeated in a firm voice: "I am eighteen years old."
To a chorus of titters which went up from the group of undergraduates,
Benjamin walked away.
But he was not fated to escape so easily. On his melancholy walk to
the railroad station he found that he was being followed by a group,
then by a swarm, and finally by a dense mass of undergraduates. The
word had gone around that a lunatic had passed the entrance
examinations for Yale and attempted to palm himself off as a youth of
eighteen. A fever of excitement permeated the college. Men ran hatless
out of classes, the football team abandoned its practice and joined
the mob, professors' wives with bonnets awry and bustles out of
position, ran shouting after the procession, from which proceeded a
continual succession of remarks aimed at the tender sensibilities of
"He must be the wandering Jew!"
"He ought to go to prep school at his age!"
"Look at the infant prodigy!"
"He thought this was the old men's home."
"Go up to Harvard!"
Benjamin increased his gait, and soon he was running. He would show
them! He would go to Harvard, and then they would regret these
Safely on board the train for Baltimore, he put his head from the
window. "You'll regret this!" he shouted.
"Ha-ha!" the undergraduates laughed. "Ha-ha-ha!" It was the biggest
mistake that Yale College had ever made….
In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old, and he signalised his
birthday by going to work for his father in Roger Button & Co.,
Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that he began "going out
socially"—that is, his father insisted on taking him to several
fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, and he and his son
were more and more companionable—in fact, since Benjamin had ceased
to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they appeared about the same
age, and could have passed for brothers.
One night in August they got into the phaeton attired in their
full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the Shevlins' country
house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening.
A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless colour of platinum,
and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air
aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country,
carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the
day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty
of the sky—almost.
"There's a great future in the dry-goods business," Roger Button was
saying. He was not a spiritual man—his aesthetic sense was
"Old fellows like me can't learn new tricks," he observed profoundly.
"It's you youngsters with energy and vitality that have the great
future before you."
Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins' country house drifted into
view, and presently there was a sighing sound that crept persistently
toward them—it might have been the fine plaint of violins or the
rustle of the silver wheat under the moon.
They pulled up behind a handsome brougham whose passengers were
disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman,
then another young lady, beautiful as sin. Benjamin started; an almost
chemical change seemed to dissolve and recompose the very elements of
his body. A rigour passed over him, blood rose into his cheeks, his
forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his ears. It was first
The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was ashen under the
moon and honey-coloured under the sputtering gas-lamps of the porch.
Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla of softest yellow,
butterflied in black; her feet were glittering buttons at the hem of
her bustled dress.
Roger Button leaned over to his son. "That," he said, "is young
Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General Moncrief."
Benjamin nodded coldly. "Pretty little thing," he said indifferently.
But when the negro boy had led the buggy away, he added: "Dad, you
might introduce me to her."
They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief was the centre. Reared
in the old tradition, she curtsied low before Benjamin. Yes, he might
have a dance. He thanked her and walked away—staggered away.
The interval until the time for his turn should arrive dragged itself
out interminably. He stood close to the wall, silent, inscrutable,
watching with murderous eyes the young bloods of Baltimore as they
eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate admiration in their
faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; how intolerably rosy!
Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a feeling equivalent to
But when his own time came, and he drifted with her out upon the
changing floor to the music of the latest waltz from Paris, his
jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a mantle of snow. Blind
with enchantment, he felt that life was just beginning.
"You and your brother got here just as we did, didn't you?" asked
Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue
Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father's brother, would it
be best to enlighten her? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he
decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a lady; it would be
criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the grotesque story of
his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled, listened, was happy.
"I like men of your age," Hildegarde told him. "Young boys are so
idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and
how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to
Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal—with an effort he
choked back the impulse. "You're just the romantic age," she
continued—"fifty. Twenty-five is too worldly-wise; thirty is apt to be
pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole
cigar to tell; sixty is—oh, sixty is too near seventy; but fifty is
the mellow age. I love fifty."
Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He longed passionately to be
"I've always said," went on Hildegarde, "that I'd rather marry a man
of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of thirty and take care
For Benjamin the rest of the evening was bathed in a honey-coloured
mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and they discovered that
they were marvellously in accord on all the questions of the day. She
was to go driving with him on the following Sunday, and then they
would discuss all these questions further.
Going home in the phaeton just before the crack of dawn, when the
first bees were humming and the fading moon glimmered in the cool dew,
Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was discussing wholesale
"…. And what do you think should merit our biggest attention after
hammers and nails?" the elder Button was saying.
"Love," replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.
"Lugs?" exclaimed Roger Button, "Why, I've just covered the question
Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was
suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the
When, six months later, the engagement of Miss Hildegarde Moncrief to
Mr. Benjamin Button was made known (I say "made known," for General
Moncrief declared he would rather fall upon his sword than announce
it), the excitement in Baltimore society reached a feverish pitch. The
almost forgotten story of Benjamin's birth was remembered and sent out
upon the winds of scandal in picaresque and incredible forms. It was
said that Benjamin was really the father of Roger Button, that he was
his brother who had been in prison for forty years, that he was John
Wilkes Booth in disguise—and, finally, that he had two small conical
horns sprouting from his head.
The Sunday supplements of the New York papers played up the case with
fascinating sketches which showed the head of Benjamin Button attached
to a fish, to a snake, and, finally, to a body of solid brass. He
became known, journalistically, as the Mystery Man of Maryland. But
the true story, as is usually the case, had a very small circulation.
However, every one agreed with General Moncrief that it was "criminal"
for a lovely girl who could have married any beau in Baltimore to
throw herself into the arms of a man who was assuredly fifty. In vain
Mr. Roger Button published his son's birth certificate in large type in
the Baltimore Blaze. No one believed it. You had only to look
at Benjamin and see.
On the part of the two people most concerned there was no wavering. So
many of the stories about her fiancé were false that Hildegarde
refused stubbornly to believe even the true one. In vain General
Moncrief pointed out to her the high mortality among men of fifty—or,
at least, among men who looked fifty; in vain he told her of the
instability of the wholesale hardware business. Hildegarde had chosen
to marry for mellowness, and marry she did….
In one particular, at least, the friends of Hildegarde Moncrief were
mistaken. The wholesale hardware business prospered amazingly. In the
fifteen years between Benjamin Button's marriage in 1880 and his
father's retirement in 1895, the family fortune was doubled—and this
was due largely to the younger member of the firm.
Needless to say, Baltimore eventually received the couple to its
bosom. Even old General Moncrief became reconciled to his son-in-law
when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out his History of the
Civil War in twenty volumes, which had been refused by nine
In Benjamin himself fifteen years had wrought many changes. It seemed
to him that the blood flowed with new vigour through his veins. It
began to be a pleasure to rise in the morning, to walk with an active
step along the busy, sunny street, to work untiringly with his
shipments of hammers and his cargoes of nails. It was in 1890 that he
executed his famous business coup: he brought up the suggestion that
all nails used in nailing up the boxes in which nails are shipped
are the property of the shippee, a proposal which became a
statute, was approved by Chief Justice Fossile, and saved Roger Button
and Company, Wholesale Hardware, more than six hundred nails every
In addition, Benjamin discovered that he was becoming more and more
attracted by the gay side of life. It was typical of his growing
enthusiasm for pleasure that he was the first man in the city of
Baltimore to own and run an automobile. Meeting him on the street, his
contemporaries would stare enviously at the picture he made of health
"He seems to grow younger every year," they would remark. And if old
Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a
proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what
amounted to adulation.
And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to
pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that
worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to attract him.
At that time Hildegarde was a woman of thirty-five, with a son,
Roscoe, fourteen years old. In the early days of their marriage
Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years passed, her
honey-coloured hair became an unexciting brown, the blue enamel of her
eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery—moreover, and, most of all,
she had become too settled in her ways, too placid, too content, too
anaemic in her excitements, and too sober in her taste. As a bride it
been she who had "dragged" Benjamin to dances and dinners—now
conditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without
enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to
live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.
Benjamin's discontent waxed stronger. At the outbreak of the
Spanish-American War in 1898 his home had for him so little charm that
he decided to join the army. With his business influence he obtained a
commission as captain, and proved so adaptable to the work that he was
made a major, and finally a lieutenant-colonel just in time to
participate in the celebrated charge up San Juan Hill. He was slightly
wounded, and received a medal.
Benjamin had become so attached to the activity and excitement of
array life that he regretted to give it up, but his business required
attention, so he resigned his commission and came home. He was met at
the station by a brass band and escorted to his house.
Hildegarde, waving a large silk flag, greeted him on the porch, and
even as he kissed her he felt with a sinking of the heart that these
three years had taken their toll. She was a woman of forty now, with a
faint skirmish line of gray hairs in her head. The sight depressed
Up in his room he saw his reflection in the familiar mirror—he went
closer and examined his own face with anxiety, comparing it after a
moment with a photograph of himself in uniform taken just before the
"Good Lord!" he said aloud. The process was continuing. There was no
doubt of it—he looked now like a man of thirty. Instead of being
delighted, he was uneasy—he was growing younger. He had hitherto
hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in
years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease
to function. He shuddered. His destiny seemed to him awful,
When he came downstairs Hildegarde was waiting for him. She appeared
annoyed, and he wondered if she had at last discovered that there was
something amiss. It was with an effort to relieve the tension between
them that he broached the matter at dinner in what he considered a
"Well," he remarked lightly, "everybody says I look younger than
Hildegarde regarded him with scorn. She sniffed. "Do you think it's
anything to boast about?"
"I'm not boasting," he asserted uncomfortably. She sniffed again. "The
idea," she said, and after a moment: "I should think you'd have enough
pride to stop it."
"How can I?" he demanded.
"I'm not going to argue with you," she retorted. "But there's a right
way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be
different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I
really don't think it's very considerate."
"But, Hildegarde, I can't help it."
"You can too. You're simply stubborn. You think you don't want to be
like any one else. You always have been that way, and you always will
be. But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things
as you do—what would the world be like?"
As this was an inane and unanswerable argument Benjamin made no reply,
and from that time on a chasm began to widen between them. He wondered
what possible fascination she had ever exercised over him.
To add to the breach, he found, as the new century gathered headway,
that his thirst for gaiety grew stronger. Never a party of any kind in
the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing with the prettiest of
the young married women, chatting with the most popular of the
debutantes, and finding their company charming, while his wife, a
dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons, now in haughty
disapproval, and now following him with solemn, puzzled, and
"Look!" people would remark. "What a pity! A young fellow that age
tied to a woman of forty-five. He must be twenty years younger than
his wife." They had forgotten—as people inevitably forget—that back
in 1880 their mammas and papas had also remarked about this same
Benjamin's growing unhappiness at home was compensated for by his many
new interests. He took up golf and made a great success of it. He went
in for dancing: in 1906 he was an expert at "The Boston," and in 1908
he was considered proficient at the "Maxine," while in 1909 his
"Castle Walk" was the envy of every young man in town.
His social activities, of course, interfered to some extent with his
business, but then he had worked hard at wholesale hardware for
twenty-five years and felt that he could soon hand it on to his son,
Roscoe, who had recently graduated from Harvard.
He and his son were, in fact, often mistaken for each other. This
pleased Benjamin—he soon forgot the insidious fear which had come
over him on his return from the Spanish-American War, and grew to take
a naïve pleasure in his appearance. There was only one fly in the
delicious ointment—he hated to appear in public with his wife.
Hildegarde was almost fifty, and the sight of her made him feel
One September day in 1910—a few years after Roger Button & Co.,
Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to young Roscoe Button—a
man, apparently about twenty years old, entered himself as a freshman
at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not make the mistake of
announcing that he would never see fifty again, nor did he mention the
fact that his son had been graduated from the same institution ten
He was admitted, and almost immediately attained a prominent position
in the class, partly because he seemed a little older than the other
freshmen, whose average age was about eighteen.
But his success was largely due to the fact that in the football game
with Yale he played so brilliantly, with so much dash and with such a
cold, remorseless anger that he scored seven touchdowns and fourteen
field goals for Harvard, and caused one entire eleven of Yale men to
be carried singly from the field, unconscious. He was the most
celebrated man in college.
Strange to say, in his third or junior year he was scarcely able to
"make" the team. The coaches said that he had lost weight, and it
seemed to the more observant among them that he was not quite as tall
as before. He made no touchdowns—indeed, he was retained on the team
chiefly in hope that his enormous reputation would bring terror and
disorganisation to the Yale team.
In his senior year he did not make the team at all. He had grown so
slight and frail that one day he was taken by some sophomores for a
freshman, an incident which humiliated him terribly. He became known
as something of a prodigy—a senior who was surely no more than
sixteen—and he was often shocked at the worldliness of some of his
classmates. His studies seemed harder to him—he felt that they were
too advanced. He had heard his classmates speak of St. Midas's, the
famous preparatory school, at which so many of them had prepared for
college, and he determined after his graduation to enter himself at
St. Midas's, where the sheltered life among boys his own size would be
more congenial to him.
Upon his graduation in 1914 he went home to Baltimore with his Harvard
diploma in his pocket. Hildegarde was now residing in Italy, so
Benjamin went to live with his son, Roscoe. But though he was welcomed
in a general way there was obviously no heartiness in Roscoe's feeling
toward him—there was even perceptible a tendency on his son's part to
think that Benjamin, as he moped about the house in adolescent
mooniness, was somewhat in the way. Roscoe was married now and
prominent in Baltimore life, and he wanted no scandal to creep out in
connection with his family.
Benjamin, no longer persona grata with the débutantes and
younger college set, found himself left much done, except for the
companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old boys in the
neighbourhood. His idea of going to St. Midas's school recurred to
"Say," he said to Roscoe one day, "I've told you over and over that I
want to go to prep, school."
"Well, go, then," replied Roscoe shortly. The matter was distasteful
to him, and he wished to avoid a discussion.
"I can't go alone," said Benjamin helplessly. "You'll have to enter me
and take me up there."
"I haven't got time," declared Roscoe abruptly. His eyes narrowed and
he looked uneasily at his father. "As a matter of fact," he added,
"you'd better not go on with this business much longer. You better
pull up short. You better—you better"—he paused and his face
crimsoned as he sought for words—"you better turn right around and
start back the other way. This has gone too far to be a joke. It isn't
funny any longer. You—you behave yourself!"
Benjamin looked at him, on the verge of tears.
"And another thing," continued Roscoe, "when visitors are in the house
I want you to call me 'Uncle'—not 'Roscoe,' but 'Uncle,' do you
understand? It looks absurd for a boy of fifteen to call me by my
first name. Perhaps you'd better call me 'Uncle' all the time,
so you'll get used to it."
With a harsh look at his father, Roscoe turned away….
At the termination of this interview, Benjamin wandered dismally
upstairs and stared at himself in the mirror. He had not shaved for
three months, but he could find nothing on his face but a faint white
down with which it seemed unnecessary to meddle. When he had first
come home from Harvard, Roscoe had approached him with the proposition
that he should wear eye-glasses and imitation whiskers glued to his
cheeks, and it had seemed for a moment that the farce of his early
years was to be repeated. But whiskers had itched and made him
ashamed. He wept and Roscoe had reluctantly relented.
Benjamin opened a book of boys' stories, The Boy Scouts in Bimini
Bay, and began to read. But he found himself thinking persistently
about the war. America had joined the Allied cause during the
preceding month, and Benjamin wanted to enlist, but, alas, sixteen was
the minimum age, and he did not look that old. His true age, which was
fifty-seven, would have disqualified him, anyway.
There was a knock at his door, and the butler appeared with a letter
bearing a large official legend in the corner and addressed to Mr.
Benjamin Button. Benjamin tore it open eagerly, and read the enclosure
with delight. It informed him that many reserve officers who had
served in the Spanish-American War were being called back into service
with a higher rank, and it enclosed his commission as brigadier-general
in the United States army with orders to report immediately.
Benjamin jumped to his feet fairly quivering with enthusiasm. This was
what he had wanted. He seized his cap, and ten minutes later he had
entered a large tailoring establishment on Charles Street, and asked
in his uncertain treble to be measured for a uniform.
"Want to play soldier, sonny?" demanded a clerk casually.
Benjamin flushed. "Say! Never mind what I want!" he retorted angrily.
"My name's Button and I live on Mt. Vernon Place, so you know I'm good
"Well," admitted the clerk hesitantly, "if you're not, I guess your
daddy is, all right."
Benjamin was measured, and a week later his uniform was completed. He
had difficulty in obtaining the proper general's insignia because the
dealer kept insisting to Benjamin that a nice V.W.C.A. badge would
look just as well and be much more fun to play with.
Saying nothing to Roscoe, he left the house one night and proceeded by
train to Camp Mosby, in South Carolina, where he was to command an
infantry brigade. On a sultry April day he approached the entrance to
the camp, paid off the taxicab which had brought him from the station,
and turned to the sentry on guard.
"Get some one to handle my luggage!" he said briskly.
The sentry eyed him reproachfully. "Say," he remarked, "where you
goin' with the general's duds, sonny?"
Benjamin, veteran of the Spanish-American War, whirled upon him with
fire in his eye, but with, alas, a changing treble voice.
"Come to attention!" he tried to thunder; he paused for breath—then
suddenly he saw the sentry snap his heels together and bring his rifle
to the present. Benjamin concealed a smile of gratification, but when
he glanced around his smile faded. It was not he who had inspired
obedience, but an imposing artillery colonel who was approaching on
"Colonel!" called Benjamin shrilly.
The colonel came up, drew rein, and looked coolly down at him with a
twinkle in his eyes. "Whose little boy are you?" he demanded kindly.
"I'll soon darn well show you whose little boy I am!" retorted
Benjamin in a ferocious voice. "Get down off that horse!"
The colonel roared with laughter.
"You want him, eh, general?"
"Here!" cried Benjamin desperately. "Read this." And he thrust his
commission toward the colonel.
The colonel read it, his eyes popping from their sockets.
"Where'd you get this?" he demanded, slipping the
document into his own pocket.
"I got it from the Government, as you'll
soon find out!"
"You come along with me," said the colonel with a
peculiar look. "We'll go up to headquarters and talk this over. Come
The colonel turned and began walking his horse in the
direction of headquarters. There was nothing for Benjamin to do but
follow with as much dignity as possible—meanwhile promising himself a
But this revenge did not materialise. Two days later,
however, his son Roscoe materialised from Baltimore, hot and cross
from a hasty trip, and escorted the weeping general, sans
uniform, back to his home.
In 1920 Roscoe Button's first child was born. During the attendant
festivities, however, no one thought it "the thing" to mention, that
the little grubby boy, apparently about ten years of age who played
around the house with lead soldiers and a miniature circus, was the
new baby's own grandfather.
No one disliked the little boy whose fresh, cheerful face was crossed
with just a hint of sadness, but to Roscoe Button his presence was a
source of torment. In the idiom of his generation Roscoe did not
consider the matter "efficient." It seemed to him that his father, in
refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a "red-blooded
he-man"—this was Roscoe's favourite expression—but in a curious and
perverse manner. Indeed, to think about the matter for as much as a
half an hour drove him to the edge of insanity. Roscoe believed that
"live wires" should keep young, but carrying it out on such a scale
was—was—was inefficient. And there Roscoe rested.
Five years later Roscoe's little boy had grown old enough to play
childish games with little Benjamin under the supervision of the same
nurse. Roscoe took them both to kindergarten on the same day, and
Benjamin found that playing with little strips of coloured paper,
making mats and chains and curious and beautiful designs, was the most
fascinating game in the world. Once he was bad and had to stand in the
corner—then he cried—but for the most part there were gay hours in
the cheerful room, with the sunlight coming in the windows and Miss
Bailey's kind hand resting for a moment now and then in his tousled
Roscoe's son moved up into the first grade after a year, but Benjamin
stayed on in the kindergarten. He was very happy. Sometimes when other
tots talked about what they would do when they grew up a shadow would
cross his little face as if in a dim, childish way he realised that
those were things in which he was never to share.
The days flowed on in monotonous content. He went back a third year to
the kindergarten, but he was too little now to understand what the
bright shining strips of paper were for. He cried because the other
boys were bigger than he, and he was afraid of them. The teacher
talked to him, but though he tried to understand he could not
understand at all.
He was taken from the kindergarten. His nurse, Nana, in her starched
gingham dress, became the centre of his tiny world. On bright days
they walked in the park; Nana would point at a great gray monster and
say "elephant," and Benjamin would say it after her, and when he was
being undressed for bed that night he would say it over and over aloud
to her: "Elyphant, elyphant, elyphant." Sometimes Nana let him jump on
the bed, which was fun, because if you sat down exactly right it would
bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said "Ah" for a long time
while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken vocal effect.
He loved to take a big cane from the hat-rack and go around hitting
chairs and tables with it and saying: "Fight, fight, fight." When
there were people there the old ladies would cluck at him, which
interested him, and the young ladies would try to kiss him, which he
submitted to with mild boredom. And when the long day was done at five
o'clock he would go upstairs with Nana and be fed on oatmeal and nice
soft mushy foods with a spoon.
There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token
came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when
he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe
walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes,
and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his
twilight bed hour and called "sun." When the sun went his eyes were
sleepy—there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him.
The past—the wild charge at the head of his men up San Juan Hill; the
first years of his marriage when he worked late into the summer dusk
down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom he loved; the days
before that when he sat smoking far into the night in the gloomy old
Button house on Monroe Street with his grandfather-all these had faded
like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as though they had never been.
He did not remember.
He did not remember clearly whether the milk was warm or cool at his
last feeding or how the days passed—there was only his crib and
Nana's familiar presence. And then he remembered nothing. When he was
hungry he cried—that was all. Through the noons and nights he
breathed and over him there were soft mumblings and murmurings that he
scarcely heard, and faintly differentiated smells, and light and
Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the dim faces that moved
above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the milk, faded out altogether
from his mind.
TARQUIN OF CHEAPSIDE
Running footsteps—light, soft-soled shoes made of curious leathery
cloth brought from Ceylon setting the pace; thick flowing boots, two
pairs, dark blue and gilt, reflecting the moonlight in blunt gleams
and splotches, following a stone's throw behind.
Soft Shoes flashes through a patch of moonlight, then darts into a
blind labyrinth of alleys and becomes only an intermittent scuffle
ahead somewhere in the enfolding darkness. In go Flowing Boots, with
short swords lurching and long plumes awry, finding a breath to curse
God and the black lanes of London.
Soft Shoes leaps a shadowy gate and crackles through a hedgerow.
Flowing Boots leap the gate and crackles through the hedgerow—and
there, startlingly, is the watch ahead—two murderous pikemen of
ferocious cast of mouth acquired in Holland and the Spanish marches.
But there is no cry for help. The pursued does not fall panting at the
feet of the watch, clutching a purse; neither do the pursuers raise a
hue and cry. Soft Shoes goes by in a rush of swift air. The watch
curse and hesitate, glance after the fugitive, and then spread their
pikes grimly across the road and wait for Flowing Boots. Darkness,
like a great hand, cuts off the even flow the moon.
The hand moves off the moon whose pale caress finds again the eaves
and lintels, and the watch, wounded and tumbled in the dust. Up the
street one of Flowing Boots leaves a black trail of spots until he
binds himself, clumsily as he runs, with fine lace caught from his
It was no affair for the watch: Satan was at large tonight and Satan
seemed to be he who appeared dimly in front, heel over gate, knee over
fence. Moreover, the adversary was obviously travelling near home or
at least in that section of London consecrated to his coarser whims,
for the street narrowed like a road in a picture and the houses bent
over further and further, cooping in natural ambushes suitable for
murder and its histrionic sister, sudden death.
Down long and sinuous lanes twisted the hunted and the harriers,
always in and out of the moon in a perpetual queen's move over a
checker-board of glints and patches. Ahead, the quarry, minus his
leather jerkin now and half blinded by drips of sweat, had taken to
scanning his ground desperately on both sides. As a result he suddenly
slowed short, and retracing his steps a bit scooted up an alley so
dark that it seemed that here sun and moon had been in eclipse since
the last glacier slipped roaring over the earth. Two hundred yards
down he stopped and crammed himself into a niche in the wall where he
huddled and panted silently, a grotesque god without bulk or outline
in the gloom.
Flowing Boots, two pairs, drew near, came up, went by, halted twenty
yards beyond him, and spoke in deep-lunged, scanty whispers:
"I was attune to that scuffle; it stopped."
"Within twenty paces."
"Stay together now and we'll cut him up."
The voice faded into a low crunch of a boot, nor did Soft Shoes wait
to hear more—he sprang in three leaps across the alley, where he
bounded up, flapped for a moment on the top of the wall like a huge
bird, and disappeared, gulped down by the hungry night at a mouthful.
"He read at wine, he read in bed,
He read aloud, had he the breath,
His every thought was with the dead,
And so he read himself to death."
Any visitor to the old James the First graveyard near Peat's Hill may
spell out this bit of doggerel, undoubtedly one of the worst recorded
of an Elizabethan, on the tomb of Wessel Caster.
This death of his, says the antiquary, occurred when he was
thirty-seven, but as this story is concerned with the night of a
certain chase through darkness, we find him still alive, still
reading. His eyes were somewhat dim, his stomach somewhat obvious-he
was a mis-built man and indolent—oh, Heavens! But an era is an era,
and in the reign of Elizabeth, by the grace of Luther, Queen of
England, no man could help but catch the spirit of enthusiasm. Every
loft in Cheapside published its Magnum Folium (or magazine)—of
its new blank verse; the Cheapside Players would produce anything on
sight as long as it "got away from those reactionary miracle plays,"
and the English Bible had run through seven "very large" printings in,
as many months.
So Wessel Caxter (who in his youth had gone to sea) was now a reader
of all on which he could lay his hands—he read manuscripts In holy
friendship; he dined rotten poets; he loitered about the shops where
the Magna Folia were printed, and he listened tolerantly while
the young playwrights wrangled and bickered among them-selves, and
behind each other's backs made bitter and malicious charges of
plagiarism or anything else they could think of.
To-night he had a book, a piece of work which, though inordinately
versed, contained, he thought, some rather excellent political satire.
"The Faerie Queene" by Edmund Spenser lay before him under the
tremulous candle-light. He had ploughed through a canto; he was
THE LEGEND OF BRITOMARTIS OR OF CHASTITY
It falls me here to write of Chastity.
The fayrest vertue, far above the rest….
A sudden rush of feet on the stairs, a rusty swing-open of the thin
door, and a man thrust himself into the room, a man without a jerkin,
panting, sobbing, on the verge of collapse.
"Wessel," words choked him, "stick me away somewhere, love of Our
Caxter rose, carefully closing his book, and bolted the door in some
"I'm pursued," cried out Soft Shoes. "I vow there's two short-witted
blades trying to make me into mincemeat and near succeeding. They saw
me hop the back wall!"
"It would need," said Wessel, looking at him curiously, "several
battalions armed with blunderbusses, and two or three Armadas, to keep
you reasonably secure from the revenges of the world."
Soft Shoes smiled with satisfaction. His sobbing gasps were giving way
to quick, precise breathing; his hunted air had faded to a faintly
"I feel little surprise," continued Wessel.
"They were two such dreary apes."
"Making a total of three."
"Only two unless you stick me away. Man, man, come alive, they'll be
on the stairs in a spark's age."
Wessel took a dismantled pike-staff from the corner, and raising it to
the high ceiling, dislodged a rough trap-door opening into a garret
"There's no ladder."
He moved a bench under the trap, upon which Soft Shoes mounted,
crouched, hesitated, crouched again, and then leaped amazingly upward.
He caught at the edge of the aperture and swung back and forth, for a
moment, shifting his hold; finally doubled up and disappeared into the
darkness above. There was a scurry, a migration of rats, as the
trap-door was replaced;… silence.
Wessel returned to his reading-table, opened to the Legend of
Britomartis or of Chastity—and waited. Almost a minute later there
was a scramble on the stairs and an intolerable hammering at the door.
Wessel sighed and, picking up his candle, rose.
"Open the door!"
An aching blow frightened the frail wood, splintered it around the
edge. Wessel opened it a scarce three inches, and held the candle
high. His was to play the timorous, the super-respectable citizen,
"One small hour of the night for rest. Is that too much to ask from
every brawler and—"
"Quiet, gossip! Have you seen a perspiring fellow?"
The shadows of two gallants fell in immense wavering outlines over the
narrow stairs; by the light Wessel scrutinized them closely.
Gentlemen, they were, hastily but richly dressed—one of them wounded
severely in the hand, both radiating a sort of furious horror. Waving
aside Wessel's ready miscomprehension, they pushed by him into the
room and with their swords went through the business of poking
carefully into all suspected dark spots in the room, further extending
their search to Wessel's bedchamber.
"Is he hid here?" demanded the wounded man fiercely.
"Is who here?"
"Any man but you."
"Only two others that I know of."
For a second Wessel feared that he had been too damned funny, for the
gallants made as though to prick him through.
"I heard a man on the stairs," he said hastily, "full five minutes
ago, it was. He most certainly failed to come up."
He went on to explain his absorption in "The Faerie Queene" but, for
the moment at least, his visitors, like the great saints, were
anaesthetic to culture.
"What's been done?" inquired Wessel.
"Violence!" said the man with the wounded hand. Wessel noticed that
his eyes were quite wild. "My own sister. Oh, Christ in heaven, give
us this man!"
"Who is the man?"
"God's word! We know not even that. What's that trap up there?" he
"It's nailed down. It's not been used for years." He thought of the
pole in the corner and quailed in his belly, but the utter despair of
the two men dulled their astuteness.
"It would take a ladder for any one not a tumbler," said the wounded
His companion broke into hysterical laughter.
"A tumbler. Oh, a tumbler. Oh—"
Wessel stared at them in wonder.
"That appeals to my most tragic humor," cried the man, "that no
one—oh, no one—could get up there but a tumbler."
The gallant with the wounded hand snapped his good fingers
"We must go next door—and then on—"
Helplessly they went as two walking under a dark and storm-swept sky.
Wessel closed and bolted the door and stood a moment by it, frowning
A low-breathed "Ha!" made him look up. Soft Shoes had already raised
the trap and was looking down into the room, his rather elfish face
squeezed into a grimace, half of distaste, half of sardonic amusement.
"They take off their heads with their helmets," he remarked in a
whisper, "but as for you and me, Wessel, we are two cunning men."
"Now you be cursed," cried Wessel vehemently. "I knew you for a dog,
but when I hear even the half of a tale like this, I know you for such
a dirty cur that I am minded to club your skull."
Soft Shoes stared at him, blinking.
"At all events," he replied finally, "I find dignity impossible in
With this he let his body through the trap, hung for an instant, and
dropped the seven feet to the floor.
"There was a rat considered my ear with the air of a gourmet," he
continued, dusting his hands on his breeches. "I told him in the rat's
peculiar idiom that I was deadly poison, so he took himself off."
"Let's hear of this night's lechery!" insisted Wessel angrily.
Soft Shoes touched his thumb to his nose and wiggled the fingers
derisively at Wessel.
"Street gamin!" muttered Wessel.
"Have you any paper?" demanded Soft Shoes irrelevantly, and then
rudely added, "or can you write?"
"Why should I give you paper?"
"You wanted to hear of the night's entertainment. So you shall, an you
give me pen, ink, a sheaf of paper, and a room to myself."
"Get out!" he said finally.
"As you will. Yet you have missed a most intriguing story."
Wessel wavered—he was soft as taffy, that man—gave in. Soft Shoes
went into the adjoining room with the begrudged writing materials and
precisely closed the door. Wessel grunted and returned to "The Faerie
Queene"; so silence came once more upon the house.
Three o'clock went into four. The room paled, the dark outside was
shot through with damp and chill, and Wessel, cupping his brain in his
hands, bent low over his table, tracing through the pattern of knights
and fairies and the harrowing distresses of many girls. There were
dragons chortling along the narrow street outside; when the sleepy
armorer's boy began his work at half-past five the heavy clink and
clank of plate and linked mail swelled to the echo of a marching
A fog shut down at the first flare of dawn, and the room was grayish
yellow at six when Wessel tiptoed to his cupboard bedchamber and
pulled open the door. His guest turned on him a face pale as parchment
in which two distraught eyes burned like great red letters. He had
drawn a chair close to Wessel's prie-dieu which he was using as
a desk; and on it was an amazing stack of closely written pages. With
a long sigh Wessel withdrew and returned to his siren, calling himself
fool for not claiming his bed here at dawn.
The dump of boots outside, the croaking of old beldames from attic to
attic, the dull murmur of morning, unnerved him, and, dozing, he
slumped in his chair, his brain, overladen with sound and color,
working intolerably over the imagery that stacked it. In this restless
dream of his he was one of a thousand groaning bodies crushed near the
sun, a helpless bridge for the strong-eyed Apollo. The dream tore at
him, scraped along his mind like a ragged knife. When a hot hand
touched his shoulder, he awoke with what was nearly a scream to find
the fog thick in the room and his guest, a gray ghost of misty stuff,
beside him with a pile of paper in his hand.
"It should be a most intriguing tale, I believe, though it requires
some going over. May I ask you to lock it away, and in God's name let
He waited for no answer, but thrust the pile at Wessel, and literally
poured himself like stuff from a suddenly inverted bottle upon a couch
in the corner, slept, with his breathing regular, but his brow
wrinkled in a curious and somewhat uncanny manner.
Wessel yawned sleepily and, glancing at the scrawled, uncertain first
page, he began reading aloud very softly:
_The Rape of Lucrece
"From the besieged Ardea all in post,
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,
Lust-breathing Tarquin leaves the Roman host—"_
"O RUSSET WITCH!"
Merlin Grainger was employed by the Moonlight Quill Bookshop, which
you may have visited, just around the corner from the Ritz-Carlton on
Forty-seventh Street. The Moonlight Quill is, or rather was, a very
romantic little store, considered radical and admitted dark. It was
spotted interiorly with red and orange posters of breathless exotic
intent, and lit no less by the shiny reflecting bindings of special
editions than by the great squat lamp of crimson satin that, lighted
through all the day, swung overhead. It was truly a mellow bookshop.
The words "Moonlight Quill" were worked over the door in a sort of
serpentine embroidery. The windows seemed always full of something
that had passed the literary censors with little to spare; volumes
with covers of deep orange which offer their titles on little white
paper squares. And over all there was the smell of the musk, which the
clever, inscrutable Mr. Moonlight Quill ordered to be sprinkled
about-the smell half of a curiosity shop in Dickens' London and half
of a coffee-house on the warm shores of the Bosphorus.
From nine until five-thirty Merlin Grainger asked bored old ladies in
black and young men with dark circles under their eyes if they "cared
for this fellow" or were interested in first editions. Did they buy
novels with Arabs on the cover, or books which gave Shakespeare's
newest sonnets as dictated psychically to Miss Sutton of South Dakota?
he sniffed. As a matter of fact, his own taste ran to these latter,
but as an employee at the Moonlight Quill he assumed for the working
day the attitude of a disillusioned connoisseur.
After he had crawled over the window display to pull down the front
shade at five-thirty every afternoon, and said good-bye to the
mysterious Mr. Moonlight Quill and the lady clerk, Miss McCracken, and
the lady stenographer, Miss Masters, he went home to the girl,
Caroline. He did not eat supper with Caroline. It is unbelievable that
Caroline would have considered eating off his bureau with the collar
buttons dangerously near the cottage cheese, and the ends of Merlin's
necktie just missing his glass of milk—he had never asked her to eat
with him. He ate alone. He went into Braegdort's delicatessen on Sixth
Avenue and bought a box of crackers, a tube of anchovy paste, and some
oranges, or else a little jar of sausages and some potato salad and a
bottled soft drink, and with these in a brown package he went to his
room at Fifty-something West Fifty-eighth Street and ate his supper
and saw Caroline.
Caroline was a very young and gay person who lived with some older
lady and was possibly nineteen. She was like a ghost in that she never
existed until evening. She sprang into life when the lights went on in
her apartment at about six, and she disappeared, at the latest, about
midnight. Her apartment was a nice one, in a nice building with a
white stone front, opposite the south side of Central Park. The back
of her apartment faced the single window of the single room occupied
by the single Mr. Grainger.
He called her Caroline because there was a picture that looked like
her on the jacket of a book of that name down at the Moonlight Quill.
Now, Merlin Grainger was a thin young man of twenty-five, with dark
hair and no mustache or beard or anything like that, but Caroline was
dazzling and light, with a shimmering morass of russet waves to take
the place of hair, and the sort of features that remind you of
kisses—the sort of features you thought belonged to your first love,
but know, when you come across an old picture, didn't. She dressed in
pink or blue usually, but of late she had sometimes put on a slender
black gown that was evidently her especial pride, for whenever she
wore it she would stand regarding a certain place on the wall, which
Merlin thought most be a mirror. She sat usually in the profile chair
near the window, but sometimes honored the chaise longue by the
lamp, and often she leaned 'way back and smoked a cigarette with
posturings of her arms and hands that Merlin considered very graceful.
At another time she had come to the window and stood in it
magnificently, and looked out because the moon had lost its way and
was dripping the strangest and most transforming brilliance into the
areaway between, turning the motif of ash-cans and clothes-lines into
a vivid impressionism of silver casks and gigantic gossamer cobwebs.
Merlin was sitting in plain sight, eating cottage cheese with sugar
and milk on it; and so quickly did he reach out for the window cord
that he tipped the cottage cheese into his lap with his free hand—and
the milk was cold and the sugar made spots on his trousers, and he was
sure that she had seen him after all.
Sometimes there were callers—men in dinner coats, who stood and
bowed, hat in hand and coat on arm, as they talked to Caroline; then
bowed some more and followed her out of the light, obviously bound for
a play or for a dance. Other young men came and sat and smoked
cigarettes, and seemed trying to tell Caroline something—she sitting
either in the profile chair and watching them with eager intentness or
else in the chaise longue by the lamp, looking very lovely and
youthfully inscrutable indeed.
Merlin enjoyed these calls. Of some of the men he approved. Others won
only his grudging toleration, one or two he loathed—especially the
most frequent caller, a man with black hair and a black goatee and a
pitch-dark soul, who seemed to Merlin vaguely familiar, but whom he
was never quite able to recognize.
Now, Merlin's whole life was not "bound up with this romance he had
constructed"; it was not "the happiest hour of his day." He never
arrived in time to rescue Caroline from "clutches"; nor did he even
marry her. A much stranger thing happened than any of these, and it is
this strange thing that will presently be set down here. It began one
October afternoon when she walked briskly into the mellow interior of
the Moonlight Quill.
It was a dark afternoon, threatening rain and the end of the world,
and done in that particularly gloomy gray in which only New York
afternoons indulge. A breeze was crying down the streets, whisking
along battered newspapers and pieces of things, and little lights were
pricking out all the windows—it was so desolate that one was sorry
for the tops of sky-scrapers lost up there in the dark green and gray
heaven, and felt that now surely the farce was to close, and presently
all the buildings would collapse like card houses, and pile up in a
dusty, sardonic heap upon all the millions who presumed to wind in and
out of them.
At least these were the sort of musings that lay heavily upon the soul
of Merlin Grainger, as he stood by the window putting a dozen books
back in a row after a cyclonic visit by a lady with ermine trimmings.
He looked out of the window full of the most distressing thoughts—of
the early novels of H. G. Wells, of the boot of Genesis, of how Thomas
Edison had said that in thirty years there would be no dwelling-houses
upon the island, but only a vast and turbulent bazaar; and then he set
the last book right side up, turned—and Caroline walked coolly into
She was dressed in a jaunty but conventional walking costume—he
remembered this when he thought about it later. Her skirt was plaid,
pleated like a concertina; her jacket was a soft but brisk tan; her
shoes and spats were brown and her hat, small and trim, completed her
like the top of a very expensive and beautifully filled candy box.
Merlin, breathless and startled, advanced nervously toward her.
"Good-afternoon—" he said, and then stopped—why, he did not know,
except that it came to him that something very portentous in his life
was about to occur, and that it would need no furbishing but silence,
and the proper amount of expectant attention. And in that minute
before the thing began to happen he had the sense of a breathless
second hanging suspended in time: he saw through the glass partition
that bounded off the little office the malevolent conical head of his
employer, Mr. Moonlight Quill, bent over his correspondence. He saw
Miss McCracken and Miss Masters as two patches of hair drooping over
piles of paper; he saw the crimson lamp overhead, and noticed with a
touch of pleasure how really pleasant and romantic it made the
Then the thing happened, or rather it began to happen. Caroline picked
up a volume of poems lying loose upon a pile, fingered it absently
with her slender white hand, and suddenly, with an easy gesture,
tossed it upward toward the ceiling where it disappeared in the
crimson lamp and lodged there, seen through the illuminated silk as a
dark, bulging rectangle. This pleased her—she broke into young,
contagious laughter, in which Merlin found himself presently joining.
"It stayed up!" she cried merrily. "It stayed up, didn't it?" To both
of them this seemed the height of brilliant absurdity. Their laughter
mingled, filled the bookshop, and Merlin was glad to find that her
voice was rich and full of sorcery.
"Try another," he found himself suggesting—"try a red one."
At this her laughter increased, and she had to rest her hands upon the
stack to steady herself.
"Try another," she managed to articulate between spasms of mirth. "Oh,
golly, try another!"
"Yes, try two. Oh, I'll choke if I don't stop laughing. Here it goes."
Suiting her action to the word, she picked up a red book and sent it
in a gentle hyperbola toward the ceiling, where it sank into the lamp
beside the first. It was a few minutes before either of them could do
more than rock back and forth in helpless glee; but then by mutual
agreement they took up the sport anew, this time in unison. Merlin
seized a large, specially bound French classic and whirled it upward.
Applauding his own accuracy, he took a best-seller in one hand and a
book on barnacles in the other, and waited breathlessly while she made
her shot. Then the business waxed fast and furious—sometimes they
alternated, and, watching, he found how supple she was in every
movement; sometimes one of them made shot after shot, picking up the
nearest book, sending it off, merely taking time to follow it with a
glance before reaching for another. Within three minutes they had
cleared a little place on the table, and the lamp of crimson satin was
so bulging with books that it was near breaking.
"Silly game, basket-ball," she cried scornfully as a book left her
hand. "High-school girls play it in hideous bloomers."
"Idiotic," he agreed.
She paused in the act of tossing a book, and replaced it suddenly in
its position on the table.
"I think we've got room to sit down now," she said gravely.
They had; they had cleared an ample space for two. With a faint touch
of nervousness Merlin glanced toward Mr. Moonlight Quill's glass
partition, but the three heads were still bent earnestly over their
work, and it was evident that they had not seen what had gone on in
the shop. So when Caroline put her hands on the table and hoisted
herself up Merlin calmly imitated her, and they sat side by side
looking very earnestly at each other.
"I had to see you," she began, with a rather pathetic expression in
her brown eyes.
"It was that last time," she continued, her voice trembling a little,
though she tried to keep it steady. "I was frightened. I don't like
you to eat off the dresser. I'm so afraid you'll—you'll swallow a
"I did once—almost," he confessed reluctantly, "but it's not so easy,
you know. I mean you can swallow the flat part easy enough or else the
other part—that is, separately—but for a whole collar button you'd
have to have a specially made throat." He was astonishing himself by
the debonnaire appropriateness of his remarks. Words seemed for the
first time in his life to ran at him shrieking to be used, gathering
themselves into carefully arranged squads and platoons, and being
presented to him by punctilious adjutants of paragraphs.
"That's what scared me," she said. "I knew you had to have a specially
made throat—and I knew, at least I felt sure, that you didn't have
He nodded frankly.
"I haven't. It costs money to have one—more money unfortunately than
He felt no shame in saying this—rather a delight in making the
admission—he knew that nothing he could say or do would be beyond her
comprehension; least of all his poverty, and the practical
impossibility of ever extricating himself from it.
Caroline looked down at her wrist watch, and with a little cry slid
from the table to her feet.
"It's after five," she cried. "I didn't realize. I have to be at the
Ritz at five-thirty. Let's hurry and get this done. I've got a bet on
With one accord they set to work. Caroline began the matter by seizing
a book on insects and sending it whizzing, and finally crashing
through the glass partition that housed Mr. Moonlight Quill. The
proprietor glanced up with a wild look, brushed a few pieces of glass
from his desk, and went on with his letters. Miss McCracken gave no
sign of having heard—only Miss Masters started and gave a little
frightened scream before she bent to her task again.
But to Merlin and Caroline it didn't matter. In a perfect orgy of
energy they were hurling book after book in all directions until
sometimes three or four were in the air at once, smashing against
shelves, cracking the glass of pictures on the walls, falling in
bruised and torn heaps upon the floor. It was fortunate that no
customers happened to come in, for it is certain they would never have
come in again—the noise was too tremendous, a noise of smashing and
ripping and tearing, mixed now and then with the tinkling of glass,
the quick breathing of the two throwers, and the intermittent
outbursts of laughter to which both of them periodically surrendered.
At five-thirty Caroline tossed a last book at the lamp, and gave the
final impetus to the load it carried. The weakened silk tore and
dropped its cargo in one vast splattering of white and color to the
already littered floor. Then with a sigh of relief she turned to
Merlin and held out her hand.
"Good-by," she said simply.
"Are you going?" He knew she was. His question was simply a lingering
wile to detain her and extract for another moment that dazzling
essence of light he drew from her presence, to continue his enormous
satisfaction in her features, which were like kisses and, he thought,
like the features of a girl he had known back in 1910. For a minute he
pressed the softness of her hand—then she smiled and withdrew it and,
before he could spring to open the door, she had done it herself and
was gone out into the turbid and ominous twilight that brooded
narrowly over Forty-seventh Street.
I would like to tell you how Merlin, having seen how beauty regards
the wisdom of the years, walked into the little partition of Mr.
Moonlight Quill and gave up his job then and there; thence issuing out
into the street a much finer and nobler and increasingly ironic man.
But the truth is much more commonplace. Merlin Grainger stood up and
surveyed the wreck of the bookshop, the ruined volumes, the torn silk
remnants of the once beautiful crimson lamp, the crystalline
sprinkling of broken glass which lay in iridescent dust over the whole
interior—and then he went to a corner where a broom was kept and
began cleaning up and rearranging and, as far as he was able,
restoring the shop to its former condition. He found that, though some
few of the books were uninjured, most of them had suffered in varying
extents. The backs were off some, the pages were torn from others,
still others were just slightly cracked in the front, which, as all
careless book returners know, makes a book unsalable, and therefore
Nevertheless by six o'clock he had done much to repair the damage. He
had returned the books to their original places, swept the floor, and
put new lights in the sockets overhead. The red shade itself was
ruined beyond redemption, and Merlin thought in some trepidation that
the money to replace it might have to come out of his salary. At six,
therefore, having done the best he could, he crawled over the front
window display to pull down the blind. As he was treading delicately
back, he saw Mr. Moonlight Quill rise from his desk, put on his
overcoat and hat, and emerge into the shop. He nodded mysteriously at
Merlin and went toward the door. With his hand on the knob he paused,
turned around, and in a voice curiously compounded of ferocity and
uncertainty, he said:
"If that girl comes in here again, you tell her to behave."
With that he opened the door, drowning Merlin's meek "Yessir" in its
creak, and went out.
Merlin stood there for a moment, deciding wisely not to worry about
what was for the present only a possible futurity, and then he went
into the back of the shop and invited Miss Masters to have supper with
him at Pulpat's French Restaurant, where one could still obtain red
wine at dinner, despite the Great Federal Government. Miss Masters
"Wine makes me feel all tingly," she said.
Merlin laughed inwardly as he compared her to Caroline, or rather as
he didn't compare her. There was no comparison.
Mr. Moonlight Quill, mysterious, exotic, and oriental in temperament
was, nevertheless, a man of decision. And it was with decision that he
approached the problem of his wrecked shop. Unless he should make an
outlay equal to the original cost of his entire stock—a step which
for certain private reasons he did not wish to take—it would be
impossible for him to continue in business with the Moonlight Quill as
before. There was but one thing to do. He promptly turned his
establishment from an up-to-the-minute book-store into a second-hand
bookshop. The damaged books were marked down from twenty-five to fifty
per cent, the name over the door whose serpentine embroidery had once
shone so insolently bright, was allowed to grow dim and take on the
indescribably vague color of old paint, and, having a strong penchant
for ceremonial, the proprietor even went so far as to buy two
skull-caps of shoddy red felt, one for himself and one for his clerk,
Merlin Grainger. Moreover, he let his goatee grow until it resembled
the tail-feathers of an ancient sparrow and substituted for a once
dapper business suit a reverence-inspiring affair of shiny alpaca.
In fact, within a year after Caroline's catastrophic visit to the
bookshop the only thing in it that preserved any semblance of being up
to date was Miss Masters. Miss McCracken had followed in the footsteps
of Mr. Moonlight Quill and become an intolerable dowd.
For Merlin too, from a feeling compounded of loyalty and listlessness,
had let his exterior take on the semblance of a deserted garden. He
accepted the red felt skull-cap as a symbol of his decay. Always a
young man known, as a "pusher," he had been, since the day of his
graduation from the manual training department of a New York High
School, an inveterate brusher of clothes, hair, teeth, and even
eyebrows, and had learned the value of laying all his clean socks toe
upon toe and heel upon heel in a certain drawer of his bureau, which
would be known as the sock drawer.
These things, he felt, had won him his place in the greatest splendor
of the Moonlight Quill. It was due to them that he was not still
making "chests useful for keeping things," as he was taught with
breathless practicality in High School, and selling them to whoever
had use of such chests—possibly undertakers. Nevertheless when the
progressive Moonlight Quill became the retrogressive Moonlight Quill
he preferred to sink with it, and so took to letting his suits gather
undisturbed the wispy burdens of the air and to throwing his socks
indiscriminately into the shirt drawer, the underwear drawer, and even
into no drawer at all. It was not uncommon in his new carelessness to
let many of his clean clothes go directly back to the laundry without
having ever been worn, a common eccentricity of impoverished
bachelors. And this in the face of his favorite magazines, which at
that time were fairly staggering with articles by successful authors
against the frightful impudence of the condemned poor, such as the
buying of wearable shirts and nice cuts of meat, and the fact that
they preferred good investments in personal jewelry to respectable
ones in four per cent saving-banks.
It was indeed a strange state of affairs and a sorry one for many
worthy and God-fearing men. For the first time in the history of the
Republic almost any negro north of Georgia could change a one-dollar
bill. But as at that time the cent was rapidly approaching the
purchasing power of the Chinese ubu and was only a thing you got back
occasionally after paying for a soft drink, and could use merely in
getting your correct weight, this was perhaps not so strange a
phenomenon as it at first seems. It was too curious a state of things,
however, for Merlin Grainger to take the step that he did take—the
hazardous, almost involuntary step of proposing to Miss Masters.
Stranger still that she accepted him.
It was at Pulpat's on Saturday night and over a $1.75 bottle of water
diluted with vin ordinaire that the proposal occurred.
"Wine makes me feel all tingly, doesn't it you?" chattered Miss
"Yes," answered Merlin absently; and then, after a long and pregnant
pause: "Miss Masters—Olive—I want to say something to you if you'll
listen to me."
The tingliness of Miss Masters (who knew what was coming) increased
until it seemed that she would shortly be electrocuted by her own
nervous reactions. But her "Yes, Merlin," came without a sign or
flicker of interior disturbance. Merlin swallowed a stray bit of air
that he found in his mouth.
"I have no fortune," he said with the manner of making an
announcement. "I have no fortune at all."
Their eyes met, locked, became wistful, and dreamy and beautiful.
"Olive," he told her, "I love you."
"I love you too, Merlin," she answered simply. "Shall we have another
bottle of wine?"
"Yes," he cried, his heart beating at a great rate. "Do you mean—"
"To drink to our engagement," she interrupted bravely. "May it be a
"No!" he almost shouted, bringing his fist fiercely down upon the
table. "May it last forever!"
"I mean—oh, I see what you mean. You're right. May it be a short
one." He laughed and added, "My error."
After the wine arrived they discussed the matter thoroughly.
"We'll have to take a small apartment at first," he said, "and I
believe, yes, by golly, I know there's a small one in the house where
I live, a big room and a sort of a dressing-room-kitchenette and the
use of a bath on the same floor."
She clapped her hands happily, and he thought how pretty she was
really, that is, the upper part of her face—from the bridge of the
nose down she was somewhat out of true. She continued enthusiastically:
"And as soon as we can afford it we'll take a real swell apartment,
with an elevator and a telephone girl."
"And after that a place in the country—and a car."
"I can't imagine nothing more fun. Can you?"
Merlin fell silent a moment. He was thinking that he would have to
give up his room, the fourth floor rear. Yet it mattered very little
now. During the past year and a half—in fact, from the very date of
Caroline's visit to the Moonlight Quill—he had never seen her. For a
week after that visit her lights had failed to go on—darkness brooded
out into the areaway, seemed to grope blindly in at his expectant,
uncurtained window. Then the lights had appeared at last, and instead
of Caroline and her callers they stowed a stodgy family—a little man
with a bristly mustache and a full-bosomed woman who spent her
evenings patting her hips and rearranging bric-à-brac. After two days
of them Merlin had callously pulled down his shade.
No, Merlin could think of nothing more fun than rising in the world
with Olive. There would be a cottage in a suburb, a cottage painted
blue, just one class below the sort of cottages that are of white
stucco with a green roof. In the grass around the cottage would be
rusty trowels and a broken green bench and a baby-carriage with a
wicker body that sagged to the left. And around the grass and the
baby-carriage and the cottage itself, around his whole world there
would be the arms of Olive, a little stouter, the arms of her
neo-Olivian period, when, as she walked, her cheeks would tremble up
and down ever so slightly from too much face-massaging. He could hear
her voice now, two spoons' length away:
"I knew you were going to say this to-night, Merlin. I could see—"
She could see. Ah—suddenly he wondered how much she could see. Could
she see that the girl who had come in with a party of three men and
sat down at the next table was Caroline? Ah, could she see that? Could
she see that the men brought with them liquor far more potent than
Pulpat's red ink condensed threefold?…
Merlin stared breathlessly, half-hearing through an auditory ether
Olive's low, soft monologue, as like a persistent honey-bee she sucked
sweetness from her memorable hour. Merlin was listening to the
clinking of ice and the fine laughter of all four at some
pleasantry—and that laughter of Caroline's that he knew so well
stirred him, lifted him, called his heart imperiously over to her
table, whither it obediently went. He could see her quite plainly, and
he fancied that in the last year and a half she had changed, if ever
so slightly. Was it the light or were her cheeks a little thinner and
her eyes less fresh, if more liquid, than of old? Yet the shadows were
still purple in her russet hair; her mouth hinted yet of kisses, as
did the profile that came sometimes between his eyes and a row of
books, when it was twilight in the bookshop where the crimson lamp
presided no more.
And she had been drinking. The threefold flush in her cheeks was
compounded of youth and wine and fine cosmetic—that he could tell.
She was making great amusement for the young man on her left and the
portly person on her right, and even for the old fellow opposite her,
for the latter from time to time uttered the shocked and mildly
reproachful cackles of another generation. Merlin caught the words of
a song she was intermittently singing—
"Just snap your fingers at care,
Don't cross the bridge 'til you're there—"
The portly person filled her glass with chill amber. A waiter after
several trips about the table, and many helpless glances at Caroline,
who was maintaining a cheerful, futile questionnaire as to the
succulence of this dish or that, managed to obtain the semblance of an
order and hurried away….
Olive was speaking to Merlin—
"When, then?" she asked, her voice faintly shaded with disappointment.
He realized that he had just answered no to some question she had
A rather pathetic poignancy in her question brought his eyes back to
"As soon as possible, dear," he replied with surprising tenderness.
"In two months—in June."
"So soon?" Her delightful excitement quite took her breath away.
"Oh, yes, I think we'd better say June. No use waiting."
Olive began to pretend that two months was really too short a time for
her to make preparations. Wasn't he a bad boy! Wasn't he impatient,
though! Well, she'd show him he mustn't be too quick with her.
Indeed he was so sudden she didn't exactly know whether she ought to
marry him at all.
"June," he repeated sternly.
Olive sighed and smiled and drank her coffee, her little finger lifted
high above the others in true refined fashion. A stray thought came to
Merlin that he would like to buy five rings and throw at it.
"By gosh!" he exclaimed aloud. Soon he would be putting rings
on one of her fingers.
His eyes swung sharply to the right. The party of four had become so
riotous that the head-waiter had approached and spoken to them.
Caroline was arguing with this head-waiter in a raised voice, a voice
so clear and young that it seemed as though the whole restaurant would
listen—the whole restaurant except Olive Masters, self-absorbed in
her new secret.
"How do you do?" Caroline was saying. "Probably the handsomest
head-waiter in captivity. Too much noise? Very unfortunate.
Something'll have to be done about it. Gerald"—she addressed the man
on her right—"the head-waiter says there's too much noise. Appeals to
us to have it stopped. What'll I say?"
"Sh!" remonstrated Gerald, with laughter. "Sh!" and Merlin heard him
add in an undertone: "All the bourgeoisie will be aroused. This is
where the floorwalkers learn French."
Caroline sat up straight in sudden alertness.
"Where's a floorwalker?" she cried. "Show me a floorwalker." This
seemed to amuse the party, for they all, including Caroline, burst
into renewed laughter. The head-waiter, after a last conscientious but
despairing admonition, became Gallic with his shoulders and retired
into the background.
Pulpat's, as every one knows, has the unvarying respectability of the
table d'hôte. It is not a gay place in the conventional sense. One
comes, drinks the red wine, talks perhaps a little more and a little
louder than usual under the low, smoky ceilings, and then goes home.
It closes up at nine-thirty, tight as a drum; the policeman is paid
off and given an extra bottle of wine for the missis, the coat-room
girl hands her tips to the collector, and then darkness crushes the
little round tables out of sight and life. But excitement was prepared
for Pulpat's this evening—excitement of no mean variety. A girl with
russet, purple-shadowed hair mounted to her table-top and began to
"Sacré nom de Dieu! Come down off there!" cried the
head-waiter. "Stop that music!"
But the musicians were already playing so loud that they could pretend
not to hear his order; having once been young, they played louder and
gayer than ever, and Caroline danced with grace and vivacity, her
pink, filmy dress swirling about her, her agile arms playing in
supple, tenuous gestures along the smoky air.
A group of Frenchmen at a table near by broke into cries of applause,
in which other parties joined—in a moment the room was full of
clapping and shouting; half the diners were on their feet, crowding
up, and on the outskirts the hastily summoned proprietor was giving
indistinct vocal evidences of his desire to put an end to this thing
as quickly as possible.
"… Merlin!" cried Olive, awake, aroused at last; "she's such a
wicked girl! Let's get out—now!"
The fascinated Merlin protested feebly that the check was not paid.
"It's all right. Lay five dollars on the table. I despise that girl. I
can't bear to look at her." She was on her feet now, tagging at
Helplessly, listlessly, and then with what amounted to downright
unwillingness, Merlin rose, followed Olive dumbly as she picked her
way through the delirious clamor, now approaching its height and
threatening to become a wild and memorable riot. Submissively he took
his coat and stumbled up half a dozen steps into the moist April air
outside, his ears still ringing with the sound of light feet on the
table and of laughter all about and over the little world of the cafe.
In silence they walked along toward Fifth Avenue and a bus.
It was not until next day that she told him about the wedding—how she
had moved the date forward: it was much better that they should be
married on the first of May.
And married they were, in a somewhat stuffy manner, under the
chandelier of the flat where Olive lived with her mother. After
marriage came elation, and then, gradually, the growth of weariness.
Responsibility descended upon Merlin, the responsibility of making his
thirty dollars a week and her twenty suffice to keep them respectably
fat and to hide with decent garments the evidence that they were.
It was decided after several weeks of disastrous and well-nigh
humiliating experiments with restaurants that they would join the
great army of the delicatessen-fed, so he took up his old way of life
again, in that he stopped every evening at Braegdort's delicatessen
and bought potatoes in salad, ham in slices, and sometimes even
stuffed tomatoes in bursts of extravagance.
Then he would trudge homeward, enter the dark hallway, and climb three
rickety flights of stairs covered by an ancient carpet of long
obliterated design. The hall had an ancient smell—of the vegetables
of 1880, of the furniture polish in vogue when "Adam-and Eve" Bryan
ran against William McKinley, of portieres an ounce heavier with dust,
from worn-out shoes, and lint from dresses turned long since into
patch-work quilts. This smell would pursue him up the stairs,
revivified and made poignant at each landing by the aura of
contemporary cooking, then, as he began the next flight, diminishing
into the odor of the dead routine of dead generations.
Eventually would occur the door of his room, which slipped open with
indecent willingness and closed with almost a sniff upon his "Hello,
dear! Got a treat for you to-night."
Olive, who always rode home on the bus to "get a morsel of air," would
be making the bed and hanging up things. At his call she would come up
to him and give him a quick kiss with wide-open eyes, while he held
her upright like a ladder, his hands on her two arms, as though she
were a thing without equilibrium, and would, once he relinquished
hold, fall stiffly backward to the floor. This is the kiss that comes
in with the second year of marriage, succeeding the bridegroom kiss
(which is rather stagey at best, say those who know about such things,
and apt to be copied from passionate movies).
Then came supper, and after that they went out for a walk, up two
blocks and through Central Park, or sometimes to a moving picture,
which taught them patiently that they were the sort of people for whom
life was ordered, and that something very grand and brave and
beautiful would soon happen to them if they were docile and obedient
to their rightful superiors and kept away from pleasure.
Such was their day for three years. Then change came into their lives:
Olive had a baby, and as a result Merlin had a new influx of material
resources. In the third week of Olive's confinement, after an hour of
nervous rehearsing, he went into the office of Mr. Moonlight Quill and
demanded an enormous increase in salary.
"I've been here ten years," he said; "since I was nineteen. I've
always tried to do my best in the interests of the business."
Mr. Moonlight Quill said that he would think it over. Next morning he
announced, to Merlin's great delight, that he was going to put into
effect a project long premeditated—he was going to retire from active
work in the bookshop, confining himself to periodic visits and leaving
Merlin as manager with a salary of fifty dollars a week and a
one-tenth interest in the business. When the old man finished,
Merlin's cheeks were glowing and his eyes full of tears. He seized his
employer's hand and shook it violently, saying over and over again:
"It's very nice of you, sir. It's very white of you. It's very, very
nice of you."
So after ten years of faithful work in the store he had won out at
last. Looking back, he saw his own progress toward this hill of
elation no longer as a sometimes sordid and always gray decade of
worry and failing enthusiasm and failing dreams, years when the
moonlight had grown duller in the areaway and the youth had faded out
of Olive's face, but as a glorious and triumphant climb over obstacles
which he had determinedly surmounted by unconquerable will-power. The
optimistic self-delusion that had kept him from misery was seen now in
the golden garments of stern resolution. Half a dozen times he had
taken steps to leave the Moonlight Quill and soar upward, but through
sheer faintheartedness he had stayed on. Strangely enough he now
thought that those were times when he had exerted tremendous
persistence and had "determined" to fight it out where he was.
At any rate, let us not for this moment begrudge Merlin his new and
magnificent view of himself. He had arrived. At thirty he had reached
a post of importance. He left the shop that evening fairly radiant,
invested every penny in his pocket in the most tremendous feast that
Braegdort's delicatessen offered, and staggered homeward with the
great news and four gigantic paper bags. The fact that Olive was too
sick to eat, that he made himself faintly but unmistakably ill by a
struggle with four stuffed tomatoes, and that most of the food
deteriorated rapidly in an iceless ice-box: all next day did not mar
the occasion. For the first time since the week of his marriage Merlin
Grainger lived under a sky of unclouded tranquillity.
The baby boy was christened Arthur, and life became dignified,
significant, and, at length, centered. Merlin and Olive resigned
themselves to a somewhat secondary place in their own cosmos; but what
they lost in personality they regained in a sort of primordial pride.
The country house did not come, but a month in an Asbury Park
boarding-house each summer filled the gap; and during Merlin's two
weeks' holiday this excursion assumed the air of a really merry
jaunt—especially when, with the baby asleep in a wide room opening
technically on the sea, Merlin strolled with Olive along the thronged
board-walk puffing at his cigar and trying to look like twenty
thousand a year.
With some alarm at the slowing up of the days and the accelerating of
the years, Merlin became thirty-one, thirty-two—then almost with a
rush arrived at that age which, with all its washing and panning, can
only muster a bare handful of the precious stuff of youth: he became
thirty-five. And one day on Fifth Avenue he saw Caroline.
It was Sunday, a radiant, flowerful Easter morning and the avenue was
a pageant of lilies and cutaways and happy April-colored bonnets.
Twelve o'clock: the great churches were letting out their people—St.
Simon's, St. Hilda's, the Church of the Epistles, opened their doors
like wide mouths until the people pouring forth surely resembled happy
laughter as they met and strolled and chattered, or else waved white
bouquets at waiting chauffeurs.
In front of the Church of the Epistles stood its twelve vestrymen,
carrying out the time-honored custom of giving away Easter eggs full
of face-powder to the church-going debutantes of the year. Around them
delightedly danced the two thousand miraculously groomed children of
the very rich, correctly cute and curled, shining like sparkling
little jewels upon their mothers' fingers. Speaks the sentimentalist
for the children of the poor? Ah, but the children of the rich,
laundered, sweet-smelling, complexioned of the country, and, above
all, with soft, in-door voices.
Little Arthur was five, child of the middle class. Undistinguished,
unnoticed, with a nose that forever marred what Grecian yearnings his
features might have had, he held tightly to his mother's warm, sticky
hand, and, with Merlin on his other side, moved, upon the home-coming
throng. At Fifty-third Street, where there were two churches, the
congestion was at its thickest, its richest. Their progress was of
necessity retarded to such an extent that even little Arthur had not
the slightest difficulty in keeping up. Then it was that Merlin
perceived an open landaulet of deepest crimson, with handsome nickel
trimmings, glide slowly up to the curb and come to a stop. In it sat
She was dressed in black, a tight-fitting gown trimmed with lavender,
flowered at the waist with a corsage of orchids. Merlin started and
then gazed at her fearfully. For the first time in the eight years
since his marriage he was encountering the girl again. But a girl no
longer. Her figure was slim as ever—or perhaps not quite, for a
certain boyish swagger, a sort of insolent adolescence, had gone the
way of the first blooming of her cheeks. But she was beautiful;
dignity was there now, and the charming lines of a fortuitous
nine-and-twenty; and she sat in the car with such perfect
appropriateness and self-possession that it made him breathless to
Suddenly she smiled—the smile of old, bright as that very Easter and
its flowers, mellower than ever—yet somehow with not quite the
radiance and infinite promise of that first smile back there in the
bookshop nine years before. It was a steelier smile, disillusioned and
But it was soft enough and smile enough to make a pair of young men in
cutaway coats hurry over, to pull their high hats off their wetted,
iridescent hair; to bring them, flustered and bowing, to the edge of
her landaulet, where her lavender gloves gently touched their gray
ones. And these two were presently joined by another, and then two
more, until there was a rapidly swelling crowd around the landaulet.
Merlin would hear a young man beside him say to his perhaps
"If you'll just pardon me a moment, there's some one I have to
speak to. Walk right ahead. I'll catch up."
Within three minutes every inch of the landaulet, front, back, and
side, was occupied by a man—a man trying to construct a sentence
clever enough to find its way to Caroline through the stream of
conversation. Luckily for Merlin a portion of little Arthur's clothing
had chosen the opportunity to threaten a collapse, and Olive had
hurriedly rushed him over against a building for some extemporaneous
repair work, so Merlin was able to watch, unhindered, the salon in the
The crowd swelled. A row formed in back of the first,
two more behind that. In the midst, an orchid rising from a black
bouquet, sat Caroline enthroned in her obliterated car, nodding and
crying salutations and smiling with such true happiness that, of a
sudden, a new relay of gentlemen had left their wives and consorts and
were striding toward her.
The crowd, now phalanx deep, began to be augmented by the merely
curious; men of all ages who could not possibly have known Caroline
jostled over and melted into the circle of ever-increasing diameter,
until the lady in lavender was the centre of a vast impromptu
All about her were faces—clean-shaven, bewhiskered, old, young,
ageless, and now, here and there, a woman. The mass was rapidly
spreading to the opposite curb, and, as St. Anthony's around the
corner let out its box-holders, it overflowed to the sidewalk and
crushed up against the iron picket-fence of a millionaire across the
street. The motors speeding along the avenue were compelled to stop,
and in a jiffy were piled three, five, and six deep at the edge of the
crowd; auto-busses, top-heavy turtles of traffic, plunged into the
jam, their passengers crowding to the edges of the roofs in wild
excitement and peering down into the centre of the mass, which
presently could hardly be seen from the mass's edge.
The crush had become terrific. No fashionable audience at a
Yale-Princeton football game, no damp mob at a world's series, could
be compared with the panoply that talked, stared, laughed, and honked
about the lady in black and lavender. It was stupendous; it was
terrible. A quarter mile down the block a half-frantic policeman
called his precinct; on the same corner a frightened civilian crashed
in the glass of a fire-alarm and sent in a wild paean for all the
fire-engines of the city; up in an apartment high in one of the tall
buildings a hysterical old maid telephoned in turn for the prohibition
enforcement agent; the special deputies on Bolshevism, and the
maternity ward of Bellevue Hospital.
The noise increased. The first fire-engine arrived, filling the Sunday
air with smoke, clanging and crying a brazen, metallic message down
the high, resounding walls. In the notion that some terrible calamity
had overtaken the city, two excited deacons ordered special services
immediately and set tolling the great bells of St. Hilda's and St.
Anthony's, presently joined by the jealous gongs of St. Simon's and
the Church of the Epistles. Even far off in the Hudson and the East
River the sounds of the commotion were heard, and the ferry-boats and
tugs and ocean liners set up sirens and whistles that sailed in
melancholy cadence, now varied, now reiterated, across the whole
diagonal width of the city from Riverside Drive to the gray
water-fronts of the lower East Side….
In the centre of her landaulet sat the lady in black and lavender,
chatting pleasantly first with one, then with another of that
fortunate few in cutaways who had found their way to speaking distance
in the first rush. After a while she glanced around her and beside her
with a look of growing annoyance.
She yawned and asked the man nearest her if he couldn't run in
somewhere and get her a glass of water. The man apologized in some
embarrassment. He could not have moved hand or foot. He could not have
scratched his own ear….
As the first blast of the river sirens keened along the air, Olive
fastened the last safety-pin in little Arthur's rompers and looked up.
Merlin saw her start, stiffen slowly like hardening stucco, and then
give a little gasp of surprise and disapproval.
"That woman," she cried suddenly. "Oh!"
She flashed a glance at Merlin that mingled reproach and pain, and
without another word gathered up little Arthur with one hand, grasped
her husband by the other, and darted amazingly in a winding, bumping
canter through the crowd. Somehow people gave way before her; somehow
she managed to-retain her grasp on her son and husband; somehow she
managed to emerge two blocks up, battered and dishevelled, into an
open space, and, without slowing up her pace, darted down a
side-street. Then at last, when uproar had died away into a dim and
distant clamor, did she come to a walk and set little Arthur upon his
"And on Sunday, too! Hasn't she disgraced herself enough?" This was
her only comment. She said it to Arthur, as she seemed to address her
remarks to Arthur throughout the remainder of the day. For some
curious and esoteric reason she had never once looked at her husband
during the entire retreat.
The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the
passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round. True, they
are a merry-go-round of ill-gaited and wind-broken horses, painted
first in pastel colors, then in dull grays and browns, but perplexing
and intolerably dizzy the thing is, as never were the merry-go-rounds
of childhood or adolescence; as never, surely, were the
certain-coursed, dynamic roller-coasters of youth. For most men and
women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from
life, a retreat first from a front with many shelters, those myriad
amusements and curiosities of youth, to a line with less, when we peel
down our ambitions to one ambition, our recreations to one recreation,
our friends to a few to whom we are anaesthetic; ending up at last in
a solitary, desolate strong point that is not strong, where the shells
now whistle abominably, now are but half-heard as, by turns frightened
and tired, we sit waiting for death.
At forty, then, Merlin was no different from himself at thirty-five; a
larger paunch, a gray twinkling near his ears, a more certain lack of
vivacity in his walk. His forty-five differed from his forty by a like
margin, unless one mention a slight deafness in his left ear. But at
fifty-five the process had become a chemical change of immense
rapidity. Yearly he was more and more an "old man" to his
family—senile almost, so far as his wife was concerned. He was by
this time complete owner of the bookshop. The mysterious Mr. Moonlight
Quill, dead some five years and not survived by his wife, had deeded
the whole stock and store to him, and there he still spent his days,
conversant now by name with almost all that man has recorded for three
thousand years, a human catalogue, an authority upon tooling and
binding, upon folios and first editions, an accurate inventory of a
thousand authors whom he could never have understood and had certainly
At sixty-five he distinctly doddered. He had assumed the melancholy
habits of the aged so often portrayed by the second old man in
standard Victorian comedies. He consumed vast warehouses of time
searching for mislaid spectacles. He "nagged" his wife and was nagged
in turn. He told the same jokes three or four times a year at the
family table, and gave his son weird, impossible directions as to his
conduct in life. Mentally and materially he was so entirely different
from the Merlin Grainger of twenty-five that it seemed incongruous
that he should bear the same name.
He worked still In the bookshop with the assistance of a youth, whom,
of course, he considered very idle, indeed, and a new young woman,
Miss Gaffney. Miss McCracken, ancient and unvenerable as himself,
still kept the accounts. Young Arthur was gone into Wall Street to
sell bonds, as all the young men seemed to be doing in that day. This,
of course, was as it should be. Let old Merlin get what magic he could
from his books—the place of young King Arthur was in the
One afternoon at four when he had slipped noiselessly up to the front
of the store on his soft-soled slippers, led by a newly formed habit,
of which, to be fair, he was rather ashamed, of spying upon the young
man clerk, he looked casually out of the front window, straining his
faded eyesight to reach the street. A limousine, large, portentous,
impressive, had drawn to the curb, and the chauffeur, after
dismounting and holding some sort of conversation with persons in the
interior of the car, turned about and advanced in a bewildered fashion
toward the entrance of the Moonlight Quill. He opened the door,
shuffled in, and, glancing uncertainly at the old man in the
skull-cap, addressed him in a thick, murky voice, as though his words
came through a fog.
"Do you—do you sell additions?"
"The arithmetic books are in the back of the store."
The chauffeur took off his cap and scratched a close-cropped, fuzzy
"Oh, naw. This I want's a detecatif story." He jerked a thumb back
toward the limousine. "She seen it in the paper. Firs' addition."
Merlin's interest quickened. Here was possibly a big sale.
"Oh, editions. Yes, we've advertised some firsts, but-detective
stories, I-don't-believe-What was the title?"
"I forget. About a crime."
"About a crime. I have-well, I have 'The Crimes of the Borgias'-full
morocco, London 1769, beautifully—"
"Naw," interrupted the chauffeur, "this was one fella did this crime.
She seen you had it for sale in the paper." He rejected several
possible titles with the air of connoisseur.
"'Silver Bones,'" he announced suddenly out of a slight pause.
"What?" demanded Merlin, suspecting that the stiffness of his sinews
were being commented on.
"Silver Bones. That was the guy that done the crime."
"Silver Bones. Indian, maybe."
Merlin, stroked his grizzly cheeks. "Gees, Mister," went on the
prospective purchaser, "if you wanna save me an awful bawln' out jes'
try an' think. The old lady goes wile if everything don't run smooth."
But Merlin's musings on the subject of Silver Bones were as futile as
his obliging search through the shelves, and five minutes later a very
dejected charioteer wound his way back to his mistress. Through the
glass Merlin could see the visible symbols of a tremendous uproar
going on in the interior of the limousine. The chauffeur made wild,
appealing gestures of his innocence, evidently to no avail, for when
he turned around and climbed back into the driver's seat his
expression was not a little dejected.
Then the door of the limousine opened and gave forth a pale and
slender young man of about twenty, dressed in the attenuation of
fashion and carrying a wisp of a cane. He entered the shop, walked
past Merlin, and proceeded to take out a cigarette and light it.
Merlin approached him.
"Anything I can do for you, sir?"
"Old boy," said the youth coolly, "there are seveereal things; You can
first let me smoke my ciggy in here out of sight of that old lady in
the limousine, who happens to be my grandmother. Her knowledge as to
whether I smoke it or not before my majority happens to be a matter of
five thousand dollars to me. The second thing is that you should look
up your first edition of the 'Crime of Sylvester Bonnard' that you
advertised in last Sunday's Times. My grandmother there happens
to want to take it off your hands."
Detecatif story! Crime of somebody! Silver Bones! All was explained.
With a faint deprecatory chuckle, as if to say that he would have
enjoyed this had life put him in the habit of enjoying anything,
Merlin doddered away to the back of his shop where his treasures were
kept, to get this latest investment which he had picked up rather
cheaply at the sale of a big collection.
When he returned with it the young man was drawing on his cigarette
and blowing out quantities of smoke with immense satisfaction.
"My God!" he said, "She keeps me so close to her the entire day
running idiotic errands that this happens to be my first puff in six
hours. What's the world coming to, I ask you, when a feeble old lady
in the milk-toast era can dictate to a man as to his personal vices. I
happen to be unwilling to be so dictated to. Let's see the book."
Merlin passed it to him tenderly and the young man, after opening it
with a carelessness that gave a momentary jump to the book-dealer's
heart, ran through the pages with his thumb.
"No illustrations, eh?" he commented. "Well, old boy, what's it worth?
Speak up! We're willing to give you a fair price, though why I don't
"One hundred dollars," said Merlin with a frown.
The young man gave a startled whistle.
"Whew! Come on. You're not dealing with somebody from the cornbelt. I
happen to be a city-bred man and my grandmother happens to be a
city-bred woman, though I'll admit it'd take a special tax
appropriation to keep her in repair. We'll give you twenty-five
dollars, and let me tell you that's liberal. We've got books in our
attic, up in our attic with my old play-things, that were written
before the old boy that wrote this was born."
Merlin stiffened, expressing a rigid and meticulous horror.
"Did your grandmother give you twenty-five dollars to buy this with?"
"She did not. She gave me fifty, but she expects change. I know that
"You tell her," said Merlin with dignity, "that she has missed a very
"Give you forty," urged the young man. "Come on now—be reasonable and
don't try to hold us up——"
Merlin had wheeled around with the precious volume under his arm and
was about to return it to its special drawer in his office when there
was a sudden interruption. With unheard-of magnificence the front door
burst rather than swung open, and admitted in the dark interior a
regal apparition in black silk and fur which bore rapidly down upon
him. The cigarette leaped from the fingers of the urban young man and
he gave breath to an inadvertent "Damn!"—but it was upon Merlin that
the entrance seemed to have the most remarkable and incongruous
effect—so strong an effect that the greatest treasure of his shop
slipped from his hand and joined the cigarette on the floor. Before
him stood Caroline.
She was an old woman, an old woman remarkably preserved, unusually
handsome, unusually erect, but still an old woman. Her hair was a
soft, beautiful white, elaborately dressed and jewelled; her face,
faintly rouged à la grande dame, showed webs of wrinkles at the edges
of her eyes and two deeper lines in the form of stanchions connected
her nose with the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were dim, ill
natured, and querulous.
But it was Caroline without a doubt: Caroline's features though in
decay; Caroline's figure, if brittle and stiff in movement; Caroline's
manner, unmistakably compounded of a delightful insolence and an
enviable self assurance; and, most of all, Caroline's voice, broken
and shaky, yet with a ring in it that still could and did make
chauffeurs want to drive laundry wagons and cause cigarettes to fall
from the fingers of urban grandsons.
She stood and sniffed. Her eyes found the cigarette upon the floor.
"What's that?" she cried. The words were not a question—they were an
entire litany of suspicion, accusation, confirmation, and decision.
She tarried over them scarcely an instant. "Stand up!" she said to her
grandson, "stand up and blow that nicotine out of your lungs!"
The young man looked at her in trepidation.
"Blow!" she commanded.
He pursed his lips feebly and blew into the air.
"Blow!" she repeated, more peremptorily than before.
He blew again, helplessly, ridiculously.
"Do you realize," she went on briskly, "that you've forfeited five
thousand dollars in five minutes?"
Merlin momentarily expected the young man to fall pleading upon his
knees, but such is the nobility of human nature that he remained
standing—even blew again into the air, partly from nervousness,
partly, no doubt, with some vague hope of reingratiating himself.
"Young ass!" cried Caroline. "Once more, just once more and you leave
college and go to work."
This threat had such an overwhelming effect upon the young man that he
took on an even paler pallor than was natural to him. But Caroline was
"Do you think I don't know what you and your brothers, yes, and your
asinine father too, think of me? Well, I do. You think I'm senile. You
think I'm soft. I'm not!" She struck herself with her-fist as though
to prove that she was a mass of muscle and sinew. "And I'll have more
brains left when you've got me laid out in the drawing-room some sunny
day than you and the rest of them were born with."
"Be quiet. You, a thin little stick of a boy, who if it weren't for my
money might have risen to be a journeyman barber out in the Bronx—Let
me see your hands. Ugh! The hands of a barber—you presume to
be smart with me, who once had three counts and a bona-fide
duke, not to mention half a dozen papal titles pursue me from the city
of Rome to the city of New York." She paused, took breath. "Stand up!
The young man obediently blew. Simultaneously the door opened and an
excited gentleman of middle age who wore a coat and hat trimmed with
fur, and seemed, moreover, to be trimmed with the same sort of fur
himself on upper lip and chin, rushed into the store and up to
"Found you at last," he cried. "Been looking for you all over town.
Tried your house on the 'phone and your secretary told me he thought
you'd gone to a bookshop called the Moonlight—"
Caroline turned to him irritably.
"Do I employ you for your reminiscences?" she snapped. "Are you my
tutor or my broker?"
"Your broker," confessed the fur-trimmed man, taken somewhat aback. "I
beg your pardon. I came about that phonograph stock. I can sell for a
hundred and five."
"Then do it."
"Very well. I thought I'd better—"
"Go sell it. I'm talking to my grandson."
"Very well. I—"
"Good-by, Madame." The fur-trimmed man made a slight bow and hurried
in some confusion from the shop.
"As for you," said Caroline, turning to her grandson, "you stay just
where you are and be quiet."
She turned to Merlin and included his entire length in a not
unfriendly survey. Then she smiled and he found himself smiling too.
In an instant they had both broken into a cracked but none the less
spontaneous chuckle. She seized his arm and hurried him to the other
side of the store. There they stopped, faced each other, and gave vent
to another long fit of senile glee.
"It's the only way," she gasped in a sort of triumphant malignity.
"The only thing that keeps old folks like me happy is the sense that
they can make other people step around. To be old and rich and have
poor descendants is almost as much fun as to be young and beautiful
and have ugly sisters."
"Oh, yes," chuckled Merlin. "I know. I envy you."
She nodded, blinking.
"The last time I was in here, forty years ago," she said, "you were a
young man very anxious to kick up your heels."
"I was," he confessed.
"My visit must have meant a good deal to you."
"You have all along," he exclaimed. "I thought—I used to think at
first that you were a real person—human, I mean."
"Many men have thought me inhuman."
"But now," continued Merlin excitedly, "I understand. Understanding is
allowed to us old people—after nothing much matters. I see now that
on a certain night when you danced upon a table-top you were nothing
but my romantic yearning for a beautiful and perverse woman."
Her old eyes were far away, her voice no more than the echo of a
"How I danced that night! I remember."
"You were making an attempt at me. Olive's arms were closing about me
and you warned me to be free and keep my measure of youth and
irresponsibility. But it seemed like an effect gotten up at the last
moment. It came too late."
"You are very old," she said inscrutably. "I did not realize."
"Also I have not forgotten what you did to me when I was thirty-five.
You shook me with that traffic tie-up. It was a magnificent effort.
The beauty and power you radiated! You became personified even to my
wife, and she feared you. For weeks I wanted to slip out of the house
at dark and forget the stuffiness of life with music and cocktails and
a girl to make me young. But then—I no longer knew how."
"And now you are so very old."
With a sort of awe she moved back and away from him.
"Yes, leave me!" he cried. "You are old also; the spirit withers with
the skin. Have you come here only to tell me something I had best
forget: that to be old and poor is perhaps more wretched than to be
old and rich; to remind me that my son hurls my gray failure in
"Give me my book," she commanded harshly. "Be quick, old man!"
Merlin looked at her once more and then patiently obeyed. He picked up
the book and handed it to her, shaking his head when she offered him a
"Why go through the farce of paying me? Once you made me wreck these
"I did," she said in anger, "and I'm glad. Perhaps there had been
enough done to ruin me."
She gave him a glance, half disdain, half ill-concealed uneasiness,
and with a brisk word to her urban grandson moved toward the door.
Then she was gone—out of his shop—out of his life. The door clicked.
With a sigh he turned and walked brokenly back toward the glass
partition that enclosed the yellowed accounts of many years as well as
the mellowed, wrinkled Miss McCracken.
Merlin regarded her parched, cobwebbed face with an odd sort of pity.
She, at any rate, had had less from life than he. No rebellious,
romantic spirit popping out unbidden had, in its memorable moments,
given her life a zest and a glory.
Then Miss McGracken looked up and spoke to him:
"Still a spunky old piece, isn't she?"
"Old Alicia Dare. Mrs. Thomas Allerdyce she is now, of course; has
been, these thirty years."
"What? I don't understand you." Merlin sat down suddenly in his swivel
chair; his eyes were wide.
"Why, surely, Mr. Grainger, you can't tell me that you've forgotten
her, when for ten years she was the most notorious character in New
York. Why, one time when she was the correspondent in the Throckmorton
divorce case she attracted so much attention on Fifth Avenue that
there was a traffic tie-up. Didn't you read about it in the papers."
"I never used to read the papers." His ancient brain was whirring.
"Well, you can't have forgotten the time she came in here and ruined
the business. Let me tell you I came near asking Mr. Moonlight Quill
for my salary, and clearing out."
"Do you mean, that—that you saw her?"
"Saw her! How could I help it with the racket that went on. Heaven
knows Mr. Moonlight Quill didn't like it either but of course he
didn't say anything. He was daffy about her and she could twist him
around her little finger. The second he opposed one of her whims she'd
threaten to tell his wife on him. Served him right. The idea of that
man falling for a pretty adventuress! Of course he was never rich
enough for her even though the shop paid well in those days."
"But when I saw her." stammered Merlin, "that is, when I
thought saw her, she lived with her mother."
"Mother, trash!". said Miss McCracken indignantly. "She had a woman
there she called 'Aunty', who was no more related to her than I am.
Oh, she was a bad one—but clever. Right after the Throckmorton
divorce case she married Thomas Allerdyce, and made herself secure for
"Who was she?" cried Merlin. "For God's sake what was she—a witch?"
"Why, she was Alicia Dare, the dancer, of course. In those days you
couldn't pick up a paper without finding her picture."
Merlin sat very quiet, his brain suddenly fatigued and stilled. He was
an old man now indeed, so old that it was impossible for him to dream
of ever having been young, so old that the glamour was gone out of the
world, passing not into the faces of children and into the persistent
comforts of warmth and life, but passing out of the range of sight and
feeling. He was never to smile again or to sit in a long reverie when
spring evenings wafted the cries of children in at his window until
gradually they became the friends of his boyhood out there, urging him
to come and play before the last dark came down. He was too old now
even for memories.
That night he sat at supper with his wife and son, who had used him
for their blind purposes. Olive said:
"Don't sit there like a death's-head. Say something."
"Let him sit quiet," growled Arthur. "If you encourage him he'll tell
us a story we've heard a hundred times before."
Merlin went up-stairs very quietly at nine o'clock. When he was in his
room and had closed the door tight he stood by it for a moment, his
thin limbs trembling. He knew now that he had always been a fool.
"O Russet Witch!"
But it was too late. He had angered Providence by resisting too many
temptations. There was nothing left but heaven, where he would meet
only those who, like him, had wasted earth.
THE LEES OF HAPPINESS
If you should look through the files of old magazines for the first
years of the present century you would find, sandwiched in between the
stories of Richard Harding Davis and Frank Norris and others long
since dead, the work of one Jeffrey Curtain: a novel or two, and
perhaps three or four dozen short stories. You could, if you were
interested, follow them along until, say, 1908, when they suddenly
When you had read them all you would have been quite sure that here
were no masterpieces—here were passably amusing stories, a bit out of
date now, but doubtless the sort that would then have whiled away a
dreary half hour in a dental office. The man who did them was of good
intelligence, talented, glib, probably young. In the samples of his
work you found there would have been nothing to stir you to more than
a faint interest in the whims of life—no deep interior laughs, no
sense of futility or hint of tragedy.
After reading them you would yawn and put the number back in the
files, and perhaps, if you were in some library reading-room, you
would decide that by way of variety you would look at a newspaper of
the period and see whether the Japs had taken Port Arthur. But if by
any chance the newspaper you had chosen was the right one and had
crackled open at the theatrical page, your eyes would have been
arrested and held, and for at least a minute you would have forgotten
Port Arthur as quickly as you forgot Château Thierry. For you would,
by this fortunate chance, be looking at the portrait of an exquisite
Those were tie days of "Florodora" and of sextets, of pinched-in
waists and blown-out sleeves, of almost bustles and absolute ballet
skirts, but here, without doubt, disguised as she might be by the
unaccustomed stiffness and old fashion of her costume, was a butterfly
of butterflies. Here was the gayety of the period—the soft wine of
eyes, the songs that flurried hearts, the toasts and tie bouquets, the
dances and the dinners. Here was a Venus of the hansom, cab, the
Gibson girl in her glorious prime. Here was…
…here was you. Find by looking at the name beneath, one Roxanne
Milbank, who had been chorus girl and understudy in "The Daisy Chain,"
but who, by reason of an excellent performance when the star was
indisposed, had gained a leading part.
You would look again—and wonder. Why you had never heard of her. Why
did her name not linger in popular songs and vaudeville jokes and
cigar bands, and the memory of that gay old uncle of yours along with
Lillian Russell and Stella Mayhew and Anna Held? Roxanne
Milbank-whither had she gone? What dark trap-door had opened suddenly
and swallowed her up? Her name was certainly not in last Sunday's
supplement on the list of actresses married to English noblemen. No
doubt she was dead—poor beautiful young lady—and quite forgotten.
I am hoping too much. I am having you stumble on Jeffrey Curtains's
stories and Roxanne Milbank's picture. It would be incredible that you
should find a newspaper item six months later, a single item two
inches by four, which informed the public of the marriage, very
quietly, of Miss Roxanne Milbank, who had been on tour with "The Daisy
Chain," to Mr. Jeffrey Curtain, the popular author. "Mrs. Curtain," it
added dispassionately, "will retire from the stage."
It was a marriage of love. He was sufficiently spoiled to be charming;
she was ingenuous enough to be irresistible. Like two floating logs
they met in a head-on rush, caught, and sped along together. Yet had
Jeffrey Curtain kept at scrivening for twoscore years he could not
have put a quirk into one of his stories weirder than the quirk that
came into his own life. Had Roxanne Milbank played three dozen parts
and filled five thousand houses she could never have had a role with
more happiness and more despair than were in the fate prepared for
For a year they lived in hotels, travelled to California, to Alaska,
to Florida, to Mexico, loved and quarrelled gently, and gloried in the
golden triflings of his wit with her beauty—they were young and
gravely passionate; they demanded everything and then yielded
everything again in ecstasies of unselfishness and pride. She loved
the swift tones of his voice and his frantic, if unfounded jealousy.
He loved her dark radiance, the white irises of her eyes, the warm,
lustrous enthusiasm of her smile.
"Don't you like her?" he would demand rather excitedly and shyly.
"Isn't she wonderful? Did you ever see—"
"Yes," they would answer, grinning. "She's a wonder. You're lucky."
The year passed. They tired of hotels. They bought an old house and
twenty acres near the town of Marlowe, half an hour from Chicago;
bought a little car, and moved out riotously with a pioneering
hallucination that would have confounded Balboa.
"Your room will be here!" they cried in turn.
"And my room here!"
"And the nursery here when we have children."
"And we'll build a sleeping porch—oh, next year."
They moved out in April. In July Jeffrey's closest friend, Harry
Cromwell same to spend a week—they met him at the end of the long
lawn and hurried him proudly to the house.
Harry was married also. His wife had had a baby some six months before
and was still recuperating at her mother's in New York. Roxanne had
gathered from Jeffrey that Harry's wife was not as attractive as
Harry—Jeffrey had met her once and considered her—"shallow." But
Harry had been married nearly two years and was apparently happy, so
Jeffrey guessed that she was probably all right.
"I'm making biscuits," chattered Roxanne gravely. "Can you wife make
biscuits? The cook is showing me how. I think every woman should know
how to make biscuits. It sounds so utterly disarming. A woman who can
make biscuits can surely do no——"
"You'll have to come out here and live," said Jeffrey. "Get a place
out in the country like us, for you and Kitty."
"You don't know Kitty. She hates the country. She's got to have her
theatres and vaudevilles."
"Bring her out," repeated Jeffrey. "We'll have a colony. There's an
awfully nice crowd here already. Bring her out!"
They were at the porch steps now and Roxanne made a brisk gesture
toward a dilapidated structure on the right.
"The garage," she announced. "It will also be Jeffrey's writing-room
within the month. Meanwhile dinner is at seven. Meanwhile to that I
will mix a cocktail."
The two men ascended to the second floor—that is, they ascended
half-way, for at the first landing Jeffrey dropped his guest's
suitcase and in a cross between a query and a cry exclaimed:
"For God's sake, Harry, how do you like her?"
"We will go up-stairs," answered his guest, "and we will shut the
Half an hour later as they were sitting together in the library
Roxanne reissued from the kitchen, bearing before her a pan of
biscuits. Jeffrey and Harry rose.
"They're beautiful, dear," said the husband, intensely.
"Exquisite," murmured Harry.
"Taste one. I couldn't bear to touch them before you'd seen them all
and I can't bear to take them back until I find what they taste like."
"Like manna, darling."
Simultaneously the two men raised the biscuits to their lips, nibbled
tentatively. Simultaneously they tried to change the subject. But
Roxanne undeceived, set down the pan and seized a biscuit. After a
second her comment rang out with lugubrious finality:
"Why, I didn't notice——"
"Oh, I'm useless," she cried laughing. "Turn me out, Jeffrey—I'm a
parasite; I'm no goal——"
Jeffrey put his arm around her.
"Darling, I'll eat your biscuits."
"They're beautiful, anyway," insisted Roxanne.
"They're-they're decorative," suggested Harry.
Jeffrey took him up wildly.
"That's the word. They're decorative; they're masterpieces. We'll use
He rushed to the kitchen and returned with a hammer and a handful of
"We'll use them, by golly, Roxanne! We'll make a frieze out of them."
"Don't!" wailed Roxanne. "Our beautiful house."
"Never mind. We're going to have the library repapered in October.
Don't you remember?"
Bang! The first biscuit was impaled to the wall, where it quivered for
a moment like a live thing.
When Roxanne returned, with a second round of cocktails the biscuits
were in a perpendicular row, twelve of them, like a collection of
"Roxanne," exclaimed Jeffrey, "you're an artist! Cook?—nonsense! You
shall illustrate my books!"
During dinner the twilight faltered into dusk, and later it was a
starry dark outside, filled and permeated with the frail gorgeousness
of Roxanne's white dress and her tremulous, low laugh.
—Such a little girl she is, thought Harry. Not as old as Kitty.
He compared the two. Kitty—nervous without being sensitive,
temperamental without temperament, a woman who seemed to flit and
never light—and Roxanne, who was as young as spring night, and summed
up in her own adolescent laughter.
—A good match for Jeffrey, he thought again. Two very young people,
the sort who'll stay very young until they suddenly find themselves
Harry thought these things between his constant thoughts about Kitty,
He was depressed about Kitty. It seemed to him that she was well
enough to come back to Chicago and bring his little son. He was
thinking vaguely of Kitty when he said good-night to his friend's wife
and his friend at the foot of the stairs.
"You're our first real house guest," called Roxanne after him. "Aren't
you thrilled and proud?"
When he was out of sight around the stair corner she turned to
Jeffrey, who was standing beside her resting his hand on the end of
"Are you tired, my dearest?"
Jeffrey rubbed the centre of his forehead with his fingers.
"A little. How did you know?"
"Oh, how could I help knowing about you?"
"It's a headache," he said moodily. "Splitting. I'll take some
She reached over and snapped out the light, and with his arm tight
about her waist they walked up the stairs together.
Harry's week passed. They drove about the dreaming lanes or idled in
cheerful inanity upon lake or lawn. In the evening Roxanne, sitting
inside, played to them while the ashes whitened on the glowing ends of
their cigars. Then came a telegram from Kitty saying that she wanted
Harry to come East and get her, so Roxanne and Jeffrey were left alone
in that privacy of which they never seemed to tire.
"Alone" thrilled them again. They wandered about the house, each
feeling intimately the presence of the other; they sat on the same
side of the table like honeymooners; they were intensely absorbed,
The town of Marlowe, though a comparatively old settlement, had only
recently acquired a "society." Five or six years before, alarmed at
the smoky swelling of Chicago, two or three young married couples,
"bungalow people," had moved out; their friends had followed. The
Jeffrey Curtains found an already formed "set" prepared to welcome:
them; a country club, ballroom, and golf links yawned for them, and
there were bridge parties, and poker parties, and parties where they
drank beer, and parties where they drank nothing at all.
It was at a poker party that they found themselves a week after
Harry's departure. There were two tables, and a good proportion of the
young wives were smoking and shouting their bets, and being very
daringly mannish for those days.
Roxanne had left the game early and taken to perambulation; she
wandered into the pantry and found herself some grape juice—beer gave
her a headache—and then passed from table to table, looking over
shoulders at the hands, keeping an eye on Jeffrey and being pleasantly
unexcited and content. Jeffrey, with intense concentration, was
raising a pile of chips of all colors, and Roxanne knew by the
deepened wrinkle between his eyes that he was interested. She liked to
see him interested in small things.
She crossed over quietly and sat down on the arm of his chair.
She sat there five minutes, listening to the sharp intermittent
comments of the men and the chatter of the women, which rose from the
table like soft smoke—and yet scarcely hearing either. Then quite
innocently she reached out her hand, intending to place it on
Jeffrey's shoulder—as it touched him he started of a sudden, gave a
short grunt, and, sweeping back his arm furiously, caught her a
glancing blow on her elbow.
There was a general gasp. Roxanne regained her balance, gave a little
cry, and rose quickly to her feet. It had been the greatest shock of
her life. This, from Jeffrey, the heart of kindness, of
consideration—this instinctively brutal gesture.
The gasp became a silence. A dozen eyes were turned on Jeffrey, who
looked up as though seeing Roxanne for the first time. An expression
of bewilderment settled on his face.
"Why—Roxanne——" he said haltingly.
Into a dozen minds entered a quick suspicion, a rumor of scandal.
Could it be that behind the scenes with this couple, apparently so in
love, lurked some curious antipathy? Why else this streak of fire,
across such a cloudless heaven?
"Jeffrey!"—Roxanne's voice was pleading—startled and horrified, she
yet knew that it was a mistake. Not once did it occur to her to blame
him or to resent it. Her word was a trembling supplication—"Tell me,
Jeffrey," it said, "tell Roxanne, your own Roxanne."
"Why, Roxanne—" began Jeffrey again. The bewildered look changed to
pain. He was clearly as startled as she. "I didn't intend that," he
went on; "you startled me. You—I felt as if some one were attacking
me. I—how—why, how idiotic!"
"Jeffrey!" Again the word was a prayer, incense offered up to a high
God through this new and unfathomable darkness.
They were both on their feet, they were saying good-by, faltering,
apologizing, explaining. There was no attempt to pass it off easily.
That way lay sacrilege. Jeffrey had not been feeling well, they said.
He had become nervous. Back of both their minds was the unexplained
horror of that blow—the marvel that there had been for an instant
something between them—his anger and her fear—and now to both a
sorrow, momentary, no doubt, but to be bridged at once, at once, while
there was yet time. Was that swift water lashing under their feet—the
fierce glint of some uncharted chasm?
Out in their car under the harvest moon he talked brokenly. It was
just—incomprehensible to him, he said. He had been thinking of the
poker game—absorbed—and the touch on his shoulder had seemed like an
attack. An attack! He clung to that word, flung it up as a shield. He
had hated what touched him. With the impact of his hand it had gone,
that—nervousness. That was all he knew.
Both their eyes filled with tears and they whispered love there under
the broad night as the serene streets of Marlowe sped by. Later, when
they went to bed, they were quite calm. Jeffrey was to take a week off
all work—was simply to loll, and sleep, and go on long walks until
this nervousness left him. When they had decided this safety settled
down upon Roxanne. The pillows underhead became soft and friendly; the
bed on which they lay seemed wide, and white, and sturdy beneath the
radiance that streamed in at the window.
Five days later, in the first cool of late afternoon, Jeffrey picked
up an oak chair and sent it crashing through his own front window.
Then he lay down on the couch like a child, weeping piteously and
begging to die. A blood clot the size of a marble had broken his
There is a sort of waking nightmare that sets in sometimes when one
has missed a sleep or two, a feeling that comes with extreme fatigue
and a new sun, that the quality of the life around has changed. It is
a fully articulate conviction that somehow the existence one is then
leading is a branch shoot of life and is related to life only as a
moving picture or a mirror—that the people, and streets, and houses
are only projections from a very dim and chaotic past. It was in such
a state that Roxanne found herself during the first months of
Jeffrey's illness. She slept only when she was utterly exhausted; she
awoke under a cloud. The long, sober-voiced consultations, the faint
aura of medicine in the halls, the sudden tiptoeing in a house that
had echoed to many cheerful footsteps, and, most of ail, Jeffrey's
white face amid the pillows of the bed they had shared—these things
subdued her and made her indelibly older. The doctors held out hope,
but that was all. A long rest, they said, and quiet. So responsibility
came to Roxanne. It was she who paid the bills, pored over his
bank-book, corresponded with his publishers. She was in the kitchen
constantly. She learned from the nurse how to prepare his meals and
after the first month took complete charge of the sick-room. She had
had to let the nurse go for reasons of economy. One of the two colored
girls left at the same time. Roxanne was realizing that they had been
living from short story to short story.
The most frequent visitor was Harry Cromwell. He had been shocked and
depressed by the news, and though his wife was now living with him in
Chicago he found time to come out several times a month. Roxanne found
his sympathy welcome—there was some quality of suffering in the man,
some inherent pitifulness that made her comfortable when he was near.
Roxanne's nature had suddenly deepened. She felt sometimes that with
Jeffrey she was losing her children also, those children that now most
of all she needed and should have had.
It was six months after Jeffrey's collapse and when the nightmare had
faded, leaving not the old world but a new one, grayer and colder,
that she wait to see Harry's wife. Finding herself in Chicago with an
extra hour before train time, she decided out of courtesy to call.
As she stepped inside the door she had an immediate impression that
the apartment was very like some place she had seen before—and almost
instantly she remembered a round-the-corner bakery of her childhood, a
bakery full of rows and rows of pink frosted cakes—a stuffy pink,
pink as a food, pink triumphant, vulgar, and odious.
And this apartment was like that. It was pink. It smelled pink!
Mrs. Cromwell, attired in a wrapper of pink and black, opened the
door. Her hair was yellow, heightened, Roxanne imagined by a dash of
peroxide in the rinsing water every week. Her eyes were a thin waxen
blue—she was pretty and too consciously graceful. Her cordiality was
strident and intimate, hostility melted so quickly to hospitality that
it seemed they were both merely in the face and voice—never touching
nor touched by the deep core of egotism beneath.
But to Roxanne these things were secondary; her eyes were caught and
held in uncanny fascination by the wrapper. It was vilely unclean.
From its lowest hem up four inches it was sheerly dirty with the blue
dust of the floor; for the next three inches it was gray—then it
shaded off into its natural color, which, was—pink. It was dirty at
the sleeves, too, and at the collar—and when the woman turned to lead
the way into the parlor, Roxanne was sure that her neck was dirty.
A one-sided rattle of conversation began. Mrs. Cromwell became
explicit about her likes and dislikes, her head, her stomach, her
teeth, her apartment—avoiding with a sort of insolent meticulousness
any inclusion of Roxanne with life, as if presuming that Roxanne,
having been dealt a blow, wished life to be carefully skirted.
Roxanne smiled. That kimono! That neck!
After five minutes a little boy toddled into the parlor—a dirty
little boy clad in dirty pink rompers. His face was smudgy—Roxanne
wanted to take him into her lap and wipe his nose; other parts in the
of his head needed attention, his tiny shoes were kicked out at the
"What a darling little boy!" exclaimed Roxanne, smiling radiantly.
"Come here to me."
Mrs. Cromwell looked coldly at her son.
"He will get dirty. Look at that face!" She held her head on one side
and regarded it critically.
"Isn't he a darling?" repeated Roxanne.
"Look at his rompers," frowned Mrs. Cromwell.
"He needs a change, don't you, George?"
George stared at her curiously. To his mind the word rompers
connotated a garment extraneously smeared, as this one.
"I tried to make him look respectable this morning," complained Mrs.
Cromwell as one whose patience had been sorely tried, "and I found he
didn't have any more rompers—so rather than have him go round without
any I put him back in those—and his face—"
"How many pairs has he?" Roxanne's voice was pleasantly curious, "How
many feather fans have you?" she might have asked.
"Oh,—" Mrs. Cromwell considered, wrinkling her pretty brow. "Five, I
think. Plenty, I know."
"You can get them for fifty cents a pair."
Mrs. Cromwell's eyes showed surprise—and the faintest superiority.
The price of rompers!
"Can you really? I had no idea. He ought to have plenty, but I haven't
had a minute all week to send the laundry out." Then, dismissing the
subject as irrelevant—"I must show you some things—"
They rose and Roxanne followed her past an open bathroom door whose
garment-littered floor showed indeed that the laundry hadn't been sent
out for some time, into another room that was, so to speak, the
quintessence of pinkness. This was Mrs. Cromwell's room.
Here the Hostess opened a closet door and displayed before' Roxanne's
eyes an amazing collection of lingerie.
There were dozens of filmy marvels of lace and silk, all clean,
unruffled, seemingly not yet touched. On hangers beside them were
three new evening dresses.
"I have some beautiful things," said Mrs. Cromwell, "but not much of a
chance to wear them. Harry doesn't care about going out." Spite crept
into her voice. "He's perfectly content to let me play nursemaid and
housekeeper all day and loving wife in the evening."
Roxanne smiled again.
"You've got some beautiful clothes here."
"Yes, I have. Let me show you——"
"Beautiful," repeated Roxanne, interrupting, "but I'll have to run if
I'm going to catch my train."
She felt that her hands were trembling. She wanted to put them on this
woman and shake her—shake her. She wanted her locked up somewhere and
set to scrubbing floors.
"Beautiful," she repeated, "and I just came in for a moment."
"Well, I'm sorry Harry isn't here."
They moved toward the door.
"—and, oh," said Roxanne with an effort—yet her voice was still
gentle and her lips were smiling—"I think it's Argile's where you can
get those rompers. Good-by."
It was not until she had reached the station and bought her ticket to
Marlowe that Roxanne realized it was the first five minutes in six
months that her mind had been off Jeffrey.
A week later Harry appeared at Marlowe, arrived unexpectedly at five
o'clock, and coming up the walk sank into a porch chair in a state of
exhaustion. Roxanne herself had had a busy day and was worn out. The
doctors were coming at five-thirty, bringing a celebrated nerve
specialist from New York. She was excited and thoroughly depressed,
but Harry's eyes made her sit down beside him.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, Roxanne," he denied. "I came to see how Jeff was doing.
Don't you bother about me."
"Harry," insisted Roxanne, "there's something the matter."
"Nothing," he repeated. "How's Jeff?"
Anxiety darkened her face.
"He's a little worse, Harry. Doctor Jewett has come on from New York.
They thought he could tell me something definite. He's going to try
and find whether this paralysis has anything to do with the original
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said jerkily. "I didn't know you expected a
consultation. I wouldn't have come. I thought I'd just rock on your
porch for an hour—"
"Sit down," she commanded.
"Sit down, Harry, dear boy." Her kindness flooded out now—enveloped
him. "I know there's something the matter. You're white as a sheet.
I'm going to get you a cool bottle of beer."
All at once he collapsed into his chair and covered his face with his
"I can't make her happy," he said slowly. "I've tried and I've tried.
This morning we had some words about breakfast—I'd been getting my
breakfast down town—and—well, just after I went to the office she
left the house, went East to her mother's with George and a suitcase
full of lace underwear."
"And I don't know—"
There was a crunch on the gravel, a car turning into the drive.
Roxanne uttered a little cry.
"It's Doctor Jewett."
"You'll wait, won't you?" she interrupted abstractedly. He saw that
his problem had already died on the troubled surface of her mind.
There was an embarrassing minute of vague, elided introductions and
then Harry followed the party inside and watched them disappear up the
stairs. He went into the library and sat down on the big sofa.
For an hour he watched the sun creep up the patterned folds of the
chintz curtains. In the deep quiet a trapped wasp buzzing on the
inside of the window pane assumed the proportions of a clamor. From
time to time another buzzing drifted down from up-stairs, resembling
several more larger wasps caught on larger window-panes. He heard low
footfalls, the clink of bottles, the clamor of pouring water.
What had he and Roxanne done that life should deal these crashing
blows to them? Up-stairs there was taking place a living inquest on
the soul of his friend; he was sitting here in a quiet room listening
to the plaint of a wasp, just as when he was a boy he had been
compelled by a strict aunt to sit hour-long on a chair and atone for
some misbehavior. But who had put him here? What ferocious aunt had
leaned out of the sky to make him atone for—what?
About Kitty he felt a great hopelessness. She was too expensive—that
was the irremediable difficulty. Suddenly he hated her. He wanted to
throw her down and kick at her—to tell her she was a cheat and a
leech—that she was dirty. Moreover, she must give him his boy.
He rose and began pacing up and down the room. Simultaneously he heard
some one begin walking along the hallway up-stairs in exact time with
him. He found himself wondering if they would walk in time until the
person reached the end of the hall.
Kitty had gone to her mother. God help her, what a mother to go to! He
tried to imagine the meeting: the abused wife collapsing upon the
mother's breast. He could not. That Kitty was capable of any deep
grief was unbelievable. He had gradually grown to think of her as
something unapproachable and callous. She would get a divorce, of
course, and eventually she would marry again. He began to consider
this. Whom would she marry? He laughed bitterly, stopped; a picture
flashed before him—of Kitty's arms around some man whose face he
could not see, of Kitty's lips pressed close to other lips in what was
"God!" he cried aloud. "God! God! God!"
Then the pictures came thick and fast. The Kitty of this morning
faded; the soiled kimono rolled up and disappeared; the pouts, and
rages, and tears all were washed away. Again she was Kitty Carr—Kitty
Carr with yellow hair and great baby eyes. Ah, she had loved him, she
had loved him.
After a while he perceived that something was amiss with him,
something that had nothing to do with Kitty or Jeff, something of a
different genre. Amazingly it burst on him at last; he was hungry.
Simple enough! He would go into the kitchen in a moment and ask the
colored cook for a sandwich. After that he must go back to the city.
He paused at the wall, jerked at something round, and, fingering it
absently, put it to his mouth and tasted it as a baby tastes a bright
toy. His teeth closed on it—Ah!
She'd left that damn kimono, that dirty pink kimono. She might have
had the decency to take it with her, he thought. It would hang in the
house like the corpse of their sick alliance. He would try to throw it
away, but he would never be able to bring himself to move it. It would
be like Kitty, soft and pliable, withal impervious. You couldn't move
Kitty; you couldn't reach Kitty. There was nothing there to reach. He
understood that perfectly—he had understood it all along.
He reached to the wall for another biscuit and with an effort pulled
it out, nail and all. He carefully removed the nail from the centre,
wondering idly if he had eaten the nail with the first biscuit.
Preposterous! He would have remembered—it was a huge nail. He felt
his stomach. He must be very hungry. He considered—remembered—yesterday
he had had no dinner. It was the girl's day out and Kitty had
lain in her room eating chocolate drops. She had said she felt
"smothery" and couldn't bear having him near her. He had given
George a bath and put him to bed, and then lain down on the couch
intending to rest a minute before getting his own dinner. There
he had fallen asleep and awakened about eleven, to find that
there was nothing in the ice-box except a spoonful of potato salad.
This he had eaten, together with some chocolate drops that he found on
Kitty's bureau. This morning he had breakfasted hurriedly down town
before going to the office. But at noon, beginning to worry about
Kitty, he had decided to go home and take her out to lunch. After that
there had been the note on his pillow. The pile of lingerie in the
closet was gone—and she had left instructions for sending her trunk.
He had never been so hungry, he thought.
At five o'clock, when the visiting nurse tiptoed down-stairs, he was
sitting on the sofa staring at the carpet.
"Oh, Mrs. Curtain won't be able to see you at dinner. She's not well
She told me to tell you that the cook will fix you something and that
there's a spare bedroom."
"She's sick, you say?"
"She's lying down in her room. The consultation is just over."
"Did they—did they decide anything?"
"Yes," said the nurse softly. "Doctor Jewett says there's no hope. Mr.
Curtain may live indefinitely, but he'll never see again or move again
or think. He'll just breathe."
For the first time the nurse noted that beside the writing-desk where
she remembered that she had seen a line of a dozen curious round
objects she had vaguely imagined to be some exotic form of decoration,
there was now only one. Where the others had been, there was now a
series of little nail-holes.
Harry followed her glance dazedly and then rose to his feet.
"I don't believe I'll stay. I believe there's a train."
She nodded. Harry picked up his hat.
"Good-by," she said pleasantly.
"Good-by," he answered, as though talking to himself and, evidently
moved by some involuntary necessity, he paused on his way to the door
and she saw him pluck the last object from the wall and drop it into
Then he opened the screen door and, descending the porch steps, passed
out of her sight.
After a while the coat of clean white paint on the Jeffrey Curtain
house made a definite compromise with the suns of many Julys and
showed its good faith by turning gray. It scaled—huge peelings of
very brittle old paint leaned over backward like aged men practising
grotesque gymnastics and finally dropped to a moldy death in the
overgrown grass beneath. The paint on the front pillars became
streaky; the white ball was knocked off the left-hand door-post; the
green blinds darkened, then lost all pretense of color.
It began to be a house that was avoided by the tender-minded—some
church bought a lot diagonally opposite for a graveyard, and this,
combined with "the place where Mrs. Curtain stays with that living
corpse," was enough to throw a ghostly aura over that quarter of the
road. Not that she was left alone. Men and women came to see her, met
her down town, where she went to do her marketing, brought her home in
their cars—and came in for a moment to talk and to rest, in the
glamour that still played in her smile. But men who did not know her
no longer followed her with admiring glances in the street; a
diaphanous veil had come down over her beauty, destroying its
vividness, yet bringing neither wrinkles nor fat.
She acquired a character in the village—a group of little stories
were told of her: how when the country was frozen over one winter so
that no wagons nor automobiles could travel, she taught herself to
skate so that she could make quick time to the grocer and druggist,
and not leave Jeffrey alone for long. It was said that every night
since his paralysis she slept in a small bed beside his bed, holding
Jeffrey Curtain was spoken of as though he were already dead. As the
years dropped by those who had known him died or moved away—there
were but half a dozen of the old crowd who had drunk cocktails
together, called each other's wives by their first names, and thought
that Jeff was about the wittiest and most talented fellow that Marlowe
had ever known. How, to the casual visitor, he was merely the reason
that Mrs. Curtain excused herself sometimes and hurried upstairs; he
was a groan or a sharp cry borne to the silent parlor on the heavy air
of a Sunday afternoon.
He could not move; he was stone blind, dumb and totally unconscious.
All day he lay in his bed, except for a shift to his wheel-chair every
morning while she straightened the room. His paralysis was creeping
slowly toward his heart. At first-for the first year—Roxanne had
received the faintest answering pressure sometimes when she held his
hand—then it had gone, ceased one evening and never come back, and
through two nights Roxanne lay wide-eyed, staring into the dark and
wondering what had gone, what fraction of his soul had taken flight,
what last grain of comprehension those shattered broken nerves still
carried to the brain.
After that hope died. Had it not been for her unceasing care the last
spark would have gone long before. Every morning she shaved and bathed
him, shifted him with her own hands from bed to chair and back to bed.
She was in his room constantly, bearing medicine, straightening a
pillow, talking to him almost as one talks to a nearly human dog,
without hope of response or appreciation, but with the dim persuasion
of habit, a prayer when faith has gone.
Not a few people, one celebrated nerve specialist among them, gave her
a plain impression that it was futile to exercise so much care, that
if Jeffrey had been conscious he would have wished to die, that if his
spirit were hovering in some wider air it would agree to no such
sacrifice from her, it would fret only for the prison of its body to
give it full release.
"But you see," she replied, shaking her head gently, "when I married
Jeffrey it was—until I ceased to love him."
"But," was protested, in effect, "you can't love that."
"I can love what it once was. What else is there for me to do?"
The specialist shrugged his shoulders and went away to say that Mrs.
Curtain was a remarkable woman and just about as sweet as an
angel—but, he added, it was a terrible pity.
"There must be some man, or a dozen, just crazy to take care of
Casually—there were. Here and there some one began in hope—and ended
in reverence. There was no love in the woman except, strangely enough,
for life, for the people in the world, from the tramp to whom she gave
food she could ill afford to the butcher who sold her a cheap cut of
steak across the meaty board. The other phase was sealed up somewhere
in that expressionless mummy who lay with his face turned ever toward
the light as mechanically as a compass needle and waited dumbly for
the last wave to wash over his heart.
After eleven years he died in the middle of a May night, when the
scent of the syringa hung upon the window-sill and a breeze wafted in
the shrillings of the frogs and cicadas outside. Roxanne awoke at two,
and realized with a start she was alone in the house at last.
After that she sat on her weather-beaten porch through many
afternoons, gazing down across the fields that undulated in a slow
descent to the white and green town. She was wondering what she would
do with her life. She was thirty-six—handsome, strong, and free. The
years had eaten up Jeffrey's insurance; she had reluctantly parted
with the acres to right and left of her, and had even placed a small
mortgage on the house.
With her husband's death had come a great physical restlessness. She
missed having to care for him in the morning, she missed her rush to
town, and the brief and therefore accentuated neighborly meetings in
the butcher's and grocer's; she missed the cooking for two, the
preparation of delicate liquid food for him. One day, consumed with
energy, she went out and spaded up the whole garden, a thing that had
not been done for years.
And she was alone at night in the room that had seen the glory of her
marriage and then the pain. To meet Jeff again she went back in spirit
to that wonderful year, that intense, passionate absorption and
companionship, rather than looked forward to a problematical meeting
hereafter; she awoke often to lie and wish for that presence beside
her—inanimate yet breathing—still Jeff.
One afternoon six months after his death she was sitting on the porch,
in a black dress which took away the faintest suggestion of plumpness
from her figure. It was Indian summer—golden brown all about her; a
hush broken by the sighing of leaves; westward a four o'clock sun
dripping streaks of red and yellow over a flaming sky. Most of the
birds had gone—only a sparrow that had built itself a nest on the
cornice of a pillar kept up an intermittent cheeping varied by
occasional fluttering sallies overhead. Roxanne moved her chair to
where she could watch him and her mind idled drowsily on the bosom of
Harry Cromwell was coming out from Chicago to dinner. Since his
divorce over eight years before he had been a frequent visitor. They
had kept up what amounted to a tradition between them: when he arrived
they would go to look at Jeff; Harry would sit down on the edge of the
bed and in a hearty voice ask:
"Well, Jeff, old man, how do you feel to-day?"
Roxanne, standing beside, would look intently at Jeff, dreaming that
some shadowy recognition of this former friend had passed across that
broken mind—but the head, pale, carven, would only move slowly in its
sole gesture toward the light as if something behind the blind eyes
were groping for another light long since gone out.
These visits stretched over eight years—at Easter, Christmas,
Thanksgiving, and on many a Sunday Harry had arrived, paid his call on
Jeff, and then talked for a long while with Roxanne on the porch. He
was devoted to her. He made no pretense of hiding, no attempt to
deepen, this relation. She was his best friend as the mass of flesh on
the bed there had been his best friend. She was peace, she was rest;
she was the past. Of his own tragedy she alone knew.
He had been at the funeral, but since then the company for which he
worked had shifted him to the East and only a business trip had
brought him to the vicinity of Chicago. Roxanne had written him to
come when he could—after a night in the city he had caught a train
They shook hands and he helped her move two rockers together.
"He's fine, Roxanne. Seems to like school."
"Of course it was the only thing to do, to send him."
"You miss him horribly, Harry?"
"Yes—I do miss him. He's a funny boy—"
He talked a lot about George. Roxanne was interested. Harry must bring
him out on his next vacation. She had only seen him once in her
life—a child in dirty rompers.
She left him with the newspaper while she prepared dinner—she had
four chops to-night and some late vegetables from her own garden. She
put it all on and then called him, and sitting down together they
continued their talk about George.
"If I had a child—" she would say.
Afterward, Harry having given her what slender advice he could about
investments, they walked through the garden, pausing here and there to
recognize what had once been a cement bench or where the tennis court
"Do you remember—"
Then they were off on a flood of reminiscences: the day they had taken
all the snap-shots and Jeff had been photographed astride the calf;
and the sketch Harry had made of Jeff and Roxanne, lying sprawled in
the grass, their heads almost touching. There was to have been a
covered lattice connecting the barn-studio with the house, so that
Jeff could get there on wet days—the lattice had been started, but
nothing remained except a broken triangular piece that still adhered
to the house and resembled a battered chicken coop.
"And those mint juleps!"
"And Jeff's note-book! Do you remember how we'd laugh, Harry, when
we'd get it out of his pocket and read aloud a page of material. And
how frantic he used to get?"
"Wild! He was such a kid about his writing."
They were both silent a moment, and then Harry said:
"We were to have a place out here, too. Do you remember? We were to
buy the adjoining twenty acres. And the parties we were going to
Again there was a pause, broken this time by a low question from
"Do you ever hear of her, Harry?"
"Why—yes," he admitted placidly. "She's in Seattle. She's married
again to a man named Horton, a sort of lumber king. He's a great deal
older than she is, I believe."
"And she's behaving?"
"Yes—that is, I've heard so. She has everything, you see. Nothing
much to do except dress up for this fellow at dinner-time."
Without effort he changed the subject.
"Are you going to keep the house?"
"I think so," she said, nodding. "I've lived here so long, Harry, it'd
seem terrible to move. I thought of trained nursing, but of course
that'd mean leaving. I've about decided to be a boarding-house lady."
"Live in one?"
"No. Keep one. Is there such an anomaly as a boarding-house lady?
Anyway I'd have a negress and keep about eight people in the summer
and two or three, if I can get them, in the winter. Of course I'll
have to have the house repainted and gone over inside."
"Roxanne, why—naturally you know best what you can do, but it does
seem a shock, Roxanne. You came here as a bride."
"Perhaps," she said, "that's why I don't mind remaining here as a
"I remember a certain batch of biscuits."
"Oh, those biscuits," she cried. "Still, from all I heard about the
way you devoured them, they couldn't have been so bad. I was so
low that day, yet somehow I laughed when the nurse told me about those
"I noticed that the twelve nail-holes are still in the library wall
where Jeff drove them."
It was getting very dark now, a crispness settled in the air; a little
gust of wind sent down a last spray of leaves. Roxanne shivered
"We'd better go in."
He looked at his watch.
"It's late. I've got to be leaving. I go East tomorrow."
They lingered for a moment just below the stoop, watching a moon that
seemed full of snow float out of the distance where the lake lay.
Summer was gone and now Indian summer. The grass was cold and there
was no mist and no dew. After he left she would go in and light the
gas and close the shatters, and he would go down the path and on to
the village. To these two life had come quickly and gone, leaving not
bitterness, but pity; not disillusion, but only pain. There was
already enough moonlight when they shook hands for each to see the
gathered kindness in the other's eyes.
THE QUINTESSENCE OF QUAINTNESS IN ONE ACT
The Scene is the Exterior of a Cottage in West Issacshire on a
desperately Arcadian afternoon in August. MR. ICKY, quaintly
dressed in the costume of an Elizabethan peasant, is pottering and
doddering among the pots and dods. He is an old man, well past the
prime of life, no longer young, From the fact that there is a burr in
his speech and that he has absent-mindedly put on his coat wrongside
out, we surmise that he is either above or below the ordinary
superficialities of life.
_Near him on the grass lies PETER, a little boy.
PETER, of course, has his chin on his palm like the pictures
of the young Sir Walter Raleigh. He has a complete set of features,
including serious, sombre, even funereal, gray eyes—and radiates that
alluring air of never having eaten food. This air can best be radiated
during the afterglow of a beef dinner. Be is looking at MR.
Silence. . . . The song of birds.
PETER: Often at night I sit at my window and regard the stars.
Sometimes I think they're my stars…. (Gravely) I think I
shall be a star some day….
ME. ICKY: (Whimsically) Yes, yes … yes….
PETER: I know them all: Venus, Mars, Neptune, Gloria Swanson.
MR. ICKY: I don't take no stock in astronomy…. I've been thinking o'
Lunnon, laddie. And calling to mind my daughter, who has gone for to
be a typewriter…. (He sighs.)
PETER: I liked Ulsa, Mr. Icky; she was so plump, so round, so buxom.
MR. ICKY: Not worth the paper she was padded with, laddie. (He
stumbles over a pile of pots and dods.)
PETER: How is your asthma, Mr. Icky?
MR. ICKY: Worse, thank God!…(Gloomily.) I'm a hundred years
old… I'm getting brittle.
PETER: I suppose life has been pretty tame since you gave up petty
MR. ICKY: Yes… yes…. You see, Peter, laddie, when I was fifty I
reformed once—in prison.
PETER: You went wrong again?
MR. ICKY: Worse than that. The week before my term expired they
insisted on transferring to me the glands of a healthy young prisoner
they were executing.
PETER: And it renovated you?
MR. ICKY: Renovated me! It put the Old Nick back into me! This young
criminal was evidently a suburban burglar and a kleptomaniac. What was
a little playful arson in comparison!
PETER: (Awed) How ghastly! Science is the bunk.
MR. ICKY: (Sighing) I got him pretty well subdued now. 'Tisn't
every one who has to tire out two sets o' glands in his lifetime. I
wouldn't take another set for all the animal spirits in an orphan
PETER: (Considering) I shouldn't think you'd object to a nice
quiet old clergyman's set.
MR. ICKY: Clergymen haven't got glands—they have souls.
(There is a low, sonorous honking off stage to indicate that a
large motor-car has stopped in the immediate vicinity. Then a young
man handsomely attired in a dress-suit and a patent-leather silk hat
comes onto the stage. He is very mundane. His contrast to the
spirituality of the other two is observable as far back as the first
row of the balcony. This is RODNEY DIVINE.)
DIVINE: I am looking for Ulsa Icky.
(MR. ICKY rises and stands tremulously between two dods.)
MR. ICKY: My daughter is in Lunnon.
DIVINE: She has left London. She is coming here. I have followed her.
(He reaches into the little mother-of-pearl satchel that hangs at
his side for cigarettes. He selects one and scratching a match touches
it to the cigarette. The cigarette instantly lights.)
DIVINE: I shall wait.
(He waits. Several hours pass. There is no sound except an
occasional cackle or hiss from the dods as they quarrel among
themselves. Several songs can be introduced here or some card tricks
by DIVINE or a tumbling act, as desired.)
DIVINE: It's very quiet here.
MR. ICKY: Yes, very quiet….
(_Suddenly a loudly dressed girl appears; she is very worldly. It
is ULSA ICKY. On her is one of those shapeless faces peculiar to
early Italian painting._)
ULSA: (In a coarse, worldly voice) Feyther! Here I am! Ulsa did
MR. ICKY: (Tremulously) Ulsa, little Ulsa. (They embrace
each other's torsos.)
MR. ICKY: (Hopefully) You've come back to help with the
ULSA: (Sullenly) No, feyther; ploughing's such a beyther. I'd
(Though her accent is broad, the content of her speech is sweet and
DIVINE: (Conciliatingly) See here, Ulsa. Let's come to an
(He advances toward her with the graceful, even stride that made
him captain of the striding team at Cambridge.)
ULSA: You still say it would be Jack?
MR. ICKY: What does she mean?
DIVINE: (Kindly) My dear, of course, it would be Jack. It
couldn't be Frank.
MR. ICKY: Frank who?
ULSA: It would be Frank!
(Some risqué joke can be introduced here.)
MR. ICKY: (Whimsically) No good fighting…no good fighting…
DIVINE: (Reaching out to stroke her arm with the powerful movement
that made him stroke of the crew at Oxford) You'd better marry me.
ULSA: (Scornfully) Why, they wouldn't let me in through the
servants' entrance of your house.
DIVINE: (Angrily) They wouldn't! Never fear—you shall come in
through the mistress' entrance.
DIVINE: (In confusion) I beg your pardon. You know what I mean?
MR. ICKY: (Aching with whimsey) You want to marry my little
DIVINE: I do.
MR. ICKY: Your record is clean.
DIVINE: Excellent. I have the best constitution in the world—
ULSA: And the worst by-laws.
DIVINE: At Eton I was a member at Pop; at Rugby I belonged to
Near-beer. As a younger son I was destined for the police force—
MR. ICKY: Skip that…. Have you money?…
DIVINE: Wads of it. I should expect Ulsa to go down town in sections
every morning—in two Rolls Royces. I have also a kiddy-car and a
converted tank. I have seats at the opera—
ULSA: (Sullenly) I can't sleep except in a box. And I've heard
that you were cashiered from your club.
MR. ICKY: A cashier? …
DIVINE: (Hanging his head) I was cashiered.
ULSA: What for?
DIVINE: (Almost inaudibly) I hid the polo bails one day for a
MR. ICKY: Is your mind in good shape?
DIVINE: (Gloomily) Fair. After all what is brilliance? Merely
the tact to sow when no one is looking and reap when every one is.
ME. ICKY; Be careful. … I will-not marry my daughter to an epigram….
DIVINE: (More gloomily) I assure you I'm a mere platitude. I
often descend to the level of an innate idea.
ULSA: (Dully) None of what you're saying matters. I can't marry
a man who thinks it would be Jack. Why Frank would—
DIVINE: (Interrupting) Nonsense!
ULSA: (Emphatically) You're a fool!
MR. ICKY: Tut-tut! … One should not judge … Charity, my girl. What
was it Nero said?—"With malice toward none, with charity toward
PETER: That wasn't Nero. That was John Drinkwater.
MR. ICKY: Come! Who is this Frank? Who is this Jack?
DIVINE: (Morosely) Gotch.
DIVINE: We were arguing that if they were deadly enemies and locked in
a room together which one would come out alive. Now I claimed that
Jack Dempsey would take one—
ULSA: (Angrily) Rot! He wouldn't have a—
DIVINE: (Quickly) You win.
ULSA: Then I love you again.
MR. ICKY: So I'm going to lose my little daughter…
ULSA: You've still got a houseful of children,
(CHARLES, ULSA'S brother, coming out of the cottage. He is dressed
as if to go to sea; a coil of rope is slung about his shoulder and an
anchor is hanging from his neck.)
CHARLES: (Not seeing them) I'm going to sea! I'm going to sea!
(His voice is triumphant.)
MR. ICKY: (Sadly) You went to seed long ago.
CHARLES: I've been reading "Conrad."
PETER: (Dreamily) "Conrad," ah! "Two Years Before the Mast," by
PETER: Walter Pater's version of "Robinson Crusoe."
CHARLES: (To his feyther) I can't stay here and rot with you. I
want to live my life. I want to hunt eels.
MR. ICKY: I will be here… when you come back….
CHARLES: (Contemptuously) Why, the worms are licking their
chops already when they hear your name.
(It will be noticed that some of the characters have not spoken for
some time. It will improve the technique if they can be rendering a
spirited saxophone number.)
MR. ICKY: (Mournfully) These vales, these hills, these
McCormick harvesters—they mean nothing to my children. I understand.
CHARLES: (More gently) Then you'll think of me kindly, feyther.
To understand is to forgive.
MR. ICKY: No…no….We never forgive those we can understand….We
can only forgive those who wound us for no reason at all….
CHARLES: (Impatiently) I'm so beastly sick of your human nature
line. And, anyway, I hate the hours around here.
(_Several dozen more of MR. ICKY'S children trip out of the
house, trip over the grass, and trip over the pots and dods. They are
muttering "We are going away," and "We are leaving you."_)
MR. ICKY: (His heart breaking) They're all deserting me. I've
been too kind. Spare the rod and spoil the fun. Oh, for the glands of
(_There is a honking outside—probably DIVINE'S chauffeur
growing impatient for his master._)
MR. ICKY: (In misery) They do not love the soil! They have been
faithless to the Great Potato Tradition! (He picks up a handful of
soil passionately and rubs it on his bald head. Hair sprouts.) Oh,
Wordsworth, Wordsworth, how true you spoke!
"No motion has she now, no force;
She does not hear or feel;
Roll'd round on earth's diurnal course
In some one's Oldsmobile."
(They all groan and shouting "Life" and "Jazz" move slowly toward
CHARLES: Back to the soil, yes! I've been trying to turn my back to
the soil for ten years!
ANOTHER CHILD: The farmers may be the backbone of the country, but who
wants to be a backbone?
ANOTHER CHILD: I care not who hoes the lettuce of my country if I can
eat the salad!
ALL: Life! Psychic Research! Jazz!
MR. ICKY: (Struggling with himself) I must be quaint. That's
all there is. It's not life that counts, it's the quaintness you bring
ALL: We're going to slide down the Riviera. We've got tickets for
Piccadilly Circus. Life! Jazz!
MR. ICKY: Wait. Let me read to you from the Bible. Let me open it at
random. One always finds something that bears on the situation.
(He finds a Bible lying in one of the dods and opening it at random
begins to read.)
"Ahab and Istemo and Anim, Goson and Olon and Gilo, eleven cities and
their villages. Arab, and Ruma, and Esaau—"
CHARLES: (Cruelly) Buy ten more rings and try again.
MR. ICKY: (Trying again) "How beautiful art thou my love, how
beautiful art thou! Thy eyes are dove's eyes, besides what is hid
within. Thy hair is as flocks of goats which come up from Mount
Galaad—Hm! Rather a coarse passage…."
(His children laugh at him rudely, shouting "Jazz!" and "All life
is primarily suggestive!")
MR. ICKY: (Despondently) It won't work to-day.
(Hopefully) Maybe it's damp. (He feels it) Yes, it's
damp…. There was water in the dod…. It won't work.
ALL: It's damp! It won't work! Jazz!
ONE OF THE CHILDREN: Come, we must catch the six-thirty.
(Any other cue may be inserted here.)
MR. ICKY: Good-by….
( They all go out. MR. ICKY is left alone. He sighs and
walking over to the cottage steps, lies down, and closes his eyes.)
Twilight has come down and the stage is flooded with such light as
never was on land or sea. There is no sound except a sheep-herder's
wife in the distance playing an aria from Beethoven's Tenth Symphony,
on a mouth-organ. The great white and gray moths swoop down and light
on the old man until he is completely covered by them. But he does not
_The curtain goes up and down several times to denote the lapse of
several minutes. A good comedy effect can be obtained by having
MR. ICKY cling to the curtain and go up and down with it.
Fireflies or fairies on wires can also be introduced at this
_Then PETER appears, a look of almost imbecile sweetness on
his face. In his hand he clutches something and from time to time
glances at it in a transport of ecstasy. After a struggle with himself
he lays it on the old man's body and then quietly withdraws._
_The moths chatter among themselves and then scurry away in sudden
fright. And as night deepens there still sparkles there, small, white
and round, breathing a subtle perfume to the West Issacshire breeze,
PETER'S gift of love—a moth-ball._
(The play can end at this point or can go on indefinitely.)
JEMINA, THE MOUNTAIN GIRL
This don't pretend to be "Literature." This is just a tale for
red-blooded folks who want a story and not just a lot of
"psychological" stuff or "analysis." Boy, you'll love it! Read it
here, see it in the movies, play it on the phonograph, run it through
A WILD THING
It was night in the mountains of Kentucky. Wild hills rose on all
sides. Swift mountain streams flowed rapidly up and down the
Jemima Tantrum was down at the stream, brewing whiskey at the family
She was a typical mountain girl.
Her feet were bare. Her hands, large and powerful, hung down below her
knees. Her face showed the ravages of work. Although but sixteen, she
had for over a dozen years been supporting her aged pappy and mappy by
brewing mountain whiskey. From time to time she would pause in her
task, and, filling a dipper full of the pure, invigorating liquid,
would drain it off—then pursue her work with renewed vigor.
She would place the rye in the vat, thresh it out with her feet and,
in twenty minutes, the completed product would be turned out.
A sudden cry made her pause in the act of draining a dipper and look
"Hello," said a voice. It came from a man clad in hunting boots
reaching to his neck, who had emerged.
"Can you tell me the way to the Tantrums' cabin?"
"Are you uns from the settlements down thar?"
She pointed her hand down to the bottom of the hill, where Louisville
lay. She had never been there; but once, before she was born, her
great-grandfather, old Gore Tantrum, had gone into the settlements in
the company of two marshals, and had never come back. So the Tantrums
from generation to generation, had learned to dread civilization.
The man was amused. He laughed a light tinkling laugh, the laugh of a
Philadelphian. Something in the ring of it thrilled her. She drank off
another dipper of whiskey.
"Where is Mr. Tantrum, little girl?" he asked, not without kindness.
She raised her foot and pointed her big toe toward the woods. "Thar in
the cabing behind those thar pines. Old Tantrum air my old man."
The man from the settlements thanked her and strode off. He was fairly
vibrant with youth and personality. As he walked along he whistled and
sang and turned handsprings and flapjacks, breathing in the fresh,
cool air of the mountains.
The air around the still was like wine.
Jemina Tantrum watched him entranced. No one like him had ever come
into her life before.
She sat down on the grass and counted her toes. She counted eleven.
She had learned arithmetic in the mountain school.
A MOUNTAIN FEUD
Ten years before a lady from the settlements had opened a school on
the mountain. Jemina had no money, but she had paid her way in
whiskey, bringing a pailful to school every morning and leaving it on
Miss Lafarge's desk. Miss Lafarge had died of delirium tremens after a
year's teaching, and so Jemina's education had stopped.
Across the still stream, still another still was standing; It was that
of the Doldrums. The Doldrums and the Tantrums never exchanged calls.
They hated each other.
Fifty years before old Jem Doldrum and old Jem Tantrum had quarrelled
in the Tantrum cabin over a game of slapjack. Jem Doldrum had thrown
the king of hearts in Jem Tantrum's face, and old Tantrum, enraged,
had felled the old Doldrum with the nine of diamonds. Other Doldrums
and Tantrums had joined in and the little cabin was soon filled with
flying cards. Harstrum Doldrum, one of the younger Doldrums, lay
stretched on the floor writhing in agony, the ace of hearts crammed
down his throat. Jem Tantrum, standing in the doorway; ran through
suit after suit, his face alight with fiendish hatred. Old Mappy
Tantrum stood on the table wetting down the Doldrums with hot whiskey.
Old Heck Doldrum, having finally run out of trumps, was backed out of
the cabin, striking left and right with his tobacco pouch, and
gathering around him the rest of his clan. Then they mounted their
steers and galloped furiously home.
That night old man Doldrum and his sons, vowing vengeance, had
returned, put a ticktock on the Tantrum window, stuck a pin in the
doorbell, and beaten a retreat.
A week later the Tantrums had put Cod Liver Oil in the Doldrums'
still, and so, from year to year, the feud had continued, first one
family being entirely wiped out, then the other.
THE BIRTH OF LOVE
Every day little Jemina worked the still on her side of the stream,
and Boscoe Doldrum worked the still on his side.
Sometimes, with automatic inherited hatred, the feudists would throw
whiskey at each other, and Jemina would come home smelling like a
French table d'hôte.
But now Jemina was too thoughtful to look across the stream.
How wonderful the stranger had been and how oddly he was dressed! In
her innocent way she had never believed that there were any civilized
settlements at all, and she had put the belief in them down to the
credulity of the mountain people.
She turned to go up to the cabin, and, as she turned something struck
her in the neck. It was a sponge, thrown by Boscoe Doldrum—a sponge
soaked in whiskey from his still on the other side of the stream.
"Hi, thar, Boscoe Doldrum," she shouted in her deep bass voice.
"Yo! Jemina Tantrum. Gosh ding yo'!" he returned.
She continued her way to the cabin.
The stranger was talking to her father. Gold had been discovered on
the Tantrum land, and the stranger, Edgar Edison, was trying to buy
the land for a song. He was considering what song to offer.
She sat upon her hands and watched him.
He was wonderful. When he talked his lips moved.
She sat upon the stove and watched him.
Suddenly there came a blood-curdling scream. The Tantrums rushed to
It was the Doldrums.
They had hitched their steers to trees and concealed themselves behind
the bushes and flowers, and soon a perfect rattle of stones and bricks
beat against the windows, bending them inward.
"Father! father!" shrieked Jemina.
Her father took down his slingshot from his slingshot rack on the wall
and ran his hand lovingly over the elastic band. He stepped to a
loophole. Old Mappy Tantrum stepped to the coalhole.
A MOUNTAIN BATTLE
The stranger was aroused at last. Furious to get at the Doldrums, he
tried to escape from the house by crawling up the chimney. Then he
thought there might be a door under the bead, but Jemina told him
there was not. He hunted for doors under the beds and sofas, but each
time Jemina pulled him out and told him there were no doors there.
Furious with anger, he beat upon the door and hollered at the
Doldrums. They did not answer him, but kept up their fusillade of
bricks and stones against the window. Old Pappy Tantrum knew that just
as soon as they were able to affect an aperture they would pour in and
the fight would be over.
Then old Heck Doldrum, foaming at the mouth and expectorating on the
ground, left and right, led the attack.
The terrific slingshots of Pappy Tantrum had not been without their
effect. A master shot had disabled one Doldrum, and another Doldrum,
shot almost incessantly through the abdomen, fought feebly on.
Nearer and nearer they approached the house.
"We must fly," shouted the stranger to Jemina. "I will sacrifice
myself and bear you away."
"No," shouted Pappy Tantrum, his face begrimed. "You stay here and fit
on. I will bar Jemina away. I will bar Mappy away. I will bar myself
The man from the settlements, pale and trembling with anger, turned to
Ham Tantrum, who stood at the door throwing loophole after loophole at
the advancing Doldrums.
"Will you cover the retreat?"
But Ham said that he too had Tantrums to bear away, but that he would
leave himself here to help the stranger cover the retreat, if he could
think of a way of doing it.
Soon smoke began to filter through the floor and ceiling. Shem Doldrum
had come up and touched a match to old Japhet Tantrum's breath as he
leaned from a loophole, and the alcoholic flames shot up on all sides.
The whiskey in the bathtub caught fire. The walls began to fall in.
Jemina and the man from the settlements looked at each other.
"Jemina," he whispered.
"Stranger," she answered,
"We will die together," he said. "If we had lived I would have taken
you to the city and married you. With your ability to hold liquor,
your social success would have been assured."
She caressed him idly for a moment, counting her toes softly to
herself. The smoke grew thicker. Her left leg was on fire.
She was a human alcohol lamp.
Their lips met in one long kiss and then a wall fell on them and
blotted them out.
When the Doldrums burst through the ring of flame, they found them
dead where they had fallen, their arms about each other.
Old Jem Doldrum was moved.
He took off his hat.
He filled it with whiskey and drank it off.
"They air dead," he said slowly, "they hankered after each other. The
fit is over now. We must not part them."
So they threw them together into the stream and the two splashes they
made were as one.