YOUTH AND THE BRIGHT MEDUSA
"We must not look at Goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits;
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry, thirsty roots?"
THE DIAMOND MINE
A GOLD SLIPPER
A WAGNER MATINÉE
THE SCULPTOR'S FUNERAL
"A DEATH IN THE DESERT"
The author wishes to thank McClure's Magazine, The Century
Magazine and Harper's Magazine for their courtesy in permitting
the re-publication of three stories in this collection.
The last four stories in the volume, Paul's Case, A Wagner Matinée,
The Sculptor's Funeral, "A Death in the Desert," are re-printed from
the author's first book of stories, entitled "The Troll Garden,"
published in 1905.
Don Hedger had lived for four years on the top floor of an old house on
the south side of Washington Square, and nobody had ever disturbed him.
He occupied one big room with no outside exposure except on the north,
where he had built in a many-paned studio window that looked upon a court
and upon the roofs and walls of other buildings. His room was very
cheerless, since he never got a ray of direct sunlight; the south corners
were always in shadow. In one of the corners was a clothes closet, built
against the partition, in another a wide divan, serving as a seat by day
and a bed by night. In the front corner, the one farther from the window,
was a sink, and a table with two gas burners where he sometimes cooked
his food. There, too, in the perpetual dusk, was the dog's bed, and often
a bone or two for his comfort.
The dog was a Boston bull terrier, and Hedger explained his surly
disposition by the fact that he had been bred to the point where it told
on his nerves. His name was Caesar III, and he had taken prizes at very
exclusive dog shows. When he and his master went out to prowl about
University Place or to promenade along West Street, Caesar III was
invariably fresh and shining. His pink skin showed through his mottled
coat, which glistened as if it had just been rubbed with olive oil, and
he wore a brass-studded collar, bought at the smartest saddler's. Hedger,
as often as not, was hunched up in an old striped blanket coat, with a
shapeless felt hat pulled over his bushy hair, wearing black shoes that
had become grey, or brown ones that had become black, and he never put on
gloves unless the day was biting cold.
Early in May, Hedger learned that he was to have a new neighbour in the
rear apartment—two rooms, one large and one small, that faced the west.
His studio was shut off from the larger of these rooms by double doors,
which, though they were fairly tight, left him a good deal at the mercy
of the occupant. The rooms had been leased, long before he came there, by
a trained nurse who considered herself knowing in old furniture. She went
to auction sales and bought up mahogany and dirty brass and stored it
away here, where she meant to live when she retired from nursing.
Meanwhile, she sub-let her rooms, with their precious furniture, to young
people who came to New York to "write" or to "paint"—who proposed to
live by the sweat of the brow rather than of the hand, and who desired
When Hedger first moved in, these rooms were occupied by a young man who
tried to write plays,—and who kept on trying until a week ago, when the
nurse had put him out for unpaid rent.
A few days after the playwright left, Hedger heard an ominous murmur of
voices through the bolted double doors: the lady-like intonation of the
nurse—doubtless exhibiting her treasures—and another voice, also a
woman's, but very different; young, fresh, unguarded, confident. All the
same, it would be very annoying to have a woman in there. The only
bath-room on the floor was at the top of the stairs in the front hall,
and he would always be running into her as he came or went from his bath.
He would have to be more careful to see that Caesar didn't leave bones
about the hall, too; and she might object when he cooked steak and onions
on his gas burner.
As soon as the talking ceased and the women left, he forgot them. He was
absorbed in a study of paradise fish at the Aquarium, staring out at
people through the glass and green water of their tank. It was a highly
gratifying idea; the incommunicability of one stratum of animal life with
another,—though Hedger pretended it was only an experiment in unusual
lighting. When he heard trunks knocking against the sides of the narrow
hall, then he realized that she was moving in at once. Toward noon,
groans and deep gasps and the creaking of ropes, made him aware that a
piano was arriving. After the tramp of the movers died away down the
stairs, somebody touched off a few scales and chords on the instrument,
and then there was peace. Presently he heard her lock her door and go
down the hall humming something; going out to lunch, probably. He stuck
his brushes in a can of turpentine and put on his hat, not stopping to
wash his hands. Caesar was smelling along the crack under the bolted
doors; his bony tail stuck out hard as a hickory withe, and the hair was
standing up about his elegant collar.
Hedger encouraged him. "Come along, Caesar. You'll soon get used to a new
In the hall stood an enormous trunk, behind the ladder that led to the
roof, just opposite Hedger's door. The dog flew at it with a growl of
hurt amazement. They went down three flights of stairs and out into the
brilliant May afternoon.
Behind the Square, Hedger and his dog descended into a basement oyster
house where there were no tablecloths on the tables and no handles on the
coffee cups, and the floor was covered with sawdust, and Caesar was
always welcome,—not that he needed any such precautionary flooring. All
the carpets of Persia would have been safe for him. Hedger ordered steak
and onions absentmindedly, not realizing why he had an apprehension that
this dish might be less readily at hand hereafter. While he ate, Caesar
sat beside his chair, gravely disturbing the sawdust with his tail.
After lunch Hedger strolled about the Square for the dog's health and
watched the stages pull out;—that was almost the very last summer of the
old horse stages on Fifth Avenue. The fountain had but lately begun
operations for the season and was throwing up a mist of rainbow water
which now and then blew south and sprayed a bunch of Italian babies that
were being supported on the outer rim by older, very little older,
brothers and sisters. Plump robins were hopping about on the soil; the
grass was newly cut and blindingly green. Looking up the Avenue through
the Arch, one could see the young poplars with their bright, sticky
leaves, and the Brevoort glistening in its spring coat of paint, and
shining horses and carriages,—occasionally an automobile, misshapen and
sullen, like an ugly threat in a stream of things that were bright and
beautiful and alive.
While Caesar and his master were standing by the fountain, a girl
approached them, crossing the Square. Hedger noticed her because she wore
a lavender cloth suit and carried in her arms a big bunch of fresh
lilacs. He saw that she was young and handsome,—beautiful, in fact, with
a splendid figure and good action. She, too, paused by the fountain and
looked back through the Arch up the Avenue. She smiled rather
patronizingly as she looked, and at the same time seemed delighted. Her
slowly curving upper lip and half-closed eyes seemed to say: "You're gay,
you're exciting, you are quite the right sort of thing; but you're none
too fine for me!"
In the moment she tarried, Caesar stealthily approached her and sniffed
at the hem of her lavender skirt, then, when she went south like an
arrow, he ran back to his master and lifted a face full of emotion and
alarm, his lower lip twitching under his sharp white teeth and his hazel
eyes pointed with a very definite discovery. He stood thus, motionless,
while Hedger watched the lavender girl go up the steps and through the
door of the house in which he lived.
"You're right, my boy, it's she! She might be worse looking, you know."
When they mounted to the studio, the new lodger's door, at the back of
the hall, was a little ajar, and Hedger caught the warm perfume of lilacs
just brought in out of the sun. He was used to the musty smell of the old
hall carpet. (The nurse-lessee had once knocked at his studio door and
complained that Caesar must be somewhat responsible for the particular
flavour of that mustiness, and Hedger had never spoken to her since.) He
was used to the old smell, and he preferred it to that of the lilacs, and
so did his companion, whose nose was so much more discriminating. Hedger
shut his door vehemently, and fell to work.
Most young men who dwell in obscure studios in New York have had a
beginning, come out of something, have somewhere a home town, a family, a
paternal roof. But Don Hedger had no such background. He was a foundling,
and had grown up in a school for homeless boys, where book-learning was a
negligible part of the curriculum. When he was sixteen, a Catholic priest
took him to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to keep house for him. The priest
did something to fill in the large gaps in the boy's education,—taught
him to like "Don Quixote" and "The Golden Legend," and encouraged him to
mess with paints and crayons in his room up under the slope of the
mansard. When Don wanted to go to New York to study at the Art League,
the priest got him a night job as packer in one of the big department
stores. Since then, Hedger had taken care of himself; that was his only
responsibility. He was singularly unencumbered; had no family duties, no
social ties, no obligations toward any one but his landlord. Since he
travelled light, he had travelled rather far. He had got over a good deal
of the earth's surface, in spite of the fact that he never in his life
had more than three hundred dollars ahead at any one time, and he had
already outlived a succession of convictions and revelations about his
Though he was now but twenty-six years old, he had twice been on the
verge of becoming a marketable product; once through some studies of New
York streets he did for a magazine, and once through a collection of
pastels he brought home from New Mexico, which Remington, then at the
height of his popularity, happened to see, and generously tried to push.
But on both occasions Hedger decided that this was something he didn't
wish to carry further,—simply the old thing over again and got
nowhere,—so he took enquiring dealers experiments in a "later manner,"
that made them put him out of the shop. When he ran short of money, he
could always get any amount of commercial work; he was an expert
draughtsman and worked with lightning speed. The rest of his time he
spent in groping his way from one kind of painting into another, or
travelling about without luggage, like a tramp, and he was chiefly
occupied with getting rid of ideas he had once thought very fine.
Hedger's circumstances, since he had moved to Washington Square, were
affluent compared to anything he had ever known before. He was now able
to pay advance rent and turn the key on his studio when he went away for
four months at a stretch. It didn't occur to him to wish to be richer
than this. To be sure, he did without a great many things other people
think necessary, but he didn't miss them, because he had never had them.
He belonged to no clubs, visited no houses, had no studio friends, and he
ate his dinner alone in some decent little restaurant, even on Christmas
and New Year's. For days together he talked to nobody but his dog and the
janitress and the lame oysterman.
After he shut the door and settled down to his paradise fish on that
first Tuesday in May, Hedger forgot all about his new neighbour. When the
light failed, he took Caesar out for a walk. On the way home he did his
marketing on West Houston Street, with a one-eyed Italian woman who
always cheated him. After he had cooked his beans and scallopini, and
drunk half a bottle of Chianti, he put his dishes in the sink and went up
on the roof to smoke. He was the only person in the house who ever went
to the roof, and he had a secret understanding with the janitress about
it. He was to have "the privilege of the roof," as she said, if he opened
the heavy trapdoor on sunny days to air out the upper hall, and was
watchful to close it when rain threatened. Mrs. Foley was fat and dirty
and hated to climb stairs,—besides, the roof was reached by a
perpendicular iron ladder, definitely inaccessible to a woman of her
bulk, and the iron door at the top of it was too heavy for any but
Hedger's strong arm to lift. Hedger was not above medium height, but he
practised with weights and dumb-bells, and in the shoulders he was as
strong as a gorilla.
So Hedger had the roof to himself. He and Caesar often slept up there on
hot nights, rolled in blankets he had brought home from Arizona. He
mounted with Caesar under his left arm. The dog had never learned to
climb a perpendicular ladder, and never did he feel so much his master's
greatness and his own dependence upon him, as when he crept under his arm
for this perilous ascent. Up there was even gravel to scratch in, and a
dog could do whatever he liked, so long as he did not bark. It was a kind
of Heaven, which no one was strong enough to reach but his great,
On this blue May night there was a slender, girlish looking young moon in
the west, playing with a whole company of silver stars. Now and then one
of them darted away from the group and shot off into the gauzy blue with
a soft little trail of light, like laughter. Hedger and his dog were
delighted when a star did this. They were quite lost in watching the
glittering game, when they were suddenly diverted by a sound,—not
from the stars, though it was music. It was not the Prologue to
Pagliacci, which rose ever and anon on hot evenings from an Italian
tenement on Thompson Street, with the gasps of the corpulent baritone who
got behind it; nor was it the hurdy-gurdy man, who often played at the
corner in the balmy twilight. No, this was a woman's voice, singing the
tempestuous, over-lapping phrases of Signor Puccini, then comparatively
new in the world, but already so popular that even Hedger recognized his
unmistakable gusts of breath. He looked about over the roofs; all was
blue and still, with the well-built chimneys that were never used now
standing up dark and mournful. He moved softly toward the yellow
quadrangle where the gas from the hall shone up through the half-lifted
trapdoor. Oh yes! It came up through the hole like a strong draught, a
big, beautiful voice, and it sounded rather like a professional's. A
piano had arrived in the morning, Hedger remembered. This might be a very
great nuisance. It would be pleasant enough to listen to, if you could
turn it on and off as you wished; but you couldn't. Caesar, with the gas
light shining on his collar and his ugly but sensitive face, panted and
looked up for information. Hedger put down a reassuring hand.
"I don't know. We can't tell yet. It may not be so bad."
He stayed on the roof until all was still below, and finally descended,
with quite a new feeling about his neighbour. Her voice, like her figure,
inspired respect,—if one did not choose to call it admiration. Her door
was shut, the transom was dark; nothing remained of her but the obtrusive
trunk, unrightfully taking up room in the narrow hall.
For two days Hedger didn't see her. He was painting eight hours a day
just then, and only went out to hunt for food. He noticed that she
practised scales and exercises for about an hour in the morning; then she
locked her door, went humming down the hall, and left him in peace. He
heard her getting her coffee ready at about the same time he got his.
Earlier still, she passed his room on her way to her bath. In the evening
she sometimes sang, but on the whole she didn't bother him. When he was
working well he did not notice anything much. The morning paper lay
before his door until he reached out for his milk bottle, then he kicked
the sheet inside and it lay on the floor until evening. Sometimes
he read it and sometimes he did not. He forgot there was anything of
importance going on in the world outside of his third floor studio.
Nobody had ever taught him that he ought to be interested in other
people; in the Pittsburgh steel strike, in the Fresh Air Fund, in the
scandal about the Babies' Hospital. A grey wolf, living in a Wyoming
canyon, would hardly have been less concerned about these things than was
One morning he was coming out of the bathroom at the front end of the
hall, having just given Caesar his bath and rubbed him into a glow with a
heavy towel. Before the door, lying in wait for him, as it were, stood a
tall figure in a flowing blue silk dressing gown that fell away from her
marble arms. In her hands she carried various accessories of the bath.
"I wish," she said distinctly, standing in his way, "I wish you wouldn't
wash your dog in the tub. I never heard of such a thing! I've found his
hair in the tub, and I've smelled a doggy smell, and now I've caught you
at it. It's an outrage!"
Hedger was badly frightened. She was so tall and positive, and was fairly
blazing with beauty and anger. He stood blinking, holding on to his
sponge and dog-soap, feeling that he ought to bow very low to her. But
what he actually said was:
"Nobody has ever objected before. I always wash the tub,—and, anyhow,
he's cleaner than most people."
"Cleaner than me?" her eyebrows went up, her white arms and neck and her
fragrant person seemed to scream at him like a band of outraged nymphs.
Something flashed through his mind about a man who was turned into a dog,
or was pursued by dogs, because he unwittingly intruded upon the bath of
"No, I didn't mean that," he muttered, turning scarlet under the bluish
stubble of his muscular jaws. "But I know he's cleaner than I am."
"That I don't doubt!" Her voice sounded like a soft shivering of crystal,
and with a smile of pity she drew the folds of her voluminous blue robe
close about her and allowed the wretched man to pass. Even Caesar was
frightened; he darted like a streak down the hall, through the door and
to his own bed in the corner among the bones.
Hedger stood still in the doorway, listening to indignant sniffs and
coughs and a great swishing of water about the sides of the tub. He had
washed it; but as he had washed it with Caesar's sponge, it was quite
possible that a few bristles remained; the dog was shedding now. The
playwright had never objected, nor had the jovial illustrator who
occupied the front apartment,—but he, as he admitted, "was usually
pye-eyed, when he wasn't in Buffalo." He went home to Buffalo sometimes
to rest his nerves.
It had never occurred to Hedger that any one would mind using the tub
after Caesar;—but then, he had never seen a beautiful girl caparisoned
for the bath before. As soon as he beheld her standing there, he realized
the unfitness of it. For that matter, she ought not to step into a tub
that any other mortal had bathed in; the illustrator was sloppy and left
cigarette ends on the moulding.
All morning as he worked he was gnawed by a spiteful desire to get back
at her. It rankled that he had been so vanquished by her disdain. When he
heard her locking her door to go out for lunch, he stepped quickly into
the hall in his messy painting coat, and addressed her.
"I don't wish to be exigent, Miss,"—he had certain grand words that he
used upon occasion—"but if this is your trunk, it's rather in the way
"Oh, very well!" she exclaimed carelessly, dropping her keys into her
handbag. "I'll have it moved when I can get a man to do it," and she went
down the hall with her free, roving stride.
Her name, Hedger discovered from her letters, which the postman left on
the table in the lower hall, was Eden Bower.
In the closet that was built against the partition separating his room
from Miss Bower's, Hedger kept all his wearing apparel, some of it on
hooks and hangers, some of it on the floor. When he opened his closet
door now-a-days, little dust-coloured insects flew out on downy wing, and
he suspected that a brood of moths were hatching in his winter overcoat.
Mrs. Foley, the janitress, told him to bring down all his heavy clothes
and she would give them a beating and hang them in the court. The closet
was in such disorder that he shunned the encounter, but one hot afternoon
he set himself to the task. First he threw out a pile of forgotten
laundry and tied it up in a sheet. The bundle stood as high as his middle
when he had knotted the corners. Then he got his shoes and overshoes
together. When he took his overcoat from its place against the partition,
a long ray of yellow light shot across the dark enclosure,—a knot hole,
evidently, in the high wainscoating of the west room. He had never
noticed it before, and without realizing what he was doing, he stooped
and squinted through it.
Yonder, in a pool of sunlight, stood his new neighbour, wholly unclad,
doing exercises of some sort before a long gilt mirror. Hedger did not
happen to think how unpardonable it was of him to watch her. Nudity was
not improper to any one who had worked so much from the figure, and he
continued to look, simply because he had never seen a woman's body so
beautiful as this one,—positively glorious in action. As she swung her
arms and changed from one pivot of motion to another, muscular energy
seemed to flow through her from her toes to her finger-tips. The soft
flush of exercise and the gold of afternoon sun played over her flesh
together, enveloped her in a luminous mist which, as she turned and
twisted, made now an arm, now a shoulder, now a thigh, dissolve in pure
light and instantly recover its outline with the next gesture. Hedger's
fingers curved as if he were holding a crayon; mentally he was doing the
whole figure in a single running line, and the charcoal seemed to explode
in his hand at the point where the energy of each gesture was discharged
into the whirling disc of light, from a foot or shoulder, from the
up-thrust chin or the lifted breasts.
He could not have told whether he watched her for six minutes or sixteen.
When her gymnastics were over, she paused to catch up a lock of hair that
had come down, and examined with solicitude a little reddish mole that
grew under her left arm-pit. Then, with her hand on her hip, she walked
unconcernedly across the room and disappeared through the door into her
Disappeared—Don Hedger was crouching on his knees, staring at the golden
shower which poured in through the west windows, at the lake of gold
sleeping on the faded Turkish carpet. The spot was enchanted; a vision
out of Alexandria, out of the remote pagan past, had bathed itself there
in Helianthine fire.
When he crawled out of his closet, he stood blinking at the grey sheet
stuffed with laundry, not knowing what had happened to him. He felt a
little sick as he contemplated the bundle. Everything here was different;
he hated the disorder of the place, the grey prison light, his old shoes
and himself and all his slovenly habits. The black calico curtains that
ran on wires over his big window were white with dust. There were three
greasy frying pans in the sink, and the sink itself—He felt desperate.
He couldn't stand this another minute. He took up an armful of winter
clothes and ran down four flights into the basement.
"Mrs. Foley," he began, "I want my room cleaned this afternoon,
thoroughly cleaned. Can you get a woman for me right away?"
"Is it company you're having?" the fat, dirty janitress enquired. Mrs.
Foley was the widow of a useful Tammany man, and she owned real estate in
Flatbush. She was huge and soft as a feather bed. Her face and arms were
permanently coated with dust, grained like wood where the sweat had
"Yes, company. That's it."
"Well, this is a queer time of the day to be asking for a cleaning woman.
It's likely I can get you old Lizzie, if she's not drunk. I'll send Willy
round to see."
Willy, the son of fourteen, roused from the stupor and stain of his fifth
box of cigarettes by the gleam of a quarter, went out. In five minutes he
returned with old Lizzie,—she smelling strong of spirits and wearing
several jackets which she had put on one over the other, and a number of
skirts, long and short, which made her resemble an animated dish-clout.
She had, of course, to borrow her equipment from Mrs. Foley, and toiled
up the long flights, dragging mop and pail and broom. She told Hedger to
be of good cheer, for he had got the right woman for the job, and showed
him a great leather strap she wore about her wrist to prevent dislocation
of tendons. She swished about the place, scattering dust and splashing
soapsuds, while he watched her in nervous despair. He stood over Lizzie
and made her scour the sink, directing her roughly, then paid her and got
rid of her. Shutting the door on his failure, he hurried off with his dog
to lose himself among the stevedores and dock labourers on West Street.
A strange chapter began for Don Hedger. Day after day, at that hour in
the afternoon, the hour before his neighbour dressed for dinner, he
crouched down in his closet to watch her go through her mysterious
exercises. It did not occur to him that his conduct was detestable; there
was nothing shy or retreating about this unclad girl,—a bold body,
studying itself quite coolly and evidently well pleased with itself,
doing all this for a purpose. Hedger scarcely regarded his action as
conduct at all; it was something that had happened to him. More than once
he went out and tried to stay away for the whole afternoon, but at about
five o'clock he was sure to find himself among his old shoes in the dark.
The pull of that aperture was stronger than his will,—and he had always
considered his will the strongest thing about him. When she threw herself
upon the divan and lay resting, he still stared, holding his breath. His
nerves were so on edge that a sudden noise made him start and brought out
the sweat on his forehead. The dog would come and tug at his sleeve,
knowing that something was wrong with his master. If he attempted a
mournful whine, those strong hands closed about his throat.
When Hedger came slinking out of his closet, he sat down on the edge of
the couch, sat for hours without moving. He was not painting at all now.
This thing, whatever it was, drank him up as ideas had sometimes done,
and he sank into a stupor of idleness as deep and dark as the stupor of
work. He could not understand it; he was no boy, he had worked from
models for years, and a woman's body was no mystery to him. Yet now he
did nothing but sit and think about one. He slept very little, and with
the first light of morning he awoke as completely possessed by this woman
as if he had been with her all the night before. The unconscious
operations of life went on in him only to perpetuate this excitement. His
brain held but one image now—vibrated, burned with it. It was a
heathenish feeling; without friendliness, almost without tenderness.
Women had come and gone in Hedger's life. Not having had a mother to
begin with, his relations with them, whether amorous or friendly, had
been casual. He got on well with janitresses and wash-women, with Indians
and with the peasant women of foreign countries. He had friends among the
silk-skirt factory girls who came to eat their lunch in Washington
Square, and he sometimes took a model for a day in the country. He felt
an unreasoning antipathy toward the well-dressed women he saw coming out
of big shops, or driving in the Park. If, on his way to the Art Museum,
he noticed a pretty girl standing on the steps of one of the houses on
upper Fifth Avenue, he frowned at her and went by with his shoulders
hunched up as if he were cold. He had never known such girls, or heard
them talk, or seen the inside of the houses in which they lived; but he
believed them all to be artificial and, in an aesthetic sense, perverted.
He saw them enslaved by desire of merchandise and manufactured articles,
effective only in making life complicated and insincere and in
embroidering it with ugly and meaningless trivialities. They were enough,
he thought, to make one almost forget woman as she existed in art, in
thought, and in the universe.
He had no desire to know the woman who had, for the time at least, so
broken up his life,—no curiosity about her every-day personality. He
shunned any revelation of it, and he listened for Miss Bower's coming and
going, not to encounter, but to avoid her. He wished that the girl who
wore shirt-waists and got letters from Chicago would keep out of his way,
that she did not exist. With her he had naught to make. But in a room
full of sun, before an old mirror, on a little enchanted rug of sleeping
colours, he had seen a woman who emerged naked through a door, and
disappeared naked. He thought of that body as never having been clad, or
as having worn the stuffs and dyes of all the centuries but his own. And
for him she had no geographical associations; unless with Crete, or
Alexandria, or Veronese's Venice. She was the immortal conception, the
The first break in Hedger's lethargy occurred one afternoon when two
young men came to take Eden Bower out to dine. They went into her music
room, laughed and talked for a few minutes, and then took her away with
them. They were gone a long while, but he did not go out for food
himself; he waited for them to come back. At last he heard them coming
down the hall, gayer and more talkative than when they left. One of them
sat down at the piano, and they all began to sing. This Hedger found
absolutely unendurable. He snatched up his hat and went running down the
stairs. Caesar leaped beside him, hoping that old times were coming back.
They had supper in the oysterman's basement and then sat down in front of
their own doorway. The moon stood full over the Square, a thing of regal
glory; but Hedger did not see the moon; he was looking, murderously, for
men. Presently two, wearing straw hats and white trousers and carrying
canes, came down the steps from his house. He rose and dogged them across
the Square. They were laughing and seemed very much elated about
something. As one stopped to light a cigarette, Hedger caught from the
"Don't you think she has a beautiful talent?"
His companion threw away his match. "She has a beautiful figure." They
both ran to catch the stage.
Hedger went back to his studio. The light was shining from her transom.
For the first time he violated her privacy at night, and peered through
that fatal aperture. She was sitting, fully dressed, in the window,
smoking a cigarette and looking out over the housetops. He watched her
until she rose, looked about her with a disdainful, crafty smile, and
turned out the light.
The next morning, when Miss Bower went out, Hedger followed her. Her
white skirt gleamed ahead of him as she sauntered about the Square. She
sat down behind the Garibaldi statue and opened a music book she carried.
She turned the leaves carelessly, and several times glanced in his
direction. He was on the point of going over to her, when she rose
quickly and looked up at the sky. A flock of pigeons had risen from
somewhere in the crowded Italian quarter to the south, and were wheeling
rapidly up through the morning air, soaring and dropping, scattering and
coming together, now grey, now white as silver, as they caught or
intercepted the sunlight. She put up her hand to shade her eyes and
followed them with a kind of defiant delight in her face.
Hedger came and stood beside her. "You've surely seen them before?"
"Oh, yes," she replied, still looking up. "I see them every day from my
windows. They always come home about five o'clock. Where do they live?"
"I don't know. Probably some Italian raises them for the market. They
were here long before I came, and I've been here four years."
"In that same gloomy room? Why didn't you take mine when it was vacant?"
"It isn't gloomy. That's the best light for painting."
"Oh, is it? I don't know anything about painting. I'd like to see your
pictures sometime. You have such a lot in there. Don't they get dusty,
piled up against the wall like that?"
"Not very. I'd be glad to show them to you. Is your name really Eden
Bower? I've seen your letters on the table."
"Well, it's the name I'm going to sing under. My father's name is Bowers,
but my friend Mr. Jones, a Chicago newspaper man who writes about music,
told me to drop the 's.' He's crazy about my voice."
Miss Bower didn't usually tell the whole story,—about anything. Her
first name, when she lived in Huntington, Illinois, was Edna, but Mr.
Jones had persuaded her to change it to one which he felt would be worthy
of her future. She was quick to take suggestions, though she told him she
"didn't see what was the matter with 'Edna.'"
She explained to Hedger that she was going to Paris to study. She was
waiting in New York for Chicago friends who were to take her over, but
who had been detained. "Did you study in Paris?" she asked.
"No, I've never been in Paris. But I was in the south of France all last
summer, studying with C——. He's the biggest man among the moderns,—at
least I think so."
Miss Bower sat down and made room for him on the bench. "Do tell me about
it. I expected to be there by this time, and I can't wait to find out
what it's like."
Hedger began to relate how he had seen some of this Frenchman's work in
an exhibition, and deciding at once that this was the man for him, he had
taken a boat for Marseilles the next week, going over steerage. He
proceeded at once to the little town on the coast where his painter
lived, and presented himself. The man never took pupils, but because
Hedger had come so far, he let him stay. Hedger lived at the master's
house and every day they went out together to paint, sometimes on the
blazing rocks down by the sea. They wrapped themselves in light woollen
blankets and didn't feel the heat. Being there and working with C—— was
being in Paradise, Hedger concluded; he learned more in three months than
in all his life before.
Eden Bower laughed. "You're a funny fellow. Didn't you do anything but
work? Are the women very beautiful? Did you have awfully good things to
eat and drink?"
Hedger said some of the women were fine looking, especially one girl who
went about selling fish and lobsters. About the food there was nothing
remarkable,—except the ripe figs, he liked those. They drank sour wine,
and used goat-butter, which was strong and full of hair, as it was
churned in a goat skin.
"But don't they have parties or banquets? Aren't there any fine hotels
"Yes, but they are all closed in summer, and the country people are poor.
It's a beautiful country, though."
"How, beautiful?" she persisted.
"If you want to go in, I'll show you some sketches, and you'll see."
Miss Bower rose. "All right. I won't go to my fencing lesson this
morning. Do you fence? Here comes your dog. You can't move but he's after
you. He always makes a face at me when I meet him in the hall, and shows
his nasty little teeth as if he wanted to bite me."
In the studio Hedger got out his sketches, but to Miss Bower, whose
favourite pictures were Christ Before Pilate and a redhaired Magdalen of
Henner, these landscapes were not at all beautiful, and they gave her no
idea of any country whatsoever. She was careful not to commit herself,
however. Her vocal teacher had already convinced her that she had a great
deal to learn about many things.
"Why don't we go out to lunch somewhere?" Hedger asked, and began to dust
his fingers with a handkerchief—which he got out of sight as swiftly as
"All right, the Brevoort," she said carelessly. "I think that's a good
place, and they have good wine. I don't care for cocktails."
Hedger felt his chin uneasily. "I'm afraid I haven't shaved this morning.
If you could wait for me in the Square? It won't take me ten minutes."
Left alone, he found a clean collar and handkerchief, brushed his coat
and blacked his shoes, and last of all dug up ten dollars from the bottom
of an old copper kettle he had brought from Spain. His winter hat was of
such a complexion that the Brevoort hall boy winked at the porter as he
took it and placed it on the rack in a row of fresh straw ones.
That afternoon Eden Bower was lying on the couch in her music room, her
face turned to the window, watching the pigeons. Reclining thus she could
see none of the neighbouring roofs, only the sky itself and the birds
that crossed and recrossed her field of vision, white as scraps of paper
blowing in the wind. She was thinking that she was young and handsome and
had had a good lunch, that a very easy-going, light-hearted city lay in
the streets below her; and she was wondering why she found this queer
painter chap, with his lean, bluish cheeks and heavy black eyebrows, more
interesting than the smart young men she met at her teacher's studio.
Eden Bower was, at twenty, very much the same person that we all know her
to be at forty, except that she knew a great deal less. But one thing she
knew: that she was to be Eden Bower. She was like some one standing
before a great show window full of beautiful and costly things, deciding
which she will order. She understands that they will not all be delivered
immediately, but one by one they will arrive at her door. She already
knew some of the many things that were to happen to her; for instance,
that the Chicago millionaire who was going to take her abroad with his
sister as chaperone, would eventually press his claim in quite another
manner. He was the most circumspect of bachelors, afraid of everything
obvious, even of women who were too flagrantly handsome. He was a nervous
collector of pictures and furniture, a nervous patron of music, and a
nervous host; very cautious about his health, and about any course of
conduct that might make him ridiculous. But she knew that he would at
last throw all his precautions to the winds.
People like Eden Bower are inexplicable. Her father sold farming
machinery in Huntington, Illinois, and she had grown up with no
acquaintances or experiences outside of that prairie town. Yet from her
earliest childhood she had not one conviction or opinion in common with
the people about her,—the only people she knew. Before she was out of
short dresses she had made up her mind that she was going to be an
actress, that she would live far away in great cities, that she would be
much admired by men and would have everything she wanted. When she was
thirteen, and was already singing and reciting for church entertainments,
she read in some illustrated magazine a long article about the late Czar
of Russia, then just come to the throne or about to come to it. After
that, lying in the hammock on the front porch on summer evenings, or
sitting through a long sermon in the family pew, she amused herself by
trying to make up her mind whether she would or would not be the Czar's
mistress when she played in his Capital. Now Edna had met this
fascinating word only in the novels of Ouida,—her hard-worked little
mother kept a long row of them in the upstairs storeroom, behind the
linen chest. In Huntington, women who bore that relation to men were
called by a very different name, and their lot was not an enviable one;
of all the shabby and poor, they were the shabbiest. But then, Edna had
never lived in Huntington, not even before she began to find books like
"Sapho" and "Mademoiselle de Maupin," secretly sold in paper covers
throughout Illinois. It was as if she had come into Huntington, into the
Bowers family, on one of the trains that puffed over the marshes behind
their back fence all day long, and was waiting for another train to take
As she grew older and handsomer, she had many beaux, but these small-town
boys didn't interest her. If a lad kissed her when he brought her home
from a dance, she was indulgent and she rather liked it. But if he
pressed her further, she slipped away from him, laughing. After she began
to sing in Chicago, she was consistently discreet. She stayed as a guest
in rich people's houses, and she knew that she was being watched like a
rabbit in a laboratory. Covered up in bed, with the lights out, she
thought her own thoughts, and laughed.
This summer in New York was her first taste of freedom. The Chicago
capitalist, after all his arrangements were made for sailing, had been
compelled to go to Mexico to look after oil interests. His sister knew
an excellent singing master in New York. Why should not a discreet,
well-balanced girl like Miss Bower spend the summer there, studying
quietly? The capitalist suggested that his sister might enjoy a summer on
Long Island; he would rent the Griffith's place for her, with all the
servants, and Eden could stay there. But his sister met this proposal
with a cold stare. So it fell out, that between selfishness and greed,
Eden got a summer all her own,—which really did a great deal toward
making her an artist and whatever else she was afterward to become. She
had time to look about, to watch without being watched; to select
diamonds in one window and furs in another, to select shoulders and
moustaches in the big hotels where she went to lunch. She had the easy
freedom of obscurity and the consciousness of power. She enjoyed both.
She was in no hurry.
While Eden Bower watched the pigeons, Don Hedger sat on the other side of
the bolted doors, looking into a pool of dark turpentine, at his idle
brushes, wondering why a woman could do this to him. He, too, was sure of
his future and knew that he was a chosen man. He could not know, of
course, that he was merely the first to fall under a fascination which
was to be disastrous to a few men and pleasantly stimulating to many
thousands. Each of these two young people sensed the future, but not
completely. Don Hedger knew that nothing much would ever happen to him.
Eden Bower understood that to her a great deal would happen. But she did
not guess that her neighbour would have more tempestuous adventures
sitting in his dark studio than she would find in all the capitals of
Europe, or in all the latitude of conduct she was prepared to permit
One Sunday morning Eden was crossing the Square with a spruce young man
in a white flannel suit and a panama hat. They had been breakfasting at
the Brevoort and he was coaxing her to let him come up to her rooms and
sing for an hour.
"No, I've got to write letters. You must run along now. I see a friend of
mine over there, and I want to ask him about something before I go up."
"That fellow with the dog? Where did you pick him up?" the young man
glanced toward the seat under a sycamore where Hedger was reading the
"Oh, he's an old friend from the West," said Eden easily. "I won't
introduce you, because he doesn't like people. He's a recluse. Good-bye.
I can't be sure about Tuesday. I'll go with you if I have time after my
lesson." She nodded, left him, and went over to the seat littered with
newspapers. The young man went up the Avenue without looking back.
"Well, what are you going to do today? Shampoo this animal all morning?"
Eden enquired teasingly.
Hedger made room for her on the seat. "No, at twelve o'clock I'm going
out to Coney Island. One of my models is going up in a balloon this
afternoon. I've often promised to go and see her, and now I'm going."
Eden asked if models usually did such stunts. No, Hedger told her, but
Molly Welch added to her earnings in that way. "I believe," he added,
"she likes the excitement of it. She's got a good deal of spirit. That's
why I like to paint her. So many models have flaccid bodies."
"And she hasn't, eh? Is she the one who comes to see you? I can't help
hearing her, she talks so loud."
"Yes, she has a rough voice, but she's a fine girl. I don't suppose you'd
be interested in going?"
"I don't know," Eden sat tracing patterns on the asphalt with the end of
her parasol. "Is it any fun? I got up feeling I'd like to do something
different today. It's the first Sunday I've not had to sing in church. I
had that engagement for breakfast at the Brevoort, but it wasn't very
exciting. That chap can't talk about anything but himself."
Hedger warmed a little. "If you've never been to Coney Island, you ought
to go. It's nice to see all the people; tailors and bar-tenders and
prize-fighters with their best girls, and all sorts of folks taking a
Eden looked sidewise at him. So one ought to be interested in people of
that kind, ought one? He was certainly a funny fellow. Yet he was never,
somehow, tiresome. She had seen a good deal of him lately, but she kept
wanting to know him better, to find out what made him different from men
like the one she had just left—whether he really was as different as he
seemed. "I'll go with you," she said at last, "if you'll leave that at
home." She pointed to Caesar's flickering ears with her sunshade.
"But he's half the fun. You'd like to hear him bark at the waves when
they come in."
"No, I wouldn't. He's jealous and disagreeable if he sees you talking to
any one else. Look at him now."
"Of course, if you make a face at him. He knows what that means, and he
makes a worse face. He likes Molly Welch, and she'll be disappointed if I
don't bring him."
Eden said decidedly that he couldn't take both of them. So at twelve
o'clock when she and Hedger got on the boat at Desbrosses street, Caesar
was lying on his pallet, with a bone.
Eden enjoyed the boat-ride. It was the first time she had been on the
water, and she felt as if she were embarking for France. The light warm
breeze and the plunge of the waves made her very wide awake, and she
liked crowds of any kind. They went to the balcony of a big, noisy
restaurant and had a shore dinner, with tall steins of beer. Hedger had
got a big advance from his advertising firm since he first lunched with
Miss Bower ten days ago, and he was ready for anything.
After dinner they went to the tent behind the bathing beach, where the
tops of two balloons bulged out over the canvas. A red-faced man in a
linen suit stood in front of the tent, shouting in a hoarse voice and
telling the people that if the crowd was good for five dollars more, a
beautiful young woman would risk her life for their entertainment. Four
little boys in dirty red uniforms ran about taking contributions in their
pillbox hats. One of the balloons was bobbing up and down in its tether
and people were shoving forward to get nearer the tent.
"Is it dangerous, as he pretends?" Eden asked.
"Molly says it's simple enough if nothing goes wrong with the balloon.
Then it would be all over, I suppose."
"Wouldn't you like to go up with her?"
"I? Of course not. I'm not fond of taking foolish risks."
Eden sniffed. "I shouldn't think sensible risks would be very much fun."
Hedger did not answer, for just then every one began to shove the other
way and shout, "Look out. There she goes!" and a band of six pieces
commenced playing furiously.
As the balloon rose from its tent enclosure, they saw a girl in green
tights standing in the basket, holding carelessly to one of the ropes
with one hand and with the other waving to the spectators. A long rope
trailed behind to keep the balloon from blowing out to sea.
As it soared, the figure in green tights in the basket diminished to a
mere spot, and the balloon itself, in the brilliant light, looked like a
big silver-grey bat, with its wings folded. When it began to sink, the
girl stepped through the hole in the basket to a trapeze that hung below,
and gracefully descended through the air, holding to the rod with both
hands, keeping her body taut and her feet close together. The crowd,
which had grown very large by this time, cheered vociferously. The men
took off their hats and waved, little boys shouted, and fat old women,
shining with the heat and a beer lunch, murmured admiring comments upon
the balloonist's figure. "Beautiful legs, she has!"
"That's so," Hedger whispered. "Not many girls would look well in that
position." Then, for some reason, he blushed a slow, dark, painful
The balloon descended slowly, a little way from the tent, and the
red-faced man in the linen suit caught Molly Welch before her feet
touched the ground, and pulled her to one side. The band struck up "Blue
Bell" by way of welcome, and one of the sweaty pages ran forward and
presented the balloonist with a large bouquet of artificial flowers. She
smiled and thanked him, and ran back across the sand to the tent.
"Can't we go inside and see her?" Eden asked. "You can explain to the
door man. I want to meet her." Edging forward, she herself addressed the
man in the linen suit and slipped something from her purse into his hand.
They found Molly seated before a trunk that had a mirror in the lid and a
"make-up" outfit spread upon the tray. She was wiping the cold cream and
powder from her neck with a discarded chemise.
"Hello, Don," she said cordially. "Brought a friend?"
Eden liked her. She had an easy, friendly manner, and there was something
boyish and devil-may-care about her.
"Yes, it's fun. I'm mad about it," she said in reply to Eden's questions.
"I always want to let go, when I come down on the bar. You don't feel
your weight at all, as you would on a stationary trapeze."
The big drum boomed outside, and the publicity man began shouting to
newly arrived boatloads. Miss Welch took a last pull at her cigarette.
"Now you'll have to get out, Don. I change for the next act. This time I
go up in a black evening dress, and lose the skirt in the basket before I
"Yes, go along," said Eden. "Wait for me outside the door. I'll stay and
help her dress."
Hedger waited and waited, while women of every build bumped into him and
begged his pardon, and the red pages ran about holding out their caps for
coins, and the people ate and perspired and shifted parasols against the
sun. When the band began to play a two-step, all the bathers ran up out
of the surf to watch the ascent. The second balloon bumped and rose, and
the crowd began shouting to the girl in a black evening dress who stood
leaning against the ropes and smiling. "It's a new girl," they called.
"It ain't the Countess this time. You're a peach, girlie!"
The balloonist acknowledged these compliments, bowing and looking down
over the sea of upturned faces,—but Hedger was determined she should not
see him, and he darted behind the tent-fly. He was suddenly dripping with
cold sweat, his mouth was full of the bitter taste of anger and his
tongue felt stiff behind his teeth. Molly Welch, in a shirt-waist and a
white tam-o'-shanter cap, slipped out from the tent under his arm and
laughed up in his face. "She's a crazy one you brought along. She'll get
what she wants!"
"Oh, I'll settle with you, all right!" Hedger brought out with
"It's not my fault, Donnie. I couldn't do anything with her. She bought
me off. What's the matter with you? Are you soft on her? She's safe
enough. It's as easy as rolling off a log, if you keep cool." Molly Welch
was rather excited herself, and she was chewing gum at a high speed as
she stood beside him, looking up at the floating silver cone. "Now
watch," she exclaimed suddenly. "She's coming down on the bar. I advised
her to cut that out, but you see she does it first-rate. And she got rid
of the skirt, too. Those black tights show off her legs very well. She
keeps her feet together like I told her, and makes a good line along the
back. See the light on those silver slippers,—that was a good idea I
had. Come along to meet her. Don't be a grouch; she's done it fine!"
Molly tweaked his elbow, and then left him standing like a stump, while
she ran down the beach with the crowd.
Though Hedger was sulking, his eye could not help seeing the low blue
welter of the sea, the arrested bathers, standing in the surf, their arms
and legs stained red by the dropping sun, all shading their eyes and
gazing upward at the slowly falling silver star.
Molly Welch and the manager caught Eden under the arms and lifted her
aside, a red page dashed up with a bouquet, and the band struck up "Blue
Bell." Eden laughed and bowed, took Molly's arm, and ran up the sand in
her black tights and silver slippers, dodging the friendly old women, and
the gallant sports who wanted to offer their homage on the spot.
When she emerged from the tent, dressed in her own clothes, that part of
the beach was almost deserted. She stepped to her companion's side and
said carelessly: "Hadn't we better try to catch this boat? I hope you're
not sore at me. Really, it was lots of fun."
Hedger looked at his watch. "Yes, we have fifteen minutes to get to the
boat," he said politely.
As they walked toward the pier, one of the pages ran up panting. "Lady,
you're carrying off the bouquet," he said, aggrievedly.
Eden stopped and looked at the bunch of spotty cotton roses in her hand.
"Of course. I want them for a souvenir. You gave them to me yourself."
"I give 'em to you for looks, but you can't take 'em away. They belong to
"Oh, you always use the same bunch?"
"Sure we do. There ain't too much money in this business."
She laughed and tossed them back to him. "Why are you angry?" she asked
Hedger. "I wouldn't have done it if I'd been with some fellows, but I
thought you were the sort who wouldn't mind. Molly didn't for a minute
think you would."
"What possessed you to do such a fool thing?" he asked roughly.
"I don't know. When I saw her coming down, I wanted to try it. It looked
exciting. Didn't I hold myself as well as she did?"
Hedger shrugged his shoulders, but in his heart he forgave her.
The return boat was not crowded, though the boats that passed them, going
out, were packed to the rails. The sun was setting. Boys and girls sat on
the long benches with their arms about each other, singing. Eden felt a
strong wish to propitiate her companion, to be alone with him. She had
been curiously wrought up by her balloon trip; it was a lark, but not
very satisfying unless one came back to something after the flight. She
wanted to be admired and adored. Though Eden said nothing, and sat with
her arms limp on the rail in front of her, looking languidly at the
rising silhouette of the city and the bright path of the sun, Hedger felt
a strange drawing near to her. If he but brushed her white skirt with his
knee, there was an instant communication between them, such as there had
never been before. They did not talk at all, but when they went over the
gang-plank she took his arm and kept her shoulder close to his. He felt
as if they were enveloped in a highly charged atmosphere, an invisible
network of subtle, almost painful sensibility. They had somehow taken
hold of each other.
An hour later, they were dining in the back garden of a little French
hotel on Ninth Street, long since passed away. It was cool and leafy
there, and the mosquitoes were not very numerous. A party of South
Americans at another table were drinking champagne, and Eden murmured
that she thought she would like some, if it were not too expensive.
"Perhaps it will make me think I am in the balloon again. That was a very
nice feeling. You've forgiven me, haven't you?"
Hedger gave her a quick straight look from under his black eyebrows, and
something went over her that was like a chill, except that it was warm
and feathery. She drank most of the wine; her companion was indifferent
to it. He was talking more to her tonight than he had ever done before.
She asked him about a new picture she had seen in his room; a queer thing
full of stiff, supplicating female figures. "It's Indian, isn't it?"
"Yes. I call it Rain Spirits, or maybe, Indian Rain. In the Southwest,
where I've been a good deal, the Indian traditions make women have to do
with the rain-fall. They were supposed to control it, somehow, and to be
able to find springs, and make moisture come out of the earth. You see
I'm trying to learn to paint what people think and feel; to get away from
all that photographic stuff. When I look at you, I don't see what a
camera would see, do I?"
"How can I tell?"
"Well, if I should paint you, I could make you understand what I see."
For the second time that day Hedger crimsoned unexpectedly, and his eyes
fell and steadily contemplated a dish of little radishes. "That
particular picture I got from a story a Mexican priest told me; he said
he found it in an old manuscript book in a monastery down there, written
by some Spanish Missionary, who got his stories from the Aztecs. This one
he called 'The Forty Lovers of the Queen,' and it was more or less about
"Aren't you going to tell it to me?" Eden asked.
Hedger fumbled among the radishes. "I don't know if it's the proper kind
of story to tell a girl."
She smiled; "Oh, forget about that! I've been balloon riding today. I
like to hear you talk."
Her low voice was flattering. She had seemed like clay in his hands ever
since they got on the boat to come home. He leaned back in his chair,
forgot his food, and, looking at her intently, began to tell his story,
the theme of which he somehow felt was dangerous tonight.
The tale began, he said, somewhere in Ancient Mexico, and concerned the
daughter of a king. The birth of this Princess was preceded by unusual
portents. Three times her mother dreamed that she was delivered of
serpents, which betokened that the child she carried would have power
with the rain gods. The serpent was the symbol of water. The Princess
grew up dedicated to the gods, and wise men taught her the rain-making
mysteries. She was with difficulty restrained from men and was guarded at
all times, for it was the law of the Thunder that she be maiden until
her marriage. In the years of her adolescence, rain was abundant with her
people. The oldest man could not remember such fertility. When the
Princess had counted eighteen summers, her father went to drive out a war
party that harried his borders on the north and troubled his prosperity.
The King destroyed the invaders and brought home many prisoners. Among
the prisoners was a young chief, taller than any of his captors, of such
strength and ferocity that the King's people came a day's journey to look
at him. When the Princess beheld his great stature, and saw that his arms
and breast were covered with the figures of wild animals, bitten into the
skin and coloured, she begged his life from her father. She desired that
he should practise his art upon her, and prick upon her skin the signs of
Rain and Lightning and Thunder, and stain the wounds with herb-juices, as
they were upon his own body. For many days, upon the roof of the King's
house, the Princess submitted herself to the bone needle, and the women
with her marvelled at her fortitude. But the Princess was without shame
before the Captive, and it came about that he threw from him his needles
and his stains, and fell upon the Princess to violate her honour; and her
women ran down from the roof screaming, to call the guard which stood at
the gateway of the King's house, and none stayed to protect their
When the guard came, the Captive was thrown into bonds, and he was
gelded, and his tongue was torn out, and he was given for a slave to the
The country of the Aztecs to the east was tormented by thirst, and their
king, hearing much of the rain-making arts of the Princess, sent an
embassy to her father, with presents and an offer of marriage. So the
Princess went from her father to be the Queen of the Aztecs, and she took
with her the Captive, who served her in everything with entire fidelity
and slept upon a mat before her door.
The King gave his bride a fortress on the outskirts of the city, whither
she retired to entreat the rain gods. This fortress was called the
Queen's House, and on the night of the new moon the Queen came to it from
the palace. But when the moon waxed and grew toward the round, because
the god of Thunder had had his will of her, then the Queen returned to
the King. Drought abated in the country and rain fell abundantly by
reason of the Queen's power with the stars.
When the Queen went to her own house she took with her no servant but the
Captive, and he slept outside her door and brought her food after she had
fasted. The Queen had a jewel of great value, a turquoise that had fallen
from the sun, and had the image of the sun upon it. And when she desired
a young man whom she had seen in the army or among the slaves, she sent
the Captive to him with the jewel, for a sign that he should come to her
secretly at the Queen's House upon business concerning the welfare of
all. And some, after she had talked with them, she sent away with
rewards; and some she took into her chamber and kept them by her for one
night or two. Afterward she called the Captive and bade him conduct the
youth by the secret way he had come, underneath the chambers of the
fortress. But for the going away of the Queen's lovers the Captive took
out the bar that was beneath a stone in the floor of the passage, and put
in its stead a rush-reed, and the youth stepped upon it and fell through
into a cavern that was the bed of an underground river, and whatever was
thrown into it was not seen again. In this service nor in any other did
the Captive fail the Queen.
But when the Queen sent for the Captain of the Archers, she detained him
four days in her chamber, calling often for food and wine, and was
greatly content with him. On the fourth day she went to the Captive
outside her door and said: "Tomorrow take this man up by the sure way, by
which the King comes, and let him live."
In the Queen's door were arrows, purple and white. When she desired the
King to come to her publicly, with his guard, she sent him a white arrow;
but when she sent the purple, he came secretly, and covered himself with
his mantle to be hidden from the stone gods at the gate. On the fifth
night that the Queen was with her lover, the Captive took a purple arrow
to the King, and the King came secretly and found them together. He
killed the Captain with his own hand, but the Queen he brought to public
trial. The Captive, when he was put to the question, told on his fingers
forty men that he had let through the underground passage into the river.
The Captive and the Queen were put to death by fire, both on the same
day, and afterward there was scarcity of rain.
* * * * *
Eden Bower sat shivering a little as she listened. Hedger was not trying
to please her, she thought, but to antagonize and frighten her by his
brutal story. She had often told herself that his lean, big-boned lower
jaw was like his bull-dog's, but tonight his face made Caesar's most
savage and determined expression seem an affectation. Now she was looking
at the man he really was. Nobody's eyes had ever defied her like this.
They were searching her and seeing everything; all she had concealed from
Livingston, and from the millionaire and his friends, and from the
newspaper men. He was testing her, trying her out, and she was more ill
at ease than she wished to show.
"That's quite a thrilling story," she said at last, rising and winding
her scarf about her throat. "It must be getting late. Almost every one
They walked down the Avenue like people who have quarrelled, or who wish
to get rid of each other. Hedger did not take her arm at the street
crossings, and they did not linger in the Square. At her door he tried
none of the old devices of the Livingston boys. He stood like a post,
having forgotten to take off his hat, gave her a harsh, threatening
glance, muttered "goodnight," and shut his own door noisily.
There was no question of sleep for Eden Bower. Her brain was working like
a machine that would never stop. After she undressed, she tried to calm
her nerves by smoking a cigarette, lying on the divan by the open window.
But she grew wider and wider awake, combating the challenge that had
flamed all evening in Hedger's eyes. The balloon had been one kind of
excitement, the wine another; but the thing that had roused her, as a
blow rouses a proud man, was the doubt, the contempt, the sneering
hostility with which the painter had looked at her when he told his
savage story. Crowds and balloons were all very well, she reflected, but
woman's chief adventure is man. With a mind over active and a sense of
life over strong, she wanted to walk across the roofs in the starlight,
to sail over the sea and face at once a world of which she had never been
Hedger must be asleep; his dog had stopped sniffing under the double
doors. Eden put on her wrapper and slippers and stole softly down the
hall over the old carpet; one loose board creaked just as she reached the
ladder. The trap-door was open, as always on hot nights. When she stepped
out on the roof she drew a long breath and walked across it, looking up
at the sky. Her foot touched something soft; she heard a low growl, and
on the instant Caesar's sharp little teeth caught her ankle and waited.
His breath was like steam on her leg. Nobody had ever intruded upon his
roof before, and he panted for the movement or the word that would let
him spring his jaw. Instead, Hedger's hand seized his throat.
"Wait a minute. I'll settle with him," he said grimly. He dragged the dog
toward the manhole and disappeared. When he came back, he found Eden
standing over by the dark chimney, looking away in an offended attitude.
"I caned him unmercifully," he panted. "Of course you didn't hear
anything; he never whines when I beat him. He didn't nip you, did he?"
"I don't know whether he broke the skin or not," she answered
aggrievedly, still looking off into the west.
"If I were one of your friends in white pants, I'd strike a match to find
whether you were hurt, though I know you are not, and then I'd see your
ankle, wouldn't I?"
"I suppose so."
He shook his head and stood with his hands in the pockets of his old
painting jacket. "I'm not up to such boy-tricks. If you want the place
to yourself, I'll clear out. There are plenty of places where I can spend
the night, what's left of it. But if you stay here and I stay here—" He
shrugged his shoulders.
Eden did not stir, and she made no reply. Her head drooped slightly, as
if she were considering. But the moment he put his arms about her they
began to talk, both at once, as people do in an opera. The instant avowal
brought out a flood of trivial admissions. Hedger confessed his crime,
was reproached and forgiven, and now Eden knew what it was in his look
that she had found so disturbing of late.
Standing against the black chimney, with the sky behind and blue shadows
before, they looked like one of Hedger's own paintings of that period;
two figures, one white and one dark, and nothing whatever distinguishable
about them but that they were male and female. The faces were lost, the
contours blurred in shadow, but the figures were a man and a woman, and
that was their whole concern and their mysterious beauty,—it was the
rhythm in which they moved, at last, along the roof and down into the
dark hole; he first, drawing her gently after him. She came down very
slowly. The excitement and bravado and uncertainty of that long day and
night seemed all at once to tell upon her. When his feet were on the
carpet and he reached up to lift her down, she twined her arms about his
neck as after a long separation, and turned her face to him, and her
lips, with their perfume of youth and passion.
* * * * *
One Saturday afternoon Hedger was sitting in the window of Eden's music
room. They had been watching the pigeons come wheeling over the roofs
from their unknown feeding grounds.
"Why," said Eden suddenly, "don't we fix those big doors into your studio
so they will open? Then, if I want you, I won't have to go through the
hall. That illustrator is loafing about a good deal of late."
"I'll open them, if you wish. The bolt is on your side."
"Isn't there one on yours, too?"
"No. I believe a man lived there for years before I came in, and the
nurse used to have these rooms herself. Naturally, the lock was on
the lady's side."
Eden laughed and began to examine the bolt. "It's all stuck up with
paint." Looking about, her eye lighted upon a bronze Buddah which was
one of the nurse's treasures. Taking him by his head, she struck the bolt
a blow with his squatting posteriors. The two doors creaked, sagged, and
swung weakly inward a little way, as if they were too old for such
escapades. Eden tossed the heavy idol into a stuffed chair. "That's
better," she exclaimed exultantly. "So the bolts are always on the lady's
side? What a lot society takes for granted!"
Hedger laughed, sprang up and caught her arms roughly. "Whoever takes you
for granted—Did anybody, ever?"
"Everybody does. That's why I'm here. You are the only one who knows
anything about me. Now I'll have to dress if we're going out for dinner."
He lingered, keeping his hold on her. "But I won't always be the only
one, Eden Bower. I won't be the last."
"No, I suppose not," she said carelessly. "But what does that matter? You
are the first."
As a long, despairing whine broke in the warm stillness, they drew apart.
Caesar, lying on his bed in the dark corner, had lifted his head at this
invasion of sunlight, and realized that the side of his room was broken
open, and his whole world shattered by change. There stood his master and
this woman, laughing at him! The woman was pulling the long black hair of
this mightiest of men, who bowed his head and permitted it.
In time they quarrelled, of course, and about an abstraction,—as young
people often do, as mature people almost never do. Eden came in late one
afternoon. She had been with some of her musical friends to lunch at
Burton Ives' studio, and she began telling Hedger about its splendours.
He listened a moment and then threw down his brushes. "I know exactly
what it's like," he said impatiently. "A very good department-store
conception of a studio. It's one of the show places."
"Well, it's gorgeous, and he said I could bring you to see him. The boys
tell me he's awfully kind about giving people a lift, and you might get
something out of it."
Hedger started up and pushed his canvas out of the way. "What could I
possibly get from Burton Ives? He's almost the worst painter in the
world; the stupidest, I mean."
Eden was annoyed. Burton Ives had been very nice to her and had begged
her to sit for him. "You must admit that he's a very successful one,"
she said coldly.
"Of course he is! Anybody can be successful who will do that sort of
thing. I wouldn't paint his pictures for all the money in New York."
"Well, I saw a lot of them, and I think they are beautiful."
Hedger bowed stiffly.
"What's the use of being a great painter if nobody knows about you?" Eden
went on persuasively. "Why don't you paint the kind of pictures people
can understand, and then, after you're successful, do whatever you like?"
"As I look at it," said Hedger brusquely, "I am successful."
Eden glanced about. "Well, I don't see any evidences of it," she said,
biting her lip. "He has a Japanese servant and a wine cellar, and keeps a
Hedger melted a little. "My dear, I have the most expensive luxury in the
world, and I am much more extravagant than Burton Ives, for I work to
please nobody but myself."
"You mean you could make money and don't? That you don't try to get a
"Exactly. A public only wants what has been done over and over. I'm
painting for painters,—who haven't been born."
"What would you do if I brought Mr. Ives down here to see your things?"
"Well, for God's sake, don't! Before he left I'd probably tell him what I
thought of him."
Eden rose. "I give you up. You know very well there's only one kind of
success that's real."
"Yes, but it's not the kind you mean. So you've been thinking me a scrub
painter, who needs a helping hand from some fashionable studio man? What
the devil have you had anything to do with me for, then?"
"There's no use talking to you," said Eden walking slowly toward the
door. "I've been trying to pull wires for you all afternoon, and this is
what it comes to." She had expected that the tidings of a prospective
call from the great man would be received very differently, and had been
thinking as she came home in the stage how, as with a magic wand, she
might gild Hedger's future, float him out of his dark hole on a tide of
prosperity, see his name in the papers and his pictures in the windows on
Hedger mechanically snapped the midsummer leash on Caesar's collar and
they ran downstairs and hurried through Sullivan Street off toward the
river. He wanted to be among rough, honest people, to get down where the
big drays bumped over stone paving blocks and the men wore corduroy
trowsers and kept their shirts open at the neck. He stopped for a drink
in one of the sagging bar-rooms on the water front. He had never in his
life been so deeply wounded; he did not know he could be so hurt. He had
told this girl all his secrets. On the roof, in these warm, heavy summer
nights, with her hands locked in his, he had been able to explain all his
misty ideas about an unborn art the world was waiting for; had been able
to explain them better than he had ever done to himself. And she had
looked away to the chattels of this uptown studio and coveted them for
him! To her he was only an unsuccessful Burton Ives.
Then why, as he had put it to her, did she take up with him? Young,
beautiful, talented as she was, why had she wasted herself on a scrub?
Pity? Hardly; she wasn't sentimental. There was no explaining her. But in
this passion that had seemed so fearless and so fated to be, his own
position now looked to him ridiculous; a poor dauber without money or
fame,—it was her caprice to load him with favours. Hedger ground his
teeth so loud that his dog, trotting beside him, heard him and looked up.
While they were having supper at the oyster-man's, he planned his escape.
Whenever he saw her again, everything he had told her, that he should
never have told any one, would come back to him; ideas he had never
whispered even to the painter whom he worshipped and had gone all the way
to France to see. To her they must seem his apology for not having horses
and a valet, or merely the puerile boastfulness of a weak man. Yet if she
slipped the bolt tonight and came through the doors and said, "Oh, weak
man, I belong to you!" what could he do? That was the danger. He would
catch the train out to Long Beach tonight, and tomorrow he would go on to
the north end of Long Island, where an old friend of his had a summer
studio among the sand dunes. He would stay until things came right in his
mind. And she could find a smart painter, or take her punishment.
When he went home, Eden's room was dark; she was dining out somewhere. He
threw his things into a hold-all he had carried about the world with him,
strapped up some colours and canvases, and ran downstairs.
Five days later Hedger was a restless passenger on a dirty, crowded
Sunday train, coming back to town. Of course he saw now how unreasonable
he had been in expecting a Huntington girl to know anything about
pictures; here was a whole continent full of people who knew nothing
about pictures and he didn't hold it against them. What had such things
to do with him and Eden Bower? When he lay out on the dunes, watching the
moon come up out of the sea, it had seemed to him that there was no
wonder in the world like the wonder of Eden Bower. He was going back to
her because she was older than art, because she was the most overwhelming
thing that had ever come into his life.
He had written her yesterday, begging her to be at home this evening,
telling her that he was contrite, and wretched enough.
Now that he was on his way to her, his stronger feeling unaccountably
changed to a mood that was playful and tender. He wanted to share
everything with her, even the most trivial things. He wanted to tell her
about the people on the train, coming back tired from their holiday with
bunches of wilted flowers and dirty daisies; to tell her that the
fish-man, to whom she had often sent him for lobsters, was among the
passengers, disguised in a silk shirt and a spotted tie, and how his wife
looked exactly like a fish, even to her eyes, on which cataracts were
forming. He could tell her, too, that he hadn't as much as unstrapped his
canvases,—that ought to convince her.
In those days passengers from Long Island came into New York by ferry.
Hedger had to be quick about getting his dog out of the express car in
order to catch the first boat. The East River, and the bridges, and the
city to the west, were burning in the conflagration of the sunset; there
was that great home-coming reach of evening in the air.
The car changes from Thirty-fourth Street were too many and too
perplexing; for the first time in his life Hedger took a hansom cab for
Washington Square. Caesar sat bolt upright on the worn leather cushion
beside him, and they jogged off, looking down on the rest of the world.
It was twilight when they drove down lower Fifth Avenue into the Square,
and through the Arch behind them were the two long rows of pale violet
lights that used to bloom so beautifully against the grey stone and
asphalt. Here and yonder about the Square hung globes that shed a
radiance not unlike the blue mists of evening, emerging softly when
daylight died, as the stars emerged in the thin blue sky. Under them the
sharp shadows of the trees fell on the cracked pavement and the sleeping
grass. The first stars and the first lights were growing silver against
the gradual darkening, when Hedger paid his driver and went into the
house,—which, thank God, was still there! On the hall table lay his
letter of yesterday, unopened.
He went upstairs with every sort of fear and every sort of hope clutching
at his heart; it was as if tigers were tearing him. Why was there no gas
burning in the top hall? He found matches and the gas bracket. He
knocked, but got no answer; nobody was there. Before his own door were
exactly five bottles of milk, standing in a row. The milk-boy had taken
spiteful pleasure in thus reminding him that he forgot to stop his order.
Hedger went down to the basement; it, too, was dark. The janitress was
taking her evening airing on the basement steps. She sat waving a
palm-leaf fan majestically, her dirty calico dress open at the neck. She
told him at once that there had been "changes." Miss Bower's room was to
let again, and the piano would go tomorrow. Yes, she left yesterday, she
sailed for Europe with friends from Chicago. They arrived on Friday,
heralded by many telegrams. Very rich people they were said to be,
though the man had refused to pay the nurse a month's rent in lieu of
notice,—which would have been only right, as the young lady had agreed
to take the rooms until October. Mrs. Foley had observed, too, that he
didn't overpay her or Willy for their trouble, and a great deal of
trouble they had been put to, certainly. Yes, the young lady was very
pleasant, but the nurse said there were rings on the mahogany table where
she had put tumblers and wine glasses. It was just as well she was gone.
The Chicago man was uppish in his ways, but not much to look at. She
supposed he had poor health, for there was nothing to him inside his
Hedger went slowly up the stairs—never had they seemed so long, or his
legs so heavy. The upper floor was emptiness and silence. He unlocked
his room, lit the gas, and opened the windows. When he went to put his
coat in the closet, he found, hanging among his clothes, a pale,
flesh-tinted dressing gown he had liked to see her wear, with a
perfume—oh, a perfume that was still Eden Bower! He shut the door behind
him and there, in the dark, for a moment he lost his manliness. It was
when he held this garment to him that he found a letter in the pocket.
The note was written with a lead pencil, in haste: She was sorry that he
was angry, but she still didn't know just what she had done. She had
thought Mr. Ives would be useful to him; she guessed he was too proud.
She wanted awfully to see him again, but Fate came knocking at her door
after he had left her. She believed in Fate. She would never forget him,
and she knew he would become the greatest painter in the world. Now she
must pack. She hoped he wouldn't mind her leaving the dressing gown;
somehow, she could never wear it again.
After Hedger read this, standing under the gas, he went back into the
closet and knelt down before the wall; the knot hole had been plugged up
with a ball of wet paper,—the same blue note-paper on which her letter
He was hard hit. Tonight he had to bear the loneliness of a whole
lifetime. Knowing himself so well, he could hardly believe that such a
thing had ever happened to him, that such a woman had lain happy and
contented in his arms. And now it was over. He turned out the light and
sat down on his painter's stool before the big window. Caesar, on the
floor beside him, rested his head on his master's knee. We must leave
Hedger thus, sitting in his tank with his dog, looking up at the stars.
* * * * *
COMING, APHRODITE! This legend, in electric lights over the Lexington
Opera House, had long announced the return of Eden Bower to New York
after years of spectacular success in Paris. She came at last, under the
management of an American Opera Company, but bringing her own chef
One bright December afternoon Eden Bower was going down Fifth Avenue in
her car, on the way to her broker, in Williams Street. Her thoughts were
entirely upon stocks,—Cerro de Pasco, and how much she should buy of
it,—when she suddenly looked up and realized that she was skirting
Washington Square. She had not seen the place since she rolled out of it
in an old-fashioned four-wheeler to seek her fortune, eighteen years ago.
"Arrêtez, Alphonse. Attendez moi," she called, and opened the door
before he could reach it. The children who were streaking over the
asphalt on roller skates saw a lady in a long fur coat, and short,
high-heeled shoes, alight from a French car and pace slowly about the
Square, holding her muff to her chin. This spot, at least, had changed
very little, she reflected; the same trees, the same fountain, the white
arch, and over yonder, Garibaldi, drawing the sword for freedom. There,
just opposite her, was the old red brick house.
"Yes, that is the place," she was thinking. "I can smell the carpets now,
and the dog,—what was his name? That grubby bathroom at the end of the
hall, and that dreadful Hedger—still, there was something about him, you
know—" She glanced up and blinked against the sun. From somewhere in the
crowded quarter south of the Square a flock of pigeons rose, wheeling
quickly upward into the brilliant blue sky. She threw back her head,
pressed her muff closer to her chin, and watched them with a smile of
amazement and delight. So they still rose, out of all that dirt and noise
and squalor, fleet and silvery, just as they used to rise that summer
when she was twenty and went up in a balloon on Coney Island!
Alphonse opened the door and tucked her robes about her. All the way down
town her mind wandered from Cerro de Pasco, and she kept smiling and
looking up at the sky.
When she had finished her business with the broker, she asked him to look
in the telephone book for the address of M. Gaston Jules, the picture
dealer, and slipped the paper on which he wrote it into her glove. It was
five o'clock when she reached the French Galleries, as they were called.
On entering she gave the attendant her card, asking him to take it to M.
Jules. The dealer appeared very promptly and begged her to come into his
private office, where he pushed a great chair toward his desk for her and
signalled his secretary to leave the room.
"How good your lighting is in here," she observed, glancing about. "I met
you at Simon's studio, didn't I? Oh, no! I never forget anybody who
interests me." She threw her muff on his writing table and sank into the
deep chair. "I have come to you for some information that's not in my
line. Do you know anything about an American painter named Hedger?"
He took the seat opposite her. "Don Hedger? But, certainly! There are
some very interesting things of his in an exhibition at V——'s. If you
would care to—"
She held up her hand. "No, no. I've no time to go to exhibitions. Is he a
man of any importance?"
"Certainly. He is one of the first men among the moderns. That is to say,
among the very moderns. He is always coming up with something different.
He often exhibits in Paris, you must have seen—"
"No, I tell you I don't go to exhibitions. Has he had great success? That
is what I want to know."
M. Jules pulled at his short grey moustache. "But, Madame, there are many
kinds of success," he began cautiously.
Madame gave a dry laugh. "Yes, so he used to say. We once quarrelled on
that issue. And how would you define his particular kind?"
M. Jules grew thoughtful. "He is a great name with all the young men, and
he is decidedly an influence in art. But one can't definitely place a man
who is original, erratic, and who is changing all the time."
She cut him short. "Is he much talked about at home? In Paris, I mean?
Thanks. That's all I want to know." She rose and began buttoning her
coat. "One doesn't like to have been an utter fool, even at twenty."
"Mais, non!" M. Jules handed her her muff with a quick, sympathetic
glance. He followed her out through the carpeted show-room, now closed to
the public and draped in cheesecloth, and put her into her car with words
appreciative of the honour she had done him in calling.
Leaning back in the cushions, Eden Bower closed her eyes, and her face,
as the street lamps flashed their ugly orange light upon it, became
hard and settled, like a plaster cast; so a sail, that has been filled by
a strong breeze, behaves when the wind suddenly dies. Tomorrow night the
wind would blow again, and this mask would be the golden face of
Aphrodite. But a "big" career takes its toll, even with the best of luck.
The Diamond Mine
I first became aware that Cressida Garnet was on board when I saw young
men with cameras going up to the boat deck. In that exposed spot she was
good-naturedly posing for them—amid fluttering lavender scarfs—wearing
a most unseaworthy hat, her broad, vigorous face wreathed in smiles. She
was too much an American not to believe in publicity. All advertising
was good. If it was good for breakfast foods, it was good for prime
donna,—especially for a prima donna who would never be any younger and
who had just announced her intention of marrying a fourth time.
Only a few days before, when I was lunching with some friends at
Sherry's, I had seen Jerome Brown come in with several younger men,
looking so pleased and prosperous that I exclaimed upon it.
"His affairs," some one explained, "are looking up. He's going to marry
Cressida Garnet. Nobody believed it at first, but since she confirms it
he's getting all sorts of credit. That woman's a diamond mine."
If there was ever a man who needed a diamond mine at hand, immediately
convenient, it was Jerome Brown. But as an old friend of Cressida Garnet,
I was sorry to hear that mining operations were to be begun again.
I had been away from New York and had not seen Cressida for a year; now I
paused on the gangplank to note how very like herself she still was, and
with what undiminished zeal she went about even the most trifling things
that pertained to her profession. From that distance I could recognize
her "carrying" smile, and even what, in Columbus, we used to call "the
At the foot of the stairway leading up to the boat deck stood two of the
factors in Cressida's destiny. One of them was her sister, Miss Julia; a
woman of fifty with a relaxed, mournful face, an ageing skin that browned
slowly, like meerchaum, and the unmistakable "look" by which one knew a
Garnet. Beside her, pointedly ignoring her, smoking a cigarette while he
ran over the passenger list with supercilious almond eyes, stood a youth
in a pink shirt and a green plush hat, holding a French bull-dog on the
leash. This was "Horace," Cressida's only son. He, at any rate, had not
the Garnet look. He was rich and ruddy, indolent and insolent, with soft
oval cheeks and the blooming complexion of twenty-two. There was the
beginning of a silky shadow on his upper lip. He seemed like a ripe fruit
grown out of a rich soil; "oriental," his mother called his peculiar
lusciousness. His aunt's restless and aggrieved glance kept flecking him
from the side, but the two were as motionless as the bouledogue,
standing there on his bench legs and surveying his travelling basket with
loathing. They were waiting, in constrained immobility, for Cressida to
descend and reanimate them,—will them to do or to be something. Forward,
by the rail, I saw the stooped, eager back for which I was unconsciously
looking: Miletus Poppas, the Greek Jew, Cressida's accompanist and
shadow. We were all there, I thought with a smile, except Jerome Brown.
The first member of Cressida's party with whom I had speech was Mr.
Poppas. When we were two hours out I came upon him in the act of dropping
overboard a steamer cushion made of American flags. Cressida never
sailed, I think, that one of these vivid comforts of travel did not reach
her at the dock. Poppas recognized me just as the striped object left his
hand. He was standing with his arm still extended over the rail, his
fingers contemptuously sprung back. "Lest we forget!" he said with a
shrug. "Does Madame Cressida know we are to have the pleasure of your
company for this voyage?" He spoke deliberate, grammatical English—he
despised the American rendering of the language—but there was an
indescribably foreign quality in his voice,—a something muted; and
though he aspirated his "th's" with such conscientious thoroughness,
there was always the thud of a "d" in them. Poppas stood before me in a
short, tightly buttoned grey coat and cap, exactly the colour of his
greyish skin and hair and waxed moustache; a monocle on a very wide black
ribbon dangled over his chest. As to his age, I could not offer a
conjecture. In the twelve years I had known his thin lupine face behind
Cressida's shoulder, it had not changed. I was used to his cold,
supercilious manner, to his alarming, deep-set eyes,—very close
together, in colour a yellowish green, and always gleaming with something
like defeated fury, as if he were actually on the point of having it out
with you, or with the world, at last.
I asked him if Cressida had engagements in London.
"Quite so; the Manchester Festival, some concerts at Queen's Hall, and
the Opera at Covent Garden; a rather special production of the operas
of Mozart. That she can still do quite well,—which is not at all, of
course, what we might have expected, and only goes to show that our
Madame Cressida is now, as always, a charming exception to rules."
Poppas' tone about his client was consistently patronizing, and he was
always trying to draw one into a conspiracy of two, based on a mutual
understanding of her shortcomings.
I approached him on the one subject I could think of which was more
personal than his usefulness to Cressida, and asked him whether he still
suffered from facial neuralgia as much as he had done in former years,
and whether he was therefore dreading London, where the climate used to
be so bad for him.
"And is still," he caught me up, "And is still! For me to go to London is
martyrdom, chère Madame. In New York it is bad enough, but in London it
is the auto da fé, nothing less. My nervous system is exotic in any
country washed by the Atlantic ocean, and it shivers like a little
hairless dog from Mexico. It never relaxes. I think I have told you about
my favourite city in the middle of Asia, la sainte Asie, where the
rainfall is absolutely nil, and you are protected on every side by
hundreds of metres of warm, dry sand. I was there when I was a child
once, and it is still my intention to retire there when I have finished
with all this. I would be there now, n-ow-ow," his voice rose
querulously, "if Madame Cressida did not imagine that she needs me,—and
her fancies, you know," he flourished his hands, "one gives in to them.
In humouring her caprices you and I have already played some together."
We were approaching Cressida's deck chairs, ranged under the open windows
of her stateroom. She was already recumbent, swathed in lavender scarfs
and wearing purple orchids—doubtless from Jerome Brown. At her left,
Horace had settled down to a French novel, and Julia Garnet, at her
right, was complainingly regarding the grey horizon. On seeing me,
Cressida struggled under her fur-lined robes and got to her feet,—which
was more than Horace or Miss Julia managed to do. Miss Julia, as I could
have foretold, was not pleased. All the Garnets had an awkward manner
with me. Whether it was that I reminded them of things they wished to
forget, or whether they thought I esteemed Cressida too highly and the
rest of them too lightly, I do not know; but my appearance upon their
scene always put them greatly on their dignity. After Horace had offered
me his chair and Miss Julia had said doubtfully that she thought I was
looking rather better than when she last saw me, Cressida took my arm and
walked me off toward the stern.
"Do you know, Carrie, I half wondered whether I shouldn't find you here,
or in London, because you always turn up at critical moments in my life."
She pressed my arm confidentially, and I felt that she was once more
wrought up to a new purpose. I told her that I had heard some rumour of
"It's quite true, and it's all that it should be," she reassured me.
"I'll tell you about it later, and you'll see that it's a real solution.
They are against me, of course,—all except Horace. He has been such a
Horace's support, such as it was, could always be had in exchange for his
mother's signature, I suspected. The pale May day had turned bleak and
chilly, and we sat down by an open hatchway which emitted warm air from
somewhere below. At this close range I studied Cressida's face, and felt
reassured of her unabated vitality; the old force of will was still
there, and with it her characteristic optimism, the old hope of a
"You have been in Columbus lately?" she was saying. "No, you needn't tell
me about it," with a sigh. "Why is it, Caroline, that there is so little
of my life I would be willing to live over again? So little that I can
even think of without depression. Yet I've really not such a bad
conscience. It may mean that I still belong to the future more than to
the past, do you think?"
My assent was not warm enough to fix her attention, and she went on
thoughtfully: "Of course, it was a bleak country and a bleak period. But
I've sometimes wondered whether the bleakness may not have been in me,
too; for it has certainly followed me. There, that is no way to talk!"
she drew herself up from a momentary attitude of dejection. "Sea air
always lets me down at first. That's why it's so good for me in the end."
"I think Julia always lets you down, too," I said bluntly. "But perhaps
that depression works out in the same way."
Cressida laughed. "Julia is rather more depressing than Georgie, isn't
she? But it was Julia's turn. I can't come alone, and they've grown to
expect it. They haven't, either of them, much else to expect."
At this point the deck steward approached us with a blue envelope. "A
wireless for you, Madame Garnet."
Cressida put out her hand with impatience, thanked him graciously, and
with every indication of pleasure tore open the blue envelope. "It's
from Jerome Brown," she said with some confusion, as she folded the paper
small and tucked it between the buttons of her close-fitting gown,
"Something he forgot to tell me. How long shall you be in London? Good; I
want you to meet him. We shall probably be married there as soon as my
engagements are over." She rose. "Now I must write some letters. Keep two
places at your table, so that I can slip away from my party and dine with
I walked with her toward her chair, in which Mr. Poppas was now
reclining. He indicated his readiness to rise, but she shook her head and
entered the door of her deck suite. As she passed him, his eye went over
her with assurance until it rested upon the folded bit of blue paper in
her corsage. He must have seen the original rectangle in the steward's
hand; having found it again, he dropped back between Horace and Miss
Julia, whom I think he disliked no more than he did the rest of the
world. He liked Julia quite as well as he liked me, and he liked me quite
as well as he liked any of the women to whom he would be fitfully
agreeable upon the voyage. Once or twice, during each crossing, he did
his best and made himself very charming indeed, to keep his hand in,—for
the same reason that he kept a dummy keyboard in his stateroom, somewhere
down in the bowels of the boat. He practised all the small economies;
paid the minimum rate, and never took a deck chair, because, as Horace
was usually in the cardroom, he could sit in Horace's.
The three of them lay staring at the swell which was steadily growing
heavier. Both men had covered themselves with rugs, after dutifully
bundling up Miss Julia. As I walked back and forth on the deck, I was
struck by their various degrees of in-expressiveness. Opaque brown eyes,
almond-shaped and only half open; wolfish green eyes, close-set and
always doing something, with a crooked gleam boring in this direction or
in that; watery grey eyes, like the thick edges of broken skylight glass:
I would have given a great deal to know what was going on behind each
pair of them.
These three were sitting there in a row because they were all woven into
the pattern of one large and rather splendid life. Each had a bond, and
each had a grievance. If they could have their will, what would they do
with the generous, credulous creature who nourished them, I wondered? How
deep a humiliation would each egotism exact? They would scarcely have
harmed her in fortune or in person (though I think Miss Julia looked
forward to the day when Cressida would "break" and could be mourned
over),—but the fire at which she warmed herself, the little secret
hope,—the illusion, ridiculous or sublime, which kept her going,—that
they would have stamped out on the instant, with the whole Garnet pack
behind them to make extinction sure. All, except, perhaps, Miletus
Poppas. He was a vulture of the vulture race, and he had the beak of one.
But I always felt that if ever he had her thus at his mercy,—if ever he
came upon the softness that was hidden under so much hardness, the warm
credulity under a life so dated and scheduled and "reported" and
generally exposed,—he would hold his hand and spare.
The weather grew steadily rougher. Miss Julia at last plucked Poppas by
the sleeve and indicated that she wished to be released from her
wrappings. When she disappeared, there seemed to be every reason to hope
that she might be off the scene for awhile. As Cressida said, if she had
not brought Julia, she would have had to bring Georgie, or some other
Garnet. Cressida's family was like that of the unpopular Prince of
Wales, of whom, when he died, some wag wrote:
If it had been his brother,
Better him than another.
If it had been his sister,
No one would have missed her.
Miss Julia was dampening enough, but Miss Georgie was aggressive and
intrusive. She was out to prove to the world, and more especially to
Ohio, that all the Garnets were as like Cressida as two peas. Both
sisters were club-women, social service workers, and directors in musical
societies, and they were continually travelling up and down the Middle
West to preside at meetings or to deliver addresses. They reminded one of
two sombre, bumping electrics, rolling about with no visible means of
locomotion, always running out of power and lying beached in some
inconvenient spot until they received a check or a suggestion from
Cressy. I was only too well acquainted with the strained, anxious
expression that the sight of their handwriting brought to Cressida's face
when she ran over her morning mail at breakfast. She usually put their
letters by to read "when she was feeling up to it" and hastened to open
others which might possibly contain something gracious or pleasant.
Sometimes these family unburdenings lay about unread for several days.
Any other letters would have got themselves lost, but these bulky
epistles, never properly fitted to their envelopes, seemed immune to
mischance and unfailingly disgorged to Cressida long explanations as to
why her sisters had to do and to have certain things precisely upon her
account and because she was so much a public personage.
The truth was that all the Garnets, and particularly her two sisters,
were consumed by an habitual, bilious, unenterprising envy of Cressy.
They never forgot that, no matter what she did for them or how far she
dragged them about the world with her, she would never take one of them
to live with her in her Tenth Street house in New York. They thought that
was the thing they most wanted. But what they wanted, in the last
analysis, was to be Cressida. For twenty years she had been plunged in
struggle; fighting for her life at first, then for a beginning, for
growth, and at last for eminence and perfection; fighting in the dark,
and afterward in the light,—which, with her bad preparation, and with
her uninspired youth already behind her, took even more courage. During
those twenty years the Garnets had been comfortable and indolent and
vastly self-satisfied; and now they expected Cressida to make them equal
sharers in the finer rewards of her struggle. When her brother Buchanan
told me he thought Cressida ought "to make herself one of them," he
stated the converse of what he meant. They coveted the qualities which
had made her success, as well as the benefits which came from it. More
than her furs or her fame or her fortune, they wanted her personal
effectiveness, her brighter glow and stronger will to live.
"Sometimes," I have heard Cressida say, looking up from a bunch of those
sloppily written letters, "sometimes I get discouraged."
For several days the rough weather kept Miss Julia cloistered in
Cressida's deck suite with the maid, Luisa, who confided to me that the
Signorina Garnet was "dificile." After dinner I usually found Cressida
unincumbered, as Horace was always in the cardroom and Mr. Poppas either
nursed his neuralgia or went through the exercise of making himself
interesting to some one of the young women on board. One evening, the
third night out, when the sea was comparatively quiet and the sky was
full of broken black clouds, silvered by the moon at their ragged edges,
Cressida talked to me about Jerome Brown.
I had known each of her former husbands. The first one, Charley Wilton,
Horace's father, was my cousin. He was organist in a church in Columbus,
and Cressida married him when she was nineteen. He died of tuberculosis
two years after Horace was born. Cressida nursed him through a long
illness and made the living besides. Her courage during the three years
of her first marriage was fine enough to foreshadow her future to any
discerning eye, and it had made me feel that she deserved any number of
chances at marital happiness. There had, of course, been a particular
reason for each subsequent experiment, and a sufficiently alluring
promise of success. Her motives, in the case of Jerome Brown, seemed to
me more vague and less convincing than those which she had explained to
me on former occasions.
"It's nothing hasty," she assured me. "It's been coming on for several
years. He has never pushed me, but he was always there—some one to count
on. Even when I used to meet him at the Whitings, while I was still
singing at the Metropolitan, I always felt that he was different from the
others; that if I were in straits of any kind, I could call on him. You
can't know what that feeling means to me, Carrie. If you look back,
you'll see it's something I've never had."
I admitted that, in so far as I knew, she had never been much addicted to
leaning on people.
"I've never had any one to lean on," she said with a short laugh. Then
she went on, quite seriously: "Somehow, my relations with people always
become business relations in the end. I suppose it's because,—except for
a sort of professional personality, which I've had to get, just as I've
had to get so many other things,—I've not very much that's personal to
give people. I've had to give too much else. I've had to try too hard for
people who wouldn't try at all."
"Which," I put in firmly, "has done them no good, and has robbed the
people who really cared about you."
"By making me grubby, you mean?"
"By making you anxious and distracted so much of the time; empty."
She nodded mournfully. "Yes, I know. You used to warn me. Well,
there's not one of my brothers and sisters who does not feel that I
carried off the family success, just as I might have carried off the
family silver,—if there'd been any! They take the view that there were
just so many prizes in the bag; I reached in and took them, so there were
none left for the others. At my age, that's a dismal truth to waken up
Cressida reached for my hand and held it a moment, as if she needed
courage to face the facts in her case. "When one remembers one's first
success; how one hoped to go home like a Christmas tree full of
presents—How much one learns in a life-time! That year when Horace was a
baby and Charley was dying, and I was touring the West with the Williams
band, it was my feeling about my own people that made me go at all. Why I
didn't drop myself into one of those muddy rivers, or turn on the gas in
one of those dirty hotel rooms, I don't know to this day. At twenty-two
you must hope for something more than to be able to bury your husband
decently, and what I hoped for was to make my family happy. It was the
same afterward in Germany. A young woman must live for human people.
Horace wasn't enough. I might have had lovers, of course. I suppose you
will say it would have been better if I had."
Though there seemed no need for me to say anything, I murmured that I
thought there were more likely to be limits to the rapacity of a lover
than to that of a discontented and envious family.
"Well," Cressida gathered herself up, "once I got out from under it all,
didn't I? And perhaps, in a milder way, such a release can come again.
You were the first person I told when I ran away with Charley, and for a
long while you were the only one who knew about Blasius Bouchalka. That
time, at least, I shook the Garnets. I wasn't distracted or empty. That
time I was all there!"
"Yes," I echoed her, "that time you were all there. It's the greatest
possible satisfaction to remember it."
"But even that," she sighed, "was nothing but lawyers and accounts in the
end—and a hurt. A hurt that has lasted. I wonder what is the matter with
The matter with Cressida was, that more than any woman I have ever known,
she appealed to the acquisitive instinct in men; but this was not easily
said, even in the brutal frankness of a long friendship.
We would probably have gone further into the Bouchalka chapter of her
life, had not Horace appeared and nervously asked us if we did not wish
to take a turn before we went inside. I pleaded indolence, but Cressida
rose and disappeared with him. Later I came upon them, standing at the
stern above the huddled steerage deck, which was by this time bathed in
moonlight, under an almost clear sky. Down there on the silvery floor,
little hillocks were scattered about under quilts and shawls; family
units, presumably,—male, female, and young. Here and there a black shawl
sat alone, nodding. They crouched submissively under the moonlight as if
it were a spell. In one of those hillocks a baby was crying, but the
sound was faint and thin, a slender protest which aroused no response.
Everything was so still that I could hear snatches of the low talk
between my friends. Cressida's voice was deep and entreating. She was
remonstrating with Horace about his losses at bridge, begging him to keep
away from the cardroom.
"But what else is there to do on a trip like this, my Lady?" he
expostulated, tossing his spark of a cigarette-end overboard. "What is
there, now, to do?"
"Oh, Horace!" she murmured, "how can you be so? If I were twenty-two, and
a boy, with some one to back me—"
Horace drew his shoulders together and buttoned his top-coat. "Oh, I've
not your energy, Mother dear. We make no secret of that. I am as I am. I
didn't ask to be born into this charming world."
To this gallant speech Cressida made no answer. She stood with her hand
on the rail and her head bent forward, as if she had lost herself in
thought. The ends of her scarf, lifted by the breeze, fluttered upward,
almost transparent in the argent light. Presently she turned away,—as
if she had been alone and were leaving only the night sea behind
her,—and walked slowly forward; a strong, solitary figure on the white
deck, the smoke-like scarf twisting and climbing and falling back upon
itself in the light over her head. She reached the door of her stateroom
and disappeared. Yes, she was a Garnet, but she was also Cressida; and
she had done what she had done.
My first recollections of Cressida Garnet have to do with the Columbus
Public Schools; a little girl with sunny brown hair and eager bright
eyes, looking anxiously at the teacher and reciting the names and
dates of the Presidents: "James Buchanan, 1857-1861; Abraham Lincoln,
1861-1865"; etc. Her family came from North Carolina, and they had that
to feel superior about before they had Cressy. The Garnet "look," indeed,
though based upon a strong family resemblance, was nothing more than the
restless, preoccupied expression of an inflamed sense of importance. The
father was a Democrat, in the sense that other men were doctors or
lawyers. He scratched up some sort of poor living for his family behind
office windows inscribed with the words "Real Estate. Insurance.
Investments." But it was his political faith that, in a Republican
community, gave him his feeling of eminence and originality. The Garnet
children were all in school then, scattered along from the first grade
to the ninth. In almost any room of our school building you might chance
to enter, you saw the self-conscious little face of one or another of
them. They were restrained, uncomfortable children, not frankly boastful,
but insinuating, and somehow forever demanding special consideration and
holding grudges against teachers and classmates who did not show it them;
all but Cressida, who was naturally as sunny and open as a May morning.
It was no wonder that Cressy ran away with young Charley Wilton, who
hadn't a shabby thing about him except his health. He was her first
music teacher, the choir-master of the church in which she sang. Charley
was very handsome; the "romantic" son of an old, impoverished family. He
had refused to go into a good business with his uncles and had gone
abroad to study music when that was an extravagant and picturesque thing
for an Ohio boy to do. His letters home were handed round among the
members of his own family and of other families equally conservative.
Indeed, Charley and what his mother called "his music" were the romantic
expression of a considerable group of people; young cousins and old aunts
and quiet-dwelling neighbours, allied by the amity of several
generations. Nobody was properly married in our part of Columbus unless
Charley Wilton, and no other, played the wedding march. The old ladies of
the First Church used to say that he "hovered over the keys like a
spirit." At nineteen Cressida was beautiful enough to turn a much harder
head than the pale, ethereal one Charley Wilton bent above the organ.
That the chapter which began so gracefully ran on into such a stretch of
grim, hard prose, was simply Cressida's relentless bad luck. In her
undertakings, in whatever she could lay hold of with her two hands, she
was successful; but whatever happened to her was almost sure to be bad.
Her family, her husbands, her son, would have crushed any other woman I
have ever known. Cressida lived, more than most of us, "for others"; and
what she seemed to promote among her beneficiaries was indolence and envy
and discord—even dishonesty and turpitude.
Her sisters were fond of saying—at club luncheons—that Cressida had
remained "untouched by the breath of scandal," which was not strictly
true. There were captious people who objected to her long and close
association with Miletus Poppas. Her second husband, Ransome McChord, the
foreign representative of the great McChord Harvester Company, whom she
married in Germany, had so persistently objected to Poppas that she was
eventually forced to choose between them. Any one who knew her well could
easily understand why she chose Poppas.
While her actual self was the least changed, the least modified by
experience that it would be possible to imagine, there had been,
professionally, two Cressida Garnets; the big handsome girl, already
a "popular favourite" of the concert stage, who took with her to Germany
the raw material of a great voice;—and the accomplished artist who came
back. The singer that returned was largely the work of Miletus Poppas.
Cressida had at least known what she needed, hunted for it, found it, and
held fast to it. After experimenting with a score of teachers and
accompanists, she settled down to work her problem out with Poppas. Other
coaches came and went—she was always trying new ones—but Poppas
survived them all. Cressida was not musically intelligent; she never
became so. Who does not remember the countless rehearsals which were
necessary before she first sang Isolde in Berlin; the disgust of the
conductor, the sullenness of the tenor, the rages of the blonde
teufelin, boiling with the impatience of youth and genius, who sang her
Brangaena? Everything but her driving power Cressida had to get from
Poppas was, in his way, quite as incomplete as his pupil. He possessed a
great many valuable things for which there is no market; intuitions,
discrimination, imagination, a whole twilight world of intentions and
shadowy beginnings which were dark to Cressida. I remember that when
"Trilby" was published she fell into a fright and said such books ought
to be prohibited by law; which gave me an intimation of what their
relationship had actually become.
Poppas was indispensable to her. He was like a book in which she had
written down more about herself than she could possibly remember—and
it was information that she might need at any moment. He was the one
person who knew her absolutely and who saw into the bottom of her grief.
An artist's saddest secrets are those that have to do with his artistry.
Poppas knew all the simple things that were so desperately hard for
Cressida, all the difficult things in which she could count on herself;
her stupidities and inconsistencies, the chiaroscuro of the voice itself
and what could be expected from the mind somewhat mismated with it. He
knew where she was sound and where she was mended. With him she could
share the depressing knowledge of what a wretchedly faulty thing any
productive faculty is.
But if Poppas was necessary to her career, she was his career. By the
time Cressida left the Metropolitan Opera Company, Poppas was a rich
man. He had always received a retaining fee and a percentage of her
salary,—and he was a man of simple habits. Her liberality with Poppas
was one of the weapons that Horace and the Garnets used against Cressida,
and it was a point in the argument by which they justified to themselves
their rapacity. Whatever they didn't get, they told themselves, Poppas
would. What they got, therefore, they were only saving from Poppas. The
Greek ached a good deal at the general pillage, and Cressida's
conciliatory methods with her family made him sarcastic and spiteful. But
he had to make terms, somehow, with the Garnets and Horace, and with the
husband, if there happened to be one. He sometimes reminded them, when
they fell to wrangling, that they must not, after all, overturn the boat
under them, and that it would be better to stop just before they drove
her wild than just after. As he was the only one among them who
understood the sources of her fortune,—and they knew it,—he was able,
when it came to a general set-to, to proclaim sanctuary for the goose
that laid the golden eggs.
That Poppas had caused the break between Cressida and McChord was another
stick her sisters held over her. They pretended to understand perfectly,
and were always explaining what they termed her "separation"; but they
let Cressida know that it cast a shadow over her family and took a good
deal of living down.
A beautiful soundness of body, a seemingly exhaustless vitality, and a
certain "squareness" of character as well as of mind, gave Cressida
Garnet earning powers that were exceptional even in her lavishly rewarded
profession. Managers chose her over the heads of singers much more
gifted, because she was so sane, so conscientious, and above all, because
she was so sure. Her efficiency was like a beacon to lightly anchored
men, and in the intervals between her marriages she had as many suitors
as Penelope. Whatever else they saw in her at first, her competency so
impressed and delighted them that they gradually lost sight of everything
else. Her sterling character was the subject of her story. Once, as she
said, she very nearly escaped her destiny. With Blasius Bouchalka she
became almost another woman, but not quite. Her "principles," or his lack
of them, drove those two apart in the end. It was of Bouchalka that we
talked upon that last voyage I ever made with Cressida Garnet, and not of
Jerome Brown. She remembered the Bohemian kindly, and since it was the
passage in her life to which she most often reverted, it is the one I
shall relate here.
Late one afternoon in the winter of 189-, Cressida and I were walking in
Central Park after the first heavy storm of the year. The snow had been
falling thickly all the night before, and all day, until about four
o'clock. Then the air grew much warmer and the sky cleared. Overhead it
was a soft, rainy blue, and to the west a smoky gold. All around the
horizon everything became misty and silvery; even the big, brutal
buildings looked like pale violet water-colours on a silver ground. Under
the elm trees along the Mall the air was purple as wisterias. The
sheep-field, toward Broadway, was smooth and white, with a thin gold wash
over it. At five o'clock the carriage came for us, but Cressida sent the
driver home to the Tenth Street house with the message that she would
dine uptown, and that Horace and Mr. Poppas were not to wait for her.
As the horses trotted away we turned up the Mall.
"I won't go indoors this evening for any one," Cressida declared. "Not
while the sky is like that. Now we will go back to the laurel wood.
They are so black, over the snow, that I could cry for joy. I don't know
when I've felt so care-free as I feel tonight. Country winter, country
stars—they always make me think of Charley Wilton."
She was singing twice a week, sometimes oftener, at the Metropolitan that
season, quite at the flood-tide of her powers, and so enmeshed in
operatic routine that to be walking in the park at an unaccustomed hour,
unattended by one of the men of her entourage, seemed adventurous. As we
strolled along the little paths among the snow banks and the bronze
laurel bushes, she kept going back to my poor young cousin, dead so long.
"Things happen out of season. That's the worst of living. It was untimely
for both of us, and yet," she sighed softly, "since he had to die, I'm
not sorry. There was one beautifully happy year, though we were so poor,
and it gave him—something! It would have been too hard if he'd had to
miss everything." (I remember her simplicity, which never changed any
more than winter or Ohio change.) "Yes," she went on, "I always feel very
tenderly about Charley. I believe I'd do the same thing right over again,
even knowing all that had to come after. If I were nineteen tonight, I'd
rather go sleigh-riding with Charley Wilton than anything else I've ever
We walked until the procession of carriages on the driveway, getting
people home to dinner, grew thin, and then we went slowly toward the
Seventh Avenue gate, still talking of Charley Wilton. We decided to dine
at a place not far away, where the only access from the street was a
narrow door, like a hole in the wall, between a tobacconist's and a
flower shop. Cressida deluded herself into believing that her incognito
was more successful in such non-descript places. She was wearing a long
sable coat, and a deep fur hat, hung with red cherries, which she had
brought from Russia. Her walk had given her a fine colour, and she
looked so much a personage that no disguise could have been wholly
The dining-rooms, frescoed with conventional Italian scenes, were built
round a court. The orchestra was playing as we entered and selected
our table. It was not a bad orchestra, and we were no sooner seated than
the first violin began to speak, to assert itself, as if it were suddenly
done with mediocrity.
"We have been recognized," Cressida said complacently. "What a good tone
he has, quite unusual. What does he look like?" She sat with her back to
The violinist was standing, directing his men with his head and with the
beak of his violin. He was a tall, gaunt young man, big-boned and rugged,
in skin-tight clothes. His high forehead had a kind of luminous pallour,
and his hair was jet black and somewhat stringy. His manner was excited
and dramatic. At the end of the number he acknowledged the applause, and
Cressida looked at him graciously over her shoulder. He swept her with a
brilliant glance and bowed again. Then I noticed his red lips and thick
"He looks as if he were poor or in trouble," Cressida said. "See how
short his sleeves are, and how he mops his face as if the least thing
upset him. This is a hard winter for musicians."
The violinist rummaged among some music piled on a chair, turning over
the sheets with flurried rapidity, as if he were searching for a lost
article of which he was in desperate need. Presently he placed some
sheets upon the piano and began vehemently to explain something to the
pianist. The pianist stared at the music doubtfully—he was a plump old
man with a rosy, bald crown, and his shiny linen and neat tie made him
look as if he were on his way to a party. The violinist bent over him,
suggesting rhythms with his shoulders and running his bony finger up and
down the pages. When he stepped back to his place, I noticed that the
other players sat at ease, without raising their instruments.
"He is going to try something unusual," I commented. "It looks as if it
might be manuscript."
It was something, at all events, that neither of us had heard before,
though it was very much in the manner of the later Russian composers who
were just beginning to be heard in New York. The young man made a
brilliant dash of it, despite a lagging, scrambling accompaniment by the
conservative pianist. This time we both applauded him vigorously and
again, as he bowed, he swept us with his eye.
The usual repertory of restaurant music followed, varied by a charming
bit from Massenet's "Manon," then little known in this country. After we
paid our check, Cressida took out one of her visiting cards and wrote
across the top of it: "We thank you for the unusual music and the
pleasure your playing has given us." She folded the card in the middle,
and asked the waiter to give it to the director of the orchestra. Pausing
at the door, while the porter dashed out to call a cab, we saw, in the
wall mirror, a pair of wild black eyes following us quite despairingly
from behind the palms at the other end of the room. Cressida observed as
we went out that the young man was probably having a hard struggle. "He
never got those clothes here, surely. They were probably made by a
country tailor in some little town in Austria. He seemed wild enough to
grab at anything, and was trying to make himself heard above the dishes,
poor fellow. There are so many like him. I wish I could help them all! I
didn't quite have the courage to send him money. His smile, when he bowed
to us, was not that of one who would take it, do you think?"
"No," I admitted, "it wasn't. He seemed to be pleading for recognition. I
don't think it was money he wanted."
A week later I came upon some curious-looking manuscript songs on the
piano in Cressida's music room. The text was in some Slavic tongue with
a French translation written underneath. Both the handwriting and the
musical script were done in a manner experienced, even distinguished. I
was looking at them when Cressida came in.
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed. "I meant to ask you to try them over. Poppas
thinks they are very interesting. They are from that young violinist,
you remember,—the one we noticed in the restaurant that evening. He sent
them with such a nice letter. His name is Blasius Bouchalka (Boú-kal-ka),
I sat down at the piano and busied myself with the manuscript, while
Cressida dashed off necessary notes and wrote checks in a large square
checkbook, six to a page. I supposed her immersed in sumptuary
preoccupations when she suddenly looked over her shoulder and said,
"Yes, that legend, Sarka, is the most interesting. Run it through a few
times and I'll try it over with you."
There was another, "Dans les ombres des fôrets tristes", which I
thought quite as beautiful. They were fine songs; very individual, and
each had that spontaneity which makes a song seem inevitable and, once
for all, "done." The accompaniments were difficult, but not unnecessarily
so; they were free from fatuous ingenuity and fine writing.
"I wish he'd indicated his tempi a little more clearly," I remarked as I
finished Sarka for the third time. "It matters, because he really has
something to say. An orchestral accompaniment would be better, I should
"Yes, he sent the orchestral arrangement. Poppas has it. It works out
beautifully,—so much colour in the instrumentation. The English horn
comes in so effectively there," she rose and indicated the passage, "just
right with the voice. I've asked him to come next Sunday, so please be
here if you can. I want to know what you think of him."
Cressida was always at home to her friends on Sunday afternoon unless she
was billed for the evening concert at the Opera House, in which case we
were sufficiently advised by the daily press. Bouchalka must have been
told to come early, for when I arrived on Sunday, at four, he and
Cressida had the music-room quite to themselves and were standing by the
piano in earnest conversation. In a few moments they were separated by
other early comers, and I led Bouchalka across the hall to the
drawing-room. The guests, as they came in, glanced at him curiously. He
wore a dark blue suit, soft and rather baggy, with a short coat, and a
high double-breasted vest with two rows of buttons coming up to the loops
of his black tie. This costume was even more foreign-looking than his
skin-tight dress clothes, but it was more becoming. He spoke hurried,
elliptical English, and very good French. All his sympathies were French
rather than German—the Czecks lean to the one culture or to the other. I
found him a fierce, a transfixing talker. His brilliant eyes, his gaunt
hands, his white, deeply-lined forehead, all entered into his speech.
I asked him whether he had not recognized Madame Garnet at once when we
entered the restaurant that evening more than a week ago.
"Mais, certainement! I hear her twice when she sings in the afternoon,
and sometimes at night for the last act. I have a friend who buys a
ticket for the first part, and he comes out and gives to me his pass-back
check, and I return for the last act. That is convenient if I am broke."
He explained the trick with amusement but without embarrassment, as if it
were a shift that we might any of us be put to.
I told him that I admired his skill with the violin, but his songs much
He threw out his red under-lip and frowned. "Oh, I have no instrument!
The violin I play from necessity; the flute, the piano, as it happens.
For three years now I write all the time, and it spoils the hand for
When the maid brought him his tea, he took both muffins and cakes and
told me that he was very hungry. He had to lunch and dine at the place
where he played, and he got very tired of the food. "But since," his
black eyebrows nearly met in an acute angle, "but since, before, I eat
at a bakery, with the slender brown roach on the pie, I guess I better
let alone well enough." He paused to drink his tea; as he tasted one of
the cakes his face lit with sudden animation and he gazed across the hall
after the maid with the tray—she was now holding it before the aged and
ossified 'cellist of the Hempfstangle Quartette. "Des gâteaux" he
murmured feelingly, "ou est-ce qu'elle peut trouver de tels gâteaux ici
â New York?"
I explained to him that Madame Garnet had an accomplished cook who made
them,—an Austrian, I thought.
He shook his head. "Austrichienne? Je ne pense pas."
Cressida was approaching with the new Spanish soprano, Mme. Bartolas, who
was all black velvet and long black feathers, with a lace veil over her
rich pallour and even a little black patch on her chin. I beckoned them.
"Tell me, Cressida, isn't Ruzenka an Austrian?"
She looked surprised. "No, a Bohemian, though I got her in Vienna."
Bouchalka's expression, and the remnant of a cake in his long fingers,
gave her the connection. She laughed. "You like them? Of course, they are
of your own country. You shall have more of them." She nodded and went
away to greet a guest who had just come in.
A few moments later, Horace, then a beautiful lad in Eton clothes,
brought another cup of tea and a plate of cakes for Bouchalka. We sat
down in a corner, and talked about his songs. He was neither boastful nor
deprecatory. He knew exactly in what respects they were excellent. I
decided as I watched his face, that he must be under thirty. The deep
lines in his forehead probably came there from his habit of frowning
densely when he struggled to express himself, and suddenly elevating his
coal-black eyebrows when his ideas cleared. His teeth were white, very
irregular and interesting. The corrective methods of modern dentistry
would have taken away half his good looks. His mouth would have been
much less attractive for any re-arranging of those long, narrow,
over-crowded teeth. Along with his frown and his way of thrusting out his
lip, they contributed, somehow, to the engaging impetuousness of his
conversation. As we talked about his songs, his manner changed. Before
that he had seemed responsive and easily pleased. Now he grew abstracted,
as if I had taken away his pleasant afternoon and wakened him to his
miseries. He moved restlessly in his clothes. When I mentioned Puccini,
he held his head in his hands.
"Why is it they like that always and always? A little, oh yes, very nice.
But so much, always the same thing! Why?" He pierced me with the
despairing glance which had followed us out of the restaurant.
I asked him whether he had sent any of his songs to the publishers and
named one whom I knew to be discriminating. He shrugged his shoulders.
"They not want Bohemian songs. They not want my music. Even the street
cars will not stop for me here, like for other people. Every time, I wait
on the corner until somebody else make a signal to the car, and then it
stop,—but not for me."
Most people cannot become utterly poor; whatever happens, they can right
themselves a little. But one felt that Bouchalka was the sort of person
who might actually starve or blow his brains out. Something very
important had been left out either of his make-up or of his education;
something that we are not accustomed to miss in people.
Gradually the parlour was filled with little groups of friends, and I
took Bouchalka back to the music-room where Cressida was surrounded by
her guests; feathered women, with large sleeves and hats, young men of no
importance, in frock coats, with shining hair, and the smile which is
intended to say so many flattering things but which really expresses
little more than a desire to get on. The older men were standing about
waiting for a word à deux with the hostess. To these people Bouchalka
had nothing to say. He stood stiffly at the outer edge of the circle,
watching Cressida with intent, impatient eyes, until, under the pretext
of showing him a score, she drew him into the alcove at the back end of
the long room, where she kept her musical library. The bookcases ran from
the floor to the ceiling. There was a table and a reading-lamp, and a
window seat looking upon the little walled garden. Two persons could be
quite withdrawn there, and yet be a part of the general friendly scene.
Cressida took a score from the shelf, and sat down with Bouchalka upon
the window seat, the book open between them, though neither of them
looked at it again. They fell to talking with great earnestness. At last
the Bohemian pulled out a large, yellowing silver watch, held it up
before him, and stared at it a moment as if it were an object of horror.
He sprang up, bent over Cressida's hand and murmured something, dashed
into the hall and out of the front door without waiting for the maid to
open it. He had worn no overcoat, apparently. It was then seven o'clock;
he would surely be late at his post in the up-town restaurant. I hoped he
would have wit enough to take the elevated.
After supper Cressida told me his story. His parents, both poor
musicians,—the mother a singer—died while he was yet a baby, and he
was left to the care of an arbitrary uncle who resolved to make a priest
of him. He was put into a monastery school and kept there. The organist
and choir-director, fortunately for Blasius, was an excellent musician, a
man who had begun his career brilliantly, but who had met with crushing
sorrows and disappointments in the world. He devoted himself to his
talented pupil, and was the only teacher the young man ever had. At
twenty-one, when he was ready for the novitiate, Blasius felt that the
call of life was too strong for him, and he ran away out into a world
of which he knew nothing. He tramped southward to Vienna, begging and
playing his fiddle from town to town. In Vienna he fell in with a gipsy
band which was being recruited for a Paris restaurant and went with them
to Paris. He played in cafés and in cheap theatres, did transcribing for
a music publisher, tried to get pupils. For four years he was the mouse,
and hunger was the cat. She kept him on the jump. When he got work he
did not understand why; when he lost a job he did not understand why.
During the time when most of us acquire a practical sense, get a
half-unconscious knowledge of hard facts and market values, he had been
shut away from the world, fed like the pigeons in the bell-tower of his
monastery. Bouchalka had now been in New York a year, and for all he knew
about it, Cressida said, he might have landed the day before yesterday.
Several weeks went by, and as Bouchalka did not reappear on Tenth Street,
Cressida and I went once more to the place where he had played, only to
find another violinist leading the orchestra. We summoned the proprietor,
a Swiss-Italian, polite and solicitous. He told us the gentleman was not
playing there any more,—was playing somewhere else, but he had forgotten
where. We insisted upon talking to the old pianist, who at last
reluctantly admitted that the Bohemian had been dismissed. He had arrived
very late one Sunday night three weeks ago, and had hot words with the
proprietor. He had been late before, and had been warned. He was a very
talented fellow, but wild and not to be depended upon. The old man gave
us the address of a French boarding-house on Seventh Avenue where
Bouchalka used to room. We drove there at once, but the woman who kept
the place said that he had gone away two weeks before, leaving no
address, as he never got letters. Another Bohemian, who did engraving
on glass, had a room with her, and when he came home perhaps he could
tell where Bouchalka was, for they were friends.
It took us several days to run Bouchalka down, but when we did find him
Cressida promptly busied herself in his behalf. She sang his "Sarka"
with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra at a Sunday night concert, she got
him a position with the Symphony Orchestra, and persuaded the
conservative Hempfstangle Quartette to play one of his chamber
compositions from manuscript. She aroused the interest of a publisher in
his work, and introduced him to people who were helpful to him.
By the new year Bouchalka was fairly on his feet. He had proper clothes
now, and Cressida's friends found him attractive. He was usually at her
house on Sunday afternoons; so usually, indeed, that Poppas began
pointedly to absent himself. When other guests arrived, the Bohemian and
his patroness were always found at the critical point of discussion,—at
the piano, by the fire, in the alcove at the end of the room—both of
them interested and animated. He was invariably respectful and admiring,
deferring to her in every tone and gesture, and she was perceptibly
pleased and flattered,—as if all this were new to her and she were
tasting the sweetness of a first success.
One wild day in March Cressida burst tempestuously into my apartment and
threw herself down, declaring that she had just come from the most trying
rehearsal she had ever lived through. When I tried to question her about
it, she replied absently and continued to shiver and crouch by the fire.
Suddenly she rose, walked to the window, and stood looking out over the
Square, glittering with ice and rain and strewn with the wrecks of
umbrellas. When she turned again, she approached me with determination.
"I shall have to ask you to go with me," she said firmly. "That crazy
Bouchalka has gone and got a pleurisy or something. It may be pneumonia;
there is an epidemic of it just now. I've sent Dr. Brooks to him, but I
can never tell anything from what a doctor says. I've got to see
Bouchalka and his nurse, and what sort of place he's in. I've been
rehearsing all day and I'm singing tomorrow night; I can't have so much
on my mind. Can you come with me? It will save time in the end."
I put on my furs, and we went down to Cressida's carriage, waiting below.
She gave the driver a number on Seventh Avenue, and then began feeling
her throat with the alarmed expression which meant that she was not going
to talk. We drove in silence to the address, and by this time it was
growing dark. The French landlady was a cordial, comfortable person who
took Cressida in at a glance and seemed much impressed. Cressida's
incognito was never successful. Her black gown was inconspicuous enough,
but over it she wore a dark purple velvet carriage coat, lined with fur
and furred at the cuffs and collar. The Frenchwoman's eye ran over it
delightedly and scrutinized the veil which only half-concealed the
well-known face behind it. She insisted upon conducting us up to the
fourth floor herself, running ahead of us and turning up the gas jets in
the dark, musty-smelling halls. I suspect that she tarried outside the
door after we sent the nurse for her walk.
We found the sick man in a great walnut bed, a relic of the better days
which this lodging house must have seen. The grimy red plush carpet, the
red velvet chairs with broken springs, the double gilt-framed mirror
above the mantel, had all been respectable, substantial contributions to
comfort in their time. The fireplace was now empty and grateless, and an
ill-smelling gas stove burned in its sooty recess under the cracked
marble. The huge arched windows were hung with heavy red curtains, pinned
together and lightly stirred by the wind which rattled the loose frames.
I was examining these things while Cressida bent over Bouchalka. Her
carriage cloak she threw over the foot of his bed, either from a
protective impulse, or because there was no place else to put it. After
she had greeted him and seated herself, the sick man reached down and
drew the cloak up over him, looking at it with weak, childish pleasure
and stroking the velvet with his long fingers. "Couleur de gloire,
couleur des reines!" I heard him murmur. He thrust the sleeve under his
chin and closed his eyes. His loud, rapid breathing was the only sound in
the room. If Cressida brushed back his hair or touched his hand, he
looked up long enough to give her a smile of utter adoration, naive and
uninquiring, as if he were smiling at a dream or a miracle.
The nurse was gone for an hour, and we sat quietly, Cressida with her
eyes fixed on Bouchalka, and I absorbed in the strange atmosphere of the
house, which seemed to seep in under the door and through the walls.
Occasionally we heard a call for "de l'eau chaude!" and the heavy trot
of a serving woman on the stairs. On the floor below somebody was
struggling with Schubert's Marche Militaire on a coarse-toned upright
piano. Sometimes, when a door was opened, one could hear a parrot
screaming, "Voilà, voilà, tonnerre!" The house was built before 1870,
as one could tell from windows and mouldings, and the walls were thick.
The sounds were not disturbing and Bouchalka was probably used to them.
When the nurse returned and we rose to go, Bouchalka still lay with his
cheek on her cloak, and Cressida left it. "It seems to please him," she
murmured as we went down the stairs. "I can go home without a wrap. It's
not far." I had, of course, to give her my furs, as I was not singing
Donna Anna tomorrow evening and she was.
After this I was not surprised by any devout attitude in which I happened
to find the Bohemian when I entered Cressida's music-room unannounced,
or by any radiance on her face when she rose from the window-seat in the
alcove and came down the room to greet me.
Bouchalka was, of course, very often at the Opera now. On almost any
night when Cressida sang, one could see his narrow black head—high
above the temples and rather constrained behind the ears—peering from
some part of the house. I used to wonder what he thought of Cressida as
an artist, but probably he did not think seriously at all. A great voice,
a handsome woman, a great prestige, all added together made a "great
artist," the common synonym for success. Her success, and the material
evidences of it, quite blinded him. I could never draw from him anything
adequate about Anna Straka, Cressida's Slavic rival, and this perhaps
meant that he considered comparison disloyal. All the while that Cressida
was singing reliably, and satisfying the management, Straka was singing
uncertainly and making history. Her voice was primarily defective, and
her immediate vocal method was bad. Cressida was always living up to her
contract, delivering the whole order in good condition; while the Slav
was sometimes almost voiceless, sometimes inspired. She put you off with
a hope, a promise, time after time. But she was quite as likely to put
you off with a revelation,—with an interpretation that was inimitable,
Bouchalka was not a reflective person. He had his own idea of what a
great prima donna should be like, and he took it for granted that Mme.
Garnet corresponded to his conception. The curious thing was that he
managed to impress his idea upon Cressida herself. She began to see
herself as he saw her, to try to be like the notion of her that he
carried somewhere in that pointed head of his. She was exalted quite
beyond herself. Things that had been chilled under the grind came to life
in her that winter, with the breath of Bouchalka's adoration. Then, if
ever in her life, she heard the bird sing on the branch outside her
window; and she wished she were younger, lovelier, freer. She wished
there were no Poppas, no Horace, no Garnets. She longed to be only the
bewitching creature Bouchalka imagined her.
One April day when we were driving in the Park, Cressida, superb in a
green-and-primrose costume hurried over from Paris, turned to me smiling
and said: "Do you know, this is the first spring I haven't dreaded. It's
the first one I've ever really had. Perhaps people never have more than
one, whether it comes early or late." She told me that she was
overwhelmingly in love.
Our visit to Bouchalka when he was ill had, of course, been reported, and
the men about the Opera House had made of it the only story they have the
wit to invent. They could no more change the pattern of that story than
the spider could change the design of its web. But being, as she said,
"in love" suggested to Cressida only one plan of action; to have the
Tenth Street house done over, to put more money into her brothers'
business, send Horace to school, raise Poppas' percentage, and then with
a clear conscience be married in the Church of the Ascension. She went
through this program with her usual thoroughness. She was married in June
and sailed immediately with her husband. Poppas was to join them in
Vienna in August, when she would begin to work again. From her letters I
gathered that all was going well, even beyond her hopes.
When they returned in October, both Cressida and Blasius seemed changed
for the better. She was perceptibly freshened and renewed. She attacked
her work at once with more vigour and more ease; did not drive herself so
relentlessly. A little carelessness became her wonderfully. Bouchalka was
less gaunt, and much less flighty and perverse. His frank pleasure in the
comfort and order of his wife's establishment was ingratiating, even if
it was a little amusing. Cressida had the sewing-room at the top of the
house made over into a study for him. When I went up there to see him, I
usually found him sitting before the fire or walking about with his hands
in his coat pockets, admiring his new possessions. He explained the
ingenious arrangement of his study to me a dozen times.
With Cressida's friends and guests, Bouchalka assumed nothing for
himself. His deportment amounted to a quiet, unobtrusive appreciation of
her and of his good fortune. He was proud to owe his wife so much.
Cressida's Sunday afternoons were more popular than ever, since she
herself had so much more heart for them. Bouchalka's picturesque presence
stimulated her graciousness and charm. One still found them conversing
together as eagerly as in the days when they saw each other but seldom.
Consequently their guests were never bored. We felt as if the Tenth
Street house had a pleasant climate quite its own. In the spring, when
the Metropolitan company went on tour, Cressida's husband accompanied
her, and afterward they again sailed for Genoa.
During the second winter people began to say that Bouchalka was becoming
too thoroughly domesticated, and that since he was growing heavier in
body he was less attractive. I noticed his increasing reluctance to stir
abroad. Nobody could say that he was "wild" now. He seemed to dread
leaving the house, even for an evening. Why should he go out, he said,
when he had everything he wanted at home? He published very little. One
was given to understand that he was writing an opera. He lived in the
Tenth Street house like a tropical plant under glass. Nowhere in New York
could he get such cookery as Ruzenka's. Ruzenka ("little Rose") had,
like her mistress, bloomed afresh, now that she had a man and a
compatriot to cook for. Her invention was tireless, and she took things
with a high hand in the kitchen, confident of a perfect appreciation. She
was a plump, fair, blue-eyed girl, giggly and easily flattered, with
teeth like cream. She was passionately domestic, and her mind was full of
homely stories and proverbs and superstitions which she somehow worked
into her cookery. She and Bouchalka had between them a whole literature
of traditions about sauces and fish and pastry. The cellar was full of
the wines he liked, and Ruzenka always knew what wines to serve with the
dinner. Blasius' monastery had been famous for good living.
That winter was a very cold one, and I think the even temperature of the
house enslaved Bouchalka. "Imagine it," he once said to me when I dropped
in during a blinding snowstorm and found him reading before the fire. "To
be warm all the time, every day! It is like Aladdin. In Paris I have had
weeks together when I was not warm once, when I did not have a bath once,
like the cats in the street. The nights were a misery. People have
terrible dreams when they are so cold. Here I waken up in the night so
warm I do not know what it means. Her door is open, and I turn on my
light. I cannot believe in myself until I see that she is there."
I began to think that Bouchalka's wildness had been the desperation which
the tamest animals exhibit when they are tortured or terrorized.
Naturally luxurious, he had suffered more than most men under the pinch
of penury. Those first beautiful compositions, full of the folk-music of
his own country, had been wrung out of him by home-sickness and
heart-ache. I wondered whether he could compose only under the spur of
hunger and loneliness, and whether his talent might not subside with his
despair. Some such apprehension must have troubled Cressida, though his
gratitude would have been propitiatory to a more exacting task-master.
She had always liked to make people happy, and he was the first one who
had accepted her bounty without sourness. When he did not accompany her
upon her spring tour, Cressida said it was because travelling interfered
with composition; but I felt that she was deeply disappointed. Blasius,
or Bla[vz]ej, as his wife had with difficulty learned to call him, was
not showy or extravagant. He hated hotels, even the best of them.
Cressida had always fought for the hearthstone and the fireside, and the
humour of Destiny is sometimes to give us too much of what we desire. I
believe she would have preferred even enthusiasm about other women to his
utter oisiveté. It was his old fire, not his docility, that had won
During the third season after her marriage Cressida had only twenty-five
performances at the Metropolitan, and she was singing out of town a great
deal. Her husband did not bestir himself to accompany her, but he
attended, very faithfully, to her correspondence and to her business at
home. He had no ambitious schemes to increase her fortune, and he carried
out her directions exactly. Nevertheless, Cressida faced her concert
tours somewhat grimly, and she seldom talked now about their plans for
The crisis in this growing estrangement came about by accident,—one of
those chance occurrences that affect our lives more than years of ordered
effort,—and it came in an inverted form of a situation old to comedy.
Cressida had been on the road for several weeks; singing in Minneapolis,
Cleveland, St. Paul, then up into Canada and back to Boston. From Boston
she was to go directly to Chicago, coming down on the five o'clock train
and taking the eleven, over the Lake Shore, for the West. By her schedule
she would have time to change cars comfortably at the Grand Central
On the journey down from Boston she was seized with a great desire to see
Blasius. She decided, against her custom, one might say against her
principles, to risk a performance with the Chicago orchestra without
rehearsal, to stay the night in New York and go west by the afternoon
train the next day. She telegraphed Chicago, but she did not telegraph
Blasius, because she wished—the old fallacy of affection!—to "surprise"
him. She could take it for granted that, at eleven on a cold winter
night, he would be in the Tenth Street house and nowhere else in New
York. She sent Poppas—paler than usual with accusing scorn—and her
trunks on to Chicago, and with only her travelling bag and a sense of
being very audacious in her behaviour and still very much in love, she
took a cab for Tenth Street.
Since it was her intention to disturb Blasius as little as possible and
to delight him as much as possible, she let herself in with her latch-key
and went directly to his room. She did not find him there. Indeed, she
found him where he should not have been at all. There must have been a
Ruzenka was sent away in the morning, and the other two maids as well. By
eight o'clock Cressida and Bouchalka had the house to themselves. Nobody
had any breakfast. Cressida took the afternoon train to keep her
engagement with Theodore Thomas, and to think over the situation. Blasius
was left in the Tenth Street house with only the furnace man's wife to
look after him. His explanation of his conduct was that he had been
drinking too much. His digression, he swore, was casual. It had never
occurred before, and he could only appeal to his wife's magnanimity. But
it was, on the whole, easier for Cressida to be firm than to be yielding,
and she knew herself too well to attempt a readjustment. She had never
made shabby compromises, and it was too late for her to begin. When she
returned to New York she went to a hotel, and she never saw Bouchalka
alone again. Since he admitted her charge, the legal formalities were
conducted so quietly that the granting of her divorce was announced in
the morning papers before her friends knew that there was the least
likelihood of one. Cressida's concert tours had interrupted the
hospitalities of the house.
While the lawyers were arranging matters, Bouchalka came to see me. He
was remorseful and miserable enough, and I think his perplexity was quite
sincere. If there had been an intrigue with a woman of her own class, an
infatuation, an affair, he said, he could understand. But anything so
venial and accidental—He shook his head slowly back and forth. He
assured me that he was not at all himself on that fateful evening, and
that when he recovered himself he would have sent Ruzenka away, making
proper provision for her, of course. It was an ugly thing, but ugly
things sometimes happened in one's life, and one had to put them away and
forget them. He could have overlooked any accident that might have
occurred when his wife was on the road, with Poppas, for example. I cut
him short, and he bent his head to my reproof.
"I know," he said, "such things are different with her. But when have I
said that I am noble as she is? Never. But I have appreciated and I have
adored. About me, say what you like. But if you say that in this there
was any méprise to my wife, that is not true. I have lost all my place
here. I came in from the streets; but I understand her, and all the fine
things in her, better than any of you here. If that accident had not
been, she would have lived happy with me for years. As for me, I have
never believed in this happiness. I was not born under a good star.
How did it come? By accident. It goes by accident. She tried to give good
fortune to an unfortunate man, un miserable; that was her mistake. It
cannot be done in this world. The lucky should marry the lucky."
Bouchalka stopped and lit a cigarette. He sat sunk in my chair as if he
never meant to get up again. His large hands, now so much plumper than
when I first knew him, hung limp. When he had consumed his cigarette he
turned to me again.
"I, too, have tried. Have I so much as written one note to a lady since
she first put out her hand to help me? Some of the artists who sing my
compositions have been quite willing to plague my wife a little if I make
the least sign. With the Española, for instance, I have had to be very
stern, farouche; she is so very playful. I have never given my wife the
slightest annoyance of this kind. Since I married her, I have not kissed
the cheek of one lady! Then one night I am bored and drink too much
champagne and I become a fool. What does it matter? Did my wife marry the
fool of me? No, she married me, with my mind and my feelings all here, as
I am today. But she is getting a divorce from the fool of me, which she
would never see anyhow! The stupidity which excuse me is the thing she
will not overlook. Even in her memory of me she will be harsh."
His view of his conduct and its consequences was fatalistic: he was meant
to have just so much misery every day of his life; for three years it had
been withheld, had been piling up somewhere, underground, overhead; now
the accumulation burst over him. He had come to pay his respects to me,
he said, to declare his undying gratitude to Madame Garnet, and to bid
me farewell. He took up his hat and cane and kissed my hand. I have never
seen him since. Cressida made a settlement upon him, but even Poppas,
tortured by envy and curiosity, never discovered how much it was. It was
very little, she told me. "Pour des gâteaux," she added with a smile
that was not unforgiving. She could not bear to think of his being in
want when so little could make him comfortable.
He went back to his own village in Bohemia. He wrote her that the old
monk, his teacher, was still alive, and that from the windows of his room
in the town he could see the pigeons flying forth from and back to the
monastery bell-tower all day long. He sent her a song, with his own
words, about those pigeons,—quite a lovely thing. He was the bell tower,
and les colombes were his memories of her.
Jerome Brown proved, on the whole, the worst of Cressida's husbands, and,
with the possible exception of her eldest brother, Buchanan Garnet, he
was the most rapacious of the men with whom she had had to do. It was one
thing to gratify every wish of a cake-loving fellow like Bouchalka, but
quite another to stand behind a financier. And Brown would be a financier
or nothing. After her marriage with him, Cressida grew rapidly older. For
the first time in her life she wanted to go abroad and live—to get
Jerome Brown away from the scene of his unsuccessful but undiscouraged
activities. But Brown was not a man who could be amused and kept out of
mischief in Continental hotels. He had to be a figure, if only a "mark,"
in Wall street. Nothing else would gratify his peculiar vanity. The
deeper he went in, the more affectionately he told Cressida that now all
her cares and anxieties were over. To try to get related facts out of his
optimism was like trying to find framework in a feather bed. All Cressida
knew was that she was perpetually "investing" to save investments. When
she told me she had put a mortgage on the Tenth Street house, her eyes
filled with tears. "Why is it? I have never cared about money, except to
make people happy with it, and it has been the curse of my life. It has
spoiled all my relations with people. Fortunately," she added
irrelevantly, drying her eyes, "Jerome and Poppas get along well." Jerome
could have got along with anybody; that is a promoter's business. His
warm hand, his flushed face, his bright eye, and his newest funny
story,—Poppas had no weapons that could do execution with a man like
Though Brown's ventures never came home, there was nothing openly
disastrous until the outbreak of the revolution in Mexico jeopardized
his interests there. Then Cressida went to England—where she could
always raise money from a faithful public—for a winter concert tour.
When she sailed, her friends knew that her husband's affairs were in a
bad way; but we did not know how bad until after Cressida's death.
Cressida Garnet, as all the world knows, was lost on the Titanic.
Poppas and Horace, who had been travelling with her, were sent on a week
earlier and came as safely to port as if they had never stepped out of
their London hotel. But Cressida had waited for the first trip of the sea
monster—she still believed that all advertising was good—and she went
down on the road between the old world and the new. She had been ill, and
when the collision occurred she was in her stateroom, a modest one
somewhere down in the boat, for she was travelling economically.
Apparently she never left her cabin. She was not seen on the decks, and
none of the survivors brought any word of her.
On Monday, when the wireless messages were coming from the Carpathia
with the names of the passengers who had been saved, I went, with so
many hundred others, down to the White Star offices. There I saw
Cressida's motor, her redoubtable initials on the door, with four men
sitting in the limousine. Jerome Brown, stripped of the promoter's
joviality and looking flabby and old, sat behind with Buchanan Garnet,
who had come on from Ohio. I had not seen him for years. He was now an
old man, but he was still conscious of being in the public eye, and sat
turning a cigar about in his face with that foolish look of importance
which Cressida's achievement had stamped upon all the Garnets. Poppas was
in front, with Horace. He was gnawing the finger of his chamois glove as
it rested on the top of his cane. His head was sunk, his shoulders drawn
together; he looked as old as Jewry. I watched them, wondering whether
Cressida would come back to them if she could. After the last names were
posted, the four men settled back into the powerful car—one of the best
made—and the chauffeur backed off. I saw him dash away the tears from
his face with the back of his driving glove. He was an Irish boy, and had
been devoted to Cressida.
When the will was read, Henry Gilbert, the lawyer, an old friend of her
early youth, and I, were named executors. A nice job we had of it. Most
of her large fortune had been converted into stocks that were almost
worthless. The marketable property realized only a hundred and fifty
thousand dollars. To defeat the bequest of fifty thousand dollars to
Poppas, Jerome Brown and her family contested the will. They brought
Cressida's letters into court to prove that the will did not represent
her intentions, often expressed in writing through many years, to
"provide well" for them.
Such letters they were! The writing of a tired, overdriven woman;
promising money, sending money herewith, asking for an acknowledgment
of the draft sent last month, etc. In the letters to Jerome Brown she
begged for information about his affairs and entreated him to go with her
to some foreign city where they could live quietly and where she could
rest; if they were careful, there would "be enough for all." Neither
Brown nor her brothers and sisters had any sense of shame about these
letters. It seemed never to occur to them that this golden stream,
whether it rushed or whether it trickled, came out of the industry, out
of the mortal body of a woman. They regarded her as a natural source
of wealth; a copper vein, a diamond mine.
Henry Gilbert is a good lawyer himself, and he employed an able man to
defend the will. We determined that in this crisis we would stand by
Poppas, believing it would be Cressida's wish. Out of the lot of them, he
was the only one who had helped her to make one penny of the money that
had brought her so much misery. He was at least more deserving than the
others. We saw to it that Poppas got his fifty thousand, and he actually
departed, at last, for his city in la sainte Asie, where it never rains
and where he will never again have to hold a hot water bottle to his
The rest of the property was fought for to a finish. Poppas out of the
way, Horace and Brown and the Garnets quarrelled over her personal
effects. They went from floor to floor of the Tenth Street house. The
will provided that Cressida's jewels and furs and gowns were to go to her
sisters. Georgie and Julia wrangled over them down to the last moleskin.
They were deeply disappointed that some of the muffs and stoles which
they remembered as very large, proved, when exhumed from storage and
exhibited beside furs of a modern cut, to be ridiculously scant. A year
ago the sisters were still reasoning with each other about pearls and
opals and emeralds.
I wrote Poppas some account of these horrors, as during the court
proceedings we had become rather better friends than of old. His reply
arrived only a few days ago; a photograph of himself upon a camel, under
which is written:
Traulich und Treu
ist's nur in der Tiefe:
falsch und feig
ist was dort oben sich freut!
His reply, and the memories it awakens—memories which have followed
Poppas into the middle of Asia, seemingly,—prompted this informal
A Gold Slipper
Marshall McKann followed his wife and her friend Mrs. Post down the
aisle and up the steps to the stage of the Carnegie Music Hall with an
ill-concealed feeling of grievance. Heaven knew he never went to
concerts, and to be mounted upon the stage in this fashion, as if he were
a "highbrow" from Sewickley, or some unfortunate with a musical wife, was
ludicrous. A man went to concerts when he was courting, while he was a
junior partner. When he became a person of substance he stopped that sort
of nonsense. His wife, too, was a sensible person, the daughter of an old
Pittsburgh family as solid and well-rooted as the McKanns. She would
never have bothered him about this concert had not the meddlesome Mrs.
Post arrived to pay her a visit. Mrs. Post was an old school friend of
Mrs. McKann, and because she lived in Cincinnati she was always keeping
up with the world and talking about things in which no one else was
interested, music among them. She was an aggressive lady, with weighty
opinions, and a deep voice like a jovial bassoon. She had arrived only
last night, and at dinner she brought it out that she could on no account
miss Kitty Ayrshire's recital; it was, she said, the sort of thing no one
could afford to miss.
When McKann went into town in the morning he found that every seat in the
music-hall was sold. He telephoned his wife to that effect, and, thinking
he had settled the matter, made his reservation on the 11.25 train for
New York. He was unable to get a drawing-room because this same Kitty
Ayrshire had taken the last one. He had not intended going to New York
until the following week, but he preferred to be absent during Mrs.
In the middle of the morning, when he was deep in his correspondence,
his wife called him up to say the enterprising Mrs. Post had telephoned
some musical friends in Sewickley and had found that two hundred
folding-chairs were to be placed on the stage of the concert-hall, behind
the piano, and that they would be on sale at noon. Would he please get
seats in the front row? McKann asked if they would not excuse him, since
he was going over to New York on the late train, would be tired, and
would not have time to dress, etc. No, not at all. It would be foolish
for two women to trail up to the stage unattended. Mrs. Post's husband
always accompanied her to concerts, and she expected that much attention
from her host. He needn't dress, and he could take a taxi from the
concert-hall to the East Liberty station.
The outcome of it all was that, though his bag was at the station, here
was McKann, in the worst possible humour, facing the large audience to
which he was well known, and sitting among a lot of music students and
excitable old maids. Only the desperately zealous or the morbidly curious
would endure two hours in those wooden chairs, and he sat in the front
row of this hectic body, somehow made a party to a transaction for which
he had the utmost contempt.
When McKann had been in Paris, Kitty Ayrshire was singing at the Comique,
and he wouldn't go to hear her—even there, where one found so little
that was better to do. She was too much talked about, too much
advertised; always being thrust in an American's face as if she were
something to be proud of. Perfumes and petticoats and cutlets were named
for her. Some one had pointed Kitty out to him one afternoon when she was
driving in the Bois with a French composer—old enough, he judged, to be
her father—who was said to be infatuated, carried away by her. McKann
was told that this was one of the historic passions of old age. He had
looked at her on that occasion, but she was so befrilled and befeathered
that he caught nothing but a graceful outline and a small, dark head
above a white ostrich boa. He had noted with disgust, however, the
stooped shoulders and white imperial of the silk-hatted man beside her,
and the senescent line of his back. McKann described to his wife this
unpleasing picture only last night, while he was undressing, when he was
making every possible effort to avert this concert party. But Bessie
only looked superior and said she wished to hear Kitty Ayrshire sing, and
that her "private life" was something in which she had no interest.
Well, here he was; hot and uncomfortable, in a chair much too small for
him, with a row of blinding footlights glaring in his eyes. Suddenly the
door at his right elbow opened. Their seats were at one end of the front
row; he had thought they would be less conspicuous there than in the
centre, and he had not foreseen that the singer would walk over him every
time she came upon the stage. Her velvet train brushed against his
trousers as she passed him. The applause which greeted her was neither
overwhelming nor prolonged. Her conservative audience did not know
exactly how to accept her toilette. They were accustomed to dignified
concert gowns, like those which Pittsburgh matrons (in those days!) wore
at their daughters' coming-out teas.
Kitty's gown that evening was really quite outrageous—the repartée of a
conscienceless Parisian designer who took her hint that she wished
something that would be entirely novel in the States. Today, after we
have all of us, even in the uttermost provinces, been educated by Baskt
and the various Ballets Russes, we would accept such a gown without
distrust; but then it was a little disconcerting, even to the
well-disposed. It was constructed of a yard or two of green velvet—a
reviling, shrieking green which would have made a fright of any woman
who had not inextinguishable beauty—and it was made without armholes, a
device to which we were then so unaccustomed that it was nothing less
than alarming. The velvet skirt split back from a transparent gold-lace
petticoat, gold stockings, gold slippers. The narrow train was,
apparently, looped to both ankles, and it kept curling about her feet
like a serpent's tail, turning up its gold lining as if it were squirming
over on its back. It was not, we felt, a costume in which to sing Mozart
and Handel and Beethoven.
Kitty sensed the chill in the air, and it amused her. She liked to be
thought a brilliant artist by other artists, but by the world at large
she liked to be thought a daring creature. She had every reason to
believe, from experience and from example, that to shock the great crowd
was the surest way to get its money and to make her name a household
word. Nobody ever became a household word of being an artist, surely; and
you were not a thoroughly paying proposition until your name meant
something on the sidewalk and in the barber-shop. Kitty studied her
audience with an appraising eye. She liked the stimulus of this
disapprobation. As she faced this hard-shelled public she felt keen and
interested; she knew that she would give such a recital as cannot often
be heard for money. She nodded gaily to the young man at the piano, fell
into an attitude of seriousness, and began the group of Beethoven and
Though McKann would not have admitted it, there were really a great many
people in the concert-hall who knew what the prodigal daughter of their
country was singing, and how well she was doing it. They thawed gradually
under the beauty of her voice and the subtlety of her interpretation.
She had sung seldom in concert then, and they had supposed her very
dependent upon the accessories of the opera. Clean singing, finished
artistry, were not what they expected from her. They began to feel, even,
the wayward charm of her personality.
McKann, who stared coldly up at the balconies during her first song,
during the second glanced cautiously at the green apparition before him.
He was vexed with her for having retained a débutante figure. He
comfortably classed all singers—especially operatic singers—as "fat
Dutchwomen" or "shifty Sadies," and Kitty would not fit into his clever
generalization. She displayed, under his nose, the only kind of figure
he considered worth looking at—that of a very young girl, supple and
sinuous and quicksilverish; thin, eager shoulders, polished white
arms that were nowhere too fat and nowhere too thin. McKann found it
agreeable to look at Kitty, but when he saw that the authoritative
Mrs. Post, red as a turkey-cock with opinions she was bursting to impart,
was studying and appraising the singer through her lorgnette, he gazed
indifferently out into the house again. He felt for his watch, but his
wife touched him warningly with her elbow—which, he noticed, was not at
all like Kitty's.
When Miss Ayrshire finished her first group of songs, her audience
expressed its approval positively, but guardedly. She smiled bewitchingly
upon the people in front, glanced up at the balconies, and then turned to
the company huddled on the stage behind her. After her gay and careless
bows, she retreated toward the stage door. As she passed McKann, she
again brushed lightly against him, and this time she paused long enough
to glance down at him and murmur, "Pardon!"
In the moment her bright, curious eyes rested upon him, McKann seemed to
see himself as if she were holding a mirror up before him. He beheld
himself a heavy, solid figure, unsuitably clad for the time and place,
with a florid, square face, well-visored with good living and sane
opinions—an inexpressive countenance. Not a rock face, exactly, but a
kind of pressed-brick-and-cement face, a "business" face upon which years
and feelings had made no mark—in which cocktails might eventually blast
out a few hollows. He had never seen himself so distinctly in his
shaving-glass as he did in that instant when Kitty Ayrshire's liquid eye
held him, when her bright, inquiring glance roamed over his person. After
her prehensile train curled over his boot and she was gone, his wife
turned to him and said in the tone of approbation one uses when an infant
manifests its groping intelligence, "Very gracious of her, I'm sure!"
Mrs. Post nodded oracularly. McKann grunted.
Kitty began her second number, a group of romantic German songs which
were altogether more her affair than her first number. When she turned
once to acknowledge the applause behind her, she caught McKann in the act
of yawning behind his hand—he of course wore no gloves—and he thought
she frowned a little. This did not embarrass him; it somehow made him
feel important. When she retired after the second part of the program,
she again looked him over curiously as she passed, and she took marked
precaution that her dress did not touch him. Mrs. Post and his wife again
commented upon her consideration.
The final number was made up of modern French songs which Kitty sang
enchantingly, and at last her frigid public was thoroughly aroused.
While she was coming back again and again to smile and curtsy, McKann
whispered to his wife that if there were to be encores he had better make
a dash for his train.
"Not at all," put in Mrs. Post. "Kitty is going on the same train. She
sings in Faust at the opera tomorrow night, so she'll take no chances."
McKann once more told himself how sorry he felt for Post. At last Miss
Ayrshire returned, escorted by her accompanist, and gave the people what
she of course knew they wanted: the most popular aria from the French
opera of which the title-rôle had become synonymous with her name—an
opera written for her and to her and round about her, by the veteran
French composer who adored her,—the last and not the palest flash of his
creative fire. This brought her audience all the way. They clamoured for
more of it, but she was not to be coerced. She had been unyielding
through storms to which this was a summer breeze. She came on once more,
shrugged her shoulders, blew them a kiss, and was gone. Her last smile
was for that uncomfortable part of her audience seated behind her, and
she looked with recognition at McKann and his ladies as she nodded good
night to the wooden chairs.
McKann hurried his charges into the foyer by the nearest exit and put
them into his motor. Then he went over to the Schenley to have a glass
of beer and a rarebit before train-time. He had not, he admitted to
himself, been so much bored as he pretended. The minx herself was well
enough, but it was absurd in his fellow-townsmen to look owlish and
uplifted about her. He had no rooted dislike for pretty women; he even
didn't deny that gay girls had their place in the world, but they ought
to be kept in their place. He was born a Presbyterian, just as he was
born a McKann. He sat in his pew in the First Church every Sunday, and he
never missed a presbytery meeting when he was in town. His religion was
not very spiritual, certainly, but it was substantial and concrete, made
up of good, hard convictions and opinions. It had something to do with
citizenship, with whom one ought to marry, with the coal business (in
which his own name was powerful), with the Republican party, and with all
majorities and established precedents. He was hostile to fads, to
enthusiasms, to individualism, to all changes except in mining machinery
and in methods of transportation.
His equanimity restored by his lunch at the Schenley, McKann lit a big
cigar, got into his taxi, and bowled off through the sleet.
There was not a sound to be heard or a light to be seen. The ice
glittered on the pavement and on the naked trees. No restless feet were
abroad. At eleven o'clock the rows of small, comfortable houses looked as
empty of the troublesome bubble of life as the Allegheny cemetery itself.
Suddenly the cab stopped, and McKann thrust his head out of the window. A
woman was standing in the middle of the street addressing his driver in
a tone of excitement. Over against the curb a lone electric stood
despondent in the storm. The young woman, her cloak blowing about her,
turned from the driver to McKann himself, speaking rapidly and somewhat
"Could you not be so kind as to help us? It is Mees Ayrshire, the singer.
The juice is gone out and we cannot move. We must get to the station.
Mademoiselle cannot miss the train; she sings tomorrow night in New York.
It is very important. Could you not take us to the station at East
McKann opened the door. "That's all right, but you'll have to hurry. It's
eleven-ten now. You've only got fifteen minutes to make the train. Tell
her to come along."
The maid drew back and looked up at him in amazement. "But, the
hand-luggage to carry, and Mademoiselle to walk! The street is like
McKann threw away his cigar and followed her. He stood silent by the door
of the derelict, while the maid explained that she had found help. The
driver had gone off somewhere to telephone for a car. Miss Ayrshire
seemed not at all apprehensive; she had not doubted that a rescuer would
be forthcoming. She moved deliberately; out of a whirl of skirts she
thrust one fur-topped shoe—McKann saw the flash of the gold stocking
above it—and alighted.
"So kind of you! So fortunate for us!" she murmured. One hand she placed
upon his sleeve, and in the other she carried an armful of roses that had
been sent up to the concert stage. The petals showered upon the sooty,
sleety pavement as she picked her way along. They would be lying there
tomorrow morning, and the children in those houses would wonder if there
had been a funeral. The maid followed with two leather bags. As soon as
he had lifted Kitty into his cab she exclaimed:
"My jewel-case! I have forgotten it. It is on the back seat, please. I am
He dashed back, ran his hand along the cushions, and discovered a small
leather bag. When he returned he found the maid and the luggage bestowed
on the front seat, and a place left for him on the back seat beside Kitty
and her flowers.
"Shall we be taking you far out of your way?" she asked sweetly. "I
haven't an idea where the station is. I'm not even sure about the name.
Céline thinks it is East Liberty, but I think it is West Liberty. An odd
name, anyway. It is a Bohemian quarter, perhaps? A district where the law
relaxes a trifle?"
McKann replied grimly that he didn't think the name referred to that kind
"So much the better," sighed Kitty. "I am a Californian; that's the only
part of America I know very well, and out there, when we called a place
Liberty Hill or Liberty Hollow—well, we meant it. You will excuse me if
I'm uncommunicative, won't you? I must not talk in this raw air. My
throat is sensitive after a long program." She lay back in her corner and
closed her eyes.
When the cab rolled down the incline at East Liberty station, the New
York express was whistling in. A porter opened the door. McKann sprang
out, gave him a claim check and his Pullman ticket, and told him to get
his bag at the check-stand and rush it on that train.
Miss Ayrshire, having gathered up her flowers, put out her hand to take
his arm. "Why, it's you!" she exclaimed, as she saw his face in the
light. "What a coincidence!" She made no further move to alight, but sat
smiling as if she had just seated herself in a drawing-room and were
ready for talk and a cup of tea.
McKann caught her arm. "You must hurry, Miss Ayrshire, if you mean to
catch that train. It stops here only a moment. Can you run?"
"Can I run!" she laughed. "Try me!"
As they raced through the tunnel and up the inside stairway, McKann
admitted that he had never before made a dash with feet so quick and sure
stepping out beside him. The white-furred boots chased each other like
lambs at play, the gold stockings flashed like the spokes of a bicycle
wheel in the sun. They reached the door of Miss Ayrshire's state-room
just as the train began to pull out. McKann was ashamed of the way he was
panting, for Kitty's breathing was as soft and regular as when she was
reclining on the back seat of his taxi. It had somehow run in his head
that all these stage women were a poor lot physically—unsound, overfed
creatures, like canaries that are kept in a cage and stuffed with
song-restorer. He retreated to escape her thanks. "Good night! Pleasant
journey! Pleasant dreams!" With a friendly nod in Kitty's direction he
closed the door behind him.
He was somewhat surprised to find his own bag, his Pullman ticket in the
strap, on the seat just outside Kitty's door. But there was nothing
strange about it. He had got the last section left on the train, No. 13,
next the drawing-room. Every other berth in the car was made up. He was
just starting to look for the porter when the door of the state-room
opened and Kitty Ayrshire came out. She seated herself carelessly in the
front seat beside his bag.
"Please talk to me a little," she said coaxingly. "I'm always wakeful
after I sing, and I have to hunt some one to talk to. Céline and I get so
tired of each other. We can speak very low, and we shall not disturb any
one." She crossed her feet and rested her elbow on his Gladstone. Though
she still wore her gold slippers and stockings, she did not, he thanked
Heaven, have on her concert gown, but a very demure black velvet with
some sort of pearl trimming about the neck. "Wasn't it funny," she
proceeded, "that it happened to be you who picked me up? I wanted a
word with you, anyway."
McKann smiled in a way that meant he wasn't being taken in. "Did you? We
are not very old acquaintances."
"No, perhaps not. But you disapproved tonight, and I thought I was
singing very well. You are very critical in such matters?"
He had been standing, but now he sat down. "My dear young lady, I am not
critical at all. I know nothing about 'such matters.'"
"And care less?" she said for him, "Well, then we know where we are, in
so far as that is concerned. What did displease you? My gown, perhaps? It
may seem a little outré here, but it's the sort of thing all the
imaginative designers abroad are doing. You like the English sort of
concert gown better?"
"About gowns," said McKann, "I know even less than about music. If I
looked uncomfortable, it was probably because I was uncomfortable. The
seats were bad and the lights were annoying."
Kitty looked up with solicitude. "I was sorry they sold those seats. I
don't like to make people uncomfortable in any way. Did the lights give
you a headache? They are very trying. They burn one's eyes out in the
end, I believe." She paused and waved the porter away with a smile as
he came toward them. Half-clad Pittsburghers were tramping up and down
the aisle, casting sidelong glances at McKann and his companion. "How
much better they look with all their clothes on," she murmured. Then,
turning directly to McKann again: "I saw you were not well seated, but I
felt something quite hostile and personal. You were displeased with me.
Doubtless many people are, but I seldom get an opportunity to question
them. It would be nice if you took the trouble to tell me why you were
She spoke frankly, pleasantly, without a shadow of challenge or hauteur.
She did not seem to be angling for compliments. McKann settled himself
in his seat. He thought he would try her out. She had come for it, and he
would let her have it. He found, however, that it was harder to formulate
the grounds of his disapproval than he would have supposed. Now that he
sat face to face with her, now that she was leaning against his bag, he
had no wish to hurt her.
"I'm a hard-headed business man," he said evasively, "and I don't much
believe in any of you fluffy-ruffles people. I have a sort of natural
distrust of them all, the men more than the women."
She looked thoughtful. "Artists, you mean?" drawing her words slowly.
"What is your business?"
"I don't feel any natural distrust of business men, and I know ever so
many. I don't know any coal-men, but I think I could become very much
interested in coal. Am I larger-minded than you?"
McKann laughed. "I don't think you know when you are interested or when
you are not. I don't believe you know what it feels like to be really
interested. There is so much fake about your profession. It's an
affectation on both sides. I know a great many of the people who went to
hear you tonight, and I know that most of them neither know nor care
anything about music. They imagine they do, because it's supposed to be
the proper thing."
Kitty sat upright and looked interested. She was certainly a lovely
creature—the only one of her tribe he had ever seen that he would cross
the street to see again. Those were remarkable eyes she had—curious,
penetrating, restless, somewhat impudent, but not at all dulled by
"But isn't that so in everything?" she cried. "How many of your clerks
are honest because of a fine, individual sense of honour? They are
honest because it is the accepted rule of good conduct in business. Do
you know"—she looked at him squarely—"I thought you would have
something quite definite to say to me; but this is funny-paper stuff,
the sort of objection I'd expect from your office-boy."
"Then you don't think it silly for a lot of people to get together and
pretend to enjoy something they know nothing about?"
"Of course I think it silly, but that's the way God made audiences.
Don't people go to church in exactly the same way? If there were a
spiritual-pressure test-machine at the door, I suspect not many of you
would get to your pews."
"How do you know I go to church?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, people with these old, ready-made
opinions usually go to church. But you can't evade me like that." She
tapped the edge of his seat with the toe of her gold slipper. "You sat
there all evening, glaring at me as if you could eat me alive. Now I give
you a chance to state your objections, and you merely criticize my
audience. What is it? Is it merely that you happen to dislike my
personality? In that case, of course, I won't press you."
"No," McKann frowned, "I perhaps dislike your professional personality.
As I told you, I have a natural distrust of your variety."
"Natural, I wonder?" Kitty murmured. "I don't see why you should
naturally dislike singers any more than I naturally dislike coal-men. I
don't classify people by their occupations. Doubtless I should find some
coal-men repulsive, and you may find some singers so. But I have reason
to believe that, at least, I'm one of the less repellent."
"I don't doubt it," McKann laughed, "and you're a shrewd woman to boot.
But you are, all of you, according to my standards, light people. You're
brilliant, some of you, but you've no depth."
Kitty seemed to assent, with a dive of her girlish head. "Well, it's a
merit in some things to be heavy, and in others to be light. Some things
are meant to go deep, and others to go high. Do you want all the women in
the world to be profound?"
"You are all," he went on steadily, watching her with indulgence, "fed on
hectic emotions. You are pampered. You don't help to carry the burdens of
the world. You are self-indulgent and appetent."
"Yes, I am," she assented, with a candour which he did not expect. "Not
all artists are, but I am. Why not? If I could once get a convincing
statement as to why I should not be self-indulgent, I might change my
ways. As for the burdens of the world—" Kitty rested her chin on her
clasped hands and looked thoughtful. "One should give pleasure to others.
My dear sir, granting that the great majority of people can't enjoy
anything very keenly, you'll admit that I give pleasure to many more
people than you do. One should help others who are less fortunate; at
present I am supporting just eight people, besides those I hire. There
was never another family in California that had so many cripples and
hard-luckers as that into which I had the honour to be born. The only
ones who could take care of themselves were ruined by the San Francisco
earthquake some time ago. One should make personal sacrifices. I do; I
give money and time and effort to talented students. Oh, I give something
much more than that! something that you probably have never given to any
one. I give, to the really gifted ones, my wish, my desire, my light,
if I have any; and that, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, is like giving one's blood!
It's the kind of thing you prudent people never give. That is what was
in the box of precious ointment." Kitty threw off her fervour with a
slight gesture, as if it were a scarf, and leaned back, tucking her
slipper up on the edge of his seat. "If you saw the houses I keep up,"
she sighed, "and the people I employ, and the motor-cars I run—And,
after all, I've only this to do it with." She indicated her slender
person, which Marshall could almost have broken in two with his bare
She was, he thought, very much like any other charming woman, except that
she was more so. Her familiarity was natural and simple. She was at ease
because she was not afraid of him or of herself, or of certain half-clad
acquaintances of his who had been wandering up and down the car oftener
than was necessary. Well, he was not afraid, either.
Kitty put her arms over her head and sighed again, feeling the smooth
part in her black hair. Her head was small—capable of great agitation,
like a bird's; or of great resignation, like a nun's. "I can't see why I
shouldn't be self-indulgent, when I indulge others. I can't understand
your equivocal scheme of ethics. Now I can understand Count Tolstoy's,
perfectly. I had a long talk with him once, about his book 'What is Art?'
As nearly as I could get it, he believes that we are a race who can exist
only by gratifying appetites; the appetites are evil, and the existence
they carry on is evil. We were always sad, he says, without knowing why;
even in the Stone Age. In some miraculous way a divine ideal was
disclosed to us, directly at variance with our appetites. It gave us a
new craving, which we could only satisfy by starving all the other
hungers in us. Happiness lies in ceasing to be and to cause being,
because the thing revealed to us is dearer than any existence our
appetites can ever get for us. I can understand that. It's something one
often feels in art. It is even the subject of the greatest of all operas,
which, because I can never hope to sing it, I love more than all the
others." Kitty pulled herself up. "Perhaps you agree with Tolstoy?" she
"No; I think he's a crank," said McKann, cheerfully.
"What do you mean by a crank?"
"I mean an extremist."
Kitty laughed. "Weighty word! You'll always have a world full of people
who keep to the golden mean. Why bother yourself about me and Tolstoy?"
"I don't, except when you bother me."
"Poor man! It's true this isn't your fault. Still, you did provoke it by
glaring at me. Why did you go to the concert?"
"I was dragged."
"I might have known!" she chuckled, and shook her head. "No, you don't
give me any good reasons. Your morality seems to me the compromise of
cowardice, apologetic and sneaking. When righteousness becomes alive and
burning, you hate it as much as you do beauty. You want a little of each
in your life, perhaps—adulterated, sterilized, with the sting taken out.
It's true enough they are both fearsome things when they get loose in the
world; they don't, often."
McKann hated tall talk. "My views on women," he said slowly, "are
"Doubtless," Kitty responded dryly, "but are they consistent? Do you
apply them to your stenographers as well as to me? I take it for
granted you have unmarried stenographers. Their position, economically,
is the same as mine."
McKann studied the toe of her shoe. "With a woman, everything comes back
to one thing." His manner was judicial.
She laughed indulgently. "So we are getting down to brass tacks, eh? I
have beaten you in argument, and now you are leading trumps."
She put her hands behind her head and her lips parted in a half-yawn.
"Does everything come back to one thing? I wish I knew! It's more than
likely that, under the same conditions, I should have been very like your
stenographers—if they are good ones. Whatever I was, I would have been a
good one. I think people are very much alike. You are more different than
any one I have met for some time, but I know that there are a great many
more at home like you. And even you—I believe there is a real creature
down under these custom-made prejudices that save you the trouble of
thinking. If you and I were shipwrecked on a desert island, I have no
doubt that we would come to a simple and natural understanding. I'm
neither a coward nor a shirk. You would find, if you had to undertake any
enterprise of danger or difficulty with a woman, that there are several
qualifications quite as important as the one to which you doubtless
McKann felt nervously for his watch-chain. "Of course," he brought out,
"I am not laying down any generalizations—" His brows wrinkled.
"Oh, aren't you?" murmured Kitty. "Then I totally misunderstood. But
remember"—holding up a finger—"it is you, not I, who are afraid to
pursue this subject further. Now, I'll tell you something." She leaned
forward and clasped her slim, white hands about her velvet knee. "I am
as much a victim of these ineradicable prejudices as you. Your
stenographer seems to you a better sort. Well, she does to me. Just
because her life is, presumably, greyer than mine, she seems better. My
mind tells me that dulness, and a mediocre order of ability, and poverty,
are not in themselves admirable things. Yet in my heart I always feel
that the sales-women in shops and the working girls in factories are more
meritorious than I. Many of them, with my opportunities, would be more
selfish than I am. Some of them, with their own opportunities, are more
selfish. Yet I make this sentimental genuflection before the nun and the
charwoman. Tell me, haven't you any weakness? Isn't there any foolish
natural thing that unbends you a trifle and makes you feel gay?"
"I like to go fishing."
"To see how many fish you can catch?"
"No, I like the woods and the weather. I like to play a fish and work
hard for him. I like the pussy-willows and the cold; and the sky,
whether it's blue or grey—night coming on, every thing about it."
He spoke devoutly, and Kitty watched him through half-closed eyes. "And
you like to feel that there are light-minded girls like me, who only care
about the inside of shops and theatres and hotels, eh? You amuse me, you
and your fish! But I mustn't keep you any longer. Haven't I given you
every opportunity to state your case against me? I thought you would have
more to say for yourself. Do you know, I believe it's not a case you have
at all, but a grudge. I believe you are envious; that you'd like to be a
tenor, and a perfect lady-killer!" She rose, smiling, and paused with her
hand on the door of her stateroom. "Anyhow, thank you for a pleasant
evening. And, by the way, dream of me tonight, and not of either of those
ladies who sat beside you. It does not matter much whom we live with in
this world, but it matters a great deal whom we dream of." She noticed
his bricky flush. "You are very naive, after all, but, oh, so cautious!
You are naturally afraid of everything new, just as I naturally want to
try everything: new people, new religions—new miseries, even. If only
there were more new things—If only you were really new! I might learn
something. I'm like the Queen of Sheba—I'm not above learning. But you,
my friend, would be afraid to try a new shaving soap. It isn't
gravitation that holds the world in place; it's the lazy, obese cowardice
of the people on it. All the same"—taking his hand and smiling
encouragingly—"I'm going to haunt you a little. Adios!"
When Kitty entered her state-room, Céline, in her dressing-gown, was
nodding by the window.
"Mademoiselle found the fat gentleman interesting?" she asked. "It is
"Negatively interesting. His kind always say the same thing. If I could
find one really intelligent man who held his views, I should adopt them."
"Monsieur did not look like an original," murmured Céline, as she began
to take down her lady's hair.
* * * * *
McKann slept heavily, as usual, and the porter had to shake him in
the morning. He sat up in his berth, and, after composing his hair with
his fingers, began to hunt about for his clothes. As he put up the
window-blind some bright object in the little hammock over his bed caught
the sunlight and glittered. He stared and picked up a delicately turned
"Minx! hussy!" he ejaculated. "All that tall talk—! Probably got it from
some man who hangs about; learned it off like a parrot. Did she poke this
in here herself last night, or did she send that sneak-faced Frenchwoman?
I like her nerve!" He wondered whether he might have been breathing
audibly when the intruder thrust her head between his curtains. He was
conscious that he did not look a Prince Charming in his sleep. He dressed
as fast as he could, and, when he was ready to go to the wash-room,
glared at the slipper. If the porter should start to make up his berth in
his absence—He caught the slipper, wrapped it in his pajama jacket, and
thrust it into his bag. He escaped from the train without seeing his
Later McKann threw the slipper into the waste-basket in his room at the
Knickerbocker, but the chambermaid, seeing that it was new and mateless,
thought there must be a mistake, and placed it in his clothes-closet. He
found it there when he returned from the theatre that evening.
Considerably mellowed by food and drink and cheerful company, he took the
slipper in his hand and decided to keep it as a reminder that absurd
things could happen to people of the most clocklike deportment. When he
got back to Pittsburgh, he stuck it in a lock-box in his vault, safe from
* * * * *
McKann has been ill for five years now, poor fellow! He still goes to the
office, because it is the only place that interests him, but his partners
do most of the work, and his clerks find him sadly changed—"morbid,"
they call his state of mind. He has had the pine-trees in his yard cut
down because they remind him of cemeteries. On Sundays or holidays, when
the office is empty, and he takes his will or his insurance-policies
out of his lock-box, he often puts the tarnished gold slipper on his
desk and looks at it. Somehow it suggests life to his tired mind, as his
pine-trees suggested death—life and youth. When he drops over some day,
his executors will be puzzled by the slipper.
As for Kitty Ayrshire, she has played so many jokes, practical and
impractical, since then, that she has long ago forgotten the night when
she threw away a slipper to be a thorn in the side of a just man.
Kitty Ayrshire had a cold, a persistent inflammation of the vocal cords
which defied the throat specialist. Week after week her name was posted
at the Opera, and week after week it was canceled, and the name of one
of her rivals was substituted. For nearly two months she had been
deprived of everything she liked, even of the people she liked, and had
been shut up until she had come to hate the glass windows between her and
the world, and the wintry stretch of the Park they looked out upon. She
was losing a great deal of money, and, what was worse, she was losing
life; days of which she wanted to make the utmost were slipping by, and
nights which were to have crowned the days, nights of incalculable
possibilities, were being stolen from her by women for whom she had no
great affection. At first she had been courageous, but the strain of
prolonged uncertainty was telling on her, and her nervous condition did
not improve her larynx. Every morning Miles Creedon looked down her
throat, only to put her off with evasions, to pronounce improvement that
apparently never got her anywhere, to say that tomorrow he might be able
to promise something definite.
Her illness, of course, gave rise to rumours—rumours that she had lost
her voice, that at some time last summer she must have lost her
discretion. Kitty herself was frightened by the way in which this cold
hung on. She had had many sharp illnesses in her life, but always,
before this, she had rallied quickly. Was she beginning to lose her
resiliency? Was she, by any cursed chance, facing a bleak time when she
would have to cherish herself? She protested, as she wandered about her
sunny, many-windowed rooms on the tenth floor, that if she was going to
have to live frugally, she wouldn't live at all. She wouldn't live on any
terms but the very generous ones she had always known. She wasn't going
to hoard her vitality. It must be there when she wanted it, be ready for
any strain she chose to put upon it, let her play fast and loose with it;
and then, if necessary, she would be ill for a while and pay the piper.
But be systematically prudent and parsimonious she would not.
When she attempted to deliver all this to Doctor Creedon, he merely put
his finger on her lips and said they would discuss these things when she
could talk without injuring her throat. He allowed her to see no one
except the Director of the Opera, who did not shine in conversation and
was not apt to set Kitty going. The Director was a glum fellow, indeed,
but during this calamitous time he had tried to be soothing, and he
agreed with Creedon that she must not risk a premature appearance. Kitty
was tormented by a suspicion that he was secretly backing the little
Spanish woman who had sung many of her parts since she had been ill. He
furthered the girl's interests because his wife had a very special
consideration for her, and Madame had that consideration because—But
that was too long and too dreary a story to follow out in one's mind.
Kitty felt a tonsilitis disgust for opera-house politics, which, when she
was in health, she rather enjoyed, being no mean strategist herself. The
worst of being ill was that it made so many things and people look base.
She was always afraid of being disillusioned. She wished to believe that
everything for sale in Vanity Fair was worth the advertised price. When
she ceased to believe in these delights, she told herself, her pulling
power would decline and she would go to pieces. In some way the chill of
her disillusionment would quiver through the long, black line which
reached from the box-office down to Seventh Avenue on nights when she
sang. They shivered there in the rain and cold, all those people, because
they loved to believe in her inextinguishable zest. She was no prouder of
what she drew in the boxes than she was of that long, oscillating tail;
little fellows in thin coats, Italians, Frenchmen, South-Americans,
When she had been cloistered like a Trappist for six weeks, with nothing
from the outside world but notes and flowers and disquieting morning
papers, Kitty told Miles Creedon that she could not endure complete
isolation any longer.
"I simply cannot live through the evenings. They have become horrors to
me. Every night is the last night of a condemned man. I do nothing but
cry, and that makes my throat worse."
Miles Creedon, handsomest of his profession, was better looking with some
invalids than with others. His athletic figure, his red cheeks, and
splendid teeth always had a cheering effect upon this particular patient,
who hated anything weak or broken.
"What can I do, my dear? What do you wish? Shall I come and hold your
lovely hand from eight to ten? You have only to suggest it."
"Would you do that, even? No, caro mio, I take far too much of your
time as it is. For an age now you have been the only man in the world
to me, and you have been charming! But the world is big, and I am missing
it. Let some one come tonight, some one interesting, but not too
interesting. Pierce Tevis, for instance. He is just back from Paris. Tell
the nurse I may see him for an hour tonight," Kitty finished pleadingly,
and put her fingers on the doctor's sleeve. He looked down at them and
Like other people, he was weak to Kitty Ayrshire. He would do for her
things that he would do for no one else; would break any engagement,
desert a dinner-table, leaving an empty place and an offended hostess, to
sit all evening in Kitty's dressing-room, spraying her throat and calming
her nerves, using every expedient to get her through a performance. He
had studied her voice like a singing master; knew all of its
idiosyncracies and the emotional and nervous perturbations which affected
it. When it was permissible, sometimes when it was not permissible, he
indulged her caprices. On this sunny morning her wan, disconsolate face
"Yes, you may see Tevis this evening if you will assure me that you will
not shed one tear for twenty-four hours. I may depend on your word?" He
rose, and stood before the deep couch on which his patient reclined. Her
arch look seemed to say, "On what could you depend more?" Creedon smiled,
and shook his head. "If I find you worse tomorrow—"
He crossed to the writing-table and began to separate a bunch of tiny
flame-coloured rosebuds. "May I?" Selecting one, he sat down on the
chair from which he had lately risen, and leaned forward while Kitty
pinched the thorns from the stem and arranged the flower in his
"Thank you. I like to wear one of yours. Now I must be off to the
hospital. I've a nasty little operation to do this morning. I'm glad it's
not you. Shall I telephone Tevis about this evening?"
Kitty hesitated. Her eyes ran rapidly about, seeking a likely pretext.
"Oh, I see. You've already asked him to come. You were so sure of me! Two
hours in bed after lunch, with all the windows open, remember. Read
something diverting, but not exciting; some homely British author;
nothing abandonné. And don't make faces at me. Until to-morrow!"
When her charming doctor had disappeared through the doorway, Kitty fell
back on her cushions and closed her eyes. Her mocking-bird, excited by
the sunlight, was singing in his big gilt cage, and a white lilac-tree
that had come that morning was giving out its faint sweetness in the
warm room. But Kitty looked paler and wearier than when the doctor was
with her. Even with him she rose to her part just a little; couldn't help
it. And he took his share of her vivacity and sparkle, like every one
else. He believed that his presence was soothing to her. But he admired;
and whoever admired, blew on the flame, however lightly.
The mocking-bird was in great form this morning. He had the best
bird-voice she had ever heard, and Kitty wished there were some way to
note down his improvisations; but his intervals were not expressible in
any scale she knew. Parker White had brought him to her, from Ojo
Caliente, in New Mexico, where he had been trained in the pine forests by
an old Mexican and an ill-tempered, lame master-bird, half thrush, that
taught young birds to sing. This morning, in his song there were flashes
of silvery Southern springtime; they opened inviting roads of memory. In
half an hour he had sung his disconsolate mistress to sleep.
That evening Kitty sat curled up on the deep couch before the fire,
awaiting Pierce Tevis. Her costume was folds upon folds of diaphanous
white over equally diaphanous rose, with a line of white fur about her
neck. Her beautiful arms were bare. Her tiny Chinese slippers were
embroidered so richly that they resembled the painted porcelain of old
vases. She looked like a sultan's youngest, newest bride; a beautiful
little toy-woman, sitting at one end of the long room which composed
about her,—which, in the soft light, seemed happily arranged for her.
There were flowers everywhere: rose-trees; camellia-bushes, red and
white; the first forced hyacinths of the season; a feathery mimosa-tree,
tall enough to stand under.
The long front of Kitty's study was all windows. At one end was the
fireplace, before which she sat. At the other end, back in a lighted
alcove, hung a big, warm, sympathetic interior by Lucien Simon,—a group
of Kitty's friends having tea in the painter's salon in Paris. The room
in the picture was flooded with early lamp-light, and one could feel the
grey, chill winter twilight in the Paris streets outside. There stood the
cavalier-like old composer, who had done much for Kitty, in his most
characteristic attitude, before the hearth. Mme. Simon sat at the
tea-table. B——, the historian, and H——, the philologist, stood in
animated discussion behind the piano, while Mme. H—— was tying on the
bonnet of her lovely little daughter. Marcel Durand, the physicist, sat
alone in a corner, his startling black-and-white profile lowered
broodingly, his cold hands locked over his sharp knee. A genial,
red-bearded sculptor stood over him, about to touch him on the shoulder
and waken him from his dream.
This painting made, as it were, another room; so that Kitty's study on
Central Park West seemed to open into that charming French interior, into
one of the most highly harmonized and richly associated rooms in Paris.
There her friends sat or stood about, men distinguished, women at once
plain and beautiful, with their furs and bonnets, their clothes that were
so distinctly not smart—all held together by the warm lamp-light, by an
indescribable atmosphere of graceful and gracious human living.
Pierce Tevis, after he had entered noiselessly and greeted Kitty, stood
before her fire and looked over her shoulder at this picture.
"It's nice that you have them there together, now that they are
scattered, God knows where, fighting to preserve just that. But your own
room, too, is charming," he added at last, taking his eyes from the
Kitty shrugged her shoulders.
"Bah! I can help to feed the lamp, but I can't supply the dear things it
"Well, tonight it shines upon you and me, and we aren't so bad." Tevis
stepped forward and took her hand affectionately. "You've been over a
rough bit of road. I'm so sorry. It's left you looking very lovely,
though. Has it been very hard to get on?"
She brushed his hand gratefully against her cheek and nodded.
"Awfully dismal. Everything has been shut out from me but—gossip. That
always gets in. Often I don't mind, but this time I have. People do tell
such lies about me."
"Of course we do. That's part of our fun, one of the many pleasures you
give us. It only shows how hard up we are for interesting public
personages; for a royal family, for romantic fiction, if you will. But I
never hear any stories that wound me, and I'm very sensitive about you."
"I'm gossiped about rather more than the others, am I not?"
"I believe! Heaven send that the day when you are not gossiped about is
far distant! Do you want to bite off your nose to spite your pretty face?
You are the sort of person who makes myths. You can't turn around without
making one. That's your singular good luck. A whole staff of publicity
men, working day and night, couldn't do for you what you do for yourself.
There is an affinity between you and the popular imagination."
"I suppose so," said Kitty, and sighed. "All the same, I'm getting almost
as tired of the person I'm supposed to be as of the person I really am. I
wish you would invent a new Kitty Ayrshire for me, Pierce. Can't I do
something revolutionary? Marry, for instance?"
Tevis rose in alarm.
"Whatever you do, don't try to change your legend. You have now the one
that gives the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number of people.
Don't disappoint your public. The popular imagination, to which you make
such a direct appeal, for some reason wished you to have a son, so it has
given you one. I've heard a dozen versions of the story, but it is always
a son, never by any chance a daughter. Your public gives you what is best
for you. Let well enough alone."
Kitty yawned and dropped back on her cushions.
"He still persists, does he, in spite of never being visible?"
"Oh, but he has been seen by ever so many people. Let me think a moment."
He sank into an attitude of meditative ease. "The best description I ever
had of him was from a friend of my mother, an elderly woman, thoroughly
truthful and matter-of-fact. She has seen him often. He is kept in
Russia, in St. Petersburg, that was. He is about eight years old and of
marvellous beauty. He is always that in every version. My old friend has
seen him being driven in his sledge on the Nevskii Prospekt on winter
afternoons; black horses with silver bells and a giant in uniform on the
seat beside the driver. He is always attended by this giant, who is
responsible to the Grand Duke Paul for the boy. This lady can produce no
evidence beyond his beauty and his splendid furs and the fact that all
the Americans in Petrograd know he is your son."
Kitty laughed mournfully.
"If the Grand Duke Paul had a son, any old rag of a son, the province of
Moscow couldn't contain him! He may, for aught I know, actually pretend
to have a son. It would be very like him." She looked at her finger-tips
and her rings disapprovingly for a moment. "Do you know, I've been
thinking that I would rather like to lay hands on that youngster. I
believe he'd be interesting. I'm bored with the world."
Tevis looked up and said quickly:
"Would you like him, really?"
"Of course I should," she said indignantly. "But, then, I like other
things, too; and one has to choose. When one has only two or three things
to choose from, life is hard; when one has many, it is harder still. No,
on the whole, I don't mind that story. It's rather pretty, except for the
Grand Duke. But not all of them are pretty."
"Well, none of them are very ugly; at least I never heard but one that
troubled me, and that was long ago."
She looked interested.
"That is what I want to know; how do the ugly ones get started? How did
that one get going and what was it about? Is it too dreadful to repeat?"
"No, it's not especially dreadful; merely rather shabby. If you really
wish to know, and won't be vexed, I can tell you exactly how it got
going, for I took the trouble to find out. But it's a long story, and you
really had nothing whatever to do with it."
"Then who did have to do with it? Tell me; I should like to know exactly
how even one of them originated."
"Will you be comfortable and quiet and not get into a rage, and let me
look at you as much as I please?"
Kitty nodded, and Tevis sat watching her indolently while he debated how
much of his story he ought not to tell her. Kitty liked being looked at
by intelligent persons. She knew exactly how good looking she was; and
she knew, too, that, pretty as she was, some of those rather sallow
women in the Simon painting had a kind of beauty which she would never
have. This knowledge, Tevis was thinking, this important realization,
contributed more to her loveliness than any other thing about her; more
than her smooth, ivory skin or her changing grey eyes, the delicate
forehead above them, or even the dazzling smile, which was gradually
becoming too bright and too intentional,—out in the world, at least.
Here by her own fire she still had for her friends a smile less electric
than the one she flashed from stages. She could still be, in short,
intime, a quality which few artists keep, which few ever had.
Kitty broke in on her friend's meditations.
"You may smoke. I had rather you did. I hate to deprive people of things
"No, thanks. May I have those chocolates on the tea-table? They are quite
as bad for me. May you? No, I suppose not." He settled himself by the
fire, with the candy beside him, and began in the agreeable voice which
always soothed his listener.
"As I said, it was a long while ago, when you first came back to this
country and were singing at the Manhattan. I dropped in at the
Metropolitan one evening to hear something new they were trying out. It
was an off night, no pullers in the cast, and nobody in the boxes but
governesses and poor relations. At the end of the first act two people
entered one of the boxes in the second tier. The man was Siegmund Stein,
the department-store millionaire, and the girl, so the men about me in
the omnibus box began to whisper, was Kitty Ayrshire. I didn't know you
then, but I was unwilling to believe that you were with Stein. I could
not contradict them at that time, however, for the resemblance, if it was
merely a resemblance, was absolute, and all the world knew that you were
not singing at the Manhattan that night. The girl's hair was dressed just
as you then wore yours. Moreover, her head was small and restless like
yours, and she had your colouring, your eyes, your chin. She carried
herself with the critical indifference one might expect in an artist who
had come for a look at a new production that was clearly doomed to
failure. She applauded lightly. She made comments to Stein when comments
were natural enough. I thought, as I studied her face with the glass,
that her nose was a trifle thinner than yours, a prettier nose, my dear
Kitty, but stupider and more inflexible. All the same, I was troubled
until I saw her laugh,—and then I knew she was a counterfeit. I had
never seen you laugh, but I knew that you would not laugh like that. It
was not boisterous; indeed, it was consciously refined,—mirthless,
meaningless. In short, it was not the laugh of one whom our friends in
there"—pointing to the Simon painting—"would honour with their
affection and admiration."
Kitty rose on her elbow and burst out indignantly:
"So you would really have been hood-winked except for that! You may be
sure that no woman, no intelligent woman, would have been. Why do we ever
take the trouble to look like anything for any of you? I could count on
my four fingers"—she held them up and shook them at him—"the men I've
known who had the least perception of what any woman really looked like,
and they were all dressmakers. Even painters"—glancing back in the
direction of the Simon picture—"never get more than one type through
their thick heads; they try to make all women look like some wife or
mistress. You are all the same; you never see our real faces. What you do
see, is some cheap conception of prettiness you got from a coloured
supplement when you were adolescents. It's too discouraging. I'd rather
take vows and veil my face for ever from such abominable eyes. In the
kingdom of the blind any petticoat is a queen." Kitty thumped the cushion
with her elbow. "Well, I can't do anything about it. Go on with your
"Aren't you furious, Kitty! And I thought I was so shrewd. I've quite
forgotten where I was. Anyhow, I was not the only man fooled. After the
last curtain I met Villard, the press man of that management, in the
lobby, and asked him whether Kitty Ayrshire was in the house. He said he
thought so. Stein had telephoned for a box, and said he was bringing one
of the artists from the other company. Villard had been too busy about
the new production to go to the box, but he was quite sure the woman was
Ayrshire, whom he had met in Paris.
"Not long after that I met Dan Leland, a classmate of mine, at the
Harvard Club. He's a journalist, and he used to keep such eccentric hours
that I had not run across him for a long time. We got to talking about
modern French music, and discovered that we both had a very lively
interest in Kitty Ayrshire.
"'Could you tell me,' Dan asked abruptly, 'why, with pretty much all the
known world to choose her friends from, this young woman should flit
about with Siegmund Stein? It prejudices people against her. He's a most
"'Have you,' I asked, 'seen her with him, yourself?'
"Yes, he had seen her driving with Stein, and some of the men on his
paper had seen her dining with him at rather queer places down town.
Stein was always hanging about the Manhattan on nights when Kitty sang. I
told Dan that I suspected a masquerade. That interested him, and
he said he thought he would look into the matter. In short, we both
agreed to look into it. Finally, we got the story, though Dan could never
use it, could never even hint at it, because Stein carries heavy
advertising in his paper.
"To make you see the point, I must give you a little history of Siegmund
Stein. Any one who has seen him never forgets him. He is one of the most
hideous men in New York, but it's not at all the common sort of ugliness
that comes from over-eating and automobiles. He isn't one of the fat
horrors. He has one of those rigid, horselike faces that never tell
anything; a long nose, flattened as if it had been tied down; a scornful
chin; long, white teeth; flat cheeks, yellow as a Mongolian's; tiny,
black eyes, with puffy lids and no lashes; dingy, dead-looking
hair—looks as if it were glued on.
"Stein came here a beggar from somewhere in Austria. He began by working
on the machines in old Rosenthal's garment factory. He became a speeder,
a foreman, a salesman; worked his way ahead steadily until the hour when
he rented an old dwelling-house on Seventh Avenue and began to make
misses' and juniors' coats. I believe he was the first manufacturer to
specialize in those particular articles. Dozens of garment manufacturers
have come along the same road, but Stein is like none of the rest of
them. He is, and always was, a personality. While he was still at the
machine, a hideous, underfed little whippersnapper, he was already a
youth of many-coloured ambitions, deeply concerned about his dress, his
associates, his recreations. He haunted the old Astor Library and the
Metropolitan Museum, learned something about pictures and porcelains,
took singing lessons, though he had a voice like a crow's. When he sat
down to his baked apple and doughnut in a basement lunch-room, he would
prop a book up before him and address his food with as much leisure and
ceremony as if he were dining at his club. He held himself at a distance
from his fellow-workmen and somehow always managed to impress them with
his superiority. He had inordinate vanity, and there are many stories
about his foppishness. After his first promotion in Rosenthal's factory,
he bought a new overcoat. A few days later, one of the men at the
machines, which Stein had just quitted, appeared in a coat exactly like
it. Stein could not discharge him, but he gave his own coat to a newly
arrived Russian boy and got another. He was already magnificent.
"After he began to make headway with misses' and juniors' cloaks, he
became a collector—etchings, china, old musical instruments. He had a
dancing master, and engaged a beautiful Brazilian widow—she was said to
be a secret agent for some South American republic—to teach him
Spanish. He cultivated the society of the unknown great: poets, actors,
musicians. He entertained them sumptuously, and they regarded him
as a deep, mysterious Jew who had the secret of gold, which they had not.
His business associates thought him a man of taste and culture, a patron
of the arts, a credit to the garment trade.
"One of Stein's many ambitions was to be thought a success with women. He
got considerable notoriety in the garment world by his attentions to an
emotional actress who is now quite forgotten, but who had her little hour
of expectation. Then there was a dancer; then, just after Gorky's visit
here, a Russian anarchist woman. After that the coat-makers and
shirtwaist-makers began to whisper that Stein's great success was
with Kitty Ayrshire.
"It is the hardest thing in the world to disprove such a story, as Dan
Leland and I discovered. We managed to worry down the girl's address
through a taxi-cab driver who got next to Stein's chauffeur. She had an
apartment in a decent-enough house on Waverly Place. Nobody ever came to
see her but Stein, her sisters, and a little Italian girl from whom we
got the story.
"The counterfeit's name was Ruby Mohr. She worked in a shirtwaist
factory, and this Italian girl, Margarita, was her chum. Stein came to
the factory when he was hunting for living models for his new department
store. He looked the girls over, and picked Ruby out from several
hundred. He had her call at his office after business hours, tried her
out in cloaks and evening gowns, and offered her a position. She never,
however, appeared as a model in the Sixth Avenue store. Her likeness to
the newly arrived prima donna suggested to Stein another act in the play
he was always putting on. He gave two of her sisters positions as
saleswomen, but Ruby he established in an apartment on Waverly Place.
"To the outside world Stein became more mysterious in his behaviour
than ever. He dropped his Bohemian friends. No more suppers and
theatre-parties. Whenever Kitty sang, he was in his box at the Manhattan,
usually alone, but not always. Sometimes he took two or three good
customers, large buyers from St. Louis or Kansas City. His coat factory
is still the biggest earner of his properties. I've seen him there with
these buyers, and they carried themselves as if they were being let in on
something; took possession of the box with a proprietory air, smiled and
applauded and looked wise as if each and every one of them were friends
of Kitty Ayrshire. While they buzzed and trained their field-glasses
on the prima donna, Stein was impassive and silent. I don't imagine he
even told many lies. He is the most insinuating cuss, anyhow. He probably
dropped his voice or lifted his eyebrows when he invited them, and let
their own eager imaginations do the rest. But what tales they took back
to their provincial capitals!
"Sometimes, before they left New York, they were lucky enough to see
Kitty dining with their clever garment man at some restaurant, her back
to the curious crowd, her face half concealed by a veil or a fur collar.
Those people are like children; nothing that is true or probable
interests them. They want the old, gaudy lies, told always in the same
way. Siegmund Stein and Kitty Ayrshire—a story like that, once launched,
is repeated unchallenged for years among New York factory sports. In St.
Paul, St. Jo, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, there used to be clothing
stores where a photograph of Kitty Ayrshire hung in the fitting-room or
over the proprietor's desk.
"This girl impersonated you successfully to the lower manufacturing world
of New York for two seasons. I doubt if it could have been put across
anywhere else in the world except in this city, which pays you so
magnificently and believes of you what it likes. Then you went over to
the Metropolitan, stopped living in hotels, took this apartment, and
began to know people. Stein discontinued his pantomime at the right
moment, withdrew his patronage. Ruby, of course, did not go back to
shirtwaists. A business friend of Stein's took her over, and she dropped
out of sight. Last winter, one cold, snowy night, I saw her once again.
She was going into a saloon hotel with a tough-looking young fellow. She
had been drinking, she was shabby, and her blue shoes left stains in the
slush. But she still looked amazingly, convincingly like a battered,
hardened Kitty Ayrshire. As I saw her going up the brass-edged stairs, I
said to myself—"
"Never mind that." Kitty rose quickly, took an impatient step to the
hearth, and thrust one shining porcelain slipper out to the fire. "The
girl doesn't interest me. There is nothing I can do about her, and of
course she never looked like me at all. But what did Stein do without
"Stein? Oh, he chose a new rôle. He married with great
magnificence—married a Miss Mandelbaum, a California heiress. Her
people have a line of department stores along the Pacific Coast. The
Steins now inhabit a great house on Fifth Avenue that used to belong to
people of a very different sort. To old New-Yorkers, it's an historic
Kitty laughed, and sat down on the end of her couch nearest her guest;
sat upright, without cushions.
"I imagine I know more about that house than you do. Let me tell you how
I made the sequel to your story.
"It has to do with Peppo Amoretti. You may remember that I brought Peppo
to this country, and brought him in, too, the year the war broke out,
when it wasn't easy to get boys who hadn't done military service out of
Italy. I had taken him to Munich to have some singing lessons. After the
war came on we had to get from Munich to Naples in order to sail at all.
We were told that we could take only hand luggage on the railways, but I
took nine trunks and Peppo. I dressed Peppo in knickerbockers, made him
brush his curls down over his ears like doughnuts, and carry a little
violin-case. It took us eleven days to reach Naples. I got my trunks
through purely by personal persuasion. Once at Naples, I had a frightful
time getting Peppo on the boat. I declared him as hand-luggage; he was so
travel-worn and so crushed by his absurd appearance that he did not look
like much else. One inspector had a sense of humour, and passed him at
that, but the other was inflexible. I had to be very dramatic. Peppo was
frightened, and there is no fight in him, anyhow.
"'Per me tutto e indifferente, Signorina,' he kept whimpering. 'Why
should I go without it? I have lost it.'
"'Which?' I screamed. 'Not the hat-trunk?'
"'No, no; mia voce. It is gone since Ravenna.'
"He thought he had lost his voice somewhere along the way. At last I told
the inspector that I couldn't live without Peppo, and that I would throw
myself into the bay. I took him into my confidence. Of course, when I
found I had to play on that string, I wished I hadn't made the
boy such a spectacle. But ridiculous as he was, I managed to make the
inspector believe that I had kidnapped him, and that he was indispensable
to my happiness. I found that incorruptible official, like most people,
willing to aid one so utterly depraved. I could never have got that boy
out for any proper, reasonable purpose, such as giving him a job or
sending him to school. Well, it's a queer world! But I must cut all that
and get to the Steins.
"That first winter Peppo had no chance at the Opera. There was an iron
ring about him, and my interest in him only made it all the more
difficult. We've become a nest of intrigues down there; worse than the
Scala. Peppo had to scratch along just any way. One evening he came to me
and said he could get an engagement to sing for the grand rich Steins,
but the condition was that I should sing with him. They would pay, oh,
anything! And the fact that I had sung a private engagement with him
would give him other engagements of the same sort. As you know, I
never sing private engagements; but to help the boy along, I consented.
"On the night of the party, Peppo and I went to the house together in a
taxi. My car was ailing. At the hour when the music was about to begin,
the host and hostess appeared at my dressing-room, up-stairs. Isn't he
wonderful? Your description was most inadequate. I never encountered
such restrained, frozen, sculptured vanity. My hostess struck me as
extremely good natured and jolly, though somewhat intimate in her manner.
Her reassuring pats and smiles puzzled me at the time, I remember, when I
didn't know that she had anything in particular to be large-minded and
charitable about. Her husband made known his willingness to conduct me
to the music-room, and we ceremoniously descended a staircase blooming
like the hanging-gardens of Babylon. From there I had my first glimpse
of the company. They were strange people. The women glittered like
Christmas-trees. When we were half-way down the stairs, the buzz of
conversation stopped so suddenly that some foolish remark I happened to
be making rang out like oratory. Every face was lifted toward us. My
host and I completed our descent and went the length of the drawing-room
through a silence which somewhat awed me. I couldn't help wishing that
one could ever get that kind of attention in a concert-hall. In the
music-room Stein insisted upon arranging things for me. I must say that
he was neither awkward nor stupid, not so wooden as most rich men who
rent singers. I was properly affable. One has, under such circumstances,
to be either gracious or pouty. Either you have to stand and sulk, like
an old-fashioned German singer who wants the piano moved about for her
like a tea-wagon, and the lights turned up and the lights turned
down,—or you have to be a trifle forced, like a débutante trying to make
good. The fixed attention of my audience affected me. I was aware of
unusual interest, of a thoroughly enlisted public. When, however, my host
at last left me, I felt the tension relax to such an extent that I
wondered whether by any chance he, and not I, was the object of so much
curiosity. But, at any rate, their cordiality pleased me so well that
after Peppo and I had finished our numbers I sang an encore or two, and
I stayed through Peppo's performance because I felt that they liked to
look at me.
"I had asked not to be presented to people, but Mrs. Stein, of course,
brought up a few friends. The throng began closing in upon me, glowing
faces bore down from every direction, and I realized that, among people
of such unscrupulous cordiality, I must look out for myself. I ran
through the drawing-room and fled up the stairway, which was thronged
with Old Testament characters. As I passed them, they all looked at me
with delighted, cherishing eyes, as if I had at last come back to my
native hamlet. At the top of the stairway a young man, who looked like a
camel with its hair parted on the side, stopped me, seized my hands and
said he must present himself, as he was such an old friend of Siegmund's
bachelor days. I said, 'Yes, how interesting!' The atmosphere was somehow
so thick and personal that I felt uncomfortable.
"When I reached my dressing-room Mrs. Stein followed me to say that I
would, of course, come down to supper, as a special table had been
prepared for me. I replied that it was not my custom.
"'But here it is different. With us you must feel perfect freedom.
Siegmund will never forgive me if you do not stay. After supper our car
will take you home.' She was overpowering. She had the manner of an
intimate and indulgent friend of long standing. She seemed to have come
to make me a visit. I could only get rid of her by telling her that I
must see Peppo at once, if she would be good enough to send him to me.
She did not come back, and I began to fear that I would actually be
dragged down to supper. It was as if I had been kidnapped. I felt like
Gulliver among the giants. These people were all too—well, too much
what they were. No chill of manner could hold them off. I was
defenseless. I must get away. I ran to the top of the staircase and
looked down. There was that fool Peppo, beleaguered by a bevy of fair
women. They were simply looting him, and he was grinning like an idiot. I
gathered up my train, ran down, and made a dash at him, yanked him out of
that circle of rich contours, and dragged him by a limp cuff up the
stairs after me. I told him that I must escape from that house at once.
If he could get to the telephone, well and good; but if he couldn't get
past so many deep-breathing ladies, then he must break out of the front
door and hunt me a cab on foot. I felt as if I were about to be immured
within a harem.
"He had scarcely dashed off when the host called my name several times
outside the door. Then he knocked and walked in, uninvited. I told him
that I would be inflexible about supper. He must make my excuses to his
charming friends; any pretext he chose. He did not insist. He took up his
stand by the fireplace and began to talk; said rather intelligent things.
I did not drive him out; it was his own house, and he made himself
agreeable. After a time a deputation of his friends came down the hall,
somewhat boisterously, to say that supper could not be served until we
came down. Stein was still standing by the mantel, I remember. He
scattered them, without moving or speaking to them, by a portentous
look. There is something hideously forceful about him. He took a very
profound leave of me, and said he would order his car at once. In a
moment Peppo arrived, splashed to the ankles, and we made our escape
"A week later Peppo came to me in a rage, with a paper called The
American Gentleman, and showed me a page devoted to three photographs:
Mr. and Mrs. Siegmund Stein, lately married in New York City, and Kitty
Ayrshire, operatic soprano, who sang at their house-warming. Mrs. Stein
and I were grinning our best, looked frantic with delight, and Siegmund
frowned inscrutably between us. Poor Peppo wasn't mentioned. Stein has a
"And you have enormous publicity value and no discretion. It was just
like you to fall for such a plot, Kitty. You'd be sure to."
"What's the use of discretion?" She murmured behind her hand. "If the
Steins want to adopt you into their family circle, they'll get you in the
end. That's why I don't feel compassionate about your Ruby. She and I are
in the same boat. We are both the victims of circumstance, and in New
York so many of the circumstances are Steins."
It was Paul's afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh
High School to account for his various misdemeanours. He had been
suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal's office
and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room
suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle out-grown, and the tan
velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for
all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal
pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his
button-hole. This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not
properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban
Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and
a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical
brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort
of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large,
as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter
about them which that drug does not produce.
When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there, Paul stated,
politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie,
but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable
for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their
respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancour and
aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case. Disorder and
impertinence were among the offences named, yet each of his instructors
felt that it was scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of
the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the
boy's; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he
seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been
making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher
had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started
back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The
astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had
he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal
as to be unforgettable. In one way and another, he had made all his
teachers, men and women alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical
aversion. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes;
in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in
another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous
His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized
by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon
him without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack. He stood through
it smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were
continually twitching, and he had a habit of raising his eyebrows that
was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than
Paul had broken down and shed tears under that ordeal, but his set smile
did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous
trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and
an occasional jerking of the other hand which held his hat. Paul was
always smiling, always glancing about him, seeming to feel that people
might be watching him and trying to detect something. This conscious
expression, since it was as far as possible from boyish mirthfulness, was
usually attributed to insolence or "smartness."
As the inquisition proceeded, one of his instructors repeated an
impertinent remark of the boy's, and the Principal asked him whether he
thought that a courteous speech to make to a woman. Paul shrugged his
shoulders slightly and his eyebrows twitched.
"I don't know," he replied. "I didn't mean to be polite or impolite,
either. I guess it's a sort of way I have, of saying things regardless."
The Principal asked him whether he didn't think that a way it would be
well to get rid of. Paul grinned and said he guessed so. When he was told
that he could go, he bowed gracefully and went out. His bow was like a
repetition of the scandalous red carnation.
His teachers were in despair, and his drawing master voiced the feeling
of them all when he declared there was something about the boy which
none of them understood. He added: "I don't really believe that smile of
his comes altogether from insolence; there's something sort of haunted
about it. The boy is not strong, for one thing. There is something wrong
about the fellow."
The drawing master had come to realize that, in looking at Paul, one saw
only his white teeth and the forced animation of his eyes. One warm
afternoon the boy had gone to sleep at his drawing-board, and his master
had noted with amazement what a white, blue-veined face it was; drawn and
wrinkled like an old man's about the eyes, the lips twitching even in his
His teachers left the building dissatisfied and unhappy; humiliated to
have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy, to have uttered this feeling
in cutting terms, and to have set each other on, as it were, in the
grewsome game of intemperate reproach. One of them remembered having seen
a miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors.
As for Paul, he ran down the hill whistling the Soldiers' Chorus from
Faust, looking wildly behind him now and then to see whether some of
his teachers were not there to witness his lightheartedness. As it was
now late in the afternoon and Paul was on duty that evening as usher at
Carnegie Hall, he decided that he would not go home to supper.
When he reached the concert hall the doors were not yet open. It was
chilly outside, and he decided to go up into the picture gallery—always
deserted at this hour—where there were some of Raffelli's gay studies of
Paris streets and an airy blue Venetian scene or two that always
exhilarated him. He was delighted to find no one in the gallery but the
old guard, who sat in the corner, a newspaper on his knee, a black patch
over one eye and the other closed. Paul possessed himself of the place
and walked confidently up and down, whistling under his breath. After a
while he sat down before a blue Rico and lost himself. When he bethought
him to look at his watch, it was after seven o'clock, and he rose with a
start and ran downstairs, making a face at Augustus Caesar, peering out
from the cast-room, and an evil gesture at the Venus of Milo as he passed
her on the stairway.
When Paul reached the ushers' dressing-room half-a-dozen boys were there
already, and he began excitedly to tumble into his uniform. It was one of
the few that at all approached fitting, and Paul thought it very
becoming—though he knew the tight, straight coat accentuated his narrow
chest, about which he was exceedingly sensitive. He was always excited
while he dressed, twanging all over to the tuning of the strings and the
preliminary flourishes of the horns in the music-room; but tonight he
seemed quite beside himself, and he teased and plagued the boys until,
telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor and sat on
Somewhat calmed by his suppression, Paul dashed out to the front of the
house to seat the early comers. He was a model usher. Gracious and
smiling he ran up and down the aisles. Nothing was too much trouble for
him; he carried messages and brought programs as though it were his
greatest pleasure in life, and all the people in his section thought him
a charming boy, feeling that he remembered and admired them. As the house
filled, he grew more and more vivacious and animated, and the colour came
to his cheeks and lips. It was very much as though this were a great
reception and Paul were the host. Just as the musicians came out to take
their places, his English teacher arrived with checks for the seats which
a prominent manufacturer had taken for the season. She betrayed some
embarrassment when she handed Paul the tickets, and a hauteur which
subsequently made her feel very foolish. Paul was startled for a moment,
and had the feeling of wanting to put her out; what business had she here
among all these fine people and gay colours? He looked her over and
decided that she was not appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit
downstairs in such togs. The tickets had probably been sent her out of
kindness, he reflected, as he put down a seat for her, and she had about
as much right to sit there as he had.
When the symphony began Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long
sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico. It was
not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but
the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious spirit
within him; something that struggled there like the Genius in the bottle
found by the Arab fisherman. He felt a sudden zest of life; the lights
danced before his eyes and the concert hall blazed into unimaginable
splendour. When the soprano soloist came on, Paul forgot even the
nastiness of his teacher's being there, and gave himself up to the
peculiar intoxication such personages always had for him. The soloist
chanced to be a German woman, by no means in her first youth, and the
mother of many children; but she wore a satin gown and a tiara, and she
had that indefinable air of achievement, that world-shine upon her, which
always blinded Paul to any possible defects.
After a concert was over, Paul was often irritable and wretched until he
got to sleep,—and tonight he was even more than usually restless. He had
the feeling of not being able to let down; of its being impossible to
give up this delicious excitement which was the only thing that could
be called living at all. During the last number he withdrew and, after
hastily changing his clothes in the dressing-room, slipped out to the
side door where the singer's carriage stood. Here he began pacing rapidly
up and down the walk, waiting to see her come out.
Over yonder the Schenley, in its vacant stretch, loomed big and square
through the fine rain, the windows of its twelve stories glowing like
those of a lighted card-board house under a Christmas tree. All the
actors and singers of any importance stayed there when they were in the
city, and a number of the big manufacturers of the place lived there in
the winter. Paul had often hung about the hotel, watching the people go
in and out, longing to enter and leave school-masters and dull care
behind him for ever.
At last the singer came out, accompanied by the conductor, who helped
her into her carriage and closed the door with a cordial auf
wiedersehen,—which set Paul to wondering whether she were
not an old sweetheart of his. Paul followed the carriage over to the
hotel, walking so rapidly as not to be far from the entrance when the
singer alighted and disappeared behind the swinging glass doors which
were opened by a negro in a tall hat and a long coat. In the moment that
the door was ajar, it seemed to Paul that he, too, entered. He seemed to
feel himself go after her up the steps, into the warm, lighted building,
into an exotic, a tropical world of shiny, glistening surfaces and
basking ease. He reflected upon the mysterious dishes that were brought
into the dining-room, the green bottles in buckets of ice, as he had seen
them in the supper party pictures of the Sunday supplement. A quick gust
of wind brought the rain down with sudden vehemence, and Paul was
startled to find that he was still outside in the slush of the gravel
driveway; that his boots were letting in the water and his scanty
overcoat was clinging wet about him; that the lights in front of the
concert hall were out, and that the rain was driving in sheets between
him and the orange glow of the windows above him. There it was, what he
wanted—tangibly before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas
pantomime; as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were
destined always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it.
He turned and walked reluctantly toward the car tracks. The end had to
come sometime; his father in his night-clothes at the top of the stairs,
explanations that did not explain, hastily improvised fictions that were
forever tripping him up, his upstairs room and its horrible yellow
wallpaper, the creaking bureau with the greasy plush collar-box, and over
his painted wooden bed the pictures of George Washington and John Calvin,
and the framed motto, "Feed my Lambs," which had been worked in red
worsted by his mother, whom Paul could not remember.
Half an hour later, Paul alighted from the Negley Avenue car and went
slowly down one of the side streets off the main thoroughfare. It was a
highly respectable street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and
where business men of moderate means begot and reared large families
of children, all of whom went to Sabbath-school and learned the shorter
catechism, and were interested in arithmetic; all of whom were as exactly
alike as their homes, and of a piece with the monotony in which they
lived. Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing.
His home was next the house of the Cumberland minister. He approached it
tonight with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of
sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had
when he came home. The moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the
waters close above his head. After each of these orgies of living, he
experienced all the physical depression which follows a debauch; the
loathing of respectable beds, of common food, of a house permeated by
kitchen odours; a shuddering repulsion for the flavourless, colourless
mass of every-day existence; a morbid desire for cool things and soft
lights and fresh flowers.
The nearer he approached the house, the more absolutely unequal Paul felt
to the sight of it all; his ugly sleeping chamber; the cold bath-room
with the grimy zinc tub, the cracked mirror, the dripping spiggots; his
father, at the top of the stairs, his hairy legs sticking out from his
nightshirt, his feet thrust into carpet slippers. He was so much later
than usual that there would certainly be inquiries and reproaches. Paul
stopped short before the door. He felt that he could not be accosted by
his father tonight; that he could not toss again on that miserable bed.
He would not go in. He would tell his father that he had no car fare, and
it was raining so hard he had gone home with one of the boys and stayed
Meanwhile, he was wet and cold. He went around to the back of the house
and tried one of the basement windows, found it open, raised it
cautiously, and scrambled down the cellar wall to the floor. There he
stood, holding his breath, terrified by the noise he had made; but the
floor above him was silent, and there was no creak on the stairs. He
found a soap-box, and carried it over to the soft ring of light that
streamed from the furnace door, and sat down. He was horribly afraid of
rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the
dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father. In such
reactions, after one of the experiences which made days and nights out of
the dreary blanks of the calendar, when his senses were deadened, Paul's
head was always singularly clear. Suppose his father had heard him
getting in at the window and had come down and shot him for a burglar?
Then, again, suppose his father had come down, pistol in hand, and he had
cried out in time to save himself, and his father had been horrified to
think how nearly he had killed him? Then, again, suppose a day should
come when his father would remember that night, and wish there had been
no warning cry to stay his hand? With this last supposition Paul
entertained himself until daybreak.
The following Sunday was fine; the sodden November chill was broken by
the last flash of autumnal summer. In the morning Paul had to go to
church and Sabbath-school, as always. On seasonable Sunday afternoons the
burghers of Cordelia Street usually sat out on their front "stoops," and
talked to their neighbours on the next stoop, or called to those across
the street in neighbourly fashion. The men sat placidly on gay cushions
placed upon the steps that led down to the sidewalk, while the women, in
their Sunday "waists," sat in rockers on the cramped porches, pretending
to be greatly at their ease. The children played in the streets; there
were so many of them that the place resembled the recreation grounds of a
kindergarten. The men on the steps—all in their shirt sleeves, their
vests unbuttoned—sat with their legs well apart, their stomachs
comfortably protruding, and talked of the prices of things, or told
anecdotes of the sagacity of their various chiefs and overlords. They
occasionally looked over the multitude of squabbling children, listened
affectionately to their high-pitched, nasal voices, smiling to see their
own proclivities reproduced in their offspring, and interspersed their
legends of the iron kings with remarks about their sons' progress at
school, their grades in arithmetic, and the amounts they had saved in
their toy banks.
On this last Sunday of November, Paul sat all the afternoon on the lowest
step of his "stoop," staring into the street, while his sisters, in their
rockers, were talking to the minister's daughters next door about how
many shirt-waists they had made in the last week, and how many waffles
some one had eaten at the last church supper. When the weather was warm,
and his father was in a particularly jovial frame of mind, the girls made
lemonade, which was always brought out in a red-glass pitcher, ornamented
with forget-me-nots in blue enamel. This the girls thought very fine, and
the neighbours joked about the suspicious colour of the pitcher.
Today Paul's father, on the top step, was talking to a young man who
shifted a restless baby from knee to knee. He happened to be the young
man who was daily held up to Paul as a model, and after whom it was his
father's dearest hope that he would pattern. This young man was of a
ruddy complexion, with a compressed, red mouth, and faded, near-sighted
eyes, over which he wore thick spectacles, with gold bows that curved
about his ears. He was clerk to one of the magnates of a great steel
corporation, and was looked upon in Cordelia Street as a young
man with a future. There was a story that, some five years ago—he was
now barely twenty-six—he had been a trifle 'dissipated,' but in order to
curb his appetites and save the loss of time and strength that a sowing
of wild oats might have entailed, he had taken his chief's advice, oft
reiterated to his employees, and at twenty-one had married the first
woman whom he could persuade to share his fortunes. She happened to be an
angular school-mistress, much older than he, who also wore thick glasses,
and who had now borne him four children, all near-sighted, like herself.
The young man was relating how his chief, now cruising in the
Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business,
arranging his office hours on his yacht just as though he were at home,
and "knocking off work enough to keep two stenographers busy." His father
told, in turn, the plan his corporation was considering, of putting in an
electric railway plant at Cairo. Paul snapped his teeth; he had an awful
apprehension that they might spoil it all before he got there. Yet he
rather liked to hear these legends of the iron kings, that were told and
retold on Sundays and holidays; these stories of palaces in Venice,
yachts on the Mediterranean, and high play at Monte Carlo appealed to his
fancy, and he was interested in the triumphs of cash boys who had become
famous, though he had no mind for the cash-boy stage.
After supper was over, and he had helped to dry the dishes, Paul
nervously asked his father whether he could go to George's to get some
help in his geometry, and still more nervously asked for car-fare. This
latter request he had to repeat, as his father, on principle, did not
like to hear requests for money, whether much or little. He asked Paul
whether he could not go to some boy who lived nearer, and told him that
he ought not to leave his school work until Sunday; but he gave him the
dime. He was not a poor man, but he had a worthy ambition to come up in
the world. His only reason for allowing Paul to usher was that he thought
a boy ought to be earning a little.
Paul bounded upstairs, scrubbed the greasy odour of the dish-water from
his hands with the ill-smelling soap he hated, and then shook over
his fingers a few drops of violet water from the bottle he kept hidden in
his drawer. He left the house with his geometry conspicuously under his
arm, and the moment he got out of Cordelia Street and boarded a downtown
car, he shook off the lethargy of two deadening days, and began to live
The leading juvenile of the permanent stock company which played at one
of the downtown theatres was an acquaintance of Paul's, and the
boy had been invited to drop in at the Sunday-night rehearsals whenever
he could. For more than a year Paul had spent every available moment
loitering about Charley Edwards's dressing-room. He had won a place among
Edwards's following not only because the young actor, who could not
afford to employ a dresser, often found him useful, but because he
recognized in Paul something akin to what churchmen term "vocation."
It was at the theatre and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the
rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul's fairy tale, and
it had for him all the allurement of a secret love. The moment he inhaled
the gassy, painty, dusty odour behind the scenes, he breathed like a
prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying
splendid, brilliant things. The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the
overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all
stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously,
yet delicately fired.
Perhaps it was because, in Paul's world, the natural nearly always wore
the guise of ugliness, that a certain element of artificiality seemed to
him necessary in beauty. Perhaps it was because his experience of life
elsewhere was so full of Sabbath-school picnics, petty economies,
wholesome advice as to how to succeed in life, and the unescapable odours
of cooking, that he found this existence so alluring, these smartly-clad
men and women so attractive, that he was so moved by these starry apple
orchards that bloomed perennially under the lime-light.
It would be difficult to put it strongly enough how convincingly the
stage entrance of that theatre was for Paul the actual portal of Romance.
Certainly none of the company ever suspected it, least of all Charley
Edwards. It was very like the old stories that used to float about London
of fabulously rich Jews, who had subterranean halls, with palms, and
fountains, and soft lamps and richly apparelled women who never saw the
disenchanting light of London day. So, in the midst of that smoke-palled
city, enamoured of figures and grimy toil, Paul had his secret temple,
his wishing-carpet, his bit of blue-and-white Mediterranean shore bathed
in perpetual sunshine.
Several of Paul's teachers had a theory that his imagination had been
perverted by garish fiction; but the truth was, he scarcely ever read at
all. The books at home were not such as would either tempt or corrupt a
youthful mind, and as for reading the novels that some of his friends
urged upon him—well, he got what he wanted much more quickly from music;
any sort of music, from an orchestra to a barrel organ. He needed only
the spark, the indescribable thrill that made his imagination master of
his senses, and he could make plots and pictures enough of his own. It
was equally true that he was not stage-struck—not, at any rate, in the
usual acceptation of that expression. He had no desire to become an
actor, any more than he had to become a musician. He felt no necessity to
do any of these things; what he wanted was to see, to be in the
atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after
blue league, away from everything.
After a night behind the scenes, Paul found the school-room more than
ever repulsive; the bare floors and naked walls; the prosy men who never
wore frock coats, or violets in their buttonholes; the women with their
dull gowns, shrill voices, and pitiful seriousness about prepositions
that govern the dative. He could not bear to have the other pupils think,
for a moment, that he took these people seriously; he must convey to
them that he considered it all trivial, and was there only by way of a
joke, anyway. He had autograph pictures of all the members of the stock
company which he showed his classmates, telling them the most incredible
stories of his familiarity with these people, of his acquaintance with
the soloists who came to Carnegie Hall, his suppers with them and the
flowers he sent them. When these stories lost their effect, and his
audience grew listless, he would bid all the boys good-bye, announcing
that he was going to travel for awhile; going to Naples, to California,
to Egypt. Then, next Monday, he would slip back, conscious and nervously
smiling; his sister was ill, and he would have to defer his voyage until
Matters went steadily worse with Paul at school. In the itch to let his
instructors know how heartily he despised them, and how thoroughly he was
appreciated elsewhere, he mentioned once or twice that he had no time to
fool with theorems; adding—with a twitch of the eyebrows and a touch of
that nervous bravado which so perplexed them—that he was helping the
people down at the stock company; they were old friends of his.
The upshot of the matter was, that the Principal went to Paul's father,
and Paul was taken out of school and put to work. The manager at Carnegie
Hall was told to get another usher in his stead; the doorkeeper at the
theatre was warned not to admit him to the house; and Charley Edwards
remorsefully promised the boy's father not to see him again.
The members of the stock company were vastly amused when some of Paul's
stories reached them—especially the women. They were hard-working women,
most of them supporting indolent husbands or brothers, and they laughed
rather bitterly at having stirred the boy to such fervid and florid
inventions. They agreed with the faculty and with his father, that Paul's
was a bad case.
The east-bound train was ploughing through a January snow-storm; the dull
dawn was beginning to show grey when the engine whistled a mile out of
Newark. Paul started up from the seat where he had lain curled in uneasy
slumber, rubbed the breath-misted window glass with his hand, and peered
out. The snow was whirling in curling eddies above the white bottom
lands, and the drifts lay already deep in the fields and along the
fences, while here and there the long dead grass and dried weed stalks
protruded black above it. Lights shone from the scattered houses, and
a gang of labourers who stood beside the track waved their lanterns.
Paul had slept very little, and he felt grimy and uncomfortable. He had
made the all-night journey in a day coach because he was afraid if he
took a Pullman he might be seen by some Pittsburgh business man who had
noticed him in Denny & Carson's office. When the whistle woke him, he
clutched quickly at his breast pocket, glancing about him with an
uncertain smile. But the little, clay-bespattered Italians were still
sleeping, the slatternly women across the aisle were in open-mouthed
oblivion, and even the crumby, crying babies were for the nonce stilled.
Paul settled back to struggle with his impatience as best he could.
When he arrived at the Jersey City station, he hurried through his
breakfast, manifestly ill at ease and keeping a sharp eye about him.
After he reached the Twenty-third Street station, he consulted a cabman,
and had himself driven to a men's furnishing establishment which was just
opening for the day. He spent upward of two hours there, buying with
endless reconsidering and great care. His new street suit he put on in
the fitting-room; the frock coat and dress clothes he had bundled into
the cab with his new shirts. Then he drove to a hatter's and a shoe
house. His next errand was at Tiffany's, where he selected silver mounted
brushes and a scarf-pin. He would not wait to have his silver marked, he
said. Lastly, he stopped at a trunk shop on Broadway, and had his
purchases packed into various travelling bags.
It was a little after one o'clock when he drove up to the Waldorf, and,
after settling with the cabman, went into the office. He registered from
Washington; said his mother and father had been abroad, and that he had
come down to await the arrival of their steamer. He told his story
plausibly and had no trouble, since he offered to pay for them in
advance, in engaging his rooms; a sleeping-room, sitting-room and bath.
Not once, but a hundred times Paul had planned this entry into New York.
He had gone over every detail of it with Charley Edwards, and in his
scrap book at home there were pages of description about New York hotels,
cut from the Sunday papers.
When he was shown to his sitting-room on the eighth floor, he saw at a
glance that everything was as it should be; there was but one detail in
his mental picture that the place did not realize, so he rang for the
bell boy and sent him down for flowers. He moved about nervously until
the boy returned, putting away his new linen and fingering it delightedly
as he did so. When the flowers came, he put them hastily into water, and
then tumbled into a hot bath. Presently he came out of his white
bath-room, resplendent in his new silk underwear, and playing with the
tassels of his red robe. The snow was whirling so fiercely outside his
windows that he could scarcely see across the street; but within, the air
was deliciously soft and fragrant. He put the violets and jonquils on the
tabouret beside the couch, and threw himself down with a long sigh,
covering himself with a Roman blanket. He was thoroughly tired; he
had been in such haste, he had stood up to such a strain, covered so much
ground in the last twenty-four hours, that he wanted to think how it had
all come about. Lulled by the sound of the wind, the warm air, and the
cool fragrance of the flowers, he sank into deep, drowsy retrospection.
It had been wonderfully simple; when they had shut him out of the theatre
and concert hall, when they had taken away his bone, the whole thing was
virtually determined. The rest was a mere matter of opportunity. The only
thing that at all surprised him was his own courage—for he realized well
enough that he had always been tormented by fear, a sort of apprehensive
dread that, of late years, as the meshes of the lies he had told closed
about him, had been pulling the muscles of his body tighter and tighter.
Until now, he could not remember a time when he had not been dreading
something. Even when he was a little boy, it was always there—behind
him, or before, or on either side. There had always been the shadowed
corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which
something seemed always to be watching him—and Paul had done things that
were not pretty to watch, he knew.
But now he had a curious sense of relief, as though he had at last thrown
down the gauntlet to the thing in the corner.
Yet it was but a day since he had been sulking in the traces; but
yesterday afternoon that he had been sent to the bank with Denny &
Carson's deposit, as usual—but this time he was instructed to leave the
book to be balanced. There was above two thousand dollars in checks, and
nearly a thousand in the bank notes which he had taken from the book and
quietly transferred to his pocket. At the bank he had made out a new
deposit slip. His nerves had been steady enough to permit of his
returning to the office, where he had finished his work and asked for a
full day's holiday tomorrow, Saturday, giving a perfectly reasonable
pretext. The bank book, he knew, would not be returned before Monday or
Tuesday, and his father would be out of town for the next week. From the
time he slipped the bank notes into his pocket until he boarded the night
train for New York, he had not known a moment's hesitation.
How astonishingly easy it had all been; here he was, the thing done; and
this time there would be no awakening, no figure at the top of the
stairs. He watched the snow flakes whirling by his window until he fell
When he awoke, it was four o'clock in the afternoon. He bounded up with a
start; one of his precious days gone already! He spent nearly an hour in
dressing, watching every stage of his toilet carefully in the mirror.
Everything was quite perfect; he was exactly the kind of boy he had
always wanted to be.
When he went downstairs, Paul took a carriage and drove up Fifth avenue
toward the Park. The snow had somewhat abated; carriages and tradesmen's
wagons were hurrying soundlessly to and fro in the winter twilight; boys
in woollen mufflers were shovelling off the doorsteps; the avenue stages
made fine spots of colour against the white street. Here and there on the
corners whole flower gardens blooming behind glass windows, against which
the snow flakes stuck and melted; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of
the valley—somehow vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed
thus unnaturally in the snow. The Park itself was a wonderful stage
When he returned, the pause of the twilight had ceased, and the tune of
the streets had changed. The snow was falling faster, lights streamed
from the hotels that reared their many stories fearlessly up into the
storm, defying the raging Atlantic winds. A long, black stream of
carriages poured down the avenue, intersected here and there by other
streams, tending horizontally. There were a score of cabs about the
entrance of his hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were
running in and out of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and
down the red velvet carpet laid from the door to the street. Above,
about, within it all, was the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of
thousands of human beings as hot for pleasure as himself, and on every
side of him towered the glaring affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth.
The boy set his teeth and drew his shoulders together in a spasm of
realization; the plot of all dramas, the text of all romances, the
nervestuff of all sensations was whirling about him like the snow flakes.
He burnt like a faggot in a tempest.
When Paul came down to dinner, the music of the orchestra floated up the
elevator shaft to greet him. As he stepped into the thronged corridor, he
sank back into one of the chairs against the wall to get his breath. The
lights, the chatter, the perfumes, the bewildering medley of colour—he
had, for a moment, the feeling of not being able to stand it. But only
for a moment; these were his own people, he told himself. He went slowly
about the corridors, through the writing-rooms, smoking-rooms,
reception-rooms, as though he were exploring the chambers of an enchanted
palace, built and peopled for him alone.
When he reached the dining-room he sat down at a table near a window. The
flowers, the white linen, the many-coloured wine glasses, the gay
toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating
repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul's
dream with bewildering radiance. When the roseate tinge of his champagne
was added—that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in
his glass—Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all.
This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was
what all the struggle was about. He doubted the reality of his past. Had
he ever known a place called Cordelia Street, a place where fagged
looking business men boarded the early car? Mere rivets in a machine they
seemed to Paul,—sickening men, with combings of children's hair always
hanging to their coats, and the smell of cooking in their clothes.
Cordelia Street—Ah, that belonged to another time and country! Had
he not always been thus, had he not sat here night after night, from as
far back as he could remember, looking pensively over just such
shimmering textures, and slowly twirling the stem of a glass like this
one between his thumb and middle finger? He rather thought he had.
He was not in the least abashed or lonely. He had no especial desire to
meet or to know any of these people; all he demanded was the right to
look on and conjecture, to watch the pageant. The mere stage properties
were all he contended for. Nor was he lonely later in the evening, in
his loge at the Opera. He was entirely rid of his nervous misgivings, of
his forced aggressiveness, of the imperative desire to show himself
different from his surroundings. He felt now that his surroundings
explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it
passively. He had only to glance down at his dress coat to reassure
himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him.
He found it hard to leave his beautiful sitting-room to go to bed that
night, and sat long watching the raging storm from his turret window.
When he went to sleep, it was with the lights turned on in his bedroom;
partly because of his old timidity, and partly so that, if he should
wake in the night, there would be no wretched moment of doubt, no
horrible suspicion of yellow wall-paper, or of Washington and Calvin
above his bed.
On Sunday morning the city was practically snow-bound. Paul breakfasted
late, and in the afternoon he fell in with a wild San Francisco boy,
a freshman at Yale, who said he had run down for a "little flyer" over
Sunday. The young man offered to show Paul the night side of the town,
and the two boys went off together after dinner, not returning to the
hotel until seven o'clock the next morning. They had started out in the
confiding warmth of a champagne friendship, but their parting in the
elevator was singularly cool. The freshman pulled himself together to
make his train, and Paul went to bed. He awoke at two o'clock in the
afternoon, very thirsty and dizzy, and rang for ice-water, coffee, and
the Pittsburgh papers.
On the part of the hotel management, Paul excited no suspicion. There was
this to be said for him, that he wore his spoils with dignity and in
no way made himself conspicuous. His chief greediness lay in his ears and
eyes, and his excesses were not offensive ones. His dearest pleasures
were the grey winter twilights in his sitting-room; his quiet enjoyment
of his flowers, his clothes, his wide divan, his cigarette and his sense
of power. He could not remember a time when he had felt so at peace with
himself. The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every
day and every day, restored his self-respect. He had never lied for
pleasure, even at school; but to make himself noticed and admired, to
assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good
deal more manly, more honest, even, now that he had no need for boastful
pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say, "dress
the part." It was characteristic that remorse did not occur to him. His
golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he
On the eighth day after his arrival in New York, he found the whole
affair exploited in the Pittsburgh papers, exploited with a wealth of
detail which indicated that local news of a sensational nature was at a
low ebb. The firm of Denny & Carson announced that the boy's father
had refunded the full amount of his theft, and that they had no intention
of prosecuting. The Cumberland minister had been interviewed, and
expressed his hope of yet reclaiming the motherless lad, and Paul's
Sabbath-school teacher declared that she would spare no effort to that
end. The rumour had reached Pittsburgh that the boy had been seen in a
New York hotel, and his father had gone East to find him and bring
Paul had just come in to dress for dinner; he sank into a chair,
weak in the knees, and clasped his head in his hands. It was to be worse
than jail, even; the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over
him finally and forever. The grey monotony stretched before him in
hopeless, unrelieved years; Sabbath-school, Young People's Meeting, the
yellow-papered room, the damp dish-towels; it all rushed back upon him
with sickening vividness. He had the old feeling that the orchestra had
suddenly stopped, the sinking sensation that the play was over. The sweat
broke out on his face, and he sprang to his feet, looked about him with
his white, conscious smile, and winked at himself in the mirror. With
something of the childish belief in miracles with which he had so often
gone to class, all his lessons unlearned, Paul dressed and dashed
whistling down the corridor to the elevator.
He had no sooner entered the dining-room and caught the measure of the
music, than his remembrance was lightened by his old elastic power of
claiming the moment, mounting with it, and finding it all sufficient. The
glare and glitter about him, the mere scenic accessories had again, and
for the last time, their old potency. He would show himself that he was
game, he would finish the thing splendidly. He doubted, more than ever,
the existence of Cordelia Street, and for the first time he drank his
wine recklessly. Was he not, after all, one of these fortunate beings?
Was he not still himself, and in his own place? He drummed a nervous
accompaniment to the music and looked about him, telling himself over and
over that it had paid.
He reflected drowsily, to the swell of the violin and the chill sweetness
of his wine, that he might have done it more wisely. He might have caught
an outbound steamer and been well out of their clutches before now. But
the other side of the world had seemed too far away and too uncertain
then; he could not have waited for it; his need had been too sharp. If he
had to choose over again, he would do the same thing tomorrow. He looked
affectionately about the dining-room, now gilded with a soft mist. Ah, it
had paid indeed!
Paul was awakened next morning by a painful throbbing in his head and
feet. He had thrown himself across the bed without undressing, and had
slept with his shoes on. His limbs and hands were lead heavy, and his
tongue and throat were parched. There came upon him one of those fateful
attacks of clear-headedness that never occurred except when he was
physically exhausted and his nerves hung loose. He lay still and closed
his eyes and let the tide of realities wash over him.
His father was in New York; "stopping at some joint or other," he told
himself. The memory of successive summers on the front stoop fell upon
him like a weight of black water. He had not a hundred dollars left; and
he knew now, more than ever, that money was everything, the wall that
stood between all he loathed and all he wanted. The thing was winding
itself up; he had thought of that on his first glorious day in New York,
and had even provided a way to snap the thread. It lay on his
dressing-table now; he had got it out last night when he came blindly up
from dinner,—but the shiny metal hurt his eyes, and he disliked the look
of it, anyway.
He rose and moved about with a painful effort, succumbing now and again
to attacks of nausea. It was the old depression exaggerated; all the
world had become Cordelia Street. Yet somehow he was not afraid of
anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps because he had looked into the
dark corner at last, and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there; but
somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been. He saw everything
clearly now. He had a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he
had lived the sort of life he was meant to live, and for half an hour he
sat staring at the revolver. But he told himself that was not the way, so
he went downstairs and took a cab to the ferry.
When Paul arrived at Newark, he got off the train and took another cab,
directing the driver to follow the Pennsylvania tracks out of the town.
The snow lay heavy on the roadways and had drifted deep in the open
fields. Only here and there the dead grass or dried weed stalks
projected, singularly black, above it. Once well into the country, Paul
dismissed the carriage and walked, floundering along the tracks, his mind
a medley of irrelevant things. He seemed to hold in his brain an actual
picture of everything he had seen that morning. He remembered every
feature of both his drivers, the toothless old woman from whom he had
bought the red flowers in his coat, the agent from whom he had got his
ticket, and all of his fellow-passengers on the ferry. His mind, unable
to cope with vital matters near at hand, worked feverishly and deftly
at sorting and grouping these images. They made for him a part of the
ugliness of the world, of the ache in his head, and the bitter burning on
his tongue. He stooped and put a handful of snow into his mouth as he
walked, but that, too, seemed hot. When he reached a little hillside,
where the tracks ran through a cut some twenty feet below him, he stopped
and sat down.
The carnations in his coat were drooping with the cold, he noticed; all
their red glory over. It occurred to him that all the flowers he had seen
in the show windows that first night must have gone the same way, long
before this. It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their
brave mockery at the winter outside the glass. It was a losing game in
the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world
is run. Paul took one of the blossoms carefully from his coat and scooped
a little hole in the snow, where he covered it up. Then he dozed a
while, from his weak condition, seeming insensible to the cold.
The sound of an approaching train woke him, and he started to his feet,
remembering only his resolution, and afraid lest he should be too late.
He stood watching the approaching locomotive, his teeth chattering, his
lips drawn away from them in a frightened smile; once or twice he glanced
nervously sidewise, as though he were being watched. When the right
moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to
him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.
There flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of
Adriatic water, the yellow of Algerian sands.
He felt something strike his chest,—his body was being thrown swiftly
through the air, on and on, immeasurably far and fast, while his limbs
gently relaxed. Then, because the picture making mechanism was crushed,
the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the
immense design of things.
A Wagner Matinee
I received one morning a letter, written in pale ink on glassy,
blue-lined note-paper, and bearing the postmark of a little Nebraska
village. This communication, worn and rubbed, looking as if it had been
carried for some days in a coat pocket that was none too clean, was from
my uncle Howard, and informed me that his wife had been left a small
legacy by a bachelor relative, and that it would be necessary for her to
go to Boston to attend to the settling of the estate. He requested me to
meet her at the station and render her whatever services might be
necessary. On examining the date indicated as that of her arrival, I
found it to be no later than tomorrow. He had characteristically delayed
writing until, had I been away from home for a day, I must have missed my
The name of my Aunt Georgiana opened before me a gulf of recollection so
wide and deep that, as the letter dropped from my hand, I felt suddenly a
stranger to all the present conditions of my existence, wholly ill at
ease and out of place amid the familiar surroundings of my study. I
became, in short, the gangling farmer-boy my aunt had known, scourged
with chilblains and bashfulness, my hands cracked and sore from the corn
husking. I sat again before her parlour organ, fumbling the scales with
my stiff, red fingers, while she, beside me, made canvas mittens for the
The next morning, after preparing my landlady for a visitor, I set out
for the station. When the train arrived I had some difficulty in finding
my aunt. She was the last of the passengers to alight, and it was not
until I got her into the carriage that she seemed really to recognize me.
She had come all the way in a day coach; her linen duster had become
black with soot and her black bonnet grey with dust during the journey.
When we arrived at my boarding-house the landlady put her to bed at once
and I did not see her again until the next morning.
Whatever shock Mrs. Springer experienced at my aunt's appearance, she
considerately concealed. As for myself, I saw my aunt's battered figure
with that feeling of awe and respect with which we behold explorers who
have left their ears and fingers north of Franz-Joseph-Land, or their
health somewhere along the Upper Congo. My Aunt Georgiana had been a
music teacher at the Boston Conservatory, somewhere back in the latter
sixties. One summer, while visiting in the little village among the Green
Mountains where her ancestors had dwelt for generations, she had kindled
the callow fancy of my uncle, Howard Carpenter, then an idle, shiftless
boy of twenty-one. When she returned to her duties in Boston, Howard
followed her, and the upshot of this infatuation was that she eloped with
him, eluding the reproaches of her family and the criticism of her
friends by going with him to the Nebraska frontier. Carpenter, who, of
course, had no money, took up a homestead in Red Willow County, fifty
miles from the railroad. There they had measured off their land
themselves, driving across the prairie in a wagon, to the wheel of which
they had tied a red cotton handkerchief, and counting its revolutions.
They built a dug-out in the red hillside, one of those cave dwellings
whose inmates so often reverted to primitive conditions. Their water they
got from the lagoons where the buffalo drank, and their slender stock of
provisions was always at the mercy of bands of roving Indians. For thirty
years my aunt had not been farther than fifty miles from the homestead.
I owed to this woman most of the good that ever came my way in my
boyhood, and had a reverential affection for her. During the years
when I was riding herd for my uncle, my aunt, after cooking the three
meals—the first of which was ready at six o'clock in the morning—and
putting the six children to bed, would often stand until midnight at her
ironing-board, with me at the kitchen table beside her, hearing me recite
Latin declensions and conjugations, gently shaking me when my drowsy head
sank down over a page of irregular verbs. It was to her, at her ironing
or mending, that I read my first Shakspere, and her old text-book on
mythology was the first that ever came into my empty hands. She taught me
my scales and exercises on the little parlour organ which her husband had
bought her after fifteen years during which she had not so much as seen a
musical instrument. She would sit beside me by the hour, darning and
counting, while I struggled with the "Joyous Farmer." She seldom talked
to me about music, and I understood why. Once when I had been doggedly
beating out some easy passages from an old score of Euryanthe I had
found among her music books, she came up to me and, putting her hands
over my eyes, gently drew my head back upon her shoulder, saying
tremulously, "Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you."
When my aunt appeared on the morning after her arrival in Boston, she was
still in a semi-somnambulant state. She seemed not to realize that she
was in the city where she had spent her youth, the place longed for
hungrily half a lifetime. She had been so wretchedly train-sick
throughout the journey that she had no recollection of anything but her
discomfort, and, to all intents and purposes, there were but a few hours
of nightmare between the farm in Red Willow County and my study on
Newbury Street. I had planned a little pleasure for her that afternoon,
to repay her for some of the glorious moments she had given me when we
used to milk together in the straw-thatched cowshed and she, because I
was more than usually tired, or because her husband had spoken sharply to
me, would tell me of the splendid performance of the Huguenots she
had seen in Paris, in her youth.
At two o'clock the Symphony Orchestra was to give a Wagner program, and I
intended to take my aunt; though, as I conversed with her, I grew
doubtful about her enjoyment of it. I suggested our visiting the
Conservatory and the Common before lunch, but she seemed altogether too
timid to wish to venture out. She questioned me absently about various
changes in the city, but she was chiefly concerned that she had forgotten
to leave instructions about feeding half-skimmed milk to a certain
weakling calf, "old Maggie's calf, you know, Clark," she explained,
evidently having forgotten how long I had been away. She was further
troubled because she had neglected to tell her daughter about the
freshly-opened kit of mackerel in the cellar, which would spoil if it
were not used directly.
I asked her whether she had ever heard any of the Wagnerian operas, and
found that she had not, though she was perfectly familiar with their
respective situations, and had once possessed the piano score of The
Flying Dutchman. I began to think it would be best to get her back to
Red Willow County without waking her, and regretted having suggested the
From the time we entered the concert hall, however, she was a trifle less
passive and inert, and for the first time seemed to perceive her
surroundings. I had felt some trepidation lest she might become aware of
her queer, country clothes, or might experience some painful
embarrassment at stepping suddenly into the world to which she had been
dead for a quarter of a century. But, again, I found how superficially I
had judged her. She sat looking about her with eyes as impersonal, almost
as stony, as those with which the granite Rameses in a museum watches the
froth and fret that ebbs and flows about his pedestal. I have seen this
same aloofness in old miners who drift into the Brown hotel at Denver,
their pockets full of bullion, their linen soiled, their haggard faces
unshaven; standing in the thronged corridors as solitary as though they
were still in a frozen camp on the Yukon.
The matinée audience was made up chiefly of women. One lost the contour
of faces and figures, indeed any effect of line whatever, and there was
only the colour of bodices past counting, the shimmer of fabrics soft and
firm, silky and sheer; red, mauve, pink, blue, lilac, purple, écru, rose,
yellow, cream, and white, all the colours that an impressionist finds in
a sunlit landscape, with here and there the dead shadow of a frock coat.
My Aunt Georgiana regarded them as though they had been so many daubs of
tube-paint on a palette.
When the musicians came out and took their places, she gave a little stir
of anticipation, and looked with quickening interest down over the rail
at that invariable grouping, perhaps the first wholly familiar thing that
had greeted her eye since she had left old Maggie and her weakling
calf. I could feel how all those details sank into her soul, for I had
not forgotten how they had sunk into mine when I came fresh from
ploughing forever and forever between green aisles of corn, where, as in
a treadmill, one might walk from daybreak to dusk without perceiving a
shadow of change. The clean profiles of the musicians, the gloss of their
linen, the dull black of their coats, the beloved shapes of the
instruments, the patches of yellow light on the smooth, varnished
bellies of the 'cellos and the bass viols in the rear, the restless,
wind-tossed forest of fiddle necks and bows—I recalled how, in the first
orchestra I ever heard, those long bow-strokes seemed to draw the heart
out of me, as a conjurer's stick reels out yards of paper ribbon from
The first number was the Tannhauser overture. When the horns drew out the
first strain of the Pilgrim's chorus, Aunt Georgiana clutched my coat
sleeve. Then it was I first realized that for her this broke a silence of
thirty years. With the battle between the two motives, with the frenzy of
the Venusberg theme and its ripping of strings, there came to me an
overwhelming sense of the waste and wear we are so powerless to combat;
and I saw again the tall, naked house on the prairie, black and grim as a
wooden fortress; the black pond where I had learned to swim, its margin
pitted with sun-dried cattle tracks; the rain gullied clay banks about
the naked house, the four dwarf ash seedlings where the dish-cloths were
always hung to dry before the kitchen door. The world there was the flat
world of the ancients; to the east, a cornfield that stretched to
daybreak; to the west, a corral that reached to sunset; between, the
conquests of peace, dearer-bought than those of war.
The overture closed, my aunt released my coat sleeve, but she said
nothing. She sat staring dully at the orchestra. What, I wondered, did
she get from it? She had been a good pianist in her day, I knew, and her
musical education had been broader than that of most music teachers of a
quarter of a century ago. She had often told me of Mozart's operas and
Meyerbeer's, and I could remember hearing her sing, years ago, certain
melodies of Verdi. When I had fallen ill with a fever in her house she
used to sit by my cot in the evening—when the cool, night wind blew in
through the faded mosquito netting tacked over the window and I lay
watching a certain bright star that burned red above the cornfield—and
sing "Home to our mountains, O, let us return!" in a way fit to break the
heart of a Vermont boy near dead of homesickness already.
I watched her closely through the prelude to Tristan and Isolde, trying
vainly to conjecture what that seething turmoil of strings and winds
might mean to her, but she sat mutely staring at the violin bows that
drove obliquely downward, like the pelting streaks of rain in a summer
shower. Had this music any message for her? Had she enough left to at all
comprehend this power which had kindled the world since she had left it?
I was in a fever of curiosity, but Aunt Georgiana sat silent upon her
peak in Darien. She preserved this utter immobility throughout
the number from The Flying Dutchman, though her fingers worked
mechanically upon her black dress, as if, of themselves, they were
recalling the piano score they had once played. Poor hands! They had been
stretched and twisted into mere tentacles to hold and lift and knead
with;—on one of them a thin, worn band that had once been a wedding
ring. As I pressed and gently quieted one of those groping hands, I
remembered with quivering eyelids their services for me in other days.
Soon after the tenor began the "Prize Song," I heard a quick drawn breath
and turned to my aunt. Her eyes were closed, but the tears were
glistening on her cheeks, and I think, in a moment more, they were in my
eyes as well. It never really died, then—the soul which can suffer so
excruciatingly and so interminably; it withers to the outward eye only;
like that strange moss which can lie on a dusty shelf half a century and
yet, if placed in water, grows green again. She wept so throughout the
development and elaboration of the melody.
During the intermission before the second half, I questioned my aunt and
found that the "Prize Song" was not new to her. Some years before there
had drifted to the farm in Red Willow County a young German, a tramp
cow-puncher, who had sung in the chorus at Bayreuth when he was a boy,
along with the other peasant boys and girls. Of a Sunday morning he used
to sit on his gingham-sheeted bed in the hands' bedroom which opened off
the kitchen, cleaning the leather of his boots and saddle, singing the
"Prize Song," while my aunt went about her work in the kitchen. She had
hovered over him until she had prevailed upon him to join the country
church, though his sole fitness for this step, in so far as I could
gather, lay in his boyish face and his possession of this divine melody.
Shortly afterward, he had gone to town on the Fourth of July, been drunk
for several days, lost his money at a faro table, ridden a saddled Texas
steer on a bet, and disappeared with a fractured collar-bone. All this
my aunt told me huskily, wanderingly, as though she were talking in the
weak lapses of illness.
"Well, we have come to better things than the old Trovatore at any rate,
Aunt Georgie?" I queried, with a well meant effort at jocularity.
Her lip quivered and she hastily put her handkerchief up to her mouth.
From behind it she murmured, "And you have been hearing this ever since
you left me, Clark?" Her question was the gentlest and saddest of
The second half of the program consisted of four numbers from the Ring,
and closed with Siegfried's funeral march. My aunt wept quietly, but
almost continuously, as a shallow vessel overflows in a rain-storm. From
time to time her dim eyes looked up at the lights, burning softly under
their dull glass globes.
The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the
shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what
happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that
before the last number she had been carried out where the myriad graves
are, into the grey, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some
world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope
has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.
The concert was over; the people filed out of the hall chattering and
laughing, glad to relax and find the living level again, but my kinswoman
made no effort to rise. The harpist slipped the green felt cover over his
instrument; the flute-players shook the water from their mouthpieces;
the men of the orchestra went out one by one, leaving the stage to the
chairs and music stands, empty as a winter cornfield.
I spoke to my aunt. She burst into tears and sobbed pleadingly. "I don't
want to go, Clark, I don't want to go!"
I understood. For her, just outside the concert hall, lay the black pond
with the cattle-tracked bluffs; the tall, unpainted house, with
weather-curled boards, naked as a tower; the crook-backed ash seedlings
where the dish-cloths hung to dry; the gaunt, moulting turkeys picking
up refuse about the kitchen door.
The Sculptor's Funeral
A group of the townspeople stood on the station siding of a little Kansas
town, awaiting the coming of the night train, which was already twenty
minutes overdue. The snow had fallen thick over everything; in the pale
starlight the line of bluffs across the wide, white meadows south of the
town made soft, smoke-coloured curves against the clear sky. The men
on the siding stood first on one foot and then on the other, their hands
thrust deep into their trousers pockets, their overcoats open, their
shoulders screwed up with the cold; and they glanced from time to time
toward the southeast, where the railroad track wound along the river
shore. They conversed in low tones and moved about restlessly,
seeming uncertain as to what was expected of them. There was but one of
the company who looked as if he knew exactly why he was there, and he
kept conspicuously apart; walking to the far end of the platform,
returning to the station door, then pacing up the track again, his chin
sunk in the high collar of his overcoat, his burly shoulders drooping
forward, his gait heavy and dogged. Presently he was approached by a
tall, spare, grizzled man clad in a faded Grand Army suit, who shuffled
out from the group and advanced with a certain deference, craning his
neck forward until his back made the angle of a jack-knife three-quarters
"I reckon she's a-goin' to be pretty late agin to-night, Jim," he
remarked in a squeaky falsetto. "S'pose it's the snow?"
"I don't know," responded the other man with a shade of annoyance,
speaking from out an astonishing cataract of red beard that grew fiercely
and thickly in all directions.
The spare man shifted the quill toothpick he was chewing to the other
side of his mouth. "It ain't likely that anybody from the East will come
with the corpse, I s'pose," he went on reflectively.
"I don't know," responded the other, more curtly than before.
"It's too bad he didn't belong to some lodge or other. I like an order
funeral myself. They seem more appropriate for people of some
repytation," the spare man continued, with an ingratiating concession in
his shrill voice, as he carefully placed his toothpick in his vest
pocket. He always carried the flag at the G.A.R. funerals in the town.
The heavy man turned on his heel, without replying, and walked up the
siding. The spare man rejoined the uneasy group. "Jim's ez full ez a
tick, ez ushel," he commented commiseratingly.
Just then a distant whistle sounded, and there was a shuffling of feet on
the platform. A number of lanky boys, of all ages, appeared as, suddenly
and slimily as eels wakened by the crack of thunder; some came from the
waiting-room, where they had been warming themselves by the red stove, or
half asleep on the slat benches; others uncoiled themselves from baggage
trucks or slid out of express wagons. Two clambered down from the
driver's seat of a hearse that stood backed up against the siding. They
straightened their stooping shoulders and lifted their heads, and a flash
of momentary animation kindled their dull eyes at that cold, vibrant
scream, the worldwide call for men. It stirred them like the note of a
trumpet; just as it had often stirred the man who was coming home
tonight, in his boyhood.
The night express shot, red as a rocket, from out the eastward marsh
lands and wound along the river shore under the long lines of shivering
poplars that sentinelled the meadows, the escaping steam hanging in grey
masses against the pale sky and blotting out the Milky Way. In a moment
the red glare from the headlight streamed up the snow-covered track
before the siding and glittered on the wet, black rails. The burly man
with the dishevelled red beard walked swiftly up the platform toward the
approaching train, uncovering his head as he went. The group of men
behind him hesitated, glanced questioningly at one another, and awkwardly
followed his example. The train stopped, and the crowd shuffled up to
the express car just as the door was thrown open, the man in the G.A.R.
suit thrusting his head forward with curiosity. The express messenger
appeared in the doorway, accompanied by a young man in a long ulster and
"Are Mr. Merrick's friends here?" inquired the young man.
The group on the platform swayed uneasily. Philip Phelps, the banker,
responded with dignity: "We have come to take charge of the body. Mr.
Merrick's father is very feeble and can't be about."
"Send the agent out here," growled the express messenger, "and tell the
operator to lend a hand."
The coffin was got out of its rough-box and down on the snowy platform.
The townspeople drew back enough to make room for it and then formed a
close semicircle about it, looking curiously at the palm leaf which lay
across the black cover. No one said anything. The baggage man stood by
his truck, waiting to get at the trunks. The engine panted heavily, and
the fireman dodged in and out among the wheels with his yellow torch and
long oil-can, snapping the spindle boxes. The young Bostonian, one of the
dead sculptor's pupils who had come with the body, looked about him
helplessly. He turned to the banker, the only one of that black, uneasy,
stoop-shouldered group who seemed enough of an individual to be
"None of Mr. Merrick's brothers are here?" he asked uncertainly.
The man with the red beard for the first time stepped up and joined the
others. "No, they have not come yet; the family is scattered. The body
will be taken directly to the house." He stooped and took hold of one of
the handles of the coffin.
"Take the long hill road up, Thompson, it will be easier on the horses,"
called the liveryman as the undertaker snapped the door of the hearse
and prepared to mount to the driver's seat.
Laird, the red-bearded lawyer, turned again to the stranger: "We didn't
know whether there would be any one with him or not," he explained. "It's
a long walk, so you'd better go up in the hack." He pointed to a single
battered conveyance, but the young man replied stiffly: "Thank you, but I
think I will go up with the hearse. If you don't object," turning to the
undertaker, "I'll ride with you."
They clambered up over the wheels and drove off in the starlight up the
long, white hill toward the town. The lamps in the still village were
shining from under the low, snow-burdened roofs; and beyond, on every
side, the plains reached out into emptiness, peaceful and wide as the
soft sky itself, and wrapped in a tangible, white silence.
When the hearse backed up to a wooden sidewalk before a naked,
weather-beaten frame house, the same composite, ill-defined group that
had stood upon the station siding was huddled about the gate. The front
yard was an icy swamp, and a couple of warped planks, extending from the
sidewalk to the door, made a sort of rickety footbridge. The gate hung on
one hinge, and was opened wide with difficulty. Steavens, the young
stranger, noticed that something black was tied to the knob of the front
The grating sound made by the casket, as it was drawn from the hearse,
was answered by a scream from the house; the front door was wrenched
open, and a tall, corpulent woman rushed out bareheaded into the snow and
flung herself upon the coffin, shrieking: "My boy, my boy! And this is
how you've come home to me!"
As Steavens turned away and closed his eyes with a shudder of unutterable
repulsion, another woman, also tall, but flat and angular, dressed
entirely in black, darted out of the house and caught Mrs. Merrick by the
shoulders, crying sharply: "Come, come, mother; you mustn't go on like
this!" Her tone changed to one of obsequious solemnity as she turned to
the banker: "The parlour is ready, Mr. Phelps."
The bearers carried the coffin along the narrow boards, while the
undertaker ran ahead with the coffin-rests. They bore it into a large,
unheated room that smelled of dampness and disuse and furniture polish,
and set it down under a hanging lamp ornamented with jingling glass
prisms and before a "Rogers group" of John Alden and Priscilla, wreathed
with smilax. Henry Steavens stared about him with the sickening
conviction that there had been a mistake, and that he had somehow arrived
at the wrong destination. He looked at the clover-green Brussels, the fat
plush upholstery, among the hand-painted china placques and panels and
vases, for some mark of identification,—for something that might once
conceivably have belonged to Harvey Merrick. It was not until he
recognized his friend in the crayon portrait of a little boy in kilts
and curls, hanging above the piano, that he felt willing to let any of
these people approach the coffin.
"Take the lid off, Mr. Thompson; let me see my boy's face," wailed the
elder woman between her sobs. This time Steavens looked fearfully,
almost beseechingly into her face, red and swollen under its masses of
strong, black, shiny hair. He flushed, dropped his eyes, and then, almost
incredulously, looked again. There was a kind of power about her face—a
kind of brutal handsomeness, even; but it was scarred and furrowed by
violence, and so coloured and coarsened by fiercer passions that grief
seemed never to have laid a gentle finger there. The long nose was
distended and knobbed at the end, and there were deep lines on either
side of it; her heavy, black brows almost met across her forehead, her
teeth were large and square, and set far apart—teeth that could tear.
She filled the room; the men were obliterated, seemed tossed about like
twigs in an angry water, and even Steavens felt himself being drawn into
The daughter—the tall, raw-boned woman in crêpe, with a mourning comb in
her hair which curiously lengthened her long face—sat stiffly upon the
sofa, her hands, conspicuous for their large knuckles, folded in her lap,
her mouth and eyes drawn down, solemnly awaiting the opening of the
coffin. Near the door stood a mulatto woman, evidently a servant in the
house, with a timid bearing and an emaciated face pitifully sad and
gentle. She was weeping silently, the corner of her calico apron lifted
to her eyes, occasionally suppressing a long, quivering sob. Steavens
walked over and stood beside her.
Feeble steps were heard on the stairs, and an old man, tall and frail,
odorous of pipe smoke, with shaggy, unkept grey hair and a dingy beard,
tobacco stained about the mouth, entered uncertainly. He went slowly up
to the coffin and stood rolling a blue cotton handkerchief between his
hands, seeming so pained and embarrassed by his wife's orgy of grief that
he had no consciousness of anything else.
"There, there, Annie, dear, don't take on so," he quavered timidly,
putting out a shaking hand and awkwardly patting her elbow. She turned
and sank upon his shoulder with such violence that he tottered a little.
He did not even glance toward the coffin, but continued to look at her
with a dull, frightened, appealing expression, as a spaniel looks at the
whip. His sunken cheeks slowly reddened and burned with miserable shame.
When his wife rushed from the room, her daughter strode after her with
set lips. The servant stole up to the coffin, bent over it for a moment,
and then slipped away to the kitchen, leaving Steavens, the lawyer, and
the father to themselves. The old man stood looking down at his dead
son's face. The sculptor's splendid head seemed even more noble in its
rigid stillness than in life. The dark hair had crept down upon the wide
forehead; the face seemed strangely long, but in it there was not that
repose we expect to find in the faces of the dead. The brows were so
drawn that there were two deep lines above the beaked nose, and the chin
was thrust forward defiantly. It was as though the strain of life had
been so sharp and bitter that death could not at once relax the tension
and smooth the countenance into perfect peace—as though he were still
guarding something precious, which might even yet be wrested from him.
The old man's lips were working under his stained beard. He turned to the
lawyer with timid deference: "Phelps and the rest are comin' back to set
up with Harve, ain't they?" he asked. "Thank'ee, Jim, thank'ee." He
brushed the hair back gently from his son's forehead. "He was a good boy,
Jim; always a good boy. He was ez gentle ez a child and the kindest of
'em all—only we didn't none of us ever onderstand him." The tears
trickled slowly down his beard and dropped upon the sculptor's coat.
"Martin, Martin! Oh, Martin! come here," his wife wailed from the top of
the stairs. The old man started timorously: "Yes, Annie, I'm coming." He
turned away, hesitated, stood for a moment in miserable indecision; then
reached back and patted the dead man's hair softly, and stumbled from the
"Poor old man, I didn't think he had any tears left. Seems as if his eyes
would have gone dry long ago. At his age nothing cuts very deep,"
remarked the lawyer.
Something in his tone made Steavens glance up. While the mother had been
in the room, the young man had scarcely seen any one else; but now, from
the moment he first glanced into Jim Laird's florid face and blood-shot
eyes, he knew that he had found what he had been heartsick at not finding
before—the feeling, the understanding, that must exist in some one, even
The man was red as his beard, with features swollen and blurred by
dissipation, and a hot, blazing blue eye. His face was strained—that
of a man who is controlling himself with difficulty—and he kept plucking
at his beard with a sort of fierce resentment. Steavens, sitting by the
window, watched him turn down the glaring lamp, still its jangling
pendants with an angry gesture, and then stand with his hands locked
behind him, staring down into the master's face. He could not help
wondering what link there had been between the porcelain vessel and so
sooty a lump of potter's clay.
From the kitchen an uproar was sounding; when the dining-room door
opened, the import of it was clear. The mother was abusing the maid for
having forgotten to make the dressing for the chicken salad which had
been prepared for the watchers. Steavens had never heard anything in
the least like it; it was injured, emotional, dramatic abuse, unique and
masterly in its excruciating cruelty, as violent and unrestrained as had
been her grief of twenty minutes before. With a shudder of disgust the
lawyer went into the dining-room and closed the door into the kitchen.
"Poor Roxy's getting it now," he remarked when he came back. "The
Merricks took her out of the poor-house years ago; and if her loyalty
would let her, I guess the poor old thing could tell tales that would
curdle your blood. She's the mulatto woman who was standing in here a
while ago, with her apron to her eyes. The old woman is a fury; there
never was anybody like her. She made Harvey's life a hell for him when
he lived at home; he was so sick ashamed of it. I never could see how he
kept himself sweet."
"He was wonderful," said Steavens slowly, "wonderful; but until tonight I
have never known how wonderful."
"That is the eternal wonder of it, anyway; that it can come even from
such a dung heap as this," the lawyer cried, with a sweeping gesture
which seemed to indicate much more than the four walls within which they
"I think I'll see whether I can get a little air. The room is so close I
am beginning to feel rather faint," murmured Steavens, struggling with
one of the windows. The sash was stuck, however, and would not yield, so
he sat down dejectedly and began pulling at his collar. The lawyer came
over, loosened the sash with one blow of his red fist and sent the window
up a few inches. Steavens thanked him, but the nausea which had been
gradually climbing into his throat for the last half hour left him with
but one desire—a desperate feeling that he must get away from this place
with what was left of Harvey Merrick. Oh, he comprehended well enough
now the quiet bitterness of the smile that he had seen so often on his
Once when Merrick returned from a visit home, he brought with him a
singularly feeling and suggestive bas-relief of a thin, faded old woman,
sitting and sewing something pinned to her knee; while a full-lipped,
full-blooded little urchin, his trousers held up by a single gallows,
stood beside her, impatiently twitching her gown to call her attention to
a butterfly he had caught. Steavens, impressed by the tender and delicate
modelling of the thin, tired face, had asked him if it were his mother.
He remembered the dull flush that had burned up in the sculptor's face.
The lawyer was sitting in a rocking-chair beside the coffin, his head
thrown back and his eyes closed. Steavens looked at him earnestly,
puzzled at the line of the chin, and wondering why a man should conceal a
feature of such distinction under that disfiguring shock of beard.
Suddenly, as though he felt the young sculptor's keen glance, Jim Laird
opened his eyes.
"Was he always a good deal of an oyster?" he asked abruptly. "He was
terribly shy as a boy."
"Yes, he was an oyster, since you put it so," rejoined Stevens. "Although
he could be very fond of people, he always gave one the impression of
being detached. He disliked violent emotion; he was reflective, and
rather distrustful of himself—except, of course, as regarded his work.
He was sure enough there. He distrusted men pretty thoroughly and women
even more, yet somehow without believing ill of them. He was determined,
indeed, to believe the best; but he seemed afraid to investigate."
"A burnt dog dreads the fire," said the lawyer grimly, and closed his
Steavens went on and on, reconstructing that whole miserable boyhood. All
this raw, biting ugliness had been the portion of the man whose mind was
to become an exhaustless gallery of beautiful impressions—so sensitive
that the mere shadow of a poplar leaf flickering against a sunny wall
would be etched and held there for ever. Surely, if ever a man had the
magic word in his finger tips, it was Merrick. Whatever he touched, he
revealed its holiest secret; liberated it from enchantment and restored
it to its pristine loveliness. Upon whatever he had come in contact with,
he had left a beautiful record of the experience—a sort of ethereal
signature; a scent, a sound, a colour that was his own.
Steavens understood now the real tragedy of his master's life; neither
love nor wine, as many had conjectured; but a blow which had fallen
earlier and cut deeper than anything else could have done—a shame not
his, and yet so unescapably his, to bide in his heart from his very
boyhood. And without—the frontier warfare; the yearning of a boy, cast
ashore upon a desert of newness and ugliness and sordidness, for all that
is chastened and old, and noble with traditions.
At eleven o'clock the tall, flat woman in black announced that the
watchers were arriving, and asked them to "step into the dining-room." As
Steavens rose, the lawyer said dryly: "You go on—it'll be a good
experience for you. I'm not equal to that crowd tonight; I've had twenty
years of them."
As Steavens closed the door after him he glanced back at the lawyer,
sitting by the coffin in the dim light, with his chin resting on his
The same misty group that had stood before the door of the express car
shuffled into the dining-room. In the light of the kerosene lamp they
separated and became individuals. The minister, a pale, feeble-looking
man with white hair and blond chin-whiskers, took his seat beside a small
side table and placed his Bible upon it. The Grand Army man sat down
behind the stove and tilted his chair back comfortably against the wall,
fishing his quill toothpick from his waistcoat pocket. The two bankers,
Phelps and Elder, sat off in a corner behind the dinner-table, where they
could finish their discussion of the new usury law and its effect on
chattel security loans. The real estate agent, an old man with a smiling,
hypocritical face, soon joined them. The coal and lumber dealer and the
cattle shipper sat on opposite sides of the hard coal-burner, their feet
on the nickel-work. Steavens took a book from his pocket and began to
read. The talk around him ranged through various topics of local interest
while the house was quieting down. When it was clear that the members of
the family were in bed, the Grand Army man hitched his shoulders and,
untangling his long legs, caught his heels on the rounds of his chair.
"S'pose there'll be a will, Phelps?" he queried in his weak falsetto.
The banker laughed disagreeably, and began trimming his nails with a
"There'll scarcely be any need for one, will there?" he queried in his
The restless Grand Army man shifted his position again, getting his knees
still nearer his chin. "Why, the ole man says Harve's done right well
lately," he chirped.
The other banker spoke up. "I reckon he means by that Harve ain't asked
him to mortgage any more farms lately, so as he could go on with his
"Seems like my mind don't reach back to a time when Harve wasn't bein'
edycated," tittered the Grand Army man.
There was a general chuckle. The minister took out his handkerchief and
blew his nose sonorously. Banker Phelps closed his knife with a snap.
"It's too bad the old man's sons didn't turn out better," he remarked
with reflective authority. "They never hung together. He spent money
enough on Harve to stock a dozen cattle-farms, and he might as well have
poured it into Sand Creek. If Harve had stayed at home and helped nurse
what little they had, and gone into stock on the old man's bottom farm,
they might all have been well fixed. But the old man had to trust
everything to tenants and was cheated right and left."
"Harve never could have handled stock none," interposed the cattleman.
"He hadn't it in him to be sharp. Do you remember when he bought Sander's
mules for eight-year olds, when everybody in town knew that Sander's
father-in-law give 'em to his wife for a wedding present eighteen years
before, an' they was full-grown mules then?"
The company laughed discreetly, and the Grand Army man rubbed his knees
with a spasm of childish delight.
"Harve never was much account for anything practical, and he shore was
never fond of work," began the coal and lumber dealer. "I mind the last
time he was home; the day he left, when the old man was out to the barn
helpin' his hand hitch up to take Harve to the train, and Cal Moots was
patchin' up the fence; Harve, he come out on the step and sings out, in
his lady-like voice: 'Cal Moots, Cal Moots! please come cord my trunk.'"
"That's Harve for you," approved the Grand Army man. "I kin hear him
howlin' yet, when he was a big feller in long pants and his mother used
to whale him with a rawhide in the barn for lettin' the cows git
foundered in the cornfield when he was drivin' 'em home from pasture. He
killed a cow of mine that-a-way onct—a pure Jersey and the best milker I
had, an' the ole man had to put up for her. Harve, he was watchin' the
sun set acrost the marshes when the anamile got away."
"Where the old man made his mistake was in sending the boy East to
school," said Phelps, stroking his goatee and speaking in a deliberate,
judicial tone. "There was where he got his head full of nonsense. What
Harve needed, of all people, was a course in some first-class Kansas
City business college."
The letters were swimming before Steavens's eyes. Was it possible that
these men did not understand, that the palm on the coffin meant nothing
to them? The very name of their town would have remained for ever buried
in the postal guide had it not been now and again mentioned in the world
in connection with Harvey Merrick's. He remembered what his master had
said to him on the day of his death, after the congestion of both lungs
had shut off any probability of recovery, and the sculptor had asked his
pupil to send his body home. "It's not a pleasant place to be lying while
the world is moving and doing and bettering," he had said with a feeble
smile, "but it rather seems as though we ought to go back to the place we
came from, in the end. The townspeople will come in for a look at me; and
after they have had their say, I shan't have much to fear from the
judgment of God!"
The cattleman took up the comment. "Forty's young for a Merrick to cash
in; they usually hang on pretty well. Probably he helped it along with
"His mother's people were not long lived, and Harvey never had a robust
constitution," said the minister mildly. He would have liked to say more.
He had been the boy's Sunday-school teacher, and had been fond of him;
but he felt that he was not in a position to speak. His own sons had
turned out badly, and it was not a year since one of them had made his
last trip home in the express car, shot in a gambling-house in the
"Nevertheless, there is no disputin' that Harve frequently looked upon
the wine when it was red, also variegated, and it shore made an oncommon
fool of him," moralized the cattleman.
Just then the door leading into the parlour rattled loudly and every one
started involuntarily, looking relieved when only Jim Laird came out.
The Grand Army man ducked his head when he saw the spark in his blue,
blood-shot eye. They were all afraid of Jim; he was a drunkard, but he
could twist the law to suit his client's needs as no other man in all
western Kansas could do, and there were many who tried. The lawyer closed
the door behind him, leaned back against it and folded his arms, cocking
his head a little to one side. When he assumed this attitude in the
court-room, ears were always pricked up, as it usually foretold a flood
of withering sarcasm.
"I've been with you gentlemen before," he began in a dry, even tone,
"when you've sat by the coffins of boys born and raised in this town;
and, if I remember rightly, you were never any too well satisfied when
you checked them up. What's the matter, anyhow? Why is it that reputable
young men are as scarce as millionaires in Sand City? It might almost
seem to a stranger that there was some way something the matter with your
progressive town. Why did Ruben Sayer, the brightest young lawyer you
ever turned out, after he had come home from the university as straight
as a die, take to drinking and forge a check and shoot himself? Why did
Bill Merrit's son die of the shakes in a saloon in Omaha? Why was Mr.
Thomas's son, here, shot in a gambling-house? Why did young Adams burn
his mill to beat the insurance companies and go to the pen?"
The lawyer paused and unfolded his arms, laying one clenched fist quietly
on the table. "I'll tell you why. Because you drummed nothing but money
and knavery into their ears from the time they wore knickerbockers;
because you carped away at them as you've been carping here tonight,
holding our friends Phelps and Elder up to them for their models, as our
grandfathers held up George Washington and John Adams. But the boys were
young, and raw at the business you put them to, and how could they match
coppers with such artists as Phelps and Elder? You wanted them to be
successful rascals; they were only unsuccessful ones—that's all the
difference. There was only one boy ever raised in this borderland between
ruffianism and civilization who didn't come to grief, and you hated
Harvey Merrick more for winning out than you hated all the other boys who
got under the wheels. Lord, Lord, how you did hate him! Phelps, here, is
fond of saying that he could buy and sell us all out any time he's a mind
to; but he knew Harve wouldn't have given a tinker's damn for his bank
and all his cattlefarms put together; and a lack of appreciation, that
way, goes hard with Phelps.
"Old Nimrod thinks Harve drank too much; and this from such as Nimrod and
"Brother Elder says Harve was too free with the old man's money—fell
short in filial consideration, maybe. Well, we can all remember the
very tone in which brother Elder swore his own father was a liar, in the
county court; and we all know that the old man came out of that
partnership with his son as bare as a sheared lamb. But maybe I'm getting
personal, and I'd better be driving ahead at what I want to say."
The lawyer paused a moment, squared his heavy shoulders, and went on:
"Harvey Merrick and I went to school together, back East. We were dead in
earnest, and we wanted you all to be proud of us some day. We meant to be
great men. Even I, and I haven't lost my sense of humour, gentlemen, I
meant to be a great man. I came back here to practise, and I found you
didn't in the least want me to be a great man. You wanted me to be a
shrewd lawyer—oh, yes! Our veteran here wanted me to get him an increase
of pension, because he had dyspepsia; Phelps wanted a new county survey
that would put the widow Wilson's little bottom farm inside his south
line; Elder wanted to lend money at 5 per cent, a month, and get it
collected; and Stark here wanted to wheedle old women up in Vermont into
investing their annuities in real-estate mortgages that are not worth the
paper they are written on. Oh, you needed me hard enough, and you'll go
on needing me!
"Well, I came back here and became the damned shyster you wanted me to
be. You pretend to have some sort of respect for me; and yet you'll stand
up and throw mud at Harvey Merrick, whose soul you couldn't dirty and
whose hands you couldn't tie. Oh, you're a discriminating lot of
Christians! There have been times when the sight of Harvey's name in some
Eastern paper has made me hang my head like a whipped dog; and, again,
times when I liked to think of him off there in the world, away from all
this hog-wallow, climbing the big, clean up-grade he'd set for himself.
"And we? Now that we've fought and lied and sweated and stolen, and hated
as only the disappointed strugglers in a bitter, dead little Western town
know how to do, what have we got to show for it? Harvey Merrick wouldn't
have given one sunset over your marshes for all you've got put together,
and you know it. It's not for me to say why, in the inscrutable wisdom of
God, a genius should ever have been called from this place of hatred and
bitter waters; but I want this Boston man to know that the drivel he's
been hearing here tonight is the only tribute any truly great man could
have from such a lot of sick, side-tracked, burnt-dog, land-poor sharks
as the here-present financiers of Sand City—upon which town may God have
The lawyer thrust out his hand to Steavens as he passed him, caught up
his overcoat in the hall, and had left the house before the Grand Army
man had had time to lift his ducked head and crane his long neck about at
Next day Jim Laird was drunk and unable to attend the funeral services.
Steavens called twice at his office, but was compelled to start East
without seeing him. He had a presentiment that he would hear from him
again, and left his address on the lawyer's table; but if Laird found it,
he never acknowledged it. The thing in him that Harvey Merrick had loved
must have gone under ground with Harvey Merrick's coffin; for it never
spoke again, and Jim got the cold he died of driving across the Colorado
mountains to defend one of Phelps's sons who had got into trouble out
there by cutting government timber.
"A Death in the Desert"
Everett Hilgarde was conscious that the man in the seat across the aisle
was looking at him intently. He was a large, florid man, wore a
conspicuous diamond solitaire upon his third finger, and Everett judged
him to be a travelling salesman of some sort. He had the air of an
adaptable fellow who had been about the world and who could keep cool and
clean under almost any circumstances.
The "High Line Flyer," as this train was derisively called among railroad
men, was jerking along through the hot afternoon over the monotonous
country between Holdredge and Cheyenne. Besides the blond man and himself
the only occupants of the car were two dusty, bedraggled-looking girls
who had been to the Exposition at Chicago, and who were earnestly
discussing the cost of their first trip out of Colorado. The four
uncomfortable passengers were covered with a sediment of fine, yellow
dust which clung to their hair and eyebrows like gold powder. It blew up
in clouds from the bleak, lifeless country through which they passed,
until they were one colour with the sage-brush and sand-hills. The grey
and yellow desert was varied only by occasional ruins of deserted towns,
and the little red boxes of station-houses, where the spindling trees
and sickly vines in the blue-grass yards made little green reserves
fenced off in that confusing wilderness of sand.
As the slanting rays of the sun beat in stronger and stronger through the
car-windows, the blond gentleman asked the ladies' permission to remove
his coat, and sat in his lavender striped shirtsleeves, with a black silk
handkerchief tucked about his collar. He had seemed interested in
Everett since they had boarded the train at Holdredge; kept glancing at
him curiously and then looking reflectively out of the window, as though
he were trying to recall something. But wherever Everett went, some one
was almost sure to look at him with that curious interest, and it had
ceased to embarrass or annoy him. Presently the stranger, seeming
satisfied with his observation, leaned back in his seat, half closed his
eyes, and began softly to whistle the Spring Song from Proserpine, the
cantata that a dozen years before had made its young composer famous in a
night. Everett had heard that air on guitars in Old Mexico, on mandolins
at college glees, on cottage organs in New England hamlets, and only
two weeks ago he had heard it played on sleigh-bells at a variety theatre
in Denver. There was literally no way of escaping his brother's
precocity. Adriance could live on the other side of the Atlantic, where
his youthful indiscretions were forgotten in his mature achievements, but
his brother had never been able to outrun Proserpine,—and here he
found it again, in the Colorado sand-hills. Not that Everett was exactly
ashamed of Proserpine; only a man of genius could have written it, but
it was the sort of thing that a man of genius outgrows as soon as he can.
Everett unbent a trifle, and smiled at his neighbour across the aisle.
Immediately the large man rose and coming over dropped into the seat
facing Hilgarde, extending his card.
"Dusty ride, isn't it? I don't mind it myself; I'm used to it. Born and
bred in de briar patch, like Br'er Rabbit. I've been trying to place you
for a long time; I think I must have met you before."
"Thank you," said Everett, taking the card; "my name is Hilgarde. You've
probably met my brother, Adriance; people often mistake me for him."
The travelling-man brought his hand down upon his knee with such
vehemence that the solitaire blazed.
"So I was right after all, and if you're not Adriance Hilgarde you're his
double. I thought I couldn't be mistaken. Seen him? Well, I guess! I
never missed one of his recitals at the Auditorium, and he played the
piano score of Proserpine through to us once at the Chicago Press Club.
I used to be on the Commercial there before I began to travel for the
publishing department of the concern. So you're Hilgarde's brother, and
here I've run into you at the jumping-off place. Sounds like a newspaper
yarn, doesn't it?"
The travelling-man laughed and offering Everett a cigar plied him with
questions on the only subject that people ever seemed to care to talk
to him about. At length the salesman and the two girls alighted at a
Colorado way station, and Everett went on to Cheyenne alone.
The train pulled into Cheyenne at nine o'clock, late by a matter of four
hours or so; but no one seemed particularly concerned at its tardiness
except the station agent, who grumbled at being kept in the office over
time on a summer night. When Everett alighted from the train he walked
down the platform and stopped at the track crossing, uncertain as to what
direction he should take to reach a hotel. A phaeton stood near the
crossing and a woman held the reins. She was dressed in white, and her
figure was clearly silhouetted against the cushions, though it was too
dark to see her face. Everett had scarcely noticed her, when the
switch-engine came puffing up from the opposite direction, and the
head-light threw a strong glare of light on his face. The woman in the
phaeton uttered a low cry and dropped the reins. Everett started forward
and caught the horse's head, but the animal only lifted its ears and
whisked its tail in impatient surprise. The woman sat perfectly still,
her head sunk between her shoulders and her handkerchief pressed to her
face. Another woman came out of the depot and hurried toward the phaeton,
crying, "Katharine, dear, what is the matter?"
Everett hesitated a moment in painful embarrassment, then lifted his hat
and passed on. He was accustomed to sudden recognitions in the most
impossible places, especially from women.
While he was breakfasting the next morning, the head waiter leaned over
his chair to murmur that there was a gentleman waiting to see him in the
parlour. Everett finished his coffee, and went in the direction
indicated, where he found his visitor restlessly pacing the floor. His
whole manner betrayed a high degree of agitation, though his physique was
not that of a man whose nerves lie near the surface. He was something
below medium height, square-shouldered and solidly built. His thick,
closely cut hair was beginning to show grey about the ears, and his
bronzed face was heavily lined. His square brown hands were locked behind
him, and he held his shoulders like a man conscious of responsibilities,
yet, as he turned to greet Everett, there was an incongruous diffidence
in his address.
"Good-morning, Mr. Hilgarde," he said, extending his hand; "I found your
name on the hotel register. My name is Gaylord. I'm afraid my sister
startled you at the station last night, and I've come around to explain."
"Ah! the young lady in the phaeton? I'm sure I didn't know whether I had
anything to do with her alarm or not. If I did, it is I who owe an
The man coloured a little under the dark brown of his face.
"Oh, it's nothing you could help, sir, I fully understand that. You see,
my sister used to be a pupil of your brother's, and it seems you favour
him; when the switch-engine threw a light on your face, it startled her."
Everett wheeled about in his chair. "Oh! Katharine Gaylord! Is it
possible! Why, I used to know her when I was a boy. What on
"Is she doing here?" Gaylord grimly filled out the pause. "You've got at
the heart of the matter. You know my sister had been in bad health for a
"No. The last I knew of her she was singing in London. My brother and I
correspond infrequently, and seldom get beyond family matters. I am
deeply sorry to hear this."
The lines in Charley Gaylord's brow relaxed a little.
"What I'm trying to say, Mr. Hilgarde, is that she wants to see you.
She's set on it. We live several miles out of town, but my rig's below,
and I can take you out any time you can go."
"At once, then. I'll get my hat and be with you in a moment."
When he came downstairs Everett found a cart at the door, and Charley
Gaylord drew a long sigh of relief as he gathered up the reins and
settled back into his own element.
"I think I'd better tell you something about my sister before you see
her, and I don't know just where to begin. She travelled in Europe with
your brother and his wife, and sang at a lot of his concerts; but I don't
know just how much you know about her."
"Very little, except that my brother always thought her the most gifted
of his pupils. When I knew her she was very young and very beautiful,
and quite turned my head for a while."
Everett saw that Gaylord's mind was entirely taken up by his grief.
"That's the whole thing," he went on, flecking his horses with the whip.
"She was a great woman, as you say, and she didn't come of a great
family. She had to fight her own way from the first. She got to Chicago,
and then to New York, and then to Europe, and got a taste for it all; and
now she's dying here like a rat in a hole, out of her own world, and she
can't fall back into ours. We've grown apart, some way—miles and miles
apart—and I'm afraid she's fearfully unhappy."
"It's a tragic story you're telling me, Gaylord," said Everett. They were
well out into the country now, spinning along over the dusty plains of
red grass, with the ragged blue outline of the mountains before them.
"Tragic!" cried Gaylord, starting up in his seat, "my God, nobody will
ever know how tragic! It's a tragedy I live with and eat with and sleep
with, until I've lost my grip on everything. You see she had made a good
bit of money, but she spent it all going to health resorts. It's her
lungs. I've got money enough to send her anywhere, but the doctors all
say it's no use. She hasn't the ghost of a chance. It's just getting
through the days now. I had no notion she was half so bad before she came
to me. She just wrote that she was run down. Now that she's here, I think
she'd be happier anywhere under the sun, but she won't leave. She says
it's easier to let go of life here. There was a time when I
was a brakeman with a run out of Bird City, Iowa, and she was a little
thing I could carry on my shoulder, when I could get her everything on
earth she wanted, and she hadn't a wish my $80 a month didn't cover; and
now, when I've got a little property together, I can't buy her a night's
Everett saw that, whatever Charley Gaylord's present status in the world
might be, he had brought the brakeman's heart up the ladder with him.
The reins slackened in Gaylord's hand as they drew up before a showily
painted house with many gables and a round tower. "Here we are," he said,
turning to Everett, "and I guess we understand each other."
They were met at the door by a thin, colourless woman, whom Gaylord
introduced as "My sister, Maggie." She asked her brother to show Mr.
Hilgarde into the music-room, where Katharine would join him.
When Everett entered the music-room he gave a little start of surprise,
feeling that he had stepped from the glaring Wyoming sunlight into some
New York studio that he had always known. He looked incredulously out of
the window at the grey plain that ended in the great upheaval of the
The haunting air of familiarity perplexed him. Suddenly his eye fell upon
a large photograph of his brother above the piano. Then it all became
clear enough: this was veritably his brother's room. If it were not an
exact copy of one of the many studios that Adriance had fitted up in
various parts of the world, wearying of them and leaving almost before
the renovator's varnish had dried, it was at least in the same tone. In
every detail Adriance's taste was so manifest that the room seemed to
exhale his personality.
Among the photographs on the wall there was one of Katharine Gaylord,
taken in the days when Everett had known her, and when the flash of her
eye or the flutter of her skirt was enough to set his boyish heart in a
tumult. Even now, he stood before the portrait with a certain degree of
embarrassment. It was the face of a woman already old in her first youth,
a trifle hard, and it told of what her brother had called her fight. The
camaraderie of her frank, confident eyes was qualified by the deep
lines about her mouth and the curve of the lips, which was both sad and
cynical. Certainly she had more good-will than confidence toward the
world. The chief charm of the woman, as Everett had known her, lay in
her superb figure and in her eyes, which possessed a warm, life-giving
quality like the sunlight; eyes which glowed with a perpetual salutat
to the world.
Everett was still standing before the picture, his hands behind him and
his head inclined, when he heard the door open. A tall woman advanced
toward him, holding out her hand. As she started to speak she coughed
slightly, then, laughing, said, in a low, rich voice, a trifle husky:
"You see I make the traditional Camille entrance. How good of you to
come, Mr. Hilgarde."
Everett was acutely conscious that while addressing him she was not
looking at him at all, and, as he assured her of his pleasure in coming,
he was glad to have an opportunity to collect himself. He had not
reckoned upon the ravages of a long illness. The long, loose folds of her
white gown had been especially designed to conceal the sharp outlines of
her body, but the stamp of her disease was there; simple and ugly and
obtrusive, a pitiless fact that could not be disguised or evaded. The
splendid shoulders were stooped, there was a swaying unevenness in her
gait, her arms seemed disproportionately long, and her hands were
transparently white, and cold to the touch. The changes in her face were
less obvious; the proud carriage of the head, the warm, clear eyes, even
the delicate flush of colour in her cheeks, all defiantly remained,
though they were all in a lower key—older, sadder, softer.
She sat down upon the divan and began nervously to arrange the pillows.
"Of course I'm ill, and I look it, but you must be quite frank and
sensible about that and get used to it at once, for we've no time to
lose. And if I'm a trifle irritable you won't mind?—for I'm more than
"Don't bother with me this morning, if you are tired," urged Everett. "I
can come quite as well tomorrow."
"Gracious, no!" she protested, with a flash of that quick, keen humour
that he remembered as a part of her. "It's solitude that I'm tired to
death of—solitude and the wrong kind of people. You see, the minister
called on me this morning. He happened to be riding by on his bicycle and
felt it his duty to stop. The funniest feature of his conversation is
that he is always excusing my own profession to me. But how we are losing
time! Do tell me about New York; Charley says you're just on from there.
How does it look and taste and smell just now? I think a whiff of the
Jersey ferry would be as flagons of cod-liver oil to me. Are the trees
still green in Madison Square, or have they grown brown and dusty? Does
the chaste Diana still keep her vows through all the exasperating changes
of weather? Who has your brother's old studio now, and what misguided
aspirants practise their scales in the rookeries about Carnegie Hall?
What do people go to see at the theatres, and what do they eat and drink
in the world nowadays? Oh, let me die in Harlem!" she was interrupted by
a violent attack of coughing, and Everett, embarrassed by her discomfort,
plunged into gossip about the professional people he had met in town
during the summer, and the musical outlook for the winter. He was
diagramming with his pencil some new mechanical device to be used at the
Metropolitan in the production of the Rheingold, when he became
conscious that she was looking at him intently, and that he was talking
to the four walls.
Katharine was lying back among the pillows, watching him through
half-closed eyes, as a painter looks at a picture. He finished his
explanation vaguely enough and put the pencil back in his pocket. As he
did so, she said, quietly: "How wonderfully like Adriance you are!"
He laughed, looking up at her with a touch of pride in his eyes that made
them seem quite boyish. "Yes, isn't it absurd? It's almost as awkward
as looking like Napoleon—But, after all, there are some advantages. It
has made some of his friends like me, and I hope it will make you."
Katharine gave him a quick, meaning glance from under her lashes. "Oh, it
did that long ago. What a haughty, reserved youth you were then, and how
you used to stare at people, and then blush and look cross. Do you
remember that night you took me home from a rehearsal, and scarcely spoke
a word to me?"
"It was the silence of admiration," protested Everett, "very crude and
boyish, but certainly sincere. Perhaps you suspected something of the
"I believe I suspected a pose; the one that boys often affect with
singers. But it rather surprised me in you, for you must have seen a good
deal of your brother's pupils." Everett shook his head. "I saw my
brother's pupils come and go. Sometimes I was called on to play
accompaniments, or to fill out a vacancy at a rehearsal, or to order a
carriage for an infuriated soprano who had thrown up her part. But they
never spent any time on me, unless it was to notice the resemblance
you speak of."
"Yes," observed Katharine, thoughtfully, "I noticed it then, too; but it
has grown as you have grown older. That is rather strange, when you have
lived such different lives. It's not merely an ordinary family likeness
of features, you know, but the suggestion of the other man's personality
in your face—like an air transposed to another key. But I'm not
attempting to define it; it's beyond me; something altogether unusual and
a trifle—well, uncanny," she finished, laughing.
Everett sat looking out under the red window-blind which was raised just
a little. As it swung back and forth in the wind it revealed the glaring
panorama of the desert—a blinding stretch of yellow, flat as the sea in
dead calm, splotched here and there with deep purple shadows; and,
beyond, the ragged blue outline of the mountains and the peaks of snow,
white as the white clouds. "I remember, when I was a child I used to be
very sensitive about it. I don't think it exactly displeased me, or that
I would have had it otherwise, but it seemed like a birthmark, or
something not to be lightly spoken of. It came into even my relations
with my mother. Ad went abroad to study when he was very young, and
mother was all broken up over it. She did her whole duty by each of
us, but it was generally understood among us that she'd have made
burnt-offerings of us all for him any day. I was a little fellow then,
and when she sat alone on the porch on summer evenings, she used
sometimes to call me to her and turn my face up in the light that
streamed out through the shutters and kiss me, and then I always knew she
was thinking of Adriance."
"Poor little chap," said Katharine, in her husky voice. "How fond people
have always been of Adriance! Tell me the latest news of him. I haven't
heard, except through the press, for a year or more. He was in Algiers
then, in the valley of the Chelif, riding horseback, and he had quite
made up his mind to adopt the Mahometan faith and become an Arab. How
many countries and faiths has he adopted, I wonder?"
"Oh, that's Adriance," chuckled Everett. "He is himself barely long
enough to write checks and be measured for his clothes. I didn't hear
from him while he was an Arab; I missed that."
"He was writing an Algerian suite for the piano then; it must be in the
publisher's hands by this time. I have been too ill to answer his letter,
and have lost touch with him."
Everett drew an envelope from his pocket. "This came a month ago. Read it
at your leisure."
"Thanks. I shall keep it as a hostage. Now I want you to play for me.
Whatever you like; but if there is anything new in the world, in mercy
let me hear it."
He sat down at the piano, and Katharine sat near him, absorbed in his
remarkable physical likeness to his brother, and trying to discover in
just what it consisted. He was of a larger build than Adriance, and much
heavier. His face was of the same oval mould, but it was grey, and
darkened about the mouth by continual shaving. His eyes were of the same
inconstant April colour, but they were reflective and rather dull; while
Adriance's were always points of high light, and always meaning another
thing than the thing they meant yesterday. It was hard to see why this
earnest man should so continually suggest that lyric, youthful face, as
gay as his was grave. For Adriance, though he was ten years the elder,
and though his hair was streaked with silver, had the face of a boy of
twenty, so mobile that it told his thoughts before he could put them into
words. A contralto, famous for the extravagance of her vocal methods and
of her affections, once said that the shepherd-boys who sang in the Vale
of Tempe must certainly have looked like young Hilgarde.
Everett sat smoking on the veranda of the Inter-Ocean House that night,
the victim of mournful recollections. His infatuation for Katharine
Gaylord, visionary as it was, had been the most serious of his boyish
love-affairs. The fact that it was all so done and dead and far behind
him, and that the woman had lived her life out since then, gave him an
oppressive sense of age and loss.
He remembered how bitter and morose he had grown during his stay at his
brother's studio when Katharine Gaylord was working there, and how he had
wounded Adriance on the night of his last concert in New York. He had sat
there in the box—while his brother and Katherine were called back again
and again, and the flowers went up over the footlights until they were
stacked half as high as the piano—brooding in his sullen boy's heart
upon the pride those two felt in each other's work—spurring each other
to their best and beautifully contending in song. The footlights had
seemed a hard, glittering line drawn sharply between their life and his.
He walked back to his hotel alone, and sat in his window staring out on
Madison Square until long after midnight, resolved to beat no more at
doors that he could never enter.
* * * * *
Everett's week in Cheyenne stretched to three, and he saw no prospect of
release except through the thing he dreaded. The bright, windy days of
the Wyoming autumn passed swiftly. Letters and telegrams came urging him
to hasten his trip to the coast, but he resolutely postponed his business
engagements. The mornings he spent on one of Charley Gaylord's ponies, or
fishing in the mountains. In the afternoon he was usually at his post of
duty. Destiny, he reflected, seems to have very positive notions about
the sort of parts we are fitted to play. The scene changes and the
compensation varies, but in the end we usually find that we have played
the same class of business from first to last. Everett had been a
stop-gap all his life. He remembered going through a looking-glass
labyrinth when he was a boy, and trying gallery after gallery, only at
every turn to bump his nose against his own face—which, indeed, was not
his own, but his brother's. No matter what his mission, east or west, by
land or sea, he was sure to find himself employed in his brother's
business, one of the tributary lives which helped to swell the shining
current of Adriance Hilgarde's. It was not the first time that his duty
had been to comfort, as best he could, one of the broken things his
brother's imperious speed had cast aside and forgotten. He made no
attempt to analyse the situation or to state it in exact terms; but he
accepted it as a commission from his brother to help this woman to die.
Day by day he felt her need for him grow more acute and positive; and day
by day he felt that in his peculiar relation to her, his own
individuality played a smaller part. His power to minister to her comfort
lay solely in his link with his brother's life. He knew that she sat by
him always watching for some trick of gesture, some familiar play of
expression, some illusion of light and shadow, in which he should seem
wholly Adriance. He knew that she lived upon this, and that in the
exhaustion which followed this turmoil of her dying senses, she slept
deep and sweet, and dreamed of youth and art and days in a certain old
Florentine garden, and not of bitterness and death.
A few days after his first meeting with Katharine Gaylord, he had cabled
his brother to write her. He merely said that she was mortally ill;
he could depend on Adriance to say the right thing—that was a part of
his gift. Adriance always said not only the right thing, but the
opportune, graceful, exquisite thing. He caught the lyric essence of the
moment, the poetic suggestion of every situation. Moreover, he usually
did the right thing,—except, when he did very cruel things—bent upon
making people happy when their existence touched his, just as he insisted
that his material environment should be beautiful; lavishing upon those
near him all the warmth and radiance of his rich nature, all the homage
of the poet and troubadour, and, when they were no longer near,
forgetting—for that also was a part of Adriance's gift.
Three weeks after Everett had sent his cable, when he made his daily call
at the gaily painted ranch-house, he found Katharine laughing like a
girl. "Have you ever thought," she said, as he entered the music-room,
"how much these séances of ours are like Heine's 'Florentine Nights,'
except that I don't give you an opportunity to monopolize the
conversation?" She held his hand longer than usual as she greeted him.
"You are the kindest man living, the kindest," she added, softly.
Everett's grey face coloured faintly as he drew his hand away, for he
felt that this time she was looking at him, and not at a whimsical
caricature of his brother.
She drew a letter with a foreign postmark from between the leaves of a
book and held it out, smiling. "You got him to write it. Don't say you
didn't, for it came direct, you see, and the last address I gave him was
a place in Florida. This deed shall be remembered of you when I am with
the just in Paradise. But one thing you did not ask him to do, for you
didn't know about it. He has sent me his latest work, the new sonata, and
you are to play it for me directly. But first for the letter; I think you
would better read it aloud to me."
Everett sat down in a low chair facing the window-seat in which she
reclined with a barricade of pillows behind her. He opened the letter,
his lashes half-veiling his kind eyes, and saw to his satisfaction that
it was a long one; wonderfully tactful and tender, even for Adriance, who
was tender with his valet and his stable-boy, with his old gondolier and
the beggar-women who prayed to the saints for him.
The letter was from Granada, written in the Alhambra, as he sat by the
fountain of the Patio di Lindaraxa. The air was heavy with the warm
fragrance of the South and full of the sound of splashing, running water,
as it had been in a certain old garden in Florence, long ago. The sky
was one great turquoise, heated until it glowed. The wonderful Moorish
arches threw graceful blue shadows all about him. He had sketched an
outline of them on the margin of his note-paper. The letter was full of
confidences about his work, and delicate allusions to their old happy
days of study and comradeship.
As Everett folded it he felt that Adriance had divined the thing needed
and had risen to it in his own wonderful way. The letter was consistently
egotistical, and seemed to him even a trifle patronizing, yet it was just
what she had wanted. A strong realization of his brother's charm and
intensity and power came over him; he felt the breath of that whirlwind
of flame in which Adriance passed, consuming all in his path, and himself
even more resolutely than he consumed others. Then he looked down at this
white, burnt-out brand that lay before him.
"Like him, isn't it?" she said, quietly. "I think I can scarcely answer
his letter, but when you see him next you can do that for me. I want
you to tell him many things for me, yet they can all be summed up in
this: I want him to grow wholly into his best and greatest self, even at
the cost of what is half his charm to you and me. Do you understand me?"
"I know perfectly well what you mean," answered Everett, thoughtfully.
"And yet it's difficult to prescribe for those fellows; so little makes,
so little mars."
Katharine raised herself upon her elbow, and her face flushed with
feverish earnestness. "Ah, but it is the waste of himself that I mean;
his lashing himself out on stupid and uncomprehending people until they
take him at their own estimate."
"Come, come," expostulated Everett, now alarmed at her excitement. "Where
is the new sonata? Let him speak for himself."
He sat down at the piano and began playing the first movement, which was
indeed the voice of Adriance, his proper speech. The sonata was the most
ambitious work he had done up to that time, and marked the transition
from his early lyric vein to a deeper and nobler style. Everett played
intelligently and with that sympathetic comprehension which seems
peculiar to a certain lovable class of men who never accomplish anything
in particular. When he had finished he turned to Katharine.
"How he has grown!" she cried. "What the three last years have done for
him! He used to write only the tragedies of passion; but this is the
tragedy of effort and failure, the thing Keats called hell. This is my
tragedy, as I lie here, listening to the feet of the runners as they pass
me—ah, God! the swift feet of the runners!"
She turned her face away and covered it with her hands. Everett crossed
over to her and knelt beside her. In all the days he had known her she
had never before, beyond an occasional ironical jest, given voice to the
bitterness of her own defeat. Her courage had become a point of pride
"Don't do it," he gasped. "I can't stand it, I really can't, I feel it
When she turned her face back to him there was a ghost of the old, brave,
cynical smile on it, more bitter than the tears she could not shed. "No,
I won't; I will save that for the night, when I have no better company.
Run over that theme at the beginning again, will you? It was running in
his head when we were in Venice years ago, and he used to drum it on his
glass at the dinner-table. He had just begun to work it out when the late
autumn came on, and he decided to go to Florence for the winter. He lost
touch with his idea, I suppose, during his illness. Do you remember those
frightful days? All the people who have loved him are not strong enough
to save him from himself! When I got word from Florence that he had been
ill, I was singing at Monte Carlo. His wife was hurrying to him from
Paris, but I reached him first. I arrived at dusk, in a terrific storm.
They had taken an old palace there for the winter, and I found him in the
library—a long, dark room full of old Latin books and heavy furniture
and bronzes. He was sitting by a wood fire at one end of the room,
looking, oh, so worn and pale!—as he always does when he is ill, you
know. Ah, it is so good that you do know! Even his red smoking-jacket
lent no colour to his face. His first words were not to tell me how ill
he had been, but that that morning he had been well enough to put the
last strokes to the score of his 'Souvenirs d' Automne,' and he was as
I most like to remember him; calm and happy, and tired with that heavenly
tiredness that comes after a good work done at last. Outside, the rain
poured down in torrents, and the wind moaned and sobbed in the garden
and about the walls of that desolated old palace. How that night comes
back to me! There were no lights in the room, only the wood fire. It
glowed on the black walls and floor like the reflection of purgatorial
flame. Beyond us it scarcely penetrated the gloom at all. Adriance
sat staring at the fire with the weariness of all his life in his eyes,
and of all the other lives that must aspire and suffer to make up one
such life as his. Somehow the wind with all its world-pain had got into
the room, and the cold rain was in our eyes, and the wave came up in both
of us at once—that awful vague, universal pain, that cold fear of life
and death and God and hope—and we were like two clinging together on a
spar in mid-ocean after the shipwreck of everything. Then we heard the
front door open with a great gust of wind that shook even the walls, and
the servants came running with lights, announcing that Madame had
returned, 'and in the book we read no more that night.'"
She gave the old line with a certain bitter humour, and with the hard,
bright smile in which of old she had wrapped her weakness as in a
glittering garment. That ironical smile, worn through so many years, had
gradually changed the lines of her face, and when she looked in the
mirror she saw not herself, but the scathing critic, the amused observer
and satirist of herself.
Everett dropped his head upon his hand. "How much you have cared!" he
"Ah, yes, I cared," she replied, closing her eyes. "You can't imagine
what a comfort it is to have you know how I cared, what a relief it is to
be able to tell it to some one."
Everett continued to look helplessly at the floor. "I was not sure how
much you wanted me to know," he said.
"Oh, I intended you should know from the first time I looked into your
face, when you came that day with Charley. You are so like him, that it
is almost like telling him himself. At least, I feel now that he will
know some day, and then I will be quite sacred from his compassion."
"And has he never known at all?" asked Everett, in a thick voice.
"Oh! never at all in the way that you mean. Of course, he is accustomed
to looking into the eyes of women and finding love there; when he doesn't
find it there he thinks he must have been guilty of some discourtesy. He
has a genuine fondness for every woman who is not stupid or gloomy, or
old or preternaturally ugly. I shared with the rest; shared the smiles
and the gallantries and the droll little sermons. It was quite like a
Sunday-school picnic; we wore our best clothes and a smile and took our
turns. It was his kindness that was hardest."
"Don't; you'll make me hate him," groaned Everett.
Katherine laughed and began to play nervously with her fan. "It wasn't in
the slightest degree his fault; that is the most grotesque part of it.
Why, it had really begun before I ever met him. I fought my way to him,
and I drank my doom greedily enough."
Everett rose and stood hesitating. "I think I must go. You ought to be
quiet, and I don't think I can hear any more just now."
She put out her hand and took his playfully.
"You've put in three weeks at this sort of thing, haven't you? Well, it
ought to square accounts for a much worse life than yours will ever be."
He knelt beside her, saying, brokenly: "I stayed because I wanted to be
with you, that's all. I have never cared about other women since I
knew you in New York when I was a lad. You are a part of my destiny, and
I could not leave you if I would."
She put her hands on his shoulders and shook her head. "No, no; don't
tell me that. I have seen enough tragedy. It was only a boy's fancy,
and your divine pity and my utter pitiableness have recalled it for a
moment. One does not love the dying, dear friend. Now go, and you will
come again tomorrow, as long as there are tomorrows." She took his hand
with a smile that was both courage and despair, and full of infinite
loyalty and tenderness, as she said softly:
"For ever and for ever, farewell, Cassius;
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made."
The courage in her eyes was like the clear light of a star to him as he
On the night of Adriance Hilgarde's opening concert in Paris, Everett sat
by the bed in the ranch-house in Wyoming, watching over the last battle
that we have with the flesh before we are done with it and free of it for
ever. At times it seemed that the serene soul of her must have left
already and found some refuge from the storm, and only the tenacious
animal life were left to do battle with death. She laboured under a
delusion at once pitiful and merciful, thinking that she was in the
Pullman on her way to New York, going back to her life and her work. When
she roused from her stupor, it was only to ask the porter to waken her
half an hour out of Jersey City, or to remonstrate about the delays and
the roughness of the road. At midnight Everett and the nurse were left
alone with her. Poor Charley Gaylord had lain down on a couch outside the
door. Everett sat looking at the sputtering night-lamp until it made his
eyes ache. His head dropped forward, and he sank into heavy, distressful
slumber. He was dreaming of Adriance's concert in Paris, and of
Adriance, the troubadour. He heard the applause and he saw the flowers
going up over the footlights until they were stacked half as high as the
piano, and the petals fell and scattered, making crimson splotches on the
floor. Down this crimson pathway came Adriance with his youthful step,
leading his singer by the hand; a dark woman this time, with Spanish
The nurse touched him on the shoulder, he started and awoke. She screened
the lamp with her hand. Everett saw that Katharine was awake and
conscious, and struggling a little. He lifted her gently on his arm and
began to fan her. She looked into his face with eyes that seemed never to
have wept or doubted. "Ah, dear Adriance, dear, dear!" she whispered.
Everett went to call her brother, but when they came back the madness of
art was over for Katharine.
Two days later Everett was pacing the station siding, waiting for the
west-bound train. Charley Gaylord walked beside him, but the two men had
nothing to say to each other. Everett's bags were piled on the truck, and
his step was hurried and his eyes were full of impatience, as he gazed
again and again up the track, watching for the train. Gaylord's
impatience was not less than his own; these two, who had grown so close,
had now become painful and impossible to each other, and longed for the
wrench of farewell.
As the train pulled in, Everett wrung Gaylord's hand among the crowd of
alighting passengers. The people of a German opera company, en route
for the coast, rushed by them in frantic haste to snatch their breakfast
during the stop. Everett heard an exclamation, and a stout woman rushed
up to him, glowing with joyful surprise and caught his coat-sleeve with
her tightly gloved hands.
"Herr Gott, Adriance, lieber Freund," she cried.
Everett lifted his hat, blushing. "Pardon me, madame, I see that you have
mistaken me for Adriance Hilgarde. I am his brother." Turning from the
crestfallen singer he hurried into the car.