The Daughter of the Storage
by William Dean Howells
DAUGHTER OF THE
IV. THE RETURN
VI. THE FACE AT
IX. BREAKFAST IS
MY BEST MEAL
XI. THE AMIGO
XII. BLACK CROSS
XIV. A FEAST OF
XV. CITY AND
COUNTRY IN THE
XVI. TABLE TALK
ESCAPADE OF A
XIX. THE NIGHT
THE DAUGHTER OF THE STORAGE
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
OF THE STORAGE
AND OTHER THINGS
IN PROSE AND VERSE
W. D. HOWELLS
HARPER &BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
Copyright, 1915, 1916, by Harper &Brothers
Printed in the United States of America
Published April, 1916
I. THE DAUGHTER OF THE STORAGE
They were getting some of their things out to send into the country,
and Forsyth had left his work to help his wife look them over and
decide which to take and which to leave. The things were mostly trunks
that they had stored the fall before; there were some tables and
Colonial bureaus inherited from his mother, and some mirrors and
decorative odds and ends, which they would not want in the furnished
house they had taken for the summer. There were some canvases which
Forsyth said he would paint out and use for other subjects, but which,
when he came to look at again, he found really not so bad. The rest,
literally, was nothing but trunks; there were, of course, two or three
boxes of books. When they had been packed closely into the five-dollar
room, with the tables and bureaus and mirrors and canvases and
decorative odds and ends put carefully on top, the Forsyths thought the
effect very neat, and laughed at themselves for being proud of it.
They spent the winter in Paris planning for the summer in America,
and now it had come May, a month which in New York is at its best, and
in the Constitutional Storage Safe-Deposit Warehouse is by no means at
its worst. The Constitutional Storage is no longer new, but when the
Forsyths were among the first to store there it was up to the latest
moment in the modern perfections of a safe-deposit warehouse. It was
strictly fire-proof; and its long, white, brick-walled, iron-doored
corridors, with their clean concrete floors, branching from a central
avenue to the tall windows north and south, offered perspectives
sculpturesquely bare, or picturesquely heaped with arriving or
departing household stuff.
When the Forsyths went to look at it a nice young fellow from the
office had gone with them; running ahead and switching on rows of
electrics down the corridors, and then, with a wire-basketed electric
lamp, which he twirled about and held aloft and alow, showing the
dustless, sweet-smelling spaciousness of a perfect five-dollar room. He
said it would more than hold their things; and it really held them.
Now, when the same young fellow unlocked the iron door and set it
wide, he said he would get them a man, and he got Mrs. Forsyth a gilt
armchair from some furniture going into an adjoining twenty-dollar
room. She sat down in it, and Of course, she said, the pieces I want
will be at the very back and the very bottom. Why don't you get
yourself a chair, too, Ambrose? What are you looking at?
With his eyes on the neighboring furniture he answered, Seems to be
the wreck of a millionaire's happy home; parlor and kitchen utensils
and office furniture all in white and gold.
Horrors, yes! Mrs. Forsyth said, without turning her head from
studying her trunks, as if she might divine their contents from their
Tata and I, her husband said, are more interested in the
millionaire's things. Tata, it appeared, was not a dog, but a child;
the name was not the diminutive of her own name, which was Charlotte,
but a generic name for a doll, which Tata had learned from her Italian
nurse to apply to all little girls and had got applied to herself by
her father. She was now at a distance down the corridor, playing a
drama with the pieces of millionaire furniture; as they stretched away
in variety and splendor they naturally suggested personages of princely
quality, and being touched with her little forefinger tip were capable
of entering warmly into Tata's plans for them.
Her mother looked over her shoulder toward the child. Come here,
Tata, she called, and when Tata, having enjoined some tall mirrors to
secrecy with a frown and a shake of the head, ran to her, Mrs. Forsyth
had forgotten why she had called her. Oh! she said, recollecting, do
you know which your trunk is, Tata? Can you show mamma? Can you put
your hand on it?
The child promptly put her hand on the end of a small box just
within her tiptoe reach, and her mother said, I do believe she knows
everything that's in it, Ambrose! That trunk has got to be opened the
very first one!
The man that the young fellow said he would send showed at the far
end of the corridor, smaller than human, but enlarging himself to the
average Irish bulk as he drew near. He was given instructions and
obeyed with caressing irony Mrs. Forsyth's order to pull out Tata's
trunk first, and she found the key in a large tangle of keys, and
opened it, and had the joy of seeing everything recognized by the
owner: doll by doll, cook-stove, tin dishes, small brooms, wooden
animals on feet and wheels, birds of various plumage, a toy piano, a
dust-pan, alphabet blocks, dog's-eared linen Mother Goose books, and
the rest. Tata had been allowed to put the things away herself, and she
took them out with no apparent sense of the time passed since she saw
them last. In the changing life of her parents all times and places
were alike to her. She began to play with the things in the storage
corridor as if it were yesterday when she saw them last in the flat.
Her mother and father left her to them in the distraction of their own
trunks. Mrs. Forsyth had these spread over the space toward the window
and their lids lifted and tried to decide about them. In the end she
had changed the things in them back and forth till she candidly owned
that she no longer knew where anything at all was.
As she raised herself for a moment's respite from the problem she
saw at the far end of the corridor a lady with two men, who increased
in size like her own man as they approached. The lady herself seemed to
decrease, though she remained of a magnificence to match the furniture,
and looked like it as to her dress of white picked out in gold when she
arrived at the twenty-dollar room next the Forsyths'. In her advance
she had been vividly played round by a little boy, who ran forward and
back and easily doubled the length of the corridor before he came to a
stand and remained with his brown eyes fixed on Tata. Tata herself had
blue eyes, which now hovered dreamily above the things in her trunk.
The two mothers began politely to ignore each other. She of the
twenty-dollar room directed the men who had come with her, and in a
voice of authority and appeal at once commanded and consulted them in
the disposition of her belongings. At the sound of the mixed tones Mrs.
Forsyth signaled to her husband, and, when he came within whispering,
murmured: Pittsburg, or Chicago. Did you ever hear such
a Mid-Western accent! She pretended to be asking him about repacking
the trunk before her, but the other woman was not deceived. She was at
least aware of criticism in the air of her neighbors, and she put on
greater severity with the workmen. The boy came up and caught her
skirt. What? she said, bending over. No, certainly not. I haven't
time to attend to you. Go off and play. Don't I tell you no? Well,
there, then! Will you get that trunk out where I can open it? That
small one there, she said to one of the men, while the other rested
for both. She stooped to unlock the trunk and flung up the lid. Now if
you bother me any more I will surely But she lost herself short of
the threat and began again to seek counsel and issue orders.
The boy fell upon the things in the trunk, which were the things of
a boy, as those in Tata's trunk were the things of a girl, and to run
with them, one after another, to Tata and to pile them in gift on the
floor beside her trunk. He did not stop running back and forth as fast
as his short, fat legs could carry him till he had reached the bottom
of his box, chattering constantly and taking no note of the effect with
Tata. Then, as she made no response whatever to his munificence, he
began to be abashed and to look pathetically from her to her father.
Oh, really, young man, Forsyth said, we can't let you impoverish
yourself at this rate. What have you said to your benefactor, Tata?
What are you going to give him?
The children did not understand his large words, but they knew he
was affectionately mocking them.
Ambrose, Mrs. Forsyth said, you mustn't let him.
I'm trying to think how to hinder him, but it's rather late,
Forsyth answered, and then the boy's mother joined in.
Indeed, indeed, if you can, it's more than I can. You're just
worrying the little girl, she said to the boy.
Oh no, he isn't, dear little soul, Mrs. Forsyth said, leaving her
chair and going up to the two children. She took the boy's hand in
hers. What a kind boy! But you know my little girl mustn't take all
your playthings. If you'll give her one she'll give you
one, and that will be enough. You can both play with them all for the
present. She referred her suggestion to the boy's mother, and the two
ladies met at the invisible line dividing the five-dollar room from the
Oh yes, indeed, the Mid-Westerner said, willing to meet the
New-Yorker half-way. You're taking things out, I see. I hardly know
which is the worst: taking out or putting in.
Well, we are just completing the experience, Mrs. Forsyth said. I
shall be able to say better how I feel in half an hour.
You don't mean this is the first time you've stored? I suppose
we've been in and out of storage twenty times. Not in this
warehouse exactly; we've never been here before.
It seems very nice, Mrs. Forsyth suggested.
They all do at the beginning. I suppose if we ever came to the end
they would seem nicer still. Mr. Bream's business is always taking him
away (it appeared almost instantly that he was the international
inspector of a great insurance company's agencies in Europe and South
America), and when I don't go with him it seems easier to break up and
go into a hotel than to go on housekeeping. I don't know that it is,
though, she questioned. It's so hard to know what to do with the
child in a hotel.
Yes, but he seems the sort that you could manage with anywhere,
Mrs. Forsyth agreed and disagreed.
His mother looked at him where he stood beaming upon Tata and again
joyfully awaiting some effect with her. But the child sat back upon her
small heels with her eyes fixed on the things in her trunk and made no
sign of having seen the heaps of his gifts.
The Forsyths had said to each other before this that their little
girl was a queer child, and now they were not so much ashamed of her
apparent selfishness or rude indifference as they thought they were.
They made a joke of it with the boy's mother, who said she did not
believe Tata was anything but shy. She said she often told Mr. Bream
that she did wish Peteryes, that was his name; she didn't like it
much, but it was his grandfather's; was Tata a Christian name? Oh, just
a pet name! Well, it was prettycould be broken of his
ridiculous habit; most childrenlittle boys, that washeld onto their
Forsyth would have taken something from Tata and given it to Peter;
but his wife would not let him; and he had to content himself with
giving Peter a pencil of his own that drew red at one end and blue at
the other, and that at once drew a blue boy, that looked like Peter, on
the pavement. He told Peter not to draw a boy now, but wait till he got
home, and then be careful not to draw a blue boy with the red end. He
helped him put his things back into his trunk, and Peter seemed to
enjoy that, too.
Tata, without rising from her seat on her heels, watched the
restitution with her dreamy eyes; she paid no attention to the blue boy
on the pavement; pictures from her father were nothing new to her. The
mothers parted with expressions of mutual esteem in spite of their
difference of accent and fortune. Mrs. Forsyth asked if she might not
kiss Peter, and did so; he ran to his mother and whispered to her; then
he ran back and gave Tata so great a hug that she fell over from it.
Tata did not cry, but continued as if lost in thought which she
could not break from, and that night, after she had said her prayers
with her mother, her mother thought it was time to ask her: Tata,
dear, why did you act so to that boy to-day? Why didn't you give him
something of yours when he brought you all his things? Why did you act
Tata said something in a voice so low that her mother could not make
What did you say?
I couldn't tell which, the child still whispered; but now her
mother's ear was at her lips.
To give him. The more I looked, and the whisper became a quivering
breath, the more I couldn't tell which. And I wanted to give them
all to him, but I couldn't tell whether it would be right, because
you and papa gave them to me for birthday and Christmas, and the
quivering breath broke into a sobbing grief, so that the mother had to
catch the child up to her heart.
Dear little tender conscience! she said, still wiping her eyes
when she told the child's father, and they fell into a sweet, serious
talk about her before they slept. And I was ashamed of her before that
woman! I know she misjudged her; but we ought to have remembered
how fine and precious she is, and known how she must have
suffered, trying to decide.
Yes, conscience, the father said. And temperament, the
temperament to which decision is martyrdom.
And she will always have to be deciding! She'll have to decide for
you, some day, as I do now; you are very undecided, Ambroseshe gets
it from you.
The Forsyths were afraid that Tata might want to offer Peter some
gift in reparation the next morning, and her father was quite ready, if
she said so, to put off their leaving town, and go with her to the
Constitutional Storage, which was the only address of Mrs. Bream that
he knew. But the child had either forgotten or she was contented with
her mother's comforting, and no longer felt remorse.
One does not store the least of one's personal or household gear
without giving a hostage to storage, a pledge of allegiance impossible
to break. No matter how few things one puts in, one never takes
everything out; one puts more things in. Mrs. Forsyth went to the
warehouse with Tata in the fall before they sailed for another winter
in Paris, and added some old bits she had picked up at farm-houses in
their country drives, and they filled the room quite to the top. She
told her husband how Tata had entered into the spirit of putting back
her trunk of playthings with the hope of seeing it again in the spring;
and she added that she had now had to take a seven-fifty room without
consulting him, or else throw away the things they had brought home.
During the ten or twelve years that followed, the Forsyths sometimes
spent a whole winter in a hotel; sometimes they had a flat; sometimes
they had a separate dwelling. If their housing was ample, they took
almost everything out of storage; once they got down to a two-dollar
bin, and it seemed as if they really were leaving the storage
altogether. Then, if they went into a flat that was nearly all studio,
their furniture went back in a cataclysmal wave to the warehouse, where
a ten-dollar room, a twelve-dollar room, would not dam the overflow.
Tata, who had now outgrown her pet name, and was called Charlotte
because her mother felt she ought to be, always went with her to the
storage to help look the things over, to see the rooms emptied down to
a few boxes, or replenished to bursting. In the first years she played
about, close to her mother; as she grew older she ventured further, and
began to make friends with other little girls who had come with their
mothers. It was quite safe socially to be in the Constitutional
Storage; it gave standing; and Mrs. Forsyth fearlessly chanced
acquaintance with these mothers, who would sometimes be there whole
long mornings or afternoons, taking trunks out or putting them in. With
the trunks set into the corridors and opened for them, they would spend
the hours looking the contents over, talking to their neighbors, or
rapt in long silences when they hesitated with things held off or up,
and, after gazing absently at them, putting them back again. Sometimes
they varied the process by laying things aside for sending home, and
receipting for them at the office as goods selected.
They were mostly hotel people or apartment people, as Mrs. Forsyth
oftenest was herself, but sometimes they were separate-house people.
Among these there was one family, not of great rank or wealth, but
distinguished, as lifelong New-Yorkers, in a world of comers and goers
of every origin. Mrs. Forsyth especially liked them for a certain
quality, but what this quality was she could not very well say. They
were a mother with two daughters, not quite old maids, but on the way
to it, and there was very intermittently the apparently bachelor
brother of the girls; at the office Mrs. Forsyth verified her
conjecture that he was some sort of minister. One could see they were
all gentlefolks, though the girls were not of the last cry of fashion.
They were very nice to their mother, and you could tell that they must
have been coming with her for years.
At this point in her study of them for her husband's amusement she
realized that Charlotte had been coming to the storage with her nearly
all her life, and that more and more the child had taken charge of the
uneventual inspection of the things. She was shocked to think that she
had let this happen, and now she commanded her husband to say whether
Charlotte would grow into a storage old maid like those good girls.
Forsyth said, Probably not before her time; but he allowed it was a
point to be considered.
Very well, then, Mrs. Forsyth said, the child should never go again;
that was all. She had strongly confirmed herself in this resolution
when one day she not only let the child go again, but she let her go
alone. The child was now between seventeen and eighteen, rather tall,
grave, pretty, with the dull brown hair that goes so well with dreaming
blue eyes, and of a stiff grace. She had not come out yet, because she
had always been out, handing cakes at her father's studio teas long
before she could remember not doing it, and later pouring for her
mother with rather a quelling air as she got toward fifteen. During
these years the family had been going and coming between Europe and
America; they did not know perfectly why, except that it was easier
More and more there was a peculiarity in the goods selected by
Charlotte for sending home, which her mother one day noted. How is it,
Charlotte, that you always send exactly the things I want, and when you
get your own things here you don't know whether they are what you
wanted or not?
Because I don't know when I send them. I don't choose them; I
But you choose the right things for me?
No, I don't, mother. I just take what comes first, and you always
Now, that is nonsense, Charlotte. I can't have you telling me such
a thing as that. It's an insult to my intelligence. Do you think I
don't know my own mind?
I don't know my mind, the girl said, so persistently,
obstinately, stubbornly, that her mother did not pursue the subject for
fear of worse.
She referred it to her husband, who said: Perhaps it's like poets
never being able to remember their own poetry. I've heard it's because
they have several versions in their minds when they write and can't
remember which they've written. Charlotte has several choices in her
mind, and can't choose between her choices.
Well, we ought to have broken her of her indecision. Some day it
will make her very unhappy.
Pretty hard to break a person of her temperament, Forsyth
I know it! his wife admitted, with a certain pleasure in realizing
the fact. I don't know what we shall do.
Storage society was almost wholly feminine; in rare instances there
was a man who must have been sent in dearth of women or in an hour of
their disability. Then the man came hastily, with a porter, and either
pulled all the things out of the rooms so that he could honestly say he
had seen them, and that the thing wanted was not there; or else merely
had the doors opened, and after a glance inside resolved to wait till
his wife, or mother, or daughter could come. He agreed in guilty
eagerness with the workmen that this was the only way.
The exception to the general rule was a young man who came one
bright spring morning when all nature suggested getting one's stuff out
and going into the country, and had the room next the Forsyths'
original five-dollar room opened. As it happened, Charlotte was at the
moment visiting this room upon her mother's charge to see whether
certain old scrim sash-curtains, which they had not needed for ages but
at last simply must have, were not lurking there in a chest of
general curtainings. The Forsyths now had rooms on other floors, but
their main room was at the end of the corridor branching northward from
that where the five-dollar room was. Near this main room that nice New
York family had their rooms, and Charlotte had begun the morning in
their friendly neighborhood, going through some chests that might
perhaps have the general curtainings in them and the scrim curtains
among the rest. It had not, and she had gone to what the Forsyths
called their old ancestral five-dollar room, where that New York family
continued to project a sort of wireless chaperonage over her. But the
young man had come with a porter, and, with her own porter, Charlotte
could not feel that even a wireless chaperonage was needed, though the
young man approached with the most beaming face she thought she had
ever seen, and said he hoped he should not be in her way. She answered
with a sort of helpless reverberation of his glow, Not at all; she
should only be a moment. She wanted to say she hoped she would not be
in his way, but she saved herself in time, while, with her own
eyes intent upon the façade of her room and her mind trying to lose
itself in the question which curtain-trunk the scrims might be in, she
kept the sense of his sweet eyes, the merriest eyes she had ever seen,
effulgent with good-will and apology and reverent admiration. She
blushed to think it admiration, though she liked to think it so, and
she did not snub him when the young man jumped about, neglecting his
own storage, and divining the right moments for his offers of help. She
saw that he was a little shorter than herself, that he was very light
and quick on his feet, and had a round, brown face, clean-shaven, and a
round, brown head, close shorn, from which in the zeal of his
attentions to her he had shed his straw hat onto the window-sill. He
formed a strong contrast to the contents of his store-room, which was
full, mainly, of massive white furniture picked out in gold, and very
blond. He said casually that it had been there, off and on, since long
before he could remember, and at these words an impression, vague,
inexplicable, deepened in Charlotte's mind.
Mother, she said, for she had now disused the earlier mamma in
deference to modern usage, how old was I when we first took that
She asked this question after she had shown the scrim curtains she
had found and brought home with her.
Why? I don't know. Two or three; three or four. I should have to
count up. What makes you ask?
Can a person recollect what happened when they were three or four?
I should say not, decidedly.
Or recollect a face?
Then of course it wasn't. Mother, do you remember ever telling me
what the little boy was like who gave me all his playthings and I
couldn't decide what to give him back?
What a question! Of course not! He was very brown and funny, with
the beamingest little face in the world. Rather short for his age, I
should say, though I haven't the least idea what his age was.
Then it was the very same little boy! Charlotte said.
Who was the very same little boy? her mother demanded.
The one that was there to-day; the young man, I mean, Charlotte
explained, and then she told what had happened with a want of fullness
which her mother's imagination supplied.
Did he say who he was? Is he coming back to-morrow or this
afternoon? Did you inquire who he was or where?
What an idea, mother! Charlotte said, grouping the several
impossibilities under one head in her answer.
You had a perfect right to know, if you thought he was the one.
But I didn't think he was the one, and I don't know
that he is now; and if he was, what could I do about it?
That is true, Mrs. Forsyth owned. But it's very disappointing.
I've always felt as if they ought to know it was your undecidedness and
Charlotte laughed a little forlornly, but she only said, Really,
Mrs. Forsyth was still looking at the curtains. Well, these are not
the scrims I wanted. You must go back. I believe I will go with you.
The sooner we have it over the better, she added, and she left the
undecided Charlotte to decide whether she meant the scrim curtains or
the young man's identity.
It was very well, for one reason, that she decided to go with
Charlotte that afternoon. The New-Yorkers must have completed the
inspection of their trunks, for they had not come back. Their failure
to do so was the more important because the young man had come back and
was actively superintending the unpacking of his room. The palatial
furniture had all been ranged up and down the corridor, and as fast as
a trunk was got out and unlocked he went through it with the help of
the storage-men, listed its contents in a note-book with a number, and
then transferred the number and a synopsis of the record to a tag and
fastened it to the trunk, which he had put back into the room.
When the Forsyths arrived with the mistaken scrim curtains, he
interrupted himself with apologies for possibly being in their way; and
when Mrs. Forsyth said he was not at all in their way, he got
white-and-gold arm-chairs for her and Charlotte and put them so
conveniently near the old ancestral room that Mrs. Forsyth scarcely
needed to move hand or foot in letting Charlotte restore the wrong
curtains and search the chests for the right ones. His politeness made
way for conversation and for the almost instant exchange of confidences
between himself and Mrs. Forsyth, so that Charlotte was free to enjoy
the silence to which they left her in her labors.
Before I say a word, Mrs. Forsyth said, after saying some hundreds
in their mutual inculpation and exculpation, I want to ask something,
and I hope you will excuse it to an old woman's curiosity and not think
At the words old woman's the young man gave a protesting Oh! and
at the word rude he said, Not at all.
It is simply this: how long have your things been here? I ask
because we've had this room thirteen or fourteen years, and I've never
seen your room opened in that whole time.
The young man laughed joyously. Because it hasn't been opened in
that whole time. I was a little chap of three or four bothering round
here when my mother put the things in; I believe it was a great frolic
for me, but I'm afraid it wasn't for her. I've been told that my
activities contributed to the confusion of the things and the things in
them that she's been in ever since, and I'm here now to make what
reparation I can by listing them.
She'll find it a great blessing, Mrs. Forsyth said. I wish we had
ours listed. I suppose you remember it all very vividly. It must have
been a great occasion for you seeing the things stored at that age.
The young man beamed upon her. Not so great as now, I'm afraid. The
fact is, I don't remember anything about it. But I've been told that I
embarrassed with my personal riches a little girl who was looking over
her doll's things.
Oh, indeed! Mrs. Forsyth said, stiffly, and she turned rather
snubbingly from him and said, coldly, to Charlotte: I think they are
in that green trunk. Have you the key? and, stooping as her daughter
stooped, she whispered, Really! in condemnation and contempt.
Charlotte showed no signs of sharing either, and Mrs. Forsyth could
not very well manage them alone. So when Charlotte said, No, I haven't
the key, mother, and the young man burst in with, Oh, do let me try
my master-key; it will unlock anything that isn't a Yale, Mrs. Forsyth
sank back enthroned and the trunk was thrown open.
She then forgot what she had wanted it opened for. Charlotte said,
They're not here, mother, and her mother said, No, I didn't suppose
they were, and began to ask the young man about his mother. It
appeared that his father had died twelve years before, and since then
his mother and he had been nearly everywhere except at home, though
mostly in England; now they had come home to see where they should go
next or whether they should stay.
That would never suit my daughter, Mrs. Forsyth lugged in, partly
because the talk had gone on away from her family as long as she could
endure, and partly because Charlotte's indecision always amused her.
She can't bear to choose.
Really? the young man said. I don't know whether I like it or
not, but I have had to do a lot of it. You mustn't think, though, that
I chose this magnificent furniture. My father bought an Italian palace
once, and as we couldn't live in it or move it we brought the furniture
It is magnificent, Mrs. Forsyth said, looking down the long
stretches of it and eying and fingering her specific throne. I wish my
husband could see itI don't believe he remembers it from fourteen
years ago. It looksexcuse me!very studio.
Is he a painter? Not Mr. Forsyth the painter?
Yes, Mrs. Forsyth eagerly admitted, but wondering how he should
know her name, without reflecting that a score of trunk-tags proclaimed
it and that she had acquired his by like means.
I like his things so much, he said. I thought his three portraits
were the best things in the Salon last year.
Oh, you saw them? Mrs. Forsyth laughed with pleasure and
pride. Then, as if it necessarily followed, you must come to us some
Sunday afternoon. You'll find a number of his new portraits and some of
the subjects; they like to see themselves framed. She tried for a card
in her hand-bag, but she had none, and she said, Have you one of my
cards, my dear? Charlotte had, and rendered it up with a severity lost
upon her for the moment. She held it toward him. It's Mr. Peter
Bream? she smiled upon him, and he beamed back.
Did you remember it from our first meeting?
In their cab Mrs. Forsyth said, I don't know whether he's what you
call rather fresh or not, Charlotte, and I'm not sure that I've been
very wise. But he is so nice, and he looked so glad to be
Charlotte did not reply at once, and her silent severity came to the
surface of her mother's consciousness so painfully that it was rather a
relief to have her explode, Mother, I will thank you not to discuss my
temperament with people.
She gave Mrs. Forsyth her chance, and her mother was so happy in
being able to say, I won'tyour temper, my dear, that she
could add with sincere apology: I'm sorry I vexed you, and I won't do
The next day was Sunday; Peter Bream took it for some Sunday, and
came to the tea on Mrs. Forsyth's generalized invitation. She pulled
her mouth down and her eyebrows up when his card was brought in, but as
he followed hard she made a lightning change to a smile and gave him a
hand of cordial welcome. Charlotte had no choice but to welcome him,
too, and so the matter was simple for her. She was pouring, as usual,
for her mother, who liked to eliminate herself from set duties and walk
round among the actual portraits in fact and in frame and talk about
them to the potential portraits. Peter, qualified by long sojourn in
England, at once pressed himself into the service of handing about the
curate's assistant; Mrs. Forsyth electrically explained that it was one
of the first brought to New York, and that she had got it at the Stores
in London fifteen years before, and it had often been in the old
ancestral room, and was there on top of the trunks that first day. She
did not recur to the famous instance of Charlotte's infant indecision,
and Peter was safe from a snub when he sat down by the girl's side and
began to make her laugh. At the end, when her mother asked Charlotte
what they had been laughing about, she could not tell; she said she did
not know they were laughing.
The next morning Mrs. Forsyth was paying for her Sunday tea with a
Monday headache, and more things must be got out for the country.
Charlotte had again no choice but to go alone to the storage, and yet
again no choice but to be pleasant to Peter when she found him next
door listing the contents of his mother's trunks and tagging them as
before. He dropped his work and wanted to help her. Suddenly they
seemed strangely well acquainted, and he pretended to be asked which
pieces she should put aside as goods selected, and chose them for her.
She hinted that he was shirking his own work; he said it was an
all-summer's job, but he knew her mother was in a hurry. He found the
little old trunk of her playthings, and got it down and opened it and
took out some toys as goods selected. She made him put them back, but
first he catalogued everything in it and synopsized the list on a tag
and tagged the trunk. He begged for a broken doll which he had not
listed, and Charlotte had so much of her original childish difficulty
in parting with that instead of something else that she refused it.
It came lunch-time, and he invited her to go out to lunch with him;
and when she declined with dignity he argued that if they went to the
Woman's Exchange she would be properly chaperoned by the genius of the
place; besides, it was the only place in town where you got real
strawberry shortcake. She was ashamed of liking it all; he besought her
to let him carry her hand-bag for her, and, as he already had it, she
could not prevent him; she did not know, really, how far she might
successfully forbid him in anything. At the street door of the
apartment-house they found her mother getting out of a cab, and she
asked Peter in to lunch; so that Charlotte might as well have lunched
with him at the Woman's Exchange.
At all storage warehouses there is a season in autumn when the
corridors are heaped with the incoming furniture of people who have
decided that they cannot pass another winter in New York and are
breaking up housekeeping to go abroad indefinitely. But in the spring,
when the Constitutional Safe-Deposit offered ample space for thoughtful
research, the meetings of Charlotte and Peter could recur without more
consciousness of the advance they were making toward the fated issue
than in so many encounters at tea or luncheon or dinner. Mrs. Forsyth
was insisting on rather a drastic overhauling of her storage that year.
Some of the things, by her command, were shifted to and fro between the
more modern rooms and the old ancestral room, and Charlotte had to
verify the removals. In deciding upon goods selected for the country
she had the help of Peter, and she helped him by interposing some
useful hesitations in the case of things he had put aside from his
mother's possessions to be sold for her by the warehouse people.
One day he came late and told Charlotte that his mother had suddenly
taken her passage for England, and they were sailing the next morning.
He said, as if it logically followed, that he had been in love with her
from that earliest time when she would not give him the least of her
possessions, and now he asked her if she would not promise him the
greatest. She did not like what she felt rehearsed in his proposal;
it was not her idea of a proposal, which ought to be spontaneous and
unpremeditated in terms; at the same time, she resented his
precipitation, which she could not deny was inevitable.
She perceived that they were sitting side by side on two of those
white-and-gold thrones, and she summoned an indignation with the
absurdity in refusing him. She rose and said that she must go; that she
must be going; that it was quite time for her to go; and she would not
let him follow her to the elevator, as he made some offer of doing, but
left him standing among his palatial furniture like a prince in exile.
By the time she reached home she had been able to decide that she
must tell her mother at once. Her mother received the fact of Peter's
proposal with such transport that she did not realize the fact of
Charlotte's refusal. When this was connoted to her she could scarcely
keep her temper within the bounds of maternal tenderness. She said she
would have nothing more to do with such a girl; that there was but one
such pearl as Peter in the universe, and for Charlotte to throw him
away like that! Was it because she could not decide? Well, it appeared
that she could decide wrong quickly enough when it came to the point.
Would she leave it now to her mother?
That Charlotte would not do, but what she did do was to write a
letter to Peter taking him back as much as rested with her; but
delaying so long in posting it, when it was written, that it reached
him among the letters sent on board and supplementarily delivered by
his room steward after all the others when the ship had sailed. The
best Peter could do in response was a jubilant Marconigram of unequaled
cost and comprehensiveness.
His mother had meant to return in the fall, after her custom, to
find out whether she wished to spend the winter in New York or not.
Before the date for her sailing she fell sick, and Peter came sadly
home alone in the spring. Mrs. Bream's death brought Mrs. Forsyth a
vain regret; she was sorry now that she had seen so little of Mrs.
Bream; Peter's affection for her was beautiful and spoke worlds for
both of them; and they, the Forsyths, must do what they could to
Charlotte felt the pathos of his case peculiarly when she went to
make provision for goods selected for the summer from the old ancestral
room, and found him forlorn among his white-and-gold furniture next
door. He complained that he had no association with it except the
touching fact of his mother's helplessness with it, which he had now
inherited. The contents of the trunks were even less intimately of his
experience; he had performed a filial duty in listing their contents,
which long antedated him, and consisted mostly of palatial bric-à-brac
and the varied spoils of travel.
He cheered up, however, in proposing to her that they should buy a
Castle in Spain and put them into it. The fancy pleased her, but
visibly she shrank from a step which it involved, so that he was, as it
were, forced to say, half jokingly, half ruefully, I can imagine your
not caring for this rubbish or what became of it, Charlotte, but what
about the owner?
The owner? she asked, as it were somnambulantly.
Yes. Marrying him, say, sometime soon.
Oh, Peter, I couldn't.
Couldn't? You know that's not playing the game exactly.
Yes; but notnot right away?
Well, I don't know much about it in my own case, but isn't it usual
to fix some approximate date? When should you think?
Oh, Peter, I can't think.
Will you let me fix it? I must go West and sell out and pull up,
you know, preparatory to never going again. We can fix the day now or
we can fix it when I come back.
Oh, when you come back, she entreated so eagerly that Peter said:
Charlotte, let me ask you one thing. Were you ever sorry you wrote
me that taking-back letter?
Why, Peter, you know how I am. When I have decided something I have
undecided it. That's all.
From gay he turned to grave. I ought to have thought. I haven't
been fair; I haven't played the game. I ought to have given you
another chance; and I haven't, have I?
Why, I suppose a girl can always change, Charlotte said,
Yes, but you won't always be a girl. I've never asked you if you
wanted to change. I ask you now. Do you?
How can I tell? Hadn't we better let it go as it is? Only not hurry
Certainly not hurry about marrying. I've wondered that a girl could
make up her mind to marry any given man. Haven't you ever wished that
you had not made up your mind about me?
Hundreds of times. But I don't know that I meant anything by it.
He took her hand from where it lay in her lap as again she sat on
one of the white-and-gold thrones beside him and gently pressed it.
Well, then, let's play we have never been engaged. I'm going West
to-night to settle things up for good, and I won't be back for three or
four months, and when I come back we'll start new. I'll ask you, and
you shall say yes or no just as if you had never said either before.
Peter, when you talk like that! She saw his brown, round face
dimly through her wet eyes, and she wanted to hug him for pity of him
and pride in him, but she could not decide to do it. They went out to
lunch at the Woman's Exchange, and the only regret Peter had was that
it was so long past the season of strawberry shortcake, and that
Charlotte seemed neither to talk nor to listen; she ought to have done
one or the other.
They had left the Vaneckens busy with their summer trunks at the far
end of the northward corridor, where their wireless station had been
re-established for Charlotte's advantage, though she had not thought of
it the whole short morning long. When she came back from lunch the
Vaneckens were just brushing away the crumbs of theirs, which the son
and brother seemed to have brought in for them in a paper box; at any
rate, he was now there, making believe to help them.
Mrs. Forsyth had promised to come, but she came so late in the
afternoon that she owned she had been grudgingly admitted at the
office, and she was rather indignant about it. By this time, without
having been West for three months, Peter had asked a question which had
apparently never been asked before, and Charlotte had as newly answered
it. And now, mother, she said, while Mrs. Forsyth passed from
indignant to exultant, I want to be married right away, before Peter
changes his mind about taking me West with him. Let us go home at once.
You always said I should have a home wedding.
What a ridiculous idea! Mrs. Forsyth said, more to gain time than
anything else. She added, Everything is at sixes and sevens in the
flat. There wouldn't be standing-room. A sudden thought flashed upon
her, which, because it was sudden and in keeping with her character,
she put into tentative words. You're more at home here than
anywhere else. You were almost born here. You've played about here ever
since you were a child. You first met Peter here. He proposed to you
here, and you rejected him here. He's proposed here again, and you've
accepted him, you say
Mother! Charlotte broke in terribly upon her. Are you suggesting
that I should be married in a storage warehouse? Well, I haven't fallen
quite so low as that yet. If I can't have a home wedding, I will
have a church wedding, and I will wait till doomsday for it if
I don't know about doomsday, Mrs. Forsyth said, but as far as
to-day is concerned, it's too late for a church wedding. Peter, isn't
there something about canonical hours? And isn't it past them?
That's in the Episcopal Church, Peter said, and then he asked,
very politely, Will you excuse me for a moment? and walked away as if
he had an idea. It was apparently to join the Vaneckens, who stood in a
group at the end of their corridor, watching the restoration of the
trunks which they had been working over the whole day. He came back
with Mr. Vanecken and Mr. Vanecken's mother. He was smiling radiantly,
and they amusedly.
It's all right, he explained. Mr. Vanecken is a Presbyterian
minister, and he will marry us now.
But not here! Charlotte cried, feeling herself weaken.
No, certainly not, the dominie reassured her. I know a church in
the next block that I can borrow for the occasion. But what about the
It was in the day before the parties must both make application in
person, and Peter took a paper from his breast pocket. I thought it
might be needed, sometime, and I got it on the way up, this morning.
Oh, how thoughtful of you, Peter! Mrs. Forsyth moaned in
admiration otherwise inexpressible, and the rest laughed, even
Charlotte, who laughed hysterically. At the end of the corridor they
met the Misses Vanecken waiting for them, unobtrusively expectant, and
they all went down in the elevator together. Just as they were leaving
the building, which had the air of hurrying them out, Mrs. Forsyth had
an inspiration. Good heavens! she exclaimed, and then, in deference
to Mr. Vanecken, said, Good gracious, I mean. My husband!
Peter, go right into the office and telephone Mr. Forsyth.
Perhaps, Mr. Vanecken said, I had better go and see about having
my friend's church opened, in the meanwhile, and
By all means! Mrs. Forsyth said from her mood of universal
But Mr. Vanecken came back looking rather queer and crestfallen. I
find my friend has gone into the country for a few days; and I don't
quite like to get the sexton to open the church without his authority,
andBut New York is full of churches, and we can easily find another,
with a little delay, if
He looked at Peter, who looked at Charlotte, who burst out with
unprecedented determination. No, we can't wait. I shall never marry
Peter if we do. Mother, you are right. But must it be in the old
ancestral five-dollar room?
They all laughed except Charlotte, who was more like crying.
Certainly not, Mr. Vanecken said. I've no doubt the manager
He never seemed to end his sentences, and he now left this one
broken off while he penetrated the railing which fenced in the manager
alone among a group of vacated desks, frowning impatient. At some
murmured words from the dominie, he shouted, What! and then
came out radiantly smiling, and saying, Why, certainly. He knew all
the group as old storers in the Constitutional, and called them each by
name as he shook them each by the hand. Everything else has happened
here, and I don't see why this shouldn't. Come right into the
With some paintings of biblical subjects, unclaimed from the
storage, on the walls, the place had a religious effect, and the
manager significantly looked out of it a lingering stenographer, who
was standing before a glass with two hatpins crossed in her mouth
preparatory to thrusting them through the straw. She withdrew, visibly
curious and reluctant, and then the manager offered to withdraw
No, Charlotte said, surprisingly initiative in these junctures, I
don't know how it is in Mr. Vanecken's church, but, if father doesn't
come, perhaps you'll have to give me away. At any rate, you're an old
friend of the family, and I should be hurt if you didn't stay.
She laid her hand on the manager's arm, and just as he had
protestingly and politely consented, her father arrived in a taxicab,
rather grumbling from having been obliged to cut short a sitting. When
it was all over, and the Vaneckens were eliminated, when, in fact, the
Breams had joined the Forsyths at a wedding dinner which the bride's
father had given them at Delmonico's and had precipitated themselves
into a train for Niagara (So banal, Mrs. Forsyth said, but I suppose
they had to go somewhere, and we went to Niagara, come to think
of it, and it's on their way West"), the bride's mother remained up
late talking it all over. She took credit to herself for the whole
affair, and gave herself a great deal of just praise. But when she
said, I do believe, if it hadn't been for me, at the last, Charlotte
would never have made up her mind, Forsyth demurred.
I should say Peter had a good deal to do with making up her mind
Yes, you might say that.
And for once in her life Charlotte seems to have had her mind ready
for making up.
Yes, you might say that, too. I believe she is going to turn out a
decided character, after all. I never saw anybody so determined
not to be married in a storage warehouse.
II. A PRESENTIMENT
Over our coffee in the Turkish room Minver was usually a censor of
our several foibles rather than a sharer in our philosophic
speculations and metaphysical conjectures. He liked to disable me as
one professionally vowed to the fabulous, and he had unfailing fun with
the romantic sentimentality of Rulledge, which was in fact so little in
keeping with the gross super-abundance of his person, his habitual
gluttony, and his ridiculous indolence. Minver knew very well that
Rulledge was a good fellow withal, and would willingly do any kind
action that did not seriously interfere with his comfort, or make too
heavy a draft upon his pocket. His self-indulgence, which was quite
blameless, unless surfeit is a fault, was the basis of an interest in
occult themes, which was the means of even higher diversion to Minver.
He liked to have Rulledge approach Wanhope from this side, in the
invincible persuasion that the psychologist would be interested in
these themes by the law of his science, though he had been assured
again and again that in spite of its misleading name psychology did not
deal with the soul as Rulledge supposed the soul; and Minver's eyes
lighted up with a prescience of uncommon pleasure when, late one night,
after we had vainly tried to hit it off in talk, now of this, now of
that, Rulledge asked Wanhope, abruptly as if it followed from something
Wasn't there a great deal more said about presentiments forty or
fifty years ago than there is now?
Wanhope had been lapsing deeper and deeper into the hollow of his
chair; but he now pulled himself up, and turned quickly toward
Rulledge. What made you think of that? he asked.
I don't know. Why?
Because I was thinking of it myself. He glanced at me, and I shook
Well, Minver said, if it will leave Acton out in the cold, I'll
own that I was thinking of it, too. I was going back in my mind, for no
reason that I know of, to my childhood, when I first heard of such a
thing as a presentiment, and when I was afraid of having one. I had the
notion that presentiments ran in the family.
Why had you that notion? Rulledge demanded.
I don't know that I proposed telling, the painter said, giving
himself to his pipe.
Perhaps you didn't have it, Rulledge retaliated.
Perhaps, Minver assented.
Wanhope turned from the personal aspect of the matter. It's rather
curious that we should all three have had the same thing in mind just
now; or, rather, it is not very curious. Such coincidences are really
very common. Something must have been said at dinner which suggested it
to all of us.
All but Acton, Minver demurred.
I mightn't have heard what was said, I explained. I suppose the
passing of all that sort of sub-beliefs must date from the general
lapse of faith in personal immortality.
Yes, no doubt, Wanhope assented. It is very striking how sudden
the lapse was. Everyone who experienced it in himself could date it to
a year, if not to a day. The agnosticism of scientific men was of
course all the time undermining the fabric of faith, and then it fell
in abruptly, reaching one believer after another as fast as the ground
was taken wholly or partly from under his feet. I can remember how
people once disputed whether there were such beings as guardian spirits
or not. That minor question was disposed of when it was decided that
there were no spirits at all.
Naturally, Minver said. And the decay of the presentiment must
have been hastened by the failure of so many presentiments to make
The great majority of them have failed to make good, from the
beginning of time, Wanhope replied.
There are two kinds of presentiments, Rulledge suggested, with a
philosophic air. The true and the untrue.
Like mushrooms, Minver said. Only, the true presentiment kills,
and the true mushroom nourishes. Talking of mushrooms, they have a way
in Switzerland of preserving them in walnut oil, and they fill you with
the darkest forebodings, after you've filled yourself with the
mushrooms. There's some occult relation between the two. Think it out,
Rulledge ignored him in turning to Wanhope. The trouble is how to
distinguish the true from the untrue presentiment.
It would be interesting, Wanhope began, but Minver broke in upon
To know how much the dyspepsia of our predecessors had to with the
prevalence of presentimentalism? I agree with you, that a better diet
has a good deal to do with the decline of the dark foreboding among us.
What I can't understand is, how a gross and reckless feeder, like
Rulledge here, doesn't go about like ancestral voices prophesying all
sorts of dreadful things.
That's rather cheap talk, even for you, Minver, Rulledge said.
Why did you think presentiments ran in your family?
Well, there you have me, Rulledge. That's where my theory fails. I
can remember, Minver continued soberly, the talk there used to be
about them among my people. They were serious people in an unreligious
way, or rather an unecclesiastical way. They were never spiritualists,
but I don't think there was one of them who doubted that he should live
hereafter; he might doubt that he was living here, but there was no
question of the other thing. I must say it gave a dignity to their
conversation which, when they met, as they were apt to do at one
another's houses on Sunday nights, was not of common things. One of my
uncles was a merchant, another a doctor; my father was a
portrait-painter by profession, and a sign-painter by practice. I
suppose that's where I got my knack, such as it is. The merchant was an
invalid, rather, though he kept about his business, and our people
merely recognized him as being out of health. He was what we could
call, for that day and regionthe Middle West of the early fiftiesa
man of unusual refinement. I suppose this was temperamental with him
largely; but he had cultivated tastes, too. I remember him as a
peculiarly gentle person, with a pensive cast of face, and the
melancholy accomplishment of playing the flute.
I wonder why nobody plays the flute nowadays, I mused aloud.
Yes, it's quite obsolete, Minver said. They only play the flute
in the orchestras now. I always look at the man who plays it and think
of my uncle. He used to be very nice to me as a child; and he was very
fond of my father, in a sort of filial way; my father was so much
older. I can remember my young aunt; and how pretty she was as she sat
at the piano, and sang and played to his fluting. When she looked
forward at the music, her curls fell into her neck; they wore curls
then, grown-up women; and though I don't think curls are beautiful, my
aunt's beauty would have been less without them; in fact, I can't think
of her without them.
She was delicate, too; they were really a pair of invalids; but she
had none of his melancholy. They had had several children, who died,
one after another, and there was only one left at the time I am
speaking of. I rather wonder, now, that the thought of those poor
little ghost-cousins didn't make me uncomfortable. I was a very
superstitious boy, but I seem not to have thought of them. I played
with the little girl who was left, and I liked going to my uncle's
better than anywhere else. I preferred going in the daytime and in the
summer-time. Then my cousin and I sat in a nook of the garden and
fought violets, as we called it; hooked the wry necks of the flowers
together and twitched to see which blossom would come off first. She
was a sunny little thing, like her mother, and she had curls, like her.
I can't express the feeling I had for my aunt; she seemed the
embodiment of a world that was at once very proud and very good. I
suppose she dressed fashionably, as things went then and there; and her
style as well as her beauty fascinated me. I would have done anything
to please her, far more than to please my cousin. With her I used to
squabble, and sometimes sent her crying to her mother. Then I always
ran off home, but when I sneaked back, or was sent for to come and play
with my cousin, I was not scolded for my wickedness.
My uncle was more prosperous than his brothers; he lived in a much
better house than ours, and I used to be quite awe-struck by its
magnificence. He went East, as we said, twice a year to buy goods, and
he had things sent back for his house such as we never saw elsewhere;
those cask-shaped seats of blue china for the verandas, and bamboo
chairs. There were cane-bottom chairs in the sitting-room, such as we
had in our best room; in the parlor the large pieces were of mahogany
veneer, upholstered in black hair-cloth; they held me in awe. The piano
filled half the place; the windows came down to the ground, and had
Venetian blinds and lace curtains.
We all went in there after the Sunday night supper, and then the
fathers and mothers were apt to begin talking of those occult things
that gave me the creeps. It was after the Rochester Knockings, as they
were called, had been exposed, and so had spread like an infection
everywhere. It was as if people were waiting to have the fraud shown up
in order to believe in it.
That sort of thing happens, Wanhope agreed. It's as if the seeds
of the ventilated imposture were carried atmospherically into the human
mind broadcast and a universal crop of self-delusion sprang up.
At any rate, Minver resumed, instead of the gift being confined
to a few personsa small sisterhood with detonating knee-jointsthere
were rappings in every well-regulated household; all the tables tipped;
people went to sleep to the soft patter of raps on the headboards of
their beds; and girls who could not spell were occupied in delivering
messages from Socrates, Ben Franklin and Shakespeare. Besides the
physical demonstrations, there were all sorts of psychical intimations
from the world which we've now abolished.
Not permanently, perhaps, I suggested.
Well, that remains to be seen, Minver said. It was this sort of
thing which my people valued above the other. Perhaps they were
exclusive in their tastes, and did not care for an occultism which the
crowd could share with them; though this is a conjecture too long after
the fact to have much value. As far as I can now remember, they used to
talk of the double presence of living persons, like their being where
they greatly wished to be as well as where they really were; of
clairvoyance; of what we call mind-transference, now; of weird
coincidences of all kinds; of strange experiences of their own and of
others; of the participation of animals in these experiences, like the
testimony of cats and dogs to the presence of invisible spirits; of
dreams that came true, or came near coming true; and, above everything,
of forebodings and presentiments.
I dare say they didn't always talk of such things, and I'm giving
possibly a general impression from a single instance; everything
remembered of childhood is as if from large and repeated occurrence.
But it must have happened more than once, for I recall that when it
came to presentiments my aunt broke it up, perhaps once only. My cousin
used to get very sleepy on the rug before the fire, and her mother
would carry her off to bed, very cross and impatient of being kissed
good night, while I was left to the brunt of the occult alone. I could
not go with my aunt and cousin, and I folded myself in my mother's
skirt, where I sat at her feet, and listened in an anguish of drowsy
terror. The talk would pass into my dreams, and the dreams would return
into the talk; and I would suffer a sort of double nightmare, waking
Poor little devil! Rulledge broke out. It's astonishing how
people will go on before children, and never think of the misery
they're making for them.
I believe my mother thought of it, Minver returned, but when that
sort of talk began, the witchery of it was probably too strong for her.
'It held her like a two years' child'; I was eight that winter. I don't
know how long my suffering had gone on, when my aunt came back and
seemed to break up the talk. It had got to presentiments, and, whether
they knew that this was forbidden ground with her, or whether she now
actually said something about it, they turned to talk of other things.
I'm not telling you all this from my own memory, which deals with only
a point or two. My father and mother used to recur to it when I was
older, and I am piecing out my story from their memories.
My uncle, with all his temperamental pensiveness, was my aunt's
stay and cheer in the fits of depression which she paid with for her
usual gaiety. But these fits always began with some uncommon depression
of hissome effect of the forebodings he was subject to. Her
opposition to that kind of thing was purely unselfish, but certainly
she dreaded it for him as well as herself. I suppose there was a sort
of conscious silence in the others which betrayed them to her. 'Well,'
she said, laughing, 'have you been at it again? That poor child looks
frightened out of his wits.'
They all laughed then, and my father said, hypocritically, 'I was
just going to ask Felix whether he expected to start East this week or
My uncle tried to make light of what was always a heavy matter with
him. 'Well, yesterday,' he answered, 'I should have said next week; but
it's this week, now. I'm going on Wednesday.'
'By stage or packet?' my father asked.
'Oh, I shall take the canal to the lake, and get the boat for
Buffalo there,' my uncle said.
They went on to speak of the trip to New York, and how much easier
it was then than it used to be when you had to go by stage over the
mountains to Philadelphia and on by stage again. Now, it seemed, you
got the Erie Canal packet at Buffalo and the Hudson River steamboat at
Albany, and reached New York in four or five days, in great comfort
without the least fatigue. They had all risen and my aunt had gone out
with her sisters-in-law to help them get their wraps. When they
returned, it seemed that they had been talking of the journey, too, for
she said to my mother, laughing again, 'Well, Richard may think it's
easy; but somehow Felix never expects to get home alive.'
I don't think I ever heard my uncle laugh, but I can remember how
he smiled at my aunt's laughing, as he put his hand on her shoulder; I
thought it was somehow a very sad smile. On Wednesday I was allowed to
go with my aunt and cousin to see him off on the packet, which came up
from Cincinnati early in the morning; I had lain awake most of the
night, and then nearly overslept myself, and then was at the canal in
time. We made a gay parting for him, but when the boat started, and I
was gloating on the three horses making up the tow-path at a spanking
trot, under the snaky spirals of the driver's smacking whip-lash, I
caught sight of my uncle standing on the deck and smiling that sad
smile of his. My aunt was waving her handkerchief, but when she turned
away she put it to her eyes.
The rest of the story, such as it is, I know, almost to the very
end, from what I heard my father and mother say from my uncle's report
afterward. He told them that, when the boat started, the stress to stay
was so strong upon him that if he had not been ashamed he would have
jumped ashore and followed us home. He said that he could not analyze
his feelings; it was not yet any definite foreboding, but simply a
depression that seemed to crush him so that all his movements were
leaden, when he turned at last, and went down to breakfast in the cabin
below. The stress did not lighten with the little changes and chances
of the voyage to the lake. He was never much given to making
acquaintance with people, but now he found himself so absent-minded
that he was aware of being sometimes spoken to by friendly strangers
without replying until it was too late even to apologize. He was not
only steeped in this gloom, but he had the constant distress of the
effort he involuntarily made to trace it back to some cause or follow
it forward to some consequence. He kept trying at this, with a mind so
tensely bent to the mere horror that he could not for a moment strain
away from it. He would very willingly have occupied himself with other
things, but the anguish which the double action of his mind gave him
was such that he could not bear the effort; all he could do was to
abandon himself to his obsession. This would ease him only for a while,
though, and then he would suffer the misery of trying in vain to escape
He thought he must be going mad, but insanity implied some definite
delusion or hallucination, and, so far as he could make out, he had
none. He was simply crushed by a nameless foreboding. Something
dreadful was to happen, but this was all he felt; knowledge had no part
in his condition. He could not say whether he slept during the two
nights that passed before he reached Toledo, where he was to take the
lake steamer for Buffalo. He wished to turn back again, but the
relentless pressure which had kept him from turning back at the start
was as strong as ever with him. He tried to give his presentiment
direction by talking with the other passengers about a recent accident
to a lake steamer, in which several hundred lives were lost; there had
been a collision in rough weather, and one of the boats had gone down
in a few minutes. There was a sort of relief in that, but the double
action of the mind brought the same intolerable anguish again, and he
settled back for refuge under the shadow of his impenetrable doom. This
did not lift till he was well on his way from Albany to New York by the
Hudson River. The canal-boat voyage from Buffalo to Albany had been as
eventless as that to Toledo, and his lake steamer had reached Buffalo
in safety, for which it had seemed as if those lost in the recent
disaster had paid.
He tried to pierce his heavy cloud by argument from the security in
which he had traveled so far, but the very security had its
hopelessness. If something had happenedsome slight accidentto
interrupt it, his reason, or his unreason, might have taken it for a
sign that the obscure doom, whatever it was, had been averted.
Up to this time he had not been able to connect his foreboding with
anything definite, and he was not afraid for himself. He was simply
without the formless hope that helps us on at every step, through good
and bad, and it was a mortal peril, which he came through safely while
scores of others were lost, that gave his presentiment direction. He
had taken the day boat from Albany, and about the middle of the
afternoon the boat, making way under a head-wind, took fire. The pilot
immediately ran her ashore, and her passengers, those that had the
courage for it, ran aft, and began jumping from the stern, but a great
many women and children were burned. My uncle was one of the first of
those who jumped, and he stood in the water, trying to save those who
came after from drowning; it was not very deep. Some of the women lost
courage for the leap, and some turned back into the flames, remembering
children they had left behind. One poor creature stood hesitating
wildly, and he called up to her to jump. At last she did so, almost
into his arms, and then she clung about him as he helped her ashore.
'Oh,' she cried out between her sobs, 'if you have a wife and children
at home, God will take you safe back to them; you have saved my life
for my husband and little ones.' 'No,' he was conscious of saying, 'I
shall never see my wife again,' and now his foreboding had the
direction that it had wanted before.
From that on he simply knew that he should not get home alive, and
he waited resignedly for the time and form of his disaster. He had a
sort of peace in that. He went about his business intelligently, and
from habit carefully, but it was with a mechanical action of the mind,
something, he imagined, like the mechanical action of his body in those
organs which do their part without bidding from the will. He was only a
few days in New York, but in the course of them he got several letters
from his wife telling him that all was going well with her and their
daughter. It was before the times when you can ask and answer questions
by telegraph, and he started back, necessarily without having heard the
latest news from home.
He made the return trip in a sort of daze, talking, reading,
eating, and sleeping in the calm certainty of doom, and only wondering
how it would be fulfilled, and what hour of the night or day. But it is
no use my eking this out; I heard it, as I say, when I was a child, and
I am afraid that if I should try to give it with the full detail I
should take to inventing particulars. Minver paused a moment, and then
he said: But there was one thing that impressed itself indelibly on my
memory. My uncle got back perfectly safe and well.
Oh! Rulledge snorted in rude dissatisfaction.
What was it impressed itself on your memory? Wanhope asked, with
scientific detachment from the story as a story.
Minver continued to address Wanhope, without regarding Rulledge. My
uncle told my father that some sort of psychical change, which he could
not describe, but which he was as conscious of as if it were physical,
took place within him as he came in sight of his house
Yes, Wanhope prompted.
He had driven down from the canal-packet in the old omnibus which
used to meet passengers and distribute them at their destinations in
town. All the way to his house he was still under the doom as regarded
himself, but bewildered that he should be getting home safe and well,
and he was refusing his escape, as it were, and then suddenly, at the
sight of the familiar house, the change within him happened. He looked
out of the omnibus window and saw a group of neighbors at his gate. As
he got out of the omnibus, my father took him by the hand, as if to
hold him back a moment. Then he said to my father, very quietly, 'You
needn't tell me: my wife is dead.'
There was an appreciable pause, in which we were all silent, and
then Rulledge demanded, greedily, And was she?
Really, Rulledge! I could not help protesting.
Minver asked him, almost compassionately and with unwonted
gentleness, as from the mood in which his reminiscence had left him:
You suspected a hoax? She had died suddenly the night before while she
and my cousin were getting things ready to welcome my uncle home in the
morning. I'm sorry you're disappointed, he added, getting back to his
Whatever, Rulledge pursued, became of the little girl?
She died rather young; a great many years ago; and my uncle soon
Rulledge went away without saying anything, but presently returned
with the sandwich which he had apparently gone for, while Wanhope was
remarking: That want of definition in the presentiment at first, and
then its determination in the new direction by, as it were,
propinquityit is all very curious. Possibly we shall some day
discover a law in such matters.
Rulledge said: How was it your boyhood was passed in the Middle
West, Minver? I always thought you were a Bostonian.
I was an adoptive Bostonian for a good while, until I decided to
become a native New-Yorker, so that I could always be near to you,
Rulledge. You can never know what a delicate satisfaction you are.
Minver laughed, and we were severally restored to the wonted
relations which his story had interrupted.
III. CAPTAIN DUNLEVY'S LAST TRIP
It was against the law, in such case made and provided,
Of the United States, but by the good will of the pilots
That we would some of us climb to the pilot-house after our
For a morning smoke, and find ourselves seats on the benching
Under the windows, or in the worn-smooth arm-chairs. The pilot,
Which one it was did not matter, would tilt his head round and
When he had seen who we were, and begin, or go on as from
In the midst of talk that was leading up to a story,
Just before we came in, and the story, begun or beginning,
Always began or ended with some one, or something or other,
Having to do with the river. If one left the wheel to the other,
Going off watch, he would say to his partner standing behind him
With his hands stretched out for the spokes that were not given
Captain, you can tell them the thing I was going to tell them
Better than I could, I reckon, and then the other would answer,
Well, I don't know as I feel so sure of that, captain, and
Recognized each other so by that courtesy title of captain
Never officially failed of without offense among pilots,
One would subside into Jim and into Jerry the other.
It was on these terms, at least, Captain Dunn relieved Captain
When we had settled ourselves one day to listen in comfort,
After some psychological subtleties we had indulged in at
Touching that weird experience every one knows when the senses
Juggle the points of the compass out of true orientation,
Changing the North to the South, and the East to the West. Why,
what was it
You was going to tell them? Oh, never you mind what it
You tell them something else, and so Captain Davis
While Captain Dunn, with a laugh, got away beyond reach of his
Then Captain Davis, with fitting, deprecatory preamble,
Launched himself on a story that promised to be all a story
Could be expected to be, when one of those womenyou know them
Who interrupt on any occasion or none, interrupted,
Pointed her hand, and asked, Oh, what is that island there,
That one, ma'am? He gave her the name, and then the woman
Don't say you know them all by sight! Yes, by sight or by
What do you mean by feeling? Why, just that by daylight we see
And in the dark it's like as if somehow we felt them, I reckon.
Every foot of the channel and change in it, wash-out and cave-in,
Every bend and turn of it, every sand-bar and landmark,
Every island, of course, we have got to see them, or feel them.
But if you don't? But we've got to. But aren't you ever
Never the second time. Now, what do you mean, Captain Davis?
Never the second time. Well, let me tell you a story.
It's not the one I begun, but that island you asked about yonder
Puts me in mind of it, happens to be the place where it happened,
Three years ago. I suppose no man ever knew the Ohio
Better than Captain Dunlevy, if any one else knew it like him.
Man and boy he had been pretty much his whole life on the river:
Cabin-boy first on a keelboat before the day of the steamboats,
Back in the pioneer times; and watchman then on a steamboat;
Then second mate, and then mate, and then pilot and captain and
But he was proudest, I reckon, of being about the best pilot
On the Ohio. He knew it as well as he knew his own Bible,
And I don't hardly believe that ever Captain Dunlevy
Let a single day go by without reading a chapter.
While the pilot went on with his talk, and in regular, rhythmical
Swayed from one side to the other before his wheel, and we
Certain typical facts of the picturesque life of the river
Won their way to our consciousness as without help of our senses.
It was along about the beginning of March, but already
In the sleepy sunshine the budding maples and willows,
Where they waded out in the shallow wash of the freshet,
Showed the dull red and the yellow green of their blossoms and
And in their tops the foremost flocks of blackbirds debated
As to which they should colonize first. The indolent house-boats
Loafing along the shore, sent up in silvery spirals
Out of their kitchen pipes the smoke of their casual breakfasts.
Once a wide tow of coal-barges, loaded clear down to the
Gave us the slack of the current, with proper formalities shouted
By the hoarse-throated stern-wheeler that pushed the black barges
And as she passed us poured a foamy cascade from her paddles.
Then, as a raft of logs, which the spread of the barges had
River-wide, weltered in sight, with a sudden jump forward the
Dropped his whole weight on the spokes of the wheel just in time
Always give those fellows, he joked, all the leeway they ask
Worst kind of thing on the river you want your boat to run into.
Where had I got about Captain Dunlevy? Oh yes, I remember.
Well, when the railroads began to run away from the steamboats,
Taking the carrying trade in the very edge of the water,
It was all up with the old flush times, and Captain Dunlevy
Had to climb down with the rest of us pilots till he was only
Captain the same as any and every pilot is captain,
Glad enough, too, to be getting his hundred and twenty-five
Through the months of the spring and fall while navigation was
Never lowered himself, though, a bit from captain and owner,
Knew his rights and yours, and never would thought of allowing
Any such thing as a liberty from you or taking one with
I had been his cub, and all that I knew of the river
Captain Dunlevy had learnt me; and if you know what the feeling
Is of a cub for the pilot that learns him the river, you'll trust
When I tell you I felt it the highest kind of an honor
Having him for my partner; and when I came up to relieve him,
One day, here at the wheel, and actu'lly thought that I found him
Taking that island there on the left, I thought I was crazy.
No, I couldn't believe my senses, and yet I couldn't endure it.
Seeing him climb the spokes of the wheel to warp the Kanawha,
With the biggest trip of passengers ever she carried,
Round on the bar at the left that fairly stuck out of the water.
Well, as I said, he learnt me all that I knew of the river,
And was I to learn him now which side to take of an island
When I knew he knew it like his right hand from his left hand?
My, but I hated to speak! It certainly seemed like my tongue
Like the Bible says, to the roof of my mouth! But I had to.
'Captain,' I says, and it seemed like another person was talking,
'Do you usu'lly take that island there on the eastward?'
'Yes,' he says, and he laughed, 'and I thought I had learnt you
to do it,
When you was going up.' 'But not going down, did you,
'Down?' And he whirled at me, and, without ever stopping his
Turned as white as a sheet, and his eyes fairly bulged from their
Then he whirled back again, and looked up and down on the river,
Like he was hunting out the shape of the shore and the landmarks.
Well, I suppose the thing has happened to every one sometime,
When you find the points of the compass have swapped with each
And at the instant you're looking, the North and the South have
I knew what was in his mind as well as Dunlevy himself
Neither one of us spoke a word for nearly a minute.
Then in a kind of whisper he says, 'Take the wheel, Captain
Let the spokes fly, and while I made a jump forwards to catch
Staggered into that chairwell, the very one you are in, ma'am.
Set there breathing quick, and, when he could speak, all he said
'This is the end of it for me on the river, Jim Davis,'
Reached up over his head for his coat where it hung by that
Trembled onto his feet, and stopped in the door there a second,
Stared in hard like as if for good-by to the things he was used
Shut the door behind him, and never come back again through it.
While we were silent, not liking to prompt the pilot with
Well, he said, at last, it was no use to argue. We tried it,
In the half-hearted way that people do that don't mean it.
Every one was his friend here on the Kanawha, and we
It was the first time he ever had lost his bearings, but he
In such a thing as that, that the first and the last are the same
When we had got through trying our worst to persuade him, he only
Shook his head and says, 'I am done for, boys, and you know it,'
Left the boat at Wheeling, and left his life on the river
Left his life on the earth, you may say, for I don't call it
Setting there homesick at home for the wheel he can never go back
Reads the river-news regular; knows just the stage of the water
Up and down the whole way from Cincinnati to Pittsburg;
Follows every boat from the time she starts out in the
Till she lays up in the summer, and then again in the winter;
Wants to talk all about her and who is her captain and pilot;
Then wants to slide away to that everlastingly puzzling
Thing that happened to him that morning on the Kanawha
When he lost his bearings and North and South had changed
No, I don't call that living, whatever the rest of you call it.
We were silent again till that woman spoke up, And what was it,
Captain, that kept him from going back and being a pilot?
Well, ma'am, after a moment the pilot patiently answered,
I don't hardly believe that I could explain it exactly.
IV. THE RETURN TO FAVOR
He never, by any chance, quite kept his word, though there was a
moment in every case when he seemed to imagine doing what he said, and
he took with mute patience the rakings which the ladies gave him when
he disappointed them.
Disappointed is not just the word, for the ladies did not really
expect him to do what he said. They pretended to believe him when he
promised, but at the bottom of their hearts they never did or could. He
was gentle-mannered and soft-spoken, and when he set his head on one
side, and said that a coat would be ready on Wednesday, or a dress on
Saturday, and repeated his promise upon the same lady's expressed
doubt, she would catch her breath and say that now she absolutely must
have it on the day named, for otherwise she would not have a thing to
put on. Then he would become very grave, and his soft tenor would
deepen to a bass of unimpeachable veracity, and he would say, Sure,
lady, you have it.
The lady would depart still doubting and slightly sighing, and he
would turn to the customer who was waiting to have a button sewed on,
or something like that, and ask him softly what it was he could do for
him. If the customer offered him his appreciation of the case in hand,
he would let his head droop lower, and in a yet deeper bass deplore the
doubt of the ladies as an idiosyncrasy of their sex. He would make the
customer feel that he was a favorite customer whose rights to a perfect
fidelity of word and deed must by no means be tampered with, and he
would have the button sewed on or the rip sewed up at once, and refuse
to charge anything, while the customer waited in his shirt-sleeves in
the small, stuffy shop opening directly from the street. When he
tolerantly discussed the peculiarities of ladies as a sex, he would
endure to be laughed at, for sufferance was the badge of all his
tribe, and possibly he rather liked it.
The favorite customer enjoyed being there when some lady came back
on the appointed Wednesday or Saturday, and the tailor came soothingly
forward and showed her into the curtained alcove where she was to try
on the garments, and then called into the inner shop for them. The
shirt-sleeved journeyman, with his unbuttoned waistcoat-front all pins
and threaded needles, would appear in his slippers with the things
barely basted together, and the tailor would take them, with an airy
courage, as if they were perfectly finished, and go in behind the
curtain where the lady was waiting in a dishabille which the favorite
customer, out of reverence for the sex, forbore to picture to himself.
Then sounds of volcanic fury would issue from the alcove. Now, Mr.
Morrison, you have lied to me again, deliberately lied. Didn't I
tell you I must have the things perfectly ready to-day? You see
yourself that it will be another week before I can have my things.
A week? Oh, madam! But I assure you
Don't talk to me any more! It's the last time I shall ever come to
you, but I suppose I can't take the work away from you as it is.
When shall I have it?
To-morrow. Yes, to-morrow noon. Sure!
Now you know you are always out at noon. I should think you would
If it hadn't been for sickness in the family I would have finished
your dress with my own hands. Sure I would. If you come here to-morrow
noon you find your dress all ready for you.
I know I won't, but I will come, and you'd better have it
The lady then added some generalities of opprobrium with some
particular criticisms of the garments. Her voice sank into
dispassionate murmurs in these, but it rose again in her renewed sense
of the wrong done her, and when she came from the alcove she went out
of the street door purple. She reopened it to say, Now, remember!
before she definitely disappeared.
Rather a stormy session, Mr. Morrison, the customer said.
Something fierce, Mr. Morrison sighed. But he did not seem much
troubled, and he had one way with all his victims, no matter what mood
they came or went in.
One day the customer was by when a kind creature timidly upbraided
him. This is the third time you've disappointed me, Mr. Morrison. I
really wish you wouldn't promise me unless you mean to do it. I don't
think it's right for you.
Oh, but sure, madam! The things will be done, sure. We had a strike
Well, I will trust you once more, the kind creature said.
You can depend on me, madam, sure.
When she was gone the customer said: I wonder you do that sort of
thing, Mr. Morrison. You can't be surprised at their behaving rustily
with you if you never keep your word.
Why, I assure you there are times when I don't know where to look,
the way they go on. It is something awful. You ought to hear them once.
And now they want the wote. He rearranged some pieces of tumbled goods
at the table where the customer sat, and put together the disheveled
leaves of the fashion-papers which looked as if the ladies had
scattered them in their rage.
One day the customer heard two ladies waiting for their
disappointments in the outer room while the tailor in the alcove was
trying to persuade a third lady that positively her things would be
sent home the next day before dark. The customer had now formed the
habit of having his own clothes made by the tailor, and his system in
avoiding disappointment was very simple. In the early fall he ordered a
spring suit, and in the late spring it was ready. He never had any
difficulty, but he was curious to learn how the ladies managed, and he
listened with all his might while these two talked.
I always wonder we keep coming, one of them said.
I'll tell you why, the other said. Because he's cheap, and we get
things from a fourth to a third less than we can get them anywhere
else. The quality is first rate, and he's absolutely honest. And,
besides, he's a genius. The wretch has touch. The things have a
style, a look, a hang! Really it's something wonderful. Sure it iss,
she ended in the tailor's accent, and then they both laughed and joined
in a common sigh.
Well, I don't believe he means to deceive any one.
Oh, neither do I. I believe he expects to do everything he says.
And one can't help liking him even when he doesn't.
He's a good while getting through with her, the first lady said,
meaning the unseen lady in the alcove.
She'll be a good while longer getting through with him, if
he hasn't them ready the next time, the second lady said.
But the lady in the alcove issued from it with an impredicable
smile, and the tailor came up to the others, and deferred to their
wishes with a sort of voiceless respect.
He gave the customer a glance of good-fellowship, and said to him,
radiantly: Your things all ready for you, this morning. As soon as
Oh, no hurry, the customer responded.
I won't be a minute, the tailor said, pulling the curtain of the
alcove aside, and then there began those sounds of objurgation and
expostulation, although the ladies had seemed so amiable before.
The customer wondered if they did not all enjoy it; the ladies in
their patience under long trial, and the tailor in the pleasure of
practising upon it. But perhaps he did believe in the things he
promised. He might be so much a genius as to have no grasp of facts; he
might have thought that he could actually do what he said.
The customer's question on these points found answer when one day
the tailor remarked, as it were out of a clear sky, that he had sold
his business; sold it to the slippered journeyman who used to come in
his shirt-sleeves, with his vest-front full of pins and needles,
bringing the basted garments to be tried on the ladies who had been
promised them perfectly finished.
He will do your clothes all right, he explained to the customer.
He is a first-rate cutter and fitter; he knows the whole business.
But whywhy the customer began.
I couldn't stand it. The way them ladies would talk to a person,
when you done your best to please them; it's something fierce.
Yes, I know. But I thought you liked it, from the way you always
promised them and never kept your word.
And if I hadn't promised them? the tailor returned with some show
of feeling. They wanted me to promise themthey made methey
wouldn't have gone away without it. Sure. Every one wanted her things
before every one. You had got to think of that.
But you had to think of what they would say.
Say? Sometimes I thought they would hit me. One lady said
she had a notion to slap me once. It's no way to talk.
But you didn't seem to mind it.
I didn't mind it for a good while. Then I couldn't stand it. So I
He shook his head sadly; but the customer had no comfort to offer
him. He asked when his clothes would be done, and the tailor told him
when, and then they were not. The new proprietor tried them on, but he
would not say just when they would be finished.
We have a good deal of work already for some ladies that been
disappointed. Now we try a new way. We tell people exactly what we do.
Well, that's right, the customer said, but in his heart he was not
sure he liked the new way.
The day before his clothes were promised he dropped in. From the
curtained alcove he heard low murmurs, the voice of the new proprietor
and the voice of some lady trying on, and being severely bidden not to
expect her things at a time she suggested. No, madam. We got too much
work on hand already. These things, they will not be done before next
I told you to-morrow, the same voice said to another lady, and the
new proprietor came out with an unfinished coat in his hand.
I know you did, but I thought you would be better than your word,
and so I came to-day. Well, then, to-morrow.
Yes, to-morrow, the new proprietor said, but he did not seem to
have liked the lady's joke. He did not look happy.
A few weeks after that the customer came for some little alterations
in his new suit.
In the curtained alcove he heard the murmurs of trying on, much
cheerfuller murmurs than before; the voice of a lady lifted in
gladness, in gaiety, and an incredible voice replying, Oh, sure,
Then the old proprietor came out in his shirt-sleeves and slippers,
with his waistcoat-front full of pins and needles, just like the new
proprietor in former days.
Why! the customer exclaimed. Have you bought back?
No. I'm just here like a journeyman already. The new man he want me
to come. He don't get along very well with his way. He's all right;
he's a good man and a first-class tailor. But, and the former
proprietor looked down at the basted garment hanging over his arm, and
picked off an irrelevant thread from it, he thinks I get along better
with the ladies.
V. SOMEBODY'S MOTHER
The figure of a woman sat crouched forward on one of the lowermost
steps of the brownstone dwelling which was keeping a domestic tradition
in a street mostly gone to shops and small restaurants and local
express-offices. The house was black behind its closed shutters, and
the woman remained sitting there because no one could have come out of
its door for a year past to hunt her away. The neighborhood policeman
faltered in going by, and then he kept on. The three people who came
out of the large, old-fashioned hotel, half a block off, on their way
for dinner to a French table d'hôte which they had heard of,
stopped and looked at the woman. They were a father and his son and
daughter, and it was something like a family instinct that controlled
them, in their pause before the woman crouching on the steps.
It was the early dusk of a December day, and the day was very
chilly. She seems to be sick or something, the father vaguely
surmised. Or asleep.
The three looked at the woman, but they did nothing for a moment.
They would rather have gone on, but they waited to see if anything
would happen to release them from the spell that they seemed to have
laid upon themselves. They were conditional New-Yorkers of long
sojourn, and it was from no apparent motive that the son wore evening
dress, which his unbuttoned overcoat discovered, and an opera-hat. He
would not have dressed so for that problematical French table d'hôte
; probably he was going on later to some society affair. He now put in
effect the father's impulse to go closer and look at the woman.
She seems to be asleep, he reported.
Shouldn't you think she would take cold? She will get her death
there. Oughtn't we to do something? the daughter asked, but she left
it to the father, and he said:
Probably somebody will come by.
That we could leave her to? the daughter pursued.
We could do that without waiting, the son commented.
Well, yes, the father assented; but they did not go on. They
waited, helplessly, and then somebody came by. It was a young girl, not
very definite in the dusk, except that she was unmistakably of the
working class; she was simply dressed, though with the New York
instinct for clothes. Their having stopped there seemed to stay her
involuntarily, and after a glance in the direction of their gaze she
asked the daughter:
Is she sick, do you think?
We don't know what's the matter. But she oughtn't to stay there.
Something velvety in the girl's voice had made its racial quality
sensible to the ear; as she went up to the crouching woman and bent
forward over her and then turned to them, a street lamp threw its light
on her face, and they saw that she was a light shade of colored girl.
She seems to be sleeping.
Perhaps, the son began, she's not quite But he did not go on.
The girl looked round at the others and suggested, She must be
The others all felt abashed in their several sorts and degrees, but
in their several sorts and degrees they all decided that there was
something romantic, sentimental, theatrical in the girl's words, like
something out of some cheap story-paper story.
The father wondered if that kind of thing was current among that
kind of people. He had a sort of esthetic pleasure in the character and
condition expressed by the words.
Well, yes, he said, if she has children, or has had. The girl
looked at him uncertainly, and then he added, But, of course
The son went up to the woman again, and asked: Aren't you well? Can
we do anything for you? It won't do to stay here, you know. The woman
only made a low murmur, and he said to his sister, Suppose we get her
His sister did not come forward promptly, and the colored girl said,
I'll help you.
She took one arm of the woman and the son took the other, and they
lifted her, without her connivance, to her feet and kept her on them.
Then they walked her down the steps. On the level below she showed
taller than either of them; she was bundled up in different incoherent
wraps; her head was muffled, and she wore a battered bonnet at an
I don't know exactly what we shall do with her, the son said.
We ought to get her home somehow, the daughter said.
The father proposed nothing, but the colored girl said, If we keep
walking her along, we'll come to a policeman and we can
A hoarse rumble of protest came from the muffled head of the woman,
and the girl put her ear closer. Want to go home? Well, the policeman
will take you. We don't know where you live, and we haven't the time.
The woman seemed to have nothing to say further, and they began
walking her westward; the colored girl supported her on one hand, and
the son, in his evening dress and opera-hat, on the other.
The daughter followed in a vague anxiety, but the father went along,
enjoying the anomaly, and happy in his relish of that phrase, She must
be somebody's mother. It now sounded to him like a catch from one of
those New York songs, popular in the order of life where the mother
represents what is best and holiest. He recalled a vaudeville ballad
with the refrain of A Boy's Best Friend is his Mother, which, when he
heard it in a vaudeville theater, threatened the gallery floor under
the applauding feet of the frenzied audience. Probably this colored
girl belonged to that order of life; he wished he could know her social
circumstance and what her outlook on the greater world might be. She
seemed a kind creature, poor thing, and he respected her. Somebody's
motherhe liked that.
They all walked westward, aimlessly, except that the table d'hôte
where they had meant to dine was in that direction; they had heard of
it as an amusingly harmless French place, and they were fond of such
The old woman contributed nothing to the definition of their
progress. She stumbled and mumbled along, but between Seventh Avenue
and Eighth she stubbornly arrested her guardians. She saysthe
colored girl translated some obscure avowal across her backshe says
she wants to go home, and she lives up in Harlem.
Oh, well, that's good, the father said, with an optimistic
amiability. We'd better help walk her across to Ninth Avenue and put
her on a car, and tell the conductor where to let her off.
He was not helping walk her himself, but he enjoyed his son's doing
it in evening dress and opera-hat, with that kind colored girl on the
other side of the mother; the composition was agreeably droll. The
daughter did not like it, and she cherished the ideal of a passing
policeman to take the old woman in charge.
No policeman passed, though great numbers of other people met them
without apparently finding anything noticeable in the spectacle which
their group presented. Among the crowds going and coming on the avenues
which they crossed scarcely any turned to look at them, or was moved by
the sense of anything odd in them.
The old woman herself did nothing to attract public notice till they
were midway between Seventh and Eighth avenues. She mumbled something
from time to time which the colored girl interpreted to the rest as her
continued wish to go home. She was now clearer about her street and
number. The girl, as if after question of her own generous spirit, said
she did not see how she could go with her; she was expected at
Oh, you won't have to go with her; we'll just put her aboard the
Ninth Avenue car, the father encouraged her. He would have encouraged
any one; he was enjoying the whole affair.
At a certain moment, for no apparent reason, the mother decided to
sit down on a door-step. It proved to be the door-step of a house where
from time to time colored peoplesometimes of one sex, sometimes of
anotherwent in or came out. The door seemed to open directly into a
large room where dancing and dining were going on concurrently. At a
long table colored people sat eating, and behind their chairs on both
sides of the room and at the ends of the table colored couples were
The effect was the more curious because, except for some almost
inaudible music, the scene passed in silence. Those who were eating
were not visibly incommoded by those revolving at their backs; the
waltzers turned softly around and around, untempted by the table now
before them, now behind them. When some of the diners or dancers came
out, they stumbled over the old woman on the door-step without minding
or stopping to inquire. Those outside, when they went in, fell over her
with like equanimity and joined the strange company within.
The father murmured to himself the lines,
'Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody'
with a remote trouble of mind because the words were at once so
graphic and yet so imperfectly applicable. The son and daughter
exchanged a silent wonder as long as they could bear it; then the
daughter asked the colored girl:
What is it?
It's a boarding-house, the girl answered, simply.
Oh, the daughter said.
Sounds of more decided character than before now came from the
figure on the door-step.
She seems to be saying something, the daughter suggested in
general terms. What is she saying? she asked the colored girl.
The girl stooped over and listened. Then she answered, She's
Swearing? What about? Whom is she swearing at?
At me, I reckon. She says, why don't I take her home.
Well, why doesn't she get up, then?
She says she won't.
We can't carry her to the car, the daughter noted.
Oh, why not? the father merrily demanded.
The daughter turned to her brother. They were both very respectful
to their father, but the son agreed with his sister when she said:
Papa would joke about anything. But this has passed a joke. We must
get this old thing up and start her off.
Upon experiment they could not get the old thing up, even with the
help of the kind colored girl. They had to let her be, and the colored
girl reported, after stooping over her again, She says she can't
She walked here well enough, the daughter said.
Not very well, the father amended.
His daughter did not notice him. She said to her brother: Well, now
you must go and find a policeman. It's strange none has gone by.
It was also strange that still their group remained without
attracting the notice of the passers. Nobody stopped to speak or even
stare; perhaps the phenomena of that boarding-house had ceased to have
surprises for the public of the neighborhood, and they in their
momentary relation to it would naturally be without interest.
The brother went away, leaving his sister with their father and that
kind colored creature in charge of the old woman, now more and more
quiescent on the door-step; she had ceased to swear, or even to speak.
The brother came back after a time that seemed long, and said that he
could not find a policeman anywhere, and at the same moment, as if the
officer had been following at his heels, a policeman crossed the street
from just behind him.
The daughter ran after him, and asked if he would not come and look
at the old woman who had so steadfastly remained in their charge, and
she rapidly explained.
Sure, lady, the policeman said, and he turned from crossing the
street and went up to the old woman. He laid his hand on her shoulder,
and his touch seemed magical. What's the matter? Can't you stand up?
She stood up as if at something familiar in the voice of authority.
Where do you live? She gave an address altogether different from that
she had given beforea place on the next avenue, within a block or
two. You'd better go home. You can walk, can't you?
I can walk well enough, she answered in a tone of vexation, and
she made her word good by walking quite actively away in the direction
she had given.
The kind colored girl became a part of the prevalent dark after
refusing the thanks of the others. The daughter then fervently offered
them to the policeman.
That's all right, lady, he said, and the incident had closed
except for her emotion at seeing him enter a police-station precisely
across the street, where they could have got a dozen policemen in a
Well, the father said, we might as well go to our French table
Oh, the son said, as if that reminded him, the place seems to be
Well, then, we might as well go back to the hotel, the father
decided. I dare say we shall do quite as well there.
On the way the young people laughed over the affair and their escape
from it, especially at the strange appearance and disappearance of the
kind colored girl, with her tag of sentiment, and at the instant
compliance of the old woman with the suggestion of the policeman.
The father followed, turning the matter over in his mind. Did mere
motherhood hallow that old thing to the colored girl and her sort and
condition? Was there a superstition of motherhood among such people
which would endear this disreputable old thing to their affection and
reverence? Did such people hold mothers in tenderer regard than people
of larger means? Would a mother in distress or merely embarrassment
instantly appeal to their better nature as a case of want or sickness
in the neighborhood always appealed to their compassion? Would her
family now welcome the old thing home from her aberration more fondly
than the friends of one who had arrived in a carriage among them in a
good street? But, after all, how little one knew of other people! How
little one knew of one self, for that matter! How next to nothing one
knew of Somebody's Mother! It did not necessarily follow from anything
they knew of her that she was a mother at all. Her motherhood might be
the mere figment of that kind colored girl's emotional fancy. She might
be Nobody's Mother.
When it came to this the father laughed, too. Why, anyhow, were
mothers more sacred than fathers? If they had found an old man in that
old woman's condition on those steps, would that kind colored girl have
appealed to them in his behalf as Somebody's Father?
VI. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
He had gone down at Christmas, where our host
Had opened up his house on the Maine coast,
For the week's holidays, and we were all,
On Christmas night, sitting in the great hall,
About the corner fireplace, while we told
Stories like those that people, young and old,
Have told at Christmas firesides from the first,
Till one who crouched upon the hearth, and nursed
His knees in his claspt arms, threw back his head,
And fixed our host with laughing eyes, and said,
This is so good, herewith your hickory logs
Blazing like natural-gas ones on the dogs,
And sending out their flicker on the wall
And rafters of your mock-baronial hall,
All in fumed-oak, and on your polished floor,
And the steel-studded panels of your door
I think you owe the general make-believe
Some sort of story that will somehow give
A more ideal completeness to our case,
And make each several listener in his place
Or herssit up, with a real goose-flesh creeping
All over himor herin proper keeping
With the locality and hour and mood.
Come! And amid the cries of Yes! and Good!
Our host laughed back; then, with a serious air,
Looked around him on our hemicycle, where
He sat midway of it. Why, he began,
But interrupted by the other man,
He paused for him to say: Nothing remote,
But something with the actual Yankee note
Of here and now in it! I'll do my best,
Our host replied, to satisfy a guest.
What do you say to Barberry Cove? And would
Five years be too long past? No, both are good.
Go on! You noticed that big house to-day
Close to the water, and the sloop that lay,
Stripped for the winter, there, beside the pier?
Well, there she has lain just so, year after year;
And she will never leave her pier again;
But once, each spring she sailed in sun or rain,
For Bay Chaleuror Bay Shaloor, as they
Like better to pronounce it down this way.
I like Shaloor myself rather the best.
But go ahead, said the exacting guest.
And with a glance around at us that said,
Don't let me bore you! our host went ahead.
Captain Gilroy built the big house, and he
Still lives there with his aging family.
He built the sloop, and when he used to come
Back from the Banks he made her more his home,
With his two boys, than the big house. The two
Counted with him a good half of her crew,
Until it happened, on the Banks, one day
The oldest boy got in a steamer's way,
And went down in his dory. In the fall
The others came without him. That was all
That showed in either one of them except
That now the father and the brother slept
Ashore, and not on board. When the spring came
They sailed for the old fishing-ground the same
As ever. Yet, not quite the same. The brother,
If you believed what folks say, kissed his mother
Good-by in going; and by general rumor,
The father, so far yielding as to humor
His daughters' weakness, rubbed his stubbly cheek
Against their lips. Neither of them would speak,
But the dumb passion of their love and grief
In so much show at parting found relief.
The weeks passed and the months. Sometimes they heard
At home, by letter, from the sloop, or word
Of hearsay from the fleet. But by and by
Along about the middle of July,
A time in which they had no news began,
And holding unbrokenly through August, ran
Into September. Then, one afternoon,
While the world hung between the sun and moon,
And while the mother and her girls were sitting
Together with their sewing and their knitting,
Before the early-coming evening's gloom
Had gathered round them in the living-room,
Helplessly wondering to each other when
They should hear something from their absent men,
They saw, all three, against the window-pane,
A face that came and went, and came again,
Three times, as though for each of them, about
As high up from the porch's floor without
As a man's head would be that stooped to stare
Into the room on their own level there.
Its eyes dwelt on them wistfully as if
Longing to speak with the dumb lips some grief
They could not speak. The women did not start
Or scream, though each one of them, in her heart,
Knew she was looking on no living face,
But stared, as dumb as it did, in her place.
Here our host paused, and one sigh broke from all
Our circle whom his tale had held in thrall.
But he who had required it of him spoke
In what we others felt an ill-timed joke:
Well, this is something like! A girl said, Don't!
As if it hurt, and he said, Well, I won't.
Go on! And in a sort of muse our host
Said: I suppose we all expect a ghost
Will sometimes come to us. But I doubt if we
Are moved by its coming as we thought to be.
At any rate, the women were not scared,
But, as I said, they simply sat and stared
Till the face vanished. Then the mother said,
'It was your father, girls, and he is dead.'
But both had known him; and now all went on
Much as before till three weeks more were gone,
When, one night sitting as they sat before,
Together with their mother, at the door
They heard a fumbling hand, and on the walk
Up from the pier, the tramp and muffled talk
Of different wind-blown voices that they knew
For the hoarse voices of their father's crew.
Then the door opened, and their father stood
Before them, palpably in flesh and blood.
The mother spoke for all, her own misgiving:
'Father, is this your ghost? Or are you living?'
'I am alive!' 'But in this very place
We saw your face look, like a spirit's face,
There through that window, just three weeks ago,
And now you are alive!' 'I did not know
That I had come; all I know is that then
I wanted to tell you folks here that our Ben
Was dying of typhoid fever. He raved of you
So that I could not think what else to do.
He's there in Bay Shaloor!'
Well, that's the end.
And rising up to mend the fire our friend
Seemed trying to shun comment; but in vain:
The exacting guest came at him once again;
You must be going to fall down, I thought,
There at the climax, when your story brought
The skipper home alive and well. But no,
You saved yourself with honor. The girl said, Oh,
Who spoke before, it's wonderful! But you,
How could you think of anything so true,
So delicate, as the father's wistful face
Coming there at the window in the place
Of the dead son's! And then, that quaintest touch,
Of half-apologythat he felt so much,
He had to come! How perfectly New England! Well,
I hope nobody will undertake to tell
A common or garden ghost-story to-night.
Our host had turned again, and at her light
And playful sympathy he said, My dear,
I hope that no one will imagine here
I have been inventing in the tale that's done.
My little story's charm if it has one
Is from no skill of mine. One does not change
The course of fable from its wonted range
To such effect as I have seemed to do:
Only the fact could make my story true.
VII. AN EXPERIENCE
For a long time after the event my mind dealt with the poor man in
helpless conjecture, and it has now begun to do so again for no reason
that I can assign. All that I ever heard about him was that he was some
kind of insurance man. Whether life, fire, or marine insurance I never
found out, and I am not sure that I tried to find out.
There was something in the event which discharged him of all
obligation to define himself of this or that relation to life. He must
have had some relation to it such as we all bear, and since the
question of him has come up with me again I have tried him in several
of those relationsfather, son, brother, husbandwithout identifying
him very satisfyingly in either.
As I say, he seemed by what happened to be liberated from the debt
we owe in that kind to one another's curiosity, sympathy, or whatever.
I cannot say what errand it was that brought him to the place, a
strange, large, indeterminate open room, where several of us sat
occupied with different sorts of business, but, as it seems to me now,
by only a provisional right to the place. Certainly the corner allotted
to my own editorial business was of temporary assignment; I was there
until we could find a more permanent office. The man had nothing to do
with me or with the publishers; he had no manuscript, or plan for an
article which he wished to propose and to talk himself into writing, so
that he might bring it with a claim to acceptance, as though he had
been asked to write it. In fact, he did not even look of the writing
sort; and his affair with some other occupant of that anomalous place
could have been in no wise literary. Probably it was some kind of
insurance business, and I have been left with the impression of
fussiness in his conduct of it; he had to my involuntary attention an
effect of conscious unwelcome with it.
After subjectively dealing with this impression, I ceased to notice
him, without being able to give myself to my own work. The day was
choking hot, of a damp that clung about one, and forbade one so much
effort as was needed to relieve one of one's discomfort; to pull at
one's wilted collar and loosen the linen about one's reeking neck meant
exertion which one willingly forbore; it was less suffering to suffer
passively than to suffer actively. The day was of the sort which begins
with a brisk heat, and then, with a falling breeze, decays into mere
swelter. To come indoors out of the sun was no escape from the heat; my
window opened upon a shaded alley where the air was damper without
being cooler than the air within.
At last I lost myself in my work with a kind of humid interest in
the psychological inquiry of a contributor who was dealing with a
matter rather beyond his power. I did not think that he was fortunate
in having cast his inquiry in the form of a story; I did not think that
his contrast of love and death as the supreme facts of life was what a
subtler or stronger hand could have made it, or that the situation
gained in effectiveness from having the hero die in the very moment of
his acceptance. In his supposition that the reader would care more for
his hero simply because he had undergone that tremendous catastrophe,
the writer had omitted to make him interesting otherwise; perhaps he
My mind began to wander from the story and not very relevantly to
employ itself with the question of how far our experiences really
affect our characters. I remembered having once classed certain
temperaments as the stuff of tragedy, and others as the stuff of
comedy, and of having found a greater cruelty in the sorrows which
light natures undergo, as unfit and disproportionate for them.
Disaster, I tacitly decided, was the fit lot of serious natures; when
it befell the frivolous it was more than they ought to have been made
to bear; it was not of their quality. Then by the mental zigzagging
which all thinking is I thought of myself and whether I was of this
make or that. If it was more creditable to be of serious stuff than
frivolous, though I had no agency in choosing, I asked myself how I
should be affected by the sight of certain things, like the common
calamities reported every day in the papers which I had hitherto
escaped seeing. By another zigzag I thought that I had never known a
day so close and stifling and humid. I then reflected upon the
comparative poverty of the French language, which I was told had only
that one word for the condition we could call by half a dozen different
names, as humid, moist, damp, sticky, reeking, sweltering, and so on. I
supposed that a book of synonyms would give even more English
adjectives; I thought of looking, but my book of synonyms was at the
back of my table, and I would have to rise for it. Then I questioned
whether the French language was so destitute of adjectives, after all;
I preferred to doubt it rather than rise.
With no more logic than those other vagaries had, I realized that
the person who had started me in them was no longer in the room. He
must have gone outdoors, and I visualized him in the street pushing
about, crowded hither and thither, and striking against other people as
he went and came. I was glad I was not in his place; I believed I
should have fallen in a faint from the heat, as I had once almost done
in New York on a day like that. From this my mind jumped to the thought
of sudden death in general. Was it such a happy thing as people
pretended? For the person himself, yes, perhaps; but not for those whom
he had left at home, say, in the morning, and who were expecting him at
home in the evening. I granted that it was generally accepted as the
happiest death, but no one that had tried it had said so. To be sure,
one was spared a long sickness, with suffering from pain and from the
fear of death. But one had no time for making one's peace with God, as
it used to be said, and after all there might be something in death-bed
repentance, although cultivated people no longer believed in it. Then I
reverted to the family unprepared for the sudden death: the mother, the
wife, the children. I struggled to get away from the question, but the
vagaries which had lightly dispersed themselves before clung
persistently to the theme now. I felt that it was like a bad dream.
That was a promising diversion. Had one any sort of volition in the
quick changes of dreams? One was aware of finding a certain nightmare
insupportable, and of breaking from it as by main force, and then
falling into a deep, sweet sleep. Was death something like waking from
a dream such as that, which this life largely was, and then sinking
into a long, restful slumber, and possibly never waking again?
Suddenly I perceived that the man had come back. He might have been
there some time with his effect of fussing and his pathetic sense of
unwelcome. I had not noticed; I only knew that he stood at the
half-open door with the knob of it in his hand looking into the room
As he stood there he lifted his hand and rubbed it across his
forehead as if in a sort of daze from the heat. I recognized the
gesture as one very characteristic of myself; I had often rubbed my
hand across my forehead on a close, hot day like that. Then the man
suddenly vanished as if he had sunk through the floor.
People who had not noticed that he was there noticed now that he was
not there. Some made a crooked rush toward the place where he had been,
and one of those helpful fellow-men who are first in all needs lifted
his head and mainly carried him into the wide space which the street
stairs mounted to, and laid him on the floor. It was darker, if not
cooler there, and we stood back to give him the air which he drew in
with long, deep sighs. One of us ran down the stairs to the street for
a doctor, wherever he might be found, and ran against a doctor at the
The doctor came and knelt over the prostrate figure and felt its
pulse, and put his ear down to its heart. It, which has already in my
telling ceased to be he, drew its breath in those long suspirations
which seemed to search each more profoundly than the last the lurking
life, drawing it from the vital recesses and expelling it in those vast
They went on and on, and established in our consciousness the
expectation of indefinite continuance. We knew that the figure there
was without such consciousness as ours, unless it was something so
remotely withdrawn that it could not manifest itself in any signal to
our senses. There was nothing tragical in the affair, but it had a
surpassing dignity. It was as if the figure was saying something to the
life in each of us which none of us would have words to interpret,
speaking some last message from the hither side of that bourne from
which there is no returning.
There was a clutch upon my heart which tightened with the slower and
slower succession of those awful breaths. Then one was drawn and
expelled and then another was not drawn. I waited for the breathing to
begin again, and it did not begin. The doctor rose from kneeling over
the figure that had been a man, and uttered, with a kind of
soundlessness, Gone, and mechanically dusted his fingers with the
thumbs of each hand from their contact with what had now become all
That helpfulest one among us laid a cloth over the face, and the
rest of us went away. It was finished. The man was done with the sorrow
which, in our sad human order, must now begin for those he loved and
who loved him. I tried vaguely to imagine their grief for not having
been uselessly with him at the last, and I could not. The incident
remained with me like an experience, something I had known rather than
seen. I could not alienate it by my pity and make it another's. They
whom it must bereave seemed for the time immeasurably removed from the
VIII. THE BOARDERS
The boarder who had eloped was a student at the theological
seminary, and he had really gone to visit his family, so that he had a
fairly good conscience in giving this color to the fact that he was
leaving the place permanently because he could not bear it any longer.
It was a shade of deceit to connive with his room-mate for the custody
of his carpet-bag and the few socks and collars and the one shirt and
summer coat which did not visibly affect its lankness when gathered
into it from his share of the bureau-drawers; but he did not know what
else to do, and he trusted to a final forgiveness when all the facts
were considered by a merciful providence. His board was fully paid, and
he had suffered long. He argued with his room-mate that he could do no
good by remaining, and that he would have stayed if he could have
believed there was any use. Besides, the food was undermining his
health, and the room with that broken window had given him a cold
already. He had a right to go, and it was his duty to himself and the
friends who were helping him through the seminary not to get sick.
He did not feel that he had convinced his room-mate, who took charge
of his carpet-bag and now sat with it between his feet waiting the
signal of the fugitive's surreptitious return for it. He was a
vague-looking young man, presently in charge of the Local and
Literary column of the one daily paper of the place, and he had just
explained to the two other boarders who were watching with him for the
event that he was not certain whether it was the supper, or the anxiety
of the situation, or just what it was that was now affecting his
The fellow-boarders, who sat on the edge of the bed, in default of
the one unbroken chair which their host kept for himself, as easier
than a mattress to get up from suddenly, did not take sides for or
against him in his theories of his discomfort. One of them glanced at
the broken window.
How do you glaze that in the daytime? You can't use the bolster
I'm not in, much, in the daytime.
It was a medical student who had spoken, but he was now silent, and
the other said, after they had listened to the twitter of a piano in
the parlor under the room, That girl's playing will be the death of
Not if her mother's cooking isn't, the medical student, whose name
was Wallace, observed with a professional effect.
Why don't you prescribe something for it? the law student
Which? Wallace returned.
I don't believe anything could cure the playing. I must have meant
You're a promising young jurist, Blakeley. What makes you think I
could cure the cooking?
Oh, I just wondered. The sick one gets paler every day. I wonder
what ails her.
She's not my patient.
Oh! Hippocratic oath. Rather fine of you, Wallace. But if she's not
Listen! their host interrupted, sharply. After a joint silence he
added: No. It must have been the sleet.
Well, Briggs, the law student said, if it must have been the
sleet, what mustn't it have been?
Oh! Briggs explained, I thought it was Phillips. He was to throw
a handful of gravel at the window.
And then you were to run down with his bag and help him to make his
escape from a friendless widow. Well, I don't know that I blame him. If
I didn't owe two weeks' board, I'd leave myselfthough I hope I
shouldn't sneak away. And if Mrs. Betterson didn't owe Wallace, here,
two weeks' board, we'd walk off together arm-in-arm at high noon. I
can't understand how he ever came to advance her the money.
Wallace rose from the bed, and kicked each leg out to dislodge the
tight trousers of the middle eighteen-fifties which had caught on the
tops of his high boots. You're a tonguey fellow, Blakeley. But you'll
find, as you live long, that there are several things you can't
I'll tell you what, Blakeley said. We'll get Mrs. Betterson to
take your loan for my debt, and we'll go at once.
You can propose something like that before the justice of the peace
in your first pettifogging case.
I believe Wallace likes to stay. And yet he must know from his
anatomical studies, better than the animals themselves, what cuts of
meat the old lady gives us. I shouldn't be so fastidious about the
cuts, if she didn't treat them all with pork gravy. Well, I mustn't be
too hard on a lone widow that I owe board to. I don't suppose his diet
had anything to do with the deep damnation of the late Betterson's
taking off. Does that stove of yours smoke, Briggs?
Not when there isn't a fire in it.
I just asked. Wallace's stove smokes, fire or no fire. It takes
advantage of the old lady's indebtedness to him. There seem, he added,
philosophically, to be just two occupations open to widows who have to
support themselves: millinery business for young ones, boarding-housing
for old ones. It is rather restricted. What do you suppose she
puts into the mince-pies? Mince-pies are rather a mystery at the best.
Wallace was walking up and down the room still in some difficulty
with his trousers-legs, and kicking out from time to time to dislodge
them. How long should you say Blakeley had been going on? he asked
You never can tell, Briggs responded. I think he doesn't know
Well said, youthful scribe! With such listeners as you two, I could
go on forever. Consider yourselves clapped jovially on the back, my
gentle Briggs; I can't get up to do it from the hollow of your bed
here. As you were saying, the wonder about these elderly widows who
keep boarding-houses is the domestic dilapidation they fall into. If
they've ever known how to cook a meal or sweep a room or make a bed,
these arts desert them in the presence of their boarders. Their only
aim in life seems to be preventing the escape of their victims, and
they either let them get into debt for their board or borrow money from
them. But why do they always have daughters, and just two of them: one
beautiful, fashionable, and devoted to the piano; the other willing to
work, but pale, pathetic, and incapable of the smallest achievement
with the gridiron or the wash-board? It's a thing to make a person want
to pay up and leave, even if he's reading law. If Wallace, here, had
the spirit of a man, he would collect the money owing him, and
Oh, stop it, Blakeley! Wallace stormed. I should think you'd get
tired of your talk yourself.
Well, as you insist
Blakeley began again, but Briggs jumped to his feet and caught up
Phillips's carpet-bag, and looked wildly around. It's gravel, this
Well, take your hat, Briggs. It may be a prolonged struggle. But
remember that Phillips's cause is just. He's paid his board, and he has
a perfect right to leave. She has no right to prevent him. Think of
that when the fray is at its worst. But try to get him off quietly, if
you can. Deal gently with the erring, while you stand firm for
boarders' rights. Remember that Phillips is sneaking off in order to
spare her feelings and has come pretty near prevarication in the
effort. Have you got your shoes off? No; it's your rubbers on. That's
Briggs faltered with the carpet-bag in his hand. Boys, I don't like
this. It feelsclandestine.
It looks that way, too, Blakeley admitted. It has an air
I've got half a mind to let Phillips come in and get his bag
It would serve him right, though I don't know why, exactly. He has
a right to spare his own feelings if he's sparing hers at the same
time. Of course he's afraid she'll plead with him to stay, and he'll
have to be inexorable with her; and if I understand the yielding nature
of Phillips he doesn't like to be inexorable.
There came another sharp rattle of small pebbles at the window.
Oh, confound him! Briggs cried under his breath, and he shuffled
out of the room and crept noiselessly down the stairs to the front
door. The door creaked a little in opening, and he left it ajar. The
current of cold air that swept up to the companions he had left behind
at his room door brought them the noise of his rush down the gravel
walk to the gate and a noise there as of fugitive steps on the pavement
A weak female tread made itself heard in the hallway, followed by a
sharp voice from a door in the rear. Was it the cat, Jenny?
No; the door just seems to have blown open. The catch is broken.
Swift, strong steps advanced with an effect of angry suspicion. I
don't believe it blew open. More likely the cat clawed it open.
The steps which the voice preceded seemed to halt at the open door,
as if falling back from it, and Wallace and Blakeley, looking down, saw
by the dim flare of the hall lamp the face of Briggs confronting the
face of Mrs. Betterson from the outer darkness. They saw the sick girl,
whose pallor they could not see, supporting herself by the stairs-post
with one hand and pressing the other to her side.
Oh! It's you, Mr. Briggs, the landlady said, with a note of
inculpation. What made you leave the door open?
The spectators could not see the swift change in Briggs's face from
terror to savage desperation, but they noted it in his voice.
Yesyes! It's me. I justI was justNo I won't, either! You'd
better know the truth. I was taking Phillips's bag out to him. He was
afraid to come in for it, because he didn't want to see you, the
confounded coward! He's left.
Left? And he said he would stay till spring! Didn't he, Jenny?
I don't remember the girl weakly gasped, but her mother did not
heed her in her mounting wrath.
A great preacher he'll make. What'd he say he left for?
He didn't say. Will you let me up-stairs?
No, I won't, till you tell me. You know well enough, between you.
Yes, I do know, Briggs answered, savagely. He left because he was
tired of eating sole-leather for steak, and fire-salt pork, and tar for
molasses, and butter strong enough to make your nose curl, and drinking
burnt-rye slops for coffee and tea-grounds for tea. And so am I, and so
are all of us, andandWill you let me go up-stairs now, Mrs.
His voice had risen, not so high but that another voice from the
parlor could prevail over it: a false, silly, girl voice, with the
twitter of piano-keys as from hands swept over the whole board to help
drown the noise of the quarrel in the hall. Oh yes, I'll sing it
again, Mr. Saunders, if you sa-a-a-y.
Then this voice lifted itself in a silly song, and a silence
followed the voices in the hall, except for the landlady's saying,
brokenly: Well, all right, Mr. Briggs. You can go up to your room for
all me. I've tried to be a mother to you boys, but if this is
what I get for it!
The two at the threshold of Briggs's room retreated within, as he
bounded furiously upon them and slammed the door after him. It started
open again, from the chronic defect of the catch, but he did not care.
Well, Briggs, I hope you feel better now, Blakeley began. You
certainly told her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth. But I wonder you had the heart to do it before that sick
I didn't have the heart, Briggs shouted. But I had the
courage, and if you say one word more, Blakeley, I'll throw you out of
the room. I'm going to leave! My board's paid if yours isn't.
He went wildly about, catching things down here and there from nails
and out of drawers. The tears stood in his eyes. But suddenly he
stopped and listened to the sounds from belowthe sound of the silly
singing in the parlor, and the sound of sobbing in the dining-room, and
the sound of vain entreating between the sobs.
Oh, I don't suppose I'm fit to keep a boarding-house. I never was a
good manager; and everybody imposes on me, and everything is so dear,
and I don't know what's good from what's bad. Your poor father used to
look after all that.
Well, don't you cry, now, mother! It'll all come right, you'll see.
I'm getting so I can go and do the marketing now; and if Minervy would
only help a little
No, no! the mother's voice came anxiously up. We can get along
without her; we always have. I know he likes her, and I want to give
her every chance. We can get along. If she was on'y married,
once, we could all live A note of self-comforting gradually stole
into the mother's voice, and the sound of a nose violently blown seemed
to note a period in her suffering.
Oh, mother, I wish I was well! The girl's voice came with a burst
of wild lamenting.
'Sh, 'sh, deary! her mother entreated. He'll hear you, and
'Hazel Dell'? the silly voice came from the parlor, with a sound
of fright in it. I can sing it without the music. The piano keys
twittered the prelude and the voice sang:
In the Hazel Dell my Nelly's sleeping,
Nelly loved so long!
Wallace went forward and shut the door. It's a shame to overhear
them! What are you going to do, you fellows?
I'm going to stay, Briggs said, if it kills me. At least I will
till Minervy's married. I don't care what the grub's like. I can
always get a bite at the restaurant.
If anybody will pay up my back board, I'll stay, too, Blakeley
followed. I should like to make a virtue of it, and, as things stand,
All right, Wallace said, and he went out and down the stairs. Then
from the dining-room below his heavy voice offering encouragement came
up, in terms which the others could not make out.
I'll bet he's making her another advance, Blakeley whispered, as
if he might be overheard by Wallace.
I wish I could have made to do it, Briggs whispered back.
I feel as mean as pursley. Would you like to kick me?
I don't see how that would do any good. I may want to borrow money
of you, and you can't ask a loan from a man you've kicked. Besides, I
think what you said may do her good.
IX. BREAKFAST IS MY BEST MEAL
Breakfast is my best meal, and I reckon it's always been
Ever since I was old enough to know what breakfast could mean.
I mind when we lived in the cabin out on the Illinoy,
Where father had took up a quarter-section when I was a boy,
I used to go for the cows as soon as it was light;
And when I started back home, before I come in sight,
I come in smell of the cabin, where mother was frying the
And boiling the coffee, that reached through the air like a mile
'N' I bet you I didn't wait to see what it was that the dog
Thought he'd got under the stump or inside o' the hollow log!
But I made the old cows canter till their hoof-joints
That dry, funny kind of a noise that the cows make when they go
And I never stopped to wash when I got to the cabin door;
I pulled up my chair and e't like I never had e't before.
And mother she set there and watched me eat, and eat, and eat,
Like as if she couldn't give her old eyes enough of the treat;
And she split the shortened biscuit, and spread the butter
And let it lay there and melt, and soak and soak itself in;
And she piled up my plate with potato and ham and eggs,
Till I couldn't hold any more, or hardly stand on my legs;
And she filled me up with coffee that would float an iron wedge,
And never give way a mite, or spill a drop at the edge.
What? Well, yes, this is good coffee, too. If they don't know
They do know how to make coffee, I will say that for these
But myoh, my! It ain't the kind of coffee my mother made,
And the coffee my wife used to make would throw it clear in the
And the brand of sugar-cured, canvased ham that she always used
Well, this Westphalia stuff would simply have made her amused!
That so, heigh? I saw that you was United States as soon
As ever I heard you talk; I reckon I know the tune!
Pick it out anywhere; and you understand how I feel
About these here foreign breakfasts: breakfast is my best meal.
My! but my wife was a cook; and the breakfasts she used to get
The first years we was married, I can smell 'em and taste 'em
Corn cake light as a feather, and buckwheat thin as lace
And crisp as cracklin'; and steak that you couldn't have the face
To compare any steak over here to; and chicken fried
Maryland styleI couldn't get through the bill if I tried.
And then, her waffles! My! She'd kind of slip in a few
Between the ham and the chickenyou know how women'll do
For a sort of little surprise, and, if I was running light,
To take my fancy and give an edge to my appetite.
Done it all herself as long as we was poor, and I tell you
She liked to see me eat as well as mother used to do;
I reckon she went ahead of mother some, if the truth was known,
And everything she touched she give a taste of her own.
She was a cook, I can tell you! And after we got ahead,
And she could 'a' had a girl to do the cookin' instead,
I had the greatest time to get Momma to leave the work;
She said it made her feel like a mis'able sneak and shirk.
She didn't want daughter, though, when we did begin to keep
To come in the kitchen and cook, and smell up her clo'es and
But you couldn't have stopped the child, whatever you tried to
I reckon the gift of the cookin' was born in Girly, too.
Cook she would from the first, and we just had to let her alone;
And after she got married, and had a house of her own,
She tried to make me feel, when I come to live with her,
Like it was my house, too; and I tell you she done it, sir!
She remembered that breakfast was my best meal, and she tried
To have all I used to have, and a good deal more beside;
Grape-fruit to begin with, or melons or peaches, at least
Husband's business took him there, and they had went to live
Then a Spanish macker'l, or a soft-shell crab on toast,
Or a broiled live lobster! Well, sir, I don't want to seem to
But I don't believe you could have got in the whole of New York
Any such an oyster fry or sausage of country pork.
Well, I don't know what-all it means; I always lived just so
Never drinked or smoked, and yet, here about two years ago,
I begun to run down; I ain't as young as I used to be;
And the doctors all said Carlsbad, and I reckon this is me.
But it's more like some one I've dreamt of, with all three of 'em
Believe in ghosts? Well, I do. I know there are
ghosts. I'm one.
Maybe I mayn't look itI was always inclined to fat;
The doctors say that's the trouble, and very likely it's that.
This is my little grandson, and this is the oldest one
Of Girly's girls; and for all that the whole of us said and done,
She must come with grandpa when the doctors sent me off here,
To see that they didn't starve him. Ain't that about so, my dear?
She can cook, I tell you; and when we get home again
We're goin' to have something to eat; I'm just a-livin'
But when I set here of a morning, and think of them that's gone
Mother and Momma and Girlywell, I wouldn't like to let on
Before the children, but I can almost seem to see
All of 'em lookin' down, like as if they pitied me,
After the breakfasts they give me, to have me have to put up
With nothing but bread and butter, and a little mis'able cup
Of this here weak-kneed coffee! I can't tell how you feel,
But it fairly makes me sick! Breakfast is my best meal.
X. THE MOTHER-BIRD
She wore around the turned-up brim of her bolero-like toque a band
of violets not so much in keeping with the gray of the austere November
day as with the blue of her faded autumnal eyes. Her eyes were
autumnal, but it was not from this, or from the lines of maturity
graven on the passing prettiness of her little face, that the notion
and the name of Mother-Bird suggested itself. She became known as the
Mother-Bird to the tender ironic fancy of the earliest, if not the
latest, of her friends, because she was slight and small, and like a
bird in her eager movements, and because she spoke so instantly and so
constantly of her children in Dresden: before you knew anything else of
her you knew that she was going out to them.
She was quite alone, and she gave the sense of claiming their
protection, and sheltering herself in the fact of them. When she
mentioned her daughters she had the effect of feeling herself
chaperoned by them. You could not go behind them and find her wanting
in the social guarantees which women on steamers, if not men, exact of
lonely birds of passage who are not mother-birds. One must respect the
convention by which she safeguarded herself and tried to make good her
standing; yet it did not lastingly avail her with other birds of
passage, so far as they were themselves mother-birds, or sometimes only
maiden-birds. The day had not ended before they began to hold her off
by slight liftings of their wings and rufflings of their feathers, by
quick, evasive flutterings, by subtle ignorances of her approach, which
convinced no one but themselves that they had not seen her. She sailed
with the sort of acquaintance-in-common which every one shares on a
ship leaving port, when people are confused by the kindness of friends
coming to see them off after sending baskets of fruit and sheaves of
flowers, and scarcely know what they are doing or saying. But when the
ship was abreast of Fire Island, and the pilot had gone over the side,
these provisional intimacies of the parting hour began to restrict
themselves. Then the Mother-Bird did not know half the women she had
known at the pier, or quite all the men.
It was not that she did anything obvious to forfeit this knowledge.
Her behavior was if anything too exemplary; it might be thought to form
a reproach to others. Perhaps it was the unseasonable band of violets
around her hat-brim; perhaps it was the vernal gaiety of her dress;
perhaps it was the uncertainty of her anxious eyes, which presumed
while they implored. A mother-bird must not hover too confidently, too
appealingly, near coveys whose preoccupations she does not share. It
might have been her looking and dressing younger than nature justified;
at forty one must not look thirty; in November one must not, even
involuntarily, wear the things of May if one would have others believe
in one's devotion to one's children in Dresden; one alleges in vain
one's impatience to join them as grounds for joining groups or detached
persons who have begun to write home to their children in New York or
The very readiness of the Mother-Bird to give security by the
mention of well-known names, to offer proof of her social solvency by
the eager correctness of her behavior, created reluctance around her.
Some would not have her at all from the first; others, who had
partially or conditionally accepted her, returned her upon her hands
and withdrew from the negotiation. More and more she found herself
outside that hard woman-world, and trying less and less to beat her way
The women may have known her better even than she knew herself, and
it may have been through ignorance greater than her own that the men
were more acquiescent. But the men too were not so acquiescent, or not
at all, as time passed.
It would be hard to fix the day, the hour, far harder the moment,
when the Mother-Bird began to disappear from the drawing-room and to
appear in the smoking-room, or say whether she passed from the one to
the other in a voluntary exile or by the rigor of the women's unwritten
law. Still, from time to time she was seen in their part of the ship,
after she was also seen where the band of violets showed strange and
sad through veils of smoke that were not dense enough to hide her poor,
pretty little face, with its faded blue eyes and wistful mouth. There
she passed by quick transition from the conversation of the graver
elderly smokers to the loud laughter of two birds of prey who became
her comrades, or such friends as birds like them can be to birds like
From anything she had said or done there was no reason for her lapse
from the women and the better men to such men; for her transition from
the better sort of women there was no reason except that it happened.
Whether she attached herself to the birds of prey, or they to her, by
that instinct which enables birds of all kinds to know themselves of a
feather remained a touching question.
There remained to the end the question whether she was of a feather
with them, or whether it was by some mischance, or by some such stress
of the elements as drives birds of any feather to flock with birds of
any other. To the end there remained a distracted and forsaken
innocence in her looks. It was imaginable that she had made overtures
to the birds of prey because she had made overtures to every one else;
she was always seeking rather than sought, and her acceptance with them
was as deplorable as her refusal by better birds. Often they were seen
without her, when they had that look of having escaped, which others
wore; but she was not often seen without them.
There is not much walking-weather on a November passage, and she was
seen less with them in the early dark outdoors than in the late light
within, by which she wavered a small form through the haze of their
cigars in the smoking-room, or in the grill-room, where she showed in
faint eclipse through the fumes of the broiling and frying, or through
the vapors of the hot whiskies. The birds of prey were then heard
laughing, but whether at her or with her it must have been equally
sorrowful to learn.
Perhaps they were laughing at the maternal fondness which she had
used for introduction to the general acquaintance lost almost in the
moment of winning it. She seemed not to resent their laughter, though
she seemed not to join in it. The worst of her was the company she
kept; but since no better would allow her to keep it, you could not
confidently say she would not have liked the best company on board. At
the same time you could not have said she would; you could not have
been sure it would not have bored her. Doubtless these results are not
solely the sport of chance; they must be somewhat the event of choice
if not of desert.
For anything you could have sworn, the Mother-Bird would have liked
to be as good as the best. But since it was not possible for her to be
good in the society of the best, she could only be good in that of the
worst. It was to be hoped that the birds of prey were not cruel to her;
that their mockery was never unkind if ever it was mockery. The cruelty
which must come came when they began to be seen less and less with her,
even at the late suppers, through the haze of their cigars and the
smoke of the broiling and frying, and the vapors of the hot whiskies.
Then it was the sharpest pang of all to meet her wandering up and down
the ship's promenades, or leaning on the rail and looking dimly out
over the foam-whitened black sea. It is the necessity of birds of prey
to get rid of other birds when they are tired of them, and it had
doubtless come to that.
One night, the night before getting into port, when the curiosity
which always followed her with grief failed of her in the heightened
hilarity of the smoking-room, where the last bets on the ship's run
were making, it found her alone beside a little iron table, of those
set in certain nooks outside the grill-room. There she sat with no one
near, where the light from within fell palely upon her. The boon birds
of prey, with whom she had been supping, had abandoned her, and she was
supporting her cheek on the small hand of the arm that rested on the
table. She leaned forward, and swayed with the swaying ship; the
violets in her bolero-toque quivered with the vibrations of the
machinery. She was asleep, poor Mother-Bird, and it would have been
impossible not to wish her dreams were kind.
XI. THE AMIGO
His name was really Perez Armando Aldeano, but in the end everybody
called him the amigo, because that was the endearing term by
which he saluted all the world. There was a time when the children
called him Span-yard in their games, for he spoke no tongue but
Spanish, and though he came from Ecuador, and was no more a Spaniard
than they were English, he answered to the call of Span-yard!
whenever he heard it. He came eagerly in the hope of fun, and all the
more eagerly if there was a hope of mischief in the fun. Still, to
discerning spirits, he was always the amigo, for, when he hailed
you so, you could not help hailing him so again, and whatever mock he
put upon you afterward, you were his secret and inalienable friend.
The moment of my own acceptance in this quality came in the first
hours of expansion following our getting to sea after long detention in
the dock by fog. A small figure came flying down the dock with
outspread arms, and a joyful cry of Ah, amigo! as if we were
now meeting unexpectedly after a former intimacy in Bogotá; and the
amigo clasped me round the middle to his bosom, or more strictly
speaking, his brow, which he plunged into my waistcoat. He was clad in
a long black overcoat, and a boy's knee-pants, and under the peak of
his cap twinkled the merriest black eyes that ever lighted up a smiling
face of olive hue. Thereafter, he was more and more, with the thinness
of his small black legs, and his habit of hopping up and down, and
dancing threateningly about, with mischief latent in every motion, like
a crow which in being tamed has acquired one of the worst traits of
civilization. He began babbling and gurgling in Spanish, and took my
hand for a stroll about the ship, and from that time we were, with
certain crises of disaffection, firm allies.
There were others whom he hailed and adopted his friends, whose legs
he clung about and impeded in their walks, or whom he required to toss
him into the air as they passed, but I flattered myself that he had a
peculiar, because a primary, esteem for myself. I have thought it might
be that, Bogotá being said to be a very literary capital, as those
things go in South America, he was mystically aware of a common ground
between us, wider and deeper than that of his other friendships. But it
may have been somewhat owing to my inviting him to my cabin to choose
such portion as he would of a lady-cake sent us on shipboard at the
last hour. He prattled and chuckled over it in the soft gutturals of
his parrot-like Spanish, and rushed up on deck to eat the frosting off
in the presence of his small companions, and to exult before them in
the exploitation of a novel pleasure. Yet it could not have been the
lady-cake which lastingly endeared me to him, for by the next day he
had learned prudence and refused it without withdrawing his amity.
This, indeed, was always tempered by what seemed a constitutional
irony, and he did not impart it to any one without some time making his
friend feel the edge of his practical humor. It was not long before the
children whom he gathered to his heart had each and all suffered some
fall or bump or bruise which, if not of his intention, was of his
infliction, and which was regretted with such winning archness that the
very mothers of them could not resist him, and his victims dried their
tears to follow him with glad cries of Span-yard, Span-yard! Injury
at his hands was a favor; neglect was the only real grievance. He went
about rolling his small black head, and darting roguish lightnings from
under his thick-fringed eyes, and making more trouble with a more
enticing gaiety than all the other people on the ship put together.
The truth must be owned that the time came, long before the end of
the voyage, when it was felt that in the interest of the common
welfare, something must be done about the amigo. At the
conversational end of the doctor's table, where he was discussed
whenever the racks were not on, and the talk might have languished
without their inspiration, his badness was debated at every meal. Some
declared him the worst boy in the world, and held against his
half-hearted defenders that something ought to be done about him; and
one was left to imagine all the darker fate for him because there was
nothing specific in these convictions. He could not be thrown
overboard, and if he had been put in irons probably his worst enemies
at the conversational end of the table would have been the first to
intercede for him. It is not certain, however, that their prayers would
have been effective with the captain, if that officer, framed for
comfort as well as command, could have known how accurately the
amigo had dramatized his personal presence by throwing himself
back, and clasping his hands a foot in front of his small stomach, and
making a few tilting paces forward.
The amigo had a mimic gift which he liked to exercise when he
could find no intelligible language for the expression of his ironic
spirit. Being forbidden visits in and out of season to certain
staterooms whose inmates feigned a wish to sleep, he represented in
what grotesque attitudes of sonorous slumber they passed their day, and
he spared neither age nor sex in these graphic shows. When age refused
one day to go up on deck with him and pleaded in such Spanish as it
could pluck up from its past studies that it was too old, he laughed it
to scorn. You are not old, he said. Why? the flattered dotard
inquired. Because you smile, and that seemed reason enough for one's
continued youth. It was then that the amigo gave his own age,
carefully telling the Spanish numerals over, and explaining further by
holding up both hands with one finger shut in. But he had the subtlety
of centuries in his nine years, and he penetrated the ship everywhere
with his arch spirit of mischief. It was mischief always in the
interest of the good-fellowship which he offered impartially to old and
young; and if it were mere frolic, with no ulterior object, he did not
care at all how old or young his playmate was. This endeared him
naturally to every age; and the little blond German-American boy dried
his tears from the last accident inflicted on him by the amigo
to recall him by tender entreaties of Span-yard, Span-yard! while the
eldest of his friends could not hold out against him more than two days
in the strained relations following upon the amigo's sweeping
him down the back with a toy broom employed by the German-American boy
to scrub the scuppers. This was not so much an injury as an indignity,
but it was resented as an indignity, in spite of many demure glances of
propitiation from the amigo's ironical eyes and murmurs of
inarticulate apology as he passed.
He was, up to a certain point, the kindest and truest of amigos
; then his weird seizure came, and the baby was spilled out of the
carriage he had been so benevolently pushing up and down; or the second
officer's legs, as he walked past with the prettiest girl on board,
were hit with the stick that the amigo had been innocently
playing shuffle-board with; or some passenger was taken unawares in his
vanity or infirmity and made to contribute to the amigo's
passion for active amusement.
At this point I ought to explain that the amigo was not
traveling alone from Ecuador to Paris, where it was said he was to
rejoin his father. At meal-times, and at other rare intervals, he was
seen to be in the charge of a very dark and very silent little man,
with intensely black eyes and mustache, clad in raven hues from his
head to the delicate feet on which he wore patent-leather shoes. With
him the amigo walked gravely up and down the deck, and behaved
decorously at table; and we could not reconcile the apparent affection
between the two with a theory we had that the amigo had been
found impossible in his own country, and had been sent out of Ecuador
by a decree of the government, or perhaps a vote of the whole people.
The little, dark, silent man, in his patent-leather boots, had not the
air of conveying a state prisoner into exile, and we wondered in vain
what the tie between him and the amigo was. He might have been
his tutor, or his uncle. He exercised a quite mystical control over the
amigo, who was exactly obedient to him in everything, and would not
look aside at you when in his keeping. We reflected with awe and pathos
that, as they roomed together, it was his privilege to see the amigo
asleep, when that little, very kissable black head rested innocently on
the pillow, and the busy brain within it was at peace with the world
which formed its pleasure and its prey in waking.
It would be idle to represent that the amigo played his
pranks upon that shipload of long-suffering people with final impunity.
The time came when they not only said something must be done, but
actually did something. It was by the hand of one of the amigo's
sweetest and kindest friends, namely, that elderly captain, off duty,
who was going out to be assigned his ship in Hamburg. From the first he
had shown the affectionate tenderness for the amigo which was
felt by all except some obdurate hearts at the conversational end of
the table; and it must have been with a loving interest in the
amigo's ultimate well-being that, taking him in an ecstasy of
mischief, he drew the amigo face downward across his knees, and
bestowed the chastisement which was morally a caress. He dismissed him
with a smile in which the amigo read the good understanding that
existed unimpaired between them, and accepted his correction with the
same affection as that which had given it. He shook himself and ran off
with an enjoyment of the joke as great as that of any of the spectators
and far more generous.
In fact there was nothing mean in the amigo. Impish he was,
or might be, but only in the sort of the crow or the parrot; there was
no malevolence in his fine malice. One fancied him in his adolescence
taking part in one of the frequent revolutions of his continent, but
humorously, not homicidally. He would like to alarm the other faction,
and perhaps drive it from power, or overset it from its official place,
but if he had the say there would be no bringing the vanquished out
into the plaza to be shot. He may now have been on his way to France
ultimately to study medicine, which seems to be preliminary to a high
political career in South America; but in the mean time we feared for
him in that republic of severely regulated subordinations.
We thought with pathos of our early parting with him, as we
approached Plymouth and tried to be kodaked with him, considering it an
honor and pleasure. He so far shared our feeling as to consent, but he
insisted on wearing a pair of glasses which had large eyes painted on
them, and on being taken in the act of inflating a toy balloon.
Probably, therefore, the likeness would not be recognized in Bogotá,
but it will always be endeared to us by the memory of the many
mockeries suffered from him. There were other friends whom we left on
the ship, notably those of the conversational end of the table, who
thought him simply a bad boy; but there were none of such peculiar
appeal as he, when he stood by the guard, opening and shutting his hand
in ironical adieu, and looking smaller and smaller as our tender
drifted away and the vast liner loomed immense before us. He may have
contributed to its effect of immensity by the smallness of his
presence, or it may have dwarfed him. No matter; he filled no slight
space in our lives while he lasted. Now that he is no longer there, was
he really a bad little boy, merely and simply? Heaven knows, which
alone knows good boys from bad.
XII. BLACK CROSS FARM
(To F. S.)
After full many a mutual delay
My friend and I at last fixed on a day
For seeing Black Cross Farm, which he had long
Boasted the fittest theme for tale or song
In all that charming region round about:
Something that must not really be left out
Of the account of things to do for me.
It was a teasing bit of mystery,
He said, which he and his had tried in vain,
Ever since they had found it, to explain.
The right way was to happen, as they did,
Upon it in the hills where it was hid;
But chance could not be always trusted, quite,
You might not happen on it, though you might;
Encores were usually objected to
By chance. The next best thing that we could do
Was in his carryall, to start together,
And trust that somehow favoring wind and weather,
With the eccentric progress of his horse,
Would so far drift us from our settled course
That we at least could lose ourselves, if not
Find the mysterious object that we sought.
So one blithe morning of the ripe July
We fared, by easy stages, toward the sky
That rested one rim of its turquoise cup
Low on the distant sea, and, tilted up,
The other on the irregular hilltops. Sweet
The sun and wind that joined to cool and heat
The air to one delicious temperature;
And over the smooth-cropt mowing-pieces pure
The pine-breath, borrowing their spicy scent
In barter for the balsam that it lent!
And when my friend handed the reins to me,
And drew a fuming match along his knee,
And, lighting his cigar, began to talk,
I let the old horse lapse into a walk
From his perfunctory trot, content to listen,
Amid that leafy rustle and that glisten
Of field, and wood, and ocean, rapt afar,
From every trouble of our anxious star.
From time to time, between effect and cause
In this or that, making a questioning pause,
My friend peered round him while he feigned a gay
Hope that we might have taken the wrong way
At the last turn, and then let me push on,
Or the old horse rather, slanting hither and yon,
And never in the middle of the track,
Except when slanting off or slanting back.
He talked, I listened, while we wandered by
The scanty fields of wheat and oats and rye,
With patches of potatoes and of corn,
And now and then a garden spot forlorn,
Run wild where once a house had stood, or where
An empty house yet stood, and seemed to stare
Upon us blindly from the twisted glass
Of windows that once let no wayfarer pass
Unseen of children dancing at the pane,
And vanishing to reappear again,
Pulling their mother with them to the sight.
Still we kept on, with turnings left and right,
Past farmsteads grouped in cheerful neighborhoods,
Or solitary; then through shadowy woods
Of pine or birch, until the road, grass-grown,
Had given back to Nature all her own
Save a faint wheel-trace, that along the slope,
Rain-gullied, seemed to stop and doubt and grope,
And then quite ceased, as if 't had turned and fled
Out of the forest into which it led,
And left us at the gate whose every bar
Was nailed against us. But, Oh, here we are!
My friend cried joyously. At last, at last!
And making our horse superfluously fast,
He led the way onward by what had been
A lane, now hid by weeds and briers between
Meadows scarce worth the mowing, to a space
Shaped as by Nature for the dwelling-place
Of kindly human life: a small plateau
Open to the heaven that seemed bending low
In liking for it. There beneath a roof
Still against winter and summer weather-proof,
With walls and doors and windows perfect yet,
Between its garden and its graveyard set,
Stood the old homestead, out of which had perished
The home whose memory it dumbly cherished,
And which, when at our push the door swung wide,
We might have well imagined to have died
And had its funeral the day before:
So clean and cold it was from floor to floor,
So lifelike and so deathlike, with the thrill
Of hours when life and death encountered still
Passionate in it. They that lay below
The tangled grasses or the drifted snow,
Husband and wife, mother and little one,
From that sad house less utterly were gone
Than they that living had abandoned it.
In moonless nights their Absences might flit,
Homesick, from room to room, or dimly sit
Around its fireless hearths, or haunt the rose
And lily in the neglected garden close;
But they whose feet had borne them from the door
Would pass the footworn threshold nevermore.
We read the moss-grown names upon the tombs,
With lighter melancholy than the glooms
Of the dead house shadowed us with, and thence
Turning, my heart was pierced with more intense
Suggestion of a mystical dismay,
As in the brilliance of the summer day
We faced the vast gray barn. The house was old,
Though so well kept, as age by years is told
In our young land; but the barn, gray and vast,
Stood new and straight and strongall battened fast
At every opening; and where once the mow
Had yawned wide-windowed, on the sheathing now
A Cross was nailed, the bigness of a man,
Aslant from left to right, athwart the span,
And painted black as paint could make it. Hushed,
I stood, while manifold conjecture rushed
To this point and to that point, and then burst
In the impotent questionings rejected first.
What did it mean? Ah, that no one could tell.
Who put it there? That was unknown as well.
Was there no legend? My friend knew of none.
No neighborhood story? He had sought for one
In vain. Did he imagine it accident,
With nothing really implied or meant
By the boards set in that way? It might be,
But I could answer that as well as he.
Then (desperately) what did he guess it was:
Something of purpose, or without a cause
Other than chance? He slowly shook his head,
And with his gaze fixed on the symbol said:
We have quite ceased from guessing or surmising,
For all our several and joint devising
Has left us finally where I must leave you.
But now I think it is your part to do
Yourself some guessing. I hoped you might bring
A fresh mind to the riddle's unraveling.
And thus challenged I could not deny
The sort of right he had to have me try;
And yielding, I beganinstinctively
Proceeding by exclusion: We agree
It was not put there as a pious charm
To keep the abandoned property from harm?
The owner could have been no Catholic;
And yet it was no sacrilegious trick
To make folks wonder; and it was not chance
Assuredly that set those boards askance
In that shape, or before or after, so
Painted them to that coloring of woe.
Do you suppose, then, that it could have been
Some secret sorrow or some secret sin,
That tried to utter or to expiate
Itself in that way: some unhappy hate
Turned to remorse, or some life-rending grief
That could not find in years or tears relief?
Who lived here last?
Ah, my friend made reply,
You know as much concerning that as I.
All I could tell is what those gravestones tell,
And they have told it all to you as well.
The names, the dates, the curious epitaphs
At whose quaint phrase one either sighs or laughs,
Just as one's heart or head happens to be
Hollow or not, are there for each to see.
But I believe they have nothing to reveal:
No wrong to publish, no shame to conceal.
And yet that Cross! I turned at his reply,
Fixing the silent symbol with my eye,
Insistently. And you consent, I said,
To leave the enigma uninterpreted?
Why, no, he faltered, then went on: Suppose
That some one that had known the average woes
Of human nature, finding that the load
Was overheavy for him on life's road,
Had wished to leave some token in this Cross,
Of what had been his gain and been his loss,
Of what had been his suffering and of what
Had also been the solace of his lot?
Whoever that unknown brother-man might be,
I think he must have been like you and me,
Who bear our Cross, and when we fail at length,
Bow down and pray to it for greater strength.
I mused, and as I mused, I seemed to find
The fancy more and still more to my mind.
Well, let it go at that! I think, for me,
I like that better than some tragedy
Of clearer physiognomy, which were
In being more definite the vulgarer.
For us, what, after all, would be the gain
Of making the elusive meaning plain?
I really think, if I were you and yours,
I would not lift the veil that now obscures
The appealing fact, lest I should spoil the charm
Deeding me for my own the Black Cross Farm.
A good suggestion! I am glad, said he,
We have always practised your philosophy.
He smiled, we laughed; we sighed and turned away,
And left the mystery to the summer day
That made as if it understood, and could
Have read the riddle to us if it would:
The wide, wise sky, the clouds that on the grass
Let their vague shadows dreamlike trail and pass;
The conscious woods, the stony meadows growing
Up to birch pastures, where we heard the lowing
Of one disconsolate cow. All the warm afternoon,
Lulled in a reverie by the myriad tune
Of insects, and the chirp of songless birds,
Forgetful of the spring-time's lyric words,
Drowsed round us while we tried to find the lane
That to our coming feet had been so plain,
And lost ourselves among the sweetfern's growth,
And thickets of young pine-trees, nothing loath,
Amidst the wilding loveliness to stray,
And spend, if need were, looking for the way,
Whole hours; but blundered into the right course
Suddenly, and came out upon our horse,
Where we had left himto our great surprise,
Stamping and switching at the pestering flies,
But not apparently anxious to depart,
When nearly overturning at the start,
We followed down that evanescent trace
Which, followed up, had brought us to the place.
Then, all the wayside scenes reversing, we
Dropped to the glimpses of the distant sea,
Content as if we brought, returning thus,
The secret of the Black Cross back with us.
XIII. THE CRITICAL BOOKSTORE
It had long been the notion of Frederick Erlcort, who held it
playfully, held it seriously, according to the company he was in, that
there might be a censorship of taste and conscience in literary matters
strictly affiliated with the retail commerce in books. When he first
began to propose it, playfully, seriously, as his listener chose, he
said that he had noticed how in the great department stores where
nearly everything to supply human need was sold, the shopmen and
shopwomen seemed instructed by the ownership or the management to deal
in absolute good faith with the customers, and not to misrepresent the
quality, the make, or the material of any article in the slightest
degree. A thing was not to be called silk or wool when it was partly
cotton; it was not to be said that it would wash when it would not
wash, or that the color would not come off when it would come off, or
that the stuff was English or French when it was American.
When Erlcort once noted his interest in the fact to a floor-walker
whom he happened to find at leisure, the floor-walker said, Yes, that
was so; and the house did it because it was business, good business,
the only good business. He was instantly enthusiastic, and he said that
just in the same way, as an extension of its good faith with the
public, the house had established the rule of taking back any article
which a customer did not like, or did not find what she had supposed
when she got it home, and refunding the money. This was the best sort
of business; it held custom; the woman became a customer for life. The
floor-walker laughed, and after he had told an anxious applicant,
Second aisle to the left, lady; three counters back, he concluded to
Erlcort, I say she because a man never brings a thing back when he's
made a mistake; but a woman can always blame it on the house. That so?
Erlcort laughed with him, and in going out he stopped at the
book-counter. Rather it was a bookstore, and no small one, with ranks
of new books covering the large tables and mounting to their level from
the floor, neatly piled, and with shelves of complete editions and
soberer-looking volumes stretching along the wall as high as the
ceiling. Do you happen to have a good booka book that would read
good, I meanin your stock here? he asked the neat blonde behind the
Well, here's a book that a good many are reading, she answered,
with prompt interest and a smile that told in the book's favor; it was
a protectingly filial and guardedly ladylike smile.
Yes, but is it a book worth readingworth the money?
Well, I don't know as I'm a judge, the kind little blonde replied.
She added, daringly, All I can say is, I set up till two last night to
And you advise me to buy it?
Well, we're not allowed to do that, exactly. I can only tell you
what I know.
But if I take it, and it isn't what I expected, I can return it and
get my money back?
That's something I never was asked before. Mr. Jeffers! Mr.
Jeffers! she called to a floor-walker passing near; and when he
stopped and came up to the counter, she put the case to him.
He took the book from Erlcort's hand and examined the outside of it
curiously if not critically. Then he looked from it to Erlcort, and
said, Oh, how do you do again! Well, no, sir; I don't know as we could
do that. You see, you would have to read it to find out that you didn't
want it, and that would be like using or wearing an article, wouldn't
it? We couldn't take back a thing that had been used or wornheigh?
But you might have some means of knowing whether a book is good or
Well, yes, we might. That's a point we have never had raised
before. Miss Prittiman, haven't we any means of knowing whether a
book's something we can guarantee or not?
Well, Mr. Jeffers, there's the publisher's advertisement.
Why, yes, so there is! And a respectable publisher wouldn't indorse
a book that wasn't the genuine article, would he now, sir?
He mightn't, Erlcort said, as if he felt the force of the
And there are the notices in the newspapers. They ought to tell,
Miss Prittiman added, more convincingly. I don't know, she said, as
from a sensitive conscience, whether there have been any about this
book yet, but I should think there would be.
And in the mean time, as you won't guarantee the book so that I can
bring it back and get my money if I find it worthless, I must accept
the publisher's word? Erlcort pressed further.
I should think you could do that, the floor-walker suggested, with
the appearance of being tired.
Well, I think I will, for once, Erlcort relented. But wait! What
does the publisher say?
It's all printed on this slip inside, the blonde said, and she
showed it as she took the book from him. Shall I send it? Or will
No, no, thank you, I'll take it with me. Let me
He kept the printed slip and began to read it. The blonde wrapped
the book up and laid it with a half-dollar in change on the counter
before Erlcort. The floor-walker went away; Erlcort heard him saying,
No, madam; toys on the fifth floor, at the extreme rear, left, while
he lost himself in the glowing promises of the publisher. It appeared
that the book he had just bought was by a perfectly new author, an old
lady of seventy who had never written a novel before, and might
therefore be trusted for an entire freshness of thought and feeling.
The plot was of a gripping intensity; the characters were painted with
large, bold strokes, and were of an unexampled virility; the story was
packed with passion from cover to cover; and the reader would be held
breathless by the author's skill in working from the tragic conditions
to an all-round happy conclusion.
From time to time Erlcort heard the gentle blonde saying such things
as, Oh yes; it's the best-seller, all right, and, All I can say is I
set up till two o'clock in the morning to finish it, and, Yes, ma'am;
it's by a new writer; a very old lady of seventy who is just beginning
to write; well, that's what I heard.
On his way up-town in the Subway he clung to the wonted strap,
unsupported by anything in the romance which he had bought; and yet he
could not take the book back and get his money, or even exchange it for
some article of neckwear or footwear. In his extremity he thought he
would try giving it to the trainman just before he reached his stop.
You want to give it to me? Well, that's something that never
happened to me on this line before. I guess my wife will like
it. I1009th Street! Change for East Brooklyn and the Bronx!
the guard shouted, and he let Erlcort out of the car, the very first of
the tide that spilled itself forth at the station. He called after him,
Do as much for you some time.
The incident first amused Erlcort, and then it began to trouble him;
but he appeased his remorse by toying with his old notion of a critical
bookstore. His mind was still at play with it when he stopped at the
bell-pull of an elderly girl of his acquaintance who had a studio ten
stories above, and the habit of giving him afternoon tea in it if he
called there about five o'clock. She had her ugly painting-apron still
on, and her thumb through the hole in her palette, when she opened her
door to him.
Too soon? he asked.
She answered as well as she could with the brush held horizontally
in her mouth while she glared inhospitably at him. Well, not much,
and then she let him in, and went and lighted her spirit-lamp.
He began at once to tell her of his strange experience, and went on
till she said: Well, there's your tea. I don't know what you've
been driving at, but I suppose you do. Is it the old thing?
It's my critical bookstore, if that's what you call the old thing.
Oh! That! I thought it had failed 'way back in the dark
The dark ages are not back, please; they're all 'round, and
you know very well that my critical bookstore has never been tried yet.
But tell me one thing: should you wish to live with a picture, even for
a few hours, which had been painted by an old lady of seventy who had
never tried to paint before?
If I intended to go crazy, yes. What has all that got to do with
That's the joint commendation of the publisher and the kind little
blonde who united to sell me the book I just gave to that poor Subway
trainman. Do you ever buy a new book?
No; I always borrow an old one.
But if you had to buy a new one, wouldn't you like to know
of a place where you could be sure of getting a good one?
I shouldn't mind. Or, yes, I should, rather. Where's it to be?
Oh, I know. I've had my eye on the place for a good while. It's a
funny old place in Sixth Avenue
Don't interruptwhere the dearest old codger in the world is just
going out of the house-furnishing business in a small way. It's kept
getting smaller and smallerI've watched it shrinktill now it can't
stand up against the big shops, and the old codger told me the other
day that it was no use.
No. He's not badly off, and he's going back up-state where he came
from about forty years ago, and he can liveor dievery well on what
he's put by. I've known him rather a good while, and we've been friends
ever since we've been acquainted.
Go on, the elderly girl said.
Erlcort was not stopping, but she spoke so as to close her mouth,
which she was apt to let hang open in a way that she did not like; she
had her intimates pledged to tell her when she was doing it, but she
could not make a man promise, and she had to look after her mouth
herself with Erlcort. It was not a bad mouth; her eyes were large, and
it was merely large to match them.
When shall you beginopen shop? she asked.
My old codger's lease expires in the fall, he answered, but he
would be glad to have me take it off his hands this spring. I could
give the summer to changing and decorating, and begin my campaign in
the fallthe first of October, say. Wouldn't you like to come some day
and see the old place?
I should love it. But you're not supposing I shall be of the least
use, I hope? I'm not decorational, you know. Easel pictures, and small
ones at that.
Of course. But you are a woman, and have ideas of the cozy. I mean
that the place shall be made attractive.
Do you think the situation will beon Sixth Avenue?
It will be quaint. It's in a retarded region of low buildings, with
a carpenter's shop two doors off. The L roars overhead and the surface
cars squeal before, but that is New York, you know, and it's very
central. Besides, at the back of the shop, with the front door shut, it
is very quiet.
The next day the friends lunched together at an Italian restaurant
very near the place, and rather hurried themselves away to the old
He is a dear, Margaret whispered to Erlcort in following
him about to see the advantages of the place.
Oh, mine's setting-hen's time, he justified his hospitality in
finally asking them to take seats on a nail-keg apiece. You mustn't
think you're interruptin'. Look 'round all ye want to, or set down and
That would be a good motto for your bookstore, she screamed to
Erlcort, when they got out into the roar of the avenue. 'Look 'round
all ye want to, or set down and rest ye.' Wasn't he sweet? And I don't
wonder you're taken with the place: it has such capabilities.
You might as well begin imagining how you will arrange it.
They were walking involuntarily up the avenue, and when they came to
the Park they went into it, and in the excitement of their planning
they went as far as the Ramble, where they sat down on a bench and
disappointed some squirrels who supposed they had brought peanuts with
They decided that the front of the shop should be elaborately
simple; perhaps the door should be painted black, with a small-paned
sash and a heavy brass latch. On each side should be a small-paned
show-window, with books laid inside on an inclined shelving; on the
door should be a modest bronze plate, reading, The Critical
Bookstore. They rejected shop as an affectation, and they
hooted the notion of Ye Critical Bookstore as altogether loathsome.
The door and window would be in a rather belated taste, but the
beautiful is never out of date, and black paint and small panes might
be found rococo in their old-fashionedness now. There should be a
fireplace, or perhaps a Franklin stove, at the rear of the room, with a
high-shouldered, small-paned sash on each side letting in the light
from the yard of the carpenter-shop. On the chimneypiece should be
lettered, Look 'round all ye want to, or set down and rest ye.
The genius of the place should be a refined hospitality, such as the
gentle old codger had practised with them, and to facilitate this there
should be a pair of high-backed settles, one under each window. The
book-counter should stretch the whole length of the store, and at
intervals beside it, against the book-shelving, should be set
old-fashioned chairs, but not too old-fashioned. Against the lower
book-shelves on a deeper shelf might be stood against the books a few
sketches in water-color, or even oil.
This was Margaret Green's idea.
And would you guarantee the quality? Erlcort asked.
Perhaps they wouldn't be for sale, though if any one insisted
I see. Well, pass the sketches. What else?
Well, a few little figures in plaster, or even marble or bronze,
very Greek, or very American; things in low relief.
Pass the little figures and low reliefs. But don't forget it's a
Oh, I won't. The sketches of all kinds would be strictly
subordinated to the books. If I had a tea-room handy here, with a table
and the backs of some menus to draw on, I could show you just how it
What's the matter with the Casino?
Nothing; only it's rather early for tea yet.
It isn't for soda-lemonade.
She set him the example of instantly rising, and led the way back
along the lake to the Casino, resting at that afternoon hour among its
spring flowers and blossoms innocent of its lurid after-dark
frequentation. He got some paper from the waiter who came to take their
order. She began to draw rapidly, and by the time the waiter came again
she was giving Erlcort the last scrap of paper.
Well, he said, I had no idea that I had imagined anything so
charming! If this critical bookstore doesn't succeed, it'll be because
there are no critics. But whatwhat are these little things hung
against the partitions of the shelves?
Ohmirrors. Little round ones.
But why mirrors of any shape?
Nothing; only people like to see themselves in a glass of any
shape. And when, Margaret added, in a burst of candor, a woman looks
up and sees herself with a book in her hand, she will feel so
intellectual she will never put it down. She will buy it.
Margaret Green, this is immoral. Strike out those mirrors, or I
will smash them every one!
Oh, very well! she said, and she rubbed them out with the top of
her pencil. If you want your place a howling wilderness.
He looked at the ruin her rubber had wrought. They were
rather nice. Couldcould you rub them in again?
Not if I tried a hundred years. Besides, they were rather
impudent. What time is it?
No time at all. It's half-past three.
Dear me! I must be going. And if you're really going to start that
precious critical bookstore in the fall, you must begin work on it
Reading up for it. If you're going to guarantee the books, you must
know what's in them, mustn't you?
He realized that he must do what she said; he must know from his own
knowledge what was in the books he offered for sale, and he began
reading, or reading at, the new books immediately. He was a good
deal occupied by day with the arrangement of his store, though he left
it mainly with the lively young decorator who undertook for a lump sum
to realize Margaret Green's ideas. It was at night that he did most of
his reading in the spring books which the publishers were willing to
send him gratis, when they understood he was going to open a bookstore,
and only wanted sample copies. As long as she remained in town Margaret
Green helped him read, and they talked the books over, and mostly
rejected them. By the time she went to Europe in August with another
elderly girl they had not chosen more than eight or ten books; but they
hoped for better things in the fall.
Word of what he was doing had gone out from Margaret, and a great
many women of their rather esthetic circle began writing to him about
the books they were reading, and commending them to him or warning him
against them. The circle of his volunteer associates enlarged itself in
the nature of an endless chain, and before society quite broke up for
the summer a Sympathetic Tea was offered to Erlcort by a Leading
Society Woman at the Intellectual Club, where he was invited to address
the Intellectuals in explanation of his project. This was before
Margaret sailed, and he hurried to her in horror.
Why, of course you must accept. You're not going to hide your
Critical Bookstore under a bushel; you can't have too much publicity.
The Leading Society Woman flowed in fulsome gratitude at his
acceptance, and promised no one but the club should be there; he had
hinted his reluctance. She kept her promise, but among the
Intellectuals there was a girl who was a just beginning journalist, and
who pumped Erlcort's whole scheme out of him, unsuspicious of what she
was doing, till he saw it all, with his picture, in the Sunday
Supplement. She rightly judged that the intimacy of an interview would
be more popular with her readers than the cold and distant report of
his formal address, which she must give, though she received it so
ardently with all the other Intellectuals. They flocked flatteringly,
almost suffocatingly, around him at the end. His scheme was just what
every one had vaguely thought of: something must be done to stem the
tide of worthless fiction, which was so often shocking as well as
silly, and they would only be too glad to help read for him. They were
nearly all just going to sail, but they would each take a spring book
on the ship, and write him about it from the other side; they would
each get a fall book coming home, and report as soon as they got back.
His scheme was discussed seriously and satirically by the press; it
became a joke with many papers, and a byword quickly worn out, so that
people thought that it had been dropped. But Erlcort gave his days and
nights to preparation for his autumnal campaign. He studied in careful
comparison the reviews of the different literary authorities, and was a
little surprised to find, when he came to read the books they reviewed,
how honest and adequate they often were. He was obliged to own to
himself that if people were guided by them, few worthless books would
be sold, and he decided that the immense majority of the book-buyers
were not guided by the critics. The publishers themselves seemed not so
much to blame when he went to see them and explained his wish to deal
with them on the basis of a critical bookseller. They said they wished
all the booksellers were like him, for they would ask nothing better
than to publish only good books. The trouble, they said, lay with the
authors; they wrote such worthless books. Or if now and then one of
them did write a good book and they were over-tempted to publish it,
the public united in refusing to buy it. So he saw? But if the
booksellers persisted in selling none but good books, perhaps something
might be done. At any rate they would like to see the experiment tried.
Erlcort felt obliged to read the books suggested to him by the
endless chain of readers who volunteered to read for him, on both sides
of the ocean, or going and coming on the ocean. Mostly the books they
praised were abject rubbish, but it took time to find this out, and he
formed the habit of reading far into the night, and if he was very much
vexed at discovering that the book recommended to him was trash, he
could not sleep unless he took veronal, and then he had a ghastly next
He did not go out of town except for a few brief sojourns at places
where he knew cultivated people were staying, and could give him their
opinions of the books he was reading. When the publishers began, as
they had agreed, to send him their advance sheets, the stitched but
unbound volumes roused so much interest by the novelty of their form
that his readers could not give an undivided attention to their
contents. He foresaw that in the end he should have to rely upon the
taste of mercenaries in his warfare against rubbish, and more and more
he found it necessary to expend himself in it, to read at second hand
as well as at first. His greatest relief was in returning to town and
watching the magical changes which the decorator was working in his
store. This was consolation, this was inspiration, but he longed for
the return of Margaret Green, that she might help him enjoy the
realization of her ideas in the equipment of the place; and he held the
decorator to the most slavish obedience through the carpenters and
painters who created at his bidding a miraculous interior, all white,
or just off-white, such as had never been imagined of a bookstore in
New York before. It was actually ready by the end of August, though
smelling a little of turpentine still, and Erlcort, letting himself in
at the small-paned black door, and ranging up and down the long,
beautiful room, and round and round the central book-table, and in and
out between the side tables, under the soft, bright shelving of the
walls, could hardly wait the arrival of the Minnedingdong in
which the elderly girl had taken her passage back. One day, ten days
ahead of time, she blew in at the front door in a paroxysm of
explanation; she had swapped passages home with another girl who wanted
to come back later, while she herself wanted to come back earlier. She
had no very convincing reason for this as she gave it, but Erlcort did
not listen to her reason, whatever it was. He said, between the
raptures with the place that she fell in and out of, that now she was
just in time for the furnishing, which he never could have dared to
In the gay September weather they visited all the antiquity shops in
Fourth Avenue, and then threw themselves frankly upon reproductions,
which they bought in the native wood and ordered painted, the settles
and the spindle-backed chairs in the cool gray which she decided was
the thing. In the same spirit they bought new brass fire-irons and new
shovel and tongs, but all very tall and antique-looking, and then they
got those little immoral mirrors, which Margaret Green attached with
her own hands to the partitions of the shelving. She also got soft
green silk curtains for the chimney windows and for the sash of the
front door; even the front windows she curtained, but very low, so that
a salesman or a saleswoman could easily reach over from the interior
and get a book that any customer had seen from the outside.
One day when all this was done, and Erlcort had begun ordering in a
stock of such books as he had selected to start with, she said: You're
looking rather peakéd, aren't you?
Well, I've been feeling rather peakéd, until lately, keeping
awake to read and read after the volunteer readers.
You mean you've lost sleep?
Something like that.
Well, you mustn't. How many books do you start with?
Good ones? It's a lot, isn't it? I didn't suppose there were so
Well, to fill our shelves I shall have to order about a thousand of
You'll never sell them in the world! You'll be ruined.
Oh no; the publishers will take them back.
How nice of them! But that's only what painters have to do when the
dealers can't sell their pictures.
A month off, the prospect was brilliant, and when the shelves and
tables were filled and the sketches and bas-reliefs were stuck about
and the little immoral mirrors were hung, the place was charming. The
chairs and settles were all that could be asked; Margaret Green helped
put them about; and he let her light the low fire on the hearth of the
Franklin stove; he said he should not always burn hickory, but he had
got twenty-four sticks for two dollars from an Italian in a cellar near
by, and he meant to burn that much. She upbraided him for his
extravagance while touching the match to the paper under the kindling;
but October opened cold, and he needed the fire.
The enterprise seemed rather to mystify the neighborhood, and some
old customers of the old codger's came in upon one fictitious errand
and another to see about it, and went away without quite making it out.
It was a bookstore, all right, they owned in conference, but what did
he mean by critical?
The first bona fide buyer appeared in a little girl who could
just get her chin on the counter, and who asked for an egg-beater.
Erlcort had begun with only one assistant, the young lady who typed his
letters and who said she guessed she could help him when she was not
working. She leaned over and tried to understand the little girl, and
then she called to Erlcort where he stood with his back to the fire and
the morning paper open before his face.
Mr. Erlcort, have we got a book called The Egg-beater?
The Egg-beater? he echoed, letting his paper drop below his
No, no! the little girl shouted, angrily. It ain't a book.
It's a thing to beat eggs with. Mother said to come here and get it.
Well, she's sent you to the wrong place, little girl. You want to
go to a hardware-store, the young lady argued.
Ain't this No. 1232?
Well, this is the right place. Mother said to go to 1232. I
guess she knows. She's an old customer.
The Egg-beater! The Egg-beater! the blithe young novelist
to whom Erlcort told the story repeated. He was still happy in his
original success as a best-seller, and he had come to the Critical
Bookstore to spy out the stock and see whether his last novel was in
it; but though it was not, he joyously extended an acquaintance with
Erlcort which had begun elsewhere. The Egg-beater? What a
splendid title for a story of adventure! Keep the secret of its
applicability to the last word, or perhaps never reveal it at all, and
leave the reader worrying. That's one way; makes him go and talk about
the book to all the girls he knows and get them guessing. Best ad. in
the world. The Egg-beater! Doesn't it suggest desert islands and
penguins' nests in the rocks? Fellow and girl shipwrecked, and girl
wants to make an omelette after they've got sick of plain eggs, and
can't for want of an egg-beater. Heigh? He invents onemakes it out of
some wire that floats off from the wreck. See? When they are rescued,
she brings it away, and doesn't let him know it till their Iron Wedding
Day. They keep it over his study fireplace always.
This author was the first to stretch his legs before Erlcort's fire
from his seat on one of the reproductions. He could not say enough of
the beauty of the place, and he asked if he might sit there and watch
for the old codger's old customers coming to buy hardware. There might
be copy in it.
But the old customers did not come so often as he hoped and Erlcort
feared. Instead there came bona fide book-buyers, who asked some
for a book and some for a particular book. The first were not satisfied
with the books that Erlcort or his acting saleslady recommended, and
went away without buying. The last were indignant at not finding what
they wanted in Erlcort's selection.
Why don't you stock it? they demanded.
Because I don't think it's worth reading.
Oh, indeed! The sarcastic customers were commonly ladies. I
thought you let the public judge of that!
There are bookstores where they do. This is a critical bookstore. I
sell only the books that I think worth reading. If you had
noticed my sign
Oh! the customer would say, and she, too, would go away without
There were other ladies who came, links of the endless chain of
volunteer readers who had tried to help Erlcort in making his
selection, and he could see them slyly looking his stock over for the
books they had praised to him. Mostly they went away without comment,
but with heads held high in the offense which he felt even more than
saw. One, indeed, did ask him why he had not stocked her chosen book,
and he had to say, Well, when I came to go through it carefully, I
didn't think it quite
But here is The Green Bay Tree, and The Biggest Toad in
the Puddle, and
I know. For one reason and another I thought them worth stocking.
Then another head went away high in the air, with its plumes
quivering. One afternoon late a lady came flying in with all the marks,
whatever they are, of transatlantic travel upon her.
I'm just through the customs, and I've motored up here the first
thing, even before I went home, to stop you from selling that book I
recommended. It's dreadful; and, horrors! horrors! here it is by the
hundreds! Oh, Mr. Erlcort! You mustn't sell that dreadful book! You
see, I had skipped through it in my berth going out, and posted my
letter the first thing; and just now, coming home, I found it in the
ship's library and came on that frightful episode. You know! WhereHow
could you order it without reading it, on a mere say-so? It's
I don't agree with you, Erlcort answered, dryly. I consider that
passage one of the finest in modern fictionone of the most ennobling
Ennobling! The lady made a gesture of horror. Very well! If
that is your idea of a critical bookstore, all I've got to say
But she had apparently no words to say it in, and she went out
banging but failing to latch the door which let through the indignant
snort of her car as it whirled her away. She left Erlcort and his
assistant to a common silence, but he imagined somehow a resolution in
the stenographer not to let the book go unsearched till she had grasped
the full iniquity of that episode and felt all its ennobling force. He
was not consoled when another lady came in and, after drifting
unmolestedly about (it was the primary rule of the place not to follow
people up), stopped before the side shelf where the book was ranged in
dozens and scores. She took a copy from the neat ranks, and opened it;
then she lifted her head by chance and caught sight of her plume in one
of the little mirrors. She stealthily lifted herself on tiptoe till she
could see her face, and then she turned to the assistant and said,
gently, I believe I should like this book, please, and paid
for it and went out.
It was now almost on the stroke of six, and Erlcort said to his
assistant: I'll close the store, Miss Pearsall. You needn't stay any
All right, sir, the girl said, and went into the little closet at
the rear for her hat and coat. Did she contrive to get a copy of that
book under her coat as she passed the shelf where it lay?
When she was gone, he turned the key in the door and went back and
sat down before the fire dying on the hearth of the Franklin stove. It
was not a very cheerful moment with him, but he could not have said
that the day had been unprofitable, either spiritually or pecuniarily.
In its experiences it had been a varied day, and he had really sold a
good many books. More people than he could have expected had taken him
seriously and even intelligently. It is true that he had been somewhat
vexed by the sort of authority the president of the Intellectual Club
had shown in the way she swelled into the store and patronized him and
it, as if she had invented them both, and blamed him in a high, sweet
voice for having so many old books. My idea was that it would
be a place where one could come for the best of the new books.
But here! Why, half of them I saw in June before I sailed! She chided
him merrily, and she acted as if it were quite part of the joke when he
said that he did not think a good book could age much in four months.
She laughed patronizingly at his conceit of getting in the fall books
by Thanksgiving; but even for the humor of it she could not let him say
he should not do anything in holiday books. I had expected to get
all my Christmas books of you, Mr. Erlcort, she crowed, but for
the present she bought nothing. In compensation he recalled the
gratitude, almost humble gratitude, of a lady (she was a lady!) who had
come that day, bringing her daughter to get a book, any book in his
stock, and to thank him for his enterprise, which she had found worked
perfectly in the case of the book she had got the week before; the book
had been an unalloyed delight, and had left a sense of heightened
self-respect with her: that book of the dreadful episode.
He wished Margaret Green had been there; but she had been there only
once since his opening; he could not think why. He heard a rattling at
the door-latch, and he said before he turned to look, What if it
should be she now? But when he went to peer through the
door-curtain it was only an old fellow who had spent the better part of
the afternoon in the best chair, reading a book. Erlcort went back to
the fire and let him rattle, which he did rather a long time, and then
went away, Erlcort hoped, in dudgeon. He was one of a number of
customers who had acted on the half of his motto asking them to sit
down and rest them, after acting on the other half to look round all
they wanted. Most of them did not read, even; they seemed to know one
another, and they talked comfortably together. Erlcort recognized a
companionship of four whom he had noticed in the Park formerly; they
were clean-enough-looking elderly men, but occupied nearly all the
chairs and settles, so that lady customers did not like to bring books
and look over them in the few places left, and Erlcort foresaw the time
when he should have to ask the old fellows to look around more and rest
them less. In resuming his own place before the fire he felt the
fleeting ache of a desire to ask Margaret Green whether it would not be
a good plan to remove the motto from the chimneypiece. He would not
have liked to do it without asking her; it had been her notion to put
it there, and her other notion of the immoral mirrors had certainly
worked well. The thoughtful expression they had reflected on the faces
of lady customers had sold a good many books; not that Erlcort wished
to sell books that way, though he argued with himself that his
responsibility ought strictly to end with the provision of books which
he had critically approved before offering them for sale.
His conscience was not wholly at peace as to his stock, not only the
books which he had included, but also those he had excluded. Some of
these tacitly pleaded against his severity; in one case an author came
and personally protested. This was the case of a book by the
ex-best-seller, who held that his last book was so much better than his
first that it ought certainly to be found in any critical bookstore.
The proceeds of his best-seller had enabled him to buy an electric
runabout, and he purred up to Erlcort's door in it to argue the matter
with him. He sat down in a reproduction and proved, gaily, that Erlcort
was quite wrong about it. He had the book with him, and read passages
from it; then he read passages from some of the books on sale and
defied Erlcort to say that his passages were not just as good, or, as
he put it merrily, the same as. He held that his marked improvement
entitled him to the favor of a critical bookstore; without this, what
motive had he in keeping from a reversion to the errors which had won
him the vicious prosperity of his first venture? Hadn't Erlcort a duty
to perform in preventing his going back to the bad? Refuse this
markedly improved fiction, and you drove him to writing nothing but
best-sellers from now on. He urged Erlcort to reflect.
They had a jolly time, and the ex-best-seller went away in high
spirits, prophesying that Erlcort would come to his fiction yet.
There were authors who did not leave Erlcort so cheerful when they
failed to see their books on his shelves or tables. Some of them were
young authors who had written their worthless books with a devout faith
in their worth, and they went away more in sorrow than in anger, and
yet more in bewilderment. Some were old authors who had been all their
lives acceptably writing second-rate books and trying to make them
unacceptably first-rate. If he knew them he kept out of their way, but
the dejection of their looks was not less a pang to him if he saw them
searching his stock for their books in vain.
He had his own moments of dejection. The interest of the press in
his enterprise had flashed through the Sunday issues of a single week,
and then flashed out in lasting darkness. He wondered vaguely if he had
counted without the counting-house in hoping for their continued favor;
he could not realize that nothing is so stale as old news, and that no
excess of advertising would have relumed those fitful fires.
He would have liked to talk the case over with Margaret Green. After
his first revolt from the easy publicity the reporters had first given
him, he was aware of having enjoyed itperhaps vulgarly enjoyed it.
But he hoped not quite that; he hoped that in his fleeting celebrity he
had cared for his scheme rather than himself. He had really believed in
it, and he liked having it recognized as a feature of modern
civilization, an innovation which did his city and his country credit.
Now and then an essayist of those who wrote thoughtful articles in the
Sunday or Saturday-evening editions had dropped in, and he had opened
his heart to them in a way he would not have minded their taking
advantage of. Secretly he hoped they would see a topic in his
enterprise and his philosophy of it. But they never did, and he was
left to the shame of hopes which had held nothing to support defeat. He
would have liked to confess his shame and own the justice of his
punishment to Margaret Green, but she seemed the only friend who never
came near. Other friends came, and many strangers, the friends to look
and the strangers to buy. He had no reason to complain of his sales;
the fame of his critical bookstore might have ceased in New York,
because it had gone abroad to Chicago and St. Louis and Pittsburg;
people who were clearly from these commercial capitals and others came
and bought copiously of his criticized stock, and they praised the
notion of it in telling him that he ought to open branches in their
They were all women, and it was nearly all women who frequented the
Critical Bookstore, but in their multitude Margaret Green was not. He
thought it the greater pity because she would have enjoyed many of them
with him, and would have divined such as hoped the culture implicated
by a critical bookstore would come off on them without great effort of
their own; she would have known the sincere spirits, too, and could
have helped direct their choice of the best where all was so good. He
smiled to find that he was invoking her help, which he had no right to.
His longing had no effect upon her till deep in January, when the
weather was engaged late one afternoon in keeping the promise of a
January thaw in the form of the worst snow-storm of the winter. Then
she came thumping with her umbrella-handle at his door as if, he
divined, she were too stiff-handed or too package-laden to press the
latch and let herself in, and she almost fell in, but saved herself by
spilling on the floor some canvases and other things which she had been
getting at the artist's-materials store near by. Don't bother about
them, she said, but take me to the fire as fast as you can, and when
she had turned from snow to rain and had dripped partially dry before
the Franklin stove, she asked, Where have you been all the time?
Waiting here for you, he answered.
Well, you needn't. I wasn't going to comeor at least not till you
sent for me, or said you wanted my advice.
I don't want your advice now.
I didn't come to give it. I just dropped in because if I hadn't I
should have just dropped outside. How have you been getting along with
your ridiculous critical bookstore?
Well, things are rather quiet with us just now, as the publishers
say to the authors when they don't want to publish their books.
Yes, I know that saying. Why didn't you go in for the holiday
How did you know I didn't?
Lots of people told me.
Well, then, I'll tell you why. I would have had to read them first,
and no human being could do thatnot even a volunteer link in an
I see. But since Christmas?
You know very well that after Christmas the book market drops
Yes, so I've been told. She had flung her wet veil back over her
shoulders, and he thought she had never looked so adorably plain
before; if she could have seen herself in a glass she would have found
her whole face out of drawing. It seemed as if his thinking had put her
in mind of them, and she said, Those immoral mirrors are shameful.
They've sold more of the best books than anything else.
No matter. As soon as I get a little drier I shall take them down.
Very well. I didn't put them up. He laid a log of hickory
on the fire. I'm not doing it to dry you quicker.
Oh, I know. I'll tell you one thing. You ought to keep the
magazines, or at least the Big Four. You could keep them with a good
conscience, and you could sell them without reading; they're always
There's an idea in that. I believe I'll try it.
Margaret Green was now dry enough, and she rose and removed the
mirrors. In doing this she noticed that Erlcort had apparently sold a
good many of his best books, and she said: Well! I don't see why
you should be discouraged.
Who said I was? I'm exultant.
Then you were exulting with the corners of your mouth down just
now. Well, I must be going. Will you get a taxi to flounder over to the
Subway with me? While Erlcort was telephoning she was talking to him.
I believe the magazines will revive public interest in your scheme.
Put them in your window. Try to get advance copies for it.
You have a commercial genius, Margaret Green.
When it comes to selling literature, I have. Selling art is where I
That's because you always try to sell your own art. I should fall
down, too, if I tried to sell my own literature.
They got quite back to their old friendliness; the coming of the
taxi gave them plenty of time. The electric lights were turned
brilliantly on, but there, at the far end of the store, before the
Franklin stove, they had a cozy privacy. At the moment of parting she
If I were you I should take out these settles. They simply invite
I've noticed that they seem to do that.
And better paint out that motto.
I've sometimes fancied I'd better. That invites loafing,
too; though some nice people like it.
Nice people? Why haven't some of them bought a picture? He
perceived that she had taken in the persistent presence of the sketches
when removing the mirrors, and he shared the indignation she expressed:
She stood with the mirrors under her arm, and he asked what she was
going to do with them, as he followed her to the door with her other
Put them around the studio. But you needn't come to see the
No. I shall come to see you.
But when he came in a lull of February, and he could walk part of
the way up through the Park on the sunny Saturday afternoon, she said:
I suppose you've come to pour out some more of your griefs. Well,
pour away! Has the magazine project failed?
On the contrary, it has been a succès fou. But I don't feel
altogether easy in my mind about it. The fact is, they seem to print
much more rubbish than I supposed.
Of course they do; they must; rubbish is the breath in their
She painted away, screwing her eyes almost shut and getting very
close to her picture. He had never thought her so plain; she was
letting her mouth hang open. He wondered why she was so charming; but
when she stepped back rhythmically, tilting her pretty head this way
and that, he saw why: it was her unfailing grace. She suddenly
remembered her mouth and shut it to say, Well?
Well, some people have come back at me. They've said, What a rotten
number this or that was! They were right; and yet there were things in
all those magazines better than anything they had ever printed. What's
to be done about it? I can't ask people to buy truck or read truck
because it comes bound up with essays and stories and poems of the
No. You can't. Why, she asked, drifting up to her picture again,
don't you tear the bad out, and sell the good?
Erlcort gave a disdainful sound, such as cannot be spelled in
English. Do you know how defiantly the bad is bound up with the good
in the magazines? They're wired together, and you could no more tear
out the bad and leave the good than you could part vice from virtue in
I see, Margaret Green said, but she saw no further, and she had to
let him go disconsolate. After waiting a decent time she went to find
him in his critical bookstore. It was late in an afternoon of the days
that were getting longer, and only one electric was lighted in the rear
of the room, where Erlcort sat before the fireless Franklin stove, so
busy at something that he scarcely seemed aware of her.
What in the world are you doing? she demanded.
He looked up. Who? I? Oh, it's you! Why, I'm merely censoring the
truck in the May number of this magazine. He held up a little roller,
as long as the magazine was wide, blacked with printer's ink, which he
had been applying to the open periodical. I've taken a hint from the
way the Russian censorship blots out seditious literature before it
lets it go to the public.
And what a mess you're making!
Of course it will have to dry before it's put on sale.
I should think so. Listen to me, Frederick Erlcort: you're going
I've sometimes thought so: crazy with conceit and vanity and
arrogance. Who am I that I should set up for a critical
bookstore-keeper? What is the Republic of Letters, anyway? A vast,
benevolent, generous democracy, where one may have what one likes, or a
cold oligarchy where he is compelled to take what is good for him? Is
it a restricted citizenship, with a minority representation, or is it
Now, Margaret Green said, you are talking sense. Why didn't you
think of this in the beginning?
Is it a world, a whole earth, he went on, where the weeds mostly
outflourish the flowers, or is it a wretched little florist's
conservatory where the watering-pot assumes to better the instruction
of the rain which falls upon the just and the unjust? What is all the
worthy family of asses to do if there are no thistles to feed them?
Because the succulent fruits and nourishing cereals are better for the
finer organisms, are the coarser not to have fodder? No; I have made a
mistake. Literature is the whole world; it is the expression of the
gross, the fatuous, and the foolish, and it is the pleasure of the
gross, the fatuous, and the foolish, as well as the expression and the
pleasure of the wise, the fine, the elect. Let the multitude have their
truck, their rubbish, their rot; it may not be the truck, the rubbish,
the rot that it would be to us, or may slowly and by natural selection
become to certain of them. But let there be no artificial selection, no
survival of the fittest by main forcethe force of the spectator, who
thinks he knows better than the creator of the ugly and the beautiful,
the fair and foul, the evil and good.
Oh, now if the Intellectual Club could hear you! Margaret
Green said, with a long, deep, admiring suspiration. And what are you
going to do with your critical bookstore?
I'm going to sell it. I've had an offer from the author of that
best-sellerI've told you about him. I was just trying to censor that
magazine while I was thinking it over. He's got an idea. He's going to
keep it a critical bookstore, but the criticism is to be made by
universal suffrage and the will of the majority. The latest books will
be put to a vote; and the one getting the greatest number of votes will
be the first offered for sale, and the author will receive a free
passage to Europe by the southern route.
The southern route! Margaret mused. I've never been that way. It
must be delightful.
Then come with me! I'm going.
But how can I?
By marrying me!
I never thought of that, she said. Then, with the conscientious
resolution of an elderly girl who puts her fate to the touch of any
risk the truth compels, she added: Or, yes! I have. But I never
supposed you would ask me. She stared at him, and she was aware she
was letting her mouth hang open. While she was trying for some word to
close it with he closed it for her.
XIV. A FEAST OF REASON
Florindo and Lindora had come to the end of another winter in town,
and had packed up for another summer in the country. They were sitting
together over their last breakfast until the taxi should arrive to
whirl them away to the station, and were brooding in a joint gloom from
the effect of the dinner they had eaten at the house of a friend the
night before, and, Well, thank goodness, she said, there is an end
to that sort of thing for one while.
An end to that thing, he partially assented, but not that
sort of thing.
What do you mean? she demanded excitedly, almost resentfully.
I mean that the lunch is of the nature of the dinner, and that in
the country we shall begin lunching where we left off dining.
Not instantly, she protested shrilly. There will be nobody there
for a whilenot for a whole month, nearly.
They will be there before you can turn round, almost; and then you
women will begin feeding one another there before you have well left
We women! she protested.
Yes, youyou women. You give the dinners. Can you deny it?
It's because we can't get you to the lunches.
In the country you can; and so you will give the lunches.
We would give dinners if it were not for the distance, and the
darkness on those bad roads.
I don't see where your reasoning is carrying you.
No, she despaired, there is no reason in it. No sense. How tired
of it all I am! And, as you say, it will be no time before it is all
going on again.
They computed the number of dinners they had given during the
winter; that was not hard, and the sum was not great: six or seven at
the most, large and small. When it came to the dinners they had
received, it was another thing; but still she considered, Were they
really so few? It's nothing to what the English do. They never dine
alone at home, and they never dine alone abroadof course not! I
wonder they can stand it. I think a dinner, the happy-to-accept kind,
is always loathsome: the everlasting soup, if there aren't oysters
first, or grape-fruit, or melon, and the fish, and the entrée, and the
roast and salad, and the ice-cream and the fruit nobody touches, and
the coffee and cigarettes and cigarshow I hate it all!
Lindora sank back in her chair and toyed desperately with the
fragment of bacon on her plate.
And yet, Florindo said, there is a charm about the first dinner
of autumn, after you've got back.
Oh, yes, she assented; it's like a part of our lost youth. We
think all the dinners of the winter will be like that, and we come away
But when it keeps on and there's more and more of our lost youth,
till it comes to being the whole
Florindo! she stopped him. He pretended that he was not going to
have said it, and she resumed, dreamily, I wonder what it is makes it
so detestable as the winter goes on.
All customs are detestable, the best of them, he suggested, and I
should say, in spite of the first autumnal dinner, that the society
dinner was an unlovely rite. You try to carry if off with china and
glass, and silver and linen, and if people could fix their minds on
these, or even on the dishes of the dinner as they come successively
on, it would be all very well; but the diners, the diners!
Yes, she said, the old men are hideous, certainly; and the young
onesI try not to look at them, poking things into the hollows of
their faces with spoons and forks
Better than when it was done with knives! Still, it's a horror! A
veteran diner-out in full action is certainly a hideous spectacle.
Often he has few teeth of his own, and the dentists don't serve him
perfectly. He is in danger of dropping things out of his mouth, both
liquids and solids: better not look! His eyes bulge and roll in his
head in the stress of mastication and deglutition; his color rises and
spreads to his gray hair or over his baldness; his person seems to
swell vividly in his chair, and when he laughs
Don't, Florindo! It is awful.
Well, perhaps no worse than the sight of a middle-aged matron
tending to overweight and bulking above her plate
Yes, yes! That's dreadful, too. But when people are young
Oh, when people are young! He said this in despair. Then he went
on in an audible muse. When people are young they are not only in
their own youth; they are in the youth of the world, the race. They
dine, but they don't think of the dinner or the unpleasantness of the
diners, and the grotesqueness of feeding in common. They think he
broke off in defect of other ideas, and concluded with a laugh, they
think of themselves. And they don't think of how they are looking.
They needn't; they are looking very well. Don't keep harping on
that! I remember when we first began going to dinners, I thought it was
the most beautiful thing in the world. I don't mean when I was a girl;
a girl only goes to a dinner because it comes before a dance. I mean
when we were young married people; and I pinned up my dress and we went
in the horse-cars, or even walked. I enjoyed every instant of it: the
finding who was going to take me in and who you were; and the going in;
and the hovering round the table to find our places from the cards; and
the seeing how you looked next some one else, and wondering how you
thought I looked; and the beads sparkling up through the champagne and
getting into one's nose; and the laughing and joking and talking! Oh,
the talking! What's become of it? The talking, last night, it bored me
to death! And what good stories people used to tell, women as well as
men! You can't deny it was beautiful.
I don't; and I don't deny that the forms of dining are still
charming. It's the dining itself that I object to.
That's because your digestion is bad.
Of course it is. What has that got to do with it?
It seems to me that we have arrived at what is called an impasse
in French. He looked up at the clock on the wall, and she gave a
little jump in her chair. Oh, there's plenty of time. The taxi won't
be here for half an hour yet. Is there any heat left in that coffee?
There will be, she said, and she lighted the lamp under the pot.
But I don't like being scared out of half a year's growth.
I'm sorry. I won't look at the clock any more; I don't care if
we're left. Where were we? Oh, I rememberthe objection to dining
itself. If we could have the forms without the facts, dining would be
all right. Our superstition is that we can't be gay without gorging;
that society can't be run without meat and drink. But don't you
remember when we first went to Italy there was no supper at Italian
houses where we thought it such a favor to be asked?
I remember that the young Italian swells wouldn't go to the
American and English houses where they weren't sure of supper. They
didn't give supper at the Italian houses because they couldn't afford
I know that. I believe they do, now. But
'Sweet are the uses of adversity,'
and the fasting made for beauty then more than the feasting does
now. It was a lovelier sight to see the guests of those Italian houses
conversing together without the grossness of feeding or being fedthe
sort of thing one saw at our houses when people went out to supper.
I wonder, Lindora said, whether the same sort of thing goes on at
evening parties stillit's so long since I've been at one. It was
awful standing jammed up in a corner or behind a door and eating
vis-à-vis with a man who brought you a plate; and it wasn't much
better when you sat down and he stood over you gabbling and gobbling,
with his plate in one hand and his fork in the other. I was always
afraid of his dropping things into my lap; and the sight of his jaws
champing as you looked up at them from below!
Yes, ridiculous. But there was an element of the grotesque in a
bird's-eye view of a lady making shots at her mouth with a spoon and
trying to smile and look spirituelle between the shots.
Lindora as she laughed bowed her forehead on the back of her hand in
the way Florindo thought so pretty when they were both young. Yes,
she said, awful, awful! Why should people want to flock
together when they feed? Do you suppose it's a survival of the
primitive hospitality when those who had something to eat hurried to
share it with those who had nothing?
Possibly, Florindo said, flattered into consequence by her
momentary deference, or show of it. But the people who mostly meet to
feed together now are not hungry; they are already so stuffed that they
loathe the sight of the things. Some of them shirk the consequences by
frankly dining at home first, and then openly or covertly dodging the
Yes, and you hear that praised as a mark of high civilization, or
social wisdom. I call it wicked, and an insult to the very genius of
Well, I don't know. It must give the faster a good chance of seeing
how funny the feeders all look.
I wonder, I do wonder, how the feeding in common came to be
the custom, she said, thoughtfully. Of course where it's done for
convenience, like hotels or in boarding-housesbut to do it wantonly,
as people do in society, it ought to be stopped.
We might call art to our aidhave a large tableful of people
kodaked in the moments of ingulfing, chewing, or swallowing, as the act
varied from guest to guest; might be reproduced as picture postals, or
from films for the movies. That would give the ten and twenty cent
audiences a chance to see what life in the exclusive circles was.
She listened in dreamy inattention. It was a step in the right
direction when people began to have afternoon teas. To be sure, there
was the biting and chewing sandwiches, but you needn't take them, and most women could manage their teacups gracefully.
Or hide their faces in them when they couldn't.
Only, she continued, the men wouldn't come after the first go
off. It was as bad as lunches. Now that the English way of serving tea
to callers has come in, it's better. You really get the men, and it
keeps them from taking cocktails so much.
They're rather glad of that. But still, still, there's the guttling
It's reduced to a minimum.
But it's there. And the first thing you know you've loaded yourself
up with cake or bread-and-butter and spoiled your appetite for dinner.
No, afternoon tea must go with the rest of it, if we're going to be
truly civilized. If people could come to one another's tables with full
minds instead of stomachs, there would be some excuse for hospitality.
Perhaps if we reversed the practice of the professional diner-out, and
read up at home as he now eats at home, andNo, I don't see how it
could be done. But we might take a leaf from the book of people who are
not in society. They never ask anybody to meals if they can possibly
help it; if some one happens in at meal-times they tell him to pull up
a chairif they have to, or he shows no signs first of going. But even
among these people the instinct of hospitalitythe feeding form of
itlurks somewhere. In our farm-boarding days
Don't speak of them! she implored.
We once went to an evening party, he pursued, where raw apples
and cold water were served.
I thought I should die of hunger. And when we got home to our own
farmer's we ravaged the pantry for everything left from supper. It
wasn't much. There! Lindora screamed. There is the taxi! And
the shuddering sound of the clock making time at their expense
penetrated from the street. Come!
How the instinct of economy lingers in us, too, long after the use
of it is outgrown. It's as bad as the instinct of hospitality. We could
easily afford to pay extra for the comfort of sitting here over these
I tell you we shall be left, she retorted; and in the thirty-five
minutes they had at the station before their train started she outlined
a scheme of social reform which she meant to put in force as soon as
people began to gather in summer force at Lobster Cove.
He derided the notion; but she said, You will see! and in rather
more time than it takes to tell it they were settled in their cottage,
where, after some unavoidable changes of cook and laundress, they were
soon in perfect running order.
By this time Lobster Cove was in the full tide of lunching and being
lunched. The lunches were almost exclusively ladies' lunches, and the
ladies came to them with appetites sharpened by the incomparable air of
those real Lobster Cove days which were all cloudless skies and west
winds, and by the vigorous automobile exercise of getting to one
another's cottages. They seized every pretext for giving these feasts,
marked each by some vivid touch of invention within the limits of the
graceful convention which all felt bound not to transcend. It was some
surprising flavor in the salad, or some touch of color appealing to the
eye only; or it was some touch in the ice-cream, or some daring
substitution of a native dish for it, as strawberry or peach shortcake;
or some bold transposition in the order of the courses; or some
capricious arrangement of the decoration, or the use of wild flowers,
or even weeds (as meadow-rue or field-lilies), for the local florist's
flowers, which set the ladies screaming at the moment and talking of it
till the next lunch. This would follow perhaps the next day, or the
next but one, according as a new cottager's claims insisted or a lady
had a change of guests, or three days at the latest, for no reason.
In their rapid succession people scarcely noticed that Lindora had
not given a lunch, and she had so far abandoned herself to the
enjoyment of the others' lunches that she had half forgotten her high
purposes of reform, when she was sharply recalled to them by a lunch
which had not at all agreed with her; she had, in fact, had to have the
doctor, and many people had asked one another whether they had heard
how she was. Then she took her good resolution in both hands and gave
an afternoon, asking people by note or 'phone simply whether they would
not come in at four sharp. People were a good deal mystified, but for
this very reason everybody came. Some of them came from somebody's
lunch, which had been so nice that they lingered over it till four, and
then walked, partly to fill in the time and partly to walk off the
lunch, as there would be sure to be something at Lindora's later on.
It would be invidious to say what the nature of Lindora's
entertainment was. It was certainly to the last degree original, and
those who said the worst of it could say no worse than that it was
queer. It quite filled the time till six o'clock, and may be perhaps
best described as a negative rather than a positive triumph, though
what Lindora had aimed at she had undoubtedly achieved. Whatever it
was, whether original or queer, it was certainly novel.
A good many men had come, one at least to every five ladies, but as
the time passed and a certain blankness began to gather over the
spirits of all, they fell into different attitudes of the despair which
the ladies did their best to pass off for rapture. At each unscheduled
noise they started in a vain expectation, and when the end came, it
came so without accent, so without anything but the clock to mark it as
the close, that they could hardly get themselves together for going
away. They did what was nice and right, of course, in thanking Lindora
for her fascinating afternoon, but when they were well beyond hearing
one said to another: Well, I shall certainly have an appetite for my
dinner to-night! Why, if there had only been a cup of the
weakest kind of tea, or even of cold water!
Then those who had come in autos gathered as many pedestrians into
them as they would hold in leaving the house, or caught them up
fainting by the way.
Lindora and Florindo watched them from their veranda.
Well, my dear, he said, it's been a wonderful afternoon; an
immense stride forward in the cause of anti-eatingor
Don't speak to me! she cried.
But it leaves one rather hungry, doesn't it?
Hungry! she hurled back at him. I could eat aI don't
XV. CITY AND COUNTRY IN THE FALL
A Long-distance Eclogue
Morrison. Hello! Hello! Is that you, Wetherbee?
Wetherbee. Yes. Who are you? What do you want with me?
Morrison. Oh, nothing much. It's Morrison, you know;
Morrisondown at Clamhurst Shortsands.
Why, Morrison, of course! Of course, I know!
How are you, Morrison? And, by the way,
Where are you? What! You never mean to say
You are down there yet? Well, by the Holy Poker!
What are you doing there, you ancient joker?
Morrison. Sticking it out over Thanksgiving Day.
I said I would. I tell you, it is gay
Down here. You ought to see the Hunter's Moon,
These silver nights, prinking in our lagoon.
You ought to see our sunsets, glassy red,
Shading to pink and violet overhead.
You ought to see our mornings, still and clear,
White silence, far as you can look and hear.
You ought to see the leavesour oaks and ashes
Crimson and yellow, with those gorgeous splashes,
Purple and orange, against the bluish green
Of the pine woods; and scattered in between
The scarlet of the maples; and the blaze
Of blackberry-vines, along the dusty ways
And on the old stone walls; the air just balm,
And the crows cawing through the perfect calm
Of afternoons all gold and turquoise. Say,
You ought to have been with wife and me to-day,
A drive we tookit would have made you sick:
The pigeons and the partridges so thick;
And on the hill just beyond Barkin's lane,
Before you reach the barn of Widow Payne,
Showing right up against the sky, as clear
And motionless as sculpture, stood a deer!
Say, does that jar you just a little? Say,
How have you found things up there, anyway,
Since you got back? Air like a cotton string
To breathe? The same old dust on everything,
And in your teeth, and in your eyes? The smoke
From the soft coal, got long beyond a joke?
The trolleys rather more upon your curves,
And all the roar and clatter in your nerves?
Don't you wish you had stayed here, too?
Wetherbee. Well, yes,
I do at certain times, I must confess.
I swear it is enough at times to make you swear
You would almost rather be anywhere
Than here. The building up and pulling down,
The getting to and fro about the town,
The turmoil underfoot and overhead,
Certainly make you wish that you were dead,
At first; and all the mean vulgarity
Of city life, the filth and misery
You see around you, make you want to put
Back to the country anywhere, hot-foot.
Yetthere are compensations.
Morrison. Such as?
There is the club.
Morrison. The club I can't deny.
Many o' the fellows back there?
Wetherbee. Nearly all.
Over the twilight cocktails there are tall
Stories and talk. But you would hardly care;
You have the natives to talk with down there,
And always find them meaty.
Morrison. Well, so-so.
Their words outlast their ideas at times, you know,
And they have staying powers. The theaters
All open now?
Wetherbee. Yes, all. And it occurs
To me: there's one among the things that you
Would have enjoyed; an opera with the new
Or at least the lastmusic by Sullivan,
And words, though not Gilbertian, that ran
Trippingly with it. Oh, I tell you what,
I'd rather that you had been there than not.
Morrison. Thanks ever so!
Wetherbee. Oh, there is nothing mean
About your early friend. That deer and autumn scene
Were kind of you! And, say, I think you like
Afternoon teas when good. I have chanced to strike
Some of the best of late, where people said
They had sent you cards, but thought you must be dead.
I told them I left you down there by the sea,
And then they sort of looked askance at me,
As if it were a joke, and bade me get
Myself some bouillon or some chocolate,
And turned the subjectdid not even give
Me time to prove it is not life to live
In town as long as you can keep from freezing
Beside the autumn sea. A little sneezing,
At Clamhurst Shortsands, since the frosts set in?
Morrison. Well, not enough to make a true friend grin.
Slight colds, mere nothings. With our open fires
We've all the warmth and cheer that heart desires.
Next year we'll have a furnace in, and stay
Not till Thanksgiving, but till Christmas Day.
It's glorious in these roomy autumn nights
To sit between the firelight and the lights
Of our big lamps, and read aloud by turns
As long as kerosene or hickory burns.
We hate to go to bed.
Wetherbee. Of course you do!
And hate to get up in the morning, too
To pull the coverlet from your frost-bit nose,
And touch the glary matting with your toes!
Are you beginning yet to break the ice
In your wash-pitchers? No? Well, that is nice.
I always hate to do itseems as if
Summer was going; but when your hand is stiff
With cold, it can be done. Still, I prefer
To wash and dress beside my register,
When summer gets a little on, like this.
But some folks find the other thing pure bliss
Lusty young chaps, like you.
Morrison. And some folks find
A sizzling radiator to their mind.
What else have you, there, you could recommend
To the attention of a country friend?
Wetherbee. Well, you know how it is in Madison Square,
Late afternoons, now, if the day's been fair
How all the western sidewalk ebbs and flows
With pretty women in their pretty clo'es:
I've never seen them prettier than this year.
Of course, I know a dear is not a deer,
But still, I think that if I had to meet
One or the other in the road, or street,
All by myself, I am not sure but that
I'd choose the dear that wears the fetching hat.
Morrison. Get out! What else?
Wetherbee. Well, it is not so bad,
If you are feeling a little down, or sad,
To walk along Fifth Avenue to the Park,
When the day thinks perhaps of getting dark,
And meet that mighty flood of vehicles
Laden with all the different kinds of swells,
Homing to dinner, in their carriages
Victorias, landaus, chariots, coupés
There's nothing like it to lift up the heart
And make you realize yourself a part,
Sure, of the greatest show on earth.
Morrison. Oh, yes,
I know. I've felt that rapture more or less.
But I would rather put it off as long
As possible. I suppose you like the song
Of the sweet car-gongs better than the cry
Of jays and yellowhammers when the sky
Begins to redden these October mornings,
And the loons sound their melancholy warnings;
Or honk of the wild-geese that write their A
Along the horizon in the evening's gray.
Or when the squirrels look down on you and bark
From the nut trees
Wetherbee. We have them in the Park
Plenty enough. But, say, you aged sinner,
Have you been out much recently at dinner?
Morrison. What do you mean? You know there's no one here
That dines except ourselves now.
Wetherbee. Well, that's queer!
I thought the nativesBut I recollect!
It was not reasonable to expect
Morrison. What are you driving at?
Wetherbee. Oh, nothing much.
But I was thinking how you come in touch
With life at the first dinner in the fall,
When you get back, first, as you can't at all
Later along. But you, of course, won't care
With your idyllic pleasures.
Morrison. Who was there?
Wetherbee. Ohha, ha! What d'you mean by there?
Morrison. Come off!
Wetherbee. What! you remain to pray that came to scoff!
Morrison. You know what I am after.
Wetherbee. Yes, that dinner.
Just a round dozen: Ferguson and Binner
For the fine arts; Bowyer the novelist;
Dr. Le Martin; the psychologist
Fletcher; the English actor Philipson;
The two newspaper Witkins, Bob and John;
A nice Bostonian, Bane the archæologer,
And a queer Russian amateur astrologer;
And Father Gray, the jolly ritualist priest,
And last your humble servant, but not least.
The food was not so filthy, and the wine
Was not so poison. We made out to dine
From eight till one A.M. One could endure
The dinner. But, oh say! The talk was poor!
Your natives down at Clamhurst
Morrison. Look ye here!
What date does Thanksgiving come on this year?
Wetherbee. Why, I supposealthough I don't remember
Certainlythe usual 28th November.
Morrison. NovemYou should have waited to get sober!
It comes on the 11th of October!
And that's to-morrow; and if you happen down
Later, you'd better look for us in town.
XVI. TABLE TALK
They were talking after dinner in that cozy moment when the
conversation has ripened, just before the coffee, into mocking guesses
and laughing suggestions. The thing they were talking of was something
that would have held them apart if less happily timed and placed, but
then and there it drew these together in what most of them felt a
charming and flattering intimacy. Not all of them took part in the
talk, and of those who did, none perhaps assumed to talk with authority
or finality. At first they spoke of the subject as it,
forbearing to name it, as if the name of it would convey an unpleasant
shock, out of temper with the general feeling.
I don't suppose, the host said, that it's really so much commoner
than it used to be. But the publicity is more invasive and explosive.
That's perhaps because it has got higher up in the world and has spread
more among the first circles. The time was when you seldom heard of it
there, and now it is scarcely a scandal. I remember that when I went
abroad, twenty or thirty years ago, and the English brought me to book
about it, I could put them down by saying that I didn't know a single
And of course, a bachelor guest ventured, a person of that sort
must be single.
At first the others did not take the joke; then they laughed, but
the women not so much as the men.
And you couldn't say that now? the lady on the right of the host
Why, I don't know, he returned, thoughtfully, after a little
interval. I don't just call one to mind.
Then, the bachelor said, that classes you. If you moved in our
best society you would certainly know some of the many smart people
whose disunions alternate with the morning murders in the daily
Yes, the fact seems to rank me rather low; but I'm rather proud of
The hostess seemed not quite to like this arrogant humility. She
said, over the length of the table (it was not very long), I'm sure
you know some very nice people who have not been.
Well, yes, I do. But are they really smart people? They're of very
good family, certainly.
You mustn't brag, the bachelor said.
A husband on the right of the hostess wondered if there were really
more of the thing than there used to be.
Qualitatively, yes, I should say. Quantitatively, I'm not
convinced, the host answered. In a good many of the States it's been
The husband on the right of the hostess was not convinced, he said,
as to the qualitative increase. The parties to the suits were rich
enough, and sometimes they were high enough placed and far enough
derived. But there was nearly always a leak in them, a social leak
somewhere, on one side or the other. They could not be said to be
persons of quality in the highest sense.
Why, persons of quality seldom can be, the bachelor contended.
The girl opposite, who had been invited to balance him in the scale
of celibacy by the hostess in her study of her dinner-party, first
smiled, and then alleged a very distinguished instance of divorce in
which the parties were both of immaculate origin and unimpeachable
fashion. Nobody, she said, can accuse them of a want of
quality. She was good-looking, though no longer so young as she could
have wished; she flung out her answer to the bachelor defiantly, but
she addressed it to the host, and he said that was true; certainly it
was a signal case; but wasn't it exceptional? The others mentioned like
cases, though none quite so perfect, and then there was a lull till the
husband on the left of the hostess noted a fact which renewed the life
of the discussion.
There was a good deal of agitation, six or eight years ago, about
it. I don't know whether the agitation accomplished anything.
The host believed it had influenced legislation.
For or against? the bachelor inquired.
But in other countries it's been coming in more and more. It seems
to be as easy in England now as it used to be in Indiana. In France
it's nothing scandalous, and in Norwegian society you meet so many
disunited couples in a state of quadruplicate reunion that it is very
embarrassing. It doesn't seem to bother the parties to the new relation
It's very common in Germany, too, the husband on the right of the
The husband on her left side said he did not know just how it was in
Italy and Spain, and no one offered to disperse his ignorance.
In the silence which ensued the lady on the left of the host created
a diversion in her favor by saying that she had heard they had a very
good law in Switzerland.
Being asked to tell what it was, she could not remember, but her
husband, on the right of the hostess, saved the credit of his family by
supplying her defect. Oh, yes. It's very curious. We heard of it when
we were there. When people want to be put asunder, for any reason or
other, they go before a magistrate and declare their wish. Then they go
home, and at the end of a certain timeweeks or monthsthe magistrate
summons them before him with a view to reconciliation. If they come, it
is a good sign; if they don't come, or come and persist in their
desire, then they are summoned after another interval, and are either
reconciled or put asunder, as the case may be, or as they choose. It is
not expensive, and I believe it isn't scandalous.
It seems very sensible, the husband on the left of the hostess
said, as if to keep the other husband in countenance. But for an
interval no one else joined him, and the mature girl said to the man
next her that it seemed rather cold-blooded. He was a man who had been
entreated to come in, on the frank confession that he was asked as a
stop-gap, the original guest having fallen by the way. Such men are apt
to abuse their magnanimity, their condescension. They think that being
there out of compassion, and in compliance with a hospitality that had
not at first contemplated their presence, they can say anything; they
are usually asked without but through their wives, who are asked to
lend them, and who lend them with a grudge veiled in eager
acquiescence; and the men think it will afterward advantage them with
their wives, when they find they are enjoying themselves, if they will
go home and report that they said something vexing or verging on the
offensive to their hostess. This man now addressed himself to the lady
at the head of the table.
Why do we all talk as if we thought divorce was an unquestionable
The hostess looked with a frightened air to the right and left, and
then down the table to her husband. But no one came to her rescue, and
she asked feebly, as if foreboding trouble (for she knew she had taken
a liberty with this man's wife), Why, don't we?
About one in seven of us doesn't, the stop-gap said.
Oh! the girl beside him cried out, in a horror-stricken voice
which seemed not to interpret her emotion truly. Is it so bad as
Perhaps not quite, even if it is bad at all, he returned, and the
hostess smiled gratefully at the girl for drawing his fire. But it
appeared she had not, for he directed his further speech at the hostess
again: really the most inoffensive person there, and the least able to
contend with adverse opinions.
No, I don't believe we do think it an unquestionable evil, unless
we think marriage is so. Everybody sat up, as the stop-gap had
intended, no doubt, and he held them with his glittering eye, or as
many as he could sweep with his glance. I suppose that the greatest
hypocrite at this table, where we are all so frankly hypocrites
together, will not deny that marriage is the prime cause of divorce. In
fact, divorce couldn't exist without it.
The women all looked bewilderedly at one another, and then
appealingly at the men. None of these answered directly, but the
bachelor softly intoned out of Gilbert and Sullivanhe was of that
'A paradox, a paradox;
A most ingenious paradox!'
Yes, the stop-gap defiantly assented. A paradox; and all
aboriginal verities, all giant truths, are paradoxes.
Giant truths is good, the bachelor noted, but the stop-gap did not
He turned to the host: I suppose that if divorce is an evil, and we
wish to extirpate it, we must strike at its root, at marriage?
The host laughed. I prefer not to take the floor. I'm sure we all
want to hear what you have to say in support of your mammoth idea.
Oh yes, indeed, the women chorused, but rather tremulously, as not
knowing what might be coming.
Which do you mean? That all truth is paradoxical, or that marriage
is the mother of divorce?
Whichever you like.
The last proposition is self-evident, the stop-gap said, supplying
himself with a small bunch of the grapes which nobody ever takes at
dinner; the hostess was going to have coffee for the women in the
drawing-room, and to leave the men to theirs with their tobacco at the
table. And you must allow that if divorce is a good thing or a bad
thing, it equally partakes of the nature of its parent. Or else there's
nothing in heredity.
Oh, come! one of the husbands said.
Very well! the stop-gap submitted. I yield the word to you. But
as the other went no further, he continued. The case is so clear that
it needs no argument. Up to this time, in dealing with the evil of
divorce, if it is an evil, we have simply been suppressing the
symptoms; and your Swiss method
Oh, it isn't mine, the man said who had stated it.
Is only a part of the general practice. It is another attempt to
make divorce difficult, when it is marriage that ought to be made
Some, the daring bachelor said, think it ought to be made
impossible. The girl across the table began to laugh hysterically, but
caught herself up and tried to look as if she had not laughed at all.
I don't go as far as that, the stop-gap resumed, but as an
inveterate enemy of divorce
An Oh! varying from surprise to derision chorused up; but he did
not mind it; he went on as if uninterrupted.
I should put every possible obstacle, and at every step, in the way
of marriage. The attitude of society toward marriage is now simply
preposterous, absolutely grotesque. Society? The whole human framework
in all its manifestations, social, literary, religious, artistic, and
civic, is perpetually guilty of the greatest mischief in the matter.
Nothing is done to retard or prevent marriage; everything to accelerate
and promote it. Marriage is universally treated as a virtue which of
itself consecrates the lives of the mostly vulgar and entirely selfish
young creatures who enter into it. The blind and witless passion in
which it oftenest originates, at least with us, is flattered out of all
semblance to its sister emotions, and revered as if it were a celestial
inspiration, a spiritual impulse. But is it? I defy any one here to say
that it is.
As if they were afraid of worse things if they spoke, the company
remained silent. But this did not save them.
You all know it isn't. You all know that it is the caprice of
chance encounter, the result of propinquity, the invention of poets and
novelists, the superstition of the victims, the unscrupulous
make-believe of the witnesses. As an impulse it quickly wears itself
out in marriage, and makes way for divorce. In this country nine-tenths
of the marriages are love-matches. The old motives which delay and
prevent marriage in other countries, aristocratic countries, like
questions of rank and descent, even of money, do not exist. Yet this is
the land of unhappy unions beyond all other lands, the very home of
divorce. The conditions of marriage are ideally favorable according to
the opinions of its friends, who are all more or less active in
bottling husbands and wives up in its felicity and preventing their
escape through divorce.
Still the others were silent, and again the stop-gap triumphed on.
Now, I am an enemy of divorce, too; but I would have it begin before
Rather paradoxical again? the bachelor alone had the hardihood to
Not at all. I am quite literal. I would have it begin with the
engagement. I would have the betrothedthe mistress and the
lovercome before the magistrate or the minister, and declare their
motives in wishing to marry, and then I would have him reason with
them, and represent that they were acting emotionally in obedience to a
passion which must soon spend itself, or a fancy which they would
quickly find illusory. If they agreed with him, well and good; if not,
he should dismiss them to their homes, for say three months, to think
it over. Then he should summon them again, and again reason with them,
and dismiss them as before, if they continued obstinate. After three
months more, he should call them before him and reason with them for
the last time. If they persisted in spite of everything, he should
marry them, and let them take the consequences.
The stop-gap leaned back in his chair defiantly, and fixed the host
with an eye of challenge. Upon the whole the host seemed not so much
frightened. He said: I don't see anything so original in all that.
It's merely a travesty of the Swiss law of divorce.
And you see nothing novel, nothing that makes for the higher
civilization in the application of that law to marriage? You all
approve of that law because you believe it prevents nine-tenths of the
divorces; but if you had a law that would similarly prevent nine-tenths
of the marriages, you would need no divorce law at all.
Oh, I don't know that, the hardy bachelor said. What about the
one-tenth of the marriages which it didn't prevent? Would you have the
parties hopelessly shut up to them? Would you forbid them all
hope of escape? Would you have no divorce for any cause whatever?
Yes, the husband on the right of the hostess asked (but his wife
on the right of the host looked as if she wished he had not mixed in),
wouldn't more unhappiness result from that one marriage than from all
the marriages as we have them now?
Aren't you both rather precipitate? the stop-gap demanded. I
said, let the parties to the final marriage take the consequences. But
if these consequences were too dire, I would not forbid them the hope
of relief. I haven't thought the matter out very clearly yet, but there
are one or two causes for divorce which I would admit.
Ah? the host inquired, with a provisional smile.
Yes, causes going down into the very nature of thingsthe nature
of men and of women. Incompatibility of temperament ought always to be
very seriously considered as a cause.
And, above all, and here the stop-gap swept the board with his
eye, difference of sex.
The sort of laugh which expresses uncertainty of perception and
conditional approval went up.
The hostess rose with rather a frightened air. Shall we leave them
to their tobacco? she said to the other women.
When he went home the stop-gap celebrated his triumph to his wife.
I don't think she'll ask you for the loan of me again to fill a place
Yes, she answered, remotely. You don't suppose she'll think we
live unhappily together?
XVII. THE ESCAPADE OF A GRANDFATHER
Well, what are you doing here? the younger of the two sages asked,
with a resolute air of bonhomie, as he dragged himself over the asphalt
path, and sank, gasping, into the seat beside the other in the Park.
His senior lifted his head and looked him carefully over to make sure
of his identity, and then he said:
I suppose, to answer your fatuous question, I am waiting here to
get my breath before I move on; and in the next place, I am watching
the feet of the women who go by in their high-heeled shoes.
How long do you think it will take you to get your breath in the
atmosphere of these motors? the younger sage pursued. And you don't
imagine that these women are of the first fashion, do you?
No, but I imagine their shoes are. I have been calculating that
their average heel is from an inch and a half to two inches high, and
touches the ground in the circumference of a twenty-five-cent piece. As
you seem to be fond of asking questions, perhaps you will like to
answer one. Why do you think they do it?
Wear shoes like that? the younger returned, cheerily, and laughed
as he added, Because the rest do.
Mmm! the elder grumbled, not wholly pleased, and yet not refusing
the answer. He had been having a little touch of grippe, and was
somewhat broken from his wonted cynicism. He said: It's very strange,
very sad. Just now there was such a pretty young girl, so sweet and
fine, went tottering by as helpless, in any exigency, as the daughter
of a thousand years of bound-feet Chinese women. While she tilted on,
the nice young fellow with her swept forward with one stride to her
three on the wide soles and low heels of nature-last boots, and kept
himself from out-walking her by a devotion that made him grit his
teeth. Probably she was wiser and better and brighter than he, but she
didn't look it; and I, who voted to give her the vote the other day,
had my misgivings. I think I shall satisfy myself for the next five
years by catching cold in taking my hat off to her in elevators, and
getting killed by automobiles in helping her off the cars, where I've
given her my seat.
But you must allow that if her shoes are too tight, her skirts are
not so tight as they were. Or have you begun sighing for the good old
hobble-skirts, now they're gone?
The hobble-skirts were prettier than I thought they were when they
were with us, but the 'tempestuous petticoat' has its charm, which I
find I'd been missing.
Well, at least it's a change, the younger sage allowed, and I
haven't found the other changes in our dear old New York which I look
for when I come back in the fall.
The sages were enjoying together the soft weather which lingered
with us a whole month from the middle of October onward, and the
afternoon of their meeting in the Park was now softly reddening to the
dim sunset over the westward trees.
Yes, the elder assented. I miss the new sky-scrapers which used
to welcome me back up and down the Avenue. But there are more
automobiles than ever, and the game of saving your life from them when
you cross the street is madder and merrier than I have known it
The war seems to have stopped building because people can't afford
it, the other suggested, but it has only increased automobiling.
Well, people can't afford that, either. Nine-tenths of them are
traveling the road to ruin, I'm told, and apparently they can't get
over the ground too fast. Just look! and the sages joined in the
amused and mournful contemplation of the different types of motors
innumerably whirring up and down the drive before them, while they
choked in the fumes of the gasolene.
The motors were not the costliest types, except in a few instances,
and in most instances they were the cheaper types, such as those who
could not afford them could at least afford best. The sages had found a
bench beside the walk where the statue of Daniel Webster looks down on
the confluence of two driveways, and the stream of motors, going and
coming, is like a seething torrent either way.
The mystery is, the elder continued, why they should want to do
it in the way they do it. Are they merely going somewhere and must get
there in the shortest time possible, or are they arriving on a wager?
If they are taking a pleasure drive, what a droll idea of pleasure they
must have! Maybe they are trying to escape Black Care, but they must
know he sits beside the chauffeur as he used to sit behind the
horseman, and they know that he has a mortgage in his pocket, and can
foreclose it any time on the house they have hypothecated to buy their
car. Ah! The old man started forward with the involuntary impulse of
rescue. But it was not one of the people who singly, or in terrorized
groups, had been waiting at the roadside to find their way across; it
was only a hapless squirrel of those which used to make their way
safely among the hoofs and wheels of the kind old cabs and carriages,
and it lay instantly crushed under the tire of a motor. He's done for,
poor little wretch! They can't get used to the change. Some day a
policeman will pick me up from under a second-hand motor. I
wonder what the great Daniel from his pedestal up there would say if he
came to judgment.
He wouldn't believe in the change any more than that squirrel. He
would decide that he was dreaming, and would sleep on, forgetting and
Forgotten, the elder sage assented. I remember when his fame
filled the United States, which was then the whole world to me. And now
I don't imagine that our hyphenated citizens have the remotest
consciousness of him. If Daniel began delivering one of his
liberty-and-union-now-and-forever-one-and-inseparable speeches, they
wouldn't know what he was talking about. The sage laughed and champed
his toothless jaws together, as old men do in the effort to compose
their countenances after an emotional outbreak.
Well, for one thing, the younger observed, they wouldn't
understand what he said. You will notice, if you listen to them going
by, that they seldom speak English. That's getting to be a dead
language in New York, though it's still used in the newspapers. He
thought to hearten the other with his whimsicality, for it seemed to
him that the elder sage was getting sensibly older since their last
meeting, and that he would be the gayer for such cheer as a man on the
hither side of eighty can offer a man on the thither. Perhaps the
Russian Jews would appreciate Daniel if he were put into Yiddish for
them. They're the brightest intelligences among our hyphenates. And
they have the old-fashioned ideals of liberty and humanity, perhaps
because they've known so little of either.
His gaiety did not seem to enliven his senior much. Ah, the old
ideals! he sighed. The old ideal of an afternoon airing was a gentle
course in an open carriage on a soft drive. Now it's a vertiginous
whirl on an asphalted road, round and round and round the Park till the
victims stagger with their brains spinning after they get out of their
The younger sage laughed. You've been listening to the pessimism of
the dear old fellows who drive the few lingering victorias. If you'd
believe them, all these people in the motors are chauffeurs giving
their lady-friends joy-rides.
Few? the elder retorted. There are lots of them. I've counted
twenty in a single round of the Park. I was proud to be in one of them,
though my horse left something to be desired in the way of youth and
beauty. But I reflected that I was not very young or beautiful myself.
As the sages sat looking out over the dizzying whirl of the motors
they smoothed the tops of their sticks with their soft old hands, and
were silent oftener than not. The elder seemed to drowse off from the
time and place, but he was recalled by the younger saying, It is
certainly astonishing weather for this season of the year.
The elder woke up and retorted, as if in offense: Not at all. I've
seen the cherries in blossom at the end of October.
They didn't set their fruit, I suppose.
Ah! Well, I saw a butterfly up here in the sheep-pasture the other
day. I could have put out my hand and caught it. It's the soft weather
that brings your victorias out like the belated butterflies. Wait till
the first cold snap, and there won't be a single victoria or butterfly
Yes, the elder assented, we butterflies and victorias belong to
the youth of the year and the world. And the sad thing is that we won't
have our palingenesis.
Why not? the younger sage demanded. What is to prevent your
coming back in two or three thousand years?
Well, if we came back in a year even, we shouldn't find room, for
one reason. Haven't you noticed how full to bursting the place seems?
Every street is as packed as lower Fifth Avenue used to be when the
operatives came out of the big shops for their nooning. The city's
shell hasn't been enlarged or added to, but the life in it has
multiplied past its utmost capacity. All the hotels and houses and
flats are packed. The theaters, wherever the plays are bad enough,
swarm with spectators. Along up and down every side-streets the motors
stand in rows, and at the same time the avenues are so dense with them
that you are killed at every crossing. There has been no building to
speak of during the summer, but unless New York is overbuilt next year
we must appeal to Chicago to come and help hold it. But I've an idea
that the victorias are remaining to stay; if some sort of mechanical
horse could be substituted for the poor old animals that remind me of
my mortality, I should be sure of it. Every now and then I get an
impression of permanence in the things of the Park. As long as the
peanut-men and the swan-boats are with us I sha'n't quite despair. And
the other night I was moved almost to tears by the sight of a
four-in-hand tooling softly down the Fifth Avenue drive. There it was,
like some vehicular phantom, but how, whence, when? It came, as if out
of the early eighteen-nineties; two middle-aged grooms, with their arms
folded, sat on the rumble (if it's the rumble), but of all the young
people who ought to have flowered over the top none was left but the
lady beside the gentleman-driver on the box. I've tried every evening
since for that four-in-hand, but I haven't seen it, and I've decided it
wasn't a vehicular phantom, but a mere dream of the past.
Four-horse dream, the younger sage commented, as if musing aloud.
The elder did not seem quite pleased. A joke? he challenged.
Not necessarily. I suppose I was the helpless prey of the rhyme.
I didn't know you were a poet.
I'm not, always. But didn't it occur to you that danger for danger
your four-in-hand was more dangerous than an automobile to the passing
It might have been if it had been multiplied by ten thousand. But
there was only one of it, and it wasn't going twenty miles an hour.
That's true, the younger sage assented. But there was always a
fearful hazard in horses when we had them. We supposed they were tamed,
but, after all, they were only trained animals, like
And what is a chauffeur?
Ah, you have me there! the younger said, and he laughed
generously. Or you would have if I hadn't noticed something like
amelioration in the chauffeurs. At any rate, the taxis are cheaper than
they were, and I suppose something will be done about the street
traffic some time. They're talking now about subway crossings. But I
should prefer overhead foot-bridges at all the corners, crossing one
another diagonally. They would look like triumphal arches, and would
serve the purpose of any future Dewey victory if we should happen to
have another hero to win one.
Well, we must hope for the best. I rather like the notion of the
diagonal foot-bridges. But why not Rows along the second stories as
they have them in Chester? I should be pretty sure of always getting
home alive if we had them. Now if I'm not telephoned for at a hospital
before I'm restored to consciousness, I think myself pretty lucky. And
yet it seems but yesterday, as the people used to say in the plays,
since I had a pride in counting the automobiles as I walked up the
Avenue. Once I got as high as twenty before I reached Fifty-ninth
Street. Now I couldn't count as many horse vehicles.
The elder sage mocked himself in a feeble laugh, but the younger
tried to be serious. We don't realize the absolute change. Our streets
are not streets any more; they are railroad tracks with locomotives let
loose on them, and no signs up to warn people at the crossings. It's
pathetic to see the foot-passengers saving themselves, especially the
poor, pretty, high-heeled women, looking this way and that in their
fright, and then tottering over as fast as they can totter.
Well, I should have said it was outrageous, humiliating, insulting,
once, but I don't any more; it would be no use.
No; and so much depends upon the point of view. When I'm on foot I
feel all my rights invaded, but when I'm in a taxi it amuses me to see
the women escaping; and I boil with rage in being halted at every other
corner by the policeman with his new-fangled semaphore, and it's Go
and Stop in red and blue, and my taxi-clock going round all the time
and getting me in for a dollar when I thought I should keep within
seventy cents. Then I feel that pedestrians of every age and sex ought
to be killed.
Yes, there's something always in the point of view; and there's
some comfort when you're stopped in your taxi to feel that they often
do get killed.
The sages laughed together, and the younger said: I suppose when we
get aeroplanes in common use, there'll be annoying traffic regulations,
and policemen anchored out at intervals in the central blue to enforce
them. After all
What he was going to add in amplification cannot be known, for a
girlish voice, trying to sharpen itself from its native sweetness to a
conscientious severity, called to them as its owner swiftly advanced
upon the elder sage: Now, see here, grandfather! This won't do at all.
You promised not to leave that bench by the Indian Hunter, and here you
are away down by the Falconer, and we've been looking everywhere for
you. It's too bad! I shall be afraid to trust you at all after this.
Why, it's horrid of you, grandfather! You might have got killed
crossing the drive.
The grandfather looked up and verified the situation, which seemed
to include a young man, tall and beautiful, but neither so handsome nor
so many heads high as the young men in the advertisements of
ready-to-wear clothing, who smiled down on the young girl as if he had
arrived with her, and were finding an amusement in her severity which
he might not, later. She was, in fact, very pretty, and her skirt
flared in the fashion of the last moment, as she stooped threateningly
yet fondly over her grandfather.
The younger sage silently and somewhat guiltily escaped from the
tumult of emotion which ignored him, and shuffled slowly down the path.
The other finally gave an Oh! of recognition, and then said, for all
explanation and excuse, I didn't know what had become of you, and
then they all laughed.
XVIII. SELF-SACRIFICE: A
MISS ISOBEL RAMSEY AND MISS ESTHER GARNETT
Miss Ramsey: And they were really understood to be engaged?
Miss Ramsey is a dark-eyed, dark-haired girl of nearly the length of
two lady's umbrellas and the bulk of one closely folded in its sheath.
She stands with her elbow supported on the corner of the mantel, her
temple resting on the knuckle of a thin, nervous hand, in an effect of
thoughtful absent-mindedness. Miss Garnett, more or less Merovingian in
a costume that lends itself somewhat reluctantly to a low, thick
figure, is apparently poising for departure, as she stands before the
chair from which she has risen beside Miss Ramsey's tea-table and looks
earnestly up into Miss Ramsey's absent face. Both are very young, but
aim at being much older than they are, with occasional lapses into
Miss Garnett: Yes, distinctly. I knew you couldn't know, and
I thought you ought to. She speaks in a deep conviction-bearing and
conviction-carrying voice. If he has been coming here so much.
Miss Ramsey, with what seems temperamental abruptness: Sit
down. One can always think better sitting down. She catches a chair
under her with a deft movement of her heel, and Miss Garnett sinks
provisionally into her seat. And I think it needs thought, don't you?
Miss Garnett: That is what I expected of you.
Miss Ramsey: And have some more tea. There is nothing like
fresh tea for clearing the brain, and we certainly need clear
brains for this. She pushes a button in the wall beside her, and is
silent till the maid appears. More tea, Nora. She is silent again
while the maid reappears with the tea and disappears. I don't know
that he has been coming here so very much. But he has no right
to be coming at all, if he is engaged. That is, in that way.
Miss Garnett: No. Not unlesshe wishes he wasn't.
Miss Ramsey: That would give him less than no right.
Miss Garnett: That is true. I didn't think of it in that
Miss Ramsey: I'm trying to decide what I ought to do if he
does want to get off. She said herself that they were engaged?
Miss Garnett: As much as that. Conny understood her to say
so. And Conny never makes a mistake in what people say. Emily didn't
say whom she was engaged to, but Conny felt that that was to
come later, and she did not quite feel like asking, don't you know.
Miss Ramsey: Of course. And how came she to decide that it
was Mr. Ashley?
Miss Garnett: Simply by putting two and two together. They
two were together the whole time last summer.
Miss Ramsey: I see. Then there is only one thing for me to
Miss Garnett, admiringly: I knew you would say that.
Miss Ramsey, dreamily: The question is what the thing is.
Miss Garnett: Yes!
Miss Ramsey: That is what I wish to think over. Chocolates?
She offers a box, catching it with her left hand from the mantel at her
shoulder, without rising.
Miss Garnett: Thank you; do you think they go well with
Miss Ramsey: They go well with anything. But we mustn't
allow our minds to be distracted. The case is simply this: If Mr.
Ashley is engaged to Emily Fray, he has no right to go round calling on
other girlswell, as if he wasn'tand he has been calling here a
great deal. That is perfectly evident. He must be made to feel that
girls are not to be trifled withthat they are not mere toys.
Miss Garnett: How splendidly you do reason! And he ought to
understand that Emily has a right
Miss Ramsey: Oh, I don't know that I care about her
or not pri_marily. Or do you say pri_mar_ily?
Miss Garnett: I never know. I only use it in writing.
Miss Ramsey: It's a clumsy word; I don't know that I shall.
But what I mean is that I must act from a general principle, and that
principle is that when a man is engaged, it doesn't matter whether the
girl has thrown herself at him, or not
Miss Garnett: She certainly did, from what Conny says.
Miss Ramsey: He must be shown that other girls won't
tolerate his behaving as if he were not engaged. It is wrong.
Miss Garnett: We must stand together.
Miss Ramsey: Yes. Though I don't infer that he has been
attentive to other girls generally.
Miss Garnett: No. I meant that if he has been coming here so
much, you want to prevent his trifling with others.
Miss Ramsey: Something like that. But it ought to be more
definite. He ought to realize that if another girl cared for him, it
would be cruel to her, paying her attentions, when he was engaged to
some one else.
Miss Garnett: And cruel to the girl he is engaged to.
Miss Ramsey: Yes. She speaks coldly, vaguely. But that is
the personal ground, and I wish to avoid that. I wish to deal with him
purely in the abstract.
Miss Garnett: Yes, I understand that. And at the same time
you wish to punish him. He ought to be made to feel it all the more
because he is so severe himself.
Miss Ramsey: Severe?
Miss Garnett: Not tolerating anything that's the least out
of the way in other people. Taking you up about your ideas and showing
where you're wrong, or even silly. Spiritually snubbing, Conny calls
Miss Ramsey: Oh, I like that in him. It's so invigorating.
It braces up all your good resolutions. It makes you ashamed; and shame
Miss Garnett: That's just what I told Conny, or the same
thing. Do you think another one would hurt me? I will risk it, anyway.
She takes another chocolate from the box. Go on.
Miss Ramsey: Oh, I was just wishing that I had been out
longer, and had a little more experience of men. Then I should know how
to act. How do you suppose people do, generally?
Miss Garnett: Why, you know, if they find a man in love with
them, after he's engaged to another girl, they make him go back to her,
it doesn't matter whether they're in love with him themselves or not.
Miss Ramsey: I'm not in love with Mr. Ashley,
Miss Garnett: No; I'm supposing an extreme case.
Miss Ramsey, after a moment of silent thought: Did you ever
hear of anybody doing it?
Miss Garnett: Not just in our set. But I know it's done
Miss Ramsey: It seems to me as if I had read something of
Miss Garnett: Oh yes, the books are full of it. Are those
mallows? They might carry off the effects of the chocolates. Miss
Ramsey passes her the box of marshmallows which she has bent over the
table to look at.
Miss Ramsey: And of course they couldn't get into the books
if they hadn't really happened. I wish I could think of a case in
Miss Garnett: Why, there was Peg Woffington
Miss Ramsey, with displeasure: She was an actress of some
sort, wasn't she?
Miss Garnett, with meritorious candor: Yes, she was. But she
was a very good actress.
Miss Ramsey: What did she do?
Miss Garnett: Well, it's a long time since I read it; and
it's rather old-fashioned now. But there was a countryman of some sort,
I remember, who came away from his wife, and fell in love with Peg
Woffington, and then the wife follows him up to London, and begs her to
give him back to her, and she does it. There's something about a
portrait of PegI don't remember exactly; she puts her face through
and cries when the wife talks to the picture. The wife thinks it is a
real picture, and she is kind of soliloquizing, and asking Peg to give
her husband back to her; and Peg does, in the end. That part is
beautiful. They become the greatest friends.
Miss Ramsey: Rather silly, I should say.
Miss Garnett: Yes, it is rather silly, but I suppose
the author thought she had to do something.
Miss Ramsey: And disgusting. A married man, that way! I
don't see any comparison with Mr. Ashley.
Miss Garnett: No, there really isn't any. Emily has never
asked you to give him up. And besides, Peg Woffington really liked him
a littleloved him, in fact.
Miss Ramsey: And I don't like Mr. Ashley at all. Of
course I respect himand I admire his intellect; there's no question
about his being handsome; but I have never thought of him for a moment
in any other way; and now I can't even respect him.
Miss Garnett: Nobody could. I'm sure Emily would be welcome
to him as far as I was concerned. But he has never been about
with me so much as he has with you, and I don't wonder you feel
Miss Ramsey, coldly: I don't feel indignant. I wish to be
Miss Garnett: Yes, that is what I mean. And poor Emily is so
uninteresting! In the play that Kentucky Summers does, she is perfectly
fascinating at first, and you can see why the poor girl's fiancé should
be so taken with her. But I'm sure no one could say you had ever given
Mr. Ashley the least encouragement. It would be pure justice on your
part. I think you are grand! I shall always be proud of knowing what
you were going to do.
Miss Ramsey, after some moments of snubbing intention: I
don't know what I am going to do myself, yet. Or how. What was
that play? I never heard of it.
Miss Garnett: I don't remember distinctly, but it was about
a young man who falls in love with her, when he's engaged to another
girl, and she determines, as soon as she finds it out, to disgust him,
so that he will go back to the other girl, don't you know.
Miss Ramsey: That sounds rather more practical than the Peg
Woffington plan. What does she do?
Miss Garnett: Nothing you'd like to do.
Miss Ramsey: I'd like to do something in such a cause. What
does she do?
Miss Garnett: Oh, when he is calling on her, Kentucky
Summers pretends to fly into a rage with her sister, and she pulls her
hair down, and slams everything round the room, and scolds, and drinks
champagne, and wants him to drink with her, and I don't know what all.
The upshot is that he is only too glad to get away.
Miss Ramsey: It's rather loathsome, isn't it?
Miss Garnett: It is rather loathsome. But it was in a
good cause, and I suppose it was what an actress would think of.
Miss Ramsey: An actress?
Miss Garnett: I forgot. The heroine is a distinguished
actress, you know, and Kentucky could play that sort of part to
perfection. But I don't think a lady would like to cut up, much, in the
Miss Ramsey: Cut up?
Miss Garnett: She certainly frisks about the room a good
deal. How delicious these mallows are! Have you ever tried toasting
Miss Ramsey: At school. There seems an idea in it. And the
hero isn't married. I don't like the notion of a married man.
Miss Garnett: Oh, I'm quite sure he isn't married. He's
merely engaged. That makes the whole difference from the Peg Woffington
story. And there's no portrait, I'm confident, so that you wouldn't
have to do that part.
Miss Ramsey, haughtily: I don't propose to do any
part, if the affair can't be arranged without some such mountebank
Miss Garnett: You can manage it, if anybody can. You have so
much dignity that you could awe him into doing his duty by a single
glance. I wouldn't be in his place!
Miss Ramsey: I shall not give him a glance. I shall not see
him when he comes. That will be simpler still. To Nora, at the door:
What is it, Nora?
NORA, MISS RAMSEY, MISS GARNETT
Nora: Mr. Ashley, Miss Ramsey.
Miss Ramsey, with a severity not meant for Nora: Ask him to
sit down in the reception-room a moment.
Nora: Yes, Miss Ramsey.
MISS RAMSEY, MISS GARNETT
Miss Garnett, rising and seizing Miss Ramsey's hands: Oh,
Isobel! But you will be equal to it! Oh! Oh!
Miss Ramsey, with state: Why are you going, Esther? Sit
Miss Garnett: If I only could stay! If I could hide
under the sofa, or behind the screen! Isn't it
wonderfulprovidentialhis coming at the very instant? Oh, Isobel!
She clasps her friend convulsively, and after a moment's resistance
Miss Ramsey yields to her emotion, and they hide their faces in each
other's neck, and strangle their hysteric laughter. They try to regain
their composure, and then abandon the effort with a shuddering delight
in the perfection of the incident. What shall you do? Shall you trust
to inspiration? Shall you make him show his hand first, and then act?
Or shall you tell him at once that you know all, andOr no, of course
you can't do that. He's not supposed to know that you know. Oh, I can
imagine the freezing hauteur that you'll receive him with, and the icy
indifference you'll let him understand that he isn't a persona grata
with! If I were only as tall as you! He isn't as tall himself, and you
can tower over him. Don't sit down, or bend, or anything; just stand
with your head up, and glance carelessly at him under your lashes as if
nobody was there! Then it will gradually dawn upon him that you know
everything, and he'll simply go through the floor. They take some
ecstatic turns about the room, Miss Ramsey waltzing as gentleman. She
abruptly frees herself.
Miss Ramsey: No. It can't be as tacit as all that. There
must be something explicit. As you say, I must do something to
cure him of his fancyhis perfidyand make him glad to go back to
Miss Garnett: Yes! Do you think he deserves it?
Miss Ramsey: I've no wish to punish him.
Miss Garnett: How noble you are! I don't wonder he adores
you. I should. But you won't find it so easy. You must do
something drastic. It is drastic, isn't it? or do I mean static?
One of those things when you simply crush a person. But now I must go.
How I should like to listen at the door! We must kiss each other very
quietly, and I must slip outOh, you dear! How I long to know what
you'll do! But it will be perfect, whatever it is. You always did
do perfect things. They knit their fingers together in parting. On
second thoughts I won't kiss you. It might unman you, and you need all
your strength. Unman isn't the word, exactly, but you can't say ungirl,
can you? It would be ridiculous. Though girls are as brave as men when
it comes to duty. Good-by, dear! She catches Miss Ramsey about the
neck, and pressing her lips silently to her cheek, runs out. Miss
Ramsey rings and the maid appears.
NORA, MISS RAMSEY
Miss Ramsey, starting: Oh! Is that you, Nora? Of course!
Nora: Yes, Miss Ramsey.
Miss Ramsey: Do you know where my brother keeps his
Nora: Why, in his room, Miss Ramsey; you told him you didn't
like the smell here.
Miss Ramsey: Yes, yes. I forgot. And has he got any
Nora: He's got the whole bottle full of them yet.
Miss Ramsey: Full yet?
Nora: You wouldn't let him offer them to the gentlemen he
had to lunch, last week, because you said
Miss Ramsey: What did I say?
Nora: They were vulgar.
Miss Ramsey: And so they are. And so much the better! Bring
the cigarettes and the bottle and some glasses here, Nora, and then ask
Mr. Ashley to come. She walks away to the window, and hurriedly hums a
musical comedy waltz, not quite in tune, as from not remembering
exactly, and after Nora has tinkled in with a tray of glasses she
lights a cigarette and stands puffing it, gasping and coughing a
little, as Walter Ashley enters. Oh, Mr. Ashley! Sorry to make you
MR. ASHLEY, MISS RAMSEY
Mr. Ashley: The time has seemed long, but I could
have waited all day. I couldn't have gone without seeing you, and
telling you He pauses, as if bewildered at the spectacle of Miss
Ramsey's resolute practice with the cigarette, which she now takes from
her lips and waves before her face with innocent recklessness.
Miss Ramsey, chokingly: Do sit down. She drops into an
easy-chair beside the tea-table, and stretches the tips of her feet out
beyond the hem of her skirt in extremely lady-like abandon. Have a
cigarette. She reaches the box to him.
Ashley: Thank you. I won't smoke, I believe. He stands
frowning, while she throws her cigarette into a teacup and lights
Miss Ramsey: I thought everybody smoked. Then have a
Ashley: A what?
Miss Ramsey: A cocktail. So many people like them with their
tea, instead of rum, you know.
Ashley: No, I didn't know. He regards her with amaze,
rapidly hardening into condemnation.
Miss Ramsey: I hope you don't object to smoking.
Englishwomen all smoke.
Ashley: I think I've heard. I didn't know that American
Miss Ramsey: They don't, all. But they will when they
find how nice it is.
Ashley: And do Englishwomen all drink cocktails?
Miss Ramsey: They will when they find how nice it is. But
why do you keep standing? Sit down, if it's only for a moment. There is
something I would like to talk with you about. What were you saying
when you came in? I didn't catch it quite.
Miss Ramsey: And I can't persuade you to have a cocktail? I
believe I'll have another myself. She takes up the bottle, and tries
several times to pour from it. I do believe Nora's forgotten to open
it! That is a good joke on me. But I mustn't let her know. Do you
happen to have a pocket-corkscrew with you, Mr. Ashley?
Miss Ramsey: Well, never mind. She tosses her cigarette
into the grate, and lights another. I wonder why they always have
cynical persons smoke, on the stage? I don't see that the two things
necessarily go together, but it does give you a kind of thrill when
they strike a match, and it lights up their faces when they put it to
the cigarette. You know something good and wicked is going to happen.
She puffs violently at her cigarette, and then suddenly flings it away
and starts to her feet. Will youwould youopen the window? She
collapses into her chair.
Ashley, springing toward her: Miss Ramsey, are youyou are
Miss Ramsey: No, no! The window! A little faintit's so
closeThere, it's all right now. Or it will bewhenI've
hadanother cigarette. She leans forward to take one; Ashley gravely
watches her, but says nothing. She lights her cigarette, but, without
smoking, throws it away. Go on.
Ashley: I wasn't saying anything!
Miss Ramsey: Oh, I forgot. And I don't know what we were
talking about myself. She falls limply back into her chair and closes
Ashley: Sha'n't I ring for the maid? I'm afraid
Miss Ramsey, imperiously: Not at all. Not on any account.
Far less imperiously: You may pour me a cup of tea if you like. That
will make me well. The full strength, please. She motions away the
hot-water jug with which he has proposed qualifying the cup of tea
which he offers her.
Ashley: One lump or two?
Miss Ramsey: Only one, thank you. She takes the cup.
Ashley, offering the milk: Cream?
Miss Ramsey: A drop. He stands anxiously beside her while
she takes a long draught and then gives back the cup. That was
Miss Ramsey: No, that is just right. Now go on. Or, I
forgot. You were not going on. Oh dear! How much better I feel. There
must have been something poisonous in those cigarettes.
Ashley: Yes, there was tobacco.
Miss Ramsey: Oh, do you think it was the tobacco? Do throw
the whole box into the fire! I shall tell Bob never to get cigarettes
with tobacco in them after this. Won't you have one of the chocolates?
Or a mallow? I feel as if I should never want to eat anything again.
Where was I? She rests her cheek against the side of her chair
cushion, and speaks with closed eyes, in a weak murmur. Mr. Ashley
watches her at first with anxiety, then with a gradual change of
countenance until a gleam of intelligence steals into his look of
Ashley: You asked me to throw the cigarettes into the fire.
But I want you to let me keep them.
Miss Ramsey, with wide-flung eyes: You? You said you
Ashley, laughing: May I change my mind? One talks better.
He lights a cigarette. And, Miss Ramsey, I believe I will have
a cocktail, after all.
Miss Ramsey: Mr. Ashley!
Ashley, without noting her protest: I had forgotten that I
had a corkscrew in my pocket-knife. Don't trouble yourself to ring for
one. He produces the knife and opens the bottle; then, as Miss Ramsey
rises and stands aghast, he pours out a glass and offers it to her,
with mock devotion. As she shakes her head and recoils: Oh! I thought
you liked cocktails. They are very good after cigarettesvery
reviving. But if you won't He tosses off the cocktail and sets down
the glass, smacking his lips. Tell your brother I commend his
tastein cocktails andpuffing his cigarettetobacco. Poison for
poison, let me offer you one of my cigarettes. They're milder
than these. He puts his hand to his breast pocket.
Miss Ramsey, with nervous shrinking: No
Ashley: It's just as well. I find that I hadn't brought mine
with me. After a moment: You are so unconventional, so fearless, that
I should like your notion of the problem in a book I've just been
reading. Why should the mere fact that a man is married to one woman
prevent his being in love with another, or half a dozen others; or
Miss Ramsey: Mr. Ashley, do you wish to insult me?
Ashley: Dear me, no! But put the case a little differently.
Suppose a couple are merely engaged. Does that fact imply that neither
has a right to a change of mind, or to be fancy free to make another
Miss Ramsey, indignantly: Yes, it does. They are as sacredly
bound to each other as if they were married, and if they are false to
each other the girl is a wretch, and the man is a villain! And if you
think anything I have said can excuse you for breaking your engagement,
or that I don't consider you the wickedest person in the world, and the
most barefaced hypocrite, andandI don't know whatyou are very
Ashley: What in the world are you talking about?
Miss Ramsey: I am talking about you and your shameless
Ashley: My shameless perfI don't understand! I came here
to tell you that I love you
Miss Ramsey: How dare you! To speak to me of that, whenOr
perhaps you have broken with her, and think you are free to
hoodwink some other poor creature. But you will find that you have
chosen the wrong person. And it's no excuse for you her being a
littlea littlenot so bright as some girls, and not so good-looking.
Oh, it's enough to make any girl loathe her own looks! You mustn't
suppose you can come here red-handedyes, it's the same as a murder,
and any true girl would say soand tell me you care for me. No, Walter
Ashley, I haven't fallen so low as that, though I have the
disgrace of your acquaintance. And I hopeI hopeif you don't like my
smoking, and offering you cocktails, and talking the way I have, it
will be a lesson to you. And yes!I will say it! If it will add
to your misery to know that I did respect you very much, and thought
everythingvery highlyof you, and might have answered you very
differently before, when you were free to tell me thatnow I
have nothing but the utmost abhorrenceanddisapproval of you.
AndandOh, I don't see how you can be so hateful! She hides her
face in her hands and rushes from the room, overturning several chairs
in her course toward the door. Ashley remains staring after her, while
a succession of impetuous rings make themselves heard from the street
door. There is a sound of opening it, and then a flutter of skirts and
anxieties, and Miss Garnett comes running into the room.
MISS GARNETT, MR. ASHLEY
Miss Garnett, to the maid hovering in the doorway: Yes, I
must have left it here, for I never missed it till I went to pay my
fare in the motor-bus, and tried to think whether I had the exact dime,
and if I hadn't whether the conductor would change a five-dollar bill
or not, and then it rushed into my mind that I had left my purse
somewhere, and I knew I hadn't been anywhere else. She runs from the
mantel to the writing-desk in the corner, and then to the sofa, where,
peering under the tea-table, she finds her purse on the shelf. Oh,
here it is, Nora, just where I put it when we began to talk, and I must
have gone out and left it. I She starts with a little shriek, in
encountering Ashley. Oh, Mr. Ashley! What a fright you gave me! I was
just looking for my purse that I missed when I went to pay my fare in
the motor-bus, and was wondering whether I had the exact dime, or the
conductor could change a five-dollar bill, and She discovers, or
affects to discover, something strange in his manner. Whatwhat is
the matter, Mr. Ashley?
Ashley: I shall be glad to have you tell meor any one.
Miss Garnett: I don't understand. Has Isobel
Ashley: Miss Garnett, did you know I was engaged?
Miss Garnett: Why, yes; I was just going to congrat
Ashley: Well, don't, unless you can tell me whom I am
Miss Garnett: Why, aren't you engaged to Emily Fray?
Ashley: Not the least in the world.
Miss Garnett, in despair: Then what have I done? Oh,
what a fatal, fatal scrape! With a ray of returning hope: But she
told me herself that she was engaged! And you were together so
much, last summer! Desperately: Then if she isn't engaged to you,
whom is she engaged to?
Ashley: On general principles, I shouldn't know, but in this
particular instance I happen to know that she is engaged to Owen
Brooks. They were a great deal more together last summer.
Miss Garnett, with conviction: So they were! With returning
doubt: But why didn't she say so?
Ashley: I can't tell you; she may have had her reasons, or
she may not. Can you possibly tell me, in return for my ignorance, why
the fact of her engagement should involve me in the strange way it
seems to have done with Miss Ramsey?
Miss Garnett, with a burst of involuntary candor: Why, I
did that. Or, no! What's she been doing?
Ashley: Really, Miss Garnett
Miss Garnett: How can I tell you anything, if you don't tell
me everything? You wouldn't wish me to betray confidence?
Ashley: No, certainly not. What was the confidence?
Miss Garnett: WellBut I shall have to know first what
she's been doing. You must see that yourself, Mr. Ashley. He is
silent. Has shehas Isobelbeen behavingwell, out of character?
Ashley: Very much indeed.
Miss Garnett: I expected she would. She fetches a
thoughtful sigh, and for her greater emotional convenience she sinks
into an easy-chair and leans forward. Oh dear! It is a scrape.
Suddenly and imperatively: Tell me exactly what she did, if you hope
for any help whatever.
Ashley: Why, she offered me a cocktail
Miss Garnett: Oh, how good! I didn't suppose she would dare!
Ashley: And she smoked cigarettes
Miss Garnett: How perfectly divine! And what else?
Ashley, coldly: May I ask why you admire Miss Ramsey's
behaving out of character so much? I think the smoking made her rather
Miss Garnett: She would have let it kill her! Never
tell me that girls have no moral courage!
Ashley: But whatwhat was the meaning of it all?
Miss Garnett, thoughtfully: I suppose if I got her in for
it, I ought to get her out, even if I betray confidence.
Ashley: It depends upon the confidence. What is it?
Miss Garnett: WhyBut you're sure it's my duty?
Ashley: If you care what I think of her
Miss Garnett: Oh, Mr. Ashley, you mustn't think it strange
of Isobel, on my bended knees you mustn't! Why, don't you see? She was
just doing it to disgust you!
Ashley: Disgust me?
Miss Garnett: Yes, and drive you back to Emily Fray.
Ashley: Drive me ba
Miss Garnett: If she thought you were engaged to Emily, when
you were coming here all the time, and she wasn't quite sure that she
hated to have you, don't you see it would be her duty to sacrifice
herself, andOh, I suppose she's heard everything up there, and She
catches herself up and runs out of the room, leaving Ashley to await
the retarded descent of skirts which he hears on the stairs after the
crash of the street door has announced Miss Garnett's escape. He stands
with his back to the mantel, and faces Miss Ramsey as she enters the
MISS RAMSEY, ASHLEY
Miss Ramsey, with the effect of cold surprise: Mr. Ashley? I
thought I heardWasn't Miss Garnett
Ashley: She was. Did you think it was the street door
closing on me?
Miss Ramsey: How should I know? Then, courageously: No, I
didn't think it was. Why do you ask? She moves uneasily about the
room, with an air of studied inattention.
Ashley: Because if you did, I can put you in the right,
though I can't restore Miss Garnett's presence by my absence.
Miss Ramsey: You're ratherenigmatical. A ring is heard;
the maid pauses at the doorway. I'm not at home, Nora. To Mr. Ashley:
It seems to be very close
Ashley: It's my having been smoking.
Miss Ramsey: Your having? She goes to the window and
tries to lift it.
Ashley: Let me. He follows her to the window, where
he stands beside her.
Miss Ramsey: Now, she's seen me! And you here with me. Of
Ashley: I shouldn't mind. But I'm so sorry ifand I will
Miss Ramsey: You can't go nowtill she's round the corner.
She'll keep looking back, and she'll think I made you.
Ashley: But haven't you? Aren't you sending me back to Miss
Fray to tell her that I must keep my engagement, though I care nothing
for her, and care all the world for you? Isn't that what you want me to
Miss Ramsey: But you're not engaged to her! You just
Ashley: Just what?
Miss Ramsey, desperately: You wish me to disgrace myself
forever in your eyes. Well, I will; what does it matter now? I heard
you telling Esther you were not engaged. I overheard you.
Ashley: I fancied you must.
Miss Ramsey: I tried to overhear! I eavesdropped! I wish you to know that.
Ashley: And what do you wish me to do about it?
Miss Ramsey: I should think any self-respecting person would
know. I'm not a self-respecting person. Her wandering gaze
seems to fall for the first time upon the tray with the cocktails and
glasses and cigarettes; she flies at the bell-button and presses it
impetuously. As the maid appears: Take these things away, Nora,
please! To Ashley when the maid has left the room: Don't be afraid to
say what you think of me!
Ashley: I think all the world of you. But I should merely
like to ask
Miss Ramsey: Oh, you can ask anything of me now!
Ashley, with palpable insincerity: I should like to ask why
you don't respect yourself?
Miss Ramsey: Was that what you were going to ask? I know it
wasn't. But I will tell you. Because I have been a fool.
Ashley: Thank you. Now I will tell you what I was really
going to ask. Why did you wish to drive me back to Miss Fray when you
knew that I would be false to her a thousand times if I could only once
be true to you?
Miss Ramsey: Now you are insulting me! And that is
just the point. You may be a very clever lawyer, Mr. Ashley, and
everybody says you arevery able, and talented, and all that, but you
can't get round that point. You may torture any meaning you please out
of my words, but I shall always say you brought it on yourself.
Ashley: Brought what on?
Miss Ramsey: Mr. Ashley! I won't be cross-questioned.
Ashley: Was that why you smoked, and poured cocktails out of
an unopened bottle? Was it because you wished me to hate you, and
remember my duty, and go back to Miss Fray? Well, it was a dead
failure. It made me love you more than ever. I am a fool too, as you
Miss Ramsey: Say anything you please. I have given you the
right. I shall not resent it. Go on.
Ashley: I should only repeat myself. You must have known how
much I care for you, Isobel. Do you mind my calling you Isobel?
Miss Ramsey: Not in the least if you wish to humiliate me by
it. I should like you to trample on me in every way you can.
Ashley: Trample on you? I would rather be run over by a
steam-roller than tread on the least of your outlying feelings,
dearest. Do you mind my saying dearest?
Miss Ramsey: I have told you that you can say anything you
like. I deserve it. But oh, if you have a spark of pity
Ashley: I'm a perfect conflagration of compassion, darling.
Do you object to darling?
Miss Ramsey, with starting tears: It doesn't matter now.
She has let her lovely length trail into the corner of the sofa, where
she desperately reclines, supporting her elbow on the arm of it, and
resting her drooping head on her hand. He draws a hassock up in front
of her, and sits on it.
Ashley: This represents kneeling at your feet. One doesn't
do it literally any more, you know.
Miss Ramsey, in a hollow voice: I should despise you if you
did, anddeeply murmurousI don't wish to despise you.
Ashley: No, I understand that. You merely wish me to
despise you. But why?
Miss Ramsey, nervously: You know.
Ashley: But I don't knowIsobel, dearest, darling, if you
will allow me to express myself so fully. How should I know?
Miss Ramsey: I've told you.
Ashley: May I take your hand? For good-by! He possesses
himself of it. It seems to go along with those expressions.
Miss Ramsey, self-contemptuously: Oh yes.
Ashley: Thank you. Where were we?
Miss Ramsey, sitting up and recovering her hand: You were
Ashley: Was I? But not before I had told you that I knew you
were doing all that for my best good, and I wishI wish you
could have seen how exemplary you looked when you were trying to pour a
cocktail out of a corked bottle, between your remarks on passionate
fiction and puffs of the insidious cigarette! When the venomous tobacco
began to get in its deadly work, and you turned pale and reeled a
little, and called for air, it made me mentally vow to go back to Miss
Fray instantly, whether I was engaged to her or not, and cut out poor
Miss Ramsey: Was it Mr. Brooks? I didn't hear the name
Ashley: When I was telling Miss Garnett? I ought to have
spoken louder, but I wasn't sure at the time you were listening. Though
as you were saying, what does it matter now?
Miss Ramsey: Did I say that?
Ashley: Words to that effect. And they have made me feel how
unworthy of you I am. I'm not heroicby nature. But I could be, if you
made meby art
Miss Ramsey, springing to her feet indignantly: Now, you are
ridiculing meyou are making fun of me.
Ashley, gathering himself up from his hassock with
difficulty, and confronting her: Do I look like a man who would dare
to make fun of you? I am half a head shorter than you, and in moral
grandeur you overtop me so that I would always have to wear a high hat
when I was with you.
Miss Ramsey, thoughtfully: Plenty of girls are that way,
now. But if you are ashamed of my being tall Flashingly, and with
Ashley: Ashamed! I can always look up to you, you can always
stoop to me! He stretches his arms toward her.
Miss Ramsey, recoiling bewildered: Wait! We haven't got to
Ashley: Oh, Isobeldearestdarling! We've got past it!
We're on the home stretch, now.
XIX. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
MR. AND MRS. CLARENCE FOUNTAIN
Mrs. Clarence Fountain, backing into the room, and closing
the door noiselessly before looking round: Oh, you poor thing! I can
see that you are dead, at the first glance. I'm dead myself, for that
matter. She is speaking to her husband, who clings with one hand to
the chimney-piece, and supports his back with the other; from this hand
a little girl's long stocking lumpily dangles; Mrs. Fountain, turning
round, observes it. Not finished yet? But I don't wonder! I wonder
you've even begun. Well, now, I will take hold with you. In
token of the aid she is going to give, Mrs. Fountain sinks into a chair
and rolls a distracted eye over the littered and tumbled room. It's
worse than I thought it would be. You ought to have smoothed the papers
out and laid them in a pile as fast as you unwrapped the things; that
is the way I always do; and wound the strings up and put them one side.
Then you wouldn't have had to wade round in them. I suppose I oughtn't
to have left it to you, but if I had let you put the children to
bed you know you'd have told them stories and kept them all night over
their prayers. And as it was each of them wanted to put in a special
Christmas clause; I know what kind of Christmas clause I should
have put in if I'd been frank! I'm not sure it's right to keep up the
deception. One comfort, the oldest ones don't believe in it any more
than we do. Dear! I did think at one time this afternoon I should have
to be brought home in an ambulance; it would have been a convenience,
with all the packages. I simply marvel at their delivery wagons getting
Fountain, coming to the table, where she sits, and taking up
one of the toys with which it is strewn: They haven't all of them.
Mrs. Fountain: What do you mean by all of them?
Fountain: I mean half. He takes up a mechanical locomotive
and stuffs it into the stocking he holds.
Mrs. Fountain, staying his hand: What are you doing? Putting
Jimmy's engine into Susy's stocking! She'll be perfectly insulted when
she finds it, for she'll know you weren't paying the least attention,
and you can't blame Santa Claus for it with her. If that's what
you've been doing with the other stockingsBut there aren't any
others. Don't tell me you've just begun! Well, I could simply cry.
Fountain, dropping into the chair on the other side of the
table, under the shelter of a tall Christmas tree standing on it: Do
you call unwrapping a whole car-load of truck and getting it sorted,
just beginning? I've been slaving here from the dawn of time, and I had
to have some leisure for the ghosts of my own Christmases when I
was little. I didn't have to wade round in the wrappings of my presents
in those days. But it isn't the sad memories that take it out of you;
it's the happy ones. I've never had a ghastlier half-hour than I've
just spent in the humiliating multiplicity of these gifts. All the old
birthdays and wedding-days and Fourth of Julys and home-comings and
children's christenings I've ever had came trooping back. There
oughtn't to be any gay anniversaries; they should be forbidden by law.
If I could only have recalled a few dangerous fevers and funerals!
Mrs. Fountain: Clarence! Don't say such a thing; you'll be
punished for it. I know how you suffer from those gloomy feelings, and
I pity you. You ought to bear up against them. If I gave way!
You must think about something cheerful in the future when the
happiness of the past afflicts you, and set one against the other; life
isn't all a vale of tears. You must keep your mind fixed on the
work before you. I don't believe it's the number of the packages here
that's broken you down. It's the shopping that's worn you out; I'm sure
I'm a mere thread. And I had been at it from immediately after
breakfast; and I lunched in one of the stores with ten thousand
suburbans who had come pouring in with the first of their unnatural
trains: I did hope I should have some of the places to myself; but they
were every one jammed. And you came up from your office about four,
Fountain: Fresh! Yes, quite dewy from a day's fight with the
beasts at Ephesus on the eve of Christmas week.
Mrs. Fountain: Well, don't be cynical, Clarence, on this, of
all nights of the year. You know how sorry I always am for what you
have to go through down there, and I suppose it's worse, as you say, at
this season than any other time of year. It's the terrible
concentration of everything just before Christmas that makes it so
killing. I really don't know which of the places was the worst; the big
department stores or the separate places for jewelry and toys and books
and stationery and antiques; they were all alike, and all maddening.
And the rain outside, and everybody coming in reeking; though I don't
believe that sunshine would have been any better; there'd have been
more of them. I declare, it made my heart ache for those poor creatures
behind the counters, and I don't know whether I suffered most for them
when they kept up a ghastly cheerfulness in their attention or were
simply insulting in their indifference. I know they must be all dead by
this time. 'Going up?' 'Going down?' 'Ca-ish!' 'Here, boy!' I believe
it will ring in my ears as long as I live. And the whiz of those
overhead wire things, and having to wait ages for your change, and then
drag your tatters out of the stores into the streets! If I hadn't had
you with me at the last I should certainly have dropped.
Fountain: Yes, and what had become of your good resolutions
about doing all your Christmas shopping in July?
Mrs. Fountain: My good resolutions? Really, Clarence,
sometimes if it were not cruelty to animals I should like to hit you.
My good You know that you suggested that plan, and it
wasn't even original with you. The papers have been talking about it
for years; but when you brought it up as such a new idea, I fell in
with it to please you
Fountain: Now, look out, Lucy!
Mrs. Fountain: Yes, to please you, and to help you forget
the Christmas worry, just as I've been doing to-night. You never spare
Fountain: Stick to the record. Why didn't you do your
Christmas shopping in July?
Mrs. Fountain: Why didn't I? Did you expect me to do my
Christmas shopping down at Sculpin Beach, where I spent the whole time
from the middle of June till the middle of September? Why didn't you
do the Christmas shopping in July? You had the stores under your nose
here from the beginning till the end of summer, with nothing in the
world to hinder you, and not a chick or a child to look after.
Fountain: Oh, I like that. You think I was leading a life of
complete leisure here, with the thermometer among the nineties
nine-tenths of the time?
Mrs. Fountain: I only know you were bragging in all your
letters about your bath and your club, and the folly of any one going
away from the cool, comfortable town in the summer. I suppose you'll
say that was to keep me from feeling badly at leaving you. When it was
only for the children's sake! I will let you take them the next time.
Fountain: While you look after my office? And you think the
stores are full of Christmas things in July, I suppose.
Mrs. Fountain: I never thought so; and now I hope you see
the folly of that idea. No, Clarence. We must be logical in everything.
You can't get rid of Christmas shopping at Christmas-time.
Fountain, shouting wrathfully: Then I say get rid of
MR. FRANK WATKINS, MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Watkins, opening the door for himself and struggling into the
room with an armful of parcels: I'm with you there, Clarence.
Christmas is at the root of Christmas shopping, and Christmas giving,
and all the rest of it. Oh, you needn't be afraid, Lucy. I didn't hear
any epithets; just caught the drift of your argument through the
keyhole. I've been kicking at the door ever since you began. Where
shall I dump these things?
Mrs. Fountain: Oh, you poor boy! Hereanywhereon the
flooron the sofaon the table. She clears several spaces and helps
Watkins unload. Clarence! I'm surprised at you. What are you thinking
Fountain: I'm thinking that if this goes on, I'll let
somebody else arrange the presents.
Watkins: If I saw a man coming into my house with a load
like this to-night, I'd throw him into the street. But living in a
ninth-story flat like you, it might hurt him.
Mrs. Fountain, reading the inscriptions on the packages:
'For Benny from his uncle Frank.' Oh, how sweet of you, Frank! And
here's a kiss for his uncle Frank. She embraces him with as little
interruption as possible. 'From Uncle Frank to Jim.' Oh, I know what
that is! She feels the package over. And this is for 'Susy from her
aunt Sue.' Oh, I knew she would remember her namesake. 'For Maggie.
Merry Christmas from Mrs. Watkins.' 'Bridget, with Mrs. Watkins's best
wishes for a Merry Christmas.' Both the girls! But it's like Sue; she
never forgets anybody. And what's this for Clarence? I must
know! Not a bath-gown? Undoing it: I simply must see it. Blue!
His very color! Holding it up: From you, Frank? He nods. Clarence!
Watkins: If Fountain tries to kiss me, I'll
Fountain: I wouldn't kiss you for a dozen bath-gowns.
Lifting it up from the floor where Mrs. Fountain has dropped it: It
is rather nice.
Watkins: Don't overwhelm me.
Mrs. Fountain, dancing about with a long, soft roll in her
hand: Oh, oh, oh! She saw me gloating on it at Shumaker's! I do wonder
if it is.
Fountain, reaching for it: Why, open it
Mrs. Fountain: You dare! No, it shall be opened the very
last thing in the morning, now, to punish you! How is poor Sue? I saw
her literally dropping by the way at Shumaker's.
Watkins, making for the door: Well, she must have got up
again. I left her registering a vow that if ever she lived to see
another Christmas she would leave the country months before the
shopping began. She called down maledictions on all the recipients of
her gifts and wished them the worst harm that can befall the wicked.
Mrs. Fountain: Poor Sue! She simply lives to do people good,
and I can understand exactly how she feels toward them. I'll be round
bright and early to-morrow to thank her. Why do you go?
Watkins: Well, I can't stay here all night, and I'd better
let you and Clarence finish up. He escapes from her detaining embrace
and runs out.
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Mrs. Fountain, intent upon her roll: How funny he is! I
wonder if he did hear anything but our scolding voices? Where were we?
Fountain: I had just called you a serpent.
Mrs. Fountain, with amusement: No, really? Feeling the
parcel: If it's that Spanish lace scarf I can tell her it was machine
lace. I saw it at the first glance. But poor Sue has no taste. I
suppose I must stand it. But I can't bear to think what she's given the
girls and children. She means well. Did you really say serpent,
Clarence? You never called me just that before.
Fountain: No, but you called me a laughing hyena, and said I
scoffed at everything sacred.
Mrs. Fountain: I can't remember using the word hyena,
exactly, though I do think the way you talk about Christmas is
dreadful. But I take back the laughing hyena.
Fountain: And I take back the serpent. I meant dove, anyway.
But it's this Christmas-time when a man gets so tired he doesn't know
what he's saying.
Mrs. Fountain: Well, you're good, anyway, dearest,
whatever you say; and now I'm going to help you arrange the things. I
suppose there'll be lots more to-morrow, but we must get rid of these
now. Don't you wish nobody would do anything for us? Just the
childrendear little souls! I don't believe but what we can make Jim
and Susy believe in Santa Claus again; Benny is firm in the faith; he
put him into his prayer. I declare, his sweetness almost broke my
heart. At a knock: Who's that, I wonder? Come in! Oh, it's you,
THE FOUNTAINS, FOUNTAIN'S SISTERS
Maggie: It's Mr. Fountain's sisters just telephoned up.
Mrs. Fountain: Have them come up at once, Maggie, of
course. As Maggie goes out: Another interruption! If it's going to
keep on like this! Shouldn't you have thought they might have sent
Fountain: I thought something like it in Frank's case; but I
didn't say it.
Mrs. Fountain: And I don't know why I say it, now.
It's because I'm so tired I don't know what I am saying. Do
forgive me! It's this terrible Christmas spirit that gets into me. But
now you'll see how nice I can be to them. At a tap on the door: Come
in! Come in! Don't mind our being in all this mess. So darling of you
to come! You can help cheer Clarence up; you know his Christmas Eve
dumps. She runs to them and clasps them in her arms with several
half-open packages dangling from her hands and contrasting their
disarray with the neatness of their silk-ribboned and tissue-papered
parcels which their embrace makes meet at her back. Minnie! Aggie! To
lug here, when you ought to be at home in bed dying of fatigue! But
it's just like you, both of you. Did you ever see anything like the
stores to-day? Do sit down, or swoon on the floor, or anything. Let me
have those wretched bundles which are simply killing you. She looks at
the different packages. 'For Benny from Grandpa.' 'For a good girl,
from Susy's grandmother.' 'Jim, from Aunt Minnie and Aunt Aggie.'
'Lucy, with love from Aggie and Minnie.' And Clarence! What hearts you
have got! Well, I always say there never were such thoughtful
girls, and you always show such taste and such originality. I long to
get at the things. She keeps fingering the large bundle marked with
her husband's name. Notnota
Minnie: Yes, a bath-robe. Unless you give him a cigar-case
it's about the only thing you can give a man.
Aggie: Minnie thought of it and I chose it. Blue, because
it's his color. Try it on, Clarence, and if it's too long
Mrs. Fountain: Yes, do, dear! Let's see you with it on.
While the girls are fussily opening the robe, she manages to push her
brother's gift behind the door. Then, without looking round at her
husband. It isn't a bit too long. Just the very Looking: Well, it
can easily be taken up at the hem. I can do it to-morrow. She abandons
him to his awkward isolation while she chatters on with his sisters.
Sit down; I insist! Don't think of going. Did you see that frightful
pack of people when the cab horse fell down in front of Shumaker's?
Minnie: See it?
Aggie: We were in the midst of it! I wonder we ever got out
alive. It's enough to make you wish never to see another Christmas as
long as you live.
Minnie: A great many won't live. There will be more
grippe, and more pneumonia, and more appendicitis from those jams of
people in the stores!
Aggie: The germs must have been swarming.
Fountain: Lucy was black with them when we got home.
Mrs. Fountain: Don't pay the slightest attention to him,
girls. He'll probably be the first to sneeze himself.
Minnie: I don't know about sneezing. I shall only be too
glad if I don't have nervous prostration from it.
Aggie: I'm glad we got our motor-car just in time. Any one
that goes in the trolleys now will take their life in their hand. The
girls rise and move toward the door. Well, we must go on now. We're
making a regular round; you can't trust the delivery wagons at a time
like this. Good-by. Merry Christmas to the children. They're fast
asleep by this time, I suppose.
Minnie: I only wish I was!
Mrs. Fountain: I believe you, Minnie. Good-by. Good night.
Good night, Aggie. Clarence, go to the elevator with them! Or no, he
can't in that ridiculous bath-gown! Turning to Fountain as the door
closes: Now I've done it.
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Fountain: It isn't a thing you could have wished to phrase
that way, exactly.
Mrs. Fountain: And you made me do it. Never thanking them,
or anything, and standing there like I don't know what, and leaving the
talk all to me. And now, making me lose my temper again, when I wanted
to be so nice to you. Well, it is no use trying, and from this on I
won't. Clarence! She has opened the parcel addressed to herself
and now stands transfixed with joy and wonder. See what the
girls have given me! The very necklace I've been longing for at
Planets', and denying myself for the last fortnight! Well, never will I
say your sisters are mean again.
Fountain: You ought to have said that to them.
Mrs. Fountain: It quite reconciles one to Christmas. What?
Oh, that was rather nasty. You know I didn't mean it. I was so
excited I didn't know what I was saying. I'm sure nobody ever got on
better with sisters-in-law, and that shows my tact; if I do make a
slip, now and then, I can always get out of it. They will understand.
Do you think it was very nice of them to flaunt their new motor in my
face? But of course anything your family does is perfect, and
always was, though I must say this necklace is sweet of them. I wonder
they had the taste. A tap on the door is heard. Come in, Maggie!
Sotto voce. Take it off. She snatches his bath-robe and tosses it
behind the door.
WILBUR HAZARD, THE FOUNTAINS
Hazard: I suppose I can come in, even if I'm not Maggie.
Catch, Fountain. He tosses a large bundle to Fountain. It's huge, but
it isn't hefty. He turns to go out again.
Mrs. Fountain: Oh, oh, oh! Don't go! Come in and help us.
What have you brought Clarence! May I feel?
Hazard: You can look, if you like. I'm rather proud of it.
There's only one other thing you can give a man, and I said, 'No, not a
cigar-case. Fountain smokes enough already, but if a bath-robe can
induce him to wash' He goes out.
Mrs. Fountain, screaming after him through the open door:
Oh, how good! Come back and see it on him. She throws the bath-robe
over Fountain's shoulders.
Hazard, looking in again: Perfect fit, just as the Jew said,
and the very color for Fountain. He vanishes, shutting the door behind
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Mrs. Fountain: How coarse! Well, my dear, I don't know where
you picked up your bachelor friends. I hope this is the last of them.
Fountain: Hazard's the only one who has survived your
rigorous treatment. But he always had a passion for cold shoulder, poor
fellow. As bath-robes go, this isn't bad. He gets his arms into it,
and walks up and down. Heigh?
Mrs. Fountain: Yes, it is pretty good. But the worst of
Christmas is that it rouses up all your old friends.
Fountain: They feel so abnormally good, confound them. I
suppose poor old Hazard half killed himself looking this thing up and
building the joke to go with it.
Mrs. Fountain: Well, take it off, now, and come help me with
the children's presents. You're quite forgetting about them, and it'll
be morning and you'll have the little wretches swarming in before you
can turn round. Dear little souls! I can sympathize with their
impatience, of course. But what are you going to do with these
bath-robes? You can't wear four bath-robes.
Fountain: I can change them every day. But there ought to be
seven. This hood is rather a new wrinkle, though, isn't it? I suppose
it's for a voyage, and you pull it up over your head when you come
through the corridor back to your stateroom. We shall have to go to
Mrs. Fountain: I would go to Asia, Africa, and Oceanica, to
escape another Christmas. Now if there are any more bath-robesCome
MAGGIE, THE FOUNTAINS
Maggie, bringing in a bundle: Something a District Messenger
brought. Will you sign for it, ma'am?
Mrs. Fountain: You sign, Clarence. If I know anything about
the look and the feel of a bundle, this is another bath-robe,
but I shall soon see. While she is cutting the string and tearing the
wrappings away, Fountain signs and Maggie goes. Mrs. Fountain shakes
out the folds of the robe. Well, upon my word, I should think there
was conspiracy to insult you, Clarence. I should like to know who has
had the effronteryWhat's on it?
Fountain, reading from the card which had fallen out of the
garment to the floor: 'With Christmas greetings from Mrs. Arthur J.
Mrs. Fountain, dropping the robe and seizing the card:
Mrs. Arthur J. Gibby! Well, upon my word, this is impudence.
It's not only impudence, it's indelicacy. And I had always thought she
was the very embodiment of refinement, and I've gone about saying so.
Now I shall have to take it back. The idea of a lady sending a
bath-robe to a gentleman! What next, I wonder! What right has Mrs.
Gibby to send you a bath-robe? Don't prevaricate! Remember that the
truth is the only thing that can save you. Matters must have gone
pretty far, when a woman could send you anything sointimate. What are
you staring at with that paper? You needn't hope to divert my mind
Fountain, giving her the paper in which the robe came: Seems
to be for Mrs. Clarence Fountain.
Mrs. Fountain, snatching it from him: What! It is, it is!
Oh, poor dear Lilly! How can you ever forgive me? She saw me looking at
it to-day at Shumaker's, and it must have come into her head in despair
what else to get me. But it was a perfect inspirationfor it was just
what I was longing for. Whylaughing hysterically while she holds up
the robe, and turns it this way and thatI might have seen at a
glance that it wasn't a man's, with this lace on and this silk hood,
andshe hurries into it, and pulls it forward, looking down at either
sideit's just the right length, and if it was made for me it
couldn't fit me better. What a joke I shall have with Lilly,
when I tell her about it. I sha'n't spare myself a bit!
Fountain: Then I hope you'll spare me. I have some little
delicacy of feeling, and I don't like the notion of a lady's giving me
a bath-robe. It'sintimate. I don't know where you picked up your girl
Mrs. Fountain, capering about joyfully: Oh, how funny you
are, darling! But go on. I don't mind it, now. And you may be glad
you've got off so easily. Only now if there are any more bath-robes
A timid rap is heard at the door. Come in, Maggie! The door is slowly
set ajar, then flung suddenly wide open, and Jim and Susy in their
night-gowns rush dancing and exulting in.
JIM, SUSY, THE FOUNTAINS
Susy: We've caught you, we've caught you.
Jim: I just bet it was you, and now I've won, haven't I,
Susy: And I've won, too, haven't I, father? Arrested at
sight of her father in the hooded bath-gown: He does look like Santa
Claus, doesn't he, Jimmy? But the real Santa Claus would be all over
snow, and a long, white beard. You can't fool us!
Jim: You can't fool us! We know you, we know you! And
mother dressed up, too! There isn't any Mrs. Santa Claus, and that
Mrs. Fountain, severely: Dreadful little things! Who said
you might come here? Go straight back to bed, this minute, orWill
you send them back, Clarence, and not stand staring so? What are you
Fountain, dreamily: Nothing. Merely wondering what we shall
do when we've got rid of our superstitions. Shall we be the better for
it, or even the wiser?
Mrs. Fountain: What put that question into your head?
Christmas, I suppose; and that's another reason for wishing there was
no such thing. If I had my way, there wouldn't be.
Jim: Oh, mother!
Susy: No Christmas?
Mrs. Fountain: Well, not for disobedient children who get
out of bed and come in, spoiling everything. If you don't go straight
back, it will be the last time, Santa Claus or no Santa Claus.
Jim: And if we go right back?
Susy: And promise not to come in any more?
Mrs. Fountain: Well, we'll see how you keep your promise. If
you don't, that's the end of Christmas in this house.
Jim: It's a bargain, then! Come on, Susy!
Susy: And we do it for you, mother. And for you, father. We
just came in for fun, anyway.
Jim: We just came for a surprise.
Mrs. Fountain, kissing them both: Well, then, if it was only
for fun, we'll excuse you this time. Run along, now, that's good
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Fountain: Well? He looks up at her from where he has
dropped into a chair beside the table strewn with opened and unopened
gifts at the foot of the Christmas tree.
Mrs. Fountain: What are you mooning about?
Fountain: What if it was all a fake? Those thousands and
hundreds of thousands of churches that pierce the clouds with their
spires; those millions of ministers and missionaries; those billions of
worshipers, sitting and standing and kneeling, and singing and praying;
those nuns and monks, and brotherhoods and sisterhoods, with their
ideals of self-denial, and their duties to the sick and poor; those
martyrs that died for the one true faith, and those other martyrs of
the other true faiths whom the one true faith tortured and killed;
those masses and sermons and ceremonies, what if they were all a
delusion, a mistake, a misunderstanding? What if it were all as unlike
the real thing, if there is any real thing, as this pagan Christmas of
ours is as unlike a Christian Christmas?
Mrs. Fountain, springing up: I knew it! I knew that it was
this Christmas giving that was making you morbid again. Can't you shake
it off and be cheerfullike me? I'm sure I have to bear twice as much
of it as you have. I've been shopping the whole week, and you've been
just this one afternoon. She begins to catch her breath, and fails in
searching for her handkerchief in the folds of her dress under the
Fountain, offering his handkerchief: Take mine.
Mrs. Fountain, catching it from him, and hiding her face in
it on the table: You ought to help me bear up, and instead of that you
fling yourself on my sympathies and break me down. Lifting her face:
And if it was all a fake, as you say, and an illusion, what would you
do, what would you give people in place of it?
Fountain: I don't know.
Mrs. Fountain: What would you have in place of Christmas
Fountain: I don't know.
Mrs. Fountain: Well, then, I wouldn't set myself up to
preach down everythingin a blue bath-gown. You've no idea how
ridiculous you are.
Fountain: Oh, yes, I have. I can see you. You look like one
of those blue nuns in Rome. But I don't remember any lace on them.
Mrs. Fountain: Well, you don't look like a blue monk, you
needn't flatter yourself, for there are none. You look likeWhat are
you thinking about?
Fountain: Oh, nothing. What do you suppose is in all these
packages here? Useful things, that we need, that we must have? You know
without looking that it's the superfluity of naughtiness in one form or
other. And the givers of these gifts, they had to give them,
just as we've had to give dozens of gifts ourselves. We ought to have
put on our cards, 'With the season's bitterest grudges,' 'In hopes of a
return,' 'With a hopeless sense of the folly,' 'To pay a hateful debt,'
'With impotent rage and despair.'
Mrs. Fountain: I don't deny it, Clarence. You're perfectly
right; I almost wish we had put it. How it would have made them
hop! But they'd have known it was just the way they felt themselves.
Fountain, going on thoughtfully: It's the cap-sheaf of the
social barbarism we live in, the hideous hypocrisy. It's no use to put
it on religion. The Jews keep Christmas, too, and we know what they
think of Christianity as a belief. No, we've got to go further back, to
the Pagan SaturnaliaWell, I renounce the whole affair, here and now.
I'm going to spend the rest of the night bundling these things up, and
to-morrow I'm going to spend the day in a taxi, going round and giving
them back to the fools that sent them.
Mrs. Fountain: And I'm going with you. I hate it as much as
you doCome in, Maggie!
MAGGIE, MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Maggie: Something the elevator-boy says he forgot. It came
along with the last one.
Mrs. Fountain, taking a bundle from her: If this is another
bath-robe, Clarence! It is, as I live. Now if it is a woman
sending it She picks up a card which falls out of the robe as she
unfolds it. 'Love the Giver,' indeed! Now, Clarence, I insist, I
Fountain: Hold on, hold on, my dear. The last bath-robe that
came from a woman was for you.
Mrs. Fountain: So it was. I don't know what I was thinking
about; and I do beg your parBut this is a man's bath-robe!
Fountain, taking the card which she mechanically stretches
out to him: And a man sends itold Fellows. Can't you read print?
Ambrose J. Fellows, and a message in writing: 'It was a toss-up between
this and a cigar-case, and the bath-robe won. Hope you haven't got any
other thoughtful friends.'
Mrs. Fountain: Oh, very brilliant, giving me a start like
this! I shall let Mr. Fellows knowWhat is it, Maggie? Open the door,
Maggie, opening: It's just a District Messenger.
Fountain, ironically: Oh, only a District Messenger. He
signs the messenger's slip, while his wife receives from Maggie a
bundle which she regards with suspicion.
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Mrs. Fountain: 'From Uncle Philip for Clarence.' Well, Uncle
Philip, if you have sent ClarenceClarence! breaking into a
whimper: It is, it is! It's another.
Fountain: Well, that only makes the seventh, and just enough
for every day in the week. It's quite my ideal. Now, if there's nothing
about a cigar-caseHello! He feels in the pocket of the robe and
brings out a cigar-case, from which a slip of paper falls: 'Couldn't
make up my mind between them, so send both. Uncle Phil.' Well, this is
the last stroke of Christmas insanity.
Mrs. Fountain: His brain simply reeled under it, and gave
way. It shows what Christmas really comes to with a man of strong
intellect like Uncle Phil.
Fountain, opening the case: Oh, I don't know! He's put some
cigars in herein a lucid interval, probably. There's hope yet.
Mrs. Fountain, in despair: No, Clarence, there's no hope.
Don't flatter yourself. The only way is to bundle back all their
presents and never, never, never give or receive another one. Come!
Let's begin tying them up at once; it will take us the rest of the
night. A knock at the door. Come, Maggie.
JIM AND SUSY, MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Jim and Susy, pushing in: We can't sleep, mother. May we
have a pillow fight to keep us amused till we're drowsy?
Mrs. Fountain, desolately: Yes, go and have your pillow
fight. It doesn't matter now. We're sending the presents all back,
anyway. She begins frantically wrapping some of the things up.
Susy: Oh, father, are you sending them back?
Jim: She's just making believe. Isn't she, father?
Fountain: Well, I'm not so sure of that. If she doesn't do
it, I will.
Mrs. Fountain, desisting: Will you go right back to bed?
Jim and Susy: Yes, we will.
Mrs. Fountain: And to sleep, instantly?
Jim and Susy, in succession: We won't keep awake a minute
Mrs. Fountain: Very well, then, we'll see. Now be off with
you. As they put their heads together and go out laughing: And
remember, if you come here another single time, back go every one of
Fountain: As soon as ever Santa Claus can find a moment for
Jim, derisively: Oh, yes, Santa Claus!
Susy: I guess if you wait for Santa Claus to take them
MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN
Mrs. Fountain: Tiresome little wretches. Of course we can't
expect them to keep up the self-deception.
Fountain: They'll grow to another. When they're men and
women they'll pretend that Christmas is delightful, and go round giving
people the presents that they've worn their lives out in buying and
getting together. And they'll work themselves up into the notion that
they are really enjoying it, when they know at the bottom of their
souls that they loathe the whole job.
Mrs. Fountain: There you are with your pessimism again! And
I had just begun to feel cheerful about it!
Fountain: Since when? Since I proposed sending this rubbish
back to the givers with our curse?
Mrs. Fountain: No, I was thinking what fun it would be if we
could get up a sort of Christmas game, and do it just among relations
and intimate friends.
Fountain: Ah, I wish you luck of it. Then the thing would
begin to have some reality, and just as in proportion as people had the
worst feelings in giving the presents, their best feeling would be hurt
in getting them back.
Mrs. Fountain: Then why did you ever think of it?
Fountain: To keep from going mad. Come, let's go on with
this job of sorting the presents, and putting them in the stockings and
hanging them up on the tree and laying them round the trunk of it. One
thing: it's for the last time. As soon as Christmas week is over, I
shall inaugurate an educational campaign against the whole Christmas
superstition. It must be extirpated root and branch, and the
extirpation must begin in the minds of the children; we old fools are
hopeless; we must die in it; but the children can be saved. We must
organize and make a house-to-house fight; and I'll begin in our own
house. To-morrow, as soon as the children have made themselves
thoroughly sick with candy and cake and midday dinner, I will appeal to
their reason, and get them to agree to drop it; to sign the
Anti-Christmas pledge; to
Mrs. Fountain: Clarence! I have an idea.
Fountain: Not a bright one?
Mrs. Fountain: Yes, a bright one, even if you didn't
originate it. Have Christmas confined entirely to childrento the very
youngestto children that believe firmly in Santa Claus.
Fountain: Oh, hello! Wouldn't that leave Jim and Susy out? I
couldn't have them left out.
Mrs. Fountain: That's true. I didn't think of that. Well,
say, to children that either believe or pretend to believe in
him. What's that? She stops at a faint, soft sound on the door.
It's Maggie with her hands so full she's pushing with her elbow. Come
in, Maggie, come in. Come in! Don't you hear me? Come in, I say!
Oh, it isn't Maggie, of course! It's those worthless, worthless little
wretches, again. She runs to the door calling out, Naughty, naughty,
naughty! as she runs. Then, flinging the door wide, with a final cry
of Naughty, I say! she discovers a small figure on the
threshold, nightgowned to its feet, and looking up with a frightened,
wistful face. Why, Benny! She stoops down and catches the child in
her arms, and presses him tight to her neck, and bends over, covering
his head with kisses. What in the world are you doing here, you poor
little lamb? Is mother's darling walking in his sleep? What did you
want, my pet? Tell mudda, do! Whisper it in mudda's big ear! Can't you
tell mudda? What? Whisper a little louder, love! We're not angry with
you, sweetness. Now, try to speak louder. Is that Santa Claus? No,
dearest, that's just dadda. Santa Claus hasn't come yet, but he will
soon. What? Say it again. Is there any Santa Claus? Why, who
else could have brought all these presents? Presents for Benny and Jim
and Susy and mudda, and seven bath-gowns for dadda. Isn't that funny?
Seven! And one for mudda. What? I can't quite hear you, pet. Are we
going to send the presents back? Why, who ever heard of such a thing?
Jim said so? And Susy? Well, I will settle with them, when I come to
them. You don't want me to? Well, I won't, then, if Benny doesn't want
mudda to. I'll just give them a kiss apiece, pop in their big ears.
What? You've got something for Santa Claus to give them? What? Where?
In your crib? And shall we go and get it? For mudda too? And dadda? Oh,
my little angel! She begins to cry over him, and to kiss him again.
You'll break my heart with your loveliness. He wants to kiss you too,
dadda. She puts the boy into his father's arms; then catches him back
and runs from the room with him. Fountain resumes the work of filling
the long stocking he had begun with; then he takes up a very short
sock. He has that in his hand when Mrs. Fountain comes back, wiping her
eyes. He'll go to sleep now, I guess; he was half dreaming when he
came in here. I should think, when you saw how Benny believed in it,
you'd be ashamed of saying a word against Christmas.
Fountain: Who's said anything against it? I've just been
arguing for it, and trying to convince you that for the sake of little
children like Benny it ought to be perpetuated to the end of the world.
It began with the childhood of the race, in the rejuvenescence of the
Mrs. Fountain: Didn't you say that Christmas began with the
pagans? How monstrously you prevaricate!
Fountain: That was merely a figure of speech. And besides,
since you've been out with Benny, I've been thinking, and I take back
everything I've said or thought against Christmas; I didn't really
think it. I've been going back in my mind to that first Christmas we
had together, and it's cheered me up wonderfully.
Mrs. Fountain, tenderly: Have you, dearest? I always
think of it. If you could have seen Benny, how I left him, just now?
Fountain: I shouldn't mind seeing him, and I shouldn't care
if I gave a glance at poor old Jim and Susy. I'd like to reassure them
about not sending back the presents. He puts his arm round her and
presses her toward the door.
Mrs. Fountain: How sweet you are! And how funny! And good!
She accentuates each sentiment with a kiss. And don't you suppose I
felt sorry for you, making you go round with me the whole afternoon,
and then leaving you to take the brunt of arranging the presents? Now
I'll tell you: next year, I will do my Christmas shopping
in July. It's the only way.
Fountain: No, there's a better way. As you were saying, they
don't have the Christmas things out. The only way is to do our
Christmas shopping the day after Christmas; everything will be round
still, and dog-cheap. Come, we'll begin day after to-morrow.
Mrs. Fountain: We will, we will!
Fountain: Do you think we will?
Mrs. Fountain: Well, we'll say we will. They laugh
together, and then he kisses her.
Fountain: Even if it goes on in the same old way, as long as
we have each other
Mrs. Fountain: And the children.
Fountain: I forgot the children!
Mrs. Fountain: Oh, how delightful you are!