The Book of Susan by Lee Wilson Dodd
THE FIRST CHAPTER
IT happens that I twice saw Susan's mother, one of those soiled rags
of humanity used by careless husbands for wiping their boots; but Susan
does not remember her. John Stuart Mill studied Greek at three, and
there is a Russian author who recalls being weaned as the first of his
many bitter experiences. Either Susan's mental life did not waken so
early or the record has faded. She remembers only the consolate
husband, her father; remembers him only too well. The backs of his
square, angry-looking hands were covered with an unpleasant growth of
reddish bristles; his nostrils were hairy, too, and seemed formed by
Nature solely for the purpose of snorting with wrath. It must not be
held against Susan that she never loved her father; he was not created
to inspire the softer emotions. Nor am I altogether certain just why he
was created at all.
Nevertheless, Robert Blake was in his soberer hourssay, from
Tuesdays to Fridaysan expert mechanic, thoroughly conversant with the
interior lack of economy of most makes of automobiles. He had charge of
the repair department of the Eureka Garage, New Haven, where my
not-too-robust touring car of those primitive days spent, during the
spring of 1907, many weeks of interesting and expensive invalidism. I
forget how many major operations it underwent.
It was not at the Eureka Garage, however, that I first met Bob
Blake. Nine years before I there found him again, I had defended him in
courtas it happens, successfullyon a charge of assault with intent
to kill. That was almost my first case, and not farthank heavenfrom
my last. Bob's defense, I remember, was assigned to me by a judge who
had once borrowed fifty dollars from my father, which he never repaid;
at least, not in cash. There are more convenient methods. True, my
father was no longer living at the time I was appointed to defend Bob;
but that is a detail.
Susan was then four years old. I can't say I recall her, if I even
laid eyes on her. But Mrs. Bob appeared as a witness, at my requestit
was all but her final appearance, poor woman; she died of an embolism
within a weekand I remember she told the court that a kinder husband
and father than Bob had never existed. I remember, too, that the court
pursed its lips and the gentlemen of the jury grinned approvingly, for
Mrs. Bob could not easily conceal something very like the remains of a
purple eye, which she attributed to hearing a suspicious noise one
night down cellar, a sort of squeaking noise, and to falling over the
cat on her tour of investigationwith various circumstantial
minutiæ of no present importance.
The important thing is, that Bob went scot-free and was as nearly
grateful as his temperament permitted. His assaultwith an umbrella
standhad been upon a fellow reveller of no proved worth to the
community, and perhaps this may have influenced the jury's unexpected
Of Susan herself my first impression was gained at the Eureka
Garage. Bob Blake, just then, was lying beneath my car, near which I
hovered listening to his voluble but stereotyped profanity. He had lost
the nut from a bolt, and, unduly constricted, sought it vainly, while
his tongue followed the line of least resistance. I was marveling at
the energy of his wrath and the poverty of his imagination, when I
became aware of a small being beside me, in plaid calico. She had eager
black eyesterrier's eyesin a white, whimsical little face. One very
long and very thin black pigtail dangled over her left shoulder and
down across her flat chest to her waist, where it was tied with a shoe
string and ended lankly, without even the semblance of a curl. In her
right hand she bore a full dinner pail, and with her left thumb she
pointed toward the surging darkness beneath my car.
Say, mister, please, said the small being, if I was to put this
down, would you mind telling him his dinner's come?
Not a bit, I responded. Are you Bob's youngster?
I'm Susan Blake, she answered; and very softly placed the dinner
pail on the step of the car.
Why don't you wait and see your father? I suggested. He'll come
up for air in a minute.
That's why I'm going now, said Susan.
Whereupon she gave a single half skipthe very ghost of a
skipthen walked demurely from me and out through the great door.
Bob Blake, in those days, lived in a somewhat dilapidated four-room
house, off toward the wrong end of Birch Street. His family
arrangements were peculiar. He had never married again; but not very
long after his wife's death a dull-eyed, rather mussy young woman, with
a fondness for rouge pots, had taken up her abode with himto the
scandal and fascination of the neighborhood. It was an outrage, of
course! With a child in the house, too! Something ought to be done
Yet, oddly enough, nothing that much worried Bob ever was done about
it, reckoning the various shocked-and-grieved forms of conversation as
nothing. As he never tired of asserting, Bob didn't give a damn for the
cackle of a lot of hens. He guessed he knew his way about; and so did
Pearl. Let the damned hens cackle their heads off; he was satisfied!
And so, eventually, I am forced to believe, were the hens. In the
earlier days of the scandal there was much clitter-clatter of having
the law on him, serving papers, and the like; but, as hen cackle
sometimes will, it came to precisely naught. Nor am I certain that, as
the years passed, the neighborhood did not grow a little proud of its
one crimson patch of wickedness; I am reasonably certain, indeed, that
more than one drab life took on a little borrowed flush of excitement
from its proximity.
Of course no decent, God-fearing woman would ever greet either Bob
or Pearl; but every time one passed either of them without a nod or a
How's things to-day? it gave one something to talk about, at home, or
over any amicable fence.
As for the men, they too were forbidden to speak; but men, most of
them, are unruly creatures if at large. You can't trust them safely
five minutes beyond the sound of your voice.
There was even one man, old Heinze, proprietor of the Birch Street
grocery store, who now and then cautiously put forth a revolutionary
Dey lifs alvays togedderlike man unt vifenod? Vere iss der
diffurunz, Mrs. Shay?
Shame on you for them words, Mr. Heinze!
Aberwith a slow, wide smilevere iss der diffurunz,
Mrs. Shay? I leaf id to you?
That Pearl and Bob lived always together cannot be denied, and
perhaps they also lived as some men and their lawful wives are
accustomed to liveoff toward the wrong end of city streets; and
occasionally, no doubt, toward the right end of them as well. Midweek,
things wore along dully enough, but over Sunday came drink and
ructions. Susan says she has never been able to understand why Sunday
happens to be called a day of rest. The day of arrest, she was once
guilty of naming it.
Bob's neighbors, I fear, were not half so scandalized by his
week-end drunkenness as by what Mrs. Perkinsthree doors nearer the
right end of Birch Streetinvariably called his brazen immorality.
Intoxication was not a rare vice in that miscellaneous block or two of
factory operatives. Nor can it be said that immorality, in the sense of
Mrs. Perkins, was so much rare as it was nervously concealed. The
unique quality of Bob's sin lay in its brazen element; that was what
stamped him peculiarly as a social outlaw.
Bob accepted this position, if sober, with a grim disregard. He had
a bitter, lowering nature at best, and when not profane was taciturn.
As for Pearl, social outlawry may be said to have been her native
element. She had a hazy mind in a lazy body, and liked better than most
things just to sit in a rocking-chair and polish her finger nails, as
distinguished from cleaning them. Only the guiltless member of this
family group really suffered from its low social estate, but she
suffered acutely. Little Susan could not abide being a social outlaw.
True, she was not always included in the general condemnation of her
family by the grown-ups; but the children were ruthless. They pointed
fingers, and there was much conscious giggling behind her back; while
some of the daintier little girlsthe very little girls whom Susan
particularly longed to chum withhad been forbidden to play with that
child, and were not at all averse to telling her so, flatly, with tiny
chins in air and a devastating expression of rectitude on their smug
little faces. At such times Susan would fight back impending cataracts,
stick her own freckled nose toward the firmament, and even, I regret to
say, if persistently harassed, thrust forth a rigid pink tongue. This,
Susan has since informed me, is the embryonic state of swearing like
The little boys, on the whole, were better. They often said cruel
things, but Susan felt that they said them in a quite different spirit
from their instinctively snobbish and Grundyish sisterssaid them
merely by way of bravado, or just for the fun of seeing whether or not
she would cry. And then they often let her join in their games, and on
those happy occasions treated her quite as an equal, with an impartial
and, to Susan, entirely blissful roughness. Susan early decided that
she liked boys much better than girls.
There was, for example, Jimmy Kane, whose widowed mother took in
washing, and so never had any time to clean up her huddled flat, over
Heinze's grocery store, or her family of fourtwo boys and two girls.
No one ever saw skin, as in itself it really is, on the faces of Mrs.
Kane's children, and Jimmy was always, if comparison be possible, the
grimiest of the brood. For some reason Jimmy always had a perpetual
slight cold, and his funny flat button of a nose wept, winter and
summer alike, though never into an unnecessary handkerchief. His
coat-sleeve served, even if its ministrations did not add to the
tidiness of his countenance.
Susan often wished she might scrub him, just to see what he really
looked like; for she idolized Jimmy. Not that Jimmy ever had paid any
special attention to her, except on one occasion. It was merely that he
accepted her as part of the human scheme of things, which in itself
would almost have been enough to win Susan's affectionate admiration.
But one day, as I have hinted, he became the god of her idolatry.
The incident is not precisely idyllic. A certain JoeGiuseppe
Gonfarone; ætat. 14whose father peddled fruit and vegetables,
had recently come into the neighborhood; a black-curled, brown-eyed
little devil, already far too wise in the manifold unseemliness of this
sad old planet. Joe was strong, stocky, aggressive, and soon posed as
something of a bully among the younger boys along Birch Street. Within
less than a month he had infected the minds of many with a new and rich
vocabulary of oaths and smutty words. Joe was not of the unconsciously
foul-mouthed; he relished his depravity. In fact, youngster as he was,
Joe had in him the makings of that slimiest product of our citiesthe
street pimp, or cadet.
It was one fine spring day, three years or so before I met Susan in
the Eureka Garage, that Joe, with a group of Birch Street boys, was
playing marbles for keeps, just at the bottom of the long incline which
carries Birch Street down to the swamp land and general dump at the
base of East Rock. Susan was returning home from Orange Street, after
bearing her father his full dinner pail, and as she came up to the boys
she halted on one foot, using the toe of her free foot meanwhile to
scratch mosquito bites upward along her supporting shin.
H'lo, Susan! called Jimmy Kane, with his perfunctory good nature.
What's bitin' you?
Then it was his turn to knuckle-down. Susan, still balanced
cranelike, watched him eager-eyed, and was so delighted when he knocked
a fine fat reeler of Joe's out of the ring, jumping up with a yell of
triumph to pocket it, that she too gave a shrill cheer: Oh, goody! I
knew you'd win!
The note of ecstasy in her tone infuriated Joe. Say! he shrieked.
You getta hell outta here!
Susan's smile vanished; her white, even teethshe had all her front
ones, she tells me; she was tenclicked audibly together.
It's no business of yours! she retorted.
You're right; it ain't! This from Jimmy, still in high good humor.
You stay here if you want. You're as good as him!
Who's as good as me?
Her? Joe's lips curled back. He turned to the other boys,
who had all scrambled to their feet by this time and, instinctively
scenting mischief, were standing in a sort of ring. He says she's good
Two of the smallest boys tittered, from pure excitement. Susan's
nose went up.
I'm better. I'm not a dago!
Joe leaped toward Susan and thrust his dense, bull-like head
forward, till his eyes were glaring into hers.
Mebbe I live lika youeh? Mebbe I live, cried Joe, with a dirty
There was a gasp from the encircling boys as Susan fell back from
this word, which she did not wholly comprehend, but whose vileness she
felt, somehow, in her very flesh. Joe, baring gorilla teeth, burst into
It was just at this point that Jimmy Kane, younger than Joe by a
year or more, and far slighter, jumped on the little ruffianalas,
from behind!and dealt him as powerful a blow on the head as he could
compass; a blow whose effectiveness, I reluctantly admit, was enhanced
by the half brick with which Jimmy had first of all prudently provided
himself. Joe Gonfarone went to earth, inert, but bleeding profusely.
There was a scuttling of frightened feet in every direction. Susan
herself did not stop running until she reached the very top of the
Birch Street incline. Then she looked back, her eyes lambent, her heart
throbbing, not alone from the rapid ascent. Yes, there was Jimmy
her Jimmy!kneeling in the dust by the still prostrate Joe. Susan
could not hear him, but she knew somehow from his attitude that he was
scared to death, and that he was asking Joe if he was hurt much. She
agonized with her champion, feeling none the less proud of him, and she
waited for him at the top of the rise, hoping to thank him, longing to
kiss his hands.
But Jimmy, when he did pass her, went by without a glance, at top
speed. He was bound for a doctor. So Susan never really managed to
thank Jimmy at all. She merely idolized him in secret, a process which
proved, however, fairly heart-warming and, in the main, satisfactory.
It took three stitches to mend Joe's heada fact famous in the
junior annals of Birch Street for some yearsand soon after he
appeared, somewhat broken in spirit, in the street again, his parents
moved him, Margharita and the sloe-eyed twins to Bridgeportvery much,
be it admitted, to the relief of Jimmy Kane, who had lived for three
weeks nursing a lonely fear of dark reprisals.
There was one thing about Bob Blake's four-room houseit exactly
fitted his family. The floor plan was simple and economically
efficient. Between the monolithic door slabrelic of a time when Bob's
house had been frankly in the countryand the public street lay a
walk formed of a single plank supported on chance-set bricks. From the
door slab one stepped through the front doorway directly into the
parlor. Beyond the parlor lay the kitchen, from which one could pass
out through a narrow door to a patch of weed-grown back yard. A
ladderlike stair led up from one side of the kitchen, opposite to the
single window and the small coal range. At the top of the stair was a
slit of unlighted hallway with a door near either end of it. The door
toward Birch Street gave upon the bedroom occupied by Bob and Pearl;
the rearward door led to Susan's sternly ascetic cubiculum. No one of
these four rooms could be described as spacious, but the parlor and
Bob's bedroom may have been twelve by fifteen or thereabouts. Susan's
quarters were a scant ten by ten.
The solider and more useful pieces of furniture in the house
belonged to the régime of Susan's motherthe great black-walnut bed
which almost filled the front bedroom; Susan's single iron cot frame;
the parlor table with its marble top; the melodeon; the kitchen range;
and the deal table in the kitchen, upon which, impartially, food was
prepared and meals were served. To these respectable properties Pearl
had added from time to time certain other objects of interest or art.
Thus, in the parlor, there was a cane rocking-chair, gilded; and on
the wall above the melodeon hung a banjo suspended from a nail by a
broad sash of soiled blue ribbon. On the drumhead of the banjo someone
had painted a bunch of nondescript flowers, and Pearl always claimed
these as her own handiwork, wrought in happier days. This was her one
eagerly contested point of pride; for Bob, when in liquor, invariably
denied the possibility of her ever having painted that there bouquet.
This flat denial was always the starting point for those more violent
Sunday-night quarrels, which had done so much to reduce the furniture
of the house to its stouter, more imperishable elements.
During the brief interval between the death of Susan's mother and
the arrival of Pearl, Bob had placed his domestic affairs in the hands
of an old negro-woman, who came in during the day to clean up, keep an
eye on Susan and prepare Bob's dinner. Most of the hours during Bob's
absence this poor old creature spent in a rocking-chair, nodding in and
out of sleep; and it was rather baby Susan, sprawling about the kitchen
floor, who kept an eye on her, than the reverse. Pearl's installation
had changed all that. Bob naturally expected any woman he chose to
support to work for her board and lodging; and it may be that at first
Pearl had been too grateful for any shelter to risk jeopardizing her
good luck by shirking. There seems to be no doubt that for a while she
did her poor utmost to keep housebut the sloven in her was too deeply
rooted not to flower.
By the time Susan was six or seven the interior condition of Bob's
house was too crawlingly unpleasant to bear exact description; and even
Bob, though callous enough in such matters, began to have serious
thoughts of giving Pearl the slipnot to mention his landlordand of
running off with Susan to some other city, where he could make a fresh
start and perhaps contrive now and then to get something decent to eat
set before him. It never occurred to him to give Susan the slip as
wellwhich would have freed his hands; not because he had a soft spot
somewhere for the child, nor because he felt toward her any special
sense of moral obligation. Simply, it never occurred to him. Susan was
his kid; and if he went she went with him, along with his pipe, his
shop tools, and his set of six English razorshis dearest possession,
of which he was jealously and irascibly proud.
But, as it happens, Bob never acted upon this slowly forming desire
to escape; the desire was quietly checked and insensibly receded; and
for this Susan herself was directly responsible.
Very early in life she began to supplement Pearl's feeble
housewifery, but it was not until her ninth year that Susan decided to
bring about a domestic revolution. Whether or no hatred of dirt be
inheritable, I leave to biologists, merely thumbnailing two facts for
their consideration: Susan's mother had hated dirt with an unappeasable
hatred; her nightly, after-supper, insensate pursuit of imaginary
cobwebs had been one of Bob's choicest grievances against her. And
little Susan hated dirt, in all its forms, with an almost equal venom,
but with a brain at once more active and more unreeling. She had good
reason to hate it. She must either have hated it or been subdued to it.
For five years, more or less, she had lived in the midst of dirt and
suffered. It had seemed to her one of the inexpungable evils of
existence, like mosquitoes, or her father's temper, or the smell of
Pearl's cheap talcum powder when warmed by the fumes of cooking
cabbage. But gradually it came upon her that dirt only accumulated in
the absence of a will to removal.
Once her outreaching mind had graspedwithout wordily
formulatingthis physical and moral law, her course was plain. Since
the will to removal was dormant or missing in Pearl, she must supply
it. Within the scope of her childish strength, she did supply it. Susan
insists that it took her two years merely to overcome the handicap of
Pearl's neglect. Her self-taught technique was faulty; proper tools
were lacking. There was a bucket which, when filled, she could not
lift; a broom that tripped her; high corners she could not
reachcorners she had to grow up to, even with the aid of a chair. But
in the end she triumphed. By the time she was thirteenshe was
thirteen when I first saw in the Eureka GarageBob's four rooms were
spotless six and one-half days out of every seven.
Even Pearl, in her flaccid way, approved the change. It beats
hell, she remarked affably to Bob one night, how that ugly little
monkey likes to scrub things. She's a real help to me, that child is.
But no comp'ny. And she's a sight.
Well, growled Bob, she comes by that honest. So was the old
woman. They were annoyed when Susan, sitting by them, for the first
time within their memory burst into flooding, uncontrollable tears.
I should probably, in my own flaccid way, have lost all track of
Susan, if it had not been for certain ugly things that befell in Bob's
four-room house one breathless eveningJune twentieth of the year
1907. It is a date stamped into my consciousness like a notarial seal.
For one thing it happened to be my birthdaymy thirty-third, which I
was not precisely celebrating, since it was also the anniversary of the
day my wife had left me, two years before. Nor was I entirely pleased
to have become, suddenly, thirty-three. I counted it the threshold of
middle-age. Now that eleven years have passed, and with them my health
and the world's futile pretense at peace, I am feeling younger.
This book is about Susan, but it will be simpler if you know
something, too, concerning her scribe. Fortunately there is not much
that it will be needful to tell.
I wasin those bad, grossly comfortable old daysthat least happy
of Nature's experiments, a man whose inherited income permitted him to
be an idler, and whose tastes urged him to write precious little essays
about precious little for the more precious reviews. My half-hearted
attempt to practice law I had long abandoned. I lived in a commodious,
inherited mansion on Hillhouse Avenuean avenue which in all fairness
must be called aristocratic, since it has no wrong end to it. It is
right at both ends, so, naturally, though broad, it is not very long.
My grandfather, toward the end of a profitably ill-spent life, built
this mansion of sad-colored stone in a somewhat mixed Italian style; my
father filled it with expensive and unsightly movablesthe spoils of a
grand European tour; and I, in my turn, had emptied it of these
treasures and refilled it with my own carefully chosen collection of
rare furniture, rare Oriental carpets, rare first editions, and costly
objets d'art. This collection I then anxiously believed, and do
still in part believe, to be beautifulthough I am no longer haunted
by an earlier fear lest the next generation should repudiate my taste
and reverse my opinion. Let the auction rooms of 1960 decide. Neither
in flesh nor in spirit shall I attend them.
The tragi-comedy of my luckless marriage I shall not stop here to
explain, but its rather mysterious ending had at first largely cut me
off from my old family friends and my socially correct acquaintances.
When Gertrude left me, their sympathies, or their sense of security,
went with her. I can hardly blame them. There had been no glaring
scandal, but the fault was inferentially mine. To speak quite brutally,
I did not altogether regret their loss. Too many of them had bored me
for too many years. I was glad to rely more on the companionship of
certain writers and painters which my scribbling had quietly won for
me, here and in France. I traveled about a good deal. When at home, I
kept my guest rooms filledoften, in the horrid phrase, with visitors
In this way I became a social problem, locally, of some magnitude.
Visitors of distinctioneven when of eccentric distinctioncannot
easily be ignored in a university town. Thus it made it a little
awkward, perhaps, that I should so often prove to be their host; a
littleless, on the whole, than one would suppose. Within two
yearsjust following Ballou's brief stay with me, on his way to
introduce that now forgotten nine-days wonder, Polymorphous Prose,
among initiates of the Plymouth Rock Poetry Guild, at Bostonmy slight
remaining ineligibility was tacitly and finally ignored. The old family
friends began to hint that Gertrude, though a splendid woman, had
always been a little austere. Possibly there were faults on both sides.
One never knew.
And it was just at this hour of social reëstablishment that my
birthday swung round again, for the thirty-third time, and brought with
it a change in my outer life which was to lead on to even greater
changes in all my modes of thinking and feeling. Odd, that a drunken
quarrel in a four-room house toward the wrong end of Birch Street could
so affect the destiny of a luxurious dilettante, living at the
very center of bonded respectability, in a mansion of sad-colored
stone, on a short broad avenue which is right at both ends!
Never in this (obviously outcast) world! grumbled Bob Blake,
bringing his malletlike fist down on the marble top of the parlor
The blow made his half-filled glass jump and clinkle; so he emptied
it slowly, then poured in four fingers more, forgetting to add water
this time, and sullenly pushed the bottle across to Pearl. But Pearl
was fretful. Her watery blue eyes were fixed upon the drumhead of the
banjo, where it hung suspended above the melodeon.
I did so paint them flowers. And well you know it. What's the good
of bein' so mean? If you wasn't heeled you'd let me have it my way.
Didn't I bring that banjo with me?
Hungh! Say you did. What does that prove?
I guess it proves somethin', all right.
Proves you swiped it, likely.
Me! I ain't that kind, thanks.
The hell you ain't.
If you're tryin' to get gay, cut it out!
This was shortly after supper. It was an unusually hot, humid
evening; doors and windows stood open to no purpose; and Susan was
sitting out on the monolithic door slab, fighting off mosquitoes. She
found that this defensive warfare partly distracted her from the
witless, interminable bickering within. Moreover, the striated effluvia
of whisky, talcum powder, and perspiration had made her head feel a
little queer. By comparison, the fetid breath from the exposed mud
banks of the salt marsh was almost refreshing.
Possibly it was because her head did feel a little queer that Susan
began presently to wonder about things. Between her days at the
neighboring public school and her voluntary rounds of housework, Susan
had not of late years had much waking time to herself. In younger and
less crowded hours, before her father had been informed by the
authorities that he must either send his child to school or take the
consequences, Susan had put in all her spare moments at wondering. She
would see a toad in the back yard, for example, under a plantain leaf,
and she would begin to wonder. She would wonder what it felt like to be
a toad. And before very long something would happen to her, inside, and
she would be a toad. She would have toad thoughts and toad
feelings.... There would stretch above her a dim, green, balancing
canopythe plantain leaf. All about her were soaring, translucent
frondsthe grass. It was cool there under the plantain leaf; but she
was enormously fat and ugly, her brain felt like sooty cobwebs, and
nobody loved her.
Still, she didn't care much. She could feel her soft gray throat,
like a blown-into glove finger, pulsing slowlywhich was almost as
soothing a sensation as letting the swing die down. It made her feel as
if Someonesome great unhappy cloudlike Beingwere making up a song,
a song about most everything; chanting it sleepily to himselfor was
it herself?somewhere; and as if she were part of this
beautiful, unhappy song. But all the time she knew that if that white
fluffy restlessnessthat moth millerfluttered only a little nearer
among those golden-green fronds, she knew if it reached the cool rim of
her plantain shade, she knew, then, that something terrible would
happen to herknew that something swift and blind, that she couldn't
help, would coil deep within her like a spring and so launch her
forward, open-jawed. It was awfulawful for the moth millerbut she
couldn't not do it. She was a toad....
And it was the same with her father. There were things he couldn't
not do. She could besitting very still in a cornerbe her
father, when he was angry; and she knew he couldn't help it. It was
just a dark slow whirling inside, with red sparks flying swiftly out
from it. And it hurt while it lasted. Being her father like that always
made her sorry for him. But she wished, and she felt he must often
wish, that he couldn't be at all. There were lots of live things that
would be happier if they weren't live things; and if they
weren't, Susan felt, the great cloudlike Being would be less unhappy
Naturally, I am giving you Susan's later interpretations of her
pre-schoolday wonderings; and a number of you would gasp a little,
knowing what firm, delicate imaginings all Susan Blake's later
interpretations were, if I should give you her pen name as wellwhich
I have promised myself not to do. This is not an official study of a
young writer of peculiar distinction; it is merely an unpretending book
about a little girl I knew and a young married woman I still knowone
and the same person. It is what I have named itthat only: The Book
Meanwhile, this humid June nightto the sordid accompaniment of Bob
and Pearl snarling at each other half-drunkenly withinSusan waits for
us on the monolithic door slab; and there is a new wonder in her dizzy
little head. I can't do better than let her tell you in her own words
what this new wonder was like.
Ambo, dearmy name, by the way, is Ambrose Hunt; Captain Hunt, of
the American Red Cross, at the present writing, which I could date from
a sleepy little village in Southern FranceAmbo, dear, it was the
moon, mostly. There was a pink bud of light in the heat mist, way off
beyond East Rock, and then the great wild rose of the moon opened
slowly through it. Papa, inside, was sounding just like a dog when he's
bullying another dog, walking up on the points of his toes, stiff
legged, round him. So I tried to escape, tried to be the moon; tried to
feel floaty and shining and beautiful, andand remote. But I couldn't
manage it. I never could make myself be anything not alive. I've tried
to be stones, but it's no good. It won't work. I can be treesa
little. But usually I have to be animals, or men and womenand of
course they're animals too.
So I began wondering why I liked the moon, why just looking at it
made me feel happy. It couldn't talk to me; or love me. All it could do
was to be up there, sometimes, and shine. Then I remembered about
mythology. Miss Chisholm, in school, was always telling us about gods
and goddesses. She said we were children, so we could recreate the gods
for ourselves, because they belonged to the child age of the world. She
talked like that a lot, in a faded-leaf voice, and none of us ever
understood her. The truth is, Ambo, we never paid any attention to her;
she smiled too much and too sadly, without meaning it; and her
eyelashes were white. All the same, that night somehow I remembered
Artemis, the virgin moon goddess, who slipped silently through dark
woods at dusk, hunting with a silvery bow. Being a virgin seemed to
mean that you didn't care much for boys. But I did always like boys
better than girls, so I decided I could never be a virgin. And yet I
loved the thought of Artemis from that moment. I began to think about
heroh, intensely!always keeping off by herself; cool, and shining,
andand detached. And there was one boy she had cared for; I
remembered that, too, though I couldn't remember his name. A naked,
brown sort of boy, who kept off by himself on blue, distant hills. So
Artemis wasn't really a virgin at all. She was justawfully
particular. She liked clean, open places, and the winds, and clear,
swift water. What she hated most was stuffiness! That's why I
decided then and there, Ambo, that Artemis should be my goddess, my own
pet goddess; and I made up a prayer to her. I've never forgotten it. I
often say it still....
Dearest, dearest Far-Away,
Can you hear me when I pray?
Can you hear me when I cry?
Would you care if I should die?
No, you wouldn't care at all;
But I love you most of all.
It isn't very good, Ambo, but it's the first rhyme I ever made up
out of my own head. And I just talked it right off to Artemis without
any trouble. But I had hardly finished it, when
What had happened next was the crash of glassware, followed by Bob's
thick voice, bellowing: C'm ba' here! Damned slut! Tell yeh t' c'm ba'
Susan heard a strangling screech from Pearl, the jar of a heavy
piece of furniture overturned. The child's first impulse was to run out
into Birch Street and scream for help. She tells me her spine knew all
at once that something terrible had happenedor was going to happen.
Then, in an odd flash of hallucination, she saw Artemis poised
the fleetingest second before herbeautiful, a little disdainful,
divinely unafraid. So Susan gulped, dug her nails fiercely into her
palms, and hurried back through the parlor into the kitchen, where she
stumbled across the overturned table and fell, badly bruising her
As she scrambled to her feet a door slammed to, above. Her father,
in a grotesque crouching posture, was mounting the ladderlike stair. On
the floor at the stair's foot lay the parchment head of Pearl's banjo,
which he had cut from its frame. Susan distinctly caught the smudged
pinks and blues of the nondescript flowers. She realized at once that
her father was bound on no good errand. And Pearl was trapped. Susan
called to her father, daringly, a little wildly. He slued round to her,
leaning heavily on the stair rail, his face green-white, his lips held
back by some evil reflex in a fixed, appalling grin.
It was the face of a madman.... He raised his right hand, slowly,
and a tiny prismatic gleam darted from the blade of an opened
razorone of his precious set of six. He had evidently used it to
destroy the banjo head, which he would never have done in his right
mind. But now he made a shocking gesture with the blade, significant of
other uses; then turned, crouching once more, to continue upward. Susan
tried to cry out, tried to follow him, until the room slid from its
moorings into a whirlpool of humming blackness....
* * * * *
That is all Susan remembers for some time. It is just as well.
What Susan next recalls is an intense blare of light, rousing her
from her nothingness, like trumpets. Her immediate confused notion was
that the gates of hell had been flung wide for her; and when a tall
black figure presently cut across the merciless rays and towered before
her, she thought it must be the devil. But the intense blare came from
the head lights of my touring car, and the tall black devil was I. A
greatly puzzled and compassionate devil I was too! Maltby Pharthat
exquisite anarchistwas staying with me, and we had run down to the
shore for dinner, hoping to mitigate the heat by the ride, and my new
sensation of frustrate middle-age by broiled live lobsters. It was past
eleven. I had just dropped Maltby at the house and had run my car round
to the garage where Bob worked, meaning to leave it there overnight so
Bob could begin patching at it the first thing in the morning. It had
been bucking its way along on three cylinders or less all day.
Bob's garage lay back from the street down a narrow alley. Judge,
then, of my astonishment as I nosed my car up to its shut double doors!
There, on the concrete incline before the doors, lay a small crumpled
figure, half-curled, like an unearthed cut-worm, about a shining dinner
pail. I brought the car to a sudden dead stop. The small figure partly
uncrumpled, and a white, blinded little face lifted toward me. It was
Bob's youngster! What was she up to, lying there on the ribbed concrete
at this time of night? And in heaven's namewhy the dinner pail? I
jumped down to investigate.
You're Susan Blake, aren't you?
Yeswith a whispered gaspyour Royal Highness.
Susan says she doesn't know just why she addressed the devil in that
way, unless she was trying to flatter him and so get round him.
I'm not so awfully bad, she went on, if you don't count thinking
things too much!
The right cheek of her otherwise delicately modeled child's face was
a swollen lump of purple and green. I dropped down on one knee beside
Why, you poor little lady! You're hurt!
Instantly she sprang to her feet, wild-eyed.
No, no! It's not meit's Pearl! Oh, quickplease! He had a
Razor? Who did? I seized her hands. I'm Mr. Hunt, dear.
Your father often works on my car. Tell me what's wrong!
She was still half dazed. II can't see why I'm down herewith
papa's dinner pail. Pearl was upstairs, and I tried to stop him from
going. Then she began to whimper like a whipped puppy. It's all
mixed. I'm scared.
Of courseof course you are; but it's going to be all right. I
led her to the car and lifted her to the front seat. Hold on a minute,
Susan. I'll be back with you in less than no time!
I sounded my horn impatiently. After an interval, a slow-footed car
washer inside the garage began trundling the doors back to admit me. I
ran to him.
No. Bob, he left at six, same as usual. He hadn't been round
since.... His kid, eh? Mebbe the heat had turned her queer. Nuff to
addle most folks, the heat was....
I saw that he knew nothing, and snapped him off with a sharp request
to crank the car for me. As he did so, I jumped in beside Susan.
Where do you live, Susan? Oh, yes, of courseBirch Street. Bob
told me that.... Eh? You don't want to go home?
Never, please. Never, never! I won't! Proclaiming this, she
flung Bob's dinner pail from her and it bounced and clattered down the
asphalt. It's too late, she added, in a frightened whisper: I know
Then she seized my armthereby almost wrecking us against a fire
hydrantand clung to me, sobbing. I was puzzled andyesalarmed. Bob
was a bad customer. The child's bruised face ... something she had said
about a razor? And instantly I made up my mind.
I'll take you to my house, Susan. Mrs. ParrotMrs. Parrot was my
housekeeperwill fix you up for to-night. Then I'll go round and see
Bob; see what's wrong. I felt her thin fingers dig into my arm
convulsively. Yes, I reassured her, taking a corner perilously at
full speed, that will be much better. You'll like Mrs. Parrot.
Rather recklessly, I hoped this might prove to be true; for Mrs.
Parrot was a little difficult at times....
It was Maltby Phar who saw me coming up the steps with a limp child
in my arms, and who opened the screen door for me. Aha! he exclaimed.
Done it this time, eh! Always knew you would, sooner or later. You're
too damned absent-minded to drive a car. You
Nonsense! I struck in. Tell Mrs. Parrot to ring up Doctor
Stevens. Then send her to me. And I continued on upstairs with Susan.
When Mrs. Parrot came, Susan was lying with closed eyes in the
middle of a great white embroidered coverlet, upon which her shoes had
smeared greasy, permanent-looking stains.
Mercy, sighed Mrs. Parrot, if you've killed the poor creature,
nobody's sorrier than I am! But why couldn't you have laid her down on
the floor? She wouldn't have known.
In certain respects Mrs. Parrot was invaluable to me; but then and
there I suspected that Mrs. Parrot would, in the not-too-distant
future, have to go.
Within five minutes Doctor Stevens arrived, and, after hurried
explanations, Maltby and I left him in chargeand then made
twenty-five an hour to Birch Street.
However, Susan's intuitions had been correct. We found Bob's
four-room house quite easily. It was the house with the crowd in front
of it.... We were an hour too late.
Cut her throat clean acrost; and his own after, shrilled Mrs.
Perkins to usMrs. Perkins, who lived three doors nearer the right end
of Birch Street. But it's only what was to be looked for, and I guess
it'll be a lesson to some. You can't expect no better end than that,
perorated Mrs. Perkins to us and her excited neighbors, while her small
gray-green eyes snapped with electric malice, you can't expect no
better end than that to sech brazen immorality!
My God, groaned Maltby, as we sped away, How they have enjoyed it
all! Why, you almost ruined the evening for them when you told them
you'd found the child! They were hoping to discover her body in the
cellar or down the well. Ugh! What a world!
By the way, he added, as we turned once more into the dignified
breadth of Hillhouse Avenue, what'll you do with the homely little
brat? Put her in some kind of awful institution?
The bland tone of his assumption irritated me. I ground on the
Certainly not! I like her. If she returns the compliment, and her
relatives don't claim her, she'll stay on here with me.
Hum. Bravo.... About two weeks, said Maltby Phar.
THE SECOND CHAPTER
IT was not Susan who left me at the end of two weeks; it was Mrs.
Parrot. Maltby had departed within three days, hastening perforce to
editorial duties in New York. He then edited, with much furtive
groaning to sympathetic friends, the Garden Exquisite, a monthly
magazine de luxe, devoted chiefly to advertising matter, and to
photographs takenby request of far-seeing wives and daughtersat the
country clubs and on the country estates of our minor millionaires. For
a philosophical anarch, rather a quaint occupation! Yet one must
live.... Maltby, however, had threatened a return as soon as possible,
to look over the piteous débâcle. There was no probability
that Mrs. Parrot would ever return.
You cannot expect me, maintained Mrs. Parrot, to wait on the
child of a murdering suicide. Especially, she added, when he was
nothing but a common sort of man to begin with. I'm as sorry for that
poor little creature as anybody in New Haven; but there are places for
That was her ultimatum. My reply was two weeks' notice, and a
considerable monetary gift to soften the blow.
Hillhouse Avenue, in general, so far as I could discover, rather
sympathized with Mrs. Parrot. She at once obtained an excellent post,
becoming housekeeper for the Misses Carstairs, spinster sisters of
incredible age, who lived only two doors from me in a respectable
mansion whose portico resembled an Egyptian tomb. Wandering freshmen
from the Yale campus frequently mistook it for the home office of one
of the stealthier secret societies.
There, silently ensconced, Mrs. Parrot burned with a hard, gemlike
flame, and awaited my final downfall. So did the Misses Carstairs, who,
being cousins of my wife, had remained firmly in opposition. And rumor
had it that other members of neighboring families were suffering
discomfort from the proximity of Susan. It was as if a tiny, almost
negligible speck of coal dust had blown into the calm, watchful eye of
the genius loci, and was gradually inflaming itwith resultant
nervous irritation to all its members.
Susan was happily unconscious of these things. Her gift of intuition
had not yet projected itself into that ethereal region which conserves
the more tenuous tone and the subtler distinctiondenominate
society. For the immediate moment she was bounded in a nutshell, yet
seemed to count herself a princess of infinite spaceyes, in spite of
bad dreams. WeDoctor Stevens and Ihad put her to bed in the large,
coolly distinguished corner room formerly occupied by Gertrude. This
room opened directly into my own. Doctor Stevens counselled bed for a
few days, and Susan seemed well content to obey his mandate. Meanwhile,
I had requested Mrs. Parrot to buy various necessities for
hertoothbrushes, nightdresses, day dresses, petticoats, and so on.
Mrs. Parrot had supposed I should want the toilet articles inexpensive,
and the clothing plain but good.
Good, by all means, Mrs. Parrot, I had corrected, but not plain.
As pretty and frilly as possible!
Mrs. Parrot had been inclined to argue the matter.
When that poor little creature goes from here, she had maintained,
flimsy, fussy things will be of no service to her. None. She'll need
coarse, substantial articles that will bear usage.
Do you like to wear coarse, substantial articles, Mrs. Parrot? I
had mildly asked. So far as I am permitted to observe
Mrs. Parrot had resented the implication. I hope in my outer
person, Mr. Hunt, that I show a decent respect for my employers, but
I've never been one to pamper myself on linjery, if I may use the
wordnot believing it wholesome. Nor to discuss it with gentlemen. But
if I don't know what it's wisest and best to buy in this case, who,
she had demanded of heaven, does?
Possibly, heaven not replying, had been my response, I do.
At any rate, I can try.
It was fun trying. I ran down on the eight o'clock to New York and
strolled up and down Fifth Avenue, shopping here and there as the fancy
moved me. Shoppingwith a well-filled pocketbookis not a difficult
art. Women exaggerate its difficulties for their own malign purposes.
In two hours of the most casual activity I had bought a great number of
delightful thingsfor my little daughter, you know. Her age?... Oh,
wellI should think about fourteen. Let's call it 'going on fourteen.'
Then it's sure to be all right.
It was all rightessentially. By which I mean that the
parties of the first and second partsto wit, Susan and Iwere
entirely and blissfully satisfied.
Susan liked particularly a lacy sort of nightgown all knotted over
with little pink ribbony rosebuds; there was a coquettish boudoir cap
to match itsuggestive somehow of the caps village maidens used to
wear in old-fashioned comic operas; and a pink silk kimono embroidered
with white chrysanthemums, to top off the general effect. Needless to
say, Mrs. Parrot disapproved of the general effect, deeming it, no
doubt with some reason, a thought flamboyant for Gertrude's coolly
distinguished corner room.
But Susan, propped straight up by now against pillows, wantoned in
this finery. She would stroke the pink silk of the kimono with her
thin, sensitive fingers, sigh deeply, happily, then close her eyes.
There was nothing much wrong with her. The green-and-purple bruise
on her cheeka somber note which would not harmonize with the
frivolity of the boudoir capwas no longer painful. But, as Doctor
Stevens put it, The little monkey's all in. She was tired, tired out
to the last tiny filament of her tiniest nerve....
During those first days with me she asked no awkward questions; and
few of any kind. Indeed, she rarely spoke at all, except with her
always-speaking black eyes. For the time being the
restless-terrier-look had gone from them; they were quiet and deep, and
said Thank you, to Doctor Stevens, to Mrs. Parrot, to me, with
a hundred modulating shades of expression. In spite of a clear-white,
finely drawn face, against which the purple bruise stood out in
shocking relief; in spite of entirely straight but gossamery black
hair; in spite of a rather short nose and a rather wide mouththere
was a fascination about the child which no one, not even the hostile
Mrs. Parrot, wholly escaped.
That poor, peeny little creature, admitted Mrs. Parrot, on the
very morning she left me, has a way of looking at youso you can't
talk to her like you'd ought to. It's somebody's duty to speak to her
in a Christian spirit. She never says her prayers. Nor mentions her
father. And don't seem to care what's happened to him, or why she's
here, or what's to come to her. And what is to come to her, demanded
Mrs. Parrot, if she stays on in this house, without a God-fearing
woman, and one you can't fool most days? Not that I could be persuaded,
having made other arrangements. And if I may say a last word, the wild
talk I've heard here isn't what I've been used to. Nor to be approved
of. No vulgarity. None. I don't accuse. But free with matters better
left to the church; or in the darkwhere they belong. All I hold is,
that some things are sacred, and some unmentionable; and conversation
should take cognizance of such!
I had never known her so moved or so eloquent. I strove to reassure
You are quite right, Mrs. Parrot. I apologize for any painful
moments my friends and I have given you. But don't worry too much about
Susan. So far as Susan's concerned, I promise to 'take cognizance' in
every possible direction.
It was clear to me that I should have to expend a good deal of care
upon engaging another housekeeper at once. And, of course, a
governessfor lessons and things. And a maid? Yes; Susan would need a
maid, if only to do her mending. Obviously, neither the housekeeper,
the governess, nor I could be expected to take cognizance of that.
But I anticipate. Two weeks before Mrs. Parrot's peroration, on the
very evening of the day Maltby Phar had left me, Susan and I had had
our first good talk together. My memorable shopping tour had not yet
come off, and Susan, having pecked birdlike at a very light supper, was
restingsemi-recumbentin bed, clothed in a suit of canary-yellow
pajamas, two sizes too big for her, which I was rather shaken to
discover belonged to Nora, my quiet little Irish parlor maid. I had not
supposed that Nora indulged in night gear filched from musical comedy.
However, Nora had meant to be kind in a good cause; though canary
yellow is emphatically a color for the flushed and buxom and should
never be selected for peeny, anemic little girls. It did make Susan
look middling ghastly, as if quarantined from all access to Hygeia, the
goddess! Perhaps that is why, when I perched beside her on the edge of
Gertrude's colonial four-poster, I felt an unaccustomed prickling
sensation back of my eyes.
How goes it, canary bird? I asked, taking the thin, blue-threaded
hand that lay nearest to me.
Susan's fingers at once curled trustfully to mine, and there came
something very like a momentary glimmer of mischief into her dark eyes.
If I was an honest-to-God canary, I could sing to you, said Susan.
I'd like to do something for you, Mr. Hunt. Something you'd like, I
Well, you can, dear. You can stop calling me 'Mr. Hunt'! My first
name's pretty awkward, though. It's Ambrose.
For an instant Susan considered my first name, critically, then very
slowly shook her head. It's a nice name. It's too nice, isn't
itfor every day?
I laughed. But it's all I have, Susan. What shall we do about it?
Then Susan laughed, too; it was the first time I had heard her
laugh. I guess your mother was feeling kind of stuck up when she
called you that!
Most mothers do feel kind of stuck up over their first babies,
She considered this, and nodded assent, But it's silly of them,
anyway, she announced. There are so many babies all the time,
everywhere. There's nothing new about babies, Ambo.
Aha! I exclaimed. You knew from the first how to chasten my
stuck-up name, didn't you? 'Ambo' is a delightful improvement.
It's more like you, said Susan, tightening her fingers briefly on
And presently she closed her eyes. When, after a long still
interval, she opened them, they were cypress-shaded pools.
Tell me what happened, Ambo.
He's dead, Susan. Pearl's dead, too.
She closed her eyes again, and two big tears slipped out from
between her lids, wetting her thick eyelashes and staining her bruised
and her pallid cheek.
He couldn't help it. He was made like that, inside. He was no damn
good, Ambo. That's what he was always saying to Pearl'You're no damn
good.' She wasn't, either. And he wasn't, much. I guess it's better for
him and Pearl to be dead.
Thisand the two big tearswas her good-by to Bob, to Pearl, to
the four-room house; her good-by to Birch Street. It shocked me at the
time. I released her hand and stood up to light a cigarettestaring
the while at Susan. Where had she found her precocious brains? And had
she no heart? Had something of Bob's granitic harshness entered into
this uncanny, this unnatural child? Should I live to regret my decision
to care for her, to educate her? When I died, would she sayto
whom?I guess it's better for him to be dead. Poor Ambo! He
was no damn good.
But even as I shuddered, I smiled. For, after all, she was right;
the child was right. She had merely uttered, truthfully, thoughts which
a more conventional mind, more conventionally disciplined, would have
known how to concealyes, to conceal even from itself. Genius was very
Susan! I suddenly demanded. Have you any relatives who will try
to claim you?
Yes. Want to take care of you?
Mamma's sister-in-law lives in Hoboken, said Susan. But she's a
widow; and she's got seven already.
Would you like to stay here with me?
For all answer she flopped sidelong down from the pillows and hid
her bruised face in the counterpane. Her slight, canary-clad shoulders
were shaken with stifled weeping.
That settles it! I affirmed. I'll see my lawyer in the morning,
and he'll get the court to appoint me your guardian. Come now! If you
cry about it, I'll think you don't want me for guardian. Do you?
She turned a blubbered, wistful face toward me from the counterpane.
Her eyes answered me. I leaned over, smoothed a pillow and slipped it
beneath her tired head, then kissed her unbruised cheek and walked
quietly back into my own roomwhere I rang for Mrs. Parrot.
When she arrived, Mrs. Parrot, I suggested, please make Susan
comfortable for the night, will you? And I'll appreciate it if you
treat her exactly as you would my own child.
It took Mrs. Parrot at least a minute to hit upon something she
quite dared to leave with me.
Very well, Mr. Hunt. Not having an own child, and not knowingyou
can say that. Not that it's the same thing, though you do say
it! But I'll make her comfortableand time tells. In darker days, I
hope you'll be able to say that poor, peeny little creature has done
the same by you.
Thank you, Mrs. Parrot. Good-night.
A good night to you, Mr. Hunt, elaborated Mrs. Parrot, not without
malice; many of them, Mr. Hunt; many of them, I'm sure.
By the time Mrs. Parrot left us, housekeeper, governess, and maid
had been obtained in New York through agencies of the highest
Miss Goucher, the housekeeper, proved to be a tall, big-framed
spinster, rising fifty; a capable, taciturn woman with a positive
talent for minding her own affairs. She had bleak, light-gray eyes, a
rudderlike nose, and a harsh, positive way of speech that was less
disagreeable than it might have been, because she so seldom spoke at
all. Having hoped for a more amiable presence, I was of two minds over
keeping her; but she took charge of my house so promptly and
efficiently, and effaced herself so thoroughlya difficult feat for so
definite a figurethat in the end there was nothing I could complain
of; and so she stayed.
Miss Disbrow on the other hand, who came as governess, was all that
I had dared to wish for; a graceful, light-footed, soft-voiced
girlshe was not yet thirtywith charming manners, a fluent command
of the purest convent-taught French, a nice touch on the piano, and
apparently some slight acquaintance with the solider branches. Merely
to associate with Miss Disbrow would, I felt, do much for Susan.
I was less certain about Sonia, the maid. I had asked for a
middle-aged English maid. Sonia was Russian, and she was only
twenty-three. But she was sent directly to me from service with
Countess Dimbrovitskiformerly, as you know, Maud Hochstetter, of
Omahaand brought with her a most glowing reference for skill,
honesty, and unfailing tact. Countess Dimbrovitski did not explain in
the reference, dated from Newport, why she had permitted this paragon
to slip from her; nor did it occur to me to investigate the point. But
Sonia later explained it all, in intimate detail, to Susanas we shall
I had feared that Susan might be at first a little bewildered by the
attentions of Sonia and of Miss Disbrow; so I explained the unusual
situation to Miss Goucher and Miss Disbrowwith certain
reservationsand asked them to make it clear to Sonia. Miss Goucher
merely nodded, curtly enough, and said she understood. Miss Disbrow
proved more curious and more voluble.
How wonderful of you, Mr. Hunt! she exclaimed. To take in a poor
little waif and do all this for her! Personally, I count it a privilege
to be allowed some share in so generous an action. Oh, but I doI do.
One likes to feel, even when forced to work for one's living, that one
has some little opportunity to do good in the world. Life isn't, asked
Miss Disbrow, all money-grubbing and selfishness, is it? And as I
found no ready answer, she concluded: But I need hardly ask that of
For the fleetingest second I found myself wondering whether Miss
Disbrow, deep down in her hidden heart, might not be a minx. Yet her
glance, the happiest mixture of frankness, timidity, and respectful
admiration, disarmed me. I dismissed the unworthy suspicion as absurd.
I was a little troubled, though, when Susan that same evening after
dinner came to me in the library and seated herself on a low stool
facing my easy-chair.
Ambo, she said, I've been blind as blind, haven't I?
Have you? I responded. For a blind girl, it's wonderful how you
find your way about!
But I'm not jokingand that's just it, said Susan.
What's wrong, dear? I asked. I see something is.
Yes. I am. The wrongest possible. I've just dumped myself on you,
and stayed here; andand I've no damn business here at all!
I thought we were going to forget the damns and hells, Susan?
We are, said Susan, coloring sharply and looking as if she wanted
to cry. But when you've heard them, and worse, every minute all your
lifeit's pretty hard to forget. You must scold me more! Then with a
swift movement she leaned forward and laid her cheek on my knee.
You're too good to me, Ambo. I oughtn't to be herewearing wonderful
dresses, having a maid to do my hair andand polish me and button me
and mend me. I wasn't meant to have an easy time; I wasn't born for it.
First thing you know, Ambo, I'll get to thinking I wasand be mean to
I'll risk that, Susan.
Yes, but I oughtn't to let you. I could learn to be somebody's maid
like Sonia; and if I study hardand I'm going to!some day I could be
a governess like Miss Disbrow; only really know things, not just
pretend. Or when I'm old enough, a housekeeper like Miss Goucher!
That's what you should make me dowork for you! I can clean things
better than Nora now; I never skip underneaths. Truly, Ambo, it's all
wrong, my having people work for meat your expense. I know it is!
Miss Disbrow made it all clear as clear, right away.
What! Has Miss Disbrow been stuffing this nonsense into your head!
I was furious.
Oh, not in words! cried Susan. She talks just the other way. She
keeps telling me how fortunate I am to have a guardian like you, and
how I must be so careful never to annoy you or make you regret what
you've done for me. Then she sighs and says life is very hard and
unjust to many girls born with more advantages. Of course she means
herself, Ambo. You see, she hates having to work at all. She's much
nicer to look at and talk to, but she reminds me of Pearl. She's no
damnshe's no good, Ambo dear. She's hard where she ought to be soft,
and soft where she ought to be hard. She tries to get round people, so
she can coax things out of them. But she'll never get round Miss
Goucher, Amboor me. And Susan hesitated, lifting her head from my
knee and looking up at me doubtfully, only to add, II'm not so sure
Indeed. You think, possibly, Miss Disbrow might get round me, eh?
Well, she mightif I wasn't here, said Susan. She might marry
My explosion of laughterI am ordinarily a quiet personstartled
Susan. Have I said something awful again? she cried.
Dreadful! I sputtered, wiping my eyes. Why, you little goose!
Don't you see how I need you? To plumb the depths for meto protect
me? I thought I was your guardian, Susan; but that's just my mannish
complacency. I'm not your guardian at all, dear. You're mine.
But I saw at once that my mirth had confused her, had hurt her
feelings.... I reached out for her hands and drew her upon my knees.
Susan, I said, Miss Disbrow couldn't marry me even if she got
round me, and wanted to. You see, I have a wife already.
Susan stared at me with wide, frightened eyes. You have, Ambo?
Where is she?
She left me two years ago.
Left you? It was evident that she did not understand. Ohwhat
will she say when she comes home and finds me here? She won't
like it; she won't like me! wailed Susan. I know she won't.
Hush, dear. She's not coming home again. She made up her mind that
she couldn't live with me any more.
What's her name?
Why couldn't she live with you, Ambo?
She said I was cruel to her.
Weren't you good to her, Ambo? Why? Didn't you like her?
The rapid questions were so unexpected, so searching, that I gasped.
And my first impulse was to lie to Susan, to put her off with a few
conventional phrasesphrases that would lead the child to suppose me a
wronged, lonely, broken-hearted man. This would win me a sympathy I had
not quite realized that I craved. But Susan's eyes were merciless, and
I couldn't manage it. Instead, I surprised myself by blurting out:
That's about it, Susan. I didn't like herenough. We couldn't hit it
off, somehow. I'm afraid I wasn't very kind.
Instantly Susan's thin arms went about my neck, and her cheek was
pressed tight to mine.
Poor Ambo! she whispered. I'm so sorry you weren't kind. It must
hurt you so. Then she jumped from my knees.
Ambo! she demanded. Is my roomher room? Is it?
Certainly not. It isn't hers any more. She's never coming back, I
tell you. She put me out of her life once for all; and God knows I've
put her out of mine!
If you can't let me have another room, AmboI'll have to go.
Why? Hang it all, Susan, don't be silly! Don't make difficulties
where none exist! What an odd, overstrained child you are! I was a
Yes, nodded Susan gravely, I see now why Gertrude left you. But
she must be awfully stupid not to know it's only your outside that's
made like that!
Next morning, without a permissive word from me, Susan had Miss
Goucher move all her things to a small bedroom at the back of the
house, overlooking the garden. This silent flitting irritated me not a
little, and that afternoon I had a frank little talk with Miss
Disbrowfranker, perhaps, than I had intended. Miss Disbrow at once
gave me notice, and left for New York within two hours, letting it be
known that she expected her trunks to be sent after her.
Gutter-snipes are not my specialty, was her parting word.
There proved to be little difficulty in getting myself appointed
Susan's guardian. No one else wanted the child.
I promised the court to do my best for her; to treat her, in fact,
as I would my own flesh and blood. It might well be, I said, that
before long I should legally adopt her. In any event, if this for some
unforeseen reason proved inadvisable, I assured the court that Susan's
future would be provided for. The court benignly replied that, as it
stood, I was acting very handsomely in the matter; very handsomely; no
doubt about it. But there was a dim glimmer behind the juridic
spectacles that seemed to imply: Handsomely, my dear sir, but whether
wisely or no is another question, which, as the official champion of
widows and orphans, I am not called upon to decide.
It was with a new sense of responsibility that I opened an account
in Susan's name with a local savings bank, and a week later added a
short but efficient codicil to my will.
In the meantimebut with alert suspicionsI interviewed several
highly recommended applicants for Miss Disbrow's deserted post; only to
find them wanting. Poor things! Combined, they could hardly have met
all the requirements, æsthetic and intellectual, which I had now set my
heart upon finding in one lone governess for Susan! It would have
needed, by this, a subtly modernized Hypatia to fulfill my ideal.
I might, of course, have waited for October to send Susan to a
select private school in the vicinage, patronized by the little
daughters of our more cautious families. It was, by neighborly consent,
an excellent school, where carefully sterilized culturesphysical,
moral, mental, and socialwere painlessly injected into the blue blood
streams of our very nicest young girls. I say that I might have done
so, but this is a euphemism. On the one hand, I shrank from exposing
Susan to possible snubs; on the other, a little bird whispered that
Miss Garnett, principal of the school, would not care to expose her
carefully sterilized cultures to an alien contagion. Bearers of
contagionwhether physical, moral, mental, or socialwere not
sympathetic to Miss Garnett's clientèle. In Mrs. Parrot's iron
phrase, there are places for such.
Public schools, to wit! But in those long-past daysbefore Susan
taught me that there are just two kinds of persons, big and little;
those you can do nothing for, because they can do nothing for
themselves, and those you can do nothing for, because they can do
everything for themselvesin those days, I admit that I had my own
finicky fears. Public schools were all very well for the children of
men who could afford nothing better. They had, for example, given Bob
Blake's daughter a pretty fair preliminary training; but they would
never do for Ambrose Hunt's ward. Noblesseor, at any rate,
Yet here was a quandary: Public schools, in my estimation, being too
vulgar for Susan; and Susan, in the estimation of Hillhouse Avenue,
being too vulgar for private ones; yea, and though I still took
cognizance, no subtly modernized Hypatia coming to me highly
recommended for a jobhow in the name of useless prosperity was I to
get poor little Susan properly educated at all!
It was Susan who solved this difficulty for me, as she was destined
to solve most of my future difficulties, and all of her own.
She soon turned the public world about her into an extra-select,
super-private school. She impressed all who came into contact with her,
and made of them her devotedif often unconsciousinstructors. And
she began by impressing Miss Goucher and Nora and Sonia, and Philip
Farmer, assistant professor of philosophy in Yale University; and
Maltby Phar, anarchist editor of The Garden Exquisite;
andfirst and chieflyme.
The case of Phil Farmer was typical. Phil and I had been classmates
in the dark backward and abysm, and we were still, in a manner of
speaking, friends. I mean that, though we had few tastes in common, we
kept on liking each other a good deal. Phil was a gentle-hearted,
stiff-headed sort of man, with a conscienceformed for him and handed
on by a long line of Unitarian ministersa conscience which drove him
to incredible labor at altitudes few of us attain, and where even Phil,
it seemed to me, found breathing difficult. Not having been thrown with
much feminine society on his chosen heights, he had remained a
bachelor. The Metaphysical Mountains are said to be infested with
women, but they cluster, I am told, below the snow line. Phil did not
even meet them by climbing through them; he always ballooned straight
up for the Unmelting; and when he occasionally dropped down, his
psychic chill seldom wore entirely off before he was ready to ascend
again. This protected him; for he was a tall, dark-haired fellow whose
features had the clear-cut gravity of an Indian chieftain; his rare,
friendly smile was a delight. So he would hardly otherwise have
Perhaps once a week it was his habit to drop in after dinner and
share with me three or four pipes' worth of desultory conversation. We
seldom talked shop; since mine did not interest him, nor his me. Mostly
we just ambled aimlessly round the outskirts of some chance neutral
topicwho would win the big game, for example. It amused neither of
us, but it rested us both.
One night, perhaps a month after Susan had come to me, I returned
late from a hot day's trip to New Yorkone more unsuccessful quest
after Hypatia Redivivaand found Phil and Susan sitting together on
the screened terrace at the back of my house, overlooking the garden.
It was not my custom to spend the muggy midsummer months in town, but
this year I had been unwilling to leave until I could capture and carry
off Hypatia Rediviva with me. Moreover, I did not know where to go. The
cottage at Watch Hill belonged to Gertrude, and was in consequence no
longer used by either of us. As a grass widower I had, in summer, just
travelled about. Now, with a ward of fourteen to care for, just
travelling about no longer seemed the easiest solution; yet I hated
camps and summer hotels. I should have to rent a place somewhere, that
was certain; but where? With the world to choose from, a choice proved
difficult. I was marking time.
My stuffy fruitless trip had decided me to mark time no longer.
Hypatia or no Hypatia, Susan must be taken to the hills or the sea. It
was this thought that simmered in my brain as I strolled out to the
garden terrace and overheard Susan say to Phil: But I think it's
much easier to believe in the devil than it is in God! Don't you?
The devil isn't all-wise, all-good, all-everything! He's a lot more
I stopped short and shamelessly listened.
That's an interesting concept, responded Phil, with his slow,
friendly gravity. You mean, I suppose, that if we must be
anthropomorphic, we ought at least to be consistent.
Wouldn't it be funny, said Susan, if I did mean that without
knowing it? There was no flippancy, no irony in her tone. '
An-thro-po-mor-phic ... ' she added, savoring its
long-drawn-outness. Susan never missed a strange word; she always
pounced on it at once, unerringly, and made it hers.
That's a Greek word, explained Phil.
It's a good word, said Susan, if it has a tremendous lot packed
up in it. If it hasn't, it's much too long.
I agree with you, said Phil; but it has.
What? asked Susan.
It would take me an hour to tell you.
Oh, I'm glad! cried Susan. It must be a wonderful word! Please go
on till Ambo comes!
I decided to take a bath, and tiptoed softly and undetected away.
After that evening Phil began to drop in every two or three nights,
and he did not hesitate to tell me that the increasing frequency of his
visits was due to his progressive interest in Susan.
She's a curious child, he explained; which was true in any sense
you chose to take it, and all the way back to the Latin curiosus, careful, diligent, thoughtful; from cura, care, and so on....
I've never seen much of children, Phil continued; never had many
chances, as it happens. My sister has three boys, but she's married to
a narrow-gauge missionary, and livesto call it thatin Ping Lung, or
some such place. I've the right address somewhere, I thinkin a
notebook. Bertha sends me snapshots of the boys from time to time, but
I can't say I've ever felt lonely because of their exile. Funny.
Perhaps it's because I never liked Bertha much. Bertha has a sloppy
mindyou know, with chance scraps of things floating round in it.
Nothing coheres. But you take this youngster of yours, nowI call her
Do! I interjected.
Well, there's the opposite extreme! Susan links everything up,
everything she gets hold offacts, fancies, guesses, feelings; the
whole psychic menagerie. Chains them all together somehow, and seems to
think they'll get on comfortably in the same tent. Of course they
won'tcan'tand that's the danger for her! But she's stimulating,
HuntPhil always called me Hunt, as if just failing whole-heartedly
to accept meshe's positively stimulating! A mind like that must be
trained; thoroughly, I mean. We must do our best for her.
The we amused me andyes, I confess itnettled me a little.
Don't worry about that, I said, and more dryly than I had meant
to; I'm combing the country now for a suitable governess.
Governess! Phil snorted. You don't want a governess for Susan.
You want, for this job, he insisted, a male intellecta vigorous,
disciplined male intellect. Music, dancing, water colorspshaw!
Deportmenthow to enter a drawing-room! Fiddle-faddle! How to enter
the Kingdom of God! That's more Susan's style, cried Phil, with a most
I laughed at him.
Are you willing to take her on, Phil? I asked. I believe it's
been done; Epicurus had a female pupil or two.
I have taken her on, Phil replied, quite without resentment.
Hadn't you noticed it?
Yes, I said; only, it's the other way round.
I've been appropriated, is that it?
Yes; by Susan. We all have, Phil. That vampire child is simply
draining us, my dear fellow.
All right, said Phil, after a second's pause, if she's a
spiritual vampire, so much the better. Only, she'll need a firm
hand. We must give her suck at regular hours; draw up a plan. You can
tackle the languages, if you likeæsthetics, and all that. I'll pin
her down to math and logicteach her to think straight. We can
safely leave her to pick up history and sociology and such things for
herself. You've a middling good library, and she'll browse.
Oh, she'll browse! She's browsing now.
Poetry? demanded Phil, suspicion in his tone, anxiety in his eyes.
If she runs amuck with poetry too soon, there's no hope for her.
She'll get to taking sensations for ideas, and that's fatal. A mind
What further he said I missed; a distant tinkle from the front-door
bell had distracted me.
It was Maltby Phar. He came out to us on the garden terrace,
unexpected and unannounced.
Whether you like it or not, he sighed luxuriously, I'm here for a
week. How's the great experimenteh? Am I too late for the bust-up?
Then he nodded to Phil. How are you, Mr. Farmer? Delighted to meet an
old adversary! Shall it be swords or pistols this time? Or clubs? But I
warn you, I'm no fit foe; I'm soft. Making up our mammoth Christmas
Number in July always unnerves me. By the time I had looked over a
dozen designs for our cover this morning and found Gaspar, Melchior,
and Balthazar in every one of them, mounted on fancy camels, and
heading for an exaggerated star in the right upper dark-blue corner, I
succumbed to heat and profanity, turned 'em all face downward, shuffled
'em, grabbed one at random, and then fled for solace! Solace, he
added, dropping into a wicker armchair, can begin, if you like, by
taking a cool, mellow, liquid form.
Phil, I saw, was looking annoyed. He disliked Maltby Phar, openly
disliked him; so I felt certainI was perhaps rather hopingthat he
would take this opportunity to escape. With Phil I was never then
entirely at ease; but in those days I was wholly so with Maltby. Miss
Goucher answered my summons in person, and I suggested a sauterne cup
for my friends. Phil frowned on the suggestion, but Maltby beamed. The
ayes had it, and Miss Goucher, who had remained neutral, withdrew. It
was Phil's chance; yet he surprised me by settling back and refilling
When you came, Mr. Phar, he said, his tone withdrawing toward
formality, we were discussing the education of Susan.
Then I came just in time! cried Maltby.
For what? I queried.
I may prevent a catastrophe. If you're really going to see this
thing through, Bozhis name for mefor God's sake do a little clear
thinking first! Don't drift. Don't flounder. Don't wallow. Scrap all
your musty, inbred prejudices once for all, and see that at least one
kid on this filthy old planet gets a plain, honest, unsentimentalized
account of what she is and what the world is. If you can bring yourself
to do that, Susan will be unique. She will be the first educated woman
'What she is and what the world is,' repeated Phil, slowly. What
is the world, may I ask? And what is Susan?
There was a felt tenseness in the moment; the hush before battle. We
leaned forward a little from our easy-chairs, and no one of us noticed
that Susan had slipped noiselessly to the window seat by the opened
library window which gave upon the terrace. But there, as we later
discovered, she was; and there, for the present silently, she remained.
The world, began Maltby Phar sententiously, is a pigsty.
Very well, interrupted Phil; I'll grant you that to start with.
What we see about us, said Maltby.
And what do we see? asked Phil.
At this inopportune moment Miss Goucher reappeared, bearing a
Sheffield tray, on which stood three antique Venetian goblets, and a
tall pitcher of rare Bohemian glass, filled to the brim with an iced
sauterne cup garnished with fresh strawberries and thin disks of
pineapple. Nothing less suggestive of the conventional back-lot piggery
could have been imagined. By the time a table had been placed, our
goblets filled, and Miss Goucher had retired, Maltby had decided to try
for a new opening.
Excellent! he resumed, having drained and refilled his goblet.
Now, Mr. Farmer, if you really wish to know what the world is, and
what Susan is, I am ready. Have with you! And by the way, Boz, he
interjected, sipping his wine, your new housekeeper is one in a
thousand. Mrs. Parrot was admirable; I've been absurdly regretting her
loss. But Mrs. Parrot never quite rose to this!
Phil's tongue clicked an impatient protest against the roof of his
mouth. I am still unenlightened, Mr. Phar.
True, said Maltby. That's the worst of you romantic idealists.
It's your permanent condition. He settled back in his chair, and fell
to his old trick of slowly caressing the back of his left hand with the
palm of his right. The world, my dear Mr. Farmer, he continued, the
universe, indeed, as we have come gradually to know it, is an infinity
of blindly clashing forces. They have always existed, they will always
exist; they have always been blind, and they always will be. Anything
may happen in such an infinity, and wethis world of men and
microbesare one of the things which has temporarily happened. It's
regrettable, but it is so. And though there is nothing final we can do
about it, and very little in any sense, stillthis curious accident of
the human intellect enables us to do something. We can at least admit
the plain facts of our horrible case. Here, a self-realizing accident,
we briefly are. Death will dissipate us one by one, and the world in
due time. That much we know. But while we last, why must we add
imaginary evils to our real ones, and torment ourselves with false
hopes and ridiculous fears?
Why can't each one of us learn to say: 'I am an accident of no
consequence in a world that means nothing. I might be a stone, but I
happen to be a man. Hence, certain things give me pleasure, others
pain. And, obviously, in an accidental, meaningless world I can owe no
duty to anyone but myself. I owe it to myself to get as much pleasure
and to avoid as much pain as possible. Unswerving egotism should be my
law.' He paused to sip again, with a side glance toward Phil.
Elementary, all this, I admit. I apologize for restating it to a
scholar. But such are the facts as science reveals themare they not?
You have to try somehow to go beyond science to get round them. And
where do you goyou romantic idealists? Where can you go?
Nowhere outside of yourselves, I take it. So you plunge, perforce, down
below the threshold of reason into a mad chaos of instinct and desire
and dream. And what there do you find? Bugaboos, my dear sir,
simply bugaboos: divine orders, hells, heavens, purgatories, moral
sanctionsall the wild insanity, in two words, that had made our
wretched lives even less worth living than they could and should be!
Should? Why should? asked Phil. Granting your
universe, who gives a negligible damn for a little discomfort more or
I do! Maltby asserted. I want all the comfort I can get; and I
could get far more in a world of clear-seeing, secular egotists than I
can in this mixed mess of superstitious, sentimental idealists which we
choose to call civilized society! Take just one minor practical
illustration: Say that some virgin has wakened my desire, and I hers.
In a reasonable society we could give each other a certain amount of
passing satisfaction. But do we do it? No. The virgin has been taught
to believe in a mystical, mischievous something, called Purity! To
follow her natural instinct would be a sin. If you sin and get caught
on earth, society will punish you; and if you don't get caught here,
you'll infallibly get caught hereafterand then God will punish you.
So the virgin tortures herself and tortures meunless I'm willing to
marry her, which would be certain to prove the worst of tortures for us
both. And there you are.
It was at this point that Susan spoke from her window.
Pearl and papa weren't married, Mr. Phar; but they didn't get much
fun out of not being.
I confess that I felt a nervous chill start at the base of my spine
and shiver up toward my scalp. Even Phil, the man of Indian gravity,
looked for an instant perturbed.
Susan! I demanded sharply. Have you been listening?
Mustn't I listen? asked Susan. Why not? Are you cross, Ambo?
The mischief's done, said Phil to me quietly; better not make a
point of it.
Please don't be cross, Ambo, Susan pleaded, slipping through the
window to the terrace and coming straight over to me. Mr. Phar feels
just the way papa did about things; only papa couldn't talk so
splendidly. He had a very poor vocabularyVocabulary! I
gaspedexcept nasty words and swearing. But he meant just what Mr.
Phar means, inside.
Phil, as she ended, began to make strange choking noises and retired
suddenly into his handkerchief. Maltby put down his glass and stared at
Young person, he finally said, you ought to be spanked! Don't you
know it's an unforgivable sin to spy on your elders!
But you don't believe in sin, responded Susan calmly, without the
tiniest suspicion of pertness in her tone or bearing. You believe in
doing what you want to. I wanted to hear what you were saying,
Of course you did! Phil struck in. But next time, Susan, as a
concession to good manners, you might let us know you're in the
Susan bit her lower lip very hard before she managed to reply.
Yes. I will next time. I'm sorry, Phil. (Phil!) Then she
turned to Maltby. But I wasn't spying! I just didn't know you would
any of you mind.
We don't, really, I said. Sit down, dear. You're always welcome.
I had been doing some stiff, concentrated thinking in the last three
minutes, and now I had taken the plunge. The truth is, Susan, I went
on, that most children who live in good homes, who are what is called
'well brought up,' are carefully sheltered from any facts or words or
thoughts which their parents do not consider wholesome or pleasant.
Parents try to give their children only what they have found to be best
in life; they try to keep them in ignorance of everything else.
But they can't, said Susan. At least, they couldn't in Birch
No. Nor elsewhere. But they try. And they always make believe to
themselves that they have succeeded. So it's supposed to be very
shocking and dangerous for a girl of your age to listen to the free
conversation of men of our age. That's the reason we all felt a little
guilty, at first, when we found you'd been overhearing us.
How funny, said Susan. Papa never cared.
Good for him! exclaimed Maltby. I didn't feel guilty, for one! I
refuse to be convicted of so hypocritically squeamish a reaction!
Oh! Susan sighed, almost with rapture. You know such a lot of
words, Mr. Phar! You can say anything.
Thanks, said Maltby; I rather flatter myself that I can.
And you do! grunted Phil. But words, he took up the
dropped threads rather awkwardly, are nothing in themselves, Susan.
You are too fond of mere words. It isn't words that matter; it's
Yes, Phil, said Susan meekly, but I love wordsbest of all when
Phil frowned, without visible effect upon Susan. I saw that her mind
had gone elsewhere.
You mustn't ever worry about me, Ambo. My hearing or knowing
thingsor saying them. II guess I'm different.
Maltby's face was a study in suppressed amazement; Phil was still
frowning. It was all too much for me, and I laughedlaughed from the
Susan laughed with me, springing from her chair to throw her arms
tightly round my neck in one big joyous suffocating hug!
Oh, Ambo! she cried, breathless. Isn't it going to be funall of
ustogethernow we can talk!
The following evening, after dinner, Maltby Phar, still a little
ruffled by Susan's unexpected vivacities of the night before, retired
to the library with pipe and book, and Susan and I sat alone together
on the garden terrace. It was dusk. The heavy air of the past week had
been quickened and purified by an afternoon thunderstorm. Little cool
puffs came to us across a bed of glimmering white phlox, bearing with
them its peculiar, loamy fragrance. Smoke from my excellent cigarette
eddied now and then toward Susan.
Silence had stolen upon her as the afterglow faded, revealing the
first patient stars. Already I had learned to respect Susan's silences.
She was not, in the usual sense of uncertain temper, of nervous
irritability, a moody child; yet she had her moodsmoods, if I may put
it so, of extraordinary definition. There were hours, not too frequent
to be disturbing, when she withdrew; there is no better word for
it. At such times her thin, alert little frame was motionless; she
would sit as if holding a pose for a portrait, her chin a trifle
lifted, her eyes focusing on no visible object, her hands lyingalways
with the palms upwardin her lap. I supposed that now, with the veiled
yet sharply scented dusk, such a mood had crept upon her. But for once
I was mistaken. Susan, this time, had not withdrawn; she was intensely
Ambothe suddenness with which she spoke startled meyou ought
to have lots of children. You ought to have a boy, anyway; not just a
A boy? Why, dear? Are you lonely?
Of course not; with youand Phil!
Then whatever in the world put such a crazy
Susan interrupted; a bad habit of hers, never subsequently broken,
and due, doubtless, to an instinctive impatience of foreseeable
You're so awfully rich, Ambo. You could have dozens and not feel
itexcept that they'd get in your way sometimes and make your outside
cross. But two wouldn't be much more trouble than one. It might seem a
little crowdedat first; but after while, Ambo, you'd hardly notice
Possibly. Stillnice boys don't grow on bushes, Susan. Not the
kind of brothers I should have to insist upon for you!
I'm not so fussy as all that, said Susan. And it isn't fair that
I should have everything. Besides, Ambo, boys are much nicer than
girls. Honestly they are.
Oh, are they! I'm afraid you haven't had much experience with boys!
Most of them are disgusting young savages. Really, Susan! Their hands
and feet are too big for them, and their voices don't fit. They're
always breaking thingsirreplaceable things for choice, and raising
the devil of a row. Take my word for it, dear, please. I'm an ex-boy
myself; I know all about 'em! They were never created for civilized
human companionship. Why, I'd rather give you a young grizzly bear and
be done with it, than present you with the common-or-garden brother!
But if you'd like a nice quiet little sister some day, maybe
I wouldn't, said Susan.
She was silent again for several moments, pondering. I observed her
furtively. Nothing was more distant from my desire than any addition,
of any age, male or female, to my present family. Heaven, in its great
and unwonted kindness, had sent me Susan; she wasto my
thinkingperfect; and she was enough. Whether in art or in life I am
no lover of an avoidable anticlimax. But Susan's secret purposes were
Ambo, she resumed, I guess if you'd ever lived in Birch Street
you'd feel differently about boys.
I doubt it, Susan.
I'm sure you'd feel differently about Jimmy.
Jimmy Kane, Ambomy Jimmy. Haven't I ever told you about
Guilefully, persuasively, she edged her chair nearer to mine.
It was then that I first learned of Jimmy's battle for Susan, of the
bloody but righteous downfall of Giuseppe Gonfarone, and of many
another incident long treasured in the junior annals of Birch Street.
Thus, little by little, though the night deepened about us, my eyes
were unsealed. What a small world I had always lived in! For how long
had it seemed to me that romance wasapproximatelydead! My fingers
tightened on Susan's, while the much-interrogated stars hung above us
in their mysterious orbits andBut no, that is the pathetic fallacy.
Starsare they not matter, merely? They could not smile.
Don't you truly think, Ambo, suggested Susan, that Jimmy ought to
have a better chance? If he doesn't get it, he'll have to work in a
factory all his life. And here I amwith you!
Yes. But consider, Susanthere are thousands of boys like Jimmy. I
can't father them all, you know.
I don't want you to father them all, said Susan; and there isn't
anybody like Jimmy! You'll see.
It came over me as she spoke that I was, however unwillingly,
predestined to see.
Maltby Phar thought otherwise. That night, after Susan had gone up
to bed, I talked the thing over with himtrying for an airy, detached
tone; the tone of one who discusses an indifferent matter for want of a
more urgent. Maltby was not, I fear, deceived.
My dear Boz, he pleaded, buck up! Get a fresh grip on your
individuality and haul it back from the brink of destruction! If you
don't, that little she-demon above-stairs will push it over into the
gulf, once for all! You'll be nobody. You'll be her dupeher slave.
How can you smile, man! I'm quite serious, and I warn you. Fight the
good fight! Defend the supreme rights of your ego, before it's too
Why these tragic accents? I parried. It's not likely the
washlady's kid would want to come; or his mother let him. Susan
idealizes him, of course. He's probably quite commonplace and content
as he is. No harm, though, if it pleases Susan, in looking him over?
Maltby took up his book again. He dismissed me. Whom the gods
destroy he muttered, and ostentatiously turned a page.
My feeling that I was predestined to see, with Susan, that there
wasn't anybody like Jimmythat I was further predestined to take him
into my heart and homeproved, very much to my own surprise and to the
disappointment of Susan, to be unjustified. This was the first bitter
defeat that Susan had been called upon to bear since leaving Birch
Street. She took it quietly, but deeply, which troubled my private
sense of relief, and indeed turned it into something very like regret.
The simple fact was that much had happened in Birch Street since the
tragedy of the four-room house; life had not stood still there; chance
and changedeaths and marriages and birthshad altered the
circumstances of whole families. In short, that steady flux of
mortality, which respects neither the dignity of the Hillhouse Avenues
nor the obscurity of the Birch Streets of the world, had in its secret
courses already borne Jimmy Kaneelsewhere. Precisely where, even his
mother did not know; and first and last it was her entire and
passionate ignorance as to Jimmy's present location which foiled us.
West is a geographical expression certainly, but it is not an
Jimmy's mother lived with her unwashed brood, you will remember,
above old Heinze's grocery store, and on the following afternoon I ran
Susan over there for a tactful reconnaissance. At Susan's request we
went slowly along Birch Street from its extreme right end to its
ultimate wrong, crossing the waste land and general dump at the base of
East Rockhistoric ground!mounting the long incline beyond, and so
passing the four-room house, which now seemed to be occupied by at
least three families of that hardy, prolific race discourteously known
to young America as wops. Throughout this little tour Susan withdrew,
and I respected her silence. She had not yet spoken when we stopped at
Heinze's corner and descended.
Here first it was that forebodings of chance and change met us upon
the pavement, in the person of old Heinze himself, standing melancholy
and pensive before the screened doorway of his domain. Him Susan
accosted. He did not at first recognize her, but recollection returned
to him as she spoke.
Ach, so! he exclaimed, peering with mildest surprise above
steel-rimmed spectacles. Id iss younod? Leedle Susanna!
My formal introduction followed; nor was it without a glow of
satisfaction that I heard old Heinze assure me that he had read certain
of my occasional essays with attention and respect. Ard for ardyah!
Dot iss your credo, he informed me, with tranquil noddings of his
bumpy, oddly shaped skull. Dot iss der credo of all arisdograds. Id
iss nod mine.
But Susan was in no mood for general ideas; she descended at once to
particulars, and announced that we were going up to see Mrs. Kane. Then
old Heinze snaggily, and I thought rather wearily, smiled.
Aber, he objected, lifting twisted, rheumatic hands, dere
iss no more such a vooman! Alretty, leedle Susanna, I haf peen an oldt
fool like oders. I haf made her my vife. And though he continued to
smile, he also sighed.
Our ensuing interview with Frau Heinze, formerly the Widow Kane,
fully interpreted this sigh. Prosperity, Susan later assured me, had
not improved her. She greeted us, above the shop, in her small, shiny,
colored lithograph of a parlor, with unveiled suspicion. Her eyes were
hostile. She seemed to take it for granted, did Mrs. Heinze, that we
could have no kindly purpose in intruding upon her. A dumpy, grumpy
little woman, with the parboiled hands and complexion of long years at
the wash-tubs, her present state of comparative freedom from bondage
had not lightened her heart. Her irritability, I told Susan after our
escape, was doubtless due to the fact that she could not share in old
Heinze's intellectual and literary tastes. Susan laughed.
She wouldn't bother much about that; Birch Street's never lonely,
and it's only a step to the State Street movies. No; I think it's
Corsets? The word threw a flood of light. I saw at once that it must
be a strain upon any disposition to return after a long and figureless
widowhood to the steel, buckram, and rebellious curves of conventional
married life. I remembered the harnesslike creaking of Mrs. Heinze's
waistline, and forgave her much.
There was really a good deal to forgive. It was neither Susan's
fault nor mine that turned our call into a bad quarter of an hour. I
had looked for a pretty scene as I mounted the stairs behind Susan. I
had pictured the child, in her gay summer frock, bursting like sunshine
into Mrs. Heinze's stuffy quartersand so forth. Nothing of the kind
Who is ut? demanded Mrs. Heinze, peering forth. Oh, it's youBob
Blake's girl. What do you want? Susan explained. Well, come in then,
said Mrs. Heinze.
Susan, less daunted than I by her reception, marched in and asked at
once for Jimmy. At the sound of his name Mrs. Heinze's suspicions were
sharply focused. If the gentleman knew anything about Jimmy, all right,
let him say so! It wouldn't surprise her to hear he'd been gettin'
himself into trouble! It would surprise her much more, she implied, if
he had not. But if he had, she couldn't be responsiblenor Heinze
either, the poor man! Jimmy was sixteena man grown, you might say.
Let him look after himself, then; and more shame to him for the way
But what way he had acted, and why, Susan at first found it
difficult to determine.
Oh! she at length protested, following cloudy suggestions of evil
courses. Jimmy couldn't do anything mean! You know he couldn't. It
isn't in him!
Isn't ut indeed! Me slavin' for him and the childer ever since Kane
was took off suddenand not a cint saved for the livin'let alone the
dead! Slavin' and worritin'the way you'd think Jimmy'd 'a' jumped wid
joy when Heinze offered! And an easier man not to be foundthough he's
got his notions. What man hasn't? If it's not one thing, it's another.
'Except his beer, he don't drink much,' I says to Jimmy; 'and that's
more than I could say for your own father, rest his soul!' 'My father
wasn't a Dutchman,' Jimmy says; givin' me his lip to me face. 'He
didn't talk out against the Pope,' he says. 'Nor the Pris'dint,' he
says. 'He wasn't a stinkin' Socialist,' he saysusin' them very words!
'No,' I says, 'he was a Demycratand what's ut to you? All men'll be
blatherin' polytics after hours,' I says. 'Heinze manes no harm by ut,
no more nor the rest. 'Tis just his talk,' I says. And after that we
had more words, and I laid me palm to his head.
Oh! cried Susan.
I'll not take lip from a son of mine, Susan Blake; nor from you,
wid all your grand clothes! I've seen you too often lackin' a modest
stitch to your back!
I hastened to intervene.
We'll not trouble you longer, Mrs. Heinze, if you'll only be good
enough to tell me where Jimmy is now. He was very kind to Susan once,
and she wants to thank him in some way. I've a proposition to make
himwhich might be to his advantage.
Ohso that's ut at last! Well, Susan Blake, you've had the grand
luck for the likes of you! But you're too late. Jimmy's gone.
'Tis the gratitude I get for raisin' him! Gone he is, wid what he'd
laid bytwinty-sivin dollarsand no word to nobody. There's a son for
Butoh, Mrs. Heinzegone where?
West. That's all I know, said Mrs. Heinze. He left a line to say
he'd gone West. We've not had a scrap from him since. If he comes to a
Jimmy won't come to a bad end! struck in Susan sharply. He did
just right to leave you. Good-by. With that she seized my arm and
swept me with her from the room.
Glory be to God! Susan Blakethe airs of her now! followed us
shrilly, satirically, down the stairs.
Maltby's visit came to an end, and for the first time I did not
regret his departure. For some reason, which perhaps purposely I left
unanalyzed, Maltby was beginning to get a trifle on my nerves. But let
that pass. Once he was gone, Phil Farmer drew a long breath and plunged
with characteristic thoroughness into his comprehensive scheme for the
education of Susan. Her enthusiasm for this scheme was no less
contagious than his own, and I soon found myself yielding to her wish
to stay on in New Haven through the summer, and let in for daily
lessons at regular hoursvery much to my astonishment, the rôle of
schoolmaster being one which I had always flattered myself I was
temperamentally unfitted to sustain.
I soon discovered, however, that teaching a mentally alert,
whimsically unexpected, stubbornly diligent, and always grateful pupil
is among the most stimulating and delightful of human occupations. My
own psychic laziness, which had been long creeping upon me, vanished in
this new atmosphere of competitioncompetition, for that is what it
came to, with the unwearying Phil. It was a real renascence for me.
Forsaken gods! how I studiedoff hours and on the sly! My French was
excellent, my Italian fair; but my small Latin and less Greek needed
endless attention. Yet I rather preen myself upon my success; though
Phil has always maintained that I overfed Susan with æsthetic flummery,
thus dulling the edge of her appetite for his own more wholesome daily
In one respect, at least, I disagreed fundamentally with Phil, and
herethrough sheer force of convictionI triumphed. Phil, who lived
exclusively in things of the mind, would have turned this sensitive
child into a bemused scholar, a female bookworm. This, simply, I would
not and did not permit. If she had a soul, she had a body, too, and I
was determined that it should be a vigorous, happy body before all
else. For her sake solelyfor I am too easily an indolent manI took
up riding again, and tennis, and even pushed myself into golf; with the
result that my nervous dyspepsia vanished, and my irritability along
with it; with the more excellent result that Susan filled and bloomed
and ate (for her) three really astonishing meals a day.
It was a busy lifea wonderful life! Hard workhard
playfuntravel.... Ah, those years!
But I am leaping ahead!
Yet I have but one incident left to record of those earliest days
with Susanan incident which had important, though delayed,
resultsaffecting in various ways, for long unforeseen, Susan's
career, and the destiny of several other persons, myself among them.
Sonia, Susan's little Russian maid, was at the bottom of it all; and
the first hint of the rather sordid affair came to me, all unprepared,
from the lips of Miss Goucher. She sought me out in my private study,
whither I had retired after dinner to write a letter or twoa most
unusual proceeding on her part, and on mineand she asked at once in
her brief, hard, respectful manner for ten minutes of my time. I rose
and placed a chair for her, uncomfortably certain that this could be no
trivial errand; she seated herself, angularly erect, holding her
feelings well in hand.
Mr. Hunt, she began, have I your permission to discharge Sonia?
My face showed my surprise.
But Susan likes her, doesn't she, Miss Goucher? And she seems
Yes. A little careless perhaps; but then, she's young. It isn't her
service I object to.
What is the trouble?
It is a question of character, Mr. Hunt. I have reason to think her
You meanimmoral? I asked, using the word in the restricted sense
which I assumed Miss Goucher, like most maiden ladies, exclusively
attached to it. To my astonishment Miss Goucher insisted upon more
No, I shouldn't say that. She tells a good many little fibs, but
she's not at heart dishonest. And I'm by no means certain she can be
held responsible for her weakness in respect to men. A slight flush
just tinged Miss Goucher's prominent cheek bones; but duty was duty,
and she persevered. She has a bad inheritance, I think; and until she
came here, Mr. Hunt, her environment was alwaysunfortunate. If it
were not for Susan, I shouldn't have spoken. I should have felt it my
duty to try to protect the child andHowever, added Miss Goucher,
I doubt whether much can be done for Sonia. So my first duty is
certainly to Miss Susan, and to you.
Susan's quiet admiration for Miss Goucher had more or less puzzled
me hitherto, but now my own opinion of Miss Goucher soared heavenward.
Why, the woman was remarkablefar more so than I had remotely
suspected! She had a mind above her station, respectable though her
station might well be held to be.
My dear Miss Goucher, I exclaimed, it is perfectly evident to me
that my interests are more than safe in your keeping. Do what you think
best, by all means!
Unfortunately, Mr. Hunt, said Miss Goucher, that is what I cannot
May I ask why?
Society would not permit me, answered Miss Goucher.
Please explain, I gasped.
Sonia will cause a great deal of suffering in the world, said Miss
Goucher, the color on her cheek bones deepening, while she avoided my
glance. For herselfand others. In my opinionwhich I am aware is
not widely sharedshe should be placed in a lethal chamber and
painlessly removed. We are learning to 'swat the fly,' continued Miss
Goucher, because it benefits no one and spreads many human ills. Some
day we shall learn to swatother things. Calmly she rose to take her
leave. Excitedly eager, I sprang up to detain her.
Don't go, Miss Goucher! Your views are really most
interestingthough, as you say, not widely accepted. Certainly not by
me. Your plan of a lethal chamber for weak sisters and brothers strikes
me aswell, drastic. Do sit down.
Again Miss Goucher perched primly upright on the outer edge of the
chair beside my own. I felt bound to state my views truthfully, she
said, since you asked for them. But I never intrude them upon others.
I'm not a social rebel, Mr. Hunt. I lack self-confidence for that. When
I differ from the received opinion I always suspect that I am quite
wrong. Probably I am in this case. But I think society would agree with
me that Sonia is not a fit maid for Susan.
Beyond a shadow of doubt, I assented. But may I ask on what
grounds you suspect Sonia?
It is certainly your right, replied Miss Goucher; but if you
insist upon an answer I shall have to give notice.
Then I shall certainly not insist.
Thank you, Mr. Hunt, said Miss Goucher, rising once more. I
appreciate this. And she walked from the room.
It was the next afternoon that Susan burst into my study without
knockinga breach of manners which she had recently learned to
conquer, so the irruption surprised me. But I noted instantly that
Susan's agitation had carried her far beyond all thought for trifles.
Never had I seen her like this. Her whole being was vibrant with
Ambo! she cried, all but slamming the door behind her. Sonia
mustn't go! I won't let her go! You and Miss Goucher may think what you
pleaseI won't, Ambo! It's wicked! You don't want Sonia to be like
Tilly Jaretski, do you?
Like Tilly Jaretski? My astonishment was so great that I babbled
the unfamiliar name merely to gain time, collect my senses.
Yes! urged Susan, almost leaping to my side, and seizing my arm
with tense fingers. She'll be just like Tilly was, along State
Streetafter her baby came. Tilly wasn't a bit like Pearl, Ambo; and
Sonia isn't either! But she's going to have a baby, too, Ambo, like
With a wrench of my entire nervous system I, in one agonizing
second, completely dislocated the prejudices of a lifetime, and rose to
the situation confronting me. O Hillhouse Avenue, right at both ends!
How little you had prepared me for this precocious knowledge of
lifeknowledge that utterly degrades or most wonderfully saveswhich
these children, out toward the wrong end of the Birch Streets of the
world, drink in almost with their mothers' milk! How far I, a grown
mana cultured, sophisticated manmust travel, Susan, even to begin
to equal your simple acceptance of naked, ugly factsheer factseen,
smelt, heard, tasted! How farhow far!
Susan, I said gravely, does Miss Goucher know about Sonia?
I don't know. I suppose so. I haven't seen her yet. When Sonia came
to me, cryingI ran straight in here!
And how long have you known?
Over a week. Sonia told me all about it, Ambo. Count Dimbrovitski
got her in trouble. She loved him, Amboher way. She doesn't any more.
Sonia can't love anybody long; he can't, either. That's why his wife
sent Sonia off. Sonia says she knows her husband's like that, but so
long as she can hush things up, she doesn't care. Sonia says she has a
lover herself, and Count Dim doesn't care much either. Oh, Ambohow
stuffy some people are! I don't mean Sonia. She's just
pitifullike Tilly. But those othersthey're differentI can feel
it! Oh, how Artemis must hate them, Ambo!
Susan's tense fingers relaxed, slipping from my arm; she slid down
to the floor, huddled, and leaning against the padded side of my chair
buried her face in her hands.
Very quietly I rose, not to disturb her, and crossing to the
interphone requested Miss Goucher's presence. My thoughts raced crazily
on. In advance of Miss Goucher's coming I had dramatized my interview
with her in seven different and unsatisfactory ways. When she at last
entered, my temple pulses were beating and my tongue was stiff and dry.
Susan, except for her shaken shoulders, had not stirred.
Miss Goucher, I managed to begin, shut the door, please.... You
see this poor child?
Miss Goucher saw. Over her harsh, positive features fell a sort of
transforming veil. It seemed to me suddenlyif for that moment
onlythat Miss Goucher was very beautiful.
If you wouldn't mind, she suggested, leaving her with me?
Well, I had not in advance dramatized our meeting in this way. In
all the seven scenes that had flashed through me, I had stood, an
unquestioned star, at the center of the stage. I had not foreseen an
exit. But I most humbly and gratefully accepted one now.
Precisely what took place, what words were said there, in my study,
following my humble exit, I have never learned, either from Miss
Goucher or from Susan. I know only that from that hour forth the bond
between them became what sentimentalists fondly suppose the
relationship between mother and daughter must always bewhat, alas, it
so rarely, but then so beautifully, is.
I date from that hour Miss Goucher's abandonment of her predilection
for the lethal chamber; at least, she never spoke of it again. And
Sonia stayed with us. Her boy was born in my house, and there for three
happy years was nourished and shamelessly spoiled; at the end of which
time Sonia found a husband in the person of young Jack Palumbo,
unquestionably the pick of all our Hillhouse Avenue chauffeurs. Their
marriage caused a brief scandal in the neighborhood, but was soon
accepted as an authentic and successful fact.
Chance and change are not always villains, you observe; the
temperamental Sonia has grown stout and placid, and has increased the
world's legitimate population by three. Nevertheless, it is the
consensus of opinion that little Ivan, her first-born, is the golden
arrow in her quiveran opinion in which Jack Palumbo delightedly, if
rather surprisingly, concurs.
And so much for Sonia.... Let the curtain quietly descend. When it
rises again, six years will have passed; good yearsand therefore
unrecorded. Your scribe, Susan, is now nearing forty; and youGreat
heavens, is it possible! Can you be going ontwenty?
Yes, dearYou are.
THE THIRD CHAPTER
IT was October; the year, 1913. Susan, Miss Goucher and I had just
returned from Liverpool on the good ship Lusitaniathere was a good
ship Lusitania in those daysafter a delightful summer spent in
Italy and France. Susan and I entirely agree that the season for Italy
is midsummer. Italy is not Italy until she has drunk deep of the sun;
until a haze of whitest dust floats up from the slow hoofs of her white
oxen along Umbrian or Tuscan roads. You will never get from her
churches all they can give unless they have been to you as shadows of
great rocks in a weary land. To step from reverberating glare to vast
cool dimnessah, that is to know at last the meaning of sanctuary!
But to step from a North River pier into a cynical taxi, solely
energized by our great American principle of Take a chance!to be
bumped and slithered by that energizing principle across the main
traffic streams of impatient New Yorkthat is to reawaken to all the
doubt and distraction, the implacable multiplicity of a scientifically
New Haven was better; Hillhouse Avenue preserving
especiallythrough valorous prodigies of rejectionmuch of its
ancient, slightly disdainful, studiously inconspicuous calm.
Phil Farmer was waiting for us at the doorstep. For all his
inclusive greeting, his warm, welcoming smile, he looked older, did
Phil, leaner somehow, more finely drawn. There was a something hungry
about himsomething in his eyes. But if Susan, who notices most
things, noted it, she did not speak of her impression to me. She almost
hugged Phil as she jumped out to greet him and dragged him with her up
the steps to the door.
And now, if this portion of Susan's history is to be truthfully
recorded, certain facts may as well be set down at once, clearly, in
due order, without shame.
1. Phil Farmer was, by this time, hopelessly in love with Susan.
2. So was Maltby Phar.
3. So was I.
It should now be possible for a modest but intelligent reader to
follow the approaching pages without undue fatigue.
Susan never kept a diary, she tells me, but she had, like most
beginning authors, the habit of scribbling things down, which she never
intended to keep, and then could seldom bring herself to destroy. To a
writer all that his pen leaves behind it seems sacred; it is, I
treacherously submit, a private grief to any of us to blot a line. Such
is our vanity. However inept the work which we force ourselves or are
prevailed upon to destroy, the unhappy doubt always lingers: If I had
only saved it? One can't be sure? Perhaps posterity?
Susan, thank God, was not and probably is not exempt from this
folly. It enables me from this time forward to present certain
passagesmere scraps and jottingsfrom her notebooks, which she has
not hesitated to turn over to me.
I don't approve, Ambo, was her comment, but if you will
write nonsense about me, I can't help it. What I can help, a little, is
your writing nonsense about yourself or Phil or the rest. It's only
fair to let me get a word in edgeways, now and thenif only for your
sake and theirs.
That is not, however, my own reason for giving you occasional peeps
into these notebooks of Susan's.
* * * * *
I'm beginning to wish that Shelley might have had a sense of humor.
'Epipsychidion' is really too absurd. 'Sweet benediction in the eternal
curse!' Imagine, under any condition of sanity, calling any woman that!
Or 'Thou star above the storm!'beautiful as the image is. 'Thou storm
upon the star!' would make much worse poetry, but much better sense....
Isn't it strange that I can't feel this about Wordsworth? He was better
off without humor, for all his solemn-donkey spotsand it's better for
us that he didn't have it. It's probably better for us, too, that
Shelley didn't have itbut it wasn't better for him.
Diddle-diddle-dumplingwhat stuff all this is! Go to bed, Susan.
* * * * *
There's no use pretending things are different, Susan Blake; you
might as well face them and see them through, open-eyed. What does
being in love mean?
I suppose if one is really in love, head over heels, one doesn't
care what it means. But I don't like pouncing, overwhelming
thingsthings that crush and blast and scorch and blind. I don't like
cyclones and earthquakes and conflagrationsat least, I've never
experienced any, but I know I shouldn't like them if I did. But I don't
think I'd be so terribly afraid of themthough I might. I think I'd be
* * * * *
Editor's Note: Such English! But pungent stylist as Susan is now
acknowledged to be, she is still, in the opinion of academic critics,
not sufficiently attentive to formal niceties of diction. She remains
too wayward, too impressionistic; in a word, too personal. I am
inclined to agree, and yetam I?
* * * * *
It's all very well to stamp round declaiming that you're captain of
your soul, but if an earthquakeeven a tiny onecomes and shakes your
house like a dice box and then scatters you and the family out of it
like diceit wouldn't sound very appropriate for your epitaph. 'I am
the master of my fate' would always look silly on a tombstone. Why
aren't tombstones a good test for poetrysome poetry? I've never seen
anything on a tombstone that looked realnot even the names and dates.
But does love have to be like an earthquake? If it does,
then it's just a blind force, and I don't like blind forces. It's
stupid to be blind oneself; but it's worse to have blind stupid things
butting into one and pushing one about.
Hang it, I don't believe love has to be stupid and blind, and go
thrashing through things! Ambo isn't thrashing through thingsor Phil
either. But, of course, they wouldn't. That's exactly what I mean about
love; it can be tamed, civilized. No, not civilizedjust tamed.
Cowed? Then it's still as wild as ever underneath? I'm afraid it
is. Oh, dear!
Phil and Ambo really are captains of their souls though, so far as
things in general let them be. Things in generalwhat a funny
name for God! But isn't God just a short solemn name for things in
general? There I go again. Phil says I'm always taking God's name in
vain. He thinks I lack reverence. I don't, really. What I lack
isreticence. That's differentisn't it, Ambo?
* * * * *
The above extracts date back a little. The following were jotted
early in November, 1913, not long after our return from overseas.
* * * * *
This is growing serious, Susan Blake. Phil has asked you to marry
him, and says he needs you. Ditto Maltby; only he says he wants you.
Which, too obviously, he does. Poor Maltbyimagine his trying to stoop
so low as matrimony, even to conquer! As for AmboAmbo says nothing,
bless himbut I think he wants and needs you most of all. Well,
* * * * *
Jimmy's back. I saw him yesterday. He didn't know me.
Sex is a miserable nuisance. It muddles thingsinterferes with
honest human values. It's just Nature making fools of us for her own
private ends. These are not pretty sentiments for a young girl, Susan
* * * * *
Speak up, Susanclear the air! You are living here under false
pretenses. If you can't manage to feel like Ambo's daughteryou
oughtn't to stay.
It was perhaps when reticent Phil finally spoke to me of his love
for Susan that I first fully realized my own predicamenta most
unpleasant discovery; one which I determined should never interfere
with Susan's peace of mind or with the possible chances of other, more
eligible, men. As Susan's guardian, I could not for a moment
countenance her receiving more than friendly attention from a man
already married, and no longer young. A grim, confused hour in my study
convinced me that I was an impossible, even an absurd, parti.
This conviction brought with it pain so sharp, so nearly unendurable,
that I wondered in my weakness how it was to be unflinchingly borne.
Yet borne it must be, and without betrayal. It did not occur to me, in
my mature folly, that I was already, and had for long been,
Steady, you old fool! whispered my familiar demon. This isn't
going to be child's play, you know. This is an hour-by-hour torture
you've set out to grin and bear and live through. You'll never make the
grade, if you don't take cognizance in advance. The road's devilishly
steep and icy, and the corners are bad. What's more, there's no end to
it; the crest's never in sight. Clamp your chains on and get into
But, of course, whispered my familiar demon, there's probably an
easier way round. Why attempt the impossible? Think what you've done
for Susan! Gratitude, my dear siraffectionate gratitudeis a long
step in the right direction ... if it is the right direction. I don't
say it is; I merely suggest, en passant, that it may be.
Suppose, for example, that Susan
Damn you! I spat out, jumping from my chair. You contemptible
Congested blood whined in my ears like a faint jeering laughter. I
paced the room, ragingonly to sink down again, exhausted, my face and
What a hideous exhibition, I said, distinctly addressing a
grotesque porcelain Buddha on the mantelpiece. Contrary, I believe, to
my expectations, he did not reply. My familiar demon forestalled him.
If by taking a merely conventional attitude, he murmured, you
defeat the natural flowering of two lives? Who are you to decide
that the voice of Nature is not also the voice of God? Supposing, for
the moment, that God is other than a poetic expression. If her eyes
didn't haunt you, continued my familiar demon, or a certain way she
has of turning her head, like a poised poppy....
As he droned on within me, the mantelpiece blurred and thinned to
the blue haze of a distant Tuscan hill, and the little porcelain Buddha
sat upon this hill, very far off now and changed oddly to the semblance
of a tiny huddled town. We were climbing along a white road toward that
far hill, that tiny town.
Ambo, she was saying, that isn't East Rockit's Monte Senario.
And this isn't Birch Streetit's the Faenzan Way. How do you do it,
Amboyou wonderful magician! Just with a wave of your wand you change
the world for me; you give meall this!
A bee droned at my ear: Gratitude, my dear sir. Affectionate
gratitude. A long step.
Damn you! I whimpered.... But the grotesque porcelain Buddha was
there again, on the mantelshelf. The creases in his little fat belly
disgusted me; they were loathsome. I rose. At least, I said to him,
I can live without you! Then I seized him and shattered him
against the fireplace tiles. It was an enormous relief.
Followed a knock at my door that I answered calmly: Who is it? Come
Miss Goucher never came to me without a mission; she had one now.
Mr. Hunt, she said, I should like to talk to you very plainly.
May I? It's about Susan. I nodded. Mr. Hunt, she continued
resolutely, Susan is in a very difficult position here. I don't say
that she isn't entirely equal to meeting it; but I dread the nervous
strain for herif you understand?
Not entirely, Miss Goucher; perhaps, not at all.
I was afraid of this, she responded unhappily. But I must go
onfor her sake.
Knowing well that Miss Goucher would face death smiling for Susan's
sake, her repressed agitation alarmed me. Good heavens! I exclaimed.
Is there anything really wrong?
A good deal. She paused, her lips whitening as she knit them
together, lest any ill-considered word should slip from her. Miss
Goucher never loosed her arrows at random; she always tried for the
bull's-eye, and usually with success.
I am speaking in strict confidenceto Susan's protector and legal
guardian. Please try to fill in what I leave unsaid. It is very
unfortunate for Susan's peace of mind that you should happen to be a
For her peace of mind!
Wait! I daren't trust myself to fill in what you leave unsaid. It's
toopreposterous. Do you meanBut you can't mean that you imagine
Susan to be in love withher grandfather? My heart pounded,
suffocating me; with fright, I think.
No, said Miss Goucher, coldly; Susan is not in love with her
grandfather. She is with you.
I could manage no response but an angry one. That's a dangerous
statement, Miss Goucher! Whether true or notit ruins everything. You
have made our life here together impossible.
It is impossible, said Miss Goucher. It became so last summer. I
knew then it could not go on much longer.
But I question this! I deny that Susan feels for me more
thangratitude and affection.
Gratitude is rare, said Miss Goucher enigmatically, her eyes fixed
upon the fragments of Buddha littering my hearth. True gratitude, she
added, is a strong emotion. When it passes between a man and a woman,
it is like flame.
Very interesting! I snapped. But hardly enough to have brought
you here to me with this!
She feels that you need her, said Miss Goucher.
I do, was my reply.
Susan doesn't need you, said Miss Goucher. I don't wish to
be brutal; but she doesn't. In spite of this, she can easily stand
I see. And you think that would be best?
Naturally. Don't you?
I'm not so sure.
As I muttered this my eyes, too, fixed themselves on the fragments
of Buddha. Would the woman never go! I hated her; it seemed to me now
that I had always hated her. What was she after all but a superior kind
of servantpresuming in this way! The irritation of these thoughts
swung me suddenly round to wound her, if I might, with sarcasm, with
implied contempt. But it is impossible to wound the air. With her
customary economy of explanation Miss Goucher had, pitilessly, left me
The evening of this already comfortless day I now recall as one of
the most exasperating of my life. Maltby Phar arrived for dinner and
the week-endan exasperation foreseen; Phil came in after
dinneranother; but what I did not foresee was that Lucette Arthur
would bring her malicious self and her unspeakably tedious husband for
a formal call. Lucette was an old friend of Gertrude, and I always
suspected that her occasional evening visits were followed by a
detailed report; in fact, I rather encouraged them, and returned them
promptly, hoping that they were. In my harmless way of life even
Lucette's talent for snooping could find, I felt, little to feed upon,
and it did not wholly displease me that Gertrude should be now and then
forced to recognize this.
The coming of Susan had, not unnaturally, for a time, provided
Lucette with a wealth of interesting conjecture; she had even gone so
far as to intimate that Gertrude felt I was makingthe expression is
entirely minean ass of myself, which neither surprised nor disturbed
me, since Gertrude had always had a tendency to feel that my talents
lay in that direction. But, on the whole, up to this timebarring the
Sonia incident, which had afforded her a good deal of scope, but which,
after all, could not be safely misinterpretedLucette had found at my
house pretty thin pickings for scandal; and I could only wonder at the
unwearying patience with which she pursued her quest.
She arrived with poor Doctor Arthur in towDr. Lyman Arthur, who
professed Primitive Eschatology in the School of Religion: eschatology
being that branch of theology which treats of the end of the world and
man's condition or state after deathjust upon the heels of Phil, who
shot me a despairing glance as we rose to greet them.
But Susan, I thought, welcomed them with undisguised relief. She had
been surpassing herself before the fire, chatting blithely, wittily,
even a little recklessly; but there are gayer evenings conceivable than
one spent in the presence of three doleful men, two of whom have
proposed marriage to you, and one of whom would have done so if he were
not married already. Almost anything, even open espionage and covert
eschatology, was better than that.
Lucettethe name suggests Parisian vivacity, but she was really
large and physically languid and very blonde, scented at once, I felt,
a something faintly brimstoneish in the atmosphere of my model home,
and forthwith prepared herself for a protracted and pleasant evening.
It so happened that the Arthurs had never met Maltby, and Susan carried
through the ceremony of introduction with a fine swinging rhythm which
settled us as one group before the fire and for some moments at least
kept the conversation animated and general.
But Eschatology, brooding in the background, soon put an end to this
somewhat hectic social burst. The mere unnoted presence of Dr. Lyman
Arthur, peering nearsightedly in at the doorway on a children's party,
has been known, I am told, to slay youngling joy and turn little tots
self-conscious, so that they could no longer be induced by agonized
mothers to go to Jerusalem, or clap-in clap-out. His presence now,
gradually but surely, had much the same effect. Seated at Maltby's
elbow, he passed into the silence and drew us, struggling but helpless,
after him. For five horrible seconds nothing was heard but the
impolite, ironic whispering of little flames on the hearth. Was this
man's condition or state after death? Eschatology had conquered.
Susan, in duty bound as hostess, broke the spell, but it cannot be
said she rose to the occasion. Is it a party in a parlor, she
murmured wistfully to the flames, all silent and alldamned?
Perceiving that Lucette supposed this to be original sin, I laughed
much more loudly than cheerfully, exclaiming Good old Wordsworth! as
I did so.
Then Maltby's evil genius laid hold on him.
By the way, he snorted, they tell me one of you academic ghouls
has discovered that Wordsworth had an illegitimate daughterwhatever
that means! Any truth in it? I hope so. It's the humanest thing I
ever heard about the old sheep!
Doctor Arthur cleared his throat, very cautiously; and it was
evident that Maltby had not helped us much. Phil, in another vein,
helped us little more.
I wonder, he asked, if anyone reads Wordsworth nowexcept
No one, not even Susan, seemed interested in this question; and the
little flames chuckled quietly once more.
Something had to be done.
Doctor, I began, turning toward Eschatology, and knowing no more
than my Kazak hearthrug what I was going to say, is it true that
Undoubtedly, intoned Eschatology, thereby saving me from the pit I
was digging for myself. My incomplete question must have chimed with
Doctor Arthur's private reflections, and he seemed to suppose some
controversial matter under discussion. Undoubtedly, he repeated....
And what is even more important is this
But Lucette silenced him with a Why is it, dear, that you always
let your cigar burn down at one side? It does look so untidy. And she
leaned to me. What delightfully daring discussions you must all of you
have here together! You're all so terribly intellectual, aren't you?
But do you never talk of anything but books and art and ideas? I'm sure
you must, she added, fixing me with impenetrable blue eyes.
Often, I smiled back; even the weather has charms for us. Even
Her inquisitive upper lip curled and dismissed me.
Why is it, she demanded, turning suddenly on Susan, that I don't
see you round more with the college boys? They're much more suitable to
your age, you know, than Ambrose or Phil. I hope you don't frighten
them off, my dear, by mentioning Wordsworth? Boys dislike
bluestockings; and you're much too charming to wear them anyway. Oh,
but you really are! I must take charge of youget you out more where
you belong, away from these dreadful old fogies! Lucette laughed her
languid, purring, dangerous laughter. I'm serious, Miss Blake. You
musn't let them monopolize you; they will if you're not careful.
They're just selfish enough to want to keep you to themselves.
The tone was badinage; but the remark struck home and left us
speechless. Lucette shifted the tiller slightly and filled her sails.
Next thing you know, Miss Blake, they'll be asking you to marry them.
Individually, of coursenot collectively. And, of coursenot Ambrose!
At least you're safe there, she hastily added; aren't you?
Maltby, I saw, was furious; bent on brutalities. Before I could
check him, Why? he growled. Why, Mrs. Arthur, do you assume that
Susan is safe with Boz?
Well, she responded with a slow shrug of her shoulders,
Unnaturally! snapped Maltby. Unless forbidden fruit has ceased to
appeal to your sex. I was not aware that it had.
Phil's eyes were signalling honest distress. Susan unexpectedly rose
from her chair. Deep spots of color burned on her cheeks, but she spoke
with dignity. I have never disliked any conversation so much, Mrs.
Arthur. Good night. She walked from the room. Phil jumped up without a
word and hurried after her. Then we all rose.
It seemed, however, that apologies were useless. Doctor Arthur had
no need for them, since he had not perceived a slight, and was only too
happy to find himself released from bondage; as for Lucette, her
assumed frigidity could not conceal her flaming triumph. As a social
being, for the sake of the mores, she must resent Susan's snub;
but I saw that she would not have had things happen otherwise for a
string of matched pearls. At last, at last her patience had been
rewarded! I could almost have written for her the report to
Gertrudewith nothing explicitly stated, and nothing overlooked.
Maltby, after their departure, continued truculent, and having no
one else to rough-house decided to rough-house me. The lengthening
absence of Susan and Phil had much to do with his irritation, and
something no doubt with mine. For men of mature years we presently
developed a very pretty little gutter-snipe quarrel.
Damn it, Boz, he summed his grievances, it comes precisely to
this: You're playing dog in the manger here. By your attitude, by every
kind of sneaking suggestion, you poison Susan's mind against me. Hang
it, I'm not vainbut at least I'm presentable, and I've been called
amusing. Other women have found me so. And to speak quite frankly, it
isn't every man in my position who would offer marriage to a girl whose
I'd stop there, Maltby, if I were you!
My dear man, you and I are above such prejudices, of course! But
it's only common sense to acknowledge that they exist. Susan's the most
infernally seductive accident that ever happened on this middle-class
planet! But all the same, there's a family history back of her that not
one man in fifty would be able to forget. My point is, that with all
her seduction, physical and mental, she's not in the ordinary sense
marriageable. And it's the ordinary sense of such things that runs the
Wellthere you are! I offer her far more than she could reasonably
hope for; or you for her. I'm well fixed, I know everybody worth
knowing; I can give her a good time, and I can help her to a career. It
strikes me that if you had Susan's good at heart, you'd occasionally
suggest these thing's to hereven urge them upon her. As her guardian
you must have some slight feeling of responsibility?
None whateverso far as Susan's deeper personal life is concerned.
That is her affair, not mine.
Then you'd be satisfied to have her throw herself away?
If she insisted, yes. But Susan's not likely to throw herself
Oh, isn't she! Let me tell you this, Boz, once for all: You're in
love with the girl yourself, and though you may not know it, you've no
intention of letting anyone else have a chance.
Well, I flashed, if you were in my shoeswould you?
The vulgarity of our give and take did not escape me, but in my then
state of rage I seemed powerless to escape vulgarity. I revelled in
vulgarity. It refreshed me. I could have throttled Maltby, and I am
quite certain he was itching to throttle me. We were both longing to
throttle Phil. Indeed, we almost leaped at him as he stopped in the
hall doorway to toss us an unnaturally gruff good night.
Where's Susan? I demanded.
In your study, Phil mumbled, hunching into his overcoat; she's
waiting to see you. Then he seized his shapeless soft hat andthe
good old phrase best describes itmade off.
She's got to see me first! Maltby hurled at me, coarsely,
savagely, as he started past.
I grabbed his arm and held him. It thrilled me to realize how soft
he was for all his bulk, to feel that physically I was the stronger.
Wait! I said. This sort of thing has gone far enough. We'll stop
grovellingif you don't mind! If we can't give Susan something
better than this, we've been cheating her. It's a pity she ever left
Maltby stared at me with slowly stirring comprehension.
Yes, he at length muttered, grudgingly enough; perhaps you're
right. It's been an absurd spectacle all round. But then, life is.
Wait for me here, I responded. We'll stop butting at each other
like stags, and try to talk things over like men. I'm just going to
send Susan to bed.
That was my intention. I went to her in the study as a big
brother might go, meaning good counsel. It was certainly not my
intention to let her run into my arms and press her face to my
shoulder. She clung to me with passion, but without joy, and her voice
came through the tumult of my senses as if from a long way off.
Ambo, Ambo! You've asked nothingand you want me most of all. I
must make somebody happy!
It was the voice of a child.
I could not face Maltby again that evening, as I had promised, for
our good sensible man-to-man talk; a lapse in courage which reduced him
to rabid speculation and restless fury. So furious was he, indeed,
after a long hour alone, that he telephoned for a taxi, grabbed his
suitcase, and caught a slow midnight local for New Yorkfrom which
electric center he hissed back over the wires three ominous words to
ruin my solitary breakfast:
* * * * *
He laughs best M. PHAR.
* * * * *
While my egg solidified and the toast grew rigid I meditated a
humble apologetic reply, but in the end I could not with honesty
compose one; though I granted him just cause for anger. With that, for
the time being, I dismissed him. There were more immediate problems,
threatening, inescapable, that must presently be solved.
Susan, always an early riser, usually had a bite of breakfast at
seven o'clockbrought to her by the faithful Miss Goucherand then
remained in her room to work until lunch time. For about a year past I
had so far caught the contagion of her example as to write in my study
three hours every morning; a regularity I should formerly have
despised. Dilettantism always demands a fine frenzy, but now it
astounded me to discover how much respectable writing one could do
without waiting for the spark from heaven; one could pass beyond the
range of an occasional article and even aspire to a book. Only the
final pages of my first real bookAristocracy and Art, an essay
in æsthetic and social criticismremained to be written; and Susan had
made me swear by the Quanglewangle's Hat, her favorite symbol, to push
on with it each morning till the job was done.
Well, Aristocracy and Art has since been published and, I am
glad to say, forgotten. Conceived in superciliousness and swaddled in
preciosity, it is one of the sins I now strive hardest to expiate. But
in those days it expressed clearly enough the crusted aridity of my
I had hoped, of course, that Susan would break over this morning and
breakfast with me. She did not; and from sheer habit I took to my study
and found myself in the chair before my desk. It was my purpose to
think things out, and perhaps that is what I supposed myself to be
doing as I stared dully at an ink blob on my blotter. It lookedand I
was idiotically pleased by the resemblancerather like a shark. All it
needed was some teeth and a pair of flukes for its tail. Methodically I
opened my fountain pen and supplied these, thereby reducing one
fragment of chaos to order; and then my eye fell upon a half-scribbled
sheet, marked Page 224.
The final sentence on the sheet caught at me and annoyed me; it was
ill-constructed. Presently it began to rearrange itself in whatever
portion of us it is that these shapings and reshapings take place.
Something in its rhythm, too, displeased me; it was mannered; it
minuetted; it echoed Pater at his worst. It should be simpler,
stronger. Why, naturally! I lopped at it, compressed it, pulled it
There! At last the naked idea got the clean expression it deserved;
and it led now directly to a brief, clear paragraph of transition. I
had been worrying over that transition the morning before when my pen
stopped; now it came with a smooth rush, carrying me forward and on.
Incredible, but for one swiftly annihilated hour I forgot all my
insoluble life problems! Art, that ancient Circe, had waved her wand; I
was happyand it was enough. I forgot even Susan.
Meanwhile, Susan, busy at her notebook, had all but forgotten me.
* * * * *
Am I in love with Ambo, or am I just trying to be for his sake? If
happiness is a test, then I can't be in love with him, for there is no
happiness in me. But what has happiness to do with love? It's just as I
told nice old Phil last night. To be in love is to be silly enough to
suppose that some other silly can gather manna for you from the meadows
of heaven. Meanwhile, the other silly is supposing much the same
nonsense about youor if he isn't, then the sun goes black. What
lovers seem to value most in each other is premature softening of the
brain. But surely the union of two vain hopes in a single
disappointment can never mean joy? No. You might as well get it said,
Susan. Love is two broken reeds trying to be a Doric column.
Still, there must be some test. Is it passion? How can it be?
When I ran to Ambo last night I was pure rhythm and flame; but this
morning I'm the hour before sunrise. No; I'm the outpost star, the one
the comets turnthe one that peers off into nowhere.
Perhaps if Ambo came to me now I should flame again; or perhaps I
should only make believe for his sake. Is wanting to make believe for
another's sake enough? Why not? I've no patience with lovers who are
always rhythm and flame. Even if they existoutside of maisons de
santéwhat good are they? Poets can rave about them, I
supposethat's something; but imagine coming to the end of life and
finding that one had merely furnished good copy for Swinburne! No,
thank you, Mrs. Hephæstusyou beautiful, shameless humbug! I prefer
Apollo's lonely magic to yours. I'd rather be Swinburne than Iseult. If
there's any singing left to be done I shall try to do part of it
There, you see; already you've forgotten Ambo completelynow
you'll have to turn back and hunt for him. And if he's really working
on Aristocracy and Art this morning, as he should be, then he
has almost certainly forgotten you. Oh, dear! but he isn'tand he
hasn't! Here he comes
* * * * *
Yes, I came; but not to ask for assurances of love. Man is so
naïvely egotist, it takes a good deal to convince him, once the idea
has been accepted, that he is not the object of an unalterable
devotion. Frankly, I took it for granted now that Susan loved me, and
would continue to love me till her dying hour.
What I really came to say to her, under the calming and
strengthening influence of two or three rather well-written pages, was
that our situation had definitely become untenable. I am an emancipated
talker, but I am not an emancipated man; the distinction is important;
the hold of mere custom upon me is strong. I could not see myself
asking Susan to defy the world with me; or if I could just see it for
my own sake, I certainly couldn't for hers. Nor could I see it for
Gertrude's. Gertrude, after all, was my wife; and though she chose to
feel I had driven her from my society, I knew that she did not feel
willing to seek divorce for herself or to grant the freedom of it to
me. On this point her convictions, having a religious sanction, were
permanent. Gentle manners, then, if nothing higher, forbade me to seize
the freedom she denied me. Having persuaded Gertrude, in good faith, to
enter into an unconditional contract with me for life, I could no more
bring myself to break it than I could have forced myself to steal
another's money by raising a check.
My New England ancestors had distilled into my blood certain
prejudices; only, where my great-grandfather, or even my grandfather,
would have said that he refrained from evil because he feared God, I
was content merely to feel that there are some things a gentleman
doesn't stoop to. With them it was the stern daughter of the voice of
God who ruled thoughts and acts; with me it was, if anything, the class
obligations of culture, breeding, good form. Just as I wore correct
wedding garments at a wedding, and would far rather have cut my throat
with a knife than carry food on it from plate to mouth, so, in the face
of any of life's moral or emotional crises, I clung to what instinct
and cultivation told me were the correct sentiments.
Gertrude, it is true, was not precisely fulfilling her part in our
contract, but thenGertrude was a woman; and the excusable frailties
of women should always be regarded as trumpet calls to the chivalry of
man. Absurdly primitive, such ideas as these! Seated with Maltby Phar
in my study, I had laughed them out of court many a time; for I could
talk pure Bernard Shawour prophet of those dayswith anybody, and
even go him one better. But when it came to the pinch of decisive
action I had always thrown back to my sources and left the
responsibility on them. I did so now.
Yet it was hard to speak of anything but enchantment, witchery,
fascination, when, from her desk, Susan looked round to me, faintly
puzzled, faintly smiling. She was not a pretty girl, as young
Americaits taste superbly catered to by popular
magazinesunderstands that phrase; nor was she beautiful by any severe
classic standardunless you are willing to accept certain early
Italians as having established classic standards; not such faultless
painters as Raphael or Andrea del Sarto, but three or four of the
wayward lesser men whose strangely personal vision created new and
unexpected types of loveliness. Not that I recall a single head by any
one of them that prefigured Susan; not that I am helping you, baffled
reader, to see her. Words are a dull medium for portraiture, or I am
too dull a dog to catch with them even a phantasmal likeness. It is the
mixture of dark and bright in Susan that eludes me; she is all soft
shadow and sharpest gleams. But that is nonsense. I give it up.
It was really, then, a triumph for my ancestors that I did not throw
myself on my knees beside her chairthe true romantic attitude, when
all's saidand draw her dark-bright face down to mine. I halted
instead just within the doorway, retaining a deathlike grip on the
Dear, I blurted, it won't do. It's the end of the road. We can't
Can we turn back? asked Susan.
I wonder the solid bronze knob did not shatter like hollow glass in
You must help me, I muttered.
Yes, said Susan, all quiet shadow now, gleamless; I'll help you.
Half an hour after I left her she telephoned and dispatched the
following telegram, signed Susan Blake, to Gertrude at her New York
Either come back to him or set him free. Urgent.
The replya note from Gertrude, the ink hardly dry on it, written
from the Egyptian tomb of the Misses Carstairscame directly to me
that evening; and Mrs. Parrot was the messenger. Her expression, as she
mutely handed me the note, was ineffable. I read the note with
sensations of suffocation; an answer was requested.
Tell Mrs. Hunt, I said firmly to Mrs. Parrot, that it was she who
left me, and I am stubbornly determined to make no advances. If she
cares to see me I shall be glad to see her. She has only to walk a few
yards, climb a few easy steps, and ring the bell.
My courtesy was truly elaborate as I conducted Mrs. Parrot to the
door. Her response was disturbing.
It's not for me to make observations, said Mrs. Parrot, the
situation being delicate, and not likely to improve. But if I was you,
Mr. Hunt, I'd not be too stiff. No; I'd not be. I would not. No. Not if
I valued the young lady's reputation.
Like the Pope's mule, Mrs. Parrot had saved her kick many years. I
can testify to its power.
Thirty minutes later this superkick landed me, when I came crashing
back to earth, at the door of the Egyptian tomb.
How hard it is, says Dante, to climb another's stairs, and he
might have added to ring another's bell, under certain conditions of
spiritual humiliation and stress. Thank the godsall of themit was
not Mrs. Parrot who admitted me and took my card!
I waited miserably in the large, ill-lighted reception vault of the
tomb, which smelt appropriately of lilies, as if the undertaker had
recently done his worst. How well I remembered it, how long I had
avoided it! It was here of all places, under the contemptuous eye of
old Ephraim Carstairs, grim ancestral founder of this family's
fortunes, that Gertrude had at last consented to be my wife. And there
he still lorded it above the fireplace, unchanged, glaring down
malignantly through the shadows, his stiff neck bandaged like a
mummy's, his hard, high cheek bones and cavernous eyes making him the
very image of bugaboo death. What an eavesdropper for the approaching
reconciliation; for that was what it had come to. That was what it
would have to be!
It was not Gertrude who came down to me; it was Lucette.
Lucetteall graciousness, all sympathetic understanding, all feline
smiles! Dear Gertrude had 'phoned her on arriving, and she had rushed
to her at once! Dear Gertrude had such a desperate headache! She
couldn't possibly see me to-night. She was really ill, had been growing
rapidly worse for an hour. Perhaps to-morrow?
I was in no mood to be tricked by this stale subterfuge.
See here, Lucette, I said sternly, I'm not going to fence with
you or fool round at cross purposes. Less than an hour ago Gertrude
sent over a note, asking me to call.
To which you returned an insufferable verbal reply.
A bad-tempered reply, I admit. No insult was intended. And I've
come now to apologize for the temper.
Oh, dear! sighed Lucette. Men always do their thinking too late.
I wish I could reassure you; but the mischief seems to be done. Poor
Gertrude is furious.
Then the headache ishypothetical?
An excuse, you mean? I wish it were, for her sake! Lucette's eyes
positively caressed me, as a tiger might lick the still-warm muzzle of
an antelope, its proximate meal. If you could see her face, poor
creature! She's in torment.
Isn't thatwhat you called her headache?
No. I'm ashamed of my boorishness. Let me see Gertrude and tell her
Lucette smiled, slightly shaking her head. Impossibletill she's
feeling better. And not thenunless she changes her mind. You see,
Ambrose, Mrs. Parrot's version of your reply was the last straw.
No doubt she improved on the original, I muttered.
Oh, no doubt, agreed Lucette calmly. She would. It was silly of
you not to think of that.
Yes, I snapped. Men always underestimate a woman's malice.
They have so many distractions, poor dears. Men, I mean. And we
have so few. You can put that in your next article, Ambrose? She
straightened her languid curves deliberately, as if preparing to rise.
Please! I exclaimed. I'm not ready for dismissal yet. We'll get
down to facts, if you don't mind. Why is Gertrude here at all? After
years of silence? Did you send for her?
Lucette's spine slowly relaxed, her shoulders drooped once more. I?
My dear Ambrose, why on earth should I do a thing like that?
I don't know. The point is, did you?
You think it in character?
Ohbe candid! I don't mean directly, of course. But is she here
because of anything you may have telephoned herafter your call last
Really, Ambrose! This is a little too much, even from you.
Forgive meI insist! Is she?
You must have a very bad conscience, replied Lucette.
I am more interested in yours.
She laughed luxuriously, Mine has never been clearer.
Did the woman want me to stop her breath with bare hands? I gripped
the mahogany arms of my stiff Chippendale chair.
Listen to me, Lucette! I know this is all very thrilling and
amusing for you. Vivisection must have its charms, of coursefor an
expert. But I venture to remind you that once upon a time you were not
a bad-hearted girl, and you must have some remnants of human sympathy
about you somewhere. Am I wrong?
You're hideously rude.
Granted. But I must place you. I won't accept you as an onlooker.
Either you'll fight me or help meor clear out. Is that plain?
You're worse than rude, said Lucette; you're a beast! I always
wondered why Gertrude couldn't live with you. Now I know.
That's better, I hazarded. We're beginning to understand each
other. Now let's lay all our cards face up on the table?
Lucette stared at me a moment, her lips pursed, dubious, her
impenetrable blue eyes holding mine.
I will, if you will, she said finally. Let's.
It was dangerous, I knew, to take her at her word; yet I ventured.
I've a weak hand, Lucette; but there's one honest ace of trumps in
There could hardly be two, smiled Lucette.
No; I count on that. In a pinch, I shall take the one trick
essential, and throw the others away. I leaned to her and spoke
slowly: There is no reason, affecting her honor or rights, why
Gertrude may not return to her homeif she so desires. I think you
Perfectly. You wish to protect Miss Blake. You would try to do that
in any case, wouldn't you? But I'm rather afraid you're too late. I'm
afraid Miss Blake has handicapped you too heavily. If so, it was clever
of herfor she must have done it on purpose. You see, Ambrose, it was
she who sent for Gertrude.
Susan. Telegraphed herof all things!either to come home to you
or set you free. The implication's transparent. Especially as I had
thought it my duty to warn Gertrude in advanceand as Mr. Phar sent
her, by messenger, a vague but very disturbing note this morning.
Yes. His note was delivered not five minutes ahead of Susan's wire.
Gertrude caught the next train. And there you are.
Well, at least I began to see now, dimly, where Maltby was, where
Susan was, where we all wereexcept, possibly Gertrude. Putting
enormous constraint on my leaping nerves, I subdued every trace of
Two more questions, Lucette. Do you believe me when I say, with all
the sincerity I'm capable of, that Susan is slandered by these
Really, answered Lucette, with a little worried frown, as if
anxiously balancing alternatives, I'm not, am I, in a position to
I swallowed hard. All right, I managed to say coldly. Then I have
placed you. You're not an onlookeryou're an open foe.
And the second question, Ambrose?
What, precisely, does Gertrude want from me?
I'm not, am I, in a position to judge? repeated Lucette. But one
supposes it depends a little on what you're expectingfrom her?
All I humbly plead for, said I, is a chance to see Gertrude alone
and talk things over.
Don't you mean talk her over? suggested Lucette. And
aren't you, she murmured, forgetting the last straw?
My confusion of mind, my consternation, as I left the Egyptian tomb,
was pitiable. One thing, one only, I saw with distinctness: The being I
loved best was to be harried and smirched, an innocent victim of the
folly and malignity of others.
Never, I muttered, Nevernevernever!
This was all very grim and virile; yet I knew that I could grit my
teeth and mutter Never! from now till the moon blossomed, without in
any way affecting the wretched situation. Words, emotional contortions,
attitudeswould not help Susan; something sensible must be donethe
sooner the better. Something sensible and decisivebut what? There
were so many factors involved, human, incalculable factors; my thought
staggered among them, fumbling like a drunken man for the one right
door that must be found and opened with the one right key. It was no
use; I should never be able to manage it alone. To whom could I appeal?
Susan, for the time being, was out of the question; Maltby had
maliciously betrayed a long friendship. Phil? Why of course, there was
always Phil? Why hadn't I thought of him before?
I turned sharply and swung into a rapid stride. With some difficulty
I kept myself from running. Phil seemed to me suddenly an intellectual
giant, a man of infinite heart and unclouded will. Why had I never
appreciated him at his true worth? My whirling perplexities would have
no terrors for him; he would at once see through them to the very thing
that should at once be undertaken. Singular effect of an overwhelming
desire and need! Faith is always born of desperation. We are forced by
deep-lying instincts to trust something, someone, when we can no longer
trust ourselves. As I hurried down York Street to his door, my sudden
faith in Phil was like the faith of a broken-spirited convert in the
wisdom and mercy of God.
Phil's quarters were on the top floor of a rooming-house for
students; he had the whole top floor to himself and had lived there
simply and contentedly many years, with his books, his pipes, his
papers, and his small open wood fire. Phil is not destitute of taste,
but he is by no means an æsthete. His furniture is of the ordinary
college-room typeMorris chair of fumed oak, and so onpicked up as
he needed it at the nearest department store; but he has two or three
really good framed etchings on the walls of his study; one Seymour
Haden in particularthe Erith Marsheswhich I have often tried
to persuade him to part with. There is a blending of austerity and
subtlety in the work of the great painter-etchers that could not but
appeal to this austere yet finely organized man.
His books are wonderfulnot for edition or bindinghe is not a
bibliophile; they are wonderful because he keeps nothing he has not
found it worth while to annotate. There is no volume on his shelves
whose inside covers and margins are not filled with criticism or
suggestive comment in his neat spiderwebby hand; and Phil's marginal
notes are usually far better reading than the original text. Susan
warmly maintains that she owes more to the inside covers of Phil's
books than to any other source; insists, in fact, that a brief note in
his copy of Santayana's Reason in Common Sense, at the end of
the first chapter, established her belief once for all in mind as a
true thing, an indestructible and creative reality, destined after
infinite struggle to win its grim fight with chaos. I confess I could
never myself see in this note anything to produce so amazing an
affirmation; but in these matters I am a worm; I have not the
philosophic flair. Here it is:
'We know that life is a dream, and how should thinking be more?'
Because, my dear Mr. Santayana, a dream cannot propagate dreams and
realize them to be such. The answer is sufficient.
Well, certainly Susan, too, seemed to feel it sufficient; and
perhaps I should agree if I better understood the answer.... But I have
now breasted four flights to Phil and am knocking impatiently.... He
opened to me and welcomed me cordially, all trace of his parting
gruffness of the other evening having vanished, though he was still
haggard about the eyes. He was not alone. Through the smoke haze of his
study I saw a well-built youngster standing near the fireplace, pipe in
hand; some college boy, of course, whom Phil was being kind to. Phil
was forever permitting these raw boys to cut in upon his precious hours
of privacy; yet he was at the opposite pole from certain faculty
members, common to all seats of learning, who toady to the student body
for a popularity which they feel to be a good business asset, or which
they find the one attainable satisfaction for their tottering
Phil, who had had to struggle for his own education, was genuinely
fond of young men who cared enough for education to be willing to
struggle for theirs. He had become unobtrusively, by a kind of natural
affinity, the elder brother of those undergraduates who were seekers in
any sense for the things of the mind. For the rest, the triumphant
majorityfine, manly young fellows as they usually were, in official
oratory at leasthe was as blankly indifferent as they were to him.
My enthusiasm for humanity is limited, fatally limited, he would
pleasantly admit. For the human turnip, even when it's a prize
specimen, I have no spontaneous affection whatever.
On the other hand it was not the brilliant, exceptional boy whom he
best loved. It was rather the boy whose interest in life, whose
curiosity, was just stirring toward wakefulness after a long prenatal
and postnatal sleep. For such boys Phil poured forth treasures of
sympathetic understanding; and it was such a youth, I presume, who
stood by the fireplace now, awkwardly uncertain whether my coming meant
that he should take his leave.
His presence annoyed me. On more than one occasion I had run into
this sort of thing at Phil's rooms, had suffered from the curious
inability of the undergraduate, even when he longs himself to escape,
to end a visittake his hat, say good-by simply, and go. It doesn't
strike one offhand as a social accomplishment of enormous difficulty;
yet it must beit so paralyzes the social resourcefulness of the
Phil introduced me to Mr. Kane, and Mr. Kane drooped his right
shoulderthe correct attitude for this form of assaultgrasped my
hand, and shattered my nerveswith the dislocating squeeze which young
America has perfected as the high sign of all that is virile and
sincere. I sank into a chair to recover, and to my consternation Mr.
Kane, too, sat down.
Jimmy's just come to us, said Phil, relighting his pipe. He
passed his entrance examinations in Detroit last spring, but he had to
finish up a job he was on out there before coming East. So he has a
good deal of work to make up, first and last. And it's all the harder
for him, because he's dependent upon himself for support.
Oh, said Jimmy, what I've saved'll last me through this year, I
Yes, Phil agreed; but it's a pity to touch what you've saved. He
turned to me. You see, Hunt, we're talking over all the prospects.
Aren't we, Jimmy?
Yes, sir, answered Jimmy. Prof. Farmer thinks, he added, that I
may be making a mistake to try it here; he thinks it may be a waste of
time. I'm kind of up in the air about it, myself.
Jimmy's rather a special case, struck in Phil, dropping into a
Morris chair and thrusting his legs out. He's twenty-two now; and he's
already made remarkably good as an expert mechanic. He left his home
here over six years ago, worked his way to Detroit, applied for a job
and got it. Now there's probably no one in New Haven who knows more
than this young man about gas engines, steel alloys, shop organization,
and all that. The little job that detained him was the working out of
some minor but important economy in the manufacture of automobiles. He
suggested it by letter to the president of the company himself, readily
obtained several interviews with his chief, and was given a chance to
try it out.
It has proved its practical worth already, though you and I are far
too ignorant to understand it. As a result, the president of the
company offered him a much higher position at an excellent salary. It's
open to him still, if he chooses to go back for it. But Jimmy has
decided to turn it down for a college education. And I'm wondering,
Hunt, whether Yale has anything to give him that will justify such a
sacrificeanything that he couldn't obtain for himself, at much less
expense, without three years waste of time and opportunity. How does it
strike you, old man? What would you say, offhand, without weighing the
What I wanted to say was, Damn it all! I'm not here at this time of
night to interest myself in the elementary problems of Jimmy Kane! In
fact, I did say it to myself, with considerable energyonly to stop at
the name, to stare at the boy before me, and to exclaim in a swift
flash of connection, Great Scott! Are you Susan's Jimmy?
'Susan's Jimmy'! snorted Phil, with a peculiar grin. Of course
he's Susan's Jimmy! I wondered how long it would take you!
As for Susan's Jimmy, his expression was one of desolated amazement.
Either his host and his host's friend, or he himselfhad gone suddenly
mad! The drop of his jaw was parentheses about a question mark. His
blue eyes piteously stared.
I guess I'm not on, sir, he mumbled to Phil, blushing hotly.
He was really a most attractive youth, considering his origins. I
eyed him now shamelessly, and was forced to wonder that the wrong end
of Birch Street should have produced not only Susanwho would have
proved the phoenix of any environmentbut this pleasant-faced,
confidence-inspiring boy, whose expression so oddly mingled simplicity,
energy, stubborn self-respect, and the cheerfulness of good health, an
unspoiled will, and a hopeful heart. He seemed at once too mature for
his years and too naïve; concentration had already modelled his
forehead, but there was innocence in his eyes. InnocenceI can only
call it that. His eyes looked out at the world with the happiest
candor; and I found myself predicting of him what I had never yet
predicted of mortal woman or man: He's capable of anythingbut
sophistication; he'll get on, he'll arrive somewherebut he will never
Phil, meanwhile, had eased his embarrassment with a friendly laugh.
It's all right, Jimmy; we're not the lunatics we sound. Don't you
remember Bob Blake's kid on Birch Street?
Mr. Hunt became her guardian, you know, after
Oh! interrupted Jimmy, beaming on me. You're the gentleman
Yes, I responded; I'm the unbelievably fortunate man.
She was a queer little kid, reflected Jimmy. I haven't thought
about her for a long time.
That's ungrateful of you, said Phil; but of course you couldn't
Question mark and parentheses formed again.
Phil means, I explained, that Susan has never forgotten you. It
seems you did battle for her once, down at the bottom of the Birch
Oh, gee! grinned Jimmy. The time I laid out Joe Gonfarone? Maybe
I wasn't scared stiff that day! Well, what d'y' think of her
You'll find it's a peculiarity of Susan, said Phil, that she
doesn't forget anything.
Whyshe must be grown up by this time, surmised Jimmy. It was
mighty fine of you, Mr. Hunt, to do what you did! I'd kind of like to
see her again some day. But maybe she'd rather not, he added quickly.
Why? asked Phil.
Well, said Jimmy, she had a pretty raw deal on Birch Street.
Seeing memight bring back things?
It couldn't, I reassured him. Susan has never let go of them. She
uses all her experience, every part of it, every day.
Jimmy grinned again. It must keep her hustling! But she always was
different, I guess, from the rest of us. With a vague wonder, he
addressed us both: You think a lot of her, don't you?
For some detached, ironic god this moment must have been exquisite.
I envied the god his detachment. The blank that had followed his
question puzzled Jimmy and turned him awkward. He fidgeted with his
Well, he finally achieved, I guess I'd better be off, professor.
I'll think over all you said.
Do, counselled Phil, rising, and come to see me to-morrow. We
mustn't let you take a false step if we can avoid it.
It's certainly great of you to show so much interest, said Jimmy,
hunching himself at last out of his chair. I appreciate it a lot. He
hesitated, then plunged. It's been well worth it to me to come East
againjust to meet you.
Nonsense! laughed Phil, shepherding him skillfully toward the
When he turned back to me, it was with the evident intention of
discussing further Jimmy's personal and educational problems; but I
Phil, I said, I know what Susan means to you, and you knowI
thinkwhat she means to me. Now, through my weakness, stupidity, or
something, Susan's in danger. Sit down please, and let me talk. I'm
going to give you all the facts, everythinga full confession. It's
bound, for many reasons, to be painful for both of us. I'm sorry, old
manbut we'll have to rise to it for Susan's sake; see this thing
through together. I feel utterly imbecile and helpless alone.
Half an hour later I had ended my monologue, and we both sat silent,
staring at the dulled embers on the hearth....
At length Phil drew in a slow, involuntary breath.
Hunt, he said, it's a humiliating thing for a professional
philosopher to admit, but I simply can't trust myself to advise you. I
don't know what you ought to do; I don't know what Susan ought to do;
or what I should do. I don't even know what your wife should do; though
I feel fairly certain that whatever it is, she will try something else.
Frankly, I'm too much a part of it all, too heartsick, for honest
He smiled drearily and added, as if at random: 'Physician, heal
thyself.' What an abysmal joke! How the fiends of hell must treasure
it. They have only one better'Man is a reasonable being!' He rose,
or rather he seemed to be propelled from his chair. Hunt! Would you
really like to know what all my days and nights of intense study have
come to? The kind of man you've turned to for strength? My life has
come to just this: I love her, and she doesn't love me!
Oh! he criedGo home. For God's sake, go home! I'm ashamed....
So I departed, like Omar, through the same door wherein I went; but
not before I had graspedas it seemed to me for the first timePhil's
There are some verses in Susan's notebook of this period, themselves
undated, and never subsequently published, whichfrom their position
on the pagemust have been written about this time and may have been
during the course of the momentous evening on which I met Jimmy Kane at
Phil Farmer's rooms. I give them now, not as a favorable specimen of
her work, since she thought best to exclude them from her first volume,
but because they throw some light at least on the complicated and
rather obscure state of mind that was then hers. They have no title,
and need none. If you should feel they need interpretationguarda
e passa! They are not for you.
Though she rose from the sea
There were stains upon her whiteness;
All earth's waters had not sleeked her clean.
For no tides gave her birth,
Nor the salt, glimmering middle depths;
But slime spawned her, the couch of life,
The sunless ooze,
The green bed of Poseidon,
Where with sordid Chaos he mingles obscurely.
Her flanks were of veined marble;
There were stains upon her.
But she who passes, lonely,
Through waste places,
Through bog and forest;
Who follows boar and stag
Who sleeps, fearless, among the hills;
Though she track the wilds,
Though she breast the crags,
Choosing no path
Her kirtle tears not,
Her ankles gleam,
Her sandals are silver.
It was midnight when I reached my own door that night, but I was in
no mood for lying in bed stark awake in the spiritual isolation of
darkness. I went straight to my study, meaning to make up a fire and
then hypnotize myself into some form of lethargy by letting my eyes
follow the printed lines of a book. If reading in any other sense than
physical habit proved beyond me, at least the narcotic monotony of
habit might serve.
But I found a fire, already falling to embers, and Susan before it,
curled into my big wing chair, her feet beneath her, her hands lying
palms upward in her lap. This picture fixed me in the doorway while my
throat tightened. Susan did not stir, but she was not sleeping. She had
Presently she spoke, absentlyfrom Saturn's rings; or the moon.
Ambo? I've been waiting to talk to you; but now I can't or I'll
lose itthe whole movement. It's like a symphonygreat brasses
groaning and cursingand then violins tearing through the tumult to
soar above it.
Her eyes shut for a moment. When she opened them again it was to
shake herself free from whatever spell had bound her. She half yawned,
Gone, dearall gone. It's not your fault. Words wouldn't hold it.
Music mightbut music doesn't come.... Oh, poor Amboyou've had a
wretched time of it! How tired you look!
I shut the door quietly and went to her, sitting on the hearth rug
at her feet, my knees in my arms.
Sweetheart, I said, it seems that in spite of myself I've done
you little good and about all the harm possible. And I made a clean
breast of all the facts and fears that the evening had developed. So
you see, I ended, what my guardianship amounts to!
Susan's hand came to my shoulder and drew me back against her knees;
she did not remove her hand.
Ambo, she protested gently, I'm just a little angry with you, I
Oh! she exclaimed. If I am angry it's because you can say stupid
things like that! Don't you see, Ambo, the very moment things grow
difficult for us you forget to believe in mebegin to act as if I were
a common or garden fool? I'm not, though. Surely you must know in your
heart that everything you're afraid of for me doesn't matter in the
least. What harm could slander or scandal possibly do me, dear? Me, I
mean? I shouldn't like it, of course, because I hate everything stodgy
and formidablement bête. But if it happens, I shan't lose much
sleep over it. You're worrying about the wrong things, Ambo; things
that don't even touch our real problem. And the real problem may prove
to be the real tragedy, too.
Tragedy? I mumbled.
Oh, I hope notI think not! It all depends on whether you care for
freedom; on whether you're really passion's slave. I don't believe you
The words wounded me. I shifted, to look up at, to question, her
shadowy face. Susan, what do you mean?
I suppose I mean that I'm not, Ambo. You're far dearer to me
than anybody else on earth; your happiness, your peace, mean everything
to me. If you honestly can't find life worth while without
mecan'tI'll go with you anywhere; or face the music with you right
here. First, though, I must be sincere with you. I can live away from
you, and still make a life for myself. Except your day-by-day
companionshipI'd be lonely without that, of courseI shouldn't lose
anything that seems to me really worth keeping. Above all, I shouldn't
really lose you.
Susan! You're planning to leave me!
But, Amboit's only what you've felt to be necessary; what you've
been planning for me!
As a dutyat the bitterest possible cost! How different that is!
You not only plan to leave meI feel that you want to!
Yes, I want to. But only if you can understand why.
I don't understand!
Ah, wait, Ambo! You're not speaking for yourself. You're a slave
now, speaking for your master. But it's you I want to talk to!
I snarled at this. Why? When you've discovered your mistake so
soon!... You don't love me.
She sighed, deeply unhappy; though my thin-skinned self-esteem wrung
from her sigh a shade of impatience, too.
If not, dear, she said, we had better find it out before it's too
late. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps love is something I only guess at
and go wrong about. If love means that I should be utterly lost in you
and nothing without youif it means that I would rather die than leave
youwell, then I don't love you. But all the same, if love honestly
means that to youI can't and won't go away. She put out her hand
again swiftly, and tightened her fingers on mine.
It's a test, then. Is that it? I demanded. You want to go because
you're not sure?
I'm sure of what I feel, she broke in; and more than that, I
doubt if I'm made so that I can ever feel more. No; that isn't why I
want to go. I'll go if you can let me, becauseoh, I've got to say it,
Ambo!because at heart I love freedom better than I love loveor you.
And there's something else. I'm afraid ofplease try to understand
this, dearI'm afraid of stuffiness for us both!
Sex is stuffy, Ambo. The more people let it mess up their
lives for them, the stuffier they grow. It's really what you've been
afraid of for methough you don't put it that way. But you hate the
thought of people sayingwith all the muddy little undercurrents they
stir up round such thingsthat you and I have been passion's slaves.
We haven't beenbut we might be; and suppose we were. It's the truth
about usnot the liesthat makes all the difference. You're youand
I'm I. It's because we're worth while to ourselves that we're worth
while to each other. Isn't that true? But how long shall we be worth
anything to ourselves or to each other if we accept love as slavery,
and get to feeling that we can't face life, if it seems best, alone?
Ambo, dear, do you see at all what I'm driving at?
Yes; I was beginning to see. Miss Goucher's desolate words came
suddenly back to me: Susan doesn't need you.
Next morning, while I supposed her at work in her room, Susan
slipped down the back stairs and off through the garden. It was a heavy
forenoon for me, perhaps the bleakest and dreariest of my life. But it
was a busy forenoon for Susan. She began its activities by a brave
intuitive stroke. She entered the Egyptian tomb and demanded an
interview with Gertrude. What is stranger, she carried her pointas I
was presently to be made aware.
Miss Goucher tapped at the door, entered, and handed me a card. So
Gertrude had changed her mind; Gertrude had come. I stared, foolishly
blank, at the card between, my fingers, while Miss Goucher by perfect
stillness effaced herself, leaving me to my lack of thought.
Well, I finally muttered, sooner or later
Miss Goucher, perhaps too eagerly, took this for assent. Shall I
say to Mrs. Hunt that you are coming down?
I forced a smile, fatuously enough, and rose.
When I'm down already? Surely you can see, Miss Goucher, that I've
touched the bottom? Miss Goucher did not reply. I'll go myself at
once, I added formally. Thank you, Miss Goucher.
Gertrude was waiting in the small Georgian reception room, whose
detailed correctness had been due to her own; waiting without any
vulgar pretense at entire composure. She was walking slowly about, her
color was high, and it startled me to find her so little altered. Not a
day seemed to have added itself; she looked under thirty, though I knew
her to be thirty-five; she was even handsomer than I had chosen to
remember. Even in her present unusual restlessness, the old
distinction, the old patrician authority was hers. Her spirit imposed
itself, as always; one could take Gertrude only as she wished to be
takenseriouslyhumbly grateful if exempted from disdain. Gertrude
never spoke for herself alone; she was at all times
representativealmost symbolic. Homage met in her not a personal
gratitude, but the approval of a high, unbroken tradition. She accepted
it graciously, without obvious egotism, not as due to her as a temporal
being, but as dueunder Godto that timeless entity, her class. I am
not satirizing Gertrude; I am praising her. She, more than any person I
have ever known, made of her perishing substance the temple of a
completely realized ideal.
It was, I am forced to assume, because I had failed in entire
respect for and submission to this ideal that she had finally abandoned
me. It was not so much incompatibility of temperament as
incompatibility of worship. She had removed a hallowed shrine from a
felt indifference and a possible contamination. That was all, but it
was everything. And as I walked into the reception room I saw that the
shrine was still beautiful, faultlessly tended, and ready for any
absolute but dignified sacrifice.
Gertrude, I began, it's splendid of you to overlook my
inexcusable rudeness of yesterday! I'm very grateful.
I have not forgiven you, she replied, with casual
indignationjust enough for sincerity and not a shade too much for
art. Don't imagine it's pleasant for me to be here. I should hardly
have risked your misinterpreting it, if any other course had seemed
You might simply have waited, I said. It was my intention to call
this evening, if only to ask after your health.
I could not have received you, said Gertrude.
You find it less difficult here?
Less humiliating. I'm not, at least, receiving a husband who wishes
to plead for reconciliationon intolerable grounds.
May I offer you a chair? Better stillwhy not come to the study?
We're so much less likely to be disturbed.
She accepted my suggestion with a slight nod, and herself led the
Now, Gertrude, I resumed, when she had consented to an easy-chair
and had permitted me to close the door, whatever the situation and
misunderstandings between us, can't we discuss themand I ventured a
smilemore informally, in a freer spirit?
She caught me up. Freer! But I understandless disciplined. How
very like you, Ambrose. How unchanged you are.
And you, Gertrude! It's a compliment you should easily forgive.
She preferred to ignore it. Miss Blake, she announced, has just
been with me for an hour.
She waited the effect of this. The effect was considerable, plunging
me into dark amazement and conjecture. Not daring to make the tiniest
guess as to the result of so fantastic an interview, I was left not
merely tongue-tied but brain-tied. Gertrude saw at once that she had
beggared me and could now at her leisure dole out the equal humiliation
of alms withheld or bestowed.
Given your curious social astigmatism and her curious mixed
charmso subtle and so deeply uncivilizedI can see, of course, why
she has bewitched you, said Gertrude reflectively, and paused. And I
can see, she continued, musing, as if she had adopted the stage
convention of soliloquy, why you have just failed to capture her
imagination. For you have failedbut you can hardly be aware how
Whether or not I'm aware, I snapped, seems negligible! Susan
feels she must leave me, and she'll probably act with her usual
promptness. Is that what she called to tell you?
Partly, acknowledged Gertrude, resuming then her soliloquy:
You've given heras you woulda ridiculous education. She seems to
have instincts, impulses, whichall things consideredmight have
bloomed if cultivated. As it is, you found her crude, and, in spite of
all the culture you've crammed upon her, you've left her so. She's
emancipatedthat is, public; she's thrown away the locks and keys of
her mind. I grant she has one. But apparently no one has even suggested
to her that the essence of being rare, of being fine, is knowing what
to omit, what to reject, what to conceal. I find my own people,
Ambroseand they're the right people, the only ones worth
findingby feeling secure with them; I can trust them not to go too
far. They have decorum, taste. Oh, I admit we're upholding a lost
cause! You're a deserter from itand Miss Blake doesn't even suspect
its existence. Stillwith a private smileher crudity had certain
immediate advantages this morning.
Ignoring rarity, fineness, I sank to the indecorum of a frankly
human grin. In other words, Gertrude, Susan omitted so little, went so
much too far, that she actually forced you for once to get down to
Gertrude frowned. She stripped herself naked before a strangerif
that's what you mean.
With the result, Gertrude?
Ah, that's why I'm hereas a duty I owe myself. I'm bound to say
my suspicions were unjustto Miss Blake, at least. I'll even go beyond
Careful, Gertrude! Evil communications corrupt good manners.
Yes, she responded quickly, rising, they doalways; that's why
I'm not here to stay. But all I have left for you, Ambrose, is this:
I'm convinced now that in one respect I've been quite wrong. Miss Blake
convinced me this morning that her astounding telegram had at least one
merit. It happened to be true. I should either live with you or
set you free. I've felt this myself, from time to time, but divorce,
for many reasons.... She paused, then added: However, it seems
inevitable. If you wish to divorce me, you have legal
groundsdesertion; I even advise it, and I shall make no defense. As
for your amazing wardmake your mind quite easy about her. If any
rumors should annoy you, they'll not come from me. And I shall speak to
Lucette. She moved to the door, opening it slowly. That's all, I
It's not even a beginning, I cried.
Think of it, rather, as an ending.
Impossible! II'm abashed, Gertrude! What you propose is out of
the question. Why not think better of returning here? The heydey's past
for both of us. My dreamalways a wild dreamis passing; and I can
promise sincere understanding and respect.
I could not promise so easily, said Gertrude; nor so much. No;
don't come with me, she added. I know my way perfectly well alone.
Nevertheless, I went with her to the front door, as I ought, in no
perfunctory spirit. It was more than a courteous habit; it was a
genuine tribute of admiration. I admired her beauty, her impeccable
bearing, her frock, her furs, her intellect, the ease and distinction
of her triumph. She left me crushed; yet it was a privilege to have
known herto have wooed her, won her, lost her; and now to have
received my coup de grâce from her competent, disdainful hands.
I wished her well, knowing the wish superfluous. In this, if nothing
else, she resembled Susanshe did not need me; she could stand alone.
It was her tragedy, in the French classic manner, that she must. Would
it also in another manner, in a deeper andI can think of no homelier
wordmore cosmic sense, prove to be Susan's?
But my own stuffy problem drama, whether tragic or absurd, had now
reached a crisis and developed its final question: How in the absence
of Susan to stand at all?
From her interview with Gertrude, Susan went straight on to Phil's
rooms, not even stopping to consider the possible proprieties involved.
But, five minutes before her arrival, Phil had been summoned to the
Graduates Club to receive a long-distance call from his Boston
publisher; and it was Jimmy Kane who answered her knock and opened the
study door. He had been in conference with Phil on his private problems
and Phil had asked him to await his return. All this he thought it
courteous to explain to the peach of a girl before him, whose presence
at the door puzzled him mightily, and whose disturbing eyes held his,
he thought, rather too intimately and quizzically for a stranger's.
She could hardly be some graduate student in philosophy; she was too
young and too flossy for that. Flossy, in Jimmy's economical
vocabulary, was a symbol for many subtle shades of meaning: it implied,
for any maiden it fitted, an elegance not too cold to be alluring; the
possession of that something more than the peace of God which a friend
told Emerson always entered her heart when she knew herself to be well
dressed. Flossyto generalizeJimmy had not observed the women
graduate students to be, though he bore them no ill will. To be truly
flossy was, after all, a privilege reserved for a chosen few, born to a
certain circle which Jimmy had never sought to penetrate.
Oneand a curiously entrancing specimenof the chosen evidently
stood watching him now, and he wished that her entire self-possession
did not so utterly imperil his own. What was she doing alone, anyway,
this society girlin a students' rooming houseat Prof. Farmer's
door? Why couldn't she tell him? And why were her eyes making fun of
himor weren't they? His fingers went instinctively to hisperhaps
too hastily selected?cravat.
Then Susan really did laugh, but happily, not unkindly, and walked
on in past him, shutting the door behind her as she came.
Jimmy Kane, she said, if I weren't so gorgeously glad to see you
again, I could beat you for not remembering!
Good Lord! he babbled. Whygood Lord! You're Susan!
It was all too much for him; concealment was impossiblehe was
flabbergasted. Sparkling with sheer delight at his gaucherie,
Susan put out both hands. Her impulsiveness instantly revived him; he
seized her hands for a moment as he might have gripped a long-lost boy
You never guessed I could look sopresentable, did you? demanded
Presentable! The word jarred on him, it was so dully inadequate.
I have a maid, continued Susan demurely. Everything in Ambo's
houseAmbo is my guardian, you know; Mr. Huntwell, everything in his
house is a work of art. So he pays a maid to see that I amalways. I
am simply clay in her hands, and it does make a difference. But I
didn't have a maid on Birch Street, Jimmy.
Jimmy's blue eyes capered. This was American humorthe kind he was
born to and could understand. Happiness and ease returned with it. If
Susan could talk like that while looking like thatwell, Susan was
there! She was all right.
Within five minutes he was giving her a brief, comradely chronicle
of the missing years, and when Phil got back it was to find them seated
together, Susan leaning a little forward from the depths of a Morris
chair to follow more attentively Jimmy's minute technical description
of the nature of the steel alloys used in the manufacture of
They rose at Phil's entrance with a mingling, eager chatter of
explanation. Phil latermuch lateradmitted to me that he had never
felt till that moment how damnably he was past forty, and how fatally
Susan was not. He further admitted that it was far from the most
agreeable discovery of a studious life.
What do you think, Prof. Farmer, exclaimed Jimmy, of our meeting
again accidentally like thisand me not knowing Susan! You can't beat
that much for a small world!
Phil sought Susan's eye, and was somewhat relieved by the quizzical
though delighted gleam in it.
Well, Jimmy, he responded gravely, truth compels me to state that
I have heard of stranger encountersless inevitable ones, at least. I
But you never heard of a nicer one, said Susan. Haven't I always
told you and Ambo that Jimmy would be like this?
Sort of foolish? grinned Jimmy, with reawakening constraint. I'll
bet you have, too.
Susan shook her head, solemn and slow; but the corners of her mouth
No, Jimmy, not foolish; justnatural. Justsort ofyou.
At this point, Jimmy hastily remembered that he must beat it,
pleading what Phil knew to be an imaginary recitation. But he did not
escape without finding himself invited to dinner for that very evening,
informally of courseSusan suspected the absence of even a dinner
coat: Phil would bring him. It was really Phil who accepted for him,
while Jimmy was still muddling through his thanks and toiling on to
If I've been toohe almost said fresh, but sank tofamiliar,
calling you by your first name, I meanI wouldn't like you to
thinkbut coming all of a sudden like this, what I mean is
Oh, run along! called Susan gayly. Forget it, Jimmy! You're
That's what I m-mean, stammered Jimmy, and was gone.
But he does mean well, Susan, Phil pleaded for him, after closing
It puzzled him to note that Susan's face instantly clouded; there
was reproof in her tone. That was patronizing, Phil. I won't have
anybody patronize Jimmy. He's perfect.
Phil was oddly nettled by this reproof and grew stubborn and
detached. He's a nice boy, certainly; and has the makings of a real
man. I believe in him. Stillheaven knows!he's not precisely a
Susan's brow had cleared again. That's what I m-mean! she laughed,
mimicking Jimmy without satire, as if for the pure pleasure of
recollection. The truth is, Phil, I'm rather fed up on
subtletyespecially my own. Sometimes I think it's just a polite term
for futility, with a dash of intellectual snobbishness thrown in. It
must be saner, cleaner, healthier, to take life straight.
And now, Phil dear, she said, dismissing the matter, as if
settling back solidly to earth after a pleasantly breathless aërial
spin, I need your advice. Can I earn my living as a writer? I'll write
anything that pays, so I think I can. Fashion notesanything! Sister
and ISister being Susan's pet name for Miss Goucherare running
away to New York on Mondayto make our fortunes. You mustn't tell
Amboyet; I'll tell him in my own way. And I must make my own
way now, Phil. I've been a lazy parasite long enoughtoo long! So
please sit down and write me subtle letters of introduction to any
publishers you know. Maltby is bound to help me, of course. You see,
I'm feeling ruthlessor shameless; I shall pull every wire in sight.
So I'm counting on The Garden Exquisite for immediate bread and
butter. I did my first article for it in an hour when I first woke up
this morningjust the smarty-party piffle its readers and advertisers
seem to demand.
This sort of thing, Phil: 'The poets are wrong, as usual. Wild
flowers are not shy and humble, they are exclusive. How to know them is
still a social problem in American life, and very few of us have
attained this aristocratic distinction.' And so on! Two thousand silly
salable wordsand I can turn on that soda-water tap at will. Are you
listening? Please tell me you don't think poor Sistershe refuses to
leave me, and I wouldn't let her anywaywill have to undergo martyrdom
in a cheap hall bedroom for the rest of her days?
Needless to say, Phil did not approve of Susan's plan. He agreed
with her that under the given conditions she could not remain with me
in New Haven; and he commended her courage, her desire for
independence. But Susan would never, he felt, find her true pathway to
independence, either material or spiritual, as a journalistic
free-lance in New York. He admitted the insatiable public thirst for
soda-water, but saw no reason why Susan should waste herself in
catering to it. He was by no means certain that she could cater to it
if she would.
You'll too often discover, he warned her, that your tap is
running an unmarketable beverage. The mortal taste for nectar is still
undeveloped; it remains the drink of the gods.
But, Susan objected, I can't let Ambo pay my bills from now onI
can't! And Sister and I must live decently somehow! I'd like nothing
better than to be a perpetual fountain of nectarsupposing, you nice
old Phil, that I've ever really had the secret of distilling a single
drop of it. But you say yourself there's no market for it this side of
heaven, which is where we all happen to be. What do you want me to do?
It wouldn't be fair to you, dear.
There was a momentary pause.
Then, said Phil earnestly, I want you to let Huntor if you
can't bring yourself to do thatto let me loan you money enough
from time to time to live on simply and comfortably for a few years,
while you study and think and write in your own free waytill you've
found yourself. My nectar simile was nonsense, just as your soda-water
tap was. You have brains and a soul, and the combination means a
shining career of some kindeven on earth. Don't fritter your genius
away in makeshift activities. Mankind needs the best we have in us; the
best's none too good. It's a dutyno, it's more than thatit's a true
religion to get that expressed somehowwhether in terms of action
or thought or beauty. I know, of course, you feel this as I do, and
mean to win through to it in the end. But why handicap yourself so
cruelly at the start?
Phil tells me that Susan, while he urged this upon her, quietly
withdrew and did not return for some little time after he had ceased to
speak. He was not even certain she had fully heard him out until she
suddenly leaned to him from her chair and gave his hand an
affectionate, grateful squeeze.
Yes, Phil, she said, it is a religionit's perhaps the only
religion I shall ever have. But for that very reason I must accept it
in my own way. And I'm sureit's part of my faiththat any coddling
now will do me more harm than good. I must meet the struggle, Philthe
hand-to-hand fight. If the ordinary bread-and-butter conditions are too
much for me, then I'm no good and must go under. I shan't be frittering
anything away if I fail. I shan't failin our senseunless we're both
mistaken, and there isn't anything real in me. That's what I must find
out firstnot sheltered and in silence, but down in the scrimmage and
noise of it all. If I'm too delicate for that, then I've nothing to
give this world, and the sooner I'm crushed out of it the better!
Believe me, Phil dear, I know I'm right; I know.
She was pressing clenched hands almost fiercely between her girl's
breasts as she ended, as if to deny or repress any natural longing for
a special protection, a special graciousness and security, from our
common taskmaster, life.
Phil admits that he wanted to whimper like a homesick boy.
Susan's informal dinner for Jimmy that evening was not really a
success. The surface of the water sparkled from time to time, but there
were grim undercurrents and icy depths. Perhaps it was not so bad as my
own impression of it, for I had a sullen headache pulsing its tiresome
obbligato above a dull ground base of despair. Despair, I am forced to
call it. Never had life seemed to me so little worth the trouble of
going on; and I fancy Phil's reasoned conviction of its eternal dignity
and import had become, for the present, less of a comfort to him than a
curse. Moods of this kind, however ruthlessly kept under, infect the
very air about them. They exude a drab fog to deaden spontaneity and
choke laughter at its source.
Neither Phil nor I was guilty of deliberate sulking; whether from
false pride or native virtue we did our bestbut our best was abysmal.
Even Susan sank under it to the flat levels of made conversation, and
poor Jimmywho had brought with him many social misgivingswas
stricken at table with a muscular rigor; sat stiffly, handled his
implements jerkily, and ended by oversetting a glass of claret and
blushing till the dusky red of his face matched the spreading stain
At this crisis of gloom, luckily, Susan struggled clear of the drab
fog and saved the remnant of the eveningat least for Jimmy, plunging
with the happiest effect into the junior annals of Birch Street, till
our heavier Hillhouse atmosphere stirred and lightened with
Don't-you-remember's and Sure-I-do's. And shortly after
dinner, Phil, tactfully pleading an unprepared lecture, dragged Jimmy
off with him before this bright flare-up of youthful reminiscence had
even threatened to expire. Their going brought Susan at once to my
side, with a stricken face of self-reproach.
It was so stupid of me, Ambothis dinner. I've never been more
ashamed. How could I have forced it on you to-night! But you were
wonderful, dearwonderful! So was Phil. I'll never forget it. There
were tears in her eyes. Oh, Ambo, she wailed, do you think I shall
ever learn to be a little like either of you? I feelabject. Before I
could prevent it, she had seized my hand in both hers and kissed it.
Homage, she smiled....
It broke me downutterly.... You will spare me any description of
the next ten minutes of childishness. Indeed, you must spare me the
details of our later understanding; they are inviolable. It is enough
to say that I emerged from itfor the experience had been
overwhelmingwith a new spirit, a clarified and serener mind. My love
for Susan was unchangedyet wholly changed. The paradox is exact. Life
once more seemed to me good, since she was part of it; and my own life
rich, since I now knew how truly it had become a portion of hers. She
had made me feel, know, that I counted for herunworthy as I amin
all she had grown to be and would grow to be. We had shaped and would
always shape each other's lives. There for the moment it rested. She
would leave me, but I was not to be alone.
No; I was not to be alone. For even if she had died, or had quite
changed and forsaken me, there would be memoriessuch as few men have
been privileged to recall....
On the rearward and gentler slopes of Mount Carmel, a rough,
isolated little mountain, very abrupt on its southerly face, which
rises six or seven miles up-country from the New Haven Green, there is
an ancient farm, so long abandoned as to be completely overgrown with
gray birchthe old field birch of exhausted soilswith dogwood and an
aromatic tangle of humbler shrubs, high-bush huckleberry and laurel and
sweet fern; while beneath these the dry elastic earth-floor is a deep
couch of ghost-gray moss, shining checkerberry and graceful ground
pine. The tumbledown farmstead itself lies either unseen at some
distance from these abandoned fields or has wholly disappeared along
with the neat stone fences that must once have marked them. Yet the
boundaries of the fields are now majestically defined through the
undergrowth by rows of gigantic red cedars so thickset, so tall,
shapely, and dense as to resemble the secular cypresses of Italian
gardens more nearly than the poor relations they ordinarily are.
And at the upper edge of one steep-lying field, formerly an apple
orchardthough but three or four of the original apple trees remain,
hopelessly decrepit and half buried in the new growththe older cedars
of the fence line have seeded capriciously and have thrown out an
almost perfect circle of younger, slenderer trees which, standing
shoulder to shoulder, inclose the happiest retreat for woodland god or
dreaming mortal that the most exacting faun or poet could desire.
That Susan should have happened upon this lonely, this magic circle,
I can never regard as a mere accident. Obviously time had slowly and
lovingly formed and perfected it for some purpose; it was there waiting
for herand one day she came and possessed it, and the magic circle
Susan was then seventeen and the season, as it should have been, was
early May. Much of the hill country lying northward from the
Connecticut coast towns is surprisingly wild, and none of it wilder or
lovelier than certain tracts spread within easy reach of the few New
Haveners who have not wholly capitulated to business or college
politics or golf or social service or the movies, forgetting a deeper
and saner lure. A later Wordsworth or Thoreau might still live in
midmost New Haven and never feel shut from his heritage, for it
neighbors him closelyswamp and upland, hemlock cliff and hardwood
forest, precipitous brook or slow-winding meadow stream, where the
red-winged blackbirds flute and flash by; the whole year's wonder
awaits him; he has but to go forthalone.
Nature never did betray the heart that loved her, though she so
ironically betrays most of us who merely pretend to love her, because
we feel, after due instruction, that we ought. For Nature is not easily
communicative, nor lightly wooed. She demands a higher devotion than an
occasional picnic, and will seldom have much to say to you if she feels
that you secretly prefer another society to hers. To her elect she
whispers, timelessly, and Susan, in her own way, was of the elect. It
was the waythe surestof solitary communion; but it was very little,
very casually, the way of science. She observed much, but without
method; and catalogued not at all. She never counted her warblers and
seldom named thembut she loved them, as they slipped northward
through young leaves, shyly, with pure flashes of green or russet or
Nature for Susan, in short, was all mood, ranging from cold horror
to supernal beauty; she did not sentimentalize the gradations. The cold
horror was there and chilled her, but the supernal beauty was there
tooand did not leave her cold. And through it all streamed an
indefinable awe, a trail one could not follow, a teasing mysteryan
unspoken word. It was back ofno rather it interpenetrated the horror
no less than the beauty; they were but phases, hints, of that other,
that suspected, eerie trail, leading one knew not where.
But surely there, in that magic circle, one might press closer, draw
oneself nearer, catch at the faintest hint toward a possible clue? The
aromatic space within the cedars became Susan's refuge, her nook from
the world, her Port-Royal, her Walden, her Lake Isle of Innisfree. Once
found that spring she never spoke of it; she hoarded her treasure,
slipping off to it stealthily, through slyest subterfuge or evasion,
whenever she could. For was it not hers?
Sometimes she rode out there, tying her horse to a tree in the
lowest field back of a great thicket of old-fashioned lilac bushes run
wild, where he was completely hidden from the rare passers-by of the
rough up-country road or lane. But oftenest, she has since confessed,
she would clear her morning or afternoon by some plausible excuse for
absence, then board the Waterbury trolley express, descending from it
about two miles from her nook, and walking or rather climbing up to it
crosslots through neglected woodland and uncropped pasture reverting to
At one point she had to pass a small swampy meadow through which a
mere thread of stream worked its way, half-choked by thick-springing
blades of our native wild iris; so infinitely, so capriciously delicate
in form and hue. And here, if these were in bloom, she always lingered
a while, poised on the harsh hummocks of bent-grass, herself slender as
a reed. The pale, softly pencilled iris petals stirred in her a high
wonder beyond speech. What supreme, whimsical artistry brought them to
being there, in that lonely spot; and for whose joy? No human hand,
cunning with enamel and platinum and treated silver, could, after a
lifetime of patience, reproduce one petal of these uncounted flowers.
Out of the muck they lifted, ethereal, unearthlyyet so soon to
Oh, she knew what the learned had to say of them!that they were
merely sexual devices; painted deceptions for attracting insects and so
assuring cross-pollination and the lusty continuance of their race. So
far as it went this was unquestionably true; but it wentjust how far?
Their color and secret manna attracted the necessary insects, which
they fed; the form of their petals and perianth tubes, and the
arrangement of their organs of sex were cunningly evolved, so that the
insect that sought their nectar bore from one flower to the next its
fertilizing golden dust
Astonishing, certainly! But what astonished her far more was that
all this ingenious mechanism should in any way affect her! It
was obviously none of her affair; and yet to come upon these cunning
mechanistic devices in this deserted field stirred her, set something
ineffable free in hergave it joy for wings. It was as if these pale
blooms of wild iris had been for her, in a less mortal sense, what the
unconscious insects were for themintermediaries, whose more
ethereal contacts cross-fertilized her very soul. But she could not
define for herself or express for others what they did to her. Of one
thing only she was certain: These fleeting moments of expansion, of
illumination, were brief and vaguemoments of pure, uncritical
feelingbut they were the best moments of her life; and they were
real. They vanished, but not wholly. They left lasting traces. Never to
have been visited by them would have condemned her, she knew, to be
less than her fullest self, narrower in sympathy, more rigid, more
dogmatic, and less complete.
But that first May day of her discovery, when called out to wander
lonely as a cloud by the spirit of springthe day she had happened on
her magic circle,all that rough upland world was burgeoning, and the
beauty of those deserted fields hurt the heart. Susan never easily
wept, but that daysafely hidden in the magic circle, then newly
hersshe threw herself down on the ghost-gray moss among the spicy
tufts of sweet fern and enjoyed, as she later told me, the most
sensuously abandoned good cry of her life. The dogwood trees were a
glory of flushed white about her, shining in on every hand through the
black-green cedars, as if the stars had rushed forward toward earth and
clustered more thickly in a nearer midnight sky. Life had no right to
be so overwhelmingly fairif these poignant gusts of beauty gave no
sanction to all that the bruised heart of man might long for of peace
and joy! If life must be accepted as an idiot's tale, signifying
nothing, then it was a refinement of that torture that it could
suddenly liftas a sterile wave lifts only to breakto such dizzying,
ecstatic heights.... No, noit was impossible! It was unthinkable! It
That year we spent July, August, and early September in France, but
late September found us back in New Haven for those autumnal weeks
which are the golden, heady wine of our New England cycle. Praise of
the New England October, for those who have experienced it, must always
seem futile, and for those who have not, exaggerated and false. Summer
does not decay in New England; it first smoulders and then flares out
in a clear multicolored glory of flame; it does not sicken to
corruption, it shouts and sings and is transfigured. I had suggested to
Susan, therefore, a flight to higher hillsto the Berkshires, to be
precisewhere we might more spaciously watch these smoke-less
frost-fires flicker up, spread, consume themselves, and at last leap
from the crests, to vanish rather than die. But Susan, pleading a
desire to settle down after much wandering, begged off. She did not
tell me that she had a private sanctuary, too long unvisited, hidden
among nearer and humbler hills.
The rough fields of the old farm were now rich with crimson and
goldbright yellow gold, red gold, green and tarnished goldor misted
over with the horizon blue of wild asters, a needed softening of tone
in a world else so vibrant with light, so nakedly clear. This was
another and perhaps even a deeper intoxication than that of the flood
tide of spring. Unbearably beautiful it grew at its climax of splendor!
An unseen organist unloosed all his stops, and Susan, like a little
child overpowered by that rocking clamor, was shaken by it and almost
whimpered for mercy....
It was not until the following spring that chance improbably
betrayed her guarded secret to me. All during the preceding fall I had
wondered at times that I found it so increasingly difficult to arrange
for afternoons of tennis or golf or riding with Susan; but I admonished
myself that as she grew up she must inevitably find personal interests
and younger friends, and it was not for me to limit or question her
freedom. And though Susan never lied to me, she was clever enough, and
woman enough, to let me mislead myself.
I've been taking a long walk, Ambo. I've been riding.
Well, bless her, so she hadand why shouldn't she? Though it came
at last with me to a vague, comfortless feeling of shut-outnessof too
often missing an undefined something that I had hoped to share.
During a long winter of close companionship in study and socially
unsocial life this feeling disappeared, but with the spring it
gradually formed again, like a little spreading cloud in an empty sky.
And one afternoon, toward middle May, I discovered myself to be
unaccountably alone and wishing Susan were roundso we could do
something. The day was a day apart. Mummies that day, in dim museums,
ached in their cerements. Middle-aged bank clerks behind grilles knew a
sudden unrest, and one or two of them even wondered whether to be
always honestly handling the false counters of life were any
compensation for never having riotously lived. Little boys along
Hillhouse Avenue, ordinarily well-behaved, turned freakishly truculent,
delighted in combat, and pummelled each other with ineffective fists.
Settled professors in classrooms were seized with irrelevant fancies
and, while trying to recover some dropped thread of discourse, openly
sighedhaunted by visions of the phoebe bird's nest found under the
old bridge by the mill dam, or of the long-forgotten hazel eyes of some
twelve-year-old sweetheart. A rebellious dayand a sentimental! [See
Lord Tennyson, and the poets, passim.] The apple trees must be
in full bloom....
Well then, confound it, why had Susan gone to a public lecture on
Masefield? Or had she merely mentioned at lunch that there was a public
lecture on Masefield? Oh, damn it! One can't stay indoors on such a
Susan and I kept our saddle horses at the local riding academy,
where they were well cared for and exercised on the many days when we
couldn't or did not wish to take them out. As the academy was
convenient and had good locker rooms and showers, we always preferred
changing there instead of dressing at home and having the horses sent
round. Riding is not one of my passions, and oddly enough is not one of
Susan's. That intense sympathy which unites some men and women to
horses, and others to dogs or cats, is either born in one or it is not.
Susan felt it very strongly for both dogs and cats, and if I have
failed to mention Tumps and Togo, that is a lack in myself, not in her.
I don't dislike dogs or cats or, for that matter, well-broken horses,
butthough I lose your last shreds of sympathythey all, in
comparison with other interests, leave me more than usual calm. Of
Tumps and Togo, nevertheless, something must yet be said, though too
late for their place in Susan's heart; or indeed, for their own
deserving. But they are already an intrusion here.
For Alma, her dainty little single footer, Susan's feeling was
rather admiration than love. Just as there are poets whose songs we
praise, but whose genius does not seem to knit itself into the very
fabric of our being, so it was with Alma and Susan. She said and
thought nothing but good of Alma, yet never felt lonely away from
herthe infallible test. As for Jessica, my own modest nag, I fear she
was very little more to me than an agreeably paced inducement to
exercise, and I fear I was little more to her than a possible source of
lump sugar and a not-too-fretful hand on the bridle reins. To-day,
however, I needed her as a more poetic motor; failing Susan's
companionship, I wanted to be carried far out into country byways apart
from merely mechanical motors ordittomen.
Jessica, well up to it, offered no objections to the plan, and we
were soon trotting briskly along the aërial Ridge Road, from which we
at length descended to the dark eastern flank of Mount Carmel. It would
mean a long pull to go right round the mountain by the steep back road,
and I had at first no thought of attempting it; but the swift
remembrance of a vast cherry orchard bordering that road made me wonder
whether its blossoms had yet fallen. When I determined finally to push
on, poor Jessica's earlier fire had cooled; we climbed the rough back
road as a slug moves; the cherry orchard proved disappointing; and the
sun was barely two hours from the hills when we crossed the divide and
turned south down a grass-grown wood road that I had never before
traveled. I hoped, and no doubt Jessica hoped, it might prove a shorter
What it did prove was so fresh an enchantment of young leaf and
flashing wing, that I soon ceased to care where it led or how late I
might be for dinner. Then a sharp dip in the road brought a new vision
of delight; dogwoodcloudy masses of pink dogwood, the largest,
deepest-tinted trees of it I had ever seen! It caught at my throat; and
I reined in Jessica, whose æsthetic sense was less developed, and
stared. But presently the spell was broken. An unseen horse squealed,
evidently from behind a great lilac thicket in an old field at the
left, and Jessica squealed back, instantly alert and restive. The sharp
whinnying was repeated, and Jessica's dancing excitement grew intense;
then there was a scuffling commotion back of the lilacs and to my final
astonishment Susan's little mare, Alma, having broken her headstall and
wrenched herself free of bit and bridle, came trotting amicably forth
to join her old friendswhich she could easily do, as the ancient
cattle bars at the field-gate had long since rotted away.
It was unmistakably dainty Alma with her white forehead starbut
where was her mistress? A finger of ice drew slowly along my spine as I
urged Jessica into the field and round the lilac thicket. Alma meekly
followed us, softly breathing encouragement through pink nostrils, and
my alarm quieted when I found nothing more dreadful than the broken
bridle still dangling from the branch of a dead cedar. It was plain
that Susan had tied Alma there to explore on foot through the higher
fields; it was plain, too, that she must have preferred to ride out
here alone, and had been at some pains to conceal her purpose.
For a second, so piqued was I, I almost decided to ride on and leave
the willful child to her own devices. But the broken bridle shamed me.
I dismounted to examine it; it could be held together safely enough for
the return, I saw, with a piece of stout twine, and there was certain
to be a habitation with a piece of stout twine in it on down the road
somewhere. Susan must have come that way and could tell me. But I must
find her first....
Susan! I called. Oh-ho-o-o! Soo-san!
No answer. I called againvainly. Nothing for it, then, but a
search! I tethered Jessica to the cedar stump, convinced that Alma
wouldn't wander far from her old friend, and started off through the
field past a senile apple tree bearing a few scattered blossoms, beyond
which a faintly suggested path seemed to lead upward through a
wonder-grove of the pink dogwood, mingled with laurel and birch and
towering cedars. That path, I knew, would have tempted Susan.
What there was of it soon disappeared altogether in an under-thicket
of high-bush huckleberry, taller than a man's head. Through this I was
pushing my way, and had stooped to win past some briers and protect my
eyeswhen I felt a silk scarf slip across them, muffling my face.
It was swiftly knotted from behind; then my hand was taken, and
Susan's voiceon a tone of blended mischief and mysteryquavered at
my ear: Hush! Profane mortalspeak not! This is holy ground.
With not another word spoken she drew me after her, guiding me to
freer air and supporting me when I stumbled. We continued thus for some
moments, on my part clumsily enough; and then Susan halted me, and
turned me solemnly round three times, while she crooned in a weird
gypsy-like singsong the following incantation:
Cedar, cedar, birch and fern,
Turn his wits as mine you turn.
If he sees what now I see
Welcome shall this mortal be.
If he sees it not, I'll say
Crick-crack and vanish May!
But I must have seen! My initiation was pronounced successful. From
that hour all veils were withdrawn, and I was made free of the magic
It was a dip in Lethe. Dinner was forgottenthe long miles home and
the broken bridle. A powerful enchantment had done its work. For me,
only the poised moment of joy was real. Nothing else mattered, nothing
else existed, while that poised fragile moment was mine. We talked or
were silentit was all one. And when dusk crept in, and a grateful
wood-thrush praised it, we still lingered to join in that praise....
Then a whippoorwill began to call insistently, grievously, from very
far off. It was the whippoorwill that shattered my poised crystal
moment of perfect joy.
Those poor horses, I said.
Oh! cried Susan, springing up, how could we let them
starve! I'm starved, too, Amboaren't you? What sillies we are!
We got home safely, after some trifling difficulties, past ten
When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead
Only it doesn't, alwaysthank God! Memories.... And this was but
one. Oh, no; I was not to be alone. I should never really be alone....
The morning after Jimmy had dined with us, Susan, at my request,
brought Miss Goucher to my study, and we had a good long talk together.
And first of all the problem of Gertrude loomed before us, starting up
ghostlike at a chance remark, and then barring all progress with more
practical considerations, till laid. Neither Susan's telegram nor her
private interview with Gertrude had been discussed between us; I had
nervously shied off from both matters in my dread of seeming to
question Susan's motives. But now Susan herself, to put it crudely,
insisted on a show-down.
The air needed clearing, Ambo, and I sent the telegram hoping to
clear it by raising a storm. But, as Sister reminded me at breakfast,
storms don't always clear the aireven good hard ones; they sometimes
leave it heavier than ever. I'm afraid that's what my storm has done.
Has it, Ambo? What happened when Mrs. Hunt came to see you here? But
perhaps I ought to tell you first what happened between us?
No, I smiled; Gertrude made that fairly plain, for once. And your
storm did sweep off the worst of the fog! You see, Gertrude has,
intensely, the virtues of her defectsa fastidious sense of honor
among them. Once she felt her suspicions unjust, she was bound to
acknowledge it. I can't say you won a friend, but you didby some
miracleplacate a dangerous foe.
Is she coming back to you, Ambo?
No. She suggests divorce. But that of course is impossible!
Is it kind to ask? said Miss Goucher. Andforgive me,
dearafter your decision, is it necessary for you to know?
Susan reflected anxiously. No, she finally responded, it isn't
kind; but it is necessary. I'll tell you why, Ambo. If you had been
free, I think there's no doubt I should have married you. Oh, I know,
dear, it sounds cold-blooded like that! But the point is, I shouldn't
then have questioned things as I do now. My feeling for youyour need
of methey wouldn't have been put to the test. Now they have beenor
rather, they're being tested, every minute of every hour. Suppose I
should ask you nowmeaning every word of itto divorce Mrs. Hunt so
you could marry me? At least you'd know then, wouldn't you, that simply
being yours meant more to me than anything else in life? Or suppose I
couldn't bring myself to ask it, but couldn't face life without you?
Suppose I drowned myself
Good God, dear!
I'm not going to, Amboand what's equally important, neither are
you. Why, you don't even pause over Mrs. Hunt's suggestion! You don't
even wait to ask my opinion! You say at onceit's impossible! That
proves something, doesn't itabout you and me? It either proves we're
not half so much in love as we think we are, or else that love isn't
for either of us the only good thing in lifethe whole show. She
paused, but added: Why can't you consider divorcing Mrs. Hunt, Ambo?
After all, she isn't honestly your wife and doesn't want to be; it
would only be common fairness to yourself.
Miss Goucher stirred uneasily in her chair. I stirred uneasily in
There are so many reasons, I fumbled. I suppose at bottom it
comes to thisa queer feeling of responsibility, of guilt even....
Nonsense! cried Susan. You never could have satisfied her, Ambo.
You weren't born to be human, but somehow, in spite of everything, you
just are! It's your worst fault in Mrs. Hunt's eyes. Mrs. Hunt
shouldn't have married a man; she should have married a social
tradition; an abstract idea.
How could she? asked Miss Goucher.
Easily, said Susan; she's one herself, so there must be others.
It's hard to believe, but apparently abstractions like that do get
themselves incarnated now and then. I never met one beforein the
flesh. It gave me a creepy feelinglike shaking hands with the fourth
dimension or asking the Holy Roman Empire to dinner. But I don't
pretend to make her out, Ambo. Why did she leave you? It seems
the very thing an incarnate social tradition could never have brought
herself to do!
Before I could check myself I reproved her. You're not often merely
cruel, Susan! Then, hoping to soften it, I hurried on: You see, dear,
Gertrude isn't greatly to blame. Suppose you had been born and brought
up like her, to believe beauty and brains and a certain gracious way of
life a family privilege, a class distinction. Don't you see how your
inbred worship of class and family would become in the end an intenser
form of worshipping yourself? Gertrude was taught to live exclusively,
from girlhood, in this disguised worship of her own perfections. We're
all egotists of course; but most of us are the common or garden
variety, and have an occasional suspicion that we're pretty selfish and
intolerant and vain. Gertrude has never suspected it. How could she? A
daughter of her house can do no wrongand she is a daughter of her
house. I sighed.
Unluckily, my power of unreserved admiration has bounds, and my
tongue and temper sometimes haven't. So our marriage dissolved in an
acid bath compounded of honest irritations and dishonest apologies.
I made the dishonest apologies. To do Gertrude justice, she never
apologized. She knew the initial fault was mine. I shouldn't have
joined a church whose creed I couldn't repeat without a sensation of
moral nausea. That's just what I did when I married Gertrude. There was
no deception on her side, either. I knew her gods, and I knew she
assumed that mine were the same as hers, and that I was humbly entering
the service of their dedicated priestess. Well, I apostatizedto her
frozen amazement. Then a crisis cameinsignificant enough.... Gertrude
refused to call with me on the bride of an old friend of mine, because
she thought it a misalliance. He had no right, she held, under her
jealous gods, to bring a former trained nurse home as his wife, and
thrust her upon a society that would never otherwise have received her.
I was furious, and blasphemed her gods. I insisted she should
either accompany me, then and there, or I'd go myself and apologize for
heryes, these are the words I usedher 'congenital lunacy.' She left
me like a statue walking, and went to her room.
And you? asked Susan.
I made the call.
Did you make the apology?
No; I couldn't.
Naturally not, assented Miss Goucher.
Oh, Ambo, protested Susan, what a coward you are! Well, and
I returned to a wifeless house. From that hour until yesterday
morning there have been no explanations between Gertrude and me.
Gertrude is superb.
I understand her less than ever, said Susan.
I understand her quite well, said Miss Goucher. But your long
silence, Mr. Huntthat I can't understand.
I can, Susan exclaimed. Ambo's very bones dislike her. So do
mine. Do you remember how I used to shock you, Ambo, when I first came
heresaying somebody or other was no damn good? Well, I can't help it;
it's stronger than I am. Mrs. Hunt's no
Oh, child! struck in Miss Goucher. How much you have still
to learn! Then she addressed me: I've never seen a more distinguished
person than Mrs. Hunt. I know it's odd, coming from me, but somehow I
sympathize with hergreatly. I've alwayshesitated Miss
Goucherbeen a proud sort of nobody myself.
Susan reached over and slipped her hand into Miss Goucher's. Poor
Sister! Just as we're going off together you begin to find out how
horrid I can be. But I'll make a little true confession to both of you.
What I've been saying about Mrs. Hunt isn't in the least what I think
about her. The fact is, I'm jealous of her, in so many waysexcept in
the ordinary way! To make a clean breast of it, when I was with her she
brought me to my knees in spite of myself. Oh, I acknowledge her power!
It's uncanny. How did you ever find strength to resist it, Ambo? My
outbreak was sheer Birch Street bravadoa cheap insult flung in the
face of the unattainable! It was all my shortcomings throwing mud at
all her disdain. Truly! Why, the least droop of her eyelids taught me
that it takes more than quick wits and sensitive nerves and hard study
to overcome a false startor rather, no start at all!
Birch Street isn't even a beginning, because, so far as Mrs. Hunt's
concerned, Birch Street simply doesn't exist! And even Birch Street
would have to admit that she gets away with it! I'd say so, too, if I
didn't go a step farther and feel that it gets away with her. That's
why ridicule can't touch her. You can't laugh at a devotee, a woman
possessed, the instrument of a higher power! Mrs. Hunt's a living
confession of faith in the absolute rightness of the right people, and
a living rebuke to the incurable wrongness of the wrong! Oh, I knew at
once what you meant, Ambo, when you called her a dedicated priestess!
It's the way I shall always think of herritually clothed, and pouring
out tea to her gods from sacred vessels of colonial silver! You can
smile, Ambo, but I shall; and way down in my common little Birch Street
heart, I believe I shall always secretly envy her.... So there!
For the first time in my remembrance of her, Miss Goucher laughed
out loud. Her laughin effect, not in resonancewas like cockcrow. We
all laughed together, and Gertrude vanished.... But ten minutes later
found us with knit brows again, locked in debate. Susan had at length
seized courage to tell me that when she left my house she must, once
and for all, go it completely alone. She could no longer accept my
financial protection. She was to stand on her own feet, for better or
worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health. This staggering
proposal I simply could not listen to calmly, and would not yield to!
It was too preposterously absurd.
Yet I made no headway with my objections, until I stumbled upon the
one argument that served me and led to a final compromise, Dear, I
had protested, really and deeply hurt by Susan's stubborn stand for
absolute independence, can't you feel how cruelly unkind all this is
Oh, she wailed, unkind? Why did you say that! Surely, Ambo, you
don't mean it! Unkind?
I was quick to press my advantage. When you ask me to give up even
the mere material protection of my family? You are my family,
Susanall the family I shall ever have. I don't want to be maudlin
about it. I don't wish to interfere with your freedom to develop your
own life in your own way. But it's beyond my strength not to plead that
all that's good in my life is bound up with yours. Please don't ask me
to live in daily and hourly anxiety over your reasonable comfort and
health. There's no common sense in it, Susan. It's fantastic! And it is
Susan could not long resist this plea, for she felt its wretched
sincerity, even if she knewas she later told methat I was making
the most of it. It was Miss Goucher who suggested our compromise.
Mr. Hunt, she said, my own arrangement with Susan is this: We are
to pool our resources, and I am to make a home for her, just as if I
were her own mother. I've been able to save, during the past
twenty-five years, about eight thousand dollars; it's well invested, I
think, and brings me in almost five hundred a year. This is what we
were to start with; and Susan feels certain she can earn at least two
thousand dollars a year by her pen. I know nothing of the literary
market, but I haven't counted on her being able to earn so muchfor a
year or so, at least. On the other hand, I feel certain Susan will
finally make her way as a writer. So I'd counted on using part of my
capital for a year or two if necessary. We plan to live very simply for
the present, of coursebut without hardship.
Still I would have protested, if for once Miss Goucher had not
waived all deference, sailing calmly on:
As Susan has told you, she's convinced that she needs the assurance
of power and self-respect to be gained by meeting life without fear or
favor and making her own career in the face of whatever difficulties
arise. There's a good deal to be said for that, Mr. Huntmore than you
could be expected to understand. Situated as you have always been, I
mean. But naturally, as Susan's guardian, you can't be expected to
stand aside if for any reason we fail in our attempt. I see that; and
Susan sees it now, I'm sure. Yet I really feel I must urge you to let
us try. And I promise faithfully to keep you informed as to just how we
are getting on.
Please, Ambo, Susan chimed in, let us try. If things go badly I
won't be unreasonable or stubbornindeed I won't. Please trust me for
that. I'll even go a step farther than Sister. I won't let her break
into her savingsnot one penny. If it ever comes to that, I'll come
straight to you. And for the immediate present, I have over five
hundred dollars in my bank account; andshe smiledI'll try to feel
it's honestly mine. You've spent heaven knows how much on me, Ambo;
though it's the least of all you've done for me and been to me! But
now, please let me see whether I could ever have made anything of
myself if I hadn't been so shamelessly luckyif life had treated me as
it treats most people.... Jimmy, for instance.... He hasn't
needed help, Ambo; and I simply must know whether he's a better man
than I am, Gunga Dhin! Don't you see?
Yes; I flatter myself that I did, more or less mistily, begin to
see. Thus our morning conference drew to its dreary, amicable close.
But from the door Susan turned back to me with tragic eyes:
AmboI'm caring. It doeshurt. And since I could not very safely
reply, she attempted a smile. Ambowhat is to become of poor Tumps?
Togo will have to come; I can't reduce him to atheism. But Tumps would
die in New York; and he never has believed in God anyway! Can you make
a martyr of yourself for his surly sake? Can you? Just to see, I mean,
that he gets his milk every day and fish heads on Friday? Can you,
I nodded and turned away.... The door closed so quietly that I first
knew when the latch ticked once how fortunately I was alone.
Maltby Phar was responsible for Togo; he had given hima little
black fluff-ball with shoe-button eyesto Susan, about six months
after she first came to live with me. Togo is a Chow; and a Chow is
biologically classified as a dog. But if a Chow is a dog, then a
Russian sable muff is a dish rag. Your Chowblack, smoke blue, or
redis a creation apart. He is to dogdom what Hillhouse Avenue is to
Birch Streetthe wrong end, bien entendu. His blood is so blue
that his tongue is purple; and, like Susan's conception of Gertrude, he
is a living confession of faith in the rightness of the right people, a
living rebuke to the wrongness of the wrong; the right people being, of
course, that master god or mistress goddess whom he worships, with
their immediate entourage. No others need apply for even cursory
notice, much less respect.
I am told they eat Chows in China, their native land. If they do, it
must be from the motive that drove Plutarch's Athenian to vote the
banishment of Aristidesennui, to wit, kindling to rage; he had
wearied to madness of hearing him always named the Just. Back, too,
in Americafor I write from Francethere will one day be proletarian
reprisals against the Chow; for in the art of cutting one dead your
Chow is supreme. He goes by you casually, on tiptoe, with the glazed
eye of indifference. He sees you and does not see youand will not.
You may cluck, you may whistle, you may call; interest will not excite
him, nor flattery move him; he passes; he goes his unremembering way.
But let him beware! If Americans are slow to anger, they are terrible
when roused. I have frequently explained this to Togomore for Susan's
sake than his ownand been yawned at for my pains.
Personally, I have no complaint to make. In Togo's eyes I am one of
the right people. He has always treated me with a certain tact, though
with a certain reserve. Only to Susan does he prostrate himself with an
almost mystical ecstasy of devotion. Only for her does his feathered
tail-arc quiver, do his ears lie back, his calm ebon lips part in an
unmistakably adoring smile. But there is much else, I admit, to be said
for him; he never barks his deep menacing bark without cause; and as a
mere objet d'art, when well combed, he is superb. Ming
porcelains are nothing to him; he is perhaps the greatest decorative
achievement of the unapproachably decorative East....
But for Tumps, my peculiar legacy, I have nothing good to say and no
apologies to offer. Like Calverley's parrot, he still liveshe will
not die. Tumps is a tomcat. And not only is he a tomcat, he is a
hate-scarred noctivagant, owning but an ear and a half, and a poor
third of tail. His design was botched at birth, and has since been
degraded; his color is unpleasant; his expression is ferociousand
utterly sincere. He has no friends in the world but Susan and Sonia,
and Sonia cannot safely keep him with her because of the children.
Out of the night he came, shortly after Togo's arrival; starved for
once into submission and dragging himself across the garden terrace to
Susan's feet. And she accepted this devil's gift, this household
scourge. I never did, nor did Togo; but we were finally subdued by
fear. Those baleful eyes cursing us from dim cornersTogo, Togo, shall
we ever forget them! Separately or together, we have more than once
failed to enter a dusky room, toward twilight, where those double
phosphors burned from your couch corner or out from beneath my
But nothing would move Susan to give Tumps up so long as he cared to
remain; and Tumps cared. Small wonder! Nursed back to health and
rampageous vivacity, he soon mastered the neighborhood, peopled it with
his ill-favored offspring, and wailed his obscene balladry to the moon.
Hillhouse Avenue protested, en bloc. The Misses Carstairs, whose
slumbers had more than once been postponed, and whose white Persian,
Desdemona, had been debauched, threatened traps, poison and the law.
Professor Emeritus Gillingwater attempted murder one night with a .22
rifle, but only succeeded in penetrating the glass roof of his
Susan was unmoved, defending her own; she would not listen to any
plea, and she mocked at reprisals. Those were the early days of her
coming, when I could not force myself to harsh measures; and happily
Tumps, having lost some seven or eight lives, did with the years grow
more sedate, though no more amiable. But the point is, he stayedand,
I repeat, lives to this hour on my distant, grudging bounty.
Such was the charge lightly laid upon me....
Oh, SusanSusan! For once, resentment will out! May you suffer,
shamed to contrition, as you read these lines! Tumpsand I say it now
boldlyis no damn good.
I am clinging to this long chapter as if I were still clinging to
Susan's hand on the wind-swept station platform, hoarding time by
infinitesimally split seconds, dreading her inevitable escape. Philby
request, I suspectdid not come down; and Susan forbade me to enter
the train with her, having previously forbidden me to accompany her to
town. Togo was forward, amid crude surroundings, riling the brakemen
with his disgusted disdain. Miss Goucher had already said a decorous
but sincerely felt good-by, and had taken her place inside.
Let's not be silly, Ambo, Susan whispered. After all, you'll be
down soonwon't you? You're always running to New York.
Then, unexpectedly, she snatched her hand from mine, threw her arms
tight round my neck, and for a reckless public moment sobbed and kissed
me. With that she was gone.... I turned, too, at once, meaning flight
from the curious late-comers pressing toward the car steps. One of them
distinctly addressed me.
Good morning, Ambrose. Don't worry about your charming little ward.
She'll be quite safeaway from you. I'll keep a friendly eye on her
It was Lucette.
THE FOURTH CHAPTER
I HAD a long conference with Phil the day after Susan's departure,
and we solemnly agreed that we must, within reasonable limits, give
Susan a clear field; her desire to play a lone hand in the cut-throat
poker game called life must be, so far as possible, respected. But we
sneakingly evaded any definition of our terms. Within reasonable
limits; so far as possiblethe vagueness of these phrases will give
you the measure of our secret duplicity.
Meanwhile we lived on from mail delivery to mail delivery, and Susan
proved a faithful correspondent. There is little doubt, I think, that
the length and frequency of her letters constituted a deliberate
sacrifice of energy and time, laidnot reluctantly, but not always
lightlyon the altar of affection. It was a genuine, yet must often
have been an arduous piety. To write full life-giving letters late at
night, after long hours of literary labor, is no trifling effort of
good willgood will, in this instance, to two of the loneliest,
forlornest of men. Putting aside the mere anodyne of work we had but
one other effective consolationJimmy; our increasing interest and joy
in Jimmy. But, for me at least, this was not an immediate consolation;
my taste for Jimmy's prosaic companionship was very gradually acquired.
Our first word from Susan was a day letter, telephoned to me from
the telegraph office, though I at once demanded the delivery of a
verbatim copy by messenger. Here it is:
At grand central safe so far new york lies roaring just beyond
sister and togo tarry with the stuff near cab stand while I send. Love
Mrs. Arthur snooped in vain now for it courage Susan whos afraid dont
you be alonsen fan.
Phil, the scholar, interpreted the last two verbatim symbols:
SUSAN TO ME
Sister and I are at the nice old mid-Victorian Brevoort House for
three or four days. Sister is calmly and courageously hunting rooms for
usor, if not rooms, a room. She hopes for the plural. We like this
quarter of town. It's near enough publishers and things for walking,
and it's not quite so New Yorky as some others. What Sister is trying
to avoid for us is slavery to the Subway, which is awful! But we may
have to fly up beyond Columbia, or even to the Bronx, before we're
through. The hotel objected to Togo, but I descended to hitherto
untried depths of feminine wheedleand justified them by getting my
way. Sister blushed for meand herselfbut has since felt more
confident about my chances for success in this wickedly opportunist
Better skip this part if you read extracts to Phil; he'll brood.
But perhaps you'd better begin disillusioning him at once, for I'm
discovering dreadful possibilities in my naturenow the Hillhouse
inhibitions seem remote. New York, one sees overnight, is no place for
a romantic idealistMaltby's phrase, not mine, bless Phil's
heart!but luckily I've never been one. Birch Street is going to stand
me in good stead down here. New York is Birch Street on a
slightly exaggerated scale; Hillhouse Avenue is something entirely
different. Finer too, perhaps; but the world's future has its roots in
New Birch Street. I began to feel that yesterday during my first hunt
for a paying job.
I've plunged on shop equipment, since Jimmy says, other things
being equal, the factory with the best tools winsthat is, I've bought
a reliable typewriter, and I tackled my first two-finger exercises last
night. The results were diremostly interior capitals and extraneous
asterisks. I shan't have patience to take proper five-finger lessons.
Sister vows she's going to master the wretched thing too, so she can
help with copying now and then. There's a gleam in her eye,
dearwonderful! This is to be her great adventure as well as mine.
'Susan, Sister & Co., Unlicensed HacksPiffle While You Wait!' Oh, we
shall get onyou'll see. Still, I can't truthfully report much
progress yesterday or to-day, though a shade more to-day than
yesterday. I've been counting callously on Maltby, as Phil
disapprovingly knows, and I brought three short manufactured-in-advance
articles for the Garden Ex. down with me. So my first step was to
stifle my last maidenly scruple and take them straight to Maltby; I
hoped they would pay at least for the typewriter. It was a clear
ice-bath of a morning, and the walk up Fifth Avenue braced me for
anything. I stared at everybody and a good many unattached males stared
back; sometimes I rather liked it, and sometimes not. It all depends.
But I found the right building at last, somewhere between the
Waldorf and the Public Library. There's a shop on its avenue front for
the sale of false pearls, and judging from the shop they must be more
expensive than real ones. Togo dragged me in there at first by mistake;
and as I was wearing my bestest tailor-made and your furs, and as Togo
was wearing his, plus his haughtiest atmosphere, we seemed between us
to be just the sort of thing the languid clerks had been waiting for.
There was a hopeful stir as we enteredno, swept in! I was really
sorry to disappoint them; it was horrid to feel that we couldn't live
up to their expectations.
We didn't sweep out nearly so well! But we found the elevator round
the corner and were taken up four or five floors, passing a designer of
de luxe corsets and a distiller of de luxe perfumes on the
way, and landed in the impressive outer office of the Garden Ex.
But how stupid of me to describe all this! You've been there twenty
times, of course, and remember the apple-green art-crafty furniture and
potted palms and things. Several depressed-looking persons were
fidgeting about, but my engraved cardscore one for Hillhouse!soon
brought Maltby puffing out to me with both hands extended. Togo didn't
quite cut him dead, but almost, and he insulted an entire roomful of
stenographers on his way to the great man's sanctum. My first
sanctum, Ambo! I did get a little thrill from that, in spite of
Stop chattering, Susanstick to facts. Yes, Phil, please. Fact
One: Maltby was surprisingly flustered at first. He was, Ambo! He
jumped to the conclusion that I was down for shopping or the theaters,
and assumed of course you were with me. So you were, dearour way! But
I thought Maltby asked rather gingerly after you. Why?
Fact Two: I did my best to explain things, but Maltby doesn't
believe yet I'm seriousseemingly he can't believe it, because he
doesn't want to. That's always true of Maltby. He still thinks this
must be a sudden spasmnot of virtue; thinks I've run away for an
unholy lark. It suits him to think so. If I'm out on the loose he hopes
to manage the whole Mardi gras, and he needn't hear what I say
about needing work too distinctly. That merely annoyed him. But I did
finally make him promisewhile he wriggledto read my three articles
and give me a decision on them to-morrow. I had to promise to lunch
with him then to make even that much headway.Oof!
Meanwhile, I fared slightly better to-day. I took your letter to
Mr. Sampson. The sign, Garnett & Co., almost frightened me off, though,
Ambo; and you know I'm not easily frightened. But I've read so many of
their bookswonderful books! I knew great men had gone before me into
those dingy offices and left their precious manuscripts to strengthen
and delight the world. Who was I to follow those footsteps? Luckily an
undaunted messenger boy whistled on in ahead of meso I followed his
instead! By the time I had won past all the guardians of the sanctum
sanctorum, my sentimental fit was over. Birch Street was herself
And Mr. Sampson proved all you promisedrather more! The dearest
odd old man, full of blunt kindness and sudden whimsy. I think he liked
me. I know I liked him. But he didn't like me as I did himat first
sight. Togo's fault, of course. Why didn't you tell me Mr. Sampson has
a democratic prejudice against aristocratic dogs? I must learn to leave
poor Togo at homeif there ever is such a place!when I'm looking for
work; I may even have to give up your precious soul-and-body-warming
furs. Between them, they belie every humble petition I utter. Sister
and I may have to eat Togo yet.
Mr. Sampson only began to relent when I told him a little about
Birch Street. I didn't tell him muchjust enough to counteract the
furs and Togo. And he forgave me everything when I told him of Sister
and confessed what we were hoping to dofound a home together and earn
our own right to make it a comfy one to live in. He questioned me
pretty sharply, too, but not from snifty-snoops like Mrs. Arthur.
By the way, dear, she was on the train coming down, as luck would
have it, in the chair just across from mine. Her questions were
masterpieces, but nothing to my replies. I was just wretched enough to
scratch without mercy; it relieved my feelings. But you'd better avoid
her for a week or twoif you can! I didn't mind any of Mr. Sampson's
questions, though I eluded some of them, being young in years but old
in guile. I'm to take him my poems to-morrow afternoon, and some bits
of prose thingsthe ones you liked. They're not much more than
fragments, I'm afraid. He says he wants to get the hang of me before
loading me down with bad advice. I do like him, andthe serpent having
trailed its length all over this endless letterI truly think his
offhand friendship may prove far more helpful to me than Maltby's!
You can fill in the blank, Ambo. My shamelessness has limits, even
now, in darkest New York.
Good night, dear. Please don't think you are ever far from my
me-est thoughts. Now for that typewriter!
SUSAN TO JIMMY
That's a breath-taking decision you've made, but like you; and I'm
proud of you for having made itand prouder that the idea was entirely
your own. I suppose we're all bound to be more or less lopsided in a
world slightly flattened at the poles and rather wobbly on its axis
anyway. But the less lopsided we are the better for us, and the better
for us the better for othersand that's one universal law, at least,
that doesn't make me long for a universal recall and referendum.
Oh, you're right to stay on at Yale, but so much righter to have
decided on a broad general course instead of a narrow technical one!
Of course you can carry on your technical studies by yourself! With
your brain's natural twist and the practical training you've had,
probably carry them much farther by yourself than under direction! And
the way you've chosen will open vistas, bring the sky through the
jungle to you. It was brave of you to see that and take the first
difficult step. Il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûtebut no
wonder you hesitated! Because at your advanced age, Jimmy, and from an
efficient point of view, it's a downright silly step, wasteful of
timeand time you know's moneyand money you know's everything. Only,
I'm afraid you don't know that intensely enough ever to have a
marble mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, a marble villa at Newport, a
marble bungalow at Palm Beach, a marble steam yachtbut they don't
make those of marble, do they!
It's so possible for you to collect all these marbles,
Jimmyreelers, every one of them!if you'll only start now and do
nothing else for the next thirty or forty years. You can be a poor boy
who became infamous just as easy as pie! Simply forget the world's so
full of a number of things, and grab all you can of just one. But I
could hug you for wanting to be a man, not an adding-machine! For
caring to know why Socrates was richer than Morgan, and why Saint
Francis and Sainte-Beuve, each in his own way, have helped more to make
life worth living than all the Rothschilds of Europe! Oh, I know it's a
paradox for me to preach this, when here am I trying to collect a few
small clay marblesputting every ounce of concentration in me on money
making, on material success! Not getting far with it, eitherso far.
But what I'm doing, Jimmy, is just what you've set out to doI'm
trying not to be lopsided. You've met life as it is, already; I never
have. And I'd so love to moon along pleasantly on Ambo's inherited
moneyread books and write verses and look at flowers and cats and
stars and trees and children and cows and chickens and funny dogs and
donkeys and funnier women and men! I'd so like not to adjust myself to
an industrial civilization; not to worry over that sort of thing at
all; above everything, not to earn my daily bread. I could cry about
having to make up my mind on such bristly beasts as economic or social
The class struggle bores me to tearsyet here it is, we're up
against it; and I won't be lopsided! What I want is pure thick
cream, daintily fed to me, too, from a hand-beaten spoon. So I mustn't
have it unless I can get it. And I don't know that I canyou see, it
isn't all conscience that's driving me; curiosity's at work as well!
But it's scrumptious to know we're both studying the same thing in a
different waythe one great subject, after all: How not to be
lopsided! How to be perfectly spherical, like the old man in the
nonsense rhyme. Not wobbly on one's axisnot even slightly flattened
at the poles!
Hurrah for us! Trumpets!
But I'm gladdest of all that you and Ambo are beginning at last to
be friends. You don't either of you say soit drifts through; and I
could sing about itif I could sing. There isn't anybody in the world
As for Sister and me, we're getting on, and we're not. Sister
thinks I've done marvels; I know she has. Marvels of economy and taste
in cozying up our room, marvels of sympathy and canny advice that
doesn't sound like advice at all. As one-half of a mutual-admiration
syndicate I'm a complete success! But as a professional authorhum,
hum. Anyway, I'm beginning to poke my inquisitive nose into a little of
everything, and you can't tellsomething, some day, may come of this.
As the Dickens man saidwho was he?I hope it mayn't be human gore.
Meanwhile, one thing hits the most casual eye: We're still in the
double-room-with-alcove boarding-house stage, and likely to stay there
for some time to come.
SUSAN TO PHIL
Your short letter answering my long one has been read and reread
and read again. I know it by heart. Everything you say's trueand
isn't. I'll try to explain thatfor I can't bear you to be doubting
me. You are, Phil. I don't blame you, but I do blame myselffor
complacency. I've taken too much for granted, as I always do with you
and Ambo. You see, I know so intensely that you and Ambo are pure
goldincorruptible!that I couldn't possibly question anything you
might say or dothe fineness of the motive, I mean. If you did murder
and were hanged for it, and even if I'd no clue as to why you struckI
should know all the time you must have done it because, for some
concealed reason, under circumstances dark to the rest of us, your
clear eyes marked it as the one possible right thing to do.
Yes, I trust you like that, Phil; you and Ambo and Sister and
Jimmy. Think of trusting four people like that! How rich I am! And you
can't know how passionately grateful! For it isn't blind trusting at
all. In each one of you I've touched a soul of goodness. There's no
other name for it. It's as simple as fresh air. You're goodyou
fourgood from the center. But, Phil dear, a little secret to comfort
youjust between us and the stars: So, mostly, am I.
Truly, Phil, I'm ridiculously good at the center, and most of the
way out. There are things I simply can't do, no matter how much I'd
like to; and lots of oozy, opally things I simply can't like at all.
I'm with you so far, at leastpeacock-proud to be! But we're
tremendously different, all the same. It's really this, I think: You're
a Puritan, by instinct and cultivation; and I'm not. The clever ones
down here, you know, spend most of their spare time swearing by turns
at Puritanism and the Victorian Era. Their favorite form of exercise is
patting themselves on the back, and this is one of their subtler ways
of doing it. But they just rampantly rail; they don'tthough they
think they dounderstand. They mix up every passé narrowness
and bigotry and hypocrisy and sentimental cant in one foul stew, and
then rush from it, with held noses, screaming Puritanism! Faugh!
Well, it does, Philtheir stew! So, often, for that matterand to
high heavendo the clever ones!
But it isn't Puritanism, the real thing. You see, I know the real
thingfor I know you. Ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy,
sentimentalismsuch things have no part in your life. And yet you're a
Puritan, and I'm not. Something divides us where we are most alike.
What is it, Phil?
May I tell you? I almost dare believe I've puzzled it out.
You're a simon-Puritan, dear, because you won't trust that central
goodness, your own heart; the very thing in you on whose
virgin-goldness I would stake my life! You won't trust it in yourself;
and when you find it in others, you don't fully trust it in them.
You've purged your philosophy of Original Sin, but it still secretly
poisons the marrow of your bones. You guard your soul's strength as
possible weaknesssomething that might vanish suddenly, at a pinch.
How silly of you! For it's the you-est you, the thing you can
never change or escape. Instead of worrying over yourself or
othersme?you could safely spread yourself, Phil dear, all over the
landscape, lie back in the lap of Mother Earth and twiddle your toes
and smile! Walt Whitman's way! He may have overdone it now and then,
posed about it; but I'm on his side, not yours. It's
heartierhuman-ermore fun! Yes, Master Puritanmore fun! That's a
life value you've mostly missed. But it's never too late, Phil, for a
genuine cosmic spree.
Now I've done scolding back at you for scolding at me.But I loved
your sermon. I hope you won't shudder over mine?
The above too-cryptic letter badly needs authoritative annotation,
which I now proceed to give youat perilous length. But it will lead
* * * * *
Though it is positively not true that Phil and I, having covenanted
on a hands-off policy, were independently hoping for the worst, so far
as Susan's ability to cope unaided with New York was concerned;
nevertheless, the ease with which she made her way there, found her
feet without us and danced ahead, proved for some reason oddly
disturbing to us both. Here was a child, of high talents certainly,
perhaps of geniusthe like, at least, of whose mental precocity we had
never met with in any other daughtermuch less, sonof Eve! A woman,
for we so loved her, endowed as are few women; yet assuredly a child,
for she had but just counted twenty years on earth. And being men of
careful maturity, once Susan had left us, our lonely anxieties fastened
upon this crying fact of her youth; it was her youth, her inexperience,
that made her venture suddenly pathetic and dreadful to us, made us
yearn to watch over her, warn her of pitfalls, guide her steps.
True, she was not alone. Miss Goucher was admirable in her way;
though a middle-aged spinster, after all, unused to the sharp
temptations and fierce competitions of metropolitan life. It was not a
house-mother Susan would need; the wolves lurked beyond the
doorshrewd, soft-treading wolves, cunningly disguised. How could a
child, a charming and too daring childhowever giftedbe expected to
deal with these creatures? The thought of these subtle, these patient
ones, tracking hertracking herchilled us to hours-long wakefulness
in the night! Then with the morning a letter would come, filled with
strange men's names.
We compared notes, consulted togethershaking unhappy heads. We
wrote tactful letters to Heywood Sampson, begging him, but always
indirectly, to keep an eye. We ran down singly for nights in town,
rescuedthe verb was oursSusan and Miss Goucher from their West 10th
Street boarding-house, interfered with their work or other plans, haled
themthe verb, I fear, was theirsto dinner, to the opera or theater,
or perhaps to call on someone of ribbed respectability who might prove
an observant friend. God knows, in spite of all resolutions, we did our
poor best to mind Susan's business for her, to brood over her destiny
And God knows our efforts were superfluous! The traps, stratagems,
springes in her path, merely suspected by us and hence the more darkly
dreaded, were clearly seen by Susan and laughed at for the ancient,
pitiful frauds they were. The dull craft, the stale devices of avarice
or lust were no novelties to her; she greeted them, en passant,
with the old Birch Street terrier-look; just a half-mocking nod of
recognitionan amused, half-wistful salute to her gamin past. It was
her gamin past we had forgotten, Phil and I, when we agonized over
Susan's inexperienced youth. Inexperienced? Bob Blake's kid! If there
were things New York could yet teach Bob Blake's kidand there were
manythey were not those that had made her see in it Birch Streeton
a slightly exaggerated scale!
But, as the Greeks discovered many generations ago, it is impossible
to be high-minded or clear-sighted enough to outwit a secret unreason
in the total scheme of things. Else the virtuous, in the Greek sense,
would be always the fortunate; and perhaps then would grow too
self-regarding. Does the last and austerest beauty of the ideal not
flower from this, that it can promise us nothing but itself! You can
choose a clear road, yet you shall never walk there in safety:
Chancethat secret unreasonlurks in the hedgerows, myriad-formed, to
plot against you. Hélas! as the French heroine might say.
Diddle-diddle-dumpling! as might say Susan.... Meaning: That strain,
Ambo, was of a higher mood, doubtless; but do return to your muttons.
Susan had reached New York late in November, 1913, and the letter to
Phil dates from the following January. Barely two months had passed
since her first calls upon Maltby and Heywood Sampson, but every day of
that period had been made up of crowded hours. Of the three
manufactured-in-advance articles for the Garden Ex., Maltby had
accepted one, paying thirty dollars for it, half-rateSusan's first
professional earnings; but the manner of his acceptance had convinced
Susan it was a mere stroke of personal diplomacy on his part. He did
not wish to encourage her as a business associate, for Maltby kept his
business activities rigidly separate from what he held to be his life;
neither did he wish to offend her. What he wholly desired was to draw
her into the immediate circles he frequented as a social being, where
he could act as her patron on a scale at once more brilliant and more
So far as the Garden Ex. was concerned, his attitude from the first
had been one of sympathetic discouragement. Susan hit off his manner
perfectly in an earlier letter:
'My dear Susan! You can write very delicate,
distinctive verse, no doubt, and all thatand of
course there's a fairly active market for verse
nowadays, and I can put you in touch with some
little magazines, à côté, that print such
things, and even occasionally pay for them.
They're your field, I'm convinced. But, frankly, I
can't see you quite as one of our
contributorsand I couldn't pay you a higher
'You don't suppose, do you, I sit here like an
old-fashioned editor, reading voluntary
contributions? No, my dear girl; I have a small,
well-broken staff of writers, and I tell them what
to write. If I find myself, for example, with a
lot of parade interiors taken in expensive homes,
I select four or five, turn 'em over to
Abramovitz, and tell him to do us something on
The More Dignified Dining-Room or The Period
Salon, a Study in Restfulness. Abramovitz knows
exactly what to say, and how to point the
snobbish-but-not-too-snobbish captions and feature
the best names. I've no need to experiment, you
see. I count on Abramovitz. Just so with other
matters. Here's an article, now, on The Flaunting
Paeony. Skeat did that, of course. It's signed
Winifred Snowall his flower-and-sundial stuff
isand it couldn't be better! I don't even have
to read it.
'Well, there you are! I'm simply a purveyor of
standardized goods in standardized packages. Dull
work, but it pays.'
'Exactly!' I struck in. 'It pays! That's why I'm
interested. Sister and Togo and I need the
As for the brilliant, intertwined circles frequented by Maltby as a
social being, within which, he hoped to persuade Susan, lay true
freedom, while habit slyly bound her with invisible chainswell, they
are a little difficult to describe. Taken generally, we may think of
them as the Artistic Smart Set. Maltby's acquaintance was wide,
penetrating in many directions; but he felt most at home among those
iridescent ones of earth whose money is as easy as their morals, and
whose ruling passion for amusement is at least directed by æsthetic
sensibilities and vivacious brains.
Within Maltby's intersecting circles were to be found, then, many a
piquant contrast, many an anomalous combination. There the young,
emancipated society matron, of fattest purse and slenderest figure,
expressed her sophisticated paganism through interpretative dancing;
and there the fashionable painter of portraits, solidly arrived,
exhibited her slender figure on a daring canvasmade possible by the
fatness of her purseat one of his peculiarly intimate studio teas.
There the reigning ingénue, whose graceful diablerie in
imagined situations on the stage was equalled only by her roguish
effrontery in more real, if hardly less public situations off, played
up to the affluent amateurpatron of all arts that require an
unblushing coöperation from pretty young women. There, in short, all
were welcome who liked the game and were not hampered in playing it by
dull inhibitions, material or immaterial. It was Bohemia de luxe
Bohemia in the same sense that Marie Antoinette's dairy-farm was
That Susangiven her doting guardian, her furs, her Chow, her
shadowy-gleaming, imaginative charm, her sharp audacities of
speechwould bring a new and seductive personality to this perpetual
carnival was Maltby's dream; she was predestinedhe had long suspected
the tug of that fate upon herto shine there by his side. He best
could offer the cup, and her gratitude for its heady drafts of life
would be merely his due. It was an exciting prospect; it promised much;
and it only remained to intoxicate Susan with the wine of an unguessed
freedom. This, Maltby fondly assured himself, would prove no difficult
task. Life was life, youth was youth, joy was joy; their natural
affinities were all on his side and would play into his practiced
Doubtless Phil and I must have agreed with himfrom how differently
anxious a spirit!but all three of us would then have proved quite
wrong. To intoxicate Susan, Maltby did find a difficult, in the end an
impossible, task. He took hernot unwilling to enter and appraise any
circle from high heaven to nether hellto all the right, magical
places, exposed her to all the heady influences of his world; and she
found them enormously stimulatingto her sense of the ironic. Maltby's
sensuous, quick-witted friends simply would not come true for Susan
when she first moved among them; they were not serious about anything
but refined sensation and she could not take their refined sensations
seriously; but for a time they amused her, and she relished them much
as Charles Lamb relished the belles and rakes of Restoration Drama:
They are a world of themselves almost as much as fairyland.
To their intimate dinners, their intimate musical evenings, their
intimate studio revelsshe came on occasion with Maltby as to a play:
altogether a speculative scene of things. She could, in those early
weeks, have borrowed Lamb's words for her own comedic detachment: We
are amongst a chaotic people. We are not to judge them by our usages.
No reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedingsfor they
have none among them. No peace of families is violatedfor no family
ties exist among them.... No deep affections are disquieted, no
holy-wedlock bands are snapped asunderfor affection's depth and
wedded faith are not the growth of that soil. There is neither right
nor wrong.... Of what consequence is it to Virtue or how is she at all
concerned?... The whole thing is a passing pageant.
It is probable that Maltby at first mistook her interest in the
spectacle for the preliminary stirrings of its spell within her; but he
must soon have been awarefor he had intelligencethat Susan was not
precisely flinging herself among his maskers with the thrilled abandon
that would betoken surrender. She was not afraid of these clever,
beauty-loving maskers, some of whom bore celebrated names; it was not
timidity that restrained her; she, too, loved beauty and lilting wit
and could feel joyously at ease among themfor an hour or twoonce in
a while. But to remain permanently within those twining circles, held
to a limited dream, when she was conscious of wilder, freer, more
adventurous spaces without! Why should she narrow her sympathies
like that? It never occurred to her as a temptation to do so. She had
drunk of a headier cup, and had known a vaster intoxication. From the
magic circle of her cedar trees, in that lonely abandoned field back of
Mount Carmel, the imagination of her heart had long since streamed
outward beyond all such passing pageants, questing after a dream that
does not pass....
No gilded nutshell could bound her now; she could become the slave
of no intersected ring.... Lesser incantations were powerless.
So much, then, for my own broad annotation of Susan's letter to
Phil! But I leave you with generalizations, when your interest is in
concrete fact. Patience. In my too fumbling way I am ready for you
there, as well.
SUSAN TO JIMMY
I suppose you'd really like to know what I've lately been up to;
but I hardly know myself. It's absurd, of course, but I almost think
I'm having a weeny little fit of the blues to-nightnot dark-blue
devils exactlysay, light-blue gnomes! I hate being pushed about, and
things have pushed me about, rather. It's that, I think. There's been
too muchof everythingsomehow
You see, my social life just now is divided into three parts, like
all Gaul, and as my business opportunitiesMidas forgive them!have
all come out of my social contacts, I'll have to begin with them.
Maltby's the golden key to the first part; Mr. Heywood Sampson, the
great old-school publisher and editor-author, is the iron key to the
second; and chanceour settling down here on the fringes of Greenwich
Villageis the skeleton key to the third.
I seem to be getting all Gaul mixed up with Bluebeard's closets and
things, but I'll try to straighten my kinky metaphors out for you,
Jimmy, if it takes me all night. But I assume you're more or less up to
date on me, since I find you all most brazenly hand me round, and since
I wrote Philand got severely scolded in return; deserved it, tooall
about Maltby's patiently snubbing me as a starving author and
impatiently rushing me as a possible member for his Emancipated Order
of Æsthetic May-FliesI call it his, for he certainly thinks of it
that way. NowMaltby and I have not precisely quarreled, but the north
wind doth blow and we've already had snow enough to cool his
enthusiasm. The whole thing's unpleasant; but I've learned something.
Resultmy occasional flutterings among the Æsthetic May-Flies grow
beautifully less. They'd cease altogether if I hadn't made friendsto
call them thatwith a May-Fly or two.
One of them's the novelist, Clifton Young, a May-Fly at heartbut
there's a strain of Honeybee in his blood somewhere. It's an unhappy
combinationall the talents and few of the virtues; but I like him in
spite of himself. For one thing, he doesn't pose; and he can write! He's a lost soul, thoughthinks life is a tragic farce. Almost all
the May-Flies try to think that; it's a sort of guaranty of the last
sophistication; but it's genuine with Clifton, he must have been born
thinking it. He doesn't ask for sympathy, either; if he did, I couldn't
pity himand get jeered at wittily for my pains!
Then there's Mona Leslie, who might have been a true Honeybee if
everybody belonging to her hadn't died too soon, leaving her hopeless
numbers of millions. Mona, for some reason, has taken a passing fancy
to me; all her fancies pass. She sings like an angel, and might have
made a careerif it had seemed worth while. It never has. Nothing has,
but vivid sensationfrom ascetic religion to sloppy love; and, at
thirty, she's exhausted the whole show. So she spends her time now in a
mad duel with boredom. Poor woman! Luckily the fairies gave her a
selfishly kind heart, and there's a piece of it left, I think. It may
even win the duel for her in the end. More and more she's the reckless
patron of all the arts, almost smothering ennui under her benefactions.
She'd smother poor me, too, if I'd let her; but I can't; I'm either not
brazen enough or not Christian enough to let her patronize me for her
own amusement. And that's her one new sensation for the last three
Still, I've one thing to thank her for, and I wish I could feel
grateful. She introduced me, at one of her Arabian-Nightish soirées
musicales, to Hadow Bury, proprietor of Whim, the
smarty-party weekly review. In two years it's made a sky-rocketing
success, by printing the harum-scarumest possible comment on all the
social and æsthetic fads and freaks of the dayjust the iris froth of
the wave, that and that only. Hadow's a big, black, bleak man-mountain.
You'd take him for an undertaker by special appointment to
coal-beef-and-iron kings. You'd never suspect him of having capitalized
the Frivolous. But he's found it means bagfuls of reelers for him, so
he takes it seriously. He's after the goods. He gets and
delivers the goods, no matter what they cost. He's ready to pay any
price now for a new brand of cerebral champagne.
Well, I didn't know what he was when Mona casually dropped
me beside him, but he loomed so big and black and bleak he frightened
metill my thoughts chattered! I rattled onlike this, Jimmyonly
not because I wanted to, but because having madly started I didn't know
how to stop. I made a fool of myselfutter; with the result that he
detected a slightly different flavor in my folly, a possibly novel
bouquetlet's call it the 'Birch Street bouquet.' At any
rate, he finally silenced me to ask whether I could write as I talked,
and I said I hoped not; and he looked bleaker and blacker than ever and
said that was the worst of it, so few amusing young women could! It
seemed to be one of the more annoying laws of Nature.
The upshot was, I found out all about him and his ambitions for
Whim; and the fantastic upshot of that was, I'm now doing a
nonsense column a week for himhave been for the past fiveand
getting fifty dollars a week for my nonsense, too! I sign the thing
Daxa signature invented by shutting both eyes and punching at my
typewriter three times, just to see what would happen. Dax happened,
and I'm to be allowed to burble on as himI think Dax is a himfor
ten weeks; then, if my stuff goes, catches on, gets overI'm to have a
year's contract. And farewell to double-room-and-alcove for aye! Else,
farewell Whim! So it must get overI'm determined! I
stick at nothing. I even test my burble on poor Sister every week
before sending it in. If she smiles sadly, twice, I seal up the
envelope and breathe again.
That's my bird in the hand, Jimmya sort of crazily screaming
jaybut I mustn't let it escape.
There's another bird, though. A real bluebird, still in the
bushand oh, so shy! And he lures me into the second and beautifulest
part of all Gaul
It's no use, I'm dished! Sister says no one ever wrote or read such
a monstrous letter, and commands me to stop now and go to bed. There's
a look in her eyeshe means it. Good-night and good luckI'll tell
you about my other two parts of Gaul as soon as I can, unless you wire
mecollect'Cut it out!' Or unless you run downyou never haveand
learn of them that way. Why notsoon?
Jimmy Kane took the hint, or obeyed the open request, in Susan's
letter and went down to New York for the week-end; and on the following
Monday Miss Goucher wrote her first considerable letter to me. It was a
long letter, for her, writtenrecopied, I fancyin precise script,
though it would have been a mere note for Susan.
My dear Mr. Hunt: I promised to let you know
from time to time the exact truth about our
experiment. It is already a success financially.
Susan is now earning from sixty to seventy dollars
a week, with every prospect of earning
substantially more in the near future. Her
satirical paragraphs and verses in Whim are
quoted and copied everywhere. They do not seem to
me quite the Susan I love, but then, I am not a
clever person; and it is undeniable that Who is
Dax? is being asked now on every hand. If this
interest continues, I am assured it can only mean
fame and fortune. I am very proud of Susan, as you
But, Mr. Hunt, there is another side to my
picture. In alluding to it I feel a sense of guilt
toward Susan; I know she would not wish me to do
so. Yet I feel that I must. If I may say so to
you, Susan has quickened in me many starved
affections, and they all center in her. In this,
may I not feel without offense that we are of one
If I had Susan's pen I could tell you more clearly
why I am troubled. I lack her gift, which is also
yours, of expressing what I feel is going on
secretly in another's mind. Mr. Phar and a Mr.
Young, a writer, have been giving Susan some cause
for annoyance lately; but that is not it. Mr.
Hunt, she is deeply unhappy. She would deny it,
even to you or me; but it is true.
My mind is too commonplace for this task. If my
attempt to explain sounds crude, please forgive it
and supply what is beyond me.
I can only say now that when I once told you Susan
could stand alone, I was mistaken. In a sense she
can. If her health does not give way, life will
never beat her down. Butthere are the needs of
women, older than art. They tear at us, Mr. Hunt;
at least while we are young. I could not say this
to you, but I must manage somehow to write it. I
do not refer to passion, taken by itself. I am old
enough to be shocked, Mr. Hunt, to find that many
brilliant women to-day have advanced beyond
certain boundaries so long established. You will
A woman's need is greater than passion, greater
even than motherhood. It is so hard for me to
express it. But she can only find rest when these
things are not lived separately; when, with many
other elements, they build up a living wholewhat
we call a home. How badly I put it; for I feel
so much more than the conventional sentiments.
Will you understand me at all if I say that Susan
is homesickfor a home she has never known and
may never be privileged to know? With all her
insight I think she doesn't realize this yet; but
I once suffered acutely in this way, and it
perhaps gives me the right to speak. Of course I
may be quite wrong. I am more often wrong than
I venture to inclose a copy of some lines, rescued
last week from our scrap-basket. I'm not a critic,
but am I wrong in thinking it would have been a
pity to burn them? As they are not in free verse,
which I do not appreciate as I should, they
affected me very much; and I feel they will tell
you, far more than my letter, why I am a little
worried about Susan.
Young Mr. Kane informed me, when he was here on
Sunday, that you and Professor Farmer are well. He
seems a nice boy, though still a little crude
perhaps; nothing offensive. I am confined to the
room to-day by a slight cold of no consequence; I
hope I may not pass it on to Susan. Kindly give my
love to Sonia, if you should see her, and to
little Ivan. I trust the new housekeeper I
obtained for you is reasonably efficient, and that
Tumps is not proving too great a burden. I am,
The inclosed copy of some lines affected me quite as much as they
had Miss Goucher, and it was inconceivable to me that Susan, having
written them, could have tossed them away. As a matter of fact she had
not. Like Calais in the queen's heart, they were engraven in her own.
They were too deeply hers; she had meant merely to hide them from the
world; and it is even now with a curious reluctance that I give them to
you here. The lines bore no title, but I have ventured, with Susan's
consent, to call them
We who are poets beg the gods
Shamelessly for immortal bliss,
While the derisive years with rods
Flay us; nor silvery Artemis
Hearkens, nor Cypris bends, nor she,
The grave Athena with gray eyes.
Were they not heartless would they be
Deaf to the hunger of our cries?
We are the starving ones of clay,
Famished for deathless love, no less.
Oh, but the gods are far and fey,
Shut in their azure palaces!
Oh, but the gods are far and fey,
Blind to the rags of our distress!
We pine on crumbs they flick away;
Brief beauty, and much weariness.
And the night I read these lines a telegram came to me from New
York, signed Lucette Arthur, announcing that Gertrude was suddenly
THE FIFTH CHAPTER
I AM an essayist, if anything, trying to tell Susan's story, and
telling it badly, I fear, for lack of narrative skill. So it is with no
desire to prolong cheaply a possible point of suspense that I must
double back now before I can go forward. My personal interest centers
so entirely in Susan herself, in the special qualities of her mind and
heart, that I have failed to bring in certain stiff factsessential,
alas, to all further progress. A practiced novelist, handling this
purely biographic materialsuch a man as Clifton Youngwould quietly
have planted these facts in their due order, thus escaping my present
embarrassment. But indeed I am approaching a cruel crisis in Susan's
life and in the lives of those dearest to her; a period of sheer
circumstantial fatality; one of those incursions of mad coincidence, of
crass melodrama, whichwith a brutal, ironic, improbability, as if
stage-managed by an anarchistic fiend of the pitbursts through some
fine-spun, geometrical web of days, leaving chaos behind; and I am
ill-equipped to deal with this chance destruction, this haphazard
Even could I merely have observed it from the outside, with æsthetic
detachment, it would baffle me now; I should find it too crude for art,
too arbitrary. It is not in my line. But God knows the victim of what
seems an insane break in Nature is in no mood for art; he can do little
more than cry out or foolishly rail!
* * * * *
Jimmy returned from his excursion to New York on the Sunday evening
preceding Miss Goucher's letter. She must have been at work on it the
next evening when Phil brought him to dine with me. It was our
deliberate purpose to draw him out, track his shy impressions of Susan
and of her new life in her new world. But it was hard going at first;
for ten minutes or so we bagged little but the ordinary Jimmyesque
clichés. He had had a great time, etc., etc....
Matters improved with the roast. It then appeared that he had
lightly explored with Susan the two-thirds of Gaul omitted from her
letter. He had called with her on Heywood Sampson, and fathomed Susan's
allusion to the shy bluebird. Mr. Sampson, he assured us, was a fine
old boystrong for Susan too! He'd read a lot of her poems and things
and was going to bring out the poems for her right away. But the
bluebird in the bush had to do with a pet scheme of his for a weekly
critical review of a different stamp from Hadow Bury's Whim.
Solider, Jimmy imagined; safe and sanethe real thing! If Mr. Sampson
should decide to launch ithe was still hesitating over the business
outlookSusan was to find a place on his staff.
Mr. Sampson, Jimmy opined, had the right idea about things in
general. He didn't like Susan's quick stuff in Whim; thought it
would cheapen her if she kept at it too long. And Mr. Sampson didn't
approve of Susan's remaining third of Gaul, eitherher Greenwich
Village friends. Not much wonder, Jimmy added; Susan had trotted him
round to three or four studios and places, and they were a funny job
lot. Too many foreigners among them for him; they talked too much; and
they pawed. But some nice young people, too. Most of them were
youngand not stuck up. Friendly. Sort of aliveinterested in
everythingexcept, maybe, being respectable. Their jokes, come to
think of it, were all about being respectablekidding everyday people
who weren't up to the latest ideas. There was a lot of jabber one place
about the Oedipus Complex, for example, but he didn't connect at all.
He had his own ideasurely, not of the latestthat a lot of the
villagers might feel differently when they began to make good and
started their bank accounts. But Susan was on to them, anyway, far more
than they were on to her! She liked them, thoughin spite of Mr.
Sampson; didn't fall for their craziest ways or notions of course, but
was keen about their happy-go-lucky sidetheir pep! Besides, they
weren't all alike, naturally. Take the pick of them, the ones that did
things instead of posing round and dressing the part, and Jimmy could
see they might be there. At least, they were on their waylike Susan.
This was all very well, so far as it went; but we had felt, Phil and
I, a dumb undercurrent struggling to press upward into speech, and
after dinner before the fire, we did our best to help Jimmy free its
course. Gradually it became apparent; it rather trickled than gushed
forth. Jimmy was bothered, more than bothered; there was something,
perhaps there were several things, on his mind. We did not press him,
using subtler methods, biding our time; and little by little Jimmy
oozed toward the full revelation of an uneasy spirit.
Did you see Mr. Phar? Phil asked.
No, said Jimmy, his forehead knotting darkly; I guess it's a good
thing I didn't too!
Well, that letter I had from Susanthe one I showed you, Mr.
Huntmentioned some unpleasantness with Mr. Phar; and all Saturday
afternoon while she was trotting me round, I could see she'd been
worrying to herself a good deal.
Yes. Whenever she thought I wasn't paying attention her face would
gosort of dead tired and sadall used up. I can't describe it. And
one or two remarks she dropped didn't sound as happy as she meant them
to. Then, Sunday morning, she had to get some work done, so I took Miss
Goucher to church. I'm supposed to be a Catholic, you know; but I guess
I'm not much of anything. I'd just as soon go to one kind of church as
another, if the music's good. Anyway, it was a nice morning and Miss
Goucher thought I'd like to see the Fifth Avenue parade; so we walked
up to some silk-stocking church above Thirty-fourth Street, where they
have a dandy choir; and back again afterwards. I stayed at the
Brevoort, down near them, you know; and Miss Goucher certainly is a
peach. We got along fine. And I found out from her how Mr. Phar's been
acting. He's a bad actor, all right. I'm just as glad I didn't run into
him. I might have done something foolish.
What, for instance? I suggested.
Well, muttered Jimmy, there's some things I can't stand. I might
have punched his head.
Phil whistled softly.
He's not what I call a white man, explained Jimmy, dogged and
slow, as if to justify his vision of assault. He's a painted pup.
Come, Jimmy! Phil commanded. Out with it! Hunt and I know he's
been annoying Susan, but that's all we know. I supposed he might have
been pressing his attentions too publicly. If it's more than that
There was an unusual sternness in Phil's eye. Jimmy appealed from it
to mine, but in vain.
Look here, Mr. Hunt, he blurted, Susan's all right, of
courseand so's Miss Goucher! They've got their eyes open. And maybe
it's not up to me to say anything. But if I was in your place, I'd feel
like giving two or three people down there a piece of my mind! Susan
wouldn't thank me for saying so, I guess; she's modernshe likes to be
let alone. Why, she laughed at me more than once for getting sort of
hot! And I know I've a bunch to learn yet. But all the same, he
pounded on, I do know this: It was a dirty trick of Mr. Phar's not to
stand up for Susan!
Not stand up for her! What do you mean? Phil almost barked.
Jimmy means, Phil, I explained, that some rather vague rumors
began not along ago to spread through Maltby's crowd in regard to
Susanas to why she found it advisable to leave New Haven. Many of his
friends know me, of courseor know Gertrude; know all about us, at any
rate. It's not very remarkable, then, that Susan's appearance in New
Yorkand so far as Maltby's May-Flies know, in some sense under his
winghas set tongues wagging. I was afraid of it; but I know Maltby's
set well enough to know that to-day's rumor, unless it's pretty sharply
spiced, is soon forgotten. To-morrow's is so much fresher, you see. The
best thing for innocent victims to do is to keep very still. And then,
I confess, it seemed to me unlikely that Maltby would permit anything
of the sort to go too far.
I saw that Jimmy was following my exposition with the most painful
surprise. Phil grunted disgustedly as I ended.
I don't pretend to much knowledge of that world, he said
deliberately, but common sense tells me Maltby Phar might think it to
his advantage to fan the flame instead of stamping it out. I may be
unfair to him, but I'm even capable of supposing he touched it off in
the first place.
No, Phil, I objected, he wouldn't have done that. But you seem to
be right about his failing to stamp out the sparks. That's what you
meant by his not standing up for Susan, isn't it, Jimmy?
The boy's face was a study in unhappy perplexity. I guess I'm like
Professor Farmer! he exclaimed. I'm not on to people who act like
that. But, Mr. Hunt, you're dead wrongexcuse me, sir!
Go on, Jimmy.
Well, I meanyou spoke of vague rumors, didn't you? They're not
vague. I guess Susan hasn't wanted to upset you. Miss Goucher told me
all about it, and she wouldn't have done it, would she, if she hadn't
hoped I'd bring it straight back to you? I guess she promised Susan not
to tell you, so she told me. That's the only way I can figure it,
Phil was grim now. Give us your facts, Jimmyall of them.
Yes, sir. There's a Mr. Young; he writes things. He's clever.
They're all clever down there. Well, Mr. Young's dead gone on Susan;
but then, he's the kind that's always dead gone on somebody. It's women
with him, you see, sir. Susan understands. It don't seem right she
should, somehow; butwell, Susan's always been different from most
girls. At least, I don't know many girls
Never mind that, prompted Phil.
No, sir. Talking about things like this always rattles me. I can't
help it. They kind of stick in my throat. Well, Mr. Young don't want to
marry anybody, but he's been making love to Susantrying to. He had
the wrong idea about her, you see; and Susan saw that, toosaw he
thought she was playing him for a poor fish. Soher wayout she comes
with it to him, flat. And he gets sore and comes back at her with what
he'd heard. Jimmy's handkerchief was pulled out at this point; he
mopped his brow. It don't feel right even to speak of lies like this
aboutany decent girl, he mumbled.
No, Phil agreed, it doesn't. But there's nothing for it now. Get
it said and done with!
Yes, sir. Mr. Young told Susan he wasn't a fool; he knew she'd
beenwhat she shouldn't beup here.
Hunt's mistress, you mean? snapped Phil.
Yes, sir, whispered Jimmy, his face purple with agonized shame.
Susan's a wonder, continued Jimmy, taking heart now his Rubicon
lay behind him. Most girls would have thrown a fit. But Susan seems to
feel there's a lot to Mr. Young, in spite of all that rotten side of
him. She saw right away he believed that about her, and so he couldn't
be blamed much for getting sore. Anyway, he must have a white streak in
him, for Susan talked to himthe way she canand he soon realized he
was in all wrong. But the reason he was in wrongthat's what
finished things between Susan and Mr. Phar! I guess you won't blame me
for wanting to punch his head.
No, I threw in; I shouldn't blame you for wanting to punch mine!
Give us the reason, Jimmy, insisted Phil, his grave, Indianlike
face stiffened to a mask.
Mr. Young didn't get that lie from Mr. Phar, admitted Jimmy, but
he did take it straight to him, when he first heard it, thinking he
ought to know.
Good God! I cried. Do you mean to tell me Maltby confirmed it?
Well, Jimmy hesitated, it seems he didn't come right out and say,
'Yes, that's so!' But he didn't deny it either. Sort of shrugged his
shoulders, I guess, and did things with his eyebrows. Whatever he did
or didn't, Mr. Young got it fastened in his head then and there that
But this time Jimmy simply couldn't go on; the words stuck in his
throat and stayed there.
Phil's eyes met mine and held them, long.
Hunt, he said quietly at last, it's a fortunate thing for
Susanfor all of usthat I have long years of self-discipline behind
me. Otherwise, I should go to New York to-morrow, find Maltby Phar, and
Jimmy's blue eyes flashed toward Phil a startled but admiring
What do you propose to do, Hunt? demanded Phil.
Think, I replied; think hardthink things through. Wednesday
morning I shall leave for New York.
My prophecy was correct. Wednesday, at 12.03 A. M., I left for New
York, in response to the shocking telegram from Lucette. I arrived at
Gertrude's address, an august apartment house on upper Park Avenue, a
little before half-past two, dismissed my taxi at the door, noting as I
did so a second taxi standing at the curb just ahead of my own, and was
admitted to the dignified public entrance-hall with surprising
promptness, considering the hour, by the mature buttons on duty.
Buttons was a man nearing sixty, at a guess, of markedly Irish traits,
and he was unexpectedly wide-awake. When I gave him my name, and
briefly stated the reason for my untimely arrival, his deep-set eyes
glittered with excited curiosity, while he drew down deep parallels
about his mouth in a grimacing attempt at deepest sympathy and
profoundest respect. I questioned him. Several persons had gone up to
Mrs. Hunt's apartment, he solemnly informed me, during the past two
hours. He believed the police were in charge.
Police? I exclaimed, incredulous.
He believed so. He would say no more.
Take me up at once! I snapped at him. Surely there's a mistake.
There can be no reason for police interference.
His eyes glittered more shrewdly, the drawn parallels deepened yet
further as he shot back the elevator door....
It was unmistakably a police officer who admitted me for the first
and last time to Gertrude's apartment. On hearing my name he nodded,
then closed the door firmly in the face of Buttons, who had lingered.
He's been warned not to tip off the press, said the police
officer, but it's just as well to be cautious.
The press? What do you mean? I asked, still incredulous. Is it a
New York custom for police to enter a house of mourning? I was aware
as I spoke of repressed voices murmuring in an adjoining room.
I'm Sergeant Conlon, he answered, in charge here till the coroner
comes. He should make it by seven. If you're the poor lady's husband,
you'll be needed. I'll have to detain you.
As he ended, the murmur ended in the adjoining room, and Lucette
walked out from it. She was wearing an evening gownblue, I thinkcut
very low, and a twinkling ornament of some kind in her hair. She has
fine shoulders and beautiful hair. But her face had gone haggard; she
had been weeping; she looked ten years older than when I had last seen
What is it? What is it? I demanded of her. I know nothing but
Looks like murder, said Sergeant Conlon, dry and short. I
wouldn't talk much if I was you, not till the coroner gets here. I'm
bound to make notes of what you say.
For the merest hundredth of a second my scalp prickled, my flesh
went cold; but sheer incredulity was still strong upon me; it beat back
the horror. It was simply not real, all this.
At least, I managed, give me factssomething!
Then unreality deepened to utter nightmare, passing all bounds of
reason. Lucette spoke, and life turned for me to sheer prattling
madness; to a gibbering grotesque!
Susan did it! she cried, her voice going high and strident,
slipping from all control. I know it! I know she did! I know it!
Wasn't she with her? Alone with her? Who else could have done
it! Who else! It's in her blood!
Well, of course, when a woman you have played tag with in her
girlhood goes mad before you, raves
How could one act or answer? Then, too, she had vanished; or had I
really seen her in the flesh at all? Really heard her voice, crying
Sergeant Conlon's voice came next; short, dry, businesslike. It
I've a question or two for you, Mr. Hunt. This way; steady!
I felt his hand under my elbow.
Gertrude's apartment was evidently a very large one; I had vaguely
the sensation of passing down a long hall with an ell in it, and so
into a small, simply furnished, but tasteful roomthe sitting-room for
her maids, as I later decided. Sergeant Conlon shut the door and locked
That's not to keep you in, he said; it's to keep others out. Sit
down, Mr. Hunt. Smoke somethin'. Let's make ourselves comfortable.
The click of the shot bolt in the lock had suddenly, I found,
restored my power of coördination. It had been like the sharp handclap
which brings home a hypnotized subject to reason and reality. I was
now, in a moment, not merely myself again, but peculiarly alert and
steady of nerve, and I gave matter-of-fact assent to Sergeant Conlon's
suggestions. I lit a cigarette and took possession of the most
comfortable chair. Conlon remained standing. He had refused my
cigarettes, but he now lighted a long, roughly rolled cigar.
I get these from a fellow over on First Avenue, he explained
affably. He makes them up himself. They're not so bad.
I attempted a smile and achieved a classic reaction. They
lookefficient, I said. And now, sergeant, what has happened here?
If I've seemed dazed for the past ten minutes, it's little wonder. I
hurried down in response to a telegram saying my wife.... You know
we've lived apart for years? He grunted assent.... Saying she had
died suddenly. And I walk in, unprepared, on people who seem to me to
be acting parts in a crook melodrama of the crudest type. Be kind
enough to tell me what it's all about!
Sergeant Conlon's gray-blue eyes fixed me as I spoke. He was a big,
thickset man, nearing middle age; the bruiser build, physically; but
with a solidly intelligent-looking head and trustworthy eyes.
I'll do that, Mr. Hunt, he assented. I got Mrs. Arthur to send
you that telegram; but I'll say to you first-off, now you've come, I
don't suspect you of bein' mixed up in this affair. When I shot that
'It looks like murder' at you, I did it deliberate. Wellthat's
neither here nor there; but I always go by the way things strike me. I
have to. He twirled a light chair round to face me and seated himself,
leaning a little forward, his great stubby hands propped on his square
knees. Here's the facts, thenwhat we know are facts: It seems, Mrs.
Arthurshe's been visitin' Mrs. Hunt for two weeks pastshe went to
the opera to-night with a Mr. Phar; she says you know him well. I
nodded. Durin' the last act of the opera they were located by somebody
in the office down there and called out to the 'phonean accident to
Mrs. Huntsee?important. Again I nodded. Mrs. Arthur answered the
'phone, and Doctor Askewhe lives in this house, but he's Mrs. Hunt's
reg'lar doctorwell, he was on the wire. He just told her to hurry
back as fast as she couldand she and Mr. Phar hopped a taxi and beat
it up here. Doctor Askew met them at the door, and a couple of scared
maids. The doc's a good manbig repone of the best. He'd taken
charge and sent on the quiet for us. I got here with a couple of my men
soon after Mrs. Arthur
I know, I know! he stopped me off. But I want you to get
it all straight. Mrs. Hunt, sir, was killedsomehowwith a long,
sharp-pointed brass paper-knifea reg'lar weapon. I've examined it.
And someone drove that thingand it must'a' took some force, believe
me!right through her left eye up to the handlea full inch of
metal plumb into her brain!
I tried to believe him as he said this; as, seeing my blankness, he
repeated it for me in other words. For the moment it was impossible.
This sort of thing must have happened in the world, of courseat other
times, to other people. But not now, not to Gertrude. Certainly not to
Gertrude; a woman so aloof, so exquisite, self-sheltered,
class-sheltered, not merely from ugliness, from the harsh and brutal,
but from everything in life even verging toward vulgarity, coarse
passion, the unrestrained....
That's the way she was killed, Mr. Huntno mistake. Nowwho did
itand why? That's the point.
At my elbow was a table with a reading-lamp on it, a desk-set, a
work-basket, belonging, I suppose, to one of the maids, and some
magazines. One magazine lay just before meThe Reel Worlda
by-product of the great moving-picture industry. I had been
staringunseeingly, at firstat a flamboyant advertisement on its
cover that clamored for my attention, until now, with Conlon's
question, it momentarily gained it. The release of a magnificent
Superfeature was announcedin no quavering terms. The Sins of the
Fathers it shrieked at me! All the thrilling human suspense;
virile, compelling; brimming over with the kind of action and
adventure your audiences crave; it delivers the wallop!
Instantly, with a new force, Lucette's outcry swept back upon me.
Susan did it! Wasn't she with her? Alone with her? It's in her
And at once every faculty of my spirit leaped, with an almost
supernatural acuteness, to the defense of the one being on earth I
wholly loved. All sense of unreality vanished. Now for itsince it
must be so! Susan and I, if need be, against the world!
Go on, sergeant. What's your theory?
Never mind my theory! I'd like to get yours firstwhen I've
given you all I know.
All right, then! But be quick about it!
Easy, Mr. Hunt! It's not as simple as all that. Well, here it is:
Somewhere round ten o'clock, a Miss Blakea magazine-writer livin' on
West 10th Streetyour ward, I understand
Well, she calls here, alone, and asks for Mrs. Arthur. Mrs. Hunt's
personal maidEnglish; she's no chicken eithershe lets her in and
says Mrs. Arthur isn't hereseeand didn't the door boy tell her so?
Yes, says Miss Blake, but she'll wait for her anyway. The maidname of
Iffleysays she thought that was queer, so she put it to Miss Blake
that maybe she'd better ask Mrs. Hunt. Oh, says Miss Blake, I thought
she was out, too. But it seems Mrs. Hunt was in her private sittin'
room; she'd had a slight bilious attack, and she'd got her corsets off
and somethin' loose on, the way women do, and was all set for a good
read. So the maid didn't think she could see Miss Blake, but anyhow she
took in her cardand Mrs. Hunt decided to see her. That maid Iffley's
an intelligent woman; she's all broke up, but she ain't hysterical like
the cookwho didn't see nothin' anyway. The parlor maid was havin' her
night off, but she's back now, too, and I've got 'em all safe where
they can't talk to outsiders, yet. I don't want this thing in the
papers to-morrow, not if I can help it; I want to keep it dark till I
know better where I'm gettin' off.
Right! I approved. What's the maid's story?
Well, I've questioned her pretty close, and I think it's to be
relied on. It hits me that way. Mrs. Hunt, she says, when she took in
Miss Blake's card, was lyin' on her couch in a long trailin'
thingwhat ladies call a negligee.
And she was cuttin' the pages of some new book with that
paper-knife I spoke of.
And her dog, a runty little French bull, was sleepin' on the rug
beside the couch.
What does that matter?
More'n you'd think! He's got a broken legprovin' some kind of a
I see. Go on!
Well, Mrs. Hunt, the maid says, looked at Miss Blake's card a
minute and didn't say anythin' special, but seemed kind of puzzled. Her
only words was, 'Yes, I ought to see her.' So the maid goes for Miss
Blake and shows her to the door, which she'd left ajar, and taps on it
for her, and Mrs. Hunt calls to come in. So Miss Blake goes in and
shuts the door after her, and the maid comes back to this room we're in
nowit's round the corner of the hall from Mrs. Hunt's roomsee? But
she don't much more than get herejust to the doorwhen she hears the
dog give a screech and then go on cryin' like as if he'd been hurt. The
cook was in here, too, and she claims she heard a kind of jarrin'
sound, like somethin' heavy fallin'; but Iffleythat's the maid, they
call her Iffleysays all she noticed was the dog. Anyway she listened
a second, then she started for Mrs. Hunt's roomand the cook, bein'
nervous, locked herself in here and sat with her eyes tight shut and
her fingers in her ears. Fact. She says she can't bear nothin'
disagreeable. Too bad about her, ain't it!
And then? I protested, crossly.
Well, Mr. Hunt, when the Iffley woman turned the hall cornerthe
door of your poor wife's room opens, and Miss Blake walks out. She had
the paper-knife in her right hand, and the knife and her hand was all
bloody; her left hand was bloody too; and we've found blood on her
clothes since. There was a queer, vacant look about herthat's what
the maid says. She didn't seem to see anythin'. Naturally, the maid was
scared stiffbut she got one look in at the door anywaythat was
enough for her. She was too scared even to yell, she says.
Paralyzedshe just flopped back against the wall half faintin'.
And then she noticed somethin' that kind of brought her to again!
Mr. Hunt, that young woman, Miss Blakeshe'd gone quiet as you please
and curled herself down on a rug in the hallwaythat bloody knife in
her handand she was either dead or fast asleep! And then the doorbell
rang, and the Iffley woman says she don't know how she got past that
prostrate figger on the rugher very words, Mr. Huntthat prostrate
figger on the rugbut she did, somehow; got to the door. And when she
opened it, there was Doctor Askew and the elevator man. And then she
passed out. And I must say I don't much blame her, considerin'.
Where's Miss Blake now? I sharply demanded.
She's still fast asleep, Mr. Huntto call it that. The doc says
it'ssomethin' or otherdue to shock. Same as a trance.
I started up. Where is Doctor Askew? I must see him at once!
We've laid Miss Blake on the bed in Mrs. Arthur's room. He's
Take me there.
I'll do that, Mr. Hunt. But I'll ask you a question
firststraight. Is there any doubt in your mind that that young
ladyyour wardkilled Mrs. Hunt?
I met his gray-blue glance directly, pausing a moment before I
spoke. Sergeant Conlon, I replied, while a meteor-shower of
speculation shot through me with the rapidity of light waves, there is
no doubt whatever in my mind: Miss Blake could notand so did
notkill my wife.
Who did, then?
Wait! Let me first ask you a question, sergeant: Who sent for
That's the queerest part of it; Miss Blake did.
There's a 'phone in Mrs. Hunt's sittin' room. Miss Blake called the
house operator, gave her name and location, and said not to waste a
momentto send up a doctor double-quick!
Is that all she said?
No. The operator tells me she said Mrs. Hunt had had a terrible
accident and was dyin'.
You're certain she said 'accident'?
The girl who was at the switchboardname of Joyceshe's sure of
I smiled, grimly enough. Then that is exactly what occurred,
sergeanta terrible accident; hideous. Your question is answered.
Nobody killed Mrs. Huntunless you are so thoughtless or blasphemous
as to call it an act of God!
Oh, come on now! he objected, shaking his head, but not, I felt,
with entire conviction. No, he continued stubbornly, I been turnin'
that over too. But there's no way an accident like that could 'a'
happened. It's not possible!
Fortunately, I insisted, nothing else is possible! Are you asking
me to believe that a young, sensitive girl, with an extraordinary
imaginative sympathy for othersa girl of brains and character, as all
her friends have reason to knowasking me to believe that she walked
coolly into my wife's room this evening, rushed savagely upon her,
wrested a paper knife from her hand, and then found the sheer brute
strength of will and arm to thrust it through her eye deep into her
brain? Are you further asking me to believe that having done this
frightful thing she kept her wits about her, telephoned at once for a
doctorbeing careful to call her crime an accidentand so passed at
once into a trance of some kind and walked from the room with the
bloody knife in her hand? What possible motive could be strong enough
to drive such a girl to such a deed?
Jealousy, said Sergeant Conlon. She wanted youand your
wife stood in her way. That's what I get from Mrs. Arthur.
I see. But the three or four persons who know Miss Blake and me
best will tell you how absurd that is, and you'll find their reasons
for thinking so are very convincing. Is Mr. Phar still about?
He is. I've detained him.
What does he think of Mrs. Arthur's nonsensical theory?
He's got a theory of his own, said Conlon; and it happens to be
the same as mine.
Mr. Phar says Miss Blake's own father went madall of a sudden;
cut some fancy woman's throat, and his own after! He thinks history's
repeated itself, that's all. So do I. Only a crazy woman could 'a' done
thisjust this way. A strong man in his senses couldn't 'a' drove that
paper-knife home like that! But when a person goes mad, sir, all rules
are off. I seen too many cases. Things happen you can't account for.
Take the matter of that dog nowhis broken leg, eh? What are you to
make of that? And take this queer state she's in. There's no doubt in
my mind, Mr. Huntthe poor girl's gone crazy, somehow. You nor me
can't tell how nor why. But it's back of all thisthat's sure.
Throughout all this coarse nightmare, this insane break in Nature,
as I have called it and must always regard it, let me at least be
honest. As Conlon spoke, for the tiniest fraction of a second a
desolating fear darted through me, searing every nerve with white-hot
pain. Was it true? Might it not conceivably be true? But this single
lightning-thrust of doubt passed as it came. No, not as it came, for it
blotted all clearness, all power of voluntary thought from my mind; but
it left behind it a singular intensity of vision. Even as the
lightning-pang vanished, and while time yet stood still, a moving
picture that amounted to hallucination began to play itself out before
me. It was like
... that last
Wild pageant of the accumulated past
That clangs and flashes for a drowning man.
I saw Susan shutting the door of a delicately panelled Georgian
room, and every detail of this rooma room I had never entered in the
fleshwas distinct to me. Given time, I could have inventoried its
every object. I saw Gertrude lying onnot a couch, as Conlon had
called iton a chaise-longue, a book with a vivid green cover
in her left hand, a bronze paper knife with a thin, pointed blade in
her right. She was holding it with the knuckles of her hand upward, her
thumb along the handle, and the point of the blade turned to her left,
across and a little in toward her body. She was wearing a very lovely
négligé, a true creation, all in filmy tones of old gold. On a
low-set tip-table at her elbow stood a reading-lamp, and a small
coal-black French bull lay asleep on a superb Chinese ruglay close in
by the chaise-longue, just where a dropped hand might caress
him. A light silky-looking coverlet of a peculiar dull blue,
harmonizing with certain tones of the rug, was thrown across Gertrude's
As Susan shut the door, the little bull pricked up his bat-ears and
started to uncurl, but Gertrude must have spoken to him, for he settled
back againnot, however, to sleep. It was all a picture; I heard no
sounds. Then I saw Gertrude put down her book on the table and swing
her feet from the chaise-longue, meaning to rise and greet
Susan. But, as she attempted to stand up, the light coverlet entangled
her feet and tripped her; she lost her balance, tried with a violent,
awkward lurch of her whole body to recover herself, and stamped rather
than stepped full on the dog's forepaws. He writhed, springing up
between her feetthe whole grotesque catastrophe was, in effect, a
single, fatal gesture!and Gertrude, throwing her hands instinctively
before her face, fell heavily forward, the length of her body, prone. I
saw Susan rush toward herAnd the psychic reel flickered out,
blanked.... I needed to see no more.
Don't you agree with me, Mr. Hunt? Conlon was asking.
No, I said bluntly. No madwoman would have summoned a doctor.
Miss Blake called it a terrible accident. It was. Her present state is
due to the horror of it. When she wakes, it will all be explained. Now
take me to her.
Conlon's gray-blue glance fixed me once more. All right, he
grunted, I've no objections. But I'd 'a' thought your first wish would
'a' been to see your wife.
No, I replied. Mrs. Hunt separated from me years ago, for reasons
of her own. I bore her no ill will; in a sense, I respected her,
admired her. Understand me, Sergeant Conlon. There was nothing vulgar
in her life, and her death in this stupid wayoh, it's indecent,
damnable! A cheap outrage! I could do nothing for her living, and can
do nothing now. But I prefer to remember her as she was. She
would prefer it, too.
Come on, then, said Conlon; pretty gruffly, I thought.
He unlocked the door.
It was a singular thing, but so convincing had my vision been to me
that I felt no immediate desire to verify the details of its setting by
an examination of Gertrude's boudoir. It had come to me bearing its own
credentials, its own satisfying accent of truth. One question did,
however, fasten upon me, as I followed Conlon's bulky form, down the
hall to Lucette's bedroom. Whence had this vision, this psychic reel
come to me? What was its source? How could the mere fact of
itclearing, as it did, at least, all perplexities from my own
mindhave occurred? For the moment I could find no answer; the mystery
had happened, had worked, but remained a mystery.
Like most men in this modern world I had taken a vague, mild
interest in psychical research, reading more or less casually, and with
customary suspension of judgment, anything of the sort that came in my
way. I had a bowing acquaintance with its rapidly growing literature;
little more; and until now I had had no striking psychical experiences
of my own, and had never, as it happened, attended a séance of any
kind, either popular or scientific. Nevertheless, I couldto put it
sospeak that language. I was familiar with the described phenomena,
in a general way, and with the conflicting theories of its leading
investigators; but I hadhonestly speakingno pet theories of my own,
though always impatient of spiritistic explanations, and rather
inclined to doubt, too, the persistent claim that thought transference
had been incontrovertibly established. On the whole, I suppose I was
inclined to favor common-sense mechanistic explanations of such
phenomena, and to regard all others with alert suspicion or wearily
Now at last, in my life's most urgent crisis, I had had news from
nowhere; now, furthermore, the being I loved and would protect, must
protect, had been thrown by psychic shock into that grim borderland,
the Abnormal: that land of lost voices, of the fringe of consciousness,
of dissociated personalities, of morbid obsession, and wild symbolic
dreams. Following on Conlon's heels, then, I entered a softly illumined
rooma restrained Louis Seize rooma true Gertrude room, with
its cool French-gray panelled walls; but entered there as into sinister
darkness, as if groping for light. The comfortably accustomed, the
predictable, I felt, lay all behind me; I must step warily henceforth
among shifting shadows and phosphoric blurs. The issues were too
terrifying, too vast, for even one little false move; Susan's future,
the very health of her soul, might depend now upon the blundering
clumsiness or the instinctive tact with which I attempted to pick and
choose my way. It was with a secret shuddering of flesh and spirit that
I entered that discreet, faultless room.
Susan was lying on the low single French bed, a coverlet drawn over
her; they had removed her trim tailored hat, the jacket of her dark
suit, and her walking-boots, leaving them on the couch by the
silk-curtained windows, where they had perhaps first placed her. She
had not dressed for the evening before coming up to Gertrude's; it was
evidently to have been a businesslike call. Her black weblike
hairsmoky, I always called it, to tease her; it never fell lank or
separated into stringshad been disordered, and a floating weft of it
had drifted across her forehead and hung there. Her face was
moon-white, her lips pale, the lines of cheek and chin had sharpened,
her eyes were closed. It was very like death. My throat tightened and
Doctor Askew stood across the bed from us, looking down at her.
Here's Mr. Hunt, said Conlon, without further introduction. He
wants to see you. Then he stepped back to the door and shut it,
remaining over by it, at some distance from the bed. His silence was
expressive. Now show me! it seemed to say. This may be a big case
for me and it may not. If not, I'm satisfied; I'm ready for anything.
Go on, show me!
Doctor Askew was not, as I had expected to find him, old; nor even
middle-aged; an expectation caught, I presume, from Conlon's laconic
One of the besta big rep; he was, I now estimated, a year or so
younger than I. I had never heard of him and knew nothing about him,
but I liked him at once when he glanced humorously up at Conlon's He
wants to see you, nodded to me, and said: I've been hoping you'd come
soon, Mr. Hunt. I've a mind to try something hereif you've no
objection to an experiment?
He was a short man, not fat, but thickset like Conlon; only, with a
higher-strung vitality, carrying with it a sense of intellectual
eagerness and edge. He had a sandy, freckled complexion, bronzy,
crisp-looking hair with reddish gleams in it, and an unmistakably red,
aggressive mustache, close-clipped but untamed. Green-blue eyes. A man,
I decided, of many intensities; a willful man; but thoughtful, too, and
Why did you wait for my permission? I asked.
I shouldn't havemuch longer, he replied, his eyes returning to
Susan's unchanging face. But I've read one or two of your essays, so I
know something of the feel of your mind. It occurred to me you might be
useful. And besides, I badly need some information about thishe
paused brieflythis very lovely child. Again he paused a moment,
adding: This is a singular case, Mr. Huntand likely to prove more
singular as we see it through. I acted too impulsively in sending for
Conlon; I apologize. It's not a police matter, as I at first supposed.
However, I hope there's no harm done. Conlon is holding his horses and
trying to be discreet. Aren't you, Conlon?
What's the idea? muttered Conlon, from the doorway; Conlon was not
used to being treated thus, de haut en bas. Even if that poor
little girl's crazy, we'll have to swear out a warrant for her. It's a
police matter all right.
I think not, said Doctor Askew, dismissing Conlon from the
conversation. Have you ever, he then asked me, seen Miss Blake like
I was about to say No! with emphasis, when a sudden memory
returned to methe memory of a queer, crumpled little figure lying on
the concrete incline of the Eureka Garage; curled up there, like an
unearthed cutworm, round a shining dinner-pail. Yes, I replied
instead; onceI think.
I sketched the occasion for him and explained all its implications
as clearly and briefly as I could; and while I talked thus across her
bed Susan's eyes did not open; she did not stir. Doctor Askew heard me
out, as I felt, intently, but kept his eye meanwhileexcept for a keen
glance or two in my directionon Susan's face.
All right, he said, when I had concluded; that throws more or
less light. There's nothing to worry us, at least, in Miss Blake's
condition. Under psychical traumashockshe has a tendency to pass
into a trance stateamounting practically to one of the deeper stages
of hypnosis. She'll come out of it sooner or latersimply wake upif
we leave her alone. Perhaps, after all, that's the wisest thing for us
On this conclusion he walked away from the bed, as if it ended the
matter, and lit a cigarette.
Well, Conlon, he grinned, we're making a night of it, eh? Come,
let's all sit down and talk things over. He seated himself on the end
of the couch as he spoke, lounging back on one elbow and crossing his
knees. I ought to tell you, Mr. Hunt, he added, that nervous
disorders are my specialty; more than that, indeedmy life! I studied
under Janet in Paris, and later put in a couple of years as assistant
physician in the Clinic of Psychiatry, Zurich. Did some work, too, at
Viennawith Stekel and Freud. So I needn't say a problem of this kind
is simply meat and drink to me. I wouldn't have missed it for anything
in the world!
I was a little chilled by his words, by an attitude that seemed to
me cold-bloodedly professional; nevertheless, I joined him, drawing up
a chair, and Conlon gradually worked his way toward us, though he
What I want to know, doc, demanded Conlon, is why you've changed
I haven't, Doctor Askew responded. I can't have, because I
haven't yet formed an opinion. I'm just beginning toand even that may
take me some time. He turned to me. What's your theory, Mr. Hunt?
I was prepared for this question; my mind had been busying itself
foresightedly with every possible turn our conversation was likely to
take. All my faculties were sharpened by strain, by my pressing sense
that Susan's future, for good or evil, might somehow be linked to my
lightest word. I had determined, then, in advance, not to speak in
Conlon's presence of my inexplicable vision, not to mention it at all
to anyone unless some unexpected turn of the wheel might make it seem
expedient. I could use it to Susan's advantage, I believed, more
effectively by indirection; I endeavored to do so now.
My theory? I queried.
As to how Mrs. Hunt met her death. However painful, we've got to
face that out, sooner or later.
Naturally. But I have no theory, I replied; I have an unshakable
Ah! Which is
That the whole thing was accidental, of course; just as Miss Blake
affirmed it to be over the telephone.
You believe that because she affirmed it?
That won't go down with the coroner, struck in Conlon. How could
it? I'd like to think it, well enoughbut it don't with me!
Wait, Conlon! suggested Doctor Askew, sharply. I'll conduct this
inquiry just now, if you don't mindand if Mr. Hunt will be good
enough to answer.
Why not? I replied.
Thank you. Conlon's point is a good one, all the same. Have you
been able to form any reasonable notion of how such an accident could
The hell you have! exclaimed Conlon excitedly, not meaning, I
think, to be sarcastic. Why, you haven't even been in therehe
referred to Gertrude's boudoiror seen the body!
No, I responded, but you and Doctor Askew have, so you can easily
put me right. Extraordinary as the whole thing isthe one deadly
chance in perhaps a millionthere's nothing impossible about it.
Merely from the facts you've given me, Sergeant Conlon, I can
reconstruct the whole scenecome pretty near it, at any rate. But the
strength of my conviction is based on other groundsdon't lose sight
of that! Miss Blake didn't kill Mrs. Hunt; she's incapable of such an
action; and if she didn't, no one else did. An accident is the only
Well, then, grunted Conlon, tell us about it! It'll take some
Hold on! exclaimed Doctor Askew before I could begin. Sorry, Mr.
Huntbut you remember, perhapswhen you first came inI had half a
mind to try somethingan experiment? I nodded. Well, I've made up my
mind. We'll try it right now, before it's too late. If it succeeds, it
may yield us a few facts to go on. Your suppositions can come
I felt, as he spoke, that something behind his words belied their
rudeness, that their rudeness was rather for Conlon's benefit than for
mine. He got up briskly and crossed to the bedside. There after a
moment he turned and motioned us both to join him.
As we did so, tiptoeing instinctively: Yesthis is fortunate, he
said; she's at it again. Look.
Susan still lay as I had first seen her, with shut eyes, her arms
extended outside the coverlet; but she was no longer entirely
motionless. Her left arm lay relaxed, the palm of her left hand upward.
I had often seen her hands lie inertly thus in her lap, the palms
upward, in those moments of silent withdrawal which I have more than
once described. But now her right hand was turned downward, the fingers
slightly contracted, as if they held a pen, and the hand was creeping
slowly on the coverlet from left to right; it would creep slowly in
this way for perhaps eight inches, then draw quickly back to its point
of starting and repeat the manoeuvre. It was uncanny, this patient
repetitionover and overof a single restricted movement.
My God, came from Conlon in a husky whisper, is she dyin'or
Far from it! said Doctor Askew, his abrupt, crisp speech in almost
ludicrous contrast to Conlon's sudden awe. Get me some paper from that
desk over there, Conlon. A pad, if possible.
He drew out a pencil from his pocket as he spoke. Conlon hesitated
an instant, then obeyed, tiptoeing ponderously, with creaking boots,
over to a daintily appointed writing-table, and returning with a block
of linen paper. Doctor Askew, meanwhile, holding the pencil between his
teeth, had lifted Susan's unresisting shoulderstoo roughly, I
thoughtfrom the bed.
Stick that other pillow under her, he ordered me, sharply enough
in spite of the impeding pencil. A little farther downso!
Susan now lay, no less limply than before, with her trunk,
shoulders, and head somewhat raised. Her right hand had ceased its
slow, patient movement.
What's the idea? Conlon was muttering. What's the idea, doc?
Whatever it was, it was evident that Conlon didn't like it.
Got the pad? demanded Doctor Askew. Oh, good! Here!
He almost snatched the pad from Conlon and tore the blotter cover
from it; then he slipped it beneath Susan's right palm and finally
thrust his pencil between her curved fingers, its point resting on the
linen block, which he steadied by holding one corner between finger and
thumb. For a moment the hand remained quiet; then it began to write. I
say it advisedly; no least trace of consciousness or purposed control
could be detected in Susan's impassive face or heavily relaxed body.
Susan was not writing; her waking will had no part in this strange
automatism; so much, at least, was plain to me and even to Conlon.
Mother of God, came his throaty whisper again, it's not her
that's doin' it. Who's pushin' that hand?
It's not sperits, Conlon, said Doctor Askew ironically;
you can take my say-so for that. With the words he withdrew the
scribbled top sheet from the pad, glanced at it, and handed it to me.
The hand journeyed on, covering a second sheet as I read. That doesn't
help us much, does it? was Doctor Askew's comment, when I had devoured
the first sheet.
No, I replied; not directly. But I'll keep this if you don't
I folded the sheet and slipped it into my pocket. Doctor Askew
removed the second sheet.
Same sort of stuff, he grunted, passing it over to me. It needs
direction. And he began addressingnot Susan, to Conlon's
amazementthe hand! What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room
to-night? he demanded firmly of the hand. Tell us exactly what
happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night! It's important. What happened in
Mrs. Hunt's room to-night?
Always addressing the hand, his full attention fixed upon it as it
moved, he repeated this burden over and over. We must know exactly
what happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night! Tell us what happened in
Mrs. Hunt's room to-night.... What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room
Conlon and I both noted that Susan's breathing, hitherto barely to
be detected, gradually grew more labored while Doctor Askew insisted
upon and pressed home his monotonous refrain. He had so placed himself
now that he could follow the slowly pencilled words. More and more
deliberately the hand moved; then it paused....
What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night? chanted Doctor Askew.
This ain't right, muttered Conlon. It's worse'n the third degree.
I don't like it.
He creaked uneasily away. The hand moved again, hesitatingly,
Ah, chanted Doctor Askewalways to the handit was an accident,
was it? How did it happen? Tell us exactly how it happenedexactly how
it happened. We must know.... How did the accident happen in
Mrs. Hunt's room to-night?
Again the hand moved, more steadily this time, and seemingly in
response to his questions.
Doctor Askew glanced up at me with an encouraging smile. We'll get
it nowall of it. Don't worry. The hand's responding to control.
Though sufficiently astonished and disturbed by this performance, I
was not, like Conlon, wholly at sea. Sober accounts of automatic
writing could be found in all modern psychologies; I had read some of
these accountsgiven with all the dry detachment of clinical data.
They had interested me, not thrilled me. No supernatural power was
involved. It was merely the comparative rarity of such phenomena in the
ordinary normal course of experience that made them seem awe-inspiring.
And yet, the hand there, solely animate, patiently writing in
entire independence of a consciously directing will! My spine, too,
like Conlon's, registered an authentic shiver of protest and atavistic
fear. But, throughout, I kept my tautened wits about me, busily
working; and they drove me now on a sudden inspiration to the
writing-table, where I seized pen and paper and wrote down with the
most collected celerity a condensed account offor so I phrased
itwhat must, from the established facts, be supposed to have taken
place in Mrs. Hunt's boudoir, just after Miss Blake had entered it. I
put this account deliberately as my theory of the matter, as the one
solution of the problem consistent with the given facts and the known
characters involved; and I had barely concluded when I was startled to
my feet by Doctor Askew's voiceraised cheerily above its monotonous
murmur of questions to the handcalling my name.
What are you up to, Mr. Hunt? My little experiment's over. It's a
He was walking toward me with a handful of loose scribbled sheets
from the linen block.
How is she now? I inquired anxiously, as if she had just been
subjected to a dangerous operation.
All right. Deep under. I shan't try to pull her out yet. Much
better for her to come out of it naturally herself. I suggest we darken
the room and leave her.
That suits me! I just caught from Conlon, over by the door.
She'll be quite safe alone?
Absolutely. I want to read this thing to Conlon and Mrs. Arthur and
Mr. Phar, before the coroner gets here. I rather think they'll find it
Good, I responded. But, first of all, let me read them this. I've
just jotted down my analysis of the whole situation. It's a piece of
cold constructive reasoning from the admitted data, and I shall be
greatly surprised if it doesn't on the whole agree with what you've
been able to obtain.
Doctor Askew stared at me a moment curiously. And if it doesn't
agree? he asked.
If it don't, exclaimed Conlon, with obvious relief, it may help
us, all the same! This thing can't be settled by that kind of
stuff, doc. He gave a would-be contemptuous nod toward Doctor Askew's
handful of scrawled pages. That's no evidencewhatever it says. Where
does it come from? Who's givin' it? It can't be sworn to on the Book,
that's certaineh? Let's get outa here and begin to talk sense!
Conlon opened the door eagerly, and creaked off through the hall.
Go with him, ordered Doctor Askew. I'll put out the lights. Then
he touched my elbow and gave me a slight nod. I see your point of
course. But I hope to God you've hit somewhere near it?
Doctor, I replied, this account of mine is exact. I'll tell you
later how I know that.
Ah! he grunted, with a green-blue flash of eyes. What a lucky
devil I am!... But I've felt all along this would prove a rewarding
Up to this point I have been necessarily thus detailed, but I am
eager now to win past the cruder melodrama of this insanely disordered
night. I am eager to win back from all these damnable and distracting
things to Susan. This book is hers, not mine; it is certainly not
Sergeant Conlon's or Doctor Askew's. So you will forgive me, and
understand, if I present little more than a summary of the immediately
We found Maltby and Lucette in the drawing-room, worn out with their
night-long vigil; Maltby, somnolent and savage; Lucette still keyed
high, suffering from exasperated nerves whichperhaps for the first
time in her lifeshe could not control. They were seated as far apart
as the room permitted, having long since talked themselves out, and
were engaged, I think, in tacitly hating one another. The situation was
almost impossible; yet I knew I must dominate it somehow, and begin by
dominating myselfand in the end, with Conlon's and Doctor Askew's
help, I succeeded. Conlon, I confess, proved to be an unexpected ally
Now, Mrs. Arthur, and you, Mr. Phar, he stated at once as we
entered the drawing-room together, I've brought Mr. Hunt in here to
read you his guess at what happened last evenin'. Doctor Askew'll be
with us in a minute, and he's got somethin' to lay before
you.... No; Miss Blake's not come round yet. The doc'll explain about
her. But we'll hear from Mr. Hunt first, see? I've examined him and I'm
satisfied he's straight. You've known him long enough to form your own
opinions, but that's mine. Oh, here's the doc! Go on, Mr. Hunt.
With this lead, I was at length able to persuade Lucette and Maltby
to listen, sullenly enough, to my written analysis. My feeling toward
them both, though better concealed, was quite as hostile as theirs
toward me, but I saw that I caught their reluctant attention and that
Maltby was somewhat impressed by what I had written, and by my
interjected amplifications of the more salient points. I had been
careful to introduce no facts not given me by Sergeant Conlon, and when
I had finished, ignoring Lucette's instant murmur of impatience and
incredulity, I turned to him and said: Sergeant, is there anything
known to you and not known to meany one detail discovered during your
examination of Mrs. Hunt's boudoir, saywhich makes my deductions
impossible or absurd?
He reflected a moment, then acknowledged: Well, no, Mr. Hunt.
Things might 'a' happened like that; maybe they did. But just sayin' so
don't prove they did!
May I ask you a few questions?
Had Mrs. Hunt's body been moved when you arrived? I mean, from the
very spot where it fell?
It had and it hadn't. The doc here found her lyin' face down on the
floor, right in front of the couch. He had to roll her over on her back
to examine her. That's all. The body's there now like that, covered
with a sheet. Nothin' else has been disturbed.
The body was lying face down, you say?
Yes, struck in Doctor Askew; it was.
At full length?
Isn't that rather surprising?
How do you account for the position?
There's only one possible explanation, replied Doctor Askew, as if
giving expert testimony from a witness box; a sudden and complete loss
of balance, pitching the body sharply forward, accompanied by such a
binding of the legs and feet as to prevent any instinctive movement
Thank you. Were there any indications of such binding?
Yes. Mrs. Hunt's trailing draperies had somehow wound themselves
tightly about her legs below the knee, and I judge her feet were
further impeded by a sort of coverlet which I found touselled up on the
rug beneath them.
Grant all that! growled Maltby. It points to just the opposite of
what we'd all like to think is true. If Mrs. Hunt had risen slowly to
greet a caller in the usual waywell, she wouldn't have gotten herself
tangled up. She was the last woman in the world to do anything
awkwardly. But if she leaped to her feet in terrorwhat? To defend
herselfor try to escape? Don't you see?
Of course we see! cried Lucette. It proves everything!
Hardly, I replied. Try to imagine the scene, Maltby, as you seem
to believe it occurred. I won't speak of the major impossibilitythat
Susan, a girl you've known and have asked to be your wife, could under
any circumstances be the author of such a crime! We'll pass that.
Simply try to picture the crime itself. Susan, showing no traces of
unnatural excitement, is conducted to my wife's boudoir. She enters,
shuts the door, turns, then rushes at her with so hideous an effect of
insane fury that Gertrude springs up, terrified. Susanmore slightly
built than Gertrude, remember!grapples with her, tears a paper knife
from her hand, and plunges it deep into her eye, penetrating the brain.
Suppose, if you will, that madness lent her this force. But, obviously,
for the point of the knife to enter the eye in that way, Gertrude must
have been fronting Susan, her chin well raised. Obviously, the force of
such a blow would have thrown her head, her whole body, backward, not
forward; and if her feet were bound, as Doctor Askew says they were,
she must have fallen backward or to one side, certainly not forward at
full length, on her face.
You've said somethin' this time, Mr. Hunt! exclaimed Conlon.
There's a lot to that!
Maltby was visibly impressed; but not Lucette. As if, she said,
Susan wouldn't have arranged the bodyafterwardin any way she
thought to her advantage!
There wasn't time! Doctor Askew objected impatiently. And, he
went on, it happens that all this is futile! I have proof here,
corroborating Mr. Hunt's remarkably acute theories in the most positive
But before reading what Susan's hand had written, he turned to
Sergeant Conlon, requesting his close attention, and then gave him
briefly a popular lecture on the nature of automatic writing as
understood by a tough-minded neurologist with no faith in the
supernatural. It was really a masterly performance in its way, for he
avoided the jargon of science and cut down to essentials.
Conlon, he said, you've often forgotten something, tried to
recall it, and finally given it up. We all have. And then some day,
when you least expected it and were thinking of something else, that
forgotten something has popped into your mind againeh? All right.
Where was it in the meantime, when you couldn't put your finger on it?
Since it eventually came back, it must have been preserved somewhere.
That's plain enough, isn't it? But when you say something you've
forgotten 'pops into your mind' again, you're wrong. It's never been
out of your mind. What too many of us still don't know is that a man's
mind has two parts to it. One part, much the smallest, is
consciousnessthe part we're using now, the part we're always aware
of. The other part is a big dark storehouse, where pretty much
everything we've forgotten is kept. We're not aware of the storehouse
or the things kept in it, so the ordinary man doesn't know anything
about it. You're not aware of your spleen, and wouldn't know you had
one if doctors hadn't cut up a lot of people and found spleens in every
one of them. You believe you've got a spleen because we doctors tell
you so. Well, I'm telling you now that your mind has a big storehouse,
where most of the things you've forgotten are preserved. We
mind-doctors call it your Unconscious Mind. All clear so far?... Good.
Now thenwhen a man's hypnotized, it means his conscious mind has
been put to sleep, practically, and his unconscious mind has, in a
sense, waked up. When a man's hypnotized we can fish all sorts of queer
things from his big storehouse, his unconscious mind; things he didn't
know were there, things he'd forgotten.... And it's the same with what
we call trances. A man in a trance is a man whose conscious mind is
asleep and whose unconscious mind is awake.
That's exactly Miss Blake's condition now. The shock of what she
saw last evening threw her into a trance; she doesn't know what's going
on round herbut her unconscious mind has a record, a sort of
phonograph-record of more or less everything that's ever happened to
her, and if she speaks or writes in this trance state she'd simply play
one of these stored-up records for us; play it just like a phonograph,
automatically. Her will power's out of commission, you see; in this
state she's nothing more nor less than a highly complicated instrument.
And the record she plays may be of no interest to anybody; some
long-forgotten incident or experience of childhood, for example. On the
other hand, if we can get the right record goingeh?we've every
chance of finding out exactly what we want to know! He paused, fixing
his already attentive pupil with his peculiarly vivid green-blue
Now, Conlon, get thisit's important! I must ask you to
believe one other thing about the Unconscious Mindsimply take it on
my say-so, as a proved fact: When the conscious mind is temporarily out
of businessas under hypnotism, or in trancethe unconscious mind,
like the sensitive instrument it is, will often obey or respond to
outside suggestions. I can't go into all this, of course. But what I
ask you to believe about Miss Blake is this: In her present state of
trance, at my suggestion, she has played the right record for us! She has automatically written down for us an account of her
experiences last evening. And I assure you this account, obtained in
this way, is far more reliable and far more complete than any she could
give us in her normal, conscious, waking state. There's nothing
marvellous or weird about it, Conlon. We have hereand he slightly
rattled the loose sheets in his handsimply an automatic record of
stored-up impressions. Do you see?
Conlon grunted that he guessed maybe he saw; at any rate, he was
willing to be shown.
Then Doctor Askew read us Susan's own story of the strange,
idiotically meaningless accident to Gertrude. As it corresponded in
every particular with my vision, I shall not repeat it; but it produced
an enormous impression on Sergeant Conlon and Maltby, and even on
Lucette. Taken in connection with my independent theory of what must
have occurred, they found Susan's story entirely convincing; though
whether Lucette really found it so or had suddenly decidedbecause of
certain uncomfortable accusations against herself made by Susan's
handthat the whole matter had gone quite far enough and any further
publicity would be a mistake, I must leave to your later judgment.
As for the coroner, when at length he arrived, he tooto my
astonishment and unspeakable reliefaccepted Susan's automatic story
without delay or demur. Here was a stroke of sheer good luck, for a
grateful changebut quite as senseless in itself, when seriously
considered, as the cruel accident to Gertrude. It merely happened
that the coroner's sister was a professional medium, and that he and
his whole family were ardent believers in spiritualism, active
missionaries in that cause. He had started life as an East Side
street-urchin, had the coroner, and had scrambled up somehow from
bondage to influence, fighting his way single-fisted through a hard
school that does not often foster illusions; but I have never met a
more eagerly credulous mind. He accepted the automatic writing as
evidence without a moment's cavil, assuring us at once that it
undoubtedly came as a direct message from the dead.
Doctor Askew's preliminary explanations he simply brushed aside. If
Miss Blake in her present trance state, which he soon satisfied himself
was genuine, had produced this message, then her hand had been
controlled by a disembodied spiritprobably Mrs. Hunt's. There was no
arguing with the man, and on my part, heaven knows, no desire to oppose
him! I listened gratefully for one hour to his wonder tales of spirit
revelations, and blessed him when he reluctantly left uswith the
assurance that Gertrude's death would be at once reported as due to an
unavoidable accident. It was so announced in the noon editions of the
evening papers. Sergeant Conlon and his aids departed by the service
elevator, and were soon replaced by a shocked and grieved clergyman and
a competent undertaker. The funeralto take place in New Havenwas
arranged for; telegrams were sent; one among them to Phil. Even poor
Miss Goucher was at last remembered and communicated withonly just in
time, I fear, to save her reason. But of her more in its place. And,
meanwhile, throughout all this necessary confusion, Susan slept on.
Noon was past, and she still slept.... And Doctor Askew and I watched
beside her, and talked together.
At precisely seven minutes to threeI was bending over her at the
moment, studying her face for any sign of stirring consciousnessshe
quietly opened her eyes.
Ambo, were her first words, I believe in God now; a God, anyway.
I believe in Setebos
In my unpracticed, disorderly wayin the hurry of my desire to get
back to SusanI have again overstepped myself and must, after all,
pause to make certain necessary matters plain. There is nothing else
for it. I have, on reflection, dropped too many threadsthe thread of
my own vision, the thread of those first two or three pages scrawled by
Susan before her hand had fully responded to Doctor Askew's control;
other weakly fluttering, loose-ended threads! My respect for the great
narrative writers is increasing enormously, as I bungle onward. Order
is heaven's first law, and I wish to heaven it might also more
instinctively be mine!
Just after the coroner's departure Maltby left us, but before he
left I insisted upon a brief talk with him in Lucette's presence. I was
in no mood for tact.
Maltby, I said, I can't stop now for anything but the plain
statement that you've been a bad friendto Susan and me. As for you,
Lucette, it's perfectly clear now that Susan believes you responsible
for spreading a slanderous lie about her. Between you, directly or
indirectly, you've managed to get it believed down here that Susan has
been my mistress and was forced to leave New Haven because the scandal
had grown notorious. That's why Susan came here, determined to see you,
Lucette; that's why Gertrude received her. Gertrude was never
underhanded, never a sneak. My guess is, that she suspected you of
slandering Susan, but wasn't sure; and then Susan's unexpected call on
Lucette flared out at this, interrupting me. I'm not particularly
interested in your guesswork, Ambrose Hunt! We've had a good deal of
it, already. Besides, I've a raging headache, and I'm too utterly
heartsick even to resent your insults. But I'll say this: I've very
strong reasons for thinking that what you call a lying slander is a
fact. Mr. Phar can tell you whyif he cares to.
With that, she walked out of the room, and I did not see her again
until we met in New Haven at Gertrude's funeral, on which occasion,
with nicely calculated publicity, she was pleased to cut me dead.
When she had gone I turned on Maltby.
Well? I demanded.
Maltby, I saw, was something more than ill-at-ease.
Now see here, Boz, he began, can't we talk this over without
quarreling? It's so stupid, I meanbetween men of the world. I
waited, without responding. I'll be frank with you, he mumbled at me.
Fact is, old man, that nightthe night Phil Farmer said Susan wanted
to see youwas waiting for you in your studyremember? You promised
to rejoin me shortly and talk things out.... But you didn't come back.
Naturally, I've always supposed since then
You have a scoundrelly imagination! I exclaimed.
His face, green-pale from loss of sleep, slowly mottled with
Years of friendship, he stumbled, thick-voiced, through broken
phrases. Wouldn't take that from any one else.... Not yourself....
Question of viewpoint, really.... I'd be the last to blame either of
Maltby, I said, you're what I never thought youa common or
garden cad. That's my deliberate opinion. I've nothing more to say to
For an instant I supposed he was going to strike me. It is one of
the major disappointments of my life that he did not. My fingers ached
for his throat.
Later, with the undertaker efficiently in charge of all practical
arrangements, and while Susan still hid from us behind her mysterious
veil, I talked things out with Doctor Askew, giving him the whole story
of Susan as clearly and unreservedly as I could. My purpose in doing so
was two-fold. I felt that he must know as much as possible about Susan
before she woke again to what we call reality. What I feared was that
this shockwhich had so profoundly and so peculiarly affected
hermight, even after the long and lengthening trance had passed,
leave some mark upon her spirit, perhaps even some permanent cloud upon
her brain. I had read enough of these matters to know that my fear was
not groundless, and I could see that Doctor Askew welcomed my
informationfelt as keenly as I did that he might later be called upon
to interpret and deal with some perplexing borderland condition of the
mind. It was as well at least to be prepared. That was my major
purpose. But connected with it was another, more self-regarding. My own
vision, my psychic reel, greatly disturbed me. It was not orthodox. It
could not be explained, for example, as something swiftly fabricated
from covert memories by my unconscious mind, and forced then sharply
into consciousness by some freak of circumstance, some psychic
perturbation or strain.
My vision of the accident itselfof the manner of its
occurrencemight conceivably have been such a fabrication,
subconsciously elaborated from the facts given me by Conlon; not so my
vision of its setting. I had seen in vivid detail the interior of a
room which I had never entered and had never heard described; and every
detail thus seen was minutely accurate, for I had since examined the
room and had found nothing in it unfamiliar, nothing that did not
correspond with what my mind's eye had already noted and remembered.
Take merely one instancethe pattern and color scheme of the Chinese
rug beside the chaise-longue. As an amateur in such matters I
could easily, in advance of physically looking at it, have catalogued
that rug and have estimated its value to a collector. How then to
account for this astounding clairvoyance? I could not account for it
without widening my whole conception of what was psychically possible.
Seated with Doctor Askew in the room where Susan lay withdrawn from us,
from our normal world of limited concrete perceptions, I was oppressed
as never before by the immensity and deluding vagueness of the unknown.
What were we, we men and women? Eternal forces, or creatures of an
hour? An echo, from days long past returned to me, Phil's quiet, firm
voice demandingof Maltby, wasn't it? Yes, yes, of coursedemanding
of Maltby: What is the world, may I ask? And what is Susan?
Doctor Askew cross-questioned me closely as we sat there, a little
off from Susan, our eyes seldom leaving her face. You must have
patience, he kept assuring me in the midst of his questioning. It
will be much better for her to come out of this thing tranquilly, by
herself. We're not really wasting time. When his cross-questioning was
over he sat silent for a long time, biting at his upper lip, tapping
one footalmost irritably, I thoughton the parquet floor.
I don't like it, he said finally, in his abrupt way. I don't like
it because I believe you're telling the truth. If I could only persuade
myself that you are either lying or at least drawing a long bowhe
gave a little disgusted snort of laughterit would be a great relief
Why? Because you're upsetting my scientific convictions. My mind
was all tidied up, everything nicely in order, and now you come raging
through it with this ridiculous tale of a sudden hallucinating
visionof seeing things that you'd never seen, never heard
describedwhose very existence you were completely unaware of! Damn
it! I'd give almost anything to think you a cheerful liaror
self-deceived! But I can't.
Still, you must have met with similar cases?
Never, as it happens, with one that I couldn't explain away to my
own satisfaction. That's what irritates me now. I can't explain you
away, Mr. Hunt. I believe you had that experience just as you describe
it. Well, then, if you hadwhat follows? He pulled for a moment or
two at a stubby end of red mustache.
What does? I suggested.
One of three things, he replied, all equally impossible. Either
your visionto call it thatwas first recorded in the mind of another
living person and transferred thence to yoursor it was not. If it
wasn't, then it came direct from God or the devil and was purely
miraculous! With your kind permission, we'll rule that out. But if it
was first recorded in the mind of another living person, then we're
forced to accept telepathycomplete thought transference from a
distanceaccept it as a fact. I never have so accepted it, and hate
like hell to do it now! And even if I could bring myself to accept it,
my troubles have only begun. From whose mind was this exact vision of
the accident to Mrs. Hunt transferred to yours? So far as I can see,
the detailed facts of it could have been registered in the minds of
only two personsMiss Blake and your wife. Isn't that so?
All right. See where that leaves us! At the time you received this
vision, Miss Blake is lying here in a deep trance, unconscious; and
your wife is dead. Which of these incredible sources of information do
you prefer? It's a matter of indifference to me. Either way my entire
reasoned conception of the universe topples in ruins!
But surely, I protested, it might have come to me from Miss
Blake, as you suggest, without our having to descend to a belief in
spirit communication? Let's rule that out, too!
As you please, smiled Doctor Askew, pretty grimly. If you find it
easier to believe your vision came from Miss Blake, do so by all means!
Personally, I've no choice. I can accept the one explanation quite as
readily as the other. Which means, that as a thinking being I can
accept neither! Both areabsurd. So I can go no furtherunless by a
sheer act of faith. I'm baffled, you seein my own field; completely
baffled. That's what it comes to. And I find it all devilishly annoying
and inconvenient. Don't you?
I did not reply. For a time I mused, drearily enough, turning many
comfortless things over in my mind. Then I drew from my pocket the
three sheets scribbled by Susan's hand, before it had responded to
Doctor Askew's insistent suggestions.
Doctor, I asked, handing him the scribbled pages, in view of all
I've told you, doesn't what Miss Blake has written here strike you as
significant? You see, I added, while he glanced through them, how
strongly her repressed feelings are in revolt against meagainst the
tyranny of my love for her. Doesn't it seem improbable, then, to say
the least of it, that my vision could have come from that direction?
He was reading the pages through again, more slowly. Jimmy? he
queried to himself. Oh, yesJimmy's the boy you spoke of. I seeI
see. He looked up, and I did my best to smile.
That's a bitter dose of truth for me, doctor; but thank God it came
in this waycame in time!
Except for the punctuation, which I have roughly supplied, the three
pages read as follows:
A net. No means of escape from it. To escapesomehow.
JimmyOnly wretchedness for Ambofor us both. How can he care!
Insufferably self-satisfied; childishly blind. I won'tI won'tnot
after this. No escape from itmy net. But the inner
netAmbo'sbinding him, too. Some way out. A dead hand killing
things. My own father. How he killed and killedalwaysmore than he
knew. Blind. Never felt that before as part of meof me. Wrong way
round thoughit enfoldssmothers. I'm tangled therepart of
itforever and ever. SetebosGod of my fatherSetebos knows. Oh, how
could I dream myself free of it like othershow could I! A netall a
netno breaking it. Poor Amboand his love tooa net. It shan't hold
me. I'll gnaw throughmouselike. I must. Fatal for Ambo now if it
holds me. FatalSetebosJimmy will
Hum, said Doctor Askew quietly.
That doesn't help me much, I complained.
No, he responded; but I can't see that all this has any bearing
on the possible source of your vision.
I only thought that perhaps this revelation of a repressed inner
revolt against me
Yes, I see. But there's no reasoning about the unthinkable. I've
already said I can make nothing of your visionnothing I'm yet
prepared to believe. He handed the three sheets back to me with these
words: But I'm afraid your interpretation of this thing is correct.
It's a little puzzling in spotscurious, eh, the references to
Setebos?still, if I were you, Mr. Hunt, I should quietly withdraw
from a lost cause. It'll mean less trouble all round in the end. He
shook his head impatiently. These sexual muddlesit's better to see
'em out frankly! They're always the devil, anyway! What silly
mechanisms we arehow Nature makes puppet-fools of us! That lovely
child thereshe admires you and wants to love you, because you love
her. Why shouldn't she? What could be a happier arrangementnow?
You've had your share of marital misfortune, I should say. But Nature
doesn't give a damn for happy arrangements! God knows what she's after,
I don't! But just at present she seems to be loading the dice for
Jimmyfor Jimmy, who perhaps isn't even interested in the game! Well,
suchfor our misery or amusementis life! And my cigarettes are
gone.... How about yours?
It did not take Susan long to make it perfectly clear to Doctor
Askew and me that she had waked from her trance to complete lucidity,
showing no traces of any of the abnormal after-effects we had both been
dreading. Her first rather surprising words had been spoken just as she
opened her eyes and before she had quite realized anything but my
familiar presence beside her. They were soon followed by an entirely
natural astonishment and confusion. What had happened? Where was she?
She sat up in bed and stared about her, her eyes coming to rest on
Doctor Askew's eager, observant face.
Who are you? she asked.
Doctor Askew, he replied quietly. Don't be alarmed, Miss Blake.
Mr. Hunt and I have been looking after you. Not that you've been much
trouble, he smiled; on the contrary. You've been fast asleep for more
than twelve hours. We both envy you.
For a long two minutes she did not reply. Then, Oh, yes, she said.
Oh, yes. Her chin began to quiver, she visibly shuddered through her
whole slight frame, and for an instant pressed her palms hard against
her eyes. Ambo, she murmured, it was cruelworse than anything! I
got to the 'phone all right, didn't I? Yes, I remember that. I gave the
message. But I knew I must go back to her. So much blood, Ambo.... I'm
a cowardoh, I'm a coward! But I tried, I did try to go back! Where
did I go, Ambo?
You went to sleep like a sensible little woman! struck in Doctor
Askew, briskly. You'd done all you could, all anyone couldso you
went to sleep. I wish to God more women under such circumstances would
follow your example! Much better than going all to pieces and making a
Susan could not respond to his encouraging smile. To sleep! she
sighed miserably; just as I didonce before. What a coward I am! When
awful things happen, I dodge themI run away.
Nonsense, dear. You knew Gertrude was beyond helping, didn't you?
Yes; but if she hadn't been? She shook her head impatiently.
You're both trying to be kind; but you won't be able to make me
forgive myselfnot this time. I don't rise to a crisisI slump.
Artemis wouldn't have; nor Gertrude. You know that's true, Ambo. Even
if I could do nothing for herthere were others to think of. There was
you. I ought to have been helping you; not you, me. She put out her
hand to me. You've done everything for me, alwaysand I make no
return. Now, when I might have, II've been a quitter!
Tears of shame and self-reproach poured from her eyes. Oh, she
cried out with a sort of fierce disgust, how I hate a coward! How I
Come, come! protested Doctor Askew. This won't do, little lady!
He laid a firm hand on her shoulder and almost roughly shook it, as if
she had been a boy. If you're equal to it, I suggest you get up and
wash your face in good cold water. Do your hair, tooput yourself to
rights! Things never look quite normal to a woman, you know, when her
hair's tumbling! His hand slipped from her shoulder to her upper arm;
he drew the coverlet from her, and helped her to rise. All right? Feel
your pins under you?... Fine! Need a maid? No?... Splendid! Come along,
Mr. Hunt, we'll wait for the little lady in the drawing-room. She'll
soon pull herself together.
He joined me and walked with me to the door. Susan had not moved as
yet from the bedside.
Ambo, she demanded unexpectedly, does Sister know?
Why isn't she with me then? Is her cold worse?
Rather, I'm afraid. I've sent a doctor to her, with instructions to
keep her in bed if possible. We'll go right down when you're ready and
feel up to it.
Why didn't I stay with her, Ambo? I should have. If I had, all this
wouldn't have happened. It was pure selfishness, my coming here to see
Mrs. Arthur. I simply wanted the cheap satisfaction of telling heroh,
no matter! I'll be ready in five minutes or less.
Ah, laughed Doctor Askew, then we know just what to expect! I'll
order my car round for you in half an hour.
Phil and Jimmy arrived in town that afternoon and I met them at the
Brevoort, where the three of us took rooms, with a sitting-room, for
the night. I told them everything that had occurred as fully as I
could, with one exception: I did not speak of those first three pages
automatically scribbled by Susan's hand. Nor did I mention my
impressionwhich was rapidly becoming a fixed ideathat my love for
her had darkened her life. This was my private problem, my private
desolation. It would be my private duty to free Susan's spirit from
this intolerable strain. No one could help me here, not even Susan. In
all that most mattered to me, my isolation must from now on be
All else I told them, not omitting my visionthe whole wild story.
And, finally, I had now to add to my devil's list a new misfortune. We
had found poor Miss Goucher's condition much more serious than I had
supposed. Doctor Askew had taken us down in his car, and we were met in
the nondescript lower hall of the boarding-house by his friend, Doctor
Carlthe doctor whom I had sent to Miss Goucher on his advice. Miss
Goucher's heavy chest cold, he at once informed us, had taken a graver
turn; double pneumonia had declared itself. Her fever was high and she
had lately grown delirious; he had put a trained nurse in charge. The
crisis of the disease would probably be passed during the next twelve
hours; he was doing everything possible; he hoped for the best.
Susan, very white, motionless, had heard him out. If Sister dies,
she had said quietly when he ended, I shall have killed her. Then she
had run swiftly up the stairs and the two doctors had followed her. I
had remained below and had not again seen her; but Doctor Askew had
returned within ten minutes, shaking his head.
No one can say what will happen, I had finally wrested from him.
One way or the other now, it's the flip of a coin. Carl's doing his
bestthat is, nothing, since there's nothing to do. I've warned him to
keep an eye on the little lady. I'll look in again after dinner.
Good-by. Better find a room and get some sleep if you can.
There was little doubt that Miss Goucher's turn for the worse had
come as the result of Susan's disturbing all-night absence. Susan had
made her comfortable and left her in bed, promising to be home before
twelve. Miss Goucher had fallen asleep about eleven and had not waked
until two. The light she had left for Susan had not been switched off,
and Susan's bed, which stood beside her own, was unoccupied. Feverish
from her bronchial cold, she was at once greatly alarmed, and sprang
from her bed to go into the sitting-room, half hoping to find Susan
there and scold her a little for remaining up so late over her work.
She did not even stop to put on a dressing-gown or find her slippers.
All this Susan later learned from her red-eyed landlady, Miss O'Neill,
whose own bedroom, as it happened, was just beside their own. Miss
O'Neill, a meritorious if tiresome spinster of no particular age, had
at last been waked from heavy and well-earned sleep by persistent
knocking at her door. She had found Miss Goucher standing in the
unheated, draughty hall, bare-footed, in her nightgown, her cheeks
flushed with mounting fever while her teeth chattered with cold.
Like a sensible woman she had hurried her instantly back to bed, and
would have gone at once for a hot-water bottle, if Miss Goucher had not
insisted upon a hearing. Miss O'Neill was abjectly fond of Miss
Goucher, who had the rare gift of listening to voluble commonplace
without impatiencea form of sympathy so rare and so flattering to
Miss O'Neill's so often bruised self-esteem that she would gladlyhad
there been any necessityhave carried Miss Goucher rent-free for the
mere spiritual solace of pouring out her not very romantic troubles to
her. She had taken, Susan felt, an almost voluptuous pleasure in this,
her one opportunity to do something for Miss Goucher. She had
telephoned Gertrude's apartment for her: no matter if it is late! I
won't have you upset like this for nobody! They've got to answer! And
she had talked with some manand I didn't like his tone,
neitherwho had asked her some rather odd questions, and had then
told her Miss Blake was O. K., not to worry about Miss Blake; she'd had
a fainting-spell and been put to bed; she'd be all right in the
morning; sure; well, he was the doctor, he guessed he ought to know!
Queer kind of doctor for a lady, Miss O'Neill had opined; he sounded
more like a mick! A shrewd guess, for he was, no doubt, one of
Miss Goucher had then insisted that she was going to dress and go up
at once to Susan, and had even begun her preparations in spite of every
protest, when she was seized with so stabbing a pain in her chest that
she could only collapse groaning on the bed and let Miss O'Neill
minister to her as best she might with water bottles and a mustard
plaster borrowed from Number Twelve....
By the time I had tardily remembered to telephone Miss Goucher it
was almost nine A. M., and it was Miss O'Neill who had answered the
call, receiving my assurances of Susan's well-being, and informing me
in turn that poor Miss Goucher was good and sick and no mistake, let
alone worrying, and should she send for a doctor? She was a Scientist
herself, though she'd tried a mustard plaster, anyway, always liking to
be on the safe side; but Miss Goucher wasn't, and so maybe she ought.
At this point I had naturally taken charge.
And it was at this point in my long, often interrupted relation to
Phil and Jimmy that Phil took charge.
You're going to bed, Huntand you're going now! There's absolutely
nothing further you can do this evening, and if anything turns up Jimmy
or I can attend to it. You've been living on your nerves all day and
you show it, too plainly. We don't want another patient to-morrow. Run
out and get some veronal powders, Jimmy. Thanks. No protests, old man.
You're going to bed!
I went; and, drugged with veronal, I sleptslept dreamlesslyfor
fourteen hours. When I woke, a little past ten, Jimmy was standing
Good morning, Mr. Hunt. You look rested up some! How about
breakfast? His greeting went through all the sounds and motions of
cheerfulness, but it was counterfeit coin. There was something too
obviously wrong with Jimmy's ordinarily fresh healthy-boy face; it had
gone sallow and looked pincushiony round the eyes. I stared at him
dully, but could not recall anything that might account for this
alteration. Only very gradually a faint sense of discomfort began to
pervade my consciousness. Hadn't something happenedoncesomething
rather sadand rather horrible? When was it? Where was I? And then the
full gust of recollection came like a stiff physical blow over my
heart. I sat up with a sharp gasp for breath....
Well! I demanded. Miss Goucher! How is she?
She's dead, sir, answered Jimmy, turning away.
She's wonderful! answered Jimmy.
He had not needed Susan's name.
Yes, in a sense, Jimmy was right. He was not a boy to look far
beneath the surface effects of life, and throughout the following weeks
Susan's surface effect was indeed wonderful. Apparently she stood up to
her grief and mastered it, developing an outer stillness, a quietude
strangely disquieting to Phil and to me. Gentleness itself in word and
deed, for the first time since we had known her she became spiritually
reticent, holding from us her deeper thoughts. It was as if she had
secretly determinedGod knows from what pressure of lonely sorrowto
conventionalize her life, to present the world hereafter nothing but an
even surface of unobtrusive conformity. This, we feared, was hereafter
to be her wounded soul's protection, her Chinese Wall. It had not
somehow the feel of a passing mood; it had rather the feel of a
permanent decision or renunciation. And it troubled our hearts....
I spare you Gertrude's funeral, and Miss Goucher's. The latter, held
in a small, depressingly official mortuary chapel, providedat a
priceby the undertaker, was attended only by Phil, Jimmy, Susan,
Sonia, Miss O'Neill and me. Ohthere was also the Episcopal clergyman,
whom I provided. He read the burial service professionally, but well;
it is difficult to read it badly. There are a few sequences of words
that really are foolproof, carrying their own atmosphere and dignity
Phil and I, at Susan's request, had examined Miss Goucher's effects
and had made certain inquiries. She had been for many years, we found,
entirely alone in the worlda phrase often, but seldom accurately,
used. It is a rare thing, happily, to discover a human being who is
absolutely the last member of his or her family line; in Miss Goucher's
case this aloneness was complete. But so far as her nonexistent
ancestors were concerned, Miss Goucher, we ascertained, had every
qualification necessary for a D. A. R.; forebears of hers had lived for
generations in an old homestead near Poughkeepsie, and the original
Ithiel Goucher had fought as a young officer under Washington. From
soldiering, the Gouchers had passed on to farming, to saving souls, to
school-teaching, to patent-medicine peddling, and finally to drink and
drugs and general desuetude. Miss Goucher herself had been a last
flare-up of the primitive family virtues, and with her they were now
All this we learned from her papers, and from an old lady in
Poughkeepsie who remembered her grandfather, and so presumably her
mother and father as wellthough in reply to my letter of inquiry she
forbore to mention them. They were mentioned several times in letters
and legal documents preserved by Miss Goucher, butexcept to say that
they both died before she was sixteenI shall follow the example of
the old lady in Poughkeepsie. She, I feel, and the Roman poet long
before her, had what Jimmy calls the right idea....
Miss Goucher, always methodical, left a brief and characteristic
will: To Susan Blake, ward of Ambrose Hunt, Esq., of New Haven, Conn.,
and to her heirs and assigns forever, I leave what little personal
property I possess. She has been to me more than a daughter. I desire
to be cremated, believing that to be the cleanest and least troublesome
method of disposing of the dead.
That, with the proper legal additions, was all. Her desire was of
course respected, and I had a small earthenware jar containing her
ashes placed in my own family vault. On this jar Susan had had the
following words inscribed:
A GENTLE WOMAN
On one point Susan was from the first determined: Miss Goucher's
death should make no difference in her struggle for independence; she
would go on as she had begun, and fight things through to a finish
alone. Neither Phil nor I could persuade her to take even a few days
for a complete change of scene, a period of rest and recuperation.
Simply, she would not. She settled down at once to work harder than
ever, turning out quotable paragraphs for Whim, as daring as
they were sprightly; and she resolutely kept her black hours of
loneliness to herself. That she had many such hours I then suspected
and now know, but on my frequent visits to New YorkI had been
appointed administrator of Miss Goucher's more than modest estateshe
ignored them, and skillfully turned all my inquiries aside. These weeks
following on Miss Goucher's death were for many reasons the unhappiest
of my life.
Never since I had known Susan, never until now, had our minds met
otherwise than candidly and freely. Now, through no crying fault on
either sideunless through a lack of imagination on minebarriers
were getting piled up between us, barriers composed of the subtlest,
yet stubbornest misunderstandings. Our occasional hours together soon
became a drab tissue of evasions and cross purposes and suppressed
desires. Only frankness can serve me here or make plain all that was
secretly at work to deform the natural development of our lives.
There are playswe have all attended them to our indignationin
which some unhappy train of events seems to have been irrationally
forced upon his puppets by the author; if he would only let them speak
out freely and sensibly, all their needless difficulties would vanish!
Such plays infuriate the public and are never successful.
Good Lord! we exclaim. Why didn't she say she loved him in
the first place!or, If he had only told her his reasons for leaving
home that night!
We, the enlightened public, feel that in the shoes of either the
hero or the heroine we must have acted more wisely, and we refuse our
sympathy to misfortunes that need never have occurred. Our reaction is
perhaps inevitable and æsthetically justified; but I am wonderingI am
wondering whether two-thirds of the unhappiness of most mortals is not
due to their failure clearly to read another's thoughts or clearly to
reveal their own? Is not half, at least, of the misery in our hearts
born of futile misunderstandings, misunderstandings with which any sane
onlooker in full possession of the facts on both sides, can have little
patience, since he instinctively feels they ought never to have taken
place? But it is only in the theater that we find such an onlooker, the
audience, miraculously in possession of the facts on both sides. In
active life, we are doing pretty well if we can partly understand our
own motives; we are supermen if we divine the concealed, genuine
motives of another. Certainly at this period Susan, with all her
insight, did not seize my motives, nor was I able to interpret hers.
Hence, we could not speak out! What needed to be said between us could
not be said. And the best proof that it could not is, after all, that
it was not....
The conversation that ought to have taken place between us might not
unreasonably have run something like this:
SUSAN: Ambo dearwhat is the matter? Heaven
knows there's enough!but I mean between us?
You've never been more wonderful to me than these
past weeksand never so remote. I can feel you
edging farther and farther away. Why, dear?
I: I've been a nuisance to you too long, Susan.
Whatever I am from now on, I won't be that.
SUSAN: As if you could be; or ever had been!
I: Don't try to spare my feelings because you like
mebecause you're grateful to me and sorry for
me! I've had a glimpse of fact, you see. It's the
great moral antiseptic. My illusions are done for.
SUSAN: What illusions?
I: The illusion that you ever have really loved
me. The illusion that you might some day grow to
love me. The illusion that you might some day be
SUSAN: Only the last is illusion, Ambo. I do love
you. I'm growing more in love with you every day.
But I can't be your wife, ever. If I've seemed
changed and sadapart from Sister's death, and
everything else that's happenedit's that,
dear. It's killing me by half-inches to know I can
never be completely part of your lifeyours!
[But I can't even imagine what babble of sorrow
and joy such words must have wrung from me!
Suppose a decent interval, and a partial recovery
of verbal control.]
SUSAN: You shouldn't have rescued me from Birch
Street, Ambo. Everything's made it plain to me, at
last. But I've already ground the mud of it into
your life nowin spite of myself. You'll never
feel really clean again.
I: What nonsense! Susan, Susandearest!
SUSAN: It isn't nonsense. You forget; I'm a
specialist in nonsense nowadays. Oh, Ambo, how can
you care for me! I've been so insufferably
self-satisfied; so childishly blind! My eyes are
wide open now. I've had the whole story of what
happened that awful nightall of itfrom Doctor
Askew. He thought he was psycho-analyzing me,
while I pumped it out of him, drop by drop. And
I've been to Maltby, too; yes, I've been to
Maltby, behind your back. Ambo, he isn't really
certain yet that I didn't go crazy that night and
kill your wife. Neither, I'm sure, is Mrs. Arthur.
They've given me the benefit of the doubt simply
because they dread being dragged through a
horrible scandal, that's all. But they're not
convinced. Of course, Maltby didn't say so in so
many words, but it was plain as plain! He was
afraid of meafraid! I could feel his fear. He
thinks madness is in my blood. Well, he's right.
Not just as he means it, but as Setebos means
itthe cruel, jealous God of this world!... No,
wait, dear! Let me say it out to you, once for
all. My father ended a brutal life by an insanely
brutal murder, then killed himself; my own father.
And I've never all these years honestly realized
that as part of my lifepart of me! But now I
do. It's there, back of me. I can never escape
from it. Oh, how could I have imagined myself like
othersa woman like others, free to love and
marry and have children and a home! How could I!
I: Susan! Is that all? Is it really all that's
holding you from me? Good God, dear! Why, I
thought yousecretlyperhaps even unknown to
SUSAN: Jimmy? You thought
I: I think so even now. How can I help it?
Look.... [And here you must suppose me to show her
those first scrawled sheets, written automatically
by her hand.] Perhaps I'm revealing your own heart
to you, Susandragging to light what you've tried
to keep hidden even from yourself. See, dear. A
net. No means of escape from it. To
[And then Susan would perhaps have handed back
those scrawled pages to me with a pitying and
[Author's Note: This carefully written,
imaginary speech has been deleted in toto by
Censor Susan from the page proofat considerable
expense to meand the following authentic
confession substituted for it in her own hand. But
she doesn't know I am making this explanation,
which will account to you for the form and manner
of her confession, purposely designed to be a
continuation of my own imaginary flight. In
admitting this, I am risking Susan's displeasure;
but conscience forbids me to let you mistake a
genuine human documentso dear to the modern
heartfor a mere effort at interpretation by an
amateur psychologist. What follows, then, is
veracious, is essentially that solemn thing so
dear to a truth-loving generationsheer fact.]
Ambo dear, I can explain that, but not without a
long, unhappy confession. Must I? It's a shadowy,
inside-of-me story, awfully mixed and muddled; not
a nice story at all. Won't it be better, all
round, if I simply say again that I love you,
not Jimmy, with all my heart?
[No doubt I should then have reached for her
hands, and she would have drawn away.]
Ah, no, dear, please not! I've never made a clean
breast of it all, even to myself. It's got to be
done, though, Ambo, sooner or later, for both our
sakes. Be patient with me. I'll begin at the
I'm ridiculously young, Ambo; we all keep
forgetting how young I am! I'm an infant prodigy,
really; you and Philand God first, I
supposehave made me so. And the main point about
infant prodigies is that experience hasn't caught
up with them. They live in things they've imagined
from things they've been told or read, live on
intuition and second-hand ideas; and they've no
means of testing their real values in a real
world. And they're childishly conceited, Ambo! I
am. Less now than some months ago; but I'm still
Well, back in Birch Street, before I came to you,
when I was honestly a child, I lived all alone
inside of myself. I lived chiefly on stories I
made up about myself; and of course my stories
were all escapes from realityfrom the things
that hurt or disgusted me most. There was hardly
anything in my life at home that I didn't long to
escape from. You can understand that, in a general
way. But there's one thing you perhaps haven't
thought about; it's such an ugly thing to think
about. I know it isn't modern of me, but I do hate
to talk about it, even to you. I must, though.
You'll never understandoh, lots of later
thingsunless I do.
Love, Ambo, human love, as I learned of it there
at homeand I saw and heard much too much of
itfrightened and sickened me. It was
swinishhorrible. Most of all I longed to escape
from all that! I couldn't. I wonder if anyone ever
has or can? We are made as we are made.... Yes, I
longed to escape from it; but my very made-up
story of escape was a disguised romance. Jimmy was
to be the gentle Galahad who would some day rescue
me. He had done battle for me once alreadywith
Joe Gonfarone. But some day he would come in
white, shining armor and take me far away from all
the mud and sweat of Birch Street to blue distant
hills. Artemis was all mixed up in it, too; she
was to be our special goddess; our free, swift,
cool-eyed protector. There was to be no heartsick
shame, no stuffiness in my life any more forever!
But it wasn't Jimmy who rescued me, Ambo. You did.
Only, when we've lived in a dream, wholly, for
months and months and months, it doesn't vanish,
Ambo; it never vanishes altogether; it's part of
uspart of our lives. Isn't it? Gertrude was once
your dream, dear; and the dream-Gertrude has never
really vanished from your life, and never will.
Ah, don't I know!
Well, then you rescued me; and you and Phil and
Maltby and Sister and books and Hillhouse Avenue
and France and Italy and England, and my Magic
Circleeverythingcrowded upon me and changed
me and made me what I am; if I'm anything at all!
But Birch Street had made me first; and my
Ambo, I can never make you know what you've been
to me, never! Cinderella's prince was nothing
beside you, and my Galahad-Jimmy a pale phantom! I
shan't try. And I can never make you know what a
wild confusion of storm you sent whirling through
me when I first felt the difference in youfelt
your man's need of me, of me, body and soul! You
meant me not to feel that, Ambo; but I did. I was
only seventeen. And my first reaction was all
passionate joy, a turbulent desire to give, give,
giveand damn the consequences! It was, Ambo. I
But given you and me, Ambo, that couldn't last
long. You're too moraland I'm too complicated.
My inner pattern's a labyrinth, full of queer
magic; simple emotions soon get lost in me, lost
and transformed. And please don't keep forgetting
how young I was, and still am; how little I could
understand of all I was conceited enough to think
I understood! Well, dear, I saw you struggling to
suppress your love for me as something wrong,
unworthy; something that could only harm us both.
And then all that first, swift, instinctive joy
went out of me, and my old fear and distrust of
what men call love seized me again. Stuffiness,
stuffiness everywhereit leads to nothing but
stuffiness! I said. I hate it. I won't let it
rule my life. The great thing is to keep clear of
it, clean of it, aloof and free! The old
Artemis-motive swept through me again like a
hill-windbut it came in gusts; and there were
daysweeks, Ambowhen I simply wanted to be
yours. And one night I threw myself into your
But the next day I was afraid again. The phrase
passion's slave got into my head and plagued me.
Then you came to me and said, It's the end of the
road, dear. We can't go on. That changed
everything once more, Ambo, in a flash. That was
my crisis. From that moment, I was madly jealous
of Gertrude; knew I always had been, from the
first. My telegram to her was a challenge to
battle. It was, dearand I lost. She came back;
she was wonderful, tooher wayand the old
Gertrude-dream stirred in you again; just stirred,
but that was enough. You said to yourself, didn't
you? that perhaps after all the best solution for
our wretched difficulties was for Gertrude to
return to her home. At least, that would end
things. But you couldn't have said that to
yourself if Gertrude had been really repulsive to
you. The old dream had fluttered its tired wings,
once, Ambo; you know it had!
And so I flopped again, dear! I was sick of love;
I hated love! I said to myself, I won't have this
stupid, brutal, instinctive thing pushing and
pulling me about like this! I'll rule my own life,
thanksmy own thoughts and dreams! Freedom's
the thingthe only good thing in life. I'll be
free! Ambo, too, must learn to be free. We can
only share what's honestly best in both of us when
at last we are free!
My Galahad-Jimmy had turned up again, too.
Perhaps that had something to do with my final
fiercest revolt against you. I don't know. He was
all I had wanted him to be, Ambo; simple and
straightforward and clean. Oh, he had his white,
shining armor on, bless him! But I didn't want him
to rescue me, for all that; not in the old way. I
was just glad my dream-boy had come a little true;
that's all. You were jealous of him, weren't you?
Confess! You needn't have been.
But here in New York, with Sister, things happened
that made a difference....
First of all, dear, I discovered all I had lost in
losing you; discovered I couldn't be free. All I
could do was to make some kind of a life of it;
for Sister, chiefly. And I tried; oh, I did try!
Then those whispered scandals about us began. But
it wasn't the scandal itself that did for me; it
was something added to itby Mrs. Arthur, I
supposesomething true, Ambo, that I'd never
honestly faced. Suddenly my father rose from the
dead! Suddenly I was forced to feel that never,
never under any conditions, would it have been
possible for me to be yoursbear you children....
Suddenly I felt, sawas I should have seen long
agothat the strain of evil, perhaps of madness,
in my fatherthe strain that made his life a hell
of black passionsmust end with me!
Here's where Jimmy comes back, Amboand it's the
worst of all I have to confess. My anxiety was all
for you now: not for myself, I happened to love
you that way. Suppose, I kept thinking, suppose
something should unexpectedly make it possible for
Ambo to ask me to be his wife? Suppose Gertrude
should fall in love herself and insist on divorce?
Or suppose she should die? Ambo would be certain
to come to me. And if he did? Should I have the
moral courage to send him away? As I mustI
Dear, from that time on a sort of demon in me
kept suggesting: JimmyJimmy's the solution!
He's almost in love with you now; all he needs is
a little encouragement. You could manage it,
Susan. You could engage yourself to Jimmy; and
then you could string him along! You could make it
an interminable engagement, years and years of it,
and break it off when Ambo was thoroughly
discouraged or cured; you're clever enough for
that. And Jimmy's ingenuousness itself. You could
manage Jimmy. Oh, please don't think I ever
really listened to my demon, was ever tempted by
him! But I hated myself for the mere fact that
such thoughts could even occur to me! They did,
though, more than once; and each time I had to
banish them, thrust them down into their native
But they didn't die there, Ambo; they lived there,
a hideous secret life, lying in wait to betray me.
They never will betray me, of course; I loathe
them. But they can still stir in their darkness,
make themselves known. That's what the references
to Jimmy mean, Ambo, in those pages I scribbled in
my trance; and that's all they mean. For I don't
love him; I love you.
But I can't marry you, ever. I can't. That black
strain concentrated in my fatheroh, it must die
out with me! Just as Sister's line ended with
her.... She ran away from the one love of her
life, Ambojust as I must run away from you. You
never knew that about Sister. But I knew it. Sonia
told me. Sister told her, the week before Sonia
married. Sister felt then that Sonia ought to run
away from all that, as she had. But Sonia wouldn't
listen to her....
Good for Sonia! I might then have cried out. God bless her!
Hasn't she made her husband happy? Aren't her children his pride? Why
in heaven's name should she have denied herself the right to live! And
for a mere possibility of evil! As if the blood of any human family on
earth were wholly sound, wholly blameless! Sonia was selfish, but
right, dear; and Miss Goucher was brave, but wrong! So are you wrong!
Actually inherited feeble-mindedness, or insanity, or diseasethat's
one thing; but a dread of mere future possibilities, of mere supposed
tendencies! Good Lord! The human race might as well commit suicide
en bloc! It's you I loveyoujust as you are. And you say
you love me. Well, that settles it!
But who knows? It might have settled it and it might notcould any
such imaginary conversation conceivably have taken place. It did not
take place. We are dealing, worse luck, with history.
Perhaps six weeks after Miss Goucher's death one little
conversation, just skirting these hidden matters, did take place
between us; but how different was its atmosphere, and how drearily
different its conclusion! You will understand it better now thatlike
a theater audience, or like Godyou are in full possession of Susan's
facts and of mine; but I fear it will interest you less. To know all
may sometimes be to forgive all; but more often, alas, it is to be
bored by everything....
[Firmly inserted note, by Susan: Rubbish! It's only when we
think we know it all, and don't really, that we are bored.]
I had taken Susan for dinner that night to a quiet hotel uptown
where I knew the dining-room, mercifully lacking an orchestra and a
cabaret, was not well patronized, though the cooking was exceptionally
good. At this hotel, by a proper manipulation of the head waiter, it is
often possible to get a table a little apart from the other dinersan
advantage, if one desires to talk intimately without the annoyance of
being overheard. It troubled me to find Susan's appetite practically
nonexistent; I had ordered one or two special dishes to tempt her, but
I saw that she took no pleasure in them, merely forcing herself to eat
so as not to disquiet me. She was looking badly, too, all gleamless
shadow, and fighting off a physical and mental languor by a stubborn
effort which she might have concealed from another, but not from me. It
was only too plain to me that her wish was to keep the conversation
safely away from whatever was busying and saddening her private
thoughts. In this, till the coffee was placed before us, I thought best
to humor her, and we had discussed at great length the proper format
for her first book of poems, which was to appear within the next month.
Also, we had discussed Heywood Sampson's now rapidly maturing plans for
his new critical review.
He really wants me on his staff, Ambo, and I really want to be on
itjust for the pleasure of working with him. It's an absolutely
unbelievable chance for me! And yet
And yet? Is there any reason why you shouldn't accept?
At least two reasons, yes. I'm afraid both of them will surprise
Won't they? If not, Ambo, you must suppose you've guessed them.
What are they?
Susan rather had me here. I had not guessed them, but wasn't willing
to admit even to myself that I could not if I tried. I puckered my
Well, I hesitated, you may very naturally feel that 'Dax' is too
plump a bird in the hand to be sacrificed for Heywood's slim bluebird
in the bush. Any new publication's a gamble, of course. On the other
hand, Heywood isn't the kind to leave his associates high and dry. Even
if the review should fail, he'll stand by you somehow. He has a comfy
fortune, you know; he could carry on the review as a personal hobby if
he cares to, even if it never cleared a penny.
Susan smiled, gravely shaking her head: Cold, dear; stone cold. I'm
pretty mercenary these days, but I'm not quite so mercenary as that.
Now that I've discovered I can make a living, I'm not nearly so
interested in it; hardly at all. It's the stupid side of life, always;
I shouldn't like it to make much difference to me now, when it comes to
real decisions. I did want a nice home for Sister, though. As for me,
any old room most anywhere will do. It will, Ambo; don't laugh; I'm in
earnest. But what's your second guess? she added quickly.
You've some writing you want to doa book, maybe? You're afraid
the review will interfere?
Ah, now you're a tiny bit warmer! I am afraid it will interfere,
but in a much deeper way than that; interfere with me.
I don't quite follow that, do I!
Good gracious, nosince you ask. It's simple enough, thoughand
pretty vague. Only it feels importanthere. For an instant her hand
just touched her breast. I hate so to be roped in, Ambo, have things
staked out for mespiritually, I mean. Mr. Sampson's a darling; I love
him! But he's a great believer in ropes and stakes and fenceseven
barbed wire. I'm beginning to see that the whole idea of his review is
a scheme for mending political and moral and social fences, stopping up
gaps in them made by irresponsible idealistsanarchists, revolutionary
socialistspeople like that. People like me, really!There! Now you
do look surprised.
I was; but I smiled.
You've turned Red, Susan? How long since? Overnight?
Not red, answered Susan, with bravely forced gayety; pinkish,
say! I haven't fixed on my special shade till I'm sure it becomes me.
It's certain to do that, dear.
She bobbed me a little bow across the cloth, much in the old happy
stylealas, not quite. But I never did like washed-out colors, she
threw in for good measure.
You are irresponsible, then! Suppose Phil could hear youor
Jimmy. Jimmy'd say your Greenwich Village friends were corrupting you.
Perhaps they are?
Perhaps they are, echoed Susan, but I think not. I'm afraid it
goes farther back, Ambo. It's left-over Birch Street; that's what it
is. So much of me's that. All of me, I sometimes believe.
Not quite. You'll never escape Hillhouse, either, Susan. You've had
Yes, I've had both, she echoed again, almost on a sigh, pushing
her untasted demi-tasse from her.
Suddenly her elbows were planted on the cloth before her, her
faceshadowed and too finely drawndropped between her hands, her
eyes sought and held mine. They dizzied me, her eyes....
Ambo, she said earnestly, I suppose I'm a dreadful egotist, but
more and more I'm feeling the real me isn't a true child of this world!
I love this worldand I hate it. I don't know whether I love it most
or hate it most. I bless it and damn it every day of my lifein the
same breath often. But sometimes I feel I hate it mosthate it for its
cold dullness of head and heart! Why can't we care more to make it
worth living in, this beautiful, frightful world! What's the matter
with us? Why are we what we are? Half angelsand half pigs or goats or
saber-toothed tigers or snakes! Each and every one of us, by and large!
And oh, how we do distrust our three-quarters angelswhile they're
living, anyway! Dreamersmad visionariessocial rebelsoutcasts!
Crucify them, crucify them! Time enough to worship themages of
to-be-wasted time enoughwhen they're dead! She paused, still holding
my eyes, and drawing in a slow breath, a breath that caught midway and
was almost a sob; then her eyes left mine.
Therethat's over. Saying things like that doesn't help us a bit;
it'ssilly.... And half the idealists are mad, no doubt, and
have plenty of pig and snake in them, too. I've simply coils and coils
of unregenerate serpent in meand worse. Oh, Ambo dearbut I've a
dream in me beyond all that, and a great longing to help it come true!
But it doesn'tit won't. I'm afraid it never willhere. Will it
there, Ambo? Is there a there?... Have we got all of Sister
that clean fire couldn't take, shut up in that tiny vase?
We can hope not, at least, I replied.
Hope isn't enough, said Susan. Why don't you say you know we
haven't! I know we haven't. I do know it. It's the only thing I
A nervous waiter sidled up to us and softly slipped a small metal
tray before me; it held my bill, carefully turned face downward.
Anything more, sir? he murmured.
A liqueur? I suggested to Susan. She sat upright in her chair
again, with a slight impatient shake of the head.
I ordered a cigar and a fine champagne. The waiter, still
nervously fearful of having approached us at a moment when he suspected
some intimate question of the heart had grown critically tense, faded
from us with the slightest, discreetest cough of reassurance. He was
not one, he would have us know, to obtrude material considerations when
they were out of place.
No; I can't go with Mr. Sampson, Susan was saying; and he'll be
hurthe won't be able to see why. But I'm not made to be an editorof
anything. Editors have to weigh other people's words. I can't even
weigh my own. And I talk of nothing but myself. Ugh!
You're tired out, overwrought, I stupidly began.
Don't tell me so! cried Susan. If I should believe you, I'd be
But, I blundered on, it's only common sense to let down a little,
at such a time. If you'd only take a real rest
There is no such thing, said Susan. We just struggle on and on.
It's rather awful, isn't it? And presently, very quietly, as if to
herself, she said over those words, surely among the saddest and
loveliest ever written by mortal man:
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever,
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
To sea, she repeated; to sea.... As if the sea itself knew
rest!Now please pay your big fat bill from your nice fat pocketbook,
Ambo; and take me home.
If I only could! was my despairing thought; and I astounded the
coat-room boy, as I tipped him, by muttering aloud, Oh, damn Jimmy
Yes, sirthank you, sirI will, sir, grinned the coat-room boy.
On our way downtown in the taxi Susan withdrew until we reached her
West Tenth Street door. Good-night, Ambo, she then said; don't come
with me; and thank you for everythingalways. I crossed the pavement
with her to the loutish brownstone front-stoop of the boarding house;
there she turned to dismiss me.
You didn't ask my second reason for not going on the review, Ambo.
You must know it though, sooner or later. I can't write any
morenot well, I mean. Even my Dax paragraphs are falling off; Hadow
Bury mentioned it yesterday. But nothing comes. I'm sterile, Ambo. I'm
written out at twenty. Bless you. Good-night.
Susan, I cried, come back here at once! But she just turned in
the doorway to smile back at me, waved her hand, and was gone.
I was of two minds whether to follow her or stay. Then, A whim, I
thought; the whim of a tired child. And I've often felt that way
myselfall writers do. But she must take a vacation of some kindshe
I woke up the next morning, broad awake before seven o'clock, a full
hour earlier than my habit. I woke to find myself greatly troubled by
Susan's parting words of the night before, and lay in bed for perhaps
twenty minutes turning them over fretfully in my mind. Then I could
stand it no longer and rose, bathed, dressed and ate my breakfast in
self-exasperating haste, yet with no very clear idea of why I was
hurrying or what was to follow. I had an appointment with my lawyer for
eleven; I was to lunch with Heywood Sampson at one; after lunchmy
immediate business in town being completedI had purposed to return to
Susan would be expecting me for my daily morning call at half-past
nine. That call was a fixed custom between us when I was stopping in
New York. It seldom lasted over twenty minutes and was really just an
opportunity to say good-morning and arrange conveniently for any
further plans for the day or evening. But it was now only a few minutes
past eight. No matter, Susan was both a nighthawk and a lark, retiring
always too late and rising too earlythough it must be said she seemed
to need little sleep; and I felt that I must see her at once and try
somehow to encourage her about her work and bring her back to a more
reasonable and normal point of view. Overstrain, I kept mumbling to
myself, idiotically enough, as I charged rather than walked down Fifth
Avenue from my hotel: Overstrainoverstrain....
However, the brisk physical exertion of my walk gradually quieted my
nerves, and as I turned west on Tenth Street I was beginning to feel a
little ashamed of my unreasonable anxiety, was even beginning to poke a
little fun at myself and preparing to amuse Susan if I could by a
whimsical account of my morning brainstorm. I had now persuaded myself
that I should find her quietly at work, as I so usually did, and quite
prepared to talk things over more calmly. I meant this time to make a
supreme effort, and really hoped to persuade her to do two sensible
things: First, to accept Heywood Sampson's offer; second, to give up
all other work for the present, and get a complete rest and change of
scene until her services were needed for the review. That would not be
for six or eight weeks at the very least.
And I at last had a plan for her. You may or may not remember that
Ashton Parker was a famous man thirty years ago; they called him Hyena
Parker in Wall Street, and no doubt he deserved it; yet he faded
gently out with consumption like any spring poet, having turned
theosophist toward the end and made his peace with the Cosmic Urge.
Mrs. Ashton Parker is an aunt of mine, long a widow, and a most
delightful, easy-going, wide-awake, and sympathetic old lady, who has
made her home in Santa Barbara ever since her husband's death there.
Her Spanish villa and gardens are famous, and her always kindly
eccentricities scarcely less famous than they. I could imagine no one
more certain to captivate Susan or to be instantly captivated by her;
and though I had not seen Aunt Belle for more than ten years, I knew I
could count on her in advance to fall in with my plan. Her hospitality
is notorious and would long since have beggared anyone with an income
less absurd. Susan should go there at once, for a month at least; the
whole thing could be arranged by telegraph. Why in heaven's name hadn't
I thought of and insisted upon this plan before!
Miss O'Neill, in person, opened the front door for me.
Oh, Mr. Hunt! she wailed. Thanks to goodness you're here early. I
can't do nothing with Togo. He won't eat no breakfast, and he won't let
nobody touch him. He's sitting up there like aI don't know what, with
his precious tail uncurled and his head sort of hanging downit'll
break your heart to look at him! I can't bear to myself, though I'd
never no use for the beast, neither liking nor disliking! He's above
his station, I say. But what with allAnd I've got to get that room
cleared and redone by twelve, feelings or no feelings, and Gawd knows
feelings will enter in! Not half Miss Susan's class either, the
new party just now applied, and right beside my own room, too, though
well recommended, so I can't complain!
I broke through her dusty web of words with an impatient, What on
earth are you talking about, Miss O'Neill?
You don't know? she gasped. You don't
I most certainly do not. Where's Miss Susan?
Oh, Mr. Hunt! If I'd-a knowed she hadn't even spoke to you! And you
with her all eveningtreating to dinner and all! But thank Gawd it's a
reel lady she went away with! Miss Leslie, in her big limousine, that's
often been here! That I can swear to you with my own eyes!
Susan was gone, and gone beyond hope of an immediate return. There
is no need to labor the details of her flight. A letter, left for me
with Miss O'Neill, gives all the surface facts essential.
Dear Ambo: Try not to be angry with me; or too
hurt. When I left you last night I decided to
seize an opportunity which had to be seized
instantly, or not at all. Mona Leslie has been
planning for a long European sojourn all winter,
and for the past two weeks has been trying to
persuade me to go with her as a sort of overpaid
companion and private secretary. She has dangled a
salary before me out of all proportion to my
possible value to her, butnever feeling very
sympathetic toward her sudden whims and
moodsthat hasn't tempted me.
Now, at the eleventh hour, literally, this
chance for a complete break with my whole past and
probable future has tempted me, and I've flopped.
You've been urging my need for rest and change; if
that's what I do need this will supply it, the
change at leastwith no sacrifice of my
hard-fought-for financial independence. It was the
abysmal prospect, as I came in, of having to go
straight to my roomwith no Sister waiting for
meand beat my poor typewriter and poorer brains
for some sparks of witwhen I knew in advance
there wasn't a spark left in methat sent me to
Now I'm packedin half an hourand waiting for
Mona. The boat sails about three A.M.; I don't
even know her name: we'll be on her by midnight.
Poor Miss O'Neill is flabbergastedand so I'm
afraid will you be, and Phil and Jimmy. I know it
isn't kind of me simply to vanish like this; but
try to feel that I don't mean to be unkind. Not
even to Togo, though my treachery to him is
villainous. It will be a black mark against me in
Peter's book forever. But I can't take him, Ambo;
I just can't. Please, pleasewill you? You see,
dear, I can't help being a nuisance to you always,
after all. And I can't even promise you Togo will
learn to love you, any more than Tumpsthough I
hope he may. He'll grieve himself thin at first.
He knows something's in the air and he's grieving
beside me now. His eyesIf Mona doesn't come
soon, I may collapse at his paws and promise him
Mona talks of a year over there, from darkest
Russia to lightest France; possibly two. Her plans
are characteristically indefinite. She knows heaps
of people all over, of course. I'll write often.
Please tell Hadow and Mr. Sampson I'm a physical
wreckor mental, if it sounds more convincing.
I'm neither; but I'm tiredtiredtired.
If you can possibly help Phil and Jimmy to
Here's Mona now. Good-by, dear.
Your ashamed, utterly grateful
P. S. I'm wearing your furs.
THE SIXTH CHAPTER
SO Togo and I went home. My misery craving company, I rode with him
all the way up in the baggage-car, on the self-deceptive theory that he
needed an everpresent friend. It is true, however, that he did; and it
gratified me and a little cheered me that he seemed really to
appreciate my attentions. I sat on a trunk, lighting each cigarette
from the end of the last, and he sat at my feet, leaned wearily against
the calf of my right leg and permitted me to fondle his ears....
Spring, the sweet spring! Then birds do sing, hey-ding-a-dingand
so on.... Sweet lovers love the spring.... Jimmy, Phil and I saw little
of each other those days. Jimmy clouded his sunny brow and started in
working overtime. Phil plunged headlong into what was to have proved
his philosophical magnum opusThe Pluralistic Fallacy; a
Critical Study of Pragmatism. I also plunged headlong into a series of
interpretative essays for Heywood Sampson's forthcoming review. My
first essay was to be on Tolstoy; my second, on Nietzsche; my third, on
Anatole France; my fourth, on Samuel Butler and Bernard Shaw; my fifth,
on Thomas Hardy; and my sixth and last, on Walt Whitman. From the works
of these writers it was my purpose to illustrate and clarify for the
semicultured the more significant intellectual and spiritual tendencies
of our enlightened and humane civilization. It is characteristic that I
supposed myself well equipped for this task. But I never got beyond my
detached, urbane appreciation of Nietzsche; just as I had concluded
itour enlightened and humane civilization suddenly blew to atoms with
a cliché-shattering report and a vile stench as of
During those first months of Susan's absence, which for more than
four years were to prove the last months of almost world-wide and
wholly world-deceptive peace, several things occurred of more or less
importance to the present history. They marked, for one thing, the
auspicious sprouting and rapid initial growth of Susan's literary
reputation. Her poems appeared little more than a month after she had
left us, a well-printed volume of less than a hundred pages, in a sober
green cover. I had taken a lonely sort of joy in reading and rereading
the proof; and if even a split letter escaped me, it has not yet been
brought to my attention. These poems were issued under a quiet title
and an unobtrusive pen-name, slipping into the market-place without any
preliminary puffing, and I feared they were of too fine a texture to
attract the notice that I felt they deserved. But in some respects, at
least, Susan was born under a lucky star. An unforeseen combination of
events suddenly focused public attentionjust long enough to send it
into a third editionupon this inconspicuous little book.
Concurrently with its publication, The Puppet Booth opened
its doorsits door, ratheron Macdougal Street; an artistic venture
quite as marked, you would say, for early oblivion as Susan's own. The
cocoon of The Puppet Booth was a small stable where a few
Italian venders of fruit and vegetables had kept their scarecrow horses
and shabby carts and handcarts. From this drab cocoon issued a mailed
and militant dragon-fly; vivid, flashing, erratic; both ugly and
beautifuland wholly alive! For there were in Greenwich Villageas
there are, it would seem, in all lesser villages, from Florida to
Oregoncertain mourners over and enthusiasts for the art called Drama,
which they believed to be virtually extinct. Shows, it is true,
hundreds of them, were each season produced on Broadway, and some of
these delighted hosts of the affluent, sentimental, and child-like
American bourgeoisie. Fortunate managers, playsmiths and actors,
endowed with sympathy for the crude tastes of this bourgeoisie,
a sympathy partly instinctive and partly developed by commercial
acumen, waxed fat with a prosperity for which the Village could not
wearily enough express its contempt.
None of these creatures, said the Villageno, not onewas a
genuine artist! The Theater, they affirmed, had been raped by the
Philistines and prostituted to sophomoric merrymakers by cynical greed.
The Theater! Why, it should be a temple, inviolably dedicated to its
peculiar god. Since the death of religion, it was perhaps the one
temple worthy of pious preservation. Only in a Theater, sincerely
consecrated to the great god, Art, could the enlightened, the
sophisticated, the freeunite to worship. There only, they implied,
could something adumbrating a sacred ritual and a spiritual consolation
Luckily for Susan, and indeed for us allfor we have all been
gainers from the spontaneous generation of little theaters all over
America, a phenomenon at its height just previous to the warone
village enthusiast, Isidore Stalinskiby vocation an accompanist, by
avocation a vorticist, by race and nature a publicisthad succeeded in
mildly infecting Mona Lesliewho took everything in the air, though
nothing severelywith offhand zeal for his cause. The importance of
her rather casual conversion lay in the fact that her purse strings
were perpetually untied. Stalinski well knew that you cannot run even a
tiny temple for a handful of worshippers without vain oblations on the
side to the false gods of this world, and these implyoh, Art's
desire!a donor. And of all possible varieties of donor, that most to
be desired is the absentee donorthe donor who donates as God sends
At precisely the right moment Stalinski whispered to Mona Leslie
that entre themthough he didn't care to be quotedhe
preferred her interpretation of Faure's Clair de Lune to that of
, the particular diva he had just been accompanying through
a long, rapturously advertised concert tour; and Mona Leslie, about to
be off on her European flight, became the absentee donor to The
The small stable was leased and cleansed and sufficiently reshaped
to live up to its anxiously chosen name. Much of the reshaping and all
of the decorating was done, after business hours, by the clever and
pious hands of the villagers. Then four one-act plays were selected
from among some hundreds poured forth by village genius to its
rehabilitated god. The clever and pious hands flew faster than ever,
busying themselves with scenery and costumes and properties and color
and lightingall blended toward the creation of a thoroughly
uncommercial atmosphere. And the four plays were staged, directed,
acted, and finally attended by the Village. It was a perfectly lovely
party and the pleasantest of times was had by all.
And it only remains to drop this tone of patronizing persiflage and
admit, with humblest honesty, that the first night at The Puppet
Booth was that very rare thing, a complete success; what Broadway
calls a knockout. Within a fortnight seats for The Puppet Booth
were at a ruinous premium in all the ticket agencies on or near Times
I happened to be there on that ecstatic opening night. Susan, in her
first letter, from Liverpool, had enjoined me to attend and report;
Mona would be glad to learn from an unprejudiced outsider how the
affair went off. But Susan did not mention the fact that one of the
four selected plays had been written by herself.
Jimmy was with me. Phil, who saw more of him than I did, thought he
was going stale from overwork, so I had made a point of hunting him up
and dragging him off with me for a night in town. He hadn't wanted to
go; said frankly, he wasn't in the mood. I'm convinced it was the first
time he had ever used the word mood in connection with himself or
anybody else. Jimmy and moods of any kind simply didn't belong
We had a good man's dinner at a good man's chop-house that night,
and, once I got Jimmy to work on it, his normal appetite revived and he
engulfed oysters and steak and a deep-dish apple pie and a mug or so of
ale, with mounting gusto. We talked, of course, of Susan.
Jimmy, inclined to a rosier view by comfortable repletion, now
maintained that perhaps after all Susan had done the natural and
sensible thing in joining Miss Leslie. He emphasized all the obvious
advantagescomplete change of environment, freedom from financial
worry, and so on; then he paused....
And there's another point, Mr. Hunt, he began again, doubtfully
this time: Prof. Farmer and I were talking about it only the other
day. We were wondering whether we oughtn't to speak to you. But it's
not the easiest thing to speak ofit's so sort of vaguekind of a
feeling in the air.
I knew at once what he referred to, and nodded my head. So you and
Phil have noticed it too!
Oh, you're on then? I'm glad of that, sir. You've never
mentioned anything, so Prof. Farmer and I couldn't be sure. But it's
got under our skins that it might make a lot of trouble and something
ought to be done about it. It's hard to see what.
Very, I agreed. Fire ahead, Jimmy. Tell me exactly what has come
to youto you, personally, I mean.
Well, said Jimmy, leaning across the table to me and lowering his
voice, it was all of three weeks ago. I went to a dance at the Lawn
Club. I don't dance very well, but I figure a fellow ought to know how
if he ever has to, so I've slipped in a few lessons. I can keep off my
partner's feet, anyway. Well, Steve Putnam took me round that night and
introduced me to some girls. I guess if they'd known my mother was
living in New Haven and married to a grocer, they wouldn't have had
anything to do with me. Maybe I ought to advertise the fact, but I
don'tsimply because I can't stand for my stepfather, and so mother
won't stand for me. Mother and I never could get on, though; and it's
funny, tooas a general rule I can get on with 'most everybody. I told
Prof. Farmer the other night there must be something wrong with a
fellow who can't get on with his own motherbut he only laughed. Of
course, Mr. Hunt, I'm not exactly sailing under false pretenses,
either; if any girl wanted to make real friends with meI'd tell her
all about myself first.
Of course, I murmured.
And the same with men. Steve, for instance. He knows all about me,
and his father has a lot of money, but he made it in soapand Steve's
from the West, anyway, and don't care. Gee, I'm wanderingit's the
ale, I guess, Mr. Hunt; I'm not used to it. The point is. Steve
introduced me round, and I like girls all right, but Susan's kind of
spoiled me for the way most of them gabble. I can't do that easy,
quick-talk very good yet; Steve's a bear at it. WellI sat out a dance
with one of the girls, a Miss Simmons; pretty, too; but she's only a
kid. It was her idea, sitting out the dance in a cornerI thought she
didn't like the way I handled myself. But that wasn't it. Mr. Hunt, she
wanted to pump me; went right at it, too.
'You know Mr. Hunt awfully well, don't you?' she asked; and after
I'd said yes, and we'd sort of sparred round a little, she suddenly got
confidential, and a kind of thrilled look came into her eyes, and then
she asked me straight out: 'Have you ever heard there was something
mysteriousabout poor Mrs. Hunt's death?'
'No,' I said.
'Haven't you!' she said, as much as to tell me she knew, all the
same, I must have. 'Why, Mr. Kane, it's all over town. Nobody knows
anything, but it's terribly exciting! Some people think she committed
suicide, all because of that queer Miss Blake.... She must beyou
know! And now she's run away to Europe! I believe she was just afraid
to stay over here, afraid she might be found out or arrestedor
That's the way she went on, Mr. Hunt; and, wellnaturally, I
pooh-poohed it and steered her off, and then she lost interest in me
right away. But she's right, Mr. Hunt. There's a lot of that kind of
whispered stuff in the air, and I'm mighty glad Susan's off for a year
or two where she can't run into it. It'll all die out before she's back
again, of course.
I hope so, was my reply; but the source of these rumors is very
persistentand very discreet. They start from Mrs. Arthur; they must.
But it's impossible to trace them back to her. Jimmy, she means to make
New Haven impossible for me, and I've an idea she's likely to succeed.
Already, three or four old acquaintances havewell, avoided me, and
the general atmosphere's cooling pretty rapidly toward zero. So far as
I'm concerned, it doesn't much matter; but it does matter for Susan.
She may return to find her whole future clouded by a settled impression
that in some wayindirectlyor even, directlyshe was responsible
for my wife's sudden death.
It's a damned outrage! exclaimed Jimmy. I don't know Mrs. Arthur,
but I'd like to wring her neck!
So would I, Jimmy; and she knows it. That's why she's finding life
these days so supremely worth living.
Jimmy pondered this. Gee, I hate to think that badly of any woman,
he finally achieved; but I guess it doesn't do to be a fool and think
they're all angelslike Susan. Mother's not.
No, Jimmy, it doesn't do, I responded. Still, the price for that
kind of wisdom is always much higher than it's worth.
Women, began JimmyBut his aphorism somehow escaped him; he
decided to light a cigarette instead....
And on this wave of cynicism I floated him off with me to The
From the point of view of eccentric effectiveness and réclame
wonders had been wrought with the small, ancient, brick stable on
Macdougal Street; but very little had been or could be done for the
comfort of its guests. The flat exterior wall had been stuccoed and
brilliantly frescoed to suggest the entrance to some probably
questionable side-show at a French village fair; and a gay clown with a
drum, an adept at amusing local patter, had been stationed before the
door to emphasize the funambulesque illusion. Within, this
atmosphereas of something gaudy and transitory, the mere
lath-and-canvas pitch of a vagabond banquistehad been cleverly
carried out. The cramped little theater itself struck one as mere
scenery, which was precisely the intention. There was clean sawdust on
the floor, and the spectatorsone hundred of them suffocatingly filled
the hallwere provided only with wooden benches, painted a vivid Paris
green. These benches had been thoughtfully selected, however, and were
less excruciating to sit on than you would suppose. There was,
naturally, no balcony; a false pitch-roof had been constructed of rough
stable beams, from which hung bannerets in a crying, carefully studied
dissonance of strong color, worthy of the barbaric Bakst. The
proscenium arch was necessarily a toylike affair, copied, you would
say, from the Guinol in the Tuileries Gardens; and the curtain,
for a final touch, looked authentichad almost certainly been
acquired, at some expenditure of thought and trouble, from a traveling
Elks' Carnival. There was even a false set of footlights to complete
the masquerade; a row of oil lamps with tin reflectors. It was all very
restless and amusingand extravagantly make-believe....
Jimmy and I arrived just in time to squeeze down the single narrow
side-aisle and into our places in the fourth row. We had no opportunity
to glance about us or consult our broad-sheet programs, none to acquire
the proper mood of tense expectancy we later succumbed to, before the
lights were lowered and the curtain was rolled up in the true antique
style. Gee! muttered Jimmy, on my left, with involuntary dislike.
Ah! breathed a maiden, on my right, with entirely voluntary rapture.
Someone in the front row giggled, probably a cub reporter doing duty
that evening as a dramatic critic; but he was silenced by a sharp hiss
from the rear.
The cause for these significant reactions was the mise en scène
of the tiny vacant stage. It consisted of three dead-black walls, a
dead-black ceiling, and a dead-black floor-cloth. In the back wall
there was a high, narrow crimson door with a black knob. A tall
straight-legged table and one straight high-backed chair, both
lacquered in crimson, were the only furniture, except for a slender
crimson-lacquered perch, down right, to which was chained a yellow,
green and crimson macaw. And through the crimson door presently
enteredundulated, rathera personable though poisonous young woman
in a trailing robe of vivid yellow and green.
The play that followed, happily a brief one, was calledas Jimmy
and I learned from our programs at its conclusionPolly. It
consisted of a monologue delivered by the poisonous young woman to the
macaw, occasionally varied by ad lib. screams and chuckles from
that evil white-eyed bird. From the staccato remarks of the poisonous
young woman, we, the audience, were to deduce the erratic eroticism of
an âme damnée. It was not particularly difficult to do so, nor
was it particularly entertaining. As a little adventure in
supercynicism, Polly, in short, was not particularly successful. It
needed, and had not been able to obtain, the boulevard wit of a Sacha
Guitry to carry it off. But the poisonous young woman had an
exquisitely proportioned figure, and her arms, bare to the slight
shoulder-straps, were quite faultless. Minor effects of this kind have,
even on Broadway, been known to save more than one bad quarter hour
from complete collapse.... No, it was not the author's lines that
carried us safely through this first fifteen minutes of diluted
Strindberg-Schnitzler! And the too deliberately bizarre mise en
scène, though for a moment it piqued curiosity, had soon proved
wearisome, and we were gladat least, Jimmy and I wereto have it
veiled from our eyes.
The curtain rolled down, nevertheless, to ecstatic cries and
stubbornly sustained applause. Raised lights revealed an excited,
chattering band of the faithful. The poisonous young woman took four
curtain calls and would seemingly, from her parting gesture, have drawn
us collectively to her fine bosom with those faultless, unreluctant
arms. And the maiden on my right shuddered forth to her escort, I'm
thrilled, darling! Feel themfeel my handsthey're moon-cold!
They always are, you know, when I'm thrilled!
You can't beat this much, Mr. Hunt, whispered Jimmy, on my left.
In a sense, it was; in a truer sense, it was not. A careful analysis
of the audience would, I was quickly convinced, have disclosed not
merely a saving remnant, but a saving majority of honest workmen in the
artsmen and women too solidly endowed with brains and humor for any
self-conscious posing or public exhibition of temperament. The genuine
freaks among us were a scant handful; but it is the special talent and
purpose of your freak toin Whitman's phrasepositively appear. Ten
able freaks to the hundred can turn any public gathering into a side
show; and the freaks of the Village, particularly the females of the
species, are nothing if not able. Minna Freund, for example, who was
sitting just in front of Jimmy; it would be difficult for any assembly
to obliterate Minna Freund! She was, that night, exceptionally
repulsive in a sort of yellow silk wrapper, with her sparrow's nest of
bobbed Henner hair, and her long, bare, olive-green neck, that so
obviously needed to be scrubbed!
Having strung certain entirely unrelated words together and called
them Portents, she had in those days acquired a minor notoriety, and
Susanimpishly enjoying my consequent embarrassmenthad once
introduced me to her as an admirer of her work, at an exhibition of
Cubist sculpture. Minna was standing at the time, I recalled, before
Pannino's Study of a Morbid Complex, and she at once informed me that
the morbid complex in question had been studied from the life. She had
posed her own destiny for Pannino, so she assured me, at three separate
moments of psychic crisis, and the inevitable result had been a
masterpiece. How it writhes! she had exclaimed: but to my
uninstructed eyes Pannino's Study did anything but writhe; it was
stolidly passive; it looked precisely as an ostrich egg on a pedestal
would look if viewed in a slightly convex mirror.... How far away all
that stupid nonsense seems!
And, suddenly, Jimmy leaped on the bench beside me as if punctured
by a pin: Oh, good Lord, Mr. Hunt! he groaned. Look here!
He had thrust his program before me and was pointing to the third
play of the series with an unsteady finger.
It's the same name, he whispered hoarsely; the one she's used for
her book. Do you think
I'll soon find out, was my answer. We must know what we're in
for, Jimmy! And just as the lights were lowered for the second play I
rose, defying audible unpopularity, and squeezed my way out to the
door. That is why I cannot describe for you the second play, a harsh
little tragedy of the sweatshopsHorrible, Jimmy affirmed, but it
kind of got me!written by an impecunious young man with
expensive tastes, who has since won the means of gratifying them along
Broadway by concocting for that golden glade his innocently naughty
librettosTra-la, Thérèse! and Oh, Mercy, Modestine!
Having sought and interviewed StalinskiI found him huddled in the
tiny box-office, perspiring unpleasantly from nervousness and many
soaring emotionsI was back in my seat, more unpopular than ever, in
good time for Susan'sit was unquestionably Susan'splay.
But most of you have read, or have seen, or have read about, Susan's
It was the sensation of the evening, of many subsequent evenings;
and I have often wondered precisely whyfor there is in it nothing
sensational. Its atmosphere is delicately fantastic; remote, you would
say, from the sympathies of a matter-of-fact world, particularly as its
fantasy is not the highly sentimentalized make-believe of some popular
fairy tale. This fantasy of Susan's is ironic and grave; simple in
movement, toojust a few subtle modulations on a single poignant
theme. And I ask myself wherein lies its throat-tightening quality, its
irresistible appeal? And I find but one answer; an answer which I had
always supposed, in my long intellectual snobbery, an undeserved
compliment to the human race; a compliment no critic, who was not
either dishonest or a fool, could pay mankind.
But what other explanation can be given for the success of Susan's
play, both here and in England, than its sheer beauty? Beauty of
substance, of mood, of form, of quiet, heart-searching phrase! It is
not called The Magic Circle, but it might have been; for its magic is
genuine, distilled from the depths of Nature, and it casts an
unescapable spellon poets and bankers, on publicans and prostitutes
and priests, on all and sundry, equally and alike. It even casts its
spell on those who act in it, and no truer triumph can come to an
author. I have never seen it really badly played. Susan has never seen
it played at all.
On the first wave of this astonishing triumph, Susan's pen-name was
swept into the newspapers and critical journals of America and England,
and a piquant point for gossip was added by the revelation that Dax,
who for several months had so wittily enlivened the columns of Whim, was one and the same person. Moreover, it was soon bruited about that
the author was a slip of a girlradiantly beautiful, of course; or why
romance concerning her!and that there was something mysterious, even
sinister, in her history.
A child of the underworld, said one metropolitan journal, in its
review of her poems. Popular legend presently connected her, though
vaguely, with the criminal classes. I have heard an overdressed woman
in a theater lobby earnestly assuring another that she knew for a fact
that (Susan) had been born in a brothelone of those houses, my
dearand brought uplike Oliver Twist, though the comparison escaped
herto be a thief.
And so it was that the public eye lighted for a little hour on
Susan's shy poems. Poetry was said to be looking up in those days; and
influential critics in their influential, uninfluenced way suddenly
boomed these, saying mostly the wrong things about them, but saying
them over and over with energy and persistence. The first edition
vanished overnight; a larger second edition was printed and sold out
within a week or two; a still larger third edition was launched and
disposed of more slowly. Then came the war....
If I can say anything good of the war, it is this: Since seemingly
it must have come anyway, sooner or later, so far as Susan is concerned
it came just in time. A letter from Phil to Susan, received toward the
close of July, 1914, at the château of the Comtesse de Bligny, near
Brussels, will tell you why.
Dear Susan: If the two or three notes I've sent
you previously have been brief and dull, I knew
you would make the inevitable allowances and
forgive me. In the first place, God didn't create
me to scintillate, as you've long had reason to
know; and since you left us I've been buried in a
Sahara of work, living so retired a life in my
desert that little news comes my way. But Jimmy
breaks in on me, always welcomely, with an
occasional bulletin, and last night Hunt came over
and we had a long evening together. He's worried,
Susan, not without great cause, I fear; he looks
tired and ill; and after mulling things over, with
my usual plodding cautionI've thought best to
explain the situation to you.
It can be put in very few words. The deserved
success of your play and the poems, following a
natural law that one too helplessly wishes
otherwise, has led to a crisis in the
gossipmalicious in origin, certainlywhich has
fastened upon you and Hunt; and this gossip lately
has taken a more sinister turn. More and more
openly it is being said that the circumstances
surrounding Mrs. Hunt's death ought to be
probed'probed' is just now the popular word in
this connection. The feeling is widespread that
you were in some way responsible for it.
I must use brutal phrases to lay the truth before
you. You are not, seemingly, suspected of murder.
You are suspected of having killed Mrs. Hunt
during a sudden access of mental irresponsibility.
It is whispered that Hunt, improperly, in some
devious way, got the matter hushed up and the
affair reported as an accident. As a result of
these absurd and terrible rumors, Hunt finds
himself a pariahmany of his oldest acquaintances
no longer recognize him when they meet. It is a
thoroughly distressing situation, and it's
difficult to see how the mad injustice of it can
be easily righted.
The danger is, of course, that some misguided
person will get the whole matter into the
newspapers; it is really a miracle that it has not
already been seized on by some yellow sheet, the
opportunity for a sensational story is so
obviously ripe. Happilyoh, Phil! oh,
philosopher!the present curious tension in
European politics is for the moment turning
journalistic eyes far from home. But as all such
diplomatic flurries do, this one will pass,
leaving the flatness of the silly season upon us.
This is what Hunt most fears; and when you next
see him you will find him grayer and older because
of this anxiety.
He dreads, for you, a sudden journalistic demand
for a public investigation, and feelsthough in
this I can hardly agree with himthat such a
demand could end only in a public trial, in view
of the peculiar nature of all the circumstances
involveda veritable cause célèbre.
How shocking all this must be to you. The sense
of the mental anguish I'm causing you is a horror
to me. Nothing could have induced me to write in
this way but the compulsion of my love for Hunt
and you. It seems to me imperative that your names
should be publicly cleared, in advance of any
So I urge you, Susanfully conscious of my
personal responsibility in doing soto return at
once and to join with Hunt and your true friends
in quashing finally and fully these damnable lies.
It is my strong conviction that this is your duty
to yourself, to Hunt, and to us all. If you and
Hunt, together or separately, make a public
statement, in view of the rumors now current, and
yourselves demand the fullest public investigation
of the facts, there can be but one issue. Your
good names will be cleared; the truth will
prevail. Dreadful as this prospect must be for you
both, it now seems to meand let me add, to
Jimmythe one wise course for you to take. But
only you, if you agree with me, can persuade Hunt
to such a course....
It is unnecessary to quote the remaining paragraphs of Phil's so
* * * * *
No doubt Susan would have returned immediately if she could, but,
less than a week after the receipt of Phil's letter, the diplomatic
flurry in Europe had taken a German army through Luxemburg and into
Belgium, and within less than two weeks Susan and Mona Leslie and the
Comtesse de Bligny were in uniform, working a little less than
twenty-four hours a day with the Belgian Red Cross....
It is no purpose of mine to attempt any description of Susan's war
experience or service. Those first corroding weeks and months of the
war have left ineffaceable scars on the consciousness of the present
generation. I was not a part of them, and can add nothing to them by
talking about them at second hand. It might, however, repay you to
readif you have not already done soa small anonymous volume which
has passed through some twenty or thirty editions, entitled
Stupidity Triumphant, and containing the brief, sharply etched
personal impressions of a Red Cross nurse in Flanders during the early
days of Belgium's long agony. It is now an open secret that this little
book was written by Susan; and among the countless documents on
frightfulness this one, surely, by reason of its simplicity and
restraint, its entire absence of merely hysterical outcry, is not the
least damning and notI venture to believethe least permanent.
There is one short paragraph in this book of detached pictures,
marginal notes, and condensed reflections that brought home to me,
personally, war, the veritable thing itself, as no other written
lines were able to doas nothing was able to do until I had seen the
beast with my own eyes. It is not an especially striking paragraph, and
just why it should have done so I am unable to say. Certain extracts
from the book have been widely quotedone even, I am told, was read
out in Parliament by Arthur Hendersonbut I have never seen this one
quoted anywhere; so I am rather at a loss to explain its peculiar
influence on me. Entirely individual reactions to the printed word are
always a little mysterious. I know, for example, one usually
enlightened and catholic critic who stubbornly maintains that a very
commonplace distich by Lord De Tabley is the most magical moment in all
English verse. But here is my paragraphor Susan'sfor what it is
This Pomeranian prisoner was a blond boy-giant; pitifully
shattered; it was necessary to remove his left leg to the knee. The
operation was rapidly but skillfully performed. He was then placed on a
pallet, close beside the cot of a wounded German officer. After coming
out of the ether his fever mounted and he grew delirious. The German
officer commanded him to be silent. He might just as well have
commanded the sun to stand still, and he must, however muzzily, have
known that. Yet he was outraged by this unconscious act of
insubordination. Thrice he repeated his absurd commandthen raised
himself with a groan, leaned across, and struck the delirious boy in
the face with a weakly clenched fist. It was not a heavy blow; the
officer's strength did not equal his intention. 'Idiot!' I cried
out; and thrust him back on his cot, half-fainting from the pain of his
futile effort at discipline. 'Idiot' was, after all, the one
appropriate word. It was constantly, I found, the one appropriate word.
The beast was a stupid beast.
THE LAST CHAPTER
PHIL FARMER and Jimmy Kane stayed on in New Haven that summer of
1914; Phil to be near his precious sources in the Yale library; Jimmy
to be near his new job. As soon as his examinations were over he had
gone to work in a factory in a very humble capacity; but he was not
destined to remain there long in any capacity, nor was it written in
the stars that he was to complete his education at Yale.
My own reasons for clinging to New Haven were less definite. Sheer
physical inertia had something to do with it, no doubt; but chiefly I
stayed because New Haven in midsummer is a social desert; and in those
days my most urgent desire was to be alone. Apart from all else, the
breaking out of almost world-wide war had drastically, as if by an
operation for spiritual cataract, opened my inner eye, no longer a
bliss in solitude, to much that was trivial and self-satisfied and
ridiculous in one Ambrose Hunt, Esq. That Susan should be in the smoke
of that spreading horror brought it swiftly and vividly before me. I
lived the war from the first.
For years, with no felt discomfort to myself, I had been a pacifist.
I was a contributing member of several peace societies, and in one of
my slightly better-known essays I had expounded with enthusiasm
Tolstoy's doctrinewhich, in spite of much passionate argument to the
contrary these troublous times, was assuredly Christ'sof
nonresistance to evil. I was, in fact, though in a theoretical, parlor
sense a proclaimed Tolstoyan, a Christian anarchistlacking, however,
the essential groundwork for Tolstoy's doctrine: faith. Faith in God as
a person, as a father, I could not confess to; but the higher anarchist
vision of humanity freed from all control save that of its own sweet
reasonableness, of men turned unfailingly gentle, mutually helpful,
content to live simply if need be, but never with unuplifted
heartswell, I could and did confess publicly that no other vision had
so strong an attraction for me!
I liked to dwell in the idea of such a world, to think of it as a
possibilityless remote, perhaps, than mankind in general supposed.
Having lived through the Spanish War, the Boer War, and Russia's war
with Japan; and in a world constantly strained to the breaking point by
national rivalries, commercial expansion, and competition for markets;
by class struggles everywhere apparent; by the harsh, discordant
energies of its predatory desiresI, nevertheless, had been able to
persuade myself that the darkest days of our dust-speck planet were
done with and recorded; Earth and its graceless seed of Adam were at
last, to quote Jimmy, on their waywell on their way, I assured
myself, toward some inevitable region of abiding and beneficent light!
Pouf!... And then?
Stricken in solitude, I went down into dark places and fumbled like
a starved beggar amid the detritus of my dreams. Dust and shadow....
Was there anything real there, anything worth the pain of spiritual
salvage? Had I been, all my life, merely one more romanticist, one more
sentimental trifler in a universe whose ways were not those of
pleasantness, nor its paths those of peace? Surely, yes; for my heart
convicted me at once of having wasted all my days hitherto in a fool's
paradise. The rough fabric of human life was not spun from moonshine.
So much at least was certain. And nothing else was left me. Hurled from
my private, make-believe Eden, I must somehow begin anew.
Brief beauty, and much weariness....
Susan's line haunted me throughout the first desperate isolation of
those hours. I saw no light. I was broken in spirit. I was afraid.
Morbidity, you will say. Why, yes; why not? To be brainsick and
heartsick in a cruel and unfamiliar world is to be morbid. I quite
agree. Below the too-thin crust of a dilettante's culture lies
always that hungry morass. A world had been shaken; the too-thin crust
beneath my feet had crumbled; I must slither now in slime, and either
sink there finally, be swallowed up in that sucking blackness, or by
some miracle of effort win beyond, set my feet on stiff granite, and so
It is most probable that I should never have reached solid ground
unaided. It was Jimmy, of all people, who stretched forth a vigorous,
Shortly after the First Battle of the Marne had dammedwe knew not
how precariously, or how completelythe deluge pouring through Belgium
and Luxemburg and Northern France, Jimmy burst in on me one evening. He
had just received a brief letter from Susan. She was stationed then at
Furnes; Mona Leslie was with her; but their former hostess, the young
pleasure-loving Comtesse de Bligny, was dead. The cause of her death
Susan did not even stop to explain.
Mona, she hurried on, is magnificent. Only a few months ago I
pitied her, almost despised her; now I could kiss her feet. How life
had wasted her! She doesn't know fear or fatigue, and she has just put
her entire fortune unreservedly at the service of the Belgian
Governmentto found field hospitals, ambulances, and so on. The king
has decorated her. Not that she careshas time to think about it, I
mean. In a sense it irritated her; she spoke of it all to me as an
unnecessary gesture. Oh, Jimmy, come overwe need you here! Bring all
America over with youif you can! Setebos invented neutrality;
I recognize his workmanship! Bring Ambobring Phil! Don't stop to
think about itcome!
I'm going of course, said Jimmy. So's Prof. Farmer. How about
Sure. Just as soon as he can arrange it.
His book's finished?
What the hell has that began Jimmy; then stopped dead,
blushing. Excuse me, Mr. Hunt; but books, somehowjust nowthey
don't seem so important assee?
Not quite, Jimmy. After all, the real struggle's always between
ideas, isn't it? We can't perfect the world with guns and ambulances,
Maybe not, said Jimmy dryly.
It's quite possible, I insisted, that Phil's book might
accomplish more for humanity, in the long run, than anything he could
do at his age in Flanders.
Susan could come home and write plays, said Jimmy; good ones,
too. But she won't. You can bet on that, sir.
I've never believed in war, Jimmy; never believed it could possibly
help us onward.
Maybe it can't, interrupted Jimmy. I've never believed in cancer,
either; it's very painful and kills a lot of people. You'd better come
with us, sir. You'll be sorry you didn'tif you don't.
Why? You know my ideas on nonresistance, Jimmy.
Oh, ideas! grunted Jimmy. I know you're a white man, Mr. Hunt.
That's enough for me. I'm not worrying much about your ideas.
But whatever we do, Jimmy, there's an idea behind it; there
Nachur'ly, said Jimmy. Those are the only ones that count! I
can't see you letting Susan risk her life day in an' out to help people
who are being wronged, while you sit over here and worry about what's
going to happen in a thousand years or soafter we're all good and
dead! Not much I can't! The point is, there's the rotten messand
Susan's in it, trying to make it betterand we're not. Prof. Farmer
got it all in a flash! He'll be round presently to make plans.
Wellhow about it, sir?
Granite! Granite at last, unshakable, beneath my feet!
Then, too, Susan was over there, and Jimmy and Phil were going,
without a moment's hesitation, at her behest! But I have always hoped,
and I do honestly believe, that it was not entirely that.
No; romanticist or not, I will not submit to the assumption that of
two possible motives for any decently human action, it is always the
lower motive that turns the trick. La Rochefoucauld to the contrary,
self-interest is not the inevitable mainspring of man; though, sadly I
admit, it seems to be an indispensable cog-wheel in his complicated
And now, properly apprehensive readerwhom, in the interests of
objectivity, which has never interested me, I should never openly
addressare you not unhappy in the prospect of another little tour
through trench and hospital, of one more harrowing account of how the
Great War made a Great Man of him at last?
Be comforted! One air raid I cannot spare you; but I can spare you
much. To begin with, I can spare you, or all but spare you, a month or
so over three whole years.
You may think it incredible, but it is merely true, that I had been
in Europe for more than three yearsand I had not as yet seen Susan.
Phil had seen her, just once; Jimmy had seen her many times; and I had
run into themsingly, never togetheroff and on, here and there,
during those slow-swift days of unremitting labor. If to labor
desperately in a heartfelt cause be really to pray, the ear of Heaven
has been besieged! But, in common humanity, there was always more
crying to be done than mortal brains or hands or accumulated wealth
could compass. Once plunged into that glorious losing struggle against
the appalling hosts of Misery, one could only fight grimly
onononto the last hoarded ounce of strength and determination.
But the odds were hopeless, fantastic! Those Titan forces of human
suffering and degradation, so half-wittedly let loose throughout
Europe, grew ever vaster, more terrible in maleficent power. They have
ravaged the world; they have ravaged the soul. An armistice has been
signed, a peace treaty is being drafted, a League of Nations is being
formedor deformedbut those Titan forces still mock our poor efforts
with calamitous laughter. They are still in fiercely, stubbornly
disputed, but unquestionable possession of the fieldinsolent
conquerors to this hour. The real war, the essential war, the war
against the unconsciously self-willed annihilation of earth's tragic
egoist, Man, has barely begun. Its issue is ever uncertain; and it will
not be ended in our days....
Phil and Jimmy had gone over on the same boat, via England,
about the middle of October, 1914. At that time organized American
relief-work in Europe was really nonexistent, and in order to obtain
some freedom of movement on the other side, and a chance to study out
possible opportunities for effective service, Phil had persuaded
Heywood Sampson to appoint him continental correspondent for the new
review; and Jimmy went with him, ostensibly as his private secretary.
It was all the merest excuse for obtaining passports and permission
to enter Belgium, if that should prove immediately advisable after
reaching London. It did not. Once in London, Phil had very soon found
himself up to the eyes in work. Through Mr. Page, the American
Ambassadorso lately deadhe was introduced to Mr. Herbert C. Hoover,
and after a scant twenty minutes of conversation was seized by Mr.
Hoover and plunged, with barely a gasp for breath, into that boiling
sea of troublesthe organization of the Commission for Relief in
Belgium. It does not take Mr. Hoover very long to size up the worth and
stability of any man; but in Phil he had foundand he knew he had
founda peculiar treasure. Phil's unfailing patience, his thoroughness
and courtesy, quickly endeared him to all his colleagues and did much
to make possible the successful launching of the vastest and most
difficult project for relief ever undertaken by mortal men. Thus,
almost overnight, Jimmy's private secretaryship became anything but a
sinecure. For nearly three months their labors held them in London;
then they were sentnot unadventurouslyto Brussels; there to arrange
certain details of distribution with Mr. Whitlock, the American
Minister, and with the directors of the Belgian Comité National.
But from Brussels their paths presently diverged. Jimmy, craving
activity, threw himself into the actual work of food distribution in
the stricken eastern districts; while Phil passed gravely on to
Herculean labors at the shipping station of the C. R. B. in
Rotterdam. He remained in Rotterdam for upward of a year. Susan,
meanwhile, had been driven with the Belgian Army from Furnes, and was
now attached to the operating-room of a small field or
receiving-hospital, which squatted amphibiously in a waterlogged
fragment of village not far from the Yser and the flooded German lines.
It was a post of danger, constantly under fire; and she was the one
woman who clung to itwho insisted upon being permitted to cling to
it, and carried her point; and, under conditions fit neither for man
nor beast, unflinchingly carried on. Mona Leslie was no longer beside
her. She had retired to Dunkirk to aid in the organization of relief
for ever-increasing hordes of civilian refugees.
And where, meanwhile, was one Ambrose Hunt, sometime dilettante
It had proved impossible for me to sail with Phil and Jimmy. Just as
the preliminary arrangements were being made, Aunt Belle was stricken
down by apoplexy, while walking among the roses of her famous Spanish
gardens in Santa Barbara, and so died, characteristically intestate,
and, to my astonishment, I found that I had become the sole inheritor
of her estate; all of Hyena Parker's tainted millions had suddenly
poured their burdensome tide of responsibilitiesneedlessly and
unwelcomelyupon me. There was nothing for it. Out to California,
willy-nilly, I must go, and waste precious weeks there with lawyers and
house agents and other tiresome human necessities.
The one cheering thought in all this annoying pother wasand it was
a thought that grew rapidly in significance to me as I journeyed
westwardthat fate had now made it possible for me to purify Hyena
Parker's millions by putting them to work for mankind.Well, they have
since done their part, to the last dollar; they have spent themselves
in the losing battle against Misery, and are no more. Nothing became
their lives like the ending of them. But for all that, the world, you
see, is as it isand the battle goes on.
Phil kept in touch with me from the other side, in spite of his
difficultiesas did Jimmy and Susanand he had prepared the way for
me when at length I could free myself and sail. I was instructed to go
to Paris, direct, and fulfill certain duties there in connection with
the ever-increasing burdens and exasperations of the C. R. B. I did
so. Six months later my activities were transferred to Berne; andnot
to trace in detail the evolution of my career, such as it was; for
though useful, I hope, it was never, like Phil's, exceptionally
brilliantI had become, about the period of America's entry into the
war, a modest captain in the Red Cross, stationed at Evian, in
connection with the endless, heartbreaking task of repatriating
refugees from the invaded districts. And there my job rooted me until
January of that dark winter of our unspeakable depression, 1918.
With the beginning of America's entry into the war Phil had gone to
Petrograd for the American Red Cross, his commission being to save the
lives of as many Russian babies as possible by the distribution of
canned milk. Then, one eveningearly in September, 1917, it must have
beenhe started alone for Moscow, to lay certain wider plans for
disinterested relief-work before the sinister, the almost mythical
Lenine. That is the last that has ever been seen of him, and no word
has ever come forth directly from him out of the chaos men still call
Russia. The Red Cross and the American and French Governments have done
their utmost to discover his whereabouts, without avail. There are
reasons for believing he is not dead, nor even a prisoner. The
dictators of the soviet autocracy have been unable to find a trace of
him, so they affirm; and there are reasons also for believing that this
As for Jimmy, you will not be surprised to learn that Jimmy had not
long been content with relief-work of any kind. He was young; and he
had seen thingsthere, in the eastern districts. By midsummer
of 1915 he had resigned from the C. R. B., had made a difficult way
to Paris, via Holland and England, had enlisted in the Foreign Legion,
and had succeeded in getting himself transferred to the French Flying
Corps. Thus, months before we had officially abandoned our absurd
neutrality, he was flying over the linesbless him! If Jimmy never
became a world-famous ace, wellthere was a reason for that, too; the
best of reasons. He was never assigned to a combat squadron, for no one
brought home such photographs as Jimmy; taken tranquilly, methodically,
at no great elevation, and often far back of the German lines. His
quiet daring was the admiration of his comrades; anti-aircraft
batteries had no terrors for him; his luck was proverbial, and he grew
to trust it implicitly, seeming to bear a charmed life.
But Susan's luck had failed her, at last. On Thanksgiving Day of
1917 she was wounded in the left thigh by a fragment of shrapnel, a
painful wound whose effects were permanent. She will always walk
slowly, with a slight limp, hereafter. Mona Leslie got her down as far
as Paris by January 20, 1918, meaning to take her on to Mentone, where
she had rented a small villa for three months of long-overdue rest and
recuperation for them both. But on reaching Paris, Susan collapsed; the
accumulated strain of the past years struck her down. She was taken to
the comfortable little Red Cross hospital for civilians at Neuilly and
put to bed. A week of dangerous exhaustion and persistent insomnia
I knew nothing of it directly, at the moment. I knew only that on a
certain day Miss Leslie had planned to start with Susan from Dunkirk
for Mentone; I was waiting eagerly for word of their safe arrival in
that haven of rest and beauty; and I was scheming like a junior clerk
for my first vacation, for two weeks off, perhaps even three, that I
might run down to them there. But no word came. Throughout that first
week in Paris, Miss Leslie in her hourly anxiety neglected to drop me a
And then one night, as I sat vacantly on the edge of my bed in my
hotel room at Evian, almost too weary to begin the tedious sequence of
undressing and tumbling into it, came the second of my psychic reels,
my peculiar visions; briefer, this one, than my first; but no less
authentic in impression, and no less clear.
I saw, this time, the interior of a small white room, almost bare of
furniture, evidently a private room in some thoroughly appointed modern
hospital. The patient beneath the white coverlet of the single
white-enamelled iron bed was Susanor the wraith of Susan, so wasted
was she, so still. My breath stopped: I thought it had been given me to
see her at the moment of death; or already dead. Then the door of the
small white room opened, and Jimmyin his smart horizon-blue uniform
with its coveted shoulder loop, the green-and-red fouragère that
bespoke the bravery of his entire esquadrillecame in, treading
carefully on the balls of his feet. As he approached the bedside Susan
opened her eyesgreat shadows, gleamless soot-smudges in her pitifully
haggard face. It seemed that she was too weak even to greet him or
smile; her eyes closed again, and Jimmy bent down to her slowly and
kissed her. Then Susan lifted her right hand from the coverletI could
feel the effort it cost herand touched Jimmy's hair. There was no
strength in her to prolong the caress. The hand slipped from him to her
breast.... And my vision ended.
Its close found me on my knees on the tiled floor of my bedroom, as
if I too had tried to go nearer, to bring myself close to her bedside,
perhaps to bury my face in my hands against the white coverlet, her
shroud; to weep there....
I sprang up, wildly enough now, with a harsh shudder, the terrified
gasp of a brute suddenly stricken from ambush, aware only of rooted
claws and a last crushing fury of deep-set fangs.
Susan was dying. I knew not where. I could not reach her. But Jimmy
had reached her. He had been summoned. He had not been too late.
There are moments of blind anguish not to be reproduced for others.
Chaos is everythingand nothing. It cannot be described.
There was nothing really useful I could do that night, not even
sleep. In those days, it was impossible to move anywhere on the
railroads of France without the proper passes and registrations of
intention with the military authorities and the local police. I could,
of course, sufferthat is always a human possibilityand I could
attempt, muzzily enough, to think, to make plans. Where was it most
likely that Susan would be? Was the hospital room that I had seen in
Dunkirk, or in Nice, or at some point betweenperhaps at Paris? It
could hardly, I decided, be at Dunkirk; that stricken city, whose
inhabitants were forced to dive like rats into burrows at any hour of
the day or night. There was nothing to suggest the atmosphere of
Dunkirk in that quiet, white-enamelled room. Nice, thenor Mentone?
Hardly, I again reasoned; for Jimmy could not easily have reached them
there. A day's leave; a flight from the lines, so comfortlessly close
to Paristhat was always possible to the air-men, who were in a sense
privileged characters, being for the most part strung with taut nerves
that chafed and snapped under too strict a discipline. And in Paris
there must be many such quiet, white-enamelled rooms. I decided for
Then I threw five or six articles and a bar of chocolate into my
musette, a small water-proof pouch to sling over the
shoulderthree years had taught me at least the needlessness of almost
all Hillhouse necessitiesand waited for dawn. It came, as all dawns
come at lasteven in January, even in France. And with it came a gulp
of black coffee in the little deserted café down-stairsand a
telegram. I dared not open the telegram. It lay beside my plate while I
stained the cloth before me and scalded my throat and furred my tongue.
It was from Paris. So my decision was justified, and now quite
worthless.... I have no memory of the interval; but I had got with it
somehow back to my roomthat accursed blue envelope! Well
Susan at Red Cross hospital for civilians,
Neuilly. All in, but no cause for real worry. Is
sleeping now for first time in nearly a week. I
must leave by afternoon. Come up to her if you
possibly can. She needs you.
Four hours later all my exasperatingly complicated arrangements for
a two-weeks' absence were madethe requisite motions had been the
purest somnambulismand by the ample margin of fifty seconds I had
caught an expressto do it that courtesymoving with dignity, at
decent intervals, toward all that I lived by and despaired of and held
inviolably dear. But the irony of Jimmy's last three words went always
with me, a monotonous ache blurring every impulse toward hope and joy.
Susan was not dead, was not dying! No cause for real worry. Jimmy
would not have said that if he had feared the worst. It was not his way
to shuffle with facts; he was by nature direct and sincere. No; Susan
would recoverthank God for it! Thankand then, under all, through
all, over and over, that aching monotony: She needs you. Jimmy. She
needs you. Jimmy.
Needs me! I groaned aloud.
Plaît-il? politely murmured the harassed-looking little
French captain, my vis-à-vis.
Mille pardons, monsieur, I murmured back. On a
quelquefois des griefs particuliers, vous savez.
Ah dame, oui! he sighed. Par le temps qui court!
Et ce pachyderme de train qui ne court jamais! I smiled.
Ah, pour çaça repose! murmured the little French captain,
and shut his eyes.
She needs you. Jimmy. She needs you. Jimmy. She needs
Then, miraculously, for two blotted hours I slept. But I woke again,
utterly unrefreshed, to the old refrain: She needs youneeds
The little French captain was still asleep, snoring nowbut
softlyin his corner. Ah, lucky little French captain! Ça repose!
One afternoon, five or six days later, I was seated by the
white-enamelled iron bed in the small white room. Susan had had a long,
quiet, normal nap, and her brisk sparrow-eyed Norman nurse, in her
pretty costume of the French Red Cross, had come to me in the little
reception-room of the hospital, where I had been sitting for an hour
stupidly thumbing over tattered copies of ancient American magazines,
and had informed mewith rather an ambiguous twinkle of those sparrow
eyesthat her patient had asked to see me as soon as she had waked,
was evidently feeling stronger, and that it was to be hoped M. le
Capitaine would be discreet and say nothing to excite or fatigue
the poor little one. Je me sauve, m'sieu, she had added,
mischievously grave; on ne peut avoir l'oeil à tout, maisje
compte sur vous.
So innocently delighted had she been by her pleasant suspicions, it
was impossible to let her feel how sharply her raillery had pained me.
But I could not reply in kind. I had merely bowed, put down the
magazine in my hand, and so left herto inevitable reflections, I
presume, upon the afflicting reticence of these otherwise so agreeable
allies d'outre mer. Their education was evidently deplorable.
One never knew when they would miss step, inconveniently, and so
disarrange the entire social rhythm of a conversation.
Ambo, said Susan, putting her hand in mine, do you know at all
how terribly I've missed you? She turned her head weakly on her pillow
and looked at me. You're older, dear. You've changed. I like your face
better now than I ever did.
I wrinkled my nose at her. Is that saying much? I grimaced.
Heaps! She attempted to smile back at me, but her lower lip
quivered. Yours has always been my favorite face, you know, Ambo.
Phil's is wisersomehow, and stronger, too; and Jimmy's is sunnier,
healthier, andyes, handsomer, dear! Nobody could call you handsome,
could they? But you're not ugly, either. Sister was adorably ugly. It
was a daily miracle to see the lamp in her suddenly glow through and
glorify everything. I used to wait for it. It's the only thing that has
ever made me feelhumble; I never feel that way with you. I just feel
Like putting on an old pair of slippers, I ventured.
That's it, sighed Susan happily, and closed her eyes.
That's it! echoed my familiar demon, but no one but Susan would
have admitted it.
As usual, I found it wiser to cut him dead.
Well, dear, I said to Susan, there's one good thing: you'll be
able to use the old pair of slippers any time you need them now. I'm to
be held in Paris, I find, for a three-months' job.
She opened her eyes again; disapprovingly, I felt.
You shouldn't have done that, Ambo! You're needed at Evian; I know
you are. It's bad enough to be out of things myself, but I won't drag
you out of them! How could you imagine that would please me?
I hoped it would, a little, I replied, but it hasn't any of it
been my doingChatworth's wife's expecting a baby in a few weeks, and
he wants to run home to welcome it; I'm to take on his executive work
till he gets back. God knows he needs a rest!
As if you didn't, too! protested Susan, inconsistently enough. Her
eyes fell shut again; her hands slipped from mine. Ambo, she asked
presently, in a thread of voice that I had to lean down to her to hear,
have they told you I can never have a baby now?... Wasn't it lucky if
that had to happen to some womanit happened to me?
No, they had not told me; and for the moment I could not answer her.
Jimmy's wife is going to have a baby soon, added Susan.
Jimmy'swhat! I shrieked. Yes, shriekedfor, to my
horror, I heard my voice crack and soar, strident, incredulous.
Susan was staring at me, wide-eyed, her face aquiver with
excitement; two deep spots of color flaming on her thin cheeks.
Didn't you know?
The white door opened as she spoke, and Susan's Norman nurse hurried
in, her sparrow eyes transformed to stiletto points of indignation.
Ah, m'sieuc'est trop fort! When I told you expressly to do nothing
to excite the poor little one! I rose, self-convicted, before her.
Tais-toi, Annette! exclaimed Susan sharply, her eyes too
gleaming with indignation. It is not your place to speak so to m'sieu,
a man old enough to be your fatherand more than a father to me! For
shame! His surprise was unavoidable! I have just given him a
shockunexpected news! Good news, however, I am glad to say. Now leave
On the contrary, replied Nurse Annette, four feet eleven of
uncompromising and awful dignity, I am in charge here, and it is
m'sieu who will leavetout court! But I regret my vivacité, m'sieu!
It is nothing, mademoiselle. You have acted as you should. It is
for me to offer my regrets. Butwhen may I return?
To-morrow, m'sieu, said Nurse Annette.
Naturally, said Susan. Now sit down, please, Ambo, and listen to
For an instant the stiletto points glinted dangerously; then Nurse
Annette giggled. That is precisely what Nurse Annette did; she giggled.
Then she twirled about on her toes and left usvery quietly, yet not
without a certain malicious ostentation, closing the door.
The French are a brave people, an intelligent and industrious
people; but they exhibit at times a levity almost childlike in the
descendants of so ancient and so deeply civilized a race....
I knew nothing about it myself, Ambo, Susan was saying, until I
was beginning to feel a little stronger, after my operations at
Dunkirk. Then Mona brought me lettersthree from you, dear, and one
long one from Jimmy. But no letter from Phil. I'd hoped, foolishly I
suppose, for that. Jimmy's was the dearest, funniest letter I've ever
read; it made me laugh and cry all at once. It wasn't a bit good for
me, Ambo. It used me all up! And I kept wondering what you must be
thinking. You see, he said in it he had written you.
I've had no letter from Jimmy for at least five or six months, I
So many letters start bravely off over here, sighed Susan, and
then just vanishlike Phil. How many heartbreaks they must have
caused, all those vanished lettersand men. And how silly of me to
think about it! There must be some fatal connection, Ambo, between
being sick and being sentimental. I suppose sentimentality's always one
symptom of weakness. I've never been so disgustingly maudlin as these
So Jimmy's married, I repeated stupidly, for at least the third
Yes, smiled Susan, to little Jeanne-Marie Valérie Josephine
Aulard. I haven't seen her, of course, but I feel as if I knew her
well. They've been married now almost a year. She paused again. Why
don't you look gladder, Ambo? Why don't you ask questions? You must be
dying to know why Jimmy kept it a secret from us so long.
I had not dared to ask questions, for I believed I could guess why
Jimmy had kept it a secret from us so long. For the first time in his
life, I thought, Jimmy had been a craven. He had been afraid to tell
Susan of an event which he must know would be like a knife in her
I suppose I'm foolishly hurt about it, I mumbled.
How bravely she was taking it all, in spite of her physical
exhaustion! Poor child, poor child! But in God's name what then was the
meaning of my vision back there in the hotel room at Evian? Jimmy
entering this room where I now sat, tiptoeing to this very bedside,
stooping down and kissing Susanand her hand lifted, overcoming an
almost mortal weakness, to touch his hair....
You mustn't be hurt at all, Susan gently rebuked me. Jimmy kept
his marriage a secret from us for a very Jimmyesque reason. There was
nothing specially exciting or romantic about the courtship itself,
though. Little Jeanne-Marie's fatherhe was a notary of Soissons who
had made a nice, comfy little fortune for those partsdied just before
the war. So the Widow Aulard retired with Jeanne-Marie to a
brand-spandy-new, very ugly little country housesouth of the Aisne,
Ambo, not far from Soissons; the canny old notary had just completed it
as a haven for his declining years when he up and died. Well then,
during the first German rush, Widow Aulardbeing a good extra-stubborn
bourgeoiserefused to leave her homerefused, Jeanne-Marie told
Jimmy, even to believe the Boches would ever really be permitted to
come so far. That was foolish, of coursebut doesn't it make you like
her, and see hermustache and all?
But the deluge was too much, even for her. One morning, after a
night of terror, she found herself compulsory housekeeper, and little
Jeanne-Marie compulsory servant, to a kennel of Bavarian officers.
Then, three weeks or so later, the orderly of one of these officers, an
Alsatian, was discovered to be a spy and was shotand the Widow Aulard
was shot, too, for having unwittingly harbored him. Jeanne-Marie wasn't
shot, though; the kennel liked her cooking. So, like the true daughter
of a French notary, she used her wits, made herself indispensable to
the comfort of the officers, preserved her dignity under incredible
insults, and her virtue under conditions I needn't tell you about,
Amboand bided her time.
It nearly killed her; but she lived through it, and finally the
French returned and helped her patch up and clean up what was left of
the kennel. And a month or so later Jimmy's esquadrille made
Jeanne-Marie's battered little house their headquarters and treated its
mistress like the staunch little heroine she is. Of course, Jimmy
wasn't attached to the esquadrille then; it was more than a year
later that he arrived on the scene; but it didn't take him long after
getting there to decide on an international alliance. Bless him! he
says Jeanne-Marie isn't very pretty, he guesses; she's justwonderful!
She couldn't make up her mind to the international alliance, though.
She loved Jimmy, but the match didn't strike her as prudent. An orphan
must consider these things. Her property had been swept away, and Jimmy
admitted he had nothing. And being her father's daughter, Jeanne-Marie
very wisely pointed out that he was in hourly peril of being killed or
crippled for life. To marry under such circumstances would be to make
her father turn in his grave. How can anything so sad be so funny,
Ambo? Well, anyway, Jimmy, being Jimmy, saw the point, agreed with her
completely, and seems to have felt thoroughly ashamed of himself for
trying to persuade her into so crazy a match!
Then little Jeanne-Marie came down with typhoid; her life was
despaired of, a priest was summoned. In the presence of death, she
managed to tell the priest that it would seem less lonely and terrible
to her if she could meet it as the wife 'M'sieu Jee-mee.' So the good
priest managed somehow to slash through yards of official red tape in
no timeyou know how hard it is to get married in France, Ambo!and
the sacrament of marriage preceded the last rites; and then, dear,
Jeanne-Marie faced the Valley of Shadow clinging to M'sieu Jee-mee's
hand. The whole esquadrille was unstrungnaturally; even their
famous ace, Boisrobert. Jimmy says he absolutely refused to fly for
three days. Tears were pouring from Susan's eyes.
Oh, what a fool I am! she protested, mopping at them with a corner
of the top sheet. She didn't die, of course. She rallied at the last
moment and got welland found herself safely married after all, and
quite ready to take her chances of living happily with M'sieu Jee-mee
ever afterward! Thereisn't that a nice story, Ambo? Don't you like
pretty-pie fairy tales when they happen to be true?
That she could ask me this with her heart breaking! Again I could
not trust myself to speak calmly, and I saw that she was worn out with
the effort she had made to overcome her weakness, and what I believed
to be a living pain in her breast. I rose.
Ambo! she exclaimed, wide-eyed, still you don't ask me why Jimmy
didn't tell us! How stupid of you to take it all like this!
I've stayed too long, dear, I mumbled; far too long. I've let you
talk too much. Why, it's almost dark! To-morrow
No, now, she insisted, with a little frown of displeasure.
I won't have you thinking meanly of Jimmy! It's too absurdly unfair!
I'm ashamed of you, Ambo.
How she idealized him! How she had always idealized that normal,
likable, essentially commonplace Irish boypouring out, wasting for
him treasures of unswerving loyalty! It was damnable. But these things
were the final mysteries of life, these instinctive bonds, yielding no
clue to reason. One could only accept them, bitterly, with a curse or a
groan withheld. Accept themsince one must....
Well, dear, broke from me with a touch, almost, of impatience, I
confess I'm more interested in your health than in Jimmy's psychology!
But I see you won't sleep a wink if you don't tell me!
I've never known you to be so horrid, she said faintly, all the
weariness of body and soul returning upon her for a moment, till she
fought it back. She did so, to my amazement, with an entirely
unexpected chuckle, a true sharp, clear Birch Street gleam. You don't
deserve it, Ambo, but I'm going to make you smile a little, whether you
feel like it or not! The reason Jimmy didn't tell us was becauseafter
Jeanne-Marie got wellhe spent weeks trying to persuade her that a
marriage made exclusively for eternity oughtn't to be considered
binding on this side! She had been entirely certain, he kept pointing
out to her, that she ought not to marry him in this world, and she had
only done so when she thought she was being taken from it. Susan
chuckled again. Can't you hear him, Amboand her? Jimmy, feeling he
had won something precious through an unfair advantage and so refusing
his good fortuneor trying to; and practical Jeanne-Marie simply
nonplussed by his sudden lack of all common sense! Besides which,
wasn't marriage a sacrament, and wasn't M'sieu Jee-mee a good Catholic?
Was he going back on his faithor asking her to trifle with hers? And,
anyway, they were marriedthat was the end of it! And of course, Ambo,
it wasreally. There! I knew sooner or later you'd have to smile!
Did he give in gracefully? I asked.
Oh, things soon settled themselves, I imagine, when Jeanne-Marie
was well enough to leave. Naturally, she had to as soon as she could. A
soldier's wife can't live with him at the Front, you knoweven to keep
house for his esquadrille. She's living here now, in Paris, with
a distant cousin, an old lady who runs a tiny shop near
St.-Sulpicesells pious pamphlets and pink-and-blue plaster
Virginsyou know the sort of thing, Ambo. You must call on her at once
in due form, dear. You must. I'm so eager towhen I can. She paused
on a breath, then added slowly, her eyes closing, The baby's expected
in FebruaryJimmy's baby.
The look on her face had puzzled me as I left her; a look of quiet
happiness, I must have saidif I had not known.
And my vision at Evian?
I walked back toward the barrier down endless darkening avenues of
suburban Neuilly; walked by instinct, though quite unconscious of
direction, straight to the Porte Maillot, through the emotional
nightmare of what my old childhood nurse, Maggie, used always to call
a great state of mind.
And that nightit was, I think, the thirtieth of January, or was it
the thirty-first?fifty or sixty Boche aëroplanes came by detached
squadrons over Paris and, for the first time since the Zeppelins of
1916, dropped a shower of bombs on the agglomération Parisienne.
It was an entirely successful raid, destructive of property and life;
for the German flyers in their powerful Gothas had caught Paris
napping, impotently unprepared.
I had dined that evening with an old acquaintance, doing six-months'
time, as it amused him to put it, with the purchasing department of the
Red Cross; a man who had long since turned the silver spoon he was born
with to solid gold, and who could see no reason why, just because for
the first time in his life he was giving something for nothing, he
should deprive himself while doing so of the very high degree of
creature comfort he had always enjoyed. He was stationed in Paris, and
it was his invariable custom to dine sumptuously at one of the more
This odd combination of service and sybaritism was not much to my
liking, seeming to indicate a curious lack of imaginative sympathy with
the victims of that triumphing Misery he was enlisted to combat;
nevertheless, I had properly appreciated my dinner. It is impossible
not to appreciate a well-ordered dinner, chez Durant, where
wartime limitations seemed never to weigh very heavily upon the
delicately imagined good cheer. True, the cost of this good cheer was
fantastic, and I shuddered a little as certain memories of refugee
hordes at Evian intruded themselves between our golden mouthfuls; but
the bouquet of a fine mellowed Burgundy was in my nostrils and soon
proved anæsthetic to conscience. And Arthur Dalton is a good table
companion; his easy flow of conversation quite as mellow often as the
wine he knows so well how to select. But that night, though I did my
poor best to emulate him, I fear he did not find an equal combination
of the soothing and the stimulating in me.
Perhaps it was because I had bored him that I was destined before we
parted to catch a rather startling glimpse of a new Arthur Dalton, new
at least to me; a person wholly different from the amusing man of the
world I had long, but so casually, known.
Hunt, he said unexpectedly, over a final glass of old yellow
Chartreuse, a liquor almost unobtainable at any price, you've changed
a lot since our days here together. We had seen something of each
other once in Paris, years before, during a fine month of spring
weather; it was the year after my wife had left me. A lot, he
repeated; and I wish I could say for the better. You've aged, man,
before you're old. You've let life, somehow, get on your nerves,
depress you. Suffered your genial spirits to rot, as the poet says.
That's foolish. It's a kind of defeatacceptance of defeat. Now my
philosophy is always to stay on topwhere the cream lies. Somebody's
going to get it if you and I don't, eh? Well, I'm having my share. I
don't want more and I'm damned if I'll take less. Anything wrong with
that point of view, old man? I'd be willing to swear it used to be
Never quite, I think, was my answer; at least I never formulated
it that way. I took things pretty easily as they came, Dalt, and didn't
worry about reasons. I've never been a philosophical person, never
lived up to any consciously organized plan. If I had any God in those
days I suppose I named him 'Culture'; or worse still 'Good Taste.' Not
much of a god for these times, I added.
Oh, I don't know, Dalton struck in; I'm not so sure of that! I
can't see that these times differ much from any others. There's a big
war on, yes; but that's nothing new, is it? Looks to me pretty much
like the same old planet, right now. Never was much of a planet for the
great majority; never will be. A few of us get all the prizesalways
have. Some of us partly deserve 'em, but most of us just happen to be
lucky. I don't see anything that's likely to change that arrangement.
They've changed it in Russia, I suggested.
Not a bit! exclaimed Dalton. Some different people have taken
their big chance and climbed on top, that's all! I doubt if they stay
there long; still, they may. That fellow Lenine, now; he has a kind of
well-up-in-the-saddle feel to him. Quite a boy, I've no doubt; and if
he sticks, I congratulate him! It's the one really amusing place to
You sound like a Junker war-lord, I smiled. Fortunately, I know
your bark, and I've never seen you bite.
My dear Hunt, said Dalton, lowering his voice, my teeth are
perfectly sound, I assure you; and I've always used 'em when I had to,
believe me. It's the law of life, as I read it. And just here
between ourselves, ehcutting out all the nonsense we've learned to
babbledo you see any difference between a Junker war-lord and a
British Tory peeror an American capitalist? Any real difference, I
mean? I'm all for licking Germany if we can, because if we don't she'll
control the cream supply of the world. But I can't blame her for
wanting to, and if she gets away with itwhich the devil
forbid!we'll all mighty soon forget all the nasty things we've been
saying about her and begin trying to lick her Prussian boots instead of
her armies! That's so, and you know it! Why, the most sickening thing
about this war, Hunt, isn't the loss of lifethat may be a benefit to
us all in the end; no sir, it's the moral buncombe it's let loose! That
man Wilson simply sweats the stuff day and night, drenches us with
ittill we stink like a church of Easter lilies. Come now! Doesn't it
all, way down in your tummy somewhere, give you a good honest griping
I stared at him. Yes; the man was evidently in earnest; was even, I
could see, expecting me to smilehowever deprecatingly, for form's
sakeand in the main agree with him, as became my situation in life;
my class. I had supposed myself incapable of moral shock, but found now
that the sincerity of his cynicism had unquestionably shocked me; I
felt suddenly embarrassed, awkward, ashamed.
Dalt, I finally managed, pretty lamely, it's absurd, I admit; but
if I try to answer you, I shall lose my temper. I mean it. And as I've
dined wonderfully at your expense, that's something I don't care to
It was his turn to stare at me.
Do you mean to say, Hunt, you've been caught by all this
sentimental parson's palaver? Brotherhood, peace on earth, all the rest
My nerves snapped. If you insist on a straight answer, I said,
you can have it: I've no use for a world that spiritually starves its
poets and saints, and physically fattens its hyenas and hogs! And if
that isn't sentimental enough for you, I can go farther!
Oh, that'll do, he laughed, uncomfortably however. I'm always
forgetting you're a scribbler, of sorts. You scribblers are all
alikeemotionally diseased. If you'd only stick to your real job of
amusing the rest of us, it wouldn't matter. It's when you try to reform
us that I draw the line; have to. I can't afford to grow
brainsickabnormal. Well, he added, pushing back his chair, come
along anyway! We've just time to get over to the Casino and have a look
at the only Gaby. Been there? It's a cheap show, after Broadway, but it
does well enough to pass the time.
From this unalluring suggestion I begged off, justly pleading a hard
day of work ahead. And if you don't mind, Dalt, I'll walk home.
Oh, all right, he agreed; I'll walk along with you, if you'll
take it easy. I'm not much for exercise, you know. But it's a perfect
I had hoped ardently to be rid of him, but I managed to accept his
company with apparent good grace, and we strolled down the Avenue
Victor Hugo toward the Triumphal Arch, bathed now in clearest
moonlight, standing forth to all Paris as a cruelly ironic symbol of
Hope, never relinquished, but endlessly deferred. Turning there, the
Champs-Élysées, all but deserted at that hour in wartime Paris,
stretched on before us down a gentle slope, half dusky, half
glimmering, and wholly silent except for our lonesome-sounding
footfalls and the distant faint plopping of a lame cab-horse's
Not much like the old town we knew once, eh, Hunt? asked Dalton.
But conversation soon faded out between us, as we made our way
through etched mysteries of black and silver under thickset leafless
branches. An occasional light beckoned us from far ahead down our
pavement vista; for Paris had not yet fully become that citynot of
dreadfulbut of majestic and beautiful night we were later to know,
and to love with so changed and grave a passion.
It was just after we had crossed the Rond-Point that the first seven
or eight bombs in swift even succession shatteringly fell. They were
not near enough to us to do more than root us to the spot with
What the hell? muttered Dalton, holding my eyes....
Then, very far off, a curious thin wailing noise began, increasing
rapidly, rising to an eerie scream which doubled and redoubled in
volume as it was taken up in other quarters and came to us in
intricately rhythmic waves.
Sirens, said Dalton. The pompiers are out. I guess they've
come, damn them, eh?
Seems so, I answered. Yes; there go the lights. I must get to
Neuilly at oncea sick friend. So long, old man.
Hold on! he called after me. Don't be an ass!
To my impatient annoyance, for they impeded my progress, knots of
people had sprung everywhere from the darkness and were standing now in
open spots, in the full moonlight, murmuring together, as they stared
with backward-craned necks up into the spotless sky....
So, with crashing, sinister, unresolved chords, began the Straussian
overture to the great Boche symphony, Gott Strafe Paris, played
to its impotent conclusion throughout those bitter spring months of the
year of our wonderment, 1918! Ninety-one bombs were dropped that night
within the old fortifications; more than two hundred were showered on
the banlieue. No subsequent raid was to prove equally
destructive of property or life, and it was disturbingly evident that,
for the time being at least, the shadowy air lanes to Paris lay broadly
open to the foe.
Yet, for some reason unexplained, the Gothas did not immediately or
soon return. Followed a hush of rather more than a month, during which
Paris worked breathlessly to improve its air defenses and protect its
more precious monuments. Comically ugly little sausage-balloonsgorged
caterpillars, they seemed, raw yellow with pale green articulations and
loathsome, floppy appendageswere moored in the squares and public
gardens; mountains of sand bags were heaped about the Triumphal Arch
and before the portals of Notre Dame; spies were hunted out,
proclamations issued, the entrance ways to deep cellars were placarded;
and Night, that long-exiled princess, came back to us, royally, in full
mourning robes. In her honor all windows were doubly curtained, all
street lamps extinguished, or dimmed with paint to a heavy blue. We
invoked the august amplitude of darkness and would gladly have banished
the trivial prying moon, seeing her at last in true colors for the
sinister corpse light of heaven which she is. No one, I think, was
deceived by this lengthening interval of calm. Why the Gothas did not
at once return, what restrained them from following up their easy
triumph, we could not guess; but we knew they would come again, would
come many times....
Meanwhile, for most of us who dwelt there, life went on as before,
busily enough; but for one of usas for how many anotherthis no
Brave little Jeanne-Marie Valérie Josephine Aulard, on that night of
anguish, died in giving premature birth to Jimmy's son, James Aulard
Kaneas Susan later named him: for this wizened, unready morsel of
man's flesh, in spite of every disadvantage attending his début and
first motherless weeks on earth, clung with the characteristic tenacity
of his parents to his one obvious line of duty, which was merely to
keep alive in despite of fortune: a duty he somehow finally
accomplished to his own entire satisfaction and to the blessed relief
of Susan and of me. But I shall never forget my first pitiful
introduction to James Aulard Kane.
After leaving Dalton, that night, I had finally made my way to
Susan's hospital on foot, which I had soon found to be the one
practicable means of locomotion. It was a long walk, and it brought me
in due course into the Avenue de la Grande Armée, just in time to
receive the full stampeding effect of the three bombs which fell there,
the nearest of them not four hundred yards distant from me. I am by no
means instinctively intrepid; quite the contrary; I shy like a skittish
horse in the presence of danger, and my first authentic impulse is
always to cut and run. On this occasion, by the time I had mastered
this impulse, I had placed a good six hundred yards between me and that
ill-fated building, whose stone-faced upper floors had been riven and
hurled down to the broad avenue below. Then, shamefacedly enough, I
turned and forced myself back toward that smoking ruin.
Our American ambulances from Neuilly were already arrivingthe
pompiers came laterand the police lines were being drawn. A
civilian spectator, even though a captain of the Red Cross, could
render no real assistance; so much, after certain futile efforts on my
part, was made clear to me, profanely, in a Middle Western accent, by a
young stretcher-bearer whose course I had clumsily impeded. Clouds of
lung-choking dust, milk-white as the moon's full rays played upon them,
rolled over usthe subdued crowd that gathered slowly, oblivious of
further danger. The air was full of whispered rumorthroughout Paris
hundredsthousands, said somehad already died. We were keyed to
believe the wildest exaggerations, to accept the worst that excited
imaginations could invent for us. Yet there was no panic; no one gave
way to hysterical outcry; and the fall of more distant bombs brought
only a deep common groan, compounded of growling imprecationsa groan
truly of defiance and loathing, into which neither fear nor pity for
the victims of this frightfulness could find room to enter. I cursed
with the rest, instinctively, from the pit of my stomach, and turned
raging away; my whole being ached, was congested with rage. For the
first time in my life I then felt in its full hell-born fury that
passion so often named, but so seldom experienced by civilizedor what
we call civilizedman: the passion of hate.
By the time I had reached the hospital the raid was over; the air
was droning from the bronze vibrations of hundreds of bells, all the
church-bells of Paris, full-throated, calling forth their immediate
surface messages of cheer, their deeper message of courage and
Though it was very late, I found a silent group of four nurses
standing in the heavily shadowed street before the shut doors of this
small civilian hospital; they were still staring up fixedly at the
silver-bright sky. They proved to be day-nurses off duty, and among
them was Mademoiselle Annette. She greeted me now as an old friend, and
brushing rules and regulations aside like a true Frenchwoman took me at
once to Susan. I found that Susan had risen from bed and was seated at
her window, which looked out across the winter-bare hospital garden.
Ambo, she exclaimed impatiently, why did you come here! I'm so
used to all this. But Jeanne-Marie, Amboin her condition! I've been
hoping so you would think of hergo to her!
Then what fatuous devilwas it my old familiar demon?put it into
my heart to say: So you haven't been worrying, dear, about me?
About you! she cried. Good God, no! What does it matter about
youor me! This generation's done for, Ambo. Only the children count
nowthe children. We must save themall of themsomehow. It's up to
themto Jimmy's son with the rest! They've got to wipe us out, clear
the slate of us and all our insanities! They've got to pass over the
wreck of us and rebuild a happy, intelligible world!
She rose, seized my arm, and summoning all her strength thrust me
from her toward the door....
It was well on toward three o'clock in the morning when at last I
stood before the black, close-shuttered shop-front of the Vve. Guyot. I
was desperately weary, having of necessity walked all the way. It was,
as I had fully realized while almost stumbling along toward my goal, a
crazy errand. I should find a dark, silent house, and I should then
stumble back through dark, silent streets to my dark, silent hotel. The
shop of the Widow Guyot was a very little shop on a very narrow street,
a mere slit between high, ancient buildingsa slit filled now with the
dense river-mist that shrouds from the experience of Parisians all the
renewing wonders of clear-eyed dawn. The moon had set, or else hung too
veiled and low for this pestilent alley; in spite of a thick military
overcoat I shivered with cold; the flat, sour smell of ill-flushed
gutters caught at my throat. To this abomination of desolation I had,
with no little difficulty, found my way. Thank God I could turn now,
with a good conscience, and fumble back to the warm oblivion of bed.
I paused a moment, however, to draw up the collar of my overcoat to
my ears and fasten it securely; and, doing so, I was aware of the
scrape and clink of metal on metal; then the shop-door right before me
was shaken and jarred open from within. The fluttering rays of a
candle, tremulously held, surprised and for an instant blinded me;
faintly luminous green and red balloons wheeled swiftly in contracting
circles, then coalesced to a flickering point of light. The candle was
held by an old, stout woman with a loose-jowled, bruised-looking face;
a face somehow sensual and hard in spite of its bloated antiquity. A
shrunken, thin-bearded man in a long black coat stood beside her,
holding a black hand-bag. The two were conversing in tones deliberately
muted, but broke off and stared outward as the candle-light discovered
me in the narrow street.
Ah, M'sieu, one sees, is American; he has perhaps lost his way?
piped the thin-bearded man, pretty sharply. He, too, was old.
But no, I replied; I am here precisely on behalf of my friend,
At this name the old woman began, only to check, a half-startled
squawk, lifting her candle as she did so and peering more intently at
me. At this hour, m'sieu? she demanded huskily. What could bring you
at such an hour?
Do I address the Widow Guyot? I was quick to respond.
Then, permit me to explain. As briefly as possible I told her who
I was; that I had but very recently learned of the presence of Jimmy's
wife in Paris, with a relativelearned that she was awaiting the birth
of her first child at the house of this excellent woman. It was my
intention to call soon, madame, in any case, and make myself
knownfeeling there might prove to be many little services a friend
would be only too happy to render. But, after this terrible raid, I
found it impossible to retire with an easy mindat least, until I had
assured myself that all was well with you here.
On this there came a pause, and the thin-bearded man cleared his
throat diligently several times.
The truth is, m'sieu, he finally hazarded, that your apprehension
was only too just. You arrive at a house of mourning, m'sieu. You
arrive, as I did, alastoo late! This poor Madame Kane you would
inquire for is dead. The child, on the contrary, still lives.
Enter, m'sieu, said the Widow Guyot. We can discuss these things
more commodiously within. Doubtless, otherwise, we shall receive
attentions from the police; they are nervous to-night. Naturally. She
seemed, I thoughtin the utter blank depression which had seized me
with the doctor's wordsoffensively calm. Whether, had a doctor been
more quickly obtainable, or a more skillful practitioner at last
obtained, little Jeanne-Marie's life might have been spared, I am
unable to say. I feel certain, however, that the Widow Guyotunder
difficult, not to say terrifying circumstanceshad kept a cool head,
done her best. I exonerate her from all blame. But I add this: Never in
my life have I met elsewhere a woman who seemed to me to possess such
cold-blooded possibilities for evil. Yet, so far as I know to this
hour, her life has always been and now continues industrious and
thrifty; harmless before the law. I have absolutely nothing on
hernothing but an impression I shall never be rid of, which even now
returns to chill me in nights of insomnia: a sense of having met in
life one woman whose eyes may now and then have watered from dust or
wind, but could never under any circumstances conceivably human have
known tears. Other women, too many of them, have bored or exasperated
me with maudlin or trivial tears; but never before or since have I met
a woman who could not weep. It is a fixed idea with me that the
Widow Guyot could not; and the idea haunts and troubles me
strangelythough why it should, I am too casual a psychologist even to
At her heels, I crossed a small cluttered shop, following the
tremulous flame of the candle through a fantastic shadow dance; Doctor
Pollainwho had given me his name with the deprecating cough of one
who knows himself either unpleasantly notorious or hopelessly
obscureshuffled behind us. Madame Guyot opened an inner door. Light
from the room beyond tempered a little the vagueness about me and
ghostily revealed a huddle of ecclesiastical trumperyrows of thin,
pale-yellow tapers; small crucifixes of plaster or base-metal gilded; a
stand of picture post-cards; a table littered with lesser gimcracks.
The direct rays from Madame Guyot's candle, as she turned a moment in
the doorway, wanly illuminated the blue-coiffed, vapid face of a bisque
Virgin; gave for that instant a half-flicker, as of just-stirring life,
to her mannered, meaningless smile.
The room beyond proved to be a good-sized bedroom, its one window
muffled by heavy stuff-curtains of a dull magenta red. A choking,
composite odorI detected the sick pungency of chloroformemerged
from it. I plunged to enter, and for a second instinctively held my
breath. On the great walnut double-bed lay a still figure covered with
a sheet; the proper candles twinkled at head and foot. But it is
needless to describe these things....
It was in a smaller room beyond, a combined living-and-dining room,
stodgily ugly, but comfortable enough as well, that I first made the
acquaintance of James Aulard Kane. What I saw was a great roll of
blankets in a deep boxlike cradle, and in the depths of a deeply dented
feather pillow a tiny, wrinkled monkey-face, a miniature grotesque. The
small knife-slit that served him for mouth opened and shut slowly and
continuously, as if feebly gasping for difficult breath. He gave not
even one faint encouraging cry. I turned to Doctor Pollain, shaking my
But no! he exclaimed. For an eight-months child, look youhe has
vigor! I am sure he will live.
Then, for his father's sake, I replied, we must take no chances!
Isn't there a maternity hospital in the neighborhood where he can
receive the close attention that you, madame, at your age, with your
responsibilities, ought not to be expected to give? I make myself fully
responsible for any and all charges involved. Understand me, madame,
and you, M. le Médecin, I insist that no stone shall be left unturned!
These words produced, at once a grateful change in the
atmospherehitherto, I had felt, ever so slightly hostile. It is
unnecessary to follow our further negotiations to their entirely
amicable close. Half an hour later I left the shop of the Widow Guyot,
satisfied that Doctor Pollain would assist her to make all needful
arrangements, and promising to get into communication as soon as it
could be managed with M. Jee-mee. I should return, I told them,
certainly, before noon.
But for Jimmy's sake, on leaving, I raised a corner of the sheet
covering the face of Jeanne-Marie. It was a peaceful face. If she had
lately suffered, death now had quietly smoothed from her all but a
lasting restfulness. A good little woman, I mused, of the best type
provincial France offers; sensible, yet ardent; practical, yet kind. As
I looked down at her, the meaningless smile of the bisque Madonna in
the shop without returned to me, simpered for a half-second before
me.... The symbols men madeand soldcommercial symbols! The Mother
of Sorrows, a Chinese toy! Well....
One thing troubles me, said the Widow Guyot at my elbow, in her
husky, passionless voice: She did not receive the last rites, m'sieu.
When the bad turn came, it was not possible for us to leave her. You
will understand that. There was a new life, was there not? Assuredly,
though, I am troubled; I regret that this should have happened to me. It will be a great cause for scandal, m'sieuwhen you consider my
connectionsthe nature of my little affairs. But, name of God, that
will pass; one explains these things with a certain success, and my age
favors me. I bear, God be praised, a good name; and in the proper
quarters, m'sieu. Butthe poor little one! Observe m'sieu, that she
clasps a crucifix on her breast. Be so good as to remember that I
placed it in her handsan instant before she died.
It is an artistic fault in real life that it deals so frequently in
coincidence, to the casting of suspicion upon those who report it
veraciously. On the very night that Jeanne-Marie died, probably within
the very hour that she died, Jimmy was shot down, while taking part in
a bombing expedition; the plane he was conducting was seen, by crews of
the two other bombing-planes in the formation, to burst into flames
after a direct hit from an anti-aircraft battery, which had been firing
persistently, though necessarily at haphazard, up toward the bumble-bee
hum of French motorsso betrayingly unlike the irregular guttural
growl of the German machines.
Throughout the following morning I had been attempting, with the
indispensable aid of my old friend, Colonel , of the French war
office, to get into telegraphic communication with the commander of
Jimmy's esquadrille; but it was noon, or very nearly, before
this unexpected word came to us. And when it came, I found myself
unable to believe it.
In the very spirit of Assessor Brack, Things don't happen like
that! I kept insisting. It's too improbable. I must wait for further
verification. We shall see, colonel, there's been an error in names;
some mistake. I was stubborn about it. Simply, for Susan's sake, I
could not admit the possibility that Jimmy was dead.
During the midday pause I hurriedly made my way to the Widow Guyot's
little shop. The baby had already been taken to the Hospice de la
Maternitéthe old Convent of Port Royal, near the cemetery of
Montparnasse. He had stood the trip well, Madame Guyot assured me, and
would undoubtedly win through to a ripe old age. A priest was present.
I told Madame Guyot to arrange with him for a proper funeral and
interment for Jeanne-Marie, and was at once informed that the skilled
assistants of a local director of pompes funébres were even then
at work, embalming her mortal remains.
So much, at least, m'sieu, said Madame Guyot, I knew her husband
would desire; and I relied on your suggestion that no expense need be
spared. I have stipulated for a funeral of the first classa specific
thing in France; so many carriages with black horses, so many plumes of
such a quality, and so onit only remains to acquire a site for the
poor little one's grave. This, too, M'sieu le Capitaine, you may safely
leave to my discretion; but we must together fix on a day and hour for
the ceremonies. Is it yet known when this poor Lieutenant Kane will
arrive in Paris?
No, it was not yet known; I should be able to inform her, I
hazarded, before nightfall; and I thanked her for the pains she was
taking, and again assured her that the financial question was of no
importance. As I said this, the priest, a dry wisp of manhood, softly
drew nearer and slightly moistened his thin-set lips; but he did not
speak. Possibly Madame Guyot spoke for him.
At such times, m'sieu, she replied, one does what one can. But
naturallythat is understood. One is not an only relative for nothing,
m'sieu. The heart speaks. True, I have hitherto been put to certain
expenses for which the poor little one had promised to reimburse
I hastened to assure her that she had only to present this account
to me in full, and we parted with mutual though secret contempt, and
with every sanctified expression of esteem. Then I returned to the
cabinet of my friend, Colonel .
By three o'clock in the afternoon a brief telegram from Jimmy's
commander was brought to us; it removed every possibility of doubt,
even from my obdurate mind. Jimmy had gone West once for all, and
this time West was not even a geographical expression.... I sat
silent for perhaps five slowly passing minutes in the presence of
Colonel , until I was aware of a somewhat amazed scrutiny from
tired, heavily pouched blue eyes.
You feel this deeply, he observed, and II feel nothing, except
a vague sympathy for you, mon ami. Accept, without phrases, I
beg you, all that a sad old man has left to give.
I rose, thanked him warmly for the trouble he had taken on my
behalf, and left him to his endless, disheartening labors. France was
in danger; he knew that France was in danger. What to him, in those
days, was one young life more or less? He himself had lost three sons
in the war....
But how was I to let fall this one blow more, this heaviest blow of
all, upon Susan? It was that which had held me silent in my chair,
inhibiting all will to rise and begin the next needful step. Yes, it
was that; I was thinking of Susan, not of Jimmy. For me in those days,
I fear, the world consisted of Susan, and of certain negligible
phantomsthe remainder of the human race. It is not an état d'âme
that Susan admires, or that I much admire; but in those days it was
certainly mine. And this is the worst of a lonely passion: the more one
loves in secret, without fulfillmentand however unselfishlythe more
one excludes. Life contracts to a vivid, hypnotizing point; all else is
shadow. In the name of our common humanity, there is a good deal to be
said for those who are fickle or frankly pagan, who love more lightly,
and more easily forget. But enough of all this! Phil with his steady
wisdom might philosophize it to some purpose; not I.
In my uncertainty of mind, then, the first step that I took was an
absurdly false one. There was just one thing for me to do, and I did
not do it. I should have gone straight to Susan and told her about
Jimmy and Jeanne-Marie; above all, about James Aulard Kane. Even if
Susan, as I then supposed, loved Jimmy, and had always loved
himknowing her as I did, loving her as I did, I should have felt
instinctively that this was the one wise and kind, the one possible
thing to do. Yet a sudden weakness, born of innate cowardice, betrayed
I went, instead, direct to the Hotel Crillon and sent up my card to
Miss Leslie; it struck me as fortunate that I found her just returned
to her rooms from a visit to Susan. It was really a calamity. I had
seen her several times there, at the hospital; I liked her; and I knew
that Susan had now no more devoted friend. She received me cordially,
and I at once laid all the facts before her andwith an entirely
sincere humblenessasked her advice. But God, in the infinite variety
of his creations, had never intended Mona Leslie to shine by reason of
insight or common sense; she had other qualities! And this, too, I
should easily have discerned. Why I did not, can only be explained by a
sort of prostration of all my faculties, which had come upon me with
the events of the night and morning just past. I was inert, body and
soul; I could not think; I felt like a child in the sweep of dark
forces it cannot struggle against and does not understand; in effect, I
was for the time being a stricken, credulous child. Perhaps no grown
man, not definitely insane, has ever touched a lower stratum of
spiritual debility than I then sank toresting there, grateful,
fatuously content, as if on firm ground. In short, I was a plain and
It seemed to me, I remember, during our hour's talk together, that
Miss Leslie was one of the two or three wisest, most understanding, and
sympathetic persons I had ever met. Sympathetic, she genuinely was;
very gracious and interestingly melancholy, in her Belgian nurse's
costume, with King Albert's decoration pinned to her breast. It seemed
to me that she divined my thoughts before I uttered them; as perhaps
she didfor to call them thoughts is to dignify vague sensations with
a misleading name. Miss Leslie had had always, I am now aware, an
instinctive response for vague sensations; she had always vibrated to
them like a harp, thus surrounding herself with an odd, whispering
music. A strange woman; not without nobility and force when the
appropriate vague sensations played upon her. The sufferings of war had
already wrung from her a wild, æolian masterpiece, more moving perhaps
than a consciously ordered symphony. And Susan, though she had never so
much as guessed at Susan, was one of her passions! Susan played on us
both that day: though the mawkish music we made would have disgusted
herdid disgust her in its final effects, as it has finally disgusted
What these effects were can be briefly told, but not briefly enough
to comfort me. There is no second page of this record I should be so
happy not to write.
Miss Leslie had long suspected, she told me, that Susanlike
Viola's hypothetical sisterwas pining in thought for a secret, unkind
lover, and she at once accepted as a certainty my suggestion that so
gallant a young aviator as Jimmy had been what glorious Jane always
calls her object.
This must be kept from her, Mr. Hunt, at all costsfor the next
few weeks, I mean! She's simply not strong enough yet, not poised
enough, to bear itwith all the rest! It would be cruelty to tell her
now, and might prove murderous. Oh, believe me, Mr. HuntI know!
Her cocksure intensity could not fail to impress me in my present
state of deadness; I listened as if to oracles. Then we conspired
My lease of the villa at Mentone runs on till May, said Miss
Leslie. Susan's physically able for the journey now, I think; we must
take that risk anyway. I'll get the doctors to order her down there
with me, at once. She needs the change, the peace; above allthe
beauty of it. She's starved for beauty, poor soul! And there's the
possibility of further raids, too; she mustn't in her condition be
exposed to that. When she's stronger, Mr. Huntafter she's had a few
happy weeksthen I'll tell her everything, in my own way. Women can do
these things, you know; they have an instinct for the right moment, the
You are proving that now, I said. Every word she had spoken was
balm to me. Everything could be put offput off.... To put things off
indefinitely, hide them out of sight, dodge them somehow! Why, she was
voicing the one weary cry of my soul!
And so, within three days, this supreme folly was accomplished. Mona
Leslie and I stole across the river in secret to little Jeanne-Marie's
meagerly attended funeral of the first class, and with Madame Guyot,
Doctor Pollain, and a few casual neighbors, we followed her coffin from
the vast drafty dreariness of St. Sulpice to the wintry, crowded alleys
of the cemetery of Montparnasse.That very evening Susan left with
Miss Leslie for Mentone.
She was glad enough to go, she said, for a week or two. But
Ambowhat shall I say to Jimmy? Will he ever forgive me for not having
been able to make friends, first, with Jeanne-Marie? And it's all your
fault, dear; you must tell him thatsay you've been downright cross
with me about it. I wish now I hadn't listened to you; I feel perfectly
well to-night; I've no business to be starting on a holiday. But I
shan't stay long, Ambo. I'll be back in Paris before little Jimmy
arrives; I promise you that. And here's a letter to post, dear; I've
said so in it to Jeanne-Marie.
* * * * *
A dark train drew out of a dark station. With it went Hope, the
shadow, silently, from my heart....
The days passed. Mentone, Miss Leslie wrote me, was doing everything
for Susan that we had desired. But she is determined, she added, to
be back in Paris by the last week of Februarywhen the baby was
expected. She begins to be bothered that you write so scrappily and
vaguely, and that she hears nothing directly from Lieutenant Kane or
Jeanne-Marie. I shall have to tell her soon now, in any case. It seems
more difficult as I come nearer to it, but I still feel sure we have
done the right thing. I'm certain now that Susan will be able to face
and bear it. Already she's full of plans for the futurewonderful!
Possibly, if an opportunity offers, I shall tell her to-night.
The next afternoon my telephone rang. When I answered it, Susan
spoke to me. Ambo, she said, I'm at the France-et-Choiseul. Please
come over at once, no matter how busy you are. You owe that much to me,
I think. She had hung up the receiver before I could stammer a reply.
But nothing more was necessary. I went to her as a criminal goes to
confession, knowing at last how hideously in her eyes I had sinned.
You meant well, Ambo, she said with a gentleness that
yielded nothingyou and Mona. Meaning well's what I feel now I can
never quite forgive you. You, Ambo. Poor Mona doesn't count in
this. But youI thought I was safe with you. No matter.
Later she said: I've seen Madame Guyota horrible woman; and the
baby. He's a nice baby. You did just right about him, Ambo. Thank you
for that. She mused a moment. I suppose it's absurd to think he looks
like Jimmy? But to me he does. I'm going to adopt him, Ambo. You
seeher smile was wistfulI am going to have a baby of my
own, after all.
I'd thought of adopting him, myself, I babbled; but of
Of course, said Susan.
In so many subtle ways she had made it clear to me. I had
disappointed her; revealed a blindness, a weakness, she would never be
able to forget. In my hotel room that night I faced it out and accepted
my punishment as just. Justbut terrible.... There is nothing in life
so terrible as to know oneself utterly and finally alone.
On the night of the eighth of March the Gothas, so long expected,
returned; to be met this time by a persistent barrage fire from
massed 75's, which proved, however, little more than the good
beginnings of a really competent defense. Many bombs fell within the
fortifications, and we who dwelt there needed no other proof that the
problem of the defense of Paris against air raids had not yet
successfully been solved.
There were thickening rumors, too, of an imminent German attack in
force. Things were not going well at the Front. It was common gossip
that there was division among the Allies; the British and French
commands were pulling at cross purposes; Italy seemed impotent; Russia
had collapsed; the Americans were unknown factors, and slow to arrive.
It began to seem possibleto the disaffected or naturally pessimistic,
more than possiblethat the Prussian mountebank might make good his
anachronistic boast to wear down and conquer the world.
Even the weather seemed to fight for his pinchbeck empire; it was
continuously dry, and for the season in Northern France extraordinarily
clear. By its painful contrast with our common anxieties, the
unseasonable beauty of those March days and nights weighted as if with
lead the sense of threat, of impending calamity, that pressed upon us
and chilled us and made desperate our hearts.
I saw Susan daily. She did not avoid me and was never unkind, but I
felt that she took little comfort or pleasure from my society. Mona
Leslie, rather huffed than chastened, I fear, by Susan's quiet
aloofness, had returned to her duties at Dunkirk. I was glad to have
her go, to be rid of the embarrassment of her explanations and
counselto be rid, above all, of the pointedly sympathetic and pitying
pressure of her hand. Except for a slight limp, Susan now got about
freely and was busily engaged with our Red Cross directors on plans for
a nursing-home for the children of repatriated refugeesa home where
these little victims of frightfulness and malnutrition could be built
up again into happy soundness of body and mind, into the vigorous
life-stuff needed for the future of France and of the world. A
too-medieval château at , in Provence, had been offered; and plans
for its immediate alteration and modernization were being drawn.
The whole thing, from the first, had been Susan's idea, and she was
to have charge of it allonce the required plant was readyas became
its creator. But indeed, in the interim, she had simply taken charge of
our Red Cross architects and buyers and builders and engineers, and was
sweeping things forward with a tactful but exceedingly high hand. She
meant that the interim should be, if possible, brief.
I want results, said Susan; we can discuss the rules we've broken
afterward. The children are fading out now, and some of them
will be dead or hopelessly withered before we can aid them. Let's get
some kind of home and get it running; with a couple of good doctors, an
orthopedist, a dental expert, and the right nursesand I'll pick
them, please!we can make out somehow, 'most anywhere.
There was no standing against her. It was presently plain to all of
us in the Paris headquarters that this nursing home was to be put
through, in record time, Germans or no Germans, and no matter who fell
by the wayside! And, in spite of my natural anxiety, I was soon
convinced that whoever fell, it would not be Susannot, at least, till
the clear flame of her spirit had burned out the oil of her energy to
its last granted drop.
In the rare intervals of these labors, she was arranging for the
legal adoption of James Aulard Kane. No step of this kind is easily
arranged in bureaucratic France. It is a difficult land to be legally
born in or married in, or to die inif one wishes to do these things,
at least, with a certain decency, en règle.
Susan complained to me of this, wittily scornful, as we left the Red
Cross headquarters together on the evening of March eleventh, and
started toward her hotel down the dusky colonnade of the Rue de Rivoli.
I'm worn out with them all! she exclaimed. All I want is to take
care of Jimmy's baby, and you'd think I was plotting to upset the
government. I shall, too, if some of these French officials don't
presently exhibit more common sense. It ought to be upsetand
simplified. Oh, I wish I lived in a woman's republic, Ambo! Things
would happen there, even if they were wrong! No woman has patience
enough to be bureaucratic.
True, I chimed; and you're right about men, all round. We're
hopeless incompetents at statecraft and such things, at running a
reasonable worldbut we can cook! And what you need for a
change from all this is a good dinnera real dinner! It will renew
your faith in the eternal masculineand we haven't had a bat, Susan,
or talked nonsense, for years and years! Come on, dear! Let's have a
perfectly shameless bat to-night and damn the consequences! What do you
I saydamn the consequences, Ambo! Let's! Why, I'd forgotten there
was such a thing as a bat left in the world!
But there is! Lookthere's even a taxi to begin on!
I hailed it; I even secured it; and we were presently clanking and
grinding on our wayin what must have been an authentic relic from the
First Battle of the Marnetoward the one restaurant in Paris. Unto
each man, native or alien, who knows his Paris, God grants but one,
though it is never the same. Well, I make no secret about it; my
passion is deep and openly proclaimed. For me, the one restaurant in
Paris is Lapérouse; I am long past discussing the claims of
rivals. It issimply and finallyLapérouse....
We descended before an ancient, dingy building on the Quai des
Grands-Augustins, passed through a cramped doorway into a tiny, ill-lit
foyer, climbed a steep narrow stairs, and were presently installed in a
corner of the small corner dining-room, with our backs neighborly
against the wall. In this room there happened that night to be but one
other diner; a small, bloated, bullet-headed civilian, with prominent
staring eyes; a man of uncertain age, but nearing fifty at a guess. We
paid little attention to him at first, though it soon became evident to
us that he was enjoying a Pantagruelian banquet in lonely state,
deliberately gorging himself with the richest and most incongruously
varied food. Comme boissons, he had always before him two
bottles, one of Château Yquem and one of Fine Champagne;
and he alternated gulps of thick yellow sweetness with drams of neat
brandy. Neither seemed to produce upon him any perceptible effect,
though he emitted from time to time moist porcine snufflings of fleshy
satisfaction. Rather a disgusting little man, we decided; and so
To the ordering of our own dinner I gave a finicky care which
greatly amused Susan, for whom food, I regret to say, has always
remained an indifferent matter; it is the one æsthetic flaw in her
otherwise so delicately organized being. In spite of every effort on my
part to educate her palate, five or six nibbles at almost anything
edible remains her idea of a banquetprovided the incidental talk
prove sufficiently companionable or stimulating.
That night, however, do what we would, our talk together was neither
precisely the one nor the other. We both, rather desperately, I think,
made a supreme effort to approximate the free affectionate chatter of
old days; but such things never come of premeditation, and there were
ghosts at the table with us. It would not work.
Oh, what's the use, Ambo! Susan finally exclaimed, with a weary
sigh. We can't do it this way! Sister's here, and Jeanne-Marieas
close to me as if I had seen her and known her always; and maybePhil.
But Jimmy's here most of all! There's no use pretending we're
forgetting, when we're not. You and I aren't built for forgetting,
Ambo. We'll never forget.
No, dear; we'll never forget.
Let's remember, then, said Susan; remember all we can.
For a long hour thereafter we rather mused together than conversed.
Constraint slipped from us, as those we had best loved came back to us,
warm and near and living in our thoughts of them. No taint of false
sentiment, of sorrow willfully indulged, marred these memories. Trying
to be happy we had failed; now, strangely, we came near to joy.
We haven't lost them! exclaimed Susan. Not any part of them; we
They haven't lost us, then?
Noshe pondered itthey haven't lost us.
You mean it, Susanliterally? You believe they still liveout
I don't know.
Poor Ambo, murmured Susan; then, with a quick, dancing gleam: But
as Jimmy'd say, dear, you can just take it from me!
She spoke of him as if present beside her. A silence fell between us
The small, bullet-headed man had just paid his extravagant bill,
distributed his largesse, and was about to depart. He was being helped
into a sumptuous overcoat, with a deep collar of what I took to be
genuine Russian sables. There was nothing in his officiously tended
leave-taking to stir my interest; my eyes rested on him idly for a
moment, that was all. The head waiter, two under-waiters, and a solemn
little buttons followed him out to the stair-head, with every
expression of gratitude and esteem. Passing from sight, he passed from
my thoughts, leaving with me only a vague physical repulsion that
barely outlasted his departure.
Do you know what I think Phil has done? Susan was asking.
Phil? The name had startled me back to attention.
I believe he's made himself one of themthe peasants, I meanin
some remote, dirty, half-starved Russian village.
Why? That's an odd fancy, dear. And it isn't much like him. Phil's
too clear-headed, or stiff-headed, for such mysticism.
How little you really know him, then, she replied. He's been
steering since birth, I feel, toward some great final renunciation. I
believe he's made it, now. You'll see, Ambo. Some day we'll hear of a
new prophet, away there in the Eastwhere all our living dreams come
from! You'll see!
'In Vishnu-land what Avatar?' I quoted, smiling sadly enough; and
Susan's smile wistfully echoed mine, even while she raised a warning
finger at me.
Oh, you of little faith! she said quite simply.
We had barely stepped out from the narrow doorway of the restaurant
into a tenuous, moon-saturated mist, a low-lying diaphaneity that left
the upper air-lanes openly clear, when the sirens were wailing again
from every quarter of the city....
They're coming early to-night! I exclaimed. Well, that ends all
hope for a taxi home! We must find an abri.
Nonsense! We'll walk quietly back along the river. Unlessshe
teased meyou really are afraid, Ambo?
I tucked her arm firmly into mine. So you won't stumble, Mlle.
But it is a nuisance to be lame! she protested: I do envy you
your two good legs, M. le Capitaine.
We made our way slowly along the embankment, passing the Pont des
Arts, and two shadowy lovers paced on before us, blotted together,
oblivious of the long, eerie rise and fall of the sirens; every twenty
yards or so they stopped in their tracks, as by a common impulsion, and
were momentarily lost to time in a passionate embrace.
Neither Susan nor I spoke of these lovers, who turned aside to pass
under the black arches of the Institute, into the Rue de Seine....
As we neared the Pont du Carrousel the barrage began, at
first distant and muffledthe outer guns; then suddenly and grimly
nearer. An incessant twinkle of tiny star-white pointsthe bursts of
high-explosive shellsdrifted toward us from the north. So light was
the mist, it did not obscure them; it barely dimmed the moon.
Hold on! I said, checking Susan; this is something new! They're
firing to-night straight across Paris. The glitter of star-points
seemed in a moment to fill all the northern sky; the noise of the
barrage trebled, trebled again.
Why, it's drum fire! cried Susan. Oh, how beautiful!
Yes; but we'll get on faster, all the same! I'll help you! Come!
I put my arm firmly about her waist and almost lifted her along with
me. By the time we had reached the Pont Royal, the high-explosive
bursts were directly over us; the air rocked with them. I detected,
too, at intervals, another more ominous soundthat deep, pulsing growl
which no one having once heard it could ever mistake.
Gothas, I growled back at them, flying low. They've ducked under
And instantly I swung Susan across the open quai to the left
and plunged with her up an inky defile, the Rue du Bac.
Where are you taking me? she demanded, half breathless, dragging
against my arm.
To the first available abri, I cried at her, under the
sky's reckless tumult. Don't stop to argue about it!
But she halted me right by the corner of the Rue de Lille. If it's
going to be a bad raid, Ambo, I must get to Jimmy's babyI must!
Impossible! It's at least two milesand this isn't going to be a
picnic, Susan! You're coming with me! I tightened my arm about
her; every instant now I expected the shattering climax of the bombs.
Then, just as we crossed the Rue de Lille, something halted me in my
turn. About a hundred yards at my right, down toward the Gare D'Orsay,
and from the very middle of the black street-chasm, a keen, bladelike
ray of light flashed once and againsharp, vertical
rapier-thrustsstraight up through the thin mist-veil into the
treacherous sky. Followed, doubtless from a darkened upper window, a
woman's frantic shriek: Espionespion!
Pistol shots nextand rough criesand a pounding charge of
feet.... Right into my arms he floundered, and I tackled him and fell
with him to the cobbles and fought him there blindly, feeling for his
throat. This lasted but a moment. Gendarmes tore us apart, in a brief
crossing flash of electric-torchesand I caught just one glimpse of a
bare bullet-head, of a bloated, discolored face, of prominent staring
eyes, maddened by fear. There could be no mistake. It was our little
man of the Pantagruelian banquet. We had watched him eating his last
fabulous mealhis farewell to Egypt.
And that is all I just then clearly remember.... I am told that nine
bombs fell in a sweeping circle throughout this district; one of them,
in the very courtyard of the War Office; one of themof 300
kilosperhaps a square from where we stood. There was a rush past of
hurtling fragmentsglass, chimney-tiles, chips of masonry, que
sais-je?and even this I report only because I have been credibly
What next I experienced was pain, unlocalized at first, yet somehow
damnably concentrated: pure, white-hot essence of pain. And through the
stiff hell of it I was, and was not, aware of someonesome onesome
onemurmuring love and pity and mortal anguish....
Amboyou wouldn't leave menot you! Not you, Ambonot alone....
The pain dimmed off from me in an ebbing, dull-red wave; great coils
of palpable darkness swirled down upon me to smother me; I struggled to
rise from beneath themfling them off.... From an infinite distance, a
woman's cry threaded through them, like a needle through mufflings of
wool, and pricked me to an instant, a single instant, of clear
consciousness. I opened my eyes on Susan's; I strove to answer them,
tell her I understood. Susan says that I did answer themthat I even
smiled. But I can feel back now only to a vast sinking away, depth
under depth under depth, downdowndowndown....
The rest, however, I thank God, is not yet silence; though it is
high time to make an end of this long and all too faulty record.
They did various things to me at the hospital, from time to time;
they removed hard substances from me that were distinctly out of place
in my interior; they also removed certain portions of my authentic
anatomythree fingers of my left hand, among others, and my left leg
to the knee. This was not in itself agreeable, and I shall always
regret their loss; yet those weeks of progressive operation and tardy
recuperation were, up to that period, the happiest, the most fulfilled
weeks of my life. And surely egotism can go no farther! For these weeks
of my triumphant happiness were altogether the darkest, saddest,
cruellest weeks of the war. In a world without light, my heart sang in
my breast, sang hallelujahs, and would not be cast down. Susan loved
memehad always loved me! Rheims soon might fall, Amiens
might fall, the channel ports, Paris, London, the Seven Seasthe
World! What did it matter! Susan loved meloved me!
And even nowthough Susan is ashamed for me that I can say
itthough I feel that I ought to be ashamed that I can say itthough
I wonder that I am notthough I try to bewell, I am not
Final Note, by Susaninsisted upon: But all the same,
secretly, he is ashamed. For there's nobody in the world like Ambo,
whether for dearness or general absurdity. Why shouldn't he have been a
little happy, if he could manage it, throughout those interminable
weeks of physical pain? He suffered day and night, preferring not to be
kept under morphine too constantly. I won't say he was a hero; he
was, but there's nothing to be puffed up about nowadays in that. If
the war has proved anything, it is that in nearly every man, when his
particular form of Zero Hour sounds for him, some kind of a
self-despising hero is waiting, and ready to act or endure or be broken
and cast away. We all know that now. It's the cornerstone for a
possible Utopia: no, it's more than thatit's the whole foundation.
But I didn't mean to say so when I started this note.
All I meant to say was that you must never take Ambo au pied de
la lettre. I'm not in the least as he's hymned mebut that,
surely, you've guessed between the lines. What is much more important
is that he's not in the least as he has painted himself. But unless I
were to rewrite his whole book for himwhich wouldn't be tactful in an
otherwise spoiled and contented wifeI could never make this clear, or
do my strange, too sensitive man the full justice he deserves.
He'soh, but what's the use! There isn't anybody in the world like
More than a year has already passed since those dark-bright days,
the spring of 1918. Down here in quiet, silvery Provence, at our
nursing-home for childrenI call it oursthe last of the cherry
blossoms are falling now in our walled orchard close. As I write, James
Aulard Kane sitsnone too steadilyamong a snow of petals, and sweeps
them together in miniature drifts with two very grubby little hands. He
is a likely infant and knows definitely what he wants from life, which
is mostly food. He talks nothing but Frenchthat is, he emits the
usual baby grunts and snortings in a funny harsh accent caught from his
Marseillaise nurse. Susan is far too busy to improve this accent as she
would like to do: perhaps it would be simpler to say that she is far
too busy. She is the queen-bee of this country hive; and II am a
harmless enough drone. They let me dawdle about here and do this and
that; but the sun grows more powerful daily, and I sleep a good deal
now through the warmer hours. I am haunted by fewer mysterious twinges,
here and there, when I sleep....
Meanwhile, the world-cauldron bubbles, and the bubbles keep
bursting, and I read of their bursting and shake my head. When a man
begins shaking his head over the news of the day, he is done for; a
back number. Susan never shakes her head; and it's rather hard on her,
I think, to be the wife of a back number. But she's far too thoughtful
of me ever to seem to mind.
Only yesterday I quoted some lines to her, from Coventry Patmore.
Susan doesn't like Coventry Patmore; the mystical Unknown Eros he
celebrates strikes her aswell, perhaps I had better not go into that.
But the lines I quotedthey had been much in my mind latelywere
For want of me the world's course will not fail;
When all its work is done the lie shall rot;
The truth is great and shall prevail
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
Stuff! We do care! said Susan. And it won't prevail, either,
unless we make it. Who's working harder than you to make it prevail, I
should like to know!
You see how she includes me.... So this book is my poor tribute to
her thoughtfulness, this Book of Susan.
* * * * *
But sometimes I sit and wonder. Shall we ever, I wonder, go back to
my ancestral mansion on Hillhouse Avenue and quietly settle down there
to the old securities, the old, slightly disdainful calm? I doubt it.
Tumps, ancient valetudinarian, softened by age; Togo, rheumatic, but
steeped in his deeply racial, his Oriental indifferentismthey are the
inheritors of that august tradition, and they become it worthily. For
them it exists and is enough; for us it is shattered. Phil, a later
Waring, is lost in Russia. Jimmy is gone. But Susan will do, I know,
more than one woman's part to help in creating a more livable world for
his son, and I shall gain some little strength for that coming labor,
spending it as I can. It will be an interesting world for those who
survive; a dusk chaos just paling eastward. I shall hardly see even the
beginnings of dawn. Butwith Susan beside meI shall have lived.
* * * * *
Farewell, then, Hillhouse Avenue!... Make way for Birch Street!