In a Little Town
by Rupert Hughes
DON'T YOU CARE!
THE MOUTH OF THE
THE OLD FOLKS AT
AND THIS IS
THE MAN THAT
MIGHT HAVE BEEN
THE HAPPIEST MAN
THE BEAUTY AND
“A” AS IN
There are two immortal imbecilities that I have no patience for.
The other one is the treatment of little towns as if they were
essentially different from big towns. Cities are not Ninevehs and
Babylons any more than little towns are Arcadias or Utopias. In fact
we are now unearthing plentiful evidence of what might have been safely
assumed, that Babylon never was a Babylon nor Nineveh a Nineveh in
the sense employed by poets and praters without number. Those old
cities were made up of assorted souls as good and as bad and as mixed
They do small towns a grievous injustice who deny them restlessness,
vice, ostentation, cruelty; as they do cities a grievous injustice who
deny them simplicity, homeliness, friendship, and contentment. It is
one of those undeniable facts (which everybody denies) that a city is
only a lot of small towns put together. Its population is largely made
up of people who came from small towns and of people who go back to
small towns every evening.
A village is simply a quiet street in the big city of the world.
Quaint, sweet happenings take place in the avenues most thronged, and
desperate events come about in sleepy lanes. People are people, chance
My novels have mainly concerned themselves with New York, and I have
tried therein to publish bits of its life as they appear to such eyes
and such mind as I have. Though several of my short stories have been
published in single volumes, this is the first group to be issued. They
are all devoted to small-town people. In them I have sought the same
end as in the city novels: to be true to truth, to observe with
sympathy and explain with fidelity, to find the epic of a stranger's
existence and shape it for the eyes of strangersto pass the throb of
another heart through my heart to your heart.
The scene of these stories lies pretty close to the core of these
United States, in the Middle West, in the valley of the Mississippi
River. I was born near that river and spent a good deal of my boyhood
Though it would be unfair, false, and unkind to fasten these stories
on any definite originals, they are centered in the region about the
small city of Keokuk, Iowa, from which one can also see into Illinois,
and into Missouri, where I was born. Comic poets have found something
comic in the name of Keokuk, as in other town names in which the letter
K is prominent. Why K should be so humorous, I can't imagine. The
name of Keokuk, however, belonged to a splendid Indian chief who was
friendly to the early settlers and saved them from massacre. The
monument over his bones in the park, on the high bluff there, now
commands one of the noblest views in the world, a great lake formed in
the Mississippi River by a dam which is as beautiful as if the Greeks
had built it. It was, in fact, built by a thousand Greeks who camped
there for years. As an engineering achievement it rivals the Assouan
dam and as a manufacturer of electricity it is a second to Niagara
Falls. But it has not yet materially disturbed the rural quality of the
The scenery thereabout is very beautiful, but I guarantee you
against landscape in these stories. I cannot, however, guarantee that
the stories are even based on fact. Yet I hope that they are truth.
The characters are limited to a small neighborhood, but if they are
not also faithful to humanity in general, then, as we would say out
there, I miss my guess.
IN A LITTLE TOWN
DON'T YOU CARE!
When she was told it was a girl, Mrs. Govers sighed. Well, I never
did have any luck, anyway; so I d' know's I'm supprised.
Later she wept feebly:
Girls are easier to raise, I suppose; but I kind of had my heart
set on namin' him Launcelot. After another interval she rallied to a
smile: I was prepared for the worst, though; so I picked out Ellaphine
for a name in case he was a her. It's an awful pirty name, Ellaphine
is. Don't you think so?
Yes, yes, said the nurse, who would have agreed to anything then.
After a time Mrs. Govers resumed: She'll be an awful pirty girl, I
hope. Is that her makin' all that noise? Give me a glimpse of her, will
you? I got a right, I guess, to see my own baby. Oh, Goshen! Is that
how she looks? A kind of swoon; then more meditation, followed by a
courageous philosophy: Children always look funny at first. She'll
outgrow it, I expect. Ellaphine is such an elegant name. It ought to be
a kind of inducement to grow up to. Don't you think so?
The nurse, who was juggling the baby as if it were red-hot, mumbled
through a mustache of safety-pins that she thought so. Mrs. Govers
echoed, I thought so, too. After that she went to sleep.
Ellaphine, however, did not grow up elegant, to fit the name. The
name grew inelegant to fit her. During her earliest years the witty
little children called her Elephant until they tired of the ingenuity
and allowed her to lapse indolently from Ellar to El.
Mrs. Govers for some years cherished a dream that her ugly duckling
would develop into a swan and fly away with a fabulously wealthy
prince. Later she dwindled to a prayer that she might capture a man who
was tol'able well-to-do.
The majority of ugly ducklings, however, grow up into uglier ducks,
and Mrs. Govers resigned herself to the melancholy prospect of the
widowed mother of an old maid perennial.
To the confusion of prophecy, among all the batch of girls who
descended on Carthage about the time of Ellaphine's birthout of the
nowhere into the hereEllaphine was the first to be married! And she
cut out the prettiest girl in the townshipit was not such a small
Those homely ones seem to make straight for a home the first thing.
Ellaphine carried off Eddie Pouchthe very Eddie of whom his mother
used to say, He's little, but oh, my! The rest of the people said,
Oh, my, but he's little!
Eddie's given name was Egbert. Edward was his taken name. He took it
after his mother died and he went to live at his uncle Loren's. Eddie
was sorry to change his name, but he said his mother was not
responsible at the time she pasted the label Egbert on him, and his shy
soul could not endure to be called Egg by his best friendsleast of
all by his best girl.
His best girl was the township champion looker, Luella Thickins.
From the time his heart was big enough for Cupid to stick a
child's-size arrow in, Eddie idolized Luella. So did the other boys;
and as Eddie was the smallest of the lot, he was lost in the crowd.
Even when Luella noticed him it was with the atrocious contempt of
little girls for little boys they do not like.
Eddie could not give her sticks of candy or jawbreakers, for his
uncle Loren did not believe in spending money. And Eddie had no mother
to go to when the boys mistreated him and the girls ignored him. A
dismal life he led until he grew up as far as he ever grew up.
Eddie reached his twenty-second birthday and was working in Uncle
Loren's factoryone of the largest feather-duster factories in the
whole Statewhen he observed a sudden change in Luella's manner.
She had scared him away from paying court to her, save from a
distance. Now she took after him, with her aggressive beauty for a club
and her engaging smiles for a net. She asked him to take her to the
Sunday-school picnic, and asked him what he liked best for her to put
in for him. She informed him that she was going to cook it for herself
and everybody said she could fry chicken something grand. So he chose
He was so overjoyed that it was hard for him to be as solemn about
the house as he ought to have been, in view of the fact that Uncle
Loren had been taken suddenly and violently ill. Eddie was the natural
heir to the old man's fortune.
Uncle Loren was considered close in a town where extravagance was
almost impossible, but where rigid economy was supposed to pile up
tremendous wealth. Hitherto it had pained Uncle Loren to devote a penny
to anything but the sweet uses of investment. Now it suddenly occurred
to the old miser that he had invested nothing in the securities of New
Jerusalem, Limited. He was frightened immeasurably.
In his youth he had joined the Campbellite church and had been
baptized in the town pond when there was a crust of ice over it which
the pastor had to break with a stick before he immersed Loren.
Everybody said the crust of ice had stuck to his heart ever since.
In the panic that came on him now he craftily decided to transfer
all his savings to the other shore. The factory, of course, he must
leave behind; but he drafted a hasty will presenting all his money to
the Campbellite church under conditions that he counted on to gain him
a high commercial rating in heaven.
Over his shoulder, as he wrote, a shadow waited, grinning; and the
old man had hardly folded his last testament and stuffed it into his
pillow-slip when the grisly hand was laid on his shoulders and Uncle
Loren was no longer there.
His uncle's demise cut Eddie out of the picnic with Luella; but she
was present at the funeral and gave him a wonderful smile. Uncle
Loren's final will was not discovered until the pillow-slip was sent to
the wash; and at the funeral Eddie was still the object of more or less
disguised congratulations as an important heir.
Luella solaced him with rare tact and tenderness, and spoke much of
his loneliness and his need of a helpmate. Eddie resolved to ask her to
marry him as soon as he could compose the speech.
Some days later Uncle Loren's farewell will turned up, and Eddie
fell from grace with a thump. The town laughed at him, as people always
laugh when a personparticularly so plump a person as Eddie wasfalls
hard on the slippery sidewalk of this icy world.
In his dismay he hastened to Luella for sympathy, but she turned up
missing. She jilted him with a jolt that knocked his heart out of his
mouth. He stood, as it were, gaping stupidly, in the middle of the
Then Ellaphine Govers came along, picked his heart out of the road,
dusted it, and offered it back. He was so grateful that he asked her to
keep it for him. He was so pitiable an object that he felt honored even
by the support of Ellar Govers.
He went with Ellar quite a lot. He found her very comfortable
company. She seemed flattered by his attention. Other people acted as
if they were doing him a favor by letting him stand around.
He had lost Uncle Loren's money, but he still had a small job at the
factory. Partly to please Ellar and partly to show certain folks that
he was not yet dead, he took her out for a drive behind a livery-stable
horse. It was a beautiful drive, and the horse was so tame that it
showed no desire to run away. It was perfectly willing to stand still
where the view was good.
He let Ellar drive awhile, and that was the only time the horse
misbehaved. It saw a stack of hay, nearly went mad, and tried to climb
a rail fence; but Ellar yelled at it and slapped the lines at it and
got it past the danger zone, and it relapsed into its usual mood of
Eddie told Ellar the horse was attackted with haydrophobia. And
she nearly laughed herself to death and said:
You do say the funniest things!
She was a girl who could appreciate a fellow's jokes, and he saw
that they could have awful good times together. He told her so without
difficulty and she agreed that they could, and they were as good as
engaged before they got back as far as the fair-grounds. As they came
into the familiar streets Eddie observed a remarkable change in the
manner of the people they passed. People made an effort to attract his
eye. They wafted him salutes from a distance. He encountered such a
lifting of hats, elaborateness of smiles and flourish of hands, that he
said to Ellaphine:
Say, Pheeny, I wonder what the joke is!
Me, I guess, sighed Ellaphine. They're makin' fun of you for
takin' me out buggy-ridin'.
Ah, go on! said Eddie. They've found out something about me and
they're pokin' fun.
He was overcome with shame and drove to Ellaphine's house by a side
street and escorted the horse to the livery-stable by a back alley. On
his way home he tried in vain to dodge Luella Thickins, but she headed
him off with one of her Sunday-best smiles. She bowled him over by an
Why, Eddie, you haven't been round to see me for the longest time!
Can't you come on over 'safternoon? I'd just love to see you!
He wondered whether she had forgotten how she had ground his meek
heart under her heel the last time he called.
She was so nice to him that she frightened him. He mumbled that he
would certainly call that afternoon, and got away, wondering what the
trick was. Her smile seemed less pretty than it used to be.
A block farther on Eddie met a man who explained the news, which had
run across the town like oil on water. Tim Holdredge, an idle lawyer
who had nothing else to do, looked into the matter of Uncle Loren's
will and found that the old man, in his innocence of charity and his
passion for economy, had left his money to the church on conditions
that were not according to the law. The money reverted to the estate.
Eddie was the estate.
When Tim Holdredge slapped Eddie on the shoulder and explained the
result of what he called the little joker in Uncle Loren's will,
Eddie did not rejoice, as Tim had a right to expect.
Eddie was poisoned by a horrible suspicion. The logic of events ran
through his head like a hateful tune which he could not shake off:
When Luella thought I was coming into a pile of money she was nice
to me. When she heard I wasn't she was mean to me. Now that my money's
coming to me, after all, she's nice again. Therefore But he was
ashamed to give that ungallant ergo brain room.
Still more bewildering was the behavior of Ellaphine. As soon as he
heard of his good fortune he hurried to tell her about it. Her mother
answered the door-bell and congratulated him on his good luck. When he
asked for Ellar, her mother said, She was feelin' right poorly, so
she's layin' down. He was so alarmed that he forgot about Luella, who
waited the whole afternoon all dressed up.
After supper that night he patrolled before Ellaphine's home and
tried to pluck up courage enough to twist that old door-bell again.
Suddenly she ran into him. She was sneaking through the front gate. He
tried to talk to her, but she said:
I'm in a tur'ble hurry. I got to go to the drug-store and get some
chloroform liniment. Mamma's lumbago's awful bad.
He walked along with her, though she tried to escape him. The first
drowsy lamp-post showed him that Ellaphine had been crying. It was the
least becoming thing she could have done. Eddie asked whether her
mother was so sick as all that. She said Nothen changed to
Yesand then stopped short and began to blubber uncouthly, dabbing
her eyes alternately with the backs of her wrists.
Eddie stared awhile, then yielded to an imperious urge to clasp her
to his heart and comfort her. She twisted out of his arms, and snapped,
Don't you touch me, Eddie Pouch!
Eddie mumbled, inanely, You didn't mind it this mornin',
Her answer completely flabbergasted him:
No; because you didn't have all that money then.
Gee whiz, Pheeny! he gasped. What you got against Uncle Loren's
money? It ain't a disease, is it? It's not ketchin', is it?
No, she sobbed; but weWell, when you were so poor and all, I
thought you mightyou might really like me because I could be of
someof some use to you; but now youyou needn't think I'm goin' to
hold you to anyanything against your will.
Eddie realized that across the street somebody had stopped to
listen. Eddie wanted to throw a rock at whoever it was, but Ellaphine
absorbed him as she wailed:
It 'd be just like you to be just's nice to me as ever; but I'm not
goin' to tie you down to any homely old crow like me when you got money
enough to marry anybody. You can get Luella Thickins back now. You
could marry the Queen of England if you'd a mind to.
Eddie could find nothing better to say than, Well, I'll be
While he gaped she got away.
Luella Thickins cast her spells over Eddie with all her might, but
he understood them now and escaped through their coarse meshes. She was
so resolute, however, that he did not dare trust himself alone in the
same town with her unless he had a chaperon.
He sent a note to Ellaphine, saying he was in dire trouble and
needed her help. This brought him the entree to her parlor. He told her
the exact situation and begged her to rescue him from Luella.
Ellaphine's craggy features grew as radiant as a mountain peak in
the sunrise. The light made beautiful what it illumined. She consented
at last to believe in Eddie's devotion, or at least in his need of her;
and the homely thing enjoyed the privilege of being pleaded for and of
yielding to the prayers of an ardent lover.
She assumed that the marriage could not take place for several
years, if ever. She wanted to give Eddie time to be sure of his heart;
but Eddie was stubborn and said:
Seein' as we're agreed on gettin' married, let's have the wedding
right away and get it over with.
When Ellaphine's mother learned that Ellaphine had a chance to marry
an heir and was asking for time, Mrs. Govers delivered an oration that
would have sent Ellaphine to the altar with almost anybody, let alone
her idolized Eddie.
The wedding was a quiet affair. Everybody in Carthage was invited.
Few came. People feared that if they went they would have to send
wedding-presents, and Eddie and Ellar were too unimportant to the
social life of Carthage to make their approval valuable.
Eddie wore new shoes, which creaked and pinched. He looked twice as
uncomfortable and twice as sad as he had looked at his uncle Loren's
obsequies; and he suffered that supreme disenchantment of a too-large
collar with a necktie rampant.
In spite of the ancient and impregnable theory that all brides are
beautiful, was there ever a woman who looked her best in the uniform of
approaching servitude? In any case, Ellaphine's best was not good, and
she was at her worst in her ill-fitting white gown, with the veil
askew. Her graceless carriage was not improved by the difficulty of
keeping step with her escort and the added task of keeping step with
The organist, Mr. Norman Maugans, always grew temperamental when he
played Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and always relieved its
monotonous cadence with passionate accelerations and abrupt
retardations. That made walking difficult.
When the minister had finished with the couple and they moved down
the aisle to what the paper called the Bridle March, by Lohengrin,
Mr. Maugans always craned his neck to see and usually put his foot on
the wrong pedal, with the startling effect of firing a cannon at the
He did not crane his neck, however, to see Mr. and Mrs. Pouch
depart. They were too commonplace entirely. He played the march with
such doleful indifference that Eddie found the aisle as long as the
distance from Marathon to Athens. Also he was trying to walk so that
his pinching shoes would not squeak.
At the end of the last pew Eddie and Ellaphine encountered Luella
Thickins leaning out into the aisle and triumphantly beautiful in her
finest raiment. Her charms were militant and vindictive, and her smile
plainly said: Uh-huh! Don't you wish you'd taken me instead of that
thing you've hitched up with for life?
Eddie gave her one glance and found her hideous. Ellaphine lowered
her eyelids in defeat and slunk from the church, thinking:
Now he's already sorry that he married me. What can he see in me to
love? Nothing! Nothing!
When they clambered into the carriage Eddie said, Well, Mrs. Pouch,
give your old husband a kiss!
Ellaphine shrank away from him, however, crying again. He was hurt
and puzzled until he remembered that it is the business of brides to
cry. He held her hand and tried to console her for being his victim,
and imagined almost every reason for her tears but the true one.
The guests at the church straggled to Mrs. Govers's home, drawn by
the call of refreshments. Luella was the gayest of them all. People
wondered why Eddie had not married her instead of Ellaphine. Luella
heard some one say, What on earth can he see in her?
Luella answered, What on earth can she see in him? It was hardly
playing fair, but Luella was a poor loser. She even added, to clinch
it, What on earth can they see in each other?
That became the town comment on the couple when there was any
comment at all. Mainly they were ignored completely.
Eddie and Ellar were not even honored with the usual outburst of the
ignoblest of all sportsbride-baiting. Nobody tied a white ribbon to
the wheel of the hack that took them to the depot. Old shoes had not
been provided and rice had been forgotten. They were not pelted or
subjected to immemorial jokes. They were not chased to the train, and
their elaborate schemes for deceiving the neighbors as to the place of
their honeymoon were wasted. Nobody cared where they went or how long
They returned sheepishly, expecting to run a gantlet of humor; but
people seemed unaware that they had been away. They settled down into
the quiet pool of Carthage without a splash, like a pair of mud-turtles
slipping off a log into the water. Even the interest in Eddie's
inheritance did not last long, for Uncle Loren's fortune did not last
longnot that they were spendthrift, for they spent next to nothing;
but money must be fed or it starves to death. Money must grow or
Eddie found that his uncle's reputation for hard dealing had been a
condition of his success. He soon learned that the feather-duster
factory could be run at a profit only by the most microscopic care.
Wages must be kept down; hours kept up; the workers driven every
minute, fined if they were late, nagged if they dawdled. Profit could
be wrung from the trade only by ugly battles with dealers and
purchasers. Raw material had to be fought down, finished product fought
up; bills due fought off, accounts fought in; the smallest percentage
of a percentage wrestled for.
Eddie was incapable of such vigilant hostility toward everybody. The
factory almost immediately ceased to pay expenses. Eddie was prompt to
meet debts, but lenient as a collector. The rest of his inheritance
fared no better. Eddie was an ideal mortgagee. The first widow wept him
out of his interest in five tears. Having obliged her, he could hardly
deny the next person, who had money but wanted more, to carry out a
Eddie first gained a reputation for being a kind-hearted gentleman
and a Christian, and later a notoriety for being an easy mark. Eddie
overheard such comment eventually, and it wounded him as deeply as it
bewildered him. Bitterer than the contempt for a hard man is the
contempt for a soft man who is betrayed by a vice of mercy. Eddie was
hopelessly addicted to decency.
Uncle Loren had been a miser and so close that his nickname had
implied the ability to skin a flint. People hated him and raged against
him; but it suddenly became evident that they had worked hard to meet
their bills payable to him. They had sat up nights devising schemes to
gain cash for him. He was a cause of industry and thrift and
self-denial. He paid poor wages, but he kept the factory going. He
squeezed a penny until the eagle screamed, but he made dusters out of
the tail feathers, and he was planning to branch out into whisk brooms
and pillows when, in the words of the pastor, he was called home. The
pastor liked the phrase, as it did not commit him to any definite
Eddie, however, though he worked hard and used thrift, and, with
Ellaphine's help, practised self-denial, found that he was not so big a
man as the small man he succeeded. He increased the wages and cut down
the hours, and found that he had diminished the output of everything
except complaints. The men loafed shamelessly, cheated him of the
energy and the material that belonged to him, and whined all the time.
His debtors grew shiftless and contemptuous.
It is the irony, the meanness, of the trade of life that virtue may
prove vicious in effect; and viciousness may produce good fruit. Figs
do grow from thistles.
For a time the Pouch couple attracted a great deal of attention from
the people of Carthagethe sort of attention that people on shore
devote to a pair of capsized canoeists for whom nobody cares to risk
Luella Thickins had forced the note of gaiety at the wedding, but
she soon grew genuinely glad that Eddie had got away. She began to
believe that she had jilted him.
People who wondered what Mr. and Mrs. Pouch saw in each other could
not realize that he saw in her a fellow-sufferer who upheld him with
her love in all his terrors. She was everything that his office was
notpeace without demand for money; glowing admiration and raptures of
What she saw in him was what a mother sees in a crippled child that
runs home to her when the play of the other boys is too swift or too
rough. She saw a good man, who could not fight because he could not
slash and trample and loot. She saw what the Belgian peasant women
sawa little cottage holder staring in dismay at the hostile armies
crashing about his homestead.
The only comfort Eddie found in the situation was the growing
realization that it was hopeless. The drowsy opiate of surrender began
to spread its peace through his soul. His torment was the remorse of
proving a traitor to his dead uncle's glory. The feather-dustery that
had been a monument was about to topple into the weeds. Eddie writhed
at that and at his feeling of disloyalty to the employees, who would be
turned out wageless in a small town that was staggering under the
burden of hard times.
He made a frantic effort to keep going on these accounts, but the
battle was too much for him. He could not imagine ways and meanshe
knew nothing of the ropes of finance. He was like a farmer with a
scythe against sharpshooters. Ellaphine began to fear that the struggle
would break him down. One night she persuaded him to give up.
She watched him anxiously the next morning as his fat little body,
bulging with regrets, went meekly down the porch steps and along the
walk. The squeal of the gate as he shoved through sounded like a groan
from his own heart. He closed the gate after him with the gentle care
he gave all things. Then he leaned across it to wave to his Pheeny. It
was like the good-by salute of a man going to jail.
Ellaphine moped about the kitchen, preparing him the best dinner she
could to cheer him when he came home at noon. To add a touch of grace
she decided to set a bowl of petunias in front of him. He loved the
homely little flowers in their calico finery, like farmers' daughters
at a picnic. Their cheap and almost palpable fragrancy delighted him
when it powdered the air. She hoped that they would bring a smile to
him at noon, for he could still afford petunias.
She was squatting by the colony aligned along the walk, and her big
sunbonnet hid her unbeautiful face from the passers-by and theirs from
her, when she caught a glimpse of Luella Thickins coming along,
giggling with the banker's son. Luella put on a little extra steam for
the benefit of Ellaphine, who was glad of her sunbonnet and did not
Later there came a quick step, thumping the boardwalk in a rhythm
she would have recognized but for its allegrity. The gate was opened
with a sweep that brought a shriek from its old rheumatic hinge, and
was permitted to swing shut with an unheeded smack. Ellaphine feared it
was somebody coming with the haste that bad news inspires. Something
awful had happened to Eddie! Her knees could not lift her to face the
evil tidings. She dared not turn her head.
Then she heard Eddie's own voice: Pheeny! Pheeny, honey!
Everything's all right!
Pheeny spilled the petunias and sat down on them. Eddie lifted her
up and pushed his glowing face deep into her sunbonnet, and kissed her.
Luella Thickins was coming back and her giggling stopped. She and
the banker's son, who were just sauntering about, exchanged glances of
disgust at the indecorous proceeding. Later Luella resumed her giggle
and enjoyed hugely her comment:
Ellar looks fine in a sunbonnet! The bigger it is, the better she
Meantime Eddie was supporting his Pheeny into the house. His path
was strewn with petunias and she supposed he had some great victory to
announce. He had; but he was the victim.
The conqueror was the superintendent of the factory, Jabez
Pittinger, who had survived a cycle of Uncle Loren's martinetism with
less resentment than a year of Eddie's lenience. But Eddie is telling
Ellaphine of his glorious achievement:
You see, I went to the fact'ry feeling like I was goin' to my
I know, she said; but what happened?
I just thought I'd rather die than tack up the notice that we were
going to shut down and turn off those poor folks and all.
I know, said Ellaphine; but tell me.
Well, finally, Eddie plodded along, I tried to draw up the
'nouncement with the markin'-brush; but I just couldn't make the
letters. So I called in Jabe Pittinger and told him how it was; and I
says to him: 'Jabe, I jest naturally can't do it m'self. I wisht you'd
send the word round that the factory's goin' to stop next Sat'd'y.' I
thought he'd show some surprise; but he didn't. He just shot a splash
of tobacco-juice through that missin' tooth of his and says, 'I
wouldn't if I's you.' And I says, 'Goodness knows I hate to; but
there's no way out of it.' And he wopsed his cud round and said, 'Mebbe
there is.' 'What do you mean?' I says. And he says, 'Fact is,
Eddie'he always called me Mr. Pouch or Boss before, but I couldn't
say anything to him, seeing
I know! Ellaphine almost screamed. But what'd he say? What's the
Eddie went on at his ox-like gait. 'Well,' he says, 'fact is,
Eddie,' he says, 'I been expectin' this, and I been figgerin' if they
wasn't a way somewhere to keep a-runnin',' says he; 'and I been talkin'
to certain parties that believes as I do, that the fault ain't with the
feather-duster business, but with the way it's run,' he says. 'People
gotter have feather dusters,' he says; 'but they gotter be gave to 'em
right.' O' course I knew he was gettin' at me, but I was in no p'sition
to talk back.
Oh, please, Eddie! Ellaphine moaned. Please tell me! I'm goin'
crazy to know the upshot of it, and I smell the pie burnin'it's
You got rhubob pie for dinner to-day? Eddie chortled. Oh,
crickety, that's fine!
He followed her into the kitchen and helped her carry the things to
the dining-room, where they waited on each other in alternate dashes
and clashes of Lemme get it! and You set right still!
Eventually he reached the upshot, which was that Mr. Pittinger
thought he might raise money to run the factory if Eddie would give him
the control and drop out. Eddie concluded, with a burst of rapture:
I'm so tickled I wisht I could telegraft poor Uncle Loren that
everything's all right!
It was an outrageous piece of petty finance on high models, and it
euchred Eddie out of everything he had in the world except his illusion
that Jabez was working for the good of the factory.
Eddie always said The Fact'ry in the tone that city people use
when they say The Cathedral.
Ellaphine saw through the wiles of Jabez and the measly capitalists
he had bound together, and she was ablaze with rage at them and with
pity for her tender-hearted child-husband; but she did not reveal these
emotions to Eddie.
She encouraged him to feast on the one sweetmeat of the situation:
that the hands would not be turned off and the factory would keep open
doors. In fact, when doubt began to creep into his own idle soul and a
feeling of shame depressed him, as the butt of the jokes and the pity
that the neighbors flung at him, Ellaphine pretended to be overjoyed at
the triumph he had wrested from defeat.
And when he began to chafe at his lack of occupation, and to fret
about their future, she went to the factory and invaded the office
where the usurper, Jabez Pittinger, sat enthroned at the hallowed desk,
tossing copious libations of tobacco-juice toward a huge new cuspidor.
She demanded a job for Eddie and bullied Jabez into making him a
bookkeeper, at a salary of forty-five dollars a month.
Thus, at last, Eddie Pouch found his place in the world. There are
soldiers who make ideal first sergeants and are ruined and ruinous as
second lieutenants; and there are soldiers who are worthless as first
sergeants, but irresistible as major-generals. Eddie was a born first
sergeant, a routine man, a congenital employeedoomed, like fire, to
be a splendid servant and a disastrous master.
Working for himself, he neglected every opportunity. Working for
another, he neglected nothing. Meeting emergencies, tricking creditors
and debtors, and massacring competitors were not in his line; but when
it came to adding up columns of figures all day, making out bills,
drawing checks for somebody else to sign, and the Santa Claus function
of stuffing the pay-roll into the little envelopesEddie was there.
Shrewd old Jabez recognized this. He tried him on a difficult
collection oncesent him forth to pry an ancient debt of eighteen
dollars and thirty-four cents out of the meanest man in town, vice
Uncle Loren. Eddie came back with a look of contentment.
Did you git it? said Jabez.
Well, you see, it was like this: the poor feller
Poor heller! Did you git it?
No; he was so hard up I lent him four dollars.
Out of my own pocket, o' course.
Jabez remarked that he'd be hornswoggled; but he valued the incident
and added it to the anecdotes he used when he felt that he had need to
justify himself for playing Huerta with his dreamy Madero.
After that the most Jabez asked of Eddie was to write Please remit
or Past due on the mossier bills. Eddie preferred an exquisite poem
he had copied from a city creditor: This account has no doubt escaped
your notice. As we have several large obligations to meet, we should
greatly appreciate a check by return mail.
Eddie loved that. There was a fine chivalry and democracy about it,
as one should say: We're all debtors and creditors in this world, and
we big fellows and you little fellows must all work together.
Life had a regularity now that would have maddened a man more
ambitious than Eddie or a woman more restless than Ellaphine. Their
world was like the petunia-gardenthe flowers were not orchids or
telegraph-pole-stemmed roses; but the flower faces were joyous, their
frocks neat, and their perfume savory.
Eddie knew just how much money was coming in and there was no
temptation to hope for an increase. They knew just how much time they
had, and one day was like another except that along about the first of
every month Eddie went to the office a little earlier and went back at
night to get out the bills and adjust his balances.
On these evenings Ellaphine was apt to go along and sit with him,
knitting thick woolen socks for the winter, making him shirts or
nightgowns, or fashioning something for herself or the house. Her
loftiest reach of splendor was a crazy quilt; and her rag carpets were
On Sundays they went to church in the morning and again in the
evening. Prayer-meeting night saw them always on their way to the place
where the church bell called: Come! Come!
Sometimes irregular people, who forgot it was prayer-meeting night,
would be reminded of it by seeing Eddie and Ellar go by. They went so
early that there was time for the careless to make haste with their
bonnets and arrive in time.
It was a saying that housewives set their kitchen clocks by Eddie's
transits to and from the factory. At any rate, there was no end to the
occasions when shiftless gossips, dawdling on their porches, were
surprised to see Eddie toddle homeward, and scurried away, cackling:
My gracious! There goes Eddie Pouch, and my biscuits not cut out!
The whole year was tranquil now for the Pouches, and the halcyon
brooded unalarmed in the waveless cove of their life. There were no
debtors to be harassed, no creditors to harass them. They paid cash for
everythingat least, Ellaphine did; for Eddie turned his entire
forty-five dollars over to her. She was his banker and his steward.
She could not persuade him to smoke, or to buy new clothes before
the old ones grew too shabby for so nice a man as a bookkeeper is apt
to be. He did not drink or play cards or billiards; he did not belong
to any lodge or political organization.
The outgo of money was as regular as the incomeso much for the
contribution-basket on Sundays; so much for the butcher; so much for
the grocer; so much for the coal-oil lamps. The baker got none of their
money and the druggist little.
A few dollars went now and then to the dry-goods store for dress
goods, which Pheeny made up; and Eddie left an occasional sum at the
Pantatorium for a fresh alpaca coat, or for a new pair of trousers when
the seat of the old ones grew too refulgent or perilously extenuate. As
Eddie stood up at his tall desk most of the time, however, it was
rather his shoes than his pantaloons that felt the wear and tear of
And yet, in spite of all the tender miserhood of Ellaphine and the
asceticism of Eddie, few of the forty-five dollars survived the thirty
days' demands. Still, there was always something for the savings-bank,
and the blessing on its increment was that it grew by exactions from
themselvesnot from their neighbors.
The inspiration of the fund was the children that were to be. The
fund had ample time for accretion, since the children were as late as
Such things are not discussed, of course, in Carthage. And nobody
knew how fiercely they yearned. Nobody knew of the high hopes that
flared and faded.
After the first few months of marriage Eddie had begun to call
Pheeny Motherjust for fun, you know. And it teased her so that he
kept it up, for he liked a joke as well as the next fellow. Before
people, of course, she was Pheeny, and, on very grand occasions, the
wife. Mrs. Pouch was beyond him. But once, at a sociable, he called
across the room, Say, mother!
He was going to ask her whether she wanted him to bring her a piece
of the chalklut cake or a hunk of the cokernut, but he got no
farther. Nobody noticed it; but Eddie and Pheeny were consumed with
shame and slunk home scarlet. Nobody noticed that they had gone.
Time went on and on, and the fund grew and grewa little coral reef
of pennies and nickels and dimes. The amusements of the couple were
pettyan occasional church sociable was society; a revival period was
drama. They never went to the shows that came to the Carthage Opera
House. They did not miss much.
Eddie wasted no time on reading any fiction except that in the news
columns of the evening paper, which a boy threw on the porch in a
twisted boomerang every afternoon, and which Eddie untwisted and read
after he had wiped the dishes that Pheeny washed.
Ellaphine spent no money on such vanities as novels or short
stories, but she read the edifying romances in the Sunday-school paper
and an occasional book from the Sunday-school library, mainly about
children whose angelic qualities gave her a picture of child life that
would have contrasted strongly with what their children would have been
if they had had any.
Their great source of literature, however, was the Bible. Soon after
their factory passed out of their control and their evenings ceased to
be devoted to riddles in finance, they had resolved to read the Bible
through, from kiver to kiver. And Eddie and Ellaphine found that a
chapter read aloud before going to bed was an excellent sedative.
They had not invaded Genesis quite three weeks before the evening
when it came Eddie's turn to read aloud the astonishing romance of
Abram, who became Abraham, and of Sarai, who became Sarah. It was very
exciting when the child was promised to Sarah, though she was well
stricken in age. Eddie smiled as he read, Sarah laughed within
herself. But Pheeny blushed.
Ellaphine was far from the ninety years of Sarah, but she felt that
the promise of a son was no laughing matter. These poignant hopes and
awful denials and perilous adventures are not permitted to be written
about or printed for respectable eyes. If they are discussed it must be
with laughing ribaldry.
Even in their solitude Eddie and Pheeny used modest paraphrases and
breathed hard and looked askance, and made sure that no one overheard.
They whispered as parents do when their children are abed up-stairs.
The neighbors gave them hardly thought enough to imagine the lofty
trepidation of these thrilling hours. The neighbors never knew of the
merciless joke Fate played on them when, in their ignorance, they
believed the Lord had sent them a sign. They dwelt in a fools' paradise
for a long time, hoarding their glorious expectations.
At length Pheeny grew brazen enough to consult the old and peevish
Doctor Noxon; and he laughed her hopes away and informed her that she
need never trouble herself to hope again.
That was a smashing blow; and they cowered together under the shadow
of this great denial, each telling the other that it did not matter,
since children were a nuisance and a danger anyway.
They pretended to take solace in two current village tragediesthe
death of the mayor's wife in childbed and the death of the minister's
son in disgrace; but, though they lied to each other lovingly, they
were neither convincing nor convinced.
Year followed year as season trudged at the heel of season. The only
difference it made to them was that now Ellaphine evicted weeds from
the petunia-beds, and now swept snow from the porch and beat the broom
out on the steps; now Eddie carried his umbrella up against the sun or
rain and mopped his bald spot, and now he wore his galoshes through the
slush and was afraid he had caught a cold.
The fund in the bank went on growing like a neglected garden, but it
was growing for nothing. Eddie walked more slowly to and from the
office, and Pheeny took a longer time to set the table. She had to sit
down a good deal between trips and suffered a lot of pain. She said
nothing about it to Eddie of evenings, but it grew harder to conceal
her weakness from him when he helped her with the Sunday dinner.
Finally she could not walk to church one day and had to stay at
home. He stayed with her, and their empty pew made a sensation. Eddie
fought at Pheeny until she consented to see the doctor againon
The doctor censured her for being foolish enough to try to die on
her feet, and demanded of Eddie why they did not keep a hired girl.
Eddie had never thought of it. He was horrified to realize how
heartless and negligent he had been. He promised to get one in at once.
Pheeny stormed and wept against the very idea; but her protests
ended on the morning when she could not get up to cook Eddie's
breakfast for him. He had to get his own and hers, and he was late at
the office for the first time in years. Two householders, seeing him
going by, looked at their clocks and set them back half an hour.
Jabez spoke harshly to Eddie about his tardiness. It would never do
to ignore an imperfection in the perfect. Eddie was Pheeny's nurse that
night and overslept in the morning. It would have made him late again
if he had stopped to fry an egg or boil a cup of coffee. He ran
breakfastless to his desk.
After that Pheeny consented to the engagement of a cook. They tried
five or six before they found one who combined the traits of being both
enduring and endurable.
Eddie was afraid of her to a pitiful degree. She put too much coffee
in his coffee and she made lighter bread than Pheeny did.
There's no substance to her biscuits! Eddie wailed, hoping to
comfort Pheeny, who had leisure enough now to develop at that late date
her first acquaintance with jealousy.
The cook was young and vigorous, and a hired man on a farm might
have called her good-looking; but her charms did not interest Eddie.
His soul was replete with the companionship of his other selfPheeny;
and if Delia had been as sumptuous a beauty as Cleopatra he would have
been still more afraid of her. He had no more desire to possess her
than to own the Kohinoor.
And Delia, in her turn, was far more interested in the winks and
flatteries of the grocer's boy and the milkman than in any conquest of
the fussy little fat man, who ate whatever she slammed before him and
never raised his eyes.
Pheeny, however, could not imagine this. She could not know how
secure she was in Eddie's heart, or how she had grown in and about his
soul until she fairly permeated his being.
So Pheeny lay up in the prison of her bed and imagined vain things,
interpreting the goings-on down-stairs with a fantastic cynicism that
would have startled Boccaccio. She did not openly charge Eddie with
these fancied treacheries. She found him guilty silently and silently
acquitted him of fault, abjectly asking herself what right she had to
deny him all acquaintance with beauty, hilarity, and health.
She remembered her mother's eternal moan, All men are alike. She
dramatized her poor mouse of a husband as a devastating Don Juan; and
then forgave him, as most of the victims of Don Juan's ruthless
piracies forgave him.
She suffered hideously, however. Eddie, seeing the deep, sad look of
her eyes as they studied him, wondered and wondered, and often asked
her what the matter was; but she always smiled as a mother smiles at a
child that is too sweet to punish for any mischief, and she always
answered: Nothing! Nothing! But then she would sigh to the caverns of
her soul. And sometimes tears would drip from her brimming lids to her
pillow. Still, she would tell him nothing but Nothing!
Finally the long repose repaired her worn-out sinews and she grew
well enough to move about the house. She prospered on the medicine of a
new hope that she should soon be well enough to expel the third person
who made a crowd of their little home.
And then Luella Thickins came back to town. Luella had married long
before and moved away; but now she came back a widow, handsome instead
of pretty, billowy instead of willowy, seductive instead of spoony, and
with that fearsome menace a widow carries like a cloud about her.
Eddie spoke of meeting her down-town, and in his fatuous innocence
announced that she was as pirty as ever. If he had hit Pheeny with a
hatchet he would have inflicted a less painful wound.
Luella's presence cast Pheeny into a profounder dismay than she had
ever felt about the cook. After all, Delia was only a hired girl, while
Luella was an old sweetheart. Delia had put wicked ideas into Eddie's
head and now Luella would finish him. As Ellaphine's mother had always
said, Men have to have novelty.
The Lord Himself had never seen old Mr. Govers stray an inch aside
from the straight path of fidelity; but his wife had enhanced him with
a lifelong suspicion that eventually established itself as historical
Pheeny could find some excuse for Eddie's Don Juanity with the
common clay of Delia, especially as she never quite believed her own
beliefs in that affair; but Luella was different. Luella had been a
rival. The merest courtesy to Luella was an unpardonable affront to
every sacred right of successful rivalry.
The submerged bitternesses that had gathered in her soul like
bubbles at the bottom of a hot kettle came showering upward now, and
her heart simmered and thrummed, ready to boil over if the heat were
One day, soon, Luella fastened on Eddie as he left the factory to go
home to dinner. She had loitered about, hoping to engage the eye of
Jabez, who was now the most important widower in town. Luella had
elected him for her next; but he was away, and she whetted her wits on
Eddie. She walked at his side, excruciating him with her glib memories
of old times and the mad devotion he had cherished for her then.
He felt that it was unfaithful of him even to listen to her, but he
could not spur up courage enough to bolt and run. He welcomed the sight
of his own gate as an asylum of refuge. To his horror, Luella stopped
and continued her chatter, draping herself in emotional attitudes and
italicizing her coquetries. Her eyes seemed to drawl languorous words
that her lips dared not voice; and she committed the heinous offense of
plucking at Eddie's coat-sleeve and clinging to his hand. Then she
walked on like an erect cobra.
Eddie's very back had felt that Pheeny was watching him from one of
the windows or from all the windows; for when, at last, he achieved the
rude victory of breaking away from Luella and turned toward the porch,
every window was a somber eye of reproach.
He would not have looked so guilty if he had been guilty. He
shuffled into the house like a boy who comes home late from swimming;
and when he called aloud Pheeny! Oh, Pheeny! his voice cracked and
his throat was uncertain with phlegm.
He found Pheeny up-stairs in their room, with the door closed. He
closed it after him when he went in. He feigned a care-free joy at the
sight of her, and stumbled over his own foot as he crossed the room and
put his arms about her, where she sat in the big rocking-chair; but she
brushed his arms aside and bent her cheek away from his pursed lips.
This startled him, and he gasped:
Why, what's the matter, honey? Why don't you kiss me?
You don't want to kiss me, she muttered.
Why don't I? he exclaimed.
Because I'm not pirty. I'm not young. I'm not round or tall. I
haven't got nice clothes or those terrible manners that men like in
women. You're tired of me. I don't blame you; but you don't have to
kiss me, and you don't want to.
It was a silly sort of contest for so old a couple; but their souls
felt as young as childhood, or younger, and this debate was
all-important. He caught at her again and tried to drag her head to his
lips, pleading inanely:
Of course I want to kiss you, honey! Of course I do! Pleaseplease
don't be this way!
But she evaded him still, and glared at him as from a great
distance, sneering rather at herself than him and using that old byword
What can you see in me? Suddenly she challenged him: Who do you
kiss when you kiss me?
He stared at her for a while as if he were not sure who she was.
Then he sat down on the broad arm of her chair and took one of her
hands in histhe hand with the wedding-ring on itand seemed to talk
to the hand more than to her, lifting the fingers one after another and
studying each digit as though it had a separate personalityas perhaps
Who do I kiss when I kiss you? That's a funny question!
He laughed solemnly. Then he made a very long speech, for him; and
she listened to it with the attention due to that most fascinating of
themes, the discussion of oneself by another.
Pheeny, when I was about knee-high to a grasshopper I went over to
play in Tim Holdredge's father's orchard; and when I started for home
there was a big dawg in old Mrs. Pittinger's front yard, and it jumped
round and barked at me. I guess it was just playing, because, as I
remember it now, it was wagging its tail, and afterward I found out it
was only a cocker spaniel; but I thought it was a wolf and was going to
eat me. I begun to cry, and I was afraid to go backward or to go
forward. And by and by a little girl came along and asked me what I was
crying about, and I said, 'About the dawg!' And the little girl said:
'O-oh! He's big, ain't he?' And I said, 'He's goin' to eat one of us
all up!' And the little girl said: 'Aw, don't you care! You take a-holt
of my hand and I'll run past with you; and if he bites he'll bite me
first and you can git away!' She was as scared as I was, but she
grabbed my hand and we got by without being et up. Do you remember who
that little girl was?
The hand in his seemed to remember. The fingers of it closed on his
a moment, then relaxed as if to listen for more. He mused on:
I wasn't very big for my size even then, and I wasn't very brave
ever. I didn't like to fight, like the other boys did, and I used to
rather take a lickin' than give one. Well, one day I was playin'
marbles with another boy, and he said I cheated when I won his big taw;
but I didn't. He wanted to fight, though, and he hit me; and I wouldn't
hit back. He was smaller than what I was, and he give me a lot of lip
and dared me to fight; and I just couldn't. He said I was afraid, and
so did the other boys; and I guess I was. It seemed to me I was more
afraid of hurtin' somebody else than gettin' hurt myself; but I guess I
was just plain afraid. The other boys began to push me round and call
me a cowardy calf, and I began to cry. I wanted to run home, but I was
afraid to start to run. And then a little girl came along and said:
'What's the matter, Eddie? What you cryin' for?' And I said, 'They're
all pickin' on me and callin' me cowardy calf!' And she said: 'Don't
you care! You come right along with me; and if one of 'em says another
word to you I'll scratch their nasty eyes out!' Do you remember that,
Her other hand came forward and embraced his wrist.
And another time you found me cryin'. I was a little older, and I'd
studied hard and tried to get my lessons good; but I failed in the
exam'nations, and I was goin' to tie a rock round my neck and jump in
the pond. But you said: 'Aw, don't you care, Eddie! I didn't pass in
And when I wanted to go to college, and Uncle Loren wouldn't send
me, I didn't cry outside, but I cried inside; and I told you and you
said: 'Don't you care! I don't get to go to boardin'-school myself.'
And when I was fool enough to think I liked that no-account Luella
Thickins, and thought I'd go crazy because her wax-doll face wouldn't
smile for me, you said: 'Don't you care, Eddie! You're much too good
for her. I think you're the finest man in the country.'
And when the baby didn't come and I acted like a baby myself, you
said: 'Don't you care, Eddie! Ain't we got each other?'
Seems like ev'ry time I been ready to lay down and die you've been
there with your old 'Don't you care! It's going to be all right!'
Just last night I had a turrible dream. I didn't tell you about it
for fear it would upset you. I dreamed I got awful sick at the office.
I couldn't seem to add the figures right and the old desk wabbled.
Finally I had to leave off and start for home, though it was only a
quarter of twelve; and I had to set down on Doc Noxon's horse-block and
on Holdredge's wall to rest; and I couldn't get our gate open. And you
run out and dragged me in, and got me up-stairs somehow, and sent Delia
around for the doctor.
Doc Noxon made you have a trained nurse, but I couldn't stand her;
and I wouldn't take medicine from anybody but you. I don't suppose I
was dreamin' more 'n a few minutes, all told; but it seemed like I laid
there for weeks, till one day Doc Noxon called you out of the room. I
couldn't hear what he was saying, but I heard you let out one horrible
scream, and then I heard sounds like he was chokin' you, and you kept
sayin': 'Oh no! No! No!'
I tried to go and help you, but I couldn't lift my head. By and by
you come back, with your eyes all red. Doc Noxon was with you and he
called the nurse over to him. You come to me and tried to smile; and
'Well, honey, how are you now?'
Then I knew what the doctor had told you and I was worse scared
than when the black dawg jumped at me. I tried to be brave, but I never
could seem to be. I put out my hands to you and hollered:
'Pheeny, I'm goin' to die! I know I'm goin' to die! Don't let me
go! I'm afraid to die!'
Now the hands clenched his with a frenzy that hurtbut beautifully.
And he kissed the wedding-ring as he finished:
And you dropped down to me on the floor by the bed and took my
handsjust like that. And you whispered: 'Don't you care, honey! I'll
go with you. Don't you care!'
And the fever seemed to cool out of me, and I kind of smiled and
wasn't afraid any more; and I turned my face to you and kissed
youlike this, Pheeny.
Why, you've been cryin', haven't you? You mustn't cryyou mustn't!
All those girls I been tellin' you about are the girl I kiss when I
kiss you, Pheeny. There couldn't be anybody as beautiful as you are to
I ain't 'mounted to much; but it ain't your fault. I wouldn't have
'mounted to anything at all if it hadn't been for you, Pheeny; and I
been the happiest feller in all this worldor I have been up to now.
I'm awful lonedsome just now. Don't you s'pose you could spare me a
She spared him one.
Then the cook pounded on the door and called through in a voice that
threatened to warp the panels: Ain't you folks ever comin' down to
dinner? I've rang the bell three times. Everything's all cold!
But it wasn't. Everything was all warm.
They made a handsome family group, with just the one necessary
element of contrast.
Father was the contrast.
They were convened within and about the big three-walled divan
which, according to the fashion, was backed up against a long
library-table in what they now called the living-room. It had once been
the sitting-room and had contained a what-isn't-it and a sofa like an
enormous bald caterpillar, crowded against the wall so that you could
fall off only one side of it.
It was a family reunion and unexpected. Father was not convened with
the rest, but sat off in the shadow and counted the feet sticking out
from the divan and protruding from the chairs. He counted fourteen
feet, including his wife's and excluding his own. All the feet were
expensively shod except his own.
Three of the children had come home for a visit, and father, glad as
he was to see them, had a vague feeling that they had been brought in
by some other motive than their loudly proclaimed homesickness. He was
willing to wait until they disclosed it, for he had an idea what it was
and he was always glad to postpone a payment. It meant so much less
interest to lose. Father was a business man.
Father was also dismally computing the addition to the grocery
bills, the butchery bills, and livery bills, and the others. He was
figuring out the added expense of the dinner, with roast beef now
costing as much as peacocks' tongues. He had raised a large family and
there was not a dyspeptic in the lotnot even a banter.
They had been photographed together the day before and the proof had
just come home. Father was not in the picture. It was a handsome
picture. They admitted it themselves. They had urged father to come
along, but he had pleaded his business, as usual. As they studied the
picture they would glance across at father and realize how little the
picture lost by his absence. It lost nothing but the contrast.
While they were engaged each in that most fascinating of
employmentsstudying one's own photographthey were all waiting for
the dining-room maid to appear like a black-and-white sketch and
crisply announce that dinner was served. They had not arrived yet at
having a man. Indeed, that room could still remember when a frowsy,
blowsy hired girl was wont to stick her head in and groan, Supper's
In fact, mother had never been able to live down a memory of the
time when she used to put her own head in at a humbler dining-room door
and call with all the anger that cooks up in a cook: Come on! What we
got's on the table! But mother had entirely forgotten the first few
months of her married life, when she would sing out to father: Oh,
honey, help me set the table, will you? I've a surprise for
yousomething you like!
This family had evolved along the cycles so many families go
throughfrom pin feathers to paradise plumesonly, the male bird had
failed to improve his feathers or his song, though he never failed to
bring up the food and keep the nest thatched.
The history of an American family can often be traced by its
monuments in the names the children call the mother. Mrs. Grout had
begun asjust one Ma. Eventually they doubled that and progressed from
the accent on the first to the accent on the second ma. Years later one
of the inarticulate brats had come home as a collegian in a funny hat,
and Mama had become Mater. This had lasted until one of the brattines
came home as a collegienne with a swagger and a funny sweater. And then
her Latin title was Frenchified to Mèrewhich always gave
father a shock; for father had been raised on a farm, where only
horses' wives were called by that name.
Father had been dubbed Pop at an early date. Efforts to change this
title had been as futile as the terrific endeavors to keep him from
propping his knife against his plate. He had been browbeaten out of
using the blade for transportation purposes, but at that point he had
simply ceased to develop.
Names like Pappah, Pater, and Père would not cling to him;
they fell off at once. Pop he was always called to his face, whether he
were referred to abroad as the old man, the governor, or our dear
The evolution of the Grout family could be traced still more clearly
in the names the parents had given the children. The eldest was a
daughter, though when she grew up she dropped back in the line and
became ever so much younger than her next younger brothers. She might
have fallen still farther to the rear if she had not run up against
another daughter who had her own age to keep down.
The eldest daughter, born in the grim days of early penury, had been
grimly entitled Julia. The following child, a son, was soberly called
by his father's given and his mother's maiden namesJohn Pennock
Grout, or Jno. P., as his father wrote it.
A year or two later there appeared another hostage. Labeling him was
a matter of deep concern. John urged his own father's name, William;
but the mother wafted this away with a gesture of airy disgust. There
was a hired girl in the kitchen now and mother was reading a good many
novels between stitches. She debated long and hard while the child
waited anonymous. At length she ventured on Gerald. She changed that
two or three times and the boy had a narrow escape from Sylvester. He
came perilously near to carrying Abélard through an amused world; but
she harked back to Geraldwhich he spelled Jerrold at times.
Then two daughters entered the family in succession and were stamped
Beatricepronounced Bay-ah-treat-she by those who had the time and the
energyand Consuelo, which Pop would call Counser-eller.
By this time Julia had grown up and was beginning at
finishing-school. She soon saw that Julia would never donever! She
had started with a handicap, but she caught up with the rest and passed
them gracefully by ingeniously altering the final a to an e, and pronouncing it Zheelee.
Her father never could get within hailing distance of the French
j and u, and teetered awkwardly between Jilly and Jelly. He
was apt to relax sickeningly into plain Juliaespecially before folks,
when he was nervous anyway. Only they did not say before folks now;
the Grouts never said before folks nowthey said, In the presence
By the time the next son came the mother was shamelessly literary
enough to name him Ethelwolf, which his school companions joyously
abbreviated to Ethel, overlooking the wolf.
Ethelwolf was the last of the visitors. For by this time Mère
had accumulated so many absolutely unforgivable grievances against her
absolutely impossible husband that she felt qualified for that crown of
comfortable martyrhood, that womanly ideal, a wife in name onlyand
only that for the sake of the children.
By this time the children, too, had acquired grievances against Pop.
The more refined they grew the coarser-grained he seemed. They could
not pulverize him in the coffee-mill of criticism. He was as hopeless
in ideas as in language. It was impossible to make him realize that the
best is always the cheapest; that fine clothes make fine people; that
petty economies are death to the larger flights of the soul; and that
parents have no right to have children unless they can give them what
other people's children have.
If John Grout complained that he was not a millionaire the younger
Grouts retorted that this was not their fault, but their misfortune;
and it was up to Pop to do the best he could during what Mère
was now calling their formative years. The children had liberal
ideas, artistic and refined ideals; but Pop was forever talking poor,
always splitting pennies, always dolefully reiterating, I don't know
where the money is coming from!
It was so foolish of him, toofor it always came from somewhere.
The children went to the best schools, traveled in Europe, wore as good
clothes as anybodythough they did not admit this, of course, within
father's hearing, lest it put false notions into his head; and the sons
made investments that had not yet begun to turn out right.
Parents cannot fool their children long, and the Grout youngsters
had learned at an early date that Pop always forked over when he was
nagged into it. Any of the children in trouble could always write or
telegraph home a must have, and it was always forthcoming. There
usually followed a querulous note about Sorry you have to have so
much, but I suppose it costs a lot where you are. Make it go as far as
you can, for I'm a little pinched just now. But this was taken as a
mere detailan unfortunate paternal habit.
That was Pop's vicehis only one and about the least attractive of
vices. It was harrowing to be the children of a miserfor he must have
a lot hoarded away. His poor talk, his allusions to notes at the bank
and mortgages and drafts to meet, were just bogies to frighten them
with and to keep them down.
It was most humiliating for high-spirited children to be so
misunderstood. Pop lacked refined tastes. It was a harsh thing to say
of one's parent, but when you came right down to it Pop was a hopeless
Pop noticed the difference himself. He would have doubted that these
magnificent youngsters could be his own if that had not implied a
criticism of his unimpeachable wife. So he gave her all the credit. For
Mère was different. She was well read; she entertained charmingly;
she loved good clothes, up-to-the-minute hats; she knew who was who and
what was what. She was ambitious, progressive. She nearly took up
But Pop was shabby. Pop always wore a suit until it glistened and
his children ridiculed him into a new one. As for wearing evening
dress, in the words of Gerald they had to blindfold him and back him
into his soup-and-fish, even on the night the Italian Opera Company
came to town.
Pop never could take them anywhere. A vacation was a thing of horror
to him. It was almost impossible to drag him to a lake or the sea, and
it was quite impossible to keep him there more than a few days. His
business always called him home.
And such a business! Dry-goods!and in a small town.
And such a town, with such a name! To the children who knew their
Paris and their London, their New York and their Washington, a visit
home was like a sentence to jail. It was humiliating to make a good
impression on acquaintances of importance and then have to confess to a
home town named Waupoos.
People either said, I beg your pardon! as if they had not heard it
right, or they laughed and said, Honestly?
The children had tried again and again to pry Pop out of Waupoos,
but he clung to it like a limpet. He had had opportunities, too, to
move his business to big cities, but he was afraid to venture. He was
fairly sure of sustenance in Waupoos so long as he nursed every penny;
but he could never find the courage to transplant himself to another
The worst of his cowardice was that he blamed the childrenat
least, he said he dared not face a year or two of possible loss lest
they might need something. So he stayed in Waupoos and managed somehow
to keep the family afloat and the store open.
When Mère revolted and longed for a glimpse of the outer
world he always advised her to take a trip and have a good time. He
always said he could afford that much, and he took an interest in
seeing that she had funds to buy some city clothes with; but he never
had funds enough to go along.
That was one of mother's grievances. Pop bored her to death at home
and she wanted to scream every time he mentioned his businessit was
so selfish of him to talk of that at night when she had so much to tell
him of the misbehavior of the servants. But, greatly as he annoyed her
round the house, she cherished an illusion that she would like him in a
She had tried to get him to read a certain novela wonderful book
mercilessly exposing the curse of modern America; which is the men's
habit of sticking to their business so closely that they give their
poor wives no companionship. They leave their poor wives to languish at
home or to go shopping or gossiping, while they indulge themselves in
the luxuries of vibration between creditor and debtor.
In this novel, and in several others she could have named, the poor
wife naturally fell a prey to the fascinations of a handsome devil with
dark eyes, a motor or two, and no office hours.
Mère often wondered why she herself had not taken up with
some handsome devil fully equipped for the entertainment of neglected
If she had not been a member of that stanch American womanhood to
which the glory of the country and its progress are really due, she
might have startled her husband into realizing too late, as the
too-late husbands in the novels realized, that a man's business is a
side issue and that the perpetuation of romance is the main task. Her
self-respect was all that held Mère to the home; that
andwhisper!the fact that no handsome devil with any kind of eyes
ever tried to lure her away.
When she reproached Pop and threatened him he refused to be scared.
He paid his wife that most odious of tributesa monotonous trust in
her loyalty and an insulting immunity to jealousy. Almost worse was his
monotonous loyalty to her and his failure to give her jealousy any
They quarreled incessantly, but the wrangles were not gorgeously
dramatic charges of intrigue with handsome men or painted women,
followed by rapturous make-ups. They were quarrels over expenditures,
extravagances, and voyages.
Mère charged Pop with parsimony and he charged her with
recklessness. She accused him of trying to tie them down to a village;
he accused her of trying to drive him to bankruptcy. She demanded to
know whether he wanted his children to be like children of their
neighborsclerks in small stores, starveling tradespeople and wives of
little merchants. He answered that she was breeding a pack of snobs
that despised their father and had no mercy on himand no use for him
except as a lemon to squeeze dry. She answered with a laugh of scorn
that lemon was a good word; and he threw up his hands and returned to
the shop if the war broke out at noon, or slunk up to bed if it
This was the pattern of their daily life. Every night there was a
new theme, but the duet they built on it ran along the same formulas.
The children sided with Mère, of course. In the first place,
she was a poor, downtrodden woman; in the second, she was their broker.
Her job was to get them things. They gave her the credit for what she
got them. They gave Pop no praise for yieldingno credit for
extracting somehow from the dry-soil of an arid town the money they
extracted from him. They knew nothing of the myriad little agonies, the
ingenuity, the tireless attention to detail, the exquisite finesse that
make success possible in the mêlée of competition. Their souls were
above trade and its petty nigglings.
Jno. P., who was now known as J. Pennock, was aiming at a million
dollars in New York, and his mother was sure that he would get it next
time if Pop would only raise him a little more money to meet an
irritating obligation or seize a glittering opportunity. Pop always
raised the money and J. Pennock always lost it. Yet Pennock was a
financier and Pop was a village merchant. And now Pen had come home
unexpectedly. He was showing a great interest in Pop's affairs.
Gerald was home also unexpectedly. He was an artist of the most
wonderful promise. None of his promises was more wonderful than those
he made his father to repay just one more loanto tide him over until
he sold his next picture; but it never sold, or it sold for a mere
song. Gerald solaced himself and Mère solaced him for being
ahead of his time, unappreciated, too good for the public. She thanked
Heaven that Gerald was a genius, not a salesman. One salesman in the
family was enough!
And Gerald had beaten Pen home by one train. He had greeted Pen
somewhat coldlyas if Pen were a trespasser on his side of the street.
And when it was learned that Julie had telegraphed that she would
arrive the next day, both the brothers had frowned.
Pop had sighed. He was glad to see his wonderful offspring, but he
had already put off the grocer and the butcherand even his
life-insurance premiumbecause he had an opportunity by a quick use of
cash to obtain the bankrupt stock of a rival dealer who had not nursed
his pennies as Pop had. It was by such purchases that Pop had managed
to keep his store alive and his brilliant children in funds.
He had temporarily drawn his bank account down to the irreducible
minimum and borrowed on his securities up to the insurmountable
maximum. It was a bad time for his children to tap him. But here they
wereJno. P., Jerry, and Juliaall very unctuous over the
home-coming, and yet all of them evidently cherishing an ulterior idea.
He watched them lounging in fashionable awkwardness. They were
brilliant children. And he was as proud of them as he was afraid of
themand for them.
If the children looked brilliant to Pop he did not reflect their
refulgence. As they glanced from the photographer's proof to Pop they
were not impressed. They were not afraid of him or for him.
His bodily arrangement was pitifully gawky; he neither sat erect nor
loungedhe slumped spineless. Big spectacles were in style now, but
Pop's big spectacles were just out of it. His face was like a parchment
that had been left out in the rain and had dried carelessly in deep,
stiff wrinkleswith the writing washed off.
Ethelwolf, the last born, had no ulterior idea. He always spent his
monthly allowance by the second Tuesday after the first Monday, and
sulked through a period of famine and debt until the next month. It was
now the third Tuesday and he was disposed to sarcasm.
Look at Pop! he muttered. He looks just like the old boy they put
in the cartoons to represent The Common People.
He's the Beau Brummel of Waupoos, all right! said Bayahtreatshe,
who was soon returning to Wellesley. And Consuelo, who was preparing
for Vassar, added under her breath, Mère, can't you steal up on him
and swipe that already-tied tie?
Had Pop overheard, he would have made no complaint. He had known the
time when they had thrown things at him. The reverence of American
children for their fathers is almost as famous as the meekness of
American wives before their husbands. Yet it might have hurt Pop a
little to see Mother shake her head and hear her sigh:
He's hopeless, children! Do take warning from my misfortune and be
careful what you marry.
Poor Mère had absolutely forgotten how proud she had been
when Johnnie Grout came courting her, and how she had extracted a
proposal before he knew what he was about, and had him at the altar
before he was ready to support a wife in the style she had been
accustomed to hope for. She remembered only the dreams he had not
brought true, the harsh realities of their struggle upward. She had
worked and skimped with him then. Now she was like a lolling passenger
in a jinrikisha, who berates the shabby coolie because he stumbles
where the roads are rough and sweats where they are steep.
Julie spoke up in answer to her mother's word of caution:
There's one thing better than being careful what you marryand
that's not marrying at all!
The rest of them were used to Julie's views; but Pop, who had paid
little heed to them, almost collapsed from his chair. Julie went on:
Men are all alike, Mère. They're very soft-spoken when they come to
make love; but it's only a bluff to make us give up our freedom. Before
we know it they drag us up before another man, a preacher, and make us
swear to love, honor, and obey. They kill the love, make the honor
impossible, and the obey ridiculous. Then they coop us up at home and
expect us to let them run the world to suit themselves. They've been
running it for thousands of yearsand look at the botch they've made
of it! It's time for us to take the helm.
Go to it, sis, said Ethelwolf. I care not who makes the laws so
long as I can break them.
Let your sister alone! said Mère. Go on, Julie!
I've put it all in the address I read before the Federation last
week, said Julie. It was reported at length in one of the papers.
I've got a clipping in my handbag here somewhere.
She began to rummage through a little condensed chaos of
handkerchiefs, gloves, powder-puff, powdery dollar bills, powdery
coins, loose bits of paper, samples, thread, pins,
J. Pennock laughed. Pipe what's going to run the world! Better get
a few pockets first.
Don't be a brute, Pen! said Mère.
At last Julie found the clipping she sought and, shaking the powder
from it, handed it to her mother.
It's on the strength of this speech that I was elected delegate to
the international convention at San Francisco, she said.
You were! Mère gasped, and Beatrice and Consuelo exclaimed,
Are you going? said Mère when she recovered from her awe.
Well, it's a pretty expensive trip. That's why I came hometo see
ifWell, we can take that up later. Tell me how you like the speech.
Mère mumbled the report aloud to the delighted audience. Pop
heard little of it. He was having a chill. It was very like plain ague,
but he credited it to the terror of Julie's mission home. All she
wanted him to do was to send her on a little jaunt to San Francisco!
The tyrant, as usual, was expected to finance the rebellion.
When Mère had finished reading everybody applauded Julie
except Pop. Mère overheard his silence and rounded on him across
the aristocratic reading-glass she wielded.
Did you hear that?
Pop was so startled that he answered, Uh-huh!
Didn't you think it was splendid? Mère demanded.
Uh-huh! said Pop.
What didn't you like about it?
I liked it all first-rate. Julie is a smart girl, I tell you.
Mère scented his evasion, and she would never tolerate
evasions. She repeated:
What didn't you like about it?
I liked all I could understand.
Understand! snapped Mère, who rarely wasted her culture on
Pop. What didn't you understand? Could anything be clearer than this?
Listen! She read in an oratorical voice:
'Woman has been for ages man's mere beast of burden, his household
drudge. Being a wife has meant being a slavethe only servant without
wages or holiday. But the woman of to-day at last demands that the
shackles be stricken off; she demands freedom to live her life her own
wayto express her selfhood without the hampering restrictions imposed
on her by the barbaric customs inherited from the time of the
Mère folded up the clipping and glared defiance at the
cave-man slumped in the uneasy chair.
What's clearer than that? she reiterated.
Pop was at bay. He was like a desperate rabbit. He answered:
It's clear enough, I guess; but it's more than I can take in. Seems
to me the women folks are hollering at the men folks to give 'em what
the men folks have never been able to get for themselves.
It was peevish. Coming from Pop, it amounted to an outburst, a riot,
a mutiny. Such a tendency was dangerous. He must be sharply repressed
at onceas a new servant must be taught her place. Mère
administered the necessary rebuke, aided and abetted by the daughters.
The sons did not rally to their father's defense. He was soon reduced
to submission, but his apology was further irritation:
I'm kind of rattled like. I ain't feeling as chipper as usual.
Chipper was bad enough, but ain't was unendurable! They rebuked him
for that and he put in another irrelevant plea: I had a kind of sick
spell at the store. I had to lay down.
Lie down! Beatrice corrected.
Lie down, he accepted. But as soon as I laid down
Lay downI had chills and shootin' pains; and I
It's the weather, Mère interrupted, impatiently. I've had
a headache all daysuch a headache as never was known! It seemed as if
hammers were beating upon my very brain. It was
I'm not feeling at all well myself, said Consuelo.
There was almost a tournament of rivalry in describing sufferings.
Pop felt as if he had wakened a sleeping hospital. He sank back
ashamed of his own outburst. He rarely spoke of the few ailments he
could afford. When he did it was like one of his new clerks pulling a
bolt of goods from the shelf and bringing down a silken avalanche.
The clinic was interrupted by the crisp voice of Nora: Dinner is
Everybody rose and moved to the door with quiet determination. Pop
alone failed to rise. Mère glowered at him. He pleaded: I don't
feel very good. I guess I'd better leave my stummick rest.
The children protested politely, but he refused to be moved and
Mère decided to humor him.
Let him alone, children. It won't hurt him to skip a meal.
They said: Too bad, Pop!You'll be all right soon, and went out
and forgot him.
Pop heard them chattering briskly. It was polite talk. If slang were
used it was the very newest. He gleaned that Pen and Gerald were
opposing Julie's mission to San Francisco on the ground of the expense.
He smiled bitterly to hear that word from them. He heard Julie's
I suppose you boys want the money yourselves! Well, I've got first
havers at Pop. I saw him first!
At about this point the conversation lost its coherence in Pop's
ears. It was mingled with a curious buzzing and a dizziness that made
him grip his chair lest it pitch him to the floor. Chills, in which his
bones were a mere rattlebox, alternated with little rushes of prairie
fire across his skin. Throes of pain wrung him.
Also, he was a little afraidhe was afraid he might not be able to
get to the store in the morning. And important people were coming! He
had to make the first payment on the invoice of that bankrupt stock. A
semiannual premium was overdue on his life insurance. The month of
grace had nearly expired, and if he failed to pay the policy would
lapsenow of all times! He had kept it up all these years; it must not
lapse now, for he was going to be right sick. He wanted somebody to
nurse him: his motheror that long-lost girl he had married in the far
His shoes irked him; his vestwhat they wanted called his
waistcoatwas as tight as a corset. He felt that he would be safer in
bed. He'd better go up to his own room and stretch out. He rose with
extraordinary difficulty and negotiated a swimming floor on swaying
The laughter from the dining-room irritated him. He would be better
off up-stairs, where he could not hear it. The noise in his ears was
all he could stand. He attained the foot of the stairs and the flight
of steps seemed as long and as misty as Jacob's Ladder. And he was no
The Grouts lingered at dinner and over their black coffee and
tobacco until it was time to dress for the reception at Mrs. Alvin
Mitnick's, at which Waupoos society would pass itself in review. The
later you got there the smarter you were, and most people put off
dressing until the last possible minute in order to keep themselves
from falling asleep before it was time to start.
The Grouts, however, were eager to go early and get it over with.
They loved to trample on Waupoos traditions. As they drifted into the
hall they found it dark. They shook their heads in dismal recognition
of a familiar phenomenon, and Ethelwolf groaned:
Pop has gone up-stairs. You can always trace Pop. Wherever he has
passed by the lights are out.
He has figured out that by darkening the halls while we are at
dinner he saves nearly a cent a day, Mère groaned.
If Pop were dying he'd turn out a light somewhere because he
wouldn't need it. And Ethelwolf laughed.
But Mère groaned again: Can you wonder that I get depressed?
Now, children, I ask you
Poor old Mère! It's awful!Ghastly!Maddening!
They gathered round her lovingly, echoing her moans. They started up
the dark stairway, Consuelo first and turning back to say to Beatrice:
Pop can cut a penny into more slices than Then she screamed and
Her agitation went down the stairway through the climbing Grouts
like a cold breeze. What was it? She looked close. A hand was just
visible on the floor at the head of the stairs. She had stepped on it.
Pop had evidently reached the upper hall, when the ruling passion
burning even through his fever had led him to grope about for the
electric switch. His last remaining energy had been expended for an
economy and he had collapsed.
They switched the light on again; they were always switching on
currents that he switched offand paid for. They found him lying in a
crumpled sprawl that was awkward, even for Pop.
They stared at him in bewilderment. They would have said he was
drunk; but Pop never dranknor smokednor played cards. Perhaps he
This thought was like a thunderbolt. There was a great thumping in
the breasts of the Grouts.
Suddenly Mère strode forward, dropped to her knees and put
her hand on Pop's heart. It was not stillfar from that. She placed
her cold palm on his forehead. His brow was clammy, hot and cold and
He has a high fever! she said.
Then, with a curious emotion, she brushed back the scant wet hair;
closed her eyes and felt in her bosom a sudden ache like the turning of
a rusty iron. She felt young and afraida young wife who finds her man
She looked up and saw standing about her a number of tall ladies and
gentlemenimportant-looking strangers. Then she remembered that they
had once been nobodies. She felt ashamed before them and she said,
He's going to be ill. Telephone for the doctor to come right away.
And you girls get his bed ready. No, you'd better put him in my
roomit gets the sunlight. And you boys fill the ice-capand the
hot-water bag andhurry! Hurry!
The specters vanished. She was alone with her lover. She was drying
his forehead with her best lace handkerchief and murmuring:
John honey, what's the matter! Why, honeywhy didn't you tell me?
Then a tall gentleman or two returned and one of them said:
Better let us get him off the floor, Mère.
And the big sons of the frail little man picked him up and carried
him into the room and pulled off his elastic congress gaiters, and his
coat and vest, and his detached cuffs, and his permanently tied tie,
and his ridiculous collar.
Then Mère put them out, and when the doctor arrived Pop was
in bed in his best nightshirt.
The doctor made his way up through the little mob of terrified
children. He found Mrs. Grout vastly agitated and much ashamed of
herself. She did not wish to look sentimental. She had reached the
Indian-summer modesty of old married couples.
The doctor went through the usual ritual of pulse-feeling and
tongue-examining and question-asking, while Pop lay inert, with a
little thermometer protruding from his mouth like a most inappropriate
The doctor was uncertain yet whether it were one of the big fevers
or pneumonia or just a bilious attack. Blood-tests would show; and he
scraped the lobe of the ear of the unresisting, indifferent old man,
and took a drop of thin pink fluid on a bit of glass. The doctor tried
to reassure the panicky family, but his voice was low and important.
The brilliant receptions and displays that Mère and the
children had planned were abandoned without regret. All minor regrets
were lost in the one big regret for the poor old, worn-out man
There was a dignity about Pop now. The lowliest peasant takes on
majesty when he is battling for his life and his home.
There was dismay in all the hearts nowdismay at the things they
had said and the thoughts and sneers; dismay at the future without this
shabby but unfailing provider.
The proofs of the family photograph lay scattered about the
living-room. Pop was not there. They had smiled about it before. Now it
looked ominous! What would become of this family if Pop were not there?
The house was filled with a thick sense of hush like a heavy fog;
but thoughts seemed to be all the louder in the silencejumbled
thoughts of selfish alarm; filial terror; remorse; tenderness; mutual
rebuke; dread of death, of the future, of the past.
The day nurse and the night nurse were in command of the house. The
only events were the arrivals of the doctor, his long stops, his
whispered conferences with the nurses, and the unsatisfactory, evasive
answers he gave as the family ambushed him at the foot of the stairs on
his way out.
Meanwhile they could not help Pop in his long wrestle. They had
drained his strength and bruised his heart while he had his power, and
now that he needed their help and their youth they could not lend him
anything; they could not pay a single instalment on the mortgages they
They could only stand at the door now and then and look in at him.
They could not beat off one of the invisible vultures of fever and pain
that hovered over him, swooped, and tore him.
They could not even get word to himnot a message of love or of
repentance or of hope. His brain was in a turmoil of its own. His white
lips were muttering delirious nonsense; his soul was fluttering from
scene to scene and year to year, like a restless dragon-fly. He was
young; he was old; he was married; he was a bachelor; he was at home;
he was in his store; he was pondering campaigns of business, slicing
pennies or making daring purchases; he was retrenching; he was
advertising; but he was afraid always that he might sink in the bog of
competition with rival merchants, with creditors, debtors, bankers,
with his wife, his children, his neighbors, his ideals, his business
Ain't the moon pirty to-night, honey! Gee! I'm scared of that
preacher! What do I say when he says, 'Do you take this woman for
your'The pay-roll? I can't meet it Saturday. How am I going to meet
the pay-roll? I don't see how we can sell those goods any cheaper, but
we got to get rid of 'em. My premium! My premium! I haven't paid my
premium! What'll become of the children? Three cents a yardit's
robbery! Eight cents a yardthat's givin' it away! Don't misunderstand
me, Sally. It's my way of making love. I can't say pirty things like
some folks can, but I can think 'em. My premiumthe pay-rollso many
children! Couldn't they do without that? I ain't a millionaire, you
know. Every time I begin to get ahead a little seems like one of the
children gets sick or in troublethe pay-roll! Three cents a yardthe
new invoiceI can't buy myself a noo soot. The doctor's bills! I ain't
complaining of 'em; but I've got to pay 'em! Let me stay homeI'd
rather. I've had a hard day. My premium! Don't put false notions in
their heads! The pay-roll! Don't scold me, honey! I got feelings, too.
You haven't said a word of love to me in years! I'll raise the money
somehow. I know I'm close; but somebody's got to bethe pay-rollso
many people depending on me. So many mouths to feedthe childrenall
the clerksthe delivery-wagon driversthe advertising billsthe
pay-rollthe children! I ain't as young as I washoney, don't scold
The ceaseless babbling grew intolerable. Then it ceased; and the
stupor that succeeded was worse, for it meant exhaustion. The doctor
grew more grave. He ceased to talk of hope. He looked ashamed. He tried
to throw the blame from himself.
And one dreadful day he called the family together in the
living-room. Once more they were all thereall those expensively shod
feet; those well-clothed, well-fed bodies. In the chair where Pop had
slumped the doctor sat upright. He was saying:
Of course there's always hope. While there's life there's always
hope. The fever is pretty well gone, but so is the patient. The crisis
left him drained. You see he has lived this American business man's
lifeno exercise, no vacations, no change. The worst of it is that he
seems to have given up the fight. You know we doctors can only stand
guard outside. The patient has to fight it out inside himself. It's a
very serious sign when the sick man loses interest in the battle. Mr.
Grout does not rally. His powerful mind has given up.
In spite of themselves there was a general lifting of the brows of
surprise at the allusion to Pop's poor little footling brain as a
powerful mind. Perhaps the doctor saw it. He said:
For it was a powerful mind! Mr. Grout has carried that store of his
from a little shop to a big institution; he has kept it afloat in a
dull town through hard times. He has kept his credit good and he has
given his family wonderful advantages. Look where he has placed you
all! He was a great man.
When the doctor had gone they began to understand that the town had
looked upon Pop as a giant of industry, a prodigal of vicarious
extravagance. They began to feel more keenly still how good a man he
was. While they were flourishing like orchids in the sun and air, he
had grubbed in the earth, sinking roots everywhere in search of
moisture and of sustenance. Through him, things that were lowly and
ugly and cheap were gathered and transformed and sent aloft as sap to
make flowers of and color them and give them velvet petals and
They gathered silently in his room to watch him. He was white and
still, hardly breathing, already the overdue chattel of the grave.
They talked of him in whispers, for he did not answer when they
praised him. He did not move when they caressed him. He was very far
away and drifting farther.
They spoke of how much they missed him, of how perfect a father he
had been, competing with one another in regrets and in praise. Back of
all this belated tribute there was a silent dismay they did not give
voice tothe keen, immediately personal reasons for regret.
What will become of us? they were thinking, each in his or her own
I can't go back to school!
This means no college for me!
I'll have to stay in this awful town the rest of my life!
I can't go to San Francisco! The greatest honor of my life is taken
from me just as I grasped it.
I had a commission to paint the portrait of an ambassador at
Washingtonit would have been the making of me! It meant a lot of
money, too. I came home to ask Pop to stake me to money enough to live
on until it was finished.
My business will go to smash! I'll be saddled with debts for the
rest of my life. If I could have hung on a little longer I'd have
reached the shore; but the bank wouldn't lend me a cent. Nobody would.
I came home to ask Pop to raise me some cash. I counted on him. He
never failed me before.
What will become of us all?
There was a stir on the pillow. The still head began to rock, the
throat to swell, the lips to twitch.
Mère ran to the bedside and knelt by it, laying her hand on
the forehead. A miracle had been wrought in the very texture of his
brow. He was whispering something. She put her ear to his lips.
Yes, honey. What is it? I'm here.
She caught the faint rustling of words. It was as if his hovering
soul had been eavesdropping on their thoughts. Perhaps it was merely
that he had learned so well in all these years just what each of them
would be thinking. For he murmured:
I've been figuring outhow much thefuneral will costyou know
they're awful expensivefunerals areof course I wouldn't want
anything fancybutwellbesidesand I've been thinking the children
have got to have so many thingsI can't afford tobe away from the
store any longer. I ain't got time to die! I've had vacation enough!
Where's my clothes at?
They held him back. But not for long. He was the most irritatingly
impatient of convalescents. In due course of time the family was
redistributed about the face of the earth. Ethelwolf was at preparatory
school; Beatrice and Consuelo were acquiring and lending luster at
Wellesley and Vassar; Gerald was painting a portrait at Washington; and
J. Pennock was like a returned Napoleon in Wall Street.
Pop was at his desk in the store. All his employees had gone home.
He was fretfully twiddling a telegram from San Francisco:
Julie's address sublime please telegraph two hundred more love
Pop was remembering the words of the address: Woman has been for
ages man's mere beast of burden.... Being a wife has meant being a
Pop could not understand it yet. But he told everybody he met about
the first three words of the telegram, and added:
I got the smartest children that ever was and they owe it all to
their mother, every bit.
The wisest thing Prof. Stuart Litton was ever caught at was the
thing he was most ashamed of. He had begun to accumulate knowledge at
an age when most boys are learning to fight and to explain at home how
they got their clothes torn. He wore out spectacles almost as fast as
his brothers wore out copper-toed boots; but he did not begin to
acquire wisdom until he was just making forty. Up to that time, if the
serpent is the standard, Professor Litton was about as wise as an
He submerged himself in books for nearly forty years; and thenin
the words of Leonard Teedthen he came up for air. This man Teed was
the complete opposite of Litton. For one thing he was the liveliest
young student in the university where Litton was the solemnest old
professor. Teed had scientific ambitions and hated Greek and Latin,
which Litton felt almost necessary to salvation. Teed regarded Litton
and his Latin as the sole obstacles to his success in college; and,
though Litton was too much of a gentle heart to hate anybody, if he
could have hated anybody it would have been Teed. A girl was concerned
in one of their earliest encounters, though Litton's share in it was as
unromantic as possible.
Teed, it seems, had violated one of the rules at Webster University.
He had chatted with Miss Fannie Newmana pretty student in the Woman's
Collegeafter nine o'clock; nay, more, he had sat on a campus bench
bidding her good night for half an hour, and, with that brilliant
mathematical mind of his, had selected the bench at the greatest
possible distance from the smallest cluster of lampposts.
On this account he was haled before the disciplinary committee of
the faculty. Litton happened to be on that committee. Teed made the
best fight he could. He showed himself a Greekin argument at
leastand, like an old sophist, he tried to prove, first, that he was
not on the campus with the girl and never had spooned with her; second,
that if he had been there and had spooned with her it was too dark for
them to be seen; and third, that he was engaged to the girl, anyway,
and had a right to spoon with her.
The accusing witness was a janitor whom Teed had played various
jokes on and had neglected to appease with tips. Teed submitted him to
a fierce cross-examination; forced him to admit that he could not see
the loving couple and had identified them solely by their voices. Teed
demanded the exact words overheard; and, as often happens to the
too-ardent cross-examiner, he got what he asked for and wished he had
not. The janitor, blushing at what he remembered, pleaded:
You don't vant I should say it exectly vat I heered?
Exactly! Teed answered in his iciest tone.
Vell, the janitor mumbled, it vas such a foolish talk
asbutvell, ven I come by I hear voman's voice says, 'Me loafs oo
besser as oo loafs me!'
Teed flushed and the faculty sat forward.
Den I hear man's voice says,'Oozie-voozie, mezie-vezie' Must I
got to tell it all?
Go on! said Teed, grimly; and the old German mopped his brow with
anguish and snorted with rage: 'Mezie-vezie loafs oozie-voozie
The purple-faced members of the faculty were hanging on to their own
safety-valves to keep from explodingall save Professor Litton, who
felt that his hearing must be defective. Teed, fighting in the last
But such language does not prove the identity of
theerparticipants. You said you knew positively.
The janitor, writhing with disgust and indignation, went on:
Ven I hear such nonsunse I stop and listen if it is two people
escapet from de loonatic-houze. And den young voman says, 'It doesn't
loaf its Fannie-vannie one teeny-veeny mite!' And young man says, 'So
sure my name is Lennie Teedie-veedie, little Fannie Newman iss de
onliest gerl I ever loafed!'
The cross-examiner crumpled up in a chair, while the members of the
faculty behaved like children bursting with giggles in churchall save
Litton, who had listened with increasing amazement and now leaned
forward to demand of the janitor:
Mr. Kraus, you don't mean to say that two of our students actually
disgraced this institution with conversation that would be appropriate
only to a nursery?
Mr. Kraus thundered: De talk of dose stoodents vould disgrace de
nursery! It vas so sickenink I can't forget ut. I try to, but I keep
rememberink Oozie-voozie! Mezie-vezie!
Mr. Kraus was excused in a state of hydrophobic rage and Teed
withdrew in all meekness.
Litton had fallen into a stupor of despair at the futility of
learning. He remained in a state of coma while the rest of the
committee laughed over the familiar idiocies and debated a verdict. Two
of the professors, touched by some reminiscence of romance, voted to
ignore the incident as a trivial commonplace of youth. Two others,
though full of sympathy for TeedMiss Fannie was very prettyvoted
for his suspension as a necessary example, lest the campus be overrun
by duets in lovers' Latin. The result was a tie and Litton was roused
from his trance to cast the deciding vote.
Now Professor Litton had read a vast amount about love. The classics
are full of its every imaginable version or perversion; but Litton had
seen it expressed only in the polished phrases of Anacreon, Bion,
Propertius, and the others. He had not guessed that, however these men
polished their verses, they doubtless addressed their sweethearts with
all the imbecility of sincerity.
Litton's own experience gave him little help. In his late youth he
had thought himself in love twice and had expressed his fiery emotions
in a Latin epistle, an elegy, and a number of very correct Alcaics.
They pleased his teacher, but frightened the spectacles off one bookish
young woman, and drove the other to the arms of a prescription clerk,
who knew no Latin except what was on his drug bottles.
Litton had thenceforward been wedded to knowledge. He had read
nearly everything ancient, but he must have forgotten the sentence of
Publilius Syrus: Even a god could hardly love and be wise. He felt no
mercy in his soft heart for the soft-headed Teed. He was a worshiper of
language for its own sake and cast a vote accordingly.
I do not question the propriety of the conduct of these young
people, he said. Mr. Teed claims to be engaged to the estimable young
Ah! said Professor Mackail, delightedly.
Teed was the brightest pupil in his laboratory and he had voted for
acquittal. His joy vanished as Professor Litton went on:
Buthe spoke the word with emphasisbut waiving all questions
of propriety, I do feel that we should administer a stinging rebuke to
the use of such appallingly infantile language by one of our students.
Surely a man's culture should show itself, above all, in the addresses
he pays to the young lady of his choice. What vanity to build and
conduct a great institution of learning, such as this aims to be, and
then permit one of its pupils to express his regard for a student from
the Annex in such language as even Mr. Kraus was reluctant to quote:
'Mezie-wezie loves oozie-woozie bestest!'if I remember rightly.
Really, gentlemen, if this is permitted we might as well change the
university to a kindergarten. For his own sake I vote that Mr. Teed be
given six months of meditation at home; and I trust that the faculty of
the Woman's College will have a similar regard for its ideals and the
welfare of the misguided young woman.
Professor Mackail protested furiously, but his advocacy only
embittered Littonfor Mackail was the leader of the faction that had
tried for years to place Webster University in line with others by
removing Latin and Greek from the position of required studies.
Mackail and his crew pretended that French and German, or science,
were appropriate substitutes for the classic languages in the case of
those whose tastes were not scholastic; but to Litton it was a religion
that no man should be allowed to spend four years in college without at
least rubbing up against Homer, Æschylos, Vergil, and Horace.
As Litton put it: No man has a right to an Alma Mater who doesn't
know what the words mean; and nobody has a right to graduate without
knowing at least enough Latin to read his own diploma.
This old war had been fought with all the bitterness and
professional jealousies of scholarship, which rival those of religion
and exceed those of the stage. For yet a while Litton and his followers
had vanquished opposition. He little dreamed what he was preparing for
himself in punishing Teed.
Teed accepted his banishment with poor grace, but a magnificent
determination to come back and graduate. The effect of his punishment
was shown when, after six months of rustic meditation, he set out for
the university, leaving behind him his Fannie, who had been too timid
to return to the scene of her discomfiture. Teed's good-by words ran
something like this:
Bess its ickle heartums! Don't se care! Soonie as Teedle-weedle
gets graduated he'll get fine job and marry his Fansy-pansy very first
sing. Then he kissed her Goo'byjumsand went back with the face of
a Regulus returning to be tortured by the enemy.
Teed had a splendid mind for everything material and modern, but he
could not and would not master the languages he called dead. His
mistranslations of the classics were themselves classics. They sent the
other students into uproars; but Litton saw nothing funny in them. When
he received Teed's examination papers he marked them with a pitiless
Teed reached the end of his junior year with a heap of conditions in
the classics. Litton insisted that he should not be allowed to graduate
until he cleaned them up. This meant that Teed must tutor all through
his last vacation or carry double work throughout his senior yearwhen
he expected to play some patriotic or Alma-Matriotic football.
Teed had no intention of enduring either of these inconveniences; he
trusted to fate to inspire him somehow with some scheme for attaining
his diploma without delay. His future job depended on his diplomaand
his girl depended on his job.
He did not intend to be kept from either by any ancient authors. He
had not the faintest idea how he was going to bridge that chasmbut,
as he wrote his Fansy-pansy, Love will find the way.
While Teed was taking thought for the beginning of his life-work
Litton was completing hisor at least he thought he was. With the
splendid devotion of the scholar he had selected for his contribution
to human welfare the best possible edition of the work least likely to
be read by anybody. A firm of publishers had kindly consented to print
itat Litton's expense.
Litton would donate a copy to his own university; two or three
college libraries would purchase copies out of respect to the learned
professor; and Litton would give away a few more. The rest would stand
in an undisturbed stack of increasing dust, there to remain unread as
long perhaps as the myriads of Babylonian classics that Assurbani-pal
had copied in brick volumes for his great library at Nineveh.
Professor Litton had chosen for his life-work a recension of the
ponderous epic in forty-eight books that old Nonnus wrote in Egypt, the
labyrinthine Dionysiaka describing the voyage of Bacchus to India and
A pretty theme for an old water-drinker who had never tasted wine!
But Litton toiled over the Greek text, added copious notes as to minute
variants, appallingly learned prolegomena, an index, and finally an
English version in prose. He had begun to translate it into hexameters,
but he feared that he would never live to finish it. It was hard enough
for a man like Litton to express at all the florid spirit of an author
whose theme was the voluptuous phalanxes of Bacchus' armythe
heroic race of such unusual warriors; the shaggy satyrs; the breed of
centaurs; the tribes of Sileni, whose legs bristle with hair; and the
battalions of Bassarids.
He had kept at it all these years, however, and it was ready now for
the eyes of a world that would never see it. He had watched it through
the compositors' hands, keeping a tireless eye on the infinite nuisance
of Greek accents. He had read the galley proofs, the page proofs, and
now at last the black-bordered foundry proofs. He scorned to write the
bastard O. K. of approval and wrote, instead, a stately Imprimatur.
He placed the proofs in their envelope and sealed it with lips that
trembled like a priest's when giving an illuminated Gospel a ritual
The hour was late when Professor Litton finished. He stamped the
brown-paper envelope and went down the steps of the boarding-house that
had been for years his nearest approach to a home. He left the precious
envelope on the hall-tree, whence it would be taken to the post-office
for the first mail.
Feeling the need of a breath of air, he stepped out on the porch. It
was a spring midnight and the college roofs were wonderful under the
quivering moonor tremulo sub lumine, as he remembered it. And
he remembered how Quintus Smyrnæus had said that the Amazon queen
walked among her outshone handmaidens, as when, on the wide heavens,
among the stars, the divine Selene moves pre-eminent among them all.
He thought of everything in terms of the past; yet, when he heard,
mingled with the vague murmur of the night, a distant song of befuddled
collegians, among whose voices Teed's soared pre-eminent above the key,
he was not pleasantly reminded of the tipsy army of Dionysus. He was
revolted and, returning to his solitude, closed an indignant door on
Poor old Litton! His learning had so frail a connection with the
life about him! Steeped in the classics and acquainted with the
minutest details of their texts, he never caught their spirit; never
seemed to realize that they are classics because their authors were so
close to life and imbued them with such vitality that time has not yet
rendered them obsolete.
He had hardly suspected the mischief that is in them. A more
innocent man could hardly be imagined or one more versed in the lore of
evil. Persons who believe that what is called immoral literature has a
debasing effect must overlook such men as Litton. He dwelt among those
Greek and Roman authors who excelled in exploiting the basest emotions
and made poems out of putridity.
He read in the original those terrifying pages that nobody has ever
dared to put into English without paraphrasethe polished infamies of
Martial; the exquisite atrocities of Theocritus and Catullus. Yet these
books left him as unsullied as water leaves a duck's back. They
infected him no more than a medical work gives the doctor that studies
it the diseases it describes. The appallingly learned Professor Litton
was a babe in arms compared with many of his pupils, who read
littleor with the janitor, who read nothing at all.
And now, arrived at a scant forty and looking a neglected fifty,
short-sighted, stoop-shouldered and absent-minded to a proverb, he cast
a last fond look at the parcel containing his translation of the
Bacchic epic and climbed the stairs to his bachelor bedroom, took off
his shabby garments, and stretched himself out in the illiterate sleep
of a tired farm-hand.
Just one dream he hada nightmare in which he read a printed copy
of his work, and a wrongly accented enclitic stuck out from one of the
pages like a sore thumb. He woke in a cold sweat, ran to his duplicate
proofs, found that his text was correctand went back to bed
Of such things his terrors and his joys had consisted all his years.
The next morning he felt like a laborer whose factory has closed.
Every day would be Sunday hereafter until he got another job. In this
unwonted sloth he dawdled over his porridge, his weak tea, and his
Head-lines caught his eyes shouting the familiar name of Joel
Brownfamiliar to the world at large because of the man's tremendous
success and relentless severity in business. Brown fell in love with
one of those shy, sly young women who make a business of millionaires.
He fell out with a thud and his Flossie entered a suit for breach of
promise, submitting selected letters of Brown's as proofs of his guile
and of her weak, womanly trust.
The newspapers pounced on them with joy, as cats pounce and purr on
catnip. The whole country studied Brown's letters with the rapture of
eavesdropping. Such letters! Such oozing molasses of sentiment! Such
elephantine coquetry! Joel weighed two hundred and eighteen pounds and
called himself Little Brownie and Pet Chickie!
This was the literature that the bewildered Litton found in the
first paper he had read carefully since he came up for air. One of the
letters ran something like this:
Angel of the skies! My own Flossie-dovelet! Your Little Brownie
not seenest thee for a whole half a day, and he is pining,
starving, famishing, perishing for a word from your blushing
liplets. Oh, my Peaches and Cream! Oh, my Sugar Plum! How can
Pet Chickie live the eternity until he claspeths thee again
evening? When can your Brownie-wownie call you all his ownest
one? Ten billion kisses I send you from
Your own, owner, ownest
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
The X's, Flossie explained, indicated kissesa dozen to an X.
The jury laughed Little Brownie out of court after pinning a
twenty-five-thousand-dollar verdict to his coat-tail. The nation
elected him the Pantaloon of the hour and pounded him with bladders and
Professor Litton had heard nothing of the preliminary fanfare of the
suit. As he read of it now he was too much puzzled to be amused. He
read with the same incredulity he had felt when he heard the janitor
quote Teed's remarks to his fiancée. Litton called his landlady's
attention to the remarkable case. She had been reading it, with greedy
glee, every morning. She had had such letters herself in her better
days. She felt sorry for poor Mr. Brown and sorrier for the poor
professor when he said:
Poor Mr. Brown must have gone quite insane. Nobody could have built
up such wealth without brains; yet nobody with brains could have
written such letters. Ergo, he has lost his brains.
You'll be late to prayers, was all the landlady said. She treated
Litton as if he were a half-witted son. And he obeyed her, forsook his
unfinished tea and hurried away to the chapel. Thence he went to his
class-room, where Teed achieved some further miracles of
mistranslation. Litton thought how curious it was that this young man,
of whom his scientific professor spoke so highly, should have fallen
into the same delirium of amorous idiocy as the famous plutocrat, Joel
When the class was dismissed he sank back in his chair by the
class-room window. It was wide ajar to-day for the first time since
winter. April, like an early-morning housemaid, was throwing open all
the windows of the world. Litton felt a delicious lassitude; he was
bewildered with leisure. A kind of sweet loneliness fell on him. He had
made no provision for times like these.
He sat back and twiddled his thumbs. His eyes roved lazily about the
campus. The wind that fluttered the sparse forelock on his overweening
forehead hummed in his ears. It had a distance in it. It brought soft
cadences of faint voices from the athletic field. They seemed to come
from no place nearer than the Athenian Academe.
Along the paths of the campus a few women were sauntering, for the
students and teachers in the Women's Annex had the privilege of the
libraries, the laboratories, and lecture-rooms.
Across Litton's field of view passed a figure that caught his eye.
Absently he followed it as it enlarged with approach. He realized that
it was Prof. Martha Binley, Ph.D., who taught Greek over there in the
How well she is looking! he mused.
The very thought startled him, as if some one had spoken
unexpectedly. He wondered that he had noticed her appearance. After the
window-sill blotted her from view he still wondered, dallying
comfortably with the reverie.
There was a knock at his door and in response to his call the door
openedand she stood there.
May I come in? she said.
Before he knew it some impulse of gallantry hoisted him to his feet.
He lifted a bundle of archeological reviews from a chair close to his
desk and waited until she sat down. The chair was nearer his than he
realized, and as Professor Binley dropped into it she was so close that
Professor Litton pushed his spectacles up to his forehead.
It was the first time she had seen his eyes except through glasses
darkly. She noted their color instantly, woman-like. They were not
dull, either, as she had imagined. A cloying fragrance saluted his
What are the flowers you are wearing, may I ask? he said. He
hardly knew a harebell from a peony.
These are hyacinths, she said. One of the girls gave them to me.
I just pinned them on.
Ah, hyacinths! he murmured. Ah yes; I've read so much about them.
So these are hyacinths! Such a pretty story the Greeks had. You
remember it, no doubt?
She said she did; but, schoolmaster that he was, he went right on:
Apollo loved young Hyacinthusor Huakinthos, as the Greeks called
itand was teaching him to throw the discus, when a jealous breeze
blew the discus aside. It struck the boy in the forehead. He fell dead,
and from his blood this flower sprang. The petals, they said, were
marked with the letters Ai, Ai!Alas! Alas! And the poet Moschus, you
remember, in his 'Lament for Bion,' says:
Nun huakinthe lalei ta sa grammata kai pleon aiai!
Or, as I once Englished itlet me see, I put it into
hexametersit was a long while ago. Ah, I have it!
And with the orotund notes a poet assumes when reciting his own
words, he intoned:
Now, little hyacinth, babble thy syllableslouder yetAiai!
Whimper with all of thy petals; a beautiful singer has
Professor Binley stared at him in amazement and cried: Charming!
Beautiful! Your own translation, you say?
And he, somewhat shaken by her enthusiasm, waved it aside.
A little exercise of my Freshman year. But to get back to
ourhyacinths: Theocritus, you remember, speaks of the 'lettered
hyacinth.' May I see whether we can find the words there?
He bent forward to take and she bent forward to give the flowers.
Her hair brushed his forehead with a peculiar influence; and when their
fingers touched he noted how soft and warm her hand was. He flushed
strangely. She was flushed a little, too, possibly from
embarrassmentpossibly from the warmth of the day, with its
insinuation of spring.
He pulled his spectacles over his eyes in a comfortable discomfiture
and peered at the flowers closely. And she peered, too, breathing
foolishly fast. When he could not find the living letters he shook his
head and felt again the soft touch of her hair.
I can't find the wordscan you? Your eyes are brighter than mine.
She bent closer and both their hands held the flowers. He looked
down into her hair. It struck him that it was a remarkably beautiful
ideaa woman's hairespecially hers, streaked as it was with
whitesilken silver. When she shook her head a snowy thread tickled
his nose amusingly.
I can't find anything like it, she confessed.
Then he said: I've just remembered. Theocritus calls the hyacinth
blackmelanand so does Vergil. These cannot be hyacinths at
He was bitterly disappointed. It would have been delightful to meet
the flower in the flesh that he knew so well in literature. Doctor
Martha answered with quiet strength:
These are hyacinths.
But the Greeks
Didn't know everything, she said; or perhaps they referred to
another flower. But then we have dark-purple hyacinths.
Ah! he said. Sappho speaks of the hyacinth as purple
Thus the modern world was reconciled with the Greek and he felt
easier; but there was a gentle forcefulness about her that surprised
him. He wondered whether she would not be interested in hearing about
his edition of Nonnus. He assumed that she would be, being evidently
intelligent. So he told her. He told her and told her, and she listened
with almost devout interest. He was still telling her when the students
in other classes stampeded to lunch with a many-hoofed clatter. When
they straggled back from lunch he was still telling her.
It was not until he was interrupted by an afternoon class of his own
that he realized how long he had talked. He apologized to Professor
Binley; but she said she was honored beyond words. She had come to ask
him a technical question in prosody, as from one professor to another;
but she had forgotten it altogetherat least she put it off to another
visit. She hastened away in a flutter, feeling slightly as if she had
been to a tryst.
Litton went without his lunch that day, but he was browsing on
memories of his visitor. He had not talked so long to a woman since he
could remember. This was the only woman who had let him talk
uninterruptedly about himselfa very superior woman, everybody said.
When he went to his room that night he was still thinking of
hyacinths and of her who had brought them to his eyes.
He knocked from his desk a book. It fell open at a page. As he
picked it up he noted that it was a copy of the anonymous old spring
rhapsody, the Pervigilium Veneris, with its ceaselessly
reiterated refrain, To-morrow he shall love who never loved before.
As he fell asleep it was running through his head like a popular tune:
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.
It struck him as an omen; but it did not terrify him.
Professor Martha called again to ask her question in verse technic.
The answer led to further talk and the consultation of books. She was a
trifle nearsighted and too proud to wear glasses, so she had to bend
close to the page; and her hair tickled his nose again foolishly.
Conference bred conference, and one day she asked him whether she
would dare ask him to call. He rewarded her bravery by calling. She
lived in a dormitory, with a parlor for the reception of guests. Male
students were allowed to call on only two evenings a week. Litton did
not call on those evenings; yet the fact that he called at all swept
through the town like a silent thunderbolt. The students were
mysteriously apprised of the fact that old Professor Litton and Prof.
Martha Binley were sitting up and taking notice. To the youngsters it
looked like a flirtation in an old folks' home.
Litton's very digestion was affected; his brain was in a whirl. He
was the prey of the most childish alarms; gusts of petulant emotion
swept through him if Martha were late when he called; he was mad with
jealousy if she mentioned another professor.
She was growing more careful of her appearance. A new youth had come
to her. She took fifteen years off her looks by simply fluffing her
hair out of its professorial constriction. Professor Mackail noticed it
and mentioned to Professor Litton that Professor Binley was looking
ever so much better.
She's not half homely for such an old maid! he said.
Professor Litton felt murder in his heart. He wanted to slay the
reprobate twiceonce for daring to observe Martha's beauty and once
for his parsimony of praise.
That evening when he called on Martha he was tortured with a sullen
mood. She finally coaxed from him the astounding admission that he
suspected her of flirting with Mackail. She was too new in love to
recognize the ultimate compliment of his distress. She was horrified by
his distrust, and so hurt that she broke forth in a storm of tears and
denunciation. Their precious evening ended in a priceless quarrel of
amazing violence. He stamped down the outer steps as she stamped up the
For three days they did not meet and the university wore almost
visible mourning for its pets. Poor Litton had not known that the human
heart could suffer such agony. He was fairly burned alive with
loneliness and resentmentlike another Hercules blistering in the
shirt of Nessus. And Martha was suffering likewise as Jason's second
wife was consumed in the terrible poisoned robe that Medea sent her.
One evening a hollow-eyed Litton crept up the dormitory steps and
asked the overjoyed maid for Professor Binley. When she appeared he
caught her in his arms as if she were a spar and he a drowning sailor.
They made up like young lovers and swore oaths that they would never
quarrel againoaths which, fortunately for the variety of their future
existence, they found capable of infinite breaking and mending.
Each denied that the other could possibly love each. He decried
himself as a stupid, ugly old fogy; and she cried him up as the wisest
and most beautiful and best of men. Since best sounded rather weak, she
called him the bestest; and he did not charge the impossible word
against her as he had against Teed. He did not remember that Teed had
ever used such language. Nobody could ever have used such language,
because nobody was ever like her!
And when she said that he could not possibly love a homely, scrawny
old maid like her, he delivered a eulogy that would have struck
Aphrodite, rising milkily from the sea, as a slight exaggeration. And
as for old maid, he cried in a curious blending of puerility and
Old maid, do you say? And has my little Margy-wargles forgotten
what Sappho said of an old maid? We'd have lost it if some old
scholiast on the stupid old sophist Hermogenes hadn't happened to quote
it to explain the word glukumalonan apple grafted on a quince. Sappho
said this old maid was likelet me see!'like the sweet apple that
blushes on the top of the boughon the tip of the topmost; and the
apple-gatherers forgot itno, they did not forget it; they just could
not get it!' And that's you, Moggles mine! You're an old maid because
you've been out of reach of everybody. I can't climb to you; so you're
going to drop into my armsaren't you?
She said she supposed she was. And she did.
Triumphantly he said, Hadn't we better announce our engagement?
This threw her into a spasm of fear. Oh, not yet! Not yet! I'm
afraid to let the students all know it. A little lateron Commencement
Day will be time enough.
He bowed to her decisionnot for the last time.
For a time Litton had taken pleasure in employing his learning in
the service of Martha's beauty. He called her classic namesMeæ
Deliciæ, or Glukutate, or Melema. A poem that he had
always thought the last word in silliness became a modest expression of
his own emotionsthe poem in which Catallus begs Lesbia, Give me a
thousand kisses, then a hundred, then a thousand more, then a second
hundred; then, when we have made up thousands galore, we shall mix them
up so that we shall not knownor any enemy be able to cast a spell
because he knowshow many kisses there are.
His scholarship began to weary her, however, and it began to seem an
affectation to him; so that he was soon mangling the English language
in speech and in the frequent notes he found it necessary to send his
idol on infinitely unimportant matters that could not wait from after
lunch to after dinner.
She coined phrases for him, too, and his heart rejoiced when she
achieved the epoch-making revision of Stuart into Stookie-tookie! He
had thought that Toodie was wonderful, but it was a mere stepping-stone
Her babble ran through his head like music, and it softened his
heart, so that almost nothing could bring him to earth except the
recitations of Teed, who crashed through the classics like a bull in a
china-shop or, as Litton's Greeks put it, like an ass among beehives.
During those black days when Litton had quarreled with Martha he had
fiercely reminded Teed that only a month remained before his final
examinations, and warned him that he would hold him strictly to
account. No classics, no diploma!
Teed had sulked and moped while Litton sulked and moped; but when
Litton was reconciled to Martha the sun seemed to come out on Teed's
clouded world, too. He took a sudden extra interest in his electrical
studies and obtained permission to work in the laboratory overtime. He
obtained permission even to visit the big city for certain apparatus.
And he wrote the despondent, distant Fannie Newman that there would
shortly be something doing in the classics.
One afternoon Professor Litton, having dismissed his classin which
he was obliged to rebuke Teed more severely than usualfell to
remembering his last communion with Martha, the things he had saidand
heard! He wondered, as a philologist, at the strange prevalence of the
oo sound in his love-making. It was plainly an onomatopoeic word
representing the soul's delight. Oo! was what Ah! is to the soul in
exaltation and Oh! to the soul in surprise. If the hyacinths babbled
Ai, Ai! the roses must murmur Oo! Oo!
The more he thought it over, the more nonsense it became, as all
words turn to drivel on repetition; but chiefly he was amazed that even
love could have wrought this change in him. In his distress he happened
to think of Dean Swift. Had not that fierce satirist created a dialect
of his own for his everlastingly mysterious love affairs?
Eager for the comfort of fellowship in disgrace he hurried to the
library and sought out the works of the Dean of St. Patrick's. And in
the Journal to Stella he found what he soughtand more. Expressions
of the most appalling coarseness alternated with the most insipid
The old dean had a code of abbreviations: M.D. for My dear, Ppt.
for Poppet, Pdfr. for Poor dear foolish rogue, Oo or zoo or loo
stood for you, Deelest for Dearest, and Rettle for Letter, and
Dallars for Girl, Vely for Very, and Hele and Lele for Here and
there. Litton copied out for his own comfort and Martha's this
Do you know what? When I am writing in my own language I make
mouth just as if I was speaking it: Zoo must cly Lele and
and Hele aden. Must loo mimitate Pdfr., pay? Iss, and so la
And so leles fol ee rettle. Dood mollow.
And Dean Swift had written this while he was in London two hundred
years before, a great man among great men. With such authority back of
him Litton returned to his empty class-room feeling as proud as
Gulliver in Lilliput. A little later he was Gulliver in Brobdingnag.
Alone at his desk, with none of his students in the seats before
him, he took from his pockethis left pocketa photograph of Prof.
Martha Binley. It had been taken one day on a picnic far from the
spying eyes of pupils. Her hair was all wind-blown, her eyes frowned
gleamingly into the sun, and her mouth was curled with laughter.
He sat there alonethe learned professorand talked to this
snapshot in a dialogue he would have recently accepted as a perfect
examination paper for matriculation in an insane-asylum.
Well, Margy-wargy, zoo and Stookie-tookie is dust like old Dean
Swiffikins, isn't we?
There was a rap on the door and the knob turned as he shot the
photograph into his pocket and pretended to be reading a volume of
Bacchylidesupside down. The intruder was Teed. Litton was too much
startled and too throbbing with guilt to express his indignation. He
We-well, Teed? He almost called him teed-leums, his tongue had so
caught the rhythm of love.
Teed came forward with an ominous self-confidence bordering on
insolence. There was a glow in his eye that made his former tyrant
Professor, I'd like a word with you about those conditions. I wish
you'd let me off on 'em.
Let you off, T-Teed?
Yes, sir. I can't get ready for the exams. I've boned until my
skull's cracked and it lets the blamed stuff run out faster than I can
cram it in. The minute I leave college I expect to forget everything
I've learned here, anyway; so I'd be ever so much obliged if you'd just
pass me along.
I don't think I quite comprehend, said Litton, who was beginning
to regain his pedagogical dignity.
All you've gotta do, said Teed, is to put a high enough mark on
my papers. You gimme a special examination and I'll make the best stab
I can at answering the questions; then you just shut one eye and mark
it just over the failure line. That'll save you a lot o' time and fix
Litton was glaring at him, hearing the uncouth gimme and gotta,
and wondering that a man could spend four years in college and scrape
off so little paint. Then he began to realize the meaning of Teed's
proposal. His own honor was in traffic. He groaned in suffocation:
Do you dare to ask me to put false marks on examination-papers,
Aw, Professor, what's the dif? You couldn't grind Latin and Greek
into me with a steel-rolling machine. Gimme a chance! There's a little
girl waiting for me outside and a big job. I can't get one without the
otherand I don't get either unless you folks slip me the sheepskin.
Impossible, sir! Astounding! Insulting! Impossible!
Have a heart, can't you?
Leave the room, sir, at once!
All right! Teed sighed, and turned away. At the door he paused to
murmur, All right for you, Stookie-tookie!
Litton's spectacles almost exploded from his nose.
What's that? he shrieked.
Teed turned and came back, with an intolerable smirk, straight to
the desk. He leaned on it with odious familiarity and grinned.
Say, Prof, did you ever hear of the dictagraph?
No! And I don't care to now.
You ought to read some of the modern languages, Prof! Dictagraph
comes from two perfectly good Latin words: dictum and graftwell,
you'll know 'em. But the Greeks weren't wise to this little device. I
got part of it here.
He took from his pocket the earpiece of the familiar engine of
latter-day detective romance. He explained it to the horribly
fascinated Litton, whose hair stood on end and whose voice stuck in his
throat in the best Vergilian manner. Before he quite understood its
black magic Litton suspected the infernal purpose it had been put to.
His wrath had melted to a sickening fear when Teed reached the
conclusion of his uninterrupted discourse:
The other night I was calling on a pair of girls at the dormitory
where yourwhere Professor Binley lives. They pointed out the sofa
near the fireplace where you and the professoress sit and hold hands
and make googoo eyes.
There was that awful oo sound again! Litton was in an icy
perspiration; but he was even more afraid for his beloved, precious
sweetheart than for himselfand that was being about as much afraid as
there is. Teed went on relentlessly, gloating like a satyric mask:
Well, I had an idea, and the girls fell for it with a yip of joy.
The next evening I called I carried a wire from my room across to that
dormitory and nobody paid any attention while I brought it through a
window and under the carpet to the back of the sofa. And there it
waited, laying for you. And over at my digs I had it attached to a
phonograph by a little invention of my own.
Gosh! It was wonderful! It even repeated the creak of those old,
rusty springs while you waited for her. And when she camewell,
anyway, I got every word you said, engraved in wax, like one of those
old poets of yours used to write on.
Litton was afraid to ask evidence in verification. Teed supplied the
For instance, the first thing she says to you is: 'Oh, there you
are, my little lover! I thought you'd never come!' And you says, 'Did
it miss its stupid old Stookie?' And she says: 'Hideously! Sit down,
honey heart.' And splung went the springand splung again! Then she
says: 'Did it have a mis'ble day in hateful old class-room? Put its
boo'ful head on Margy-wargy's shojer.' Then you says
Stop! Litton cried, raising the only missile he could find, an
inkstand. Who knows of this infamy besides you?
Nobody yeton my word of honor.
Honor! sneered Litton, so savagely that Teed's shameless leer
vanished in a glare of anger.
Nobody yet! The girls are dying to hear and some of the fellows
knew what I was up to; but I was thinking that I'd tell 'em that the
blamed thing didn't work, providedprovided
Provided? Litton wailed, miserably.
Provided you could see your way clear to being a little careless
with your marks on my exam-papers.
Litton sat with his head whirling and roaring like a coffee-grinder.
A multitude of considerations ran through and were crushed into
powderhis honor; her honor; the standards of the university; the
standards of a lover; the unimportance of Teed; the all-importance of
Martha; the secret disloyalty to the faculty; the open disloyalty to
his best-beloved. He heard Teed's voice as from far off:
Of course, if you can't see your way to sparing my sweetheart's
feelings I don't see why I'm expected to spare yoursor to lie to the
fellows and girls who are perishing to hear how two professors talk
when they're in love.
Another long pause. Then the artful Teed moved to the door and
turned the knob. Litton could not speak; but he threw a look that was
like a grappling-iron and Teed came back.
How do I know, Litton moaned, how do I know that you will keep
How do I know that you'll keep yours? Teed replied, with the
insolence of a conqueror.
Sir! Litton flared, but weakly, like a sick candle.
Well, Teed drawled, I'll bring you the cylinders. I'll have to
trust you, as one gentleman to another.
Gentleman! Litton snarled in hydrophobic frenzy.
Well, as one lover to another, then, Teed laughed. Do I get my
Litton's head was so heavy he could not nod it.
It's my diploma in exchange for your records. Come on,
Professorbe a sport! And take it from me, it's no fun having the
words you whisper in a girl's ear in the dark shouted out loud in the
open court. And mine were repeated in a Dutch dialect! I got yours just
as they came from your lipsand hers.
That ended it. Litton surrendered, passed himself under the yoke;
pledged himself to the loathsome compact, and Teed went to fetch the
price of his degree of Bachelor of Arts.
Litton hung dejected beyond feeling for a long while. His heart was
whimpering Ai, Ai! He felt himself crushed under a hundred
different crimes. He felt that he could never look up again. Then he
heard a soft tap at the door. He could not raise his eyes or his voice.
He heard the door open and supposed it was Teed bringing him the wages
of his shame; but he heard another voicean unimaginably beautiful,
tragically tender voicecrooning:
He looked up. How radiant she was! He could only sigh. She came
across to him as gracefully and lightly as Iris running down a rainbow.
She was murmuring:
I just had to slip over and tell you something.
Well, Martha! he sighed.
She stopped short, as if he had struck her.
'Martha'? What's the matter? You aren't mad at me, are you,
How could I be angry with you, MargerMartha?
Then why don't you call me Margy-wargleums?
He stared at her. Her whimsical smile, trembling to a piteously
pretty hint of terror, overwhelmed him. He hesitated, then shoved back
his chair and, rising, caught her to him so tightly that she gasped
out, Oo! There it was again! He laughed like an overgrown cub as he
Why don't I call you Margy-wargleums? Well, what a darned fool I'd
be not to! Margy-wargleums!
To such ruin does lovethe blind, the lawless, the illiterate
childbring the noblest intelligences and the loftiest principles.
THE MOUTH OF THE GIFT HORSE
The town of Wakefield wasissuffering from growing painsfrom
ingrowing pains, according to its rival, Gatesville.
Wakefield has long been guilty of trying to add a cubit to its
stature by taking thought. Established, like thousands of other pools
left in the prairies by that tidal wave of humanity sweeping westward
in the middle of the last century, it passed its tenth thousand with a
rush; then something happened.
For decades the decennial census dismally tolled the same knell of
fifteen thousand in round numbers. The annual censuses but echoed the
reverberations. A few more cases of measles one year, and the
population lapsed a little below the mark; an easy winter, and it
slipped a little above. No mandragora of bad times or bad health ever
quite brought it so low as fourteen thousand. No fever of prosperity
ever sent the temperature quite so high as sixteen thousand.
The iteration got on people's nerves till a commercial association
was formed under the name of the Wide-a-Wakefield Club, with a motto of
Boom or Bust. Many individuals accomplished the latter, but the town
still failed of the former. The chief activity of the club was in the
line of decoying manufacturers over into Macedonia by various bribes.
Its first capture was a cutlery company in another city. Though
apparently prosperous, it had fallen foul of the times, and its
president adroitly allowed the Wide-a-Wakefield Club to learn that, if
a building of sufficient size were offered rent free for a term of
years, the cutlery company might be induced to move to Wakefield and
conduct its business there, employing at least a hundred laborers, year
in, year out.
There was not in all Wakefield a citizen too dull to see the
individual and collective advantage of this hundred increase. It meant
money in the pocket of every doctor, lawyer, merchant, clothier,
boarding-house-keeper, saloon-keeper, soda-water-venderwhom not?
Every establishment in town would profit, from the sanatorium to the
pantatoriumas the institution for the replenishment of trousers was
Commercial fervor rose to such heights in Wakefield that in no time
at all enough money was subscribed to build a convenient factory and to
purchase as many of the shares of cutlery stock as the amiable
president cared to print. In due season the manufacture of tableware
and penknives began, and the pride of the town was set aglow by the
trade-mark stamped on every article issued from the cutlery factory. It
was an ingenious emblema glorious Cupid in a sash marked Wakefield,
stabbing a miserable Cupid in a sash marked Sheffield.
It was Sheffield that survived. In fact, the stupid English city
probably never heard of the Wakefield Cutlery Company. Nor did
Wakefield hear of it long. For the emery dust soon ceased to glisten in
the air and the steel died of a distemper.
It was a very real shock to Wakefield, and many a boy that had been
meant for college went into his father's store instead, and many a girl
who had planned to go East to be polished stayed at home and polished
her mother's plates and pans, because the family funds had been
invested in the steel-engravings of the cutlery stock certificates.
They were very handsome engravings.
Hope languished in Wakefield until a company from Kenosha consented
to transport its entire industry thither if it could receive a building
rent free. It was proffered, and it accepted, the cutlery works. For a
season the neighboring streets were acrid with the aroma of the
passionate pickles that were bottled there. And then its briny deeps
ceased to swim with knobby condiments. A tin-foil company abode awhile,
and yet again a tamale-canning corporation, which in its turn sailed on
to the Sargasso Sea of missing industries.
Other factory buildings in Wakefield fared likewise. They were but
lodging-houses for transient failures. The population swung with the
tide, but always at anchor. The lift which the census received from an
artificial-flower company, employing seventy-five hands, was canceled
by the demise of a more redolent pork-packing concern of equal
pay-roll. People missed it when the wind blew from the west.
But Wakefield hoped on. One day the executive committee of the
Wide-a-Wakefield Club, having nothing else to do, met in executive
session. There were various propositions to consider. All of them were
written on letter-heads of the highest school of commercial art, and
all of them promised to endow Wakefield with some epoch-making
advantage, provided merely that Wakefield furnish a building rent free,
tax free, water free, and subscribe to a certain amount of stock.
The club regarded these glittering baits with that cold and clammy
gaze with which an aged trout of many-scarred gills peruses some
But if these letters were tabled with suspicion because they offered
too much for too little, what hospitality could be expected for a
letter which offered still more for still less? The chairman of the
committee was Ansel K. Pettibone, whose sign-board announced him as a
practical house-painter and paper-hanger. He read this letter,
head-lines and all:
MARK A. SHELBY JOHN R. SHELBY LUKE B. SHELBY
SHELBY PARADISE POWDER COMPANY
SPRINGFIELD, MASS., U. S. A.
MAKES WASHDAY WELCOME. SIDESTEP SUBSTITUTES. WIDE-A-WAKEFIELD CLUB,
DEAR SIRS,The undersigned was born in your city, and left
about twenty years ago to seek his fortune. I have finally
after many ups and downs. Us three brothers have jointly
and patented the famous Paradise Powder. It is generally
to be the grandest thing of its kind ever put on the market,
in the words of the motto, Makes Washday Welcome. Ladies who
used it agree that our statement is not excessive when we say,
Once tried, you will use no other.
It is selling at such a rate in the East that I have a personal
profit of two thousand dollars a week. We intend to push it in
West, and we were talking of where would be the best place to
locate a branch factory at. My brothers mentioned Chicago, St.
Louis, Omaha, Denver, and such places, but I said, I vote for
Wakefield. My brothers said I was cracked. I says maybe I am,
I'm going back to my old home town and spend the rest of my
there and my surplus money, too. I want to beautify Wakefield,
as near as I can remember there is room for improvement. It
be good business, but it is what I want to do. And also what I
to know is, can I rely on the co-operation of the
Club in doing its share to build up the old town into a
metropolis? Also, what would be the probable cost of a
site for the factory?
Hoping to receive a favorable reply from you at your earliest
LUKE B. SHELBY.
The chairman's grin had grown wider as he read and read. When he had
finished the letter he tossed it along the line. Every member read it
and shook with equal laughter.
I wonder what kind of green goods he sells? said Joel Spate, the
owner of the Bon-Ton Grocery.
My father used to say to me, said Forshay, of the One-Price
Emporium, whatever else you do, Jake, always suspicion the fellow that
offers you something for nothing. There's a nigger in the woodpile
That's so, said Soyer, the swell tailor, who was strong on second
He says he's goin' to set up a factory here, but he don't ask for
rent free, tax free, light freenothin' free, said the practical
What's the name again? said Spate.
ShelbyLuke B. Shelby, answered Pettibone. Says he used to live
here twenty years ago. Ever hear of him? I never did.
Spate's voice came from an ambush of spectacles and whiskers: I've
lived here all m' lifeI'm sixty-three next month. I don't remember
any such man or boy.
Me, neither, echoed Soyer, and I'm here going on thirty-five
The heads shook along the line as if a wind had passed over a row of
It's some new dodge for sellin' stock, suspicioned One-Price
Forshay, who had a large collection of cutlery certificates.
More likely it's just a scheme to get us talking about his Paradise
Powder. Seems to me I've had some of their circulars, said Bon-Ton
Pettibone, the practical chairman, silenced the gossip with a brisk,
What is the pleasure of the meeting as regards answering it?
I move we lay it on the table, said Eberhart of the Furniture
I move we lay it under the table, said Forshay, who had a keen
sense of humor.
Order, gentlemen! Order, rapped Pettibone, as the room rocked with
the laughter in which Forshay led.
When sobriety was restored it was moved, seconded, and passed that
the secretary be instructed to send Shelby a copy of the boom number of
the Wakefield Daily Eagle.
And in due time the homesick Ulysses, waiting a welcome from Ithaca,
received this answer to his letter:
LUKE B. SHELBY, Springfield, Mass.
SIR,Yours of sixteenth inst. rec'd and contents noted. In
to same, beg to state are sending last special number Daily
Eagle, giving full information about city and sites.
JOEL SPATE, Secy. Exec. Comm.
Shelby winced. The hand he had held out with pearls of price had
been brushed aside. His brothers laughed.
We said you were cracked. They don't want your old money or your
society. Go somewheres where they do.
But Luke B. Shelby had won his success by refusing to be denied, and
he had set his heart on refurbishing his old home town. The instinct of
place is stronger than any other instinct in some animals, and Shelby
was homesick for Wakefieldnot for anybody, any house, or any street
in particular there, but just for Wakefield.
Without further ado he packed his things and went.
There was no brass band to meet him. At the hotel the clerk read his
name without emotion. When he required the best two rooms in the hotel,
and a bath at that, the clerk looked suspicious:
Three trunks and a grip.
What line do you carry? Will you use the sample-room?
Don't carry any line. Don't want any sample-room.
He walked out to see the town. It had so much the same look that it
seemed to have been embalmed. Here were the old stores, the old signs,
apparently the same fly-specked wares in the windows.
He read Doctor Barnby's rusty shingle. Wasn't that the same
swaybacked horse dozing at the hitching-post?
Here was the rough hill road where he used to coast as a child.
There stood Mrs. Hooker on the lawn with a hose, sprinkling the street,
the trees, the grass, the oleander in its tub and the moon-flower on
the porch. He seemed to have left her twenty years ago in that attitude
with the same arch of water springing from the nozzle.
He paused before the same gap-toothed street-crossing of yore, and
he started across it as across the stepping-stones of a dry stream. A
raw-boned horse whirled around the corner, just avoiding his toes. It
was followed by a bouncing grocery-wagon on the side of whose seat
dangled a shirt-sleeved youth who might have been Shelby himself a
score of years ago.
Shelby paused to watch. The horse drew up at the home of Doctor
Stillwell, the dentist. Before the wagon was at rest the delivery-boy
was off and half-way around the side of the house. Mrs. Stillwell
opened the screen door to take in the carrots and soap and
washing-powder Shelby used to bring her. Shelby remembered that she
used washing-powder then. He wondered if she had heard of the
As he hung poised on a brink of memory the screen door flapped shut,
the grocery-boy was hurrying back, the horse was moving away, and the
boy leaped to his side-saddle seat on the wagon while it was in motion.
The delivery-wagons and their Jehus were the only things that moved
fast in Wakefield, now as then.
Shelby drifted back to the main street and found the Bon-Ton Grocery
where it had been when he deserted the wagon. The same old vegetables
seemed to be sprawling outside. The same flies were avid at the
strawberry-boxes, which, he felt sure, the grocer's wife had arranged
as always, with the biggest on top. He knew that some Mrs. Spate had so
distributed them, if it were not the same who had hectored him, for old
Spate had a habit of marrying again. His wives lasted hardly so long as
his hard-driven horses.
Shelby paused to price some of the vegetables, just to draw Spate
into conversation. The old man was all spectacles and whiskers, as he
had always been. Shelby thought he must have been born with spectacles
Joel Spate, never dreaming who Shelby was, was gracious to him for
the first time in history. He evidently looked upon Shelby as a
new-comer who might be pre-empted for a regular customer before Mrs. L.
Bowers, the rival grocer, got him. It somehow hurt Shelby's homesick
heart to be unrecognized, more than it pleased him to enjoy time's
topsy-turvy. Here he was, returned rich and powerful, to patronize the
taskmaster who had worked him hard and paid him harder in the old
years. Yet he dared not proclaim himself and take his revenge.
He ended the interview by buying a few of the grocer's horrible
cigars, which he gave away to the hotel porter later.
All round the town Shelby wandered, trying to be recognized. But age
and prosperity had altered him beyond recall, though he himself knew
almost every old negro whitewash man, almost every teamster, he met. He
was surer of the first names than of the last, for the first names had
been most used in his day, and it surprised him to find how clearly he
recalled these names and faces, though late acquaintances escaped his
memory with ease.
The women, too, he could generally place, though many who had been
short-skirted tomboys were now heavy-footed matrons of embonpoint with
children at their skirts, children as old as they themselves had been
when he knew them. Some of them, indeed, he recognized only by the
children that lagged alongside like early duplicates.
As he sauntered one street of homely homes redeemed by the opulence
of their foliage, he saw coming his way a woman whose outlines seemed
but the enlargement of some photograph in the gallery of remembrance.
Before she reached him he identified Phoebe Carew.
Her mother, he remembered, had been widowed early and had eked out a
meager income by making chocolate fudge, which the little girl peddled
about town on Saturday afternoons. And now the child, though she must
be thirty or thereabouts, had kept a certain grace of her youth, a
wistful prettiness, a girlish unmarriedness, that marked her as an old
maid by accident or choice, not by nature's decree.
He wondered if she, at least, would pay him the compliment of
recognition. She made no sign of it as she approached. As she passed he
lifted his hat.
Isn't this Miss Phoebe Carew?
Wakefield women were not in danger from strangers' advances; she
paused without alarm and answered with an inquiring smile:
You don't remember me?
She studied him. I seem to, and yet
I'm Luke Shelby.
Luke Shelby! Oh yes! Why, how do you do? She gave him her
beautiful hand, but she evidently lacked the faintest inkling of his
identity. Time had erased from recollection the boy who used to take
her sliding on his sled, the boy who used to put on her skates for her,
the boy who used to take her home on his grocery-wagon sometimes,
pretending that he was going her way, just for the benizon of her
radiant companionship, her shy laughter.
I used to live here, he said, ashamed to be so forgettable. My
mother wasmy stepfather was A. J. Stacom, who kept the
Oh yes, she said; they moved away some years ago, didn't they?
Yes; after mother died my stepfather went back to Council Bluffs,
where we came from in the first place. I used to go to school with you,
PhoebeerMiss Carew. Then I drove Spate's delivery-wagon for a while
before I went East.
Oh yes, she said; I think I remember you very well. I'm very glad
to see you again, Mr.Mr. Stacom.
Shelby, he said, and he was so heartsick that he merely lifted his
hat and added, I'm glad to see you looking so well.
You're looking well, too, she said, and smiled the gracious, empty
smile one visits on a polite stranger. Then she went her way. In his
lonely eyes she moved with a goddess-like grace that made clouds of the
uneven pavements where he stumbled as he walked with reverted gaze.
He went back to the hotel lonelier than before, in a greater
loneliness than Ulysses felt ending his Odyssey in Ithaca. For, at
least, Ulysses was remembered by an old dog that licked his hand.
Once in his room, Shelby sank into a patent rocker of most
uncomfortable plush. The inhospitable garishness of a small-town
hotel's luxury expelled him from the hateful place, and he resumed the
streets, taking, as always, determination from rebuff and vowing within
I'll make 'em remember me. I'll make the name of Shelby the biggest
name in town.
On the main street he found one lone, bobtailed street-car waiting
at the end of its line, its horse dejected with the ennui of its
career, the driver dozing on the step.
Shelby decided to review the town from this seedy chariot; but the
driver, surly with sleep, opened one eye and one corner of his mouth
just enough to inform him that the next run was not due for fifteen
I'll change that, said Shelby. I'll give 'em a trolley, and open
cars in summer, too.
He dragged his discouraged feet back to the hotel and asked when
dinner would be served.
Supper's been ready sence six, said the clerk, whose agile
toothpick proclaimed that he himself had banqueted.
Shelby went into the dining-room. A haughty head waitress, zealously
chewing gum, ignored him for a time, then piloted him to a table where
he found a party of doleful drummers sparring in repartee with a damsel
of fearful and wonderful coiffure.
She detached herself reluctantly and eventually brought Shelby a
supper contained in a myriad of tiny barges with which she surrounded
his plate in a far-reaching flotilla.
When he complained that his steak was mostly gristle, and that he
did not want his pie yet, Hebe answered:
Don't get flip! Think you're at the Worldoff?
Poor Shelby's nerves were so rocked that he condescended to complain
to the clerk. For answer he got this:
Mamie's all right. If you don't like our ways, better build a hotel
of your own.
I guess I will, said Shelby.
He went to his room to read. The gas was no more than darkness made
visible. He vowed to change that, too.
He would telephone to the theater. The telephone-girl was forever in
answering, and then she was impudent. Besides, the theater was closed.
Shelby learned that there was a movin'-pitcher show going! He went,
and it moved him to the door.
The sidewalks were full of doleful loafers and loaferesses. Men
placed their chairs in the street and smoked heinous tobacco. Girls and
women dawdled and jostled to and from the ice-cream-soda fountains.
The streets that night were not lighted at all, for the moon was
abroad, and the board of aldermen believed in letting God do all He
could for the town. In fact, He did nearly all that the town could show
of charm. The trees were majestic, the grass was lavishly spread, the
sky was divinely blue by day and angelically bestarred at night.
Shelby compared his boyhood impressions with the feelings governing
his mind now that it was adult and traveled. He felt that he had grown,
but that the town had stuck in the mire. He felt an ambition to lift it
and enlighten it. Like the old builder who found Rome brick and left it
marble, Shelby determined that the Wakefield which he found of plank he
should leave at least of limestone. Everything he saw displeased him
and urged him to reform it altogether, and he said:
I'll change all this. And they'll love me for it.
And he did. But theydid they?
One day a greater than Shelby came to Wakefield, but not to stay. It
was no less than the President of these United States swinging around
the circle in an inspection of his realm, with possibly an eye to the
nearing moment when he should consent to re-election. As his special
train approached each new town the President studied up its statistics
so that he might make his speech enjoyable by telling the citizens the
things they already knew. He had learned that those are the things
people most like to hear.
His encyclopædia informed him that Wakefield had a population of
about fifteen thousand. He could not know how venerable an estimate
this was, for Wakefield was still fifteen thousandnow and forever,
fifteen thousand and insuperable.
The President had a mental picture of just what such a town of
fifteen thousand would look like, and he wished himself back in the
He was met at the train by the usual entertainment committee, which
in this case coincided with the executive committee of the
Wide-a-Wakefield Club. It had seemed just as well to these members to
elect themselves as anybody else.
Mr. Pettibone, the town's most important paper-hanger, was again
chairman after some lapses from office. Joel Spate, the Bon-Ton Grocer,
was once more secretary, after having been treasurer twice and
president once. The One-Price Emporium, however, was now represented by
the younger Forshay, son of the founder, who had gone to the inevitable
Greenwood at the early age of sixty-nine. Soyer, the swell tailor, had
yielded his place to the stateliest man in town, Amasa Harbury,
president of the Wakefield Building and Loan Association. And Eberhart,
of the Furniture Palace, had been supplanted by Gibson Shoals, the bank
To the President's surprise the railroad station proved to be,
instead of the doleful shed usual in those parts, a graceful edifice of
metropolitan architecture. He was to ride in an open carriage, of
course, drawn by the two spanking dapples which usually drew the hearse
when it was needed. But this was tactfully kept from the President.
There had been some bitterness over the choice of the President's
companions in the carriage, since it was manifestly impossible for the
entire committee of seven to pile into the space of four, though young
Forshay, who had inherited his father's gift of humor, volunteered to
ride on the President's lap or hold him on his.
The extra members were finally consoled by being granted the next
carriage, an equipage drawn by no less than the noble black geldings
usually attached to the chief mourners' carriage.
As the President was escorted to his place he remarked that a
trolley-car was waiting at the station.
I see that Wakefield boasts an electric line, he beamed.
Yes, said Pettibone, that's some of Shelby's foolishness.
A look from Spate silenced him, but the President had not caught the
The procession formed behind the town band, whose symphony suffered
somewhat from the effort of the musicians to keep one eye on the music
and throw the other eye backward at the great visitor.
What a magnificent building! said the President as the parade
turned a corner. Nobody said anything, and the President read the name
aloud. The Shelby House. A fine hotel! he exclaimed, as he lifted his
hat to the cheers from the white-capped chambermaids and the
black-coated waiters in the windows. They were male waiters.
And the streets are lighted by electricity! And paved with brick!
the President said. Splendid! Splendid! There must be very
enterprising citizens in GatesvilleI mean Wakefield. He had visited
so many towns!
That's a handsome office-building, was his next remark. It's
quite metropolitan. The committee vouchsafed no reply, but they could
see that he was reading the sign:
THE SHELBY BLOCK: SHELBY INDEPENDENT TELEPHONE COMPANY SHELBY'S
PARADISE POWDER COMPANY SHELBY ARTESIAN WELL COMPANY SHELBY PASTIME
PARK COMPANY SHELBY OPERA HOUSE COMPANY SHELBY STREET RAILWAY COMPANY
The committee was not used to chatting with Presidents, and even the
practical Pettibone, who had voted against him, had an awe of him in
the flesh. He decided to vote for him next time; it would be comforting
to be able to say, Oh yes, I know the President well; I used to take
long drives with himonce.
There were heartaches in the carriage as the President, who
commented on so many things, failed to comment on the banner of welcome
over Pettibone's shop, painted by Pettibone's own practical hand; or
the gaily bedighted Bon-Ton Grocery with the wonderful arrangement of
tomato-cans into the words, Welcome to Wakefield. The Building and
Loan Association had stretched a streamer across the street, too, and
the President never noticed it. His eyes and tongue were caught away by
the ornate structure of the opera-house.
Shelby Opera House. So many things named after Mr. Shelby. Is he
the founder of the city oror
No, just one of the citizens, said Pettibone.
I should be delighted to meet him.
Three votes fell from the Presidential tree with a thud.
Had the committee been able to imagine in advance how Shelbyisms
would obtrude everywhere upon the roving eye of the visitor, whose one
aim was a polite desire to exclaim upon everything exclaimable, they
might have laid out the line of march otherwise.
But it was too late to change now, and they grew grimmer and grimmer
as the way led to the stately pleasure-dome which Shelby Khan had
decreed and which imported architects and landscape-gardeners had
Here were close-razored lawns and terraces, a lake with spouting
fountains, statues of twisty nymphs, glaring, many-antlered stags and
couchant lions, all among cedar-trees and flower-beds whose perfumes
saluted the Presidential nostril like a gentle hurrah.
Emerging through the trees were the roofs, the cupola and
ivy-bowered windows of the home of Shelby, most homeless at home. For,
after all his munificence, Wakefield did not like him. The only tribute
the people had paid him was to boost the prices of everything he
bought, from land to labor, from wall-paper to cabbages. And now on the
town's great day he had not been included in any of the committees of
welcome. He had been left to brood alone in his mansion like a prince
in ill favor exiled to his palace.
He did not know that his palace had delighted even the jaded eye of
the far-traveled First Citizen. He only knew that his fellow-townsmen
sneered at it with dislike.
Shelby was never told by the discreet committeemen in the carriage
that the President had exclaimed on seeing his home:
Why, this is magnificent! This is an estate! I never dreamed
thaterWakefield was a city of such importance and such wealth. And
whose home is this?
Somebody groaned, Shelby's.
Ah yes; Shelby's, of course. So many things here are Shelby's. You
must be very proud of Mr. Shelby. Is he there, perhaps?
That's him, standing on the upper porch there, waving his hat,
The President waved his hat at Shelby.
And the handsome lady is his wife, perhaps?
Yes, that's Mrs. Shelby, mumbled Spate. She was Miss Carew. Used
to teach school here.
Phoebe Shelby was clinging to her husband's side. There were tears
in her eyes and her hands squeezed mute messages upon his arm, for she
knew that his many-wounded heart was now more bitterly hurt than in all
his knowledge of Wakefield. He was a prisoner in disgrace gazing
through the bars at a festival.
He never knew that the President suggested stopping a moment to
congratulate him, and that it was his own old taskmaster Spate who
ventured to say that the President could meet him later. Spate could
rise to an emergency; the other committeemen thanked him with their
As the carriage left the border of the Shelby place the President
turned his head to stare, for it was beautiful, ambitiously beautiful.
And something in the silent attitude of the owner and his wife struck a
deeper note in the noisy, gaudy welcome of the other citizens.
Tell me about this Mr. Shelby, said the President.
Looks were exchanged among the committee. All disliked the task, but
finally Spate broke the silence.
Well, Mr. President, Shelby is a kind of eccentric man. Some folks
say he's cracked. Used to drive a delivery-wagon for me. Ran away and
tried his hand at nearly everything. Finally, him and his two brothers
invented a kind of washing-powder. It was like a lot of others, but
they knew how to push it. Borrowed money to advertise it big. Got it
started till they couldn't have stopped it if they'd tried. Shelby
decided to come back here and establish a branch factory. That tall
chimney is it. No smoke comin' out of it to-day. He gave all the hands
a holiday in your honor, Mr. President.
The President said: Well, that's mighty nice of him. So he's come
back to beautify his old home, eh? That's splendida fine spirit. Too
many of us, I'm afraid, forget the old places when ambition carries us
away into new scenes. Mr. Shelby must be very popular here.
There was a silence. Mr. Pettibone was too honest, or too something,
to let the matter pass.
Well, I can't say as to that, Mr. President. Shelby's queer. He's
very pushing. You can't drive people more 'n so fast. Shelby is awful
fussy. Now, that trolley linehe put that in, but we didn't need it.
Not but what Wakefield is enterprising, Spate added, anxiously.
Pettibone nodded and went on: People used to think the old
bobtailed horse-carexcuse my languagewasn't much, but the
trolley-cars are a long way from perfect. Service ain't so very good.
People don't ride on 'em much, because they don't run often enough.
The President started to say, Perhaps they can't run oftener
because people don't ride on 'em enough, but something counseled him
to silence, and Pettibone continued:
Same way with the electric light. People that had gas hated to
change. He made it cheap, but it's a long way from perfect. He put in
an independent telephone. The old one wasn't much good and it was
expensive. Now we can have telephones at half the old price. But result
is, you've got to have two, or you might just as well not have one.
Everybody you want to talk to is always on the other line.
The President nodded. He understood the ancient war between the
simple life and the strenuous. He wished he had left the subject
unopened, but Pettibone had warmed to the theme.
Shelby built an opery-house and brought some first-class troupes
here. But this is a religious town, and people don't go much to shows.
In the first place, we don't believe in 'em; in the second place, we've
been bit by bad shows so often. So his opery-house costs more 'n it
Then he laid out the Pastime Parktried to get up games and
things; but the vacant lots always were good enough for baseball. He
tried to get people to go out in the country and play golf, too; but it
was too much like following the plow. Folks here like to sit on their
porches when they're tired.
He brought an automobile to townscared most of the horses to
death. Our women folks got afraid to drive because the most reliable
old nags tried to climb trees whenever Shelby came honking along. He
built two or three monuments to famous citizens, but that made the
families of other famous citizens jealous.
He built that big home of his, but it only makes our wives envious.
It's so far out that the society ladies can't call much. Besides, they
feel uneasy with all that glory.
Mrs. Shelby has a man in a dress-suit to open the door. The rest of
usour wives answer the door-bell themselves. Our folks are kind of
afraid to invite Mr. and Mrs. Shelby to their parties for fear they'll
criticize; so Mrs. Shelby feels as if she was deserted.
She thinks her husband is mistreated, too; butwell, Shelby's
eccentric. He says we're ungrateful. Maybe we are, but we like to do
things our own way. Shelby tried to get us to help boost the town, as
he calls it. He offered us stock in his ventures, but we've got taken
in so often thatwell, once bit is twice shy, you know, Mr. President.
So Wakefield stands just about where she did before Shelby came here.
Not but what Wakefield is enterprising, Mr. Spate repeated.
The President's curiosity overcame his policy. He asked one more
But if you citizens didn't help Mr. Shelby, how did he manage all
theseimprovements, if I may use the word?
Did it all by his lonesome, Mr. President. His income was immense.
But he cut into it something terrible. His brothers in the East began
to row at the way he poured it out. When he began to draw in advance
they were goin' to have him declared incompetent. Even his brothers say
he's cracked. Recently they've drawn in on him. Won't let him spend his
A gruesome tone came from among Spate's spectacles and whiskers:
He won't last long. Health's giving out. His wife told my wife, the
other day, he don't sleep nights. That's a bad sign. His pride is set
on keepin' everything going, though, and nothing can hold him. He wants
the street-cars to run regular, and the telephone to answer quick, even
if the town don't support 'em. He's crackedthere's nothing to it.
Amasa Harbury, of the Building and Loan Association, leaned close
and spoke in a confidential voice:
He's got mortgages on 'most everything, Mr. President. He's
borrowed on all his securities up to the hilt. Only yesterday I had to
refuse him a second mortgage on his house. He stormed around about how
much he'd put into it. I told him it didn't count how much you put into
a hole, it was how much you could get out. You can imagine how much
that palace of his would bring in this town on a foreclosure
saleabout as much as a white elephant in a china-shop.
Not but what Wakefield is enterprising, insisted Spate.
The lust for gossip had been aroused and Pettibone threw discretion
to the winds.
Shelby was hopping mad because we left him off the committee of
welcome, but we thought we'd better stick to our own crowd of
represent'ive citizens. Shelby don't really belong to Wakefield,
anyway. Still, if you want to meet him, it can be arranged.
Oh no, said the President. Don't trouble.
And he was politicor politicianenough to avoid the subject
thenceforward. But he could not get Shelby out of his mind that night
as his car whizzed on its way. To be called crazy and eccentric and to
be suspected, feared, resisted by the very people he longed to
leadPresidents are not unaware of that ache of unrequited affection.
The same evening Shelby and Phoebe Shelby looked out on their park.
The crowds that had used it as a vantage-ground for the pageant had all
vanished, leaving behind a litter of rubbish, firecrackers, cigar
stubs, broken shrubs, gouged terraces. Not one of them had asked
permission, had murmured an apology or a word of thanks.
For the first time Phoebe Shelby noted that her husband did not take
new determination from rebuff. His resolution no longer made a
springboard of resistance. He seemed to lean on her a little.
The perennially empty cutlery-works gave the Wide-a-Wakefield Club
no rest. Year after year the anxiously awaited census renewed the old
note of fifteen thousand and denied the eloquent argument of increased
population. The committee in its letters continued to refer to
Wakefield as thriving rather than as growing. Its ingeniously
evasive circulars finally roused a curiosity in Wilmer Barstow, a
manufacturer of refrigerators, dissatisfied with the taxes and freight
rates of the city of Clayton.
Barstow was the more willing to leave Clayton because he had
suffered there from that reward which is more unkind than the winter
wind. He loved a woman and paid court to her, sending her flowers at
every possible excuse and besetting her with gifts.
She was not much of a womanher very lover could see that; but he
loved her in his own and her despite. She was unworthy of his jewels as
of his infatuation, yet she gave him no courtesy for his gifts. She
behaved as if they bored her; yet he knew no other way to win her. The
more indifference she showed the more he tried to dazzle her.
At last he found that she was paying court herself to a younger
mana selfish good-for-naught who made fun of her as well as of
Barstow, and who borrowed money from her as well as from Barstow.
When Barstow fully realized that the woman had made him not only her
own booby, but the town joke as well, he could not endure her or the
place longer. He cast about for an escape. But he found his factory no
trifling baggage to move.
It was on such fertile soil that one of the Wide-a-Wakefield
It chimed so well with Barstow's mood that he decided at least to
look the town over.
He came unannounced to make his own observations, like the spies
sent into Canaan. The trolley-car that met his train was rusty,
paintless, forlorn, untenanted. He took a ramshackle hack to the best
hotel. Its sign-board bore this legend: The Palace, formerly Shelby
Houseentirely new management.
He saw his baggage bestowed and went out to inspect the factory
building described to him. The cutlery-works proved smaller than his
needs, and it had a weary look. Not far away he found a far larger
factory, idle, empty, closed. The sign declared it to be the Wakefield
Branch of the Shelby Paradise Powder Company. He knew the prosperity of
that firm and wondered why this branch had been abandoned.
In the course of time the trolley-car overtook him, and he boarded
it as a sole passenger.
The lonely motorman was loquacious and welcomed Barstow as the
Ancient Mariner welcomed the wedding guest. He explained that he made
but few trips a day and passengers were fewer than trips. The company
kept it going to hold the franchise, for some day Wakefield would reach
sixteen thousand and lift the hoodoo.
The car passed an opera-house, with grass aspiring through the
chinks of the stone steps leading to the boarded-up doors.
The car passed the Shelby Block; the legend, For Rent, apply to
Amasa Harbury, hid the list of Shelby enterprises.
The car grumbled through shabby streets to the outskirts of the
town, where it sizzled along a singing wire past the drooping fences,
the sagging bleachers, and the weedy riot of what had been a
pleasure-ground. A few dim lines in the grass marked the ghost of a
baseball diamond, a circular track, and foregone tennis-courts.
Barstow could read on what remained of the tottering fence:
HELBY'S PAST ARK
When the car had reached the end of the line Barstow decided to walk
back to escape the garrulity of the motorman, who lived a lonely life,
though he was of a sociable disposition.
Barstow's way led him shortly to the edge of a curious demesne, or
rather the débris of an estate. A chaos of grass and weeds thrust even
through the rust of the high iron fence about the place. Shrubs that
had once been shapely grew raggedly up and swept down into the tall and
ragged grass. A few evergreen trees lifted flowering cones like funeral
candles in sconces. What had been a lake with fountains was a great,
cracked basin of concrete tarnished with scabious pools thick with the
dead leaves of many an autumn.
Barstow entered a fallen gate and walked along paths where his feet
slashed through barbaric tangles clutching at him like fingers. As he
prowled, wondering what splendor this could have been which was so
misplaced in so dull a town and drooping into so early a neglect, birds
took alarm and went crying through the branches. There were lithe
escapes through the grass, and from the rim of the lake ugly toads
plounced into the pool and set the water-spiders scurrying on their
Two bronze stags towered knee-deep in verdure; one had a single
antler, the other none. A pair of toothless lions brooded over their
lost dignity. Between their disconsolate sentry, mounted flight on
flight of marble steps to the house of the manor. It lay like an old
frigate storm-shattered and flung aground to rot. The hospitable doors
were planked shut, the windows, too; the floors of the verandas were
broken and the roof was everywhere sunken and insecure.
At the portal had stood two nymphs, now almost classic with decay.
One of them, toppling helplessly, quenched her bronze torch in weeds.
Her sister stood erect in grief like a daughter of Niobe wept into
The scene somehow reminded Barstow of one of Poe's landscapes. It
was the corpse of a home. Eventually he noticed a tall woman in black,
seated on a bench and gazing down the terraces across the dead lake.
Barstow was tempted to ask her whose place this had been and what its
history was, but her mien and her crêpe daunted him.
He made his way out of the region, looking back as he went. When he
approached the most neighboring house a grocery-wagon came flying down
the road. Before it stopped the slanted driver was off the seat and
half-way across the yard. In a moment he was back again. Barstow called
Whose place is that?
Did he move away?
But the horse was already in motion, and the youth had darted after,
leaping to the side of the seat and calling back something which
Barstow could not hear.
Shelby, who had given the town everything he could, had even endowed
it with a ruins.
When Barstow had reached the hotel again he went in to his supper. A
head waitress, chewing gum, took him to a table where a wildly coiffed
damsel brought him a bewildering array of most undesirable foods in a
flotilla of small dishes.
After supper Barstow, following the suit of the other guests, took a
chair on the sidewalk, for a little breeze loafed along the hot street.
Barstow's name had been seen upon the hotel register and the executive
committee of the Wide-a-Wakefield Club waited upon him in an august
Mr. Pettibone introduced himself and the others. They took chairs
and hitched them close to Barstow, while they poured out in alternate
strains the advantages of Wakefield. Barstow listened politely, but the
empty factory and the dismantled home of Shelby haunted him and made a
dismal background to their advertisements.
It was of the factory that he spoke first:
The building you wrote me about and offered me rent-free looks a
little small and out of date for our plant. I saw Shelby's factory
empty. Could I rent that at a reasonable figure, do you suppose?
The committee leaped at the idea with enthusiasm. Spate laughed
through his beard:
Lord, I reckon the company would rent it to you for almost the
price of the taxes.
Then he realized that this was saying just a trifle too much. They
began to crawfish their way out. But Barstow said, with unconviction:
There's only one thing that worries me. Why did Shelby close up his
Paradise Powder factory and move away?
Pettibone urged the reason hastily: His brothers closed it up for
him. They wouldn't stand any more of his extravagant nonsense. They
shut down the factory and then shut down on him, too.
So he gave up his house and moved away? said Barstow.
He gave up his house because he couldn't keep it up, said Amasa
Harbury. Taxes were pretty steep and nobody would rent it, of course.
It don't belong in a town like Wakefield. Neither did Shelby.
So he moved away?
Moved away, nothin', sneered Spate. He went to a boardin'-house
and died there. Left his wife a lot of stock in a broken-down
street-car line, and a no-good electric-light company, and an
independent telephone system that the regulars gobbled up. She's gone
back to teachin' school again. We used our influence to get her old job
back. We didn't think we ought to blame her for the faults of Shelby.
And what had Shelby done?
They told him in their own waytreading on one another's toes in
their anxiety; shutting one another up; hunching their chairs together
in a tangle as if their slanders were wares they were trying to sell.
But about all that Barstow could make of the matter was that Shelby
had been in much such case as his own. He had been hungry for human
gratitude, and had not realized that it is won rather by accepting than
by bestowing gifts.
Barstow sat and smoked glumly while the committee clattered. He
hardly heard what they were at such pains to emphasize. He was musing
upon a philosophy of his father's:
There's an old saying, 'Never look a gift horse in the mouth.' But
sayings and doings are far apart. If you can manage to sell a man a
horse he'll make the best of the worst bargain; he'll nurse the nag and
feed him and drive him easy and brag about his faults. He'll overlook
everything from spavin to bots; he'll learn to think that a hamstrung
hind leg is the poetry of motion. But a gift horseLord love you! If
you give a man a horse he'll look him in the mouth and everywhere else.
The whole family will take turns with a microscope. They'll kick
because he isn't run by electricity, and if he's an Arabian they'll
roast him because he holds his tail so high. If you want folks to
appreciate anything don't give it to 'em; make 'em work for it and pay
for itdouble if you can.
* * * * *
Shelby had mixed poetry with business, had given something for
nothing; had paid the penalty.
THE OLD FOLKS AT HOME
The old road came pouring down from the wooded hills to the
westward, flowed round the foot of other hills, skirting a meadow and a
pond, and then went on easterly about its business. Almost overhanging
the road, like a mill jutting upon its journeyman stream, was an aged
house. Still older were the two lofty oaks standing mid-meadow and
imaged again in the pond. Younger than oaks or house or road, yet as
old as Scripture allots, was the man who stalked across the porch and
slumped into a chair. He always slumped into a chair, for his muscles
still remembered the days when he had sat only when he was worn out.
Younger than oaks, house, road, or man, yet older than a woman wants to
be, was the woman in the garden.
What you doin', Maw? the man called across the rail, though he
could see perfectly well.
Just putterin' 'round in the garden. What you been doin', Paw?
Just putterin' 'round the barn. Better come in out the hot sun and
rest your old back.
Evidently the idea appealed to her, for the sunbonnet overhanging
the meek potato-flowers like a flamingo's beak rose in air, as she
stood erect, or as nearly erect as she ever stood nowadays. She tossed
a few uprooted weeds over the lilac-hedge, and, clumping up the steps
of the porch, slumped into a chair. Chairs had once been her luxury,
too. She carried a dish-pan full of green peas, and as her gaze
wandered over the beloved scene her wrinkled fingers were busy among
the pods, shelling them expertly, as if they knew their way about
The old man sighed, the deep sigh of ultimate contentment. Well,
Maw, as the fellow says in the circus, here we are again.
Here we are again, Paw.
They always said the same thing about this time of year, when they
wearied of the splendid home they had established as the capital of
their estate and came back to the ground from which they had sprung.
James Coburn always said:
Well, Maw, as the fellow says in the circus, here we are again.
And Sarah Gregg Coburn always answered:
Here we are again, Paw.
This place was to them what old slippers are to tired feet. Here
they put off the manners and the dignities their servants expected of
them, and lapsed into shabby clothes and colloquialisms, such as they
had been used to when they were first married, long before he became
the master of a thousand acres, of cattle upon a hundred hills, of
blooded thoroughbreds and patriarchal stallions, of town lots and a
bank, and of a record as Congressman for two terms. This pilgrimage had
become a sort of annual elopement, the mischief of two white-haired
runaways. Now that the graveyard or the city had robbed them of all
their children, they loved to turn back and play at an Indian-summer
This year, for the first time, Maw had consented to the aid of a
hired girl. She refused to bring one of the maids or the cook from
the big house, and engaged a woman from the village nearest at
handand then tried to pretend the woman wasn't there. It hurt her to
admit the triumph of age in her bones, but there was compensation in
the privilege of hearing some one else faintly clattering over the
dish-washing of evenings, while she sat on the porch with Paw and
watched the sunset trail its gorgeous banners along the heavens and
across the little toy sky of the pond.
It was pleasant in the mornings, too, to lie abed in criminal
indolence, hearing from afar the racket of somebody else building the
fire. After breakfast she made a brave beginning, only to turn the
broom and the bedmaking over to Susan and dawdle about after Paw or
celebrate matins in the green aisles of the garden. But mostly the old
couple just pretended to do their chores, and sat on the porch and
watched the clouds go by and the frogs flop into the pond.
Mail come yet, Maw?
Susan's gone for it.
He glanced up the road to a sunbonneted figure blurred in the glare,
and sniffed amiably. Humph! Country's getting so citified the morning
papers are here almost before breakfast's cleared off. Remember when we
used to drive eleven mile to get the Weekly Tribune, Maw?
I remember. And it took you about a week to read it. Sometimes you
got one number behind. Nowadays you finish your paper in about five
Nothing much in the papers nowadays except murder trials and
divorce cases. I guess Susan must have a mash on that mail-carrier.
I wish she'd come on home and not gabble so much.
Expectin' a letter from the boy?
Ought to be one this morning.
You've said that every mornin' for three weeks. I s'pose he's so
busy in town he don't realize how much his letters mean to us.
I hate to have him in the city with its dangershe's so reckless
with his motor, and then there's the temptations and the scramble for
money. I wish Stevie had been contented to settle down with us. We've
got enough, goodness knows. But I suppose he feels he must be a
millionaire or nothing, and what you've made don't seem a drop in the
The old man winced. He thought how often the boy had found occasion
to draw on him for help in financing his sure things and paying up
the losses on the sure things that had gone wrong. Those letters had
been sent to the bank in town and had not been mentioned at home,
except now and then, long afterward, when the wife pressed the old man
too hard about holding back money from the boy. Then he would unfold a
few figures. They dazed her, but they never convinced her.
Who ever convinced a woman? Persuaded? Yes, since Eve! Convinced?
It hurts a man's pride to hear his wife impliedly disparage his own
achievements in contrast with his son's. Not that he is jealous of his
son; not that he does not hope and expect that the boy will climb to
peaks he has never dared; not that he would not give his all and bend
his own back as a stepping-stone to his son's ascension; but just that
comparisons are odious. This disparagement is natural, though, to
wives, for they compare what their husbands have done with what their
sons are going to do.
It was an old source of peevishness with Paw Coburn, and he was
moved to sayanswering only by implication what she had unconsciously
implied, and seeming to take his theme from the landscape about them:
When my father died all he left me was this littlebungalow they'd
call it nowadays, I suppose, and a few acres 'round it. You remember,
Maw, how, when the sun first came sneakin' over that knob off to the
left, the shadow of those two oaks used to just touch the stone wall on
the western border of father's property, and when the sun was just
crawlin' into bed behind those woods off yonder the shadow of the oaks
just overlapped the rail fence on the eastern border? That's all my
father left methat and the mortgage. That's all I brought you home
to, Maw. I'm not disparaging my father. He was a great man. When he
left his own home in the East and came out here all this was woods,
woods, woods, far as you can see. Even that pond wasn't there then. My
father cleared it allcut down everything except those two oak-trees.
He used to call them the Twin Oaks, but they always seemed to me like
man and wife. I kind o' like to think that they're you and me. And like
you and me they're all that's left standin' of the old trees. They were
big trees, too, and those were big days.
The greatness of his thoughts rendered him mute. He was a plain man,
but he was hearing the unwritten music of the American epic of the ax
and the plow, the more than Trojan war, the more than ten years' war,
against forests and savages. His wife brought him back from
hyper-Homeric vision to the concrete.
Thank Heaven, Susan's finished gossipin' and started home.
The mail-carrier in his little umbrellaed cart was vanishing up the
hill, and the sunbonnet was floating down the road. The sky was an
unmitigated blue, save for a few masses of cloud, like piles of new
fleece on a shearing-floor. Green woods, gray road, blue sky, pale
clouds, all were steeped in heat and silence so intense it seemed that
something must break. And something broke.
Appallingly, abruptly, came a shattering crash, a streak of blinding
fire, an unendurable noise, a searing blast of blaze as if the sun had
been dynamite exploded, splintering the very joists of heaven. The
whole air rocked like a tidal wave breaking on a reef; the house
writhed in all its timbers. Then silenceunbearable silence.
The old woman, made a child again by a paralytic stroke of terror,
found herself on her knees, clinging frantically to her husband. The
cheek buried in his breast felt the lurch and leap of his pounding
heart. Manlike, he found courage in his woman's fright, but his hand
quivered upon her hair; she heard his shaken voice saying:
There, there, Maw, it's all over.
When he dared to open his eyes he was blinded and dazed like the
stricken Saul. When he could see again he found the world unchanged.
The sky was still there, and still azure; the clouds swam serenely; the
road still poured down from the unaltered hills. He tried to laugh; it
was a sickly sound he made.
I guess that was what the fellow calls a bolt from the blue. I've
often heard of 'em, but it's the first I ever saw. No harm's done, Maw,
except to Susan's feelings. She's pickin' herself up out the dust and
hurryin' home like two-forty. I guess the concussion must have knocked
The old woman, her heart still fluttering madly, rose from her knees
with the tremulous aid of the old man and opened her eyes. She could
hardly believe that she would not find the earth an apocalyptic ruin of
uprooted hills. She breathed deeply of the relief, and her eyes ran
along the remembered things as if calling the roll. Suddenly her eyes
paused, widened. Her hand went out to clutch her husband's arm.
Look, Paw! The oaks, the oaks!
The lightning had leaped upon them like a mad panther, rending their
branches from them, ripping off great strips of bark, and leaving long,
gaping wounds, dripping with the white blood of trees. The lesser of
the two oaks had felt the greater blow, and would have toppled to the
ground had it not fallen across its mate; and its mate, though
grievously riven, held it up, with branches interlocking like
To that human couple the tragedy of the trees they had looked upon
as the very emblems of stability was pitiful. The old woman's eyes swam
with tears. She made no shame of her sobs. The old man tried to comfort
her with a commonplace:
I was readin' only the other day, Maw, that oaks attract the
lightning more than any other trees, and then he broke down. Father
always called 'em the Twin Oaks, but I always called 'em you and me.
The panic-racked Susan came stumbling up the steps, gasping with
experiences. But the aged couple either did not hear or did not heed.
With old hand embracing old hand they sat staring at the rapine of the
lightning, the tigerish atrocity that had butchered and mutilated their
beloved trees. Susan dropped into Mrs. Coburn's lap what mail she
brought and hurried inside to faint.
The old couple sat in a stupor long and long before Mrs. Coburn
found that she was idly fingering letters and papers. She glanced down,
and a familiar writing brought her from her trance.
Oh, Paw, here's a letter from the boy! Here's a letter from Stevie.
And here's your paper.
He took the paper, but did not open it, turning instead to ask,
What does the boy say?
With hands awkwardly eager she ripped the envelope, tore out the
letter, and spread it open on her lap, then pulled her spectacles down
from her hair, and read with loving inflection:
MY DARLING MOTHER AND DAD,It is simply heinous the way I
to write you, but somehow the rush of things here keeps me
it off from day to day. If remembrances were letters you would
them in flocks, for I think of you always and I am homesick
sight of your blessed faces.
I should like to come out and see you in your little old nest,
business piles up about me till I can't see my way out at
I do wish you could run down here and make me a good long
but I suppose that is impossible, too. There are two or three
deals pending that look promising, and if any one of them wins
I shall clean up enough to be a gentleman of leisure. The
place I turn will be home. My heart aches for the rest and
of your love.
Write me often and tell me how you both are, and believe me,
all the affection in the world,
Your devoted son,
She pushed her dewy spectacles back in her gray hair and pressed the
letter to her lips; she was smiling as only old mothers smile over
letters from their far-off children. The man's face softened, too, with
the ache that battle-scarred fathers feel, thinking of their sons in
the thick of the fight. Then he unfolded his paper, set his glasses on
his big nose, and pursed his lips to read what was new in the world at
large. His wife sat still, just remembering, perusing old files and
back numbers of the gazettes of her boy's past, remembering him from
her first vague thrill of him to his slow youth, to manhood, and the
last good-by kiss.
Nothing was heard from either of them for a long while, save the
creak of her chair and the rustle of his paper as he turned to the page
recording the results in the incessant Gettysburgs over the prices of
corn, pork, poultry, butter, and eggs. They were history to him. He
could grow angry over a drop in December wheat, and he could glow at a
sign of feverishness in oats. To-day he was profoundly moved to read
that October ribs had opened at 10.95 and closed at 11.01, and
depressed to see that September lard had dropped from 11.67 to 11.65.
As he turned the paper his eye was caught by the head-lines of an
old and notorious trial at law, and he was confirmed in his wrath. He
Good Lord, ain't that dog hung yet?
What you talkin' about, Paw?
I was just noticin' that the third trial of Tom Carey is in full
swing again. It's cost the State a hundred thousand dollars already,
and the scoundrel ain't punished yet.
What did he do, Paw?
The old man blushed like a boy as he stammered: You're too young to
know all he did, Maw. If I told you, you wouldn't understand. But it
ended in murder. If he'd been a low-browed dago they'd have had him
railroaded to Jericho in no time. But the lawyers are above the law,
and they've kept this fellow from his deserts till folks have almost
forgot what it was he did. It's disgraceful. It makes our courts the
laughing-stock of the world. It gives the anarchists an excuse for
saying that there's one law for the poor and another for the rich.
After the thunder of his ire had rolled away there was a gentle
murmur from the old woman. It's a terrible thing to put a man to
So it is, Maw, and if this fellow had only realized it he'd have
kept out of trouble.
He was excited, most likely, and out of his head. What I mean is,
it's a terrible thing for a judge and a jury to try a man and take his
life away from him.
Oh, it's terrible, of course, Maw, but we've got to have laws to
hold the world together, ain't we? And if we don't enforce 'em, what's
the use of havin' 'em?
Silence and a far-away look on the wrinkled face resting on the
wrinkled hand and then a quiet question:
Suppose it was our Steve?
I won't suppose any such thing. Thank God there's been no stain on
any of our family, either side; just plain hard-workin' folksno crazy
ones, no criminals.
But supposing it was our boy, Paw?
Oh, what's the use of arguin' with a woman! I love you for it, Maw,
butwell, I'm sorry I spoke.
He returned to his paper, growling now and then as he read of some
new quibble devised by the attorneys for the defense. As softly and as
surreptitiously as it begins to rain on a cloudy day, she was crying.
He turned again with mock indignation.
Here, here! What you turning up about now?
I want to see my boy. I'm worried. He may be sick. He'd never let
The old man tried to cajole her from her forebodings, tried to
reason them away, laugh them away. At last he said, with a poor effort
Well, for the Lord's sake, why don't you go? He's always askin' us
to come and see him. I'm kind o' homesick for a sight of the boy
m'self. You haven't been to town for a month of Sundays. Throw a few
things in a valise and I'll hitch up. We'll just about make the next
train from the village.
She needed no coercion from without. She rose at once. As she opened
the squeaky screen-door he was clumping down the steps. He paused to
Better tuck in a jar of those preserves you been puttin' up. The
boy always liked those better 'n most anything. Don't wrap 'em in my
She called out, All right, and the slap of the screen-door was
echoed a moment later by a similar sound in the barn, accompanied by
the old man's voice:
Give over, Fan.
The elevator-boy hesitated. Oh, yes-sum, I got a pass-key, all
right, but I can't hahdly let nobody in Mista Coburn's 'pahtment 'thout
But we're his mother and father.
Of co'se I take yo' wud for that, ma'am, but, you see, I can't
hahdly let nobodyerum'mthank you, sirwell, I reckon Mista
Coburn might be mo' put out ef I didn't let you-all in than ef I did.
The elevator soared silently to the eighth floor, and there all
three debarked. The boy was so much impressed with the tip the old man
had slipped him that he unlocked the door, put the hand-baggage into
the room, snapped the switch that threw on all the lights, and said,
Thank you, sir, again as he closed the door.
Paw opened it to give the boy another coin and say: Don't you let
on that we're here. It's a surprise.
The boy, grinning, promised and descended, like an imp through a
The old couple stood stock-still, hesitating to advance. So many
feelings, such varied timidities, urged them forward, yet held them
back. It was the home of the son they had begotten, conceived, tended,
loved, praised, punished, feared, prayed for, counseled, provisioned,
and surrendered. Years of separation had made him almost a stranger,
and they dreaded the intrusion into the home he had built for himself,
remote from their influence. Poor, weak, silly old things, with a
boy-and-girlish gawkishness about them, the helpless feeling of
You go first, Paw.
And Paw went first. On the sill of the drawing-room he paused and
swept a glance around. He would have given an arm to be inspired with
some scheme for whisking his wife away or changing what she must see.
But she was already crowding on his heels, pushing him forward. There
was no retreat. He tried to laugh it off.
Well, here we are at last, as the fellow doesn't say in the
There was nothing to do but sit down and wait. The very chairs were
of an architecture and upholstery incongruous to them. They knew
something of luxury, but not of this school. There was nowhere for them
to look that something alien did not meet their eyes. So they looked at
It gets awful hot in town, don't it? said Paw, mopping his beaded
Awful, said Maw, dabbing at hers.
Eventually they heard the elevator door gride on its grooves. All
the way in on the train they had planned to hide and spring out on the
boy. They had giggled like children over the plot. It was rather their
prearrangement than their wills that moved them to action.
Automatically they hid themselves, without laughter, rather with a sort
of guilty terror. They found a deep wardrobe closet and stepped inside,
drawing the door almost shut.
They heard a key in the lock, the click of a knob, the sound of a
door closed. Then a pause. They had forgotten to turn off the lights.
Hurrying footsteps, loud on the bare floor, muffled on the rugs. How
well they knew that step! But there was excitement in its rhythm. They
could hear the familiar voice muttering unfamiliarly as the footsteps
hurried here and there. He came into the room where they were. They
could hear him breathe now, for he breathed heavily, as if he had been
running. From place to place he moved with a sense of restless stealth.
At length, just as they were about to sally forth, he hurried forward
and flung open their door.
Standing among the hanging clothes, the light strong on their faces,
they seemed to strike him at first as ghosts. He stared at them aghast,
and recoiled. Then the old ghosts smiled and stepped forward with open
arms. But he recoiled again, and his welcome to his far-come,
heart-hungry parents was a groan.
They saw that he had a revolver in his hand. His eyes recurred to
it, and he turned here and there for a place to lay it, but seemed
unable to let it go. His mother flung forward and threw her arms about
him, her lips pursed to kiss him, but he turned away with lowered eyes.
His father took him by the shoulders and said:
Why, what's the matter, boy? Ain't you glad to see your Mawand
For answer he only breathed hard and chokingly. His eyes went to the
revolver again, then roved here and there, always as if searching for a
place to hide it.
Give that thing to me, Steve, the old man said. And he took it in
his hands, forcing from the cold steel the colder fingers that clung as
if frozen about the handle.
Once he was free of the weapon, the boy toppled into a chair, his
mother still clasping him desperately.
The old man knew something about firearms. He found the spring,
broke the revolver, and looked into the cylinder. In every chamber was
the round eye of a cartridge. Three of them bore the little scar of the
Old Coburn leaned hard against the wall. He looked about for a place
to hide the horrible machine, but he, too, could not let go of it. His
mouth was full of the ashes of life. He would have been glad to drop
dead. But beyond the sick, clammy face of his son he saw the face of
his wife, an old face, a mother's face, witless with bewilderment. The
old man swallowed hard.
What's happened, Steve? What's been goin' on?
The young man only shook his head, ran his dry tongue along his
lips, tore a piece of loose skin from the lower one with his teeth, and
breathed noisily through nostrils that worked like a dog's. He pushed
his mother's hands away as if they irked him. The old man could have
struck him to the ground for that roughness, but the prayers in the
mother's eyes restrained him.
Better tell us, Steve. Maybe we might help you.
The young man's head worked as if he were gulping at a hard lump;
his lips moved without sound, his gaze leaped from place to place,
lighting everywhere but on his father's waiting, watching eyes, and
always coming back to the revolver with a loathing fascination. At last
he spoke, in a whisper like the rasp of chafed husks:
I had to do it. He deserved it.
The mother had not seen the nicks on the cartridges, but she needed
no such evidence. She wailed:
You don't mean that younonoyou didn't k-kill-ill-ill
The word rattled in her throat, and she went to the floor like a
toppling bolster. It was the old man that lifted her face from the rug,
ran to fetch water, and knelt to restore her. The son just wavered in
his chair and kept saying:
I had to do it. He was making her life a
Her life? the old man groaned, looking up where he knelt. Then
there's a woman in it?
Yes, it was for her. She's had a hard time. She's been horribly
misunderstood. She may have been indiscreetstill she's a noble woman
at heart. Her husband was a vile dog. He deserved it.
But the old man's head had dropped as if his neck were cracked. He
saw what it all meant and would mean. He would have sprawled to the
floor, but he caught sight of the pitiful face of his old love still
white with the half-death of her swoon. He clenched his will with
ferocity, resolving that he must not break, could not, would not break.
He laid a hand on his son's knee and said, appealingly, in a low tone,
as if he were the suppliant for mercy:
Better not mention anything aboutabout herthe woman you know,
Stevebefore your mother, not just now. Your mother's kind of poorly
the last few days. Understand, Steve?
The answer was a nod like the silly nodding of a toy mandarin.
It was a questionable mercy, restoring the mother just then from the
bliss of oblivion, but she came gradually back through a fog of daze to
the full glare of fact. Her thoughts did not run forward upon the
scandal, the horror of the public, the outcry of all the press; she had
but one thought, her son's welfare.
Did anybody see you, Steve?
No. I went to his room. I don't think anybody s-saw meyes, maybe
the man across the hall did. Yes, I guess he saw me. He was at his door
when I came out. He looked as if he sus-suspected-ed me. I suppose he
heard the shots. And probably he s-saw the revol-ver. I couldn't seem
to let it dropto le-let it drop.
The mother turned frantic. They'll come here for you, Stevie.
They'll find it out. You must get awaysomewherefor just now, till
we can think up something to do. Father will find some way of making
everything all right, won't you, Paw? He always does, you know. Don't
be scared, my boy. We must keep very calm. Her hands were wavering
over him in a palsy. Where can he go, Paw? Where's the best place for
him to go? I'll tell you, Steve. Is youryour car anywhere near?
It's outside at the door. I came back in it.
She got to her feet, and her urgency was ferocious. Then you get
right in this minute and go up to the old placethe little old house
opposite the pond. Go as fast as you can. You know the placewhere we
lived before you were born. There's two big oak-trees st-standing
there, and a pond just across the road. You go there and tell
Susanwhat shall he tell Susan, father? What shall he tell Susan?
We'll stay here, andand we'll bribe the elevator-boy to say you
haven't come home at all, and if the po-po-lice come here we'll say
we're expecting you, but we haven't seen you for ever so long. Won't
we, Paw? That's what we'll say, won't we, Paw?
The old man stood up to the lightning like an old oak. Trees do not
run. They stand fast and take what the sky sends them. Old Coburn shook
his white hair as a tree its leaves in a blast of wind before he spoke.
Steve, my boy, I don't know what call you had to do this, but it's
no use trying to run away and hide. They'll get you wherever you go.
The telegraph and the cable and the detectivesno, it's not a bit of
use. It only makes things look worse. Put on your hat and come with me.
We'll go to the police before they come for you. I'll go with you, and
I'll see you through.
But flight, not fight, was the woman's one hope. She was wild with
resistance to the idea of surrender. Her panic confirmed the young man
in his one impulseto get away. He dashed out into the hall, and when
the father would have pursued, the mother thrust him aside, hurried
past, and braced herself against the door. He put off her clinging,
clutching hands as gently as he might, but she resisted like a tigress
at bay, and before he could drag her aside they heard the iron-barred
door of the elevator glide open and clang shut. And there they stood in
the strange place, the old man staggered with the realization of the
future, the old woman imbecile with fear.
What harm is it the honest oaks do, that Heaven hates them so and
its lightnings search them out with such peculiar frenzy?
Having no arenas where captive gladiators and martyrs satisfy the
public longing for the sight of bleeding flesh and twitching nerve, the
people of our day flock to the court-rooms for their keenest
The case of The People vs. Stephen Coburn had been an
intensely popular entertainment. This day the room was unusually
stuffed with men and women. At the door the officers leaned like
buttresses against the thrust of a solid wall of humanity. Outside, the
halls, the stairs, and the sidewalk were jammed with the mob crushing
toward the door for a sight of the white-haired mother pilloried in the
witness-box and fighting with all her poor wits against the shrewdest,
calmest, fiercest cross-examiner in the State.
In the jury-box the twelve silent prisoners of patience sat in awe
of their responsibilities, a dozen extraordinarily ordinary,
conspicuously average persons condemned to the agony of deciding
whether they should consign a fellow-man to death or release a murderer
among their fellow-men.
Next the judge sat Sarah Coburn, her withered hands clenched bonily
in the lap where, not so many years ago, she had cuddled the babe that
was now the culprit hunted down and abhorred. The mere pressure of his
first finger had sent a soul into eternity and brought the temple of
his own home crashing about his head.
Next the prisoner sat his father, veteran now with the experience
that runs back to the time when the first father and mother found the
first first-born of the world with hands reddened in the blood of the
earliest sacrifice on the altar of Cain.
People railed in the street and in the press against the law's delay
with Stephen Coburn's execution and against the ability of a rich
father to postpone indefinitely the vengeance of justice. Old Coburn
had forced the taxpayers to spend vast sums of money. He had spent
vaster sums himself. The public and the prosecution, his own enormously
expensive lawyers, his son and his very wife, supposed that he still
had vast sums to spend. It was solely his own secret that he had no
more. He had built his fortune as his father had built the stone wall
along his fields, digging each boulder from the ground with his hands,
lugging it across the irregular turf and heaving it to its place. Every
dollar of his had its history of effort, of sweat and ache. And now the
whole wall was gone, carried away in wholesale sweeps as by a
In his business he had been so shrewd and so close that people had
said, Old Coburn will fight for five days for five minute's interest
on five cents. When his son's liberty was at stake he signed blank
checks, he told his lawyers to get the best counsel in the nation. He
did not ask, How much? He asked, How good? Every technical ruse
that could be employed to thwart the prosecution he employed. He bribed
everybody bribable whose silence or speech had value. Dangerous
witnesses were shipped to places whence they could not be summonsed.
Blackmailers and blackguards fattened on his generosity and his fear.
The son, Stephen Coburn, had gone to the city, warm-hearted, young,
venturesome, not vicious, had learned life in a heap, sowed his wild
oats all at once, fallen among evil companions, and drifted by easy
stages into an affair of inexcusable ugliness, whence he seemed unable
to escape till a misplaced chivalry whispered him what to do. He had
found himself like Lancelot with his honor rooted in dishonor and
faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. But Stephen Coburn was no
Lancelot, any more than his siren was a Guinevere or her slain husband
a King Arthur. He was simply a well-meaning, hot-headed, madly
enamoured young fool. The proof of this last was that he took a
revolver to his Gordian knot. Revolvers, as he found too late, do not
solve problems. They make a far-reaching noise, and their messengers
cannot be recalled.
His parents had not known the city phase of their son. They had
known the adorable babe he had been, the good boy weeping over a
broken-winged robin tumbled from a nest, running down-stairs in his
bare feet for one more good-night kiss, crying his heart out when he
must be sent away to school, remembering their birthdays and abounding
in gentle graces. This was the Stephen Coburn they had known. They
believed it to be the real, the permanent, Stephen Coburn; the other
was but the victim of a transient demon. They could not believe that
their boy would harm the world again. They could not endure the thought
that his repentance and his atonement should be frustrated by a
The public knew only the wicked Stephen Coburn. His crime had been
his entrance into fame. All the bad things he had done, all the bad
people he had known, all the bad places he had gone, were searched out
and published by the detectives and the reporters. To blacken Stephen
Coburn's repute so horribly that the jurors would feel it their
inescapable duty to scavenge him from the offended earth, that was the
effort of the prosecution. To prevent that blackening was one of the
most vital and one of the most costly features of the defense. To deny
the murder and tear down the web of circumstantial evidence as fast as
the State could weave it was another.
The Coburn case had become a notorious example of that peculiarly
American institution, the serial trial. The first instalment had ended
in a verdict of guilty. It had been old Coburn's task to hold up his
wife and his son in the collapse of their mad despair, while he managed
and financed the long, slow struggle with the upper courts till he
wrung from them an order for a new trial. This had ended, after weeks
of torment in the court-room and forty-eight hours of almost unbearable
suspense, in a disagreement of the jury. The third trial found the
prosecution more determined than ever, and acquainted with all the
methods of the defense. The only flaw was the loss of an important
witness, the man across the hall, whom impatient time had carried off
to the place where subpoenas are not respected. His deposition and his
testimony at the previous trials were as lacking in vitality as
And now once more old Coburn must carry everything upon his back,
aching like a world-weary Atlas who dares not shift his burden. But now
he was three years weaker, and he had no more money to squander. His
house, his acres, the cattle upon his hills, his blooded thoroughbreds,
his patriarchal stallions, his town lots, his bank-building, his bonds
and stocks, all were sold, pawned as collateral, or blanketed with
As he had comforted his wife when they had witnessed the bolt from
the blue, so now he sat facing her in her third ordeal. Only now she
was not on the home porch, but in the arena. He could not hold her
hands. Now she dared not close her eyes and cry; it was not the work of
one thunderbolt she had to see. Now, under the darting questions of the
court-examiner, she was like a frightened girl lost in the woods and
groping through a tempest, with lightning thrusts pursuing her on every
side, stitching the woods with fire like the needle in a sewing-machine
stabbing and stabbing at the dodging shuttle.
The old woman had gone down into the pit for her son. She had been
led through the bogs and the sewers of vice. Almost unspeakable, almost
unthinkable wickedness had been taught to her till she had become
deeply versed in the lore that saddens the eyes of the scarlet women of
Babylon. But still her love purified her, and almost sanctified the
strategy she practised, the lies she told, the truths she concealed,
the plots she devised with the uncanny canniness of an old peasant.
People not only felt that it was her duty to fight for her young like a
mad she-wolf, but they would have despised her for any failure of
She sat for hours baffling the inquisitor, foreseeing his wiles by
intuition, evading his masked pitfalls by instinct. She was terribly
afraid of him, yet more afraid of herself, afraid that she would break
down and become a brainless, weeping thing. It was the sincerity of her
fight against this weakness that made her so dangerous to the
prosecuting attorney. He wanted to compel her to admit that her son had
confessed his deed to her. She sought to avoid this admission. She had
not guessed that he was more in dread of her tears than of her guile.
He was gentler with her than her own attorneys had been. At all costs
he felt that he must not succeed too well with her.
The whole trial had become by now as academic as a game of chess, to
all but the lonely, homesick parents. The prosecuting attorney knew
that the mother was not telling the truth; the judge and the jury knew
that she was not telling the truth. But unless this could be
geometrically demonstrated the jury would disregard its own senses. Yet
the prosecutor knew that if he succeeded in trapping the mother too
abruptly into any admission dangerous to her son she would probably
break down and cry her dreary old heart out, and then those twelve
superhuman jurors would weep with her and care for nothing on earth
except her consolation.
The crisis came as crises love to come, without warning. The
question had been simple enough, and the tone as gentle as possible:
You have just stated, Mrs. Coburn, that your son spoke to you in his
apartment the day he is alleged to have committed this act, but I find
that at the first and second trials you testified that you did not see
him in his apartment at all. Which, please, is the correct statement?
In a flash she realized what she had done. It is so hard to build
and defend a fortress of lies, and she was very old and not very wise,
tired out, confused by the stare of the mob and the knowledge that
every word she uttered endangered the life she had borne. Now she felt
that she had undone everything. She blamed herself for ruining the work
of years. She saw her son led to death because of her blunder. Her
answer to the question and the patient courtesy of the attorney was to
throw her hands into the air, toss her white head to and fro, and give
up the battle. The tears came like a gush of blood from a deep wound;
they poured through the lean fingers she pressed against her gaunt
cheeks, and she shook with the dry, weak weeping of senility and utter
desolation. Then her old arms yearned for him as when a babe.
I want my boy! I want my boy!
* * * * *
The judge grew very busy among his papers, the prosecuting attorney
swallowed hard. The jurymen thought no more of evidence and of the
stability of the laws. They all had mothers, or memory-mothers, and
they only resolved that whatever crime Stephen Coburn might have
committed, it would be a more dastardly crime for them to drive their
twelve daggers into the aching breast that had suckled him. On the
instant the trial had resolved itself into The People vs. One
Poor Old Mother. The jury's tears voted for them, and their real
verdict was surging up in one thought:
This white haired saint wants her boy: he may be a black sheep, but
she wants him, and she shall have him, by whatever was each
juryman's favorite oath.
When the judge had finished his charge the jury stumbled on one
another's heels to get to their sanctum. There they reached a verdict
so quickly that, as the saying is, the foreman was coming back into the
court-room before the twelfth man was out of it. Amazed at their own
unanimity, they were properly ashamed, each of the other eleven, for
their mawkish weakness, and their treachery to the stern requirements
of higher citizenship. But they went home not entirely unconsoled by
the old woman's cry of beatitude at that phrase, Not Guilty.
She went among them sobbing with ecstasy, and her tears splashed
their hands like holy water. It was all outrageously illegal, and
sentimental, and harmful to the sanctity of the law. And yet, is it
entirely desirable that men should ever grow unmindful of the tears of
The road came pouring down from the wooded hills, and the house
faced the pond as before. But there was a new guest in the house.
Up-stairs, in a room with a sloping wall and a low ceiling and a dormer
window, sat a young man whose face had been prominent so long in the
press and in the court-room that now he preferred to keep away from
human eyes. So he sat in the little room and read eternally. He had
acquired the habit of books in the whitewashed cell where he had spent
the three of his years that should have been the happiest, busiest,
best of all. He read anything he could find nowold books, old
magazines, old newspapers. Finally he read even the old family Bible
his mother had toted into his room for his comfort. It was a bulky tome
with print of giant size and pictures of crude imagery, with here and
there blank pages for recording births, deaths, marriages. Here he
found the names of all his brothers and sisters, and all of them were
entered among the deaths. The manners of the deaths were recorded in
the shaky handwriting of fresh grief: Alice Anne, scarlet fever; James
Arthur, Jr., convulsions; Andrew Morton, whooping-cough; Cicely Jane,
typhoid; Amos Turner, drowned while saving his brother Stephen's life;
Edward John, killed in train wreck.
Sick at heart, he turned away from the record, but the book fell
open of itself at a full-page insert of the Decalogue, illuminated by
some artless printer with gaudy splotches of gold, red and blue and
green initials, and silly curlicues of arabesque, as if the man had
been ignorant of what they meant, those ten pillars of the world.
Stephen smiled wanly at the bad taste of the decoration, till one
line of fire leaped from the text at him, Thou Shalt Not Kill. But he
needed no further lessoning in that wisdom. He retreated from the
accusing page and went to lean against the dormer window and look out
upon the world from the jail of his past. No jury could release him
from that. Everywhere he looked, everywhere he thought, he saw evidence
of the penalty he had brought upon his father and mother, more than
upon himself and his future. He knew that his father's life-work had
been ruined, and that his honorable career would be summed up in the
remembrance that he was the old man who bankrupted himself to save his
son from the gallows. He knew that this very house, which remained as
the last refuge, was mortgaged again as when his father and mother had
come into it before he was born. The ironic circle was complete.
Down-stairs he could hear the slow and heavy footsteps of his
father, and the creak of the chair as he dropped heavily into it. Then
he heard the screen-door flap and heard his mother's rocking-chair
begin its seesaw strain. He knew that their tired old hands would be
clasped and that their tired old eyes would be staring off at the
lightning-shattered oaks. He heard them say, just about as always:
What you been doin', Paw?
Just putterin' 'round the barn. What you been doin', Maw?
Just putterin' 'round the kitchen gettin' supper started. I went
up-stairs and knocked at Stevie's door. He didn't answer. Guess he's
It seems awful good, Paw, to be back in this old place, don't
it?you and me just settin' here and our boy safe and sound asleep
That's so. As the fellow says in the circus, here we are again,
Here we are again, Paw.
AND THIS IS MARRIAGE
His soul floated upward from the lowermost depths of oblivion,
slowly, as a water-plant, broken beneath, drifts to the surface. And
then he was awake and unutterably afraid.
His soul opened, as it were, its eyes in terror and his fleshly
eyelids went ajar. There was nothing to frighten him except his own
thoughts, but they seemed to have waited all ready loaded with despair
for the instant of his waking.
The room was black about him. The world was black. He had left the
window open, but he could not see outdoors. Only his memory told him
where the window was. Never a star pinked the heavens to distinguish
it. He could not tell casement from sky, nor window from wall, nor wall
from ceiling or floor. He was as one hung in primeval chaos before
light had been decreed.
He could not see his own pillow. He knew of it only because he felt
it where it was hot under his hot cheek. He could not see the hand he
raised to push the hair from his wet brow. He knew that he had a hand
and a brow only from their contact, from the sense of himself in them,
from the throb of his pulse at the surface of himself.
He felt almost completely disembodied, poised in space, in infinite
gloom, alone with complete loneliness. As the old phrase puts it, he
was all by himself.
The only sound in his universe, besides the heavy surf of his own
blood beating in his ears, was the faint, slow breathing of his wife,
asleep in the same bed, yet separated from him by a sword of hostility
that kept their souls as far apart as planets are.
He laughed in bitter silence to think how false she was to the
devoted love she had promised him, how harsh her last words had been
and how strange from the lips that used to murmur every devotion, every
love-word, every trust.
He wanted to whirl on her, shake her out of the cowardly refuge of
sleep, and resume the wrangle that had ended in exhaustion.
He wanted to gag her so that she would hear him out for once and not
break into every phrase. He wanted to tell her for her own good in one
clear, cold, logical, unbroken harangue how atrocious she was, how
futile, fiendish, heartless. But he knew that she would not listen to
him. Even if he gagged her mouth her mind would still dodge and buffet
him. How ancient was the experience that warned a man against argument
with a woman! And that wise old saw, Let sleeping dogs lie, referred
even better to wives. He would not let her know that he was
awakeawake, perhaps, for hours of misery.
This had happened often of late. It had been a hard week, day after
day of bitter toil wearing him down in body and fraying his every
His business was in a bad way, and he alone could save it, and he
could save it only by ingenuity and inspiration. But the inspiration,
he was sure, would not come to him till he could rest throughout.
Sleep was his hope, his passion, food, drink, medicine. He was
heavily pledged at the bank. He could borrow no more. The president had
threatened him if he did not pay what was overdue. Bigger businesses
than his were being left to crash. A financial earthquake was rocking
every tower in the world.
Though he needed cash vitally to further his business, there was a
sharper and sharper demand upon him from creditors desperately harried
by their own desperate creditors. He must find with his brain some new
source of cash. He must fight the world. But how could he fight without
rest? Even pugilists rested between rounds.
He had not slept a whole night for a week. To-night he had gone to
bed sternly resolved on a while of annihilation. Anything for the brief
sweet death with the morning of resurrection.
And then she had quarreled with him. And now he was awake, and he
felt that he would not sleep.
He wondered what the hour was. He was tempted to rise and make a
light and look at his watch, but he felt that the effort and the blow
of the glare on his eyes might confirm his insomnia. He lay and
wondered, consumed with curiosity as to the houras if that knowledge
could be of value.
By and by, out of the stillness and the widespread black came the
slumbrous tone of a far-off town clock. Three times it rumored in the
air as if distance moaned faintly thrice.
Three o'clock! He had had but two hours' sleep, and would have no
more! And he needed ten! To-morrow morningthis morning!he must join
battle for his very existence.
He lay supine, trying not to clench a muscle, seeking to force his
surrender to inanition; but he could not get sleep though he implored
his soul for it, prayed God for it.
At length he ceased to try to compel slumber. He lay musing. It is a
strange thing to lie musing in the dark. His soul seemed to tug and
waver outside his body as he had seen an elephant chained by one leg in
a circus tent lean far away from its shackles, and sway and put its
trunk forth gropingly. His soul seemed to be under his forehead,
pushing at it as against a door. He felt that if he had a larger, freer
forehead he would have more soul and more room for his mind to work.
Then the great fear came over him again. In these wakeful moods he
suffered ecstasies of fright.
He was appalled with life. He felt helpless, bodyless, doomed.
On his office wall hung a calendar with a colored picture showing
fishermen in a little boat in a fog looking up to see a great Atlantic
liner just about to run them down. So the universe loomed over him now,
rushed down to crush him. The other people of the world were asleep in
their places; his creditors, his rivals were resting, gaining strength
to overwhelm him on the morrow, and he must face them unrefreshed.
He dreamed forward through crisis after crisis, through bankruptcy,
disgrace, and mortal illness. He thought of his family, the children
asleep in their beds under the roof that he must uphold like an Atlas.
Poor little demanding, demanding things! What would become of them when
their father broke down and was turned out of his factory and out of
his home? How they would hamper him, cling to him, cry out to him not
to let them starve, not to let them go cold or barefoot, not to turn
Yet they did not understand him. They loved their mother infinitely
more. She watched over them, played with them, cuddled and kissed them,
while he had to leave the house before they were up, and came home at
night too fagged to play their games or endure their noise. And if they
were to be punished, she used him as a threat, and saved them up for
him to torment and denounce.
They loved her and were afraid of him. Yet what had she done for
them? She had conceived them, borne them, nourished them for a year at
most. Thereafter their food, their shelter, their clothes, their
education, their whole prosperity must come from their father. Yet the
very necessities of the struggle for their welfare kept him from giving
them the time that would win their favor. They complained because he
did not buy them more. They were discontented with what they had, and
covetous of what the neighbors' children had, even where it was less
than their own.
He busied himself awhile at figuring out how much, all told, his
children's upbringing had cost him. The total was astounding. If he had
half of that sum now he would not be fretting about his pay-roll or his
notes. He would triumph over every obstacle. Next he made estimate of
what the children would cost him in the future. As they grew their
expenses grew with them. He could not hope for the old comfort of sons,
when they made a man strong, for nowadays grown sons must be started in
business at huge cost with doubtful results and no intention of
repaying the investment. And daughters have to be dressed up like
holiday packages, expensive gifts that must be sent prepaid and may be
He could see nothing but vanity back of him and a welter of cost
ahead. He could see no hope of ever catching up, of ever resting. His
only rest would come when he died.
If he did not sleep soon he would assuredly die or go mad. Perhaps
he was going mad already. He had fought too long, too hard. He would
begin to babble and giggle soon and be led away to twiddle his fingers
and talk with phantoms. He saw himself as he had seen other witless,
slavering spectacles that had once been human, and a nausea of fear
crushed big sweat out of his wincing skin.
Better to die than to play the living burlesque of himself. Better
to die than to face the shame of failure, the shame of reproach and
ridicule; the epitaph of his business a few lines in the small type of
Business Troubles. Better to kill himself than risk the danger of
going mad and killing perhaps his own children and his wife. He knew a
man once, a faithful, devoted, gentle struggler with the world, whom a
sudden insanity had led to the butchery of his wife and three little
boys. They found him tittering among his mangled dead, and calling them
pet names, telling the shattered red things that he had wrought God's
will upon them.
What if this should come to him! Better to end all the danger of
that by removing himself from the reach of mania or shame. It would be
the final proof of his love for his flock. And they would not think
bitterly of him. All things are forgiven the dead. They would miss him
and remember the best of him.
They would appreciate what they had cost him, too, when they no
longer had him to draw on. He felt very sorry for himself. Grown man as
he was, he was driven back into infancy by his terrors, and like a
pouting, supperless boy, he wanted to die to spite the rest of the
family and win their apologies even if he should not hear them.
He wondered if, after all, his wife would not be happier to be rid
of him. No, she would regret him for one thing at least, that he left
her without means.
Well, she deserved to be penniless. Why should she expect a man to
kill himself for her sake and leave her a wealthy widow to buy some
other man? Let her practise then some of the economies he had vainly
begged of her before. If she had been worthy of his posthumous
protection she would not have treated him so outrageously at a time of
such stress as this.
She knew he was dog-tired, yet she allowed him to be angered, and
she knew just what themes were sure to provoke his wrath. So she had
harped on these till she had rendered him to a frenzy.
They had stood about or paced the floor or dropped in chairs and
fought as they flung off their clothes piecemeal. She had combed and
brushed her hair viciously as she raged, weeping the unbeautiful tears
of wrath. But he had not had that comfort of tears; his tears ran down
the inside of his soul and burned. She goaded him out of his ordinary
self-controlknew just how to do it and reveled in it.
No doubt he had said things to her that a gentleman does not say to
a lady, that hardly any man would say to any woman. He was startled to
remember what he had said to her. He abhorred the thought of such
things coming from his lipsand to the mother of his children. But the
blame for these atrocities was also hers. She had driven him frantic;
she would have driven a less-dignified man to violence, to blows,
perhaps. And she had had the effrontery to blame him for driving her
frantic when it was she that drove him.
Finally they had stormed themselves out, squandered their
vocabularies of abuse, and taken resort to silence in a pretended
dignity. That is, she had done this. He had relapsed into silence
because he realized how impervious to truth or justice she was. Facts
she would not deal in. Logic she abhorred. Reasoning infuriated her.
And then in grim, mutual contempt they had crept into bed and lain
as far apart as they could. He would have gone into another room, but
she would have thought he was afraid to hear more of her. Or she would
have come knocking at the door and lured him back only to renew the war
at some appeal of his to that sense of justice he was forever hoping to
find in her soul.
He was aligned now along the very edge of the mattress. It was
childish of her to behave so spitefully, but what could he do except
repay her in kind? She would not have understood any other behavior.
She had turned her back on him, too, and stretched herself as thin as
she could as close to the edge as she could lie without falling out.
What a vixen she was! And at this time of all when she should have
been gentle, soothing. Even if she had thought him wrong and
misinterpreted his natural vehemence as virulence, she should have been
patient. What was a wife for but to be a helpmeet? She knew how easily
his temper was assuaged, she knew the very words. Why had she avoided
And she was to blame for so many of his problems. Her bills and her
children's bills were increasing. She took so much of his time. She
needed so much entertaining, so much waiting on, so much listening to.
Neither she nor the children produced. They simply spent. In a crisis
they never gave help, but exacted it.
In business, as in a shipwreck, strong and useful men must step back
and sacrifice themselves that the women and children might be
savedfor other men to take care of. And what frauds these women were!
All allurement and gentleness till they had entrapped their victims,
then fiends of exaction, without sympathy for the big work of men,
without interest in the world's problems, alert to ridiculous
suspicions, reckless with accusations, incapable of equity, and
impatient of everything important.
Marriage was a trap, masking its steel jaws and its chain under
flowers. What changelings brides were! A man never led away from the
altar the woman he led thither. Before marriage, so interested in a
man's serious talk and the business of his life! After marriage,
unwilling to listen to any news of import, sworn enemies of
achievement, putting an ingrowing sentiment above all other nobilities
of the race.
And his wife was of all women the most womanish. She had lost what
early graces she had. In the earlier days they had never quarreled.
That is, of course, they had quarreled, but differently. They had left
each other several times, but how rapturously they had returned. And
then she had craved his forgiveness and granted hers without asking.
She had always forgiven him for what he had not done, said, or thought,
or for the things he had done and said most justly. But there had been
a charm about her, a sweet foolishness that was irresistible.
In the dark now he smiled to think how dear and fascinating she had
been then. Oh, she had loved him then, had loved the very faults she
had imagined in him. Perhaps after he was dead she would remember him
with her earlier tenderness. She would blame herself for making him the
irascible, hot-tempered brute he had beenperhapsat times.
And now he had slain and buried himself, and his woe could burrow no
farther down. His soul was at the bottom of the pit. There was no other
way to go but upward, and that, of course, was impossible.
As he wallowed in the lugubrious comfort of his own post-mortem
revenge he wished that he had left unsaid some of the things he had
said. Quelled by the vision of his wife weeping over him and repenting
her cruelties, they began to seem less cruel. She was absolved by
He heard her sobbing over his coffin and heard her recall her
ferocious words with shame. His white, set face seemed to try to
console her. He heard what he was trying to tell her in all the gentle
understanding of the tomb:
I said worse things, honey. I don't know how I could have used such
words to you, my sweetheart. A longshoreman wouldn't have called a
fishwife what I called you, you blessed child. But it was my love that
tormented me. If a man had quarreled with me, we'd have had a
knock-down and drag-out and nothing more thought of it. If any woman
but you had denounced me as you did I'd have shrugged my shoulders and
not cared aat all.
It was because I loved you, honey, that your least frown hurt me
so. But I didn't really mean what I said. It wasn't true. You're the
best, the faithfulest, the prettiest, dearest woman in all the world,
and you were a precious wife to meso much more beautiful, more
tender, more devoted than the wives of the other men I knew. I will
pray God to bring you to me in the place I'm going to. I could not live
without you anywhere.
This was what he was trying to tell her, and could not utter a word
of it. He seemed to be lying in his coffin, staring up at her through
sealed eyelids. He could not purse his cold lips to kiss her warm
mouth. He could not lift an icy hand to bless her brow. They would come
soon to lay the last board over his face and screw down the lid. She
would scream and fight, but they would drag her away. And he could not
answer her wild cries. He could not go to her rescue. He would be
lifted in the box from the trestles and carried out on the shoulders of
other men, and slid into the waiting hearse; and the horses would trot
away with him, leaving her to penury, with her children and his at the
mercy of the merciless world, while he was lowered into a ditch and
hidden under shovelfuls of dirt, to lie there motionless, useless,
hideously idle forever.
This vision of himself dead was so vivid that his heart jumped in
his breast and raced like a propeller out of water. The very pain and
the terror were joyful, for they meant that he still lived.
Whatever other disasters overhung him, he was at least not dead.
Better a beggar slinking along the dingiest street than the wealthiest
Rothschild under the stateliest tomb. Better the sneers and pity of the
world in whispers about his path than all the empty praise of the most
The main thing was to be alive. Before that great good fortune all
misfortunes were minor, unimportant details. And, after all, he was not
so pitiable. His name was still respected. His factory was still
running. Whatever his liabilities, he still had some assets, not least
of them health and experience and courage.
But where had his courage been hiding that it left him whimpering
alone? Was he a little girl afraid of the dark, or was he a man?
There were still men who would lend him money or time. What if he
was in trouble? Were not the merchant princes of the earth sweating
blood? There had been a rich men's panic before the poor were reached.
Now everybody was involved.
After all, what if he failed? Who had not failed? What if he fell
bankrupt?that was only a tumble down-stairs. Could he not pick
himself up and climb again? Some of the biggest industries in the world
had passed through temporary strain. The sun himself went into eclipse.
If his factory had to close, it could be opened again some day. Or
even if he could not recover, how many better men than he had failed?
To be crushed by the luck of things was no crime. There was a glory of
defeat as well as of victory.
The one great gleaming truth was that he was still alive, still in
the ring. He was not dead yet. He was not going to die. He was going to
get up and win.
There was no shame in the misfortunes he had had. There was no
disgrace in the fears he had bowed to. All the nations and all the men
in them were in a night of fear. But already there was a change of
feeling. The darker the hour, the nearer the dawn. The worse things
were, the sooner they must mend.
People had been too prosperous; the world had played the spendthrift
and gambled too high. But economy would restore the balance for the
toilers. What had been lost would soon be regained.
Fate could not down America yet. And he was an American. What was it
Jim Hill had said to the scare-mongers: The man who sells the United
States short is a damned fool. And the man who sells himself short is
a damneder fool.
* * * * *
Thus he struggled through the bad weather of his soul. The clouds
that had gathered and roared and shuttled with lightnings had emptied
their wrath, and the earth still rolled. The mystery of terror was
subtly altered to a mystery of surety.
Lying in the dark, motionless, he had wrought out the miracle of
meditation. Within the senate chamber of his mind he had debated and
pondered and voted confidence in himself and in life.
His eyes, still open, still battling for light, had found none yet.
The universe was still black. He could not distinguish sky from window,
nor casement from ceiling. Yet the gloom was no longer terrible. The
universe was still a great ship rushing on, but he was no longer a
midget in a little cockleshell about to be crushed. He was a passenger
on the ship. The night was benevolent, majestic, sonorous with music.
The sea was glorious and the voyage forward.
And now that his heart was full of good news, he had a wild desire
to rush home with it to her who was his home. How often he had left her
in the morning after a wrangle, and hurried back to her at night
bearing glad tidings, the quarrel forgotten beyond the need of any
treaty. And she would be there among their children, beaming welcome
from her big eyes.
And she was always so glad when he was glad. She took so much blame
on herself; though how was she to blame for herself? Yet she took no
credit to herself for being all the sweet things she was. She was the
flowers and the harvest, and the cool, amorous evening after the hard
day was done. And he was the peevish, whining, swearing imbecile that
chose a woman for wife because she was a rose and then clenched her
thorns and complained because she was not a turnip.
He felt a longing to tell her how false his croakings had been in
that old dead time so long ago as last night. But she was asleep. And
she needed sleep. She had been greatly troubled by his troubles. She
had been anxious for him and the children. She had so many things to
worry over that never troubled him. She had wept and been angry because
she could not make him understand. Her very wrath was a way of crying:
I love you! You hurt me!
He must let her sleep. Her beauty and her graces needed sleep. It
was his blessed privilege to guard her slumbers, his pride to house her
well and to see that she slept in fabrics suited to the delicate fabric
of her exquisite body.
But if only she might chance to be awake that he might tell her how
sorry he was that he had been weak and wicked enough to torment her
with his baseless fears and his unreasonable ire. At least he must
touch her with tenderness. Even though she slept, he must give her the
benediction of one light caress.
He put his hand out cautiously toward her. He laid his fingers
gently on her cheek. How beautiful it was even in the dark! But it was
wet! with tears! Suddenly her little invisible fingers closed upon his
hand like grape tendrils.
But this did not prove her awake. So habited they were to each other
that even in their sleep their bodies gave or answered such
He waited till his loneliness for her was unendurable, then he
Are you asleep, honey?
For answer she whirled into his bosom and clenched him in her arms
and weptin whispers lest the children hear. He petted her tenderly
and kissed her hair and her eyelids and murmured:
Did I wake you, honey?
No, no! she sobbed. I've been awake for hours.
But you didn't move!
I was afraid to waken you. You need your rest so much. I've been
thinking how hard you work, how good you are. I'm so ashamed of myself
But it was all my fault, honey.
Oh no, no, my dear, my dear!
He let her have the last word; for an enormous contentedness filled
his heart. He drew the covers about her shoulder and held her close and
breathed deep of the companionship of the soul he had chosen. He
breathed so deeply that his head drooped over hers, his cheek upon her
hair. The night seemed to bend above them and mother them and say to
them, Hush! hush! and sleep!
There are many raptures in the world, and countless beautiful
moments, and not the least of them is this solemn marriage in sleep of
the man and woman whose days are filled with cares, and under whose
roof at night children and servants slumber aloof secure.
While these two troubled spirits found repose and renewal, locked
each in the other's arms, the blackness was gradually withdrawn from
the air. In the sky there came a pallor that grew to a twilight and
became a radiance and a splendor. And night was day. It would soon be
time for the father to rise and go forth to his work, and for the
mother to rise to the offices of the home.
THE MAN THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
In the tame little town of Hillsdale he seemed the tamest thing of
all, Will Ruddespecially appropriate to a kneeling trade, a shoe
clerk by election. He bent the pregnant hinges to anybody soever that
entered the shop, with its ingenious rebus on the sign-board:
[Illustration: CLAY KITTREDGE and Emporium Nobby Footwear]
He not only untied the stilted Oxfords or buttoned in the arching
insteps of those who sat in the Ladies' and Misses' Dept., which was
the other side of the double-backed bench whose obverse was the Gents'
Dept., but also he took upon the glistening surface of his trousers
the muddy soles of merchants, the clay-bronzed brogans of hired men,
the cowhide toboggans of teamsters, and the brass-toed, red-kneed boots
of little boys ecstatic in their first feel of big leather.
Rudd was a shoe clerk to be trusted. He never revealed to a soul
that Miss Clara Lommel wore shoes two sizes too small, and when she bit
her lip and blenched with agony as he pried her heel into the
protesting dongola, he seemed not to notice that she was no Cinderella.
And one day, when it was too late, and Miss Lucy Posnett, whose
people lived in the big brick mansard, realized that she had a hole in
her stocking, what did Rudd do? Why, he never let on.
Stanch Methodist that he was, William Rudd stifled in petto
the fact that the United Presbyterian parson's wife was vain and bought
little, soft black kids with the Cuban heel and a patent-leather tip to
the opera toe! The United Presbyterian parson himself had salved his
own vanity by saying that shoes show so plainly on the pulpit, and it
was better to buy them a trifle too small than a trifle too large,
butumm!er, hadn't you better put in a little more of that powder,
Mr. Rudd? I have onwhew!unusually thick socks to-day.
Clay Kittredge, Rudd's employer, valued him, secretly, as a man who
brought in customers and sold them goods. But he never mentioned this
to his clerk lest Rudd be tempted to the sin of vanity, and
incidentally to demanding an increase in that salary which had remained
the same since he had been promoted from delivery-boy.
Kittredge found that Rudd kept his secrets as he kept everybody's
else. Professing church member as he was, Rudd earnestly palmed off
shopworn stock for fresh invoices, declared that the obsolete
Piccadillies which Kittredge had snapped up from a bankrupt sale were
worn on all the best feet on Fifth Avenoo, and blandly substituted
just as good for advertised wares that Kittredge did not carry.
Besides, when no customer was in the shop he spent the time at the
back window, doctoring tagsas the King of France negotiated the
hillby marking up prices, then marking them down.
But when he took his hat from the peg and set it on his head, he put
on his private conscience. Whatever else he did, he never lied or
cheated to his own advantage.
And so everybody in town liked William Rudd, and nobody admired him.
He was treated with the affectionate contempt of an old family servant.
But he had his ambitions and great ones, ambitions that reached past
himself into the future of another generation. He felt the thrill that
stirs the acorn, fallen into the ground and hidden there, but destined
to father an oak. His was the ambition beyond ambition that glorifies
the seed in the loam and ennobles the roots of trees thrusting
themselves downward and gripping obscurity in order that trunks and
branches, flowers and fruits, pods and cones, may flourish aloft.
Eventually old Clay Kittredge died, and the son chopped the Jr.
curlicue from the end of his name and began a new régime. The old
Kittredge had sought only his own aggrandizement, and his son was his
son. The new Clay Kittredge had gone to public school with Rudd and
they continued to be Clay and Will to each other; no one would ever
have called Rudd by so demonstrative a name as Bill.
When Clay second stepped into his father's bootsand shoeshe
began to enlarge the business, hoping to efface his father's
achievements by his own. The shop gradually expanded to a department
store for covering all portions of the anatomy and supplying inner
wants as well.
Rudd was so overjoyed at not being uprooted and flung aside to die
that he never observed the shrewd irony of Kittredge's phrase, You may
remain, Will, with no reduction of salary.
To have lost his humble position would have frustrated his dream,
for he was doing his best to build for himself and for Her a home where
they could fulfil their destinies. He cherished no hope, hardly even a
desire, to be a great or rich man himself. He was one of the
nest-weavers, the cave-burrowers, the home-makers, who prepare the way
for the greater than themselves who shall spring from themselves.
He was of those who become the unknown fathers of great men. And so,
on a salary that would have meant penury to a man of self-seeking
tastes, he managed to save always the major part of his earning. At the
bank he was a modest but regular visitor to the receiving-teller, and
almost a total stranger to the paying-teller.
His wildest dissipation being a second pipeful of tobacco before he
went to bedor retired, as he would more gently have said ithe
eventually heaped up enough money and courage to ask Martha Kellogg to
marry him. Martha, who was the plainest woman in plain Hillsdale,
accepted William, and they were made one by the parson. The wedding was
accounted plain even in Hillsdale.
The groomy bridegroom and the unbridy bride spent together all the
time that Rudd could spare from the store. He bought for her a little
frame house with a porch about as big as an upper berth, a patch of
grass with a path through it to the back door, some hollyhocks of
startling color, and a highly unimportant woodshed. It spelled HOME to
them, and they were as happy as people usually are. He did all he could
to please her. At her desire he even gave up his pipe without missing
Mrs. Martha Rudd was an ambitious woman, or at least restless and
discontented. Having escaped her supreme horror, that of being an old
maid, she began to grow ambitious for her husband. She nagged him for a
while about his plodding ways, the things that satisfied him, the
salary he endured. But it did no good. Will Rudd was never meant to put
boots and spurs on his own feet and splash around in gore. He was for
carpet slippers, round-toed shoes, and on wet days, rubbers; on slushy
days he even descended to what he called ar'tics.
Not understanding the true majesty of her husband's long-distance
dreams, and baffled by his unresponse to her ambitions for him, Martha
grew ambitious for the child that was coming. She grew frantically,
fantastically ambitious. Here was something William Rudd could respond
to. He could be ambitious as Cæsarbut not for himself. He was a
groundling, but his son should climb.
Husband and wife spent evenings and evenings debating the future of
the child. They never agreed on the nameor the alternative names. For
it is advisable to have two ready for any emergency. But the future was
rosy. They were unanimous on thatPresident of the United States,
mebbe; or at least the President's wife.
Mrs. Rudd, who occasionally read the continued stories in the
evening paper, had happened on a hero named Eric. She favored that
nameor Gwendolynne (with a y"), as the case might be. In any event,
the child's future was so glowing that it warmed Mrs. Rudd to asking
one evening, forgetful of her earlier edict:
Why don't you smoke your pipe any more, Will?
I'd kind o' got out of the habit, Marthy, he said, and added,
hastily, but I guess I'll git back in.
Thereafter they sat of evenings by the lamp, he smoking, she sewing
thingsholding them up now and then for him to see. They looked almost
too small to be convincing, until he brought home from the store a pair
of shoesthe smallest size made, Marthy, too small for some of the
dolls you see over at Bostwick's.
It was the golden period of his life. Rudd never sold shoes so well.
People could hardly resist his high spirits. Anticipation is a great
thingit is all that some people get.
To be a successful shoe clerk one must acquire the patience of Job
without his gift of complaint, and Rudd was thoroughly schooled. So he
waited with a hope-lit serenity the preamble to the arrival of
And then fate, which had previously been content with denying him
comforts and keeping him from luxuries, dealt him a blow in the face,
smote him on his patient mouth. The doctor told him that the little
body of his son had been born still. After that it was rather a stupor
of despair than courage that carried him through the vain struggle for
life of the worn-out housewife who became only almost a mother. It
seemed merely the logical completion of the world's cruelty when the
doctor laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and walked out of the door,
without leaving any prescription to fill. Rudd stood like a wooden
Indian, too dazed to understand or to feel. He opened the door to the
undertaker and waited outside the room, just twiddling his fingers and
wondering. His world had come to an end and he did not know what to do.
At the church, the offices of the parson, and the soprano's voice
from behind the flowers, singing Rock of Ages, Cleft for MeMarthy's
favorite hymnbrought the tears trickling, but he could not believe
that what had happened had happened. He got through the melancholy
honor of riding in the first hack in the shabby pageant, though the
town looked strange from that window. He shivered stupidly at the first
sight of the trench in the turf which was to be the new lodging of his
family. He kept as quiet as any of the group among the mounds while the
bareheaded preacher finished his part.
He was too numb with incredulity to find any expression until he
heard that awfulest sound that ever grates the human earthe first
shovelful of clods rattling on a coffin. Then he understoodthen he
woke. When he saw the muddy spade spill dirt hideously above her lips,
her cheeks, her brow, and the little bundle of futile flesh she cuddled
with a rigid arm to a breast of icethen a cry like the shriek of a
falling tree split his throat and he dropped into the grave, sprawling
across the casket, beating on its denying door, and sobbing:
You mustn't go alone, Marthy. I won't let you two go all by
yourselves. It's so fur and so dark. I can't live without you and
thethe baby. Wait! Wait!
They dragged him out, and the shovels concluded their venerable
task. He was sobbing too loudly to hear them, and the parson was
holding him in his arms and patting his back and saying 'Shh! 'Shh!
as if he were a child afraid of the dark.
The sparse company that had gathered to pay the last devoir to the
unimportant woman in the box in the ditch felt, most of all, amazement
at such an unexpected outburst from so expectable a man as William
Rudd. There was much talk about it as the horses galloped home, much
talk in every carriage except his and the one that had been hers.
Up to this, the neighbors had taken the whole affair with that
splendid philosophy neighbors apply to other people's woes. Mrs. Budd
Granger had said to Mrs. Ad. Peck when they met in Bostwick's dry-goods
store, at the linen counter:
Too bad about Martha Rudd, isn't it? Plain little body, but nice.
Meant well. Went to church regular. Yes, it's too bad. I don't think
they ought to put off the strawb'ry fest'val, though, just for that, do
you? Never would be any fun if we stopped for every funeral, would
there? Besides, the strawb'ry fest'val's for charity, isn't it?
The strawberry festival was not put off and the town paper said that
a pleasant time was had by all. Most of the talk was about Will Rudd.
The quiet shoe clerk had provided the town with an alarm, an
astonishment. He was most astounded of all. As he rode back to the
frame house in the swaying carriage he absolutely could not believe
that such hopes, such plans, could be shattered with such wanton,
wasteful cruelty. That he should have loved, married, and begotten, and
that the new-made mother and the new-born child should be struck dead,
nullified, returned to claysuch things were too foolish, too
spendthrift, to believe.
It is strange that people do not get used to death. It has come to
nearly every being anybody has ever heard of; and whom it has not yet
reached, it will. Every one of the two billions of us on earth to-day
expects it to come to him, and (if he have them) to his son, his
daughter, his man-servant, his maid-servant, his ox, his ass, the
stranger within his gates, the weeds by the road. Kittens and kingdoms,
potato-bugs, plants, and planetsall are on the visiting-list.
Death is the one expectation that never fails to arrive. But it
comes always as a new thing, an unheard-of thing, a miracle. It is the
commonest word in the lexicon, yet it always reads as a hapax
legomenon. It is like spring, though so unlike. For who ever
believed that May would emerge from March this year? And who ever
remembers that violets were suddenly abroad on the hills last April,
William Rudd ought to have known better. In a town where funerals
were social events dangerously near to diversion, he had been unusually
frequent at them. For he belonged to the local chapter of the Knights
of Pythias, and when a fellow-member in good standing was forced to
resign, William Rudd donned his black suit, his odd-looking cocked hat
with the plume, and the anachronous sword, which he carried as one
would expect a shoe clerk to carry a sword. The man in the hearse ahead
went to no further funerals, stopped paying his dues, made no more
noise at the bowling-alley, and ceased to dent his pew cushion.
Somebody got his job at once and, after a decent time, somebody else
probably got his wife. The man became a remembrance, if that.
Rudd had long realized that people eventually become dead; but he
had never realized death. He had been an oblivious child when his
mother and father had taken the long trip whose tickets read but one
way, and had left him to the grudging care of an uncle with a large
And now his own family was obliterated. He was again a single man,
that familiar thing called a widower. He could not accept it as a fact.
He denied his eyes. He was as incredulous as a man who sees a magician
play some old vanishing trick. He had seen it, but he could not
understand it enough to believe it. When the hack left him at his house
he found it emptier than he could have imagined a house could be.
Marthy was not on the porch, or in the settin'-room, the dinin'-room,
the kitchen, or anywhere up-stairs. The bed was empty, the stove cold.
The lamp had not been filled. The cruse of his life was dry, the silver
cord loosened, the pitcher broken at the fountain, the wheel broken at
As he stumbled about filling the lamp, and covering his hands with
kerosene, he wondered what he should do in those long hours between the
closing of the shoe-shop of evenings and its opening of mornings. Men
behave differently in this recurring situation. Some take to drink, or
return to it. Rudd did not like liquor; at least he did not think he
would have liked it if he had ever tasted it. Some take to gambling.
Rudd did not know big casino from little, though he had once almost
acquired a passion for checkersthe give-away game. Some submerge
themselves in money-getting. Rudd would not have given up the serene
certainty of his little salary for a speculator's chance to clean up a
million, or lose his margin.
If only the child had lived, he should have had an industry, an
ambition, a use.
Widowers have occasionally hunted consolation with the same sex that
sent them grief. Rudd had never known any woman in town as well as he
had known Martha, and it had taken him years to find courage to propose
to her. The thought of approaching any other woman with intimate
intention gave him an ague sweat.
And how was he to think of taking another wife? Even if he had not
been so confounded with grief for his helpmeet as to believe her the
only woman on earth for him, how could he have accosted another woman
when he had only debts for a dowry?
Death is an expensive thing in every phase. The event that robbed
Rudd of his wife, his child, his hope, had taken also his companion,
his cook, his chambermaid, his washerwoman, the mender of his things;
and in their place had left an appalling monument of bills. The only
people he had permitted himself to owe money to were the gruesome
committee that brought him his grief; the doctor, the druggist, the
casket-maker, the sexton, and the dealer in the unreal estate who sold
the tiny lots in the sad little town.
His soul was too bruised to grope its way about, but instinct told
him that bills must be paid. Instinct automatically set him to work
clearing up his accounts. For their sakes he devoted himself to a
stricter economy than ever. He engaged meals at Mrs. Judd's
boarding-house. He resolved even to rent his home. But, mercifully,
there was no one in town to take the place. In economy's name, too, he
put away his pipefor one horrible evening. The next day he remembered
how Marthy had sung out, Why don't you smoke your pipe any more,
Will? and he had answered: I'd kind o' got out of the habit, Marthy,
but I guess I'll git back in. And Lordy, how she laughed! The laughter
of the deadit made a lonely echo in the house.
Gradually he found, as so many dismal castaways have found, that
there is a mystic companionship in that weed which has come out of the
vegetable world, as the dog from among the animals, to make fellowship
with man. Rudd and his pipe were Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday on
the desert island of loneliness. They stared out to sea; and imagined.
Remembering how Martha and he used to dream about the child, in the
tobacco twilight, and how they planned his future, Rudd's soul learned
to follow the pipe smoke out from the porch, over the fence and to
disappear beyond the horizons of the town and the sharp definition of
the graveyard fence. He became addicted to dreams, habituated to
dealing in futurities that could never come to pass.
Being his only luxury on earth, by and by they became his
necessities, realities more concrete than the shoes he sold or the
board walk he plodded to and from his store.
One Sunday Rudd was present at church when Mr. and Mrs. Budd Granger
brought their fourth baby forward to be christened. The infant bawled
and choked and kicked its safety-pins loose. Rudd was sure that Eric
never would have misbehaved like that. Yet Eric had been denied the
This reminded Rudd how many learned theologians had proved by rigid
logic that unbaptized babies are damned forever. He spent days of
horror at the frightful possibility, and nights of infernal travel
across gridirons where babies flung their blistered hands in vain
appeal to far-off mothers. He could not get it from his mind until, one
evening, his pipe persuaded him to erect a font in the temple of his
He mused through all the ritual, and the little frame house seemed
to thrill as the vague preacher enounced the sonorous phrase:
I baptize thee Ericin the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost.
Marthy was there, too, of course, but it was the father that held
the baby. And the child did not wince when the pastor's fingers
moistened the tiny brow. He just clasped a geranium-petal hand round
Rudd's thumb and stared at the sacrament with eyes of more than mortal
The very next day Mrs. Ad. Peck walked into the store, proud as a
peahen. She wanted shoes for her baby. The soles of the old pair were
intact, but the stubby toes were protruding.
He crawls all over the house, Mr. Rudd! And he cut his first tooth
to-day, too. Just look at it. Ain't it a beauty?
In her insensate conceit she pried the child's mouth apart as if he
were a pony, to disclose the minute peak of ivory. It was nothing to
make such a fuss over, Rudd thought, though he praised it as if it were
a snow-capped Fuji-yama.
That night Eric cut two teeth. And Marthy nearly laughed her head
Rudd did not talk aloud to the family he had revened from the grave.
He had no occult persuasions. He just sat in his rocker and smoked hard
and imagined hard. He imagined the lives of his family not only as they
might have been, but as they ought to have been. He was like a
spectator at a play, mingling belief and make-belief inextricably,
knowing it all untrue, yet weeping, laughing, thrilling as if it were
the very image of fact.
All mothers and some fathers have a sad little calendar in their
hearts' cupboards where they keep track of the things that might have
been. October fifth, they muse. Why, it's Ned's birthday! He'd have
been twenty-one to-day if he'd lived. He'd have voted this year.
December twenty-third? Alice would have been coming home from
boarding-school to-day ifJuly fourth? Humph! How Harry loved the
fireworks! But he'd be a Senator now and invited to his home town to
make a speech in the park to-day if If! If!
Everybody must keep some such if-almanac, some such diary of prayers
denied. That was all Rudd did; only he wrote it up every evening. He
would take from the lavender where he kept them the little things
Martha had sewed for the child and the little shoes he had bought. The
warm body had never wriggled and laughed in the tiny trousseau, the
little shoes had never housed pink toes, but they helped him to pretend
until they became to him things outgrown by a living, growing child. He
cherished them as all parents cherish the first shoes and the first
linens and woolens of their young.
Marthy and Eric Rudd lived just behind the diaphanous curtain of the
pipe smoke, or in the nooks of the twilight shadow, or in the heart of
the settin'-room stove.
The frame house had no fireplace, and in its lieu he was wont to
open the door of the wood-stove, lean forward, elbows on knees, and
gaze into the creamy core of the glow where his people moved unharmed
and radiant, like the three youths conversing in the fiery furnace.
In the brief period allotted them before bedtime they must needs
live fast. The boy grew at an extraordinary rate and in an
extraordinary manner, for sometimes Rudd performed for him that feat
which God Himself seems not to achieve in His world; he turned back
time and brought on yesterday again, or reverted the year before last,
as a reaper may pause and return to glean some sheaf overlooked before.
For instance, Eric was already a strapping lad of seven spinning
through school at a rate that would have given brain fever to a
less-gifted youngster, when, one day, Farmer Stebbins came to the
Emporium with a four-year-old chub of a son who ran in ahead of his
father, kicked his shoes in opposite directions and yelled, to the
great dismay of an old maid in the Ladies' and Misses' Dept.:
Hay, mister, gimme pair boots 'ith brass toes!
The father, after a formulaic pretense of reproving the lad,
We'll have to excuse him, Rudd; it's his first pair of boots.
Rudd's heart was sore within him, and he was oppressed with guilt.
He had never bought Eric his first pair of brass-toed boots! And he a
So that night Eric had to be reduced several years, brought out of
school, and taken to St. Louis. Rudd knew what an epoch-making event
this was, and he wanted Eric to select from a larger stock than the
meager and out-of-date supply of Kittredge's Emporiumthough this
admission was only for Rudd's own family. The thumb-screw could not
have wrung it from him for the public.
There was a similar mix-up about Eric's first long trousers which
Rudd likewise overlooked. He accomplished the Irish miracle of the
tight boots. Eric had worn his breeches a long while before he put them
on for the first time.
To the outer knowledge of the stranger or the neighbor, William
Rudd's employer had all the good luck that was coming to him, and all
of Rudd's besides. They were antitheses at every point.
Where Rudd was without ambition, importance, family, or funds,
Kittredge was the richest man in town, the man of most impressive
family, and easily the leading citizen. People began to talk him up for
Congressman, maybe for Senator. He had held all the other conspicuous
offices in his church, his bank, his county. You could hardly say that
he had ever run for any office; he had just walked up and taken it.
Yet Rudd did not envy him his record or his family. Clay Kittredge
had children, real children. The cemetery lodged none of them. Yet one
of the girls or boys was always ill or in trouble with somebody; Mrs.
Kittredge was forever cautioning her children not to play with Mrs.
So-and-so's children and Mrs. So-and-so would return the compliment.
The town was fairly torn up with these nursery Guelph and Ghibelline
Rudd compared the wickednesses of other people's children with the
perfections of Eric. Sometimes his evil genius whispered a bitter
thought that if Eric had lived to enter the world this side of the
tobacco smoke, he, too, might have been a complete scoundrel in
knee-breeches, instead of the clean-hearted, clear-skinned, studious,
truthful little gentleman of light and laughter and love that he was.
But Rudd banished the thought.
Eric was never ill, or only ill enough at times to give the parents
a little of the rapture of anxiety and of sitting by his bedside
holding his hand and brushing his hair back from a hot forehead. Eric
never was impolite, or cruel to an animal, or impudent to a teacher, or
backward in a class.
And Rudd's wife differed from Kittredge's wife and wives in
generaland indeed from the old Martha herselfin staying young and
growing more and more beautiful. The old Martha had been too shy and
too cognizant of the truth ever to face a camera; and Rudd often
regretted that he owned not even a bridal photograph such as the other
respectable married folks of Hillsdale had on the wall, or in a crayon
enlargement on an uneasy easel. He had no likeness of Martha except
that in his heart. But thereby his fancy was unshackled and he was
enabled to imagine her sweeter, fairer, every day.
It was the boy alone that grew; the mother, having become perfect,
remained stationary in charm like the blessed Greeks in the
asphodel-fields of Hades.
About the time Eric Rudd outgrew the public schools of Hillsdale and
graduated from the high school with a wonderful oration of his own
writing called Night Brings Out the Stars, Kittredge announced that
his eldest son would go to Harvard in the fall. Rudd determined that
Eric should go to Yale. He even sent for catalogues. Rudd was appalled
to see how much a person had to know before he could even get into
college. And then, this nearly omniscient intellect was called a
The prices of rooms, of meals, of books, of extra fees, the
estimated allowances for clothing and spending-money dazed the poor
shoe clerk and nearly sent Eric into business. But, fortunately, the
brier pipe came to the rescue with an unexpected legacy from an
The four years of college life were imagined with a good deal of
elision and an amount of guesswork that would have amused a janitor.
But Rudd and Martha were chiefly interested in the boy's vacations at
home, and their own trips to New Haven, and the letters of approval
from the professors.
Eric had an athletic career seldom equaled since the days of
Hercules. For Eric was a champion tennis-player, hockey-player,
baseballist, boxer, swimmer, runner, jumper, shot-putter. And he was
the best quoit-thrower in the New Haven town square. Rudd had rather
dim notions of some of the games, so that Eric was established both as
center rush of the football team and the cockswain in the crew.
He was also a member of all the best fraternities. He was a Bones
man in his Freshman year, and in his Sophomore year added the other
Senior societies. And, of course, he stood at the head of all his
classesthough he never condescended to take a single red apple to a
The boy's college life lasted Rudd a thousand and one evenings. It
was in beautiful contrast with the career of Kittredge's children, some
of whom were forever flunking their examinations, slipping back a year,
requiring expensive tutors, acquiring bad habits, and getting into
debt. Almost the only joy Kittredge had of them was in telegraphing
them money in response to their telegrams for moneythey never wrote.
Their vacations either sent them scurrying on house parties or other
excursions. Or if they came home they were discontented with house and
parents. They corrected Kittredge's grammar, though his State accounted
him an orator. They corrected Mrs. Kittredge's etiquette, though
Hillsdale looked up to her as a social arbitrix.
Kittredge poured a deal of his disappointment into Rudd's ear,
because his hard heart was broken and breaking anew every day, and he
had to tell somebody. He knew that his old clerk would keep it where he
kept all the secrets of his business, but he never knew that Rudd still
had a child of his own, forging ahead without failure. Rudd could give
comfort, for he had it to spare, and he was empty of envy.
It was a ghastly morning when Kittredge showed Rudd a telegram
saying that his eldest son, Thomas, had thrown himself in front of a
train because of the discovery that his accounts were wrong. Kittredge
had found him a place in a New York bank, but the gambling fever had
seized the young fellow. And now he was dead, in his sins, in his
shame. Dives cried out to Lazarus:
It's hell to be a father, Will. It's an awful thing to bring
children into the world and try to carry 'em through it. It's not a
man's job. It's God's.
At times like these, and when Rudd heard from the tattlers, or read
in the printed gossip of the evening paper concerning the multifarious
wickednesses of the children of men about the earth, he felt almost
glad that his boy had never lived upon so plague-infected a world. But
in the soothe of twilight the old pipe persuaded him to a pleasanter
view of his boy, alive and always doing the right thing, avoiding the
His motto was, Eric would have done different. He was sure of
that. It was his constant conclusion.
After graduating from an imaginary Yale Eric went to an imaginary
law-school in New York Cityno less. Then he was admitted to that
imaginary bar where a lawyer never defends an unrighteous cause, never
loses a case, yet grows rich. And, of course, like every other American
boy that dreams or is dreamed of, in good time he had to become
Eric lived so exemplary a life, was so busy in virtue, so
unblemished of fault, that he could not be overlooked by the managers
of the quadrennial national performance, searching with Demosthenes'
lantern for a man against whom nothing could be said. They called Eric
from private life to be headliner in their vaudeville.
Rudd had watched Kittredge clambering to his success, or rather
wallowing to it through a swamp of mud. All the wrong things Kittredge
had ever done, and their name was legion, were hurled in his path. His
family scandals were dug up by the double handful and splashed in his
face. Against his opponent the same methods were used. It was like a
race through a marsh; and when Kittredge reached his goal in the Senate
he was so muck-bemired, his heart had been so lacerated, the nakedness
of his past so exposed, that his laurel seemed more like a wreath of
poison ivy. And once mounted on his high post, he was an even better
target than when he was on the wing.
Against Eric's blameless life the arrows of slander were like darts
shot toward the sun. They fell back upon the archers' heads. That was a
lively night in the tobacco lagoon when the election returns came in
and State after State swung to Eric's column. Rudd made it as nearly
unanimous as he could without making it stupid. The solid South he left
unbroken; he just brought it over to Eric en bloc. For Eric, it seems,
had devised what everybody else has looked for in vain, a solution of
the negro problem to satisfy both North and Southand the negroes.
Unfortunately the details have been lost.
Marthy was there, of course; she rode in the same hack with their
boy. Some of the politicians and the ex-President wanted to get in, but
My mother and father ride with me or I won't be President.
That settled 'em. Eric even wanted to ride backward, too, but Will,
as his father, insisted; and of course Eric obeyed, though he was
President. And the weather was more like June than March, no blizzards
delaying trains and distributing pneumonia.
Once the administration was begun, the newspapers differed strangely
in their treatment of Eric from their attitude toward other Chief
Magistrates, from Washington down. Realizing that Eric was an honorable
man trying to do the right thing by the people, no editor or cartoonist
dreamed of accusing him of an unworthy motive or an unwise act. As for
the tariff labyrinth, a matter of some trouble to certain Presidents
pulled in all directions at once by warring constituencies, Eric
settled that in a jiffy. And the best of it was that everybody was
satisfied, importers and exporters; East, West, and Middle; farmers,
manufacturers, lumbermen, oilmen, painterseverybody.
And when his first term was ended the Democrats and Republicans,
realizing that they had at last found a perfectly wise and honorable
ruler, nominated him by acclamation at both conventions. The result was
delightful; both parties elected their candidate.
Marthy and Will sat with Eric in the carriage at the second
inaugural, too. There was an argument again about who should ride
backward. Rudd said:
Eric, your Excellency, these here crowds came to see you, and you
ought to face 'em. As your dad I order you to set there 'side of your
But Eric said, Dad, your Majesty, the people have seen me often
enough, and as the President of these here United States I order you to
set there 'side of your wife.
And of course Rudd had to do it. Folks looked very much surprised to
see him and there was quite a piece in the papers about it.
To every man his day's work and his night's dream. Will Rudd has
poor nourishment of the former, but he is richly fed of the latter. His
failures and his poverty and the monotony of his existence are public
knowledge; his dream is his own triumph and the greater for being his
The Fates seemed to go out of their way to be cruel to Will Rudd,
but he beat them at their own game. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos kept
Jupiter himself in awe of their shears, and the old Norns, Urdur,
Verdandi, and Skuld, ruined Wotan's power and his glory. But they could
not touch the shoe clerk. They shattered his little scheme of things to
bits, but he rebuilt it nearer to his heart's desire. He spread a sky
about his private planet and ruled his little universe like a tribal
god. He, alone of all men, had won the oldest, vainest prayer that was
ever said or sung: O God, keep the woman I love young and beautiful,
and grant our child happiness and success without sin or sorrow.
If, sometimes, the imagination of the matter-of-fact man wavers, and
the ugliness of his loneliness overwhelms him, thrusts through his
dream like a hideous mountainside when an avalanche strips the barren
crags of their fleece; and if he then breaks down and calls aloud for
his child and his wife to be given back to him from Out Therethese
panics are also his secret. Only the homely sitting-room of the lonely
frame house knows them. He opens the door of the wood-stove or follows
his pipe smoke and rallies his courage, resumes his dream. The next
morning sees him emerge from his door and go briskly to the shop as
always, whether his path is through rain or sleet, or past the
recurrent lilacs that have scattered many a purple snow across his
sidewalk since the bankruptcy of his ambitions.
He would have been proud to be the unknown father of a great man. He
was not permitted to be the father even of a humble man. Yet being
denied the reality, he has taken sustenance in what might have been,
and has turned the saddest words of tongue or pen into something
almost sweet. If his child has missed the glories of what might have
been, he has escaped the shames that might have been, and the bruises
and heartaches and remorses that must have been, that always have been.
That is the increasing consolation a bitter world offers to those who
love and have lost. That was Rudd's solace. And he made the most of it;
added to it a dream. He was a wise man.
After he paid his sorrowful debts his next slow savings went to the
building of a monument for his family. It is one of the handsomest
shafts in the cemetery. If Rudd could brag of anything he would brag of
that. The inscription took a long time to write. You could tell that by
its simplicity. And you might notice the blank space left for his own
name when all three shall be together again.
Rudd is now saving a third fund against the encroaching time when he
shall be too feeble to get up from his knees after he has dropped upon
them to unlace somebody's sandal. Lonely old orphans like Rudd must
provide their own pensions. There is a will, however, which bequeaths
whatever is left of his funds to an orphan home. Being a sonless
father, he thinks of the sons who have no fathers to do for them what
he was so fain to do for his. It is not a large fund for these days
when rich men toss millions as tips to posterity, but it is pretty good
for a shoe clerk. And it will mean everything to some Eric that gets
himself really born.
If you drop in at the Emporium and ask for a pair of shoes or boots,
or slippers or rubbers, or trees or pumps, and wait for old Rudd to get
round to you, you will be served with deference, yet with a pride of
occupation that is almost priestly. And you will probably buy
something, whether you want it or not.
The old man is slightly shuffly in his gaiters. His own elastics are
less resilient than once they were. If you ask for anything on the top
shelf he is a trifle slow getting the ladder and rather ratchety in
clambering up and down, and his eyes are growing so tired that he may
offer you a 6D when you ask for a 3A.
But, above all things, don't hurt his pride by offering to help him
to his feet if he shows some difficulty in rising when he has performed
his genuflexion before you. Just pretend not to notice, as he would
pretend not to notice any infirmity or vanity of yours. It is his
vanity to be still the best shoe clerk in townas he is. There is a
gracious satisfiedness about the old man that radiates contentment and
makes you comfortable for the time in most uncomfortable shoes. And as
old Rudd says:
You'll find that the best shoe is the one that pinches at first and
hurts a little; in time it will grow very comfortable and still be
That is what Rudd says, and he ought to know.
In these days he is so supremely comfortable in his old shoes that
his own fellow-clerks hardly know what to make of him. If they only
understood what is going on in his private world they would realize
that Eric is about to be marriedin the White House. The boy was so
busy for the country and loved his mother so that he had no time to go
But Marthy got after him and said: Eric, they're goin' to make you
President for the third term. Oh, what's that old tradition got to do
with it? Can't they change it? Well, you mark my words, like as not
you'll settle down and live in the White House the rest of your life.
You'd ought to have a wife, Eric, and be raisin' some childern to
comfort your declining years. What would Will and me have done without
you? I'm gettin' old, Eric, and I'd kind o' like to see how it feels to
be a grandmother, before they take me out to the
But that was a word Rudd could never frame even in his thoughts.
Eric, being a mighty good boy, listened to his mother, as always.
And Marthy looked everywhere for an ideal woman, and when she found
one, Eric fell in love with her right away. It is not every child that
is so dutiful as that.
The marriage is to take place shortly and Rudd is very busy with the
details. He will go on to Washington, of courseof evenings. In fact,
the wedding is to be in the evening, so that he won't have to miss any
time at the shop. There are so many people coming in every day and
asking for shoes, that he wouldn't dare be away.
Martha is insisting on Will's buying a dress soot for the
festivities, but he is in doubt about that. Martha, though, shall have
the finest dress in the land, for she is more beautiful even than
Eric's bride, and she doesn't look a day older than she did when she
was a bride herself. A body would never guess how many years ago that
The White House is going to be all lit up, and a lot of big folks
will be therea couple of kings, like as not. There will be fried
chicken for dinner and ice-creammixed, maybe, chocolate and vanella,
and p'raps a streak of strawb'ry. And there will be enough so's
everybody can have two plates. Marthy will prob'ly bake the cake
herself, if she can get that old White House stove to working right.
Rudd has a great surprise in store for her. He's going to tell a
good one on Marthy. At just the proper moment he's going to lean
overLord, he hopes he can keep his face straightand say, kind of
Do you remember, Marthy, the time when you was makin' little
baby-clothes for the President of the United States here, and you says
to meyou see, Eric, she'd made me quit smokin', herself, but she
plumb forgot all about thatand she says to me, s'she, 'Why don't you
smoke your pipe any more, Will?' she says. And I says, 'I'd kind o' got
out of the habit, Marthy,' s'I, 'but I guess I'll git back in,' s'I. I
said it right off like that, 'I guess I'll git back in!' s'I. Remember,
THE HAPPIEST MAN IN IOWAY
Jes' down the road a piece, 'ith dust so deep
It teched the bay mare's fetlocks, an' the sun
So b'ilin' hot, the peewees dassn't peep,
Seemed like midsummer 'fore the spring's begun!
An' me plumb beat an' good-for-nothin'-like
An' awful lonedsome fer a sight o' you ...
I come to that big locus' by the pike,
An' she was all in bloom, an' trembly, too,
With breezes like drug-store perfumery.
I stood up in my sturrups, with my head
So deep in flowers they almost smothered me.
I kind o' liked to think that I was dead ...
An' if I hed 'a' died like that to-day,
I'd 'a' b'en the happiest man in Ioway.
For what's the use't o' goin' on like this?
Your pa not 'lowin' me around the place ...
Well, fust I knowed, I'd give' them blooms a kiss;
They tasted like Good-Night on your white face.
I reached my arms out wide, an' hugged 'emsay,
I dreamp' your little heart was hammerin' me!
I broke this branch off for a love-bo'quet;
'F I'd b'en a giant, I'd 'a' plucked the tree!
The blooms is kind o' dusty from the road,
But you won't mind. So, as the feller said,
When this you see remember meI knowed
Another poem; but I've lost my head
From seein' you! 'Bout all that I kin say
IsI'm the happiest man in Ioway.
Well, comin' 'long the road I seen your ma
Drive by to townshe didn't speak to me!
An' in the farthest field I seen your pa
At his spring-plowin', like I'd ought to be.
But, knowin' you'd be here all by yourself,
I hed to come; for now's our livin' chance!
Take off yer apern, leave things on the shelf
Our preacher needs what th' feller calls romance.
'Ain't got no red-wheeled buggy; but the mare
Will carry double, like we've trained her to.
Jes' put a locus'-blossom in your hair
An' let's ride straight to heavenme an' you!
I'll build y' a little house, an' folks'll say:
There lives the happiest pair in Ioway.
God leaned forward in His throne and bent His all-seeing gaze upon
one of the least of the countless suns. A few tiny planets spun slowly
about it like dead leaves around a deserted camp-fire.
Almost the smallest of these planets had named itself the Earth. The
glow of the central cinder brightened one side and they called that
Day. And where the shadow was was Night.
The creeping glimmer of Day woke, as it passed, a jangle in shops
and factories, a racket and hurry of traffic, war and business, which
the coming of the gloom hushed in its turn. As God's eyes pierced the
shadow they found, between the dotted lines of street-lamps and under
the roofs where the windows glimmeredrevelry or solemnity. In denser
shadows there was a murmur of the voices of lovers and of families at
peace or at war.
The All-hearing heard no chaos in this discord, but knew each
instrument and understood each melody, concord, and clash. Loudest of
all were the silences or the faint whimperings of those who knelt by
their beds and bent their brows toward their own bosoms, communing with
the various selves that they interpreted as the one God. He knew who
prayed for what, and He answered each in His own wisdom, knowing that
He would seem to have answered none and knowing why.
Among the multitudinous prayers one group arrived at His throne from
separate places, but linked together by their contradictions. He heard
the limping effort to be formal as before a king or a court of justice.
He heard the anxious fear break through the petition; He heard the
selfish eagerness trembling in the pious phrases of altruism. He
I. A MAN'S VOICE
Our Father which art in heaven let me come back to Thy kingdom.
Bless my wife Edith and our little Marjorie and give them to me again.
I am not worthy of them; I have sinned against them and against Thee. I
have been drunken, adulterous, heartless, but from this night I will be
good again. I will try with all my soul, and with Thy help I will
succeed. Teach me to be strong. Forgive me my trespasses and help Edith
to forgive them. Make my wife beautiful in my sight and make all those
other beautiful faces ugly in my eyes so that I shall see only Edith as
I used to.
Grant me freedom from the wicked woman who will not let me go; don't
let Rose carry out her threats; don't let her wreck my home; make her
understand that I am doing my duty; make her love some one else; make
her forget me. How can I be true to my sin and true to Thee! Help me
out of these depths, O Lord, that I may walk in the narrow path and
To-morrow I am going back to my wife and my child with words of love
and humility on my lips.
Give me back my home again, O God. Amen.
II. A WOMAN'S VOICE
Let me come to Thee again, dear Father, and do not reject my prayer.
Forgive me for what I shall do to-night. Take care of my little
Marjorie and save her from the temptations that have overwhelmed me.
Thou alone knowest how hard I have tried to live without love, how long
I have waited for John to come back to me. Thou only hast seen me
struggling against the long loneliness. Thou alone canst forgive, for
Thou hast seen me refuse to be tempted with love. Thou hast heard my
cries in the long, long nights. Thou knowest that I have been true to
my husband who was not true to me. Thou hast seen me put away the
happiness that Frank has offered me and asked of me. And now if I can
endure no longer, if I give myself to him, more for his sake than mine,
let me bear the punishment, not Frank; let me bear even the punishment
John has earned. I am what Thou hast made me, Lord. If it be Thy
pleasure that I shall burn in the fires forever, then let Thy will be
done; for I can live no longer without Frank. Thou mayest refuse to
hear my prayers, but I cannot refuse to hear his. Forgive me if I leave
my beloved child alone. She is safer with Thee than with me. Perhaps
her father will be good to her now. Perhaps he will turn back to her if
I am away. And help me through the coming years to be true to Frank. He
needs me, he loves me, he is braving the wrath of the world and of
heaven for my sake.
Help us, Lord, to find in our new life the peace and the virtue that
was not in the old and bless and guard my motherless little Marjorie, O
God, and save her from the fate that overwhelmed her mother for her
father's fault. I am leaving her asleep here in Thy charge, O God. When
she wakes in the morning let Thy angels comfort her and dry her tears.
Let me not hear her crying for me, or I shall kill myself. I cannot
bear everything. I have endured more than my strength can endure. Help
me, O Lord, and forgive me for my sinif sin it is. Amen.
III. A MAN'S VOICE
God, if You are in heaven, hear me and help me. I have not prayed
for many years. My voice is strange to You. My prayer may offend You,
but it rushes from my heart.
I am about to do what the world calls hideous crimeto steal
another man's wife and carry her to another country where we may have
peace. I loved Edith before her husband loved her. I love her better
than John ever loved her. I can't stand it. I can't stand it any longer
to see her deserted in her beauty, and despised and weeping in
loneliness, wasting her love on a dog who squandered his heart on a
vile woman. I can't go on watching her die in a living hell. I have
sold all my goods and gotten all I could save into my safe so that we
may sever all ties with this heartless love. If what we are about to do
offends Thee, then let me suffer for her. She has suffered enough,
And keep her husband from following us, lest I kill him. Keep her
from mourning too much for her childhis child. Give her a little
happiness, O God. Take bitter toll from my heart afterward, but give us
a little happiness now. Grant us escape to-night and safety and a
little happiness for her. And then I shall believe in Thee again and
live honorably in Thy sight. Amen.
IV. A WOMAN'S VOICE
Dear God in heaven, what shall I do? He has abandoned me, John has
turned against me at last. Has denounced me as wicked, and hateful, has
accused me of wrecking his life and breaking his wife's heartas if
she had a heart, as if I had not saved him from despair, as if I had
not sacrificed my name, my hopes, on earth and in heaven to make him
O God, why hast Thou persecuted me so fiercely always? What made You
hate me so? Why didn't You give me a decent home as a child? Why did
You throw me into the snares of those vile men? Why did You make me
beautiful and weak and trusting? Why didn't You make me ugly and
suspicious and hateful so that I could be good?
And now, now that I am no longer a girl, now that the wrinkles are
coming, and the fat and the dullness, why didst Thou throw me into the
way of this man who promised to love me forever, who promised me and
praised me and called me his real wife, only to tire of me and tear my
hands away and go back to her?
But don't let him have her, don't let him be happy with her, while I
grovel here in shame! I can't bear the thought of that, I can't imagine
him in her arms telling her how good she is and how bad I was. I'd
rather kill them both. Isn't that best, O Lordto kill them bothto
kill her, anyway? Then I can kill myself and he will be sorry. Don't
let him have both of us, O God. Am I going mad, or do I hear Thy voice
telling me to act? Yes, it is Thy voice. Thou hast answered. I will do
as Thou dost command. Perhaps he is going there to-night. I will go to
the house and wait in the shadow and when he comes to the door and she
comes to meet him I will shoot her and myself, and then he shall be
punished as he should be.
I thank Thee, God, for showing me the way. Guide my arm and my heart
and don't let me be afraid to die or to make her die. Forgive my sins
and take me into Thy peace, O God, for I am tired of life and the
wickedness of the world. Amen. Amen.
V. A CHILD'S VOICE
Our Father which art in he'v'm, hallowed be Dy name. Dy king'm come.
Dy will be done in earf as it is in he'v'm. Give us dis day our daily
bread and forgive an'an' forgive Marjorie for bein' a bad chile an'
getting so s'eepy, and b'ess papa an' b'ing him home to mamma an'an'
trespasses astres-passes 'gainst us. King'm, power, and glory
VI. AN OLD WOMAN'S VOICE
and give my poor Edith strength and let her find happiness again
in the return of her husband. Let her forget his wrongs and forgive
them and live happily in her old age as I have done with my husband. I
thank Thee for helping me through those cruel years. Thou alone couldst
have helped me and now all would be happiness if only Edith had
happiness, but for the mercies Thou hast vouchsafed make me grateful.
VII. AN OLD WOMAN'S VOICE
and help my poor Rose to be a good girl to her old mother and keep
her out of trouble and make her send me some more money, for I'm so
sick and tired and the rent's comin' due and I need a warm coat for the
winter, and I've had a hard life and many's the curse You've put upon
me, but I'm doing my best and I'm all wore out.
VIII. A MAN'S VOICE
Fergimme, O Gawd, if it makes Thou mad fer to be prayed to by a
sneakin' boiglar, but help me t'roo dis one job and I'll go straight
from now on, so help me. Don't let dis guy find me crackin' his safe,
so's I won't have to kill 'im. Help me make a clean getaway and I'll
toin over a noo leaf, I will. I'll send money to me mudder, and I'll go
to choich reg'lar and I'll never do nuttin' crooked again. On'y dis one
time, O Gawd.
* * * * *
God closed His eyes and smiled the sorrowful smile of the
All-knowing, the All-pitying, the Unknown, the Unpitied, and He said to
Him who sat at His side:
They call these Prayers! They will wonder why I have not finished
the tasks they set Me nor accepted the bribes they offered. And
to-morrow they will rebuke Me as a faithless, indolent servant who has
How much more bitter, dearly beloved, are the anguishes of the soul
than any mere bodily distress! When the heart under conviction of sin
for the violation of one of God's laws writhes and cries aloud in
repentance and remorse, then, ah, then, is true suffering. What are the
fleeting torments of this tenement of clay, mere bone and flesh, to the
soul's despair? Nothing! Noth
The clergyman's emphatic fist did not thump the Scriptures the
second time. He checked it in air; for a woman stood up straight and
stared at him straight. Her thin mouth seemed to twist with a sneer. He
thought he read on her lips words not quite uttered. He read:
You fool! You fool!
Then Miss Straley sidled from the family pew to the aisle and
marched up it and out of the church.
Doctor Crosson was shocked doubly. The woman's action was an outrage
upon the holy composure of the Sabbath, and it would remind everybody
that he was an old lover of Irene Straley's.
The neatly arranged congregational skulls were disordered now, some
still tilted forward in sleep, some tilted back to see what the pastor
would do, some craned round to observe the departer, some turned inward
in whispering couples.
Such a thing had never happened before in all the parsoning of
Doctor Crossonthe D.D. had been conferred on him by the small
theological institute where he had imbibed enough dogmas in two years
to last him a lifetime.
Some of his dogmas were so out of fashion that he felt them a trifle
shabby even for village wear. He had laid aside the old red hell-fire
dogma for a new one of hell-as-a-state-of-mind. He was expounding that
doctrine this morning again. He had never heard any complaint of it.
But his mind was so far from his memory that he hardly knew what he had
just uttered. He wondered what he could have said to offend Miss
But he must not stand there gaping and wondering before his gaping
and wondering congregation. He must push on to his lastly's. His
mind retraced his words, and he repeated:
What are the fleeting torments of this tenement of clay, mere bone
and flesh, to the soul's despair? Nothing! As I said beforenothing!
And then he understood why Irene Straley had walked out. The
realization deranged him so that only the police-force every one has
among his faculties coerced him into going on with his sermon.
It was a good sermon. It was his own, too; for at last he had paid
the final instalment on the clergyman's library which contained a
thousand sermons as aids to overworked, underinspired evangelists. He
had built this discourse from well-seasoned timbers. He had used it in
two pulpits where he had visited, and now he was giving it to his own
flock. He knew it well enough to trust his oratorical machinery with
its delivery, while the rest of his mind meditated other things.
Often, while preaching, a portion of his brain would be watching the
effect on his congregation, another watching the clock, another
thinking of dinner, another musing over the scandals he knew in the
lives of the parishioners.
But now all his by-thoughts were scattered at the abrupt deed of
Irene Straley. She was the traffic of his other brains now, while his
lips went on enouncing the phrases of his discourse and his fists
thudded the Bible for emphasis. He was remembering his boyhood and his
infatuation for Irene Straley. That was before he was sure of his call
to the ministry. If he had married her, he might not have heard the
Doctor Crosson hoped that he was not regretting that sacrament!
Sweat came out on his brow as he understood the blasphemy of noting
(even here on the rostrum with his mouth pouring forth sacred
eloquence) that Irene Straley as she marched out of the church was
still slender and flexile, virginal. Doctor Crosson mopped his brow at
the atrocity of his thoughts this morning. The springtime air was to
blame. The windows were open for the first time. The breeze that lolled
through the church had no right there. It was irreverent and frivolous.
It was amused at the people. It rippled with laughter at the preacher's
heavy effort to start a jealousy between the pangs of the flesh and the
pangs of the soul.
It brought into church a savor of green rushes growing in the warm,
wet thickets where Doctor Crossononce Eddie Crossonhad loved to go
hunting squirrels and rabbits, and wild duck in season. Those were
years of depravity, but they were entrancing in memory. He felt a
Satanic whisper: Order these old fogies out into the fields and let
them worship there. It is May, you fool!
You fool! That was what Irene Straley had seemed to whisper. Only,
the breeze made a soft, sweet coo of the word that had been so bitter
on her lips.
Across the square of a window near the pulpit a venerable
locust-tree brandished a bough dripping with blossoms. Countless little
censers of white spice swung frankincense and myrrh for pagan nostrils.
There was a beckoning in the locust bough, and in the air an
incantation that made a folly of sermons and souls and old maids'
resentments and gossips' queries. The preacher fought on, another Saint
Anthony in a cloud of witches.
He could hear himself intoning the long sermon with the familiar
pulpiteering rhythms and the final upsnap of the last syllable of each
sentence. He could see that the congregation was already drowsily
forgetful of Irene Straley's absence. But, to save his soul, he could
not keep his mind from following her out into the leafy streets and on
into the past where she had been the prize he and young Drury Boldin
had contended fora past in which he had never dreamed that his future
was a pulpit in his home town.
He was the manlier of the two, for Drury was a delicate boy, too
sensitive for the approval of his Spartan fellows. They made fun of his
gentleness. He hated to wreathe a fishing-worm on a hook! He loathed to
wrench a hook from a fish's gullet! The nearest he had ever come to
fighting was in defense of a thousand-legged worm that one of the boys
had stuck a pin through, to watch it writhe and bite itself behind the
Irene Straley was a sentimental girl. That was right in a girl, but
silly in a boy.
Once when Eddie Crosson stubbed his toe and it swelled up to great
importance, Irene Straley wept when she saw it, while Drury Boldin
turned pale and sat down hard. Once when Drury cut his thumb with a
penknife he fainted at the sight of his own blood!
Eddie Crosson was a real boy. He smoked cubeb cigarettes with an
almost unprecedented precocity. He nearly learned to chew tobacco. He
could snap a sparrow off a telegraph-wire with a nigger-shooter almost
infallibly. He had the first air-gun in town and a shot-gun at fifteen.
He thought that he was manlier than Drury because he was wiser and
stronger. It never occurred to him that Drury might suffer more because
he was more finely built, that his nerves were harp-strings while
Crosson's were fence-wire.
So Crosson called Drury a milksop because he would not go hunting.
He called himself one of the sons of Nimrod.
For a time he gained prestige with Irene Straley, especially as he
gave her bright feathers now and then, an oriole's gilded mourning, or
a tanager's scarlet vesture.
One day Drury Boldin was at her porch when Ed came in from across
the river with a brace of duck.
You can have these for your dinner to-morrow, Reny, he said, as he
laid the limp, silky bodies on the porch floor.
Their bills and feet were grotesque, but there was something about
their throats, stretched out in waning iridescence, that asked for
Oh, much obliged! Irene cried. That's awful nice of you, Eddie.
Duck cook awful good.
And then her enthusiasm ebbed, for she caught the look of Drury
Boldin as he bent down and stroked the glossy mantle of the birds, not
with zest for their flavor, nor envy of the skill that had fetched them
from the sky, but with sorrow for their ended careers, for the miracle
gone out of their wings, and the strange fact that they had once
quawked and chirruped in the high air and on hidden watersand would
never fly or swim again. I wonder if they had souls, he mumbled.
Eddie Crosson winked at Irene. There was no use getting mad at
Drury. Eddie only laughed:
'Course not, you darn galoot!
How do you know? Drury asked.
Anybody knows that much, was Crosson's sufficient answer, and
Drury changed to another topic. He asked:
Did it hurt 'em much to die?
'Course not, Eddie answered, promptly. Not the way I got 'em.
They just stopped sailin' and dropped. I lost one, though. He was goin'
like sixty when I drew bead on him. Light wasn't any too good and I
just nipped one wing. You ought to seen him turning somersets, Reny. He
lit in a swampy spot, though, and I couldn't find him. I hunted for an
hour or more, but I couldn't find him and it was growin' dark, so I
Drury spoke up quickly: You didn't kill him?
I don't guess so. He was workin' mighty hard when he flopped.
Oh, that's terrible! Drury groaned. He must be layin' out there
now somewheressufferin'. Oh, that's terrible!
Aw, what's it your business? was Crosson's gruff comment. But
there was uneasiness in his tone, for Drury had set Irene to wringing
her hands nervously, and Crosson felt a trifle uncomfortable himself.
Twilight always made him susceptible to emotions that daylight blinded
him to, as to the stars. He remembered that boyhood emotion now in his
pulpit, and his shoulder-blades twitched; an icy finger seemed to have
written something on them. He was casting up his eyes and his hands in
a familiar gesture and quoting a familiar text:
'Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from
the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and
under his wings shalt thou trust.'
From the roof of the church he seemed to see that wounded wild duck
falling, turning in air, striking at the air frantically with his good
wing and feebly with the one that bled. Down he fell, struggling
somewhere among the pews.
A fantastic notion drifted into the preacher's mindthat Satan had
shot up a bullet from hell and it had lodged among the feathers of
Jehovah the protector, and He was falling and lost among that
congregation in which so often the preacher had failed to find God.
Doctor Crosson shook his head violently to fling away such
madnesses, and he propounded his next furthermore with added energy.
But he could not shake off the torment in the recollection of Drury
Boldin's nagging interest in that wild duck.
Drury insisted on knowing where the wild duck fell, and Crosson told
him that it was near where the crick emptied into the sluice, where
the cat-tails grew extra high.
He went on home to his supper, but the thought of the suffering bird
had seized his mind; it flopped and twisted at the roots of his
A few days later Drury met him and asked him again where the duck
I can't find it where you said, he said.
You ain't been lookin' for it, have you?
Yes, for days.
What'd you do if you found it? Crosson asked.
Kill it, Drury answered. It was a most unexpectable phrase from
That sounds funny, comin' from you, Crosson snickered. Then he
spoke gruffly to conceal his own misgivings. Aw, it's dead long ago.
I'd feel better if I was sure, said Drury.
Crosson called him a natural-born idiot, but the next day Crosson
himself was across the river, dragged by a queer mood. He took his
bearings from the spot where he had fired his shot-gun and then made
toward the place where the duck fell.
He stumbled about in slime and snarl for an hour in vain. Suddenly
he was startled by the sound of something floundering through the
reeds. He was afraid that it might be a wild animal, a traditional bear
or a big dog. But it was Drury Boldin. And Irene Straley was with him.
They were covered with mud. Crosson was jealous and suspicious and
indignant. They told him that they were looking for the hurt bird. He
was furious. He advised them to go along about their own business. It
was his bird.
Who gave it to you? Drury answered, with a battling look in his
The Lord and my shot-gun.
What right you got to go shootin' wild birds, anyway? Drury
Crosson was even then devoted to the Bible for its majestic music,
if for nothing else. He quoted the phrase about the dominion over the
fowls of the air given to man for his use.
Drury would not venture to contradict the Scriptures, and so he
turned away silenced. But he continued his search. And Irene followed
In sullen humor Crosson also searched, till he heard Drury cry out;
then he ran to see what he had found.
Irene and Drury were shrinking back from something that even the son
of Nimrod regarded with disquiet. The duck, one wing caked and
festered, and busy with ants and adrone with flies, was still alive
after all those many days.
Its flat bill was opening and shutting in hideous awkwardness, its
hunger-emaciated frame rising and falling with a kind of lurching
breath, and the film over its eyes drawing together and rolling back
At the sight of the three visitors to its death-chamber it made a
hopeless effort to lift itself again to the air of its security. It
could not even lift its head.
Drury fell to one knee before it, and a swarm of flies zooned
angrily away. He put out his hand, but he was afraid to touch, and he
only added panic to the bird's wretchedness.
He rose and backed away. The three stood off and stared. Crosson
felt the guilt of Cain, but when Irene moaned, What you goin' to do?
he shook his head. He could not finish his task.
It was Drury Boldin, weak-kneed and putty-faced, who went hunting
now. He had to look far before he found a heavy rock. He lugged it back
and said, Go on away, Reny.
She hurried to a distance, and even Crosson turned his head aside.
On the way home they were all three tired and sick, and Drury had to
stop every now and then to sit down and get strength into his knees.
But there was a sense of grim relief that helped them all, and the
bird, once safely dead, was rapidly forgotten. After that Crosson
seemed to lose his place in Irene's heart, and Drury won all that
Crosson lost, and more. Before long it was understood that Drury and
Irene had agreed to get married as soon as he could earn enough to keep
them. All four parents opposed the match; Irene's because Drury was no
'count, and Drury's for much the same reason.
Old Boldin allowed that Irene would be added to his family, for
meals and lodgin', if she married his son; and old Straley guessed that
it would be the other way round, and the Boldin boy would come over to
his house to live.
Also, Drury could get no work in Carthage. Eventually he went to
Chicago to try his luck there. Crosson seized the chance to try to get
back to Irene. One Sunday he took his shot-gun out in the wilderness
and brought down a duck whose throat had so rich a glimmer that he
believed it would delight Irene. He took it to her.
She was out in her garden, and she looked at his gift with eyes so
hurt by the pity of the bird's drooping neck that they were blind to
While Crosson stood in sheepish dismay, recognizing that Drury was
present still in his absence, the minister appeared at his elbow. It
was not the wrecked career of the fowl that shocked the pastor, but the
It seems to me, Eddie, he said, that it is high time you were
beginning to take life seriously. Come to church to-night and make up
for your ungodliness.
Crosson consented. It was a good way of making his escape from
Irene's haunted eyes.
The service that night had little influence on his heart, but a
month later a revivalist came into Carthage with a great fanfare of
attack on the hosts of Lucifer. This man was an emotionalist of
irresistible fire. He reasoned less than he sang. His voice was as
thrilling as a trombone, and his words did not matter. It was his tone
that made the heart resound like a smitten bell.
The revivalist struck unsuspected chords of emotion in Eddie Crosson
and made him weep! But he wept tears of a different sort from the
waters of grief. His unusual tears were a tribute to eloquence.
Sonorous words and noble thoughts thrilled Eddie Crosson then as ever
He had loved to speak pieces at school. Whether it were Spartacus
exhorting his brawny slaves to revolt, or Daniel Webster upholding the
Union now and forever, one and inseparable, he had felt an exaltation,
an exultation that enlarged him to the clouds. He loved the phrase more
than the meaning. What was well worded was well reasoned.
His passion for elocution had inclined him at first to be a lawyer,
but when he visited the county courthouse the attorneys he listened to
had such dull themes to expound that he felt no call to the law. What
glory was there in pleading for the honor of an old darky chicken-thief
when everybody knew at once that he was guilty of stealing the chickens
in question, or would have been if he had known of their accessibility?
What rapture was there in insisting that a case in an Alabama court
eight years before furnished an exact precedent in the matter of a
mechanic's lien in Carthage?
So Crosson chilled toward the legal profession. His father urged him
to come into the Crosson hardware emporium, but Eddie hated the silent
trades. The revivalist decided him, and he began to make his heart
ready for the clerical life. His father opposed him heathenishly and
would not pay for his seminary course.
For several months Crosson waited about, becalmed in the doldrums.
There was little to interest him in town except a helpless espionage on
Irene's loyalty to Drury Boldin. Her troth defied both time and space.
She went every day to the post-office to mail a heavy letter and to
receive the heavy letter she was sure to find there.
She became a sort of tender joke at the post-office, and on the
street as well, for she always read her daily letter on the way home.
She would be so absorbed in the petty chronicles of Drury's life that
she would stroll into people and bump into trees, or fetch up short
against a fence. She sprained her ankle once walking off the walk. And
once she marched plump into the parson's horrified bosom.
Crosson often stood in ambush so that she would run into him. She
was very soft and delicate, and she usually had flowers pinned at her
Crosson would grin as she stumbled against him; then the lovelorn
girl would stare up at him through the haze of the distance her letter
had carried her to, and stammer excuses and fall back and blush, and
glide round him on her way. Crosson would laugh aloud, bravely, but
afterward he would turn and stare at her solemnly enough when she
resumed her letter and strolled on in the rosy cloud of her communion
with her far-off fellow.
One day Crosson had to run after her, because when she thought she
was turning into her own yard her absent mind led her to unlatch the
gate to a pasture where a muley cow with a scandalous temper was
waiting for her with swaying head.
Irene laughed at her escape, with an unusual mirth for her. She
explained it by seizing Crosson's sleeve and exclaiming:
Oh, Eddie, such good news from Drury you never heard! He's got a
position with a jewelry-store, the biggest in Chicago. And they put him
in the designing department at ten dollars a week, and they say he's
got a future. Isn't it simply glorious?
She held Crosson while she read the young man's hallelujahs. They
sounded to Crosson like a funeral address.
Irene's mother was even prouder of Drury's success than the daughter
was. She bragged now of the wedding she had dreaded before. Finally
Irene proclaimed the glorious truth that Drury's salary had been
boosted again and they would wait no longer for wealth. He was awful
busy, and so he'd just run down for a couple of days and marry her and
run back with her to Chicago and jewelry. This arrangement ended
Irene's mother's dreams of a fine wedding and relieved the townspeople
of the expense of wedding-presents.
The sudden announcement of the wedding shocked Crosson. He endured a
jealousy whose intensity surprised him in retrospect. He endured a good
deal of humor, too, from village cut-ups, who teased him because his
best girl was marrying the other fellow.
Crosson felt a need of solitude and a fierce desire to kill
something. He got his abandoned gun and went hunting to wear out his
wrath. He wore himself out, at least. He shot savagely at all sorts of
life. He followed one flitting, sarcastic blue-jay with a voice like a
village cut-up, all the way home without getting near enough to shoot.
He came down the long hill with the sunset, bragging to himself that
he was reconciled to Irene's marriage with anybody she'd a mind to.
He could see her from a distance, sitting on the porch alone. She
was all dressed up and rocking impatiently. Evidently the train was
late again, as always. From where he was, Crosson could see the track
winding around the hills like a little metal brook. The smoke of the
engine was not yet pluming along the horizon. The train could not
arrive for some minutes yet.
To prove his freedom from rancor and his emancipation from love, but
really because he could not resist the chance to have a last word with
Irene, he went across lots to her father's back yard and came round to
the porch. He forgot to draw the shells from his gun.
In the sunset, with his weapon a-shoulder, he must have looked a bit
wild, for Irene jumped when he spoke to her. He sought an excuse for
his visit and put at her feet the game he had baggeda squirrel, a
rabbit, and a few birdsthe last he ever shot.
The moment the dead things were there he regretted the impulse. He
was reminded of his previous quarry and its ill success. Irene was
reminded, too, for she thanked him timidly and asked if he had left any
wounded birds in the field. He laughed No with a poor grace.
She said: I'd better get these out of sight before Drury comes. He
doesn't like to see such things.
She lifted them distastefully and went into the house. She came out
almost at once, for she heard a train. But it was not the passenger
swooping south; it was the freight trudging north. There was only a
single track then, and no block system of signals.
Irene no sooner recognized the lumbering, jostling drove of
cattle-cars and flats going by than she gasped:
That freight ought not to be on that tracknow!
She was frozen with dread. Crosson understood, too. Then from the
distance came the whistle of the express, the long hurrah of its
approach to the station. The freight engineer answered it with short,
sharp blasts of his whistle. He kept jabbing the air with its noise.
There was the grind of the brakes on the wheels. The cars tried to
stop, like a mob, but the rear cars bunted the front cars forward
irresistibly. The cattle aboard lowed and bellowed. The brakemen,
quaint silhouettes against the red sky, ran along the tops of the
box-cars, twisting the brake-wheels.
Irene stumbled down the steps and dashed across the pastures toward
the jutting hill that she had so often seen the express sweep round.
They came to a fence. She could not climb, she was trembling so.
Crosson had to help her over. She ran on, and as he sprawled after, he
nearly discharged the gun.
He brought it along by habit as he followed Irene, who ran and ran,
waving her arms as if she would stop the express with her naked hands.
But long before they reached the tracks the express roared round the
headland and plunged into the freight. The two locomotives met and rose
up and wrestled like two black bears, and fell over. The cars were
scattered and jumbled like a baby's train. They were all of
woodheated by soft-coal stoves and lighted by coal-oil lamps.
The wreck was the usual horror, the usual chaos of wanton
destruction and mysterious escape. The engineers stuck to their engines
and were involved in their ruin somewhere. The passenger-train was
crowded, and destruction showed no favoritism: old men, women,
children, sheep, horses, cows, were maimed, or killed, or left
Some of those who were uninjured ran away. Some stood weeping. Some
of the wounded began at once to rescue others. Crosson stood gaping at
the spectacle, but Irene went into the wreckage, pawing and peering
like a terrier.
She could not find what she was looking for. She would bend and
stare into a face glaring under the timbers and maundering for help,
then pass on. She would turn over a twisted frame and let it roll back.
She was not a sister of charity; she was Drury Boldin's helpmeet.
She kept calling his name, DruryDruryDrury! Crosson watched
her as she poised to listen for the answer that did not come. He gaped
at her in stupid fascination till a brakeman shook him and ordered him
to lend a hand. He rested his gun against a pile of ties and bowed his
shoulder to the hoisting of a beam overhanging a woman and a suckling
The helpers dislodged other beams and finished the lives they had
meant to save.
There were no physicians on the train. But a doctor or two from the
town came out and the others were sent for. A telegram was sent to
summon a relief-train, but it could not arrive for hours.
The doctors began at the beginning, but they could do little. Their
own lives were in constant danger from tumbling wreckage, for the
rescuers were playing a game of tragic jackstraws. The least mistake
brought down disaster.
As he worked, Crosson could hear Irene calling, calling, Drury,
He left his task to follow her, his jealousy turned into a wild
sorrow for her.
At last he heard in her cry of Drury! a note that meant she had
found him. But such a welcome as it was for a bride to give! And such a
The car Drury was in had turned a somersault and cracked open across
another. Its inverted wheels on their trucks had made a bower of steel
about the bridegroom. The flames from the stove and from the oil-lamps
were blooming like hell-flowers everywhere. And the wind that fanned
the blazes was blowing clouds of scalding steam from the crumpled
boilers of the two engines.
Crosson ran to Irene's side. She was trying to clamber through a
trellis of iron and splintered wood. She was stretching her hand out to
Drury, where he lay unconscious, deep in the clutter. Crosson dragged
her away from a flame that swung toward her. She struck his hand aside
and thrust her body into the danger again.
Crosson, finding no water, began to shovel loose earth on the blaze
with a sharp plank from the side of a car. Finding that she could not
reach her lover, Irene turned and begged Crosson to run for help and
for the doctors.
He ran, but the doctors refused to leave the work they had in hand,
and the other men growled:
Everybody's got to take their turn.
Crosson ran back to Irene with the news. Drury had just emerged from
the merciful swoon of shock to the frenzies of his splintered bones,
lacerated flesh and blistered skin, and the threat of his infernal
The last exquisite fiendishness was the sight of his sweetheart as
witness to his agony, her face lighted up by the flames that were
ravening toward him, her hands hungering toward him, just beyond the
stretch of his one free arm.
Crosson heard the lovers murmur to each other across that little
abyss. He flung himself against the barriers like a madman. But his
hands were futile against the tangle of joists and hot steel.
Irene saw him working alone and asked him where the others were, and
They wouldn't come! Crosson groaned, ashamed of their ugly sense
The girl's face took on a look of grim ferocity. She said to
Your gunwhere is it?
He pointed to where he had left it. It had fallen to the ground.
She ran and seized it up, and holding it awkwardly but with menace,
advanced on a doctor who toiled with sleeves rolled high, and face and
beard and arms blotched with red grime.
She thrust the muzzle into his chest and spoke hoarsely:
Doctor Lane, you come with me.
I'm busy here, he growled, pushing the gun aside, hardly knowing
what it was.
She jammed it against his heart again and cried, Come with me or
I'll kill you!
He followed her, wondering rather than fearing, and she swept a
group of men with the weapon, and commanded, You men come, too. She
marched them to the spot where Drury was concealed, and pointed to him
and snarled, Get him out!
The men tested their strength here and there without promise of
success. One group started a heap of wheels to slewing downward and
Crosson shouted to them to stop. An inch more, and they would have
buried Drury from sight or hope.
One man wormed through somehow and caught Drury by the hand, but the
first tug brought from him such a wail of anguish that the man fell
back. He could not budge the body clamped with steel. He could only
wrench it. So he came away.
There's nothing for me to do, Reny, the doctor faltered, and,
choked with pity for her and her lover and the helplessness of mankind,
he turned away, and she let him go. The gun fell to the ground.
The other men left the place. One of them said that the
wrecking-crew would be along with a derrick in a few hours.
A few hours! Irene whimpered.
She leaned against the lattice that kept her from the bridegroom and
tried to tell him to be brave. But he had heard his sentence, and with
his last hope went what little courage he had ever had.
He began to plead and protest and weep. He gave voice to all the
voices of pain, the myriad voices from every tormented particle of him.
Irene knelt down and twisted through the crevice to where she could
hold his hand. But he snatched it away, babbling: Don't touch me!
Don't touch me!
Crosson stayed near, dreading lest Irene's skirts should catch fire.
Twice he beat them out with his hands. She had not noticed that they
were aflame. She was murmuring love-words of odious vanity to one who
almost forgot her existence, centered in the glowing sphere of his own
Drury rolled and panted and gibbered, cursed even, with lips more
used to gentle words and prayers. He prayed, too, but with sacrilege:
O Lord, spare me this. O God, have a little mercy. Send rain, send
help, lift this mountain from me just till I can breathe. O God, if You
have any mercy in Your heartbut no, nono, no, You let Your own Son
hang on the cross, didn't You? He asked You why You had deserted Him,
and You didn't answer, did You?
Crosson looked up to see a thunderbolt split the dark sky, but the
stars were agleam now, twinkling about the moon's serenity.
Irene put her fingers across Drury's lips to hush his blasphemy. She
tore her face with her nails, and tried for his sake to stifle the sobs
that smote through her.
By and by Drury's voice grew hoarse, and he whispered. She bent
close and heard. She called to Crosson:
Run get the doctor to give him somethingsome morphine or
somethingquick. Every second is agony for my poor boy.
Crosson ran to the doctor. He stood among writhing bodies and shook
his head dismally. He was saying as Crosson came up:
I'm sorry, I'm awful sorry, folks, but the last grain of morphine
is gone. The drug-stores haven't got any more. We've telegraphed to the
next town. You'll just have to stand it.
Crosson went back slowly with that heavy burden of news. He
whispered it to Irene, but Drury heard him, and a shriek of despair
went from him like a flash of fire. New blazes sprang up with an impish
merriment. Crosson, fearing for Irene's safety, fought at them with
earth and with water that boys fetched from distances, and at last
extinguished the immediate fire.
The bystanders worked elsewhere, but Crosson lingered to protect
Irene. In the dark he could hear Drury whispering something to her.
He pleaded, wheedled, kissed her hand, mumbled it like a dog,
reasoned with her insanely, while she trembled all over, a shivering
leaf on a blown twig.
Crosson could hear occasional phrases: If you love me, you willif
you love me, Reny. What do you want me to suffer for, honey? You don't
want me just to sufferjust to suffer, do youyou don't, do you? Reny
honey, Reny? You say you love me, and you won't do the thing that will
help me. You don't love me. That's it, you don't really love me!
She turned to Crosson at last and moaned: He wants me to kill him!
What can I do? Oh, what is there to do?
Crosson could not bear to look in her eyes. He could not bear the
sound of Drury's voice. He could not even debate that problem. He was
cravenly glad when somebody's hand seized him and a rough voice called
him away to other toil. He slunk off.
There were miseries enough wherever he went, but they were the
miseries of strangers. He could not forget Irene and the riddle of duty
that was hers. He avoided the spot where she was closeted with grief,
and worked remote in the glimmer from bonfires lighted in the fields
The fire in the wreck was out now, save that here and there little
blazes appeared, only to be quenched at once. But smoldering timbers
crackled like rifle-shots, and there were thunderous slidings of
Irene's mother and father had stood off at a distance for a long
time, but at length they missed Irene and came over to question
Crosson. He knew that Irene would not wish them present at such
obsequies, and he told them she had gone home.
After a time, curiosity nagged him into approaching her
hiding-place. He listened, and there was no sound. He peered in and
dimly descried Drury. He was not moving; he might have been asleep.
Irene might have been asleep, too, for she lay huddled up in what space
Crosson knelt down and crawled in. She was unconscious. He touched
Drury with a dreading hand, which drew quickly back as from a contact
A kind of panic seized Crosson. He backed out quickly and dragged
Irene away with him in awkward desperation.
As her body came forth, his gun came too. He thought it had lain
outside. He caught it and broke it at the breech, ejecting the two
shells; one of them was empty. He threw it into the wreck and pocketed
the other shell and tossed the gun under a stack of wreckage.
He was trying to revive Irene when her father and mother came back
anxiously to say that she was not at home. Her mother dropped down at
Crosson left Irene with her own people. He did not want to see her
or hear her when she came back to this miserable world. He did not want
her even to know what he knew.
Crosson had tried afterward to forget. It had been hard at first,
but in time he had forgotten. He had gone to a theological school and
learned to chide people for their complaints and to administer
well-phrased anodynes. During his vacations he had avoided Irene. When
he had been graduated he had been first pulpited in a far-off city.
Years afterward he had been invited to supply an empty pulpit in his
home town. He had not succeeded with life. He lacked the flame or the
luck or the tactsomething. He had come back to the place he started
from. He had renewed old acquaintances, laughed over the ancient jokes,
and said he was sorry for those who had had misfortune. When he met
Irene Straley he hardly recalled his love, except to smile at it as a
boyish whim. He had forgotten the pangs of that as one forgets almost
all his yester aches. He had forgotten the pains he had seen others
suffer, even more easily than he forgot his own.
To-day his sermon on the triviality of bodily discomfort had flung
Irene Straley back into the caldron of that old torment. She had made
that silent protest against the iniquitous cruelty of his preachment.
She had dragged him backward into the living presence of his past.
She had not forgotten. She had been faithful to Drury Boldin while
he was working in a distant city. She was faithful to him still in that
Farthest Country. She had the genius of remembrance.
These were Doctor Crosson's ulterior thoughts while he harangued his
flock visibly and audibly. His thoughts had not needed the time their
telling requires. They gave him back his scenes in pictures, not in
words; in heartaches and heartbreaks and terrors and longings, not in
limping syllables that mock the vision with their ineptitude.
He felt anew what he had felt and seen, and he could not give any
verve to the peroration of his sermon. He could not even change it. It
had been effective when he had preached it previously. But now he
parroted with unconscious irony the phrases he had once so admired. He
came to the last word.
And so, to repeat: How much more bitter, dearly beloved, are the
anguishes of the soul than any mere bodily distress! What are the
fleeting torments of this tenement of clay, mere bone and flesh, to the
soul's despair? Nothing, nothing.
His congregation felt a lack of warmth in his tone. His hand fell
limply on the Bible and the sermon was done. The only stir was one of
relief at its conclusion.
He gave out the final hymn, and he sat through it while the people
dragged it to the end. He gave forth the benediction in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and he made short
work of the dawdlers who waited to exchange stupidities with him. He
took refuge from his congregation in his study, locked the door, and
gave himself up to meditation.
Somehow pain had suddenly come to mean more to him than it had yet
meant. He had known it, groaned under it, lived it down, and let it go.
He had felt sorry for other people and got rid of their woes as best as
he could with the trite expressions in use, and had forgotten whether
they were hushed by health or by death.
And so he had let the old-fashioned hell go by with other dogmas out
of style. He had fashioned a new Hades to frighten people with, that
they might not find sin too attractive and imperilous.
Now he was suddenly convinced that if there must be hell, it must be
such as Dante set to rhyme and the old hard-shell preachers preached: a
region where flames sear and demons pluck at the frantic nerves,
playing upon them fiendish tunes.
Yet he could not reconcile that hell with the God that made the
lilac-bush whose purple clusters shook perfume and little flowers
against his window-sill, while the old locust in rivalry bent down and
flaunted against the lilacs its pendants of ivory grace and heavenly
Against that torment of beauty came glimpses of Drury and Irene in
the lurid cavern under the wreck. Beyond those delicate blossoms he
imagined the battle-fields of Europe and the ruined vessels where hurt
souls writhed in multitudes.
He could not be satisfied with any theory of the world. He could not
find that pain was punishment here, or see how it could follow the soul
after the soul had left behind it the fleshly instrument of torture.
The why of it escaped his reason utterly; for Drury had been good, and
he had come upon an honorable errand when he fell into the pit.
Doctor Crosson stood at his window and begged the placid sky for
information. He looked through the lilacs and the locusts and all the
green wilderness where beauty beat and throbbed like a heart in bliss.
It was the Sabbath, and he was not sure. But he was sure of a melting
tenderness in his heart for Irene Straley, and he felt that her power
to feel sorry for her loversorry enough to defy all the laws in his
behalfwas a wonderful power. He longed for her sympathy.
By and by he began to feel a pain, the pain of Drury Boldin. He was
glad. He groaned. I hurt! I hope that I may hurt terribly.
Suddenly it seemed that he actually was Drury Boldin in the throes
of every fierce and spasmic thrill. Again he most vividly was Irene
Straley watching her lover till she could not endure his torture or her
own, and with one desperate challenge sent him back to the mystery
whence he came.
Doctor Crosson, when he came back to himself, could not solve that
mystery or any mystery. He knew one reality, that it hurts to be alive;
that everybody is always hurting, and that human heart must help human
heart as best it can. Pain is the one inescapable fact; the rest is
theory.... He prayed with a deeper fervor than he had ever known:
God give me pain, that I may understand, that I may understand!
THE BEAUTY AND THE FOOL
There was once a beautiful woman, and she lived in a small town,
though people said that she belonged rather in a great city, where her
gifts would bring her glory, riches, and a brilliant marriage. In
repose, she was superb; in motion, quite perfectly beautiful of form
and carriage, with all the suave rhythms of a beautiful being.
Her beauty was her sole opulence; the boast of her friends; the
confession of her enemies; the magnet of many lovers; the village's one
statue. She had an ordinary heart, quite commonplace brains, but beauty
that lined the pathway where she walked with eyes of admiration and
In her town, among her suitors, was one that was a Foolnot a
remarkable fool; a simple, commonplace fool of the sort that abounds
even in villages. He was foolish enough to love the Beauty so
completely that when he made sure that she would not love him he could
not endure to remain in the village, but went far away in the West to
get the torment of her beauty out of his sight. The other suitors, who
were wiser than he, when they found that she was not for them, gave her
up with mild regret as one gives up a fabulous dream, saying: There
was no hope for us, anyway. If the Fool had stayed at home he would
have been saved from the sight of her, for she is going East, where
there are great fortunes for the very beautiful.
And this she made ready to do, since the praise she had received had
bred ambition in hera reasonable and right ambition, for why should a
light be hidden under a bushel when it might be set up on high to
illumine a wide garden? Besides, she had not learned to love any of the
unimportant men who loved her important beauty, yet promised it nothing
more than a bushel to hide itself in.
So she made ready to take her beauty to the larger market-place. But
the night before she was to leave the village her father's house took
fire mysteriously. The servant, rushing to her door to waken her, died,
suffocated there before she could cry out. The Beauty woke to find her
bed in flames. She rose with hair and gown ablaze, and, agonizing to a
window, leaped blindly out upon the pavement. There the neighbors
quenched the fire and saved her lifebut nothing more.
Thereafter she was a cripple, and her vaunted beauty was dead; it
had gone into the flames, and she had only the ashes of it on her
seared face. Now she had only pity where she had had envy and
adulation. Now there was a turning away of eyes when she hurried abroad
on necessary errands. Now her enemies were tenderly disposed toward
her, and everybody forbore to mention what she had been. Everybody
spared her feelings and talked of other things and looked at the floor
or at the sky when she must be spoken to.
One day the Fool, having heard only that the Beauty was to leave the
village, and having heard nothing of the fire, and not having prospered
where he was, returned to his old home. The first person he saw he
asked of the Beauty, and that one told him of the holocaust of her
graces, and warned him, remembering that the Fool had always spoken his
thoughts without tact or discretionwarned the Fool to disguise when
he saw her the shock he must feel and make no sign that he found her
other than he left her. And the Fool promised.
When he saw her he made a pretense indeed of greeting her as before,
but he was like a man trying to look upon a fog as upon a sunrise; for
the old beauty of her face did not strike his eyes full of its own
radiance. She saw the struggle of his smile and the wincing of his
soul. But she did not wince, for she was by now bitterly accustomed to
this reticence and self-control.
He walked along the street with her, and looked always aside or
ahead and talked of other things. He walked with her to her own gate,
and to her porch, trying to find some light thing to say to leave her.
But the cruelty of the world was like a rusty nail in his heart, and
when he put out his hand and she set in his hand what her once so
exquisite fingers were now, his heart broke in his breast; and when he
lifted his eyes to what her once so triumphant face was now, they
refused to withhold their tears, and his lips could not hold back his
thoughts, and he groaned aloud:
Oh, you were so beautiful! No one was ever so beautiful as you were
then. But nowI can't stand it! I can't stand it! I wish that I might
have died for you. You were so beautiful! I can see you now as you were
when I told you good-by.
Then he was afraid for what he had said, and ashamed, and he dreaded
to look at her again. He would have dashed away, but she seized him by
the sleeve, and whispered:
How good it is to hear your words! You are the only one that has
told me that I ever was beautiful since I became what I am. Tell me,
tell me how I looked when you bade me good-by!
And he told her. Looking aside or at the sky, he told her of her
face like a rose in the moonlight, of her hair like some mist spun and
woven in shadows and glamours of its own, of her long creamy arms and
her hands that a god had fashioned lovingly. He told her of her eyes
and their deeps, and their lashes and the brows above them. He told her
of the strange rhythm of her musical form when she walked or danced or
leaned upon the arm of her chair.
He dared not look at her lest he lose his remembrance of them; but
he heard her laughing, softly at first, then with pride and wild
triumph. And she crushed his hand in hers and kissed it, murmuring:
God bless you! God bless you!
For even in poverty it is sweet to know that once we were rich.
THE GHOSTLY COUNSELORS
In a little hall bedroom in a big city lay a little woman in a big
trouble. She had taken the room under an assumed name, and a visitor
had come to her thereto little her in the big city, from the bigger
She had taken the room as Mrs. Emerton. The landlady, Mrs. Rotch,
had had her doubts. But then she was liberal-mindedfolks had to be in
that street. Still, she made it an invariable rule that no visitors
was never allowed in rooms, a parlor being kept for the purpose up to
ten o'clock, when the landlady went to bed in it, her having to have
her sleep as well as anybody.
But, in spite of the rules, a visitor had come to Mrs. Emerton's
rooma very, very young man. His only name as yet was the Baby. She
dared not give the young man his father's name, for then people would
know, and she had come to the city to keep people from knowing. She had
come to the wicked city from the sweet, wholesome country, where,
according to fiction, there is no evil, but where, according to fact,
people are still people and moonlight is still madness. In the country,
love could be concealed but not its consequence.
Her coadjutor in the ceremony of summoning this little spirit from
the vasty deep had not followed her to the city where the miracle was
achieved. He was poor, and his parents would have been brokenhearted;
his employer in the village would have taken away his
So the boy sent the girl to town alone, with what money he had saved
up and what little he could borrow; and he stayed in the village to
The girl's name was LightfootHilda Lightfoota curiously
prophetic name for her progress in the primrose path, though she had
gone heavy-footed enough afterward. And now she could hardly walk at
Hilda Lightfoot had come to the city in no mood to enjoy its
frivolities, and with no means. She had climbed the four flights to her
room a few days ago for the last time. In all the weeks and weeks she
had never had a caller, except, the other day, a doctor and a nurse,
who had taken away most of her money and left her this little clamorous
youth, whose victim she was as he was hers.
To-night she was desperately lonely. Even the baby's eternal demands
and uproars were hushed in sleep. She felt strong enough now to go out
into the wonderful air of the city; the breeze was as soft and
moonseeped as the blithe night wind that blew across the meadows at
The crowds went by the window and teased her like a circus parade
marching past a school.
But she could not go to circusesshe had no money. All she had was
a nameless, restless baby.
She grew frantically lonely. She went almost out of her head from
her solitude, the jail-like loneliness, with no one to talk to except
her little fellow-prisoner who could not talk.
Her homesick heart ran back to the home life she was exiled from.
She was thinking of the village. It was prayer-meeting night, and the
moon would wait outside the church like Mary's white-fleeced lamb till
the service was over, and then it would follow the couples home,
gamboling after them when they walked, and, when they paused, waiting
The moon was a lone white lamb on a shadowy hill all spotted with
daisies. Everything in the world was beautiful except her fate, her
prison, her poverty, and her loneliness.
If only she could go down from this dungeon into the streets! If
only she had some clothes to wear and knew somebody who would take her
somewhere where there was light and music! It was not much to ask.
Hundreds of thousands of girls were having fun in the theaters and the
restaurants and the streets. Hundreds of thousands of fellows were
taking their best girls places.
If only Webster Edie would come and take her out for a walk! She had
been his best girl, and he had been her fellow. Why must he send her
here, alone? It was his duty to be with her, now of all times. A woman
had a right to a little petting, now of all times. She had written him
so yesterday, begging him to come to her at any cost. But her letter
must have crossed his letter, and in that he said that he could not get
away and could not send her any money for at least another week, and
then not much.
She was doomed to lonelinessindefinitely. If only some one would
come in and talk to her! The landlady never came except about the bill.
The little slattern who brought her meals had gone to bed. She knew
nobodyonly voices, the voices of other boarders who went up and down
the stairs and sometimes paused outside her door to talk and laugh or
exchange gossip. She had caught a few names from occasional greeting or
exclamation: Good morning, Miss Marland! Why, Mrs. Elsbree! How
was the show last night, Miss Bessett? Oh, Mrs. Teed, would you mind
mailing these letters as you go out? Not at all, Mrs. Braywood.
They were as formless to her as ghosts, but she could not help
imagining bodies and faces and clothes to fit the voices. She could not
help forming likes and dislikes. She would have been glad to have any
of them come to see her, to ask how she was or admire the baby, or to
borrow a pin or lend a book.
If somebody did not come to see her she would go mad. If only she
dared, she would leave the baby and steal down the stairs and out of
the front door and slip along the streets. They called her; they
beckoned to her and promised her happiness. She was like a little yacht
held fast in a cove by a little anchor. The breeze was full of summons
and nudgings; the water in the bay was dancing, every ripple a giggle.
Only her anchor held her, such a little anchor, such a gripping anchor!
If only some one would come in! If only the baby could talk, or even
listen with understanding! She was afraid to be alone any longer, lest
she do something insane and fearful. She sat at the window, with one
arm stretched out across the sill and her chin across it, and stared
off into the city's well of white lights. Then she bent her head, hid
her hot face in the hollow of her elbow, and clenched her eyelids to
shut away the torment. She was loneliest staring at the city, but she
was unendurably lonely with her eyes shut. She would go crazy if
somebody did not come.
There was a knock at the door. It startled her.
She sat up and listened. The knock was repeated softly. She turned
her head and stared at the door. Then she murmured, Come in.
The door whispered open, and a woman in soft black skirts whispered
in. The room was lighted only by the radiance from the sky, and the
mysterious woman was mysteriously vague against the dimly illuminated
She closed the door after her and stood, a shadow in a shadow. Even
her face was a mere glimmer, like a patch of moonlight on the door, and
her voice was stealthy as a breeze. It was something like the voice she
heard called Mrs. Elsbree.
Hilda started to rise, but a faint, white hand pressed her back and
the voice said:
Don't rise, my dear. I know how weak you are, what you have gone
through, alone, here in this dreary place. I know what pain you have
endured, and the shame you have felt, the shame that faces you outside
in the world. It is a cruel world. To womenoh, but it is cruel! It
has no mercy for a woman who loves too well.
If you had a lot of money you might fight it with its own weapon.
Money is the one weapon it respects. But you haven't any money, have
you, my dear? If you had, you wouldn't be here in the dark alone, would
I'm afraid there is nothing ahead of you, either, but darkness, my
dear. The man you loved has deserted you, hasn't he? He is a poor, weak
thing, anyway. Even if he married you, you would probably part. He'd
always hate you. Nobody else will want you for a wife, you poor child;
you know that, don't you? And nobody will help you, because of the
baby. You couldn't find work and keep the baby with you, could you? And
you couldn't leave it. It is a weight about your neck; it will drown
you in deep waters.
Even if it lived, it would have only misery ahead of it, for your
story would follow it through life. The older it grew, the more it
would suffer. It would despise you and itself. How much happier you
would be not to be alive at all, both of you, you poor, unwelcome
There are many problems ahead of you, my dear; and you'll never
solve them, except in one way. If you were dead and asleep in your
grave with your poor little one at your breast, all your troubles would
be over then, wouldn't they? People would feel sorry for you; they
wouldn't sneer at you then. And you wouldn't mind loneliness or hunger
or pointing fingers or anything.
Take my advice, dearie, and end it now. There are so many ways; so
many things to buy at drug-stores. And that's the river you can just
see over there. It is very peaceful in its depths. Its cool, dark
waters will wash away your sorrows. Or if that is too far for you to
go, there's the window. You could climb out on the ledge with your baby
in your arms and just step off intopeace. Take my advice, poor,
lonely, little thing. It's the one way; I know. The world will forgive
you, and Heaven will be merciful. Didn't Christ take the Magdalen into
His own company and His mother's? He will take you up into heaven, if
you go now. Good-by. Don't be afraid. Good-by. Don't be afraid.
She was gone so softly that Hilda did not see her go. She had been
staring off into that ocean of space, and when she turned her head the
woman was gone. But her influence was left in the very air. Her words
went on whispering about the room. Under their influence the girl rose,
tottered to the bed, gathered the sleeping baby to her young bosom,
kissed his brow without waking him, and stumbled to the window.
She pushed it as high as it would go and knelt on the ledge, peering
down into the street. It was a fearful distance to the walk.
She hoped she would not strike the stone steps or the area rail. And
yet what difference would it make? It would only assure her peace the
quicker. She must wait for those people below to walk past. But they
were not gone before others were there. She could not hurl herself upon
As she waited, it grew terrible to take the plunge. She had always
been afraid of high places. She grew dizzy now, and must cling hard to
keep from falling before she said her prayers and was ready. And, now
the pavement was clear. She kissed her baby again. She drew in a deep
breath, her last sip of the breath of life. How good it was, this
clear, cool air flowing across this great, beautiful, heartless city
that she should never see again! And now
There was a knock at the door. It checked her. She lost impulse and
impetus and crept back and sank into a chair. She was pretending to be
rocking the baby to sleep when she murmured, Come in.
Perhaps it would be Mrs. Elsbree, returned to reproach her for her
cowardice and her delay. But when she dared to look up it was another
woman. At least it was another voiceperhaps Miss Marland's.
I've been meaning to call on you, Mrs. Emerton, but I haven't had a
free moment. Of course I've known all along why you were here. We all
have. There's been a good deal of backbiting. But that's the
boarding-house of it. This evening, at dinner, there was some mention
of you at the table, and some of the women were ridiculing you and some
were condemning you. Oh, don't wince, my dear; everybody is always
being ridiculed or condemned or both for something. If you were one of
the saints they would burn you at the stake or put you to the torture.
Anyway, I spoke up and told them that the only one who had a right
to cast a stone at you was one without sin, and I despaired of finding
such a person in this boarding-houseor outside, either, for that
matter. I spoke up and told them that you were no worse than the
others. They all had their scandals, and I know most of them. There's
some scandal about everybody. We're all sinnersif you want to call it
sin to follow your most sacred instincts.
Why should you be afraid of a little gossip or a few jokes or a
little abuse from a few hypocrites? They're all sinnersworse than
you, too, most of them, if the truth were known.
Why blame yourself and call yourself a criminal? You loved the
boyloved him too much, that's all. If you had been really wicked you
would have refused to love him or to give yourself up to his plea. If
you had been really bad you'd have known too much to have this child.
You'd have got rid of it at all costs.
You are really a very good little woman with a passion for being a
mother. It's the world outside that's bad. Don't be ashamed before it.
Hold your head up. The world owes you a living, and it will pay it if
you demand it. It will pay for you and your child, too. Just demand
your rights. You'll soon find a place. You're too young and beautiful
to be neglected. You're young and beautiful and passionate. You can
make some man awfully happy. He'll be glad to have your baby and
youdisgrace and all. He may be very rich, too. Go find him. The baby
may grow up to be a wonderful man. You could make enough to give the
boy every advantage and a fine start in the world.
The world is yours, if you'll only take it. Remember the Bible,
'Ask and it shall be given unto you.' Think it over, my dear. Don't do
anything foolish or rash. You're too young and too beautiful. And now I
must ran along. Good-by and good luck.
While Hilda was breathing deep of this wine of hope and courage the
woman was gone.
Hilda glanced out of the window again. She shuddered. A moment more
and she would have been lying below there, broken, mangled,
unsightlyperhaps not dead, only crippled for life and arrested as a
suicide that failed; perhaps as a murderess, since the fall would
surely have killed her childher precious child. She held him close,
her great man-baby, her son; he laughed, beat the air with his hands,
chuckled, and smote her cheek with palms like white roses. She would
take him from this gloomy place. She would go out and demand money,
fine clothes, attention.
She put on her hat, a very shabby little hat. She began to wrap the
baby in a heavy shawl. They would have finer things soon.
She grew dizzy with excitement and the exertion, and sank back in
the chair a moment, to regain her strength. The chair creaked. No, it
was a knock at the door. It proved what the last woman had said. Ask,
and it shall be given unto you.
She had wished for some one to call on her. The whole boarding-house
was coming. She was giving a party.
This time it was another voice out of the darkness. It must have
been Miss Bessett's. She spoke in a cold, hard, hasty tone. Going out,
my dear? Alone, I hope? No, the baby's wrapped up! You're not going to
be so foolish as to lug that baby along? He brands you at once. Nobody
will want you round with a squalling baby. Oh, of course he's a pretty
child; but he's too noisy. He'll ruin every chance you have.
You're really very pretty, my dear. The landlady said so. If she
noticed it, you must be a beauty, indeed. This is a great town for
pretty girls. There's a steady market for them.
The light is poor here, but beauty like yours glows even in
darkness, and that's what they want, the men. The world will pay
anything for beauty, if beauty has the brains to ask a high price and
not give too much for it.
Think of the slaves who have become queens, the mistresses who have
become empresses. There are rich women all over town who came by their
money dishonestly. You should see some of them in the Park with their
automobiles. You'd be ashamed even to let them run over you. Yet, if
you were dressed up, you'd look better than any of the automobile
You might be a great singer. I've heard you crooning to the baby.
You find a rich man and make him pay for your lessons, and then you
make eyes at the manager and, before you know it, you'll be engaged for
the opera and earning a thousand dollars a nightmore than that,
Think how much that means. It would make you mighty glad you didn't
marry that young gawp at home. He's a cheap skate to get you into this
trouble and not help you out.
But I'll set you in the way of making a mint of money. There's only
one thing: you must give up the baby and never let anybody know you
ever had it. Don't freeze up and turn away. There are so many ways of
disposing of a baby. Send it to a foundling asylum. No questions will
be asked. The baby will have the best of care and grow so strong that
some rich couple will insist on adopting it, or you could come back
when you are married to a rich man and pretend you took a fancy to it
and adopt it yourself.
And there's a lot of other ways to get rid of a baby. You could
give it the wrong medicine by mistake, or just walk out and forget it.
And there's the river; you could drop it into those black waters. And
then you're freebaby would never know. He would be ever so much
better off. And you would be free.
You must be free. You must get a little taste of life. You've a
right to it. You lived in a little stupid village all your yearsand
now you're in the city. Listen to it! It would be yours for the asking.
And it gives riches and glory to the pretty girls it likes. But you
must go to it as a girl, not as a poor, broken, ragged thing, lugging a
sickly baby with no name. Get rid of the baby, my dear. It will die,
anyway. It will starve and sicken. Put it out of its misery. That
medicine on your wash-standan overdose of that and you can say it was
a mistake. Who can prove it wasn't? Then you are free. You'll have
hundreds of friends, and a career, and a motor of your own, and
servants, and a beautiful home. Don't waste your youth, my dear. Invest
your beauty where it will bring big proceeds.
See those lights off therethe big lights with the name of that
woman in electric letters? She came to town poorer than you and with a
worse name. Now she is rich and famous. And the Countess
ofWhat's-her-name? She was poor and bad, but she didn't let any
old-fashioned ideas of remorse hold her back. Go on; get rid of the
brat. Go on!
Hilda clutched the baby closer and moved away to shield her from
this grim counselor. When she turned again she was alone. The woman had
gone, but the air trembled with her fierce wisdom. She was ruthless,
but how wise!
The lights flaring up into the sky carried that other woman's name.
Her picture was everywhere. She had been poor and wicked. Now she was a
household word, respected because she was rich. She had succeeded.
There came a lilting of music on a breeze. They were dancing,
somewhere. The tango coaxed her feet. Her body swayed with it.
If she were there, men would quarrel over her, rush to claim heras
they had done even in the village before she threw herself away on the
most worthless, shiftless of the lot, who got her into trouble and
deserted her. It was not her business to starve for his baby.
The baby began to fret again, to squawk with vicious explosions of
ugly rage; it puled and yowled. It was a nuisance. It caught a fistful
of her hair and wrenched till the tears of pain rushed to her eyes. She
unclasped the little talons, ran to the wash-stand, took up an ugly
bottle and poured out enough to put an end to that nauseating wail.
She bent over to lift the baby to the glass. Its lips touched her
bosom. Its crying turned to a little chortle like a brook's music. It
pommeled her with hands like white roses. The moon rested on its little
head and made its fuzz of hair a halo. She paused, adoring it sacredly
like another Madonna.
A soft tap at the door. She put the fatal glass away and turned
guiltily. A dark little woman was there, and a soft, motherly voice
spoke. It must be Mrs. Braywood's. She could not have suspected, for
her tone was all of affection.
I heard your child laughing, my dearand crying. I don't know
which went to my heart deeper. I just had to come to see it. It is so
marvelous to be a mother. I've been married for ten years, and my
husband and I have prayed and waited. But God would not send us a baby.
He saved that honor for you. And such an honor and glory and power! To
be a mother! To be a rose-bush and have a white bud grow upon your
stem, and bloom! Oh, you lucky child, to be selected for such a
privilege! You must have suffered; you must be suffering now; but
there's nothing worth while that doesn't cost pain.
It occurred to me thatdon't misunderstand me, my child,
butwell, the landlady said you were poor; she was in doubt of the
room rent; so I thoughtperhaps you might not want the baby as much as
I hoped you might let me take him. I'd be such a good mother to
him. I'd love him as if he were my own, and my husband would pay you
well for him. We'd give him our own name, and people should never know
that hethat youthat we weren't really his parents. Give him to me,
won't you? Please! I beg you!
Hilda whirled away from her pleading hands and clenched the baby so
hard that it cried a little. The sound was like that first wail of his
she had ever heard. Again it went into her heart like a little hand
seizing and wringing it.
Mrs. Braywoodif it were Mrs. Braywoodwas not angry at the
rebuff, though she was plainly disheartened. She tried to be brave, and
Oh, I don't wonder you turn away. I understand. I wouldn't give him
up if I were in your place. The father must come soon. He won't stay
away long. Just let him see the baby and hear its voice and know it is
his baby, and he will stand by you.
He will come to you. He will hear the voice wherever he is, and he
will make you his wife. And the baby will make a man of him and give
him ambition and inspiration. Babies always provide for themselves,
they say. You will have trouble, and you will suffer from the gibes of
self-righteous people, and you will be cruelly blamed; but there is
only one way to expiate sin, my child, and that is to face its
consequences and pay its penalties in full. The only way to atone for a
wrong deed is to do the next right thing. Take good care of your
precious treasure. Good-by. His father will come soon. He will come.
Good-by. Oh, you enviable thing, you mother!
And now she was gone. But she had left the baby's value enhanced,
and the mother's, too.
She had offered a price for the baby, and glorified the mother. The
lonely young country girl felt no longer utterly disgraced. She did not
feel that the baby was a mark of Heaven's disfavor, but rather of its
favor. She felt lonely no longer. The streets interested her no more.
Let those idle revelers go their way; let them dance and laugh. They
had no child of their own to adore and to enjoy.
If the baby's father came they would be married. If he
delayedwell, she would stumble on alone. The baby was her cross. She
must carry it up the hill.
Hilda felt entirely content, but very tired, full of hope that
Webster Edie would come to her, but full of contentment, too. She
talked to the baby, and he seemed to understand her now. She could not
translate his language, but he translated hers.
She slipped out of her day clothes and into her nightgownand so to
bed. She fell asleep with her baby in her arms. Her head drooped back
and her parted lips seemed to pant and glow. The moon reached her
window and sent in a long shaft of light. It found a great tear on her
cheek. It gleamed on her throat bent back; it gleamed on one bare
shoulder where the gown was torn; it gleamed on her breast where the
baby drowsily clung.
There was a benediction in the moonlight.
DAUGHTERS OF SHILOH
Mrs. Serina Pepperall had called her husband twice without success.
It was at that hatefulest hour of the whole week when everybody that
has to get up is getting up and realizing that it is Monday morning,
and raining besides.
It is bad enough for it to be Monday, but for it to be raining is
Young Horace Pepperall used to say that that was the reason the
world didn't improve much. People got good on Sunday, and then it had
to go and be Monday. He had an idea that if Sunday could be followed by
some other day, preferably Saturday, there would be more happiness and
virtue in the world. Mrs. Pepperall used to say that her boy was quite
a ph'losopher in his way. Mr. Pepperall said he was a hopeless loafer
and spent more time deciding whether he'd ought to do this or that than
it would have taken to do 'em both twice. Whereupon Mrs. Pepperall,
whose maiden name was Boodydaughter of Mrs. Ex-County-Clerk
Boodywould remind her husband that he was only a Pepperall, after
all, while her son was at least half Boody. Whereupon her husband would
remind her of certain things about the Boodys. And so it would go. But
that was other mornings. This was this morning.
Among all the homes that the sun looked uponor would have looked
upon if it could have looked upon anything and if it hadn't been
raining and the Pepperall roof had not been impervious to light, though
not to moistureamong them all, surely the Pepperall reveille would
have been the least attractive. Homer never got his picture of
rosy-fingered Aurora smilingly leaping out of the couch of night from
any such home as the Pepperalls' in Carthage.
Serina was as unlike Aurora as possible. Aurora is usually poised on
tiptoe, with her well-manicured nails gracefully extended, and nothing
much about her except a chariot and more or less chiffon, according to
whether the picture is for families or bachelors.
Serina was entirely surrounded by flannelette, of simple and
pitilessly chaste designa hole at the top for her head to go through
and a larger one at the other extreme for her feet to stick out at. But
it was so long that you couldn't have seen her feet if you had been
there. And Papa Pepperall, who was there, was no longer interested in
those once exciting ankles. They had been more interesting when there
had been less of them. But we'd better talk about the sleeves.
The sleeves were so long that they kept falling into the water where
Serina was making a hasty toilet at the little marble-topped altar to
cleanliness which the Pepperalls called the worsh-standthat is, the
hand-wash-basin, as Mrs. Hippisley called it after she came back from
her never-to-be-forgotten trip to England.
But then Serina's sleeves had always been falling into the suds, and
ever since she could remember she had rolled them up again with that
peculiar motion with which people roll up sleeves. This morning, having
failed to elicit papa from the bed by persuasion, she made such a
racket about her ablutions that he lifted his dreary lids at last. He
realized that it was morning, Monday, and raining. It irritated him so
that he glared at his faithful wife with no fervor for her unsullied
and unweariedif not altogether unwearisomedevotion. He watched her
roll up those sleeves thrice more. Somehow he wanted to scream at the
futility of it. But he checked the impulse partly, and it was with
softness that he made a comment he had choked back for years.
Serina he began.
Well, she returned, pausing with the soap clenched in one hand.
He spoke with the luxurious leisureliness and the pauses for commas
of a nearly educated man lolling too long abed:
Serina, it has just occurred to me that, since we have been
married, you have expended, on rolling back those everlastingly
relapsing sleeves of yours, enough energy to have rolled the Sphinx of
Egypt up on top of the Pyramid of Cheops.
Serina was so surprised that she shot the slippery soap under the
wash-stand. She went right after it. There may be nymphs who can stalk
a cake of soap under a wash-stand with grace, but Serina was not one of
them. Her indolent spouse made another cynical comment:
Don't do that! You look like the Goddess of Liberty trying to peek
into the Subway.
But she did not hear him. She was rummaging for the soap and for an
answer to his first remark. At length she emerged with both. She stood
up and panted.
Well, I can't see as it would 'a' done me any good if I had have!
Had have what? her husband yawned, having forgotten his original
Got the Sphinnix on top of the Cheops. And besides, I've been
meaning to hem them up; but now that you've gone bankrupt again, and I
have to do my own cooking and all
But, my dear Serina, you've said the same thing ever since we were
married. What frets me is to think of the terrible waste of labor with
nothing to show for it.
She sniffed, and retorted with all the superiority of the
unsuccessful wife of an unsuccessful husband:
Well, I can't see as you're so smart. Ever since we been married
you been goin' to that stationery-store of yours, and you never learned
enough to keep from going bankrupt three times. And now they've shut
the shop, and you've nothing better to do than lay in bed and make fun
of me that have slaved for you and your children.
They were always his children when she talked of the trouble they
were. Her all too familiar oration was interrupted by the eel-like leap
of the soap. This time it described a graceful arc that landed it under
the middle of the beda double bed at that.
Pepperall had the gallantry to pursue it. He went head first over
the starboard quarter of the deck, leaving his feet aboard. Just as he
tagged the soap with his fingers his feet came on over after him, and
he found himself flat on his back, with his head under the bed and his
feet under the bureau.
When the thunder of his downfall had subsided he heard Serina say,
Now that you're up you better stay up.
So he wriggled out from under and got himself aloft, rubbing his
indignant back. If Serina was no Aurora rising from the sea, her
husband was no Phoebus Apollo. His gown looked like hers, only younger.
It had a frivolous little pocket, and the slit-skirt effect on both
sides; and it was cut what is called misses' length, disclosing two
of the least attractive shins in Carthage.
He was aching all over and he was angry, and he snarled as he stood
at the wash-stand:
Have you finished with this water?
Yes, she said, muffledly, from the depths of a face-towel.
Why don't you ever empty the bowl then? he growled, and viciously
tilted the contents into themust I say the awful word?the
slop-jarwhat other word is there?
The water splashed over and struck the bare feet of both icily. They
yowled and danced like Piute Indians, and glared at each other as they
danced. They glared in a nagged rage that would have turned into an
ugly quarrel if a great sorrow had not suddenly overswept them. They
saw themselves as they were and by a whim of memory they remembered
what they had been. He laughed bitterly:
It's the first time we've danced together in a long time, eh?
Her lower lip began to quiver and swell quite independently and she
Not much like the dances we used to dance. Oh dear!
She dropped into a chair and stared, not at her husband, but at the
bridegroom of long ago he had shriveled from. She remembered those
honeymoon mornings when they had awakened like eager children and
laughed and romped and been glad of the new day. The mornings had been
precious then, for it was a tragedy to let him go to his shop, as it
was a festival to watch from the porch in the evening till he came
round the corner and waved to her.
She looked from him to herself, to what she could see of herselfit
was not all, but more than enough. She saw her heavy red hands and the
coarse gown over her awkward knees, and the dismal slovenliness of her
attitude. She felt that he was remembering the slim, wild, sweet girl
he had married. And she was ashamed before his eyes, because she had
let the years prey upon her and had lazily permitted beauty to escape
from herfrom her body, her face, her motions, her thoughts.
She felt that for all her prating of duty she had committed a great
wickedness lifelong. She wondered if this were not the unpardonable
sin, whose exact identity nobody had seemed to decideto grow
strangers with beauty and to forget grace.
Whatever her husband may have been thinking, he had the presence of
mind to hide his eyes in the water he had poured from the pitcher. He
scooped it up now in double handfuls. He made a great splutter and
soused his face in the bowl, and scrubbed the back of his neck and
behind his ears and his bald spot, and slapped his eminent collar-bones
with his wet hand. And then he was bathed.
Serina pulled on her stockings, and hated them and the coarser feet
they covered. She opened the wardrobe door as a screen, less from
modesty for herself than from sudden disgust of her old corset and her
all too sober lingerie. She resolved that she would hereafter deck
herself with more of that coquetry which had abruptly returned to her
mind as a wife's most solemn duty.
Then she remembered that they were poorer than they ever had been.
Now they could not even run into debt again; for who would give them
further credit, since their previous bills had been canceled by nothing
more satisfactory than the grim Received payment of the bankruptcy
It was too late for her to reform. Her song was sung. And as for
buying frills and fallals, there were two daughters to provide for and
a son who was growing into the stratum of foppery. With a sigh of
dismissal she flung on her old wrapper, whose comfortableness she
suddenly despised, and made her escape, murmuring, I'll call the
She pounded on the boy's door, and Horace eventually answered with
his regular program of uncouth noises, like some one protesting against
being strangled to death. These were followed by moans of woe, and then
by far-off-sounding promises of Oh, aw ri', I'm git'nup.
Serina moved on to her youngest daughter's door. She had tapped but
once when it was opened by the best girl that ever lived, according
to her father; and according to her mother, a treasure; never gave me
a bit of troubleplain, of course, but so willing!
Ollie was fully dressed and so was her room, except for the bed, the
covers of which were thrown back like a wave breaking over the
footboard. In fact, after Ollie had kissed her mother she informed her
that the kitchen fire was made, the wash-boiler on, and the breakfast
You are a treasure! Serina sighed.
She passed on to the door of Prue. Prue was the second daughter.
Rosie, the eldest, had married Tom Milford and moved away. She was
having troubles of her own, and children with a regularity that led
Serina to dislike Tom Milford more than ever.
Serina knocked several times at Prue's door without response. Then
she went in as she always had to. Prue was still asleep, and her
yesterday's clothes seemed to be asleep, too, in all sorts of attitudes
and all sorts of places. The only regularity about the room was the
fact that every single thing was out of place. The dressing-table held
a little chaos, including one stocking. The other stocking was on the
floor. One silken garter glowed in the southeast corner and one in the
northwest. One shoe reclined in the southwest corner and the other
gaped in the northeast. But they were pretty shoes.
Her frock was in a heap, but it suggested a heap of flowers.
Hair-ribbons and ribboned things and a crumpled sash bedecked the
carpet. But the prettiest thing of all was the head half fallen from
the pillow and half smothered in the tangled skeins of hair. One arm
was bent back over her brow to shut out the sunlight and the other arm
dangled to the floor. There was something adorable about the round chin
nestling in the soft throat. Her chin seemed to frown with a lovable
sullenness. There was a mysterious grace in the very sprawl vaguely
outlined by the long wrinkles and ridges of the blankets.
Serina shook her head over Prue in a loving despair. She was the bad
boy of the family, impatient, exacting, hot-tempered, stormy,
luxurious, yet never monotonous.
You can always put your hand on Ollie, Serina would say; but you
never know where Prue is from one minute to the next.
Consequently Ollie was not interesting and Prue was.
They were all afraid of Prue and afraid for her. They all toadied to
her and she kept them excitedalarmed, perhaps; angry, oh yes; but
And there were rewards in her service, too, for she could be as
stormy with affection as with mutiny. Sometimes she would attack Serina
with such gusts of gratitude or admiration that her mother would cry
for help. She would squeeze her father's ribs till he gasped for
breath. When she was pleased she would dance about the house like a
whirling mænad with ululations of ecstasy. These crises were sharp, but
they left a sweet taste in the memory.
So Prue had the best clothes and did the least work. Prue was sent
off to boarding-school in Chicago, though she had never been able to
keep up with her classes in Carthage; while Olliewho took first
prizes till even the goody-goody boys hated herstayed at home. She
had dreamed of being a teacher in the High, but she never mentioned it,
and she studied bookkeeping and stenography in the business college so
that she could help her father.
Prue had not been home long and had come home with bad grace. When
her father had found it impossible to borrow more money even to pay his
clerks, to say nothing of boarding-school bills, he had to write the
truth to Prue. He told her to come again to Carthage.
She did not come back at once and she refused to explain why. As a
matter of fact, she had desperately endeavored to find a permanent job
in Chicago. It was easy for so attractive a girl to get jobs, but it
was hard for so domineering a soul to keep one. She was regretfully
bounced out of three department stores in six days for sassing the
customers and the aisle-manager.
She even tried the theater. She was readily accepted by a
stage-manager, but when he found that he could not teach her the usual
figures or persuade her to keep in step or line with the rest he
regretfully let her go.
It was the regularity of it that stumped Prue. She could dance like
a ballerina by herself, but she could not count one-two-three-four
twice in succession. The second time it was o-o-one-t'threeee-f'r and
next it would be onety-thry-fo-o-our.
Prue hung about Chicago, getting herself into scrapes by her charm
and fighting her way out of them by her ferocious pride. Finally she
went hungry and came home. When she learned the extent of her father's
financial collapse she delivered tirades against the people of Carthage
and she sang him up as a genius. And then she sought escape from the
depression at home by seeking what gaiety Carthage afforded. She made
no effort to master the typewriter and she declined to sell dry-goods.
Serina stood and studied the sleeping girl, that strange wild thing
she had borne and had tried in vain to control. She thought how odd it
was that in the mystic transmission of her life she had given all the
useful virtues to Ollie and none of them to Prue. She wondered what she
had been thinking of to make such a mess of motherhood. And what could
she do to correct the oversight? Ollie did not need restraint, and Prue
would not endure it. She stood aloof, afraid to waken the girl to the
miseries of existence in a household where every day was blue Monday
Ollie had not waited to be called. Ollie had risen betimes and done
all the work that could be done, and stood ready to do whatever she
could. Prue was still aloll on a bed of ease. Even to waken her was to
waken a March wind. The moment she was up she would have everybody
running errands for her. She would be lavish in complaint and
parsimonious of help. And yet she was a dear! She did enjoy her morning
sleep so well. It would be a pity to disturb her. The rescuing thought
came to Serina that Prue loved to take a long hot bath on Monday
mornings, because on wash-day there was always a plenty of hot water in
the bathroom. On other mornings the hot-water faucet suffered from a
distressing cough and nothing more.
So she tiptoed out and closed the door softly.
At breakfast Ollie waited on the table after compelling Serina to
sit down and eat. There was little to tempt the appetite and no
appetite to be tempted.
Papa was in the doldrums. He had always complained before of having
to gulp his breakfast and hurry to the shop. And now he complained
because there was no hurry; indeed, there was no shop. He must set out
at his time of years, after his life of independent warfare, to ask for
enlistment as a private in some other man's companyin a town where
vacancies rarely occurred and where William Pepperall would not be
The whole town was mad at him. He had owed everybody, and then
suddenly he owed nobody. By the presto-change-o of bankruptcy his debts
had been passed from the hat of unpaid bills to the hat of worthless
Serina was as dismal as any wife is when she is faced with the
prospect of having her man hanging about the house all day. A wife in a
man's office hours is a nuisance, but a man at home in household office
hours is a pest. This was the newest but not the least of Serina's
Horace was even glummer than ever, as soggy as his own oatmeal. At
best he was one of those breakfast bruins. Now he was a bear that has
been hit on the nose. He, too, must seek a job. School had seemed
confining before, but now that he must go to work, school seemed like
one long recess.
Even Ollie was depressed. Hers was the misery of an active person
denied activity. She had prepared herself as an aid in her father's
business, and now he had no business. In this alkali desert of
inanition Prue's vivacious temper would have been welcome.
Where's Prue? said papa for the fifth time.
Serina was about to say that she was still asleep when Prue made her
presence known. Everybody was apprised that the water had been turned
on in the bathroom; it resounded throughout the house. It seemed to
fall about one's head.
Prue was filling the tub for her Monday morning siesta. She was
humming a strange tune over the cascade like another Minnehaha. And
from the behavior of the dining-room chandelier and the plates on the
sideboard she was evidently dancing.
What's that toon she's dancing to? papa asked, after a while.
I don't know, said Serina.
I never heard it, said Ollie.
Ah, growled Horace, it's the Argentine tango.
The tango! gasped papa. Isn't that the new dance I've been
reading about, that's making a sensation in New York?
Ah, wake up, pop! said Horace. It's a sensation here, too.
In Carthage? They're dancing the tango in our home town?
Surest thing you know, pop. The whole burg's goin' bug over it.
How is it done? What is it like?
Something like this, said Horace, and, rising, he indulged in the
prehistoric turkey-trot of a year ago, with burlesque hip-snaps and
poultry-yard scrapings of the foot.
Stop it! papa thundered. It's loathsome! Do you mean to tell me
that my daughter does that sort of thing?
Sure! She's a wonder at it.
What scoundrel taught my poor child suchsuchWho taught her, I
Gosh! sniffed Horace, sis don't need teachin'. She's teachin' the
rest of 'em. They're crazy about her.
Teaching others! My g-g-goodness! Where did she learn?
Chicago, I guess.
Oh, the wickedness of these cities and the foreigners that are
dragging our American homes down to their own level!
I guess the foreigners got nothin' on us, said Horace. It's a
What are we coming to? Go tell Prue to come here at once. I'll put
a stop to that right here and now.
Serina gave him one searing glance, and he understood that he could
not deliver his edict to Prue yet awhile. He heard her singing even
more barbaric strains. The chandelier danced with a peculiar savagery,
then the dance was evidently quenched and subdued. Awestruck yowls from
above indicated that Prue was in hot water.
This is the last straw! groaned papa, with all the wretchedness of
a father learning that his daughter was gone to the bad.
Prue did not appear below-stairs for so long that her father had
lost his magnificent running start by the time she sauntered in all
sleek and shiny and asked for her food. She brought a radiant grace
into the dull gray room; and Serina whispered to Will to let her have
her breakfast first.
She and Ollie waited on Prue, while the father paced the floor,
stealing sidelong glances at her, and wondering if it were possible
that so sweet a thing should be as vicious as she would have to be to
When she had scoured her plate and licked her spoon with a
child-like charm her father began to crank up his throat for a tirade.
He began with the reluctant horror of a young attorney cross-examining
his first murderer:
PrueI want totoerPrue, do youdid
youeverThiserthis tango businessPruehave youdo
youerWhat do you know about it?
Well, of course, papa, they change it so fast on you it's hard to
keep up with it, but I was about three days ahead of Chicago when I
left there. I met with a man who had just stepped off the twenty-hour
train and I learned all he knew before I turned him loose.
In a strangled tone the father croaked, You dance it, then?
You bet! Papa, stand up and I'll show you the very newest roll.
It's a peach. Put your weight on your right leg. Say, it's a shame we
haven't a phonograph! Don't you suppose you could afford a little one?
I could have you all in fine form in no time. And it would be so good
Papa fell back into a chair with just strength enough to murmur, I
want you to promise me never to dance it again.
Don't be foolish, you dear old bump-on-a-log!
I forbid you to dance it ever again.
She laughed uproariously: Listen at the old Skeezicks! Get up here
and I'll show you the cutest dip.
When at last he grew angry, and made her realize it, she flared into
a tumult of mutiny that drove him out into the rain. He spent the day
looking for a job without finding one. Horace came home wet and
discouraged with the same news. Ollie, the treasure, however, announced
that she had obtained a splendid position as typist in Judge
Hippisley's office, at a salary of thirty dollars a month.
William was overjoyed, but Serina protested bitterly. She and Mrs.
Judge Hippisley had been bitter social rivals for twenty years. They
had fought each other with teas and euchre parties and receptions from
young wifehood to middle-aged portliness. And now her daughter was to
work in that hateful Anastasia Hippisley's old fool of a husband's
office? Well, hardly!
It's better than starving, said Ollie, and for once would not be
coerced, though even her disobedience was on the ground of service.
After she had cleared the table and washed the dishes she set out for
her room, lugging a typewriter she had borrowed to brush up her speed
Prue had begged off from even wiping the dishes, because she had to
dress. As Ollie started up-stairs to her task she was brought back by
the door-bell. She ushered young Orton Hippisley into the parlor. He
had come to take Prue to a dance.
When papa heard this mamma had to hold her hand over his mouth to
keep him from making a scene. He was for kicking young Hippisley out of
And lose me my job? gasped Ollie.
The overpowered parent whispered his determination to go up-stairs
and forbid Prue to leave. He went up-stairs and forbade her, but she
went right on binding her hair with Ollie's best ribbon. In the midst
of her father's peroration she kissed him good-by and danced
down-stairs in Ollie's new slippers. Her own had been trotted into
Papa sat fuming all evening. He would not go to bed till Prue came
home to the ultimatum he was preparing for her. From above came the
tick-tock-tock of Ollie's typewriter. It got on his nerves, like rain
on a tin roof.
To think of itOllie up-stairs working her fingers to the bone to
help us out, and Prue dancing her feet off disgracing us! To think that
one of our daughters should be so good and one so bad!
I can't believe that our little Prue is really bad, Serina sighed.
Yet girls do go wrong, don't they? her husband groaned. This
morning's paper prints a sermon about the tango. Reverend Doctor
What's-his-name, the famous New York newspaper preacher, tears the
whole tango crowd to pieces. He points out that the tango is the cause
of the present-day wickedness, the ruin of the home!
Serina was dismal and terrified, but from force of habit she took
the opposite side.
Oh, they were complaining of divorces long before the tango was
ever heard of. That same preacher used to blame them on the bicycle,
then on the automobile and the movies. And now it's the tango. It'll be
Papa was used to fighting with mamma, and he roared with fine
leoninity: Are you defending your daughter's shamelessness? Do you
approve of the tango?
I've never seen it.
Then it must be just because you always encourage your children to
flout my authority. I never could keep any discipline because you
always fought for them, encouraged them to disobey their father,
She chanted her responses according to the familiar family antipathy
antiphony. They talked themselves out eventually; but Prue was not
home. Ollie gradually typewrote herself to sleep and Prue was not home.
Horace came in from the Y. M. C. A. bowling-alley and went to bed, and
Prue was not home.
The old heads nodded. The sentinels slept. At some dimly distant
time papa woke with a start and inquired, Huh?
Mamma jumped and gasped, Who?
They were shivering with the after-midnight chill of the cold room,
and Prue was not home. Papa snapped his watch open and snapped it shut;
and the same to his jaw:
Two o'clock! And Prue not home. I'm going after her!
He thrust into his overcoat, slapped his hat on his aching head,
flung open the door. And Prue came home.
She was alone! And in tears!
As papa's overcoat slid off his arms and his hat off his head she
tore down her gloves, tossed her cloak in the direction of the hat-tree
and stumbled up the stairs, sobbing. Her mother caught her hand.
What's the matter, honey?
Prue wrenched loose and went on up.
Father and mother stared at her, then at each other, then at the
floor. Each read the same unspeakable fear in the other's soul. Serina
ran up the stairs as fast as she could. William automatically locked
the doors and windows, turned out the lights, and followed.
He paused in the upper hall to listen. Prue was explaining at last.
It's that Orton Hippisley, Prue sobbed.
Whatwhat has he done? Serina pleaded, and Prue sobbed on:
Oh, he got fresh! Some of these fellas in this town think that
because a girl likes to have a good time and knows how to dance they
can get fresh with her. I didn't like the way Ort Hippisley held me and
I told him. Finally I wouldn't dance any more with him. I gave his
dances to Grant Beadle till the last; then Ort begged so hard I said
all right. And he danced like a gentleman. But on the way home hehe
put his arm round me. And when I told him to take it away he wouldn't.
He said I had been in his arms half the evening before folks, and if I
hadn't minded then I oughtn't to mind now. And I said: 'Is that so?
Well, it's mighty different when you're dancing.' And he said, 'Oh no,
it isn't,' and I said, 'Oh yes, it is.' And he tried to kiss me and I
hauled off and smashed him right in the nose. It bloodied all over his
dress soot, and I'm glad of it.
Somehow Papa Pepperall felt such an impulse to give three cheers
that he had to put his own hand over his mouth. He tiptoed to his room,
and when mamma appeared to announce with triumph, I guess Prue hasn't
gone to the bad yet, papa said: Who said she had? Prue is the finest
girl in America!
I thought you were saying
Why can't you ever once get me right? I was saying that Prue is too
fine a girl to be allowed to mingle with that tango set. I'm going to
cowhide that Hippisley cub. And Prue's not going to another one of
But he didn't. And she did.
Ollie was up betimes the next morning to get breakfast and make
haste to her office. She was so excited that she dropped a stove-lid on
the coalscuttle just as her mother appeared.
For mercy's sake, less noise! Serina whispered. You'll wake poor
Ollie next dropped the tray she had just unloaded on the table.
Serina was furious. Ollie whispered:
I'm so nervous for fear I've lost my job at Judge Hippisley's, now
that Prue had to go and slap Orton.
Always thinking of yourself, was Serina's rebuke. Don't be so
But Ollie's fears were wasted. Orton Hippisley might have boasted of
kisses he did not get, but not of the slaps that he did. He had gained
a new respect for Prue, and at the first opportunity pleaded for
forgiveness, eying her little fist the while. He begged her to go with
him to a dance at his home that evening.
She forgave him for the sake of the invitationand she glided and
dipped at the judge's house while Ollie spent the evening in his office
trying to finish the day's work. Her speed was not yet up to
requirements. Prue's speed was.
Other girls watched Prue manipulating her members in the intricate
mechanisms of the latest dances. They begged her to teach them, but she
laughed and said: It's easy. Just watch what I do and do the same.
So Raphael told his pupils and Napoleon his subordinates.
That night Ollie and Prue reached home at nearly the same time.
Ollie told how well she was getting along in the judge's office. Prue
told how she had made wall-flowers of everybody else in Mrs.
Hippisley's parlor. Let those who know a mother's heart decide which
daughter Serina was the prouder of, the good or the bad.
She told William about ithow Ollie had learned to type letters
with both hands and how Prue got there with both feet. And papa said,
She's a great girl!
And that was singular.
A few mornings later Judge Hippisley stopped William on the street
and spoke in his best bench manner:
Will, I hate to speak about your daughter, but I've got to.
Why, Judge, what's Ollie done? Isn't she fast enough?
Ollie's all right. I'm speaking of Prue. She's entirely too fast. I
want you to tell her to let my son alone.
My boy was clerking in Beadle's hardware-store, learning the
business and earning twelve dollars a week. And now he spends half his
time dancing with that damdaughter of yours. And Beadle is going to
fire him if he doesn't 'tend to business better.
II'll speak to Prue, was all Pepperall dared to say. The judge
had too many powers over him to be talked back to.
Papa spoke to Prue and it amused her very much. She said that old
Mr. Beadle had better speak to his own boy, who was Orton's fiercest
rival at the dances. And as for the fat old judge, he'd better take up
The following Sunday three of the Carthage preachers attacked the
tango. One of them used for his text Matthew xiv:6, and the other used
Mark vi:22. Both told how John the Baptist had lost his head over
Salome's dancing. Doctor Brearley chose Isaiah lix:7 Their feet run to
evil ... their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and
destruction are in their paths.
Mr. and Mrs. Pepperall and Ollie sat under Doctor Brearley. Prue had
slept too late to be present. Doctor Brearley blamed so many of the
evils of the world on the tango craze that if a visitor from Mars had
dropped into a pew he might have judged that the world had been an Eden
till the tango came. But then Doctor Brearley had always blamed old
things on new things.
It was a ferocious sermon, however, and the wincing Pepperalls felt
that it was aimed directly at them. When Doctor Brearley denounced
modern parents for their own godlessness and the irreligion of their
homes, William took the blame to himself. On his way home he announced
his determination to resume the long-neglected family custom of reading
from the Bible.
After the heavy Sabbath dinner had been eatenPrue was up in time
for this ritehe gathered his little flock in the parlor for a solemn
while. It had been his habit to choose the reading of the day at
randomhe called it letting the Lord decide. The big rusty-hinged
Bible fell open with a loud puff of dust several years old. Papa
adjusted his spectacles and read what he found before him:
Nehemiah x: 'Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha,
the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashur,
Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush ...' He began to breathe hard. He was lost
in an impenetrable forest of names, and he could not pronounce one of
them. He sneaked a peek ahead, dimly made out Bunni, Hizkijah,
Magpiash and Hashub, and choked.
It looked like sacrilege, but he ventured to close the Book and open
it once more.
This time he happened on the last chapter of the Book of Judges,
wherein is the chronicle of the plight of the tribe of Benjamin, which
could not get women to marry into it. The wife famine of the Benjamites
was not in the least interesting to Mr. Pepperall, but he would not
tempt the Lord again. So he read on, while the children yawned and
shuffled, Prue especially.
Suddenly Prue sat still and listened, and papa's cough grew worse.
He was reading about the feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly, and how
the elders of the congregation ordered the children of Benjamin to go
and lie in wait in the vineyards.
'And see, and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance
in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards and catch you every man
his wife of the daughters of Shiloh....
'And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives,
according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and
they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities,
and dwelt in them....
'In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that
which was right in his own eyes.
He closed the Book and stole a glance at Prue. Her eyes were so
bright with triumph that he had to say:
Of course that proves nothing about dancing. It doesn't say that
the Shiloh girls made good wives.
Prue had the impudence to add, And it doesn't say that the sons of
Benjamin were good dancers.
Her father silenced her with a scowl of horror. Then he made a long
prayer, directed more at his family than at the Lord. It apparently had
an equal effect on each. After a hymn had been mumbled through the
Prue lingered just long enough to capture the Bible and carry it off
to her room in a double embrace. Serina and William tried to be glad to
see her sudden interest, but they were a little afraid of her exact
She made no noise at all and did not come down in time to help get
supperthe sad, cold supper of a Sunday evening. She slipped into the
dining-room just before the family was called. Papa found at his plate
a neat little stack of cards, bearing each a carefully lettered legend
in Prue's writing. He picked them up, glanced at them, and flushed.
I dare you to read them, said Prue.
So he read: 'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven ... a time to mourn and a time to dance.... He
hath made every thing beautiful in his time.' Ecclesiastes iii.
'Let them praise his name in the dance ... for the Lord taketh
pleasure in his people.... Praise him with the timbrel and dance....
Praise him upon the loud cymbals.' Psalms cxlix, cl.
'O virgin of Israel ... thou shalt go forth in the dances of them
that make merry.... Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both
young men and old together.' Jeremiah xxxi.
'We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced.' Matthew xi: 17.
'Michal, Saul's daughter, looked through a window, and saw King
David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her
heart.... Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the
day of her death.' II Samuel vi: 16, 23.
Papa did not fall back upon the Shakesperean defense that the devil
can quote Scripture to his purpose. He choked a little and filled his
hand with the apple-butter he was spreading on his cold biscuit. Then
It's not that I don't believe in dancing. I don't say all dances
You better not, said Serina, darkly. You met me at a dance. We
used to dance all the time till you got so's you wouldn't take me to
parties any more. And you got so clumsy and I began to take on flesh,
and ran short of breath like.
Oh, there's mor'l dances as well as immor'l dances, William
confessed, not knowing the history of the opposition every dance has
encountered in its younger days. The waltz now, or the lancers or the
Virginia reel. Even the two-step was all right. But this
turkey-trot-tango businessit's goin' to be the ruination of the home.
It isn't fit for decent folks to look at, let alone let their daughters
do. I want you should quit it, Prue. If you need exercise help your
mother with the housework. You go and tango round with a broom awhile.
I don't see why you don't try to help your sister, too, and make
something useful of yourself. I tell you, in these days a woman ought
to be able to earn her own living same's a man. You could get a good
position in Shillaber's dry-goods store if you only would.
Prue wriggled her shoulders impatiently and said: I guess I'm one
of those Shiloh girls. I'll just dance round awhile, and maybe some
rich Benjamin gent'man will grab me and take me off your hands.
One evening Prue came home late to supper after a session at Bertha
Appleby's. An informal gathering had convened under the disguise of a
church-society meeting, only to degenerate into a dancing-bee after a
few perfunctory formalities.
Prue had just time to seize a bite before she went to dress for a
frankly confessed dancing-bout at Eliza Erf's. As she ate with angry
voracity she complained:
I guess I'll just quit going to dances. I don't have a bit of fun
Her father started from his chair to embrace the returned prodigal,
but he dropped into Ollie's place as Prue exclaimed:
Everybody is always at me for help. 'Prue, is this right?' 'Prue,
teach me that.' 'Oh, what did you do then?' 'Is it the inside foot or
the outside you start on?' 'Do you drop on the front knee or the hind?'
'Do you do the Innovation?' Why, it's worse than teaching school!
Why don't you teach school? said William, feebly. There's going
to be a vacancy in the kindergarten.
Prue sniffed. I see myself! And went to her room to dress.
Her father sank back discouraged. What ailed the girl? She simply
would not take life seriously. She would not lift her hand to help.
When they were so poor and the future so dour, how could she keep from
earning a little money? Was she condemned to be altogether useless,
shiftless, unprofitable? A weight about her father's neck till he could
shift her to the neck of some unhappy husband?
He remembered the fable of the ant and the locust. Prue was the
locust, frivoling away the summer. At the first cold blast she would be
pleading with the industrious ant, Ollie, to take her in. In the fable
the locust was turned away to freeze, but you couldn't do that with a
human locust. The ants just have to feed them. Poor Ollie!
Munching this quinine cud of thought, he went up to bed. He was
footsore from tramping the town for work. He had covered almost as much
distance as Prue had danced. He was all in. She was just going out.
She kissed him good night, but he would not answer. She went to kiss
her mother and Ollie and Horace. Ollie was practising shorthand, and
kissed Prue with sorrowing patience. Horace dodged the kiss, but called
her attention to an article in the evening paper:
Say, Prue, if you want to get rich quick whyn't you charge for your
tango advice? Says here that teachers are springing up all over Noo
York and Chicawgo, and they get big, immense prices.
How much? said Prue, indifferently.
Says here twenty-five dollars an hour. Some of 'em's earning a
couple of thousand dollars a week.
This information went through the room like a projectile from a
coast-defense gun. Serina listened with bated breath as Horace read the
confirmation. She shook her head:
It beats all the way vice pays in this world.
Horace read on. The article described how some of the most prominent
women in metropolitan society were sponsoring the dances. A group of
ladies, whose names were more familiar to Serina than the Christian
martyrs, had rented a whole dwelling-house for a dancing couple to
disport in, so that the universal amusement could be practised
That settled Serina. Whatever Mrs. and Miss and the mother
of the Duchess of did was better than right. It was swell.
Prue's frown now was the frown of meditation. If they charge
twenty-five dollars an hour in New York, what ought to be the price in
About five cents a week, said Serina, who did not approve of
Carthage. Nobody in this town would pay anything for anything.
We used to pay old Professor Durand to teach us to waltz and
polka, said Horace, in the good old days before pop got the
That night Prue made an experiment. She danced exclusively with Ort
Hippisley and Grant Beadle, the surest-footed bipeds in the town. When
members of the awkward squad pleaded to cut in she danced away
impishly, will-o'-the-wispishly. When the girls lifted their skirts and
asked her to correct their footwork she referred them to the articles
in the magazines.
She was chiefly pestered by Idalene Brearley, daughter of the
clergyman, and his chief cross.
Finally Idalene Brearley tore Prue from the arms of Ort Hippisley,
backed her into a corner, and said:
Say, Prue, you've got to listen! I'm invited to visit the swellest
home in Council Bluffs for a house-party. They call it a week-end; that
shows how swell they are. They're going to dance all the time. When it
comes to these new dances I'm weak at both ends, head and feet. She
laughed shamelessly at her own joke, as women do. I don't want to go
there like I'd never been any place, or like Carthage wasn't up to
date. I'm just beginning to get the hang of the Maxixe and the
Hesitation, and I thought if you could give me a couple of days' real
hard work I wouldn't be such an awful gump. Could you? Do you suppose
you could? Or could you?
Prue looked such astonishment at this that Idalene hastened to say:
O' course I'm not asking you to kill yourself for nothing. How much
would you charge? Of course I haven't much saved up; but I thought if I
took two lessons a day you could make me a special rate. How much would
it be, d'you s'pose? Or what do you think?
Prue wondered. This was a new and thrilling moment for her. A boy is
excited enough over the first penny he earns, but he is brought up to
earn money. To a girl, and a girl like Prue, the luxury was almost
intolerably intense. She finally found voice to murmur:
How much you gettin' for the lessons you give?
Idalene had, for the sake of pin money, been giving a few alleged
lessons in piano, voice, water-colors, bridge whist, fancy stitching,
brass-hammering, and things like that. She answered Prue with
I get fifty cents an hour. But o' course I make a specialty of
I'm making a specialty of dancing, said Prue, coldly.
Idalene was torn between the bitterly opposite emotions of getting
and giving. Prue tried to speak with indifference, but she looked as
greedy as the old miser in the Chimes of Normandy.
Fifty cents suits me, seeing it's you.
Idalene gasped: Well, o' course, two lessons a day would be a
dollar. Could you make it six bits by wholesale?
Prue didn't see how she could. Teaching would interfere so with her
amusements. Finally Idalene sighed:
Oh, well, all right! Call it fifty cents straight. When can I come
over to your house?
To my house? gasped Prue. Papa doesn't approve of my dancing.
I'll come to yours.
Oh no, you won't, gasped Idalene. My father doesn't dream that I
dance. I'm going to let him sleep as long as I can.
Here was a plight! Mrs. Judge Hippisley strolled up and demanded,
What's all this whispering about?
They explained their predicament. Mrs. Hippisley thought it was a
perfectly wonderful idea to take lessons. She would let Prue teach
Idalene in her parlor if Prue would teach her at the same time for
Unless you think I'm too old and stupid to learn, she added,
Prue put a catfish on her hook: Oh, Mrs. Hippisley, I've seen women
much older and fatter and stupider than you dancing in Chicago.
While the hours of tuition were being discussed Bertha Appleby
tiptoed up to eavesdrop, and pleaded to be accepted as a pupil. And she
forced on the timorous Prue a quarter as her matriculation fee.
Orton Hippisley beau'd Prue home that night, and they paused in an
arcade of maples to practise a new step she had been composing in the
back of her head.
He was an apt pupil, and when they had resumed their homeward stroll
she neglected to make him take his arm away. Encouraged, he tried to
kiss her when they reached the gate. She cuffed him again, but this
time her buffet was almost a caress. She sighed:
I can't get very mad at you, you're such a quick student. I hope
your mother will learn as fast.
My mother! he exclaimed.
Yes. She wants me to teach her the one-step.
Don't you dare!
And why not? she asked, with sultry calm.
Do you think I'll let my mother carry on like that? Well, hardly!
Oh, so what I do isn't good enough for your mother!
I don't mean just that; but can't you seeWait a minute
She slammed the gate on his outstretched fingers and he went home
fondling his wound.
The next day he strolled by the parlor door at his own home, but
Prue would not speak to him and his mother was too busy to invite him
in. It amazed him to see how humble his haughty mother was before the
hitherto neglected Prue.
Prue would have felt sorrier for him if she had not been so exalted
over her earnings.
She had not let on at home about her class till she could lay the
proof of her success on the supper-table. When she stacked up the
entire two dollars that she had earned by only a few miles of trotting,
it looked like the loot the mercenaries captured in that old Carthage
which the new Carthage had never heard of.
The family was aghast. It was twice as much as Ollie had earned that
day. Ollie's money came reg'lar, of course, and would total up more
in the long run.
But for Prue to earn anything was a miracle. And in Carthage two
dollars is two dollars, at the very least.
The news that Carthage had a tango-teacher created a sensation
rivaling the advent of its first street-car. It gave the place a
metropolitan flavor. If it only had a slums district, now, it would be
a great and gloriously wicked city.
Prue was fairly besieged with applicants for lessons. Those who
could dance a few steps wanted the new steps. Those who could not dance
at all wanted to climb aboard the ark.
Mrs. Hippisley's drawing-room did not long serve its purpose. On the
third day the judge stalked in. He came home with a chill. At the sight
of his wife with one knee up, trying to paw like a horse, his chill
changed to fever. His roar was heard in the kitchen. He was so used to
domineering that he was not even afraid of his wife when he was in the
first flush of rage.
Prue and Idalene and Bertha he would have sentenced to deportation
if he had had the jurisdiction. He could at least send them home. He
threatened his wife with dire punishments if she ever took another step
of the abominable dance.
Prue was afraid of the judge, but she was not afraid of her own
father. She told him that she was going to use the parlor, and he told
her that she wasn't. The next day he came home to find the class
He peeked into the parlor and saw Bertha Appleby dancing with
Idalene Brearley. Prue was in the arms of old Tawm Kinch, the town
scoundrel, a bald and wealthy old bachelor who had lingered uncaught
like a wise old trout in a pool, though generations of girls had tried
every device, from whipping the' stream to tickling his sides. He had
refused every bait and lived more or less alone in the big old mansion
he had inherited from his skinflint mother.
At the sight of Tawm Kinch in his parlor embracing his daughter and
bungling an odious dance with her, William Pepperall saw red. He would
throw the old brute out of his house. As he made his temper ready Mrs.
Judge Hippisley hurried up the hall. She had walked round the block,
crossed two back yards and climbed the kitchen steps to throw the judge
off the scent. William could hardly make a scene before these women. He
could only protest by leaving the house.
He found that, having let the outrage go unpunished, once, it was
hard to work up steam to drive it out the second day. Also he
remembered that he had asked Tawm Kinch for a position in his
sash-and-blind factory and Tawm had said he would see about it.
Attacking Tawm Kinch would be like assaulting his future bread and
butter. He kept away from the house as much as he could, sulking like a
punished boy. One evening as he went home to supper, purposely delaying
as long as possible, he saw Tawm Kinch coming from the house. He ran
down the steps like an urchin and seized William's hand as if he had
not seen him for a long time.
Take a walk with me, Bill, he said, and led William along an
unfrequented side street. After much hemming and hawing he began:
Bill, I got a proposition to make you. I find there's a possibility of
a p'sition openin' up in the works and maybe I could fit you into it if
you'd do something for me.
William tried not to betray his overweening joy.
I'd always do anything for you, Tawm, he said. I always liked
you, always spoke well of you, which is more 'n I can say of some of
the other folks round here.
Tawm was flying too high to note the raw tactlessness of this; he
went right on:
Billor Mr. Pepperall, I'd better sayI'm simply dead gone on
that girl of yours. She's the sweetest, smartest, gracefulest thing
that ever struck this town, and when IWell, I'm afraid to ask her
m'self, but I was thinkin' if you could arrange it.
I want to marry her. I know I'm no kid, but she could have the big
house, and I can be as foolish as anybody about spending money when
I've a mind to. Prue could have 'most anything she wanted and I could
give you a good job. And then ever'body would be happy.
Papa did his best to be dignified and not turn a handspring or shout
for joy. He was like a boy trying to look sad when he learns that the
school-teacher is ill. He managed to hold back and tell Tawm Kinch that
this was kind of sudden like and he'd have to talk to the wife about
it, and o' course the girl would have to be considered.
He was good salesman enough not to leap at the first offer, and he
left Tawm Kinch guessing at the gate of the big house. To Tawm it
looked as lonely and forlorn as it looked majestic and desirable to
Papa Pepperall, glancing back over his shoulder as he sauntered home
with difficult deliberation. His heart was singing, What a place to
eat Sunday dinners at!
Once out of Tawm Kinch's range, he broke into a walk that was almost
a lope, and he rounded a corner into the portico that Judge Hippisley
carried ahead of him. When the judge had regained his breath he seized
papa by both lapels and growled:
Look here, Pepperall, I told you to keep your daughter away from my
boy, and you didn't; and now Ort has lost his job. Beadle fired him
to-day. And jobs ain't easy to get in this town, as you know. And now
what's going to happen?
William Pepperall was so exultant that he tried to say two things at
the same time; that Orton's job or loss of it was entirely immaterial
and a matter of perfect indifference. What he said was, It's material
of perfect immaterence to me.
He spurned to correct himself and stalked on, leaving the judge
gaping. A few paces off William's knees weakened at the thought of how
he had jeopardized Ollie's position; but he tossed that aside with
equal immaterence, for when Prue became Mrs. Kinch she could take
Ollie to live with her, or send her to school, or something.
When he reached home he drew his wife into the parlor to break the
glorious news to her. She was more hilarious than he had been. All
their financial problems were solved and their social position
enhanced, as if the family had suddenly been elevated to the peerage.
She was on pins and needles of impatience because Prue was late for
supper. She came down at last when the others had heard all about it
and nearly finished their food. She had her hat on, and she was in such
a hurry that she paid no attention to the fluttering of the covey, or
the prolonged throat-clearing of her father, who had difficulty in
keeping Serina from blurting out the end of the story first. At length
Well, Prue, I guess the tango ain't as bad as I made out.
You going to join the class, poppa? said Prue, round the spoonful
of preserved pears she checked before her mouth.
Her father went on: I guess you're one of those daughters of Shiloh
like you said you was. And the son of Benjamin has come right out after
you. And he's the biggest son of a gun in the whole tribe.
Prue put down the following spoonful and turned to her mother: What
ails poppa, momma? He talks feverish.
Serina fairly gurgled: Prepare yourself for the grandest surprise.
You'd never guess.
And William had to jump to beat her to the news: Tawm Kinch wants
to marry you.
What makes you think so?
He asked me.
Serina clasped her hands and her eyes filled with tears of the
rescued. Oh, Prue, ain't it wonderful? Ain't the Lord good to us?
Prue did not catch fire from the blaze. She sniffed, He wasn't very
good to Tawm Kinch.
William, bitter with disappointment, snapped: What do you mean?
He's the richest man in town. Some folks say he's as good as worth a
hundred thousand dollars.
Well, what of it? He'll never learn to dance. His feet interfere.
What's dancing got to do with it? You'll stop all that foolishness
after you've married Tawm.
Oh, will I? Ort Hippisley can dance better with one foot than Tawm
Kinch could dance if he was a centipede.
Ort Hippisley! Humph! He's lost his job and he'll never get
another. You couldn't marry him.
I'm not in any hurry to marry anybody.
The reaction from hope to confusion, the rejection of the glittering
gift he proffered, infuriated the hen-pecked, chickpecked father. He
Well, you're going to marry Tawm Kinch or you're going to get out
of my house!
Papa! gasped Ollie.
Here, dad! growled Horace.
William! cried Serina.
William thumped the table and rose to his full height. He had not
often risen to it. And his voice had an unsuspected timbre:
I mean it. I've been a worm in this house long enough. Here's where
I turn. This girl has made me a laughing-stock and a despising-stock
long enough. She can take this grand opportunity I got for her or she
can pack up her duds and clear outfor good!
He thumped the table again and sat down trembling with spent rage.
Serina was so crushed under the crumbled wall of her air-castles that
she could not protest. Olive and Horace felt that since Prue was so
indifferent to their happiness they need not consider hers. There was a
long, long silence.
The sound of a low whistle outside stole into the silence. Prue rose
and said, quietly:
Ollie, would you mind packing my things for me? I'll send over for
them when I know where I'll be.
Ollie tried to answer, but her lips made no sound. Prue kissed each
of the solemn faces round the table, including her father's. They might
have been dead in their chairs for all their response. She paused with
prophetic loneliness. That low whistle shrilled again.
She murmured a somber, Good-by, everybody, and went out.
The door closed like a dull Good-by. They heard her swift feet
slowly crossing the porch and descending the steps. They imagined them
upon the walk. They heard the old gate squeal a rusty,
It was Ort Hippisley, of course, that waited for Prue outside the
gate. They swapped bad news. She had heard that he had lost his job,
but not that his father had forbidden him to speak to Prue.
Her evil tidings that she had been compelled to choose between
marrying Tawm Kinch and banishment from home threw Ort into a panic of
dismay. He was a natural-born dancer, but not a predestined hero. He
had no inspirations for crises like these. He was as graceful as a
manly man could be, but he was not at his best when the hour was
darkest. He was at his best when the band was playing.
In him Prue found somebody to support, not to lean on. But his
distress at her distress was so complete that it endeared him to her
war-like soul more than a braver quality might have done. They stood
awhile thus in each other's arms like a Pierrot and his Columbine with
winter coming on. Finally Orton sighed:
What in Heaven's name is goin' to become of us? What you goin' to
do, Prue? Where can you go?
Prue's resolution asserted itself. The first place to go is Mrs.
Prosser's boardin'-house and get me a room. Then we can go on to the
dance and maybe that'll give us an idea.
But maybe Mrs. Prosser won't want you since your father's turned
In the first place it was me that turned me out. In the second
place Mrs. Prosser wants 'most anybody that's got six dollars a week
comin' in. And I've got that, provided I can find a room to teach in.
Mrs. Prosser welcomed Prue, not without question, not without every
question she could get answered, but she made no great bones of the
family war. The best o' families quar'ls, she said. And half the
time they take their meals with me till they quiet down. I'll be losin'
Prue broached the question of a room to teach in. To Mrs. Prosser,
renting a room had always the joy of renting a room. She said that her
poller was not used much and she'd be right glad to get something for
it. She would throw in the use of the pianna. Prue touched the keys. It
was an old boarding-house piano and sounded like a wire fence plucked;
but almost anything would serve.
So Prue and Orton hastened away to the party, and danced with the
final rapture of doing the forbidden thing under an overhanging cloud
of menace. Several more pupils enlisted themselves in Prue's classes.
Another problem was solved and a new danger commenced by Mr. Norman
The question of music had become serious. It was hard to make
progress when the dancers had to hum their own tunes. Prue could not
buy a phonograph, and the Prosser piano dated from a time when pianos
did not play themselves. Prue could tear off a few rags, as she put
it, but she could not dance and teach and play her own music all at
once. Mrs. Hippisley was afraid to lend her phonograph lest the judge
should notice its absence.
And now like a sent angel came Mr. Norman Maugans, who played the
pipe-organ at the church, and offered to exchange his services as
musician for occasional lessons and the privilege of watching Prue
dance, for which privilege, he said, folks in New York would pay a
hundred dollars a night if they knew what they was missin'.
Prue grabbed the bargain, and the next morning began to teach him to
play such things as Some Smoke and Leg of Mutton.
At first he played Girls, Run Along so that it could hardly be
told from Where Is My Wandering Boy To-night? and his waltzes were
mostly hesitation; but by and by he got so that he fairly tangoed on
the pedals, and he was so funny bouncing about on the piano-stool to
Something Seems Tingle-ingle-ingle-ingling So Queer that the pupils
stopped dancing to watch him.
The tango was upon the world like a Mississippi at flood-time. The
levees were going over one by one; or if they stood fast they stood
alone, for the water crept round from above and backed up from below.
In Carthage, as in both Portlands, Maine and Oregon, and the two
Cairos, Illinois and Egypt, the Parises of Kentucky and France, the
Yorks and Londons, old and new; in Germany, Italy, and Japan, fathers,
monarchs, mayors, editors stormed against the new dance; societies
passed resolutions; police interfered; ballet-girls declared the dances
immoral and ungraceful. The army of the dance went right on growing.
Doctor Brearley called a meeting of the chief men of his
congregation to talk things over and discipline, if not expel, all
guilty members. Deacon Luxton was in a state of mind. He dared not vote
in favor of the dance and he dared not vote against it. He and his wife
were taking lessons from Prue surreptitiously at their own home. Judge
Hippisley's voice would have been louder for war if he had not
discovered that his wife was secretly addicted to the one-step. Old
Doctor Brearley was walking about rehearsing a sermon against it when
he happened to enter a room where Idalene was practising. He wrung from
her a confession of the depth of her iniquity. This knowledge paralyzed
Sour old Deacon Flugal was loudly in favor of making an example of
Prue. His wife was even more violent. She happened to mention her
disgust to Mrs. Deacon Luxton:
I guess this'll put an end to the tango in Carthage!
Oh, I hope not! Mrs. Luxton cried.
You hope not!
Yes, I do. It has done my husband no end of good. It's taken pounds
and pounds of fat off him. It brings out the prespiration on him
something wonderful. And it's taken years off his age. He's that spry
and full of jokes and he's gettin' right spoony. He used to be a tumble
cut-up, and then he settled down so there was no livin' with him. But
now he keeps at me to buy some new clothes and he's thinkin' of gettin'
a tuxeda. His old disp'sition seems to have come back and he's as
cheerful and, oh, so affectionate! It's like a second honeymoon.
Mrs. Luxton gazed off into space with rapture. Mrs. Flugal was so
silent that Mrs. Luxton turned to see if she had walked away in
disgust. But there was in her eyes that light that lies in woman's
eyes, and she turned a delicious tomato-red as she murmured:
How much, do you s'pose, would a term of lessons cost for my
Somehow the church failed to take official action. There was loud
criticism still, but phonographs that had hitherto been silent or at
least circumspect were heard to blare forth dance rhythms, and not
always with the soft needle on.
Mrs. Prosser's boarders were mainly past the age when they were
liable to temptation. At first the presence and activities of Prue had
added a tang of much-needed spice to this desert-island existence. They
loved to stare through the door or even to sit in at the lessons. But
at the first blast of the storm that the church had set up they
scurried about in consternation. Mrs. Prosser was informed that her
boarding-house was no longer a fit place for church-fearing ladies. She
was warned to expurgate Prue or lose the others. Mrs. Prosser
regretfully banished the girl.
And now Prue felt like the locust turned away from ant-hill after
ant-hill. She walked the streets disconsolately. Her feet from old
habit led her past her father's door. She paused to gaze at the dear
front walk and the beloved frayed steps, the darling need of paint, the
time-gnawed porch furniture, the empty hammock hooks. She sighed and
would have trudged on, but her mother saw her and called to her from
the sewing-room window, and ran out bareheaded in her old wrapper.
They embraced across the gate and Serina carried on so that Prue had
to go in with her to keep the neighbors from having too good a time.
Prue told her story, and Serina's jaw set in the kind of tetanus that
mothers are liable to. She sent Horace to fetch Prue's baggage from
old Prosser's, and she re-established Prue in her former room.
When William came slumping up the steps, still jobless, he found the
doors locked, front and back, and the porch windows fastened. Serina
from an upper sill informed him that Prue was back, and he could either
accept her or go somewhere else to live.
William yielded, salving his conscience by refusing to speak to the
girl. Prue settled down with the meekness of returned prodigals for
whom fatted calves are killed. According to the old college song, The
Prod., when he got back, sued father and brother for time while
away. That was the sort of prodigal Prue was. Prue brought her classes
Papa Pepperall gave up the battle. He dared not lock his daughter in
or out or up. He must not beat her or strangle her with a bowstring or
drop her into the Bosporus. He could not sell her down the river. A
modern father has about as much authority as a chained watch-dog. He
can jump about and bark and snap, but he only abrades his own throat.
There were Pepperall feuds all over town. One by one the most
conservative were recruited or silenced.
William Pepperall, however, still fumed at home and abroad, and
Judge Hippisley would have authorized raids if there had been any
places to raid. Thus far the orgies had been confined to private walls.
There was, indeed, no place in Carthage for public dancing except the
big room in the Westcott Block over Jake Meyer's restaurant, and that
room was rented to various secret societies on various nights.
Prue's class outgrew the parlor, spread to the dining-room, and
trickled into the kitchen. Here the growth had to stop, till it was
learned that if Mr. Maugans played very loud he could be heard in the
bedrooms up-stairs. And there a sort of University Extension was
practised for ladies only.
And still the demand for education increased. The benighted held out
hands pleading for help. Young men and old offered fabulous sums, a
dollar a lesson, two dollars! Prue decided that if her mother would
stay up-stairs as a chaperon it would be proper to let the men dance
But how am I going to cook the meals? said mamma.
We'll hire a cook, said Prue. And it was done. She even bought
mamma a new dress, and established her above-stairs as a sort of grand
Mamma watched Prue with such keenness that now and then, when Prue
had to rush down-stairs, mamma would sometimes solve a problem for one
of Prue's scholars, as she called them.
One day papa came home to his pandemonium, jostled through the
couple-cluttered hall, stamped up-stairs, and found mamma showing
Deacon Flugal how to do the drop-step.
You trot four short steps backward, mamma was saying, then you
make a little dip; but don't swing your shoulders. Prue says if you
want to dance refined you mustn't swing your shoulders or
youryourthe rest of you.
Papa was ready to swing his shoulders and drop the deacon through
the window, but as he was about to protest the deacon caught mamma in
his arms and swept backward, dropping his fourth step incisively on
papa's instep, rendering papa hors de combat.
By the time William had rubbed witch-hazel into the deacon's
heel-mark, the deacon in a glorious prespiration had gone home with
his own breathless wife ditto. William dragged Serina into the
bathroom, the only room where dancing was not in progress. He warned
her not to forget that she had sworn to be a faithful wife. She
pooh-poohed him and said:
You'd better learn to dance yourself. Come on, I'll show you the
Jedia Luna. It's very easy and awful refined. Do just like I do.
She put her hands on her hips and began to sidle. She had him nearly
sidled into the bathtub before he could escape with the cry of a hunted
animal. At supper he thumped the table with another of his resolutions,
My house was not built for a dance-hall!
That's right, poppa, said Prue; and it shakes so I'm afraid it'll
come down on us. I've been thinking that you'll have to hire me the
lodge-room in the Westcott Block. I can give classes there all day.
He refused flatly. So she persuaded Deacon Flugal and several
gentlemen who were on the waiting-list of her pupils to arrange it for
And now all day long she taught in the Westcott Block. The noise of
her music interfered with businesswith lawyers and dentists and
insurance agents. At first they were hostile, then they were
hypnotized. Lawyer and client would drop a title discussion to quarrel
over a step. The dentist's forceps would dance along the teeth, and
many an uncomplaining bicuspid was wrenched from its happy home, many
an uneasy molar assumed a crown. The money Prue made would have been
scandalous if money did not tend to become self-sterilizing after it
passes certain dimensions.
By and by the various lodge members found their meetings and their
secret rites to be so stupid, compared with the new dances, that almost
nobody came. Quorums were rare. Important members began to resign.
Everybody wanted to be Past Grand Master of the Tango.
The next step was the gradual postponement of meetings to permit of
a little informal dancing in the evening. The lodges invited their
ladies to enter the precincts and revel. Gradually the room was given
over night and day to the worship of Saint Vitus.
The solution of every human problem always opens another. People
danced themselves into enormities of appetite and thirst. It was not
that food was attractive in itself. Far from it. It was an
interruption, a distraction from the tango; a base streak of
materialism in the bacon of ecstasy. But it was necessary in order that
strength might be kept up for further dancing.
Deacon Flugal put it happily: Eating is just like stoking. When I'm
giving a party at our house I hate to have to leave the company and go
down cellar and throw coal in the furnace. But it's got to be did or
the party's gotter stop.
Carthage had one good hotel and two bad ones, but all three were
down near the deepo. Almost the only other place to eat away from
home was Jake Meyer's Place, an odious restaurant where the food was
ill chosen and ill cooked, and served in china of primeval shapes as if
stone had been slightly hollowed out.
Prue was complaining that there was no place in Carthage where
people could dance with their meals and give teas donsons. Horace was
smitten with a tremendous idea.
Why not persuade Jake Meyer to clear a space in his rest'runt like
they do in Chicawgo?
Prue was enraptured, and Horace was despatched to Jake with the
proffer of a magnificent opportunity. Horace cannily tried to extract
from Jake the promise of a commission before he told him. Jake
promised. Then Horace sprang his invention.
Now Jake was even more bitter against the tango than Doctor
Brearley, Judge Hippisley, or Mr. Pepperall. The bar annex to his
restaurant, or rather the bar to which his restaurant was annexed, had
been almost deserted of evenings since the vicious dance mania raged.
The bowling-alley where the thirst-producing dust was wont to arise in
clouds was mute. Over his head he heard the eternal Maugans and the
myriad-hoofed shuffle of the unceasing dance. When he understood what
Horace proposed he emitted the roar of an old uhlan, and the only
commission he offered Horace was the commission of murder upon his
Horace retreated in disorder and reported to Prue. Prue called upon
Jake herself, smilingly told him that all he needed to do was to crowd
his tables together round a clear space, revolutionize his menu, get a
cook who would cook, and spend about five hundred dollars on
Five hundret thalers! Jake howled. I sell you de whole shop for
five hundret thalers.
I'll think it over, said Prue as she walked out.
She could think over all of it except the five hundred dollars. She
had never thought that high. She told Horace, and he said that the way
to finance anything was to borrow the money from the bank.
Prue called on Clarence Dolge, the bank president she knew best. He
asked her a number of personal questions about her earnings. He was
surprised at their amount and horrified that she had saved none of
them. He advised her to start an account with him; but she reminded him
that she had not come to put in, but to take out.
He said that he would cheerfully lend her the money if she could get
a proper indorsement on her note. She knew that her father did not
indorse her dancing, but perhaps he might feel differently about her
I might get poppa to sign his name, she smiled.
Mr. Dolge exclaimed, No, thank you! without a moment's hesitation.
He already had a sheaf of papa's autographs, all duly protested.
She went to another bank, whose president announced that he would
have to put the very unusual proposal before the directors. Judge
Hippisley was most of the directors. The president did not report
exactly what the directors said, for Prue, after all, was a woman. But
she did not get the five hundred.
Prue had set her heart on providing Carthage with a café dansant. She determined to save her money. Prue saving!
It was hard, too, for shoes gave out quickly and she could not wear
the same frock all the time. And sometimes at night she was so tired
she just could not walk home and she rode home in a hack. A number of
young men offered to buggy-ride her home or to take her in their little
automobiles. But they, too, seemed to confuse art and business with
Sometimes she would ask Ort to ride home with her, but she wouldn't
let him pay for the hack. Indeed he could not if he would. His devotion
to Prue's school had cost him his job, and the judge would not give him
Sometimes in the hack Prue would permit Ort to keep his arm round
her. Sometimes when he was very doleful she would have to ask him to
put it round her. But it was all right, because they were going to get
married when Orton learned how to earn some money. He was afraid he
would have to leave Carthage. But how could he tear himself from Prue?
She would not let him talk about it.
Now the fame of Prue and her prancing was not long pent up in
Carthage. Visitors from other towns saw her work and carried her
praises home. Sometimes farmers, driving into town, would hear Mr.
Maugans's music through the open windows. Their daughters would climb
the stairs and peer in and lose their taste for the old dances, and
wistfully entreat Prue to learn them them newfangled steps.
In the towns smaller than Carthage the anxiety for the tango
fermented. A class was formed in Oscawanna, and Prue was bribed to come
over twice a week and help.
Clint Sprague, the manager of the Carthage Opera House, which was
now chiefly devoted to moving pictures, with occasional interpolations
of vaudeville, came home from Chicago with stories of the enormous
moneys obtained by certain tango teams. He proposed to book Prue in a
chain of small theaters round about, if she could get a dancing
partner. She said she had one.
Sprague wrote glowing letters to neighboring theater-managers, but,
being theater-managers, they were unable to know what their publics
wanted. They declined to take any risks, but offered Sprague their
houses at the regular rental, leaving him any profits that might
Clint glumly admitted that it wouldn't cost much to try it out in
Oscawanna. He would guarantee the rental and pay for the show-cards and
the dodgers; Prue would pay the fare and hotel bills of herself, her
partner, and Mr. Maugans.
Prue hesitated. It was an expense and a risk. Prue cautious! She
would take nobody for partner but Orton Hippisley. Perhaps he could
borrow the money from his father. She told him about it, and he was
wild with enthusiasm. He loved to dance with Prue. To invest money in
enlarging her fame would be divine.
He saw the judge. Then he heard him.
He came back to Prue and told her in as delicate a translation as he
could manage that it was all off. The judge had bellowed at him that
not only would he not finance his outrageous escapade with that
shameless Pepperall baggage, but if the boy dared to undertake it he
would disown him.
Now you'll have to go, said Prue, grimly.
But I have no money, honey, he protested, miserably.
I'll pay your expenses and give you half what I get, she said.
He refused flatly to share in the profits. His poverty consented to
accept the railroad fare and food enough to dance on. And he would pay
that back the first job he got.
Then Prue went to Clint Sprague and offered to pay the bills if he
would give her three-fourths of the profits. He fumed; but she drove a
good bargain. Prue driving bargains! At last he consented, growling.
When Prue announced the make-up of her troupe there was a cyclone in
her own home. Papa was as loud as the judge.
You goin' gallivantin' round the country with that Maugans idiot
and that young Hippisley scoundrel? Well, I guess not! You've disgraced
us enough in our own town, without spreading the poor but honorable
name of Pepperall all over Oscawanna and Perkinsville and Athens and
The worn-out, typewritten-out Ollie pleaded against Prue's
lawlessness. It would be sure to cost her her place in the judge's
office. It was bad enough now.
Even Serina, who had become a mere echo of Prue, herself went so far
as to say, Really, Prue, you know!
Prue thought awhile and said: I'll fix that all right. Don't you
worry. There'll be no scandal. I'll marry the boy.
And she did! Took ten dollars from the hiding-place where she banked
her wealth, and took the boy to an Oscawanna preacher, and telegraphed
home that he was hers and she his and both each other's.
The news spread like oil ablaze on water. Mrs. Hippisley had
consented to take lessons of Prue, but she had never dreamed of losing
her eldest son to her. She and Serina had quite a run-in on the
telephone. William and the judge almost had a fight-outand right on
Main Street, too.
Each accused the other of fathering a child that had decoyed away
and ruined the life of the other child. Both were so scorched with
helpless wrath that each went home to his bed and threatened to bite
any hand that was held out in comfort. Judge Hippisley had just
strength enough to send word to poor Olive that she was fired.
The next news came the next day. Oscawanna had been famished for a
sight of the world-sweeping dances. It turned out in multitudes to see
the famous Carthage queen in the new steps. The opera-house there had
not held such a crowd since William J. Bryan spoke therethe time he
did not charge admission. According to the Oscawanna Eagle:
This enterprising city paid one thousand dollars to see Peerless Prue
Pepperall dance with her partner Otto Hipkinson. What you got to say
about that, ye scribes of Carthage?
Like the corpse in Ben King's poem, Judge Hippisley sat up at the
news and said: What's that? And when the figures were repeated he
dropped dead again.
The next day word was received that Perkinsville, jealous of
Oscawanna, had shoveled twelve hundred dollars into the drug-store
where tickets were sold. Two sick people had nearly died because they
couldn't get their prescriptions filled for twelve hours, and the mayor
of the town had had to go behind the counter and pick out his own
The Athens theater had been sold out so quickly that the town hall
was engaged for a special matinée. Athens paid about fifteen hundred
dollars. The Athenians had never suspected that there was so much money
in town. People who had not paid a bill for months managed to dig up
cash for tickets.
Indignant Oscawanna wired for a return engagement, so that those who
had been crowded out could see the epoch-making dances. Those who had
seen them wanted to see them again. In the mornings Prue gave lessons
to select classes at auction prices.
Wonderful as this was, unbelievable, indeed, to Carthage, it was not
surprising. This blue and lonely dispeptic world has always been ready
to enrich the lucky being that can tempt its palate with something it
wants and didn't know it wanted. Other people were leaping from poverty
to wealth all over the world for teaching the world to dance again.
Prue caught the crest of the wave that overswept a neglected region.
The influence of her success on her people and her neighbors was
bound to be overwhelming. The judge modulated from a contemptuous
allusion to that Pepperall cat to my daughter-in-law. Prue's
father, who had never watched her dance, had refused to collaborate
even that far in her ruination, could not continue to believe that she
was entirely lost when she was so conspicuously found.
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps the world is so wholesome and so well
balanced that nobody ever attained enormous prosperity without some
excuse for it. People who contribute the beauty, laughter, thrills, and
rhythm to the world may do as much to make life livable as people who
invent electric lights and telephones and automobiles. Why should they
not be paid handsomely?
Prue, the impossible, unimaginable Prue, triumphed home safely with
several thousands of dollars in her satchel. Orton bought a revolver to
guard it with, and nearly shot one of his priceless feet off with it.
They dumped the money upon the shelf of the banker who had refused to
lend Prue five hundred dollars. He had to raise the steel grating to
get the bundle in. The receiving teller almost fainted and had to count
Clint Sprague alone was disconsolate. He had refused to risk Prue's
expenses, had forced her to take the lioness's share of the actual
costs and the imaginary profits. He almost wept over what he might have
had, despising what he had.
Prue ought to have been a wreck; but there is no stimulant like
success. In a boat-race the winning crew never collapses. Prue's mother
begged her to rest; her doctor warned her that she would drop dead. But
she smiled, If I can die dancing it won't be so bad.
Even more maddeningly joyful than the dancing now was the rhapsody
of income. To be both Salome and Hetty Green! Mr. Dolge figured out her
income. At any reasonable rate of interest it represented a capital far
bigger than Tawm Kinch's mythical hundred thousand. Mr. Dolge said to
Bill, your daughter is the richest man in town. Any time you want
to borrow a little money, get her name on your note and I'll be glad to
let you have it.
Somehow his little pleasantry brought no smile to William's face. He
You mind your own business and I'll mind mine.
Oh, I suppose you don't have to borrow it, Dolge purred; she just
gives it to you.
William almost wept at this humiliation.
Prue bought out Jake Meyer's restaurant. She spent a thousand
dollars on its decoration. She consoled Ollie with a position as her
secretary at twenty-five dollars a week and bought her some new
Her mother scolded poor Ollie for being such a stick as not to be
able to dance like her sister and having to be dependent on her. There
was something hideously immoral and disconcerting about this success.
But then there always is. Prue was whisked from the ranks of the
resentful poor to those of the predatory rich.
Prue established Horace as cashier of the restaurant. She wanted to
make her father manager, but he could not bend his pride to the yoke of
taking wages from his child. If she had come home in disgrace and
repentance he could have been a father to her.
The blossoming of what had been Jake Meyer's place into what
Carthage called the Palais de Pepperall was a festival indeed. The
newspapers, in which at Horace's suggestion Prue advertised lavishly,
gave the event head-lines on the front page. The article included a
complete catalogue of those present. This roster of forty Mesdames
was thereafter accepted as the authorized beadroll of the Carthage Four
Hundred. Mrs. Hippisley was present and as proud as Judy. But the judge
and William Pepperall were absent, and Prue felt an ache in a heart
that should have been so full of pride. She and Orton rode home in a
hack and she cried all the way. In fact, he had to stick his head out
and tell the driver to drive round awhile until she was calm enough to
A few days later, as Prue was hurrying along the street looking over
a list of things she had to purchase for her restaurant, she
encountered old Doctor Brearley, who was looking over a list of
subscribers to the fund for paying the overdue interest on the mortgage
on the new steeple. He was afraid the builders might take it down.
In trying to pass each other Prue and the preacher fell into an
involuntary tango step that delighted the witnesses. When Doctor
Brearley had recovered his composure, and before he had adjusted his
spectacles, he thought that Prue was Bertha Appleby, and he said:
Ah, my dear child, I was just going to call on you and see if you
couldn't contribute a little to help us out in this very worthy cause.
Prue let him explain, and then she said:
Tell you what I'll do, Doctor: I'll give you the entire proceeds of
my restaurant for one evening. And I'll dance for you with my husband.
Doctor Brearley was aghast when he realized the situation. He was
afraid to accept; afraid to refuse. He was in an excruciating dilemma.
Prue had mercy on him. She said:
I'll just announce it as an idea of my own. You needn't have
anything to do with it.
The townspeople were set in a turmoil over Prue's latest audacity.
Half the church members declared it an outrage; the other half decided
that it gave them an opportunity to see her dance under safe auspices.
The restaurant was crowded with unfamiliar faces, terrified at what
they were to witness. Doctor Brearley had not known what to do. It
seemed so mean to stay away and so perilous to go. His daughter solved
the problem by telling him that she would say she had made him come. He
went so far as to let her drag him in. But just for a moment, he
explained. He really must leave immediately after Mr. and Mrs.
Hippisley'serexercises. He apparently apologized to the other
guests, but really to an outraged heaven.
He trembled with anxiety on the edge of his chair. The savagery of
the music alarmed him. When Prue walked out with her husband the old
Doctor was distressed by her beauty. Then they danced and his heart
thumped; but subtly it was persuaded to thump in the measure of that
unholy Maxixe. He did not know that outside in the street before the
two windows stood two exiled fathers watching in bitter loneliness.
He saw a little love drama displayed, and reminded himself that,
after all, some critics said that the Song of Solomon was a kind of
wedding drama or dance. After all, Mrs. Hippisley was squired by her
perfectly proper and very earnest young husbandthough Orton in his
black clothes was hardly more than her shifting shadow.
The old preacher had been studying his Cruden, and bolstering
himself up, too, with the very Scriptural texts that Prue had written
out for her stiff-necked father. He had met other texts that she had
not known how to find. The idea came to the preacher that, in a sense,
since God made everything He must have made the dance, breathed its
impulse into the clay.
This daughter of Shiloh was an extraordinarily successful piece of
workmanship. There was nothing very wicked surely about that coquettish
bending of her head, those playful escapes from her husband's embrace,
that heel-and-toe tripping, that lithe elusiveness, that joyous
psalmody of youth.
Prue was so pretty and her ways so pretty that the old man felt the
pathos of beauty, so fleet, so fleeting, so lyrical, so full ofAlas!
The tears were in his eyes, and he almost applauded with the others
when the dance was finished. He bowed vaguely in the direction of the
anxious Prue and made his way out. She felt rebuked and condemned and
would not be comforted by the praise of others. She did not know that
the old preacher had encountered on the sidewalk Judge Hippisley.
Doctor Brearley had forgotten that the judge had not yet ordered his
own decision reversed, and he thought he was saying the unavoidable
thing when he murmured:
Ah, Judge, how proud you must be of your dear son's dear wife. I
fancy that Miriam, the prophetess, must have danced something like that
on the banks of the Red Sea when the Egyptians were overthrown.
Then he put up the umbrella he always carried and stumbled back to
his parsonage under the star-light. His heart was dancing a trifle, and
he escaped the scene of wrath that broke out as soon as he was away.
For William Pepperall had a lump in his throat made up of equal
parts of desire to cry and desire to fight, and he said to Judge
Hippisley with all truculence:
Look here, Judge! I understand you been jawin' round this town
about my daughter not being all she'd ought to be. Now I'm goin' to put
a stop to that jaw of yours if I have to slam it right through the top
of your head. If you want to send me to jail for contemp' of court,
sentence me for life, because that's the way I feel about you, you fat
Judge Hippisley put up wide-open hands and protested:
Why, Bill, II just been wonderin' how I could get your daughter
to make up with me. I been afraid to ask her for fear she'd just think
I was toadyin' to her. I think she's the finest girl ever came out of
Carthage. Do you suppose she'd make up andand come over to our house
to dinner Sunday?
Let's ask her, said William, and they walked in at the door.
Early one morning about six months from the first dismal Monday
morning after William Pepperall's last bankruptcy, Serina wakened to
find that William was already up. She had been oversleeping with that
luxury which a woman can experience only in an expensive and frilly
nightie combined with hemstitched linen sheets. She opened her heavy
and slumber-contented eyes to behold her husband in a suit of
partly-silk pajamas. He was making strange motions with his feet. What
on earth you doing there? she yawned, and William grinned.
Yestiddy afternoon the judge was showin' me a new step in this Max
Hicks dance. It's right cute. Goes like this.
Mamma Pepperall watched him cavort a moment, then sniffed
contemptuously, and rolled out like a fireman summoned.
Not a bit like it! It goes like this.
A few minutes later the door opened and Ollie put her head in.
For Heaven's sake be quiet! You'll wake Prue, and she's all wore
out; and she's only got an hour more before they have to get up and
take the train for Des Moines.
The old rascals promised to be good, but as soon as she had gone
they wrangled in whispers and danced on tiptoes. Suddenly Prue put her
head in at the door and gasped:
What in Heaven's name are you and poppa up to? Do you want to wake
Papa had to explain:
I got a new step, Prue. Goes like this. Come on, momma.
Serina shyly took her place in his arms; but they had taken only a
few strides when Prue hissed:
Sh-h! Don't do it! Stop it!
In the first place it's out of date. And in the second place it's
Then the hard-working locust, having rebuked the frivolous ants,
went back to bed.
A AS IN FATHER
For two years life at Harvard was one long siesta to Orson Carver,
2d. And then he fell off the window-seat. Orson Carver, 1st, ordered
him to wake up and get to work at once. Orson announced to his friends
that he was leaving college to pay an extensive visit to Carthage and
it sounded magnificent until he added, in the Middle West.
A struggling young railroad had succumbed to hard times out there,
and Orson senior had been appointed receiver. It was the Carthage,
Thebes & Rome Railroad, connecting three towns whose names were larger
than their populations.
Since Orson had seemed unable to decide what career to choose, if
any, his father decided for himdecided that he should take up
railroading and begin at the beginning, which was the office at
Carthage. And Orson went West to grow up young man with the country.
Carthage bore not the faintest resemblance to the moving-picture
life of the West; he didn't see a single person on horseback. Yet his
mother thought of him as one who had vanished into the Mojave desert.
She wrote to warn him not to drink the alkali water.
Young Orson, regarding the villagers with patient disdain, was
amazed to find that they were patronizing him with amusement. They
spoke of his adored Boston as an old-fogy place with no
Orson's mother was somewhat comforted when he wrote her that the
young women of Carthage were noisy rowdies dressed like frumps. She was
a trifle alarmed when she read in his next letter that some of them
were not half bad-looking, surprisingly well groomed for so far West,
and fairly attractive till they opened their mouths. Then, he said,
they twanged the banjo at every vowel and went over the letter r as
if it were a bump in the road. He had no desire for blinders, but he
said that he would derive comfort from a pair of ear-muffs. By and by
he was writing her not to be worried about losing him, for there was
safety in numbers, and Carthage was so crowded with such graces that he
could never single out one siren among so many. The word siren forced
his mother to conclude that even their voices had ceased to annoy him.
She expected him to bring home an Indian squaw or a cowgirl bride on
And so Orson Carver was by delicate degrees engulfed in the life of
Carthage. He was never assimilated. He kept his own dialect, as they
The girl that Orson especially attended in Carthage was Tudie
Litton, as pretty a creature as he could imagine or desire. For
manifest reasons he affected an interest in her brother Arthur. And
Arthur, with a characteristic brotherly feeling, tried to keep his
sister in her place. He not only told her that she was not such a
much, but he also said to Orson:
You think my sister is some girl, but wait till you see Em
Terriberry. She makes Tudie look like something the pup found outside.
Just you wait till you see Em. She's been to boarding-school and made
some swell friends there, and they've taken her to Europe with 'em.
Just you wait.
I'll wait, said Orson, and proceeded to do so.
But Em remained out of town so long that he had begun to believe her
a myth, when one day the word passed down the line that she was coming
home at last.
That night Tudie murmured a hope that Orson would not be so
infatuated with the new-comer as to cast old friends aside. She
underlined the word friends with a long, slow sigh like a heavy
pen-stroke, and not without reason, for the word by itself was mild in
view of the fact that the friends were seated in a motionless hammock
in a moon-sheltered porch corner and holding on to each other as if a
comet had struck the earth and they were in grave danger of being flung
off the planet.
Orson assured Tudie: No woman exists who could come between us!
And a woman must have been supernaturally thin to achieve the feat at
But even Tudie, in her jealous dread, had no word to say against the
imminent Em. Everybody spoke so well of her that Orson had a mingled
expectation of seeing an Aphrodite and a Sister of Charity rolled into
Now Carthage was by no means one of those petty towns where nearly
everybody goes to the station to meet nearly every train. But nearly
everybody went down to see Em arrive. Foremost among the throng was
Arthur Litton. Before Em left town he and she had been engaged on
approval. While she was away he kept in practice by taking Liddy Sovey
to parties and prayer-meetings and picnics. Now that Em was on the way
home Arthur let Liddy drop with a thud and groomed himself once more to
wear the livery of Em's fiancé.
When the crowd met the train it was recognized that Arthur was next
in importance to Em's father and mother. Nobody dreamed of pushing up
ahead of him. On the outskirts of the mêlée stood Orson Carver. He gave
railroad business as the pretext for his visit to the station, and he
hovered in the offing.
As the train from the East slid in, voices cried, Hello, Em!
Woo-oo! Oh, Em! Oh, you Emma! and other Carthage equivalents for
Ave! and all hail!
Orson saw that a girl standing on the Pullman platform waved a
handkerchief and smiled joyously in response. This must be Em. When the
train stopped with a pneumatic wail she descended the steps like a
young queen coming down from a dais.
She was gowned to the minute; she carried herself with metropolitan
poise; her very hilarity had the city touch. Orson longed to dash
forward and throw his coat under her feet, to snatch away the porter's
hand-step and put his heart there in its place. But he could not do
these things unintroduced. He hung back and watched her hug her mother
and father in a brief wrestling-match while Arthur stood by in
When she reached out her hand to Arthur he wrung it and clung to it
with the dignity of proprietorship and a smirk that seemed to say: I
own this beautiful object, and I could kiss her if I wanted to. And she
would like it. But I am too well bred to do such a thing in the
presence of so many people.
Orson was not close enough to hear what he actually said. The glow
in his eyes, however, was enough. Then Em visibly spoke. When her lips
moved Arthur stared at her aghast; seemed to ask her to repeat what she
said. She evidently did. Now Arthur looked askance as if her words
Her father and mother, too, exchanged glances of dismay and chagrin.
The throng of friends pressing forward in noisy salutation was silenced
as if a great hand were clapped over every murmurous mouth.
Orson wondered what terrible thing the girl could have spoken. There
was nothing coarse in her manner. Delicacy and grace seemed to mark
her. And whatever it was she said she smiled luminously when she said
The look in her eyes was incompatible with profanity, mild soever.
Yet her language must have been appalling, for her father and mother
blushed and seemed to be ashamed of bringing her into the world, sorry
that she had come home. The ovation froze away into a confused babble.
What could the girl have said?
Orson was called in by the station agent before he could question
any of the greeters. When he was released the throng had dispersed. The
Terriberrys had clambered into the family surrey and driven home with
But that night there was a party at the Littons', planned in Emma's
honor. Tudie had invited Orson to be present.
He found that the one theme of conversation was Emma. Everybody said
to him, Have you seen Emma? and when he said Yes, everybody
demanded, Have you heard her? and when he said No everybody said,
Just you wait!
Orson was growing desperate over the mystery. He seized Newt Elkey
by the arm and said, What does she do?
What does who do?
This Miss Em Terriberry. Everybody says, 'Have you heard her?'
Well, haven't you?
No! What under the sun does she say?
Just you wait. 'Shh!
Then Emma came down the stairs like a slowly swooping angel.
She had seemed a princess in her traveling-togs; in her evening
gown! Orson had not seen such a gown since he had been in Paris. He
imagined this girl poised on the noble stairway of the Opéra there. Em
came floating down upon these small-town girls with this fabric from
heavenly looms, and reduced them once for all to a chorus.
But there was no scorn in her manner and no humility in her welcome.
The Carthage girls frankly gave her her triumph, yet when she reached
the foot of the stairs and the waiting Arthur she murmured something
that broke the spell. The crowd rippled with suppressed amusement.
Orson was again too remote to hear. But he could feel the wave of
derision, and he could see the hot shame on Arthur's cheeks. Emma bent
low for her train, took Arthur's arm, and disappeared into the parlor
where the dancing had begun.
Orson felt his arm pinched, and turned to find Tudie looking at him.
This is our dance, she said, unless you'd rather dance with her.
With her? With Miss Terriberry, you mean?
Naturally. You were staring at her so hard I thought your eyes
would roll out on the floor.
There was only one way to quell this mutiny, and that was to soothe
it away. He caught Tudie in his arms. It was strenuous work bumping
about in that little parlor, and collisions were incessant, but he
wooed Tudie as if they were afloat in interstellar spaces.
They collided oftenest with Arthur and his Emma, for the lucky youth
who held that drifting nymph seemed most unhappy in his pride. The girl
was talking amiably, but the man was grim and furtive and as careless
of his steering as a tipsy chauffeur.
Orson forgot himself enough to comment to Tudie, Your brother
doesn't seem to be enjoying himself.
Poor boy, he's heartbroken.
He's so disappointed with Em.
I can't see anything wrong with her.
Evidently not; but have you heard her?
In a sudden access of rage Orson stopped short in the middle of the
swirl, and, ignoring the battery of other dancers, demanded, In
Heaven's name, what's the matter with the girl?
Nothing, I should judge from the look on your face after your close
Oh, for pity's sake, don't begin on me; but tell me
Talk to her and find out, said Tudie, with a twang that resounded
as the music came to a stop. Oh, EmMiss Terriberry, this is Mr.
Carver; he's dying to meet you.
She whirled around so quickly that he almost fell into the girl's
arms. She received him with a smile of self-possession: Chahmed, Mr.
Orson's Eastern ears, expecting some horror of speech, felt delight
instead. She did not say charrmed like an alarm-clock breaking out.
She did not trundle his name up like a wheelbarrow. She softened the
a and ignored the r.
Tudie rolled the r on his ear-drums as with drum-sticks, and by
contrast the sound came to him as: Misterr Carrverr comes from
Harrvarrd. He calls it Havvad.
Oh, said Em, with further illumination, I woah the Hahvahd colohs
the lahst time I went to a game.
Orson wanted to say something about her lips being the perfect
Havvad crimson, but he did not quite dareyet. And being of New
England, he would always be parsimonious with flatteries.
Tudie hooked her brother's arm and said with an angelic
spitefulness, We'll leave you two together, and swished away.
Orson immediately asked for the next dance and Em granted it. While
they were waiting for the rheumatic piano to resume they promenaded.
Orson noted that everybody they passed regarded them with a sly and
cynical amusement. It froze all the language on his lips, and the girl
was still breathing so fast from the dance that she apologized. Orson
wanted to tell her how glorious she looked with her cheeks kindled, her
lips parted, and her young bosom panting. But he suppressed the
feverish impulse. And he wondered more and more what ridiculous quality
the Carthaginians could have found in her who had returned in such
The piano exploded now with a brazen impudence of clamor. Orson
opened his arms to her, but she shook her head: Oh, I cahn't dahnce
again just yet. You'd bettah find anothah pahtnah.
She said it meekly, and seemed to be shyly pleased when he said he
much preferred to sit it out. And they sat it outon the porch.
Moonlight could not have been more luscious on Cleopatra's barge than
it was there. The piazza, which needed paint in the daylight, was blue
enameled by the moon. The girl's voice was in key with the harmony of
the hour and she brought him tidings from the East and from Europe.
They were as grateful as home news in exile.
He expected to have her torn from him at any moment. But, to his
amazement, no one came to demand her. They were permitted to sit
undisturbed for dance after dance. She was suffering ostracism. The
more he talked to her the more he was puzzled. Even Arthur did not
appear. Even the normal jealousy of a fiancé was not evident. Orson's
brain grew frantic for explanation. The girl was not wicked, nor
insolent. She plainly had no contagious disease, no leprosy, no plague,
not even a cold. Then why was she persecuted?
He was still fretting when the word was passed that supper was
ready, and they were called in. Plates and napkins were handed about by
obliging young gallants; chicken salad and sandwiches were dealt out
with a lavish hand, and ice-cream and cake completed the banquet.
Arthur had the decency to sit with Em and to bring her things to
eat, but he munched grimly at his own fodder. Orson tagged along and
sat on the same sofa. It was surprising how much noise the guests made
while they consumed their food. The laughter and clatter contrasted
with the soft speech of Em, all to her advantage.
When the provender was gone, and the plates were removed, Tudie
whisked Orson away to dance with her. As he danced he noted that Em was
a wall-flower, trying to look unconcerned, but finally seeking shelter
by the side of Tudie's mother, who gave her scant hospitality.
Tudie began at once, Well, have you found out?
No, I haven't.
Didn't you notice how affected she is?
No more than any other girl.
Oh, thank you! So you think I'm affected.
Not especially. But everybody is, one way or anothereven the
animals and the birds.
Really! And what is my affectation?
I don't know, and I wouldn't tell you if I did. What's Miss
Didn't you dahnce with her?
Well, that's it.
She says 'dahnce,' doesn't she?
I believe she does.
Well, she used to say 'dannce' like the rest of us.
What of it? Is it a sin to change?
It's an affectation.
Why? Is education an affectation?
Oh! so you call the rest of us uneducated?
For Heaven's sake, no! You know too much, if anything. But what has
that to do with Miss Terriberry?
Because their minds were at such loggerheads their feet could not
keep measure. They dropped out of the dance and sought the porch, while
Tudie raged on:
She has no right to put on airs. Her father is no better than mine.
Who is she, anyway, that she should say 'dahnce' and 'cahn't' and
Orson was amazed at the depths of bitterness stirred up by a mere
question of pronunciation. He answered, softly: Some of the meekest
people in the world use the soft 'a.' I say 'dahnce.'
Oh, but you can't help saying it.
Yes, I could if I tried.
But you were born where everybody talks like that. Em was born out
She has traveled, though.
So have I. And I didn't come back playing copy-cat.
It's natural for some people to mimic others. She may not be as
strong-minded as you are. He thought that rather diplomatic. Besides
'dannce' and 'cann't' aren't correct.
Oh yes, they are!
Oh no, they're not! Not by any dictionary ever printed.
Then they'd better print some more. Dictionaries don't know
everything. They're very inconsistent.
Now you say 'tomahto' where I say 'tomayto.'
Why don't you say 'potahto'?
Because nobody does.
Well, nobody that was born out here says 'dahnce' and 'cahn't.'
But she's been East and in Europe, andwhere's the harm of it,
anyway? What's your objection to the soft 'a'?
It's all right for those that are used to it.
But you say 'father.' Why don't you say 'rather' to rhyme with it?
Don't be foolish.
I'm trying not to be.
Well, then, don't try to convince me that Em Terriberry is a
wonderful creature because she's picked up a lot of foreign mannerisms
and comes home thinking she's better than the rest of us. We'll show
herthe conceited thing! Her own father and mother are ashamed of her,
and Arthur is so disgusted the poor boy doesn't know what to do. I
think he ought to give her a good talking to or break off the
Orson sank back stunned at the ferocity of her manner. He beheld how
great a matter a little fire kindleth. It was so natural to him to
speak as Miss Terriberry spoke that he could not understand the hatred
the alien a and the suppressed r could evoke among those native to
the flat vowel and the protuberant consonant. He was yet to learn to
what lengths disputes could go over quirks of speech.
The very talking to that Tudie believed her brother ought to give
his betrothed he was giving her at that moment at the other end of the
porch. Arthur had hesitated to attempt the reproof. It was not pleasant
to broach the subject, and he knew that it was dangerous, since Em was
high-spirited. Even when she expressed a wonder at the coolness of
everybody's behavior he could not find the courage for the lecture
seething in his indignant heart.
He was worrying through a perfunctory consolation: Oh, you just
imagine that people are cold to you, Em. Everybody's tickled to death
to have you home. You see, Em
I wish you wouldn't call me Em, she said.
It's your name, isn't it?
It's a part of my old name; but I've changed Emma to Amélie. After
this I want to be called Amélie.
If she had announced her desire to wear trousers on the street, or
to smoke a pipe in church, or even to go in for circus-riding, he could
not have been more appalled than he was at what she said.
Amélie? he gasped. What in the name ofof all that's sensible is
I hate Em. It's ugly. It sounds like a letter of the alphabet. I
like Amélie better. It's pretty and I choose it.
But look here, Em
This is carrying things too blamed far.
He was not entirely heedless of her own welfare. He had felt the
animosity and ridicule that had gathered like sultry electricity in the
atmosphere when Emma had murmured at the station those words that Orson
had not heard.
Orson, seated with Tudie at one end of the porch, heard them now at
the other end of the porch as they were quoted with mockery by Arthur.
Orson and Tudie forgot their own quarrel in the supernal rapture of
eavesdropping somebody's else wrangle.
When you got off the train, Arthur groaned, you knocked me off my
pins by what you said to your father and mother.
And what did I say? said Em in innocent wonder.
You said, 'Oh, my dolling m'mah, I cahn't believe it's you'!
What was wrong with that?
You used to call her 'momma' and you called me 'darrling.' And you
wouldn't have dared to say 'cahn't'! When I heard you I wanted to die.
Then you grabbed your father and gurgled, 'Oh, p'pah, you deah old
angel!' I nearly dropped in my tracks, and so did your father. And then
you turned to me and I knew what was coming! I tried to stop you, but I
couldn't. And you said it! You called me 'Ahthuh'!
Isn't that your name, deah?
No, it is not! My name is 'Arrthurr' and you know it! 'Ahthuh'!
what do you think I am? My name is good honest 'Arrthurr.' He said it
like a good honest watch-dog, and he gnarred the r in the manner that
made the ancients call it the canine letter.
Amélie, born Emma, laughed at his rage. She tried to appease him. I
think 'Ahthuh' is prettiah. It expresses my tendah feelings bettah. The
way you say it, it sounds like garrgling something.
But her levity in such a crisis only excited her lover the more.
Everybody at the station was laughing at you. To-night when you
traipsed down the stairs, looking so pretty in your new dress, you had
to spoil everything by saying: 'What a chahming pahty. Shall we dahnce,
Ahthuh?' I just wanted to die.
The victim of his tirade declined to wither. She answered: I cahn't
tell you how sorry I am to have humiliated you. But if it's a sin to
speak correctly you'll have to get used to it.
No, I won't; but you'll get over it. You can live it down in time;
but don't you dare try to change your name to Amélie. They'd laugh you
out of Carthage.
Oh, would they now? Well, Amélie is my name for heahaftah, and if
you don't want to call me that you needn't call me anything.
Look here, Em.
Emamélie! for Heaven's sake don't be a snob!
You're the snob, not I. There's just as much snobbery in sticking
to mispronunciation as there is in being correct. And just as much
affectation in talking with a burr as in dropping it. You think it's
all right for me to dress as they do in New York. Why shouldn't I talk
the same way? If it's all right for me to put on a pretty gown and weah
my haiah the most becoming way, why cahn't I improve my name, too? You
cahn't frighten me. I'm not afraid of you or the rest of your backwoods
friends. Beauty is my religion, and if necessary I'll be a mahtah to
You'll be a what?
Do you mean a motto?
I mean what you'd call a marrtyrr. But I won't make you one. I'll
release you from our engagement, and you can go back to Liddy Sovey. I
understand you've been rushing her very hahd. And you needn't take me
home. I'll get back by the gahden pahth.
She rose and swept into the house, followed by her despairing swain.
Orson and Tudie eavesdropped in silence. Tudie was full of scorn.
Amélie's arguments were piffle or worse to her, and her willingness to
undergo martyrdom for them was the most arrant pigheadedness, as the
martyrdom of alien creeds usually is.
Orson, the alien, was full of amazement. Here was a nice young man
in love with a beautiful young woman. He had been devoted for years,
and now, because she had slightly altered her habits in one vowel and
one consonant, their love was curdled.
Greater wars have begun from less causes and been waged more
fiercely. They say that an avalanche can be brought down from a
mountain by a whispered word. Small wonder, then, that the murmur of a
vowel and the murder of a consonant should precipitate upon the town of
Carthage the stored-up snows of tradition. Business was dull in the
village and any excitement was welcome. Before Emma's return there had
been a certain slight interest in pronunciation.
Orson Carver had for a time stimulated amusement by his droll talk.
He had been suspected for some time of being an impostor because he
spoke of his university as Havvad. The Carthaginians did not expect
him to call it Harrvarrd, as it was spelled, but they had always
understood that true graduates called it Hawvawd, and local humorists
won much laughter by calling it Haw-haw-vawd. Orson had bewildered
them further by a sort of cockneyism of misappropriated letters. He
used the flat a in words where Carthaginians used the soft, as in his
own name and his university's. He saved up the r that he dropped from
its rightful place and put it on where it did not belong, as in
idear. He had provoked roars of laughter one evening when a practical
joker requested him to read a list of the books of the Bible, and he
had mentioned Numbas, Joshuar, Ezrar, Nehemiar, Estha, Provubbs,
Eventually he was eclipsed by another young man sent to a post in
the C., T. &R. Railroad by an ambitious parentJefferson Digney, of
Yale. Digney, born and raised in Virginia and removed to Georgia, had
taken his accent to New Haven and taken it away with him unsullied. His
Southern speech had given Carthage acute joy for a while.
Arthur Litton had commented once on the contrast between Orson and
Jefferson. Neither of you can pronounce the name of his State, said
Arthur. He calls it 'Jawja' and you call it 'Jahjar.'
What should it be?
You can't pronounce your own name.
Oh, cahn't I?
No, you cahn't I. You call it 'Cavveh.' He calls it 'Cyahvah.'
What ought it to be?
Carrvurras it's spelt.
Yet another new-comer to the town was an Englishman, Anthony Hopper,
a younger son of a stock-holder abroad. He was not at all the
Englishman of the stage, and the Carthaginians were astonished to find
that he did not drop his h's or misapply them. And he never once said
fawncy, but flat fancy. He did not call himself Hanthony 'Opper,
as they expected. But he did take a caold bahth in the mawning.
With a New Englander, an old Englander, and an Atlantan in the town,
Carthage took an astonishing interest in pronunciation that winter.
When conversation flagged anybody could raise a laugh by referring to
their outlandish pronunciations. Quoting their remarks took the place
of such parlor games as trying to say She sells sea shells, or The
sea ceaseth and it sufficeth us.
The foreigners entered into the spirit of it and retorted with
burlesques of Carthagese. They were received with excellent
sportsmanship. One might have been led to believe that the
Carthaginians took the matter of pronunciation lightly, since they
could laugh tolerantly at foreigners. This, however, was because the
foreigners had missed advantages of Carthaginian standards.
Emma Terriberry's crime was not in her pronunciation, but in the
fact that she had changed it. Having come from Carthage, she must
forever remain a Carthagenian or face down a storm of wrath. Her
quarrel with her lover was the beginning of a quarrel with the whole
Arthur Litton became suddenly a hero, like the first man wounded in
a war. The town rallied to his support. Emma was a heartless wretch,
who had insulted a faithful lover because he would not become as abject
a toady to the hateful East as she was. Her new name became a byword.
Her pronunciations were heard everywhere in the most ruthless parody.
She was accused of things that she never had said, things that nobody
could ever say.
They inflicted on her the impossible habit of consistency. She was
reported as calling a hat a hot, a rat a rot, of teaching her
little sister to read from the primer, Is the cot on the mot?
Pronunciation became a test of character. The soft r and the hard a
were taken as proofs of effeminate hypocrisy.
Carthage differed only in degree, not in kind, from old Italy at the
time of the Sicilian Vespers, when they called upon everybody to
pronounce the word ciceri. The natives who could say chee-cheree
escaped, but the poor French who could come no nearer than seeseree
were butchered. Gradually now in Carthage the foreigners from
Massachusetts, Georgia, England, and elsewhere ceased to be regarded
with tolerance. Their accents no longer amused. They gave offense.
In the railroad office there were six or seven of these new-comers.
They were driven together by indignation. They took up Amélie's cause;
made her their queen; declined invitations in which she was not
included; gave parties in her honor: took her buggy-riding. Each had
A few girls could not endure her triumph. They broke away from the
fold and became renegades, timidly softening their speech. This
infuriated the others, and the town was split into Guelph and
Amélie enjoyed the notoriety immensely. She flaunted her success.
She ridiculed the Carthage people as yokels. She burlesqued their
jargon as outrageously as they hers.
The soda-water fountains became battle-fields of backbiting and
mockery. The feuds were as bitter, if not as deadly, as those that
flourished around the fountains in medieval Italian towns. Two girls
would perch on the drug-store stools back to back, and bicker in
pretended ignorance of each other's presence. Tudie Litton would order
sahsahpahrillah, which she hated, just to mock Amélie's manner; and
Amélie, assuming to be ignorant of Tudie's existence, would retort by
ordering a strorrburry sody wattur. Then each would laugh recklessly
The church at which the Terriberrys worshiped was almost torn apart
by the matter. The more ardent partisans felt that Amélie's unrepentant
soul had no right in the sacred edifice. Others urged that there should
be a truce to factions there, as in heaven. One Sunday dear old Dr.
Brearley, oblivious of the whole war, as of nearly everything else less
than a hundred years away, chose as his text Judges xii: 6:
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth:
for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and
slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the
Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
If the anti-Amélites had needed any increase of enthusiasm they got
it now. They had Scripture on their side. If it were proper for the men
of Gilead, where the well-known balm came from, to slay forty-two
thousand people for a mispronunciation, surely the Carthaginians had
authority to stand by their alturrs and their fi-urs and protect
them from those who called them altahs and fiahs.
No country except ours could foster such a feud. No language except
the chaos we fumble with could make it possible. By and by the war wore
out of its own violence. People ceased to care how a thing was said,
and began to take interest again in what was said. Those who had
mimicked Amélie had grown into the habit of mimicry until they half
forgot their scorn. The old-time flatness and burr began to soften from
attrition, to be modified because they were conspicuous. You would have
heard Arthur subduing his twang and unburring the r. If you had asked
him he would have told you his name was either Arthuh or Ahthur.
Amélie and her little bodyguard, on the other hand, grew so nervous
of the sacred emblems that they avoided their use. When they came to a
word containing an a or a final r they hesitated or sidestepped and
let it pass. Amélie fell into the habit of saying couldn't for
cahn't, and A. M. for mawning.
People began to smile when they met her, and she smiled back. Slowly
everybody that had not been speaking began speaking, bowing,
chatting. Now, when one of the disputed words drifted into the talk,
each tried to concede a little to the other's belief, as soldiers of
the blue and the gray trod delicately on one another's toes after peace
was decreed. Everybody was now half and half, or, as Tudie vividly
spoke it, haff and hahf. You would hear the same person say
haff-pahst ten, hahf-passt eleven, and hahf-pahst twelve.
Carthage became as confused in its language as Alsace-Lorraine.
All through this tremendous feud Orson Carver had been faithful to
Amélie. Whether he had given Tudie the sack or she him was never
decided. But she was loyal to her dialect. He ceased to call; Tudie
ceased to invite him. They smiled coldly and still more coldly, and
then she ceased to see him when they met. He was simply transparent.
Orson was Amélie's first cavalier in Carthage. He found her mightily
attractive. She was brisk of wit and she adored his Boston and his
ways. She was sufficiently languorous and meek in the moonlight,
tooan excellent hammock-half.
But when the other Outlanders had begun to gather to her standard it
crowded the porch uncomfortably.
Dissension rose within the citadel. Orson's father had fought
Jefferson's father in 1861-65. The great-grandfathers of both of them
had fought Anthony Hopper's forefathers in '76-83. The pronunciations
of the three grew mutually distasteful, and dreadful triangular rows
took place on matters of speech.
Amélie sat in silence while they wrangled, and her thoughts reverted
to Arthur Litton. He had loved her well enough to be ashamed of her and
rebuke her. She was afraid that she had been a bit of a snob, a trifle
caddish. She had aired her new accent and her new clothes a trifle too
insolently. Old customs grew dear to her like old slippers. She
remembered the Littons' shabby buggy and the fuzzy horse, and the
drives Arthur and she had taken under the former moons.
Her father and mother had shocked her with their modes of speech
when she came home, and she had ventured to rebuke them. She felt now
that they ought to have spanked her. A great tenderness welled up in
her heart for them and their homely ways. She wanted to be like them.
The village was taking her back into its slumberous comfortableness.
She would waken from her reveries to hear the aliens arguing their
alien rules of speech. It suddenly struck her that they were all wrong,
anyway. She felt an impulse to run for a broom and sweep them off into
space. She grew curt with them. They felt the chill and dropped away,
all but Orson. At last his lonely mother bullied his father into
recalling him from the Western wilds.
He called on Amélie to bid a heartbreaking good-by. He was
disconsolate. He asked her to write to him. She promised she would. He
was excited to the point of proposing. She declined him plaintively.
She could never leave the old folks. My place is here, she said.
He left her and walked down the street like a moving elegy.
He suffered agonies of regret till he met a girl on the East-bound
train. She was exceedingly pretty and he made a thrilling adventure of
scraping acquaintance with her mother first, and thus with her. They
were returning to Boston, too. They were his home folks.
When at last the train hurtled him back into Massachusetts he had
almost forgotten that he had ever been in Carthage. He had a sharp
When he flung his arms about his mother and told her how glad he was
to see her, her second exclamation was: But how on uth did you acquiah
that ghahstly Weste'n accent?
* * * * *
One evening in the far-off Middle West the lonely Amélie was sitting
in her creaking hammock, wondering how she could endure her loneliness,
plotting how she could regain her old lover. She was desperately
considering a call upon his sister. She would implore forgiveness for
her sin of vanity and beg Tudie's intercession with Arthur. She had
nearly steeled herself to this glorious contrition when she heard a
warning squeal from the front gate, a slow step on the front walk, and
hesitant feet on the porch steps.
And there he stood, a shadow against the shadow. In a sorrowful
voice he mumbled, Is anybody home?
I am! she cried. I was hoping you would come.
Yes. I was just about ready to telephone you.
There was so much more than hospitality in her voice that he
stumbled forward. Their shadows collided and merged in one embrace.
Oh, Amélie! he sighed in her neck.
And she answered behind his left ear: Don't call me Amélie any
more. I like Em betterr from you! It's so shorrt and sweetas you say
it. We'll forget the passt forreverr.
Am! my dolling!