Baby Talk by Rupert Hughes
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.