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Title: A Collection of Stories, Reviews and Essays
Author: Cather, Willa Sibert, 1873-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Collection of Stories, Reviews and Essays" ***

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A Collection of

Stories, Reviews and Essays

by

Willa Cather



CONTENTS


  PART I: STORIES

    Peter
    On the Divide
    Eric Hermannson's Soul
    The Sentimentality of William Tavener
    The Namesake
    The Enchanted Bluff
    The Joy of Nelly Deane
    The Bohemian Girl
    Consequences
    The Bookkeeper's Wife
    Ardessa
    Her Boss


  PART II: REVIEWS AND ESSAYS

    Mark Twain
    William Dean Howells
    Edgar Allan Poe
    Walt Whitman
    Henry James
    Harold Frederic
    Kate Chopin
    Stephen Crane
    Frank Norris
    When I Knew Stephen Crane
    On the Art of Fiction



PART I

STORIES



_Peter_


"No, Antone, I have told thee many times, no, thou shalt not sell it
until I am gone."

"But I need money; what good is that old fiddle to thee? The very
crows laugh at thee when thou art trying to play. Thy hand trembles
so thou canst scarce hold the bow. Thou shalt go with me to the Blue
to cut wood to-morrow. See to it thou art up early."

"What, on the Sabbath, Antone, when it is so cold? I get so very
cold, my son, let us not go to-morrow."

"Yes, to-morrow, thou lazy old man. Do not I cut wood upon the
Sabbath? Care I how cold it is? Wood thou shalt cut, and haul it
too, and as for the fiddle, I tell thee I will sell it yet." Antone
pulled his ragged cap down over his low heavy brow, and went out.
The old man drew his stool up nearer the fire, and sat stroking his
violin with trembling fingers and muttering, "Not while I live, not
while I live."

Five years ago they had come here, Peter Sadelack, and his wife, and
oldest son Antone, and countless smaller Sadelacks, here to the
dreariest part of south-western Nebraska, and had taken up a
homestead. Antone was the acknowledged master of the premises, and
people said he was a likely youth, and would do well. That he was
mean and untrustworthy every one knew, but that made little
difference. His corn was better tended than any in the county, and
his wheat always yielded more than other men's.

Of Peter no one knew much, nor had any one a good word to say for
him. He drank whenever he could get out of Antone's sight long
enough to pawn his hat or coat for whiskey. Indeed there were but
two things he would not pawn, his pipe and his violin. He was a
lazy, absent minded old fellow, who liked to fiddle better than to
plow, though Antone surely got work enough out of them all, for that
matter. In the house of which Antone was master there was no one,
from the little boy three years old, to the old man of sixty, who
did not earn his bread. Still people said that Peter was worthless,
and was a great drag on Antone, his son, who never drank, and was a
much better man than his father had ever been. Peter did not care
what people said. He did not like the country, nor the people, least
of all he liked the plowing. He was very homesick for Bohemia. Long
ago, only eight years ago by the calendar, but it seemed eight
centuries to Peter, he had been a second violinist in the great
theatre at Prague. He had gone into the theatre very young, and had
been there all his life, until he had a stroke of paralysis, which
made his arm so weak that his bowing was uncertain. Then they told
him he could go. Those were great days at the theatre. He had plenty
to drink then, and wore a dress coat every evening, and there were
always parties after the play. He could play in those days, ay, that
he could! He could never read the notes well, so he did not play
first; but his touch, he had a touch indeed, so Herr Mikilsdoff, who
led the orchestra, had said. Sometimes now Peter thought he could
plow better if he could only bow as he used to. He had seen all the
lovely women in the world there, all the great singers and the great
players. He was in the orchestra when Rachel played, and he heard
Liszt play when the Countess d'Agoult sat in the stage box and threw
the master white lilies. Once, a French woman came and played for
weeks, he did not remember her name now. He did not remember her
face very well either, for it changed so, it was never twice the
same. But the beauty of it, and the great hunger men felt at the
sight of it, that he remembered. Most of all he remembered her
voice. He did not know French, and could not understand a word she
said, but it seemed to him that she must be talking the music of
Chopin. And her voice, he thought he should know that in the other
world. The last night she played a play in which a man touched her
arm, and she stabbed him. As Peter sat among the smoking gas jets
down below the footlights with his fiddle on his knee, and looked up
at her, he thought he would like to die too, if he could touch her
arm once, and have her stab him so. Peter went home to his wife very
drunk that night. Even in those days he was a foolish fellow, who
cared for nothing but music and pretty faces.

It was all different now. He had nothing to drink and little to eat,
and here, there was nothing but sun, and grass, and sky. He had
forgotten almost everything, but some things he remembered well
enough. He loved his violin and the holy Mary, and above all else he
feared the Evil One, and his son Antone.

The fire was low, and it grew cold. Still Peter sat by the fire
remembering. He dared not throw more cobs on the fire; Antone would
be angry. He did not want to cut wood tomorrow, it would be Sunday,
and he wanted to go to mass. Antone might let him do that. He held
his violin under his wrinkled chin, his white hair fell over it, and
he began to play "Ave Maria." His hand shook more than ever before,
and at last refused to work the bow at all. He sat stupefied for a
while, then arose, and taking his violin with him, stole out into
the old sod stable. He took Antone's shot-gun down from its peg, and
loaded it by the moonlight which streamed in through the door. He
sat down on the dirt floor, and leaned back against the dirt wall.
He heard the wolves howling in the distance, and the night wind
screaming as it swept over the snow. Near him he heard the regular
breathing of the horses in the dark. He put his crucifix above his
heart, and folding his hands said brokenly all the Latin he had ever
known, "_Pater noster, qui in cælum est._" Then he raised his head
and sighed, "Not one kreutzer will Antone pay them to pray for my
soul, not one kreutzer, he is so careful of his money, is Antone, he
does not waste it in drink, he is a better man than I, but hard
sometimes. He works the girls too hard, women were not made to work
so. But he shall not sell thee, my fiddle, I can play thee no more,
but they shall not part us. We have seen it all together, and we
will forget it together, the French woman and all." He held his
fiddle under his chin a moment, where it had lain so often, then put
it across his knee and broke it through the middle. He pulled off
his old boot, held the gun between his knees with the muzzle against
his forehead, and pressed the trigger with his toe.

In the morning Antone found him stiff, frozen fast in a pool of
blood. They could not straighten him out enough to fit a coffin, so
they buried him in a pine box. Before the funeral Antone carried to
town the fiddle-bow which Peter had forgotten to break. Antone was
very thrifty, and a better man than his father had been.

                               _The Mahogany Tree_, May 21, 1892



_On the Divide_


Near Rattlesnake Creek, on the side of a little draw stood Canute's
shanty. North, east, south, stretched the level Nebraska plain of
long rust-red grass that undulated constantly in the wind. To the
west the ground was broken and rough, and a narrow strip of timber
wound along the turbid, muddy little stream that had scarcely
ambition enough to crawl over its black bottom. If it had not been
for the few stunted cottonwoods and elms that grew along its banks,
Canute would have shot himself years ago. The Norwegians are a
timber-loving people, and if there is even a turtle pond with a few
plum bushes around it they seem irresistibly drawn toward it.

As to the shanty itself, Canute had built it without aid of any
kind, for when he first squatted along the banks of Rattlesnake
Creek there was not a human being within twenty miles. It was built
of logs split in halves, the chinks stopped with mud and plaster.
The roof was covered with earth and was supported by one gigantic
beam curved in the shape of a round arch. It was almost impossible
that any tree had ever grown in that shape. The Norwegians used to
say that Canute had taken the log across his knee and bent it into
the shape he wished. There were two rooms, or rather there was one
room with a partition made of ash saplings interwoven and bound
together like big straw basket work. In one corner there was a cook
stove, rusted and broken. In the other a bed made of unplaned planks
and poles. It was fully eight feet long, and upon it was a heap of
dark bed clothing. There was a chair and a bench of colossal
proportions. There was an ordinary kitchen cupboard with a few
cracked dirty dishes in it, and beside it on a tall box a tin
wash-basin. Under the bed was a pile of pint flasks, some broken,
some whole, all empty. On the wood box lay a pair of shoes of almost
incredible dimensions. On the wall hung a saddle, a gun, and some
ragged clothing, conspicuous among which was a suit of dark cloth,
apparently new, with a paper collar carefully wrapped in a red silk
handkerchief and pinned to the sleeve. Over the door hung a wolf and
a badger skin, and on the door itself a brace of thirty or forty
snake skins whose noisy tails rattled ominously every time it
opened. The strangest things in the shanty were the wide
window-sills. At first glance they looked as though they had been
ruthlessly hacked and mutilated with a hatchet, but on closer
inspection all the notches and holes in the wood took form and
shape. There seemed to be a series of pictures. They were, in a
rough way, artistic, but the figures were heavy and labored, as
though they had been cut very slowly and with very awkward
instruments. There were men plowing with little horned imps sitting
on their shoulders and on their horses' heads. There were men
praying with a skull hanging over their heads and little demons
behind them mocking their attitudes. There were men fighting with
big serpents, and skeletons dancing together. All about these
pictures were blooming vines and foliage such as never grew in this
world, and coiled among the branches of the vines there was always
the scaly body of a serpent, and behind every flower there was a
serpent's head. It was a veritable Dance of Death by one who had
felt its sting. In the wood box lay some boards, and every inch of
them was cut up in the same manner. Sometimes the work was very rude
and careless, and looked as though the hand of the workman had
trembled. It would sometimes have been hard to distinguish the men
from their evil geniuses but for one fact, the men were always grave
and were either toiling or praying, while the devils were always
smiling and dancing. Several of these boards had been split for
kindling and it was evident that the artist did not value his work
highly.

It was the first day of winter on the Divide. Canute stumbled into
his shanty carrying a basket of cobs, and after filling the stove,
sat down on a stool and crouched his seven foot frame over the fire,
staring drearily out of the window at the wide gray sky. He knew by
heart every individual clump of bunch grass in the miles of red
shaggy prairie that stretched before his cabin. He knew it in all
the deceitful loveliness of its early summer, in all the bitter
barrenness of its autumn. He had seen it smitten by all the plagues
of Egypt. He had seen it parched by drought, and sogged by rain,
beaten by hail, and swept by fire, and in the grasshopper years he
had seen it eaten as bare and clean as bones that the vultures have
left. After the great fires he had seen it stretch for miles and
miles, black and smoking as the floor of hell.

He rose slowly and crossed the room, dragging his big feet heavily
as though they were burdens to him. He looked out of the window into
the hog corral and saw the pigs burying themselves in the straw
before the shed. The leaden gray clouds were beginning to spill
themselves, and the snowflakes were settling down over the white
leprous patches of frozen earth where the hogs had gnawed even the
sod away. He shuddered and began to walk, tramping heavily with his
ungainly feet. He was the wreck of ten winters on the Divide and he
knew what they meant. Men fear the winters of the Divide as a child
fears night or as men in the North Seas fear the still dark cold of
the polar twilight.

His eyes fell upon his gun, and he took it down from the wall and
looked it over. He sat down on the edge of his bed and held the
barrel towards his face, letting his forehead rest upon it, and laid
his finger on the trigger. He was perfectly calm, there was neither
passion nor despair in his face, but the thoughtful look of a man
who is considering. Presently he laid down the gun, and reaching
into the cupboard, drew out a pint bottle of raw white alcohol.
Lifting it to his lips, he drank greedily. He washed his face in the
tin basin and combed his rough hair and shaggy blond beard. Then he
stood in uncertainty before the suit of dark clothes that hung on
the wall. For the fiftieth time he took them in his hands and tried
to summon courage to put them on. He took the paper collar that was
pinned to the sleeve of the coat and cautiously slipped it under his
rough beard, looking with timid expectancy into the cracked,
splashed glass that hung over the bench. With a short laugh he threw
it down on the bed, and pulling on his old black hat, he went out,
striking off across the level.

It was a physical necessity for him to get away from his cabin once
in a while. He had been there for ten years, digging and plowing and
sowing, and reaping what little the hail and the hot winds and the
frosts left him to reap. Insanity and suicide are very common things
on the Divide. They come on like an epidemic in the hot wind season.
Those scorching dusty winds that blow up over the bluffs from Kansas
seem to dry up the blood in men's veins as they do the sap in the
corn leaves. Whenever the yellow scorch creeps down over the tender
inside leaves about the ear, then the coroners prepare for active
duty; for the oil of the country is burned out and it does not take
long for the flame to eat up the wick. It causes no great sensation
there when a Dane is found swinging to his own windmill tower, and
most of the Poles after they have become too careless and
discouraged to shave themselves keep their razors to cut their
throats with.

It may be that the next generation on the Divide will be very happy,
but the present one came too late in life. It is useless for men
that have cut hemlocks among the mountains of Sweden for forty years
to try to be happy in a country as flat and gray and as naked as the
sea. It is not easy for men that have spent their youths fishing in
the Northern seas to be content with following a plow, and men that
have served in the Austrian army hate hard work and coarse clothing
and the loneliness of the plains, and long for marches and
excitement and tavern company and pretty barmaids. After a man has
passed his fortieth birthday it is not easy for him to change the
habits and conditions of his life. Most men bring with them to the
Divide only the dregs of the lives that they have squandered in
other lands and among other peoples.

Canute Canuteson was as mad as any of them, but his madness did not
take the form of suicide or religion but of alcohol. He had always
taken liquor when he wanted it, as all Norwegians do, but after his
first year of solitary life he settled down to it steadily. He
exhausted whisky after a while, and went to alcohol, because its
effects were speedier and surer. He was a big man with a terrible
amount of resistant force, and it took a great deal of alcohol even
to move him. After nine years of drinking, the quantities he could
take would seem fabulous to an ordinary drinking man. He never let
it interfere with his work, he generally drank at night and on
Sundays. Every night, as soon as his chores were done, he began to
drink. While he was able to sit up he would play on his mouth harp
or hack away at his window sills with his jack knife. When the
liquor went to his head he would lie down on his bed and stare out
of the window until he went to sleep. He drank alone and in solitude
not for pleasure or good cheer, but to forget the awful loneliness
and level of the Divide. Milton made a sad blunder when he put
mountains in hell. Mountains postulate faith and aspiration. All
mountain peoples are religious. It was the cities of the plains
that, because of their utter lack of spirituality and the mad
caprice of their vice, were cursed of God.

Alcohol is perfectly consistent in its effects upon man. Drunkenness
is merely an exaggeration. A foolish man drunk becomes maudlin; a
bloody man, vicious; a coarse man, vulgar. Canute was none of these,
but he was morose and gloomy, and liquor took him through all the
hells of Dante. As he lay on his giant's bed all the horrors of this
world and every other were laid bare to his chilled senses. He was a
man who knew no joy, a man who toiled in silence and bitterness. The
skull and the serpent were always before him, the symbols of eternal
futileness and of eternal hate.

When the first Norwegians near enough to be called neighbors came,
Canute rejoiced, and planned to escape from his bosom vice. But he
was not a social man by nature and had not the power of drawing out
the social side of other people. His new neighbors rather feared him
because of his great strength and size, his silence and his lowering
brows. Perhaps, too, they knew that he was mad, mad from the eternal
treachery of the plains, which every spring stretch green and rustle
with the promises of Eden, showing long grassy lagoons full of clear
water and cattle whose hoofs are stained with wild roses. Before
autumn the lagoons are dried up, and the ground is burnt dry and
hard until it blisters and cracks open.

So instead of becoming a friend and neighbor to the men that settled
about him, Canute became a mystery and a terror. They told awful
stories of his size and strength and of the alcohol he drank. They
said that one night, when he went out to see to his horses just
before he went to bed, his steps were unsteady and the rotten planks
of the floor gave way and threw him behind the feet of a fiery young
stallion. His foot was caught fast in the floor, and the nervous
horse began kicking frantically. When Canute felt the blood
trickling down in his eyes from a scalp wound in his head, he roused
himself from his kingly indifference, and with the quiet stoical
courage of a drunken man leaned forward and wound his arms about the
horse's hind legs and held them against his breast with crushing
embrace. All through the darkness and cold of the night he lay
there, matching strength against strength. When little Jim Peterson
went over the next morning at four o'clock to go with him to the
Blue to cut wood, he found him so, and the horse was on its fore
knees, trembling and whinnying with fear. This is the story the
Norwegians tell of him, and if it is true it is no wonder that they
feared and hated this Holder of the Heels of Horses.

One spring there moved to the next "eighty" a family that made a
great change in Canute's life. Ole Yensen was too drunk most of the
time to be afraid of any one, and his wife Mary was too garrulous to
be afraid of any one who listened to her talk, and Lena, their
pretty daughter, was not afraid of man nor devil. So it came about
that Canute went over to take his alcohol with Ole oftener than he
took it alone. After a while the report spread that he was going to
marry Yensen's daughter, and the Norwegian girls began to tease Lena
about the great bear she was going to keep house for. No one could
quite see how the affair had come about, for Canute's tactics of
courtship were somewhat peculiar. He apparently never spoke to her
at all: he would sit for hours with Mary chattering on one side of
him and Ole drinking on the other and watch Lena at her work. She
teased him, and threw flour in his face and put vinegar in his
coffee, but he took her rough jokes with silent wonder, never even
smiling. He took her to church occasionally, but the most watchful
and curious people never saw him speak to her. He would sit staring
at her while she giggled and flirted with the other men.

Next spring Mary Lee went to town to work in a steam laundry. She
came home every Sunday, and always ran across to Yensens to startle
Lena with stories of ten cent theaters, firemen's dances, and all
the other esthetic delights of metropolitan life. In a few weeks
Lena's head was completely turned, and she gave her father no rest
until he let her go to town to seek her fortune at the ironing
board. From the time she came home on her first visit she began to
treat Canute with contempt. She had bought a plush cloak and kid
gloves, had her clothes made by the dress-maker, and assumed airs
and graces that made the other women of the neighborhood cordially
detest her. She generally brought with her a young man from town who
waxed his mustache and wore a red necktie, and she did not even
introduce him to Canute.

The neighbors teased Canute a good deal until he knocked one of them
down. He gave no sign of suffering from her neglect except that he
drank more and avoided the other Norwegians more carefully than
ever. He lay around in his den and no one knew what he felt or
thought, but little Jim Peterson, who had seen him glowering at Lena
in church one Sunday when she was there with the town man, said that
he would not give an acre of his wheat for Lena's life or the town
chap's either; and Jim's wheat was so wondrously worthless that the
statement was an exceedingly strong one.

Canute had bought a new suit of clothes that looked as nearly like
the town man's as possible. They had cost him half a millet crop;
for tailors are not accustomed to fitting giants and they charge for
it. He had hung those clothes in his shanty two months ago and had
never put them on, partly from fear of ridicule, partly from
discouragement, and partly because there was something in his own
soul that revolted at the littleness of the device.

Lena was at home just at this time. Work was slack in the laundry
and Mary had not been well, so Lena stayed at home, glad enough to
get an opportunity to torment Canute once more.

She was washing in the side kitchen, singing loudly as she worked.
Mary was on her knees, blacking the stove and scolding violently
about the young man who was coming out from town that night. The
young man had committed the fatal error of laughing at Mary's
ceaseless babble and had never been forgiven.

"He is no good, and you will come to a bad end by running with him!
I do not see why a daughter of mine should act so. I do not see why
the Lord should visit such a punishment upon me as to give me such a
daughter. There are plenty of good men you can marry."

Lena tossed her head and answered curtly, "I don't happen to want to
marry any man right away, and so long as Dick dresses nice and has
plenty of money to spend, there is no harm in my going with him."

"Money to spend? Yes, and that is all he does with it I'll be bound.
You think it very fine now, but you will change your tune when you
have been married five years and see your children running naked and
your cupboard empty. Did Anne Hermanson come to any good end by
marrying a town man?"

"I don't know anything about Anne Hermanson, but I know any of the
laundry girls would have Dick quick enough if they could get him."

"Yes, and a nice lot of store clothes huzzies you are too. Now there
is Canuteson who has an 'eighty' proved up and fifty head of cattle
and----"

"And hair that ain't been cut since he was a baby, and a big dirty
beard, and he wears overalls on Sundays, and drinks like a pig.
Besides he will keep. I can have all the fun I want, and when I am
old and ugly like you he can have me and take care of me. The Lord
knows there ain't nobody else going to marry him."

Canute drew his hand back from the latch as though it were red hot.
He was not the kind of a man to make a good eavesdropper, and he
wished he had knocked sooner. He pulled himself together and struck
the door like a battering ram. Mary jumped and opened it with a
screech.

"God! Canute, how you scared us! I thought it was crazy Lou,--he has
been tearing around the neighborhood trying to convert folks. I am
afraid as death of him. He ought to be sent off, I think. He is just
as liable as not to kill us all, or burn the barn, or poison the
dogs. He has been worrying even the poor minister to death, and he
laid up with the rheumatism, too! Did you notice that he was too
sick to preach last Sunday? But don't stand there in the cold,--come
in. Yensen isn't here, but he just went over to Sorenson's for the
mail; he won't be gone long. Walk right in the other room and sit
down."

Canute followed her, looking steadily in front of him and not
noticing Lena as he passed her. But Lena's vanity would not allow
him to pass unmolested. She took the wet sheet she was wringing out
and cracked him across the face with it, and ran giggling to the
other side of the room. The blow stung his cheeks and the soapy
water flew in his eyes, and he involuntarily began rubbing them with
his hands. Lena giggled with delight at his discomfiture, and the
wrath in Canute's face grew blacker than ever. A big man humiliated
is vastly more undignified than a little one. He forgot the sting of
his face in the bitter consciousness that he had made a fool of
himself. He stumbled blindly into the living room, knocking his head
against the door jamb because he forgot to stoop. He dropped into a
chair behind the stove, thrusting his big feet back helplessly on
either side of him.

Ole was a long time in coming, and Canute sat there, still and
silent, with his hands clenched on his knees, and the skin of his
face seemed to have shriveled up into little wrinkles that trembled
when he lowered his brows. His life had been one long lethargy of
solitude and alcohol, but now he was awakening, and it was as when
the dumb stagnant heat of summer breaks out into thunder.

When Ole came staggering in, heavy with liquor, Canute rose at once.

"Yensen," he said quietly, "I have come to see if you will let me
marry your daughter today."

"Today!" gasped Ole.

"Yes, I will not wait until tomorrow. I am tired of living alone."

Ole braced his staggering knees against the bedstead, and stammered
eloquently: "Do you think I will marry my daughter to a drunkard? a
man who drinks raw alcohol? a man who sleeps with rattle snakes? Get
out of my house or I will kick you out for your impudence." And Ole
began looking anxiously for his feet.

Canute answered not a word, but he put on his hat and went out into
the kitchen. He went up to Lena and said without looking at her,
"Get your things on and come with me!"

The tones of his voice startled her, and she said angrily, dropping
the soap, "Are you drunk?"

"If you do not come with me, I will take you,--you had better come,"
said Canute quietly.

She lifted a sheet to strike him, but he caught her arm roughly and
wrenched the sheet from her. He turned to the wall and took down a
hood and shawl that hung there, and began wrapping her up. Lena
scratched and fought like a wild thing. Ole stood in the door,
cursing, and Mary howled and screeched at the top of her voice. As
for Canute, he lifted the girl in his arms and went out of the
house. She kicked and struggled, but the helpless wailing of Mary
and Ole soon died away in the distance, and her face was held down
tightly on Canute's shoulder so that she could not see whither he
was taking her. She was conscious only of the north wind whistling
in her ears, and of rapid steady motion and of a great breast that
heaved beneath her in quick, irregular breaths. The harder she
struggled the tighter those iron arms that had held the heels of
horses crushed about her, until she felt as if they would crush the
breath from her, and lay still with fear. Canute was striding across
the level fields at a pace at which man never went before, drawing
the stinging north wind into his lungs in great gulps. He walked
with his eyes half closed and looking straight in front of him, only
lowering them when he bent his head to blow away the snow flakes
that settled on her hair. So it was that Canute took her to his
home, even as his bearded barbarian ancestors took the fair
frivolous women of the South in their hairy arms and bore them down
to their war ships. For ever and anon the soul becomes weary of the
conventions that are not of it, and with a single stroke shatters
the civilized lies with which it is unable to cope, and the strong
arm reaches out and takes by force what it cannot win by cunning.

When Canute reached his shanty he placed the girl upon a chair,
where she sat sobbing. He stayed only a few minutes. He filled the
stove with wood and lit the lamp, drank a huge swallow of alcohol
and put the bottle in his pocket. He paused a moment, staring
heavily at the weeping girl, then he went off and locked the door
and disappeared in the gathering gloom of the night.

Wrapped in flannels and soaked with turpentine, the little Norwegian
preacher sat reading his Bible, when he heard a thundering knock at
his door, and Canute entered, covered with snow and with his beard
frozen fast to his coat.

"Come in, Canute, you must be frozen," said the little man, shoving
a chair towards his visitor.

Canute remained standing with his hat on and said quietly, "I want
you to come over to my house tonight to marry me to Lena Yensen."

"Have you got a license, Canute?"

"No, I don't want a license. I want to be married."

"But I can't marry you without a license, man. It would not be
legal."

A dangerous light came in the big Norwegian's eye. "I want you to
come over to my house to marry me to Lena Yensen."

"No, I can't, it would kill an ox to go out in a storm like this,
and my rheumatism is bad tonight."

"Then if you will not go I must take you," said Canute with a sigh.

He took down the preacher's bearskin coat and bade him put it on
while he hitched up his buggy. He went out and closed the door
softly after him. Presently he returned and found the frightened
minister crouching before the fire with his coat lying beside him.
Canute helped him put it on and gently wrapped his head in his big
muffler. Then he picked him up and carried him out and placed him in
his buggy. As he tucked the buffalo robes around him he said: "Your
horse is old, he might flounder or lose his way in this storm. I
will lead him."

The minister took the reins feebly in his hands and sat shivering
with the cold. Sometimes when there was a lull in the wind, he could
see the horse struggling through the snow with the man plodding
steadily beside him. Again the blowing snow would hide them from him
altogether. He had no idea where they were or what direction they
were going. He felt as though he were being whirled away in the
heart of the storm, and he said all the prayers he knew. But at last
the long four miles were over, and Canute set him down in the snow
while he unlocked the door. He saw the bride sitting by the fire
with her eyes red and swollen as though she had been weeping. Canute
placed a huge chair for him, and said roughly,--

"Warm yourself."

Lena began to cry and moan afresh, begging the minister to take her
home. He looked helplessly at Canute. Canute said simply,--

"If you are warm now, you can marry us."

"My daughter, do you take this step of your own free will?" asked
the minister in a trembling voice.

"No sir, I don't, and it is disgraceful he should force me into it!
I won't marry him."

"Then, Canute, I cannot marry you," said the minister, standing as
straight as his rheumatic limbs would let him.

"Are you ready to marry us now, sir?" said Canute, laying one iron
hand on his stooped shoulder. The little preacher was a good man,
but like most men of weak body he was a coward and had a horror of
physical suffering, although he had known so much of it. So with
many qualms of conscience he began to repeat the marriage service.
Lena sat sullenly in her chair, staring at the fire. Canute stood
beside her, listening with his head bent reverently and his hands
folded on his breast. When the little man had prayed and said amen,
Canute began bundling him up again.

"I will take you home, now," he said as he carried him out and
placed him in his buggy, and started off with him through the fury
of the storm, floundering among the snow drifts that brought even
the giant himself to his knees.

After she was left alone, Lena soon ceased weeping. She was not of a
particularly sensitive temperament, and had little pride beyond that
of vanity. After the first bitter anger wore itself out, she felt
nothing more than a healthy sense of humiliation and defeat. She had
no inclination to run away, for she was married now, and in her eyes
that was final and all rebellion was useless. She knew nothing about
a license, but she knew that a preacher married folks. She consoled
herself by thinking that she had always intended to marry Canute
some day, any way.

She grew tired of crying and looking into the fire, so she got up
and began to look about her. She had heard queer tales about the
inside of Canute's shanty, and her curiosity soon got the better of
her rage. One of the first things she noticed was the new black suit
of clothes hanging on the wall. She was dull, but it did not take a
vain woman long to interpret anything so decidedly flattering, and
she was pleased in spite of herself. As she looked through the
cupboard, the general air of neglect and discomfort made her pity
the man who lived there.

"Poor fellow, no wonder he wants to get married to get somebody to
wash up his dishes. Batchin's pretty hard on a man."

It is easy to pity when once one's vanity has been tickled. She
looked at the window sill and gave a little shudder and wondered if
the man were crazy. Then she sat down again and sat a long time
wondering what her Dick and Ole would do.

"It is queer Dick didn't come right over after me. He surely came,
for he would have left town before the storm began and he might just
as well come right on as go back. If he'd hurried he would have
gotten here before the preacher came. I suppose he was afraid to
come, for he knew Canuteson could pound him to jelly, the coward!"
Her eyes flashed angrily.

The weary hours wore on and Lena began to grow horribly lonesome. It
was an uncanny night and this was an uncanny place to be in. She
could hear the coyotes howling hungrily a little way from the cabin,
and more terrible still were all the unknown noises of the storm.
She remembered the tales they told of the big log overhead and she
was afraid of those snaky things on the window sills. She remembered
the man who had been killed in the draw, and she wondered what she
would do if she saw crazy Lou's white face glaring into the window.
The rattling of the door became unbearable, she thought the latch
must be loose and took the lamp to look at it. Then for the first
time she saw the ugly brown snake skins whose death rattle sounded
every time the wind jarred the door.

"Canute, Canute!" she screamed in terror.

Outside the door she heard a heavy sound as of a big dog getting up
and shaking himself. The door opened and Canute stood before her,
white as a snow drift.

"What is it?" he asked kindly.

"I am cold," she faltered.

He went out and got an armful of wood and a basket of cobs and
filled the stove. Then he went out and lay in the snow before the
door. Presently he heard her calling again.

"What is it?" he said, sitting up.

"I'm so lonesome, I'm afraid to stay in here all alone."

"I will go over and get your mother." And he got up.

"She won't come."

"I'll bring her," said Canute grimly.

"No, no. I don't want her, she will scold all the time."

"Well, I will bring your father."

She spoke again and it seemed as though her mouth was close up to
the key-hole. She spoke lower than he had ever heard her speak
before, so low that he had to put his ear up to the lock to hear
her.

"I don't want him either, Canute,--I'd rather have you."

For a moment she heard no noise at all, then something like a groan.
With a cry of fear she opened the door, and saw Canute stretched in
the snow at her feet, his face in his hands, sobbing on the door
step.

                                _Overland Monthly_, January 1986



_Eric Hermannson's Soul_


I.

It was a great night at the Lone Star schoolhouse--a night when the
Spirit was present with power and when God was very near to man. So
it seemed to Asa Skinner, servant of God and Free Gospeller. The
schoolhouse was crowded with the saved and sanctified, robust men
and women, trembling and quailing before the power of some
mysterious psychic force. Here and there among this cowering,
sweating multitude crouched some poor wretch who had felt the pangs
of an awakened conscience, but had not yet experienced that complete
divestment of reason, that frenzy born of a convulsion of the mind,
which, in the parlance of the Free Gospellers, is termed "the
Light." On the floor, before the mourners' bench, lay the
unconscious figure of a man in whom outraged nature had sought her
last resort. This "trance" state is the highest evidence of grace
among the Free Gospellers, and indicates a close walking with God.

Before the desk stood Asa Skinner, shouting of the mercy and
vengeance of God, and in his eyes shone a terrible earnestness, an
almost prophetic flame. Asa was a converted train gambler who used
to run between Omaha and Denver. He was a man made for the extremes
of life; from the most debauched of men he had become the most
ascetic. His was a bestial face, a face that bore the stamp of
Nature's eternal injustice. The forehead was low, projecting over
the eyes, and the sandy hair was plastered down over it and then
brushed back at an abrupt right angle. The chin was heavy, the
nostrils were low and wide, and the lower lip hung loosely except in
his moments of spasmodic earnestness, when it shut like a steel
trap. Yet about those coarse features there were deep, rugged
furrows, the scars of many a hand-to-hand struggle with the weakness
of the flesh, and about that drooping lip were sharp, strenuous
lines that had conquered it and taught it to pray. Over those seamed
cheeks there was a certain pallor, a grayness caught from many a
vigil. It was as though, after Nature had done her worst with that
face, some fine chisel had gone over it, chastening and almost
transfiguring it. To-night, as his muscles twitched with emotion,
and the perspiration dropped from his hair and chin, there was a
certain convincing power in the man. For Asa Skinner was a man
possessed of a belief, of that sentiment of the sublime before which
all inequalities are leveled, that transport of conviction which
seems superior to all laws of condition, under which debauchees have
become martyrs; which made a tinker an artist and a camel-driver the
founder of an empire. This was with Asa Skinner to-night, as he
stood proclaiming the vengeance of God.

It might have occurred to an impartial observer that Asa Skinner's
God was indeed a vengeful God if he could reserve vengeance for
those of his creatures who were packed into the Lone Star
schoolhouse that night. Poor exiles of all nations; men from the
south and the north, peasants from almost every country of Europe,
most of them from the mountainous, night-bound coast of Norway.
Honest men for the most part, but men with whom the world had dealt
hardly; the failures of all countries, men sobered by toil and
saddened by exile, who had been driven to fight for the dominion of
an untoward soil, to sow where others should gather, the
advance-guard of a mighty civilization to be.

Never had Asa Skinner spoken more earnestly than now. He felt that
the Lord had this night a special work for him to do. To-night Eric
Hermannson, the wildest lad on all the Divide, sat in his audience
with a fiddle on his knee, just as he had dropped in on his way to
play for some dance. The violin is an object of particular
abhorrence to the Free Gospellers. Their antagonism to the church
organ is bitter enough, but the fiddle they regard as a very
incarnation of evil desires, singing forever of worldly pleasures
and inseparably associated with all forbidden things.

Eric Hermannson had long been the object of the prayers of the
revivalists. His mother had felt the power of the Spirit weeks ago,
and special prayer-meetings had been held at her house for her son.
But Eric had only gone his ways laughing, the ways of youth, which
are short enough at best, and none too flowery on the Divide. He
slipped away from the prayer-meetings to meet the Campbell boys in
Genereau's saloon, or hug the plump little French girls at
Chevalier's dances, and sometimes, of a summer night, he even went
across the dewy cornfields and through the wild-plum thicket to play
the fiddle for Lena Hanson, whose name was a reproach through all
the Divide country, where the women are usually too plain and too
busy and too tired to depart from the ways of virtue. On such
occasions Lena, attired in a pink wrapper and silk stockings and
tiny pink slippers, would sing to him, accompanying herself on a
battered guitar. It gave him a delicious sense of freedom and
experience to be with a woman who, no matter how, had lived in big
cities and knew the ways of town-folk, who had never worked in the
fields and had kept her hands white and soft, her throat fair and
tender, who had heard great singers in Denver and Salt Lake, and who
knew the strange language of flattery and idleness and mirth.

Yet, careless as he seemed, the frantic prayers of his mother were
not altogether without their effect upon Eric. For days he had been
fleeing before them as a criminal from his pursuers, and over his
pleasures had fallen the shadow of something dark and terrible that
dogged his steps. The harder he danced, the louder he sang, the more
was he conscious that this phantom was gaining upon him, that in
time it would track him down. One Sunday afternoon, late in the
fall, when he had been drinking beer with Lena Hanson and listening
to a song which made his cheeks burn, a rattlesnake had crawled out
of the side of the sod house and thrust its ugly head in under the
screen door. He was not afraid of snakes, but he knew enough of
Gospellism to feel the significance of the reptile lying coiled
there upon her doorstep. His lips were cold when he kissed Lena
good-by, and he went there no more.

The final barrier between Eric and his mother's faith was his
violin, and to that he clung as a man sometimes will cling to his
dearest sin, to the weakness more precious to him than all his
strength. In the great world beauty comes to men in many guises, and
art in a hundred forms, but for Eric there was only his violin. It
stood, to him, for all the manifestations of art; it was his only
bridge into the kingdom of the soul.

It was to Eric Hermannson that the evangelist directed his
impassioned pleading that night.

"_Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?_ Is there a Saul here
to-night who has stopped his ears to that gentle pleading, who has
thrust a spear into that bleeding side? Think of it, my brother; you
are offered this wonderful love and you prefer the worm that dieth
not and the fire which will not be quenched. What right have you to
lose one of God's precious souls? _Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou
me?_"

A great joy dawned in Asa Skinner's pale face, for he saw that Eric
Hermannson was swaying to and fro in his seat. The minister fell
upon his knees and threw his long arms up over his head.

"O my brothers! I feel it coming, the blessing we have prayed for. I
tell you the Spirit is coming! Just a little more prayer, brothers,
a little more zeal, and he will be here. I can feel his cooling wing
upon my brow. Glory be to God forever and ever, amen!"

The whole congregation groaned under the pressure of this spiritual
panic. Shouts and hallelujahs went up from every lip. Another figure
fell prostrate upon the floor. From the mourners' bench rose a chant
of terror and rapture:

  "Eating honey and drinking wine,
    _Glory to the bleeding Lamb!_
  I am my Lord's and he is mine,
    _Glory to the bleeding Lamb!_"

The hymn was sung in a dozen dialects and voiced all the vague
yearning of these hungry lives, of these people who had starved all
the passions so long, only to fall victims to the basest of them
all, fear.

A groan of ultimate anguish rose from Eric Hermannson's bowed head,
and the sound was like the groan of a great tree when it falls in
the forest.

The minister rose suddenly to his feet and threw back his head,
crying in a loud voice:

"_Lazarus, come forth!_ Eric Hermannson, you are lost, going down at
sea. In the name of God, and Jesus Christ his Son, I throw you the
life-line. Take hold! Almighty God, my soul for his!" The minister
threw his arms out and lifted his quivering face.

Eric Hermannson rose to his feet; his lips were set and the
lightning was in his eyes. He took his violin by the neck and
crushed it to splinters across his knee, and to Asa Skinner the
sound was like the shackles of sin broken audibly asunder.


II.

For more than two years Eric Hermannson kept the austere faith to
which he had sworn himself, kept it until a girl from the East came
to spend a week on the Nebraska Divide. She was a girl of other
manners and conditions, and there were greater distances between her
life and Eric's than all the miles which separated Rattlesnake Creek
from New York city. Indeed, she had no business to be in the West at
all; but ah! across what leagues of land and sea, by what improbable
chances, do the unrelenting gods bring to us our fate!

It was in a year of financial depression that Wyllis Elliot came to
Nebraska to buy cheap land and revisit the country where he had
spent a year of his youth. When he had graduated from Harvard it was
still customary for moneyed gentlemen to send their scapegrace sons
to rough it on ranches in the wilds of Nebraska or Dakota, or to
consign them to a living death in the sage-brush of the Black Hills.
These young men did not always return to the ways of civilized life.
But Wyllis Elliot had not married a half-breed, nor been shot in a
cow-punchers' brawl, nor wrecked by bad whisky, nor appropriated by
a smirched adventuress. He had been saved from these things by a
girl, his sister, who had been very near to his life ever since the
days when they read fairy tales together and dreamed the dreams that
never come true. On this, his first visit to his father's ranch
since he left it six years before, he brought her with him. She had
been laid up half the winter from a sprain received while skating,
and had had too much time for reflection during those months. She
was restless and filled with a desire to see something of the wild
country of which her brother had told her so much. She was to be
married the next winter, and Wyllis understood her when she begged
him to take her with him on this long, aimless jaunt across the
continent, to taste the last of their freedom together. It comes to
all women of her type--that desire to taste the unknown which
allures and terrifies, to run one's whole soul's length out to the
wind--just once.

It had been an eventful journey. Wyllis somehow understood that
strain of gypsy blood in his sister, and he knew where to take her.
They had slept in sod houses on the Platte River, made the
acquaintance of the personnel of a third-rate opera company on the
train to Deadwood, dined in a camp of railroad constructors at the
world's end beyond New Castle, gone through the Black Hills on
horseback, fished for trout in Dome Lake, watched a dance at Cripple
Creek, where the lost souls who hide in the hills gathered for their
besotted revelry. And now, last of all, before the return to
thraldom, there was this little shack, anchored on the windy crest
of the Divide, a little black dot against the flaming sunsets, a
scented sea of cornland bathed in opalescent air and blinding
sunlight.

Margaret Elliot was one of those women of whom there are so many in
this day, when old order, passing, giveth place to new; beautiful,
talented, critical, unsatisfied, tired of the world at twenty-four.
For the moment the life and people of the Divide interested her. She
was there but a week; perhaps had she stayed longer, that inexorable
ennui which travels faster even than the Vestibule Limited would
have overtaken her. The week she tarried there was the week that
Eric Hermannson was helping Jerry Lockhart thresh; a week earlier or
a week later, and there would have been no story to write.

It was on Thursday and they were to leave on Saturday. Wyllis and
his sister were sitting on the wide piazza of the ranchhouse,
staring out into the afternoon sunlight and protesting against the
gusts of hot wind that blew up from the sandy river-bottom twenty
miles to the southward.

The young man pulled his cap lower over his eyes and remarked:

"This wind is the real thing; you don't strike it anywhere else. You
remember we had a touch of it in Algiers and I told you it came from
Kansas. It's the key-note of this country."

Wyllis touched her hand that lay on the hammock and continued
gently:

"I hope it's paid you, Sis. Roughing it's dangerous business; it
takes the taste out of things."

She shut her fingers firmly over the brown hand that was so like her
own.

"Paid? Why, Wyllis, I haven't been so happy since we were children
and were going to discover the ruins of Troy together some day. Do
you know, I believe I could just stay on here forever and let the
world go on its own gait. It seems as though the tension and strain
we used to talk of last winter were gone for good, as though one
could never give one's strength out to such petty things any more."

Wyllis brushed the ashes of his pipe away from the silk handkerchief
that was knotted about his neck and stared moodily off at the
sky-line.

"No, you're mistaken. This would bore you after a while. You can't
shake the fever of the other life. I've tried it. There was a time
when the gay fellows of Rome could trot down into the Thebaid and
burrow into the sandhills and get rid of it. But it's all too
complex now. You see we've made our dissipations so dainty and
respectable that they've gone further in than the flesh, and taken
hold of the ego proper. You couldn't rest, even here. The war-cry
would follow you."

"You don't waste words, Wyllis, but you never miss fire. I talk more
than you do, without saying half so much. You must have learned the
art of silence from these taciturn Norwegians. I think I like silent
men."

"Naturally," said Wyllis, "since you have decided to marry the most
brilliant talker you know."

Both were silent for a time, listening to the sighing of the hot
wind through the parched morning-glory vines. Margaret spoke first.

"Tell me, Wyllis, were many of the Norwegians you used to know as
interesting as Eric Hermannson?"

"Who, Siegfried? Well, no. He used to be the flower of the Norwegian
youth in my day, and he's rather an exception, even now. He has
retrograded, though. The bonds of the soil have tightened on him, I
fancy."

"Siegfried? Come, that's rather good, Wyllis. He looks like a
dragon-slayer. What is it that makes him so different from the
others? I can talk to him; he seems quite like a human being."

"Well," said Wyllis, meditatively, "I don't read Bourget as much as
my cultured sister, and I'm not so well up in analysis, but I fancy
it's because one keeps cherishing a perfectly unwarranted suspicion
that under that big, hulking anatomy of his, he may conceal a soul
somewhere. Nicht wahr?"

"Something like that," said Margaret, thoughtfully, "except that
it's more than a suspicion, and it isn't groundless. He has one, and
he makes it known, somehow, without speaking."

"I always have my doubts about loquacious souls," Wyllis remarked,
with the unbelieving smile that had grown habitual with him.

Margaret went on, not heeding the interruption. "I knew it from the
first, when he told me about the suicide of his cousin, the
Bernstein boy. That kind of blunt pathos can't be summoned at will
in anybody. The earlier novelists rose to it, sometimes,
unconsciously. But last night when I sang for him I was doubly sure.
Oh, I haven't told you about that yet! Better light your pipe again.
You see, he stumbled in on me in the dark when I was pumping away at
that old parlor organ to please Mrs. Lockhart. It's her household
fetish and I've forgotten how many pounds of butter she made and
sold to buy it. Well, Eric stumbled in, and in some inarticulate
manner made me understand that he wanted me to sing for him. I sang
just the old things, of course. It's queer to sing familiar things
here at the world's end. It makes one think how the hearts of men
have carried them around the world, into the wastes of Iceland and
the jungles of Africa and the islands of the Pacific. I think if one
lived here long enough one would quite forget how to be trivial, and
would read only the great books that we never get time to read in
the world, and would remember only the great music, and the things
that are really worth while would stand out clearly against that
horizon over there. And of course I played the intermezzo from
'Cavalleria Rusticana' for him; it goes rather better on an organ
than most things do. He shuffled his feet and twisted his big hands
up into knots and blurted out that he didn't know there was any
music like that in the world. Why, there were tears in his voice,
Wyllis! Yes, like Rossetti, I _heard_ his tears. Then it dawned upon
me that it was probably the first good music he had ever heard in
all his life. Think of it, to care for music as he does and never to
hear it, never to know that it exists on earth! To long for it as we
long for other perfect experiences that never come. I can't tell you
what music means to that man. I never saw any one so susceptible to
it. It gave him speech, he became alive. When I had finished the
intermezzo, he began telling me about a little crippled brother who
died and whom he loved and used to carry everywhere in his arms. He
did not wait for encouragement. He took up the story and told it
slowly, as if to himself, just sort of rose up and told his own woe
to answer Mascagni's. It overcame me."

"Poor devil," said Wyllis, looking at her with mysterious eyes, "and
so you've given him a new woe. Now he'll go on wanting Grieg and
Schubert the rest of his days and never getting them. That's a
girl's philanthropy for you!"

Jerry Lockhart came out of the house screwing his chin over the
unusual luxury of a stiff white collar, which his wife insisted upon
as a necessary article of toilet while Miss Elliot was at the house.
Jerry sat down on the step and smiled his broad, red smile at
Margaret.

"Well, I've got the music for your dance, Miss Elliot. Olaf Oleson
will bring his accordion and Mollie will play the organ, when she
isn't lookin' after the grub, and a little chap from Frenchtown will
bring his fiddle--though the French don't mix with the Norwegians
much."

"Delightful! Mr. Lockhart, that dance will be the feature of our
trip, and it's so nice of you to get it up for us. We'll see the
Norwegians in character at last," cried Margaret, cordially.

"See here, Lockhart, I'll settle with you for backing her in this
scheme," said Wyllis, sitting up and knocking the ashes out of his pipe.
"She's done crazy things enough on this trip, but to talk of dancing
all night with a gang of half-mad Norwegians and taking the carriage
at four to catch the six o'clock train out of Riverton--well, it's
tommy-rot, that's what it is!"

"Wyllis, I leave it to your sovereign power of reason to decide
whether it isn't easier to stay up all night than to get up at three
in the morning. To get up at three, think what that means! No, sir,
I prefer to keep my vigil and then get into a sleeper."

"But what do you want with the Norwegians? I thought you were tired
of dancing."

"So I am, with some people. But I want to see a Norwegian dance, and
I intend to. Come, Wyllis, you know how seldom it is that one really
wants to do anything nowadays. I wonder when I have really wanted to
go to a party before. It will be something to remember next month at
Newport, when we have to and don't want to. Remember your own theory
that contrast is about the only thing that makes life endurable.
This is my party and Mr. Lockhart's; your whole duty to-morrow night
will consist in being nice to the Norwegian girls. I'll warrant you
were adept enough at it once. And you'd better be very nice indeed,
for if there are many such young valkyrs as Eric's sister among
them, they would simply tie you up in a knot if they suspected you
were guying them."

Wyllis groaned and sank back into the hammock to consider his fate,
while his sister went on.

"And the guests, Mr. Lockhart, did they accept?"

Lockhart took out his knife and began sharpening it on the sole of
his plowshoe.

"Well, I guess we'll have a couple dozen. You see it's pretty hard
to get a crowd together here any more. Most of 'em have gone over to
the Free Gospellers, and they'd rather put their feet in the fire
than shake 'em to a fiddle."

Margaret made a gesture of impatience.

"Those Free Gospellers have just cast an evil spell over this
country, haven't they?"

"Well," said Lockhart, cautiously, "I don't just like to pass
judgment on any Christian sect, but if you're to know the chosen by
their works, the Gospellers can't make a very proud showin', an'
that's a fact. They're responsible for a few suicides, and they've
sent a good-sized delegation to the state insane asylum, an' I don't
see as they've made the rest of us much better than we were before.
I had a little herdboy last spring, as square a little Dane as I
want to work for me, but after the Gospellers got hold of him and
sanctified him, the little beggar used to get down on his knees out
on the prairie and pray by the hour and let the cattle get into the
corn, an' I had to fire him. That's about the way it goes. Now
there's Eric; that chap used to be a hustler and the spryest dancer
in all this section--called all the dances. Now he's got no ambition
and he's glum as a preacher. I don't suppose we can even get him to
come in to-morrow night."

"Eric? Why, he must dance, we can't let him off," said Margaret,
quickly. "Why, I intend to dance with him myself!"

"I'm afraid he won't dance. I asked him this morning if he'd help us
out and he said, 'I don't dance now, any more,'" said Lockhart,
imitating the labored English of the Norwegian.

"'The Miller of Hoffbau, the Miller of Hoffbau, O my Princess!'"
chirped Wyllis, cheerfully, from his hammock.

The red on his sister's cheek deepened a little, and she laughed
mischievously. "We'll see about that, sir. I'll not admit that I am
beaten until I have asked him myself."

Every night Eric rode over to St. Anne, a little village in the
heart of the French settlement, for the mail. As the road lay
through the most attractive part of the Divide country, on several
occasions Margaret Elliot and her brother had accompanied him.
To-night Wyllis had business with Lockhart, and Margaret rode with
Eric, mounted on a frisky little mustang that Mrs. Lockhart had
broken to the side-saddle. Margaret regarded her escort very much as
she did the servant who always accompanied her on long rides at
home, and the ride to the village was a silent one. She was occupied
with thoughts of another world, and Eric was wrestling with more
thoughts than had ever been crowded into his head before. He rode
with his eyes riveted on that slight figure before him, as though he
wished to absorb it through the optic nerves and hold it in his
brain forever. He understood the situation perfectly. His brain
worked slowly, but he had a keen sense of the values of things. This
girl represented an entirely new species of humanity to him, but he
knew where to place her. The prophets of old, when an angel first
appeared unto them, never doubted its high origin.

Eric was patient under the adverse conditions of his life, but he
was not servile. The Norse blood in him had not entirely lost its
self-reliance. He came of a proud fisher line, men who were not
afraid of anything but the ice and the devil, and he had prospects
before him when his father went down off the North Cape in the long
Arctic night, and his mother, seized by a violent horror of
seafaring life, had followed her brother to America. Eric was
eighteen then, handsome as young Siegfried, a giant in stature, with
a skin singularly pure and delicate, like a Swede's; hair as yellow
as the locks of Tennyson's amorous Prince, and eyes of a fierce,
burning blue, whose flash was most dangerous to women. He had in
those days a certain pride of bearing, a certain confidence of
approach, that usually accompanies physical perfection. It was even
said of him then that he was in love with life, and inclined to
levity, a vice most unusual on the Divide. But the sad history of
those Norwegian exiles, transplanted in an arid soil and under a
scorching sun, had repeated itself in his case. Toil and isolation
had sobered him, and he grew more and more like the clods among
which he labored. It was as though some red-hot instrument had
touched for a moment those delicate fibers of the brain which
respond to acute pain or pleasure, in which lies the power of
exquisite sensation, and had seared them quite away. It is a painful
thing to watch the light die out of the eyes of those Norsemen,
leaving an expression of impenetrable sadness, quite passive, quite
hopeless, a shadow that is never lifted. With some this change comes
almost at once, in the first bitterness of homesickness, with others
it comes more slowly, according to the time it takes each man's
heart to die.

Oh, those poor Northmen of the Divide! They are dead many a year
before they are put to rest in the little graveyard on the windy
hill where exiles of all nations grow akin.

The peculiar species of hypochondria to which the exiles of his
people sooner or later succumb had not developed in Eric until that
night at the Lone Star schoolhouse, when he had broken his violin
across his knee. After that, the gloom of his people settled down
upon him, and the gospel of maceration began its work. "_If thine
eye offend thee, pluck it out_," et cetera. The pagan smile that
once hovered about his lips was gone, and he was one with sorrow.
Religion heals a hundred hearts for one that it embitters, but when
it destroys, its work is quick and deadly, and where the agony of
the cross has been, joy will not come again. This man understood
things literally: one must live without pleasure to die without
fear; to save the soul it was necessary to starve the soul.

The sun hung low above the cornfields when Margaret and her cavalier
left St. Anne. South of the town there is a stretch of road that
runs for some three miles through the French settlement, where the
prairie is as level as the surface of a lake. There the fields of
flax and wheat and rye are bordered by precise rows of slender,
tapering Lombard poplars. It was a yellow world that Margaret Elliot
saw under the wide light of the setting sun.

The girl gathered up her reins and called back to Eric, "It will be
safe to run the horses here, won't it?"

"Yes, I think so, now," he answered, touching his spur to his pony's
flank. They were off like the wind. It is an old saying in the West
that new-comers always ride a horse or two to death before they get
broken in to the country. They are tempted by the great open spaces
and try to outride the horizon, to get to the end of something.
Margaret galloped over the level road, and Eric, from behind, saw
her long veil fluttering in the wind. It had fluttered just so in
his dreams last night and the night before. With a sudden
inspiration of courage he overtook her and rode beside her, looking
intently at her half-averted face. Before, he had only stolen
occasional glances at it, seen it in blinding flashes, always with
more or less embarrassment, but now he determined to let every line
of it sink into his memory. Men of the world would have said that it
was an unusual face, nervous, finely cut, with clear, elegant lines
that betokened ancestry. Men of letters would have called it a
historic face, and would have conjectured at what old passions, long
asleep, what old sorrows forgotten time out of mind, doing battle
together in ages gone, had curved those delicate nostrils, left
their unconscious memory in those eyes. But Eric read no meaning in
these details. To him this beauty was something more than color and
line; it was as a flash of white light, in which one cannot
distinguish color because all colors are there. To him it was a
complete revelation, an embodiment of those dreams of impossible
loveliness that linger by a young man's pillow on midsummer nights;
yet, because it held something more than the attraction of health
and youth and shapeliness, it troubled him, and in its presence he
felt as the Goths before the white marbles in the Roman Capitol, not
knowing whether they were men or gods. At times he felt like
uncovering his head before it, again the fury seized him to break
and despoil, to find the clay in this spirit-thing and stamp upon
it. Away from her, he longed to strike out with his arms, and take
and hold; it maddened him that this woman whom he could break in his
hands should be so much stronger than he. But near her, he never
questioned this strength; he admitted its potentiality as he
admitted the miracles of the Bible; it enervated and conquered him.
To-night, when he rode so close to her that he could have touched
her, he knew that he might as well reach out his hand to take a
star.

Margaret stirred uneasily under his gaze and turned questioningly in
her saddle.

"This wind puts me a little out of breath when we ride fast," she
said.

Eric turned his eyes away.

"I want to ask you if I go to New York to work, if I maybe hear
music like you sang last night? I been a purty good hand to work,"
he asked, timidly.

Margaret looked at him with surprise, and then, as she studied the
outline of his face, pityingly.

"Well, you might--but you'd lose a good deal else. I shouldn't like
you to go to New York--and be poor, you'd be out of atmosphere, some
way," she said, slowly. Inwardly she was thinking: "There he would
be altogether sordid, impossible--a machine who would carry one's
trunks upstairs, perhaps. Here he is every inch a man, rather
picturesque; why is it?" "No," she added aloud, "I shouldn't like
that."

"Then I not go," said Eric, decidedly.

Margaret turned her face to hide a smile. She was a trifle amused
and a trifle annoyed. Suddenly she spoke again.

"But I'll tell you what I do want you to do, Eric. I want you to
dance with us to-morrow night and teach me some of the Norwegian
dances; they say you know them all. Won't you?"

Eric straightened himself in his saddle and his eyes flashed as they
had done in the Lone Star schoolhouse when he broke his violin
across his knee.

"Yes, I will," he said, quietly, and he believed that he delivered
his soul to hell as he said it.

They had reached the rougher country now, where the road wound
through a narrow cut in one of the bluffs along the creek, when a
beat of hoofs ahead and the sharp neighing of horses made the ponies
start and Eric rose in his stirrups. Then down the gulch in front of
them and over the steep clay banks thundered a herd of wild ponies,
nimble as monkeys and wild as rabbits, such as horse-traders drive
east from the plains of Montana to sell in the farming country.
Margaret's pony made a shrill sound, a neigh that was almost a
scream, and started up the clay bank to meet them, all the wild
blood of the range breaking out in an instant. Margaret called to
Eric just as he threw himself out of the saddle and caught her
pony's bit. But the wiry little animal had gone mad and was kicking
and biting like a devil. Her wild brothers of the range were all
about her, neighing, and pawing the earth, and striking her with
their fore feet and snapping at her flanks. It was the old liberty
of the range that the little beast fought for.

"Drop the reins and hold tight, tight!" Eric called, throwing all
his weight upon the bit, struggling under those frantic fore feet
that now beat at his breast, and now kicked at the wild mustangs
that surged and tossed about him. He succeeded in wrenching the
pony's head toward him and crowding her withers against the clay
bank, so that she could not roll.

"Hold tight, tight!" he shouted again, launching a kick at a
snorting animal that reared back against Margaret's saddle. If she
should lose her courage and fall now, under those hoofs----He struck
out again and again, kicking right and left with all his might.
Already the negligent drivers had galloped into the cut, and their
long quirts were whistling over the heads of the herd. As suddenly
as it had come, the struggling, frantic wave of wild life swept up
out of the gulch and on across the open prairie, and with a long
despairing whinny of farewell the pony dropped her head and stood
trembling in her sweat, shaking the foam and blood from her bit.

Eric stepped close to Margaret's side and laid his hand on her
saddle. "You are not hurt?" he asked, hoarsely. As he raised his
face in the soft starlight she saw that it was white and drawn and
that his lips were working nervously.

"No, no, not at all. But you, you are suffering; they struck you!"
she cried in sharp alarm.

He stepped back and drew his hand across his brow.

"No, it is not that," he spoke rapidly now, with his hands clenched
at his side. "But if they had hurt you, I would beat their brains
out with my hands, I would kill them all. I was never afraid before.
You are the only beautiful thing that has ever come close to me. You
came like an angel out of the sky. You are like the music you sing,
you are like the stars and the snow on the mountains where I played
when I was a little boy. You are like all that I wanted once and
never had, you are all that they have killed in me. I die for you
to-night, to-morrow, for all eternity. I am not a coward; I was
afraid because I love you more than Christ who died for me, more
than I am afraid of hell, or hope for heaven. I was never afraid
before. If you had fallen--oh, my God!" he threw his arms out
blindly and dropped his head upon the pony's mane, leaning limply
against the animal like a man struck by some sickness. His shoulders
rose and fell perceptibly with his labored breathing. The horse
stood cowed with exhaustion and fear. Presently Margaret laid her
hand on Eric's head and said gently:

"You are better now, shall we go on? Can you get your horse?"

"No, he has gone with the herd. I will lead yours, she is not safe.
I will not frighten you again." His voice was still husky, but it
was steady now. He took hold of the bit and tramped home in silence.

When they reached the house, Eric stood stolidly by the pony's head
until Wyllis came to lift his sister from the saddle.

"The horses were badly frightened, Wyllis. I think I was pretty
thoroughly scared myself," she said as she took her brother's arm
and went slowly up the hill toward the house. "No, I'm not hurt,
thanks to Eric. You must thank him for taking such good care of me.
He's a mighty fine fellow. I'll tell you all about it in the
morning, dear. I was pretty well shaken up and I'm going right to
bed now. Good-night."

When she reached the low room in which she slept, she sank upon the
bed in her riding-dress face downward.

"Oh, I pity him! I pity him!" she murmured, with a long sigh of
exhaustion. She must have slept a little. When she rose again, she
took from her dress a letter that had been waiting for her at the
village post-office. It was closely written in a long, angular hand,
covering a dozen pages of foreign note-paper, and began:--

"My Dearest Margaret: If I should attempt to say _how like a winter
hath thine absence been_, I should incur the risk of being tedious.
Really, it takes the sparkle out of everything. Having nothing
better to do, and not caring to go anywhere in particular without
you, I remained in the city until Jack Courtwell noted my general
despondency and brought me down here to his place on the sound to
manage some open-air theatricals he is getting up. 'As You Like It'
is of course the piece selected. Miss Harrison plays Rosalind. I
wish you had been here to take the part. Miss Harrison reads her
lines well, but she is either a maiden-all-forlorn or a tomboy;
insists on reading into the part all sorts of deeper meanings and
highly colored suggestions wholly out of harmony with the pastoral
setting. Like most of the professionals, she exaggerates the
emotional element and quite fails to do justice to Rosalind's facile
wit and really brilliant mental qualities. Gerard will do Orlando,
but rumor says he is épris of your sometime friend, Miss Meredith,
and his memory is treacherous and his interest fitful.

"My new pictures arrived last week on the 'Gascogne.' The Puvis de
Chavannes is even more beautiful than I thought it in Paris. A pale
dream-maiden sits by a pale dream-cow, and a stream of anemic water
flows at her feet. The Constant, you will remember, I got because
you admired it. It is here in all its florid splendor, the whole
dominated by a glowing sensuosity. The drapery of the female figure
is as wonderful as you said; the fabric all barbaric pearl and gold,
painted with an easy, effortless voluptuousness, and that white,
gleaming line of African coast in the background recalls memories of
you very precious to me. But it is useless to deny that Constant
irritates me. Though I cannot prove the charge against him, his
brilliancy always makes me suspect him of cheapness."

Here Margaret stopped and glanced at the remaining pages of this
strange love-letter. They seemed to be filled chiefly with
discussions of pictures and books, and with a slow smile she laid
them by.

She rose and began undressing. Before she lay down she went to open
the window. With her hand on the sill, she hesitated, feeling
suddenly as though some danger were lurking outside, some inordinate
desire waiting to spring upon her in the darkness. She stood there
for a long time, gazing at the infinite sweep of the sky.

"Oh, it is all so little, so little there," she murmured. "When
everything else is so dwarfed, why should one expect love to be
great? Why should one try to read highly colored suggestions into a
life like that? If only I could find one thing in it all that
mattered greatly, one thing that would warm me when I am alone! Will
life never give me that one great moment?"

As she raised the window, she heard a sound in the plum-bushes
outside. It was only the house-dog roused from his sleep, but
Margaret started violently and trembled so that she caught the foot
of the bed for support. Again she felt herself pursued by some
overwhelming longing, some desperate necessity for herself, like the
outstretching of helpless, unseen arms in the darkness, and the air
seemed heavy with sighs of yearning. She fled to her bed with the
words, "I love you more than Christ, who died for me!" ringing in
her ears.


III.

About midnight the dance at Lockhart's was at its height. Even the
old men who had come to "look on" caught the spirit of revelry and
stamped the floor with the vigor of old Silenus. Eric took the
violin from the Frenchman, and Minna Oleson sat at the organ, and
the music grew more and more characteristic--rude, half-mournful
music, made up of the folk-songs of the North, that the villagers
sing through the long night in hamlets by the sea, when they are
thinking of the sun, and the spring, and the fishermen so long away.
To Margaret some of it sounded like Grieg's Peer Gynt music. She
found something irresistibly infectious in the mirth of these people
who were so seldom merry, and she felt almost one of them. Something
seemed struggling for freedom in them to-night, something of the
joyous childhood of the nations which exile had not killed. The
girls were all boisterous with delight. Pleasure came to them but
rarely, and when it came, they caught at it wildly and crushed its
fluttering wings in their strong brown fingers. They had a hard life
enough, most of them. Torrid summers and freezing winters, labor and
drudgery and ignorance, were the portion of their girlhood; a short
wooing, a hasty, loveless marriage, unlimited maternity, thankless
sons, premature age and ugliness, were the dower of their womanhood.
But what matter? To-night there was hot liquor in the glass and hot
blood in the heart; to-night they danced.

To-night Eric Hermannson had renewed his youth. He was no longer the
big, silent Norwegian who had sat at Margaret's feet and looked
hopelessly into her eyes. To-night he was a man, with a man's rights
and a man's power. To-night he was Siegfried indeed. His hair was
yellow as the heavy wheat in the ripe of summer, and his eyes
flashed like the blue water between the ice-packs in the North Seas.
He was not afraid of Margaret to-night, and when he danced with her
he held her firmly. She was tired and dragged on his arm a little,
but the strength of the man was like an all-pervading fluid,
stealing through her veins, awakening under her heart some nameless,
unsuspected existence that had slumbered there all these years and
that went out through her throbbing fingertips to his that answered.
She wondered if the hoydenish blood of some lawless ancestor, long
asleep, were calling out in her to-night, some drop of a hotter
fluid that the centuries had failed to cool, and why, if this curse
were in her, it had not spoken before. But was it a curse, this
awakening, this wealth before undiscovered, this music set free? For
the first time in her life her heart held something stronger than
herself, was not this worth while? Then she ceased to wonder. She
lost sight of the lights and the faces, and the music was drowned by
the beating of her own arteries. She saw only the blue eyes that
flashed above her, felt only the warmth of that throbbing hand which
held hers and which the blood of his heart fed. Dimly, as in a
dream, she saw the drooping shoulders, high white forehead and
tight, cynical mouth of the man she was to marry in December. For an
hour she had been crowding back the memory of that face with all her
strength.

"Let us stop, this is enough," she whispered. His only answer was to
tighten the arm behind her. She sighed and let that masterful
strength bear her where it would. She forgot that this man was
little more than a savage, that they would part at dawn. The blood
has no memories, no reflections, no regrets for the past, no
consideration of the future.

"Let us go out where it is cooler," she said when the music stopped;
thinking, "I am growing faint here, I shall be all right in the open
air." They stepped out into the cool, blue air of the night.

Since the older folk had begun dancing, the young Norwegians had
been slipping out in couples to climb the windmill tower into the
cooler atmosphere, as is their custom.

"You like to go up?" asked Eric, close to her ear.

She turned and looked at him with suppressed amusement. "How high is
it?"

"Forty feet, about. I not let you fall." There was a note of
irresistible pleading in his voice, and she felt that he
tremendously wished her to go. Well, why not? This was a night of
the unusual, when she was not herself at all, but was living an
unreality. To-morrow, yes, in a few hours, there would be the
Vestibule Limited and the world.

"Well, if you'll take good care of me. I used to be able to climb,
when I was a little girl."

Once at the top and seated on the platform, they were silent.
Margaret wondered if she would not hunger for that scene all her
life, through all the routine of the days to come. Above them
stretched the great Western sky, serenely blue, even in the night,
with its big, burning stars, never so cold and dead and far away as
in denser atmospheres. The moon would not be up for twenty minutes
yet, and all about the horizon, that wide horizon, which seemed to
reach around the world, lingered a pale, white light, as of a
universal dawn. The weary wind brought up to them the heavy odors of
the cornfields. The music of the dance sounded faintly from below.
Eric leaned on his elbow beside her, his legs swinging down on the
ladder. His great shoulders looked more than ever like those of the
stone Doryphorus, who stands in his perfect, reposeful strength in
the Louvre, and had often made her wonder if such men died forever
with the youth of Greece.

"How sweet the corn smells at night," said Margaret nervously.

"Yes, like the flowers that grow in paradise, I think."

She was somewhat startled by this reply, and more startled when this
taciturn man spoke again.

"You go away to-morrow?"

"Yes, we have stayed longer than we thought to now."

"You not come back any more?"

"No, I expect not. You see, it is a long trip; half-way across the
continent."

"You soon forget about this country, I guess." It seemed to him now
a little thing to lose his soul for this woman, but that she should
utterly forget this night into which he threw all his life and all
his eternity, that was a bitter thought.

"No, Eric, I will not forget. You have all been too kind to me for
that. And you won't be sorry you danced this one night, will you?"

"I never be sorry. I have not been so happy before. I not be so
happy again, ever. You will be happy many nights yet, I only this
one. I will dream sometimes, maybe."

The mighty resignation of his tone alarmed and touched her. It was
as when some great animal composes itself for death, as when a great
ship goes down at sea.

She sighed, but did not answer him. He drew a little closer and
looked into her eyes.

"You are not always happy, too?" he asked.

"No, not always, Eric; not very often, I think."

"You have a trouble?"

"Yes, but I cannot put it into words. Perhaps if I could do that, I
could cure it."

He clasped his hands together over his heart, as children do when
they pray, and said falteringly, "If I own all the world, I give him
you."

Margaret felt a sudden moisture in her eyes, and laid her hand on
his.

"Thank you, Eric; I believe you would. But perhaps even then I
should not be happy. Perhaps I have too much of it already."

She did not take her hand away from him; she did not dare. She sat
still and waited for the traditions in which she had always believed
to speak and save her. But they were dumb. She belonged to an
ultra-refined civilization which tries to cheat nature with elegant
sophistries. Cheat nature? Bah! One generation may do it, perhaps
two, but the third---- Can we ever rise above nature or sink below
her? Did she not turn on Jerusalem as upon Sodom, upon St. Anthony
in his desert as upon Nero in his seraglio? Does she not always cry
in brutal triumph: "I am here still, at the bottom of things,
warming the roots of life; you cannot starve me nor tame me nor
thwart me; I made the world, I rule it, and I am its destiny."

This woman, on a windmill tower at the world's end with a giant
barbarian, heard that cry to-night, and she was afraid! Ah! the
terror and the delight of that moment when first we fear ourselves!
Until then we have not lived.

"Come, Eric, let us go down; the moon is up and the music has begun
again," she said.

He rose silently and stepped down upon the ladder, putting his arm
about her to help her. That arm could have thrown Thor's hammer out
in the cornfields yonder, yet it scarcely touched her, and his hand
trembled as it had done in the dance. His face was level with hers
now and the moonlight fell sharply upon it. All her life she had
searched the faces of men for the look that lay in his eyes. She
knew that that look had never shone for her before, would never
shine for her on earth again, that such love comes to one only in
dreams or in impossible places like this, unattainable always. This
was Love's self, in a moment it would die. Stung by the agonized
appeal that emanated from the man's whole being, she leaned forward
and laid her lips on his. Once, twice and again she heard the deep
respirations rattle in his throat while she held them there, and the
riotous force under her heart became an engulfing weakness. He drew
her up to him until he felt all the resistance go out of her body,
until every nerve relaxed and yielded. When she drew her face back
from his, it was white with fear.

"Let us go down, oh, my God! let us go down!" she muttered. And the
drunken stars up yonder seemed reeling to some appointed doom as she
clung to the rounds of the ladder. All that she was to know of love
she had left upon his lips.

"The devil is loose again," whispered Olaf Oleson, as he saw Eric
dancing a moment later, his eyes blazing.

But Eric was thinking with an almost savage exultation of the time
when he should pay for this. Ah, there would be no quailing then! If
ever a soul went fearlessly, proudly down to the gates infernal, his
should go. For a moment he fancied he was there already, treading
down the tempest of flame, hugging the fiery hurricane to his
breast. He wondered whether in ages gone, all the countless years of
sinning in which men had sold and lost and flung their souls away,
any man had ever so cheated Satan, had ever bartered his soul for so
great a price.

It seemed but a little while till dawn.

The carriage was brought to the door and Wyllis Elliot and his
sister said good-by. She could not meet Eric's eyes as she gave him
her hand, but as he stood by the horse's head, just as the carriage
moved off, she gave him one swift glance that said, "I will not
forget." In a moment the carriage was gone.

Eric changed his coat and plunged his head into the watertank and
went to the barn to hook up his team. As he led his horses to the
door, a shadow fell across his path, and he saw Skinner rising in
his stirrups. His rugged face was pale and worn with looking after
his wayward flock, with dragging men into the way of salvation.

"Good-morning, Eric. There was a dance here last night?" he asked,
sternly.

"A dance? Oh, yes, a dance," replied Eric, cheerfully.

"Certainly you did not dance, Eric?"

"Yes, I danced. I danced all the time."

The minister's shoulders drooped, and an expression of profound
discouragement settled over his haggard face. There was almost
anguish in the yearning he felt for this soul.

"Eric, I didn't look for this from you. I thought God had set his
mark on you if he ever had on any man. And it is for things like
this that you set your soul back a thousand years from God. O
foolish and perverse generation!"

Eric drew himself up to his full height and looked off to where the
new day was gilding the corn-tassels and flooding the uplands with
light. As his nostrils drew in the breath of the dew and the
morning, something from the only poetry he had ever read flashed
across his mind, and he murmured, half to himself, with dreamy
exultation:

"'And a day shall be as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a
day.'"

                                      _Cosmopolitan_, April 1900



_The Sentimentality of William Tavener_


It takes a strong woman to make any sort of success of living in the
West, and Hester undoubtedly was that. When people spoke of William
Tavener as the most prosperous farmer in McPherson County, they
usually added that his wife was a "good manager." She was an
executive woman, quick of tongue and something of an imperatrix. The
only reason her husband did not consult her about his business was
that she did not wait to be consulted.

It would have been quite impossible for one man, within the limited
sphere of human action, to follow all Hester's advice, but in the
end William usually acted upon some of her suggestions. When she
incessantly denounced the "shiftlessness" of letting a new threshing
machine stand unprotected in the open, he eventually built a shed
for it. When she sniffed contemptuously at his notion of fencing a
hog corral with sod walls, he made a spiritless beginning on the
structure--merely to "show his temper," as she put it--but in the
end he went off quietly to town and bought enough barbed wire to
complete the fence. When the first heavy rains came on, and the pigs
rooted down the sod wall and made little paths all over it to
facilitate their ascent, he heard his wife relate with relish the
story of the little pig that built a mud house, to the minister at
the dinner table, and William's gravity never relaxed for an
instant. Silence, indeed, was William's refuge and his strength.

William set his boys a wholesome example to respect their mother.
People who knew him very well suspected that he even admired her. He
was a hard man towards his neighbors, and even towards his sons;
grasping, determined and ambitious.

There was an occasional blue day about the house when William went
over the store bills, but he never objected to items relating to his
wife's gowns or bonnets. So it came about that many of the foolish,
unnecessary little things that Hester bought for boys, she had
charged to her personal account.

One spring night Hester sat in a rocking chair by the sitting room
window, darning socks. She rocked violently and sent her long needle
vigorously back and forth over her gourd, and it took only a very
casual glance to see that she was wrought up over something. William
sat on the other side of the table reading his farm paper. If he had
noticed his wife's agitation, his calm, clean-shaven face betrayed
no sign of concern. He must have noticed the sarcastic turn of her
remarks at the supper table, and he must have noticed the moody
silence of the older boys as they ate. When supper was but half over
little Billy, the youngest, had suddenly pushed back his plate and
slipped away from the table, manfully trying to swallow a sob. But
William Tavener never heeded ominous forecasts in the domestic
horizon, and he never looked for a storm until it broke.

After supper the boys had gone to the pond under the willows in the
big cattle corral, to get rid of the dust of plowing. Hester could
hear an occasional splash and a laugh ringing clear through the
stillness of the night, as she sat by the open window. She sat
silent for almost an hour reviewing in her mind many plans of
attack. But she was too vigorous a woman to be much of a strategist,
and she usually came to her point with directness. At last she cut
her thread and suddenly put her darning down, saying emphatically:

"William, I don't think it would hurt you to let the boys go to that
circus in town to-morrow."

William continued to read his farm paper, but it was not Hester's
custom to wait for an answer. She usually divined his arguments and
assailed them one by one before he uttered them.

"You've been short of hands all summer, and you've worked the boys
hard, and a man ought use his own flesh and blood as well as he does
his hired hands. We're plenty able to afford it, and it's little
enough our boys ever spend. I don't see how you can expect 'em to be
steady and hard workin', unless you encourage 'em a little. I never
could see much harm in circuses, and our boys have never been to
one. Oh, I know Jim Howley's boys get drunk an' carry on when they
go, but our boys ain't that sort, an' you know it, William. The
animals are real instructive, an' our boys don't get to see much out
here on the prairie. It was different where we were raised, but the
boys have got no advantages here, an' if you don't take care,
they'll grow up to be greenhorns."

Hester paused a moment, and William folded up his paper, but
vouchsafed no remark. His sisters in Virginia had often said that
only a quiet man like William could ever have lived with Hester
Perkins. Secretly, William was rather proud of his wife's "gift of
speech," and of the fact that she could talk in prayer meeting as
fluently as a man. He confined his own efforts in that line to a
brief prayer at Covenant meetings.

Hester shook out another sock and went on.

"Nobody was ever hurt by goin' to a circus. Why, law me! I remember
I went to one myself once, when I was little. I had most forgot
about it. It was over at Pewtown, an' I remember how I had set my
heart on going. I don't think I'd ever forgiven my father if he
hadn't taken me, though that red clay road was in a frightful way
after the rain. I mind they had an elephant and six poll parrots,
an' a Rocky Mountain lion, an' a cage of monkeys, an' two camels.
My! but they were a sight to me then!"

Hester dropped the black sock and shook her head and smiled at the
recollection. She was not expecting anything from William yet, and
she was fairly startled when he said gravely, in much the same tone
in which he announced the hymns in prayer meeting:

"No, there was only one camel. The other was a dromedary."

She peered around the lamp and looked at him keenly.

"Why, William, how come you to know?"

William folded his paper and answered with some hesitation, "I was
there, too."

Hester's interest flashed up.--"Well, I never, William! To think of
my finding it out after all these years! Why, you couldn't have been
much bigger'n our Billy then. It seems queer I never saw you when
you was little, to remember about you. But then you Back Creek folks
never have anything to do with us Gap people. But how come you to
go? Your father was stricter with you than you are with your boys."

"I reckon I shouldn't 'a gone," he said slowly, "but boys will do
foolish things. I had done a good deal of fox hunting the winter
before, and father let me keep the bounty money. I hired Tom Smith's
Tap to weed the corn for me, an' I slipped off unbeknownst to father
an' went to the show."

Hester spoke up warmly: "Nonsense, William! It didn't do you no
harm, I guess. You was always worked hard enough. It must have been
a big sight for a little fellow. That clown must have just tickled
you to death."

William crossed his knees and leaned back in his chair.

"I reckon I could tell all that fool's jokes now. Sometimes I can't
help thinkin' about 'em in meetin' when the sermon's long. I mind I
had on a pair of new boots that hurt me like the mischief, but I
forgot all about 'em when that fellow rode the donkey. I recall I
had to take them boots off as soon as I got out of sight o' town,
and walked home in the mud barefoot."

"O poor little fellow!" Hester ejaculated, drawing her chair nearer
and leaning her elbows on the table. "What cruel shoes they did use
to make for children. I remember I went up to Back Creek to see the
circus wagons go by. They came down from Romney, you know. The
circus men stopped at the creek to water the animals, an' the
elephant got stubborn an' broke a big limb off the yellow willow
tree that grew there by the toll house porch, an' the Scribners were
'fraid as death he'd pull the house down. But this much I saw him
do; he waded in the creek an' filled his trunk with water, and
squirted it in at the window and nearly ruined Ellen Scribner's pink
lawn dress that she had just ironed an' laid out on the bed ready to
wear to the circus."

"I reckon that must have been a trial to Ellen," chuckled William,
"for she was mighty prim in them days."

Hester drew her chair still nearer William's. Since the children had
begun growing up, her conversation with her husband had been almost
wholly confined to questions of economy and expense. Their
relationship had become purely a business one, like that between
landlord and tenant. In her desire to indulge her boys she had
unconsciously assumed a defensive and almost hostile attitude
towards her husband. No debtor ever haggled with his usurer more
doggedly than did Hester with her husband in behalf of her sons. The
strategic contest had gone on so long that it had almost crowded out
the memory of a closer relationship. This exchange of confidences
to-night, when common recollections took them unawares and opened
their hearts, had all the miracle of romance. They talked on and on;
of old neighbors, of old familiar faces in the valley where they had
grown up, of long forgotten incidents of their youth--weddings,
picnics, sleighing parties and baptizings. For years they had talked
of nothing else but butter and eggs and the prices of things, and
now they had as much to say to each other as people who meet after a
long separation.

When the clock struck ten, William rose and went over to his walnut
secretary and unlocked it. From his red leather wallet he took out a
ten dollar bill and laid it on the table beside Hester.

"Tell the boys not to stay late, an' not to drive the horses hard,"
he said quietly, and went off to bed.

Hester blew out the lamp and sat still in the dark a long time. She
left the bill lying on the table where William had placed it. She
had a painful sense of having missed something, or lost something;
she felt that somehow the years had cheated her.

The little locust trees that grew by the fence were white with
blossoms. Their heavy odor floated in to her on the night wind and
recalled a night long ago, when the first whip-poor-Will of the
Spring was heard, and the rough, buxom girls of Hawkins Gap had held
her laughing and struggling under the locust trees, and searched in
her bosom for a lock of her sweetheart's hair, which is supposed to
be on every girl's breast when the first whip-poor-Will sings. Two
of those same girls had been her bridesmaids. Hester had been a very
happy bride. She rose and went softly into the room where William
lay. He was sleeping heavily, but occasionally moved his hand before
his face to ward off the flies. Hester went into the parlor and took
the piece of mosquito net from the basket of wax apples and pears
that her sister had made before she died. One of the boys had
brought it all the way from Virginia, packed in a tin pail, since
Hester would not risk shipping so precious an ornament by freight.
She went back to the bed room and spread the net over William's
head.

Then she sat down by the bed and listened to his deep, regular
breathing until she heard the boys returning. She went out to meet
them and warn them not to waken their father.

"I'll be up early to get your breakfast, boys. Your father says you
can go to the show." As she handed the money to the eldest, she felt
a sudden throb of allegiance to her husband and said sharply, "And
you be careful of that, an' don't waste it. Your father works hard
for his money."

The boys looked at each other in astonishment and felt that they had
lost a powerful ally.

                                         _Library_, May 12, 1900



_The Namesake_


Seven of us, students, sat one evening in Hartwell's studio on the
Boulevard St. Michel. We were all fellow-countrymen; one from New
Hampshire, one from Colorado, another from Nevada, several from the
farm lands of the Middle West, and I myself from California. Lyon
Hartwell, though born abroad, was simply, as every one knew, "from
America." He seemed, almost more than any other one living man, to
mean all of it--from ocean to ocean. When he was in Paris, his
studio was always open to the seven of us who were there that
evening, and we intruded upon his leisure as often as we thought
permissible.

Although we were within the terms of the easiest of all intimacies,
and although the great sculptor, even when he was more than usually
silent, was at all times the most gravely cordial of hosts, yet, on
that long remembered evening, as the sunlight died on the burnished
brown of the horse-chestnuts below the windows, a perceptible
dullness yawned through our conversation.

We were, indeed, somewhat low in spirit, for one of our number,
Charley Bentley, was leaving us indefinitely, in response to an
imperative summons from home. To-morrow his studio, just across the
hall from Hartwell's, was to pass into other hands, and Bentley's
luggage was even now piled in discouraged resignation before his
door. The various bales and boxes seemed literally to weigh upon us
as we sat in his neighbor's hospitable rooms, drearily putting in
the time until he should leave us to catch the ten o'clock express
for Dieppe.

The day we had got through very comfortably, for Bentley made it the
occasion of a somewhat pretentious luncheon at Maxim's. There had
been twelve of us at table, and the two young Poles were thirsty,
the Gascon so fabulously entertaining, that it was near upon five
o'clock when we put down our liqueur glasses for the last time, and
the red, perspiring waiter, having pocketed the reward of his
arduous and protracted services, bowed us affably to the door,
flourishing his napkin and brushing back the streaks of wet, black
hair from his rosy forehead. Our guests having betaken themselves
belated to their respective engagements, the rest of us returned
with Bentley--only to be confronted by the depressing array before
his door. A glance about his denuded rooms had sufficed to chill the
glow of the afternoon, and we fled across the hall in a body and
begged Lyon Hartwell to take us in.

Bentley had said very little about it, but we all knew what it meant
to him to be called home. Each of us knew what it would mean to
himself, and each had felt something of that quickened sense of
opportunity which comes at seeing another man in any way counted out
of the race. Never had the game seemed so enchanting, the chance to
play it such a piece of unmerited, unbelievable good fortune.

It must have been, I think, about the middle of October, for I
remember that the sycamores were almost bare in the Luxembourg
Gardens that morning, and the terrace about the queens of France
were strewn with crackling brown leaves. The fat red roses, out the
summer long on the stand of the old flower woman at the corner, had
given place to dahlias and purple asters. First glimpses of autumn
toilettes flashed from the carriages; wonderful little bonnets
nodded at one along the Champs-Elysées; and in the Quarter an
occasional feather boa, red or black or white, brushed one's coat
sleeve in the gay twilight of the early evening. The crisp, sunny
autumn air was all day full of the stir of people and carriages and
of the cheer of salutations; greetings of the students, returned
brown and bearded from their holiday, gossip of people come back
from Trouville, from St. Valery, from Dieppe, from all over Brittany
and the Norman coast. Everywhere was the joyousness of return, the
taking up again of life and work and play.

I had felt ever since early morning that this was the saddest of all
possible seasons for saying good-by to that old, old city of youth,
and to that little corner of it on the south shore which since the
Dark Ages themselves--yes, and before--has been so peculiarly the
land of the young.

I can recall our very postures as we lounged about Hartwell's rooms
that evening, with Bentley making occasional hurried trips to his
desolated workrooms across the hall--as if haunted by a feeling of
having forgotten something--or stopping to poke nervously at his
_perroquets_, which he had bequeathed to Hartwell, gilt cage and
all. Our host himself sat on the couch, his big, bronze-like
shoulders backed up against the window, his shaggy head, beaked
nose, and long chin cut clean against the gray light.

Our drowsing interest, in so far as it could be said to be fixed
upon anything, was centered upon Hartwell's new figure, which stood
on the block ready to be cast in bronze, intended as a monument for
some American battlefield. He called it "The Color Sergeant." It was
the figure of a young soldier running, clutching the folds of a
flag, the staff of which had been shot away. We had known it in all
the stages of its growth, and the splendid action and feeling of the
thing had come to have a kind of special significance for the half
dozen of us who often gathered at Hartwell's rooms--though, in
truth, there was as much to dishearten one as to inflame, in the
case of a man who had done so much in a field so amazingly
difficult; who had thrown up in bronze all the restless, teeming
force of that adventurous wave still climbing westward in our own
land across the waters. We recalled his "Scout," his "Pioneer," his
"Gold Seekers," and those monuments in which he had invested one and
another of the heroes of the Civil War with such convincing dignity
and power.

"Where in the world does he get the heat to make an idea like that
carry?" Bentley remarked morosely, scowling at the clay figure.
"Hang me, Hartwell, if I don't think it's just because you're not
really an American at all, that you can look at it like that."

The big man shifted uneasily against the window. "Yes," he replied
smiling, "perhaps there is something in that. My citizenship was
somewhat belated and emotional in its flowering. I've half a mind to
tell you about it, Bentley." He rose uncertainly, and, after
hesitating a moment, went back into his workroom, where he began
fumbling among the litter in the corners.

At the prospect of any sort of personal expression from Hartwell, we
glanced questioningly at one another; for although he made us feel
that he liked to have us about, we were always held at a distance by
a certain diffidence of his. There were rare occasions--when he was
in the heat of work or of ideas--when he forgot to be shy, but they
were so exceptional that no flattery was quite so seductive as being
taken for a moment into Hartwell's confidence. Even in the matter of
opinions--the commonest of currency in our circle--he was niggardly
and prone to qualify. No man ever guarded his mystery more
effectually. There was a singular, intense spell, therefore, about
those few evenings when he had broken through this excessive
modesty, or shyness, or melancholy, and had, as it were, committed
himself.

When Hartwell returned from the back room, he brought with him an
unframed canvas which he put on an easel near his clay figure. We
drew close about it, for the darkness was rapidly coming on. Despite
the dullness of the light, we instantly recognized the boy of
Hartwell's "Color Sergeant." It was the portrait of a very handsome
lad in uniform, standing beside a charger impossibly rearing. Not
only in his radiant countenance and flashing eyes, but in every line
of his young body there was an energy, a gallantry, a joy of life,
that arrested and challenged one.

"Yes, that's where I got the notion," Hartwell remarked, wandering
back to his seat in the window. "I've wanted to do it for years, but
I've never felt quite sure of myself. I was afraid of missing it. He
was an uncle of mine, my father's half-brother, and I was named for
him. He was killed in one of the big battles of Sixty-four, when I
was a child. I never saw him--never knew him until he had been dead
for twenty years. And then, one night, I came to know him as we
sometimes do living persons--intimately, in a single moment."

He paused to knock the ashes out of his short pipe, refilled it, and
puffed at it thoughtfully for a few moments with his hands on his
knees. Then, settling back heavily among the cushions and looking
absently out of the window, he began his story. As he proceeded
further and further into the experience which he was trying to
convey to us, his voice sank so low and was sometimes so charged
with feeling, that I almost thought he had forgotten our presence
and was remembering aloud. Even Bentley forgot his nervousness in
astonishment and sat breathless under the spell of the man's thus
breathing his memories out into the dusk.

"It was just fifteen years ago this last spring that I first went
home, and Bentley's having to cut away like this brings it all back
to me.

"I was born, you know, in Italy. My father was a sculptor, though I
dare say you've not heard of him. He was one of those first fellows
who went over after Story and Powers,--went to Italy for 'Art,'
quite simply; to lift from its native bough the willing, iridescent
bird. Their story is told, informingly enough, by some of those
ingenuous marble things at the Metropolitan. My father came over
some time before the outbreak of the Civil War, and was regarded as
a renegade by his family because he did not go home to enter the
army. His half-brother, the only child of my grandfather's second
marriage, enlisted at fifteen and was killed the next year. I was
ten years old when the news of his death reached us. My mother died
the following winter, and I was sent away to a Jesuit school, while
my father, already ill himself, stayed on at Rome, chipping away at
his Indian maidens and marble goddesses, still gloomily seeking the
thing for which he had made himself the most unhappy of exiles.

"He died when I was fourteen, but even before that I had been put to
work under an Italian sculptor. He had an almost morbid desire that
I should carry on his work, under, as he often pointed out to me,
conditions so much more auspicious. He left me in the charge of his
one intimate friend, an American gentleman in the consulate at Rome,
and his instructions were that I was to be educated there and to
live there until I was twenty-one. After I was of age, I came to
Paris and studied under one master after another until I was nearly
thirty. Then, almost for the first time, I was confronted by a duty
which was not my pleasure.

"My grandfather's death, at an advanced age, left an invalid maiden
sister of my father's quite alone in the world. She had suffered for
years from a cerebral disease, a slow decay of the faculties which
rendered her almost helpless. I decided to go to America and, if
possible, bring her back to Paris, where I seemed on my way toward
what my poor father had wished for me.

"On my arrival at my father's birthplace, however, I found that this
was not to be thought of. To tear this timid, feeble, shrinking
creature, doubly aged by years and illness, from the spot where she
had been rooted for a lifetime, would have been little short of
brutality. To leave her to the care of strangers seemed equally
heartless. There was clearly nothing for me to do but to remain and
wait for that slow and painless malady to run its course. I was
there something over two years.

"My grandfather's home, his father's homestead before him, lay on
the high banks of a river in Western Pennsylvania. The little town
twelve miles down the stream, whither my great-grandfather used to
drive his ox-wagon on market days, had become, in two generations,
one of the largest manufacturing cities in the world. For hundreds
of miles about us the gentle hill slopes were honeycombed with gas
wells and coal shafts; oil derricks creaked in every valley and
meadow; the brooks were sluggish and discolored with crude
petroleum, and the air was impregnated by its searching odor. The
great glass and iron manufactories had come up and up the river
almost to our very door; their smoky exhalations brooded over us,
and their crashing was always in our ears. I was plunged into the
very incandescence of human energy. But, though my nerves tingled
with the feverish, passionate endeavor which snapped in the very air
about me, none of these great arteries seemed to feed me; this
tumultuous life did not warm me. On every side were the great muddy
rivers, the ragged mountains from which the timber was being
ruthlessly torn away, the vast tracts of wild country, and the
gulches that were like wounds in the earth; everywhere the glare of
that relentless energy which followed me like a searchlight and
seemed to scorch and consume me. I could only hide myself in the
tangled garden, where the dropping of a leaf or the whistle of a
bird was the only incident.

"The Hartwell homestead had been sold away little by little, until
all that remained of it was garden and orchard. The house, a square
brick structure, stood in the midst of a great garden which sloped
toward the river, ending in a grassy bank which fell some forty feet
to the water's edge. The garden was now little more than a tangle of
neglected shrubbery; damp, rank, and of that intense blue-green
peculiar to vegetation in smoky places where the sun shines but
rarely, and the mists form early in the evening and hang late in the
morning.

"I shall never forget it as I saw it first, when I arrived there in
the chill of a backward June. The long, rank grass, thick and soft
and falling in billows, was always wet until midday. The gravel
walks were bordered with great lilac-bushes, mock-orange, and
bridal-wreath. Back of the house was a neglected rose garden,
surrounded by a low stone wall over which the long suckers trailed
and matted. They had wound their pink, thorny tentacles, layer upon
layer, about the lock and the hinges of the rusty iron gate. Even
the porches of the house, and the very windows, were damp and heavy
with growth: wistaria, clematis, honeysuckle, and trumpet vine. The
garden was grown up with trees, especially that part of it which lay
above the river. The bark of the old locusts was blackened by the
smoke that crept continually up the valley, and their feathery
foliage, so merry in its movement and so yellow and joyous in its
color, seemed peculiarly precious under that somber sky. There were
sycamores and copper beeches; gnarled apple-trees, too old to bear;
and fall pear-trees, hung with a sharp, hard fruit in October; all
with a leafage singularly rich and luxuriant, and peculiarly vivid
in color. The oaks about the house had been old trees when my
great-grandfather built his cabin there, more than a century before,
and this garden was almost the only spot for miles along the river
where any of the original forest growth still survived. The smoke
from the mills was fatal to trees of the larger sort, and even these
had the look of doomed things--bent a little toward the town and
seemed to wait with head inclined before that on-coming, shrieking
force.

"About the river, too, there was a strange hush, a tragic
submission--it was so leaden and sullen in its color, and it flowed
so soundlessly forever past our door.

"I sat there every evening, on the high veranda overlooking it,
watching the dim outlines of the steep hills on the other shore, the
flicker of the lights on the island, where there was a boat-house,
and listening to the call of the boatmen through the mist. The mist
came as certainly as night, whitened by moonshine or starshine. The
tin water-pipes went splash, splash, with it all evening, and the
wind, when it rose at all, was little more than a sighing of the old
boughs and a troubled breath in the heavy grasses.

"At first it was to think of my distant friends and my old life that
I used to sit there; but after awhile it was simply to watch the
days and weeks go by, like the river which seemed to carry them
away.

"Within the house I was never at home. Month followed month, and yet
I could feel no sense of kinship with anything there. Under the roof
where my father and grandfather were born, I remained utterly
detached. The somber rooms never spoke to me, the old furniture
never seemed tinctured with race. This portrait of my boy uncle was
the only thing to which I could draw near, the only link with
anything I had ever known before.

"There is a good deal of my father in the face, but it is my father
transformed and glorified; his hesitating discontent drowned in a
kind of triumph. From my first day in that house, I continually
turned to this handsome kinsman of mine, wondering in what terms he
had lived and had his hope; what he had found there to look like
that, to bound at one, after all those years, so joyously out of the
canvas.

"From the timid, clouded old woman over whose life I had come to
watch, I learned that in the backyard, near the old rose garden,
there was a locust-tree which my uncle had planted. After his death,
while it was still a slender sapling, his mother had a seat built
round it, and she used to sit there on summer evenings. His grave
was under the apple-trees in the old orchard.

"My aunt could tell me little more than this. There were days when
she seemed not to remember him at all.

"It was from an old soldier in the village that I learned the boy's
story. Lyon was, the old man told me, but fourteen when the first
enlistment occurred, but was even then eager to go. He was in the
court-house square every evening to watch the recruits at their
drill, and when the home company was ordered off he rode into the
city on his pony to see the men board the train and to wave them
good-by. The next year he spent at home with a tutor, but when he
was fifteen he held his parents to their promise and went into the
army. He was color sergeant of his regiment and fell in a charge
upon the breastworks of a fort about a year after his enlistment.

"The veteran showed me an account of this charge which had been
written for the village paper by one of my uncle's comrades who had
seen his part in the engagement. It seems that as his company were
running at full speed across the bottom lands toward the fortified
hill, a shell burst over them. This comrade, running beside my
uncle, saw the colors waver and sink as if falling, and looked to
see that the boy's hand and forearm had been torn away by the
exploding shrapnel. The boy, he thought, did not realize the extent
of his injury, for he laughed, shouted something which his comrade
did not catch, caught the flag in his left hand, and ran on up the
hill. They went splendidly up over the breastworks, but just as my
uncle, his colors flying, reached the top of the embankment, a
second shell carried away his left arm at the arm-pit, and he fell
over the wall with the flag settling about him.

"It was because this story was ever present with me, because I was
unable to shake it off, that I began to read such books as my
grandfather had collected upon the Civil War. I found that this war
was fought largely by boys, that more men enlisted at eighteen than
at any other age. When I thought of those battlefields--and I
thought of them much in those days--there was always that glory of
youth above them, that impetuous, generous passion stirring the long
lines on the march, the blue battalions in the plain. The bugle,
whenever I have heard it since, has always seemed to me the very
golden throat of that boyhood which spent itself so gaily, so
incredibly.

"I used often to wonder how it was that this uncle of mine, who
seemed to have possessed all the charm and brilliancy allotted to
his family and to have lived up its vitality in one splendid hour,
had left so little trace in the house where he was born and where he
had awaited his destiny. Look as I would, I could find no letters
from him, no clothing or books that might have been his. He had been
dead but twenty years, and yet nothing seemed to have survived
except the tree he had planted. It seemed incredible and cruel that
no physical memory of him should linger to be cherished among his
kindred,--nothing but the dull image in the brain of that aged
sister. I used to pace the garden walks in the evening, wondering
that no breath of his, no echo of his laugh, of his call to his pony
or his whistle to his dogs, should linger about those shaded paths
where the pale roses exhaled their dewy, country smell. Sometimes,
in the dim starlight, I have thought that I heard on the grasses
beside me the stir of a footfall lighter than my own, and under the
black arch of the lilacs I have fancied that he bore me company.

"There was, I found, one day in the year for which my old aunt
waited, and which stood out from the months that were all of a
sameness to her. On the thirtieth of May she insisted that I should
bring down the big flag from the attic and run it up upon the tall
flagstaff beside Lyon's tree in the garden. Later in the morning she
went with me to carry some of the garden flowers to the grave in the
orchard,--a grave scarcely larger than a child's.

"I had noticed, when I was hunting for the flag in the attic, a
leather trunk with my own name stamped upon it, but was unable to
find the key. My aunt was all day less apathetic than usual; she
seemed to realize more clearly who I was, and to wish me to be with
her. I did not have an opportunity to return to the attic until
after dinner that evening, when I carried a lamp up-stairs and
easily forced the lock of the trunk. I found all the things that I
had looked for; put away, doubtless, by his mother, and still
smelling faintly of lavender and rose leaves; his clothes, his
exercise books, his letters from the army, his first boots, his
riding-whip, some of his toys, even. I took them out and replaced
them gently. As I was about to shut the lid, I picked up a copy of
the Æneid, on the fly-leaf of which was written in a slanting,
boyish hand,

  Lyon Hartwell, January, 1862.

He had gone to the wars in Sixty-three, I remembered.

"My uncle, I gathered, was none too apt at his Latin, for the pages
were dog-eared and rubbed and interlined, the margins mottled with
pencil sketches--bugles, stacked bayonets, and artillery carriages.
In the act of putting the book down, I happened to run over the
pages to the end, and on the fly-leaf at the back I saw his name
again, and a drawing--with his initials and a date--of the Federal
flag; above it, written in a kind of arch and in the same unformed
hand:

  'Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light
  What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?'

It was a stiff, wooden sketch, not unlike a detail from some
Egyptian inscription, but, the moment I saw it, wind and color
seemed to touch it. I caught up the book, blew out the lamp, and
rushed down into the garden.

"I seemed, somehow, at last to have known him; to have been with him
in that careless, unconscious moment and to have known him as he was
then.

"As I sat there in the rush of this realization, the wind began to
rise, stirring the light foliage of the locust over my head and
bringing, fresher than before, the woody odor of the pale roses that
overran the little neglected garden. Then, as it grew stronger, it
brought the sound of something sighing and stirring over my head in
the perfumed darkness.

"I thought of that sad one of the Destinies who, as the Greeks
believed, watched from birth over those marked for a violent or
untimely death. Oh, I could see him, there in the shine of the
morning, his book idly on his knee, his flashing eyes looking
straight before him, and at his side that grave figure, hidden in
her draperies, her eyes following his, but seeing so much
farther--seeing what he never saw, that great moment at the end,
when he swayed above his comrades on the earthen wall.

"All the while, the bunting I had run up in the morning flapped fold
against fold, heaving and tossing softly in the dark--against a sky
so black with rain clouds that I could see above me only the blur of
something in soft, troubled motion.

"The experience of that night, coming so overwhelmingly to a man so
dead, almost rent me in pieces. It was the same feeling that artists
know when we, rarely, achieve truth in our work; the feeling of
union with some great force, of purpose and security, of being glad
that we have lived. For the first time I felt the pull of race and
blood and kindred, and felt beating within me things that had not
begun with me. It was as if the earth under my feet had grasped and
rooted me, and were pouring its essence into me. I sat there until
the dawn of morning, and all night long my life seemed to be pouring
out of me and running into the ground."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hartwell drew a long breath that lifted his heavy shoulders, and
then let them fall again. He shifted a little and faced more
squarely the scattered, silent company before him. The darkness had
made us almost invisible to each other, and, except for the
occasional red circuit of a cigarette end traveling upward from the
arm of a chair, he might have supposed us all asleep.

"And so," Hartwell added thoughtfully, "I naturally feel an interest
in fellows who are going home. It's always an experience."

No one said anything, and in a moment there was a loud rap at the
door,--the concierge, come to take down Bentley's luggage and to
announce that the cab was below. Bentley got his hat and coat,
enjoined Hartwell to take good care of his _perroquets_, gave each
of us a grip of the hand, and went briskly down the long flights of
stairs. We followed him into the street, calling our good wishes,
and saw him start on his drive across the lighted city to the Gare
St. Lazare.

                                         _McClure's_, March 1907



_The Enchanted Bluff_


We had our swim before sundown, and while we were cooking our supper
the oblique rays of light made a dazzling glare on the white sand
about us. The translucent red ball itself sank behind the brown
stretches of corn field as we sat down to eat, and the warm layer of
air that had rested over the water and our clean sand-bar grew
fresher and smelled of the rank ironweed and sunflowers growing on
the flatter shore. The river was brown and sluggish, like any other
of the half-dozen streams that water the Nebraska corn lands. On one
shore was an irregular line of bald clay bluffs where a few
scrub-oaks with thick trunks and flat, twisted tops threw light
shadows on the long grass. The western shore was low and level, with
corn fields that stretched to the sky-line, and all along the
water's edge were little sandy coves and beaches where slim
cottonwoods and willow saplings flickered.

The turbulence of the river in spring-time discouraged milling, and,
beyond keeping the old red bridge in repair, the busy farmers did
not concern themselves with the stream; so the Sandtown boys were
left in undisputed possession. In the autumn we hunted quail through
the miles of stubble and fodder land along the flat shore, and,
after the winter skating season was over and the ice had gone out,
the spring freshets and flooded bottoms gave us our great excitement
of the year. The channel was never the same for two successive
seasons. Every spring the swollen stream undermined a bluff to the
east, or bit out a few acres of corn field to the west and whirled
the soil away to deposit it in spumy mud banks somewhere else. When
the water fell low in midsummer, new sand-bars were thus exposed to
dry and whiten in the August sun. Sometimes these were banked so
firmly that the fury of the next freshet failed to unseat them; the
little willow seedlings emerged triumphantly from the yellow froth,
broke into spring leaf, shot up into summer growth, and with their
mesh of roots bound together the moist sand beneath them against the
batterings of another April. Here and there a cottonwood soon
glittered among them, quivering in the low current of air that, even
on breathless days when the dust hung like smoke above the wagon
road, trembled along the face of the water.

It was on such an island, in the third summer of its yellow green,
that we built our watch-fire; not in the thicket of dancing willow
wands, but on the level terrace of fine sand which had been added
that spring; a little new bit of world, beautifully ridged with
ripple marks, and strewn with the tiny skeletons of turtles and
fish, all as white and dry as if they had been expertly cured. We
had been careful not to mar the freshness of the place, although we
often swam out to it on summer evenings and lay on the sand to rest.

This was our last watch-fire of the year, and there were reasons why
I should remember it better than any of the others. Next week the
other boys were to file back to their old places in the Sandtown
High School, but I was to go up to the Divide to teach my first
country school in the Norwegian district. I was already homesick at
the thought of quitting the boys with whom I had always played; of
leaving the river, and going up into a windy plain that was all
windmills and corn fields and big pastures; where there was nothing
wilful or unmanageable in the landscape, no new islands, and no
chance of unfamiliar birds--such as often followed the watercourses.

Other boys came and went and used the river for fishing or skating,
but we six were sworn to the spirit of the stream, and we were
friends mainly because of the river. There were the two Hassler
boys, Fritz and Otto, sons of the little German tailor. They were
the youngest of us; ragged boys of ten and twelve, with sunburned
hair, weather-stained faces, and pale blue eyes. Otto, the elder,
was the best mathematician in school, and clever at his books, but
he always dropped out in the spring term as if the river could not
get on without him. He and Fritz caught the fat, horned catfish and
sold them about the town, and they lived so much in the water that
they were as brown and sandy as the river itself.

There was Percy Pound, a fat, freckled boy with chubby cheeks, who
took half a dozen boys' story-papers and was always being kept in
for reading detective stories behind his desk. There was Tip Smith,
destined by his freckles and red hair to be the buffoon in all our
games, though he walked like a timid little old man and had a funny,
cracked laugh. Tip worked hard in his father's grocery store every
afternoon, and swept it out before school in the morning. Even his
recreations were laborious. He collected cigarette cards and tin
tobacco-tags indefatigably, and would sit for hours humped up over a
snarling little scroll-saw which he kept in his attic. His dearest
possessions were some little pill-bottles that purported to contain
grains of wheat from the Holy Land, water from the Jordan and the
Dead Sea, and earth from the Mount of Olives. His father had bought
these dull things from a Baptist missionary who peddled them, and
Tip seemed to derive great satisfaction from their remote origin.

The tall boy was Arthur Adams. He had fine hazel eyes that were
almost too reflective and sympathetic for a boy, and such a pleasant
voice that we all loved to hear him read aloud. Even when he had to
read poetry aloud at school, no one ever thought of laughing. To be
sure, he was not at school very much of the time. He was seventeen
and should have finished the High School the year before, but he was
always off somewhere with his gun. Arthur's mother was dead, and his
father, who was feverishly absorbed in promoting schemes, wanted to
send the boy away to school and get him off his hands; but Arthur
always begged off for another year and promised to study. I remember
him as a tall, brown boy with an intelligent face, always lounging
among a lot of us little fellows, laughing at us oftener than with
us, but such a soft, satisfied laugh that we felt rather flattered
when we provoked it. In after-years people said that Arthur had been
given to evil ways even as a lad, and it is true that we often saw
him with the gambler's sons and with old Spanish Fanny's boy, but if
he learned anything ugly in their company he never betrayed it to
us. We would have followed Arthur anywhere, and I am bound to say
that he led us into no worse places than the cattail marshes and the
stubble fields. These, then, were the boys who camped with me that
summer night upon the sand-bar.

After we finished our supper we beat the willow thicket for
driftwood. By the time we had collected enough, night had fallen,
and the pungent, weedy smell from the shore increased with the
coolness. We threw ourselves down about the fire and made another
futile effort to show Percy Pound the Little Dipper. We had tried it
often before, but he could never be got past the big one.

"You see those three big stars just below the handle, with the
bright one in the middle?" said Otto Hassler; "that's Orion's belt,
and the bright one is the clasp." I crawled behind Otto's shoulder
and sighted up his arm to the star that seemed perched upon the tip
of his steady forefinger. The Hassler boys did seine-fishing at
night, and they knew a good many stars.

Percy gave up the Little Dipper and lay back on the sand, his hands
clasped under his head. "I can see the North Star," he announced,
contentedly, pointing toward it with his big toe. "Any one might get
lost and need to know that."

We all looked up at it.

"How do you suppose Columbus felt when his compass didn't point
north any more?" Tip asked.

Otto shook his head. "My father says that there was another North
Star once, and that maybe this one won't last always. I wonder what
would happen to us down here if anything went wrong with it?"

Arthur chuckled. "I wouldn't worry, Ott. Nothing's apt to happen to
it in your time. Look at the Milky Way! There must be lots of good
dead Indians."

We lay back and looked, meditating, at the dark cover of the world.
The gurgle of the water had become heavier. We had often noticed a
mutinous, complaining note in it at night, quite different from its
cheerful daytime chuckle, and seeming like the voice of a much
deeper and more powerful stream. Our water had always these two
moods: the one of sunny complaisance, the other of inconsolable,
passionate regret.

"Queer how the stars are all in sort of diagrams," remarked Otto.
"You could do most any proposition in geometry with 'em. They always
look as if they meant something. Some folks say everybody's fortune
is all written out in the stars, don't they?"

"They believe so in the old country," Fritz affirmed.

But Arthur only laughed at him. "You're thinking of Napoleon,
Fritzey. He had a star that went out when he began to lose battles.
I guess the stars don't keep any close tally on Sandtown folks."

We were speculating on how many times we could count a hundred
before the evening star went down behind the corn fields, when some
one cried, "There comes the moon, and it's as big as a cart wheel!"

We all jumped up to greet it as it swam over the bluffs behind us.
It came up like a galleon in full sail; an enormous, barbaric thing,
red as an angry heathen god.

"When the moon came up red like that, the Aztecs used to sacrifice
their prisoners on the temple top," Percy announced.

"Go on, Perce. You got that out of _Golden Days_. Do you believe
that, Arthur?" I appealed.

Arthur answered, quite seriously: "Like as not. The moon was one of
their gods. When my father was in Mexico City he saw the stone where
they used to sacrifice their prisoners."

As we dropped down by the fire again some one asked whether the
Mound-Builders were older than the Aztecs. When we once got upon the
Mound-Builders we never willingly got away from them, and we were
still conjecturing when we heard a loud splash in the water.

"Must have been a big cat jumping," said Fritz. "They do sometimes.
They must see bugs in the dark. Look what a track the moon makes!"

There was a long, silvery streak on the water, and where the current
fretted over a big log it boiled up like gold pieces.

"Suppose there ever _was_ any gold hid away in this old river?"
Fritz asked. He lay like a little brown Indian, close to the fire,
his chin on his hand and his bare feet in the air. His brother
laughed at him, but Arthur took his suggestion seriously.

"Some of the Spaniards thought there was gold up here somewhere.
Seven cities chuck full of gold, they had it, and Coronado and his
men came up to hunt it. The Spaniards were all over this country
once."

Percy looked interested. "Was that before the Mormons went through?"

We all laughed at this.

"Long enough before. Before the Pilgrim Fathers, Perce. Maybe they
came along this very river. They always followed the watercourses."

"I wonder where this river really does begin?" Tip mused. That was
an old and a favorite mystery which the map did not clearly explain.
On the map the little black line stopped somewhere in western
Kansas; but since rivers generally rose in mountains, it was only
reasonable to suppose that ours came from the Rockies. Its
destination, we knew, was the Missouri, and the Hassler boys always
maintained that we could embark at Sandtown in flood-time, follow
our noses, and eventually arrive at New Orleans. Now they took up
their old argument. "If us boys had grit enough to try it, it
wouldn't take no time to get to Kansas City and St. Joe."

We began to talk about the places we wanted to go to. The Hassler
boys wanted to see the stock-yards in Kansas City, and Percy wanted
to see a big store in Chicago. Arthur was interlocutor and did not
betray himself.

"Now it's your turn, Tip."

Tip rolled over on his elbow and poked the fire, and his eyes looked
shyly out of his queer, tight little face. "My place is awful far
away. My uncle Bill told me about it."

Tip's Uncle Bill was a wanderer, bitten with mining fever, who had
drifted into Sandtown with a broken arm, and when it was well had
drifted out again.

"Where is it?"

"Aw, it's down in New Mexico somewheres. There aren't no railroads
or anything. You have to go on mules, and you run out of water
before you get there and have to drink canned tomatoes."

"Well, go on, kid. What's it like when you do get there?"

Tip sat up and excitedly began his story.

"There's a big red rock there that goes right up out of the sand for
about nine hundred feet. The country's flat all around it, and this
here rock goes up all by itself, like a monument. They call it the
Enchanted Bluff down there, because no white man has ever been on
top of it. The sides are smooth rock, and straight up, like a wall.
The Indians say that hundreds of years ago, before the Spaniards
came, there was a village away up there in the air. The tribe that
lived there had some sort of steps, made out of wood and bark, hung
down over the face of the bluff, and the braves went down to hunt
and carried water up in big jars swung on their backs. They kept a
big supply of water and dried meat up there, and never went down
except to hunt. They were a peaceful tribe that made cloth and
pottery, and they went up there to get out of the wars. You see,
they could pick off any war party that tried to get up their little
steps. The Indians say they were a handsome people, and they had
some sort of a queer religion. Uncle Bill thinks they were
Cliff-Dwellers who had got into trouble and left home. They weren't
fighters, anyhow.

"One time the braves were down hunting and an awful storm came up--a
kind of waterspout--and when they got back to their rock they found
their little staircase had been all broken to pieces, and only a few
steps were left hanging away up in the air. While they were camped
at the foot of the rock, wondering what to do, a war party from the
north came along and massacred 'em to a man, with all the old folks
and women looking on from the rock. Then the war party went on south
and left the village to get down the best way they could. Of course
they never got down. They starved to death up there, and when the
war party came back on their way north, they could hear the children
crying from the edge of the bluff where they had crawled out, but
they didn't see a sign of a grown Indian, and nobody has ever been
up there since."

We exclaimed at this dolorous legend and sat up.

"There couldn't have been many people up there," Percy demurred.
"How big is the top, Tip?"

"Oh, pretty big. Big enough so that the rock doesn't look nearly as
tall as it is. The top's bigger than the base. The bluff is sort of
worn away for several hundred feet up. That's one reason it's so
hard to climb."

I asked how the Indians got up, in the first place.

"Nobody knows how they got up or when. A hunting party came along
once and saw that there was a town up there, and that was all."

Otto rubbed his chin and looked thoughtful. "Of course there must be
some way to get up there. Couldn't people get a rope over someway
and pull a ladder up?"

Tip's little eyes were shining with excitement. "I know a way. Me
and Uncle Bill talked it all over. There's a kind of rocket that
would take a rope over--life-savers use 'em--and then you could
hoist a rope-ladder and peg it down at the bottom and make it tight
with guy-ropes on the other side. I'm going to climb that there
bluff, and I've got it all planned out."

Fritz asked what he expected to find when he got up there.

"Bones, maybe, or the ruins of their town, or pottery, or some of
their idols. There might be 'most anything up there. Anyhow, I want
to see."

"Sure nobody else has been up there, Tip?" Arthur asked.

"Dead sure. Hardly anybody ever goes down there. Some hunters tried
to cut steps in the rock once, but they didn't get higher than a man
can reach. The Bluff's all red granite, and Uncle Bill thinks it's a
boulder the glaciers left. It's a queer place, anyhow. Nothing but
cactus and desert for hundreds of miles, and yet right under the
bluff there's good water and plenty of grass. That's why the bison
used to go down there."

Suddenly we heard a scream above our fire, and jumped up to see a
dark, slim bird floating southward far above us--a whooping-crane,
we knew by her cry and her long neck. We ran to the edge of the
island, hoping we might see her alight, but she wavered southward
along the rivercourse until we lost her. The Hassler boys declared
that by the look of the heavens it must be after midnight, so we
threw more wood on our fire, put on our jackets, and curled down in
the warm sand. Several of us pretended to doze, but I fancy we were
really thinking about Tip's Bluff and the extinct people. Over in
the wood the ring-doves were calling mournfully to one another, and
once we heard a dog bark, far away. "Somebody getting into old
Tommy's melon patch," Fritz murmured, sleepily, but nobody answered
him. By and by Percy spoke out of the shadow.

"Say, Tip, when you go down there will you take me with you?"

"Maybe."

"Suppose one of us beats you down there, Tip?"

"Whoever gets to the Bluff first has got to promise to tell the rest
of us exactly what he finds," remarked one of the Hassler boys, and
to this we all readily assented.

Somewhat reassured, I dropped off to sleep. I must have dreamed
about a race for the Bluff, for I awoke in a kind of fear that other
people were getting ahead of me and that I was losing my chance. I
sat up in my damp clothes and looked at the other boys, who lay
tumbled in uneasy attitudes about the dead fire. It was still dark,
but the sky was blue with the last wonderful azure of night. The
stars glistened like crystal globes, and trembled as if they shone
through a depth of clear water. Even as I watched, they began to
pale and the sky brightened. Day came suddenly, almost
instantaneously. I turned for another look at the blue night, and it
was gone. Everywhere the birds began to call, and all manner of
little insects began to chirp and hop about in the willows. A breeze
sprang up from the west and brought the heavy smell of ripened corn.
The boys rolled over and shook themselves. We stripped and plunged
into the river just as the sun came up over the windy bluffs.

When I came home to Sandtown at Christmas time, we skated out to our
island and talked over the whole project of the Enchanted Bluff,
renewing our resolution to find it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although that was twenty years ago, none of us have ever climbed the
Enchanted Bluff. Percy Pound is a stockbroker in Kansas City and
will go nowhere that his red touring-car cannot carry him. Otto
Hassler went on the railroad and lost his foot braking; after which
he and Fritz succeeded their father as the town tailors.

Arthur sat about the sleepy little town all his life--he died before
he was twenty-five. The last time I saw him, when I was home on one
of my college vacations, he was sitting in a steamer-chair under a
cottonwood tree in the little yard behind one of the two Sandtown
saloons. He was very untidy and his hand was not steady, but when he
rose, unabashed, to greet me, his eyes were as clear and warm as
ever. When I had talked with him for an hour and heard him laugh
again, I wondered how it was that when Nature had taken such pains
with a man, from his hands to the arch of his long foot, she had
ever lost him in Sandtown. He joked about Tip Smith's Bluff, and
declared he was going down there just as soon as the weather got
cooler; he thought the Grand Cañon might be worth while, too.

I was perfectly sure when I left him that he would never get beyond
the high plank fence and the comfortable shade of the cottonwood.
And, indeed, it was under that very tree that he died one summer
morning.

Tip Smith still talks about going to New Mexico. He married a
slatternly, unthrifty country girl, has been much tied to a
perambulator, and has grown stooped and gray from irregular meals
and broken sleep. But the worst of his difficulties are now over,
and he has, as he says, come into easy water. When I was last in
Sandtown I walked home with him late one moonlight night, after he
had balanced his cash and shut up his store. We took the long way
around and sat down on the schoolhouse steps, and between us we
quite revived the romance of the lone red rock and the extinct
people. Tip insists that he still means to go down there, but he
thinks now he will wait until his boy, Bert, is old enough to go
with him. Bert has been let into the story, and thinks of nothing
but the Enchanted Bluff.

                                          _Harper's_, April 1909



_The Joy of Nelly Deane_


Nell and I were almost ready to go on for the last act of "Queen
Esther," and we had for the moment got rid of our three patient
dressers, Mrs. Dow, Mrs. Freeze, and Mrs. Spinny. Nell was peering
over my shoulder into the little cracked looking-glass that Mrs. Dow
had taken from its nail on her kitchen wall and brought down to the
church under her shawl that morning. When she realized that we were
alone, Nell whispered to me in the quick, fierce way she had:

"Say, Peggy, won't you go up and stay with me to-night? Scott
Spinny's asked to take me home, and I don't want to walk up with him
alone."

"I guess so, if you'll ask my mother."

"Oh, I'll fix her!" Nell laughed, with a toss of her head which
meant that she usually got what she wanted, even from people much
less tractable than my mother.

In a moment our tiring-women were back again. The three old
ladies--at least they seemed old to us--fluttered about us, more
agitated than we were ourselves. It seemed as though they would
never leave off patting Nell and touching her up. They kept trying
things this way and that, never able in the end to decide which way
was best. They wouldn't hear to her using rouge, and as they
powdered her neck and arms, Mrs. Freeze murmured that she hoped we
wouldn't get into the habit of using such things. Mrs. Spinny
divided her time between pulling up and tucking down the "illusion"
that filled in the square neck of Nelly's dress. She didn't like
things much low, she said; but after she had pulled it up, she stood
back and looked at Nell thoughtfully through her glasses. While the
excited girl was reaching for this and that, buttoning a slipper,
pinning down a curl, Mrs. Spinny's smile softened more and more
until, just before _Esther_ made her entrance, the old lady tiptoed
up to her and softly tucked the illusion down as far as it would go.

"She's so pink; it seems a pity not," she whispered apologetically
to Mrs. Dow.

Every one admitted that Nelly was the prettiest girl in Riverbend,
and the gayest--oh, the gayest! When she was not singing, she was
laughing. When she was not laid up with a broken arm, the outcome of
a foolhardy coasting feat, or suspended from school because she ran
away at recess to go buggy-riding with Guy Franklin, she was sure to
be up to mischief of some sort. Twice she broke through the ice and
got soused in the river because she never looked where she skated or
cared what happened so long as she went fast enough. After the
second of these duckings our three dressers declared that she was
trying to be a Baptist despite herself.

Mrs. Spinny and Mrs. Freeze and Mrs. Dow, who were always hovering
about Nelly, often whispered to me their hope that she would
eventually come into our church and not "go with the Methodists";
her family were Wesleyans. But to me these artless plans of theirs
never wholly explained their watchful affection. They had good
daughters themselves,--except Mrs. Spinny, who had only the sullen
Scott,--and they loved their plain girls and thanked God for them.
But they loved Nelly differently. They were proud of her pretty
figure and yellow-brown eyes, which dilated so easily and sparkled
with a kind of golden effervescence. They were always making pretty
things for her, always coaxing her to come to the sewing-circle,
where she knotted her thread, and put in the wrong sleeve, and
laughed and chattered and said a great many things that she should
not have said, and somehow always warmed their hearts. I think they
loved her for her unquenchable joy.

All the Baptist ladies liked Nell, even those who criticized her
most severely, but the three who were first in fighting the battles
of our little church, who held it together by their prayers and the
labor of their hands, watched over her as they did over Mrs. Dow's
century-plant before it blossomed. They looked for her on Sunday
morning and smiled at her as she hurried, always a little late, up
to the choir. When she rose and stood behind the organ and sang
"There Is a Green Hill," one could see Mrs. Dow and Mrs. Freeze
settle back in their accustomed seats and look up at her as if she
had just come from that hill and had brought them glad tidings.

It was because I sang contralto, or, as we said, alto, in the
Baptist choir that Nell and I became friends. She was so gay and
grown up, so busy with parties and dances and picnics, that I would
scarcely have seen much of her had we not sung together. She liked
me better than she did any of the older girls, who tried clumsily to
be like her, and I felt almost as solicitous and admiring as did
Mrs. Dow and Mrs. Spinny. I think even then I must have loved to see
her bloom and glow, and I loved to hear her sing, in "The Ninety and
Nine,"

  But one was out on the hills away

in her sweet, strong voice. Nell had never had a singing lesson, but
she had sung from the time she could talk, and Mrs. Dow used fondly
to say that it was singing so much that made her figure so pretty.

After I went into the choir it was found to be easier to get Nelly
to choir practice. If I stopped outside her gate on my way to church
and coaxed her, she usually laughed, ran in for her hat and jacket,
and went along with me. The three old ladies fostered our
friendship, and because I was "quiet," they esteemed me a good
influence for Nelly. This view was propounded in a sewing-circle
discussion and, leaking down to us through our mothers, greatly
amused us. Dear old ladies! It was so manifestly for what Nell was
that they loved her, and yet they were always looking for
"influences" to change her.

The "Queen Esther" performance had cost us three months of hard
practice, and it was not easy to keep Nell up to attending the
tedious rehearsals. Some of the boys we knew were in the chorus of
Assyrian youths, but the solo cast was made up of older people, and
Nell found them very poky. We gave the cantata in the Baptist church
on Christmas eve, "to a crowded house," as the Riverbend "Messenger"
truly chronicled. The country folk for miles about had come in
through a deep snow, and their teams and wagons stood in a long row
at the hitch-bars on each side of the church door. It was certainly
Nelly's night, for however much the tenor--he was her schoolmaster,
and naturally thought poorly of her--might try to eclipse her in his
dolorous solos about the rivers of Babylon, there could be no doubt
as to whom the people had come to hear--and to see.

After the performance was over, our fathers and mothers came back to
the dressing-rooms--the little rooms behind the baptistry where the
candidates for baptism were robed--to congratulate us, and Nell
persuaded my mother to let me go home with her. This arrangement may
not have been wholly agreeable to Scott Spinny, who stood glumly
waiting at the baptistry door; though I used to think he dogged
Nell's steps not so much for any pleasure he got from being with her
as for the pleasure of keeping other people away. Dear little Mrs.
Spinny was perpetually in a state of humiliation on account of his
bad manners, and she tried by a very special tenderness to make up
to Nelly for the remissness of her ungracious son.

Scott was a spare, muscular fellow, good-looking, but with a face so
set and dark that I used to think it very like the castings he sold.
He was taciturn and domineering, and Nell rather liked to provoke
him. Her father was so easy with her that she seemed to enjoy being
ordered about now and then. That night, when every one was praising
her and telling her how well she sang and how pretty she looked,
Scott only said, as we came out of the dressing-room:

"Have you got your high shoes on?"

"No; but I've got rubbers on over my low ones. Mother doesn't care."

"Well, you just go back and put 'em on as fast as you can."

Nell made a face at him and ran back, laughing. Her mother, fat,
comfortable Mrs. Deane, was immensely amused at this.

"That's right, Scott," she chuckled. "You can do enough more with
her than I can. She walks right over me an' Jud."

Scott grinned. If he was proud of Nelly, the last thing he wished to
do was to show it. When she came back he began to nag again. "What
are you going to do with all those flowers? They'll freeze stiff as
pokers."

"Well, there won't none of _your_ flowers freeze, Scott Spinny, so
there!" Nell snapped. She had the best of him that time, and the
Assyrian youths rejoiced. They were most of them high-school boys,
and the poorest of them had "chipped in" and sent all the way to
Denver for _Queen Esther's_ flowers. There were bouquets from half a
dozen townspeople, too, but none from Scott. Scott was a prosperous
hardware merchant and notoriously penurious, though he saved his
face, as the boys said, by giving liberally to the church.

"There's no use freezing the fool things, anyhow. You get me some
newspapers, and I'll wrap 'em up." Scott took from his pocket a
folded copy of the Riverbend "Messenger" and began laboriously to
wrap up one of the bouquets. When we left the church door he bore
three large newspaper bundles, carrying them as carefully as if they
had been so many newly frosted wedding-cakes, and left Nell and me
to shift for ourselves as we floundered along the snow-burdened
sidewalk.

Although it was after midnight, lights were shining from many of the
little wooden houses, and the roofs and shrubbery were so deep in
snow that Riverbend looked as if it had been tucked down into a warm
bed. The companies of people, all coming from church, tramping this
way and that toward their homes and calling "Good night" and "Merry
Christmas" as they parted company, all seemed to us very unusual and
exciting.

When we got home, Mrs. Deane had a cold supper ready, and Jud Deane
had already taken off his shoes and fallen to on his fried chicken
and pie. He was so proud of his pretty daughter that he must give
her her Christmas presents then and there, and he went into the
sleeping-chamber behind the dining-room and from the depths of his
wife's closet brought out a short sealskin jacket and a round cap
and made Nelly put them on.

Mrs. Deane, who sat busy between a plate of spice cake and a tray
piled with her famous whipped-cream tarts, laughed inordinately at
his behavior.

"Ain't he worse than any kid you ever see? He's been running to that
closet like a cat shut away from her kittens. I wonder Nell ain't
caught on before this. I did think he'd make out now to keep 'em
till Christmas morning; but he's never made out to keep anything
yet."

That was true enough, and fortunately Jud's inability to keep
anything seemed always to present a highly humorous aspect to his
wife. Mrs. Deane put her heart into her cooking, and said that so
long as a man was a good provider she had no cause to complain.
Other people were not so charitable toward Jud's failing. I remember
how many strictures were passed upon that little sealskin and how he
was censured for his extravagance. But what a public-spirited thing,
after all, it was for him to do! How, the winter through, we all
enjoyed seeing Nell skating on the river or running about the town
with the brown collar turned up about her bright cheeks and her hair
blowing out from under the round cap! "No seal," Mrs. Dow said,
"would have begrudged it to her. Why should we?" This was at the
sewing-circle, when the new coat was under grave discussion.

At last Nelly and I got up-stairs and undressed, and the pad of
Jud's slippered feet about the kitchen premises--where he was
carrying up from the cellar things that might freeze--ceased. He
called "Good night, daughter," from the foot of the stairs, and the
house grew quiet. But one is not a prima donna the first time for
nothing, and it seemed as if we could not go to bed. Our light must
have burned long after every other in Riverbend was out. The muslin
curtains of Nell's bed were drawn back; Mrs. Deane had turned down
the white counterpane and taken off the shams and smoothed the
pillows for us. But their fair plumpness offered no temptation to
two such hot young heads. We could not let go of life even for a
little while. We sat and talked in Nell's cozy room, where there was
a tiny, white fur rug--the only one in Riverbend--before the bed;
and there were white sash curtains, and the prettiest little desk
and dressing-table I had ever seen. It was a warm, gay little room,
flooded all day long with sunlight from east and south windows that
had climbing-roses all about them in summer. About the dresser were
photographs of adoring high-school boys; and one of Guy Franklin,
much groomed and barbered, in a dress-coat and a boutonnière. I
never liked to see that photograph there. The home boys looked
properly modest and bashful on the dresser, but he seemed to be
staring impudently all the time.

I knew nothing definite against Guy, but in Riverbend all
"traveling-men" were considered worldly and wicked. He traveled for
a Chicago dry-goods firm, and our fathers didn't like him because he
put extravagant ideas into our mothers' heads. He had very smooth
and nattering ways, and he introduced into our simple community a
great variety of perfumes and scented soaps, and he always reminded
me of the merchants in Cæsar, who brought into Gaul "those things
which effeminate the mind," as we translated that delightfully easy
passage.

Nell was silting before the dressing-table in her nightgown, holding
the new fur coat and rubbing her cheek against it, when I saw a
sudden gleam of tears in her eyes. "You know, Peggy," she said in
her quick, impetuous way, "this makes me feel bad. I've got a secret
from my daddy."

I can see her now, so pink and eager, her brown hair in two springy
braids down her back, and her eyes shining with tears and with
something even softer and more tremulous.

"I'm engaged, Peggy," she whispered, "really and truly."

She leaned forward, unbuttoning her nightgown, and there on her
breast, hung by a little gold chain about her neck, was a diamond
ring--Guy Franklin's solitaire; every one in Riverbend knew it well.

"I'm going to live in Chicago, and take singing lessons, and go to
operas, and do all those nice things--oh, everything! I know you
don't like him, Peggy, but you know you _are_ a kid. You'll see how
it is yourself when you grow up. He's so _different_ from our boys,
and he's just terribly in love with me. And then, Peggy,"--flushing
all down over her soft shoulders,--"I'm awfully fond of him, too.
Awfully."

"Are you, Nell, truly?" I whispered. She seemed so changed to me by
the warm light in her eyes and that delicate suffusion of color. I
felt as I did when I got up early on picnic mornings in summer, and
saw the dawn come up in the breathless sky above the river meadows
and make all the cornfields golden.

"Sure I do, Peggy; don't look so solemn. It's nothing to look that
way about, kid. It's nice." She threw her arms about me suddenly and
hugged me.

"I hate to think about your going so far away from us all, Nell."

"Oh, you'll love to come and visit me. Just you wait."

She began breathlessly to go over things Guy Franklin had told her
about Chicago, until I seemed to see it all looming up out there
under the stars that kept watch over our little sleeping town. We
had neither of us ever been to a city, but we knew what it would be
like. We heard it throbbing like great engines, and calling to us,
that far-away world. Even after we had opened the windows and
scurried into bed, we seemed to feel a pulsation across all the
miles of snow. The winter silence trembled with it, and the air was
full of something new that seemed to break over us in soft waves. In
that snug, warm little bed I had a sense of imminent change and
danger. I was somehow afraid for Nelly when I heard her breathing so
quickly beside me, and I put my arm about her protectingly as we
drifted toward sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the following spring we were both graduated from the Riverbend
high school, and I went away to college. My family moved to Denver,
and during the next four years I heard very little of Nelly Deane.
My life was crowded with new people and new experiences, and I am
afraid I held her little in mind. I heard indirectly that Jud Deane
had lost what little property he owned in a luckless venture in
Cripple Creek, and that he had been able to keep his house in
Riverbend only through the clemency of his creditors. Guy Franklin
had his route changed and did not go to Riverbend any more. He
married the daughter of a rich cattle-man out near Long Pine, and
ran a dry-goods store of his own. Mrs. Dow wrote me a long letter
about once a year, and in one of these she told me that Nelly was
teaching in the sixth grade in the Riverbend school.

"Dear Nelly does not like teaching very well. The children try her,
and she is so pretty it seems a pity for her to be tied down to
uncongenial employment. Scott is still very attentive, and I have
noticed him look up at the window of Nelly's room in a very
determined way as he goes home to dinner. Scott continues
prosperous; he has made money during these hard times and now owns
both our hardware stores. He is close, but a very honorable fellow.
Nelly seems to hold off, but I think Mrs. Spinny has hopes. Nothing
would please her more. If Scott were more careful about his
appearance, it would help. He of course gets black about his
business, and Nelly, you know, is very dainty. People do say his
mother does his courting for him, she is so eager. If only Scott
does not turn out hard and penurious like his father! We must all
have our schooling in this life, but I don't want Nelly's to be too
severe. She is a dear girl, and keeps her color."

Mrs. Dow's own schooling had been none too easy. Her husband had
long been crippled with rheumatism, and was bitter and faultfinding.
Her daughters had married poorly, and one of her sons had fallen
into evil ways. But her letters were always cheerful, and in one of
them she gently remonstrated with me because I "seemed inclined to
take a sad view of life."

In the winter vacation of my senior year I stopped on my way home to
visit Mrs. Dow. The first thing she told me when I got into her old
buckboard at the station was that "Scott had at last prevailed," and
that Nelly was to marry him in the spring. As a preliminary step,
Nelly was about to join the Baptist church. "Just think, you will be
here for her baptizing! How that will please Nelly! She is to be
immersed to-morrow night."

I met Scott Spinny in the post-office that morning, and he gave me a
hard grip with one black hand. There was something grim and
saturnine about his powerful body and bearded face and his strong,
cold hands. I wondered what perverse fate had driven him for eight
years to dog the footsteps of a girl whose charm was due to
qualities naturally distasteful to him. It still seems strange to me
that in easy-going Riverbend, where there were so many boys who
could have lived contentedly enough with my little grasshopper, it
was the pushing ant who must have her and all her careless ways.

By a kind of unformulated etiquette one did not call upon candidates
for baptism on the day of the ceremony, so I had my first glimpse of
Nelly that evening. The baptistry was a cemented pit directly under
the pulpit rostrum, over which we had our stage when we sang "Queen
Esther." I sat through the sermon somewhat nervously. After the
minister, in his long, black gown, had gone down into the water and
the choir had finished singing, the door from the dressing-room
opened, and, led by one of the deacons, Nelly came down the steps
into the pool. Oh, she looked so little and meek and chastened! Her
white cashmere robe clung about her, and her brown hair was brushed
straight back and hung in two soft braids from a little head bent
humbly. As she stepped down into the water I shivered with the cold
of it, and I remembered sharply how much I had loved her. She went
down until the water was well above her waist, and stood white and
small, with her hands crossed on her breast, while the minister said
the words about being buried with Christ in baptism. Then, lying in
his arm, she disappeared under the dark water. "It will be like that
when she dies," I thought, and a quick pain caught my heart. The
choir began to sing "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" as she rose
again, the door behind the baptistry opened, revealing those three
dear guardians, Mrs. Dow, Mrs. Freeze, and Mrs. Spinny, and she went
up into their arms.

I went to see Nell next day, up in the little room of many memories.
Such a sad, sad visit! She seemed changed--a little embarrassed and
quietly despairing. We talked of many of the old Riverbend girls and
boys, but she did not mention Guy Franklin or Scott Spinny, except
to say that her father had got work in Scott's hardware store. She
begged me, putting her hands on my shoulders with something of her
old impulsiveness, to come and stay a few days with her. But I was
afraid--afraid of what she might tell me and of what I might say.
When I sat in that room with all her trinkets, the foolish harvest
of her girlhood, lying about, and the white curtains and the little
white rug, I thought of Scott Spinny with positive terror and could
feel his hard grip on my hand again. I made the best excuse I could
about having to hurry on to Denver; but she gave me one quick look,
and her eyes ceased to plead. I saw that she understood me
perfectly. We had known each other so well. Just once, when I got up
to go and had trouble with my veil, she laughed her old merry laugh
and told me there were some things I would never learn, for all my
schooling.

The next day, when Mrs. Dow drove me down to the station to catch
the morning train for Denver, I saw Nelly hurrying to school with
several books under her arm. She had been working up her lessons at
home, I thought. She was never quick at her books, dear Nell.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was ten years before I again visited Riverbend. I had been in
Rome for a long time, and had fallen into bitter homesickness. One
morning, sitting among the dahlias and asters that bloom so bravely
upon those gigantic heaps of earth-red ruins that were once the
palaces of the Cæsars, I broke the seal of one of Mrs. Dow's long
yearly letters. It brought so much sad news that I resolved then and
there to go home to Riverbend, the only place that had ever really
been home to me. Mrs. Dow wrote me that her husband, after years of
illness, had died in the cold spell last March. "So good and patient
toward the last," she wrote, "and so afraid of giving extra
trouble." There was another thing she saved until the last. She
wrote on and on, dear woman, about new babies and village
improvements, as if she could not bear to tell me; and then it came:

"You will be sad to hear that two months ago our dear Nelly left us.
It was a terrible blow to us all. I cannot write about it yet, I
fear. I wake up every morning feeling that I ought to go to her. She
went three days after her little boy was born. The baby is a fine
child and will live, I think, in spite of everything. He and her
little girl, now eight years old, whom she named Margaret, after
you, have gone to Mrs. Spinny's. She loves them more than if they
were her own. It seems as if already they had made her quite young
again. I wish you could see Nelly's children."

Ah, that was what I wanted, to see Nelly's children! The wish came
aching from my heart along with the bitter homesick tears; along
with a quick, torturing recollection that flashed upon me, as I
looked about and tried to collect myself, of how we two had sat in
our sunny seat in the corner of the old bare school-room one
September afternoon and learned the names of the seven hills
together. In that place, at that moment, after so many years, how it
all came back to me--the warm sun on my back, the chattering girl
beside me, the curly hair, the laughing yellow eyes, the stubby
little finger on the page! I felt as if even then, when we sat in
the sun with our heads together, it was all arranged, written out
like a story, that at this moment I should be sitting among the
crumbling bricks and drying grass, and she should be lying in the
place I knew so well, on that green hill far away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Dow sat with her Christmas sewing in the familiar sitting-room,
where the carpet and the wall-paper and the table-cover had all
faded into soft, dull colors, and even the chromo of Hagar and
Ishmael had been toned to the sobriety of age. In the bay-window the
tall wire flower-stand still bore its little terraces of potted
plants, and the big fuchsia and the Martha Washington geranium had
blossomed for Christmas-tide. Mrs. Dow herself did not look greatly
changed to me. Her hair, thin ever since I could remember it, was
now quite white, but her spare, wiry little person had all its old
activity, and her eyes gleamed with the old friendliness behind her
silver-bowed glasses. Her gray house-dress seemed just like those
she used to wear when I ran in after school to take her angel-food
cake down to the church supper.

The house sat on a hill, and from behind the geraniums I could see
pretty much all of Riverbend, tucked down in the soft snow, and the
air above was full of big, loose flakes, falling from a gray sky
which betokened settled weather. Indoors the hard-coal burner made a
tropical temperature, and glowed a warm orange from its isinglass
sides. We sat and visited, the two of us, with a great sense of
comfort and completeness. I had reached Riverbend only that morning,
and Mrs. Dow, who had been haunted by thoughts of shipwreck and
suffering upon wintry seas, kept urging me to draw nearer to the
fire and suggesting incidental refreshment. We had chattered all
through the winter morning and most of the afternoon, taking up one
after another of the Riverbend girls and boys, and agreeing that we
had reason to be well satisfied with most of them. Finally, after a
long pause in which I had listened to the contented ticking of the
clock and the crackle of the coal, I put the question I had until
then held back:

"And now, Mrs. Dow, tell me about the one we loved best of all.
Since I got your letter I've thought of her every day. Tell me all
about Scott and Nelly."

The tears flashed behind her glasses, and she smoothed the little
pink bag on her knee.

"Well, dear, I'm afraid Scott proved to be a hard man, like his
father. But we must remember that Nelly always had Mrs. Spinny. I
never saw anything like the love there was between those two. After
Nelly lost her own father and mother, she looked to Mrs. Spinny for
everything. When Scott was too unreasonable, his mother could 'most
always prevail upon him. She never lifted a hand to fight her own
battles with Scott's father, but she was never afraid to speak up
for Nelly. And then Nelly took great comfort of her little girl.
Such a lovely child!"

"Had she been very ill before the little baby came?"

"No, Margaret; I'm afraid 't was all because they had the wrong
doctor. I feel confident that either Doctor Tom or Doctor Jones
could have brought her through. But, you see, Scott had offended
them both, and they'd stopped trading at his store, so he would have
young Doctor Fox, a boy just out of college and a stranger. He got
scared and didn't know what to do. Mrs. Spinny felt he wasn't doing
right, so she sent for Mrs. Freeze and me. It seemed like Nelly had
got discouraged. Scott would move into their big new house before
the plastering was dry, and though 't was summer, she had taken a
terrible cold that seemed to have drained her, and she took no
interest in fixing the place up. Mrs. Spinny had been down with her
back again and wasn't able to help, and things was just anyway. We
won't talk about that, Margaret; I think 't would hurt Mrs. Spinny
to have you know. She nearly died of mortification when she sent for
us, and blamed her poor back. We did get Nelly fixed up nicely
before she died. I prevailed upon Doctor Tom to come in at the last,
and it 'most broke his heart. 'Why, Mis' Dow,' he said, 'if you'd
only have come and told me how 't was, I'd have come and carried her
right off in my arms.'"

"Oh, Mrs. Dow," I cried, "then it needn't have been?"

Mrs. Dow dropped her needle and clasped her hands quickly. "We
mustn't look at it that way, dear," she said tremulously and a
little sternly; "we mustn't let ourselves. We must just feel that
our Lord wanted her _then_, and took her to Himself. When it was all
over, she did look so like a child of God, young and trusting, like
she did on her baptizing night, you remember?"

I felt that Mrs. Dow did not want to talk any more about Nelly then,
and, indeed, I had little heart to listen; so I told her I would go
for a walk, and suggested that I might stop at Mrs. Spinny's to see
the children.

Mrs. Dow looked up thoughtfully at the clock. "I doubt if you'll
find little Margaret there now. It's half-past four, and she'll have
been out of school an hour and more. She'll be most likely coasting
on Lupton's Hill. She usually makes for it with her sled the minute
she is out of the school-house door. You know, it's the old hill
where you all used to slide. If you stop in at the church about six
o'clock, you'll likely find Mrs. Spinny there with the baby. I
promised to go down and help Mrs. Freeze finish up the tree, and
Mrs. Spinny said she'd run in with the baby, if 't wasn't too
bitter. She won't leave him alone with the Swede girl. She's like a
young woman with her first."

Lupton's Hill was at the other end of town, and when I got there the
dusk was thickening, drawing blue shadows over the snowy fields.
There were perhaps twenty children creeping up the hill or whizzing
down the packed sled-track. When I had been watching them for some
minutes, I heard a lusty shout, and a little red sled shot past me
into the deep snow-drift beyond. The child was quite buried for a
moment, then she struggled out and stood dusting the snow from her
short coat and red woolen comforter. She wore a brown fur cap, which
was too big for her and of an old-fashioned shape, such as girls
wore long ago, but I would have known her without the cap. Mrs. Dow
had said a beautiful child, and there would not be two like this in
Riverbend. She was off before I had time to speak to her, going up
the hill at a trot, her sturdy little legs plowing through the
trampled snow. When she reached the top she never paused to take
breath, but threw herself upon her sled and came down with a whoop
that was quenched only by the deep drift at the end.

"Are you Margaret Spinny?" I asked as she struggled out in a cloud
of snow.

"Yes, 'm." She approached me with frank curiosity, pulling her
little sled behind her. "Are you the strange lady staying at Mrs.
Dow's?" I nodded, and she began to look my clothes over with
respectful interest.

"Your grandmother is to be at the church at six o'clock, isn't she?"

"Yes, 'm."

"Well, suppose we walk up there now. It's nearly six, and all the
other children are going home." She hesitated, and looked up at the
faintly gleaming track on the hill-slope. "Do you want another
slide? Is that it?" I asked.

"Do you mind?" she asked shyly.

"No. I'll wait for you. Take your time; don't run."

Two little boys were still hanging about the slide, and they cheered
her as she came down, her comforter streaming in the wind.

"Now," she announced, getting up out of the drift, "I'll show you
where the church is."

"Shall I tie your comforter again?"

"No, 'm, thanks. I'm plenty warm." She put her mittened hand
confidingly in mine and trudged along beside me.

Mrs. Dow must have heard us tramping up the snowy steps of the
church, for she met us at the door. Every one had gone except the
old ladies. A kerosene lamp flickered over the Sunday-school chart,
with the lesson-picture of the Wise Men, and the little barrel-stove
threw out a deep glow over the three white heads that bent above the
baby. There the three friends sat, patting him, and smoothing his
dress, and playing with his hands, which made theirs look so brown.

"You ain't seen nothing finer in all your travels," said Mrs.
Spinny, and they all laughed.

They showed me his full chest and how strong his back was; had me
feel the golden fuzz on his head, and made him look at me with his
round, bright eyes. He laughed and reared himself in my arms as I
took him up and held him close to me. He was so warm and tingling
with life, and he had the flush of new beginnings, of the new
morning and the new rose. He seemed to have come so lately from his
mother's heart! It was as if I held her youth and all her young joy.
As I put my cheek down against his, he spied a pink flower in my
hat, and making a gleeful sound, he lunged at it with both fists.

"Don't let him spoil it," murmured Mrs. Spinny. "He loves color
so--like Nelly."

                                         _Century_, October 1911



_The Bohemian Girl_


The Trans-continental Express swung along the windings of the Sand
River Valley, and in the rear seat of the observation car a young
man sat greatly at his ease, not in the least discomfited by the
fierce sunlight which beat in upon his brown face and neck and
strong back. There was a look of relaxation and of great passivity
about his broad shoulders, which seemed almost too heavy until he
stood up and squared them. He wore a pale flannel shirt and a blue
silk necktie with loose ends. His trousers were wide and belted at
the waist, and his short sack-coat hung open. His heavy shoes had
seen good service. His reddish-brown hair, like his clothes, had a
foreign cut. He had deep-set, dark blue eyes under heavy reddish
eyebrows. His face was kept clean only by close shaving, and even
the sharpest razor left a glint of yellow in the smooth brown of his
skin. His teeth and the palms of his hands were very white. His
head, which looked hard and stubborn, lay indolently in the green
cushion of the wicker chair, and as he looked out at the ripe summer
country a teasing, not unkindly smile played over his lips. Once, as
he basked thus comfortably, a quick light flashed in his eyes,
curiously dilating the pupils, and his mouth became a hard, straight
line, gradually relaxing into its former smile of rather kindly
mockery. He told himself, apparently, that there was no point in
getting excited; and he seemed a master hand at taking his ease when
he could. Neither the sharp whistle of the locomotive nor the
brakeman's call disturbed him. It was not until after the train had
stopped that he rose, put on a Panama hat, took from the rack a
small valise and a flute-case, and stepped deliberately to the
station platform. The baggage was already unloaded, and the stranger
presented a check for a battered sole-leather steamer-trunk.

"Can you keep it here for a day or two?" he asked the agent. "I may
send for it, and I may not."

"Depends on whether you like the country, I suppose?" demanded the
agent in a challenging tone.

"Just so."

The agent shrugged his shoulders, looked scornfully at the small
trunk, which was marked "N.E.," and handed out a claim check without
further comment. The stranger watched him as he caught one end of
the trunk and dragged it into the express room. The agent's manner
seemed to remind him of something amusing. "Doesn't seem to be a
very big place," he remarked, looking about.

"It's big enough for us," snapped the agent, as he banged the trunk
into a corner.

That remark, apparently, was what Nils Ericson had wanted. He
chuckled quietly as he took a leather strap from his pocket and
swung his valise around his shoulder. Then he settled his Panama
securely on his head, turned up his trousers, tucked the flute-case
under his arm, and started off across the fields. He gave the town,
as he would have said, a wide berth, and cut through a great fenced
pasture, emerging, when he rolled under the barbed wire at the
farther corner, upon a white dusty road which ran straight up from
the river valley to the high prairies, where the ripe wheat stood
yellow and the tin roofs and weather-cocks were twinkling in the
fierce sunlight. By the time Nils had done three miles, the sun was
sinking and the farm-wagons on their way home from town came
rattling by, covering him with dust and making him sneeze. When one
of the farmers pulled up and offered to give him a lift, he
clambered in willingly. The driver was a thin, grizzled old man with
a long lean neck and a foolish sort of beard, like a goat's. "How
fur ye goin'?" he asked, as he clucked to his horses and started
off.

"Do you go by the Ericson place?"

"Which Ericson?" The old man drew in his reins as if he expected to
stop again.

"Preacher Ericson's."

"Oh, the Old Lady Ericson's!" He turned and looked at Nils. "La, me!
If you're goin' out there you might 'a' rid out in the automobile.
That's a pity, now. The Old Lady Ericson was in town with her auto.
You might 'a' heard it snortin' anywhere about the post-office er
the butcher-shop."

"Has she a motor?" asked the stranger absently.

"'Deed an' she has! She runs into town every night about this time
for her mail and meat for supper. Some folks say she's afraid her
auto won't get exercise enough, but I say that's jealousy."

"Aren't there any other motors about here?"

"Oh, yes! we have fourteen in all. But nobody else gets around like
the Old Lady Ericson. She's out, rain er shine, over the whole
county, chargin' into town and out amongst her farms, an' up to her
sons' places. Sure you ain't goin' to the wrong place?" He craned
his neck and looked at Nils' flute-case with eager curiosity. "The
old woman ain't got any piany that I knows on. Olaf, he has a grand.
His wife's musical; took lessons in Chicago."

"I'm going up there to-morrow," said Nils imperturbably. He saw that
the driver took him for a piano-tuner.

"Oh, I see!" The old man screwed up his eyes mysteriously. He was a
little dashed by the stranger's non-communicativeness, but he soon
broke out again.

"I'm one o' Mis' Ericson's tenants. Look after one of her places. I
did own the place myself oncet, but I lost it a while back, in the
bad years just after the World's Fair. Just as well, too, I say.
Lets you out o' payin' taxes. The Ericsons do own most of the county
now. I remember the old preacher's fav'rite text used to be, 'To
them that hath shall be given.' They've spread something
wonderful--run over this here country like bindweed. But I ain't one
that begretches it to 'em. Folks is entitled to what they kin git;
and they're hustlers. Olaf, he's in the Legislature now, and a
likely man fur Congress. Listen, if that ain't the old woman comin'
now. Want I should stop her?"

Nils shook his head. He heard the deep chug-chug of a motor
vibrating steadily in the clear twilight behind them. The pale
lights of the car swam over the hill, and the old man slapped his
reins and turned clear out of the road, ducking his head at the
first of three angry snorts from behind. The motor was running at a
hot, even speed, and passed without turning an inch from its course.
The driver was a stalwart woman who sat at ease in the front seat
and drove her car bareheaded. She left a cloud of dust and a trail
of gasoline behind her. Her tenant threw back his head and sneezed.

"Whew! I sometimes say I'd as lief be _before_ Mrs. Ericson as
behind her. She does beat all! Nearly seventy, and never lets
another soul touch that car. Puts it into commission herself every
morning, and keeps it tuned up by the hitch-bar all day. I never
stop work for a drink o' water that I don't hear her a-churnin' up
the road. I reckon her darter-in-laws never sets down easy nowadays.
Never know when she'll pop in. Mis' Otto, she says to me: 'We're so
afraid that thing'll blow up and do Ma some injury yet, she's so
turrible venturesome.' Says I: 'I wouldn't stew, Mis' Otto; the old
lady'll drive that car to the funeral of every darter-in-law she's
got.' That was after the old woman had jumped a turrible bad
culvert."

The stranger heard vaguely what the old man was saying. Just now he
was experiencing something very much like homesickness, and he was
wondering what had brought it about. The mention of a name or two,
perhaps; the rattle of a wagon along a dusty road; the rank,
resinous smell of sunflowers and ironweed, which the night damp
brought up from the draws and low places; perhaps, more than all,
the dancing lights of the motor that had plunged by. He squared his
shoulders with a comfortable sense of strength.

The wagon, as it jolted westward, climbed a pretty steady upgrade.
The country, receding from the rough river valley, swelled more and
more gently, as if it had been smoothed out by the wind. On one of
the last of the rugged ridges, at the end of a branch road, stood a
grim square house with a tin roof and double porches. Behind the
house stretched a row of broken, wind-racked poplars, and down the
hill-slope to the left straggled the sheds and stables. The old man
stopped his horses where the Ericsons' road branched across a dry
sand creek that wound about the foot of the hill.

"That's the old lady's place. Want I should drive in?"

"No, thank you. I'll roll out here. Much obliged to you. Good
night."

His passenger stepped down over the front wheel, and the old man
drove on reluctantly, looking back as if he would like to see how
the stranger would be received.

As Nils was crossing the dry creek he heard the restive tramp of a
horse coming toward him down the hill. Instantly he flashed out of
the road and stood behind a thicket of wild plum bushes that grew in
the sandy bed. Peering through the dusk, he saw a light horse, under
tight rein, descending the hill at a sharp walk. The rider was a
slender woman--barely visible against the dark hillside--wearing an
old-fashioned derby hat and a long riding-skirt. She sat lightly in
the saddle, with her chin high, and seemed to be looking into the
distance. As she passed the plum thicket her horse snuffed the air
and shied. She struck him, pulling him in sharply, with an angry
exclamation, "_Blázne!_" in Bohemian. Once in the main road, she let
him out into a lope, and they soon emerged upon the crest of high
land, where they moved along the skyline, silhouetted against the
band of faint color that lingered in the west. This horse and rider,
with their free, rhythmical gallop, were the only moving things to
be seen on the face of the flat country. They seemed, in the last
sad light of evening, not to be there accidentally, but as an
inevitable detail of the landscape.

Nils watched them until they had shrunk to a mere moving speck
against the sky, then he crossed the sand creek and climbed the
hill. When he reached the gate the front of the house was dark, but
a light was shining from the side windows. The pigs were squealing
in the hog corral, and Nils could see a tall boy, who carried two
big wooden buckets, moving about among them. Half way between the
barn and the house, the windmill wheezed lazily. Following the path
that ran around to the back porch, Nils stopped to look through the
screen door into the lamp-lit kitchen. The kitchen was the largest
room in the house; Nils remembered that his older brothers used to
give dances there when he was a boy. Beside the stove stood a little
girl with two light yellow braids and a broad, flushed face, peering
anxiously into a frying-pan. In the dining-room beyond, a large,
broad-shouldered woman was moving about the table. She walked with
an active, springy step. Her face was heavy and florid, almost
without wrinkles, and her hair was black at seventy. Nils felt proud
of her as he watched her deliberate activity; never a momentary
hesitation, or a movement that did not tell. He waited until she
came out into the kitchen and, brushing the child aside, took her
place at the stove. Then he tapped on the screen door and entered.

"It's nobody but Nils, Mother. I expect you weren't looking for me."

Mrs. Ericson turned away from the stove and stood staring at him.
"Bring the lamp, Hilda, and let me look."

Nils laughed and unslung his valise. "What's the matter, Mother?
Don't you know me?"

Mrs. Ericson put down the lamp. "You must be Nils. You don't look
very different, anyway."

"Nor you, Mother. You hold your own. Don't you wear glasses yet?"

"Only to read by. Where's your trunk, Nils?"

"Oh, I left that in town. I thought it might not be convenient for
you to have company so near threshing-time."

"Don't be foolish, Nils." Mrs. Ericson turned back to the stove. "I
don't thresh now. I hitched the wheat land onto the next farm and
have a tenant. Hilda, take some hot water up to the company room,
and go call little Eric."

The tow-haired child, who had been standing in mute amazement, took
up the tea-kettle and withdrew, giving Nils a long, admiring look
from the door of the kitchen stairs.

"Who's the youngster?" Nils asked, dropping down on the bench behind
the kitchen stove.

"One of your Cousin Henrik's."

"How long has Cousin Henrik been dead?"

"Six years. There are two boys. One stays with Peter and one with
Anders. Olaf is their guardeen."

There was a clatter of pails on the porch, and a tall, lanky boy
peered wonderingly in through the screen door. He had a fair, gentle
face and big gray eyes, and wisps of soft yellow hair hung down
under his cap. Nils sprang up and pulled him into the kitchen,
hugging him and slapping him on the shoulders. "Well, if it isn't my
kid! Look at the size of him! Don't you know me, Eric?"

The boy reddened under his sunburn and freckles, and hung his head.
"I guess it's Nils," he said shyly.

"You're a good guesser," laughed Nils, giving the lad's hand a
swing. To himself he was thinking: "That's why the little girl
looked so friendly. He's taught her to like me. He was only six when
I went away, and he's remembered for twelve years."

Eric stood fumbling with his cap and smiling. "You look just like I
thought you would," he ventured.

"Go wash your hands, Eric," called Mrs. Ericson. "I've got cob corn
for supper, Nils. You used to like it. I guess you don't get much of
that in the old country. Here's Hilda; she'll take you up to your
room. You'll want to get the dust off you before you eat."

Mrs. Ericson went into the dining-room to lay another plate, and the
little girl came up and nodded to Nils as if to let him know that
his room was ready. He put out his hand and she took it, with a
startled glance up at his face. Little Eric dropped his towel, threw
an arm about Nils and one about Hilda, gave them a clumsy squeeze,
and then stumbled out to the porch.

During supper Nils heard exactly how much land each of his eight
grown brothers farmed, how their crops were coming on, and how much
live stock they were feeding. His mother watched him narrowly as she
talked. "You've got better looking, Nils," she remarked abruptly,
whereupon he grinned and the children giggled. Eric, although he was
eighteen and as tall as Nils, was always accounted a child, being
the last of so many sons. His face seemed childlike, too, Nils
thought, and he had the open, wandering eyes of a little boy. All
the others had been men at his age.

After supper Nils went out to the front porch and sat down on the
step to smoke a pipe. Mrs. Ericson drew a rocking-chair up near him
and began to knit busily. It was one of the few old-world customs
she had kept up, for she could not bear to sit with idle hands.

"Where's little Eric, Mother?"

"He's helping Hilda with the dishes. He does it of his own will; I
don't like a boy to be too handy about the house."

"He seems like a nice kid."

"He's very obedient."

Nils smiled a little in the dark. It was just as well to shift the
line of conversation. "What are you knitting there, Mother?"

"Baby stockings. The boys keep me busy." Mrs. Ericson chuckled and
clicked her needles.

"How many grandchildren have you?"

"Only thirty-one now. Olaf lost his three. They were sickly, like
their mother."

"I supposed he had a second crop by this time!"

"His second wife has no children. She's too proud. She tears about
on horseback all the time. But she'll get caught up with, yet. She
sets herself very high, though nobody knows what for. They were low
enough Bohemians she came of. I never thought much of Bohemians;
always drinking."

Nils puffed away at his pipe in silence, and Mrs. Ericson knitted
on. In a few moments she added grimly: "She was down here to-night,
just before you came. She'd like to quarrel with me and come between
me and Olaf, but I don't give her the chance. I suppose you'll be
bringing a wife home some day."

"I don't know. I've never thought much about it."

"Well, perhaps it's best as it is," suggested Mrs. Ericson
hopefully. "You'd never be contented tied down to the land. There
was roving blood in your father's family, and it's come out in you.
I expect your own way of life suits you best." Mrs. Ericson had
dropped into a blandly agreeable tone which Nils well remembered. It
seemed to amuse him a good deal and his white teeth flashed behind
his pipe. His mother's strategies had always diverted him, even when
he was a boy--they were so flimsy and patent, so illy proportioned
to her vigor and force. "They've been waiting to see which way I'd
jump," he reflected. He felt that Mrs. Ericson was pondering his
case deeply as she sat clicking her needles.

"I don't suppose you've ever got used to steady work," she went on
presently. "Men ain't apt to if they roam around too long. It's a
pity you didn't come back the year after the World's Fair. Your
father picked up a good bit of land cheap then, in the hard times,
and I expect maybe he'd have give you a farm. It's too bad you put
off comin' back so long, for I always thought he meant to do
something by you."

Nils laughed and shook the ashes out of his pipe. "I'd have missed a
lot if I had come back then. But I'm sorry I didn't get back to see
father."

"Well, I suppose we have to miss things at one end or the other.
Perhaps you are as well satisfied with your own doings, now, as
you'd have been with a farm," said Mrs. Ericson reassuringly.

"Land's a good thing to have," Nils commented, as he lit another
match and sheltered it with his hand.

His mother looked sharply at his face until the match burned out.
"Only when you stay on it!" she hastened to say.

Eric came round the house by the path just then, and Nils rose, with
a yawn. "Mother, if you don't mind, Eric and I will take a little
tramp before bed-time. It will make me sleep."

"Very well; only don't stay long. I'll sit up and wait for you. I
like to lock up myself."

Nils put his hand on Eric's shoulder, and the two tramped down the
hill and across the sand creek into the dusty highroad beyond.
Neither spoke. They swung along at an even gait, Nils puffing at his
pipe. There was no moon, and the white road and the wide fields lay
faint in the starlight. Over everything was darkness and thick
silence, and the smell of dust and sunflowers. The brothers followed
the road for a mile or more without finding a place to sit down.
Finally Nils perched on a stile over the wire fence, and Eric sat on
the lower step.

"I began to think you never would come back, Nils," said the boy
softly.

"Didn't I promise you I would?"

"Yes; but people don't bother about promises they make to babies.
Did you really know you were going away for good when you went to
Chicago with the cattle that time?"

"I thought it very likely, if I could make my way."

"I don't see how you did it, Nils. Not many fellows could." Eric
rubbed his shoulder against his brother's knee.

"The hard thing was leaving home--you and father. It was easy
enough, once I got beyond Chicago. Of course I got awful homesick;
used to cry myself to sleep. But I'd burned my bridges."

"You had always wanted to go, hadn't you?"

"Always. Do you still sleep in our little room? Is that cottonwood
still by the window?"

Eric nodded eagerly and smiled up at his brother in the gray
darkness.

"You remember how we always said the leaves were whispering when
they rustled at night? Well, they always whispered to me about the
sea. Sometimes they said names out of the geography books. In a high
wind they had a desperate sound, like something trying to tear
loose."

"How funny, Nils," said Eric dreamily, resting his chin on his hand.
"That tree still talks like that, and 'most always it talks to me
about you."

They sat a while longer, watching the stars. At last Eric whispered
anxiously: "Hadn't we better go back now? Mother will get tired
waiting for us." They rose and took a short cut home, through the
pasture.


II

The next morning Nils woke with the first flood of light that came
with dawn. The white-plastered walls of his room reflected the glare
that shone through the thin window-shades, and he found it
impossible to sleep. He dressed hurriedly and slipped down the hall
and up the back stairs to the half-story room which he used to share
with his little brother. Eric, in a skimpy night-shirt, was sitting
on the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes, his pale yellow hair
standing up in tufts all over his head. When he saw Nils, he
murmured something confusedly and hustled his long legs into his
trousers. "I didn't expect you'd be up so early, Nils," he said, as
his head emerged from his blue shirt.

"Oh, you thought I was a dude, did you?" Nils gave him a playful tap
which bent the tall boy up like a clasp-knife. "See here; I must
teach you to box." Nils thrust his hands into his pockets and walked
about. "You haven't changed things much up here. Got most of my old
traps, haven't you?"

He took down a bent, withered piece of sapling that hung over the
dresser. "If this isn't the stick Lou Sandberg killed himself with!"

The boy looked up from his shoe-lacing.

"Yes; you never used to let me play with that. Just how did he do
it, Nils? You were with father when he found Lou, weren't you?"

"Yes. Father was going off to preach somewhere, and, as we drove
along, Lou's place looked sort of forlorn, and we thought we'd stop
and cheer him up. When we found him father said he'd been dead a
couple days. He'd tied a piece of binding twine round his neck, made
a noose in each end, fixed the nooses over the ends of a bent stick,
and let the stick spring straight; strangled himself."

"What made him kill himself such a silly way?"

The simplicity of the boy's question set Nils laughing. He clapped
little Eric on the shoulder. "What made him such a silly as to kill
himself at all, I should say!"

"Oh, well! But his hogs had the cholera, and all up and died on him,
didn't they?"

"Sure they did; but he didn't have cholera; and there were plenty of
hogs left in the world, weren't there?"

"Well, but, if they weren't his, how could they do him any good?"
Eric asked, in astonishment.

"Oh, scat! He could have had lots of fun with other people's hogs.
He was a chump, Lou Sandberg. To kill yourself for a pig--think of
that, now!" Nils laughed all the way downstairs, and quite
embarrassed little Eric, who fell to scrubbing his face and hands at
the tin basin. While he was patting his wet hair at the kitchen
looking-glass, a heavy tread sounded on the stairs. The boy dropped
his comb. "Gracious, there's Mother. We must have talked too long."
He hurried out to the shed, slipped on his overalls, and disappeared
with the milking-pails.

Mrs. Ericson came in, wearing a clean white apron, her black hair
shining from the application of a wet brush.

"Good morning, Mother. Can't I make the fire for you?"

"No, thank you, Nils. It's no trouble to make a cob fire, and I like
to manage the kitchen stove myself." Mrs. Ericson paused with a
shovel full of ashes in her hand. "I expect you will be wanting to
see your brothers as soon as possible. I'll take you up to Anders'
place this morning. He's threshing, and most of our boys are over
there."

"Will Olaf be there?"

Mrs. Ericson went on taking out the ashes, and spoke between
shovels. "No; Olaf's wheat is all in, put away in his new barn. He
got six thousand bushel this year. He's going to town to-day to get
men to finish roofing his barn."

"So Olaf is building a new barn?" Nils asked absently.

"Biggest one in the county, and almost done. You'll likely be here
for the barn-raising. He's going to have a supper and a dance as
soon as everybody's done threshing. Says it keeps the voters in a
good humor. I tell him that's all nonsense; but Olaf has a long head
for politics."

"Does Olaf farm all Cousin Henrik's land?"

Mrs. Ericson frowned as she blew into the faint smoke curling up
about the cobs. "Yes; he holds it in trust for the children, Hilda
and her brothers. He keeps strict account of everything he raises on
it, and puts the proceeds out at compound interest for them."

Nils smiled as he watched the little flames shoot up. The door of
the back stairs opened, and Hilda emerged, her arms behind her,
buttoning up her long gingham apron as she came. He nodded to her
gaily, and she twinkled at him out of her little blue eyes, set far
apart over her wide cheek-bones.

"There, Hilda, you grind the coffee--and just put in an extra
handful; I expect your Cousin Nils likes his strong," said Mrs.
Ericson, as she went out to the shed.

Nils turned to look at the little girl, who gripped the
coffee-grinder between her knees and ground so hard that her two
braids bobbed and her face flushed under its broad spattering of
freckles. He noticed on her middle finger something that had not
been there last night, and that had evidently been put on for
company: a tiny gold ring with a clumsily set garnet stone. As her
hand went round and round he touched the ring with the tip of his
finger, smiling.

Hilda glanced toward the shed door through which Mrs. Ericson had
disappeared. "My Cousin Clara gave me that," she whispered
bashfully. "She's Cousin Olaf's wife."


III

Mrs. Olaf Ericson--Clara Vavrika, as many people still called
her--was moving restlessly about her big bare house that morning.
Her husband had left for the county town before his wife was out of
bed--her lateness in rising was one of the many things the Ericson
family had against her. Clara seldom came downstairs before eight
o'clock, and this morning she was even later, for she had dressed
with unusual care. She put on, however, only a tight-fitting black
dress, which people thereabouts thought very plain. She was a tall,
dark woman of thirty, with a rather sallow complexion and a touch of
dull salmon red in her cheeks, where the blood seemed to burn under
her brown skin. Her hair, parted evenly above her low forehead, was
so black that there were distinctly blue lights in it. Her black
eyebrows were delicate half-moons and her lashes were long and
heavy. Her eyes slanted a little, as if she had a strain of Tartar
or gypsy blood, and were sometimes full of fiery determination and
sometimes dull and opaque. Her expression was never altogether
amiable; was often, indeed, distinctly sullen, or, when she was
animated, sarcastic. She was most attractive in profile, for then
one saw to advantage her small, well-shaped head and delicate ears,
and felt at once that here was a very positive, if not an altogether
pleasing, personality.

The entire management of Mrs. Olaf's household devolved upon her
aunt, Johanna Vavrika, a superstitious, doting woman of fifty. When
Clara was a little girl her mother died, and Johanna's life had been
spent in ungrudging service to her niece. Clara, like many
self-willed and discontented persons, was really very apt, without
knowing it, to do as other people told her, and to let her destiny
be decided for her by intelligences much below her own. It was her
Aunt Johanna who had humored and spoiled her in her girlhood, who
had got her off to Chicago to study piano, and who had finally
persuaded her to marry Olaf Ericson as the best match she would be
likely to make in that part of the country. Johanna Vavrika had been
deeply scarred by smallpox in the old country. She was short and
fat, homely and jolly and sentimental. She was so broad, and took
such short steps when she walked, that her brother, Joe Vavrika,
always called her his duck. She adored her niece because of her
talent, because of her good looks and masterful ways, but most of
all because of her selfishness.

Clara's marriage with Olaf Ericson was Johanna's particular triumph.
She was inordinately proud of Olaf's position, and she found a
sufficiently exciting career in managing Clara's house, in keeping
it above the criticism of the Ericsons, in pampering Olaf to keep him
from finding fault with his wife, and in concealing from every one
Clara's domestic infelicities. While Clara slept of a morning,
Johanna Vavrika was bustling about, seeing that Olaf and the men had
their breakfast, and that the cleaning or the butter-making or the
washing was properly begun by the two girls in the kitchen. Then, at
about eight o'clock, she would take Clara's coffee up to her, and chat
with her while she drank it, telling her what was going on in the
house. Old Mrs. Ericson frequently said that her daughter-in-law would
not know what day of the week it was if Johanna did not tell her
every morning. Mrs. Ericson despised and pitied Johanna, but did not
wholly dislike her. The one thing she hated in her daughter-in-law
above everything else was the way in which Clara could come it over
people. It enraged her that the affairs of her son's big, barnlike
house went on as well as they did, and she used to feel that in this
world we have to wait over-long to see the guilty punished. "Suppose
Johanna Vavrika died or got sick?" the old lady used to say to Olaf.
"Your wife wouldn't know where to look for her own dish-cloth." Olaf
only shrugged his shoulders. The fact remained that Johanna did not
die, and, although Mrs. Ericson often told her she was looking
poorly, she was never ill. She seldom left the house, and she slept
in a little room off the kitchen. No Ericson, by night or day, could
come prying about there to find fault without her knowing it. Her
one weakness was that she was an incurable talker, and she sometimes
made trouble without meaning to.

This morning Clara was tying a wine-colored ribbon about her throat
when Johanna appeared with her coffee. After putting the tray on a
sewing-table, she began to make Clara's bed, chattering the while in
Bohemian.

"Well, Olaf got off early, and the girls are baking. I'm going down
presently to make some poppy-seed bread for Olaf. He asked for prune
preserves at breakfast, and I told him I was out of them, and to
bring some prunes and honey and cloves from town."

Clara poured her coffee. "Ugh! I don't see how men can eat so much
sweet stuff. In the morning, too!"

Her aunt chuckled knowingly. "Bait a bear with honey, as we say in
the old country."

"Was he cross?" her niece asked indifferently.

"Olaf? Oh, no! He was in fine spirits. He's never cross if you know
how to take him. I never knew a man to make so little fuss about
bills. I gave him a list of things to get a yard long, and he didn't
say a word; just folded it up and put it in his pocket."

"I can well believe he didn't say a word," Clara remarked with a
shrug. "Some day he'll forget how to talk."

"Oh, but they say he's a grand speaker in the Legislature. He knows
when to keep quiet. That's why he's got such influence in politics.
The people have confidence in him." Johanna beat up a pillow and
held it under her fat chin while she slipped on the case. Her niece
laughed.

"Maybe we could make people believe we were wise, Aunty, if we held
our tongues. Why did you tell Mrs. Ericson that Norman threw me
again last Saturday and turned my foot? She's been talking to Olaf."

Johanna fell into great confusion. "Oh, but, my precious, the old
lady asked for you, and she's always so angry if I can't give an
excuse. Anyhow, she needn't talk; she's always tearing up something
with that motor of hers."

When her aunt clattered down to the kitchen, Clara went to dust the
parlor. Since there was not much there to dust, this did not take
very long. Olaf had built the house new for her before their
marriage, but her interest in furnishing it had been short-lived. It
went, indeed, little beyond a bath-tub and her piano. They had
disagreed about almost every other article of furniture, and Clara
had said she would rather have her house empty than full of things
she didn't want. The house was set in a hillside, and the west
windows of the parlor looked out above the kitchen yard thirty feet
below. The east windows opened directly into the front yard. At one
of the latter, Clara, while she was dusting, heard a low whistle.
She did not turn at once, but listened intently as she drew her
cloth slowly along the round of a chair. Yes, there it was:

  "_I dreamt that I dwelt in ma-a-arble halls,_"

She turned and saw Nils Ericson laughing in the sunlight, his hat in
his hand, just outside the window. As she crossed the room he leaned
against the wire screen. "Aren't you at all surprised to see me,
Clara Vavrika?"

"No; I was expecting to see you. Mother Ericson telephoned Olaf last
night that you were here."

Nils squinted and gave a long whistle. "Telephoned? That must have
been while Eric and I were out walking. Isn't she enterprising? Lift
this screen, won't you?"

Clara lifted the screen, and Nils swung his leg across the
window-sill. As he stepped into the room she said: "You didn't think
you were going to get ahead of your mother, did you?"

He threw his hat on the piano. "Oh, I do sometimes. You see, I'm
ahead of her now. I'm supposed to be in Anders' wheat-field. But, as
we were leaving, Mother ran her car into a soft place beside the
road and sank up to the hubs. While they were going for horses to
pull her out, I cut away behind the stacks and escaped." Nils
chuckled. Clara's dull eyes lit up as she looked at him admiringly.

"You've got them guessing already. I don't know what your mother
said to Olaf over the telephone, but he came back looking as if he'd
seen a ghost, and he didn't go to bed until a dreadful hour--ten
o'clock, I should think. He sat out on the porch in the dark like a
graven image. It had been one of his talkative days, too." They both
laughed, easily and lightly, like people who have laughed a great
deal together; but they remained standing.

"Anders and Otto and Peter looked as if they had seen ghosts, too,
over in the threshing-field. What's the matter with them all?"

Clara gave him a quick, searching look. "Well, for one thing,
they've always been afraid you have the other will."

Nils looked interested. "The other will?"

"Yes. A later one. They knew your father made another, but they
never knew what he did with it. They almost tore the old house to
pieces looking for it. They always suspected that he carried on a
clandestine correspondence with you, for the one thing he would do
was to get his own mail himself. So they thought he might have sent
the new will to you for safekeeping. The old one, leaving everything
to your mother, was made long before you went away, and it's
understood among them that it cuts you out--that she will leave all
the property to the others. Your father made the second will to
prevent that. I've been hoping you had it. It would be such fun to
spring it on them." Clara laughed mirthfully, a thing she did not
often do now.

Nils shook his head reprovingly. "Come, now, you're malicious."

"No, I'm not. But I'd like something to happen to stir them all up,
just for once. There never was such a family for having nothing ever
happen to them but dinner and threshing. I'd almost be willing to
die, just to have a funeral. _You_ wouldn't stand it for three
weeks."

Nils bent over the piano and began pecking at the keys with the
finger of one hand. "I wouldn't? My dear young lady, how do you know
what I can stand? _You_ wouldn't wait to find out."

Clara flushed darkly and frowned. "I didn't believe you would ever
come back--" she said defiantly.

"Eric believed I would, and he was only a baby when I went away.
However, all's well that ends well, and I haven't come back to be a
skeleton at the feast. We mustn't quarrel. Mother will be here with
a search-warrant pretty soon." He swung round and faced her,
thrusting his hands into his coat pockets. "Come, you ought to be
glad to see me, if you want something to happen. I'm something, even
without a will. We can have a little fun, can't we? I think we can!"

She echoed him, "I think we can!" They both laughed and their eyes
sparkled. Clara Vavrika looked ten years younger than when she had
put the velvet ribbon about her throat that morning.

"You know, I'm so tickled to see mother," Nils went on. "I didn't
know I was so proud of her. A regular pile-driver. How about little
pigtails, down at the house? Is Olaf doing the square thing by those
children?"

Clara frowned pensively. "Olaf has to do something that looks like
the square thing, now that he's a public man!" She glanced drolly at
Nils. "But he makes a good commission out of it. On Sundays they all
get together here and figure. He lets Peter and Anders put in big
bills for the keep of the two boys, and he pays them out of the
estate. They are always having what they call accountings. Olaf gets
something out of it, too. I don't know just how they do it, but it's
entirely a family matter, as they say. And when the Ericsons say
that--" Clara lifted her eyebrows.

Just then the angry _honk-honk_ of an approaching motor sounded from
down the road. Their eyes met and they began to laugh. They laughed
as children do when they can not contain themselves, and can not
explain the cause of their mirth to grown people, but share it
perfectly together. When Clara Vavrika sat down at the piano after
he was gone, she felt that she had laughed away a dozen years. She
practised as if the house were burning over her head.

When Nils greeted his mother and climbed into the front seat of the
motor beside her, Mrs. Ericson looked grim, but she made no comment
upon his truancy until she had turned her car and was retracing her
revolutions along the road that ran by Olaf's big pasture. Then she
remarked dryly:

"If I were you I wouldn't see too much of Olaf's wife while you are
here. She's the kind of woman who can't see much of men without
getting herself talked about. She was a good deal talked about
before he married her."

"Hasn't Olaf tamed her?" Nils asked indifferently.

Mrs. Ericson shrugged her massive shoulders. "Olaf don't seem to
have much luck, when it comes to wives. The first one was meek
enough, but she was always ailing. And this one has her own way. He
says if he quarreled with her she'd go back to her father, and then
he'd lose the Bohemian vote. There are a great many Bohunks in this
district. But when you find a man under his wife's thumb you can
always be sure there's a soft spot in him somewhere."

Nils thought of his own father, and smiled. "She brought him a good
deal of money, didn't she, besides the Bohemian vote?"

Mrs. Ericson sniffed. "Well, she has a fair half section in her own
name, but I can't see as that does Olaf much good. She will have a
good deal of property some day, if old Vavrika don't marry again.
But I don't consider a saloonkeeper's money as good as other
people's money."

Nils laughed outright. "Come, Mother, don't let your prejudices
carry you that far. Money's money. Old Vavrika's a mighty decent
sort of saloonkeeper. Nothing rowdy about him."

Mrs. Ericson spoke up angrily: "Oh, I know you always stood up for
them! But hanging around there when you were a boy never did you any
good, Nils, nor any of the other boys who went there. There weren't
so many after her when she married Olaf, let me tell you. She knew
enough to grab her chance."

Nils settled back in his seat. "Of course I liked to go there,
Mother, and you were always cross about it. You never took the
trouble to find out that it was the one jolly house in this country
for a boy to go to. All the rest of you were working yourselves to
death, and the houses were mostly a mess, full of babies and washing
and flies. Oh, it was all right--I understand that; but you are
young only once, and I happened to be young then. Now, Vavrika's was
always jolly. He played the violin, and I used to take my flute, and
Clara played the piano, and Johanna used to sing Bohemian songs. She
always had a big supper for us--herrings and pickles and poppyseed
bread, and lots of cake and preserves. Old Joe had been in the army
in the old country, and he could tell lots of good stories. I can
see him cutting bread, at the head of the table, now. I don't know
what I'd have done when I was a kid if it hadn't been for the
Vavrikas, really."

"And all the time he was taking money that other people had worked
hard in the fields for," Mrs. Ericson observed.

"So do the circuses, Mother, and they're a good thing. People ought
to get fun for some of their money. Even father liked old Joe."

"Your father," Mrs. Ericson said grimly, "liked everybody."

As they crossed the sand creek and turned into her own place, Mrs.
Ericson observed, "There's Olaf's buggy. He's stopped on his way
from town." Nils shook himself and prepared to greet his brother,
who was waiting on the porch.

Olaf was a big, heavy Norwegian, slow of speech and movement. His
head was large and square, like a block of wood. When Nils, at a
distance, tried to remember what his brother looked like, he could
recall only his heavy head, high forehead, large nostrils, and
pale-blue eyes, set far apart. Olaf's features were rudimentary: the
thing one noticed was the face itself, wide and flat and pale,
devoid of any expression, betraying his fifty years as little as it
betrayed anything else, and powerful by reason of its very
stolidness. When Olaf shook hands with Nils he looked at him from
under his light eyebrows, but Nils felt that no one could ever say
what that pale look might mean. The one thing he had always felt in
Olaf was a heavy stubbornness, like the unyielding stickiness of wet
loam against the plow. He had always found Olaf the most difficult
of his brothers.

"How do you do, Nils? Expect to stay with us long?"

"Oh, I may stay forever," Nils answered gaily. "I like this country
better than I used to."

"There's been some work put into it since you left," Olaf remarked.

"Exactly. I think it's about ready to live in now--and I'm about
ready to settle down." Nils saw his brother lower his big head.
("Exactly like a bull," he thought.) "Mother's been persuading me to
slow down now, and go in for farming," he went on lightly.

Olaf made a deep sound in his throat. "Farming ain't learned in a
day," he brought out, still looking at the ground.

"Oh, I know! But I pick things up quickly." Nils had not meant to
antagonize his brother, and he did not know now why he was doing it.
"Of course," he went on, "I shouldn't expect to make a big success,
as you fellows have done. But then, I'm not ambitious. I won't want
much. A little land, and some cattle, maybe."

Olaf still stared at the ground, his head down. He wanted to ask
Nils what he had been doing all these years, that he didn't have a
business somewhere he couldn't afford to leave; why he hadn't more
pride than to come back with only a little sole-leather trunk to
show for himself, and to present himself as the only failure in the
family. He did not ask one of these questions, but he made them all
felt distinctly.

"Humph!" Nils thought. "No wonder the man never talks, when he can
butt his ideas into you like that without ever saying a word. I
suppose he uses that kind of smokeless powder on his wife all the
time. But I guess she has her innings." He chuckled, and Olaf looked
up. "Never mind me, Olaf. I laugh without knowing why, like little
Eric. He's another cheerful dog."

"Eric," said Olaf slowly, "is a spoiled kid. He's just let his
mother's best cow go dry because he don't milk her right. I was
hoping you'd take him away somewhere and put him into business. If
he don't do any good among strangers, he never will." This was a
long speech for Olaf, and as he finished it he climbed into his
buggy.

Nils shrugged his shoulders. "Same old tricks," he thought. "Hits
from behind you every time. What a whale of a man!" He turned and
went round to the kitchen, where his mother was scolding little Eric
for letting the gasoline get low.


IV

Joe Vavrika's saloon was not in the county-seat, where Olaf and Mrs.
Ericson did their trading, but in a cheerfuller place, a little
Bohemian settlement which lay at the other end of the county, ten
level miles north of Olaf's farm. Clara rode up to see her father
almost every day. Vavrika's house was, so to speak, in the back yard
of his saloon. The garden between the two buildings was inclosed by
a high board fence as tight as a partition, and in summer Joe kept
beer-tables and wooden benches among the gooseberry bushes under his
little cherry tree. At one of these tables Nils Ericson was seated
in the late afternoon, three days after his return home. Joe had
gone in to serve a customer, and Nils was lounging on his elbows,
looking rather mournfully into his half-emptied pitcher, when he
heard a laugh across the little garden. Clara, in her riding-habit,
was standing at the back door of the house, under the grapevine
trellis that old Joe had grown there long ago. Nils rose.

"Come out and keep your father and me company. We've been gossiping
all afternoon. Nobody to bother us but the flies."

She shook her head. "No, I never come out here any more. Olaf
doesn't like it. I must live up to my position, you know."

"You mean to tell me you never come out and chat with the boys, as
you used to? He _has_ tamed you! Who keeps up these flower-beds?"

"I come out on Sundays, when father is alone, and read the Bohemian
papers to him. But I am never here when the bar is open. What have
you two been doing?"

"Talking, as I told you. I've been telling him about my travels. I
find I can't talk much at home, not even to Eric."

Clara reached up and poked with her riding-whip at a white moth that
was fluttering in the sunlight among the vine leaves. "I suppose you
will never tell me about all those things."

"Where can I tell them? Not in Olaf's house, certainly. What's the
matter with our talking here?" He pointed persuasively with his hat
to the bushes and the green table, where the flies were singing
lazily above the empty beer-glasses.

Clara shook her head weakly. "No, it wouldn't do. Besides, I am
going now."

"I'm on Eric's mare. Would you be angry if I overtook you?"

Clara looked back and laughed. "You might try and see. I can leave
you if I don't want you. Eric's mare can't keep up with Norman."

Nils went into the bar and attempted to pay his score. Big Joe, six
feet four, with curly yellow hair and mustache, clapped him on the
shoulder. "Not a God-damn a your money go in my drawer, you hear?
Only next time you bring your flute, te-te-te-te-te-ty." Joe wagged
his fingers in imitation of the flute-player's position. "My Clara,
she come all-a-time Sundays an' play for me. She not like to play at
Ericson's place." He shook his yellow curls and laughed. "Not a
God-damn a fun at Ericson's. You come a Sunday. You like-a fun. No
forget de flute." Joe talked very rapidly and always tumbled over
his English. He seldom spoke it to his customers, and had never
learned much.

Nils swung himself into the saddle and trotted to the west end of
the village, where the houses and gardens scattered into
prairie-land and the road turned south. Far ahead of him, in the
declining light, he saw Clara Vavrika's slender figure, loitering on
horseback. He touched his mare with the whip, and shot along the
white, level road, under the reddening sky. When he overtook Olaf's
wife he saw that she had been crying. "What's the matter, Clara
Vavrika?" he asked kindly.

"Oh, I get blue sometimes. It was awfully jolly living there with
father. I wonder why I ever went away."

Nils spoke in a low, kind tone that he sometimes used with women:
"That's what I've been wondering these many years. You were the last
girl in the country I'd have picked for a wife for Olaf. What made
you do it, Clara?"

"I suppose I really did it to oblige the neighbors"--Clara tossed
her head. "People were beginning to wonder."

"To wonder?"

"Yes--why I didn't get married. I suppose I didn't like to keep them
in suspense. I've discovered that most girls marry out of
consideration for the neighborhood."

Nils bent his head toward her and his white teeth flashed. "I'd have
gambled that one girl I knew would say, 'Let the neighborhood be
damned.'"

Clara shook her head mournfully. "You see, they have it on you,
Nils; that is, if you're a woman. They say you're beginning to go
off. That's what makes us get married: we can't stand the laugh."

Nils looked sidewise at her. He had never seen her head droop
before. Resignation was the last thing he would have expected of
her. "In your case, there wasn't something else?"

"Something else?"

"I mean, you didn't do it to spite somebody? Somebody who didn't
come back?"

Clara drew herself up. "Oh, I never thought you'd come back. Not
after I stopped writing to you, at least. _That_ was all over, long
before I married Olaf."

"It never occurred to you, then, that the meanest thing you could do
to me was to marry Olaf?"

Clara laughed. "No; I didn't know you were so fond of Olaf."

Nils smoothed his horse's mane with his glove. "You know, Clara
Vavrika, you are never going to stick it out. You'll cut away some
day, and I've been thinking you might as well cut away with me."

Clara threw up her chin. "Oh, you don't know me as well as you
think. I won't cut away. Sometimes, when I'm with father, I feel
like it. But I can hold out as long as the Ericsons can. They've
never got the best of me yet, and one can live, so long as one isn't
beaten. If I go back to father, it's all up with Olaf in politics.
He knows that, and he never goes much beyond sulking. I've as much
wit as the Ericsons. I'll never leave them unless I can show them a
thing or two."

"You mean unless you can come it over them?"

"Yes--unless I go away with a man who is cleverer than they are, and
who has more money."

Nils whistled. "Dear me, you are demanding a good deal. The
Ericsons, take the lot of them, are a bunch to beat. But I should
think the excitement of tormenting them would have worn off by this
time."

"It has, I'm afraid," Clara admitted mournfully.

"Then why don't you cut away? There are more amusing games than this
in the world. When I came home I thought it might amuse me to bully
a few quarter sections out of the Ericsons; but I've almost decided
I can get more fun for my money somewhere else."

Clara took in her breath sharply. "Ah, you have got the other will!
That was why you came home!"

"No, it wasn't. I came home to see how you were getting on with
Olaf."

Clara struck her horse with the whip, and in a bound she was far
ahead of him. Nils dropped one word, "Damn!" and whipped after her;
but she leaned forward in her saddle and fairly cut the wind. Her
long riding-skirt rippled in the still air behind her. The sun was
just sinking behind the stubble in a vast, clear sky, and the
shadows drew across the fields so rapidly that Nils could scarcely
keep in sight the dark figure on the road. When he overtook her he
caught her horse by the bridle. Norman reared, and Nils was
frightened for her; but Clara kept her seat.

"Let me go, Nils Ericson!" she cried. "I hate you more than any of
them. You were created to torture me, the whole tribe of you--to
make me suffer in every possible way."

She struck her horse again and galloped away from him. Nils set his
teeth and looked thoughtful. He rode slowly home along the deserted
road, watching the stars come out in the clear violet sky. They
flashed softly into the limpid heavens, like jewels let fall into
clear water. They were a reproach, he felt, to a sordid world. As he
turned across the sand creek, he looked up at the North Star and
smiled, as if there were an understanding between them. His mother
scolded him for being late for supper.


V

On Sunday afternoon Joe Vavrika, in his shirt-sleeves and
carpet-slippers, was sitting in his garden, smoking a long-tasseled
porcelain pipe with a hunting scene painted on the bowl. Clara sat
under the cherry tree, reading aloud to him from the weekly Bohemian
papers. She had worn a white muslin dress under her riding-habit,
and the leaves of the cherry tree threw a pattern of sharp shadows
over her skirt. The black cat was dozing in the sunlight at her
feet, and Joe's dachshund was scratching a hole under the scarlet
geraniums and dreaming of badgers. Joe was filling his pipe for the
third time since dinner, when he heard a knocking on the fence. He
broke into a loud guffaw and unlatched the little door that led into
the street. He did not call Nils by name, but caught him by the hand
and dragged him in. Clara stiffened and the color deepened under her
dark skin. Nils, too, felt a little awkward. He had not seen her
since the night when she rode away from him and left him alone on
the level road between the fields. Joe dragged him to the wooden
bench beside the green table.

"You bring de flute," he cried, tapping the leather case under Nils'
arm. "Ah, das-a good! Now we have some liddle fun like old times. I
got somet'ing good for you." Joe shook his finger at Nils and winked
his blue eyes, a bright clear eye, full of fire, though the tiny
blood-vessels on the ball were always a little distended. "I got
somet'ing for you from"--he paused and waved his hand--"Hongarie.
You know Hongarie? You wait!" He pushed Nils down on the bench, and
went through the back door of his saloon.

Nils looked at Clara, who sat frigidly with her white skirts drawn
tight about her. "He didn't tell you he had asked me to come, did
he? He wanted a party and proceeded to arrange it. Isn't he fun?
Don't be cross; let's give him a good time."

Clara smiled and shook out her skirt. "Isn't that like father? And
he has sat here so meekly all day. Well, I won't pout. I'm glad you
came. He doesn't have very many good times now any more. There are
so few of his kind left. The second generation are a tame lot."

Joe came back with a flask in one hand and three wine-glasses caught
by the stems between the fingers of the other. These he placed on
the table with an air of ceremony, and, going behind Nils, held the
flask between him and the sun, squinting into it admiringly. "You
know dis, Tokai? A great friend of mine, he bring dis to me, a
present out of Hongarie. You know how much it cost, dis wine? Chust
so much what it weigh in gold. Nobody but de nobles drink him in
Bohemie. Many, many years I save him up, dis Tokai." Joe whipped out
his official cork-screw and delicately removed the cork. "De old man
die what bring him to me, an' dis wine he lay on his belly in my
cellar an' sleep. An' now," carefully pouring out the heavy yellow
wine, "an' now he wake up; and maybe he wake us up, too!" He carried
one of the glasses to his daughter and presented it with great
gallantry.

Clara shook her head, but, seeing her father's disappointment,
relented. "You taste it first. I don't want so much."

Joe sampled it with a beatific expression, and turned to Nils. "You
drink him slow, dis wine. He very soft, but he go down hot. You
see!"

After a second glass Nils declared that he couldn't take any more
without getting sleepy. "Now get your fiddle, Vavrika," he said as
he opened his flute-case.

But Joe settled back in his wooden rocker and wagged his big
carpet-slipper. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no! No play fiddle now any more:
too much ache in de finger," waving them, "all-a-time rheumatiz. You
play de flute, te-tety-te-tety-te. Bohemie songs."

"I've forgotten all the Bohemian songs I used to play with you and
Johanna. But here's one that will make Clara pout. You remember how
her eyes used to snap when we called her the Bohemian Girl?" Nils
lifted his flute and began "When Other Lips and Other Hearts," and
Joe hummed the air in a husky baritone, waving his carpet-slipper.
"Oh-h-h, das-a fine music," he cried, clapping his hands as Nils
finished. "Now 'Marble Halls, Marble Halls'! Clara, you sing him."

Clara smiled and leaned back in her chair, beginning softly:

  "_I dreamt that I dwelt in ma-a-arble halls,
  With vassals and serfs at my knee,_"

and Joe hummed like a big bumble-bee.

"There's one more you always played," Clara said quietly; "I
remember that best." She locked her hands over her knee and began
"The Heart Bowed Down," and sang it through without groping for the
words. She was singing with a good deal of warmth when she came to
the end of the old song:

  "_For memory is the only friend
  That grief can call its own._"

Joe flashed out his red silk handkerchief and blew his nose, shaking
his head. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no! Too sad, too sad! I not like-a dat.
Play quick somet'ing gay now."

Nils put his lips to the instrument, and Joe lay back in his chair,
laughing and singing, "Oh, Evelina, Sweet Evelina!" Clara laughed,
too. Long ago, when she and Nils went to high school, the model
student of their class was a very homely girl in thick spectacles.
Her name was Evelina Oleson; she had a long, swinging walk which
somehow suggested the measure of that song, and they used
mercilessly to sing it at her.

"Dat ugly Oleson girl, she teach in de school," Joe gasped, "an' she
still walk chust like dat, yup-a, yup-a, yup-a, chust like a camel
she go! Now, Nils, we have some more li'l drink. Oh,
yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-_yes!_ Dis time you haf to drink, and Clara
she haf to, so she show she not jealous. So, we all drink to your
girl. You not tell her name, eh? No-no-no, I no make you tell. She
pretty, eh? She make good sweetheart? I bet!" Joe winked and lifted
his glass. "How soon you get married?"

Nils screwed up his eyes. "That I don't know. When she says."

Joe threw out his chest. "Das-a way boys talks. No way for mans.
Mans say, 'You come to de church, an' get a hurry on you.' Das-a way
mans talks."

"Maybe Nils hasn't got enough to keep a wife," put in Clara
ironically. "How about that, Nils?" she asked him frankly, as if she
wanted to know.

Nils looked at her coolly, raising one eyebrow. "Oh, I can keep her,
all right."

"The way she wants to be kept?"

"With my wife, I'll decide that," replied Nils calmly. "I'll give
her what's good for her."

Clara made a wry face. "You'll give her the strap, I expect, like
old Peter Oleson gave his wife."

"When she needs it," said Nils lazily, locking his hands behind his
head and squinting up through the leaves of the cherry tree. "Do you
remember the time I squeezed the cherries all over your clean dress,
and Aunt Johanna boxed my ears for me? My gracious, weren't you mad!
You had both hands full of cherries, and I squeezed 'em and made the
juice fly all over you. I liked to have fun with you; you'd get so
mad."

"We _did_ have fun, didn't we? None of the other kids ever had so
much fun. We knew how to play."

Nils dropped his elbows on the table and looked steadily across at
her. "I've played with lots of girls since, but I haven't found one
who was such good fun."

Clara laughed. The late afternoon sun was shining full in her face,
and deep in the back of her eyes there shone something fiery, like
the yellow drops of Tokai in the brown glass bottle. "Can you still
play, or are you only pretending?"

"I can play better than I used to, and harder."

"Don't you ever work, then?" She had not intended to say it. It
slipped out because she was confused enough to say just the wrong
thing.

"I work between times." Nils' steady gaze still beat upon her.
"Don't you worry about my working, Mrs. Ericson. You're getting like
all the rest of them." He reached his brown, warm hand across the
table and dropped it on Clara's, which was cold as an icicle. "Last
call for play, Mrs. Ericson!" Clara shivered, and suddenly her hands
and cheeks grew warm. Her fingers lingered in his a moment, and they
looked at each other earnestly. Joe Vavrika had put the mouth of the
bottle to his lips and was swallowing the last drops of the Tokai,
standing. The sun, just about to sink behind his shop, glistened on
the bright glass, on his flushed face and curly yellow hair. "Look,"
Clara whispered; "that's the way I want to grow old."


VI

On the day of Olaf Ericson's barn-raising, his wife, for once in a
way, rose early. Johanna Vavrika had been baking cakes and frying
and boiling and spicing meats for a week beforehand, but it was not
until the day before the party was to take place that Clara showed
any interest in it. Then she was seized with one of her fitful
spasms of energy, and took the wagon and little Eric and spent the
day on Plum Creek, gathering vines and swamp goldenrod to decorate
the barn.

By four o'clock in the afternoon buggies and wagons began to arrive
at the big unpainted building in front of Olaf's house. When Nils
and his mother came at five, there were more than fifty people in
the barn, and a great drove of children. On the ground floor stood
six long tables, set with the crockery of seven flourishing Ericson
families, lent for the occasion. In the middle of each table was a
big yellow pumpkin, hollowed out and filled with woodbine. In one
corner of the barn, behind a pile of green-and-white-striped
watermelons, was a circle of chairs for the old people; the younger
guests sat on bushel measures or barbed-wire spools, and the
children tumbled about in the haymow. The box-stalls Clara had
converted into booths. The framework was hidden by goldenrod and
sheaves of wheat, and the partitions were covered with wild
grapevines full of fruit. At one of these Johanna Vavrika watched
over her cooked meats, enough to provision an army; and at the next
her kitchen girls had ranged the ice-cream freezers, and Clara was
already cutting pies and cakes against the hour of serving. At the
third stall, little Hilda, in a bright pink lawn dress, dispensed
lemonade throughout the afternoon. Olaf, as a public man, had
thought it inadvisable to serve beer in his barn; but Joe Vavrika
had come over with two demijohns concealed in his buggy, and after
his arrival the wagon-shed was much frequented by the men.

"Hasn't Cousin Clara fixed things lovely?" little Hilda whispered,
when Nils went up to her stall and asked for lemonade.

Nils leaned against the booth, talking to the excited little girl
and watching the people. The barn faced the west, and the sun,
pouring in at the big doors, filled the whole interior with a golden
light, through which filtered fine particles of dust from the
haymow, where the children were romping. There was a great
chattering from the stall where Johanna Vavrika exhibited to the
admiring women her platters heaped with fried chicken, her roasts of
beef, boiled tongues, and baked hams with cloves stuck in the crisp
brown fat and garnished with tansy and parsley. The older women,
having assured themselves that there were twenty kinds of cake, not
counting cookies, and three dozen fat pies, repaired to the corner
behind the pile of watermelons, put on their white aprons, and fell
to their knitting and fancy-work. They were a fine company of old
women, and a Dutch painter would have loved to find them there
together, where the sun made bright patches on the floor and sent
long, quivering shafts of gold through the dusky shade up among the
rafters. There were fat, rosy old women who looked hot in their best
black dresses; spare, alert old women with brown, dark-veined hands;
and several of almost heroic frame, not less massive than old Mrs.
Ericson herself. Few of them wore glasses, and old Mrs. Svendsen, a
Danish woman, who was quite bald, wore the only cap among them. Mrs.
Oleson, who had twelve big grandchildren, could still show two
braids of yellow hair as thick as her own wrists. Among all these
grandmothers there were more brown heads than white. They all had a
pleased, prosperous air, as if they were more than satisfied with
themselves and with life. Nils, leaning against Hilda's
lemonade-stand, watched them as they sat chattering in four
languages, their fingers never lagging behind their tongues.

"Look at them over there," he whispered, detaining Clara as she
passed him. "Aren't they the Old Guard? I've just counted thirty
hands. I guess they've wrung many a chicken's neck and warmed many a
boy's jacket for him in their time."

In reality he fell into amazement when he thought of the Herculean
labors those fifteen pairs of hands had performed: of the cows they
had milked, the butter they had made, the gardens they had planted,
the children and grandchildren they had tended, the brooms they had
worn out, the mountains of food they had cooked. It made him dizzy.
Clara Vavrika smiled a hard, enigmatical smile at him and walked
rapidly away. Nils' eyes followed her white figure as she went
toward the house. He watched her walking alone in the sunlight,
looked at her slender, defiant shoulders and her little hard-set
head with its coils of blue-black hair. "No," he reflected; "she'd
never be like them, not if she lived here a hundred years. She'd
only grow more bitter. You can't tame a wild thing; you can only
chain it. People aren't all alike. I mustn't lose my nerve." He gave
Hilda's pigtail a parting tweak and set out after Clara. "Where to?"
he asked, as he came upon her in the kitchen.

"I'm going to the cellar for preserves."

"Let me go with you. I never get a moment alone with you. Why do you
keep out of my way?"

Clara laughed. "I don't usually get in anybody's way."

Nils followed her down the stairs and to the far corner of the
cellar, where a basement window let in a stream of light. From a
swinging shelf Clara selected several glass jars, each labeled in
Johanna's careful hand. Nils took up a brown flask. "What's this? It
looks good."

"It is. It's some French brandy father gave me when I was married.
Would you like some? Have you a corkscrew? I'll get glasses."

When she brought them, Nils took them from her and put them down on
the window-sill. "Clara Vavrika, do you remember how crazy I used to
be about you?"

Clara shrugged her shoulders. "Boys are always crazy about somebody
or other. I dare say some silly has been crazy about Evelina Oleson.
You got over it in a hurry."

"Because I didn't come back, you mean? I had to get on, you know,
and it was hard sledding at first. Then I heard you'd married Olaf."

"And then you stayed away from a broken heart," Clara laughed.

"And then I began to think about you more than I had since I first
went away. I began to wonder if you were really as you had seemed to
me when I was a boy. I thought I'd like to see. I've had lots of
girls, but no one ever pulled me the same way. The more I thought
about you, the more I remembered how it used to be--like hearing a
wild tune you can't resist, calling you out at night. It had been a
long while since anything had pulled me out of my boots, and I
wondered whether anything ever could again." Nils thrust his hands
into his coat pockets and squared his shoulders, as his mother
sometimes squared hers, as Olaf, in a clumsier manner, squared his.
"So I thought I'd come back and see. Of course the family have tried
to do me, and I rather thought I'd bring out father's will and make
a fuss. But they can have their old land; they've put enough sweat
into it." He took the flask and filled the two glasses carefully to
the brim. "I've found out what I want from the Ericsons. Drink
_skoal_, Clara." He lifted his glass, and Clara took hers with
downcast eyes. "Look at me, Clara Vavrika. _Skoal!_"

She raised her burning eyes and answered fiercely: "_Skoal!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

The barn supper began at six o'clock and lasted for two hilarious
hours. Yense Nelson had made a wager that he could eat two whole
fried chickens, and he did. Eli Swanson stowed away two whole
custard pies, and Nick Hermanson ate a chocolate layer cake to the
last crumb. There was even a cooky contest among the children, and
one thin, slablike Bohemian boy consumed sixteen and won the prize,
a ginger-bread pig which Johanna Vavrika had carefully decorated
with red candies and burnt sugar. Fritz Sweiheart, the German
carpenter, won in the pickle contest, but he disappeared soon after
supper and was not seen for the rest of the evening. Joe Vavrika
said that Fritz could have managed the pickles all right, but he had
sampled the demijohn in his buggy too often before sitting down to
the table.

While the supper was being cleared away the two fiddlers began to
tune up for the dance. Clara was to accompany them on her old
upright piano, which had been brought down from her father's. By
this time Nils had renewed old acquaintances. Since his interview
with Clara in the cellar, he had been busy telling all the old women
how young they looked, and all the young ones how pretty they were,
and assuring the men that they had here the best farm-land in the
world. He had made himself so agreeable that old Mrs. Ericson's
friends began to come up to her and tell how lucky she was to get
her smart son back again, and please to get him to play his flute.
Joe Vavrika, who could still play very well when he forgot that he
had rheumatism, caught up a fiddle from Johnny Oleson and played a
crazy Bohemian dance tune that set the wheels going. When he dropped
the bow every one was ready to dance.

Olaf, in a frock-coat and a solemn made-up necktie, led the grand
march with his mother. Clara had kept well out of _that_ by sticking
to the piano. She played the march with a pompous solemnity which
greatly amused the prodigal son, who went over and stood behind her.

"Oh, aren't you rubbing it into them, Clara Vavrika? And aren't you
lucky to have me here, or all your wit would be thrown away."

"I'm used to being witty for myself. It saves my life."

The fiddles struck up a polka, and Nils convulsed Joe Vavrika by
leading out Evelina Oleson, the homely school-teacher. His next
partner was a very fat Swedish girl, who, although she was an
heiress, had not been asked for the first dance, but had stood
against the wall in her tight, high-heeled shoes, nervously
fingering a lace handkerchief. She was soon out of breath, so Nils
led her, pleased and panting, to her seat, and went over to the
piano, from which Clara had been watching his gallantry. "Ask Olena
Yenson," she whispered. "She waltzes beautifully."

Olena, too, was rather inconveniently plump, handsome in a smooth,
heavy way, with a fine color and good-natured, sleepy eyes. She was
redolent of violet sachet powder, and had warm, soft, white hands,
but she danced divinely, moving as smoothly as the tide coming in.
"There, that's something like," Nils said as he released her.
"You'll give me the next waltz, won't you? Now I must go and dance
with my little cousin."

Hilda was greatly excited when Nils went up to her stall and held
out his arm. Her little eyes sparkled, but she declared that she
could not leave her lemonade. Old Mrs. Ericson, who happened along
at this moment, said she would attend to that, and Hilda came out,
as pink as her pink dress. The dance was a schottische, and in a
moment her yellow braids were fairly standing on end. "Bravo!" Nils
cried encouragingly. "Where did you learn to dance so nicely?"

"My Cousin Clara taught me," the little girl panted.

Nils found Eric sitting with a group of boys who were too awkward or
too shy to dance, and told him that he must dance the next waltz
with Hilda.

The boy screwed up his shoulders. "Aw, Nils, I can't dance. My feet
are too big; I look silly."

"Don't be thinking about yourself. It doesn't matter how boys look."

Nils had never spoken to him so sharply before, and Eric made haste
to scramble out of his corner and brush the straw from his coat.

Clara nodded approvingly. "Good for you, Nils. I've been trying to
get hold of him. They dance very nicely together; I sometimes play
for them."

"I'm obliged to you for teaching him. There's no reason why he
should grow up to be a lout."

"He'll never be that. He's more like you than any of them. Only he
hasn't your courage." From her slanting eyes Clara shot forth one of
those keen glances, admiring and at the same time challenging, which
she seldom bestowed on any one, and which seemed to say, "Yes, I
admire you, but I am your equal."

Clara was proving a much better host than Olaf, who, once the supper
was over, seemed to feel no interest in anything but the lanterns.
He had brought a locomotive headlight from town to light the revels,
and he kept skulking about it as if he feared the mere light from it
might set his new barn on fire. His wife, on the contrary, was
cordial to every one, was animated and even gay. The deep salmon
color in her cheeks burned vividly, and her eyes were full of life.
She gave the piano over to the fat Swedish heiress, pulled her
father away from the corner where he sat gossiping with his cronies,
and made him dance a Bohemian dance with her. In his youth Joe had
been a famous dancer, and his daughter got him so limbered up that
every one sat round and applauded them. The old ladies were
particularly delighted, and made them go through the dance again.
From their corner where they watched and commented, the old women
kept time with their feet and hands, and whenever the fiddles struck
up a new air old Mrs. Svendsen's white cap would begin to bob.

Clara was waltzing with little Eric when Nils came up to them,
brushed his brother aside, and swung her out among the dancers.
"Remember how we used to waltz on rollers at the old skating-rink in
town? I suppose people don't do that any more. We used to keep it up
for hours. You know, we never did moon around as other boys and
girls did. It was dead serious with us from the beginning. When we
were most in love with each other, we used to fight. You were always
pinching people; your fingers were like little nippers. A regular
snapping-turtle, you were. Lord, how you'd like Stockholm! Sit out
in the streets in front of cafés and talk all night in summer. Just
like a reception--officers and ladies and funny English people.
Jolliest people in the world, the Swedes, once you get them going.
Always drinking things--champagne and stout mixed, half-and-half;
serve it out of big pitchers, and serve plenty. Slow pulse, you
know; they can stand a lot. Once they light up, they're glow-worms,
I can tell you."

"All the same, you don't really like gay people."

"_I_ don't?"

"No; I could see that when you were looking at the old women there
this afternoon. They're the kind you really admire, after all; women
like your mother. And that's the kind you'll marry."

"Is it, Miss Wisdom? You'll see who I'll marry, and she won't have a
domestic virtue to bless herself with. She'll be a snapping-turtle,
and she'll be a match for me. All the same, they're a fine bunch of
old dames over there. You admire them yourself."

"No, I don't; I detest them."

"You won't, when you look back on them from Stockholm or Budapest.
Freedom settles all that. Oh, but you're the real Bohemian Girl,
Clara Vavrika!" Nils laughed down at her sullen frown and began
mockingly to sing:

  "_Oh, how could a poor gypsy maiden like me
  Expect the proud bride of a baron to be?_"

Clara clutched his shoulder. "Hush, Nils; every one is looking at
you."

"I don't care. They can't gossip. It's all in the family, as the
Ericsons say when they divide up little Hilda's patrimony amongst
them. Besides, we'll give them something to talk about when we hit
the trail. Lord, it will be a godsend to them! They haven't had
anything so interesting to chatter about since the grasshopper year.
It'll give them a new lease of life. And Olaf won't lose the
Bohemian vote, either. They'll have the laugh on him so that they'll
vote two apiece. They'll send him to Congress. They'll never forget
his barn party, or us. They'll always remember us as we're dancing
together now. We're making a legend. Where's my waltz, boys?" he
called as they whirled past the fiddlers.

The musicians grinned, looked at each other, hesitated, and began a
new air; and Nils sang with them, as the couples fell from a quick
waltz to a long, slow glide:

  "_When other lips and other hearts
    Their tale of love shall tell,
  In language whose excess imparts
    The power they feel so well,_"

The old women applauded vigorously. "What a gay one he is, that
Nils!" And old Mrs. Svendsen's cap lurched dreamily from side to
side to the flowing measure of the dance.

  "_Of days that have as ha-a-p-py been,
    And you'll remember me._"


VII

The moonlight flooded that great, silent land. The reaped fields lay
yellow in it. The straw stacks and poplar windbreaks threw sharp
black shadows. The roads were white rivers of dust. The sky was a
deep, crystalline blue, and the stars were few and faint. Everything
seemed to have succumbed, to have sunk to sleep, under the great,
golden, tender, midsummer moon. The splendor of it seemed to
transcend human life and human fate. The senses were too feeble to
take it in, and every time one looked up at the sky one felt unequal
to it, as if one were sitting deaf under the waves of a great river
of melody. Near the road, Nils Ericson was lying against a straw
stack in Olaf's wheat-field. His own life seemed strange and
unfamiliar to him, as if it were something he had read about, or
dreamed, and forgotten. He lay very still, watching the white road
that ran in front of him, lost itself among the fields, and then, at
a distance, reappeared over a little hill. At last, against this
white band he saw something moving rapidly, and he got up and walked
to the edge of the field. "She is passing the row of poplars now,"
he thought. He heard the padded beat of hoofs along the dusty road,
and as she came into sight he stepped out and waved his arms. Then,
for fear of frightening the horse, he drew back and waited. Clara
had seen him, and she came up at a walk. Nils took the horse by the
bit and stroked his neck.

"What are you doing out so late, Clara Vavrika? I went to the house,
but Johanna told me you had gone to your father's."

"Who can stay in the house on a night like this? Aren't you out
yourself?"

"Ah, but that's another matter."

Nils turned the horse into the field.

"What are you doing? Where are you taking Norman?"

"Not far, but I want to talk to you to-night; I have something to
say to you. I can't talk to you at the house, with Olaf sitting
there on the porch, weighing a thousand tons."

Clara laughed. "He won't be sitting there now. He's in bed by this
time, and asleep--weighing a thousand tons."

Nils plodded on across the stubble. "Are you really going to spend
the rest of your life like this, night after night, summer after
summer? Haven't you anything better to do on a night like this than
to wear yourself and Norman out tearing across the country to your
father's and back? Besides, your father won't live forever, you
know. His little place will be shut up or sold, and then you'll have
nobody but the Ericsons. You'll have to fasten down the hatches for
the winter then."

Clara moved her head restlessly. "Don't talk about that. I try never
to think of it. If I lost father I'd lose everything, even my hold
over the Ericsons."

"Bah! You'd lose a good deal more than that. You'd lose your race,
everything that makes you yourself. You've lost a good deal of it
now."

"Of what?"

"Of your love of life, your capacity for delight."

Clara put her hands up to her face. "I haven't, Nils Ericson, I
haven't! Say anything to me but that. I won't have it!" she declared
vehemently.

Nils led the horse up to a straw stack, and turned to Clara, looking
at her intently, as he had looked at her that Sunday afternoon at
Vavrika's. "But why do you fight for that so? What good is the power
to enjoy, if you never enjoy? Your hands are cold again; what are
you afraid of all the time? Ah, you're afraid of losing it; that's
what's the matter with you! And you will, Clara Vavrika, you will!
When I used to know you--listen; you've caught a wild bird in your
hand, haven't you, and felt its heart beat so hard that you were
afraid it would shatter its little body to pieces? Well, you used to
be just like that, a slender, eager thing with a wild delight inside
you. That is how I remembered you. And I come back and find you--a
bitter woman. This is a perfect ferret fight here; you live by
biting and being bitten. Can't you remember what life used to be?
Can't you remember that old delight? I've never forgotten it, or
known its like, on land or sea."

He drew the horse under the shadow of the straw stack. Clara felt
him take her foot out of the stirrup, and she slid softly down into
his arms. He kissed her slowly. He was a deliberate man, but his
nerves were steel when he wanted anything. Something flashed out
from him like a knife out of a sheath. Clara felt everything
slipping away from her; she was flooded by the summer night. He
thrust his hand into his pocket, and then held it out at arm's
length. "Look," he said. The shadow of the straw stack fell sharp
across his wrist, and in the palm of his hand she saw a silver
dollar shining. "That's my pile," he muttered; "will you go with
me?"

Clara nodded, and dropped her forehead on his shoulder.

Nils took a deep breath. "Will you go with me to-night?"

"Where?" she whispered softly.

"To town, to catch the midnight flyer."

Clara lifted her head and pulled herself together. "Are you crazy,
Nils? We couldn't go away like that."

"That's the only way we ever will go. You can't sit on the bank and
think about it. You have to plunge. That's the way I've always done,
and it's the right way for people like you and me. There's nothing
so dangerous as sitting still. You've only got one life, one youth,
and you can let it slip through your fingers if you want to; nothing
easier. Most people do that. You'd be better off tramping the roads
with me than you are here." Nils held back her head and looked into
her eyes. "But I'm not that kind of a tramp, Clara. You won't have
to take in sewing. I'm with a Norwegian shipping line; came over on
business with the New York offices, but now I'm going straight back
to Bergen. I expect I've got as much money as the Ericsons. Father
sent me a little to get started. They never knew about that. There,
I hadn't meant to tell you; I wanted you to come on your own nerve."

Clara looked off across the fields. "It isn't that, Nils, but
something seems to hold me. I'm afraid to pull against it. It comes
out of the ground, I think."

"I know all about that. One has to tear loose. You're not needed
here. Your father will understand; he's made like us. As for Olaf,
Johanna will take better care of him than ever you could. It's now
or never, Clara Vavrika. My bag's at the station; I smuggled it
there yesterday."

Clara clung to him and hid her face against his shoulder. "Not
to-night," she whispered. "Sit here and talk to me to-night. I don't
want to go anywhere to-night. I may never love you like this again."

Nils laughed through his teeth. "You can't come that on me. That's
not my way, Clara Vavrika. Eric's mare is over there behind the
stacks, and I'm off on the midnight. It's good-by, or off across the
world with me. My carriage won't wait. I've written a letter to
Olaf; I'll mail it in town. When he reads it he won't bother us--not
if I know him. He'd rather have the land. Besides, I could demand an
investigation of his administration of Cousin Henrik's estate, and
that would be bad for a public man. You've no clothes, I know; but
you can sit up to-night, and we can get everything on the way.
Where's your old dash, Clara Vavrika? What's become of your Bohemian
blood? I used to think you had courage enough for anything. Where's
your nerve--what are you waiting for?"

Clara drew back her head, and he saw the slumberous fire in her
eyes. "For you to say one thing, Nils Ericson."

"I never say that thing to any woman, Clara Vavrika." He leaned
back, lifted her gently from the ground, and whispered through his
teeth: "But I'll never, never let you go, not to any man on earth
but me! Do you understand me? Now, wait here."

Clara sank down on a sheaf of wheat and covered her face with her
hands. She did not know what she was going to do--whether she would
go or stay. The great, silent country seemed to lay a spell upon
her. The ground seemed to hold her as if by roots. Her knees were
soft under her. She felt as if she could not bear separation from
her old sorrows, from her old discontent. They were dear to her,
they had kept her alive, they were a part of her. There would be
nothing left of her if she were wrenched away from them. Never could
she pass beyond that sky-line against which her restlessness had
beat so many times. She felt as if her soul had built itself a nest
there on that horizon at which she looked every morning and every
evening, and it was dear to her, inexpressibly dear. She pressed her
fingers against her eyeballs to shut it out. Beside her she heard
the tramping of horses in the soft earth. Nils said nothing to her.
He put his hands under her arms and lifted her lightly to her
saddle. Then he swung himself into his own.

"We shall have to ride fast to catch the midnight train. A last
gallop, Clara Vavrika. Forward!"

There was a start, a thud of hoofs along the moonlit road, two dark
shadows going over the hill; and then the great, still land
stretched untroubled under the azure night. Two shadows had passed.


VIII

A year after the flight of Olaf Ericson's wife, the night train was
steaming across the plains of Iowa. The conductor was hurrying
through one of the day-coaches, his lantern on his arm, when a lank,
fair-haired boy sat up in one of the plush seats and tweaked him by
the coat.

"What is the next stop, please, sir?"

"Red Oak, Iowa. But you go through to Chicago, don't you?" He looked
down, and noticed that the boy's eyes were red and his face was
drawn, as if he were in trouble.

"Yes. But I was wondering whether I could get off at the next place
and get a train back to Omaha."

"Well, I suppose you could. Live in Omaha?"

"No. In the western part of the State. How soon do we get to Red
Oak?"

"Forty minutes. You'd better make up your mind, so I can tell the
baggageman to put your trunk off."

"Oh, never mind about that! I mean, I haven't got any," the boy
added, blushing.

"Run away," the conductor thought, as he slammed the coach door
behind him.

Eric Ericson crumpled down in his seat and put his brown hand to his
forehead. He had been crying, and he had had no supper, and his head
was aching violently. "Oh, what shall I do?" he thought, as he
looked dully down at his big shoes. "Nils will be ashamed of me; I
haven't got any spunk."

Ever since Nils had run away with his brother's wife, life at home
had been hard for little Eric. His mother and Olaf both suspected
him of complicity. Mrs. Ericson was harsh and fault-finding,
constantly wounding the boy's pride; and Olaf was always getting her
against him.

Joe Vavrika heard often from his daughter. Clara had always been
fond of her father, and happiness made her kinder. She wrote him
long accounts of the voyage to Bergen, and of the trip she and Nils
took through Bohemia to the little town where her father had grown
up and where she herself was born. She visited all her kinsmen
there, and sent her father news of his brother, who was a priest; of
his sister, who had married a horse-breeder--of their big farm and
their many children. These letters Joe always managed to read to
little Eric. They contained messages for Eric and Hilda. Clara sent
presents, too, which Eric never dared to take home and which poor
little Hilda never even saw, though she loved to hear Eric tell
about them when they were out getting the eggs together. But Olaf
once saw Eric coming out of Vavrika's house,--the old man had never
asked the boy to come into his saloon,--and Olaf went straight to
his mother and told her. That night Mrs. Ericson came to Eric's room
after he was in bed and made a terrible scene. She could be very
terrifying when she was really angry. She forbade him ever to speak
to Vavrika again, and after that night she would not allow him to go
to town alone. So it was a long while before Eric got any more news
of his brother. But old Joe suspected what was going on, and he
carried Clara's letters about in his pocket. One Sunday he drove out
to see a German friend of his, and chanced to catch sight of Eric,
sitting by the cattle-pond in the big pasture. They went together
into Fritz Oberlies' barn, and read the letters and talked things
over. Eric admitted that things were getting hard for him at home.
That very night old Joe sat down and laboriously penned a statement
of the case to his daughter.

Things got no better for Eric. His mother and Olaf felt that,
however closely he was watched, he still, as they said, "heard."
Mrs. Ericson could not admit neutrality. She had sent Johanna
Vavrika packing back to her brother's, though Olaf would much rather
have kept her than Anders' eldest daughter, whom Mrs. Ericson
installed in her place. He was not so high-handed as his mother, and
he once sulkily told her that she might better have taught her
granddaughter to cook before she sent Johanna away. Olaf could have
borne a good deal for the sake of prunes spiced in honey, the secret
of which Johanna had taken away with her.

At last two letters came to Joe Vavrika: one from Nils, inclosing a
postal order for money to pay Eric's passage to Bergen, and one from
Clara, saying that Nils had a place for Eric in the offices of his
company, that he was to live with them, and that they were only
waiting for him to come. He was to leave New York on one of the
boats of Nils' own line; the captain was one of their friends, and
Eric was to make himself known at once.

Nils' directions were so explicit that a baby could have followed
them, Eric felt. And here he was, nearing Red Oak, Iowa, and rocking
backward and forward in despair. Never had he loved his brother so
much, and never had the big world called to him so hard. But there
was a lump in his throat which would not go down. Ever since
nightfall he had been tormented by the thought of his mother, alone
in that big house that had sent forth so many men. Her unkindness
now seemed so little, and her loneliness so great. He remembered
everything she had ever done for him: how frightened she had been
when he tore his hand in the corn-sheller, and how she wouldn't let
Olaf scold him. When Nils went away he didn't leave his mother all
alone, or he would never have gone. Eric felt sure of that.

The train whistled. The conductor came in, smiling not unkindly.
"Well, young man, what are you going to do? We stop at Red Oak in
three minutes."

"Yes, thank you. I'll let you know." The conductor went out, and the
boy doubled up with misery. He couldn't let his one chance go like
this. He felt for his breast pocket and crackled Nils' kind letter
to give him courage. He didn't want Nils to be ashamed of him. The
train stopped. Suddenly he remembered his brother's kind, twinkling
eyes, that always looked at you as if from far away. The lump in his
throat softened. "Ah, but Nils, Nils would _understand_!" he
thought. "That's just it about Nils; he always understands."

A lank, pale boy with a canvas telescope stumbled off the train to
the Red Oak siding, just as the conductor called, "All aboard!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The next night Mrs. Ericson was sitting alone in her wooden
rocking-chair on the front porch. Little Hilda had been sent to bed
and had cried herself to sleep. The old woman's knitting was in her
lap, but her hands lay motionless on top of it. For more than an
hour she had not moved a muscle. She simply sat, as only the
Ericsons and the mountains can sit. The house was dark, and there
was no sound but the croaking of the frogs down in the pond of the
little pasture.

Eric did not come home by the road, but across the fields, where no
one could see him. He set his telescope down softly in the kitchen
shed, and slipped noiselessly along the path to the front porch. He
sat down on the step without saying anything. Mrs. Ericson made no
sign, and the frogs croaked on. At last the boy spoke timidly.

"I've come back, Mother."

"Very well," said Mrs. Ericson.

Eric leaned over and picked up a little stick out of the grass.

"How about the milking?" he faltered.

"That's been done, hours ago."

"Who did you get?"

"Get? I did it myself. I can milk as good as any of you."

Eric slid along the step nearer to her. "Oh, Mother, why did you?"
he asked sorrowfully. "Why didn't you get one of Otto's boys?"

"I didn't want anybody to know I was in need of a boy," said Mrs.
Ericson bitterly. She looked straight in front of her and her mouth
tightened. "I always meant to give you the home farm," she added.

The boy started and slid closer. "Oh, Mother," he faltered, "I don't
care about the farm. I came back because I thought you might be
needing me, maybe." He hung his head and got no further.

"Very well," said Mrs. Ericson. Her hand went out from her suddenly
and rested on his head. Her fingers twined themselves in his soft,
pale hair. His tears splashed down on the boards; happiness filled
his heart.

                                        _McClure's_, August 1912



_Consequences_


Henry Eastman, a lawyer, aged forty, was standing beside the
Flatiron building in a driving November rainstorm, signaling
frantically for a taxi. It was six-thirty, and everything on wheels
was engaged. The streets were in confusion about him, the sky was in
turmoil above him, and the Flatiron building, which seemed about to
blow down, threw water like a mill-shoot. Suddenly, out of the
brutal struggle of men and cars and machines and people tilting at
each other with umbrellas, a quiet, well-mannered limousine paused
before him, at the curb, and an agreeable, ruddy countenance
confronted him through the open window of the car.

"Don't you want me to pick you up, Mr. Eastman? I'm running directly
home now."

Eastman recognized Kier Cavenaugh, a young man of pleasure, who
lived in the house on Central Park South, where he himself had an
apartment.

"Don't I?" he exclaimed, bolting into the car. "I'll risk getting
your cushions wet without compunction. I came up in a taxi, but I
didn't hold it. Bad economy. I thought I saw your car down on
Fourteenth Street about half an hour ago."

The owner of the car smiled. He had a pleasant, round face and round
eyes, and a fringe of smooth, yellow hair showed under the rim of
his soft felt hat. "With a lot of little broilers fluttering into
it? You did. I know some girls who work in the cheap shops down
there. I happened to be down-town and I stopped and took a load of
them home. I do sometimes. Saves their poor little clothes, you
know. Their shoes are never any good."

Eastman looked at his rescuer. "Aren't they notoriously afraid of
cars and smooth young men?" he inquired.

Cavenaugh shook his head. "They know which cars are safe and which
are chancy. They put each other wise. You have to take a bunch at a
time, of course. The Italian girls can never come along; their men
shoot. The girls understand, all right; but their fathers don't. One
gets to see queer places, sometimes, taking them home."

Eastman laughed drily. "Every time I touch the circle of your
acquaintance, Cavenaugh, it's a little wider. You must know New York
pretty well by this time."

"Yes, but I'm on my good behavior below Twenty-third Street," the
young man replied with simplicity. "My little friends down there
would give me a good character. They're wise little girls. They have
grand ways with each other, a romantic code of loyalty. You can find
a good many of the lost virtues among them."

The car was standing still in a traffic block at Fortieth Street,
when Cavenaugh suddenly drew his face away from the window and
touched Eastman's arm. "Look, please. You see that hansom with the
bony gray horse--driver has a broken hat and red flannel around his
throat. Can you see who is inside?"

Eastman peered out. The hansom was just cutting across the line, and
the driver was making a great fuss about it, bobbing his head and
waving his whip. He jerked his dripping old horse into Fortieth
Street and clattered off past the Public Library grounds toward
Sixth Avenue. "No, I couldn't see the passenger. Someone you know?"

"Could you see whether there was a passenger?" Cavenaugh asked.

"Why, yes. A man, I think. I saw his elbow on the apron. No driver
ever behaves like that unless he has a passenger."

"Yes, I may have been mistaken," Cavenaugh murmured absent-mindedly.
Ten minutes or so later, after Cavenaugh's car had turned off Fifth
Avenue into Fifty-eighth Street, Eastman exclaimed, "There's your
same cabby, and his cart's empty. He's headed for a drink now, I
suppose." The driver in the broken hat and the red flannel neck
cloth was still brandishing the whip over his old gray. He was
coming from the west now, and turned down Sixth Avenue, under the
elevated.

Cavenaugh's car stopped at the bachelor apartment house between
Sixth and Seventh Avenues where he and Eastman lived, and they went
up in the elevator together. They were still talking when the lift
stopped at Cavenaugh's floor, and Eastman stepped out with him and
walked down the hall, finishing his sentence while Cavenaugh found
his latch-key. When he opened the door, a wave of fresh cigarette
smoke greeted them. Cavenaugh stopped short and stared into his
hallway. "Now how in the devil--!" he exclaimed angrily.

"Someone waiting for you? Oh, no, thanks. I wasn't coming in. I have
to work to-night. Thank you, but I couldn't." Eastman nodded and
went up the two flights to his own rooms.

Though Eastman did not customarily keep a servant he had this winter
a man who had been lent to him by a friend who was abroad. Rollins
met him at the door and took his coat and hat.

"Put out my dinner clothes, Rollins, and then get out of here until
ten o'clock. I've promised to go to a supper to-night. I shan't be
dining. I've had a late tea and I'm going to work until ten. You may
put out some kumiss and biscuit for me."

Rollins took himself off, and Eastman settled down at the big table
in his sitting-room. He had to read a lot of letters submitted as
evidence in a breach of contract case, and before he got very far he
found that long paragraphs in some of the letters were written in
German. He had a German dictionary at his office, but none here.
Rollins had gone, and anyhow, the bookstores would be closed. He
remembered having seen a row of dictionaries on the lower shelf of
one of Cavenaugh's bookcases. Cavenaugh had a lot of books, though
he never read anything but new stuff. Eastman prudently turned down
his student's lamp very low--the thing had an evil habit of
smoking--and went down two flights to Cavenaugh's door.

The young man himself answered Eastman's ring. He was freshly
dressed for the evening, except for a brown smoking jacket, and his
yellow hair had been brushed until it shone. He hesitated as he
confronted his caller, still holding the door knob, and his round
eyes and smooth forehead made their best imitation of a frown. When
Eastman began to apologize, Cavenaugh's manner suddenly changed. He
caught his arm and jerked him into the narrow hall. "Come in, come
in. Right along!" he said excitedly. "Right along," he repeated as
he pushed Eastman before him into his sitting-room. "Well I'll--" he
stopped short at the door and looked about his own room with an air
of complete mystification. The back window was wide open and a
strong wind was blowing in. Cavenaugh walked over to the window and
stuck out his head, looking up and down the fire escape. When he
pulled his head in, he drew down the sash.

"I had a visitor I wanted you to see," he explained with a nervous
smile. "At least I thought I had. He must have gone out that way,"
nodding toward the window.

"Call him back. I only came to borrow a German dictionary, if you
have one. Can't stay. Call him back."

Cavenaugh shook his head despondently. "No use. He's beat it.
Nowhere in sight."

"He must be active. Has he left something?" Eastman pointed to a
very dirty white glove that lay on the floor under the window.

"Yes, that's his." Cavenaugh reached for his tongs, picked up the
glove, and tossed it into the grate, where it quickly shriveled on
the coals. Eastman felt that he had happened in upon something
disagreeable, possibly something shady, and he wanted to get away at
once. Cavenaugh stood staring at the fire and seemed stupid and
dazed; so he repeated his request rather sternly, "I think I've seen
a German dictionary down there among your books. May I have it?"

Cavenaugh blinked at him. "A German dictionary? Oh, possibly! Those
were my father's. I scarcely know what there is." He put down the
tongs and began to wipe his hands nervously with his handkerchief.

Eastman went over to the bookcase behind the Chesterfield, opened
the door, swooped upon the book he wanted and stuck it under his
arm. He felt perfectly certain now that something shady had been
going on in Cavenaugh's rooms, and he saw no reason why he should
come in for any hang-over. "Thanks. I'll send it back to-morrow," he
said curtly as he made for the door.

Cavenaugh followed him. "Wait a moment. I wanted you to see him. You
did see his glove," glancing at the grate.

Eastman laughed disagreeably. "I saw a glove. That's not evidence. Do
your friends often use that means of exit? Somewhat inconvenient."

Cavenaugh gave him a startled glance. "Wouldn't you think so? For an
old man, a very rickety old party? The ladders are steep, you know,
and rusty." He approached the window again and put it up softly. In
a moment he drew his head back with a jerk. He caught Eastman's arm
and shoved him toward the window. "Hurry, please. Look! Down there."
He pointed to the little patch of paved court four flights down.

The square of pavement was so small and the walls about it were so
high, that it was a good deal like looking down a well. Four tall
buildings backed upon the same court and made a kind of shaft, with
flagstones at the bottom, and at the top a square of dark blue with
some stars in it. At the bottom of the shaft Eastman saw a black
figure, a man in a caped coat and a tall hat stealing cautiously
around, not across the square of pavement, keeping close to the dark
wall and avoiding the streak of light that fell on the flagstones
from a window in the opposite house. Seen from that height he was of
course fore-shortened and probably looked more shambling and
decrepit than he was. He picked his way along with exaggerated care
and looked like a silly old cat crossing a wet street. When he
reached the gate that led into an alley way between two buildings,
he felt about for the latch, opened the door a mere crack, and then
shot out under the feeble lamp that burned in the brick arch over
the gateway. The door closed after him.

"He'll get run in," Eastman remarked curtly, turning away from the
window. "That door shouldn't be left unlocked. Any crook could come
in. I'll speak to the janitor about it, if you don't mind," he added
sarcastically.

"Wish you would." Cavenaugh stood brushing down the front of his
jacket, first with his right hand and then with his left. "You saw
him, didn't you?"

"Enough of him. Seems eccentric. I have to see a lot of buggy
people. They don't take me in any more. But I'm keeping you and I'm
in a hurry myself. Good night."

Cavenaugh put out his hand detainingly and started to say something;
but Eastman rudely turned his back and went down the hall and out of
the door. He had never felt anything shady about Cavenaugh before,
and he was sorry he had gone down for the dictionary. In five
minutes he was deep in his papers; but in the half hour when he was
loafing before he dressed to go out, the young man's curious
behavior came into his mind again.

Eastman had merely a neighborly acquaintance with Cavenaugh. He had
been to a supper at the young man's rooms once, but he didn't
particularly like Cavenaugh's friends; so the next time he was
asked, he had another engagement. He liked Cavenaugh himself, if for
nothing else than because he was so cheerful and trim and ruddy. A
good complexion is always at a premium in New York, especially when
it shines reassuringly on a man who does everything in the world to
lose it. It encourages fellow mortals as to the inherent vigor of
the human organism and the amount of bad treatment it will stand
for. "Footprints that perhaps another," etc.

Cavenaugh, he knew, had plenty of money. He was the son of a
Pennsylvania preacher, who died soon after he discovered that his
ancestral acres were full of petroleum, and Kier had come to New
York to burn some of the oil. He was thirty-two and was still at it;
spent his life, literally, among the breakers. His motor hit the
Park every morning as if it were the first time ever. He took people
out to supper every night. He went from restaurant to restaurant,
sometimes to half-a-dozen in an evening. The head waiters were his
hosts and their cordiality made him happy. They made a life-line for
him up Broadway and down Fifth Avenue. Cavenaugh was still fresh and
smooth, round and plump, with a lustre to his hair and white teeth
and a clear look in his round eyes. He seemed absolutely unwearied
and unimpaired; never bored and never carried away.

Eastman always smiled when he met Cavenaugh in the entrance hall,
serenely going forth to or returning from gladiatorial combats with
joy, or when he saw him rolling smoothly up to the door in his car
in the morning after a restful night in one of the remarkable new
roadhouses he was always finding. Eastman had seen a good many young
men disappear on Cavenaugh's route, and he admired this young man's
endurance.

To-night, for the first time, he had got a whiff of something
unwholesome about the fellow--bad nerves, bad company, something on
hand that he was ashamed of, a visitor old and vicious, who must
have had a key to Cavenaugh's apartment, for he was evidently there
when Cavenaugh returned at seven o'clock. Probably it was the same
man Cavenaugh had seen in the hansom. He must have been able to let
himself in, for Cavenaugh kept no man but his chauffeur; or perhaps
the janitor had been instructed to let him in. In either case, and
whoever he was, it was clear enough that Cavenaugh was ashamed of
him and was mixing up in questionable business of some kind.

Eastman sent Cavenaugh's book back by Rollins, and for the next few
weeks he had no word with him beyond a casual greeting when they
happened to meet in the hall or the elevator. One Sunday morning
Cavenaugh telephoned up to him to ask if he could motor out to a
roadhouse in Connecticut that afternoon and have supper; but when
Eastman found there were to be other guests he declined.

       *       *       *       *       *

On New Year's eve Eastman dined at the University Club at six
o'clock and hurried home before the usual manifestations of insanity
had begun in the streets. When Rollins brought his smoking coat, he
asked him whether he wouldn't like to get off early.

"Yes, sir. But won't you be dressing, Mr. Eastman?" he inquired.

"Not to-night." Eastman handed him a bill. "Bring some change in the
morning. There'll be fees."

Rollins lost no time in putting everything to rights for the night,
and Eastman couldn't help wishing that he were in such a hurry to be
off somewhere himself. When he heard the hall door close softly, he
wondered if there were any place, after all, that he wanted to go.
From his window he looked down at the long lines of motors and taxis
waiting for a signal to cross Broadway. He thought of some of their
probable destinations and decided that none of those places pulled
him very hard. The night was warm and wet, the air was drizzly.
Vapor hung in clouds about the _Times_ Building, half hid the top of
it, and made a luminous haze along Broadway. While he was looking
down at the army of wet, black carriage-tops and their reflected
headlights and tail-lights, Eastman heard a ring at his door. He
deliberated. If it were a caller, the hall porter would have
telephoned up. It must be the janitor. When he opened the door,
there stood a rosy young man in a tuxedo, without a coat or hat.

"Pardon. Should I have telephoned? I half thought you wouldn't be
in."

Eastman laughed. "Come in, Cavenaugh. You weren't sure whether you
wanted company or not, eh, and you were trying to let chance decide
it? That was exactly my state of mind. Let's accept the verdict."
When they emerged from the narrow hall into his sitting-room, he
pointed out a seat by the fire to his guest. He brought a tray of
decanters and soda bottles and placed it on his writing table.

Cavenaugh hesitated, standing by the fire. "Sure you weren't
starting for somewhere?"

"Do I look it? No, I was just making up my mind to stick it out
alone when you rang. Have one?" he picked up a tall tumbler.

"Yes, thank you. I always do."

Eastman chuckled. "Lucky boy! So will I. I had a very early dinner.
New York is the most arid place on holidays," he continued as he
rattled the ice in the glasses. "When one gets too old to hit the
rapids down there, and tired of gobbling food to heathenish dance
music, there is absolutely no place where you can get a chop and
some milk toast in peace, unless you have strong ties of blood
brotherhood on upper Fifth Avenue. But you, why aren't you starting
for somewhere?"

The young man sipped his soda and shook his head as he replied:

"Oh, I couldn't get a chop, either. I know only flashy people, of
course." He looked up at his host with such a grave and candid
expression that Eastman decided there couldn't be anything very
crooked about the fellow. His smooth cheeks were positively
cherubic.

"Well, what's the matter with them? Aren't they flashing to-night?"

"Only the very new ones seem to flash on New Year's eve. The older
ones fade away. Maybe they are hunting a chop, too."

"Well"--Eastman sat down--"holidays do dash one. I was just about to
write a letter to a pair of maiden aunts in my old home town,
up-state; old coasting hill, snow-covered pines, lights in the
church windows. That's what you've saved me from."

Cavenaugh shook himself. "Oh, I'm sure that wouldn't have been good
for you. Pardon me," he rose and took a photograph from the
bookcase, a handsome man in shooting clothes. "Dudley, isn't it? Did
you know him well?"

"Yes. An old friend. Terrible thing, wasn't it? I haven't got over
the jolt yet."

"His suicide? Yes, terrible! Did you know his wife?"

"Slightly. Well enough to admire her very much. She must be terribly
broken up. I wonder Dudley didn't think of that."

Cavenaugh replaced the photograph carefully, lit a cigarette, and
standing before the fire began to smoke. "Would you mind telling me
about him? I never met him, but of course I'd read a lot about him,
and I can't help feeling interested. It was a queer thing."

Eastman took out his cigar case and leaned back in his deep chair.
"In the days when I knew him best he hadn't any story, like the
happy nations. Everything was properly arranged for him before he
was born. He came into the world happy, healthy, clever, straight,
with the right sort of connections and the right kind of fortune,
neither too large nor too small. He helped to make the world an
agreeable place to live in until he was twenty-six. Then he married
as he should have married. His wife was a Californian, educated
abroad. Beautiful. You have seen her picture?"

Cavenaugh nodded. "Oh, many of them."

"She was interesting, too. Though she was distinctly a person of the
world, she had retained something, just enough of the large Western
manner. She had the habit of authority, of calling out a special
train if she needed it, of using all our ingenious mechanical
contrivances lightly and easily, without over-rating them. She and
Dudley knew how to live better than most people. Their house was the
most charming one I have ever known in New York. You felt freedom
there, and a zest of life, and safety--absolute sanctuary--from
everything sordid or petty. A whole society like that would justify
the creation of man and would make our planet shine with a soft,
peculiar radiance among the constellations. You think I'm putting it
on thick?"

The young man sighed gently. "Oh, no! One has always felt there must
be people like that. I've never known any."

"They had two children, beautiful ones. After they had been married
for eight years, Rosina met this Spaniard. He must have amounted to
something. She wasn't a flighty woman. She came home and told Dudley
how matters stood. He persuaded her to stay at home for six months
and try to pull up. They were both fair-minded people, and I'm as
sure as if I were the Almighty, that she did try. But at the end of
the time, Rosina went quietly off to Spain, and Dudley went to hunt
in the Canadian Rockies. I met his party out there. I didn't know
his wife had left him and talked about her a good deal. I noticed
that he never drank anything, and his light used to shine through
the log chinks of his room until all hours, even after a hard day's
hunting. When I got back to New York, rumors were creeping about.
Dudley did not come back. He bought a ranch in Wyoming, built a big
log house and kept splendid dogs and horses. One of his sisters went
out to keep house for him, and the children were there when they
were not in school. He had a great many visitors, and everyone who
came back talked about how well Dudley kept things going.

"He put in two years out there. Then, last month, he had to come
back on business. A trust fund had to be settled up, and he was
administrator. I saw him at the club; same light, quick step, same
gracious handshake. He was getting gray, and there was something
softer in his manner; but he had a fine red tan on his face and said
he found it delightful to be here in the season when everything is
going hard. The Madison Avenue house had been closed since Rosina
left it. He went there to get some things his sister wanted. That,
of course, was the mistake. He went alone, in the afternoon, and
didn't go out for dinner--found some sherry and tins of biscuit in
the sideboard. He shot himself sometime that night. There were
pistols in his smoking-room. They found burnt out candles beside him
in the morning. The gas and electricity were shut off. I suppose
there, in his own house, among his own things, it was too much for
him. He left no letters."

Cavenaugh blinked and brushed the lapel of his coat. "I suppose," he
said slowly, "that every suicide is logical and reasonable, if one
knew all the facts."

Eastman roused himself. "No, I don't think so. I've known too many
fellows who went off like that--more than I deserve, I think--and
some of them were absolutely inexplicable. I can understand Dudley;
but I can't see why healthy bachelors, with money enough, like
ourselves, need such a device. It reminds me of what Dr. Johnson
said, that the most discouraging thing about life is the number of
fads and hobbies and fake religions it takes to put people through a
few years of it."

"Dr. Johnson? The specialist? Oh, the old fellow!" said Cavenaugh
imperturbably. "Yes, that's interesting. Still, I fancy if one knew
the facts--Did you know about Wyatt?"

"I don't think so."

"You wouldn't, probably. He was just a fellow about town who spent
money. He wasn't one of the _forestieri_, though. Had connections
here and owned a fine old place over on Staten Island. He went in
for botany, and had been all over, hunting things; rusts, I believe.
He had a yacht and used to take a gay crowd down about the South
Seas, botanizing. He really did botanize, I believe. I never knew
such a spender--only not flashy. He helped a lot of fellows and he
was awfully good to girls, the kind who come down here to get a
little fun, who don't like to work and still aren't really tough,
the kind you see talking hard for their dinner. Nobody knows what
becomes of them, or what they get out of it, and there are hundreds
of new ones every year. He helped dozens of 'em; it was he who got
me curious about the little shop girls. Well, one afternoon when his
tea was brought, he took prussic acid instead. He didn't leave any
letters, either; people of any taste don't. They wouldn't leave any
material reminder if they could help it. His lawyers found that he
had just $314.72 above his debts when he died. He had planned to
spend all his money, and then take his tea; he had worked it out
carefully."

Eastman reached for his pipe and pushed his chair away from the
fire. "That looks like a considered case, but I don't think
philosophical suicides like that are common. I think they usually
come from stress of feeling and are really, as the newspapers call
them, desperate acts; done without a motive. You remember when Anna
Karenina was under the wheels, she kept saying, 'Why am I here?'"

Cavenaugh rubbed his upper lip with his pink finger and made an effort
to wrinkle his brows. "May I, please?" reaching for the whiskey.
"But have you," he asked, blinking as the soda flew at him, "have
you ever known, yourself, cases that were really inexplicable?"

"A few too many. I was in Washington just before Captain Jack Purden
was married and I saw a good deal of him. Popular army man, fine
record in the Philippines, married a charming girl with lots of
money; mutual devotion. It was the gayest wedding of the winter, and
they started for Japan. They stopped in San Francisco for a week and
missed their boat because, as the bride wrote back to Washington,
they were too happy to move. They took the next boat, were both good
sailors, had exceptional weather. After they had been out for two
weeks, Jack got up from his deck chair one afternoon, yawned, put
down his book, and stood before his wife. 'Stop reading for a moment
and look at me.' She laughed and asked him why. 'Because you happen
to be good to look at.' He nodded to her, went back to the stern and
was never seen again. Must have gone down to the lower deck and
slipped overboard, behind the machinery. It was the luncheon hour,
not many people about; steamer cutting through a soft green sea.
That's one of the most baffling cases I know. His friends raked up
his past, and it was as trim as a cottage garden. If he'd so much as
dropped an ink spot on his fatigue uniform, they'd have found it. He
wasn't emotional or moody; wasn't, indeed, very interesting; simply
a good soldier, fond of all the pompous little formalities that make
up a military man's life. What do you make of that, my boy?"

Cavenaugh stroked his chin. "It's very puzzling, I admit. Still, if
one knew everything----"

"But we do know everything. His friends wanted to find something to
help them out, to help the girl out, to help the case of the human
creature."

"Oh, I don't mean things that people could unearth," said Cavenaugh
uneasily. "But possibly there were things that couldn't be found
out."

Eastman shrugged his shoulders. "It's my experience that when there
are 'things' as you call them, they're very apt to be found. There
is no such thing as a secret. To make any move at all one has to
employ human agencies, employ at least one human agent. Even when
the pirates killed the men who buried their gold for them, the bones
told the story."

Cavenaugh rubbed his hands together and smiled his sunny smile.

"I like that idea. It's reassuring. If we can have no secrets, it
means that we can't, after all, go so far afield as we might," he
hesitated, "yes, as we might."

Eastman looked at him sourly. "Cavenaugh, when you've practised law
in New York for twelve years, you find that people can't go far in
any direction, except--" He thrust his forefinger sharply at the
floor. "Even in that direction, few people can do anything out of
the ordinary. Our range is limited. Skip a few baths, and we become
personally objectionable. The slightest carelessness can rot a man's
integrity or give him ptomaine poisoning. We keep up only by
incessant cleansing operations, of mind and body. What we call
character, is held together by all sorts of tacks and strings and
glue."

Cavenaugh looked startled. "Come now, it's not so bad as that, is
it? I've always thought that a serious man, like you, must know a
lot of Launcelots." When Eastman only laughed, the younger man
squirmed about in his chair. He spoke again hastily, as if he were
embarrassed. "Your military friend may have had personal
experiences, however, that his friends couldn't possibly get a line
on. He may accidentally have come to a place where he saw himself in
too unpleasant a light. I believe people can be chilled by a draft
from outside, somewhere."

"Outside?" Eastman echoed. "Ah, you mean the far outside! Ghosts,
delusions, eh?"

Cavenaugh winced. "That's putting it strong. Why not say tips from
the outside? Delusions belong to a diseased mind, don't they? There
are some of us who have no minds to speak of, who yet have had
experiences. I've had a little something in that line myself and I
don't look it, do I?"

Eastman looked at the bland countenance turned toward him. "Not
exactly. What's your delusion?"

"It's not a delusion. It's a haunt."

The lawyer chuckled. "Soul of a lost Casino girl?"

"No; an old gentleman. A most unattractive old gentleman, who
follows me about."

"Does he want money?"

Cavenaugh sat up straight. "No. I wish to God he wanted
anything--but the pleasure of my society! I'd let him clean me out
to be rid of him. He's a real article. You saw him yourself that
night when you came to my rooms to borrow a dictionary, and he went
down the fire-escape. You saw him down in the court."

"Well, I saw somebody down in the court, but I'm too cautious to
take it for granted that I saw what you saw. Why, anyhow, should I
see your haunt? If it was your friend I saw, he impressed me
disagreeably. How did you pick him up?"

Cavenaugh looked gloomy. "That was queer, too. Charley Burke and I
had motored out to Long Beach, about a year ago, sometime in
October, I think. We had supper and stayed until late. When we were
coming home, my car broke down. We had a lot of girls along who had
to get back for morning rehearsals and things; so I sent them all
into town in Charley's car, and he was to send a man back to tow me
home. I was driving myself, and didn't want to leave my machine. We
had not taken a direct road back; so I was stuck in a lonesome,
woody place, no houses about. I got chilly and made a fire, and was
putting in the time comfortably enough, when this old party steps
up. He was in shabby evening clothes and a top hat, and had on his
usual white gloves. How he got there, at three o'clock in the
morning, miles from any town or railway, I'll leave it to you to
figure out. _He_ surely had no car. When I saw him coming up to the
fire, I disliked him. He had a silly, apologetic walk. His teeth
were chattering, and I asked him to sit down. He got down like a
clothes-horse folding up. I offered him a cigarette, and when he
took off his gloves I couldn't help noticing how knotted and spotty
his hands were. He was asthmatic, and took his breath with a wheeze.
'Haven't you got anything--refreshing in there?' he asked, nodding
at the car. When I told him I hadn't, he sighed. 'Ah, you young
fellows are greedy. You drink it all up. You drink it all up, all
up--up!' he kept chewing it over."

Cavenaugh paused and looked embarrassed again. "The thing that was
most unpleasant is difficult to explain. The old man sat there by
the fire and leered at me with a silly sort of admiration that
was--well, more than humiliating. 'Gay boy, gay dog!' he would
mutter, and when he grinned he showed his teeth, worn and
yellow--shells. I remembered that it was better to talk casually to
insane people; so I remarked carelessly that I had been out with a
party and got stuck.

"'Oh yes, I remember,' he said, 'Flora and Lottie and Maybelle and
Marcelline, and poor Kate.'

"He had named them correctly; so I began to think I had been hitting
the bright waters too hard.

"Things I drank never had seemed to make me woody; but you can never
tell when trouble is going to hit you. I pulled my hat down and
tried to look as uncommunicative as possible; but he kept croaking
on from time to time, like this: 'Poor Kate! Splendid arms, but dope
got her. She took up with Eastern religions after she had her hair
dyed. Got to going to a Swami's joint, and smoking opium. Temple of
the Lotus, it was called, and the police raided it.'

"This was nonsense, of course; the young woman was in the pink of
condition. I let him rave, but I decided that if something didn't
come out for me pretty soon, I'd foot it across Long Island. There
wasn't room enough for the two of us. I got up and took another try
at my car. He hopped right after me.

"'Good car,' he wheezed, 'better than the little Ford.'

"I'd had a Ford before, but so has everybody; that was a safe guess.

"'Still,' he went on, 'that run in from Huntington Bay in the rain
wasn't bad. Arrested for speeding, he-he.'

"It was true I had made such a run, under rather unusual
circumstances, and had been arrested. When at last I heard my
life-boat snorting up the road, my visitor got up, sighed, and
stepped back into the shadow of the trees. I didn't wait to see what
became of him, you may believe. That was visitation number one. What
do you think of it?"

Cavenaugh looked at his host defiantly. Eastman smiled.

"I think you'd better change your mode of life, Cavenaugh. Had many
returns?" he inquired.

"Too many, by far." The young man took a turn about the room and
came back to the fire. Standing by the mantel he lit another
cigarette before going on with his story:

"The second visitation happened in the street, early in the evening,
about eight o'clock. I was held up in a traffic block before the
Plaza. My chauffeur was driving. Old Nibbs steps up out of the
crowd, opens the door of my car, gets in and sits down beside me. He
had on wilted evening clothes, same as before, and there was some
sort of heavy scent about him. Such an unpleasant old party! A
thorough-going rotter; you knew it at once. This time he wasn't
talkative, as he had been when I first saw him. He leaned back in
the car as if he owned it, crossed his hands on his stick and looked
out at the crowd--sort of hungrily.

"I own I really felt a loathing compassion for him. We got down the
avenue slowly. I kept looking out at the mounted police. But what
could I do? Have him pulled? I was afraid to. I was awfully afraid
of getting him into the papers.

"'I'm going to the New Astor,' I said at last. 'Can I take you
anywhere?'

"'No, thank you,' says he. 'I get out when you do. I'm due on West
44th. I'm dining to-night with Marcelline--all that is left of her!'

"He put his hand to his hat brim with a grewsome salute. Such a
scandalous, foolish old face as he had! When we pulled up at the
Astor, I stuck my hand in my pocket and asked him if he'd like a
little loan.

"'No, thank you, but'--he leaned over and whispered, ugh!--'but save
a little, save a little. Forty years from now--a little--comes in
handy. Save a little.'

"His eyes fairly glittered as he made his remark. I jumped out. I'd
have jumped into the North River. When he tripped off, I asked my
chauffeur if he'd noticed the man who got into the car with me. He
said he knew someone was with me, but he hadn't noticed just when he
got in. Want to hear any more?"

Cavenaugh dropped into his chair again. His plump cheeks were a
trifle more flushed than usual, but he was perfectly calm. Eastman
felt that the young man believed what he was telling him.

"Of course I do. It's very interesting. I don't see quite where you
are coming out though."

Cavenaugh sniffed. "No more do I. I really feel that I've been put
upon. I haven't deserved it any more than any other fellow of my
kind. Doesn't it impress you disagreeably?"

"Well, rather so. Has anyone else seen your friend?"

"You saw him."

"We won't count that. As I said, there's no certainty that you and I
saw the same person in the court that night. Has anyone else had a
look in?"

"People sense him rather than see him. He usually crops up when I'm
alone or in a crowd on the street. He never approaches me when I'm
with people I know, though I've seen him hanging about the doors of
theatres when I come out with a party; loafing around the stage
exit, under a wall; or across the street, in a doorway. To be frank,
I'm not anxious to introduce him. The third time, it was I who came
upon him. In November my driver, Harry, had a sudden attack of
appendicitis. I took him to the Presbyterian Hospital in the car,
early in the evening. When I came home, I found the old villain in
my rooms. I offered him a drink, and he sat down. It was the first
time I had seen him in a steady light, with his hat off.

"His face is lined like a railway map, and as to color--Lord, what a
liver! His scalp grows tight to his skull, and his hair is dyed
until it's perfectly dead, like a piece of black cloth."

Cavenaugh ran his fingers through his own neatly trimmed thatch, and
seemed to forget where he was for a moment.

"I had a twin brother, Brian, who died when we were sixteen. I have
a photograph of him on my wall, an enlargement from a kodak of him,
doing a high jump, rather good thing, full of action. It seemed to
annoy the old gentleman. He kept looking at it and lifting his
eyebrows, and finally he got up, tip-toed across the room, and
turned the picture to the wall.

"'Poor Brian! Fine fellow, but died young,' says he.

"Next morning, there was the picture, still reversed."

"Did he stay long?" Eastman asked interestedly.

"Half an hour, by the clock."

"Did he talk?"

"Well, he rambled."

"What about?"

Cavenaugh rubbed his pale eyebrows before answering.

"About things that an old man ought to want to forget. His
conversation is highly objectionable. Of course he knows me like a
book; everything I've ever done or thought. But when he recalls
them, he throws a bad light on them, somehow. Things that weren't
much off color, look rotten. He doesn't leave one a shred of
self-respect, he really doesn't. That's the amount of it." The young
man whipped out his handkerchief and wiped his face.

"You mean he really talks about things that none of your friends
know?"

"Oh, dear, yes! Recalls things that happened in school. Anything
disagreeable. Funny thing, he always turns Brian's picture to the
wall."

"Does he come often?"

"Yes, oftener, now. Of course I don't know how he gets in
down-stairs. The hall boys never see him. But he has a key to my
door. I don't know how he got it, but I can hear him turn it in the
lock."

"Why don't you keep your driver with you, or telephone for me to
come down?"

"He'd only grin and go down the fire escape as he did before. He's
often done it when Harry's come in suddenly. Everybody has to be
alone sometimes, you know. Besides, I don't want anybody to see him.
He has me there."

"But why not? Why do you feel responsible for him?"

Cavenaugh smiled wearily. "That's rather the point, isn't it? Why do
I? But I absolutely do. That identifies him, more than his knowing
all about my life and my affairs."

Eastman looked at Cavenaugh thoughtfully. "Well, I should advise you
to go in for something altogether different and new, and go in for
it hard; business, engineering, metallurgy, something this old
fellow wouldn't be interested in. See if you can make him remember
logarithms."

Cavenaugh sighed. "No, he has me there, too. People never really
change; they go on being themselves. But I would never make much
trouble. Why can't they let me alone, damn it! I'd never hurt
anybody, except, perhaps----"

"Except your old gentleman, eh?" Eastman laughed. "Seriously,
Cavenaugh, if you want to shake him, I think a year on a ranch would
do it. He would never be coaxed far from his favorite haunts. He
would dread Montana."

Cavenaugh pursed up his lips. "So do I!"

"Oh, you think you do. Try it, and you'll find out. A gun and a
horse beats all this sort of thing. Besides losing your haunt, you'd
be putting ten years in the bank for yourself. I know a good ranch
where they take people, if you want to try it."

"Thank you. I'll consider. Do you think I'm batty?"

"No, but I think you've been doing one sort of thing too long. You
need big horizons. Get out of this."

Cavenaugh smiled meekly. He rose lazily and yawned behind his hand.
"It's late, and I've taken your whole evening." He strolled over to
the window and looked out. "Queer place, New York; rough on the
little fellows. Don't you feel sorry for them, the girls especially?
I do. What a fight they put up for a little fun! Why, even that old
goat is sorry for them, the only decent thing he kept."

Eastman followed him to the door and stood in the hall, while
Cavenaugh waited for the elevator. When the car came up Cavenaugh
extended his pink, warm hand. "Good night."

The cage sank and his rosy countenance disappeared, his round-eyed
smile being the last thing to go.

       *       *       *       *       *

Weeks passed before Eastman saw Cavenaugh again. One morning, just
as he was starting for Washington to argue a case before the Supreme
Court, Cavenaugh telephoned him at his office to ask him about the
Montana ranch he had recommended; said he meant to take his advice
and go out there for the spring and summer.

When Eastman got back from Washington, he saw dusty trunks, just up
from the trunk room, before Cavenaugh's door. Next morning, when he
stopped to see what the young man was about, he found Cavenaugh in
his shirt sleeves, packing.

"I'm really going; off to-morrow night. You didn't think it of me,
did you?" he asked gaily.

"Oh, I've always had hopes of you!" Eastman declared. "But you are
in a hurry, it seems to me."

"Yes, I am in a hurry." Cavenaugh shot a pair of leggings into one
of the open trunks. "I telegraphed your ranch people, used your
name, and they said it would be all right. By the way, some of my
crowd are giving a little dinner for me at Rector's to-night.
Couldn't you be persuaded, as it's a farewell occasion?" Cavenaugh
looked at him hopefully.

Eastman laughed and shook his head. "Sorry, Cavenaugh, but that's
too gay a world for me. I've got too much work lined up before me. I
wish I had time to stop and look at your guns, though. You seem to
know something about guns. You've more than you'll need, but nobody
can have too many good ones." He put down one of the revolvers
regretfully. "I'll drop in to see you in the morning, if you're up."

"I shall be up, all right. I've warned my crowd that I'll cut away
before midnight."

"You won't, though," Eastman called back over his shoulder as he
hurried down-stairs.

The next morning, while Eastman was dressing, Rollins came in
greatly excited.

"I'm a little late, sir. I was stopped by Harry, Mr. Cavenaugh's
driver. Mr. Cavenaugh shot himself last night, sir."

Eastman dropped his vest and sat down on his shoe-box. "You're
drunk, Rollins," he shouted. "He's going away to-day!"

"Yes, sir. Harry found him this morning. Ah, he's quite dead, sir.
Harry's telephoned for the coroner. Harry don't know what to do with
the ticket."

Eastman pulled on his coat and ran down the stairway. Cavenaugh's
trunks were strapped and piled before the door. Harry was walking up
and down the hall with a long green railroad ticket in his hand and
a look of complete stupidity on his face.

"What shall I do about this ticket, Mr. Eastman?" he whispered. "And
what about his trunks? He had me tell the transfer people to come
early. They may be here any minute. Yes, sir. I brought him home in
the car last night, before twelve, as cheerful as could be."

"Be quiet, Harry. Where is he?"

"In his bed, sir."

Eastman went into Cavenaugh's sleeping-room. When he came back to
the sitting-room, he looked over the writing table; railway folders,
time-tables, receipted bills, nothing else. He looked up for the
photograph of Cavenaugh's twin brother. There it was, turned to the
wall. Eastman took it down and looked at it; a boy in track clothes,
half lying in the air, going over the string shoulders first, above
the heads of a crowd of lads who were running and cheering. The face
was somewhat blurred by the motion and the bright sunlight. Eastman
put the picture back, as he found it. Had Cavenaugh entertained his
visitor last night, and had the old man been more convincing than
usual? "Well, at any rate, he's seen to it that the old man can't
establish identity. What a soft lot they are, fellows like poor
Cavenaugh!" Eastman thought of his office as a delightful place.

                                      _McClure's_, November 1915



_The Bookkeeper's Wife_


Nobody but the janitor was stirring about the offices of the Remsen
Paper Company, and still Percy Bixby sat at his desk, crouched on
his high stool and staring out at the tops of the tall buildings
flushed with the winter sunset, at the hundreds of windows, so many
rectangles of white electric light, flashing against the broad waves
of violet that ebbed across the sky. His ledgers were all in their
places, his desk was in order, his office coat on its peg, and yet
Percy's smooth, thin face wore the look of anxiety and strain which
usually meant that he was behind in his work. He was trying to
persuade himself to accept a loan from the company without the
company's knowledge. As a matter of fact, he had already accepted
it. His books were fixed, the money, in a black-leather bill-book,
was already inside his waistcoat pocket.

He had still time to change his mind, to rectify the false figures
in his ledger, and to tell Stella Brown that they couldn't possibly
get married next month. There he always halted in his reasoning, and
went back to the beginning.

The Remsen Paper Company was a very wealthy concern, with easy,
old-fashioned working methods. They did a longtime credit business
with safe customers, who never thought of paying up very close on
their large indebtedness. From the payments on these large accounts
Percy had taken a hundred dollars here and two hundred there until
he had made up the thousand he needed. So long as he stayed by the
books himself and attended to the mail-orders he couldn't possibly
be found out. He could move these little shortages about from
account to account indefinitely. He could have all the time he
needed to pay back the deficit, and more time than he needed.

Although he was so far along in one course of action, his mind still
clung resolutely to the other. He did not believe he was going to do
it. He was the least of a sharper in the world. Being scrupulously
honest even in the most trifling matters was a pleasure to him. He
was the sort of young man that Socialists hate more than they hate
capitalists. He loved his desk, he loved his books, which had no
handwriting in them but his own. He never thought of resenting the
fact that he had written away in those books the good red years
between twenty-one and twenty-seven. He would have hated to let any
one else put so much as a pen-scratch in them. He liked all the boys
about the office; his desk, worn smooth by the sleeves of his alpaca
coat; his rulers and inks and pens and calendars. He had a great
pride in working economics, and he always got so far ahead when
supplies were distributed that he had drawers full of pencils and
pens and rubber bands against a rainy day.

Percy liked regularity: to get his work done on time, to have his
half-day off every Saturday, to go to the theater Saturday night, to
buy a new necktie twice a month, to appear in a new straw hat on the
right day in May, and to know what was going on in New York. He read
the morning and evening papers coming and going on the elevated, and
preferred journals of approximate reliability. He got excited about
ballgames and elections and business failures, was not above an
interest in murders and divorce scandals, and he checked the news
off as neatly as he checked his mail-orders. In short, Percy Bixby
was like the model pupil who is satisfied with his lessons and his
teachers and his holidays, and who would gladly go to school all his
life. He had never wanted anything outside his routine until he
wanted Stella Brown to marry him, and that had upset everything.

It wasn't, he told himself for the hundredth time, that she was
extravagant. Not a bit of it. She was like all girls. Moreover, she
made good money, and why should she marry unless she could better
herself? The trouble was that he had lied to her about his salary.
There were a lot of fellows rushing Mrs. Brown's five daughters, and
they all seemed to have fixed on Stella as first choice and this or
that one of the sisters as second. Mrs. Brown thought it proper to
drop an occasional hint in the presence of these young men to the
effect that she expected Stella to "do well." It went without saying
that hair and complexion like Stella's could scarcely be expected to
do poorly. Most of the boys who went to the house and took the girls
out in a bunch to dances and movies seemed to realize this. They
merely wanted a whirl with Stella before they settled down to one of
her sisters. It was tacitly understood that she came too high for
them. Percy had sensed all this through those slumbering instincts
which awake in us all to befriend us in love or in danger.

But there was one of his rivals, he knew, who was a man to be
reckoned with. Charley Greengay was a young salesman who wore
tailor-made clothes and spotted waistcoats, and had a necktie for
every day in the month. His air was that of a young man who is out
for things that come high and who is going to get them. Mrs. Brown
was ever and again dropping a word before Percy about how the girl
that took Charley would have her flat furnished by the best
furniture people, and her china-closet stocked with the best ware,
and would have nothing to worry about but nicks and scratches. It
was because he felt himself pitted against this pulling power of
Greengay's that Percy had brazenly lied to Mrs. Brown, and told her
that his salary had been raised to fifty a week, and that now he
wanted to get married.

When he threw out this challenge to Mother Brown, Percy was getting
thirty-five dollars a week, and he knew well enough that there were
several hundred thousand young men in New York who would do his work
as well as he did for thirty.

These were the factors in Percy's present situation. He went over
them again and again as he sat stooping on his tall stool. He had
quite lost track of time when he heard the janitor call good night
to the watchman. Without thinking what he was doing, he slid into
his overcoat, caught his hat, and rushed out to the elevator, which
was waiting for the janitor. The moment the car dropped, it occurred
to him that the thing was decided without his having made up his
mind at all. The familiar floors passed him, ten, nine, eight,
seven. By the time he reached the fifth, there was no possibility of
going back; the click of the drop-lever seemed to settle that. The
money was in his pocket. Now, he told himself as he hurried out into
the exciting clamor of the street, he was not going to worry about
it any more.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Percy reached the Browns' flat on 123d Street that evening he
felt just the slightest chill in Stella's greeting. He could make
that all right, he told himself, as he kissed her lightly in the
dark three-by-four entrance-hall. Percy's courting had been
prosecuted mainly in the Bronx or in winged pursuit of a Broadway
car. When he entered the crowded sitting-room he greeted Mrs. Brown
respectfully and the four girls playfully. They were all piled on
one couch, reading the continued story in the evening paper, and
they didn't think it necessary to assume more formal attitudes for
Percy. They looked up over the smeary pink sheets of paper, and
handed him, as Percy said, the same old jolly:

"Hullo, Perc'! Come to see me, ain't you? So flattered!"

"Any sweet goods on you, Perc'? Anything doing in the bong-bong line
to-night?"

"Look at his new neckwear! Say, Perc', remember me. That tie would
go lovely with my new tailored waist."

"Quit your kiddin', girls!" called Mrs. Brown, who was drying
shirt-waists on the dining-room radiator. "And, Percy, mind the rugs
when you're steppin' round among them gum-drops."

Percy fired his last shot at the recumbent figures, and followed
Stella into the dining-room, where the table and two large
easy-chairs formed, in Mrs. Brown's estimation, a proper background
for a serious suitor.

"I say, Stell'," he began as he walked about the table with his
hands in his pockets, "seems to me we ought to begin buying our
stuff." She brightened perceptibly. "Ah," Percy thought, "so that
_was_ the trouble!" "To-morrow's Saturday; why can't we make an
afternoon of it?" he went on cheerfully. "Shop till we're tired,
then go to Houtin's for dinner, and end up at the theater."

As they bent over the lists she had made of things needed, Percy
glanced at her face. She was very much out of her sisters' class and
out of his, and he kept congratulating himself on his nerve. He was
going in for something much too handsome and expensive and
distinguished for him, he felt, and it took courage to be a plunger.
To begin with, Stella was the sort of girl who had to be well
dressed. She had pale primrose hair, with bluish tones in it, very
soft and fine, so that it lay smooth however she dressed it, and
pale-blue eyes, with blond eyebrows and long, dark lashes. She would
have been a little too remote and languid even for the fastidious
Percy had it not been for her hard, practical mouth, with lips that
always kept their pink even when the rest of her face was pale. Her
employers, who at first might be struck by her indifference,
understood that anybody with that sort of mouth would get through
the work.

After the shopping-lists had been gone over, Percy took up the
question of the honeymoon. Stella said she had been thinking of
Atlantic City. Percy met her with firmness. Whatever happened, he
couldn't leave his books now.

"I want to do my traveling right here on Forty-second Street, with a
high-price show every night," he declared. He made out an itinerary,
punctuated by theaters and restaurants, which Stella consented to
accept as a substitute for Atlantic City.

"They give your fellows a week off when they're married, don't
they?" she asked.

"Yes, but I'll want to drop into the office every morning to look
after my mail. That's only businesslike."

"I'd like to have you treated as well as the others, though." Stella
turned the rings about on her pale hand and looked at her polished
finger-tips.

"I'll look out for that. What do you say to a little walk, Stell'?"
Percy put the question coaxingly. When Stella was pleased with him
she went to walk with him, since that was the only way in which
Percy could ever see her alone. When she was displeased, she said
she was too tired to go out. To-night she smiled at him
incredulously, and went to put on her hat and gray fur piece.

Once they were outside, Percy turned into a shadowy side street that
was only partly built up, a dreary waste of derricks and foundation
holes, but comparatively solitary. Stella liked Percy's steady,
sympathetic silences; she was not a chatterbox herself. She often
wondered why she was going to marry Bixby instead of Charley
Greengay. She knew that Charley would go further in the world.
Indeed, she had often coolly told herself that Percy would never go
very far. But, as she admitted with a shrug, she was "weak to
Percy." In the capable New York stenographer, who estimated values
coldly and got the most for the least outlay, there was something
left that belonged to another kind of woman--something that liked
the very things in Percy that were not good business assets. However
much she dwelt upon the effectiveness of Greengay's dash and color
and assurance, her mind always came back to Percy's neat little
head, his clean-cut face, and warm, clear, gray eyes, and she liked
them better than Charley's fullness and blurred floridness. Having
reckoned up their respective chances with no doubtful result, she
opposed a mild obstinacy to her own good sense. "I guess I'll take
Percy, _anyway_," she said simply, and that was all the good her
clever business brain did her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Percy spent a night of torment, lying tense on his bed in the dark,
and figuring out how long it would take him to pay back the money he
was advancing to himself. Any fool could do it in five years, he
reasoned, but he was going to do it in three. The trouble was that
his expensive courtship had taken every penny of his salary. With
competitors like Charley Greengay, you had to spend money or drop
out. Certain birds, he reflected ruefully, are supplied with more
attractive plumage when they are courting, but nature hadn't been so
thoughtful for men. When Percy reached the office in the morning he
climbed on his tall stool and leaned his arms on his ledger. He was
so glad to feel it there that he was faint and weak-kneed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Oliver Remsen, Junior, had brought new blood into the Remsen Paper
Company. He married shortly after Percy Bixby did, and in the five
succeeding years he had considerably enlarged the company's business
and profits. He had been particularly successful in encouraging
efficiency and loyalty in the employees. From the time he came into
the office he had stood for shorter hours, longer holidays, and a
generous consideration of men's necessities. He came out of college
on the wave of economic reform, and he continued to read and think a
good deal about how the machinery of labor is operated. He knew more
about the men who worked for him than their mere office records.

Young Remsen was troubled about Percy Bixby because he took no
summer vacations--always asked for the two weeks' extra pay instead.
Other men in the office had skipped a vacation now and then, but
Percy had stuck to his desk for five years, had tottered to his
stool through attacks of grippe and tonsilitis. He seemed to have
grown fast to his ledger, and it was to this that Oliver objected.
He liked his men to stay men, to look like men and live like men. He
remembered how alert and wide-awake Bixby had seemed to him when he
himself first came into the office. He had picked Bixby out as the
most intelligent and interested of his father's employees, and since
then had often wondered why he never seemed to see chances to forge
ahead. Promotions, of course, went to the men who went after them.
When Percy's baby died, he went to the funeral, and asked Percy to
call on him if he needed money. Once when he chanced to sit down by
Bixby on the elevated and found him reading Bryce's "American
Commonwealth," he asked him to make use of his own large office
library. Percy thanked him, but he never came for any books. Oliver
wondered whether his bookkeeper really tried to avoid him.

One evening Oliver met the Bixbys in the lobby of a theater. He
introduced Mrs. Remsen to them, and held them for some moments in
conversation. When they got into their motor, Mrs. Remsen said:

"Is that little man afraid of you, Oliver? He looked like a scared
rabbit."

Oliver snapped the door, and said with a shade of irritation:

"I don't know what's the matter with him. He's the fellow I've told
you about who never takes a vacation. I half believe it's his wife.
She looks pitiless enough for anything."

"She's very pretty of her kind," mused Mrs. Remsen, "but rather
chilling. One can see that she has ideas about elegance."

"Rather unfortunate ones for a bookkeeper's wife. I surmise that
Percy felt she was overdressed, and that made him awkward with me.
I've always suspected that fellow of good taste."

After that, when Remsen passed the counting-room and saw Percy
screwed up over his ledger, he often remembered Mrs. Bixby, with her
cold, pale eyes and long lashes, and her expression that was
something between indifference and discontent. She rose behind
Percy's bent shoulders like an apparition.

One spring afternoon Remsen was closeted in his private office with
his lawyer until a late hour. As he came down the long hall in the
dusk he glanced through the glass partition into the counting-room,
and saw Percy Bixby huddled up on his tall stool, though it was too
dark to work. Indeed, Bixby's ledger was closed, and he sat with his
two arms resting on the brown cover. He did not move a muscle when
young Remsen entered.

"You are late, Bixby, and so am I," Oliver began genially as he
crossed to the front of the room and looked out at the lighted
windows of other tall buildings. "The fact is, I've been doing
something that men have a foolish way of putting off. I've been
making my will."

"Yes, sir." Percy brought it out with a deep breath.

"Glad to be through with it," Oliver went on. "Mr. Melton will bring
the paper back to-morrow, and I'd like to ask you to be one of the
witnesses."

"I'd be very proud, Mr. Remsen."

"Thank you, Bixby. Good night." Remsen took up his hat just as Percy
slid down from his stool.

"Mr. Remsen, I'm told you're going to have the books gone over."

"Why, yes, Bixby. Don't let that trouble you. I'm taking in a new
partner, you know, an old college friend. Just because he is a
friend, I insist upon all the usual formalities. But it is a
formality, and I'll guarantee the expert won't make a scratch on
your books. Good night. You'd better be coming, too." Remsen had
reached the door when he heard "Mr. Remsen!" in a desperate voice
behind him. He turned, and saw Bixby standing uncertainly at one end
of the desk, his hand still on his ledger, his uneven shoulders
drooping forward and his head hanging as if he were seasick. Remsen
came back and stood at the other end of the long desk. It was too
dark to see Bixby's face clearly.

"What is it, Bixby?"

"Mr. Remsen, five years ago, just before I was married, I falsified
the books a thousand dollars, and I used the money." Percy leaned
forward against his desk, which took him just across the chest.

"What's that, Bixby?" Young Remsen spoke in a tone of polite
surprise. He felt painfully embarrassed.

"Yes, sir. I thought I'd get it all paid back before this. I've put
back three hundred, but the books are still seven hundred out of
true. I've played the shortages about from account to account these
five years, but an expert would find 'em in twenty-four hours."

"I don't just understand how--" Oliver stopped and shook his head.

"I held it out of the Western remittances, Mr. Remsen. They were
coming in heavy just then. I was up against it. I hadn't saved
anything to marry on, and my wife thought I was getting more money
than I was. Since we've been married, I've never had the nerve to
tell her. I could have paid it all back if it hadn't been for the
unforeseen expenses."

Remsen sighed.

"Being married is largely unforeseen expenses, Percy. There's only
one way to fix this up: I'll give you seven hundred dollars in cash
to-morrow, and you can give me your personal note, with the
understanding that I hold ten dollars a week out of your pay-check
until it is paid. I think you ought to tell your wife exactly how
you are fixed, though. You can't expect her to help you much when
she doesn't know."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night Mrs. Bixby was sitting in their flat, waiting for her
husband. She was dressed for a bridge party, and often looked with
impatience from her paper to the Mission clock, as big as a coffin
and with nothing but two weights dangling in its hollow framework.
Percy had been loath to buy the clock when they got their furniture,
and he had hated it ever since. Stella had changed very little since
she came into the flat a bride. Then she wore her hair in a
Floradora pompadour; now she wore it hooded close about her head
like a scarf, in a rather smeary manner, like an Impressionist's
brush-work. She heard her husband come in and close the door softly.
While he was taking off his hat in the narrow tunnel of a hall, she
called to him:

"I hope you've had something to eat down-town. You'll have to dress
right away." Percy came in and sat down. She looked up from the
evening paper she was reading. "You've no time to sit down. We must
start in fifteen minutes."

He shaded his eyes from the glaring overhead light.

"I'm afraid I can't go anywhere to-night. I'm all in."

Mrs. Bixby rattled her paper, and turned from the theatrical page to
the fashions.

"You'll feel better after you dress. We won't stay late."

Her even persistence usually conquered her husband. She never forgot
anything she had once decided to do. Her manner of following it up
grew more chilly, but never weaker. To-night there was no spring in
Percy. He closed his eyes and replied without moving:

"I can't go. You had better telephone the Burks we aren't coming. I
have to tell you something disagreeable."

Stella rose.

"I certainly am not going to disappoint the Burks and stay at home
to talk about anything disagreeable."

"You're not very sympathetic, Stella."

She turned away.

"If I were, you'd soon settle down into a pretty dull proposition.
We'd have no social life now if I didn't keep at you."

Percy roused himself a little.

"Social life? Well, we'll have to trim that pretty close for a
while. I'm in debt to the company. We've been living beyond our
means ever since we were married."

"We can't live on less than we do," Stella said quietly. "No use in
taking that up again."

Percy sat up, clutching the arms of his chair.

"We'll have to take it up. I'm seven hundred dollars short, and the
books are to be audited to-morrow. I told young Remsen and he's
going to take my note and hold the money out of my pay-checks. He
could send me to jail, of course."

Stella turned and looked down at him with a gleam of interest.

"Oh, you've been playing solitaire with the books, have you? And
he's found you out! I hope I'll never see that man again. Sugar
face!" She said this with intense acrimony. Her forehead flushed
delicately, and her eyes were full of hate. Young Remsen was not her
idea of a "business man."

Stella went into the other room. When she came back she wore her
evening coat and carried long gloves and a black scarf. This she
began to arrange over her hair before the mirror above the false
fireplace. Percy lay inert in the Morris chair and watched her. Yes,
he understood; it was very difficult for a woman with hair like that
to be shabby and to go without things. Her hair made her
conspicuous, and it had to be lived up to. It had been the deciding
factor in his fate.

Stella caught the lace over one ear with a large gold hairpin. She
repeated this until she got a good effect. Then turning to Percy,
she began to draw on her gloves.

"I'm not worrying any, because I'm going back into business," she
said firmly. "I meant to, anyway, if you didn't get a raise the
first of the year. I have the offer of a good position, and we can
live in an apartment hotel."

Percy was on his feet in an instant.

"I won't have you grinding in any office. That's flat."

Stella's lower lip quivered in a commiserating smile. "Oh, I won't
lose my health. Charley Greengay's a partner in his concern now, and
he wants a private secretary."

Percy drew back.

"You can't work for Greengay. He's got too bad a reputation. You've
more pride than that, Stella."

The thin sweep of color he knew so well went over Stella's face.

"His business reputation seems to be all right," she commented,
working the kid on with her left hand.

"What if it is?" Percy broke out. "He's the cheapest kind of a
skate. He gets into scrapes with the girls in his own office. The
last one got into the newspapers, and he had to pay the girl a wad."

"He don't get into scrapes with his books, anyway, and he seems to
be able to stand getting into the papers. I excuse Charley. His
wife's a pill."

"I suppose you think he'd have been all right if he'd married you,"
said Percy, bitterly.

"Yes, I do." Stella buttoned her glove with an air of finishing
something, and then looked at Percy without animosity. "Charley and
I both have sporty tastes, and we like excitement. You might as well
live in Newark if you're going to sit at home in the evening. You
oughtn't to have married a business woman; you need somebody
domestic. There's nothing in this sort of life for either of us."

"That means, I suppose, that you're going around with Greengay and
his crowd?"

"Yes, that's my sort of crowd, and you never did fit into it. You're
too intellectual. I've always been proud of you, Percy. You're
better style than Charley, but that gets tiresome. You will never
burn much red fire in New York, now, will you?"

Percy did not reply. He sat looking at the minute-hand of the
eviscerated Mission clock. His wife almost never took the trouble to
argue with him.

"You're old style, Percy," she went on. "Of course everybody marries
and wishes they hadn't, but nowadays people get over it. Some women
go ahead on the quiet, but I'm giving it to you straight. I'm going
to work for Greengay. I like his line of business, and I meet people
well. Now I'm going to the Burks'."

Percy dropped his hands limply between his knees.

"I suppose," he brought out, "the real trouble is that you've
decided my earning power is not very great."

"That's part of it, and part of it is you're old-fashioned." Stella
paused at the door and looked back. "What made you rush me, anyway,
Percy?" she asked indulgently. "What did you go and pretend to be a
spender and get tied up with me for?"

"I guess everybody wants to be a spender when he's in love," Percy
replied.

Stella shook her head mournfully.

"No, you're a spender or you're not. Greengay has been broke three
times, fired, down and out, black-listed. But he's always come back,
and he always will. You will never be fired, but you'll always be
poor." She turned and looked back again before she went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six months later Bixby came to young Oliver Remsen one afternoon and
said he would like to have twenty dollars a week held out of his pay
until his debt was cleared off.

Oliver looked up at his sallow employee and asked him how he could
spare as much as that.

"My expenses are lighter," Bixby replied. "My wife has gone into
business with a ready-to-wear firm. She is not living with me any
more."

Oliver looked annoyed, and asked him if nothing could be done to
readjust his domestic affairs. Bixby said no; they would probably
remain as they were.

"But where are you living, Bixby? How have you arranged things?" the
young man asked impatiently.

"I'm very comfortable. I live in a boarding-house and have my own
furniture. There are several fellows there who are fixed the same
way. Their wives went back into business, and they drifted apart."

With a baffled expression Remsen stared at the uneven shoulders
under the skin-fitting alpaca desk coat as his bookkeeper went out.
He had meant to do something for Percy, but somehow, he reflected,
one never did do anything for a fellow who had been stung as hard as
that.

                                             _Century_, May 1916



_Ardessa_


The grand-mannered old man who sat at a desk in the reception-room
of "The Outcry" offices to receive visitors and incidentally to keep
the time-book of the employees, looked up as Miss Devine entered at
ten minutes past ten and condescendingly wished him good morning. He
bowed profoundly as she minced past his desk, and with an
indifferent air took her course down the corridor that led to the
editorial offices. Mechanically he opened the flat, black book at
his elbow and placed his finger on D, running his eye along the line
of figures after the name Devine. "It's banker's hours she keeps,
indeed," he muttered. What was the use of entering so capricious a
record? Nevertheless, with his usual preliminary flourish he wrote
10:10 under this, the fourth day of May.

The employee who kept banker's hours rustled on down the corridor to
her private room, hung up her lavender jacket and her trim spring
hat, and readjusted her side combs by the mirror inside her closet
door. Glancing at her desk, she rang for an office boy, and reproved
him because he had not dusted more carefully and because there were
lumps in her paste. When he disappeared with the paste-jar, she sat
down to decide which of her employer's letters he should see and
which he should not.

Ardessa was not young and she was certainly not handsome. The
coquettish angle at which she carried her head was a mannerism
surviving from a time when it was more becoming. She shuddered at
the cold candor of the new business woman, and was insinuatingly
feminine.

Ardessa's employer, like young Lochinvar, had come out of the West,
and he had done a great many contradictory things before he became
proprietor and editor of "The Outcry." Before he decided to go to
New York and make the East take notice of him, O'Mally had acquired
a punctual, reliable silver-mine in South Dakota. This silent friend
in the background made his journalistic success comparatively easy.
He had figured out, when he was a rich nobody in Nevada, that the
quickest way to cut into the known world was through the
printing-press. He arrived in New York, bought a highly respectable
publication, and turned it into a red-hot magazine of protest, which
he called "The Outcry." He knew what the West wanted, and it proved
to be what everybody secretly wanted. In six years he had done the
thing that had hitherto seemed impossible: built up a national
weekly, out on the news-stands the same day in New York and San
Francisco; a magazine the people howled for, a moving-picture film
of their real tastes and interests.

O'Mally bought "The Outcry" to make a stir, not to make a career,
but he had got built into the thing more than he ever intended. It
had made him a public man and put him into politics. He found the
publicity game diverting, and it held him longer than any other game
had ever done. He had built up about him an organization of which he
was somewhat afraid and with which he was vastly bored. On his staff
there were five famous men, and he had made every one of them. At
first it amused him to manufacture celebrities. He found he could
take an average reporter from the daily press, give him a "line" to
follow, a trust to fight, a vice to expose,--this was all in that
good time when people were eager to read about their own
wickedness,--and in two years the reporter would be recognized as an
authority. Other people--Napoleon, Disraeli, Sarah Bernhardt--had
discovered that advertising would go a long way; but Marcus O'Mally
discovered that in America it would go all the way--as far as you
wished to pay its passage. Any human countenance, plastered in
three-sheet posters from sea to sea, would be revered by the
American people. The strangest thing was that the owners of these
grave countenances, staring at their own faces on newsstands and
billboards, fell to venerating themselves; and even he, O'Mally, was
more or less constrained by these reputations that he had created
out of cheap paper and cheap ink.

Constraint was the last thing O'Mally liked. The most engaging and
unusual thing about the man was that he couldn't be fooled by the
success of his own methods, and no amount of "recognition" could
make a stuffed shirt of him. No matter how much he was advertised as
a great medicine-man in the councils of the nation, he knew that he
was a born gambler and a soldier of fortune. He left his dignified
office to take care of itself for a good many months of the year
while he played about on the outskirts of social order. He liked
being a great man from the East in rough-and-tumble Western cities
where he had once been merely an unconsidered spender.

O'Mally's long absences constituted one of the supreme advantages of
Ardessa Devine's position. When he was at his post her duties were
not heavy, but when he was giving balls in Goldfield, Nevada, she
lived an ideal life. She came to the office every day, indeed, to
forward such of O'Mally's letters as she thought best, to attend to
his club notices and tradesmen's bills, and to taste the sense of
her high connections. The great men of the staff were all about her,
as contemplative as Buddhas in their private offices, each
meditating upon the particular trust or form of vice confided to his
care. Thus surrounded, Ardessa had a pleasant sense of being at the
heart of things. It was like a mental massage, exercise without
exertion. She read and she embroidered. Her room was pleasant, and
she liked to be seen at ladylike tasks and to feel herself a
graceful contrast to the crude girls in the advertising and
circulation departments across the hall. The younger stenographers,
who had to get through with the enormous office correspondence, and
who rushed about from one editor to another with wire baskets full
of letters, made faces as they passed Ardessa's door and saw her
cool and cloistered, daintily plying her needle. But no matter how
hard the other stenographers were driven, no one, not even one of
the five oracles of the staff, dared dictate so much as a letter to
Ardessa. Like a sultan's bride, she was inviolate in her lord's
absence; she had to be kept for him.

Naturally the other young women employed in "The Outcry" offices
disliked Miss Devine. They were all competent girls, trained in the
exacting methods of modern business, and they had to make good every
day in the week, had to get through with a great deal of work or
lose their position. O'Mally's private secretary was a mystery to
them. Her exemptions and privileges, her patronizing remarks, formed
an exhaustless subject of conversation at the lunch-hour. Ardessa
had, indeed, as they knew she must have, a kind of "purchase" on her
employer.

When O'Mally first came to New York to break into publicity, he
engaged Miss Devine upon the recommendation of the editor whose
ailing publication he bought and rechristened. That editor was a
conservative, scholarly gentleman of the old school, who was
retiring because he felt out of place in the world of brighter,
breezier magazines that had been flowering since the new century
came in. He believed that in this vehement world young O'Mally would
make himself heard and that Miss Devine's training in an editorial
office would be of use to him.

When O'Mally first sat down at a desk to be an editor, all the cards
that were brought in looked pretty much alike to him. Ardessa was at
his elbow. She had long been steeped in literary distinctions and in
the social distinctions which used to count for much more than they
do now. She knew all the great men, all the nephews and clients of
great men. She knew which must be seen, which must be made welcome,
and which could safely be sent away. She could give O'Mally on the
instant the former rating in magazine offices of nearly every name
that was brought in to him. She could give him an idea of the man's
connections, of the price his work commanded, and insinuate whether
he ought to be met with the old punctiliousness or with the new
joviality. She was useful in explaining to her employer the
significance of various invitations, and the standing of clubs and
associations. At first she was virtually the social mentor of the
bullet-headed young Westerner who wanted to break into everything,
the solitary person about the office of the humming new magazine who
knew anything about the editorial traditions of the eighties and
nineties which, antiquated as they now were, gave an editor, as
O'Mally said, a background.

Despite her indolence, Ardessa was useful to O'Mally as a social
reminder. She was the card catalogue of his ever-changing personal
relations. O'Mally went in for everything and got tired of
everything; that was why he made a good editor. After he was through
with people, Ardessa was very skilful in covering his retreat. She
read and answered the letters of admirers who had begun to bore him.
When great authors, who had been dined and fêted the month before,
were suddenly left to cool their heels in the reception-room, thrown
upon the suave hospitality of the grand old man at the desk, it was
Ardessa who went out and made soothing and plausible explanations as
to why the editor could not see them. She was the brake that checked
the too-eager neophyte, the emollient that eased the severing of
relationships, the gentle extinguisher of the lights that failed.
When there were no longer messages of hope and cheer to be sent to
ardent young writers and reformers, Ardessa delivered, as sweetly as
possible, whatever messages were left.

In handling these people with whom O'Mally was quite through,
Ardessa had gradually developed an industry which was immensely
gratifying to her own vanity. Not only did she not crush them; she
even fostered them a little. She continued to advise them in the
reception-room and "personally" received their manuscripts long
after O'Mally had declared that he would never read another line
they wrote. She let them outline their plans for stories and
articles to her, promising to bring these suggestions to the
editor's attention. She denied herself to nobody, was gracious even
to the Shakspere-Bacon man, the perpetual-motion man, the
travel-article man, the ghosts which haunt every magazine office.
The writers who had had their happy hour of O'Mally's favor kept
feeling that Ardessa might reinstate them. She answered their
letters of inquiry in her most polished and elegant style, and even
gave them hints as to the subjects in which the restless editor was
or was not interested at the moment: she feared it would be useless
to send him an article on "How to Trap Lions," because he had just
bought an article on "Elephant-Shooting in Majuba Land," etc.

So when O'Mally plunged into his office at 11:30 on this, the fourth
day of May, having just got back from three-days' fishing, he found
Ardessa in the reception-room, surrounded by a little court of
discards. This was annoying, for he always wanted his stenographer
at once. Telling the office boy to give her a hint that she was
needed, he threw off his hat and topcoat and began to race through
the pile of letters Ardessa had put on his desk. When she entered,
he did not wait for her polite inquiries about his trip, but broke
in at once.

"What is that fellow who writes about phossy jaw still hanging round
here for? I don't want any articles on phossy jaw, and if I did, I
wouldn't want his."

"He has just sold an article on the match industry to 'The New Age,'
Mr. O'Mally," Ardessa replied as she took her seat at the editor's
right.

"Why does he have to come and tell us about it? We've nothing to do
with 'The New Age.' And that prison-reform guy, what's he loafing
about for?"

Ardessa bridled.

"You remember, Mr. O'Mally, he brought letters of introduction from
Governor Harper, the reform Governor of Mississippi."

O'Mally jumped up, kicking over his waste-basket in his impatience.

"That was months ago. I went through his letters and went through him,
too. He hasn't got anything we want. I've been through with Governor
Harper a long while. We're asleep at the switch in here. And let me
tell you, if I catch sight of that causes-of-blindness-in-babies
woman around here again, I'll do something violent. Clear them out,
Miss Devine! Clear them out! We need a traffic policeman in this
office. Have you got that article on 'Stealing Our National Water
Power' ready for me?"

"Mr. Gerrard took it back to make modifications. He gave it to me at
noon on Saturday, just before the office closed. I will have it
ready for you to-morrow morning, Mr. O'Mally, if you have not too
many letters for me this afternoon," Ardessa replied pointedly.

"Holy Mike!" muttered O'Mally, "we need a traffic policeman for the
staff, too. Gerrard's modified that thing half a dozen times
already. Why don't they get accurate information in the first
place?"

He began to dictate his morning mail, walking briskly up and down
the floor by way of giving his stenographer an energetic example.
Her indolence and her ladylike deportment weighed on him. He wanted
to take her by the elbows and run her around the block. He didn't
mind that she loafed when he was away, but it was becoming harder
and harder to speed her up when he was on the spot. He knew his
correspondence was not enough to keep her busy, so when he was in
town he made her type his own breezy editorials and various articles
by members of his staff.

Transcribing editorial copy is always laborious, and the only way to
make it easy is to farm it out. This Ardessa was usually clever
enough to do. When she returned to her own room after O'Mally had
gone out to lunch, Ardessa rang for an office boy and said
languidly, "James, call Becky, please."

In a moment a thin, tense-faced Hebrew girl of eighteen or nineteen
came rushing in, carrying a wire basket full of typewritten sheets.
She was as gaunt as a plucked spring chicken, and her cheap, gaudy
clothes might have been thrown on her. She looked as if she were
running to catch a train and in mortal dread of missing it. While
Miss Devine examined the pages in the basket, Becky stood with her
shoulders drawn up and her elbows drawn in, apparently trying to
hide herself in her insufficient open-work waist. Her wild, black
eyes followed Miss Devine's hands desperately. Ardessa sighed.

"This seems to be very smeary copy again, Becky. You don't keep your
mind on your work, and so you have to erase continually."

Becky spoke up in wailing self-vindication.

"It ain't that, Miss Devine. It's so many hard words he uses that I
have to be at the dictionary all the time. Look! Look!" She produced
a bunch of manuscript faintly scrawled in pencil, and thrust it
under Ardessa's eyes. "He don't write out the words at all. He just
begins a word, and then makes waves for you to guess."

"I see you haven't always guessed correctly, Becky," said Ardessa,
with a weary smile. "There are a great many words here that would
surprise Mr. Gerrard, I am afraid."

"And the inserts," Becky persisted. "How is anybody to tell where
they go, Miss Devine? It's mostly inserts; see, all over the top and
sides and back."

Ardessa turned her head away.

"Don't claw the pages like that, Becky. You make me nervous. Mr.
Gerrard has not time to dot his i's and cross his t's. That is what
we keep copyists for. I will correct these sheets for you,--it would
be terrible if Mr. O'Mally saw them,--and then you can copy them
over again. It must be done by to-morrow morning, so you may have to
work late. See that your hands are clean and dry, and then you will
not smear it."

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, Miss Devine. Will you tell the janitor,
please, it's all right if I have to stay? He was cross because I was
here Saturday afternoon doing this. He said it was a holiday, and
when everybody else was gone I ought to--"

"That will do, Becky. Yes, I will speak to the janitor for you. You
may go to lunch now."

Becky turned on one heel and then swung back.

"Miss Devine," she said anxiously, "will it be all right if I get
white shoes for now?"

Ardessa gave her kind consideration.

"For office wear, you mean? No, Becky. With only one pair, you could
not keep them properly clean; and black shoes are much less
conspicuous. Tan, if you prefer."

Becky looked down at her feet. They were too large, and her skirt
was as much too short as her legs were too long.

"Nearly all the girls I know wear white shoes to business," she
pleaded.

"They are probably little girls who work in factories or department
stores, and that is quite another matter. Since you raise the
question, Becky, I ought to speak to you about your new waist. Don't
wear it to the office again, please. Those cheap open-work waists
are not appropriate in an office like this. They are all very well
for little chorus girls."

"But Miss Kalski wears expensive waists to business more open than
this, and jewelry--"

Ardessa interrupted. Her face grew hard.

"Miss Kalski," she said coldly, "works for the business department.
You are employed in the editorial offices. There is a great
difference. You see, Becky, I might have to call you in here at any
time when a scientist or a great writer or the president of a
university is here talking over editorial matters, and such clothes
as you have on to-day would make a bad impression. Nearly all our
connections are with important people of that kind, and we ought to
be well, but quietly, dressed."

"Yes, Miss Devine. Thank you," Becky gasped and disappeared. Heaven
knew she had no need to be further impressed with the greatness of
"The Outcry" office. During the year and a half she had been there
she had never ceased to tremble. She knew the prices all the authors
got as well as Miss Devine did, and everything seemed to her to be
done on a magnificent scale. She hadn't a good memory for long
technical words, but she never forgot dates or prices or initials or
telephone numbers.

Becky felt that her job depended on Miss Devine, and she was so glad
to have it that she scarcely realized she was being bullied.
Besides, she was grateful for all that she had learned from Ardessa;
Ardessa had taught her to do most of the things that she was
supposed to do herself. Becky wanted to learn, she had to learn;
that was the train she was always running for. Her father, Isaac
Tietelbaum, the tailor, who pressed Miss Devine's skirts and kept
her ladylike suits in order, had come to his client two years ago
and told her he had a bright girl just out of a commercial high
school. He implored Ardessa to find some office position for his
daughter. Ardessa told an appealing story to O'Mally, and brought
Becky into the office, at a salary of six dollars a week, to help
with the copying and to learn business routine. When Becky first
came she was as ignorant as a young savage. She was rapid at her
shorthand and typing, but a Kafir girl would have known as much
about the English language. Nobody ever wanted to learn more than
Becky. She fairly wore the dictionary out. She dug up her old school
grammar and worked over it at night. She faithfully mastered Miss
Devine's fussy system of punctuation.

There were eight children at home, younger than Becky, and they were
all eager to learn. They wanted to get their mother out of the three
dark rooms behind the tailor shop and to move into a flat up-stairs,
where they could, as Becky said, "live private." The young
Tietelbaums doubted their father's ability to bring this change
about, for the more things he declared himself ready to do in his
window placards, the fewer were brought to him to be done. "Dyeing,
Cleaning, Ladies' Furs Remodeled"--it did no good.

Rebecca was out to "improve herself," as her father had told her she
must. Ardessa had easy way with her. It was one of those rare
relationships from which both persons profit. The more Becky could
learn from Ardessa, the happier she was; and the more Ardessa could
unload on Becky, the greater was her contentment. She easily broke
Becky of the gum-chewing habit, taught her to walk quietly, to
efface herself at the proper moment, and to hold her tongue. Becky
had been raised to eight dollars a week; but she didn't care half so
much about that as she did about her own increasing efficiency. The
more work Miss Devine handed over to her the happier she was, and
the faster she was able to eat it up. She tested and tried herself
in every possible way. She now had full confidence that she would
surely one day be a high-priced stenographer, a real "business
woman."

Becky would have corrupted a really industrious person, but a
bilious temperament like Ardessa's couldn't make even a feeble stand
against such willingness. Ardessa had grown soft and had lost the
knack of turning out work. Sometimes, in her importance and
serenity, she shivered. What if O'Mally should die, and she were
thrust out into the world to work in competition with the brazen,
competent young women she saw about her everywhere? She believed
herself indispensable, but she knew that in such a mischanceful
world as this the very powers of darkness might rise to separate her
from this pearl among jobs.

When Becky came in from lunch she went down the long hall to the
wash-room, where all the little girls who worked in the advertising
and circulation departments kept their hats and jackets. There were
shelves and shelves of bright spring hats, piled on top of one
another, all as stiff as sheet-iron and trimmed with gay flowers. At
the marble wash-stand stood Rena Kalski, the right bower of the
business manager, polishing her diamond rings with a nail-brush.

"Hullo, kid," she called over her shoulder to Becky. "I've got a
ticket for you for Thursday afternoon."

Becky's black eyes glowed, but the strained look on her face drew
tighter than ever.

"I'll never ask her, Miss Kalski," she said rapidly. "I don't dare.
I have to stay late to-night again; and I know she'd be hard to
please after, if I was to try to get off on a week-day. I thank you,
Miss Kalski, but I'd better not."

Miss Kalski laughed. She was a slender young Hebrew, handsome in an
impudent, Tenderloin sort of way, with a small head, reddish-brown
almond eyes, a trifle tilted, a rapacious mouth, and a beautiful
chin.

"Ain't you under that woman's thumb, though! Call her bluff. She
isn't half the prima donna she thinks she is. On my side of the hall
we know who's who about this place."

The business and editorial departments of "The Outcry" were
separated by a long corridor and a great contempt. Miss Kalski dried
her rings with tissue-paper and studied them with an appraising eye.

"Well, since you're such a 'fraidy-calf,'" she went on, "maybe I can
get a rise out of her myself. Now I've got you a ticket out of that
shirt-front, I want you to go. I'll drop in on Devine this
afternoon."

When Miss Kalski went back to her desk in the business manager's
private office, she turned to him familiarly, but not impertinently.

"Mr. Henderson, I want to send a kid over in the editorial
stenographers' to the Palace Thursday afternoon. She's a nice kid,
only she's scared out of her skin all the time. Miss Devine's her
boss, and she'll be just mean enough not to let the young one off.
Would you say a word to her?"

The business manager lit a cigar.

"I'm not saying words to any of the high-brows over there. Try it
out with Devine yourself. You're not bashful."

Miss Kalski shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

"Oh, very well." She serpentined out of the room and crossed the
Rubicon into the editorial offices. She found Ardessa typing
O'Mally's letters and wearing a pained expression.

"Good afternoon, Miss Devine," she said carelessly. "Can we borrow
Becky over there for Thursday afternoon? We're short."

Miss Devine looked piqued and tilted her head.

"I don't think it's customary, Miss Kalski, for the business
department to use our people. We never have girls enough here to do
the work. Of course if Mr. Henderson feels justified--"

"Thanks awfully, Miss Devine,"--Miss Kalski interrupted her with the
perfectly smooth, good-natured tone which never betrayed a hint of
the scorn every line of her sinuous figure expressed,--"I will tell
Mr. Henderson. Perhaps we can do something for you some day."
Whether this was a threat, a kind wish, or an insinuation, no mortal
could have told. Miss Kalski's face was always suggesting insolence
without being quite insolent. As she returned to her own domain she
met the cashier's head clerk in the hall. "That Devine woman's a
crime," she murmured. The head clerk laughed tolerantly.

That afternoon as Miss Kalski was leaving the office at 5:15, on her
way down the corridor she heard a typewriter clicking away in the
empty, echoing editorial offices. She looked in, and found Becky
bending forward over the machine as if she were about to swallow it.

"Hello, kid. Do you sleep with that?" she called. She walked up to
Becky and glanced at her copy. "What do you let 'em keep you up
nights over that stuff for?" she asked contemptuously. "The world
wouldn't suffer if that stuff never got printed."

Rebecca looked up wildly. Not even Miss Kalski's French pansy hat or
her ear-rings and landscape veil could loosen Becky's tenacious mind
from Mr. Gerrard's article on water power. She scarcely knew what
Miss Kalski had said to her, certainly not what she meant.

"But I must make progress already, Miss Kalski," she panted.

Miss Kalski gave her low, siren laugh.

"I should say you must!" she ejaculated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ardessa decided to take her vacation in June, and she arranged that
Miss Milligan should do O'Mally's work while she was away. Miss
Milligan was blunt and noisy, rapid and inaccurate. It would be just
as well for O'Mally to work with a coarse instrument for a time; he
would be more appreciative, perhaps, of certain qualities to which
he had seemed insensible of late. Ardessa was to leave for East
Hampton on Sunday, and she spent Saturday morning instructing her
substitute as to the state of the correspondence. At noon O'Mally
burst into her room. All the morning he had been closeted with a new
writer of mystery-stories just over from England.

"Can you stay and take my letters this afternoon, Miss Devine? You
're not leaving until to-morrow."

Ardessa pouted, and tilted her head at the angle he was tired of.

"I'm sorry, Mr. O'Mally, but I've left all my shopping for this
afternoon. I think Becky Tietelbaum could do them for you. I will
tell her to be careful."

"Oh, all right." O'Mally bounced out with a reflection of Ardessa's
disdainful expression on his face. Saturday afternoon was always a
half-holiday, to be sure, but since she had weeks of freedom when he
was away--However--

At two o'clock Becky Tietelbaum appeared at his door, clad in the
sober office suit which Miss Devine insisted she should wear, her
note-book in her hand, and so frightened that her fingers were cold
and her lips were pale. She had never taken dictation from the
editor before. It was a great and terrifying occasion.

"Sit down," he said encouragingly. He began dictating while he shook
from his bag the manuscripts he had snatched away from the amazed
English author that morning. Presently he looked up.

"Do I go too fast?"

"No, sir," Becky found strength to say.

At the end of an hour he told her to go and type as many of the
letters as she could while he went over the bunch of stuff he had
torn from the Englishman. He was with the Hindu detective in an
opium den in Shanghai when Becky returned and placed a pile of
papers on his desk.

"How many?" he asked, without looking up.

"All you gave me, sir."

"All, so soon? Wait a minute and let me see how many mistakes." He
went over the letters rapidly, signing them as he read. "They seem
to be all right. I thought you were the girl that made so many
mistakes."

Rebecca was never too frightened to vindicate herself.

"Mr. O'Mally, sir, I don't make mistakes with letters. It's only
copying the articles that have so many long words, and when the
writing isn't plain, like Mr. Gerrard's. I never make many mistakes
with Mr. Johnson's articles, or with yours I don't."

O'Mally wheeled round in his chair, looked with curiosity at her
long, tense face, her black eyes, and straight brows.

"Oh, so you sometimes copy articles, do you? How does that happen?"

"Yes, sir. Always Miss Devine gives me the articles to do. It's good
practice for me."

"I see." O'Mally shrugged his shoulders. He was thinking that he
could get a rise out of the whole American public any day easier
than he could get a rise out of Ardessa. "What editorials of mine
have you copied lately, for instance?"

Rebecca blazed out at him, reciting rapidly:

"Oh, 'A Word about the Rosenbaums,' 'Useless Navy-Yards,' 'Who
Killed Cock Robin'--"

"Wait a minute." O'Mally checked her flow. "What was that one
about--Cock Robin?"

"It was all about why the secretary of the interior dismissed--"

"All right, all right. Copy those letters, and put them down the
chute as you go out. Come in here for a minute on Monday morning."

Becky hurried home to tell her father that she had taken the
editor's letters and had made no mistakes. On Monday she learned
that she was to do O'Mally's work for a few days. He disliked Miss
Milligan, and he was annoyed with Ardessa for trying to put her over
on him when there was better material at hand. With Rebecca he got
on very well; she was impersonal, unreproachful, and she fairly
panted for work. Everything was done almost before he told her what
he wanted. She raced ahead with him; it was like riding a good
modern bicycle after pumping along on an old hard tire.

On the day before Miss Devine's return O'Mally strolled over for a
chat with the business office.

"Henderson, your people are taking vacations now, I suppose? Could
you use an extra girl?"

"If it's that thin black one, I can."

O'Mally gave him a wise smile.

"It isn't. To be honest, I want to put one over on you. I want you
to take Miss Devine over here for a while and speed her up. I can't
do anything. She's got the upper hand of me. I don't want to fire
her, you understand, but she makes my life too difficult. It's my
fault, of course. I've pampered her. Give her a chance over here;
maybe she'll come back. You can be firm with 'em, can't you?"

Henderson glanced toward the desk where Miss Kalski's lightning eye
was skimming over the printing-house bills that he was supposed to
verify himself.

"Well, if I can't, I know who can," he replied, with a chuckle.

"Exactly," O'Mally agreed. "I'm counting on the force of Miss
Kalski's example. Miss Devine's all right, Miss Kalski, but she
needs regular exercise. She owes it to her complexion. I can't
discipline people."

Miss Kalski's only reply was a low, indulgent laugh.

O'Mally braced himself on the morning of Ardessa's return. He told
the waiter at his club to bring him a second pot of coffee and to
bring it hot. He was really afraid of her. When she presented
herself at his office at 10:30 he complimented her upon her tan and
asked about her vacation. Then he broke the news to her.

"We want to make a few temporary changes about here, Miss Devine,
for the summer months. The business department is short of help.
Henderson is going to put Miss Kalski on the books for a while to
figure out some economies for him, and he is going to take you over.
Meantime I'll get Becky broken in so that she could take your work
if you were sick or anything."

Ardessa drew herself up.

"I've not been accustomed to commercial work, Mr. O'Mally. I've no
interest in it, and I don't care to brush up in it."

"Brushing up is just what we need, Miss Devine." O'Mally began
tramping about his room expansively. "I'm going to brush everybody
up. I'm going to brush a few people out; but I want you to stay with
us, of course. You belong here. Don't be hasty now. Go to your room
and think it over."

Ardessa was beginning to cry, and O'Mally was afraid he would lose
his nerve. He looked out of the window at a new sky-scraper that was
building, while she retired without a word.

At her own desk Ardessa sat down breathless and trembling. The one
thing she had never doubted was her unique value to O'Mally. She
had, as she told herself, taught him everything. She would say a few
things to Becky Tietelbaum, and to that pigeon-breasted tailor, her
father, too! The worst of it was that Ardessa had herself brought it
all about; she could see that clearly now. She had carefully trained
and qualified her successor. Why had she ever civilized Becky? Why
had she taught her manners and deportment, broken her of the
gum-chewing habit, and made her presentable? In her original state
O'Mally would never have put up with her, no matter what her
ability.

Ardessa told herself that O'Mally was notoriously fickle; Becky
amused him, but he would soon find out her limitations. The wise
thing, she knew, was to humor him; but it seemed to her that she
could not swallow her pride. Ardessa grew yellower within the hour.
Over and over in her mind she bade O'Mally a cold adieu and minced
out past the grand old man at the desk for the last time. But each
exit she rehearsed made her feel sorrier for herself. She thought
over all the offices she knew, but she realized that she could never
meet their inexorable standards of efficiency.

While she was bitterly deliberating, O'Mally himself wandered in,
rattling his keys nervously in his pocket. He shut the door behind
him.

"Now, you're going to come through with this all right, aren't you,
Miss Devine? I want Henderson to get over the notion that my people
over here are stuck up and think the business department are old
shoes. That's where we get our money from, as he often reminds me.
You'll be the best-paid girl over there; no reduction, of course.
You don't want to go wandering off to some new office where
personality doesn't count for anything." He sat down confidentially
on the edge of her desk. "Do you, now, Miss Devine?"

Ardessa simpered tearfully as she replied.

"Mr. O'Mally," she brought out, "you'll soon find that Becky is not
the sort of girl to meet people for you when you are away. I don't
see how you can think of letting her."

"That's one thing I want to change, Miss Devine. You're too
soft-handed with the has-beens and the never-was-ers. You're too
much of a lady for this rough game. Nearly everybody who comes in
here wants to sell us a gold-brick, and you treat them as if they
were bringing in wedding presents. Becky is as rough as sandpaper,
and she'll clear out a lot of dead wood." O'Mally rose, and tapped
Ardessa's shrinking shoulder. "Now, be a sport and go through with
it, Miss Devine. I'll see that you don't lose. Henderson thinks
you'll refuse to do his work, so I want you to get moved in there
before he comes back from lunch. I've had a desk put in his office
for you. Miss Kalski is in the bookkeeper's room half the time now."

Rena Kalski was amazed that afternoon when a line of office boys
entered, carrying Miss Devine's effects, and when Ardessa herself
coldly followed them. After Ardessa had arranged her desk, Miss
Kalski went over to her and told her about some matters of routine
very good-naturedly. Ardessa looked pretty badly shaken up, and Rena
bore no grudges.

"When you want the dope on the correspondence with the paper men,
don't bother to look it up. I've got it all in my head, and I can
save time for you. If he wants you to go over the printing bills
every week, you'd better let me help you with that for a while. I
can stay almost any afternoon. It's quite a trick to figure out the
plates and over-time charges till you get used to it. I've worked
out a quick method that saves trouble."

When Henderson came in at three he found Ardessa, chilly, but civil,
awaiting his instructions. He knew she disapproved of his tastes and
his manners, but he didn't mind. What interested and amused him was
that Rena Kalski, whom he had always thought as cold-blooded as an
adding-machine, seemed to be making a hair-mattress of herself to
break Ardessa's fall.

At five o'clock, when Ardessa rose to go, the business manager said
breezily:

"See you at nine in the morning, Miss Devine. We begin on the
stroke."

Ardessa faded out of the door, and Miss Kalski's slender back
squirmed with amusement.

"I never thought to hear such words spoken," she admitted; "but I
guess she'll limber up all right. The atmosphere is bad over there.
They get moldy."

       *       *       *       *       *

After the next monthly luncheon of the heads of departments, O'Mally
said to Henderson, as he feed the coat-boy:

"By the way, how are you making it with the bartered bride?"

Henderson smashed on his Panama as he said:

"Any time you want her back, don't be delicate."

But O'Mally shook his red head and laughed.

"Oh, I'm no Indian giver!"

                                             _Century_, May 1918



_Her Boss_


Paul Wanning opened the front door of his house in Orange, closed it
softly behind him, and stood looking about the hall as he drew off
his gloves.

Nothing was changed there since last night, and yet he stood gazing
about him with an interest which a long-married man does not often
feel in his own reception hall. The rugs, the two pillars, the
Spanish tapestry chairs, were all the same. The Venus di Medici
stood on her column as usual and there, at the end of the hall
(opposite the front door), was the full-length portrait of Mrs.
Wanning, maturely blooming forth in an evening gown, signed with the
name of a French painter who seemed purposely to have made his
signature indistinct. Though the signature was largely what one paid
for, one couldn't ask him to do it over.

In the dining room the colored man was moving about the table set
for dinner, under the electric cluster. The candles had not yet been
lighted. Wanning watched him with a homesick feeling in his heart.
They had had Sam a long while, twelve years, now. His warm hall, the
lighted dining-room, the drawing room where only the flicker of the
wood fire played upon the shining surfaces of many objects--they
seemed to Wanning like a haven of refuge. It had never occurred to
him that his house was too full of things. He often said, and he
believed, that the women of his household had "perfect taste." He
had paid for these objects, sometimes with difficulty, but always
with pride. He carried a heavy life-insurance and permitted himself
to spend most of the income from a good law practise. He wished,
during his life-time, to enjoy the benefits of his wife's
discriminating extravagance.

Yesterday Wanning's doctor had sent him to a specialist. Today the
specialist, after various laboratory tests, had told him most
disconcerting things about the state of very necessary, but hitherto
wholly uninteresting, organs of his body.

The information pointed to something incredible; insinuated that his
residence in this house was only temporary; that he, whose time was so
full, might have to leave not only his house and his office and his
club, but a world with which he was extremely well satisfied--the
only world he knew anything about.

Wanning unbuttoned his overcoat, but did not take it off. He stood
folding his muffler slowly and carefully. What he did not understand
was, how he could go while other people stayed. Sam would be moving
about the table like this, Mrs. Wanning and her daughters would be
dressing upstairs, when he would not be coming home to dinner any
more; when he would not, indeed, be dining anywhere.

Sam, coming to turn on the parlor lights, saw Wanning and stepped
behind him to take his coat.

"Good evening, Mr. Wanning, sah, excuse me. You entahed so quietly,
sah, I didn't heah you."

The master of the house slipped out of his coat and went languidly
upstairs.

He tapped at the door of his wife's room, which stood ajar.

"Come in, Paul," she called from her dressing table.

She was seated, in a violet dressing gown, giving the last touches to
her coiffure, both arms lifted. They were firm and white, like her neck
and shoulders. She was a handsome woman of fifty-five,--still a
woman, not an old person, Wanning told himself, as he kissed her
cheek. She was heavy in figure, to be sure, but she had kept, on the
whole, presentable outlines. Her complexion was good, and she wore
less false hair than either of her daughters.

Wanning himself was five years older, but his sandy hair did not
show the gray in it, and since his mustache had begun to grow white
he kept it clipped so short that it was unobtrusive. His fresh skin
made him look younger than he was. Not long ago he had overheard the
stenographers in his law office discussing the ages of their
employers. They had put him down at fifty, agreeing that his two
partners must be considerably older than he--which was not the case.
Wanning had an especially kindly feeling for the little new girl, a
copyist, who had exclaimed that "Mr. Wanning couldn't be fifty; he
seemed so boyish!"

Wanning lingered behind his wife, looking at her in the mirror.

"Well, did you tell the girls, Julia?" he asked, trying to speak
casually.

Mrs. Wanning looked up and met his eyes in the glass. "The girls?"

She noticed a strange expression come over his face.

"About your health, you mean? Yes, dear, but I tried not to alarm
them. They feel dreadfully. I'm going to have a talk with Dr. Seares
myself. These specialists are all alarmists, and I've often heard of
his frightening people."

She rose and took her husband's arm, drawing him toward the
fireplace.

"You are not going to let this upset you, Paul? If you take care of
yourself, everything will come out all right. You have always been
so strong. One has only to look at you."

"Did you," Wanning asked, "say anything to Harold?"

"Yes, of course. I saw him in town today, and he agrees with me that
Seares draws the worst conclusions possible. He says even the young
men are always being told the most terrifying things. Usually they
laugh at the doctors and do as they please. You certainly don't look
like a sick man, and you don't feel like one, do you?"

She patted his shoulder, smiled at him encouragingly, and rang for
the maid to come and hook her dress.

When the maid appeared at the door, Wanning went out through the
bathroom to his own sleeping chamber. He was too much dispirited to
put on a dinner coat, though such remissness was always noticed. He
sat down and waited for the sound of the gong, leaving his door
open, on the chance that perhaps one of his daughters would come in.

When Wanning went down to dinner he found his wife already at her
chair, and the table laid for four.

"Harold," she explained, "is not coming home. He has to attend a
first night in town."

A moment later their two daughters entered, obviously "dressed."
They both wore earrings and masses of hair. The daughters' names
were Roma and Florence,--Roma, Firenze, one of the young men who
came to the house often, but not often enough, had called them.
Tonight they were going to a rehearsal of "The Dances of the
Nations,"--a benefit performance in which Miss Roma was to lead the
Spanish dances, her sister the Grecian.

The elder daughter had often been told that her name suited her
admirably. She looked, indeed, as we are apt to think the
unrestrained beauties of later Rome must have looked,--but as their
portrait busts emphatically declare they did not. Her head was
massive, her lips full and crimson, her eyes large and heavy-lidded,
her forehead low. At costume balls and in living pictures she was
always Semiramis, or Poppea, or Theodora. Barbaric accessories
brought out something cruel and even rather brutal in her handsome
face. The men who were attracted to her were somehow afraid of her.

Florence was slender, with a long, graceful neck, a restless head,
and a flexible mouth--discontent lurked about the corners of it. Her
shoulders were pretty, but her neck and arms were too thin. Roma was
always struggling to keep within a certain weight--her chin and
upper arms grew persistently more solid--and Florence was always
striving to attain a certain weight. Wanning used sometimes to
wonder why these disconcerting fluctuations could not go the other
way; why Roma could not melt away as easily as did her sister, who
had to be sent to Palm Beach to save the precious pounds.

"I don't see why you ever put Rickie Allen in charge of the English
country dances," Florence said to her sister, as they sat down. "He
knows the figures, of course, but he has no real style."

Roma looked annoyed. Rickie Allen was one of the men who came to the
house almost often enough.

"He is absolutely to be depended upon, that's why," she said firmly.

"I think he is just right for it, Florence," put in Mrs. Wanning.
"It's remarkable he should feel that he can give up the time; such a
busy man. He must be very much interested in the movement."

Florence's lip curled drolly under her soup spoon. She shot an
amused glance at her mother's dignity.

"Nothing doing," her keen eyes seemed to say.

Though Florence was nearly thirty and her sister a little beyond,
there was, seriously, nothing doing. With so many charms and so much
preparation, they never, as Florence vulgarly said, quite pulled it
off. They had been rushed, time and again, and Mrs. Wanning had
repeatedly steeled herself to bear the blow. But the young men went
to follow a career in Mexico or the Philippines, or moved to
Yonkers, and escaped without a mortal wound.

Roma turned graciously to her father.

"I met Mr. Lane at the Holland House today, where I was lunching
with the Burtons, father. He asked about you, and when I told him
you were not so well as usual, he said he would call you up. He
wants to tell you about some doctor he discovered in Iowa, who cures
everything with massage and hot water. It sounds freakish, but Mr.
Lane is a very clever man, isn't he?"

"Very," assented Wanning.

"I should think he must be!" sighed Mrs. Wanning. "How in the world
did he make all that money, Paul? He didn't seem especially
promising years ago, when we used to see so much of them."

"Corporation business. He's attorney for the P. L. and G.," murmured
her husband.

"What a pile he must have!" Florence watched the old negro's slow
movements with restless eyes. "Here is Jenny, a Contessa, with a
glorious palace in Genoa that her father must have bought her.
Surely Aldrini had nothing. Have you seen the baby count's pictures,
Roma? They're very cunning. I should think you'd go to Genoa and
visit Jenny."

"We must arrange that, Roma. It's such an opportunity." Though Mrs.
Wanning addressed her daughter, she looked at her husband. "You
would get on so well among their friends. When Count Aldrini was
here you spoke Italian much better than poor Jenny. I remember when
we entertained him, he could scarcely say anything to her at all."

Florence tried to call up an answering flicker of amusement upon her
sister's calm, well-bred face. She thought her mother was rather
outdoing herself tonight,--since Aldrini had at least managed to say
the one important thing to Jenny, somehow, somewhere. Jenny Lane had
been Roma's friend and schoolmate, and the Count was an ephemeral
hope in Orange. Mrs. Wanning was one of the first matrons to declare
that she had no prejudices against foreigners, and at the dinners
that were given for the Count, Roma was always put next him to act
as interpreter.

Roma again turned to her father.

"If I were you, dear, I would let Mr. Lane tell me about his doctor.
New discoveries are often made by queer people."

Roma's voice was low and sympathetic; she never lost her dignity.

Florence asked if she might have her coffee in her room, while she
dashed off a note, and she ran upstairs humming "Bright Lights" and
wondering how she was going to stand her family until the summer
scattering. Why could Roma never throw off her elegant reserve and
call things by their names? She sometimes thought she might like her
sister, if she would only come out in the open and howl about her
disappointments.

Roma, drinking her coffee deliberately, asked her father if they
might have the car early, as they wanted to pick up Mr. Allen and
Mr. Rydberg on their way to rehearsal.

Wanning said certainly. Heaven knew he was not stingy about his car,
though he could never quite forget that in his day it was the young
men who used to call for the girls when they went to rehearsals.

"You are going with us, Mother?" Roma asked as they rose.

"I think so dear. Your father will want to go to bed early, and I
shall sleep better if I go out. I am going to town tomorrow to pour
tea for Harold. We must get him some new silver, Paul. I am quite
ashamed of his spoons."

Harold, the only son, was a playwright--as yet "unproduced"--and he
had a studio in Washington Square.

A half-hour later, Wanning was alone in his library. He would not
permit himself to feel aggrieved. What was more commendable than a
mother's interest in her children's pleasures? Moreover, it was his
wife's way of following things up, of never letting die grass grow
under her feet, that had helped to push him along in the world. She
was more ambitious than he,--that had been good for him. He was
naturally indolent, and Julia's childlike desire to possess material
objects, to buy what other people were buying, had been the spur
that made him go after business. It had, moreover, made his house
the attractive place he believed it to be.

"Suppose," his wife sometimes said to him when the bills came in
from Céleste or Mme. Blanche, "suppose you had homely daughters; how
would you like that?"

He wouldn't have liked it. When he went anywhere with his three
ladies, Wanning always felt very well done by. He had no complaint
to make about them, or about anything. That was why it seemed so
unreasonable--He felt along his back incredulously with his hand.
Harold, of course, was a trial; but among all his business friends,
he knew scarcely one who had a promising boy.

The house was so still that Wanning could hear a faint, metallic
tinkle from the butler's pantry. Old Sam was washing up the silver,
which he put away himself every night.

Wanning rose and walked aimlessly down the hall and out through the
dining-room.

"Any Apollinaris on ice, Sam? I'm not feeling very well tonight."

The old colored man dried his hands.

"Yessah, Mistah Wanning. Have a little rye with it, sah?"

"No, thank you, Sam. That's one of the things I can't do any more.
I've been to see a big doctor in the city, and he tells me there's
something seriously wrong with me. My kidneys have sort of gone back
on me."

It was a satisfaction to Wanning to name the organ that had betrayed
him, while all the rest of him was so sound.

Sam was immediately interested. He shook his grizzled head and
looked full of wisdom.

"Don't seem like a gen'leman of such a temperate life ought to have
anything wrong thar, sah."

"No, it doesn't, does it?"

Wanning leaned against the china closet and talked to Sam for nearly
half an hour. The specialist who condemned him hadn't seemed half so
much interested. There was not a detail about the examination and
the laboratory tests in which Sam did not show the deepest concern.
He kept asking Wanning if he could remember "straining himself" when
he was a young man.

"I've knowed a strain like that to sleep in a man for yeahs and
yeahs, and then come back on him, 'deed I have," he said,
mysteriously. "An' again, it might be you got a floatin' kidney,
sah. Aftah dey once teah loose, dey sometimes don't make no trouble
for quite a while."

When Wanning went to his room he did not go to bed. He sat up until
he heard the voices of his wife and daughters in the hall below. His
own bed somehow frightened him. In all the years he had lived in
this house he had never before looked about his room, at that bed,
with the thought that he might one day be trapped there, and might
not get out again. He had been ill, of course, but his room had
seemed a particularly pleasant place for a sick man; sunlight,
flowers,--agreeable, well-dressed women coming in and out.

Now there was something sinister about the bed itself, about its
position, and its relation to the rest of the furniture.


II

The next morning, on his way downtown, Wanning got off the subway
train at Astor Place and walked over to Washington Square. He
climbed three flights of stairs and knocked at his son's studio.
Harold, dressed, with his stick and gloves in his hand, opened the
door. He was just going over to the Brevoort for breakfast. He
greeted his father with the cordial familiarity practised by all the
"boys" of his set, clapped him on the shoulder and said in his
light, tonsilitis voice:

"Come in, Governor, how delightful! I haven't had a call from you in
a long time."

He threw his hat and gloves on the writing table. He was a perfect
gentleman, even with his father.

Florence said the matter with Harold was that he had heard people
say he looked like Byron, and stood for it.

What Harold would stand for in such matters was, indeed, the best
definition of him. When he read his play "The Street Walker" in
drawing rooms and one lady told him it had the poetic symbolism of
Tchekhov, and another said that it suggested the biting realism of
Brieux, he never, in his most secret thoughts, questioned the acumen
of either lady. Harold's speech, even if you heard it in the next
room and could not see him, told you that he had no sense of the
absurd,--a throaty staccato, with never a downward inflection,
trustfully striving to please.

"Just going out?" his father asked. "I won't keep you. Your mother
told you I had a discouraging session with Seares?"

"So awfully sorry you've had this bother, Governor; just as sorry as
I can be. No question about it's coming out all right, but it's a
downright nuisance, your having to diet and that sort of thing. And
I suppose you ought to follow directions, just to make us all feel
comfortable, oughtn't you?" Harold spoke with fluent sympathy.

Wanning sat down on the arm of a chair and shook his head. "Yes,
they do recommend a diet, but they don't promise much from it."

Harold laughed precipitately. "Delicious! All doctors are, aren't
they? So profound and oracular! The medicine-man; it's quite the
same idea, you see; with tom-toms."

Wanning knew that Harold meant something subtle,--one of the
subtleties which he said were only spoiled by being explained--so he
came bluntly to one of the issues he had in mind.

"I would like to see you settled before I quit the harness, Harold."

Harold was absolutely tolerant.

He took out his cigarette case and burnished it with his
handkerchief.

"I perfectly understand your point of view, dear Governor, but
perhaps you don't altogether get mine. Isn't it so? I am settled.
What you mean by being settled, would unsettle me, completely. I'm
cut out for just such an existence as this; to live four floors up
in an attic, get my own breakfast, and have a charwoman to do for
me. I should be awfully bored with an establishment. I'm quite
content with a little diggings like this."

Wanning's eyes fell. Somebody had to pay the rent of even such
modest quarters as contented Harold, but to say so would be rude,
and Harold himself was never rude. Wanning did not, this morning,
feel equal to hearing a statement of his son's uncommercial ideals.

"I know," he said hastily. "But now we're up against hard facts, my
boy. I did not want to alarm your mother, but I've had a time limit
put on me, and it's not a very long one."

Harold threw away the cigarette he had just lighted in a burst of
indignation.

"That's the sort of thing I consider criminal, Father, absolutely
criminal! What doctor has a right to suggest such a thing? Seares
himself may be knocked out tomorrow. What have laboratory tests got
to do with a man's will to live? The force of that depends upon his
entire personality, not on any organ or pair of organs."

Harold thrust his hands in his pockets and walked up and down, very
much stirred. "Really, I have a very poor opinion of scientists.
They ought to be made serve an apprenticeship in art, to get some
conception of the power of human motives. Such brutality!"

Harold's plays dealt with the grimmest and most depressing matters,
but he himself was always agreeable, and he insisted upon high
cheerfulness as the correct tone of human intercourse.

Wanning rose and turned to go. There was, in Harold, simply no
reality, to which one could break through. The young man took up his
hat and gloves.

"Must you go? Let me step along with you to the sub. The walk will
do me good."

Harold talked agreeably all the way to Astor Place. His father heard
little of what he said, but he rather liked his company and his wish
to be pleasant.

Wanning went to his club for luncheon, meaning to spend the
afternoon with some of his friends who had retired from business and
who read the papers there in the empty hours between two and seven.
He got no satisfaction, however. When he tried to tell these men of
his present predicament, they began to describe ills of their own in
which he could not feel interested. Each one of them had a
treacherous organ of which he spoke with animation, almost with
pride, as if it were a crafty business competitor whom he was
constantly outwitting. Each had a doctor, too, for whom he was
ardently soliciting business. They wanted either to telephone their
doctor and make an appointment for Wanning, or to take him then and
there to the consulting room. When he did not accept these
invitations, they lost interest in him and remembered engagements.
He called a taxi and returned to the offices of McQuiston, Wade, and
Wanning.

Settled at his desk, Wanning decided that he would not go home to
dinner, but would stay at the office and dictate a long letter to an
old college friend who lived in Wyoming. He could tell Douglas Brown
things that he had not succeeded in getting to any one else. Brown,
out in the Wind River mountains, couldn't defend himself, couldn't
slap Wanning on the back and tell him to gather up the sunbeams.

He called up his house in Orange to say that he would not be home
until late. Roma answered the telephone. He spoke mournfully, but
she was not disturbed by it.

"Very well, Father. Don't get too tired," she said in her well
modulated voice.

When Wanning was ready to dictate his letter, he looked out from his
private office into the reception room and saw that his stenographer
in her hat and gloves, and furs of the newest cut, was just leaving.

"Goodnight, Mr. Wanning," she said, drawing down her dotted veil.

Had there been important business letters to be got off on the night
mail, he would have felt that he could detain her, but not for
anything personal. Miss Doane was an expert legal stenographer, and
she knew her value. The slightest delay in dispatching office
business annoyed her. Letters that were not signed until the next
morning awoke her deepest contempt. She was scrupulous in
professional etiquette, and Wanning felt that their relations,
though pleasant, were scarcely cordial.

As Miss Doane's trim figure disappeared through the outer door,
little Annie Wooley, the copyist, came in from the stenographers'
room. Her hat was pinned over one ear, and she was scrambling into
her coat as she came, holding her gloves in her teeth and her
battered handbag in the fist that was already through a sleeve.

"Annie, I wanted to dictate a letter. You were just leaving, weren't
you?"

"Oh, I don't mind!" she answered cheerfully, and pulling off her old
coat, threw it on a chair. "I'll get my book."

She followed him into his room and sat down by a table,--though she
wrote with her book on her knee.

Wanning had several times kept her after office hours to take his
private letters for him, and she had always been good-natured about
it. On each occasion, when he gave her a dollar to get her dinner,
she protested, laughing, and saying that she could never eat so much
as that.

She seemed a happy sort of little creature, didn't pout when she was
scolded, and giggled about her own mistakes in spelling. She was
plump and undersized, always dodging under the elbows of taller
people and clattering about on high heels, much run over. She had
bright black eyes and fuzzy black hair in which, despite Miss
Doane's reprimands, she often stuck her pencil. She was the girl who
couldn't believe that Wanning was fifty, and he had liked her ever
since he overheard that conversation.

Tilting back his chair--he never assumed this position when he
dictated to Miss Doane--Wanning began: "To Mr. D. E. Brown, South
Forks, Wyoming."

He shaded his eyes with his hand and talked off a long letter to
this man who would be sorry that his mortal frame was breaking up.
He recalled to him certain fine months they had spent together on
the Wind River when they were young men, and said he sometimes
wished that like D. E. Brown, he had claimed his freedom in a big
country where the wheels did not grind a man as hard as they did in
New York. He had spent all these years hustling about and getting
ready to live the way he wanted to live, and now he had a puncture
the doctors couldn't mend. What was the use of it?

Wanning's thoughts were fixed on the trout streams and the great
silver-firs in the canyons of the Wind River Mountains, when he was
disturbed by a soft, repeated sniffling. He looked out between his
fingers. Little Annie, carried away by his eloquence, was fairly
panting to make dots and dashes fast enough, and she was sopping her
eyes with an unpresentable, end-of-the-day handkerchief.

Wanning rambled on in his dictation. Why was she crying? What did it
matter to her? He was a man who said good-morning to her, who
sometimes took an hour of the precious few she had left at the end
of the day and then complained about her bad spelling. When the
letter was finished, he handed her a new two dollar bill.

"I haven't got any change tonight; and anyhow, I'd like you to eat a
whole lot. I'm on a diet, and I want to see everybody else eat."

Annie tucked her notebook under her arm and stood looking at the
bill which she had not taken up from the table.

"I don't like to be paid for taking letters to your friends, Mr.
Wanning," she said impulsively. "I can run personal letters off
between times. It ain't as if I needed the money," she added
carelessly.

"Get along with you! Anybody who is eighteen years old and has a
sweet tooth needs money, all they can get."

Annie giggled and darted out with the bill in her hand.

Wanning strolled aimlessly after her into the reception room.

"Let me have that letter before lunch tomorrow, please, and be sure
that nobody sees it." He stopped and frowned. "I don't look very
sick, do I?"

"I should say you don't!" Annie got her coat on after considerable
tugging. "Why don't you call in a specialist? My mother called a
specialist for my father before he died."

"Oh, is your father dead?"

"I should say he is! He was a painter by trade, and he fell off a
seventy-foot stack into the East River. Mother couldn't get anything
out of the company, because he wasn't buckled. He lingered for four
months, so I know all about taking care of sick people. I was
attending business college then, and sick as he was, he used to give
me dictation for practise. He made us all go into professions; the
girls, too. He didn't like us to just run."

Wanning would have liked to keep Annie and hear more about her
family, but it was nearly seven o'clock, and he knew he ought, in
mercy, to let her go. She was the only person to whom he had talked
about his illness who had been frank and honest with him, who had
looked at him with eyes that concealed nothing. When he broke the
news of his condition to his partners that morning, they shut him
off as if he were uttering indecent ravings. All day they had met
him with a hurried, abstracted manner. McQuiston and Wade went out
to lunch together, and he knew what they were thinking, perhaps
talking, about. Wanning had brought into the firm valuable business,
but he was less enterprising than either of his partners.


III

In the early summer Wanning's family scattered. Roma swallowed her
pride and sailed for Genoa to visit the Contessa Jenny. Harold went
to Cornish to be in an artistic atmosphere. Mrs. Wanning and
Florence took a cottage at York Harbor where Wanning was supposed to
join them whenever he could get away from town. He did not often get
away. He felt most at ease among his accustomed surroundings. He
kept his car in the city and went back and forth from his office to
the club where he was living. Old Sam, his butler, came in from
Orange every night to put his clothes in order and make him
comfortable.

Wanning began to feel that he would not tire of his office in a
hundred years. Although he did very little work, it was pleasant to
go down town every morning when the streets were crowded, the sky
clear, and the sunshine bright. From the windows of his private
office he could see the harbor and watch the ocean liners come down
the North River and go out to sea.

While he read his mail, he often looked out and wondered why he had
been so long indifferent to that extraordinary scene of human
activity and hopefulness. How had a short-lived race of beings the
energy and courage valiantly to begin enterprises which they could
follow for only a few years; to throw up towers and build
sea-monsters and found great businesses, when the frailest of the
materials with which they worked, the paper upon which they wrote,
the ink upon their pens, had more permanence in this world than
they? All this material rubbish lasted. The linen clothing and
cosmetics of the Egyptians had lasted. It was only the human flame
that certainly, certainly went out. Other things had a fighting
chance; they might meet with mishap and be destroyed, they might
not. But the human creature who gathered and shaped and hoarded and
foolishly loved these things, he had no chance--absolutely none.
Wanning's cane, his hat, his topcoat, might go from beggar to beggar
and knock about in this world for another fifty years or so; but not
he.

In the late afternoon he never hurried to leave his office now.
Wonderful sunsets burned over the North River, wonderful stars
trembled up among the towers; more wonderful than anything he could
hurry away to. One of his windows looked directly down upon the
spire of Old Trinity, with the green churchyard and the pale
sycamores far below. Wanning often dropped into the church when he
was going out to lunch; not because he was trying to make his peace
with Heaven, but because the church was old and restful and
familiar, because it and its gravestones had sat in the same place
for a long while. He bought flowers from the street boys and kept
them on his desk, which his partners thought strange behavior, and
which Miss Doane considered a sign that he was failing.

But there were graver things than bouquets for Miss Doane and the
senior partner to ponder over.

The senior partner, McQuiston, in spite of his silvery hair and
mustache and his important church connections, had rich natural
taste for scandal.--After Mr. Wade went away for his vacation, in
May, Wanning took Annie Wooley out of the copying room, put her at a
desk in his private office, and raised her pay to eighteen dollars a
week, explaining to McQuiston that for the summer months he would
need a secretary. This explanation satisfied neither McQuiston nor
Miss Doane.

Annie was also paid for overtime, and although Wanning attended to
very little of the office business now, there was a great deal of
overtime. Miss Doane was, of course, 'above' questioning a chit like
Annie; but what was he doing with his time and his new secretary,
she wanted to know?

If anyone had told her that Wanning was writing a book, she would
have said bitterly that it was just like him. In his youth Wanning
had hankered for the pen. When he studied law, he had intended to
combine that profession with some tempting form of authorship. Had
he remained a bachelor, he would have been an unenterprising
literary lawyer to the end of his days. It was his wife's
restlessness and her practical turn of mind that had made him a
money-getter. His illness seemed to bring back to him the illusions
with which he left college.

As soon as his family were out of the way and he shut up the Orange
house, he began to dictate his autobiography to Annie Wooley. It was
not only the story of his life, but an expression of all his
theories and opinions, and a commentary on the fifty years of events
which he could remember.

Fortunately, he was able to take great interest in this undertaking.
He had the happiest convictions about the clear-cut style he was
developing and his increasing felicity in phrasing. He meant to
publish the work handsomely, at his own expense and under his own
name. He rather enjoyed the thought of how greatly disturbed Harold
would be. He and Harold differed in their estimates of books. All
the solid works which made up Wanning's library, Harold considered
beneath contempt. Anybody, he said, could do that sort of thing.

When Wanning could not sleep at night, he turned on the light beside
his bed and made notes on the chapter he meant to dictate the next
day.

When he returned to the office after lunch, he gave instructions
that he was not to be interrupted by telephone calls, and shut
himself up with his secretary.

After he had opened all the windows and taken off his coat, he fell
to dictating. He found it a delightful occupation, the solace of
each day. Often he had sudden fits of tiredness; then he would lie
down on the leather sofa and drop asleep, while Annie read "The
Leopard's Spots" until he awoke.

Like many another business man Wanning had relied so long on
stenographers that the operation of writing with a pen had become
laborious to him. When he undertook it, he wanted to cut everything
short. But walking up and down his private office, with the strong
afternoon sun pouring in at his windows, a fresh air stirring, all
the people and boats moving restlessly down there, he could say
things he wanted to say. It was like living his life over again.

He did not miss his wife or his daughters. He had become again the
mild, contemplative youth he was in college, before he had a
profession and a family to grind for, before the two needs which
shape our destiny had made of him pretty much what they make of
every man.

At five o'clock Wanning sometimes went out for a cup of tea and took
Annie along. He felt dull and discouraged as soon as he was alone.
So long as Annie was with him, he could keep a grip on his own
thoughts. They talked about what he had just been dictating to her.
She found that he liked to be questioned, and she tried to be
greatly interested in it all.

After tea, they went back to the office. Occasionally Wanning lost
track of time and kept Annie until it grew dark. He knew he had old
McQuiston guessing, but he didn't care. One day the senior partner
came to him with a reproving air.

"I am afraid Miss Doane is leaving us, Paul. She feels that Miss
Wooley's promotion is irregular."

"How is that any business of hers, I'd like to know? She has all my
legal work. She is always disagreeable enough about doing anything
else."

McQuiston's puffy red face went a shade darker.

"Miss Doane has a certain professional pride; a strong feeling for
office organization. She doesn't care to fill an equivocal position.
I don't know that I blame her. She feels that there is something not
quite regular about the confidence you seem to place in this
inexperienced young woman."

Wanning pushed back his chair.

"I don't care a hang about Miss Doane's sense of propriety. I need a
stenographer who will carry out my instructions. I've carried out
Miss Doane's long enough. I've let that schoolma'am hector me for
years. She can go when she pleases."

That night McQuiston wrote to his partner that things were in a bad
way, and they would have to keep an eye on Wanning. He had been seen
at the theatre with his new stenographer.

That was true. Wanning had several times taken Annie to the Palace
on Saturday afternoon. When all his acquaintances were off motoring
or playing golf, when the down-town offices and even the streets
were deserted, it amused him to watch a foolish show with a
delighted, cheerful little person beside him.

Beyond her generosity, Annie had no shining merits of character, but
she had the gift of thinking well of everything, and wishing well.
When she was there Wanning felt as if there were someone who cared
whether this was a good or a bad day with him. Old Sam, too, was
like that. While the old black man put him to bed and made him
comfortable, Wanning could talk to him as he talked to little Annie.
Even if he dwelt upon his illness, in plain terms, in detail, he did
not feel as if he were imposing on them.

People like Sam and Annie admitted misfortune,--admitted it almost
cheerfully. Annie and her family did not consider illness or any of
its hard facts vulgar or indecent. It had its place in their scheme
of life, as it had not in that of Wanning's friends.

Annie came out of a typical poor family of New York. Of eight
children, only four lived to grow up. In such families the stream of
life is broad enough, but runs shallow. In the children, vitality is
exhausted early. The roots do not go down into anything very strong.
Illness and deaths and funerals, in her own family and in those of
her friends, had come at frequent intervals in Annie's life. Since
they had to be, she and her sisters made the best of them. There was
something to be got out of funerals, even, if they were managed
right. They kept people in touch with old friends who had moved
uptown, and revived kindly feelings.

Annie had often given up things she wanted because there was
sickness at home, and now she was patient with her boss. What he
paid her for overtime work by no means made up to her what she lost.

Annie was not in the least thrifty, nor were any of her sisters. She
had to make a living, but she was not interested in getting all she
could for her time, or in laying up for the future. Girls like Annie
know that the future is a very uncertain thing, and they feel no
responsibility about it. The present is what they have--and it is
all they have. If Annie missed a chance to go sailing with the
plumber's son on Saturday afternoon, why, she missed it. As for the
two dollars her boss gave her, she handed them over to her mother.
Now that Annie was getting more money, one of her sisters quit a job
she didn't like and was staying at home for a rest. That was all
promotion meant to Annie.

The first time Annie's boss asked her to work on Saturday afternoon,
she could not hide her disappointment. He suggested that they might
knock off early and go to a show, or take a run in his car, but she
grew tearful and said it would be hard to make her family
understand. Wanning thought perhaps he could explain to her mother.
He called his motor and took Annie home.

When his car stopped in front of the tenement house on Eighth
Avenue, heads came popping out of the windows for six storys up, and
all the neighbor women, in dressing sacks and wrappers, gazed down
at the machine and at the couple alighting from it. A motor meant a
wedding or the hospital.

The plumber's son, Willy Steen, came over from the corner saloon to
see what was going on, and Annie introduced him at the doorstep.

Mrs. Wooley asked Wanning to come into the parlor and invited him to
have a chair of ceremony between the folding bed and the piano.

Annie, nervous and tearful, escaped to the dining-room--the cheerful
spot where the daughters visited with each other and with their
friends. The parlor was a masked sleeping chamber and store room.

The plumber's son sat down on the sofa beside Mrs. Wooley, as if he
were accustomed to share in the family councils. Mrs. Wooley waited
expectant and kindly. She looked the sensible, hard-working woman
that she was, and one could see she hadn't lived all her life on
Eighth Avenue without learning a great deal.

Wanning explained to her that he was writing a book which he wanted
to finish during the summer months when business was not so heavy.
He was ill and could not work regularly. His secretary would have to
take his dictation when he felt able to give it; must, in short, be
a sort of companion to him. He would like to feel that she could go
out in his car with him, or even to the theater, when he felt like
it. It might have been better if he had engaged a young man for this
work, but since he had begun it with Annie, he would like to keep
her if her mother was willing.

Mrs. Wooley watched him with friendly, searching eyes. She glanced
at Willy Steen, who, wise in such distinctions, had decided that
there was nothing shady about Annie's boss. He nodded his sanction.

"I don't want my girl to conduct herself in any such way as will
prejudice her, Mr. Wanning," she said thoughtfully. "If you've got
daughters, you know how that is. You've been liberal with Annie, and
it's a good position for her. It's right she should go to business
every day, and I want her to do her work right, but I like to have
her home after working hours. I always think a young girl's time is
her own after business hours, and I try not to burden them when they
come home. I'm willing she should do your work as suits you, if it's
her wish; but I don't like to press her. The good times she misses
now, it's not you nor me, sir, that can make them up to her. These
young things has their feelings."

"Oh, I don't want to press her, either," Wanning said hastily. "I
simply want to know that you understand the situation. I've made her
a little present in my will as a recognition that she is doing more
for me than she is paid for."

"That's something above me, sir. We'll hope there won't be no
question of wills for many years yet," Mrs. Wooley spoke heartily.
"I'm glad if my girl can be of any use to you, just so she don't
prejudice herself."

The plumber's son rose as if the interview were over.

"It's all right, Mama Wooley, don't you worry," he said.

He picked up his canvas cap and turned to Wanning. "You see, Annie
ain't the sort of girl that would want to be spotted circulating
around with a monied party her folks didn't know all about. She'd
lose friends by it."

After this conversation Annie felt a great deal happier. She was
still shy and a trifle awkward with poor Wanning when they were
outside the office building, and she missed the old freedom of her
Saturday afternoons. But she did the best she could, and Willy Steen
tried to make it up to her.

In Annie's absence he often came in of an afternoon to have a cup of
tea and a sugar-bun with Mrs. Wooley and the daughter who was
"resting." As they sat at the dining-room table, they discussed
Annie's employer, his peculiarities, his health, and what he had
told Mrs. Wooley about his will.

Mrs. Wooley said she sometimes felt afraid he might disinherit his
children, as rich people often did, and make talk; but she hoped for
the best. Whatever came to Annie, she prayed it might not be in the
form of taxable property.


IV

Late in September Wanning grew suddenly worse. His family hurried
home, and he was put to bed in his house in Orange. He kept asking
the doctors when he could get back to the office, but he lived only
eight days.

The morning after his father's funeral, Harold went to the office to
consult Wanning's partners and to read the will. Everything in the
will was as it should be. There were no surprises except a codicil
in the form of a letter to Mrs. Wanning, dated July 8th, requesting
that out of the estate she should pay the sum of one thousand
dollars to his stenographer, Annie Wooley, "in recognition of her
faithful services."

"I thought Miss Doane was my father's stenographer," Harold
exclaimed.

Alec McQuiston looked embarrassed and spoke in a low, guarded tone.

"She was, for years. But this spring,--" he hesitated.

McQuiston loved a scandal. He leaned across his desk toward Harold.

"This spring your father put this little girl, Miss Wooley, a
copyist, utterly inexperienced, in Miss Doane's place. Miss Doane
was indignant and left us. The change made comment here in the
office. It was slightly--No, I will be frank with you, Harold, it
was very irregular."

Harold also looked grave. "What could my father have meant by such a
request as this to my mother?"

The silver haired senior partner flushed and spoke as if he were
trying to break something gently.

"I don't understand it, my boy. But I think, indeed I prefer to
think, that your father was not quite himself all this summer. A man
like your father does not, in his right senses, find pleasure in the
society of an ignorant, common little girl. He does not make a
practise of keeping her at the office after hours, often until eight
o'clock, or take her to restaurants and to the theater with him;
not, at least, in a slanderous city like New York."

Harold flinched before McQuiston's meaning gaze and turned aside in
pained silence. He knew, as a dramatist, that there are dark
chapters in all men's lives, and this but too clearly explained why
his father had stayed in town all summer instead of joining his
family.

McQuiston asked if he should ring for Annie Wooley.

Harold drew himself up. "No. Why should I see her? I prefer not to.
But with your permission, Mr. McQuiston, I will take charge of this
request to my mother. It could only give her pain, and might awaken
doubts in her mind."

"We hardly know," murmured the senior partner, "where an
investigation would lead us. Technically, of course, I cannot agree
with you. But if, as one of the executors of the will, you wish to
assume personal responsibility for this bequest, under the
circumstances--irregularities beget irregularities."

"My first duty to my father," said Harold, "is to protect my
mother."

That afternoon McQuiston called Annie Wooley into his private office
and told her that her services would not be needed any longer, and
that in lieu of notice the clerk would give her two weeks' salary.

"Can I call up here for references?" Annie asked.

"Certainly. But you had better ask for me, personally. You must know
there has been some criticism of you here in the office, Miss
Wooley."

"What about?" Annie asked boldly.

"Well, a young girl like you cannot render so much personal service
to her employer as you did to Mr. Wanning without causing
unfavorable comment. To be blunt with you, for your own good, my
dear young lady, your services to your employer should terminate in
the office, and at the close of office hours. Mr. Wanning was a very
sick man and his judgment was at fault, but you should have known
what a girl in your station can do and what she cannot do."

The vague discomfort of months flashed up in little Annie. She had
no mind to stand by and be lectured without having a word to say for
herself.

"Of course he was sick, poor man!" she burst out. "Not as anybody
seemed much upset about it. I wouldn't have given up my
half-holidays for anybody if they hadn't been sick, no matter what
they paid me. There wasn't anything in it for me."

McQuiston raised his hand warningly.

"That will do, young lady. But when you get another place, remember
this: it is never your duty to entertain or to provide amusement for
your employer."

He gave Annie a look which she did not clearly understand, although
she pronounced him a nasty old man as she hustled on her hat and
jacket.

When Annie reached home she found Willy Steen sitting with her
mother and sister at the dining-room table. This was the first day
that Annie had gone to the office since Wanning's death, and her
family awaited her return with suspense.

"Hello yourself," Annie called as she came in and threw her handbag
into an empty armchair.

"You're off early, Annie," said her mother gravely. "Has the will
been read?"

"I guess so. Yes, I know it has. Miss Wilson got it out of the safe
for them. The son came in. He's a pill."

"Was nothing said to you, daughter?"

"Yes, a lot. Please give me some tea, mother." Annie felt that her
swagger was failing.

"Don't tantalize us, Ann," her sister broke in. "Didn't you get
anything?"

"I got the mit, all right. And some back talk from the old man that
I'm awful sore about."

Annie dashed away the tears and gulped her tea.

Gradually her mother and Willy drew the story from her. Willy
offered at once to go to the office building and take his stand
outside the door and never leave it until he had punched old Mr.
McQuiston's face. He rose as if to attend to it at once, but Mrs.
Wooley drew him to his chair again and patted his arm.

"It would only start talk and get the girl in trouble, Willy. When
it's lawyers, folks in our station is helpless. I certainly believed
that man when he sat here; you heard him yourself. Such a gentleman
as he looked."

Willy thumped his great fist, still in punching position, down on
his knee.

"Never you be fooled again, Mama Wooley. You'll never get anything
out of a rich guy that he ain't signed up in the courts for. Rich is
tight. There's no exceptions."

Annie shook her head.

"I didn't want anything out of him. He was a nice, kind man, and he
had his troubles, I guess. He wasn't tight."

"Still," said Mrs. Wooley sadly, "Mr. Wanning had no call to hold
out promises. I hate to be disappointed in a gentleman. You've had
confining work for some time, daughter; a rest will do you good."

                                       _Smart Set_, October 1919



PART II

REVIEWS AND ESSAYS



_Mark Twain_


If there is anything which should make an American sick and
disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve
his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain
and Max O'Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a
gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and
an all around tough. The squabble arose apropos of Paul Bourget's
new book on America, "Outre Mer," a book which deals more fairly and
generously with this country than any book yet written in a foreign
tongue. Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his
class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming
personal and insulting. He cannot be scathing without being a
blackguard. He tried to demolish a serious and well considered work
by publishing a scurrilous, slangy and loosely written article about
it. In this article Mr. Clemens proves very little against Mr.
Bourget and a very great deal against himself. He demonstrates
clearly that he is neither a scholar, a reader or a man of letters
and very little of a gentleman. His ignorance of French literature
is something appalling. Why, in these days it is as necessary for a
literary man to have a wide knowledge of the French masterpieces as
it is for him to have read Shakespeare or the Bible. What man who
pretends to be an author can afford to neglect those models of style
and composition. George Meredith, Thomas Hardy and Henry James
excepted, the great living novelists are Frenchmen.

Mr. Clemens asks what the French sensualists can possibly teach the
great American people about novel writing or morality? Well, it
would not seriously hurt the art of the classic author of "Puddin'
Head Wilson" to study Daudet, De Maupassant, Hugo and George Sand,
whatever it might do to his morals. Mark Twain is a humorist of a
kind. His humor is always rather broad, so broad that the polite
world can justly call it coarse. He is not a reader nor a thinker
nor a man who loves art of any kind. He is a clever Yankee who has
made a "good thing" out of writing. He has been published in the
North American Review and in the Century, but he is not and never
will be a part of literature. The association and companionship of
cultured men has given Mark Twain a sort of professional veneer, but
it could not give him fine instincts or nice discriminations or
elevated tastes. His works are pure and suitable for children, just
as the work of most shallow and mediocre fellows. House dogs and
donkeys make the most harmless and chaste companions for young
innocence in the world. Mark Twain's humor is of the kind that
teamsters use in bantering with each other, and his laugh is the
gruff "haw-haw" of the backwoodsman. He is still the rough, awkward,
good-natured boy who swore at the deck hands on the river steamer
and chewed uncured tobacco when he was three years old. Thoroughly
likeable as a good fellow, but impossible as a man of letters. It is
an unfortunate feature of American literature that a hostler with
some natural cleverness and a great deal of assertion receives the
same recognition as a standard American author that a man like
Lowell does. The French academy is a good thing after all. It at
least divides the sheep from the goats and gives a sheep the
consolation of knowing that he is a sheep.

It is rather a pity that Paul Bourget should have written "Outre
Mer," thoroughly creditable book though it is. Mr. Bourget is a
novelist, and he should not content himself with being an essayist,
there are far too many of them in the world already. He can develop
strong characters, invent strong situations, he can write the truth
and he should not drift into penning opinions and platitudes. When
God has made a man a creator, it is a great mistake for him to turn
critic. It is rather an insult to God and certainly a very great
wrong to man.

                           _Nebraska State Journal_, May 5, 1895


I got a letter last week from a little boy just half-past seven who
had just read "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer." He said: "If
there are any more books like them in the world, send them to me
quick." I had to humbly confess to him that if there were any others
I had not the good fortune to know of them. What a red-letter-day it
is to a boy, the day he first opens "Tom Sawyer." I would rather
sail on the raft down the Missouri again with "Huck" Finn and Jim
than go down the Nile in December or see Venice from a gondola in
May. Certainly Mark Twain is much better when he writes of his
Missouri boys than when he makes sickley romances about Joan of Arc.
And certainly he never did a better piece of work than "Prince and
Pauper." One seems to get at the very heart of old England in that
dearest of children's books, and in its pages the frail boy king,
and his gloomy sister Mary who in her day wrought so much woe for
unhappy England, and the dashing Princess Elizabeth who lived to
rule so well, seem to live again. A friend of Mr. Clemens' once told
me that he said he wrote that book so that when his little daughters
grew up they might know that their tired old jester of a father
could be serious and gentle sometimes.

                                    _The Home Monthly_, May 1897



_William Dean Howells_


Certainly now in his old age Mr. Howells is selecting queer titles
for his books. A while ago we had that feeble tale, "The Coast of
Bohemia," and now we have "My Literary Passions." "Passions,"
literary or otherwise, were never Mr. Howells' forte and surely no
man could be further from even the coast of Bohemia.

Apropos of "My Literary Passions" which has so long strung out in
the Ladies' Home Journal along with those thrilling articles about
how Henry Ward Beecher tied his necktie and what kind of coffee Mrs.
Hall Cain likes, why did Mr. Howells write it? Doesn't Mr. Howells
know that at one time or another every one raves over Don Quixote,
imitates Heine, worships Tourgueneff and calls Tolstoi a prophet?
Does Mr. Howells think that no one but he ever had youth and
enthusiasm and aspirations? Doesn't he know that the only thing that
makes the world worth living in at all is that once, when we are
young, we all have that great love for books and impersonal things,
all reverence and dream? We have all known the time when Porthos,
Athos and d'Artagan were vastly more real and important to us than
the folks who lived next door. We have all dwelt in that country
where Anna Karenina and the Levins were the only people who mattered
much. We have all known that intoxicating period when we thought we
"understood life," because we had read Daudet, Zola and Guy de
Maupassant, and like Mr. Howells we all looked back rather fondly
upon the time when we believed that books were the truth and art was
all. After a while books grow matter of fact like everything else
and we always think enviously of the days when they were new and
wonderful and strange. That's a part of existence. We lose our first
keen relish for literature just as we lose it for ice-cream and
confectionery. The taste grows older, wiser and more subdued. We
would all wear out of very enthusiasm if it did not. But why should
Mr. Howells tell the world this common experience in detail as
though it were his and his alone. He might as well write a detailed
account of how he had the measles and the whooping cough. It was all
right and proper for Mr. Howells to like Heine and Hugo, but, in the
words of the circus clown, "We've all been there."

                         _Nebraska State Journal_, July 14, 1895



_Edgar Allan Poe_


  My tantalized spirit
    Here blandly reposes,
  Forgetting, or never
    Regretting its roses,
  Its old agitations
    Of myrtles and roses.

  For now, while so quietly
    Lying, it fancies
  A holier odor
    About it, of pansies--
  A rosemary odor
    Commingled with pansies.
  With rue and the beautiful
    Puritan pansies.

              --Edgar Allan Poe.

The Shakespeare society of New York, which is really about the only
useful literary organization in this country, is making vigorous
efforts to redress an old wrong and atone for a long neglect.
Sunday, Sept. 22, it held a meeting at the Poe cottage on
Kingsbridge road near Fordham, for the purpose of starting an
organized movement to buy back the cottage, restore it to its
original condition and preserve it as a memorial of Poe. So it has
come at last. After helping build monuments to Shelley, Keats and
Carlyle we have at last remembered this man, the greatest of our
poets and the most unhappy. I am glad that this movement is in the
hands of American actors, for it was among them that Poe found his
best friends and warmest admirers. Some way he always seemed to
belong to the strolling Thespians who were his mother's people.

Among all the thousands of life's little ironies that make history
so diverting, there is none more paradoxical than that Edgar Poe
should have been an American. Look at his face. Had we ever another
like it? He must have been a strange figure in his youth, among
those genial, courtly Virginians, this handsome, pale fellow,
violent in his enthusiasm, ardent in his worship, but spiritually
cold in his affections. Now playing heavily for the mere excitement
of play, now worshipping at the shrine of a woman old enough to be
his mother, merely because her voice was beautiful; now swimming six
miles up the James river against a heavy current in the glaring sun
of a June midday. He must have seemed to them an unreal figure, a
sort of stage man who was wandering about the streets with his mask
and buskins on, a theatrical figure who had escaped by some strange
mischance into the prosaic daylight. His speech and actions were
unconsciously and sincerely dramatic, always as though done for
effect. He had that nervous, egotistic, self-centered nature common
to stage children who seem to have been dazzled by the footlights
and maddened by the applause before they are born. It was in his
blood. With the exception of two women who loved him, lived for him,
died for him, he went through life friendless, misunderstood, with
that dense, complete, hopeless misunderstanding which, as Amiel
said, is the secret of that sad smile upon the lips of the great.
Men tried to befriend him, but in some way or other he hurt and
disappointed them. He tried to mingle and share with other men, but
he was always shut from them by that shadow, light as gossamer but
unyielding as adamant, by which, from the beginning of the world,
art has shielded and guarded and protected her own, that
God-concealing mist in which the heroes of old were hidden, immersed
in that gloom and solitude which, if we could but know it here, is
but the shadow of God's hand as it falls upon his elect.

We lament our dearth of great prose. With the exception of Henry
James and Hawthorne, Poe is our only master of pure prose. We lament
our dearth of poets. With the exception of Lowell, Poe is our only
great poet. Poe found short story writing a bungling makeshift. He
left it a perfect art. He wrote the first perfect short stories in
the English language. He first gave the short story purpose, method,
and artistic form. In a careless reading one can not realize the
wonderful literary art, the cunning devices, the masterly effects
that those entrancing tales conceal. They are simple and direct
enough to delight us when we are children, subtle and artistic
enough to be our marvel when we are old. To this day they are the
wonder and admiration of the French, who are the acknowledged
masters of craft and form. How in his wandering, laborious life,
bound to the hack work of the press and crushed by an ever-growing
burden of want and debt, did he ever come upon all this deep and
mystical lore, this knowledge of all history, of all languages, of
all art, this penetration into the hidden things of the East? As
Steadman says, "The self training of genius is always a marvel." The
past is spread before us all and most of us spend our lives in
learning those things which we do not need to know, but genius
reaches out instinctively and takes only the vital detail, by some
sort of spiritual gravitation goes directly to the right thing.

Poe belonged to the modern French school of decorative and
discriminating prose before it ever existed in France. He rivalled
Gautier, Flaubert and de Maupassant before they were born. He
clothed his tales in a barbaric splendor and persuasive unreality
never before heard of in English. No such profusion of color,
oriental splendor of detail, grotesque combinations and mystical
effects had ever before been wrought into language. There are tales
as grotesque, as monstrous, unearthly as the stone griffens and
gargoyles that are cut up among the unvisited niches and towers of
Notre Dame, stories as poetic and delicately beautiful as the golden
lace work chased upon an Etruscan ring. He fitted his words together
as the Byzantine jewelers fitted priceless stones. He found the
inner harmony and kinship of words. Where lived another man who
could blend the beautiful and the horrible, the gorgeous and the
grotesque in such intricate and inexplicable fashion? Who could
delight you with his noun and disgust you with his verb, thrill you
with his adjective and chill you with his adverb, make you run the
whole gamut of human emotions in a single sentence? Sitting in that
miserable cottage at Fordham he wrote of the splendor of dream
palaces beyond the dreams of art. He hung those grimy walls with
dream tapestries, paved those narrow halls with black marble and
polished onyx, and into those low-roofed chambers he brought all the
treasured imagery of fancy, from the "huge carvings of untutored
Egypt" to "mingled and conflicting perfumes, reeking up from strange
convolute censers, together with multitudinous, flaring and
flickering tongues of purple and violet fire." Hungry and ragged he
wrote of Epicurean feasts and luxury that would have beggared the
purpled pomp of pagan Rome and put Nero and his Golden House to
shame.

And this mighty master of the organ of language, who knew its every
stop and pipe, who could awaken at will the thin silver tones of its
slenderest reeds or the solemn cadence of its deepest thunder, who
could make it sing like a flute or roar like a cataract, he was born
into a country without a literature. He was of that ornate school
which usually comes last in a national literature, and he came
first. American taste had been vitiated by men like Griswold and N.
P. Willis until it was at the lowest possible ebb. Willis was
considered a genius, that is the worst that could possibly be said.
In the North a new race of great philosophers was growing up, but
Poe had neither their friendship nor encouragement. He went indeed,
sometimes, to the chilly _salon_ of Margaret Fuller, but he was
always a discord there. He was a mere artist and he had no business
with philosophy, he had no theories as to the "higher life" and the
"true happiness." He had only his unshapen dreams that battled with
him in dark places, the unborn that struggled in his brain for
birth. What time has an artist to learn the multiplication table or
to talk philosophy? He was not afraid of them. He laughed at Willis,
and flung Longfellow's lie in his teeth, the lie the rest of the
world was twenty years in finding. He scorned the obtrusive learning
of the transcendentalists and he disliked their hard talkative
women. He left them and went back to his dream women, his
_Berenice_, his _Ligeia_, his _Marchesa Aphrodite_, pale and cold as
the mist maidens of the North, sad as the Norns who weep for human
woe.

The tragedy of Poe's life was not alcohol, but hunger. He died when
he was forty, when his work was just beginning. Thackeray had not
touched his great novels at forty, George Eliot was almost unknown
at that age. Hugo, Goethe, Hawthorne, Lowell and Dumas all did their
great work after they were forty years old. Poe never did his great
work. He could not endure the hunger. This year the Drexel Institute
has put over sixty thousand dollars into a new edition of Poe's
poems and stories. He himself never got six thousand for them
altogether. If one of the great and learned institutions of the land
had invested one tenth of that amount in the living author forty
years ago we should have had from him such works as would have made
the name of this nation great. But he sold "The Masque of the Red
Death" for a few dollars, and now the Drexel Institute pays a
publisher thousands to publish it beautifully. It is enough to make
Satan laugh until his ribs ache, and all the little devils laugh and
heap on fresh coals. I don't wonder they hate humanity. It's so
dense, so hopelessly stupid.

Only a few weeks before Poe's death he said he had never had time or
opportunity to make a serious effort. All his tales were merely
experiments, thrown off when his day's work as a journalist was
over, when he should have been asleep. All those voyages into the
mystical unknown, into the gleaming, impalpable kingdom of pure
romance from which he brought back such splendid trophies, were but
experiments. He was only getting his tools into shape getting ready
for his great effort, the effort that never came.

Bread seems a little thing to stand in the way of genius, but it
can. The simple sordid facts were these, that in the bitterest
storms of winter Poe seldom wrote by a fire, that after he was
twenty-five years old he never knew what it was to have enough to
eat without dreading tomorrow's hunger. Chatterton had only himself
to sacrifice, but Poe saw the woman he loved die of want before his
very eyes, die smiling and begging him not to give up his work. They
saw the depths together in those long winter nights when she lay in
that cold room, wrapped in Poe's only coat, he, with one hand
holding hers, and with the other dashing off some of the most
perfect masterpieces of English prose. And when he would wince and
turn white at her coughing, she would always whisper: "Work on, my
poet, and when you have finished read it to me. I am happy when I
listen." O, the devotion of women and the madness of art! They are
the two most awesome things on earth, and surely this man knew both
to the full.

I have wondered so often how he did it. How he kept his purpose
always clean and his taste always perfect. How it was that hard
labor never wearied nor jaded him, never limited his imagination,
that the jarring clamor about him never drowned the fine harmonies
of his fancy. His discrimination remained always delicate, and from
the constant strain of toil his fancy always rose strong and
unfettered. Without encouragement or appreciation of any sort,
without models or precedents he built up that pure style of his that
is without peer in the language, that style of which every sentence
is a drawing by Vedder. Elizabeth Barrett and a few great artists
over in France knew what he was doing, they knew that in literature
he was making possible a new heaven and a new earth. But he never
knew that they knew it. He died without the assurance that he was or
ever would be understood. And yet through all this, with the whole
world of art and letters against him, betrayed by his own people, he
managed to keep that lofty ideal of perfect work. What he suffered
never touched or marred his work, but it wrecked his character.
Poe's character was made by his necessity. He was a liar and an
egotist; a man who had to beg for bread at the hands of his
publishers and critics could be nothing but a liar, and had he not
had the insane egotism and conviction of genius, he would have
broken down and written the drivelling trash that his countrymen
delighted to read. Poe lied to his publishers sometimes, there is no
doubt of that, but there were two to whom he was never false, his
wife and his muse. He drank sometimes too, when for very ugly and
relentless reasons he could not eat. And then he forgot what he
suffered. For Bacchus is the kindest of the gods after all. When
Aphrodite has fooled us and left us and Athene has betrayed us in
battle, then poor tipsy Bacchus, who covers his head with vine
leaves where the curls are getting thin, holds out his cup to us and
says, "forget." It's poor consolation, but he means it well.

The Transcendentalists were good conversationalists, that in fact
was their principal accomplishment. They used to talk a great deal
of genius, that rare and capricious spirit that visits earth so
seldom, that is wooed by so many, and won by so few. They had grand
theories that all men should be poets, that the visits of that rare
spirit should be made as frequent and universal as afternoon calls.
O, they had plans to make a whole generation of little geniuses. But
she only laughed her scornful laughter, that deathless lady of the
immortals, up in her echoing chambers that are floored with dawn and
roofed with the spangled stars. And she snatched from them the only
man of their nation she had ever deigned to love, whose lips she had
touched with music and whose soul with song. In his youth she had
shown him the secrets of her beauty and his manhood had been one
pursuit of her, blind to all else, like Anchises, who on the night
that he knew the love of Venus, was struck sightless, that he might
never behold the face of a mortal woman. For Our Lady of Genius has
no care for the prayers and groans of mortals, nor for their
hecatombs sweet of savor. Many a time of old she has foiled the
plans of seers and none may entreat her or take her by force. She
favors no one nation or clime. She takes one from the millions, and
when she gives herself unto a man it is without his will or that of
his fellows, and he pays for it, dear heaven, he pays!

  "The sun comes forth and many reptiles spawn,
  He sets and each ephemeral insect then
  Is gathered unto death without a dawn,
  And the immortal stars awake again."

Yes, "and the immortal stars awake again." None may thwart the
unerring justice of the gods, not even the Transcendentalists. What
matter that one man's life was miserable, that one man was broken on
the wheel? His work lives and his crown is eternal. That the work of
his age was undone, that is the pity, that the work of his youth was
done, that is the glory. The man is nothing. There are millions of
men. The work is everything. There is so little perfection. We
lament our dearth of poets when we let Poe starve. We are like the
Hebrews who stoned their prophets and then marvelled that the voice
of God was silent. We will wait a long time for another. There are
Griswold and N. P. Willis, our chosen ones, let us turn to them.
Their names are forgotten. God is just. They are,

  "Gathered unto death without a dawn.
  And the immortal stars awake again."

                                 _The Courier_, October 12, 1895


You can afford to give a little more care and attention to this
imaginative boy of yours than to any of your other children. His
nerves are more finely strung and all his life he will need your
love more than the others. Be careful to get him the books he likes
and see that they are good ones. Get him a volume of Poe's short
stories. I know many people are prejudiced against Poe because of
the story that he drank himself to death. But that myth has been
exploded long ago. Poe drank less than even the average man of his
time. No, the most artistic of all American story tellers did not
die because he drank too much, but because he ate too little. And
yet we, his own countrymen who should be so proud of him, are not
content with having starved him and wronged him while he lived, we
must even go on slandering him after he has been dead almost fifty
years. But get his works for this imaginative boy of yours and he
will tell you how great a man the author of "The Gold Bug" and "The
Masque of the Red Death" was. Children are impartial critics and
sometimes very good ones. They do not reason about a book, they just
like it or dislike it intensely, and after all that is the
conclusion of the whole matter. I am very sure that "The Fall of the
House of Usher," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Black Cat" will
give this woolgathering lad of yours more pleasure than a new
bicycle could.

                                    _The Home Monthly_, May 1897



_Walt Whitman_


Speaking of monuments reminds one that there is more talk about a
monument to Walt Whitman, "the good, gray poet." Just why the
adjective good is always applied to Whitman it is difficult to
discover, probably because people who could not understand him at
all took it for granted that he meant well. If ever there was a poet
who had no literary ethics at all beyond those of nature, it was he.
He was neither good nor bad, any more than are the animals he
continually admired and envied. He was a poet without an exclusive
sense of the poetic, a man without the finer discriminations,
enjoying everything with the unreasoning enthusiasm of a boy. He was
the poet of the dung hill as well as of the mountains, which is
admirable in theory but excruciating in verse. In the same paragraph
he informs you that, "The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,"
and that "The malformed limbs are tied to the table, what is removed
drop horribly into a pail." No branch of surgery is poetic, and that
hopelessly prosaic word "pail" would kill a whole volume of sonnets.
Whitman's poems are reckless rhapsodies over creation in general,
some times sublime, some times ridiculous. He declares that the
ocean with its "imperious waves, commanding" is beautiful, and that
the fly-specks on the walls are also beautiful. Such catholic taste
may go in science, but in poetry their results are sad. The poet's
task is usually to select the poetic. Whitman never bothers to do
that, he takes everything in the universe from fly-specks to the
fixed stars. His "Leaves of Grass" is a sort of dictionary of the
English language, and in it is the name of everything in creation
set down with great reverence but without any particular connection.

But however ridiculous Whitman may be there is a primitive elemental
force about him. He is so full of hardiness and of the joy of life.
He looks at all nature in the delighted, admiring way in which the
old Greeks and the primitive poets did. He exults so in the red
blood in his body and the strength in his arms. He has such a
passion for the warmth and dignity of all that is natural. He has no
code but to be natural, a code that this complex world has so long
outgrown. He is sensual, not after the manner of Swinbourne and
Gautier, who are always seeking for perverted and bizarre effects on
the senses, but in the frank fashion of the old barbarians who ate
and slept and married and smacked their lips over the mead horn. He
is rigidly limited to the physical, things that quicken his pulses,
please his eyes or delight his nostrils. There is an element of
poetry in all this, but it is by no means the highest. If a joyous
elephant should break forth into song, his lay would probably be
very much like Whitman's famous "song of myself." It would have just
about as much delicacy and deftness and discriminations. He says:

"I think I could turn and live with the animals. They are so placid
and self-contained, I stand and look at them long and long. They do
not sweat and whine about their condition. They do not lie awake in
the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick
discussing their duty to God. Not one is dissatisfied nor not one is
demented with the mania of many things. Not one kneels to another
nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one is
respectable or unhappy, over the whole earth." And that is not irony
on nature, he means just that, life meant no more to him. He
accepted the world just as it is and glorified it, the seemly and
unseemly, the good and the bad. He had no conception of a difference
in people or in things. All men had bodies and were alike to him,
one about as good as another. To live was to fulfil all natural laws
and impulses. To be comfortable was to be happy. To be happy was the
ultimatum. He did not realize the existence of a conscience or a
responsibility. He had no more thought of good or evil than the
folks in Kipling's Jungle book.

And yet there is an undeniable charm about this optimistic vagabond
who is made so happy by the warm sunshine and the smell of spring
fields. A sort of good fellowship and whole-heartedness in every
line he wrote. His veneration for things physical and material, for
all that is in water or air or land, is so real that as you read him
you think for the moment that you would rather like to live so if
you could. For the time you half believe that a sound body and a
strong arm are the greatest things in the world. Perhaps no book
shows so much as "Leaves of Grass" that keen senses do not make a
poet. When you read it you realize how spirited a thing poetry
really is and how great a part spiritual perceptions play in
apparently sensuous verse, if only to select the beautiful from the
gross.

                      _Nebraska State Journal_, January 19, 1896



_Henry James_


Their mania for careless and hasty work is not confined to the
lesser men. Howells and Hardy have gone with the crowd. Now that
Stevenson is dead I can think of but one English speaking author who
is really keeping his self-respect and sticking for perfection. Of
course I refer to that mighty master of language and keen student of
human actions and motives, Henry James. In the last four years he
has published, I believe, just two small volumes, "The Lesson of the
Master" and "Terminations," and in those two little volumes of short
stories he who will may find out something of what it means to be
really an artist. The framework is perfect and the polish is
absolutely without flaw. They are sometimes a little hard, always
calculating and dispassionate, but they are perfect. I wish James
would write about modern society, about "degeneracy" and the new
woman and all the rest of it. Not that he would throw any light on
it. He seldom does; but he would say such awfully clever things
about it, and turn on so many side-lights. And then his sentences!
If his character novels were all wrong one could read him forever
for the mere beauty of his sentences. He never lets his phrases run
away with him. They are never dull and never too brilliant. He
subjects them to the general tone of his sentence and has his whole
paragraph partake of the same predominating color. You are never
startled, never surprised, never thrilled or never enraptured;
always delighted by that masterly prose that is as correct, as
classical, as calm and as subtle as the music of Mozart.

                                _The Courier_, November 16, 1895


It is strange that from "Felicia" down, the stage novel has never
been a success. Henry James' "Tragic Muse" is the only theatrical
novel that has a particle of the real spirit of the stage in it, a
glimpse of the enthusiasm, the devotion, the exaltation and the
sordid, the frivolous and the vulgar which are so strangely and
inextricably blended in that life of the green room. For although
Henry James cannot write plays he can write passing well of the
people who enact them. He has put into one book all those inevitable
attendants of the drama, the patronizing theatre goer who loves it
above all things and yet feels so far superior to it personally; the
old tragedienne, the queen of a dying school whose word is law and
whose judgments are to a young actor as the judgments of God; and of
course there is the girl, the aspirant, the tragic muse who beats
and beats upon those brazen doors that guard the unapproachable
until one fine morning she beats them down and comes into her
kingdom, the kingdom of unborn beauty that is to live through her.
It is a great novel, that book of the master's, so perfect as a
novel that one does not realize what a masterly study it is of the
life and ends and aims of the people who make plays live.

                        _Nebraska State Journal_, March 29, 1896



_Harold Frederic_


    "THE MARKET-PLACE." Harold Frederic. $1.50. New York: F. A.
    Stokes & Co. Pittsburg: J. R. Weldin & Co.

Unusual interest is attached to the posthumous work of that great
man whose career ended so prematurely and so tragically. The story
is a study in the ethics and purposes of money-getting, in the
romantic element in modern business. In it finance is presented not
as being merely the province of shrewdness, or greediness, or petty
personal gratification, but of great projects, of great
brain-battles, a field for the exercising of talent, daring,
imagination, appealing to the strength of a strong man, filling the
same place in men's lives that was once filled by the incentives of
war, kindling in man the desire for the leadership of men. The hero
of the story, "Joel Thorpe," is one of those men, huge of body, keen
of brain, with cast iron nerves, as sound a heart as most men, and a
magnificent capacity for bluff. He has lived and risked and lost in
a dozen countries, been almost within reach of fortune a dozen
times, and always missed her until, finally, in London, by promoting
a great rubber syndicate he becomes a multi-millionaire. He marries
the most beautiful and one of the most impecunious peeresses in
England and retires to his country estate. There, as a gentleman of
leisure, he loses his motive in life, loses power for lack of
opportunity, and grows less commanding even in the eyes of his wife,
who misses the uncompromising, barbaric strength which took her by
storm and won her. Finally he evolves a gigantic philanthropic
scheme of spending his money as laboriously as he made it.

Mr. Frederic says:

    "Napoleon was the greatest man of his age--one of the
    greatest men of all ages--not only in war but in a hundred
    other ways. He spent the last six years of his life at St.
    Helena in excellent health, with companions that he talked
    freely to, and in all the extraordinarily copious reports of
    his conversations there, we don't get a single sentence
    worth repeating. The greatness had entirely evaporated from
    him the moment he was put on an island where he had nothing
    to do."

It is very fitting that Mr. Frederic's last book should be in praise
of action, the thing that makes the world go round; of force,
however misspent, which is the sum of life as distinguished from the
inertia of death. In the forty-odd years of his life he wrote almost
as many pages as Balzac, most of it mere newspaper copy, it is true,
read and forgotten, but all of it vigorous and with the stamp of a
strong man upon it. And he played just as hard as he worked--alas,
it was the play that killed him! The young artist who illustrated
the story gave to the pictures of "Joel Thorpe" very much the look
of Harold Frederic himself, and they might almost stand for his
portraits. I fancy the young man did not select his model
carelessly. In this big, burly adventurer who took fortune and women
by storm, who bluffed the world by his prowess and fought his way to
the front with battle-ax blows, there is a great deal of Harold
Frederic, the soldier of fortune, the Utica milk boy who fought his
way from the petty slavery of a provincial newspaper to the foremost
ranks of the journalists of the world and on into literature, into
literature worth the writing. The man won his place in England much
as his hero won his, by defiance, by strong shoulder blows, by his
self-sufficiency and inexhaustible strength, and when he finished
his book he did not know that his end would be so much less glorious
than his hero's, that it would be his portion not to fall manfully
in the thick of the combat and the press of battle, but to die
poisoned in the tent of Chryseis. For who could foresee a tragedy so
needless, so blind, so brutal in its lack of dignity, or know that
such strength could perish through such insidious weakness, that so
great a man could be stung to death by a mania born in little minds?

In point of execution and literary excellence, both "The Market
Place" and "Gloria Mundi" are vastly inferior to "The Damnation of
Theron Ware," or that exquisite London idyl, "March Hares." The
first 200 pages of "Theron Ware" are as good as anything in American
fiction, much better than most of it. They are not so much the work
of a literary artist as of a vigorous thinker, a man of strong
opinions and an intimate and comprehensive knowledge of men. The
whole work, despite its irregularities and indifference to form, is
full of brain stuff, the kind of active, healthful, masterful
intellect that some men put into politics, some into science and a
few, a very few, into literature. Both "Gloria Mundi" and "The
Market Place" bear unmistakable evidences of the slack rein and the
hasty hand. Both of them contain considerable padding, the stamp of
the space writer. They are imperfectly developed, and are not packed
with ideas like his earlier novels. Their excellence is in flashes;
it is not the searching, evenly distributed light which permeates
his more careful work. There were, as we know too well, good reasons
why Mr. Frederic should work hastily. He needed a large income and
he worked heroically, writing many thousands of words a day to
obtain it. From the experience of the ages we have learned to expect
to find, coupled with great strength, a proportionate weakness, and
usually it devours the greater part, as the seven lean kine devoured
the seven fat in Pharaoh's vision. Achilles was a god in all his
nobler parts, but his feet were of the earth and to the earth they
held him down, and he died stung by an arrow in the heel.

                               _Pittsburg Leader_, June 10, 1899



_Kate Chopin_


    "THE AWAKENING." Kate Chopin. $1.25. Chicago: H. S. Stone &
    Co. Pittsburg: J. R. Weldin & Co.

A Creole "Bovary" is this little novel of Miss Chopin's. Not that
the heroine is a creole exactly, or that Miss Chopin is a
Flaubert--save the mark!--but the theme is similar to that which
occupied Flaubert. There was, indeed, no need that a second "Madame
Bovary" should be written, but an author's choice of themes is
frequently as inexplicable as his choice of a wife. It is governed
by some innate temperamental bias that cannot be diagrammed. This is
particularly so in women who write, and I shall not attempt to say
why Miss Chopin has devoted so exquisite and sensitive,
well-governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme. She writes
much better than it is ever given to most people to write, and hers
is a genuinely literary style; of no great elegance or solidity; but
light, flexible, subtle and capable of producing telling effects
directly and simply. The story she has to tell in the present
instance is new neither in matter nor treatment. "Edna Pontellier,"
a Kentucky girl, who, like "Emma Bovary," had been in love with
innumerable dream heroes before she was out of short skirts, married
"Leonce Pontellier" as a sort of reaction from a vague and visionary
passion for a tragedian whose unresponsive picture she used to kiss.
She acquired the habit of liking her husband in time, and even of
liking her children. Though we are not justified in presuming that
she ever threw articles from her dressing table at them, as the
charming "Emma" had a winsome habit of doing, we are told that "she
would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart, she would
sometimes forget them." At a creole watering place, which is
admirably and deftly sketched by Miss Chopin, "Edna" met "Robert
Lebrun," son of the landlady, who dreamed of a fortune awaiting him
in Mexico while he occupied a petty clerical position in New
Orleans. "Robert" made it his business to be agreeable to his
mother's boarders, and "Edna," not being a creole, much against his
wish and will, took him seriously. "Robert" went to Mexico but found
that fortunes were no easier to make there than in New Orleans. He
returns and does not even call to pay his respects to her. She
encounters him at the home of a friend and takes him home with her.
She wheedles him into staying for dinner, and we are told she sent
the maid off "in search of some delicacy she had not thought of for
herself, and she recommended great care in the dripping of the
coffee and having the omelet done to a turn."

Only a few pages back we were informed that the husband, "M.
Pontellier," had cold soup and burnt fish for his dinner. Such is
life. The lover of course disappointed her, was a coward and ran
away from his responsibilities before they began. He was afraid to
begin a chapter with so serious and limited a woman. She remembered
the sea where she had first met "Robert." Perhaps from the same
motive which threw "Anna Keraninna" under the engine wheels, she
threw herself into the sea, swam until she was tired and then let
go.

    "She looked into the distance, and for a moment the old
    terror flamed up, then sank again. She heard her father's
    voice, and her sister Margaret's. She heard the barking of
    an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs
    of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the
    porch. There was a hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks
    filled the air."

"Edna Pontellier" and "Emma Bovary" are studies in the same feminine
type; one a finished and complete portrayal, the other a hasty
sketch, but the theme is essentially the same. Both women belong to
a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands
more romance out of life than God put into it. Mr. G. Barnard Shaw
would say that they are the victims of the over-idealization of
love. They are the spoil of the poets, the Iphigenias of sentiment.
The unfortunate feature of their disease is that it attacks only
women of brains, at least of rudimentary brains, but whose
development is one-sided; women of strong and fine intuitions, but
without the faculty of observation, comparison, reasoning about
things. Probably, for emotional people, the most convenient thing
about being able to think is that it occasionally gives them a rest
from feeling. Now with women of the "Bovary" type, this relaxation
and recreation is impossible. They are not critics of life, but, in
the most personal sense, partakers of life. They receive impressions
through the fancy. With them everything begins with fancy, and
passions rise in the brain rather than in the blood, the poor,
neglected, limited one-sided brain that might do so much better
things than badgering itself into frantic endeavors to love. For
these are the people who pay with their blood for the fine ideals of
the poets, as Marie Delclasse paid for Dumas' great creation,
"Marguerite Gauthier." These people really expect the passion of
love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only
intended that it should meet one of many demands. They insist upon
making it stand for all the emotional pleasures of life and art,
expecting an individual and self-limited passion to yield infinite
variety, pleasure and distraction, to contribute to their lives what
the arts and the pleasurable exercise of the intellect gives to less
limited and less intense idealists. So this passion, when set up
against Shakespeare, Balzac, Wagner, Raphael, fails them. They have
staked everything on one hand, and they lose. They have driven the
blood until it will drive no further, they have played their nerves
up to the point where any relaxation short of absolute annihilation
is impossible. Every idealist abuses his nerves, and every
sentimentalist brutally abuses them. And in the end, the nerves get
even. Nobody ever cheats them, really. Then "the awakening" comes.
Sometimes it comes in the form of arsenic, as it came to "Emma
Bovary," sometimes it is carbolic acid taken covertly in the police
station, a goal to which unbalanced idealism not infrequently leads.
"Edna Pontellier," fanciful and romantic to the last, chose the sea
on a summer night and went down with the sound of her first lover's
spurs in her ears, and the scent of pinks about her. And next time I
hope that Miss Chopin will devote that flexible, iridescent style of
hers to a better cause.

                                _Pittsburg Leader_, July 8, 1899



_Stephen Crane_


    "WAR IS KIND." Stephen Crane. $2.50. New York: F. A. Stokes
    & Co. Pittsburg: J. R. Weldin & Co.

This truly remarkable book is printed on dirty gray blotting paper,
on each page of which is a mere dot of print over a large I of
vacancy. There are seldom more than ten lines on a page, and it
would be better if most of those lines were not there at all. Either
Mr. Crane is insulting the public or insulting himself, or he has
developed a case of atavism and is chattering the primeval nonsense
of the apes. His "Black Riders," uneven as it was, was a casket of
polished masterpieces when compared with "War Is Kind." And it is
not kind at all, Mr. Crane; when it provokes such verses as these,
it is all that Sherman said it was.

The only production in the volume that is at all coherent is the
following, from which the book gets its title:

  Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
  Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky,
  And the affrighted steed ran on alone.
                  Do not weep,
                  War is kind.

  Hoarse booming drums of the regiment,
  Little souls who thirst for fight,
      These men were born to drill and die.
  The unexplained glory flies above them.
  Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom--
      A field where a thousand corpses lie.

  Do not weep, babe, for war is kind,
  Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
  Raged at the breast, gulped and died.
                  Do not weep,
                  War is kind.

  Swift-blazing flag of the regiment,
  Eagle with crest of red and gold,
      These men were born to drill and die.
  Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
  Make plain to them the excellence of killing,
      And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

  Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
  On the bright, splendid shroud of your son,
                  Do not weep,
                  War is kind.

Of course, one may have objections to hearts hanging like humble
buttons, or to buttons being humble at all, but one should not stop
to quarrel about such trifles with a poet who can perpetrate the
following:

  Thou art my love,
  And thou art the beard
  On another man's face--
  Woe is me.

  Thou art my love,
  And thou art a temple,
  And in this temple is an altar,
  And on this temple is my heart--
  Woe is me.

  Thou art my love,
  And thou art a wretch.
  Let these sacred love-lies choke thee.
  For I am come to where I know your lies as truth
  And your truth as lies--
  Woe is me.

Now, if you please, is the object of these verses animal, mineral or
vegetable? Is the expression, "Thou art the beard on another man's
face," intended as a figure, or was it written by a barber?
Certainly, after reading this, "Simple Simon" is a ballade of
perfect form, and "Jack and Jill" or "Hickity, Pickity, My Black
Hen," are exquisite lyrics. But of the following what shall be said:

  Now let me crunch you
  With full weight of affrighted love.
  I doubted you
  --I doubted you--
  And in this short doubting
  My love grew like a genie
  For my further undoing.

  Beware of my friends,
  Be not in speech too civil,
  For in all courtesy
  My weak heart sees specters,
  Mists of desire
  Arising from the lips of my chosen;
  Be not civil.

This is somewhat more lucid as evincing the bard's exquisite
sensitiveness:

  Ah, God, the way your little finger moved
  As you thrust a bare arm backward.
  And made play with your hair
  And a comb, a silly gilt comb
  --Ah, God, that I should suffer
  Because of the way a little finger moved.

Mr. Crane's verselets are illustrated by some Bradley pictures,
which are badly drawn, in bad taste, and come with bad grace. On
page 33 of the book there are just two lines which seem to
completely sum up the efforts of both poet and artist:

  "My good friend," said a learned bystander,
  "Your operations are mad."

Yet this fellow Crane has written short stories equal to
some of Maupassant's.

                                _Pittsburg Leader_, June 3, 1899


After reading such a delightful newspaper story as Mr. Frank Norris'
"Blix," it is with assorted sensations of pain and discomfort that
one closes the covers of another newspaper novel, "Active Service,"
by Stephen Crane. If one happens to have some trifling regard for
pure English, he does not come forth from the reading of this novel
unscathed. The hero of this lurid tale is a newspaper man, and he
edits the Sunday edition of the New York "Eclipse," and delights in
publishing "stories" about deformed and sightless infants. "The
office of the 'Eclipse' was at the top of an immense building on
Broadway. It was a sheer mountain to the heights of which the
interminable thunder of the streets rose faintly. The Hudson was a
broad path of silver in the distance." This leaves little doubt as
to the fortunate journal which had secured Rufus Coleman as its
Sunday editor. Mr. Coleman's days were spent in collecting yellow
sensations for his paper, and we are told that he "planned for each
edition as for a campaign." The following elevating passage is one
of the realistic paragraphs by which Mr. Crane makes the routine of
Coleman's life known to us:

    Suddenly there was a flash of light and a cage of bronze,
    gilt and steel dropped magically from above. Coleman yelled
    "Down!" * * * A door flew open. Coleman stepped upon the
    elevator. "Well, Johnnie," he said cheerfully to the lad who
    operated the machine, "is business good?" "Yes, sir, pretty
    good," answered the boy, grinning. The little cage sank
    swiftly. Floor after floor seemed to be rising with
    marvelous speed; the whole building was winging straight
    into the sky. There was soaring lights, figures and the
    opalescent glow of ground glass doors marked with black
    inscriptions. Other lights were springing heavenward. All
    the lofty corridors rang with cries. "Up!" "Down!" "Down!"
    "Up!!" The boy's hand grasped a lever and his machine obeyed
    his lightest movement with sometimes an unbalancing
    swiftness.

Later, when Coleman reached the street, Mr. Crane describes the
cable cars as marching like panoplied elephants, which is rather
far, to say the least. The gentleman's nights were spent something
as follows:

    "In the restaurant he first ordered a large bottle of
    champagne. The last of the wine he finished in somber mood
    like an unbroken and defiant man who chews the straw that
    litters his prison house. During his dinner he was
    continually sending out messenger boys. He was arranging a
    poker party. Through a window he watched the beautiful
    moving life of upper Broadway at night, with its crowds and
    clanging cable cars and its electric signs, mammoth and
    glittering like the jewels of a giantess.

    "Word was brought to him that poker players were arriving.
    He arose joyfully, leaving his cheese. In the broad hall,
    occupied mainly by miscellaneous people and actors, all deep
    in leather chairs, he found some of his friends waiting.
    They trooped upstairs to Coleman's rooms, where, as a
    preliminary, Coleman began to hurl books and papers from the
    table to the floor. A boy came with drinks. Most of the men,
    in order to prepare for the game, removed their coats and
    cuffs and drew up the sleeves of their shirts. The electric
    globes shed a blinding light upon the table. The sound of
    clinking chips arose; the elected banker spun the cards,
    careless and dextrous."

The atmosphere of the entire novel is just that close and
enervating. Every page is like the next morning taste of a champagne
supper, and is heavy with the smell of stale cigarettes. There is no
fresh air in the book and no sunlight, only the "blinding light shed
by the electric globes." If the life of New York newspaper men is as
unwholesome and sordid as this, Mr. Crane, who has experienced it,
ought to be sadly ashamed to tell it. Next morning when Coleman went
for breakfast in the grill room of his hotel he ordered eggs on
toast and a pint of champagne for breakfast and discoursed affably
to the waiter.

    "May be you had a pretty lively time last night, Mr.
    Coleman?"

    "Yes, Pat," answered Coleman. "I did. It was all because of
    an unrequitted affection, Patrick." The man stood near, a
    napkin over his arm. Coleman went on impressively. "The ways
    of the modern lover are strange. Now, I, Patrick, am a
    modern lover, and when, yesterday, the dagger of
    disappointment was driven deep into my heart, I immediately
    played poker as hard as I could, and incidentally got
    loaded. This is the modern point of view. I understand on
    good authority that in old times lovers used to languish.
    That is probably a lie, but at any rate we do not, in these
    times, languish to any great extent. We get drunk. Do you
    understand Patrick?"

    The waiter was used to a harangue at Coleman's breakfast
    time. He placed his hand over his mouth and giggled.
    "Yessir."

    "Of course," continued Coleman, thoughtfully. "It might be
    pointed out by uneducated persons that it is difficult to
    maintain a high standard of drunkenness for the adequate
    length of time, but in the series of experiments which I am
    about to make, I am sure I can easily prove them to be in
    the wrong."

    "I am sure, sir," said the waiter, "the young ladies would
    not like to be hearing you talk this way."

    "Yes; no doubt, no doubt. The young ladies have still quite
    medieval ideas. They don't understand. They still prefer
    lovers to languish."

    "At any rate, sir, I don't see that your heart is sure
    enough broken. You seem to take it very easy."

    "Broken!" cried Coleman. "Easy? Man, my heart is in
    fragments. Bring me another small bottle."

After this Coleman went to Greece to write up the war for the
"Eclipse," and incidentally to rescue his sweetheart from the hands
of the Turks and make "copy" of it. Very valid arguments might be
advanced that the lady would have fared better with the Turks. On
the voyage Coleman spent all his days and nights in the card room
and avoided the deck, since fresh air was naturally disagreeable to
him. For all that he saw of Greece or that Mr. Crane's readers see
of Greece Coleman might as well have stayed in the card room of the
steamer, or in the card room of his New York hotel for that matter.
Wherever he goes he carries the atmosphere of the card room with him
and the "blinding glare of the electrics." In Greece he makes love
when he has leisure, but he makes "copy" much more ardently, and on
the whole is quite as lurid and sordid and showy as his worst Sunday
editions. Some good bits of battle descriptions there are, of the
"Red Badge of Courage" order, but one cannot make a novel of clever
descriptions of earthworks and poker games. The book concerns itself
not with large, universal interests or principles, but with a yellow
journalist grinding out yellow copy in such a wooden fashion that
the Sunday "Eclipse" must have been even worse than most. In spite
of the fact that Mr. Crane has written some of the most artistic
short stories in the English language, I begin to wonder whether,
blinded by his youth and audacity, two qualities which the American
people love, we have not taken him too seriously. It is a grave
matter for a man in good health and with a bank account to have
written a book so coarse and dull and charmless as "Active Service."
Compared with this "War was kind," indeed.

                           _Pittsburg Leader_, November 11, 1899



_Frank Norris_


A new and a great book has been written. The name of it is
"McTeague, a Story of San Francisco," and the man who wrote it is
Mr. Frank Norris. The great presses of the country go on year after
year grinding out commonplace books, just as each generation goes on
busily reproducing its own mediocrity. When in this enormous output
of ink and paper, these thousands of volumes that are yearly rushed
upon the shelves of the book stores, one appears which contains both
power and promise, the reader may be pardoned some enthusiasm.
Excellence always surprises: we are never quite prepared for it. In
the case of "McTeague, a Story of San Francisco," it is even more
surprising than usual. In the first place the title is not alluring,
and not until you have read the book, can you know that there is an
admirable consistency in the stiff, uncompromising commonplaceness
of that title. In the second place the name of the author is as yet
comparatively unfamiliar, and finally the book is dedicated to a
member of the Harvard faculty, suggesting that whether it be a story
of San Francisco or Dawson City, it must necessarily be vaporous,
introspective and chiefly concerned with "literary" impressions. Mr.
Norris is, indeed, a "Harvard man," but that he is a good many other
kinds of a man is self-evident. His book is, in the language of Mr.
Norman Hapgood, the work of "a large human being, with a firm
stomach, who knows and loves the people."

In a novel of such high merit as this, the subject matter is the
least important consideration. Every newspaper contains the
essential material for another "Comedie Humaine." In this case
"McTeague," the central figure, happens to be a dentist practicing
in a little side street of San Francisco. The novel opens with this
description of him:

    "It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day,
    McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car
    conductor's coffee joint on Polk street. He had a thick,
    gray soup, heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate;
    two kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of
    strong butter and sugar. Once in his office, or, as he
    called it on his sign-board, 'Dental Parlors,' he took off
    his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed
    his little stove with coke, he lay back in his operating
    chair at the bay window, reading the paper, drinking steam
    beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food
    digested; crop-full, stupid and warm."

McTeague had grown up in a mining camp in the mountains. He
remembered the years he had spent there trundling heavy cars of ore
in and out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For
thirteen days out of each fortnight his father was a steady,
hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an
irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazed with alcohol. His
mother cooked for the miners. Her one ambition was that her son
should enter a profession. He was apprenticed to a traveling quack
dentist and after a fashion, learned the business.

    "Then one day at San Francisco had come the news of his
    mother's death; she had left him some money--not much, but
    enough to set him up in business; so he had cut loose from
    the charlatan and had opened his 'Dental Parlors' on Polk
    street, an 'accommodation street' of small shops in the
    residence quarter of the town. Here he had slowly collected
    a clientele of butcher boys, shop girls, drug clerks and car
    conductors. He made but few acquaintances. Polk street
    called him the 'doctor' and spoke of his enormous strength.
    For McTeague was a young giant, carrying his huge shock of
    blonde hair six feet three inches from the ground; moving
    his immense limbs, heavy with ropes of muscle, slowly,
    ponderously. His hands were enormous, red, and covered with
    a fell of stiff yellow hair; they were as hard as wooden
    mallets, strong as vices, the hands of the old-time car boy.
    Often he dispensed with forceps and extracted a refractory
    tooth with his thumb and finger. His head was square-cut,
    angular; the jaw salient: like that of the carnivora.

    "But for one thing McTeague would have been perfectly
    contented. Just outside his window was his signboard--a
    modest affair--that read: 'Doctor McTeague. Dental Parlors.
    Gas Given;' but that was all. It was his ambition, his
    dream, to have projecting from that corner window a huge
    gilded tooth, a molar with enormous prongs, something
    gorgeous and attractive. He would have it some day, but as
    yet it was far beyond his means."

Then Mr. Norris launches into a description of the street in which
"McTeague" lives. He presents that street as it is on Sunday, as it
is on working days; as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are
going out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o'clock
when the women are out purchasing from the small shopkeepers, as it
is at night when the shop girls are out with the soda-fountain
tenders and the motor cars dash by full of theatre-goers, and the
Salvationists sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he
reproduces the life in a by-street of a great city, the little
tragedy of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling
environment--most of them bad. When a young author has very little
to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is
frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who
paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the
defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets
throughout Mr. Norris' book is in itself convincing proof of power,
imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force,
stimulating the reader's imagination, giving him an actual command,
a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly
transplanted. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects
of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of
mature, and accurate and comprehensive description is very unusual
among the younger American writers. Most of them observe the world
through a temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than
the objects they see. And temperament is a glass which distorts most
astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and
reproduces with a touch firm and decisive, strong almost to
brutalness. Yet this hand that can depict so powerfully the brute
strength and brute passions of a "McTeague," can deal very finely
and adroitly with the feminine element of his story. This is his
portrait of the little Swiss girl, "Trina," whom the dentist
marries:

    "Trina was very small and prettily made. Her face was round
    and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the
    half-opened eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her
    tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia. But it
    was to her hair that one's attention was most attracted.
    Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal
    crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy,
    abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have
    given color to her face seemed to have been absorbed by that
    marvelous hair: It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed
    the temples of this little bourgeoise."

The tragedy of the story dates from a chance, a seeming stroke of
good fortune, one of those terrible gifts of the Danai. A few weeks
before her marriage "Trina" drew $5 000 from a lottery ticket. From
that moment her passion for hoarding money becomes the dominant
theme of the story, takes command of the book and its characters.
After their marriage the dentist is disbarred from practice. They
move into a garret where she starves her husband and herself to save
that precious hoard. She sells even his office furniture, everything
but his concertina and his canary bird, with which he stubbornly
refuses to part and which are destined to become very important
accessories in the property room of the theatre where this drama is
played. This removal from their first home is to this story what
Gervaise's removal from her shop is to L'Assommoir; it is the fatal
episode of the third act, the sacrifice of self-respect, the
beginning of the end. From that time the money stands between
"Trina" and her husband. Outraged and humiliated, hating her for her
meanness, demoralized by his idleness and despair, he begins to
abuse her. The story becomes a careful and painful study of the
disintegration of this union, a penetrating and searching analysis
of the degeneration of these two souls, the woman's corroded by
greed, the man's poisoned by disappointment and hate.

And all the while this same painful theme is placed in a lower key.
Maria, the housemaid who took care of "McTeague's" dental parlors in
his better days, was a half-crazy girl from somewhere in Central
America, she herself did not remember just where. But she had a
wonderful story about her people owning a dinner service of pure
gold with a punch bowl you could scarcely lift, which rang like a
church bell when you struck it. On the strength of this story
"Zercow," the Jew junk man, marries her, and believing that she
knows where this treasure is hidden, bullies and tortures her to
force her to disclose her secret. At last "Maria" is found with her
throat cut, and "Zercow" is picked up by the wharf with a sack full
of rusty tin cans, which in his dementia he must have thought the
fabled dinner service of gold.

From this it is a short step to "McTeague's" crime. He kills his
wife to get possession of her money, and escapes to the mountains.
While he is on his way south, pushing toward Mexico, he is overtaken
by his murdered wife's cousin and former suitor. Both men are half
mad with thirst, and there in the desert wastes of Death's Valley,
they spring to their last conflict. The cousin falls, but before he
dies he slips a handcuff over "McTeague's" arm, and so the author
leaves his hero in the wastes of Death's Valley, a hundred miles
from water, with a dead man chained to his arm. As he stands there
the canary bird, the survivor of his happier days, to which he had
clung with stubborn affection, begins "chittering feebly in its
little gilt prison." It reminds one a little of Stevenson's use of
poor "Goddedaal's" canary in "The Wrecker." It is just such sharp,
sure strokes that bring out the high lights in a story and separate
excellence from the commonplace. They are at once dramatic and
revelatory. Lacking them, a novel which may otherwise be a good one,
lacks its chief reason for being. The fault with many worthy
attempts at fiction lies not in what they are, but in what they are
not.

Mr. Norris' model, if he will admit that he has followed one, is
clearly no less a person than M. Zola himself. Yet there is no
discoverable trace of imitation in his book. He has simply taken a
method which has been most successfully applied in the study of
French life and applied it in studying American life, as one uses
certain algebraic formulae to solve certain problems. It is perhaps
the only truthful literary method of dealing with that part of
society which environment and heredity hedge about like the walls of
a prison. It is true that Mr. Norris now and then allows his
"method" to become too prominent, that his restraint savors of
constraint, yet he has written a true story of the people,
courageous, dramatic, full of matter and warm with life. He has
addressed himself seriously to art, and he seems to have no ambition
to be clever. His horizon is wide, his invention vigorous and bold,
his touch heavy and warm and human. This man is not limited by
literary prejudices: he sees the people as they are, he is close to
them and not afraid of their unloveliness. He has looked at truth in
the depths, among men begrimed by toil and besotted by ignorance,
and still found her fair. "McTeague" is an achievement for a young
man. It may not win at once the success which it deserves, but Mr.
Norris is one of those who can afford to wait.

                                    _The Courier_, April 8, 1899


If you want to read a story that is all wheat and no chaff, read
"Blix." Last winter that brilliant young Californian, Mr. Norris,
published a remarkable and gloomy novel, "McTeague," a book deep in
insight, rich in promise and splendid in execution, but entirely
without charm and as disagreeable as only a great piece of work can
be. And now this gentleman, who is not yet thirty, turns around and
gives us an idyll that sings through one's brain like a summer wind
and makes one feel young enough to commit all manner of
indiscretions. It may be that Mr. Norris is desirous of showing us
his versatility and that he can follow any suit, or it may have been
a process of reaction. I believe it was after M. Zola had completed
one of his greatest and darkest novels of Parisian life that he went
down to the seaside and wrote "La Reve," a book that every girl
should read when she is eighteen, and then again when she is eighty.
Powerful and solidly built as "McTeague" is, one felt that there
method was carried almost too far, that Mr. Norris was too
consciously influenced by his French masters. But "Blix" belongs to
no school whatever, and there is not a shadow of pedantry or pride
of craft in it from cover to cover. "Blix" herself is the method,
the motives and the aim of the book. The story is an exhalation of
youth and spring; it is the work of a man who breaks loose and
forgets himself. Mr. Norris was married only last summer, and the
march from "Lohengrin" is simply sticking out all over "Blix." It is
the story of a San Francisco newspaper man and a girl. The newspaper
man "came out" in fiction, so to speak, in the drawing room of Mr.
Richard Harding Davis, and has languished under that gentleman's
chaperonage until he has come to be regarded as a fellow careful of
nothing but his toilet and his dinner. Mr. Davis' reporters all
bathed regularly and all ate nice things, but beyond that their
tastes were rather colorless. I am glad to see one red-blooded
newspaper man, in the person of "Landy Rivers," of San Francisco,
break into fiction; a real live reporter with no sentimental loyalty
for his "paper," and no Byronic poses about his vices, and no
astonishing taste about his clothes, and no money whatever, which is
the natural and normal condition of all reporters. "Blix" herself
was just a society girl, and "Landy" took her to theatres and
parties and tried to make himself believe he was in love with her.
But it wouldn't work, for "Landy" couldn't love a society girl, not
though she were as beautiful as the morning and terrible as an army
with banners, and had "round full arms," and "the skin of her face
was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most charming
pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks." For while "Landy Rivers" was at
college he had been seized with the penchant for writing short
stories, and had worshiped at the shrines of Maupassant and Kipling,
and when a man is craft mad enough to worship Maupassant truly and
know him well, when he has that tingling for technique in his
fingers, not Aphrodite herself, new risen from the waves, could
tempt him into any world where craft was not lord and king. So it
happened that their real love affair never began until one morning
when "Landy" had to go down to the wharf to write up a whaleback,
and "Blix" went along, and an old sailor told them a story and
"Blix" recognized the literary possibilities of it, and they had
lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and "Landy" because he was a
newspaper man and it was the end of the week, didn't have any change
about his clothes, and "Blix" had to pay the bill. And it was in
that green old tea house that "Landy" read "Blix" one of his
favorite yarns by Kipling, and she in a calm, off-handed way,
recognized one of the fine, technical points in it, and "Landy"
almost went to pieces for joy of her doing it. That scene in the
Chinese restaurant is one of the prettiest bits of color you'll find
to rest your eyes upon, and mighty good writing it is. I wonder,
though if when Mr. Norris adroitly mentioned the "clack and snarl"
of the banjo "Landy" played, he remembered the "silver snarling
trumpets" of Keats? After that, things went on as such things will,
and "Blix" quit the society racket and went to queer places with
"Landy," and got interested in his work, and she broke him of
wearing red neckties and playing poker, and she made him work, she
did, for she grew to realize how much that meant to him, and she
jacked him up when he didn't work, and she suggested an ending for
one of his stories that was better than his own; just this big,
splendid girl, who had never gone to college to learn how to write
novels. And so how, in the name of goodness, could he help loving
her? So one morning down by the Pacific, with "Blix" and "The Seven
Seas," it all came over "Landy," that "living was better than
reading and life was better than literature." And so it is; once,
and only once, for each of us; and that is the tune that sings and
sings through one's head when one puts the book away.

                                 _The Courier_, January 13, 1900


AN HEIR APPARENT.

Last winter a young Californian, Mr. Frank Norris, published a novel
with the unpretentious title, "McTeague: a Story of San Francisco."
It was a book that could not be ignored nor dismissed with a word.
There was something very unusual about it, about its solidity and
mass, the thoroughness and firmness of texture, and it came down
like a blow from a sledge hammer among the slighter and more
sprightly performances of the hour.

The most remarkable thing about the book was its maturity and
compactness. It has none of the ear-marks of those entertaining
"young writers" whom every season produces as inevitably as its
debutantes, young men who surprise for an hour and then settle down
to producing industriously for the class with which their peculiar
trick of phrase has found favor. It was a book addressed to the
American people and to the critics of the world, the work of a young
man who had set himself to the art of authorship with an almighty
seriousness, and who had no ambition to be clever. "McTeague" was
not an experiment in style nor a pretty piece of romantic folly, it
was a true story of the people--having about it, as M. Zola would
say, "the smell of the people"--courageous, dramatic, full of matter
and warm with life. It was realism of the most uncompromising kind.
The theme was such that the author could not have expected sudden
popularity for his book, such as sometimes overtakes monstrosities
of style in these discouraging days when Knighthood is in Flower to
the extent of a quarter of a million copies, nor could he have hoped
for pressing commissions from the fire-side periodicals. The life
story of a quack dentist who sometimes extracted molars with his
fingers, who mistreated and finally murdered his wife, is not, in
itself, attractive. But, after all, the theme counts for very
little. Every newspaper contains the essential subject matter for
another _Comedie Humaine_. The important point is that a man
considerably under thirty could take up a subject so grim and
unattractive, and that, for the mere love of doing things well, he
was able to hold himself down to the task of developing it
completely, that he was able to justify this quack's existence in
literature, to thrust this hairy, blonde dentist with the "salient
jaw of the carnivora," in amongst the immortals.

It was after M. Zola had completed one of the greatest and gloomiest
of his novels of Parisian life, that he went down by the sea and
wrote "La Reve," that tender, adolescent story of love and purity
and youth. So, almost simultaneously with "McTeague," Mr. Norris
published "Blix," another San Francisco story, as short as
"McTeague" was lengthy, as light as "McTeague" was heavy, as poetic
and graceful as "McTeague" was somber and charmless. Here is a man
worth waiting on; a man who is both realist and poet, a man who can
teach

    "Not only by a comet's rush,
  But by a rose's birth."

Yet unlike as they are, in both books the source of power is the
same, and, for that matter, it was even the same in his first book,
"Moran of the Lady Letty." Mr. Norris has dispensed with the
conventional symbols that have crept into art, with the trite,
half-truths and circumlocutions, and got back to the physical basis
of things. He has abjured tea-table psychology, and the analysis of
figures in the carpet and subtile dissections of intellectual
impotencies, and the diverting game of words and the whole
literature of the nerves. He is big and warm and sometimes brutal,
and the strength of the soil comes up to him with very little loss
in the transmission. His art strikes deep down into the roots of
life and the foundation of Things as They Are--not as we tell each
other they are at the tea-table. But he is realistic art, not
artistic realism. He is courageous, but he is without bravado.

He sees things freshly, as though they had not been seen before, and
describes them with singular directness and vividness, not with
morbid acuteness, with a large, wholesome joy of life. Nowhere is
this more evident than in his insistent use of environment. I recall
the passage in which he describes the street in which McTeague
lives. He represents that street as it is on Sunday, as it is on
working days, as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are going
out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o'clock when
the women are out marketing among the small shopkeepers, as it is at
night when the shop girls are out with the soda fountain tenders and
the motor cars dash by full of theater-goers, and the Salvationists
sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he reproduces in
detail the life in a by-street of a great city, the little tragedy
of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling
environment--most of them bad. When a young author has very little
to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is
frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who
paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the
defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets
throughout Mr. Norris' book is in itself convincing proof of power,
imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force,
stimulating the reader's imagination, giving him an actual command,
a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly
transported. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects
of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of
mature and comprehensive description is very unusual among the
younger American writers. Most of them observe the world through a
temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than the
objects they watch. And temperament is a glass which distorts most
astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and
reproduces with a touch, firm and decisive, strong almost to
brutalness.

Mr. Norris approaches things on their physical side; his characters
are personalities of flesh before they are anything else, types
before they are individuals. Especially is this true of his women.
His Trina is "very small and prettily made. Her face was round and
rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-opened
eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a
little suggestive of anaemia. But it was to her hair that one's
attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils
and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara,
heavy, abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have given
color to her face seems to have been absorbed by that marvelous
hair. It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the temples of
this little bourgeoise." Blix had "round, full arms," and "the skin
of her face was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most
charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks." In this grasp of the
element of things, this keen, clean, frank pleasure at color and
odor and warmth, this candid admission of the negative of beauty,
which is co-existent with and inseparable from it, lie much of his
power and promise. Here is a man catholic enough to include the
extremes of physical and moral life, strong enough to handle the
crudest colors and darkest shadows. Here is a man who has an
appetite for the physical universe, who loves the rank smells of
crowded alley-ways, or the odors of boudoirs, or the delicate
perfume exhaled from a woman's skin; who is not afraid of Pan, be he
ever so shaggy, and redolent of the herd.

Structurally, where most young novelists are weak, Mr. Norris is
very strong. He has studied the best French masters, and he has
adopted their methods quite simply, as one selects an algebraic
formula to solve his particular problem. As to his style, that is,
as expression always is, just as vigorous as his thought compels it
to be, just as vivid as his conception warrants. If God Almighty has
given a man ideas, he will get himself a style from one source or
another. Mr. Norris, fortunately, is not a conscious stylist. He has
too much to say to be exquisitely vain about his medium. He has the
kind of brain stuff that would vanquish difficulties in any
profession, that might be put to building battleships, or solving
problems of finance, or to devising colonial policies. Let us be
thankful that he has put it to literature. Let us be thankful,
moreover, that he is not introspective and that his intellect does
not devour itself, but feeds upon the great race of man, and, above
all, let us rejoice that he is not a "temperamental" artist, but
something larger, for a great brain and an assertive temperament
seldom dwell together.

There are clever men enough in the field of American letters, and
the fault of most of them is merely one of magnitude; they are not
large enough; they travel in small orbits, they play on muted
strings. They sing neither of the combats of Atriedes nor the labors
of Cadmus, but of the tea-table and the Odyssey of the Rialto.
Flaubert said that a drop of water contained all the elements of the
sea, save one--immensity. Mr. Norris is concerned only with serious
things, he has only large ambitions. His brush is bold, his color is
taken fresh from the kindly earth, his canvas is large enough to
hold American life, the real life of the people. He has come into
the court of the troubadours singing the song of Elys, the song of
warm, full nature. He has struck the true note of the common life.
He is what Mr. Norman Hapgood said the great American dramatist must
be: "A large human being, with a firm stomach, who knows and loves
the people."

                                    _The Courier_, April 7, 1900



_When I Knew Stephen Crane_


It was, I think, in the spring of '94 that a slender, narrow-chested
fellow in a shabby grey suit, with a soft felt hat pulled low over
his eyes, sauntered into the office of the managing editor of the
Nebraska State Journal and introduced himself as Stephen Crane. He
stated that he was going to Mexico to do some work for the Bacheller
Syndicate and get rid of his cough, and that he would be stopping in
Lincoln for a few days. Later he explained that he was out of money
and would be compelled to wait until he got a check from the East
before he went further. I was a Junior at the Nebraska State
University at the time, and was doing some work for the State
Journal in my leisure time, and I happened to be in the managing
editor's room when Mr. Crane introduced himself. I was just off the
range; I knew a little Greek and something about cattle and a good
horse when I saw one, and beyond horses and cattle I considered
nothing of vital importance except good stories and the people who
wrote them. This was the first man of letters I had ever met in the
flesh, and when the young man announced who he was, I dropped into a
chair behind the editor's desk where I could stare at him without
being too much in evidence.

Only a very youthful enthusiasm and a large propensity for hero
worship could have found anything impressive in the young man who
stood before the managing editor's desk. He was thin to emaciation,
his face was gaunt and unshaven, a thin dark moustache straggled on
his upper lip, his black hair grew low on his forehead and was
shaggy and unkempt. His grey clothes were much the worse for wear
and fitted him so badly it seemed unlikely he had ever been measured
for them. He wore a flannel shirt and a slovenly apology for a
necktie, and his shoes were dusty and worn gray about the toes and
were badly run over at the heel. I had seen many a tramp printer
come up the Journal stairs to hunt a job, but never one who
presented such a disreputable appearance as this story-maker man. He
wore gloves, which seemed rather a contradiction to the general
slovenliness of his attire, but when he took them off to search his
pockets for his credentials, I noticed that his hands were
singularly fine; long, white, and delicately shaped, with thin,
nervous fingers. I have seen pictures of Aubrey Beardsley's hands
that recalled Crane's very vividly.

At that time Crane was but twenty-four, and almost an unknown man.
Hamlin Garland had seen some of his work and believed in him, and
had introduced him to Mr. Howells, who recommended him to the
Bacheller Syndicate. "The Red Badge of Courage" had been published
in the State Journal that winter along with a lot of other syndicate
matter, and the grammatical construction of the story was so faulty
that the managing editor had several times called on me to edit the
copy. In this way I had read it very carefully, and through the
careless sentence-structure I saw the wonder of that remarkable
performance. But the grammar certainly was bad. I remember one of
the reporters who had corrected the phrase "it don't" for the tenth
time remarked savagely, "If I couldn't write better English than
this, I'd quit."

Crane spent several days in the town, living from hand to mouth and
waiting for his money. I think he borrowed a small amount from the
managing editor. He lounged about the office most of the time, and I
frequently encountered him going in and out of the cheap restaurants
on Tenth Street. When he was at the office he talked a good deal in
a wandering, absent-minded fashion, and his conversation was
uniformly frivolous. If he could not evade a serious question by a
joke, he bolted. I cut my classes to lie in wait for him, confident
that in some unwary moment I could trap him into serious
conversation, that if one burned incense long enough and ardently
enough, the oracle would not be dumb. I was Maupassant mad at the
time, a malady particularly unattractive in a Junior, and I made a
frantic effort to get an expression of opinion from him on "Le
Bonheur." "Oh, you're Moping, are you?" he remarked with a sarcastic
grin, and went on reading a little volume of Poe that he carried in
his pocket. At another time I cornered him in the Funny Man's room
and succeeded in getting a little out of him. We were taught
literature by an exceedingly analytical method at the University,
and we probably distorted the method, and I was busy trying to find
the least common multiple of _Hamlet_ and the greatest common
divisor of _Macbeth_, and I began asking him whether stories were
constructed by cabalistic formulae. At length he sighed wearily and
shook his drooping shoulders, remarking:

"Where did you get all that rot? Yarns aren't done by mathematics.
You can't do it by rule any more than you can dance by rule. You
have to have the itch of the thing in your fingers, and if you
haven't,--well, you're damned lucky, and you'll live long and
prosper, that's all."--And with that he yawned and went down the
hall.

Crane was moody most of the time, his health was bad and he seemed
profoundly discouraged. Even his jokes were exceedingly drastic. He
went about with the tense, preoccupied, self-centered air of a man
who is brooding over some impending disaster, and I conjectured
vainly as to what it might be. Though he was seemingly entirely idle
during the few days I knew him, his manner indicated that he was in
the throes of work that told terribly on his nerves. His eyes I
remember as the finest I have ever seen, large and dark and full of
lustre and changing lights, but with a profound melancholy always
lurking deep in them. They were eyes that seemed to be burning
themselves out.

As he sat at the desk with his shoulders drooping forward, his head
low, and his long, white fingers drumming on the sheets of copy
paper, he was as nervous as a race horse fretting to be on the
track. Always, as he came and went about the halls, he seemed like a
man preparing for a sudden departure. Now that he is dead it occurs
to me that all his life was a preparation for sudden departure. I
remember once when he was writing a letter he stopped and asked me
about the spelling of a word, saying carelessly, "I haven't time to
learn to spell."

Then, glancing down at his attire, he added with an absent-minded
smile, "I haven't time to dress either; it takes an awful slice out
of a fellow's life."

He said he was poor, and he certainly looked it, but four years
later when he was in Cuba, drawing the largest salary ever paid a
newspaper correspondent, he clung to this same untidy manner of
dress, and his ragged overalls and buttonless shirt were eyesores to
the immaculate Mr. Davis, in his spotless linen and neat khaki
uniform, with his Gibson chin always freshly shaven. When I first
heard of his serious illness, his old throat trouble aggravated into
consumption by his reckless exposure in Cuba, I recalled a passage
from Maeterlinck's essay, "The Pre-Destined," on those doomed to
early death: "As children, life seems nearer to them than to other
children. They appear to know nothing, and yet there is in their
eyes so profound a certainty that we feel they must know all.--In
all haste, but wisely and with minute care do they prepare
themselves to live, and this very haste is a sign upon which mothers
can scarce bring themselves to look." I remembered, too, the young
man's melancholy and his tenseness, his burning eyes, and his way of
slurring over the less important things, as one whose time is short.

I have heard other people say how difficult it was to induce Crane
to talk seriously about his work, and I suspect that he was
particularly averse to discussions with literary men of wider
education and better equipment than himself, yet he seemed to feel
that this fuller culture was not for him. Perhaps the unreasoning
instinct which lies deep in the roots of our lives, and which guides
us all, told him that he had not time enough to acquire it.

Men will sometimes reveal themselves to children, or to people whom
they think never to see again, more completely than they ever do to
their confreres. From the wise we hold back alike our folly and our
wisdom, and for the recipients of our deeper confidences we seldom
select our equals. The soul has no message for the friends with whom
we dine every week. It is silenced by custom and convention, and we
play only in the shallows. It selects its listeners willfully, and
seemingly delights to waste its best upon the chance wayfarer who
meets us in the highway at a fated hour. There are moments too, when
the tides run high or very low, when self-revelation is necessary to
every man, if it be only to his valet or his gardener. At such a
moment, I was with Mr. Crane.

The hoped for revelation came unexpectedly enough. It was on the
last night he spent in Lincoln. I had come back from the theatre and
was in the Journal office writing a notice of the play. It was
eleven o'clock when Crane came in. He had expected his money to
arrive on the night mail and it had not done so, and he was out of
sorts and deeply despondent. He sat down on the ledge of the open
window that faced on the street, and when I had finished my notice I
went over and took a chair beside him. Quite without invitation on
my part, Crane began to talk, began to curse his trade from the
first throb of creative desire in a boy to the finished work of the
master. The night was oppressively warm; one of those dry winds that
are the curse of that country was blowing up from Kansas. The white,
western moonlight threw sharp, blue shadows below us. The streets
were silent at that hour, and we could hear the gurgle of the
fountain in the Post Office square across the street, and the twang
of banjos from the lower verandah of the Hotel Lincoln, where the
colored waiters were serenading the guests. The drop lights in the
office were dull under their green shades, and the telegraph sounder
clicked faintly in the next room. In all his long tirade, Crane
never raised his voice; he spoke slowly and monotonously and even
calmly, but I have never known so bitter a heart in any man as he
revealed to me that night. It was an arraignment of the wages of
life, an invocation to the ministers of hate.

Incidentally he told me the sum he had received for "The Red Badge
of Courage," which I think was something like ninety dollars, and he
repeated some lines from "The Black Riders," which was then in
preparation. He gave me to understand that he led a double literary
life; writing in the first place the matter that pleased himself,
and doing it very slowly; in the second place, any sort of stuff
that would sell. And he remarked that his poor was just as bad as it
could possibly be. He realized, he said, that his limitations were
absolutely impassable. "What I can't do, I can't do at all, and I
can't acquire it. I only hold one trump."

He had no settled plans at all. He was going to Mexico wholly
uncertain of being able to do any successful work there, and he
seemed to feel very insecure about the financial end of his venture.
The thing that most interested me was what he said about his slow
method of composition. He declared that there was little money in
story-writing at best, and practically none in it for him, because
of the time it took him to work up his detail. Other men, he said,
could sit down and write up an experience while the physical effect
of it, so to speak, was still upon them, and yesterday's impressions
made to-day's "copy." But when he came in from the streets to write
up what he had seen there, his faculties were benumbed, and he sat
twirling his pencil and hunting for words like a schoolboy.

I mentioned "The Red Badge of Courage," which was written in nine
days, and he replied that, though the writing took very little time,
he had been unconsciously working the detail of the story out
through most of his boyhood. His ancestors had been soldiers, and he
had been imagining war stories ever since he was out of
knickerbockers, and in writing his first war story he had simply
gone over his imaginary campaigns and selected his favorite
imaginary experiences. He declared that his imagination was hide
bound; it was there, but it pulled hard. After he got a notion for a
story, months passed before he could get any sort of personal
contract with it, or feel any potency to handle it. "The detail of a
thing has to filter through my blood, and then it comes out like a
native product, but it takes forever," he remarked. I distinctly
remember the illustration, for it rather took hold of me.

I have often been astonished since to hear Crane spoken of as "the
reporter in fiction," for the reportorial faculty of superficial
reception and quick transference was what he conspicuously lacked.
His first newspaper account of his shipwreck on the filibuster
"Commodore" off the Florida coast was as lifeless as the "copy" of a
police court reporter. It was many months afterwards that the
literary product of his terrible experience appeared in that
marvellous sea story "The Open Boat," unsurpassed in its vividness
and constructive perfection.

At the close of our long conversation that night, when the copy boy
came in to take me home, I suggested to Crane that in ten years he
would probably laugh at all his temporary discomfort. Again his body
took on that strenuous tension and he clenched his hands, saying, "I
can't wait ten years, I haven't time."

The ten years are not up yet, and he has done his work and gathered
his reward and gone. Was ever so much experience and achievement
crowded into so short a space of time? A great man dead at
twenty-nine! That would have puzzled the ancients. Edward Garnett
wrote of him in The Academy of December 17, 1899: "I cannot remember
a parallel in the literary history of fiction. Maupassant, Meredith,
Henry James, Mr. Howells and Tolstoy, were all learning their
expression at an age where Crane had achieved his and achieved it
triumphantly." He had the precocity of those doomed to die in youth.
I am convinced that when I met him he had a vague premonition of the
shortness of his working day, and in the heart of the man there was
that which said, "That thou doest, do quickly."

At twenty-one this son of an obscure New Jersey rector, with but a
scant reading knowledge of French and no training, had rivaled in
technique the foremost craftsmen of the Latin races. In the six
years since I met him, a stranded reporter, he stood in the firing
line during two wars, knew hairbreadth 'scapes on land and sea, and
established himself as the first writer of his time in the picturing
of episodic, fragmentary life. His friends have charged him with
fickleness, but he was a man who was in the preoccupation of haste.
He went from country to country, from man to man, absorbing all that
was in them for him. He had no time to look backward. He had no
leisure for _camaraderie_. He drank life to the lees, but at the
banquet table where other men took their ease and jested over their
wine, he stood a dark and silent figure, sombre as Poe himself, not
wishing to be understood; and he took his portion in haste, with his
loins girded, and his shoes on his feet, and his staff in his hand,
like one who must depart quickly.

                                    _The Library_, June 23, 1900



_On the Art of Fiction_


One is sometimes asked about the "obstacles" that confront young
writers who are trying to do good work. I should say the greatest
obstacles that writers today have to get over, are the dazzling
journalistic successes of twenty years ago, stories that surprised
and delighted by their sharp photographic detail and that were
really nothing more than lively pieces of reporting. The whole aim
of that school of writing was novelty--never a very important thing
in art. They gave us, altogether, poor standards--taught us to
multiply our ideas instead of to condense them. They tried to make a
story out of every theme that occurred to them and to get returns on
every situation that suggested itself. They got returns, of a kind.
But their work, when one looks back on it, now that the novelty upon
which they counted so much is gone, is journalistic and thin. The
especial merit of a good reportorial story is that it shall be
intensely interesting and pertinent today and shall have lost its
point by tomorrow.

Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly
the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions
of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the
spirit of the whole--so that all that one has suppressed and cut
away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in
type on the page. Millet had done hundreds of sketches of peasants
sowing grain, some of them very complicated and interesting, but
when he came to paint the spirit of them all into one picture, "The
Sower," the composition is so simple that it seems inevitable. All
the discarded sketches that went before made the picture what it
finally became, and the process was all the time one of simplifying,
of sacrificing many conceptions good in themselves for one that was
better and more universal.

Any first rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a
dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it. A good
workman can't be a cheap workman; he can't be stingy about wasting
material, and he cannot compromise. Writing ought either to be the
manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand--a
business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast
foods--or it should be an art, which is always a search for
something for which there is no market demand, something new and
untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with
standardized values. The courage to go on without compromise does
not come to a writer all at once--nor, for that matter, does the
ability. Both are phases of natural development. In the beginning
the artist, like his public, is wedded to old forms, old ideals, and
his vision is blurred by the memory of old delights he would like to
recapture.

                                              _The Borzoi_, 1920





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