Part 5 out of 6
yet higher when she came; she felt a "secret, deep, interior urge"
to show what she could do. The seductive May air stole into her
blood, a stealthy, intoxicating elixir, and finally the Inspiration
came, with such tumultuous swiftness that she could never have told
whence or how. Passed on to her fellows, it was caught up with an
ardour equally mad and unreckoning. One minute the unpastored flock
of Mathematics III A were leaning out the windows, sniffing in the
lilac scents wafted over from Mrs. Clifton's yard; the next they
were scurrying, tip-toe, flushed, laughing, jostling, breathless,
out through the cloak-room, down the stairs, through the side-door,
across the stretch of school-yard, toward a haven beyond Mrs.
Clifton's lilac hedge.
Where were they going? They did not know. Why had they started? They
did not know. What the next step? They did not know. No thought nor
reason in that, onward rush; only one vast, enveloping, incoherent,
tumultuous impulse--away! away! Away from dark walls into the open;
away from the old into the new; away from the usual into the you-
don't-know-what; away from "you must not" into "you may." The wild,
free, bright, heedless urge of Spring!
Behind their fragrant rampart they paused, for a second, to spin
about in a kind of mental and spiritual whirlpool. Some began
breaking off floral sprays to decorate hat-band or shirt-waist. But
Missy, feeling her responsibility as a leader, glanced back, through
leafy crevices, at those prison-windows open and ominously near.
"We mustn't stay here!" she admonished. "We'll get caught!"
As if an embodiment of warning, just then Mrs. Clifton emerged out
on her front porch; she looked as if she might be going to shout at
them. But Raymond waited to break off a lilac cluster for Missy. He
was so cool about it; it just showed how much he was like the Black
Prince--though of course no one would "understand" if you said such
The fragrantly beplumed company sped across the green Clifton yard,
ruthlessly over the Clifton vegetable garden, to the comparative
retreat of Silver Street, beyond. But they were not yet safe--away!
away! Missy urged them westward, for no defined reason save that
this direction might increase their distance from the danger zone of
the High School.
Still without notion of whither bound, the runaways, moist and
dishevelled, found themselves down by the railroad tracks. There, in
front of the Pacific depot, stood the 10:43 "accommodation" for
Osawatomie and other points south. Another idea out of the blue!
"Let's go to Osawatomie!" cried Missy.
The accommodation was puffing laboriously into action as the last
Junior clambered pantingly on. But they'd all got on! They were on
But not on their way to Osawatomie.
For before they had all found satisfactory places on the red plush
seats where it was hard to sit still with that bright balminess
streaming in through the open windows--hard to sit still, or to
think, or to do anything but flutter up and down and laugh and
chatter about nothing at all--the conductor appeared.
A trite and commonplace phrase, but potent to plunge errant, winging
fancies down to earth. The chattering ceased short. No one had
thought of tickets, nor even of money. The girls of the party looked
appalled--in Cherryvale the girls never dreamed of carrying money to
school; then furtively they glanced at the boys. Just as furtively
the boys were exploring into pockets, but though they brought forth
a plentiful salvage of the anomalous treasure usually to be found in
school-boys' pockets, the display of "change" was pathetic. Raymond
had a quarter, and that was more than anyone else turned out.
The conductor impatiently repeated:
Then Missy, feeling that financial responsibility must be recognized
in a class president, began to put her case with a formal dignity
that impressed every one but the conductor.
"We're the Junior class of the Cherryvale High School--we wish to go
to Osawatomie. Couldn't we--maybe--?"
Formal dignity broke down, her voice stuck in her throat, but her
eyes ought to have been enough. They were big and shining eyes, and
when she made them appealing they had been known to work wonders
with father and mother and other grown-ups, even with the austere
Professor Sutton. But this burly figure in the baggy blue uniform
had a face more like a wooden Indian than a human grown-up--and an
old, dyspeptic wooden Indian at that. Missy's eyes were to avail her
nothing that hour.
"Off you get at the watering-tank," he ordained. "The whole pack of
And at the watering-tank off they got.
And then, as often follows a mood of high adventure, there fell upon
the festive group a moment of pause, of unnatural quiet, of "let
"Well, what're we going to do now?" queried somebody.
"We'll do whatever Missy says," said Raymond, just as if he were Sir
Walter Raleigh speaking of the Virgin Queen. It was a wonder someone
didn't start teasing him about her; but everyone was too taken up
waiting for Missy to proclaim. She set her very soul vibrating; shut
her eyes tightly a moment to think; and, as if in proof that
Providence helps them who must help others, almost instantly she
opened them again.
Just like that, out of the blue, a quick, unfaltering, almost
unconscious cry of the inspired. And, with resounding acclaim, her
followers caught it up:
"Rocky Ford! Rocky Ford!"--"That's the ticket!"--"We'll have a
picnic'."--"Rocky Ford! Rocky Ford!"
Rocky Ford, home of nymphs, water-babies and Indian legend, was only
half a mile away. Again it shone in all its old-time romantic
loveliness on Missy's inward eye. And for a fact it was a good
Maytime picnic place.
That day everything about the spot seemed invested with a special
kind of beauty, the kind of beauty you feel so poignantly in stories
and pictures but seldom meet face to face in real life. The Indian
maiden became a memory you must believe in: she had loved someone
and they were parted somehow and she was turned into a swan or
something. Off on either side the creek, the woods stretched dim and
mysterious; but nearby, on the banks, the little new leaves stirred
and sparkled in the sun like green jewels; and the water dribbled
and sparkled over the flat white stones of the ford like a million
swishing diamonds; and off in the distance there were sounds which
may have been birds--or, perhaps, the legendary maiden singing; and,
farther away, somewhere, a faint clanging music which must be cow-
bells, only they had a remote heavenly quality rare in cow-bells.
And, all the while, the sun beaming down on the ford, intensely soft
and bright. Why is it that the sun can seem so much softer and
brighter in some places than in others?
Missy felt that soft brightness penetrating deeper and deeper into
her being. It seemed a sort of limpid, shining tide flowing through
to her very soul; it made her blood tingle, and her soul quiver.
And, in some mysterious way, the presence, of Raymond Bonner,
consciousness of Raymond--Raymond himself--began to seem all mixed
up with this ineffable, surging effulgence. Missy recognized that
she had long experienced a secret, strange, shy kind of feeling
toward Raymond. He was so handsome and so gay. and his dark eyes
told her so plainly that he liked her, and he carried her books home
for her despite the fact that the other boys teased him. The other
girls had teased Missy, too, so that sometimes she didn't know
whether she was more happy or embarrassed over Raymond's admiration.
But, to-day, everyone seemed lifted above such childish rudeness.
When Missy had first led off from the watering-tank toward Rocky
Ford, Raymond had taken his place by her side, and he maintained it
there masterfully though two or three other boys tried to include
themselves in the class president's group--"buttinskys," Raymond
Once, as they walked together along the road, Raymond took hold of
her hand. He had done that much before, but this was different.
Those other times did not count. She knew that this was different
and that he, too, knew it was different. They glanced at each other,
and then quickly away.
Then, when they turned off into a field, to avoid meeting people who
might ask questions, Raymond held together the barbed wires of the
fence very carefully, so she could creep under without mishap. And
when they neared the woods, he kicked all the twigs from her path,
and lifted aside the underbrush lest it touch her face. And at each
opportunity for this delicious solicitude they would look at each
other, and then quickly away.
That was in many ways an unforgettable picnic; many were the
unheard-of things carried out as soon as thought of. For example,
the matter of lunch. What need to go hungry when there were eggs in
a farmer's henhouse not a half-mile away, and potatoes in the
farmer's store-house, and sundry other edibles all spread out, as if
waiting, in the farmer's cellar? (Blessings on the farmer's wife for
going avisiting that day!)
The boys made an ingenious oven of stones and a glorious fire of
brush; and the girls made cunning dishes out of big, clean-washed
leaves. Then, when the potatoes and eggs were ready, all was
devoured with a zest that paid its own tribute to the fair young
cooks; and the health of the fair young cooks was drunk in Swan
Creek water, cupped in sturdy masculine hands; and even the girls
tried to drink from those same cups, laughing so they almost
strangled. A mad, merry and supremely delightful feast.
After she had eaten, for some reason Missy felt a craving to wander
off somewhere and sit still a while. She would have loved to stretch
out in the grass, and half-close her eyes, and gaze up at the bits
of shining, infinite blue of the sky, and dream. But there was
Raymond at her elbow--and she wanted, even more than she wanted to
be alone and dream, Raymond to be there at her elbow.
Then, too, there were all the others. Someone shouted:
"What'll we do now? What'll we do, Missy?"
So the class president dutifully set her wits to work. Around the
flat white stones of the ford the water was dribbling, warm, soft,
"Let's go wading!" she cried.
Usually Missy would have shrunk from appearing before boys in bare
feet. But this was a special kind of day which held no room for
embarrassment; and, more quickly than it takes to tell it, shoes and
stockings were off and the new game was on. Missy stood on a
stepping-stone, suddenly diffident; the water now looked colder and
deeper, the whispering cascadelets seemed to roar like breakers on a
beach. The girls were all letting out little squeals as the water
chilled their ankles, and the boys made feints of chasing them into
Raymond pursued Missy, squealing and skipping from stone to stone
till, unexpectedly, she lost her slippery footing and went sprawling
into the shallow stream.
"Oh, Missy! I'm sorry!" She felt his arms tugging at her. Then she
found herself standing on the bank, red-faced and dripping, feeling
very wretched and very happy at the same time--wretched because
Raymond should see her in such plight; happy because he was making
such a fuss over her notwithstanding.
He didn't seem to mind her appearance, but took his hat and began
energetically to fan her draggled hair.
"I wish my hair was curly like Kitty Allen's," she said.
"I like it this way," said Raymond, unplaiting the long braids so as
to fan them better.
"But hers curls up all the prettier when it's wet. Mine strings."
"Straight hair's the nicest," he said with finality.
He liked straight hair best! A wave of celestial bliss stole over
her. It was wonderful: the big, fleecy clouds so serenely beautiful
up in the enigmatic blue; the sun pouring warmly down and drying her
dress in uneven patches; the whisperings of the green-jewelled
leaves and the swishing of the diamond-bubbles on the stones; the
drowsy, mysterious sounds from far away in the woods, and fragrance
everywhere; and everything seeming delightfully remote; even the
other boys and girls--everything and everybody save Raymond,
standing there so patiently fanning the straight hair he admired.
Oh, the whole place was entrancing, entrancing in a new way; and her
sensations, too, were entrancing in a new way. Even when Raymond, as
he manipulated her hair, inadvertently pulled the roots, the prickly
pains seemed to tingle on down through her being in little tremors
of pure ecstasy.
Raymond went on fanning her hair.
"Curly hair's messy looking," he observed after a considerable pause
during which, evidently, his thoughts had remained centred on this
And then, all of a sudden, Missy found herself saying an
inexplicable, unheard-of thing:
"You can have a lock-if you want to."
She glanced up, and then quickly down. And she felt herself blushing
again; she didn't exactly like to blush--yet--yet--
"Do I want it?"
Already Raymond had dropped his improvised fan and was fumbling for
"Where?" he asked.
Missy shivered deliciously at the imminence of that bright steel
blade; what if he should let it slip?--but, just then, even
mutilation, provided it be at Raymond's hand, didn't seem too
"Wherever you want," she murmured.
"All right--I'll take a snip here where it twines round your ear--it
looks so sort of affectionate."
She giggled with him. Of course it was all terribly silly--and yet--
Then there followed a palpitant moment while she held her breath and
shut her eyes. A derisive shout caused her to open them quickly.
There stood Don Jones, grinning.
"Missy gave Raymond a lock of her hair! Missy gave Raymond a lock of
Missy's face grew hot; blushing was not now a pleasure; she looked
up, then down; she didn't know where to look.
"Gimme one, too! You got to play fair, Missy--gimme one, too!"
Then, in that confusion of spirit, she heard her voice, which didn't
seem to be her own voice but a stranger's, saying:
"All right, you can have one, too, if you want it, Don."
Don forthwith advanced. Missy couldn't forebear a timid glance
toward Raymond. Raymond was not looking pleased. She wished she
might assure him she didn't really want to give the lock to Don, and
yet, at the same time, she felt strangely thrilled at that lowering
look on Raymond's face. It was curious. She wanted Raymond to be
happy, yet she didn't mind his being just a little bit unhappy--this
way. Oh, how complicated and fascinating life can be!
During the remainder of their stay at the ford Missy was preoccupied
with this new revelation of herself and with a furtive study of
Raymond whose continued sulkiness was the cause of it. Raymond
didn't once come to her side during all that endless three-mile
tramp back to Cherryvale; but she was conscious of his eye on her as
she trudged along beside Don Jones. She didn't feel like talking to
Don Jones. Nor was the rest of the crowd, now, a lively band; it was
harder to laugh than it had been in the morning; harder even to
talk. And when they did talk, little unsuspected irritabilities
began to gleam out. For now, when weary feet must somehow cover
those three miles, thoughts of the journey's end began to rise up in
the truants' minds. During the exalted moments of adventure they
hadn't thought of consequences. That's a characteristic of exalted
moments. But now, so to speak, the ball was over, the roses all
shattered and faded, and the weary dancers must face the aftermath
of to-morrow. . .
And Missy, trudging along the dusty road beside Don Jones who didn't
count, felt all kinds of shadows rising up to eclipse brightness in
her soul. What would Professor Sutton do?--he was fearfully strict.
And father and mother would never understand. . .
If only Don Jones would stop babbling to her! Why did he persist in
walking beside her, anyway? That lock of hair didn't mean anything!
She wished she hadn't given it to him; why had she, anyway? She
herself couldn't comprehend why, and Raymond would never, never
The farther she walked, the less she saw the pleasanter aspects of
Raymond's jealousy and the more what might be the outcome of it.
Perhaps he'd never have anything to do with her again. That would be
terrible! And she'd have such a short time to try making it up. For
in less than a month she'd have to go with Aunt Isabel to Colorado;
and, then, she wouldn't see Raymond for weeks and weeks. Colorado!
It was like talking of going to the moon, a dreary, dead, far-off
moon, with no one in it to speak to. Aunt Isabel? Aunt Isabel was
sweet, but she was so old--nearly thirty! How could she, Missy, go
and leave Raymond misunderstanding her so?
But who can tell how Fate may work to confound rewards and
It was to become a legend in the Cherryvale High School how, once on
a day in May, a daring band ran away from classes and how the truant
class, in toto, was suspended for the two closing weeks of the
semester, with no privilege of "making up" the grades. And the
legend runs that one girl, and the most prominent girl in the class
at that, by reason of this sentence fell just below the minimum
grade required to "pass."
Yes; Missy failed again. Of course that was very bad. And taking her
disgrace home--indeed, that was horrid. As she faced homeward she
felt so heavy inside that she knew she could never eat her dinner.
Besides, she was walking alone--Raymond hadn't walked home with her
since the wretched picnic. She sighed a sigh that was not connected
with the grade card in her pocket. For one trouble dwarfs another in
this world; and friendship is more than honours--a sacred thing,
friendship! Only Raymond was so unreasonable over Don's lock of
hair; yet, for all the painfulness of Raymond's crossness, Missy
smiled the littlest kind of a down-eyed, secret sort of smile as she
thought of it. . . It was so wonderful and foolish and interesting
how much he cared that Missy began to question what he'd do if she
got Don to give her a lock of his hair.
Then she sobered suddenly, as you do at a funeral after you have
forgotten where you are and then remember. That card was an
unpleasant thing to take home! . . . Just what did Raymond mean by
giving Kitty Allen a lock of his hair? And doing it before Missy
herself--"Kitty, here's that lock I promised you"--just like that.
Then he had laughed and joked as if nothing unusual had happened--
only was he watching her out of the corner of his eye when he
thought she wasn't looking? That was the real question. The idea of
Raymond trying to make her jealous! How simple-minded boys are!
But, after all, what a dear, true friend he had proved himself in
the past--before she offended him. And how much more is friendship
than mere pleasures like travel--like going to Colorado.
But was he jealous? If he was--Missy felt an inexplicable kind of
bubbling in her heart at that idea. But if he wasn't--well, of
course it was natural she should wonder whether Raymond looked on
friendship as a light, come-and-go thing, and on locks of hair as
meaning nothing at all. For he had never been intimate with Kitty
Allen; and he had said he didn't like curly hair. Yet, probably, he
had one of Kitty Allen's ringlets. . . Missy felt a new, hideous
weight pulling down her heart.
Of course she had given that straight wisp to Don Jones--but what
else could she do to keep him from telling? Oh, life is a muddle!
And here, in less than a week, Aunt Isabel would come by and whisk
her off to the ends of the earth; and she might have to go without
really knowing what Raymond meant. . .
And oh, yes--that old card! How dreary life can be as one grows
Missy waited to show the card till her father came home to supper--
she knew it was terribly hard for father to be stern. But when
Missy, all mute appeal, extended him the report, he looked it over
in silence and then passed it on to mother. Mother, too, examined it
with maddening care.
"Well," she commented at last. "I see you've failed again."
"It was all the fault of those two weeks' grades," the culprit tried
to explain. "If it hadn't been for that--"
"But there was 'that.'" Mother's tone was terribly unsympathetic.
"I didn't think of grades--then."
"No, that's the trouble. I've warned you, Missy. You've got to learn
to think. You'll have to stay home and make up those grades this
summer. You'd better write to Aunt Isabel at once, so she won't be
Mother's voice had the quiet ring of doom.
Tender-hearted father looked away, out the window, so as not to see
the disappointment on his daughter's face. But Missy was gazing down
her nose to hide eyes that were shining. Soon she made an excuse to
Out in the summerhouse it was celestially beautiful and peaceful.
And, magically, all this peace and beauty seemed to penetrate into
her and become a part of herself. The glory of the pinkish-mauve
sunset stole in and delicately tinged her so; the scent of the
budding ramblers, and of the freshly-mowed lawn, became her own
fragrant odour; the soft song of the breeze rocking the leaves
became her own soul's lullaby. Oh, it was a heavenly world, and the
future bloomed with enchantments! She could stay in Cherryvale this
summer! Dear Cherryvale! Green prairies were so much nicer than
snow-covered mountains, and gently sloping hills than sharp-pointing
peaks; and much, much nicer than tempestuous waterfalls was the
sweet placidity of Swan Creek. Dear Swan Creek. . .
The idea of Raymond's trying to make her jealous! How simple-minded
boys are! But what a dear, true friend he was, and how much more is
friendship than mere pleasures like travel--or prominence or fine
grades or anything. . .
It was at this point in her cogitations that Missy, seeing her
Anthology--an intimate poetic companion--where she'd left it on a
bench, dreamily picked it up, turned a few pages, and then was moved
to write. We have borrowed her product to head this story.
Meanwhile, back in the house, her father might have been heard
commenting on the noble behaviour of his daughter.
"Didn't let out a single whimper--brave little thing! We must see to
it that she has a good time at home--poor young one! I think we'd
better get the car this summer, after all."
DOBSON SAVES THE DAY
It was two years after the Spanish war; and she was seventeen years
old and about to graduate.
On the Senior class roster of the Cherryvale High School she was
catalogued as Melissa Merriam, well down--in scholarship's token--
toward the tail-end of twenty-odd other names. To the teachers the
list meant only the last young folks added to a backreaching line of
girls and boys who for years and years had been coming to
"Commencement" with "credits" few or many, large expectant eyes
fixed on the future, and highly uncertain habits of behaviour; but,
to the twenty-odd, such dead prosiness about themselves would have
been inconceivable even in teachers.
Well, there were prettier girls in the class, and smarter girls-and
boys, too; yet she was the one from all that twenty-odd who had been
chosen to deliver the Valedictory. Did there ever exist a maid who
did not thrill to proof that she was popular with her mates? And
when that tribute carries with it all the possibilities of a
Valedictory--double, treble the exultation.
The Valedictory! When Missy sat in the classroom, exhausted with the
lassitudinous warmth of spring and with the painful uncertainty of
whether she'd be called to translate the Vergil passage she hadn't
mastered, visions of that coming glory would rise to brighten weary
hours; and the last thing at night, in falling asleep, as the moon
stole in tenderly to touch her smiling face, she took them to her
dreams. She saw a slender girl in white, standing alone on a lighted
stage, gazing with luminous eyes out on a darkened auditorium.
Sometimes they had poky old lectures in that Opera House. Somebody
named Ridgely Holman Dobson was billed to lecture there now--before
Commencement; but Missy hated lectures; her vision was of something
lifted far above such dismal, useful communications. She saw a house
as hushed as when little Eva dies--all the people listening to the
girl up there illumined: the lift and fall of her voice, the
sentiments fine and noble and inspiring. They followed the slow
grace of her arms and hands--it was, indeed, as if she held them in
the hollow of her hand. And then, finally, when she had come to the
last undulating cadence, the last vibrantly sustained phrase, as she
paused and bowed, there was a moment of hush--and then the applause
began. Oh, what applause! And then, slowly, graciously, modestly but
with a certain queenly pride, the shining figure in white turned and
left the stage.
She could see it all: the way her "waved" hair would fluff out and
catch the light like a kind of halo, and each one of the nine
organdie ruffles that were going to trim the bottom of her dress;
she could even see the glossy, dark green background of potted
palms--mother had promised to lend her two biggest ones. Yes, she
could see it and hear it to the utmost completeness--save for one
slight detail: that was the words of the girlish and queenly
speaker. It seemed all wrong that she, who wasn't going to be a dull
lecturer, should have to use words, and so many of them! You see,
Missy hadn't yet written the Valedictory.
But that didn't spoil her enjoyment of the vision; it would all come
to her in time. Missy believed in Inspiration. Mother did not.
Mother had worried all through the four years of her daughter's high
school career--over "grades" or "exams" or "themes" or whatnot. She
had fretted and urged and made Missy get up early to study; had even
punished her. And, now, she was sure Missy would let time slide by
and never get the Valedictory written on time. The two had already
"had words" over it. Mother was dear and tender and sweet, and Missy
would rather have her for mother than any other woman in Cherryvale,
but now and then she was to be feared somewhat.
Sometimes she would utter an ugly, upsetting phrase:
"How can you dilly-dally so, Missy? You put everything off!--put
off--put off! Now, go and try to get that thesis started!"
There was nothing for Missy to do but go and try to obey. She took
tablet and pencil out to the summerhouse, where it was always
inspiringly quiet and beautiful; she also took along the big blue-
bound Anthology from the living-room table--an oft-tapped fount; but
even reading poetry didn't seem able to lift her to the creative
mood. And you have to be in the mood before you can create, don't
you? Missy felt this necessity vaguely but strongly; but she
couldn't get it across to mother.
And even worse than mother's reproaches was when father finally gave
her a "talking to"; father was a big, wise, but usually silent man,
so that when he did speak his words seemed to carry a double force.
Missy's young friends were apt to show a little awe of father, but
she knew he was enormously kind and sympathetic. Long ago--oh, years
before--when she was a little girl, she used to find it easier to
talk to him than to most grown-ups; about all kinds of unusual
things--the strange, mysterious, fascinating thoughts that come to
one. But lately, for some reason, she had felt more shy with father.
There was much she feared he mightn't understand--or, perhaps, she
feared he might understand.
So, in this rather unsympathetic domestic environment, the class
Valedictorian, with the kindling of her soul all laid, so to speak,
uneasily awaited the divine spark. It was hard to maintain an easy
assumption that all was well; especially after the affair of the
hats got under way.
Late in April Miss Ackerman, the Domestic Science teacher, had
organized a special night class in millinery which met, in turns, at
the homes of the various members. The girls got no "credit" for this
work, but they seemed to be more than compensated by the joy of
creating, with their own fingers, new spring hats which won them
praise and admiration. Kitty Allen's hat was particularly
successful. It was a white straw "flat," faced and garlanded with
blue. Missy looked at its picturesque effect, posed above her "best
friend's" piquantly pretty face, with an envy which was augmented by
the pardonable note of pride in Kitty's voice as she'd say: "Oh, do
you really like it?--I made it myself, you know."
If only she, Missy, might taste of this new kind of joy! She was not
a Domestic Science girl; but, finally, she went to Miss Ackermanand-
-oh,rapture!--obtained permission to enter the millinery class.
However, there was still the more difficult matter of winning
mother's consent. As Missy feared, Mrs. Merriam at once put on her
"No, Missy. You've already got your hands full. Have you started the
"Oh, mother!--I'll get the thesis done all right! And this is such a
fine chance!--all the girls are learning how to make their own hats.
And I thought, maybe, after I'd learned how on my own, that maybe I
could make you one. Do you remember that adorable violet straw you
used to have when I was a little girl?--poke shape and with the pink
rose? I remember father always said it was the most becoming hat you
ever had. And I was thinking, maybe, I could make one something like
"I'm afraid I've outgrown pink roses, dear." But mother was smiling
a soft, reminiscent little shadow of a smile.
"But you haven't outgrown the poke shape--and violet! Oh, mother!"
"Well, perhaps--we'll see. But you mustn't let it run away with you.
You must get that thesis started."
Not for nothing had Missy been endowed with eyes that could shine
and a voice that could quaver; yes, and with an instinct for just
the right argument to play upon the heart-strings.
She joined the special night class in millinery. She learned to
manipulate troublesome coils of wire and pincers, and to evolve a
strange, ghostly skeleton--thing called a "frame," but when this was
finally covered with crinoline and tedious rows-on-rows of straw
braid, drab drudgery was over and the deliciousness began.
Oh, the pure rapture of "trimming"! Missy's first venture was a
wide, drooping affair, something the shape of Kitty Allen's, only
her own had a much subtler, more soul-satisfying colour scheme. The
straw was a subtle blue shade--the colour Raymond Bonner, who was a
classmate and almost a "beau," wore so much in neckties--and the
facing shell-pink, a delicate harmony; but the supreme ecstasy came
with placing the little silken flowers, pink and mauve and deeper
subtle-blue, in effective composition upon that heavenly background;
and, in just the one place, a glimpse of subtle-blue ribbon, a sheen
as gracious as achieved by the great Creator when, with a master's
eye, on a landscape he places a climactic stroke of shining blue
water. Indeed, He Himself surely can view His handiwork with no more
sense o gratification than did Missy, regarding that miracle of
colour which was her own creation.
Oh, to create! To feel a blind, vague, ineffable urge within you,
stealing out to tangibility in colour and form! Earth--nor Heaven,
either--can produce no finer rapture.
Missy's hat was duly admired. Miss Ackerman said she was a "real
artist"; when she wore it to Sunday-school everybody looked at her
so much she found it hard to hold down a sense of unsabbatical
pride; father jocosely said she'd better relinquish her dreams of
literary fame else she'd deprive the world of a fine milliner; and
even mother admitted that Mrs. Anna Stubbs, the leading milliner,
couldn't have done better. However, she amended: "Now, don't forget
your school work, dear. Have you decided on the subject of your
Missy had not. But, by this time, the hat business was moving so
rapidly that she had even less time to worry over anything still
remote, like the thesis--plenty of time to think of that; now, she
was dreaming of how the rose would look blooming radiantly from this
soft bed of violet straw; . . . and, now, how becoming to Aunt
Nettie would be this misty green, with cool-looking leaves and wired
silver gauze very pure and bright like angels' wings--dear Aunt
Nettie didn't have much "taste," and Missy indulged in a certain
righteous glow in thus providing her with a really becoming,
artistic hat. Then, after Aunt Nettie's, she planned one for
Marguerite. Marguerite was the hired girl, mulatto, and had the
racial passion for strong colour. So Missy conceived for her a
creation that would be at once satisfying to wearer and beholder.
How wonderful with one's own hands to be able to dispense pleasure!
Missy, working, felt a peculiarly blended joy; it is a
gratification, indeed, when a pleasing occupation is seasoned with
the fine flavour of noble altruism.
She hadn't yet thought of a theme for the Valedictory, and mother
was beginning to make disturbing comments about "this hat mania,"
when, by the most fortuitous chance, while she was working on
Marguerite's very hat--in fact, because she was working on it--she
hit upon a brilliantly possible idea for the Valedictory.
She was rummaging in a box of discarded odds and ends for
"trimmings." The box was in mother's store-closet, and Missy
happened to observe a pile of books up on the shelf. Books always
interested her, and even with a hat on her mind she paused a moment
to look over the titles. The top volume was "Ships That Pass in the
Night"--she had read that a year or so ago--a delightful book,
though she'd forgotten just what about. She took it down and opened
it, casually, at the title page. And there, in fine print beneath
the title, she read:
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only
a signal shewn, and a distant voice in the darkness; So, on the
ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a
voice--then darkness again, and a silence.
Standing there in the closet door, Missy read the stanza a second
time--a third. And, back again at her work, fingers dawdled while
eyes took on a dreamy, preoccupied expression. For phrases were
still flitting through her head: "we pass and speak one another" . .
. "then darkness again, and a silence" . . .
Very far away it took you--very far, right out on the vast, surging,
mysterious sea of Life!
The sea of Life!. . . People, like ships, always meeting one
another--only a look and a voice--and then passing on into the
silence. . .
Oh, that was an idea! Not just a shallow, sentimental pretense, but
a real idea, "deep," stirring and fine. What a glorious Valedictory
that would make!
And presently, when she was summoned to supper, she felt no desire
to talk; it was so pleasant just to listen to those phrases faintly
and suggestively resounding. All the talk around her came dimly and,
sometimes, so lost was she in hazy delight that she didn't hear a
Finally father asked:
"What's the day-dream, Missy?--thinking up a hat for me?"
Missy started, and forgot to note that his enquiry was facetious.
"No," she answered quite seriously, "I haven't finished Marguerite's
"Yes," cut in mother, in the tone of reproach so often heard these
days, "she's been frittering away the whole afternoon. And not a
glimmer for the thesis yet!"
At that Missy, without thinking, unwarily said:
"Oh, yes, I have, mother."
"Oh," said her mother interestedly. "What is it?"
Missy suddenly remembered and blushed--grown-ups seldom understand
unless you're definite.
"Well," she amended diffidently, "I've got the subject."
"What is it?" persisted mother.
Everybody was looking at Missy. She poured the cream over her
berries, took a mouthful; but they all kept looking at her, waiting.
"'Ships That Pass in the Night,'" she had to answer.
"For Heaven's sake!" ejaculated Aunt Nettie. "What're you going to
write about that?"
This was the question Missy had been dreading. She dreaded it
because she herself didn't know just what she was going to write
about it. Everything was still in the first vague, delightful state
of just feeling it--without any words as yet; and grown-ups don't
seem to understand about this. But they were all staring at her, so
she must say something.
"Well, I haven't worked it out exactly--it's just sort of pouring in
"What's pouring over you?" demanded Aunt Nettie.
"Why--the sea of Life," replied Missy desperately.
"For Heaven's sake!" commented Aunt Nettie again.
"It sounds vague; very vague," said father. Was he smiling or
frowning?--he had such a queer look in his eyes. But, as he left the
table, he paused behind her chair and laid a very gentle hand on her
"Like to go out for a spin in the car?"
But mother declined for her swiftly. "No, Missy must work on her
thesis this evening."
So, after supper, Missy took tablet and pencil once more to the
summerhouse. It was unusually beautiful out there--just the kind of
evening to harmonize with her uplifted mood. Day was ending in still
and brilliant serenity. The western sky an immensity of benign
light, and draped with clouds of faintly tinted gauze.
"Another day is dying," Missy began to write; then stopped.
The sun sank lower and lower, a reddening ball of sacred fire and,
as if to catch from it a spark, Missy sat gazing at it as she chewed
her pencil; but no words came to be caught down in pencilled
tangibility. Oh, it hurt!--all this aching sweetness in her, surging
through and through, and not able to bring out one word!
"Well?" enquired mother when, finally, she went back to the house.
Missy shook her head. Mother sighed; and Missy felt the sigh echoing
in her own heart. Why were words, relatively so much less than
inspiration, yet so important for inspiration's expression? And why
were they so maddeningly elusive?
For a while, in her little white bed, she lay and stared hopelessly
out at the street lamp down at the corner; the glow brought out a
beautiful diffusive haze, a misty halo. "Only a signal shewn" . . .
The winking street lamp seemed to gaze back at her. . . "Sometimes a
signal flashes from out the darkness" . . . "Only a look" . . . "But
who can comprehend the unfathomable influence of a look?--It may
come to a soul wounded and despairing--a soul caught in a wide-
sweeping tempest--a soul sad and weary, longing to give up the
struggle. . ."
Where did those words, ringing faintly in her consciousness, come
from? She didn't know, was now too sleepy to ponder deeply. But they
had come; that was a promising token. To-morrow more would come; the
Valedictory would flow on out of her soul--or into her soul,
whichever way it was0-in phrases serene, majestic, ineffable.
Missy's eyelids fluttered; the street lamp's halo grew more and more
irradiant; gleamed out to illumine, resplendently, a slender girl in
white standing on a lighted stage, gazing with lumincus eyes out on
a darkened auditorium, a house as hushed as when little Eva dies.
All the people were listening to the girl up there speaking--the
rhythmic lift and fall of her voice, the sentiments fine and noble
"Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing. . .
So, on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another. . . Only a
look and a voice. . . But who can comprehend the unfathomable
influence of a look?. . . which may come to a soul sad and weary,
longing to give up the struggle. . ."
When she awoke next morning raindrops were beating a reiterative
plaint against the window, and the sound seemed very beautiful. She
liked lying in bed, staring out at the upper reaches of sombre sky.
She liked it to be rainy when she woke up--there was something about
leaden colour everywhere and falling rain that made you fit for
nothing but placid staring, yet, at the same time, pleasantly
meditative. Then was the time that the strange big things which
filter through your dreams linger evanescently in your mind to
"Only a look and a voice--but who can comprehend the--the--the
unfathomable influence of a look? It may come to a soul--may come to
Bother! How did that go?
Missy shut her eyes and tried to resummon the vision, to rehear
those rhythmic words so fraught with wisdom. But all she saw was a
sort of heterogeneous mass of whirling colours, and her thoughts,
too, seemed to be just a confused and meaningless jumble. Only her
FEELING seemed to remain. She could hardly bear it; why is it that
you can feel with that intolerably fecund kind of ache while
THOUGHTS refuse to come?
She finally gave it up, and rose and dressed. It was one of those
mornings when clothes seem possessed of some demon so that they
refuse to go on right. At breakfast she was unwontedly cross, and
"talked back" to Aunt Nettie so that mother made her apologize. At
that moment she hated Aunt Nettie, and even almost disliked mother.
Then she discovered that Nicky, her little brother, had
mischievously hidden her strap of books and, all of a sudden, she
did an unheard-of thing: she slapped him! Nicky was so astonished he
didn't cry; he didn't even run and tell mother, but Missy, seeing
that hurt, bewildered look on his face, felt greater remorse than
any punishment could have evoked. She loved Nicky dearly; how could
she have done such a thing? But she remembered having read that Poe
and Byron and other geniuses often got irritable when in creative
mood. Perhaps that was it. The reflection brought a certain
But, at school, things kept on going wrong. In the Geometry class
she was assigned the very "proposition" she'd been praying to elude;
and, then, she was warned by the teacher--and not too privately--
that if she wasn't careful she'd fail to pass; and that, of course,
would mean she couldn't graduate. At the last minute to fail!--after
Miss Simpson had started making her dress, and the invitations
already sent to the relatives, and all!
And finally, just before she started home, Professor Sutton, the
principal, had to call her into his office for a report on her
thesis. The manuscript had to be handed in for approval, and was
already past due. Professor Sutton was very stern with her; he said
some kind of an outline, anyway, had to be in by the end of the
week. Of course, being a grown-up and a teacher besides, he believed
everything should be done on time, and it would be useless to try to
explain to him even if one could.
Raymond Bonner was waiting to walk home with her. Raymond often
walked home with her and Missy was usually pleased with his
devotion; he was the handsomest and most popular boy in the class.
But, to-day, even Raymond jarred on her. He kept talking, talking,
and it was difficult for her preoccupied mind to find the right
answer in the right place. He was talking about the celebrity who
was to give the "Lyceum Course" lecture that evening. The lecturer's
name was Dobson. Oh uninspiring name!--Ridgeley Holman Dobson. He
was a celebrity because he'd done something-or-other heroic in the
Spanish war. Missy didn't know just what it was, not being
particularly interested in newspapers and current events, and remote
things that didn't matter. But Raymond evidently knew something
about Dobson aside from his being just prominent.
"I only hope he kisses old Miss Lightner!" he said, chortling.
"Kisses her?" repeated Missy, roused from her reveries. Why on earth
should a lecturer kiss anybody, above all Miss Lightner, who was an
old maid and not attractive despite local gossip about her being
"man-crazy"? "Why would he kiss Miss Lightner?"
Raymond looked at her in astonishment.
"Why, haven't you heard about him?"
Missy shook her head.
"Why, he's always in the papers! Everywhere he goes, women knock
each other down to kiss him! The papers are full of it--don't say
you've never heard of it!"
But Missy shook her head again, an expression of distaste on her
face. A man that let women knock each other down to kiss him! Missy
had ideals about kissing. She had never been kissed by any one but
her immediate relatives and some of her girl friends, but she had
her dreams of kisses--kisses such as the poets wrote about. Kissing
was something fine, beautiful, sacred! As sacred as getting married.
But there was nothing sacred about kissing whole bunches of people
who knocked each other down--people you didn't even know. Missy felt
a surge of revulsion against this Dobson who could so profane a holy
"I think it's disgusting," she said.
At the unexpected harshness of her tone Raymond glanced at her in
"And they call him a hero!" she went on scathingly. "Oh, I guess
he's all right," replied Raymond, who was secretly much impressed by
the dash of Dobson. "It's just that women make fools of themselves
"You mean he makes a fool of himself! I think he's disgusting. I
wouldn't go to hear him speak for worlds!"
Raymond wisely changed the subject. And Missy soon enough forgot the
disgusting Dobson in the press of nearer trials. She must get at
that outline; she wanted to do it, and yet she shrank from
beginning. As often happens when the mind is restless, she had an
acute desire to do something with her hands. She wanted to go ahead
with Marguerite's hat, but mother, who had a headache and was cross,
put her foot down. "Not another minute of dawdling till you write
that thesis!" she said, and she might as well have been Gabriel--or
whoever it is who trumpets on the day of doom.
So Missy once more took up tablet and pencil. But what's the use
commanding your mind, "Now, write!" Your mind can't write, can it?--
till it knows what it's going to write about. No matter how much the
rest of you wants to write.
At supper-time Missy had no appetite. Mother was too ill to be at
the table, but father noticed it.
"Haven't caught mamma's headache, have you?" he asked solicitously.
Missy shook her head; she wished she could tell father it was her
soul that ached. Perhaps father sensed something of this for, after
glancing at her two or three times, he said:
"Tell you what!--Suppose you go to the lecture with me to-night.
Mamma says she won't feel able. What do you say?"
Missy didn't care a whit to hear the disgusting Dobson, but she felt
the reason for her reluctance mightn't be understood--might even
arouse hateful merriment, for Aunt Nettie was sitting there
listening. So she said evasively:
"I think mother wants me to work on my thesis."
"Oh, I can fix it with mother all right," said father.
Missy started to demur further but, so listless was her spirit, she
decided it would be easier to go than to try getting out of it. She
wouldn't have to pay attention to the detestable Dobson; and she
always loved to go places with father.
And it was pleasant, after he had "fixed it" with mother, to walk
along the dusky streets with him, her arm tucked through his as if
she were a grown-up. Walking with him thus, not talking very much
but feeling the placidity and sense of safety that always came over
her in father's society, she almost forgot the offensive celebrity
awaiting them in the Opera House.
Afterward Missy often thought of her reluctance to go to that
lecture, of how narrowly she had missed seeing Dobson. The narrow
margins of fate! What if she hadn't gone! Oh, life is thrillingly
uncertain and interwoven and mysterious!
The Opera House was crowded. There were a lot of women there, the
majority of them staid Cherryvale matrons who were regular
subscribers to the Lyceum Course, but Missy, regarding them
severely, wondered if they were there hoping to get kissed.
Presently Mr. Siddons, who dealt in "Real Estate and Loans" and
passed the plate at the Presbyterian church, came out on the
platform with another man. Mr. Siddons was little and wiry and dark
and not handsome; Missy didn't much care for him as it is not
possible to admire a man who looks as if he ought to run up a tree
and chatter and swing from a limb by a tail; besides he was well
known to be "stingy." But his soul must be all right, since he was a
deacon; and he was a leading citizen, and generally introduced
speakers at the Lyceum Course. He began his familiar little mincing
preamble: "It gives me great pleasure to have the privilege of
introducing to you a citizen so distinguished and esteemed--"
Then the other man walked forward and stood beside the little table
with the glass and pitcher of water on it. Missy felt constrained to
cast a look at the Honourable Ridgeley Holman Dobson.
Well, he was rather handsome, in a way--one had to admit that; he
was younger than you expect lecturers to be, and tall and slender,
with awfully goodlooking clothes, and had dark eyes and a noticeable
smile--too noticeable to be entirely sincere and spontaneous, Missy
He began to speak, about something that didn't seem particularly
interesting to Missy; so she didn't pay much attention to what he
was saying, but just sat there listening to the pleasing flow of his
voice and noting the graceful sweep of his hands--she must remember
that effective gesture of the palm held outward and up. And she
liked the way, now and then, he threw his head back and paused and
Suddenly she caught herself smiling, almost as if in response, and
quickly put on a sternly grave look. This woman-kissing siren!--or
whatever you call men that are like women sirens. Well, she, for
one, wouldn't fall for his charms! She wouldn't rush up and knock
other women down to kiss him!
She was flaunting her disapproval before her as a sort of banner
when, finally, the lecturer came to an end and the audience began
their noisy business of getting out of their seats. Missy glanced
about, suspicious yet alertly inquisitive. Would the women rush up
and kiss him? Her eyes rested on prim Mrs. Siddons, on silly Miss
Lightner, on fat, motherly Mrs. Allen, Kitty's mother. Poor Kitty,
if her mother should so disgrace herself!--Missy felt a moment's
thankfulness that her own mother was safely home in bed.
A lot of people were pushing forward up the aisle toward the
lecturer; some were already shaking hands with him--men as well as
Then Missy heard herself uttering an amazing, unpremeditated thing:
"Would you like to go up and shake hands with Mr. Dobson, father?"
The moment after, she was horrified at herself. Why had she said
that? She didn't want to shake hands with a repulsive siren!
But father was answering:
"What? You, too!"
Just what did he mean by that? And by that quizzical sort of smile?
She felt her cheeks growing hot, and wanted to look away. But, now,
there was nothing to do but carry it through in a casual kind of
"Oh," she said, "I just thought, maybe, it might be interesting to
shake hands with such a celebrity."
"I see," said father. He was still smiling but, taking hold of her
arm, he began to elbow a slow progress toward the platform.
Just before they reached it, Missy felt a sudden panicky flutter in
her heart. She shrank back.
"You go first," she whispered.
So father went first and shook hands with Mr. Dobson. Then he said:
"This is my daughter."
Not able to lift her eyes, Missy held out her hand; she observed
that Mr. Dobson's was long and slender but had hair on the back of
it--he ought to do something about that; but even as she thought
this, the hand was enclosing hers in a clasp beautifully warm and
strong; and a voice, wonderfully deep and pleasant and vibrant, was
"Your daughter?--you're a man to be envied, sir."
Then Missy forced her eyes upward; Mr. Dobson's were waiting to meet
them squarely--bright dark eyes with a laugh in the back of them.
And, then, the queerest thing happened. As he looked at her, that
half-veiled laugh in his eyes seemed to take on a special quality,
something personal and intimate and kindred--as if saying: "You and
I understand, don't we?"
Missy's heart gave a swift, tumultuous dive and flight.
Then he let go her hand, and patiently turned his eyes to the next
comer; but not with the same expression--Missy was sure of that. She
walked on after her father in a kind of daze. The whole thing had
taken scarcely a second; but, oh! what can be encompassed in a
Missy was very silent during the homeward journey; she intensely
wanted to be silent. Once father said:
"Well, the man's certainly magnetic--but he seems a decent kind of
fellow. I suppose a lot has been exaggerated." He chuckled. "But
I'll bet some of the Cherryvale ladies are a little disappointed."
"Oh, that!" Missy felt a hot flame of indignation flare up inside
her. "He wouldn't act that way! anybody could tell. I think it's a
crime to talk so about him!"
Father gave another chuckle, very low; but Missy was too engrossed
with her resentment and with other vague, jumbled emotions to notice
That night she had difficulty in getting to sleep. And, for the
first time in weeks, visions of Commencement failed to waft her off
to dreams. She was hearing over and over, in a kind of lullaby, a
deep, melodious voice: "Your daughter?--you're a man to be envied,
sir!"--was seeing a pair of dark bright eyes, smiling into her own
with a beam of kinship ineffable.
Next day, at school, she must listen to an aftermath of gossipy
surmise anent the disappointing osculatory hero. At last she could
stand it no longer.
"I think it's horrid to talk that way! Anybody can see he's not that
kind of man!"
Raymond Bonner stared.
"Why, I thought you said he was disgusting!"
But Missy, giving him a withering look, turned and walked away,
leaving him to ponder the baffling contrarieties of the feminine
A new form of listlessness now took hold of Missy. That afternoon
she didn't want to study, didn't want to go over to Kitty Allen's
when her friend telephoned, didn't even want to work on hats; this
last was a curious turn, indeed, and to a wise observer might have
been significant. She had only a desire to be alone, and was
grateful for the excuse her thesis provided her; though it must be
admitted precious little was inscribed, that bright May afternoon,
on the patient tablet which kept Missy company in the summerhouse.
At supper, while the talk pivoted inevitably round the departed
Dobson, she sat immersed in preoccupation so deep as to be
conspicuous even in Missy. Aunt Nettie, smiling, once started to
make a comment but, unseen by his dreaming daughter, was silenced by
Mr. Merriam. And immediately after the meal she'd eaten without
seeing, the faithful tablet again in hand, Missy wandered back to
It was simply heavenly out there now. The whole western sky clear to
the zenith was laid over with a solid colour of opaque saffron rose;
and, almost halfway up and a little to the left, in exactly the
right place, of deepest turquoise blue, rested one mountain of
cloud; it was the shape of Fujiyama, the sacred mount of Japan,
which was pictured in Aunt Isabel's book of Japanese prints. Missy
wished she might see Japan--Mr. Dobson had probably been there--
lecturers usually were great travellers. He'd probably been
everywhere--led a thrilling sort of life--the sort of life that
makes one interesting. Oh, if only she could talk to him--just once.
She sighed. Why didn't interesting people like that ever come to
Cherryvale to live? Everybody in Cherryvale was so--so commonplace.
Like Bill Cummings, the red-haired bank teller, who thought a trip
to St. Louis an adventure to talk about for months! Or like old Mr.
Siddons, or Professor Sutton, or the clerks in Mr. Bonner's store.
In Cherryvale there was only this settled, humdrum kind of people.
Of course there were the boys; Raymond was nice--but you can't
expect mere boys to be interesting. She recalled that smiling,
subtly intimate glance from Mr. Dobson's eyes. Oh, if he would stay
in Cherryvale just a week! Tf only he'd come back just once! If
"Missy! The dew's falling! You'll catch your death of cold! Come in
the house at once!"
Bother! there was mother calling. But mothers must be obeyed, and
Missy had to trudge dutifully indoors--with a tablet still blank.
Next morning mother's warning about catching cold fulfilled itself.
Missy awoke with a head that felt as big as a washtub, painfully
laborious breath, and a wild impulse to sneeze every other minute.
Mother, who was an ardent advocate of "taking things in time,"
ordered a holiday from school and a footbath of hot mustard water.
"This all comes from your mooning out there in the summerhouse so
late," she chided as, with one tentative finger, she made a final
test of the water for her daughter's feet.
She started to leave the room.
"Well?" Rather impatiently Mrs. Merriam turned in the doorway.
"Would you mind handing me my tablet and pencil?"
"What, there in the bath?"
"I just thought"--Missy paused to sneeze--"maybe I might get an
inspiration or something, and couldn't get out to write it down."
"You're an absurd child." But when she brought the tablet and
pencil, Mrs. Merriam lingered to pull the shawl round Missy's
shoulders a little closer; Missy always loved mother to do things
like this it was at such times she felt most keenly that her mother
Yet she was glad to be left alone.
For a time her eyes were on her bare, scarlet feet in the yellow
mustard water. But that unbeautiful colour combination did not
disturb her. She did not even see her feet. She was seeing a pair of
bright dark eyes smiling intimately into her own. Presently, with a
dreamy, abstracted smile, she opened the tablet, poised the pencil,
and began to write. But she was scarcely conscious of any of this,
of directing her pencil even; it was almost as if the pencil,
miraculously, guided itself. And it wrote.
"Are you ready to take your feet out now, Missy?"
Missy raised her head impatiently. It was Aunt Nettie in the door.
What was she talking about--feet?--feet? How could Aunt Nettie?
. . . . . .
"Oh! go away, won't you, please?" she cried vehemently.
"Well, did you ever?" gasped Aunt Nettie. She stood in the doorway a
minute; then tiptoed away. But Missy was oblivious; the inspired
pencil was speeding back and forth again--"Then each craft passes on
into the unutterable darkness--" and the pencil, too, went on and
. . . . . .
There was a sound of tiptoeing again at the door, of whispering; but
the author took no notice. Then someone entered, bearing a pitcher
of hot water; but the author gave no sign. Someone poured hot water
into the foot-tub; the author wriggled her feet.
"Too hot, dear?" said mother's voice. The author shook her head
abstractedly. Words were singing in her ears to drown all else. They
flowed through her whole being, down her arms, out through her hand
and pencil, wrote themselves immortally. Oh, this was Inspiration!
Feeling at last immeshed in tangibility, swimming out on a tide of
words that rushed along so fast pencil could hardly keep up with
them. Oh, Inspiration! The real thing! Divine, ecstatic, but
fleeting; it must be caught at the flood.
The pencil raced.
And sad, indeed, is that life which sails on its own way, wrapped in
its own gloom, giving out no signal and heeding none, hailing not
its fellow and heeding no hail. For the gloom will grow greater and
greater; there will be no sympathy to tide it over the rocks; no
momentary gleams of love to help it through its struggle; and the
storms will rage fiercer and the sails will hang lower until, at
last, it will go down, alone and unwept, never knowing the joy of
living and never reaching the goal.
So let these ships, which have such a vast, such an unutterable
influence, use that influence for brightening the encompassing
gloom. Let them not be wrapped in their own selfishness or sorrow,
but let their voice be filled with hope and love. For, by so doing,
the waters of Life will grow smoother, and the signals will never
The inspired instrument lapsed from nerveless fingers; the author
relaxed in her chair and sighed a deep sigh. All of a sudden she
felt tired, tired; but it is a blessed weariness that comes after a
divine frenzy has had its way with you.
Almost at once mother was there, rubbing her feet with towels,
hustling her into bed.
"Now, you must keep covered up a while," she said.
Missy was too happily listless to object. But, from under the hot
blankets, she murmured:
"You can read the Valedictory if you want to. It's all done."
Commencement night arrived. Twenty-odd young, pulsing entities were
lifting and lilting to a brand-new, individual experience, each one
of them, doubtless, as firmly convinced as the class Valedictorian
that he--or she--was the unique centre round which buzzed this
rushing, bewitchingly upsetting occasion.
Yet everyone had to admit that the Valedictorian made a tremendous
impression: a slender girl in white standing alone on a lighted
stage--only one person in all that assemblage was conscious that it
was the identical spot where once stood the renowned Dobson--gazing
with luminous eyes out on the darkened auditorium. It was crowded
out there but intensely quiet, for all the people were listening to
the girl up there illumined: the lift and fall of her voice, the
sentiments fine, noble, and inspiring. They followed the slow grace
of her arms and hands--it was, indeed, as if she held them in the
hollow of her hand.
She told all about the darkness our souls sail through under their
sealed orders, knowing neither course nor port--and, though you may
be calloused to these trite figures, are they not solemnly true
enough, and moving enough, if you take them to heart? And with that
slim child alone up there speaking these things so feelingly, it was
easy for Cherryvale in the hushed and darkened auditorium to feel
with her. . .
Sometimes they pass oblivious of one another in the gloom; sometimes
a signal flashes from out the darkness; a signal which is understood
as though an intense ray pierced the enveloping pall and laid bare
both souls. That signal is the light from a pair of human eyes,
which are the windows of the soul, and by means of which alone soul
can stand revealed to soul . . .
The emotional impression of this was tremendous on all these dear
Souls who had sailed alongside of Missy since she was launched.
So let these ships, which have such a vast, such an unutterable
influence, use that influence for brightening the encompassing
gloom. . . For, by so doing, the waters of Life will grow smoother,
and the signals will never flicker.
She came to the last undulating cadence, the last vibrantly
sustained phrase; and then, as she paused and bowed, there was a
moment of hush--and then the applause began. Oh, what applause! And
then, slowly, graciously, modestly but with a certain queenly pride,
the shining figure in white turned and left the stage.
Here was a noble triumph, remembered for years even by the teachers.
Down in the audience father and mother and grandpa and grandma and
all the other relatives who, with suspiciously wet eyes, were
assembled in the "reserved section," overheard such murmurs as: "And
she's seventeen!--Where do young folks get those ideas?"--and, "What
an unusual gift of phraseology!" And, after the programme, a
reporter from the Cherryvale Beacon came up to father and asked
permission to quote certain passages from the Valedictory in his
"write-up." That was the proudest moment of Mr. Merriam's entire
Missy had time for only hurried congratulations from her family. For
she must rush off to the annual Alumni banquet. She was going with
Raymond Bonner who, now, was hovering about her more zealously than
ever. She would have preferred to share this triumphant hour with--
with--well, with someone older and more experienced and better able
to understand. But she liked Raymond; once, long ago--a whole year
ago--she'd had absurd dreams about him. Yet he was a nice boy; the
nicest and most sought-after boy in the class. She was not unhappy
at going off with him.
Father and mother walked home alone, communing together in that
pride-tinged-with-sadness that must, at times, come to all parents.
"And to think I was so worried! That hat-making, and then that
special spell of idle mooning over something-or-nothing, nearly
drove me frantic."
Father smiled through the darkness.
"I suppose, after all," mother mused on, surreptitiously wiping
those prideful eyes, "that there is something in Inspiration, and
the dear child just had to wait till she got it, and that she
doesn't know any more than we do where it came from."
"No, I daresay she doesn't." But sometimes father was more like a
friend than a parent, and that faint, unnoted stress was the only
sign he ever gave of what he knew about this Inspiration.
MISSY CANS THE COSMOS
As far back as Melissa Merriam could remember, she had lived with
her family in the roomy, rambling, white-painted house on Locust
Avenue. She knew intimately every detail of its being. She had, at
various points in her childhood, personally supervised the addition
of the ell and of the broad porch which ran round three sides of the
house, the transformation of an upstairs bedroom into a regular
bathroom with all the pleasing luxuries of modern plumbing, the
installation of hardwood floors into the "front" and "back"
parlours. She knew every mousehole in the cellar, every spider-web
and cracked window-pane in the fascinating attic. And the yard
without she also knew well: the friendly big elm which, whenever the
wind blew, tapped soft leafy fingers against her own window; the
slick green curves of the lawn; the trees best loved by the birds;
the morning-glories on the porch which resembled fairy church bells
ready for ringing, the mignonette in the flower-beds like fragrant
fairy plumes, and the other flowers--all so clever at growing up
into different shapes and colours when you considered they all came
from little hard brown seeds. And she was familiar with the
summerhouse back in the corner of the yard, so ineffably delicious
in rambler-time, but so bleakly sad in winter; and the chicken-yard
just beyond she knew, too--Missy loved that peculiar air of
placidity which pervades even the most clucky and cackly of chicken-
yards, and she loved the little downy chicks which were so adept at
picking out their own mothers amongst those hens that looked all
alike. When she was a little girl she used to wonder whether the
mothers grieved when their children grew up and got killed and eaten
and, for one whole summer, she wouldn't eat fried chicken though it
was her favourite delectable.
All of which means that Missy, during the seventeen years of her
life, had never found her homely environment dull or unpleasing.
But, this summer, she found herself longing, with a strange, secret
but burning desire, for something "different."
The feeling had started that preceding May, about the time she made
such an impression at Commencement with her Valedictory entitled
"Ships That Pass in the Night." The theme of this oration was the
tremendous influence that can trail after the chancest and briefest
encounter of two strangers. No one but herself (and her father,
though Missy did not know it) connected Missy's eloquent handling of
this subject with the fleeting appearance in Cherryvale of one
Ridgeley Holman Dobson. Dobson had given a "Lyceum Course" lecture
in the Opera House, but Missy remembered him not because of what he
lectured about, nor because he was an outstanding hero of the recent
Spanish-American war, nor even because of the scandalous way his
women auditors, sometimes, rushed up and kissed him. No. She
remembered him because . . . Oh, well, it would have been hard to
explain concretely, even to herself; but that one second, when she
was taking her turn shaking hands with him after the lecture, there
was something in his dark bright eyes as they looked deeply into her
own, something that made her wish--made her wish--
It was all very vague, very indefinite. If only Cherryvale afforded
a chance to know people like Ridgeley Holman Dobson! Unprosaic
people, really interesting people. People who had travelled in far
lands; who had seen unusual sights, plumbed the world's
possibilities, done heroic deeds, laid hands on large affairs.
But what chance for this in poky Cherryvale?
This tranquil June morning, as Missy sat in the summerhouse with the
latest Ladies' Home Messenger in her lap, the dissatisfied feeling
had got deeper hold of her than usual. It was not acute discontent--
the kind that sticks into you like a sharp splinter; it was
something more subtle; a kind of dull hopelessness all over you. The
feeling was not at all in accord with the scene around her. For the
sun was shining gloriously; Locust Avenue lay wonderfully serene
under the sunlight; the iceman's horses were pulling their enormous
wagon as if it were not heavy; the big, perspiring iceman whistled
as if those huge, dripping blocks were featherweight; and, in like
manner, everybody passing along the street seemed contented and
happy. Missy could remember the time when such a morning as this,
such a scene of peaceful beauty, would have made her feel contented,
Now she sighed, and cast a furtive glance through the leafage toward
the house, a glance which reflected an inner uneasiness because she
feared her mother might discover she hadn't dusted the parlours;
mother would accuse her of "dawdling." Sighing again for grown-ups
who seldom understand, Missy turned to the Messenger in her lap.
Here was a double-page of "Women Who Are Achieving"--the reason for
the periodical's presence in Missy's society. There was a half-tone
of a lady who had climbed a high peak in the Canadian Rockies; Missy
didn't much admire her unfeminine attire, yet it was something to
get one's picture printed--in any garb. Then there was a Southern
woman who had built up an industry manufacturing babies' shoes. This
photograph, too, Missy studied without enthusiasm: the shoemaker was
undeniably middle-aged and matronly in appearance; nor did the
metier of her achievement appeal. Making babies' shoes, somehow,
savoured too much of darning stockings. (Oh, bother! there was that
basket of stockings mother had said positively mustn't go another
Missy's glance hurried to the next picture. It presented the only
lady Sheriff in the state of Colorado. Missy pondered. Politics--
Ridgeley Holman Dobson was interested in politics; his lecture had
been about something-or-other political--she wished, now, she'd paid
more attention to what he'd talked about. Politics, it seemed, was a
promising field in the broadening life of women. And they always had
a Sheriff in Cherryvale. Just what were a Sheriff's duties? And how
old must one be to become a Sheriff? This Colorado woman certainly
didn't look young. She wasn't pretty, either--her nose was too long
and her lips too thin and her hair too tight; perhaps lady Sheriffs
had to look severe so as to enforce the law.
Missy sighed once more. It would have been pleasant to feel she was
working in the same field with Ridgeley Holman Dobson.
Then, suddenly, she let her sigh die half-grown as her eye came to
the portrait of another woman who had achieved. No one could claim
this one wasn't attractive looking. She was young and she was
beautiful, beautiful in a peculiarly perfected and aristocratic way;
her hair lay in meticulously even waves, and her features looked as
though they had been chiselled, and a long ear-ring dangled from
each tiny ear. Missy wasn't surprised to read she was a noblewoman,
her name was Lady Sylvia Southwoode--what an adorable name!
The caption underneath the picture read: "Lady Sylvia Southwoode,
Who Readjusts--and Adorns--the Cosmos."
Missy didn't catch the full editorial intent, perhaps, in that
grouping of Lady Sylvia and the Cosmos; but she was pleased to come
upon the word Cosmos. It was one of her pet words. It had struck her
ear and imagination when she first encountered it, last spring, in
Psychology IV-A. Cosmos--what an infinity of meaning lay behind the
two-syllabled sound! And the sound of it, too, sung itself over in
your mind, rhythmic and fascinating. There was such a difference in
words; some were but poor, bald things, neither suggesting very much
nor very beautiful to hear. Then there were words which were
beautiful to hear, which had a rich sound--words like "mellifluous"
and "brocade" and "Cleopatra." But "Cosmos" was an absolutely
fascinating word--perfectly round, without beginning or end. And it
was the kind to delight in not only for its wealth, so to speak, for
all it held and hinted, but also for itself alone; it was a word of
She eagerly perused the paragraph which explained the manner in
which Lady Sylvia was readjusting--and adorning--the Cosmos. Lady
Sylvia made speeches in London's West End--wherever that was--and
had a lot to do with bettering the Housing Problem--whatever that
was--and was noted for the distinguished gatherings at her home.
This alluring creature was evidently in politics, too!
Missy's eyes went dreamily out over the yard, but they didn't see
the homely brick-edged flowerbeds nor the red lawn-swing nor the
well-worn hammock nor the white picket fence in her direct line of
vision. They were contemplating a slight girlish figure who was
addressing a large audience, somewhere, speaking with swift, telling
phrases that called forth continuous ripples of applause. It was all
rather nebulous, save for the dominant girlish figure, which bore a
definite resemblance to Melissa Merriam.
Then, with the sliding ease which obtains when fancy is the stage
director, the scene shifted. Vast, elaborately beautiful grounds
rolled majestically up to a large, ivy-draped house, which had
turrets like a castle--very picturesque. At the entrance was a
flight of wide stone steps, overlaid, now, with red carpet and
canopied with a striped awning. For the mistress was entertaining
some of the nation's notables. In the lofty hall and spacious rooms
glided numberless men-servants in livery, taking the wraps of the
guests, passing refreshments, and so forth. The guests were very
distinguished-looking, all the men in dress suits and appearing just
as much at home in them as Ridgeley Holman Dobson had, that night on
the Opera House stage. Yes, and he was there, in Missy's vision,
handsomer than ever with his easy smile and graceful gestures and
that kind of intimate look in his dark eyes, as he lingered near the
hostess whom he seemed to admire. All the women were in low-cut
evening dresses of softly-tinted silk or satin, with their hair
gleaming in sleek waves and long ear-rings dangling down. The young
hostess wore ear-rings, also; deep-blue gems flashed out from them,
to match her trailing deep blue velvet gown--Raymond Bonnet had once
said Missy should always wear that special shade of deep blue.
Let us peep at the actual Missy as she sits there dreaming: she has
neutral-tinted brown hair, very soft and fine, which encircles her
head in two thick braids to meet at the back under a big black bow;
that bow, whether primly-set or tremulously-askew, is a fair
barometer of the wearer's mood. The hair is undeniably straight, a
fact which has often caused Missy moments of concern. (She used to
envy Kitty Allen her tangling, light-catching curls till Raymond
Bonner chanced to remark he considered curly hair "messy looking";
but Raymond's approval, for some reason, doesn't seem to count for
as much as it used to, and, anyway, he is spending the summer in
Michigan.) However, just below that too-demure parting, the eyes are
such as surely to give her no regret. Twin morning-glories, we would
call them-grey morning-glories!--opening expectant and shining to
the Sun which always shines on enchanted seventeen. And, like other
morning-glories, Missy's eyes are the shyest of flowers, ready to
droop sensitively at the first blight of misunderstanding. That is
the chiefest trouble of seventeen: so few are there, especially
among old people, who seem to "understand." And that is why one must
often retire to the summerhouse or other solitary places where one
can without risk of ridicule let one's dreams out for air.
Presently she shook off her dreams and returned to the scarcely less
thrilling periodical which had evoked them. Here was another
photograph--though not nearly so alluring as that of the Lady
Sylvia; a woman who had become an authoritative expounder of
political and national issues--politics again! Missy proceeded to
read, but her full interest wasn't deflected till her eyes came to
some thought-compelling words:
"It was while yet a girl in her teens, in a little Western town
("Oh!" thought Missy), that Miss Carson mounted the first rung of
the ladder she has climbed to such enviable heights. She had just
graduated from the local high school ("Oh! oh!" thought Missy) and,
already prodded by ambition, persuaded the editor of the weekly
paper to give her a job. . ."
Once again Missy's eyes wandered dreamily out over the yard. . .
Presently a voice was wafted out from the sideporch:
"Missy!--oh, Missy! Where are you?"
There was mother calling--bother! Missy picked up the Ladies' Home
Messenger and trudged back to bondage.
"What in the world do you mean, Missy? You could write your name all
over the parlour furniture for dust! And then those stockings--"
Missy dutifully set about her tasks. Yet, ah! it certainly is hard
to dust and darn while one's soul is seething within one, straining
to fly out on some really high enterprise of life. However one can,
if one's soul strains hard enough, dust and dream; darn and dream.
Especially if one has a helpful lilt, rhythmic to dust-cloth's
stroke or needle's swing, throbbing like a strain of music through
Missy was absent-eyed at the midday dinner, but no sooner was the
meal over before she feverishly attacked the darning-basket again.
Her energy may have been explained when, as soon as the stockings
were done, she asked her mother if she might go down to the Library.
Mother and Aunt Nettie from their rocking-chairs on the side-porch
watched the slim figure in its stiffly-starched white duck skirt and
shirt-waist disappear down shady Locust Avenue.
"I wonder what Missy's up to, now?" observed Aunt Nettie.
"Up to?" murmured Mrs. Merriam.
"Yes. She hardly touched her chop at dinner and she's crazy about
lamb chops. She's eaten almost nothing for days. And either shirking
her work, else going at it in a perfect frenzy!"
"Growing girls get that way sometimes," commented Missy's mother
gently. (Could Missy have heard and interpreted that tone, she might
have been less hard on grown-ups who "don't understand.") "Missy's
seventeen, you know."
"H'm!" commented Aunt Nettie, as if to say, "What's THAT to do with
it?" Somehow it seems more difficult for spinsters than for mothers
to remember those swift, free flights of madness and sweetness
which, like a troop of birds in the measurable heavens, sweep in
joyous circles across the sky of youth.
Meanwhile Missy, the big ribbon index under her sailor-brim
palpitantly askew, was progressing down Locust Avenue with a
measured, accented gait that might have struck an observer as being
peculiar. The fact was that the refrain vibrating through her soul
had found its way to her feet. She'd hardly been conscious of it at
first. She was just walking along, in time to that inner song:
And then she noticed she was walking with even, regular steps,
stepping on every third crack in the board sidewalk, and that each
of these cracks she stepped on ran, like a long punctuation, right
through the middle of "cosmos." So that she saw in her mind this
picture: |Cos|mos| |cos|mos| |cos|mos| |cos|mos|
It was fascinating, watching the third cracks punctuate her thoughts
that way. Then it came to her that it was a childish sort of game--
she was seventeen, now. So she avoided watching the cracks. But
"Cosmos" went on singing through her head and soul.
She came to Main Street and, ignoring the turn eastward which led to
the Public Library, faced deliberately in the opposite direction.
She was, in fact, bound for the office of the Beacon--the local
weekly. And thoughts of what tremendous possibilities might be
stretching out from this very hour, and of what she would say to Ed
Martin, the editor, made her feet now skim along impatiently, and
now slow down with sudden, self-conscious shyness.
For Missy, even when there was no steadily nearing imminence of
having to reveal her soul, on general principles was a little in awe
of Ed Martin and his genial ironies. Ed Martin was not only a local
celebrity. His articles were published in the big Eastern magazines.
He went "back East" once a year, and it was said that on one
occasion he had dined with the President himself. Of course that was
only a rumour; but Cherryvale had its own eyes for witness that
certain persons had stopped off in town expressly to see Ed Martin--
personages whose names made you take notice!
Missy, her feet terribly reluctant now, her soul's song barely a
whisper, found Ed Martin shirt-sleeved in his littered little
sanctum at the back of the Beacon office.
"Why, hello, Missy!" he greeted, swinging round leisurely in his
revolving-chair. Ed Martin was always so leisurely in his movements
that the marvel was how he got so much accomplished. Local
dignitaries of the most admired kind, perhaps, wear their
distinction as a kind of toga; but Ed was plump and short, with his
scant, fair hair always rumpled, and a manner as friendly as a
"Haven't got another Valedictory for us to print, have you?" he went
Missy blushed. "I just dropped in for a minute," she began uneasily.
"I was just thinking--" She hesitated and paused.
"Yes," said Ed Martin encouragingly.
"I was just thinking--that perhaps--" She clasped her hands tightly
together and fixed her shining eyes on him in mute appeal. Then:
"You see, Mr. Martin, sometimes it comes over you--" She broke off
Ed Martin was regarding her out of friendly blue eyes.
"Maybe I can guess what sometimes comes over you. You want to write-
-is that it?"
His kindly voice and manner emboldened her.
"Yes--it's part that. And a feeling that--Oh, it's so hard to put
into words, Mr. Martin!"
"I know; feelings are often hard to put into words. But they're
usually the most worth while kind of feelings. And that's what words
"Well, I was just feeling that at my age--that I was letting my life
slip away--accomplishing nothing really worth while. You know--?"
"Yes, we all feel like that sometimes, I guess." Ed Martin nodded
with profound solemnity.
Oh, Ed Martin was wonderful! He DID understand things! She went
ahead less tremulously now.
"And I was feeling I wanted to get started at something. At
something REALLY worth while, you know."
Ed Martin nodded again.
"And I thought, maybe, you could help me get started--or something."
She gazed at him with open-eyed trust, as if she expected him with a
word to solve her undefined problem.
"Get started?--at writing, you mean?"
Oh, how wonderfully Ed Martin understood!
He shuffled some papers on his desk. "Just what do you want to
"I don't know, exactly. When I can, I'd like to write something sort
of political--or cosmic."
"Oh," said Ed Martin, nodding. He shuffled the papers some more.
Then: "Well, when that kind of a germ gets into the system, I guess
the best thing to do is to get it out before it causes mischief. If
it coagulates in the system, it can cause a lot of mischief."
Just what did he mean?
"Yes, a devil of a lot of mischief," he went on. "But the trouble
is, Missy, we haven't got any job on politics or--or the cosmos open
just now. But--"
He paused, gazing over her head. Missy felt her heart pause, too.
"Oh, anykind of a writing job," she proffered quaveringly.
"I can't think of anything here that's not taken care of, except"--
his glance fell on the ornate-looking "society page" of the Macon
City Sunday Journal, spread out on his desk--"a society column."
In her swift breath of ecstasy Missy forgot to note the twinkle in
"Oh, I'd love to write society things!" Ed Martin sat regarding her
with a strange expression on his face.
"Well," he said at last, as if to himself, "why not?" Then,
addressing her directly: "You may consider yourself appointed
official Society Editor of the Cherryvale Beacon."
The title rolled with surpassing resonance on enchanted ears. She
barely caught his next remark.
"And now about the matter of salary--"
Salary! Missy straightened up.
"What do you say to five dollars a week?" he asked.
Five dollars a week!--Five dollars every week! And earned by
herself! Missy's eyes grew big as suns.
"Is that satisfactory?"
"Well, then," he said, "I'll give you free rein. Just get your copy
in by Wednesday night--we go to press Thursdays--and I promise to
read every word of it myself."
"Oh," she said.
There were a thousand questions she'd have liked to ask, but Ed
Martin, smiling a queer kind of smile, had turned to his papers as
if anxious to get at them. No; she mustn't begin by bothering him
with questions. He was a busy man, and he'd put this new, big
responsibility on HER--"a free rein," he had said. And she must live
up to that trust; she must find her own way--study up the problem of
society editing, which, even if not her ideal, yet was a wedge to
who-knew-what? And meanwhile perhaps she could set a new standard
for society columns--brilliant and clever . . .
Missy left the Beacon office, suffused with emotions no pen, not
even her own, could ever have described.
Ed Martin, safely alone, allowed himself the luxury of an extensive
grin. Then, even while he smiled, his eyes sobered.
"Poor young one." He sighed and shook his head, then took up the
editorial he was writing on the delinquencies of the local
Meanwhile Missy, moving slowly back up Main Street, was walking on
something much softer and springier than the board sidewalk under
She didn't notice even the cracks, now. The acquaintances who passed
her, and the people sitting contentedly out on their shady porches,
seemed in a different world from the one she was traversing.
She had never known this kind of happiness before--exploring a dream
country which promised to become real. Now and then a tiny cloud
shadowed the radiance of her emotions: just how would she begin?--
what should she write about and how?--but swiftly her thoughts
flitted back to that soft, warm, undefined deliciousness. . .
Society Editor!--she, Melissa Merriam! Her words would be
immortalized in print! and she would soar up and up. . . Some day,
in the big magazines . . . Everybody would read her name there--all
Cherryvale--and, perhaps, Ridgeley Holman Dobson would chance a
brilliant, authoritative article on some deep, vital subject and
wish to meet the author.
She might even have to go to New York to live--New York! And
associate with the interesting, delightful people there. Maybe he
lived in New York, or, anyway, visited there, associating with
She wished her skirts were long enough to hold up gracefully like
Polly Currier walking over there across the street; she wished she
had long, dangling ear-rings; she wished . . .
Dreamy-eyed, the Society Editor of the Cherryvale Beacon turned in
at the Merriam gate to announce her estate to an amazed family
Aunt Nettie, of course, ejaculated, "goodness gracious!" and
laughed. But mother was altogether sweet and satisfying. She looked
a little startled at first, but she came over and smoothed her
daughter's hair while she listened, and, for some reason, was
unusually tender all the afternoon.
That evening at supper-time, Missy noticed that mother walked down
the block to meet father, and seemed to be talking earnestly with
him on their way toward the house. Missy hadn't much dreaded
father's opposition. He was an enormous, silent man and the young
people stood in a certain awe of him, but Missy, somehow, felt
closer to him than to most old people.
When he came up the steps to the porch where she waited, blushing
and palpitant but withal feeling a sense of importance, he greeted
her jovially. "Well, I hear we've got a full-fledged writer in our
Missy's blush deepened.
"What _I_ want to know," father continued, "is who's going to darn
my socks? I'm afraid socks go to the dickens when genius flies in at
As Missy smiled back at him she resolved, despite everything, to
keep father's socks in better order than ever before.
During supper the talk kept coming back to the theme of her Work,
but in a friendly, unscoffing way so that Missy knew her parents
were really pleased. Mother mentioned Mrs. Brooks's "bridge"
Thursday afternoon--that might make a good write-up. And father said
he'd get her a leather-bound notebook next day. And when, after
supper, instead of joining them on the porch, she brought tablet and
pencil and a pile of books and placed them on the dining-table,
there were no embarrassing comments, and she was left alone with her
thrills and puzzlements.
Among the books were Stevenson's "Some Technical Considerations of
Style," George Eliot's "Romola" and Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus"; the
latter two being of the kind that especially lifted you to a mood of
aching to express things beautifully. Missy liked books that lifted
you up. She loved the long-drawn introspections of George Eliot and
Augusta J. Evans; the tender whimsy of Barrie as she'd met him
through "Margaret Ogilvie" and "Sentimental Tommy"; the fascinating
mysteries of Marie Corelli; the colourful appeal of "To Have and To
Hold" and the other "historical romances" which were having a vogue
in that era; and Kipling's India!--that was almost best of all. She
had outgrown most of her earlier loves--Miss Alcott whom she'd once
known intimately, and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Birds'
Christmas Carol" had survived, too, her brief illicit passion for
the exotic product of "The Duchess." And she didn't respond keenly
to many of the "best sellers" which were then in their spectacular,
flamboyantly advertised heyday; somehow they failed to stimulate the
mind, stir the imagination, excite the emotions--didn't lift you up.
Yet she could find plenty of books in the Library which satisfied.
Now she sat, reading the introspections of "Romola" till she felt
her own soul stretching out--up and beyond the gas table-lamp
glowing there in such lovely serenity through its gold-glass shade;
felt it aching to express something, she knew not what.
Some day, perhaps, after she had written intellectual essays about
Politics and such things, she might write about Life. About Life
itself! And the Cosmos!
Her chin sank to rest upon her palm. How beautiful were those pink
roses in their leaf-green bowl--like a soft piece of music or a
gently flowing poem. Maybe Mrs. Brooks would have floral decorations
at her bridge-party. She hoped so--then she could write a really
satisfying kind of paragraph--flowers were always so inspiring.
Those pink petals were just about to fall. Yet, somehow, that made
them seem all the lovelier. She could almost write a poem about that
idea! Would Mr. Martin mind if, now and then, she worked in a little
verse or two? It would make Society reporting more interesting. For,
she had to admit, Society Life in Cherryvale wasn't thrilling. Just
lawn-festivals and club meetings and picnics at the Waterworks and
occasional afternoon card-parties where the older women wore their
Sunday silks and exchanged recipes and household gossip. If only
there was something interesting--just a little dash of "atmosphere."
If only they drank afternoon tea, or talked about Higher Things, or
smoked cigarettes, or wore long ear-rings! But, perhaps, some day--
in New York . . .
Missy's head drooped; she felt deliciously drowsy. Into the silence
of her dreams a cheerful voice intruded:
"Missy, dear, it's after ten o'clock and you're nodding! Oughtn't
you go up to bed?"
"All right, mother." Obediently she took her dreams upstairs with
her, and into her little white bed.
Thursday afternoon, all shyness and importance strangely compounded,
Missy carried a note-book to Mrs. Brooks's card-party. It was
agreeable to hear Mrs. Brooks effusively explain: "Missy's working
on the Beacon now, you know"; and to feel two dozen pairs of eyes
upon her as she sat writing down the list of guests; and to be
specially led out to view the refreshment-table. There was a
profusion of flowers, but as Mrs. Brooks didn't have much "taste"
Missy didn't catch the lilt of inspiration she had hoped for.
However, after she had worked her "write-up" over several times, she
prefixed a paragraph on the decorations which she hoped would atone
for the drab prosiness of the rest. It ran:
"Through the softly-parted portieres which separate Mrs. J. Barton
Brooks's back-parlour from the dining room came a gracious emanation
of scent and colour. I stopped for a moment in the doorway, and saw,
abloom there before me, a magical maze of flowers. Flowers! Oh,
multifold fragrance and tints divine which so ineffably enrich our
lives! Does anyone know whence they come? Those fragile fairy
creatures whose housetop is the sky; wakened by golden dawn; for
whom the silver moon sings lullaby. Yes; sunlight it is, and blue
sky and green earth, that endow them with their mysterious beauty;
these, and the haze of rain that filters down when clouds rear their
sullen heads. Sun and sky, and earth and rain; they alone may know--
know the secrets of these fairy-folk who, from their slyly-opened
petals, watch us at our hurrying business of life. . . We, mere
humans, can never know. With us it must suffice to sweeten our
hearts with the memory of fragrant flowers."
She was proud of that opening paragraph. But Ed Martin blue-
"Short of space this week," he said. "Either the flowers must go or
'those present.' It's always best to print names." "Is the rest of
it all right?" asked Missy, crest-fallen.
"Well," returned Ed, with whom everything had gone wrong that day
and who was too hurried to remember the fluttering pinions of Youth,
"I guess it's printable, anyhow."
It was "printable," and it did come out in print--that was
something! For months the printed account of Mrs. Brooks's "bridge"
was treasured in the Merriam archives, to be brought out and passed
among admiring relatives. Yes, that was something! But, as habitude