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The Bacillus of Beauty by Harriet Stark

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Kitty ran and brought a billowy mass of fleecy white stuff, and Cadge
stood, devouring salad, over the dainty thing, gesticulating at it with
her fork and explaining its beauties:--

"You can see for yourselves it's swell. Mrs. Edgar fitted me at the
_Star_ office, with furious mug-makers pounding on the door."

"With _what_?" gasped the General.

"Mug-makers; alleged artists; after an old photo. Anyhow, it's money in
Mrs. Edgar's pocket. One of her biggest customers owes her a lot, she
says, and she can't get a cent; needed cash to pay her rent; little boy
ill, too. My, but I'm hungry! Can't I eat while I'm being married?"

I felt Helen start; I remembered that I had seen Mrs. Edgar's name among
her bills. Poor girl!

And then the wedding; and the practical Cadge surprised us all.

All her soul was shining in her eyes as she said, "I will." She looked
upon Pros. with the shy love of a girl who has loved but once. For a brief
minute we saw the depth, the earnestness, the affection that in her seek
so often the mask of frivolity, and I wouldn't be surprised if more than
one tempest-tossed soul envied her peace, her love, her certitude.

The ceremony was short. The giant, who proved to be Big Tom, gave away the
bride. As the couple rushed off for a brief honeymoon, the newly made Mrs.
Reid--still with the shimmer of tears in her beautiful eyes--tried hard to
resume her old manner.

"'Member, Kitty," she called back from the stairway in a voice that
trembled, "you can't make that antelope cavort too lively. Brown'll send
photographs in the morning."

Soon only Mr. Winship and I were left with Kitty and Helen and the painted

"What a Cadge!" said Helen languidly, as she walked with us to the door.
"But she's the best girl in the world."

I believe she's pretty nearly right. I haven't always done Miss Bryant
justice. My mind dwelt upon the lovely picture she had made of trust and
happiness; and I wondered whether my own wife would show shining, happy
eyes like hers when--In my restless dreams the vision of them lingered,
grotesquely alternating with a swaying figure driving a shadowy antelope--
a figure that was sometimes Helen's and sometimes little Ethel's--until I

And thus began to-day--it has been the hardest day in a hard week.

It is three hours now, maybe, since we returned from Mrs. Baker's Sunday
dinner. A love feast after a feud is trying, but Helen was brave. Mrs.
Baker is too honest for diplomacy, and at first I watched Helen nervously,
as she sat in the familiar library, a red spot in each cheek, pitting a
quiet hauteur against the embarrassed chirpings of her aunt and Milly's
sphynx-like silence.

But little by little the cordiality of the Judge and of his tactful
sister, helped by Ethel's radiant delight and Mr. Winship's pleasure in
the visit, gave another flavour to the dinner than that of the fatted
calf, and warmed the atmosphere out of its chill reminiscence of the
encounter with Hynes.

The children, too, were a resource, though for a minute Joy was a terror.
Baker, junior, was offering me a kodak picture, when she came running up
to look at it.

"You can have it," said Boy; "it's clearer than the one you liked the
other day."

"Thath me!" cried Joy, with a fiendish hop and skip. "Me'n Efel on 'e
thidewalk. Mither Burke, you like me'n Efel?"

"I like you very much."

"Efel too, or o'ny me? Mr. Burke, w'y you don't like Efel too?"

Like Ethel--the shy little wild flower! Like Ethel!

"Say, Mr. Burke," said Boy opportunely, "here's an envelope to put it in."

"W'at I like," Mr. Winship said, his frosty blue eyes twinkling with
enjoyment, "is to see Sis here gittin' a good dose o' home folks; do her
more good'n med'cine."

And almost he seemed right, for, as the minutes wore on, a brighter colour
rose to Helen's cheeks, and the marvellous charm she knows so well how to
use held us fascinated. She waged a war of jests with the Judge and fell
back into her old caressing ways with Miss Baker. Ethel could scarcely
contain her happiness, and even Milly showed signs of melting.

I brought Helen away as early as I could--as soon as we had completed
plans for a quiet wedding next Wednesday.

"I hope you're proud of her, Ezra," declared Mrs. Baker as we took leave;
"she told you she's refused a title? But there! All foreigners break their
wives' hearts--Nelly's a sensible girl! You didn't expect, though, to find
New York crazy over her?"

"Oh, I don't know; Helen 'Lizy's ma was a hansome girl; Sis here had ought
to be satisfied if she wears a half as well."

"Come again thoon to thing to Joy," lisped the baby; "Joy loveth you tho

Helen buried her face in the yellow curls, and when she turned away her
eyes were wet.

I stayed at the studio only long enough to beg Kitty to see that her
charge rests. Just as we were parting at the door, Helen turned full on me
her great, lambent eyes.

"Do you love me?" she asked suddenly.

"Why, I loved you," I replied, "when you were a little freckled Nelly in

And that, at least, is true! God help me to be kind to the most beautiful
woman in the world!


"P. P. C."

June 21, 19--.

Helen and I were to have been married just a year ago. To-day I have been
going over her own story of her life--of her meeting with Darmstetter, of
the blight he cast upon her, of her growth in loveliness, her brief
fluttering in the sunshine, her failure, her supping with sorrow, her

I must bring to a close the record of this miracle.

This who was the most extraordinary woman that ever lived, was also little
Nellie Winship. Again as I remember her as she was--a thing of such vital
force that no man could be unmoved in her presence, of such supernal
loveliness that words can never tell of it--again I feel that I must be in
an ugly dream. But this bit of paper, blotted with tears and stained with
wine and ashes, tells me that there was no mistake.

She had seemed in high spirits that Sunday at the Bakers', though she was
tired when we returned to the studio. Mr. Winship and I made no stop.
Pros. and Cadge were enjoying their brief honeymoon trip and so Kitty and
Helen were left together.

Monday morning I went first to the rooms I had taken; Kitty was to be
there later, arranging our little furniture. She was to live with us for a
time and care for Nelly. But when I reached the office, there lay on my
desk a telegram.

"Helen is ill; come," it read.

Cadge met me at the studio door, white-faced, strangely, silently gentle.
From a tumbled heap among the cushions of the tepee came a voice like
Kitty's, moaning. Cadge tried to speak, but could only point to the little

There, in the straight white dress she wore at the wedding, Helen lay, as
if sleeping, upon a couch. Floods of shining hair fell about her
shoulders. In the white dignity of death her face was marvellous. All
trace of stress and strain had left it, replaced by an enigmatic calm. She
looked not merely beautiful, but Beauty's self vouchsafed to mortal eyes.

I do not know how long I gazed. Vaguely, between Kitty's sobs, I heard the
ticking of a watch.

"For another woman of such loveliness," at length said a reverent voice
behind me, "we must wait the final evolution of humanity."

Dr. Upton, one of Reid's friends whom I had seen at the wedding, had
reached the house before me. He had been examining a glass, a spoon and
some other objects so quietly that I had not heard. He said that Helen had
been dead some hours.

Mechanically I listened, but it was not until afterward that I understood
the full purport of his speech or of Kitty's story of the night and
morning. Their words reached me as if spoken from some great distance by
the people who live in dreams.

Kitty had come to us; she stood in the doorway, white and shaking.

"Helen--Helen's head ached," she sobbed, "and she begged me to brush her
hair, but when I began, she said it hurt, and told me to stop; then she
fell to writing. I coaxed her to come to bed, for I thought she was ill;
but she called me 'Kathryn' and then I knew I couldn't manage her. Oh, I
was wicked, wicked; but I was afraid of her, always--you know. So I--oh,
how could I?--I fixed a screen against the light and lay down, meaning to
try again in a few minutes; but the instant my head touched the pillow I
must have dropped asleep. The last thing I said was: 'Shall I tell Morphy
you're coming?' I was so tired that I don't know whether she answered. And
this morning--oh, I can't believe it; Oh, Helen, Helen!"

"And this morning?" prompted Dr. Upton.

"This morning when--when I waked and saw her on the couch, I wondered why
she hadn't come to bed; but I dropped a shawl over her and tiptoed out. It
wasn't until half-past eight that I tried--oh, I can't! I can't! Don't ask

Kitty's voice was lost in hysterical chokings.

Dr. Upton handed me Helen's visiting card. Below the name was scrawled:
"P. P. C."

"It was found pinned to Miss Reid's bedspread," he said; "is that Miss
Winship's handwriting?"

"Yes," I answered. The shaky letters were unrecognisable.

"Don't you see! To say farewell," wailed Kitty. "She's done it a hundred
times when she started for school before I was up. Barnard is so far. Oh,
I can't bear it! How could you, Helen?"

"Don't, Kitty," said Cadge, drawing her from the room.

The doctor motioned me to a table behind the screen of which Kitty had
spoken. There Helen had sat, there lay her writing case, the key sealed in
an envelope addressed to me. Picking up a slip of paper torn from a letter
pad, he asked:--

"Is this also Miss Winship's writing?"

He held it out to me and I read the single line:--

"Don't tell Father."

Dazed, half-comprehending, I repeated: "Yes."

Upton had found nothing else, except Helen's watch, open beside the
writing case, and a glass that still held a little sherry. At this he
looked with sombre intelligence and set it carefully aside.

Nothing in the room had been disturbed. Helen's chair had the look of
having been pushed from the table as she rose but a minute before. Near it
on an easel stood the Van Nostrand picture, smiling--smiling, as if it had
seen no tragedy. On the floor was a little ash as of charred paper.

In a few minutes Mrs. Reid and Kitty returned with Mr. Winship. Through
the fog that enveloped me I saw with dull curiosity that they had told him
something that he didn't understand.

He could not believe Helen dead, but knelt by her side and coaxed her to
wake, rubbing her fair, slender hands between his leathery palms and
calling her by every pet name of her childhood.

"It's on'y your ol' Dad, Sis," he crooned. "Jes' come to fetch ye t' yer
Ma; that's all. I know yer tired--plum tired out; but Ma 'n' me'll take
care on ye." It was pitiful to hear him.

He desisted at last and looked back at us with a mien of anger.

"Do suthin', some o' ye," he snarled, "'stid o' standin' round like gumps!
Speak to me, Poppet; tell yer ol' Pap w'at ails ye. Fetch some hot water,
you gals! Ain't ye got no sense? Rub her feet; an' her hands. Speak to me,
Sissy--why don't ye?"

As the truth slowly won over him, he straightened himself, one hand still
clasping Helen's cold one.

"It's sudden; sudden," he said. "Doctor, w'at ailed my little Nelly?"

Still numbly inquisitive, I waited. The old man couldn't see the truth,
the horrible truth. What would the doctor say?

It was Cadge's voice that broke the silence; gentle, assured, yet with a
note almost of defiance.

"We think--in fact, Helen overstudied," she said. "We've been much worried
about her."

Dr. Upton turned abruptly. Cadge's irregular, mobile face for once was
still, its quiet demand bent full upon him. His answering look refused
her, but the effort was obvious with which he spoke to the broken man
waiting his verdict.

"Miss Winship--your daughter--" he began.

The words died. Cadge's steady black eyes controlled him.


The doctor bowed his head over Helen. I was listening again to her watch
that ticked insistently. "Don't tell Father! Don't tell Father!" it said
over and over, over and over, louder and louder, until the words echoed
from every corner of the room.

They must hear! That was why she had left it!

"I ast ye w'at ailed my little girl."

"Cardiac asthenia--heart failure," said Dr. Upton, abruptly.

Kitty threw herself upon Cadge, kissing her convulsively, while Mr.
Winship persisted:--

"Sis was first-rate yist'day; w'at fetched the attack on?"

As gently as Cadge herself, Dr. Upton answered:--

"Mr. Winship, your daughter wasn't so strong as she seemed. There was much
in her condition to cause anxiety. I'll be back in an hour," he added,
moving hastily, as Reid entered, toward the door.

Could I let him shoulder the responsibility of concealment? And if I
refused? Publicity--an inquest? At last I was alive to the situation; in
silent gratitude I wrung Upton's hand, but he took no notice of me. As he
passed Reid he growled:--

"Your wife's a good woman to tie to, Pros. She's all right. Lucky she was
telegraphed for."

Cadge had begun to talk in low tones to Mr. Winship. He did not seem to
listen, but the quiet voice soothed him. Gradually his gray, set features
relaxed, though he would not submit to be led from the bedside.

"Ma was right," he said at last, broken and querulous. "We'd never ought
to have let her come to the city. Ye say she'll be famous? Sissy, my poor
little Poppet, w'at good to ye is fame; w'at good is all your studyin'?"

* * * * *

I did not open Helen's writing case for weeks; not until after my return
from the dreary journey West with Mr. Winship.

Stunned by the shock of her death, bearing not only my grief but the
knowledge that her father and mother must hold me in part responsible for
her fatal coming to New York, I could not face the secret of her choice of
death rather than marriage with me.

It was a hot July night when I turned the key that guarded the secret.

I found the story of the Bacillus, the curse that killed Darmstetter, that
killed Helen. With it was a letter that I have read a thousand times--this
letter that I am now reading. The scent of roses still breathes from it.
On the last page there are splashes of wine.

This is what it says:--

JOHN: I cannot bear it. Prof. Darmstetter gave me death when he gave me

I am not a coward; but what is left? I am tired, wretched; there is no
place for me.

The Bacillus has defeated every wish it has aroused. It has refused me
love, ambition, honest work. From men it has compelled fear; from women
hate; it has cut me off from my kind.

You saw Ned smiling into Milly's pale eyes. I should not have cared, I who
was to marry you, but--I love him; you know it--you have known it since my
heart broke, since I tore it out and swore to reign, to dazzle, to be
Queen of the world.

You know what came of my ambitions. The world treated my beauty as a
menace; it struck me down. Then I asked to earn my bread; but without you
I might have starved. You were my refuge--and you--you love a cripple!

Why didn't I guess? I would have been glad, for Ethel is a dear child, and
I had given you sorrow enough. I did not love you; I do not think I have
pretended to love you. But can no man help seeming to care for me--help
caring while he is with me? Ned told me he did not love; but you, you I
trusted; you would have married me, not letting me know--

Ethel limps, she is plain. Plain as I was when you adored my ugly face, my
freckles. Does beauty kill love, or do men see beauty only where they
love? Little brown partridges, little brown partridges--

The Bacillus is a cheat; every woman to her lover is the most beautiful!

Ethel's good. You would have found me conspicuous, an annoyance among
people who shrink from the extraordinary. I have been fond of Ethel.

I was marrying you to get my debts paid--you knew that--but there was
more. You must believe--you know there was more. I thought you loved me.
Was that strange? How many times have you spoken to me of love? I wanted
to show my gratitude, to make you happy, since happiness was not for me. I
would have tried; I would have buried my own misery; buried everything but
the sense of your goodness. I would have given you the co-operation of a
clever woman. I would have given you the affection you know I have always
felt. I would have worked, planned, compelled success for you.

But that's over. Ethel is a dear child. I will not stand between you and

Don't pity me. I need no pity. I would endure yesterday and to-day a
thousand times for the sake of the first hour of my beauty. Would I change
now to be like Ethel, to be white putty like Milly--to have your love, or
Ned's? Beauty--I can die with it sooner than drown it in tears.

Don't tell Father. He will suffer; but less than if I went home to eat my
heart out in repinings, to grow old and ugly, cursing the world. I have
lived too long. I am already less beautiful.

If I could destroy the secret! Death, leaving that behind, is crucifixion.
But I was the first, I was the first! That dead face so gray and old--
"Delilah!" it mows at me. I keep my promise! I haven't robbed you, you
shall have your fame! I, too, I shall never be forgotten!

John, take the secret. Keep my word for me. If you doubt the discovery,
try it on an enemy. If you think my sorrow could have been avoided, offer
the Bacillus as a wedding gift to--.

Give Milly, who has Ned's love, my beauty? Would it turn him from her? If
I thought it--But even for that, there shall be no other! It shall go
first. Forever and forever my name, my face,--

"Delilah!" It grins, it gibbers. Wait for no tests. Print quick! To-
morrow, to-day--it's almost day. Give him what he wants, John--"Delilah!"

Why do you come back, dead face, dead eyes? Haven't I promised? You shall
have print, type, a million circulation! Go away, you're dead! What's fame
to youth, health, life? It's you who rob and kill. I won't look--I won't!
If I wake Kitty, could she help? I won't look, I'm going mad!

Gone! I must hurry. He might come back. Shall I leave the secret? It's
life for life, we're even. If beauty were cheap, who'd care for it? It's
death to be first, but afterwards--nothing! If I burned it--but no--I

Why not?

"Delilah!" Your health, dead eyes! I haf put t'e bacillus of perfect vine
into t'e new grape juice, and I svear it's--Prosit, dead eyes!--here's a
P.P.C.; quickest goodby--Poor Kitty! You'll be sorry for the most
beautiful woman in the--

The Bacillus of Beauty has had its victim.

Why do I keep the wine-splashed, rose-breathing letter? Why read over and
over the fragments of Helen's journal? Better remember my little school-
mate as she was before the poison stung her. Might she, with time and
contact with life, have reacted against the virus, or must such loveliness
be fatal to what is best in woman? Who can answer? Helen is dead,
Darmstetter is dead, and the Bacillus--

The Bacillus shall have no other victim.

We who were near to Helen have been slow to recover from the shock and the
bitterness of her death. Her father and mother have nothing to hold them
to life; they are uprooted. Ned has grieved for her with bitter self-
reproach, though he is happy with Milly. Ethel and I--

But to-night I can think only of Helen.


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