Part 1 out of 6
THE CORDS OF VANITY
A Comedy of Shirking
Revised and Expanded Edition
by JAMES BRANCH CABELL
with INTRODUCTION by WILSON FOLLETT
GABRIELLE BROOKE MONCURE
_Plus sapit vulgus, quia tantum, quantum opus est, sapit._
by Wilson Follett
Mr. Cabell, in making ready this second or intended edition of THE
CORDS OF VANITY, performs an act of reclamation which is at the same
time an act of fresh creation.
For the purely reclamatory aspect of what he has done, his reward (so
far as that can consist in anything save the doing) must come from
insignificantly few directions; so few indeed that he, with a wrily
humorous exaggeration, affects to believe them singular. The author of
this novel has been pleased to describe the author of this
introduction as "the only known purchaser of the book" and, further,
as "the other person to own a CORDS OF VANITY". I could readily enough
acquit myself, with good sound legal proofs, of any such singularity
as stands charged in this soft impeachment--and that without appeal to
_The Cleveland Plain Dealer_ of eleven years ago ("slushy and
disgusting"), or to _The New York Post_ ("sterile and malodorous ...
worse than immoral--dull"), or to _Ainslee's Magazine_ ("inconsequent
and rambling ... rather nauseating at times"). These devotees of the
adjective that hunts in pairs are hardly to be discussed, I suppose,
in connection with any rewards except such as accrue to the possessors
of a certain obtuseness, who always and infallibly reap at least the
reward of not being hurt by what they do not know--or, for that
matter, by what they do know. He who writes such a book as THE CORDS
OF VANITY is committing himself to the supremely irrational faith that
this dullness is somehow not the ultimate arbiter; and for him the
pronouncements of this dullness simply do not figure among either his
rewards or his penalties. So, it is not exactly to these tributes of
the press that one reverts in noting that THE CORDS OF VANITY, on its
publication eleven years ago, promptly became a book which there
were--almost--none to praise and very few to love. After all, its
author's computation of that former audience of his--his actual
individual voluntary readers of a decade ago--appears to be but
slightly and pardonably exaggerated on the more modest side of the
fact. If there were a Cabell Club of membership determined solely by
the number of those who, already possessing THE CORDS OF VANITY in its
first edition, recognize it as the work of a serious artist of high
achievement and higher capacity, I suspect that the smallness of that
club would be in inordinate disproportion to everything but its
selectness and its members' pride in "belonging".
Be that as it may, the economist-author, on the eve of his book's
emergence from the limbo of "out of print", prefers that it come into
its redemption carrying a foreword by someone who knew it without
dislike in its former incarnation. No contingent liability, it seems,
can dissuade Mr. Cabell from this preference. An author who once
elected to precede a group of his best tales with an introduction
eloquently setting forth reasons why the collection ought not to be
published at all, is hardly to be deterred now by the mere
inexpediency of hitching his star to a farm-wagon. His own graciously
unreasonable insistence must be the excuse, such as it is, for the
present introduction, such as it is. If there may be said to exist a
sort of charter membership in Mr. Cabell's audience, this document is
to be construed as representing its very enthusiastic welcome to the
later and vastly larger elective membership.
And if, weighed as such a welcome, it proves hopelessly inadequate, at
least it provides a number of possible compensations by the way. For
instance, that _New York World_ critic who damned the book but praised
its frontispiece of 1909, has now a uniquely pat opportunity to
balance his ledger by praising the book and damning this foreword,
which, more or less, replaces the frontispiece. Similarly, the more
renowned critic and anthologist who so well knows the "originals" of
the verses in _From the Hidden Way_, can now render poetically perfect
justice to all who will care by perceiving that both the earlier
edition of this book and the author of this foreword are but figments
of Mr. Cabell's slightly puckish invention.
But these pages must not be, like those which follow, a comedy of
shirking. They will have flouted a plain duty unless they speak of the
sense and the degree in which this novel, during the process of
reclaiming it, has been actually recreated. Perhaps the matter can be
packed most succinctly into the statement that Mr. Cabell's hero has
been subjected to such a process of growth as has made him
commensurate in stature with the other two modern writers of Mr.
Cabell's invention. As _The Cream of the Jest_ is essentially the book
of Felix Kennaston and _Beyond Life_ that of John Charteris, so THE
CORDS OF VANITY is essentially the book of Robert Etheridge Townsend.
Now, this Townsend has accomplished a deal of growing since 1909. By
this I do not mean that he is taken at a later period of his own
imagined life, or that he fails to act consonantly with the extreme
youth imputed to him: I mean that he is the creation of a more mature
mind, a deeper philosophy, a more probing insight into the
implications of things. A given youth of twenty-five will be very
differently interpreted by an observer of thirty and by the same
observer at forty, very much as a given era of the past will be
understood differently by a single historian before and after certain
cycles of his own social and political experience. The past never
remains to us the same past; it grows up along with us; the physical
facts may remain admittedly the same, but our understanding accents
them differently, finds more in them at some points and less at
others. So Robert Etheridge Townsend remains an example of that
special temperament which, being unable to endure the contact of
unhappiness, consistently shirks every responsibility that entails or
threatens discomfort; and the truth about him, taking him as an
example of just that temperament, is still inexorably told. But his
weakness as a man becomes much more tolerable in this second version,
because it is much more intimately and poignantly correlated with his
strength as an artist. One is made to feel that he, like Charteris,
may the better consummate in his art the auctorial virtues of
distinction and clarity, beauty and symmetry, tenderness and truth and
urbanity, precisely because his personal life is bereft of those
virtues. Less than before, the accent is on the wastrel in Townsend;
more than before, it is on the potential creator of beauty in him. The
earlier readers will hardly count it as a fault that Mr. Cabell has
contrived to make his novel, without detriment to any truth
whatsoever, a far less unpleasant book. Sardonic it still is, by a
necessary implication, but not wantonly, and with a mellowness. The
irony, which at its harshest was capable of rasping the nerves, has
become capable of wringing the heart.
Other reasons there are, too, for holding that THE CORDS OF VANITY is
certain to make its second appeal to a many times multiplied audience.
Since divers momentous transactions of the years just gone, the whole
world stands in a moral position extraordinarily well adapted to the
comprehension of just such a comedy of shirking; and especially the
world of thought has received a powerful impulsion toward the area
long occupied by Mr. Cabell's romantic pessimism. There is perhaps
somewhat more demand for satire, or at least a growing toleration of
it. Moreover, by sheer patience and reiteration Mr. Cabell has
procured no little currency for some of his most characteristic ideas.
Chivalry and gallantry, as he analyzes them, are concepts which play
their part in the inevitable present re-editing of social and literary
history. _The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck_, _The Cream of the Jest_,
and _The Certain Hour_ have somewhat to say to the discriminating,
even on other than purely aesthetic grounds; _Beyond Life_ is on the
threshold of its day as the _Sartor Resartus_ of one side, the
aesthetic side, of modernism;
"_Of_ Jurgen _eke they maken mencion";_
and THE CORDS OF VANITY is but the first of the earlier books to be
reissued in the format of the uniform and accessible Intended Edition.
While THE CORDS OF VANITY was out of print, a fresh copy is known to
have been acquired for twenty-five cents. Copies of a more recent work
by the same hand--a tale which has been rendered equally unavailable
to the public, though by slightly different considerations--have
fetched as much as one hundred times that sum. This arithmetic may be,
in part, the gauge of an unsought and distasteful notoriety; but that
very notoriety, by the most natural of transitions, will lead the
curious on from what cannot be obtained to what can, and some who have
begun by seeking one particular work of a great artist will end by
discovering the artist. In short, it is rational to expect that the
fortunes hereafter of this rewritten novel will very excellently
illustrate the uses of adversity.
Not, I repeat, that any great part of the reward for such writing can
come from without. According to Robert Etheridge Townsend, "a man
writes admirable prose not at all for the sake of having it read, but
for the more sensible reason that he enjoys playing solitaire"--a not
un-Cabellian saying. And, even of the reward from without, it may be
questioned whether the really indispensable part ever comes from the
multitude. A lady with whose more candid opinions the writer of this
is more frequently favored nowadays than of old has said: "Every time
I hear of somebody who has wanted one of these books without being
able to get it, or who, having got it, has conceded it nothing better
than the disdain of an ignoramus, I feel as if I must forthwith get
out the copy and read it through again and again, until I have read it
once for every person who has rejected it or been denied it." One may
feel reasonably sure that it is this kind of solicitude, rather than
any possible sanction from the crowd, which would be thought of by the
author of this book as "the exact high prize through desire of which
I HE SITS OUT A DANCE
II HE LOVES EXTENSIVELY
III HE EARNS A STICK-PIN
IV HE TALKS WITH CHARTERIS
V HE REVISITS FAIRHAVEN AND THE PLAY
VI HE CHATS OVER A HEDGE
VII HE GOES MAD IN A GARDEN
VIII HE DUELS WITH A STUPID WOMAN
IX HE PUTS HIS TONGUE IN HIS CHEEK
X HE SAMPLES NEW EMOTIONS
XI HE POSTURES AMONG CHIMNEY-POTS
XII HE FACES HIMSELF AND REMEMBERS
XIII HE BAITS UPON THE JOURNEY
XIV HE PARTICIPATES IN A BRAVE JEST
XV HE DECIDES TO AMUSE HIMSELF
XVI HE SEEKS FOR COPY
XVII HE PROVIDES COPY
XVIII HE SPENDS AN AFTERNOON IN ARDEN
XIX HE PLAYS THE IMPROVIDENT FOOL
XX HE DINES OUT, IMPEDED BY SUPERSTITIONS
XXI HE IS URGED TO DESERT HIS GALLEY
XXII HE CLEANS THE SLATE
XXIII HE REVILES DESTINY AND CLIMBS A WALL
XXIV HE RECONCILES SENTIMENT AND REASON
XXV HE ADVANCES IN THE ATTACK ON SELWOODE
XXVI HE ASSISTS IN THE DIVERSION OF BIRDS
XXVII HE CALLS, COUNSELS, AND CONSIDERS
XXVIII HE PARTICIPATES IN SUNDRY CONFIDENCES
XXIX HE ALLOWS THE MERITS OF IMPERFECTION
XXX HE GILDS THE WEATHER-VANE
THE EPILOGUE: WHICH SUGGESTS THAT SECOND THOUGHTS--
_"In the house and garden of his dream he saw a child moving, and
could divide the main streams at least of the winds that had played on
him, and study so the first stage in that mental journey."_
_The Prologue: Which Deals with the Essentials_
It appeared to me that my circumstances clamored for betterment,
because never in my life have I been able to endure the contact of
unhappiness. And my mother was always crying now, over (though I did
not know it) the luckiest chance which had ever befallen her; and that
made me cry too, without understanding exactly why.
So the child, that then was I, procured a pencil and a bit of
wrapping-paper, and began to write laboriously:
"You know that Papa died and please comfort Mama
and give Father a crown of Glory Ammen
"Your lamb and very sincerely yours
"ROBERT ETHERIDGE TOWNSEND."
This appeared to the point as I re-read it, and of course God would
understand that children were not expected to write quite as straight
across the paper as grown people. The one problem was how to deliver
this, my first letter, most expeditiously, because when your mother
cried you always cried too, and couldn't stop, not even when you
wanted to, not even when she promised you five cents, and it all made
you horribly uncomfortable.
I knew that the big Bible on the parlor table was God's book. Probably
God read it very often, since anybody would be proud of having written
a book as big as that and would want to look at it every day. So I
tiptoed into the darkened parlor. I use the word advisedly, for there
was not at this period any drawing-room in Lichfield, and besides, a
drawing-room is an entirely different matter.
Everywhere the room was cool, and, since the shades were down, the
outlines of the room's contents were uncomfortably dubious; for just
where the table stood had been, five days ago, a big and oddly-shaped
black box with beautiful silver handles; and Uncle George had lifted
me so that I could see through the pane of glass, which was a part of
this funny box, while an infinity of decorous people rustled and
I remember knowing they were "company" and thinking they coughed and
sniffed because they were sorry that my father was dead. In the light
of knowledge latterly acquired, I attribute these actions to the then
prevalent weather, for even now I recall how stiflingly the room smelt
of flowers--particularly of magnolia blossoms--and of rubber and of
wet umbrellas. For my own part, I was not at all sorry, though of
course I pretended to be, since I had always known that as a rule my
father whipped me because he had just quarreled with my mother, and
that he then enjoyed whipping me.
I desired, in fine, that he should stay dead and possess his crown of
glory in Heaven, which was reassuringly remote, and that my mother
should stop crying. So I slipped my note into the Apocrypha....
I felt that somewhere in the room was God and that God was watching
me, but I was not afraid. Yet I entertained, in common with most
children, a nebulous distrust of this mysterious Person, a distrust of
which I was particularly conscious on winter nights when the gas had
been turned down to a blue fleck, and the shadow of the mantelpiece
flickered and plunged on the ceiling, and the clock ticked louder and
louder, in prediction (I suspected) of some terrible event very close
Then you remembered such unpleasant matters as Elisha and his bears,
and those poor Egyptian children who had never even spoken to Moses,
and that uncomfortably abstemious lady, in the fat blue-covered
_Arabian Nights_, who ate nothing but rice, grain by grain--in the
daytime.... And you called Mammy, and said you were very thirsty and
wanted a glass of water, please.
To-day, though, while acutely conscious of that awful inspection, and
painstakingly careful not to look behind me, I was not, after all,
precisely afraid. If God were a bit like other people I knew He would
say, "What an odd child!" and I liked to have people say that. Still,
there was sunlight in the hall, and lots of sunlight, not just long
and dusty shreds of sunlight, and I felt more comfortable when I was
back in the hall.
I lay flat upon my stomach, having found that posture most conformable
to the practice of reading, and I considered the cover of this slim,
green book; the name of John Charteris, stamped thereon in fat-bellied
letters of gold, meant less to me than it was destined to signify
A deal of puzzling matter I found in this book, but in my memory,
always, one fantastic passage clung as a burr to sheep's wool. That
fable, too, meant less to me than it was destined to signify
thereafter, when the author of it was used to declare that he had,
unwittingly, written it about me. Then I read again this
_Fable of the Foolish Prince_
"As to all earlier happenings I choose in this place to be silent.
Anterior adventures he had known of the right princely sort. But
concerning his traffic with Schamir, the chief talisman, and how
through its aid he won to the Sun's Sister for a little while; and
concerning his dealings with the handsome Troll-wife (in which affair
the cat he bribed with butter and the elm-tree he had decked with
ribbons helped him); and with that beautiful and dire Thuringian woman
whose soul was a red mouse: we have in this place naught to do.
Besides, the Foolish Prince had put aside such commerce when the Fairy
came to guide him; so he, at least, could not in equity have grudged
the same privilege to his historian.
"Thus, the Fairy leading, the Foolish Prince went skipping along his
father's highway. But the road was bordered by so many wonders--as
here a bright pebble and there an anemone, say, and, just beyond, a
brook which babbled an entreaty to be tasted,--that many folk had
presently overtaken and had passed the loitering Foolish Prince. First
came a grandee, supine in his gilded coach, with half-shut eyes,
uneagerly meditant upon yesterday's statecraft or to-morrow's
gallantry; and now three yokels, with ruddy cheeks and much dust upon
their shoulders; now a haggard man in black, who constantly glanced
backward; and now a corporal with an empty sleeve, who whistled as he
"A butterfly guided every man of them along the highway. 'For the Lord
of the Fields is a whimsical person,' said the Fairy,' and such is his
very old enactment concerning the passage even of his cowpath; but
princes each in his day and in his way may trample this domain as
prompt their will and skill.'
"'That now is excellent hearing,' said the Foolish Prince; and he
"'Look you,' said the Fairy, 'a man does not often stumble and break
his shins in the highway, but rather in the byway.'....
"Thus, the Fairy leading, the Foolish Prince went skipping on his
allotted journey, though he paused once in a while to shake his bauble
at the staring sun.
"'The stars,' he considered, 'are more sympathetic....
"And thus, the Fairy leading, they came at last to a tall hedge
wherein were a hundred wickets, all being closed; and those who had
passed the Foolish Prince disputed before the hedge and measured the
hundred wickets with thirty-nine articles and with a variety of
instruments, and each man entered at his chosen wicket, and a
butterfly went before him; but no man returned into the open country.
"'Now beyond each wicket,' said the Fairy, 'lies a great crucible, and
by ninety and nine of these crucibles is a man consumed, or else
transmuted into this animal or that animal. For such is the law in
these parts and in human hearts.'
"The Prince demanded how if one found by chance the hundredth wicket?
But she shook her head and said that none of the Tylwydd Teg was
permitted to enter the Disenchanted Garden. Rumor had it that within
the Garden, beyond the crucibles, was a Tree, but whether the fruit of
this Tree were sweet or bitter no person in the Fields could tell, nor
did the Fairy pretend to know what happened in the Garden.
"'Then why, in heaven's name, need a man test any of these wickets?'
cried the Foolish Prince; 'with so much to lose and, it may be,
nothing to gain? For one, I shall enter none of them.'
"But once more she shook her glittering head. 'In your House and in
your Sign it was decreed. Time will be, my Prince; to-day the kid
gambols and the ox chews his cud. Presently the butcher cries, _Time
is!_ Comes the hour and the power, and the cook bestirs herself and
says, _Time was!_ The master has his dinner, either way, all say, and
"And the Fairy vanished as she talked with him, her radiances thinning
into the neutral colors of smoke, and thence dwindling a little by a
little into the vaulting spiral of a windless and a burnt-out fire,
until nothing remained of her save her voice; and that was like the
moving of dead leaves before they fall.
"'Truly,' said the Foolish Prince, 'I am compelled to consider this a
vexatious business. For, look you, the butterfly I just now admire
flits over this wicket, and then her twin flutters over that wicket,
and between them there is absolutely no disparity in attraction. Hoo!
here is a more sensible insect.'
"And he leaped and cracked his heels together and ran after a golden
butterfly that drifted to the rearward Fields. There was such a host
of butterflies about that presently he had lost track of his first
choice, and was in boisterous pursuit of a second, and then of a
third, and then of yet others; but none of them did he ever capture,
the while that one by one he followed divers butterflies of varying
colors, and never a golden butterfly did he find any more.
"When it was evening, the sky drew up the twilight from the east as a
blotter draws up ink, and stars were kindling everywhere like tiny
signal-fires, and a light wind came out of the murky east and rustled
very plaintively in places where the more ambiguous shadows were; and
the Foolish Prince shivered, for the air was growing chill, and the
tips of his fingers were aware of it.
"'A crucible,' he reflected, 'possesses the minor virtue of continuous
"And before the hedge he found a Rational Person, led hither by a
Clothes' Moth, working out the problem of the hundred wickets in
consonance with the most approved methods. 'I have very nearly solved
it,' the Rational Person said, in genteel triumph, 'but this evening
grows too dark for any further ciphering, and again I must wait until
to-morrow. I regret, sir, that you have elected to waste the day, in
pursuit of various meretricious Lepidoptera.'
"'A happy day, my brother, is never wasted."
"'That appears to me to be nonsense,' said the Rational Person; and he
put up his portfolio, preparatory to spending another night under his
umbrella in the Fields.
"'Indeed, my brother?' laughed the Foolish Prince. 'Then, farewell,
for I am assured that yonder, as here, our father makes the laws, and
that to dispute his appreciation of the enticing qualities of
butterflies were an impertinence.'
"Thereafter, pushing open the wicket nearest to his hand, the Foolish
Prince tucked his bauble under his left arm and skipped into the
Disenchanted Garden; and as he went he sang, not noting that, from
somewhere in the thickening shadows, had arisen a golden butterfly
which went before him through the wicket.
"Sang the Foolish Prince:
"'Farewell to Fields and Butterflies
And levities of Yester-year!
For we espy, and hold more dear,
The Wicket of our Destinies.
"'Whereby we enter, once for all,
A Garden which such fruit doth yield
As, tasted once, no more Afield
We fare where Youth holds carnival.
"'Farewell, fair Fields, none found amiss
When laughter was a frequent noise
And golden-hearted girls and boys
Appraised the mouth they meant to kiss.
"'Farewell, farewell! but for a space
We, being young, Afield might stray,
That in our Garden nod and say,
_Afield is no unpleasant place.'"_
In such disconnected fashion, as hereafter, I record the moments of my
life which I most vividly remember. For it is possible only in the
last paragraphs of a book, and for a book's people only, to look back
upon an ordered and proportionate progression to what one has become;
in life the thing arrives with scantier dignity; and one appears, in
retrospection, less to have marched toward any goal than always to
have jumped and scrambled from one stepping-stone to another because,
however momentarily, "just this or that poor impulse seemed the sole
work of a lifetime."
Well! at least I have known these moments and the rapture of their
dominance; and I am not lightly to be stripped of recollection of
them, nor of the attendant thrill either, by any cheerless hour
wherein, as sometimes happens, my personal achievements confront me
like a pile of flimsy jack-straws.
What does it all amount to?--I do not know. There may be some sort of
supernal bookkeeping, somewhere, but very certainly it is not
conformable to any human mathematics.
_THE CORDS OF VANITY
"His has been the summer air, and the sunshine, and the flowers; and
gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes have been upon him.
Let others eat his honey that please, so that he has had his morsel
and his song."_
_He Sits Out a Dance_
When I first knew Stella she was within a month of being fifteen,
which is for womankind an unattractive age. There were a startling
number of corners to her then, and she had but vague notions as to the
management of her hands and feet. In consequence they were perpetually
turning up in unexpected places and surprising her by their size and
number. Yes, she was very hopelessly fifteen; and she was used to
laugh, unnecessarily, in a nervous fashion, approximating to a whinny,
and when engaged in conversation she patted down her skirts six times
to the minute.
It seems oddly unbelievable when I reflect that Rosalind--"daughter to
the banished Duke"--and Stella and Helen of Troy, and all the other
famous fair ones of history, were each like that at one period or
As for myself, I was nine days younger than Stella, and so I was at
this time very old--much older than it is ever permitted anyone to be
afterward. I cherished the most optimistic ideas as to my impendent
moustache, and was wont in privacy to encourage it with the
manicure-scissors. I still entertained the belief that girls were
upon the whole superfluous nuisances, but was beginning to perceive
the expediency of concealing this opinion, even in private converse
with my dearest chum, where, in our joyous interchange of various
heresies, we touched upon this especial sub-division of fauna very
lightly, and, I now suspect, with some self-consciousness.
All this was at a summer resort, which was called the Green
Chalybeate. Stella and I and others of our age attended the hotel hops
in the evening with religious punctuality, for well-meaning elders
insisted these dances amused us, and it was easier to go than to argue
the point. At least, that was the feeling of the boys.
Stella has since sworn the girls liked it. I suspect in this statement
a certain parsimony as to the truth. They giggled too much and were
never entirely free from that haunting anxiety concerning their
We danced together, Stella and I, to the strains of the last Sousa
two-step (it was the _Washington Post_), and we conversed, meanwhile,
with careful disregard of the amenities of life, since each feared
lest the other might suspect in some common courtesy an attempt
at--there is really no other word--spooning. And spooning was absurd.
Well, as I once read in the pages of a rare and little known author,
one lives and learns.
I asked Stella to sit out a dance. I did this because I had heard Mr.
Lethbury--a handsome man with waxed mustachios and an absolutely
piratical amount of whiskers,--make the same request of Miss Van
Orden, my just relinquished partner, and it was evident that such
whiskers could do no wrong.
Stella was not uninfluenced, it may be, by Miss Van Orden's example,
for even in girlhood the latter was a person of extraordinary beauty,
whereas, as has been said, Stella's corners were then multitudinous;
and it is probable that those two queer little knobs at the base of
Stella's throat would be apt to render their owner uncomfortable and a
bit abject before--let us say--more ample charms. In any event, Stella
giggled and said she thought it would be just fine, and I presently
conducted her to the third piazza of the hotel.
There we found a world that was new.
It was a world of sweet odors and strange lights, flooded with a
kindly silence which was, somehow, composed of many lispings and
trepidations and thin echoes. The night was warm, the sky all
transparency. If the comparison was not manifestly absurd, I would
liken that remembered sky's pale color to the look of blue plush
rubbed the wrong way. And in its radiance the stars bathed, large and
bright and intimate, yet blurred somewhat, like shop-lights seen
through frosted panes; and the moon floated on it, crisp and clear as
a new-minted coin. This was the full midsummer moon, grave and
glorious, that compelled the eye; and its shield was obscurely marked,
as though a Titan had breathed on its chill surface. Its light
suffused the heavens and lay upon the earth beneath us in broad
splashes; and the foliage about us was dappled with its splendor, save
in the open east, where the undulant, low hills wore radiancy as a
For the trees, mostly maples of slight stature, clustered thickly
about the hotel, and their branches mingled in a restless pattern of
blacks and silvers and dim greens that mimicked the laughter of the
sea under an April wind. Looking down from the piazza, over the
expanse of tree-tops, all this was strangely like the sea; and it gave
one, somehow, much the same sense of remote, unbounded spaces and of a
beauty that was a little sinister. At times whippoorwills called to
one another, eerie and shrill; and the distant dance-music was a
vibration in the air, which was heavy with the scent of bruised
growing things and was filled with the cool, healing magic of the
Taking it all in all, we had blundered upon a very beautiful place.
And there we sat for a while and talked in an aimless fashion. We did
not know quite how one ought to "sit out" a dance, you conceive....
Then, moved by some queer impulse, I stared over the railing for a
little at this great, wonderful, ambiguous world, and said solemnly:
"It is good."
"Yes," Stella agreed, in a curious, quiet and tiny voice, "it--it's
very large, isn't it?" She looked out for a moment over the tree-tops.
"It makes me feel like a little old nothing," she said, at last. "The
stars are so big, and--so uninterested." Stella paused for an
interval, and then spoke again, with an uncertain laugh. "I think I am
"Afraid?" I echoed.
"Yes," she said, vaguely; "of--of everything."
I understood. Even then I knew something of the occasional
insufficiency of words.
"It is a big world," I assented, "and lots of people are having a
right hard time in it right now. I reckon there is somebody dying this
very minute not far off."
"It's all--waiting for us!" Stella had forgotten my existence. "It's
bringing us so many things--and we don't know what any of them are.
But we've got to take them, whether we want to or not. It isn't fair.
We've got to--well, got to grow up, and--marry, and--die, whether we
want to or not. We've no choice. And it may not matter, after all.
Everything will keep right on like it did before; and the stars won't
care; and what we've done and had done to us won't really matter!"
"Well, but, Stella, you can have a right good time first, anyway, if
you keep away from ugly things and fussy people. And I reckon you
really go to Heaven afterwards if you haven't been really bad,--don't
"Rob,--are you ever afraid of dying?" Stella asked, "very much
afraid--Oh, you know what I mean."
I did. I was about ten once more. It was dark, and I was passing a
drug-store, with huge red and green and purple bottles glistening in
the gas-lit windows; and it had just occurred to me that I, too, must
die, and be locked up in a box, and let down with trunk-straps into a
hole, like Father was.... So I said, "Yes."
"And yet we've got to! Oh, I don't see how people can go on living
like everything was all right when that's always getting nearer,--when
they know they've got to die before very long. Because they dance and
go on picnics and buy hats as if they were going to live forever.
I--oh, I can't understand."
"They get used to the idea, I reckon. We're sort of like the rats in
the trap at home, in our stable," I suggested, poetically. "We can bite
the wires and go crazy, like lots of them do, if we want to, or we can
eat the cheese and kind of try not to think about it. Either way, there's
no getting out till they come to kill us in the morning."
"Yes," sighed Stella; "I suppose we must make the best of it."
"It's the only sensible thing to do, far as I can see."
"But it is all so big--and so careless about us!" she said, after a
little. "And we don't know--we can't know!--what is going to happen to
you and me. And we can't stop its happening!"
"We'll just have to make the best of that, too," I protested,
Stella sighed again, "I hope so," she assented; "still, I'm scared of
"I think I am, too--sort of," I conceded, after reflection. "Anyhow, I
am going to have as good a time as I can."
There was now an even longer pause. Pitiable, ridiculous infants were
pondering, somewhat vaguely but very solemnly, over certain mysteries
of existence, which most of us have learned to accept with stolidity.
We were young, and to us the miraculous insecurity and inconsequence
of human life was still a little impressive, and we had not yet come
to regard the universe as a more or less comfortable place,
well-meaningly constructed anyhow--by Somebody--for us to reside in.
Therefore we moved a trifle closer together, Stella and I, and were
commonly miserable over the _Weltschmerz_. After a little a distant
whippoorwill woke me from a chaos of reverie, and I turned to Stella,
with a vague sense that we two were the only people left in the whole
world, and that I was very, very fond of her.
Stella's head was leaned backward. Her lips were parted, and the
moonlight glinted in her eyes. Her eyes were blue.
"Don't!" said Stella, faintly.
It was a matter out of my volition, out of my planning. And, oh, the
wonder, and sweetness, and sacredness of it! I thought, even in the
instant; and, oh, the pity that, after all, it is slightly
Stella was not angry, as I had half expected. "That was dear of you,"
she said, impulsively, "but don't try to do it again." There was the
wisdom of centuries in this mandate of Stella's as she rose from the
bench. The spell was broken, utterly. "I think," said Stella, in the
voice of a girl of fifteen, "I think we'd better go and dance some
In the crude morning I approached Stella, with a fatuous smile. She
apparently both perceived and resented my bearing, although she never
once looked at me. There was something of great interest to her in the
distance, apparently down by the springhouse; she was flushed and
indignant; and her eyes wouldn't, couldn't, and didn't turn for an
instant in my direction.
"If," said she, impersonally, "if you believe it was because of _you_,
you are very much mistaken. It would have been the same with anybody.
You don't understand, and I don't either. Anyhow, I think you are a
mess, and I hate you. Go away from me!"
And she stamped her foot in a fine rage.
For the moment I entertained an un-Christian desire that Stella had
been born a boy. In that case, I felt, I would, just then, have really
enjoyed sitting upon the back of her head, and grinding her nose into
the lawn, and otherwise persuading her to cry "'Nough." These virile
pleasures being denied me, I sought for comfort in discourteous
"Umph-huh!" said I, "and you think you're mighty smart, don't you?
Well, I don't want you pawing around me any more, either. I won't have
it, do you understand! That was what I was going to tell you anyhow,
you kissing-bug, even if you hadn't acted so smart. And you can just
stick that right in your pipe and smoke it, you old Miss Smart Alec."
Thereupon I--wisely--departed without delay. A rock struck me rather
forcibly between the shoulder blades, but I did not deign to notice
"You can't fight girls with fists," I reflected. "You've just got to
talk to them in the right way."
_He Loves Extensively_
I saw no more of Stella for a lengthy while, since within two days of
the events recorded it pleased my mother to seek out another summer
"For in September," she said, "I really must have perfect quiet and
unimpeachable butter, and falling leaves, and only a very few
congenial people to be melancholy with,--and that sort of thing, you
know. I find it freshens one up so against the winter."
It was a signal feature of my mother's conversation that you never
understood, precisely, what she was talking about.
Thus in her train the silly, pretty woman drew otherwhither her
hobbledehoy son, as indeed Claire Bulmer Townsend had aforetime drawn
an armament of more mature and stolid members of my sex. I was always
proud of my handsome mother, but without any aspirations, however
theoretical, toward intimacy; and her periods of conscientious if
vague affection, when she recollected its propriety, I endured with
consolatory foreknowledge of an impendent, more agreeable era of
I fancy that at bottom I was without suspecting it lonely. I was an
only child; my father had died, as has been hinted, when I was in
kilts.... No, I must have graduated from kilts into "knee-pants" when
the Democracy of Lichfield celebrated Grover Cleveland's first
election as President, for I was seven years old then, and was allowed
to stay up ever so late after supper to watch the torchlight parade. I
recollect being rather pleasantly scared by the yells of all those
marching people and by the glistening of their faces as the irregular
flaring torches heaved by; and I recollect how delightfully the cold
night air was flavored with kerosene. In any event, it was on this
generally festive November night that my father again took too much to
drink, and, coming home toward morning, lay down and went to sleep in
the vestibule between our front-door and the storm-doors; and five
days later died of pneumonia...In that era I was accounted an odd boy;
given to reading and secretive ways, and, they record, to long
silences throughout which my lips would move noiselessly. "Just
talking to one of my friends," they tell me I was used to explain;
though it was not until my career at King's College that I may be said
to have pretended to intimacy with anybody.
For in old Fairhaven I spent, of course, a period of ostensible study,
as four generations of my fathers had done aforetime. But in that
leisured, slatternly and ancient city I garnered a far larger harvest
of (comparatively) innocuous cakes and ale than of authentic learning,
and at my graduation carried little of moment from the place save many
memories of Bettie Hamlyn.... Her father taught me Latin at King's
College, while Bettie taught me human intimacy--almost. Looking back,
I have not ever been intimate with anybody....
Not but that I had my friends. In particular I remember those four of
us who always called ourselves--in flat defiance, just as Dumas did,
of mere arithmetic--"The Three Musketeers." I think that we loved one
another very greatly during the four years we spent together in our
youth. I like to believe we did, and to remember the boys who were
once unreasonably happy, even now. It does not seem to count, somehow,
that Aramis has taken to drink and every other inexpedient course, I
hear, and that I would not recognize him today, were we two to
encounter casually--or Athos, either, I suppose, now that he has been
so long in the Philippines.
And as for D'Artagnan--or Billy Woods, if you prefer the appellation
which his sponsors gave him,--why we are still good friends and always
will be, I suppose. But we are not particularly intimate; and very
certainly we will never again read _Chastelard_ together and declaim
the more impassioned parts of it,--and in fine, I cannot help seeing,
nowadays, that, especially since his marriage, Billy has developed
into a rather obvious and stupid person, and that he considers me to
be a bit of a bad egg. And in a phrase, when we are together, just we
two, we smoke a great deal and do not talk any more than is necessary.
And once I would have quite sincerely enjoyed any death, however
excruciating, which promoted the well-being of Billy Woods; and he
viewed me not dissimilarly, I believe.... However, after all, this was
a long, long while ago, and in a period almost antediluvian.
And during this period they of Fairhaven assumed I was in love with
Bettie Hamlyn; and for a very little while, at the beginning, had I
assumed as much. More lately was my error flagrantly apparent when I
fell in love with someone else, and sincerely in love, and found to my
amazement that, upon the whole, I preferred Bettie's companionship to
that of the woman I adored. By and by, though, I learned to accept
this odd, continuing phenomenon much as I had learned to accept the
Once Bettie demanded of me, "I often wonder what you really think of
me? Honest injun, I mean."
I meditated, and presently began, with leisure:
"Miss Hamlyn is a young woman of considerable personal attractions,
and with one exception is unhandicapped by accomplishments. She plays
the piano, it is true, but she does it divinely and she neither
crochets nor embroiders presents for people, nor sketches, nor
recites, nor sings, or in fine annoys the public in any way
whatsoever. Her enemies deny that she is good-looking, but even her
friends concede her curious picturesqueness and her knowledge of it.
Her penetration, indeed, is not to be despised; she has even grasped
the fact that all men are not necessarily fools in spite of the
fashion in which they talk to women. It must be admitted, however,
that her emotions are prone to take precedence of her reasoning
powers: thus she is not easily misled from getting what she desires,
save by those whom she loves, because in argument, while always
illogical, she is invariably convincing--"
Miss Hamlyn sniffed. "This is, perhaps, the inevitable effect of
twenty cigarettes a day," was her cryptic comment. "Nevertheless, it
does affect me with ennui."
"--For, the mere facts of the case she plainly demonstrates, with the
abettance of her dimples, to be an affair of unimportance; the real
point is what she wishes done about it. Yet the proffering of any
particular piece of advice does not necessarily signify that she
either expects or wishes it to be followed, since had she been present
at the Creation she would have cheerfully pointed out to the Deity His
various mistakes, and have offered her co-operation toward bettering
matters, and have thought a deal less of Him had He accepted it; but
this is merely a habit--" "Yes?" said Bettie, yawning; and she added:
"Do you know, Robin, the saddest and most desolate thing in the world
is to practise an _etude_ of Schumann's in nine flats, and the next is
to realize that a man who has been in love with you has recovered for
"--It must not be imagined, however, that Miss Hamlyn is untruthful,
for when driven by impertinences into a corner she conceals her real
opinion by voicing it quite honestly as if she were joking. Thereupon
you credit her with the employment of irony and the possession of
every imaginable and super-angelical characteristic--"
"Unless we come to a better understanding," Miss Hamlyn crisply began,
"we had better stop right here before we come to a worse--"
"--Miss Hamlyn, in a word, is possessed of no insufferable virtues and
of many endearing faults; and in common with the rest of humanity, she
regards her disapproval of any proceeding as clear proof of its
impropriety." This was largely apropos of a fire-new debate concerning
the deleterious effects of cigarette-smoking; and when I had made an
end, and doggedly lighted another one of them, Bettie said nothing....
She minded chiefly that one of us should have thought of the other
without bias. She said it was not fair. And I know now that she was
But of Bettie Hamlyn, for reasons you may learn hereafter if you so
elect, I honestly prefer to write not at all. Four years, in fine, we
spent to every purpose together, and they were very happy years. To
record them would be desecration.
Meantime, during these years, I had fallen in and out of love
assiduously. Since the Anabasis of lad's love traverses a monotonous
country, where one hill is largely like another, and one meadow a
duplicate of the next to the last daffodil, I may with profit dwell
upon the green-sickness lightly. It suffices that in the course of
these four years I challenged superstition by adoring thirteen girls,
and, worse than that, wrote verses of them.
I give you their names herewith--though not their workaday names, lest
the wives of divers people be offended (and in many cases, surprised),
but the appellatives which figured in my rhymes. They were Heart's
Desire, Florimel, Dolores, Yolande, Adelais, Sylvia, Heart o' My
Heart, Chloris, Felise, Ettarre, Phyllis, Phyllida, and Dorothy. Here
was a rosary of exquisite names, I even now concede; and the owner of
each _nom de plume_ I, for however brief a period, adored for this or
that peculiar excellence; and by ordinary without presuming to mention
the fact to any of these divinities save Heart o' My Heart, who was,
after all, only a Penate.
Outside the elevated orbits of rhyme she was called Elizabeth Hamlyn;
and it afterward became apparent to me that I, in reality, wrote all
the verses of this period solely for the pleasure of reading them
aloud to Bettie, for certainly I disclosed their existence to no one
else--except just one or two to Phyllida, who was "literary."
And the upshot of all this heart-burning is most succinctly given in
my own far from impeccable verse, as Bettie Hamlyn heard the summing-up
one evening in May. It was the year I graduated from King's
College, and the exact relation of the date to the Annos Domini is
trivial. But the battle of Manila had just been fought, and off
Santiago Captain Sampson and Commander Schley were still hunting for
Cervera's "phantom fleet." And in Fairhaven, as I remember it,
although there was a highly-colored picture of Commodore Dewey in the
barber-shop window, nobody was bothering in the least about the war
except when Colonel Snawley and Dr. Jeal foregathered at Clarriker's
Emporium to denounce the colossal errors of "imperialism"....
"Thus, then, I end my calendar
Of ancient loves more light than air;--
And now Lad's Love, that led afar
In April fields that were so fair,
Is fled, and I no longer share
Sedate unutterable days
With Heart's Desire, nor ever praise
Felise, or mirror forth the lures
Of Stella's eyes nor Sylvia's,
Yet love for each loved lass endures.
"Chloris is wedded, and Ettarre
Forgets; Yolande loves otherwhere,
And worms long since made bold to mar
The lips of Dorothy and fare
Mid Florimel's bright ruined hair;
And Time obscures that roseate haze
Which glorified hushed woodland ways
When Phyllis came, as Time obscures
That faith which once was Phyllida's,--
Yet love for each loved lass endures.
"That boy is dead as Schariar,
Tiglath-pileser, or Clotaire,
Who once of love got many a scar.
And his loved lasses past compare?--
None is alive now anywhere.
Each is transmuted nowadays
Into a stranger, and displays
No whit of love's investitures.
I let these women go their ways,
Yet love for each loved lass endures.
"Heart o' My Heart, thine be the praise
If aught of good in me betrays
Thy tutelage--whose love matures
Unmarred in these more wistful days,--
Yet love for each loved lass endures."
For this was the year that I graduated, and Chloris--I violate no
confidence in stating that her actual name was Aurelia Minns, and that
she had been, for a greater number of years than it would be courteous
to remember, the undisputed belle of Fairhaven,--had that very
afternoon married a promising young doctor; and I was draining the cup
of my misery to the last delicious drop, and was of course inspired
thereby to the perpetration of such melancholy bathos as only a
care-free youth of twenty is capable of evolving.
"Dear boy," said Bettie, when I had made an end of reading, "and are
you very miserable?"
Her fingers were interlocked behind her small black head; and the
sympathy with which she regarded me was tenderly flavored with
This much I noticed as I glanced upward from my manuscript, and
mustered a Spartan smile. "If misery loves company, then am I the
least unhappy soul alive. For I don't want anybody but just you, and I
believe I never will."
"Oh--? But I don't count." The girl continued, with composure: "Or
rather, I have always counted your affairs, so that I know precisely
what it all amounts to."
"A lot of imitation emotions." She added hastily: "Oh, quite a good
imitation, dear; you are smooth enough to see to that. Why, I remember
once--when you read me that first sonnet, sitting all hunched up on
the little stool, and pretending you didn't know I knew who you meant
me to know it was for, and ending with a really very effective,
breathless sob--and caught my hand and pressed it to your forehead for
a moment--Why, that time I was thoroughly rattled and almost
believed--even I--that--" She shrugged. "And if I had been
younger--!" she said, half regretfully, for at this time Bettie was
very nearly twenty-two.
"Yes." The effective breathless sob responded to what had virtually
been an encore. "I have not forgotten."
"Only for a moment, though." Miss Hamlyn reflected, and then added,
brightly: "Now, most girls would have liked it, for it sounded all
wool. And they would have gone into it, as you wanted, and have been
very, very happy for a while. Then, after a time--after you had got a
sonnet or two out of it, and had made a sufficiency of pretty
speeches,--you would have gone for an admiring walk about yourself,
and would have inspected your sensations and have applauded them,
quite enthusiastically, and would have said, in effect: 'Madam, I
thank you for your attention. Pray regard the incident as closed.'"
"You are doing me," I observed, "an injustice. And however tiny they
may be, I hate 'em."
"But, Robin, can't you see," she said, with an odd earnestness, "that
to be fond of you is quite disgracefully easy, even though--" Bettie
Hamlyn said, presently: "Why, your one object in life appears to be to
find a girl who will allow you to moon around her and make verses
about her. Oh, very well! I met to-day just the sort of pretty idiot
who will let you do it. She is visiting Kathleen Eppes for the Finals.
She has a great deal of money, too, I hear." And Bettie mentioned a
"That's rather queer," said I. "I used to know that girl. She will be
at the K. A. dance to-morrow night, I suppose,"--and I put up my
manuscript with a large air of tolerance. "I dare say that I have been
exaggerating matters a bit, after all. Any woman who treated me
in the way that Miss Aurelia did is not, really, worthy of regret. And
in any event, I got a ballade out of her and six--no, seven--other
For the name which Bettie had mentioned was that of Stella Musgrave,
and I was, somehow, curiously desirous to come again to Stella, and
nervous about it, too, even then....
_He Earns a Stick-pin_
"Dear me!" said Stella, wonderingly; "I would never have known you in
the world! You've grown so fa--I mean, you are so well built. I've
grown? Nonsense!--and besides, what did you expect me to do in six
years?--and moreover, it is abominably rude of you to presume to speak
of me in that abstracted and figurative manner--quite as if I were a
debt or a taste for drink. It is really only French heels and a
pompadour, and, of course, you can't have this dance. It's promised,
and I hop, you know, frightfully.... Why, naturally, I haven't
forgotten--How could I, when you were the most disagreeable boy I ever
I ventured a suggestion that caused Stella to turn an attractive pink,
and laugh. "No," said she, demurely, "I shall never never sit out
another dance with you."
So she did remember!
Subsequently: "Our steps suit perfectly--Heavens! you are the fifth
man who has said that to-night, and I am sure it would be very silly
and very tiresome to dance through life with anybody. Men are so
absurd, don't you think? Oh, yes, I tell them all--every one of
them--that our steps suit, even when they have just ripped off a yard
or so of flounce in an attempt to walk up the front of my dress. It
makes them happy, poor things, and injures nobody. You liked it, you
know; you grinned like a pleased cat. I like cats, don't you?"
Later: "That is absolute nonsense, you know," said Stella, critically.
"Do you always get red in the face when you make love? I wouldn't if I
were you. You really have no idea how queer it makes you look."
Still later: "No, I don't think I am going anywhere to-morrow
afternoon," said Stella.
So that during the fleet moments of these Finals, while our army was
effecting a landing in Cuba, I saw as much of Stella as was possible;
and veracity compels the admission that she made no marked effort to
prevent my doing so. Indeed, she was quite cross, and scornful, about
the crowning glory being denied her, of going with me to the
Baccalaureate Address the morning I received my degree. To that of
course I took Bettie.
I said good-bye to Bettie Hamlyn rather late one evening. It was in
her garden. The Finals were over, and Stella had left Fairhaven that
afternoon. I was to follow in the morning, by an early train.
It was a hot, still night in June, with never a breath of air
stirring. In the sky was a low-hung moon, full and very red. It was an
evil moon, and it lighted a night that was unreasonably ominous. And
Bettie and I had talked of trifles resolutely for two hours.
"Well--good-bye Bettie," I said at last. "I'm glad it isn't for long."
For of course we meant never to let a month elapse without our seeing
"Good-bye," she said, and casually shook hands.
Then Bettie Hamlyn said, in a different voice: "Robin, you come of
such a bad lot, and already you are by way of being a rather frightful
liar. And I'm letting you go. I'm turning you over to Stellas and
mothers and things like that just because I have to. It isn't fair.
They will make another Townsend of my boy, and after all I've tried to
do. Oh, Robin, don't let anybody or anything do that to you! Do try to
do the unpleasant thing sometimes, my dear!--But what's the good of
"And have I ever failed you, Bettie?"
"No,--not me," she answered, almost as though she grudged the fact.
Then Bettie laughed a little. "Indeed, I'm trying to believe you never
will. Oh, indeed, I am. But just be honest with me, Robin, and nothing
else will ever matter very much. I don't care what you do, if only you
are always honest with me. You can murder people, if you like, and
burn down as many houses as you choose. You probably will. But you'll
be honest with me--won't you?--and particularly when you don't want to
So I promised her that. And sometimes I believe it is the only promise
which I ever tried to keep quite faithfully....
And all the ensuing summer I followed Stella Musgrave from one
watering place to another, with an engaging and entire candor as to my
desires. I was upon the verge of my majority, when, under the terms of
my father's will, I would come into possession of such fragments of
his patrimony as he had omitted to squander. And afterward I intended
to become excessively distinguished in this or that profession, not as
yet irrevocably fixed upon, but for choice as a writer of immortal
verse; and I was used to dwell at this time very feelingly, and very
frequently, upon the wholesome restraint which matrimony imposes upon
the possessor of an artistic temperament.
Stella promised to place my name upon her waiting list, and to take up
the matter in due season; and she lamented, with a tiny and
pre-meditated yawn, that as a servitor of system she was compelled to
list her "little lovers and suitors in alphabetical order, Mr.
Townsend. Besides, you would probably strangle me before the year was
"I would thoroughly enjoy doing it," I said, grimly, "right now." She
regarded me for a while. "You would, too," she said at last, with an
alien gravity; "and that is why--Oh, Rob dear, you are out of my
dimension. I am rather afraid of you. I am a poor bewildered triangle
who is being wooed by a cube!" the girl wailed, and but half
And I began to plead. It does not matter what I said. It never
And persons more sensible than I found then far more important things
to talk about, such as General Alger's inefficiency, and General
Shafter's hammock, and "embalmed beef," and the folly of taking over
the Philippines, and Admiral von Diedrich's behavior, and the yellow
fever in our camps and the comparative claims of Messrs. Sampson and
Schley to be made rear-admiral; and everybody more or less was
demanding "an investigation," as the natural aftermath of a war.
Stella's mother had closed Bellemeade for the year, however, and they
were to spend the winter in Lichfield; and Stella, to reduplicate her
phrase, promised to "think it over very seriously."
But I suppose I had never any real chance against Peter Blagden. To
begin with,--though Stella herself, of course, would inherit plenty
of money when her mother died,--Peter was the only nephew of a
childless uncle who was popularly reported to "roll in wealth"; and in
addition, Peter was seven years older than I and notoriously
dissipated. No other girl of twenty would have hesitated between us
half so long as Stella did. She hesitated through a whole winter; and
even now there is odd, if scanty, comfort in the fact that Stella
Besides Peter was eminently likeable. At times I almost liked him
myself, for all my fervent envy of his recognized depravity and of the
hateful ease with which he thought of something to say in those
uncomfortable moments when he and I and Stella were together. At most
other times I could talk glibly enough, but before this seasoned
scapegrace I was dumb, and felt my reputation to be hopelessly
immaculate ... If only Stella would believe me to be just the tiniest
bit depraved! I blush to think of the dark hints I dropped as to
entirely fictitious women who "had been too kind to me. But then"--as
I would feelingly lament,--"we could never let women alone, we
Townsends, you know--"
One woman at least I was beginning to "let alone", in that I was
writing Bettie Hamlyn letters which grew shorter and shorter.... Her
mother had fallen ill, not long after I left college; and she and
Bettie were now a great way off, in Colorado, where the old lady was
dying, with the most selfish sort of laziness about it, and so was
involving me in endless correspondence.... At least, I wrote to Bettie
punctually, if briefly, though I had not seen her since that night
when the moon was red, and big, and very evil. I had to do it, because
she had insisted that I write.
"But letters don't mean anything, Bettie. And besides, I hate writing
"That is just why you must write to me regularly. You never do the
things you don't want to do. I know it. But for me you always will,
and that makes all the difference."
"Shylock!" I retorted.
"If you like. In any event, I mean to have my pound of flesh, and
So I wrote to Bettie Hamlyn on the seventh of every month--because
that was her birthday,--and again on the twenty-third, because that
was mine. The rest of my time I gave whole-heartedly to Stella....
They named her Stella, I fancy, because her eyes were so like stars.
It is manifestly an irrelevant detail that there do not happen to be
any azure stars. Indeed, I am inclined to think that Nature belatedly
observed this omission, and created Stella's eyes to make up for it;
at any rate, if you can imagine Aldebaran or Benetnasch polished up a
bit and set in a speedwell-cup, you will have a very fair idea of one
of them. You cannot, however, picture to yourself the effect of the
pair of them, because the human mind is limited.
Really, though, their effect was curious. You noticed them casually,
let us say; then, without warning, you ceased to notice anything. You
simply grew foolish and gasped like a newly-hooked trout, and went mad
and babbled as meaninglessly as a silly little rustic brook trotting
under a bridge.
I have seen the thing happen any number of times. And, strangely
enough, you liked it. Numbers of young men would venture into the same
room with those disconcerting eyes the very next evening, even
appearing to seek them out and to court peril, as it were,--young men
who must have known perfectly well, either by report or experience,
the unavoidable result of such fool-hardy conduct. For eventually it
always culminated in Stella's being deeply surprised and grieved,--at
a dance, for choice, with music and color and the unthinking laughter
of others to heighten the sadness and the romance of it all,--she
never having dreamed of such a thing, of course, and having always
regarded you only as a dear, dear friend. Yes, and she used certainly
to hope that nothing she had said or done could have led you to
believe she had even for a moment considered such a thing. Oh, she did
it well, did Stella, and endured these frequent griefs and surprises
with, I must protest, quite exemplary patience. In a phrase, she was
the most adorable combination of the prevaricator, the jilt and the
coquette I have ever encountered.
So, for the seventh time, I asked Stella to marry me. Nearly every
fellow I knew had done as much, particularly Peter Blagden; and it is
always a mistake to appear unnecessarily reserved or exclusive. And
this time in declining--with a fluency that bespoke considerable
practice,--she informed me that, as the story books have it, she was
shortly to be wedded to another.
And Peter Blagden clapped the pinnacle upon my anguish by asking me to
be the best man. I knew even then whose vanity and whose sense of the
appropriate had put him up to it....
"For I haven't a living male relative of the suitable age except two
second cousins that I don't see much of--praise God!" said Peter,
fervently; "and Hugh Van Orden looks about half-past ten, whereas I
class John Charteris among the lower orders of vermin."
I consented to accept the proffered office and the incidental stick-pin;
and was thus enabled to observe from the inside this episode of Stella's
life, and to find it quite like other weddings.
Something like this:
"Look here," a perspiring and fidgety Peter protested, at the last
moment, as we lurked in the gloomy vestry with not a drop left in
either flask; "look here, Henderson hasn't blacked the soles of these
blessed shoes. I'll look like an ass when it comes to the kneeling
part--like an ass, I tell you! Good heavens, they'll look like
"If you funk now," said I, severely, "I'll never help you get married
again. Oh, sainted Ebenezer in bliss, and whatever have I done with
that ring? No, it's here all right, but you are on the wrong side of
me again. And there goes the organ--Good God, Peter, look at her!
simply look at her, man! Oh, you lucky devil! you lucky jackass!"
I spoke enviously, you understand, simply to encourage him.
Followed a glaring of lights, a swishing of fans, a sense that Peter
was not keeping step with me, and the hum of densely packed, expectant
humanity; a blare of music; then Stella, an incredible vision with
glad, frightened eyes. My shoulders straightened, and I was not out of
temper any longer. The organist was playing softly, _Oh, Promise Me_,
and I was thinking of the time, last January, that Stella and I heard
The Bostonians, and how funny Henry Clay Barnabee was.... "--so long
as ye both may live?" ended the bishop.
"I will," poor Peter quavered, with obvious uncertainty about it.
And still one saw in Stella's eyes unutterable happiness and fear, but
her voice was tranquil. I found time to wonder at its steadiness, even
though, just about this time, I resonantly burst a button off one of
my new gloves. I fancy they must have been rather tight.
"And thereto," said Stella, calmly, "I give thee my troth."
And subsequently they were Mendelssohned out of church to the
satisfaction of a large and critical audience. I came down the aisle
with Stella's only sister--who afterward married the Marquis
d'Arlanges,--and found Lizzie very entertaining later in the
Yes, it was quite like other weddings. I only wonder for what
conceivable reason I remember its least detail, and so vividly. For it
all happened a great while ago, when--of such flimsy stuff is glory
woven,--Emilio Aguinaldo and Captain Coghlan were the persons most
talked of in America; and when the Mazet committee was "investigating"
I forget what, but with column after column about it in the papers
every day; and when _Me und Gott_ was a famous poem, and "to
hobsonize" was the most popular verb; and when I was twenty-one. _Sic
transit gloria mundi_, as it says in the back of the dictionary.
_He Talks with Charteris_
It was upon the evening of this day, after Mr. and Mrs. Blagden had
been duly rice-pelted and entrained, that I first talked against John
Charteris. The novelist was, as has been said, a cousin of Peter
Blagden, and as such, was one of the wedding guests at Bellemeade; and
that evening, well toward midnight, the little man, midway in the
consumption of one of his interminable cigarettes, happened to come
upon me seated upon the terrace and gazing, rather vacantly, in the
direction of the moon.
I was not thinking of anything in particular; only there was a by-end
of verse which sang itself over and over again, somewhere in the back
of my brain--"Her eyes were the eyes of a bride whom delight makes
afraid, her eyes were the eyes of a bride"--and so on, all over again,
as at night a traveller may hear his train jogging through a
monotonous and stiff-jointed song; and in my heart there was just
Charteris had heard, one may presume, of my disastrous love-business;
and with all an author's relish of emotion, in others, chose his
gambit swiftly. "Mr. Townsend, is it not? Then may a murrain light
upon thee, Mr. Townsend,--whatever a murrain may happen to be,--since
you have disturbed me in the concoction of an ever-living and
"I may safely go as far," said I, "as to offer the proverbial penny."
"Done!" cried Mr. Charteris. He meditated for a moment, and then
began, in a low and curiously melodious voice, to narrate
_The Apologue of the First Conjugation_
"When the gods of Hellas were discrowned, there was a famous scurrying
from Olympos to the world of mortals, where each deity must
henceforward make shift to do without godhead:--Aphrodite in her
hollow hill, where the good knight Tannhauser revels yet, it may be;
Hephaestos, in some smithy; whilst Athene, for aught I know,
established a girls' boarding school, and Helios, as is notorious,
died under priestly torture, and Dionysos cannily took holy orders,
and Hermes set up as a merchant in Friesland. But Eros went to the
Grammarians. He would be a schoolmaster.
"The Grammarians, grim, snuffy and wrinkled though they might be, were
no more impervious to his allures than are the rest of us, and in
consequence appointed him to an office. This office was, I glean of
mediaeval legend, that of teaching dunderheaded mortals the First
Conjugation. So Eros donned cap and gown, took lodgings with a quiet
musical family, and set _amo_ as the first model verb; and ever since
this period has the verb 'to love' been the first to be mastered in
all well-constituted grammars, as it is in life.
"Heigho! it is not an easy verb to conjugate. One gets into trouble
enough, in floundering through its manifold nuances, which range
inevitably through the bold-faced 'I love', the confident 'I will
love', the hopeful 'I may be loved', and so on to the wistful, pitiful
Pluperfect Subjunctive Passive, 'I might have been loved
if'--Then each of us may supply the Protasis as best befits his
personal opinion and particular scars, and may tear his hair, or
scribble verses, or adopt the cynical, or, in fine, assume any pose
which strikes his fancy. For he has graduated into the Second
Conjugation, which is _moneo_; and may now admonish to his heart's
content, whilst looking back complacently into the First Classroom,
where others--and so many others!--are still struggling with that
mischancy verb, and are involved in the very conditions--verbal or
otherwise--which aforetime saddened him, or showed him a possible
byway toward recreation, or played the deuce with his liver, according
to the nature of the man.
"Eros is a hard, implacable pedagogue, and for the fact his scholars
suffer. He wields a rod rather than a filigree bow, as old romancers
fabled,--no plaything, but a most business-like article, well-poised
in the handle, and thence tapering into graceful, stinging
nothingness; and not a scholar escapes at least a flick of it.
"I can fancy the class called up as Eros administers, with zest, his
penalties. Master Paris! for loving his neighbor a little less than
himself, and his neighbor's wife a little more. Master Lancelot!
ditto. Masters Petrarch, Tristram, Antony, Juan Tenorio, Dante
Alighieri, and others! ditto. There are a great many called up for
this particular form of peccancy, you observe; even Master David has
to lay aside his Psalm Book, and go forward with the others for
chastisement. Master Romeo! for trespassing in other people's gardens
and mausoleums. Master Leander! for swimming in the Hellespont after
dark; and Master Tarquin! for mistaking his bedroom at the Collatini's
"Thus, one by one, each scholar goes into the darkened private office.
The master handles his rod--eia! 'tis borrowed from the
Erinnyes,--lovingly, caressingly, like a very conscientious person
about the performance of his duty. Then comes the dreadful order,
'Take down your breeches, sir!'.... But the scene is too horrible to
contemplate. He punishes all, this schoolmaster, for he is
unbelievably old, and with the years' advance has grown querulous.
"Well, now I approach my moral, Mr. Townsend. One must have one's
birching with the others, and of necessity there remains but to make
the best of it. Birching is not a dignified process, and the endurer
comes therefrom both sore and shamefaced. Yet always in such
contretemps it is expedient to brazen out the matter, and to present
as stately an appearance, we will say, as one's welts permit.
"First, to the world--"
But at this point I raised my hand. "That is easily done, Mr.
Charteris, inasmuch as the world cares nothing whatever about it. The
world is composed of men and women who have their own affairs to mind.
How in heaven's name does it concern them that a boy has dreamed
dreams and has gone mad like a star-struck moth? It was foolish of
him. Such is the verdict, given in a voice that is neither kindly nor
severe; and the world, mildly wondering, passes on to deal with more
weighty matters. For vegetables are higher than ever this year, and,
upon my word, Mrs. Grundy, ma'am, a housekeeper simply doesn't know
where to turn, with the outrageous prices they are asking for
everything these days. No, believe me, the world does not take
love-affairs very seriously--not even the great ones," I added, in
And with an appreciative chuckle, Charteris sank beside me upon the
"My adorable boy! so you have a tongue in your head."
"But can't you imagine the knights talking over Lancelot's affair with
Guenevere, at whatever was the Arthurian substitute for a club? and
sniggering over it? and Lamoracke sagaciously observing that there was
always a crooked streak in the Leodograunce family? Or one Roman
matron punching a chicken in the ribs, and remarking to her neighbor
at the poultry man's stall: 'Well, Mrs. Gracchus, they do say Antony
is absolutely daft over that notorious Queen of Egypt. A brazen-faced
thing, with a very muddy complexion, I'm told, and practically no
reputation, of course, after the way she carried on with Caesar. And
that reminds me, I hear your little Caius suffers from the croup. Now
_my_ remedy'--and so they waddle on, to price asparagus."
Charteris said: "Well! we need not go out of our way to meddle with
the affairs of others; the entanglement is most disastrously apt to
come about of itself quite soon enough. Yet a little while and
Lancelot will be running Lamoracke through the body, while the King
storms Joyeuse Garde; a few months and your Roman matron will weep
quietly on her unshared pillow--not aloud, though, for fear of
disturbing the children,--while Gracchus is dreadfully seasick at
"But that doesn't prove anything," I stammered. "Why, it doesn't
"Nor does anything else. This fact is the chief charm of life. You
will presently find, I think, that living means a daily squandering of
interest upon the first half of a number of two-part stories which
have not ever any sequel. Oh, my adorable boy, I envy you to-night's
misery so profoundly I am half unwilling to assure you that in the
ultimate one finds a broken heart rather fattening than otherwise; and
that a blighted life has never yet been known to prevent queer
happenings in conservatories and such-like secluded places or to rob a
solitude _a deux_ of possibilities. I grant you that love is a
wonderful thing; but there are a many emotions which stand toward love
much as the makers of certain marmalades assert their wares to stand
toward butter--'serving as an excellent occasional substitute.' At
least, so you will find it. And unheroic as it is, within the month
you will forget."
"No,--I shall not quite forget," said I.
"Then were you the more unwise. To forget, both speedily and
frequently, is the sole method of rendering life livable. One is here;
the importance of the fact in the eternal scheme of things is perhaps
a shade more trivial than one is disposed to concede, but in any
event, one is here; and here, for a very little while in youth, one is
capable of happiness. For it is a colorful world, Mr. Townsend,
containing much, upon the whole, to captivate both eye and taste; a
world manured and fertilized by the no longer lovely bodies of persons
who died in youth. Oh, their coffins lie everywhere beneath our feet,
thick as raisins in a pudding, whithersoever we tread. Yet every one
of these poor relics was once a boy or a girl, and wore a body that
was capable of so much pleasure! To-day, unused to gain the fullness
of that pleasure, and now not ever to be used, they lie beneath us, in
their coffins, these white, straight bodies, like swords untried that
rust in the scabbard. Meanwhile, on every side is apparent the not yet
out-wasted instrument, and one is naturally inquisitive,--so that
one's fingers and one's nostrils twitch at times, even in the hour
when one is most miserable, very much as yours do now."
For a long while I meditated. Then I said: "I am not really miserable,
because, all in all, one is content to pay the price of happiness. I
have been very happy sometimes during the past year; and whatever the
blind Fate that mismanages the world may elect to demand in payment, I
shall not haggle. No, by heavens! I would have nothing changed, and
least of all would I forget; having drunk nectar neat, one would not
qualify it with the water of Lethe."
I rose, not unhandsome, I trusted, in the moonlight. I was hoping Mr.
Charteris would notice my new dress-suit, procured in honor of
Stella's wedding. And I said: "The play is over, the little comedy is
played out. She must go; at least she has tarried for a little. She
does not love you; ah! but she did. God speed her, then, the woman we
have all loved and lost, and still dream of on sleepy Sundays; and all
possible happiness to her! One must be grateful that through her one
has known the glory of loving. Even though she never cared--'and never
could understand',--one may not but be glad that one has known and
loved in youth the Only Woman."
"The Only Woman has a way of leaving many heirs, Mr. Townsend, that
play the deuce with the estate."
"--So to-morrow, like the person in _Lycidas_, I am for fresh fields,
Mr. Charteris. And indeed it is high time that I were journeying,
since she and I have rested, and have laughed and eaten and drunk our
fill at this particular tavern; and now it is closing time. A plague
on these foolish and impertinent laws, say I quite heartily; for it is
cold and cheerless outside, whereas here within I was perfectly
comfortable. None the less I must go, or else be evicted by the
constable; so good-night, my sweet; and as for you, Madam Clotho, pray
what unconscionable score have you chalked up against me?"
I grimaced. "Heavens! what an infinity of sighs, sonnets,
lamentations, and heart-burnings is this that I owe to Fate and
Charteris applauded as though it were a comedy. "In effect, Marian's
married and you stand here, alive and merry at--pray what precise
period of life, Mr. Townsend?"
"I confess to twenty-one at present, sir, though I trust to live it
down in time."
"I would hardly have thought you that venerable. Well, I predict for
you a life without achievements but of gusto. Yes, you will bring a
seasoned palate to your grave,--and I envy you. We open Willoughby
Hall next week, and of course you will make one of the party. For you
write, I know; and you will want to talk to me about editors and read
me all your damnable verses. Nothing could please me more. Good-night,
you glorious boy."
And the little man wheeled and departed, leaving me to reflect, with
appropriate emotions, that I had been formally invited to visit the
founder of the Economist school of writers.
"He said it," I more lately observed--"yes, he undoubtedly said it.
And he wrote _Ashtaroth's Lackey_ and _In Old Lichfield_ and _The
Foolish Prince_, and he knows all the magazine editors personally, and
they are probably only too glad to oblige him about anything, and--Oh,
may be, it is only a dream, after all." My heart was pounding, but not
with sorrow or despair or any other maudlin passion; and Stella was
now as remote from my thoughts as was Joan of Arc or Pharaoh's
_He Revisits Fairhaven and the Play_
So I went to Willoughby Hall, which stands, as you may be aware, upon
the eastern outskirt of Fairhaven. My reappearance created some stir
among the older students and the town-folk, though, one and all, they
presently declared me to be "too stuck-up for any use," inasmuch as I
ignored them in favour of the Charteris house-party,--after, of
course, one visit to Chapel, which I paid a little obviously _en
prince_, and affably shook hands with all the Faculty, and was
completely conscious of how such happenings impressed us when I, too,
was a student.
So much had happened since then, and I felt so much older,--with my
existence so delightfully blighted, too,--that it seemed droll to find
Colonel Snawley and Dr. Jeal still sitting in arm chairs before
Clarriker's Emporium, very much as I had left them there ten months
By a disastrous chance did Bettie Hamlyn spend that spring, as well as
the preceding year, in Colorado with her mother, who died there that
summer; and to me Fairhaven proper without Bettie Hamlyn seemed a
tawdry and desolate place; and I know that but for Mrs. Hamlyn's
illness--a querulous woman for whom I never cared a jot,--my future
life had been quite otherwise. For, as I told Bettie once, and it was
true, I have found in the world but three sorts of humanity--"Myself,
and Bettie Hamlyn, and the other people."
So I still wrote to Bettie Hamlyn on the seventh of every month--
because that was her birthday,--and again on the twenty-third, because
that was mine.
And I thought of many things as I walked by the deserted garden, where
there was nothing which concerned me now, not even a ghost. I did not
go in to leave a card upon Professor Hamlyn. The empty house
confronted me too blankly, with its tight-shuttered windows, like
blind eyes, and I hurried by.
Meanwhile, this was the first time for many years that Willoughby Hall
had been occupied by any other than caretakers; and Fairhaven, to
confess the truth, was a trifle ill-at-ease before the modish persons
who now tenanted the old mansion; and consoled itself after an
immemorial usage by backbiting.
And meanwhile I enjoyed myself tremendously. It was the first time I
was ever thrown with people who were unanimously agreed that, after
all, nothing is very serious. Mrs. Charteris, of course, was
different; but she, like the others, found me divertingly naive and,
in consequence, petted and cosseted me. I like petting; and since
everyone seemed agreed to regard me as "the Child in the House"--that
was Alicia Wade's nickname, and it clung,--and to like having a child
in the house, I began a little to heighten my very real boyishness.
There was no harm in it; and if people were fonder of me because I sat
upon the floor by preference, and drolly exaggerated what I really
thought, it became a sort of public duty to do these things. So I did,
and found it astonishingly pleasant.
And meanwhile too, John Charteris could never see enough of me, whom,
as I to-day suspect, Charteris was studying conscientiously, to the
end that I should be converted into "copy." For me, I was waiting
cannily until he should actually ask to see those manuscripts I had
brought to Willoughby Hall, and should help me to get them published.
So there were two of us.... In any event, it was just three weeks
after Stella's marriage that Charteris coaxed me into Fairhaven's
Opera House to witness a performance of _Romeo and Juliet_, by the
Imperial Dramatic Company.
I went under protest; I had witnessed the butchery of so many dramas
within these walls during my college days, that I knew what I must
anticipate, I said. I had, as a matter of fact, always enjoyed the
Opera House "shows," but I did not wish to acknowledge the harboring
of such crude tastes to Charteris. In any event, at the conclusion of
the second act,--
"By Jove!" said I, in a voice that shook a little. "She's a stunner!"
I jolted out, as I proceeded to applaud, vigorously, with both hands and
feet. "And who would have thought it! Good Lord, who would have
Charteris smiled, in that infernally patronizing way he had sometimes.
"A beautiful woman, my dear boy,--an inordinately beautiful woman, in
fact, but entirely lacking in temperament."
"Temperament!" I scoffed; "what's temperament to two eyes like those?
Why, they're as big as golf-balls! And her voice--why, a violin--a
very superior violin--if it could talk, would have just such a voice
as that woman has! Temperament! Oh, you make me ill! Why, man, just
look at her!" I said, conclusively.
Charteris looked, I presume. In any event, the Juliet of the evening
stood before the curtain, smiling, bowing to right and left. The
citizens of Fairhaven were applauding her with a certain conscientious
industry, for they really found Romeo and Juliet a rather dull couple.
The general opinion, however, was that Miss Montmorenci seemed an
elegant actress, and in some interesting play, like _The Two Orphans_
or _Lady Audley's Secret_, would be well worth seeing. Upon those who
had witnessed her initial performance, she had made a most favorable
impression in _The Lady of Lyons_; while at the Tuesday matinee, as
Lady Isabel in _East Lynne_, she had wrung the souls of her hearers,
and had brought forth every handkerchief in the house. Moreover, she
was very good-looking,--quite the lady, some said; and, after all, one
cannot expect everything for twenty-five cents; considering which
circumstances, Fairhaven applauded with temperate ardor, and made due
allowance for Shakespeare as being a classic, and, therefore, of
course, commendable, but not necessarily interesting.
"Well?" I queried, when she had vanished. I was speaking under cover
of the orchestra,--a courtesy title accorded a very ancient and very
feeble piano. "Well, and what do you think of her--of her looks, I
means? Who cares for temperament in a woman!"
Charteris assumed a virtuous expression. "I don't dare tell you," said
he; "you forget I am a married man."
Then I frowned a little. I often resented Charteris's flippant
allusion to a wife whom I considered, with some reason, to be vastly
too good for her husband. And I considered how near I had come to
remaining with the others at Willoughby Hall--for that new game they
called bridge-whist! And I decided I would never care for bridge. How
on earth could presumably sensible people be content to coop
themselves in a drawing-room on a warm May evening, when hardly a
mile away was a woman with perfectly unfathomable eyes and a voice
which was a love-song? Of course, she couldn't act, but, then, who
wanted her to act? I indignantly demanded of my soul.
One simply wanted to look at her, and hear her speak. Charteris, with
his prattle about temperament, was an ass; when a woman is born with
such eyes and with a voice like that, she has done her full duty by
the world, and has prodigally accomplished all one has the tiniest
right to expect of her.
It was impossible she was in reality as beautiful as she seemed,
because no woman was quite so beautiful as that; most of it was
undoubtedly due to rouge and rice-powder and the footlights; but one
could not be mistaken about the voice. And if her speech was that,
what must her singing be! I thought; and in the outcome I remembered
this reflection best of all.
I consulted my programme. It informed me, in large type at the end,
that Juliet was "old Capulet's daughter," and that the part was played
by Miss Annabelle Alys Montmorenci.
And I sighed. I admitted to myself that from a woman who wilfully
assumed such a name little could be hoped. Still, I would like to see
her off the stage...without all those gaudy fripperies and
gewgaws...merely from curiosity.... Then too, they said those
actresses were pretty gay....
"A most enjoyable performance," said Mr. Charteris, as we came out of
the Opera House. "I have always had a sneaking liking for burlesque."
Thereupon he paused to shake hands with Mrs. Adrian Rabbet, wife to
the rector of Fairhaven.
"Such a sad play," she chirped, "and, do you know, I am afraid it is
rather demoralizing in its effects on young people. No, of course, I
didn't think of bringing the children, Mr. Charteris--Shakespeare's
language is not always sufficiently obscure, you know, to make that
safe. And besides, as I so often say to Mr. Rabbet, it is sad to think
of our greatest dramatist having been a drinking man. It quite
depressed me all through the play to think of him hobnobbing with Dr.
Johnson at the Tabard Inn, and making such irregular marriages, and
stealing sheep--or was it sheep, now?"
I said that, as I remembered, it was a fox, which he hid under his
cloak until the beast bit him.
"Well, at any rate, it was something extremely deplorable and
characteristic of genius, and I quite feel for his wife." Mrs. Rabbet
sighed, and endeavored, I think, to recollect whether it was _Ingomar_
or _Spartacus_ that Shakespeare wrote. "However," she concluded, "they
play _Ten Nights in a Barroom_ on Thursday, and I shall certainly
bring the children then, for I am always glad for them to see a really
moral and instructive drama. That reminds me! I absolutely must tell
you what Tom said about actors the other day--"
And she did. This led naturally to Matilda's recent and blasphemous
comments on George Washington, and her observations as to the rector's
dog, and little Adey's personal opinion of Elisha. And so on, in a
manner not unfamiliar to fond parents. Mrs. Rabbet said toward the end
that it was a most enjoyable chat, although to me it appeared to
partake rather of the nature of a monologue. It consumed perhaps a
half-hour; and when we two at last relinquished Mrs. Rabbet to her
husband's charge, it was with a feeling not altogether unakin to
We walked slowly down Fairhaven's one real street, which extends due
east from the College for as much as a mile, to end inconsequently in
those carefully preserved foundations, which are now the only remnant
of a building wherein a number of important matters were settled in
Colonial days. There Cambridge Street divides like a Y, one branch of
which leads to Willoughby Hall.
Our route from the Opera House thus led through the major part of
Fairhaven, which, after an evening of unwonted dissipation, was now
largely employed in discussing the play, and turning the cat out for
the night. The houses were mostly dark, and the moon, nearing its
full, silvered row after row of blank windows. There was an odour of
growing things about, for in Fairhaven the gardens are many.
Then it befell that I made a sudden exclamation.
"Eh?" said Charteris.
"Why, nothing," I explained, lucidly.
It may be mentioned, however, that we were, at this moment, passing a
tall hedge of box, set about a large garden. The hedge was perhaps
five feet six in height; Charteris was also five feet six, whereas I
was an unusually tall young man, and topped my host by a good
"I say," I observed, after a little, "I'm all out of cigarettes. I'll
go back to the drug-store," I suggested, as seized with a happy
thought, "and get some. I noticed it was still open. Don't think of
waiting for me," I urged, considerately.
"Why, great heavens!" Charteris ejaculated; "take one of mine. I can
recommend them, I assure you--and, in any event, there are all sorts,
I fancy, at the house. They keep only the rankest kind of domestic
"I prefer it," I insisted, "oh, yes, I really prefer it. So much
milder and more wholesome, you know. I never smoke any other sort. My
doctor insists on my smoking the very rankest tobacco I can get. It is
much better for the heart, he says, because you don't smoke so much of
it, you know. Besides," I concluded, virtuously, "it is infinitely
cheaper; you can get twenty cigarettes all for five cents at some
places. I really must economize, I think."
Charteris turned, and with great care stared in every direction. He
discovered nothing unusual. "Very well!" assented Mr. Charteris; "I,
too, have an eye for bargains. I will go with you."
"If you do alive," quoth I, quite honestly, "I devoutly desire that
all sorts of unpleasant things may happen to me for not having wrung
your neck first."
Charteris grinned. "Immoral young rip!" said he; "I warn you, before
entering the ministry, Mr. Rabbet was accounted an excellent shot."
"Get out!" said I.
And the fervour of my utterance was such that Charteris proceeded to
obey. "Don't be late for breakfast, if you can help it," he urged,
kindly. "Of course, though, you are up to some new form of insanity,
and I shall probably be sent for in the morning, to bail you out of
Thereupon he turned on his heel, and went down the deserted street,
Sang Mr. Charteris:
"Curly gold locks cover foolish brains,
Billing and cooing is all your cheer,
Sighing and singing of midnight strains
Under bonnybells" window-panes.
Wait till you've come to forty year!