Part 2 out of 6
"Forty times over let Michaelmas pass,
Grizzling hair the brain doth clear;
Then you know a boy is an ass,
Then you know the worth of a lass,
Once you have come to forty-year."
_He Chats Over a Hedge_
Left to myself, I began to retrace my steps. Solitude had mitigated my
craving for tobacco in a surprising manner; indeed, a casual observer
might have thought it completely forgotten, for I walked with curious
leisure. When I had come again to the box-hedge my pace had
degenerated, a little by a little, into an aimless lounge. Mr. Robert
Etheridge Townsend was rapt with admiration of the perfect beauty of
Followed a strange chance. There was only the mildest breeze about; it
was barely audible among the leaves above; and yet--so unreliable are
the breezes of still summer nights,--with a sudden, tiny and almost
imperceptible outburst, did this treacherous breeze lift Mr.
Townsend's brand-new straw hat from his head, and waft it over the
hedge of trim box-bushes. This was unfortunate, for, as has been said,
the hedge was a tall and sturdy hedge. So I peeped over it, with
"Beastly awkward," said I, as meditatively; "I'd give a great deal to
know how I'm going to get my hat back without breaking through the
blessed hedge, and rousing the house, and being taken for a burglar,
"It is terrible," assented a quite tranquil voice; "but if gentlemen
_will_ venture abroad on such terrible nights--"
"Eh?" said I. I looked up quickly at the moon; then back toward the
possessor of the voice. It was peculiar I had not noticed her before,
for she sat on a rustic bench not more than forty feet away, and in
full view of the street. It was, perhaps, the strangeness of the
affair that was accountable for the great wonder in my soul; and the
little tremor which woke in my speech.
"--so windy," she complained.
"Er--ah--yes, quite so!" I agreed, hastily.
"I am really afraid that it must be a tornado. Ah," she continued,
emotion catching at her voice, "heaven help all poor souls at sea! How
the wind must whistle through the cordage! how the marlin-spikes must
quiver, and the good ship reel on such a night!" She looked up at a
cloudless sky, and sighed.
"Er h'm!" I observed.
For she had come forward and had held out my hat toward me, and I
could see her very plainly now; and my mouth was making foolish
sounds, and my heart was performing certain curious and varied
gymnastics which could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be
included among its proper duties, and which interfered with my
"Didn't I know it--didn't I know it?" I demanded of my soul, and my
pulses sang a paean; "I knew, with that voice, she couldn't be a
common actress--a vulgar, raddled creature out of a barn! You not a
gentlewoman! Nonsense! Why--why, you're positively incredible! Oh, you
great, wonderful, lazy woman, you are probably very stupid, and you
certainly can't act, but your eyes are black velvet, and your voice is
evidently stolen from a Cremona, and as for your hair, there must be
pounds of it, and, altogether, you ought to be set up on a pedestal
for men to worship! There is just one other woman in the whole wide
world as beautiful as you are; and she is two thousand years old, and
is securely locked up in the Louvre, and belongs to the French
Government, and, besides, she hasn't any arms, so that even there you
have the advantage!"
Indeed, Miss Annabelle Alys Montmorenci was of much the same large,
placid type as the Venus of Milo, nor were the upper portions of the
two faces dissimilar. Miss Montmorenci's lips, however, were far more
curved, more buxom, and were, at the present moment, bordered by an
absolutely bewildering assemblage of dimples which the statue may not
"I really think," said Miss Montmorenci, judicially, "that it would be
best for you to seek some shelter from this devastating wind. It
really is not safe, you know, in the open. You might be swept away,
just as your hat was."
"The shelter of a tree--" I began, looking doubtfully into the garden,
which had any number of trees.
"The very thing," she assented. "There is a splendid oak yonder, just
half a block up the street." And she graciously pointed it out.
I regarded it with disapproval. "Such a rickety old tree," I objected,
Followed a silence. She bent her head to one side, and looked up at
me. She was now grave with a difference. "A strolling actress isn't
supposed to be very particular, is she?" asked Miss Montmorenci. "She
wouldn't object to a man's coming by night and trying to scrape
acquaintance with her,--a man who wouldn't think of being seen with
her by day? She would like it, probably. She--she'd probably be
accustomed to it, wouldn't she?" And Miss Montmorenci smiled.
And I, on a sudden, was abjectly ashamed of myself. "Why, you can't
think that of me!" I babbled. "I--oh, don't think me that sort, I beg
of you! I'm not--really, I'm not, Miss Montmorenci! But I admired you
so much to-night--I--oh, of course, I was very silly and very
presumptuous, but, really, you know--"
I paused for a little. This was miles apart from the glib talk I had
"My name is Robert Townsend," I then continued; "I am staying at Mr.
Charteris's place, just outside of Fairhaven. And I am delighted to
meet you, Miss Montmorenci. So now, you see, we have been quite
properly introduced, haven't we? And, by the way," I suggested, after
a moment's meditation, "there is a very interesting old college here--
old pictures, records, historical association and such like. I would
like to inspect it, vastly. Can't I call for you in the morning. We
can do it together, if you don't mind, and if you haven't already seen
it. Won't you, Miss Montmorenci? You really ought to see King's
College, you know; it is quite famous, because I was educated there,
and no end of other interesting things have happened within its
She had drawn close to the hedge. "You really mean it?" she asked.
"You would walk through the streets of this Fairhaven with me--with a
barn-stormer, with a strolling actress? You'd be afraid!" she cried,
suddenly; "oh, yes, you talk bravely enough, but you'd be afraid, of
course, when the time came! You'd be afraid!"
I had taken the hat, but my head was still uncovered. "I don't think,"
said I, reflectively, "that I am afraid of many things, somehow. But
of one thing I am certainly not afraid, and that is of mistaking a
good woman for--for anything else. Their eyes are different somehow,"
I haltingly explained, as to myself; then I smiled. "Shall we say
Miss Montmorenci laid one hand upon the hedgetop and slowly twisted
off four box-leaves what while I waited. "I--I believe you," she said,
in' meditation; "oh, yes, I believe you, somehow, Mr. Townsend. But we
rehearse in the morning, and there is a matinee every day, you know,
and--and there are other reasons--" She paused, irresolutely. "No,"
said Miss Montmorenci, "I thank you, but--good night."
"Oh, I say! am I never to see any more of you?"
A century or so of silence now. Her deliberation seemed endless.
At last: "Matinees and rehearsal keep us busy by day. But I am
boarding here for the week, and--and I rest here in the garden after
the evening performance. It is cool, it--it is like a glass of water
after taking rather bitter medicine. And you aren't a bad sort, are
you? No; you look too big and strong and clean, Mr. Townsend. And,
besides, you're just a boy--"
"In that case," cried Mr. Townsend, "I shall say goodnight with a
light heart." And I turned to go.
"A moment--" said she.
"An eternity," I proffered.
"Promise me," she said, "that you will not come again this week to the
My brows were raised a trifle. "I adore the drama," I pleaded.
"And I loathe it. And I act very badly--hopelessly so," said Miss
Montmorenci, with an indolent shrug; "and, somehow, I don't want you
to see me do it. Why did you mind my calling you a boy? You _are_, you
So I protested I had not minded it at all; and I promised. "But at
least," I said, triumphantly, "you can't prevent my remembering
She said of course not, only I was not to be silly.
"And therefore," quoth I, "Juliet shall be remembered always." I
smiled and waved my hand. "_Au revoir_, Signorina Capulet," said I.
And I took my departure. My blood rejoiced, with a strange fervor, in
the summer moonlight. It was good to be alive.
_He Goes Mad in a Garden_
"And, oh, but it is good to be with you again, Signorina!" cried I, as
I came with quick strides into the moonlit garden. I caught both her
hands in mine, and laughed like an ineffably contented person. There
was nothing very subtle about the boy that then was I; at worst, he
overacted what he really felt; and just at present he was pleased with
the universe, and he saw no possible reason for concealing the fact.
It was characteristic, also, that she made no pretence at being
surprised by my coming. She was expecting me and she smiled very
frankly at seeing me. Also, in place of the street dress of Tuesday,
she wore something that was white and soft and clinging, and left her
throat but half concealed. This, for two reasons, was sensible and
praiseworthy; one being that the night was warm, and the other that it
really broadened my ideas as to the state of perfection which it is
possible for the human throat to attain.
"So you don't like my stage-name?" she asked, as I sat down beside
her. "Well, for that matter, no more do I." "It doesn't suit you," I
protested--"not in the least. Whereas, you might be a Signorina
Somebody-or-other, you know. You are dark and stately and--well, I
can't tell you all the things you are," I complained, "because the
English language is so abominably limited. But, upon the whole, I am
willing to take the word of the playbill,--yes, I am quite willing to
accept you as Signorina Capulet. She had a habit of sitting in gardens
at night, I remember. Yes," I decided, after reflection, "I really
think it highly probable that you are old Capulet's daughter. I shall
make a point of it to pick a quarrel as soon as possible, with that
impertinent, trespassing young Montague. He really doesn't deserve
you, you know."
Unaccountably, her face saddened. Then, "Signorina? Signorina?" she
appraised the title. "It _is_ rather a pretty name. And the other is
horrible. Yes, you may call me Signorina, if you like."
She would not tell me her real name. She was unmarried,--this much she
told me, but of her past life, her profession, or of her future she
never spoke. "I don't want to talk about it," she said, candidly. "We
play for a week in Fairhaven, and here, once off the stage, I intend
to forget I am an actress. When I am on the stage," she added, in
meditative wise, "of course everyone knows I am not."
I laughed. I found her very satisfying; she was not particularly
intelligent, perhaps, but then I was beginning to consider clever
women rather objectionable creatures. There was a sufficiency of them
among the Charteris house-party--Alicia Wade, for instance, and
Pauline Ashmeade and Cynthia Chaytor,--and I thought of them almost
resentfully. The world had accorded them not exactly what they most
wanted, perhaps, but, at least, they had its luxuries; and they said
sharp, cynical things about the world in return. In a woman's mouth
epigrams were as much out-of-place as a meerschaum pipe.
Here, on the contrary, was a woman whom the world had accorded nothing
save hard knocks, and she regarded it, upon the whole, as an eminently
pleasant place to live in. She accepted its rebuffs with a certain
large calm, as being all in the day's work. There was, no doubt, some
good and sufficient reason for these inconveniences; not for a moment,
however, did she puzzle her handsome head in speculating over this
reason. She was probably too lazy. And the few favours the world
accorded her she took thankfully.
"You see," she explained to me--this was on Thursday night, when I
found her contentedly eating cheap candy out of a paper bag,--"the
world is really very like a large chocolate drop; it's rather bitter
on the outside, but when you have bitten through, you find the heart
of it sweet. Oh, how greedy!--you've taken the last candied cherry,
and I am specially fond of candied cherries!" And indeed, she looked
frankly regretful as I munched it.
I thought her adorable; and in exchange for that last candied cherry I
promised her some of the new books,--_David Harum_ certainly, and,
_When Knighthood Was in Flower_, because everybody was reading it, and
Mr. Dooley, because they said this young fellow Dunne was nearly as
funny as Bill Nye....
In fact, the moon seemed to shine down each night upon that particular
garden in a more and more delightful and dangerous manner. And I being
a fairly normal and healthy young man, the said moonshine affected me
in a fashion which has been peculiar to moonshine since Noah was a
likely stripling; my blood appeared to me, at times, to leap and
bubble in my veins as if it had been some notably invigorating and
heady tipple; and my heart was unreasonably contented, and I gave due
thanks for this woman who had come to me unsullied through the world's
gutter. For she came unsullied; there was no questioning that.
I pictured her in certain execrable rhymes as the Lady in _Comus_,
moving serene and unafraid among a rabble of threatening, bestial
shapes. And I rejoiced that there were women like this in the world,--
brave, wholesome, unutterably honest women, whose very lack of
cleverness--oh, subtle appeal to my vanity!--demanded a gentleman's
As has been said, I was a well-grown lad, but when I thought in this
fashion I seemed to myself, at a moderate computation, ten feet in
height,--and just the person, in short, who would be an ideal
Thus far my callow meditations. My course of reasoning was perhaps
faulty, but then there are, at twenty-one, many processes more
interesting and desirable than the perfecting of a mathematical
demonstration. And so, for a little, my blood rejoiced with a strange
fervour in the summer moonlight, and it was good to be alive.
Thursday was the twenty-third of the month, so upon that afternoon I
wrote to Bettie Hamlyn, in far-off Colorado.
It was a lengthy letter. It told her of how desolate her garden was
and of how odd Fairhaven seemed without her. It told how I had half
changed my mind, and would probably not go to Europe with Mr.
Charteris, after all. Bettie had been at pains, in the letter I was
answering, to expatiate upon her hatred of Charteris, whom she had
never seen. My letter told her, in fine, of a variety of matters. And
"I went to the Opera House on Monday. But that, like everything else,
isn't the same without you, dear. The woman who played Juliet was, I
believe, rather good-looking, but I scarcely noticed her in worrying
over the pitiful circumstance that the Apothecary and the Populace of
Verona had only one pair of shoes between them. Besides, Mercutio kept
putting on a bathrobe and insisting he was Friar Laurence.... I would
write more about it, if I had not almost used up all my paper. There
is just room to say--"
This was, as I have stated, on Thursday afternoon. Upon the following
"And why not?" I demanded, for the ninth time.
But she was resolute. "Oh, it is dear of you!" she cried; "and I--I do
care for you,--how could I help it? But it can't be,--it can't ever
be," she repeated wearily; and then she looked at me, and smiled a
little. "Oh, boy, boy! dear, dear boy!" she murmured, half in wonder,
"how foolish of you and--how dear of you!"
"And why not?" said I--for the tenth time.
She gave a sobbing laugh. "Oh, the great, brave, stupid boy!" she
said, and, for a moment, her hand rested on my hair; "he doesn't know
what he is doing,--ah, no, he doesn't know! Why, I might hold you to
your word! I might sue you for breach of promise! I might marry you
out of hand! Think of that! Why I am only a strolling actress, and
fair game for any man,--any man who isn't particular," she added, with
the first trace of bitterness I had ever observed in her odd, throaty
voice. "And you would marry me,--you! you would give me your name, you
would make me your wife! You have actually begged me to be your wife,
haven't you? Ah, my brave, strong, stupid Bobbie, how many women must
love you,--women who have a right to love you! And you would give them
all up for me,--for me, you foolish Bobbie, whom you haven't known a
week! Ah, how dear of you!" And she caught her breath swiftly, and her
"Yes," I brazenly confessed; "I really believe I would give them all
up--every blessed one of them--for you." I inspected her, critically,
and then smiled. "And I don't think that I would be deserving any very
great credit for self sacrifice, either, Signorina."
"My dear," she answered, "it pleases you to call me old Capulet's
daughter,--but if I were only a Capulet, and you a Montague, don't you
see how much easier it would be? But we don't belong to rival
families, we belong to rival worlds, to two worlds that have nothing
in common, and never can have anything in common. They are too strong
for us, Bobbie,--my big, dark, squalid world, that you could never
sink to, and your gay little world which I can never climb to,--your
world that would have none of me, even if--even _if_--" But the
condition was not forthcoming.
"The world," said I, in an equable tone--"My dear, I may as well warn
you I am shockingly given to short and expressive terms, and as we are
likely to see a deal of each other for the future, you will have to be
lenient with them,--accordingly, I repeat, the world may be damned."
And I laughed, in unutterable content. "Have none of you!" I cried.
"My faith, I would like to see a world which would have none of you!
Ah, Signorina, it is very plain to me that you don't realize what a
beauty, what a--a--good Lord, what an unimaginative person it was that
invented the English language! Why, you have only to be seen, heart's
dearest,--only to be seen, and the world is at your feet,--my world,
to which you belong of rights; my world, that you are going to honour
by living in; my world, that in a little will go mad for sheer envy of
blundering, stupid, lucky me!" And I laughed her to scorn.
There was a long silence. Then, "I belonged to your world once, you
"Why, of course, I knew as much as that."
"And yet--you never asked--" "Ah, Signorina, Signorina!" I cried;
"what matter? Don't I know you for the bravest, tenderest, purest,
most beautiful woman God ever made? I doubt you--I! My word!" said I,
and stoutly, "that _would_ be a pretty go! You are to tell me just
what you please," I went on, almost belligerently, "and when and where
you please, my lady. And I would thank you," I added, with appropriate
sternness, "to discontinue your pitiful and transparent efforts to
arouse unworthy suspicions as to my future wife. They are wasted,
madam,--utterly wasted, I assure you."
"Oh, Bobbie, Bobbie!" she sighed; "you are such a beautiful baby! Give
me time," she pleaded weakly.
And, when I scowled my disapproval, "Only till tomorrow--only a
little, little twenty-four hours. And promise me, you won't speak of
this--this crazy nonsense again tonight. I must think."
"Never!" said I, promptly; "because I couldn't be expected to keep
such an absurd promise," I complained, in indignation.
"And you look so strong," she murmured, with evident disappointment,--
"so strong and firm and--and--admirable!"
So I promised at once. And I kept the promise--that is, I did
subsequently refer to the preferable and proper course to pursue in
divers given circumstances "when we are married;" but it was on six
occasions only, and then quite casually,--and six times, as I myself
observed, was, all things considered, an extremely moderate allowance
and one that did great credit to my self-control.
"And besides, why _not_?" I said,--for the eleventh time.
"There are a thousand reasons. I am not your equal, I am just an
ostensible actress--Why, it would be your ruin!"
"My dear Mrs. Grundy, I confess that, for the moment, your disguise
had deceived me. But now: I recognize your voice."
She laughed a little. "And after all," the grave voice said, which
was, to me at least, the masterwork of God, "after all, hasn't one
always to answer Mrs. Grundy--in the end?"
"Why, then, you disgusting old harridan," said I, "I grant you it is
utterly impossible to defend my behaviour in this matter, and, believe
me, I don't for an instant undertake the task. To the contrary, I
agree with you perfectly,--my conduct is most thoughtless and
reprehensible, and merits your very severest condemnation. For look
you, here is a young man, well born, well-bred, sufficiently well
endowed with this world's goods, in short, an eminently eligible
match, preparing to marry an 'ostensible actress' a year or two his
senior,--why, of course, you are,--and of whose past he knows
nothing,--absolutely nothing. Don't you shudder at the effrontery of
the minx? Is it not heart-breaking to contemplate the folly, the utter
infatuation of the misguided youth who now stands ready to foist such
a creature upon the circles of which your ladyship is a distinguished
ornament? I protest it is really incredible. I don't believe a word of
"I cannot quite believe it, either, Bobbie--"
"But you see, he loves her. You, my dear madam, blessed with a wiser
estimation of our duties to society, of the responsibilities of our
position, of the cost of even the most modest establishment, and,
above all, of the sacredness of matrimony and the main chance, may
well shrug your shoulders at such a plea. For, as you justly observe,
what, after all, is this love? only a passing madness, an exploded
superstition, an irresponsible _ignis fatuus_ flickering over the
quagmires and shallows of the divorce court. People's lives are no
longer swayed by such absurdities; it is quite out of date."
"Yes; you are joking, Bobbie, I know; yet it is really out of date--"
"But I protest, loudly, my hand upon my heart, that it is true; people
no longer do mad things for love, or ever did, in spite of lying
poets; any more than the birds mate in the spring, or the sun rises in
the morning; popular fallacies, my dear madam, every one of them. You
and I know better, and are not to be deceived by appearances, however
specious they may be. Ah, but come now! Having attained this highly
satisfactory condition, we can well afford to laugh at all our past
mistakes,--yes, even at our own! For let us be quite candid. Wasn't
there a time, dear lady, before Mr. Grundy came a-wooing, when,
somehow, one was constantly meeting unexpected people in the garden,
and, somehow, one sat out a formidable number of dances during the
evening, and, somehow, the poets seemed a bit more plausible than they
do today? It was very foolish, of course,--but, ah, madam, there _was_
a time,--a time when even our staid blood rejoiced with a strange
fervour in the summer moonlight, and it was good to be alive! Come
now, have you the face to deny it,--Mrs. Methuselah?"
"It has not been quite bad to be alive, these last few hours--"
"And, oh, my dear, how each of us will look back some day to this very
moment! And we are wasting it! And I have not any words to tell you
how I love you! I am just a poor, dumb brute!" I groaned.
Then very tenderly she began to talk with me in a voice I cannot tell
you of, and concerning matters not to be recorded.
And still she would not promise anything; and I would give an arm, I
think, could it replevin all the idiotic and exquisite misery I knew
_He Duels with a Stupid Woman_
Yet I approached the garden on Saturday night with an elated heart.
This was the last evening of the engagement of the Imperial Dramatic
Company. To-morrow the troupe was to leave Fairhaven; but I was very
confident that the leading lady would not accompany them, and by
reason of this confidence, I smiled as I strode through the city of
Fairhaven, and hummed under my breath an inane ditty of an extremely
As I bent over the little wooden gate, and searched for its elusive
latch, a man came out of the garden, wheeling sharply about the hedge
that, until this, had hidden him; and simultaneously, I was aware of
the mingled odour of bad tobacco and of worse whiskey. Well, she would
have done with such people soon! I threw open the gate, and stood
aside to let him pass; then, as the moon fell full upon the face of
the man, I gave an inarticulate, startled sound.
"Fine evening, sir," suggested the stranger.
"Eh?" said I; "eh? Oh, yes, yes! quite so!" Afterward I shrugged my
shoulders, and went into the garden, a trifle puzzled.
I found her beneath a great maple in the heart of the enclosure. It
was a place of peace; the night was warm and windless, and the moon,
now come to its full glory, rode lazily in the west through a froth of
clouds. Everywhere the heavens were faintly powdered with stardust,
but even the planets seemed pale and ineffectual beside the splendour
of the moon.
The garden was drenched in moonshine--moonshine that silvered the
unmown grass-plots, and converted the white rose-bushes into squat-figured
wraiths, and tinged the red ones with dim purple hues. On every side the
foliage blurred into ambiguous vistas, where fireflies loitered; and the
long shadows of the nearer trees, straining across the grass, were wried
patterns scissored out of blue velvet. It was a place of peace and light
and languid odours, and I came into it, laughing, the possessor of an
over-industrious heart and of a perfectly unreasoning joy over the fact
that I was alive.
"I say," I observed, as I stretched luxuriously upon the grass beside
her, "you put up at a shockingly disreputable place, Signorina."
"Yes?" said she.
"That fellow who just went out," I explained--"do you know the police
want his address, I think? No," I continued, after consideration, "I
am sure I'm not mistaken,--that is either Ned Lethbury, the embezzler,
or his twin-brother. It's been five years since I saw him, but that is
he. And that", said I, with proper severity, "is a sample of the sort
of associate you prefer to your humble servant! Ah, Signorina,
Signorina, I am a tolerably worthless chap, I admit, but at least I
never forged and embezzled and then skipped my bail! So you had much
better marry me, my dear, and say good-bye to your peculating friends.
But, deuce take it! I forgot--I ought to notify the police or
something, I suppose."
She caught my arm. Her mouth opened and shut again before she spoke.
"He--he is my husband," she said, in a toneless voice. Then, on a
sudden, she wailed: "Oh, forgive me! Oh, my great, strong, beautiful
boy, forgive me, for I am very unhappy, and I cannot meet your eyes--
your honest eyes! Ah, my dear, my dear, do not look at me like that,--
you don't know how it hurts!"
The garden noises lisped about us in the long silence that fell. Then
the far-off whistling of some home going citizen of Fairhaven tinkled
shrilly through the night, and I shuddered a bit.
"I don't understand," I commenced, strangely quiet. "You told me--"
"Ah, I lied to you! I lied to you!" she cried. "I didn't, mean to--
hurt you. I did not know--I couldn't know--I was so lonely, Bobbie,"
she pleaded, with wide eyes; "oh, you don't know how lonely I am. And
when you came to me that first night, you--why, you spoke to me as the
men I once knew used to speak. There was respect in your voice, and I
wanted that so; I hadn't had a man speak to me like that for years,
you know, Bobbie. And, boy dear, I was so lonely in my squalid
world,--and it seemed as if the world I used to know was calling me--
your world, Bobbie--the world I am shut out from."
"Yes," I said; "I think I understand."
"And I thought for a week--just to peep into it, to be a lady again
for an hour or two--why, it didn't seem wicked, then, and I wanted it
so much! I--I knew I could trust you, because you were only a boy. And
I was hungry--_so_ hungry for a little respect, a little courtesy,
such as men don't accord strolling actresses. So I didn't tell you
till the very last I was married. I lied to you. Oh, but you don't
understand, this stupid, honest boy doesn't understand anything except
that I have lied to him!"
"Signorina," I said, again, and I smiled, resolutely, "I think I
understand." I took both her hands in mine, and laughed a little.
"But, oh, my dear, my dear," I said, "you should have told me that you
loved another man; for you have let me love you for a week, and now I
think that I must love you till I die."
"Love him!" she echoed. "Oh, boy dear, boy dear, what a Galahad it is!
I don't think Ned ever cared for anything but Father's money; and I--
why, you have seen him. How _could_ I love him?" she asked, as simply
as a child.
I bowed my head. "And yet--" said I. Then I laughed again, somewhat
bitterly. "Don't let's tell stories, Mrs. Lethbury," I said; "it is
kindly meant, I know, but I remember you now. I even danced with you
once, some seven years ago,--yes, at the Green Chalybeate. I remember
the night, for a variety of reasons. You are Alfred Van Orden's
daughter; your father is a wealthy man, a very wealthy man; and yet,
when your--your husband disappeared you followed him--to become a
strolling actress. Ah, no, a woman doesn't sacrifice everything for a
man in the way you have done, unless she loves him."
I caught my breath. Some unknown force kept tugging down the corners
of my mouth, in a manner that hampered speech; moreover, nothing
seemed worth talking about. I had lost her. That was the one thing
"Why, of course, I went with him," she assented, a shade surprised;
"he was my husband, you know. But as for loving,--no, I don't think
Ned ever really loved me," she reflected, with puckering brows. "He
took that money for--for another woman, if you remember. But he is
fond of me, and--and he _needs_ me."
I did not say anything; and after a little she went on, with a quick
lift of speech.
"Oh, what a queer life we have led since then! You can't imagine it,
my dear. He has been a tavern-keeper, a drummer,--everything! Why,
last summer we sold rugs and Turkish things in Atlantic City! But he
is always afraid of meeting someone who knows him, and--and he drinks
too much. So we have not got on in the world, Ned and I; and now,
after three years, I'm the leading lady of the Imperial Dramatic
Company, and he is the manager. I forgot, though,--he is advance-agent
this week, for he didn't dare stay in Fairhaven, lest some of the men
at Mr. Charteris's should recognize him, you know. He came back only
She paused for a moment; a wistful quaver crept into her speech. "Oh,
it's queer, it's queer, Bobbie! Sometimes--sometimes when I have time
to think, say on long Sunday afternoons, I remember my old life, every
bit of it,--oh, I do remember such strange little details! I remember
the designs on the bread and butter plates, and all the silver things
on my desk, and the plank by my door that always creaked and somehow
never got fixed, and the big, shiny buttons on the coachman's coat,--
just trifles like that. And--and they hurt, they hurt, Bobbie, those
little, unimportant things! They--grip my throat."
She laughed, not very mirthfully. "Then I am like the old lady in the
nursery rhyme, and say, Surely, this can't be I. But it is I, boy
dear,--a strolling actress, a barn-stormer! Isn't it queer, Bobbie?
But, oh, you don't know half--"
I was remembering many things. I remembered Lethbury, a gross man,
superfluously genial, whom I had never liked, although I recalled my
admiration of his whiskers. I recollected young Amelia Van Orden, not
come to her full beauty then, the bud of girlhood scarce slipped; and
I remembered very vividly the final crash, the nine days' talk over
Lethbury's flight in the face of certain conviction,--by his father-in-
law's advice (as some said) who had furnished and forfeited heavy bail
for the absconder. Oh, the brave woman who had followed! Oh, the brave,
foolish woman! And, for the action's recompense, he was content to
exhibit her to yokels, to make of her beauty an article of traffic.
Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven. And then hope
"Your husband," I said, quickly, "he does not love you? He--he is not
faithful to you?"
"No," she answered; "there is a Miss Fortescue--she plays second
"Ah, my dear, my dear!" I cried, with a shaking voice; "come away,
Signorina,--come away with me! He _doesn't_ need you,--and, oh, my
dear, I need you so! You can get your divorce and marry me. Ah,
Signorina, come away,--come away from this squalid life that is
killing you, to the world you are meant for, to the life you hunger
for! Come back to the clean, lighthearted world you love, the world
that is waiting to pet and caress you just as it used to do,--our
world, Signorina! You don't belong here with--with the Fortescues. You
belong to us."
I sprang to my feet. "Come now!" said I. "There's Anne Charteris; she
is a good woman, if ever lived one. She used to know you, too, didn't
she? Well, then, come with me to her, dearest--and tonight! You shall
see your father tomorrow. Your father--why, think how that old man
loves you, how he has longed for you, his only daughter, all these
years. And I?" I spread out my hands, in the tiniest, impotent
gesture. "I love you," I said, simply. "I cannot do without you,
Impulsively, she rested both hands upon my breast; then bowed her head
a little. The nearness of her seemed to shake in my blood, to catch at
my throat, and my hands, lifted for a moment, trembled with desire of
"You don't understand," she said. "I am a Catholic--my mother was one,
you know. There is no divorce for us. And--and besides, I'm not
modern. I am very old-fashioned, I suppose, in my ideas. Do you know,"
she asked, with a smile upon the face which lifted confidingly toward
me, "I--I _really_ believe the world was made in six days; and that
the whale swallowed Jonah, and that there is a real purgatory and a
hell of fire and brimstone. You don't, do you, Bobbie? But I do,--and
I promised to stay with him till death parted us, you know, and I must
do it. I am all he has. He would get even worse without me. I--oh, boy
dear, boy dear, I love you so!" And her voice broke, in a great,
"A promise--a promise made by an ungrown girl to a brute--a thief--!"
"No, dear," she answered, quietly; "a promise made to God."
And looking into her face, I saw love there, and anguish, and
determination. It seemed monstrous, but of a sudden I knew with a dull
surety; she loved me, but she thought she had no right to love me; she
would not go with me. She would go with that drunken, brutish thief.
And I suddenly recalled certain clever women--Alicia Wade, Pauline
Ashmeade, Cynthia Chaytor--the women of that world wherein I was
novitiate; beyond question, they would raise delicately penciled
eyebrows to proclaim this woman a fool--and to wonder.
They would be right, I thought. She was only a splendid, tender-hearted,
bright-eyed fool, the woman that I loved. My heart sickened as her
folly rose between us, an impassable barrier. I hated it; and I revered
Thus we two stood silent for a time. The wind murmured above in the
maples, lazily, ominously. Then the gate clicked, with a vicious snap
that pierced the silence like the report of a distant rifle. "That is
probably Ned," she said wearily. "I had forgotten they close the
barrooms earlier on Saturday nights. So good-bye, Bobbie. You--you may
kiss me, if you like."
So for a moment our lips met. Afterward I caught her hands in mine,
and gripped them close to my breast, looking down into her eyes. They
glinted in the moonlight, deep pools of sorrow, and tender--oh,
unutterably tender and compassionate.
But I found no hope there. I lifted her hand to my lips, and left her
alone in the garden.
Lethbury was fumbling at the gate.
"Such nuishance," he complained, "havin' gate won't unlock. Latch mus'
got los'--po' li'l latch," murmured Mr. Lethbury, plaintively--"all
'lone in cruel worl'!"
I opened the gate for him, and stood aside to let him pass toward his
_He Puts His Tongue in His Cheek_
It was not long before John Charteris knew of the entire affair, for
in those days I had few concealments from him: and the little wizened
man brooded awhile over my misery, with an odd wistfulness.
"I remember Amelia Van Orden perfectly," he said--"now. I ought to
have recognized her. Only, she was never, in her best days, the
paragon you depict. She sang, I recollect; people made quite a to-do
over her voice. But she was very, very stupid, and used to make loud
shrieking noises when she was amused, and was generally reputed to be
'fast.' I never investigated. Even so, there was not any real doubt as
to her affair, in any event, with Anton von Anspach, after that night
the sleigh broke down--"
"Oh, spare me all those ancient Lichfield scandals! She is an angel,
John, if there was ever one."
"In your eyes, doubtless! So your heart is broken. Yet do you not
realize that not a month ago you were heartbroken over Stella
Musgrave? Child, I repeat, I envy you this perpetual unhappiness, for
I have lost, as you will presently lose, the capacity of being quite
"But, John, it seems as if there were nothing left to live for, now--"
"At twenty-one! Well, certainly, at that age one loves to think of
life as being implacable. But you will soon discover that she is
merely inconsequential, and that none of her antics are of lasting
importance; and you will learn to smile a deal more often than you
weep or laugh."
Then we talked of other matters. It was presently settled that
Charteris was to take me abroad with him that summer; and with the
thorough approval of my mother.
"Mr. Charteris will be of incalculable benefit to you," she told me,
"in introducing you to the very best people, all of whom he knows, of
course, and besides you are getting to look older than I, and it is
unpleasant to have to be always explaining you are only my stepson,
particularly as your father never married anybody but me, though,
heaven knows, I wish he had. Of course you will be just as wild as
your father and your Uncle George. I suppose that is to be expected,
and I daresay it will break my heart, but all I ask of you is please
to keep out of the newspapers, except of course the social items. And
if you _must_ associate with abandoned women, please for my sake,
Robert, don't have anything to do with those who can prove that they
are only misunderstood, because they are the most dangerous kind."
I kissed her. "Dear little mother, I honestly believe that when you
get to heaven you will refuse to speak to Mary Magdalen."
"Robert, let us remember the Bible says, 'in my Father's house are
many mansions,' and of course nobody would think of putting me in the
same mansion with her."
It was well-nigh the last conversation I was to hold with my mother;
and I was to remember it with an odd tenderness....
Upon the doings of myself in Europe during the ensuing two years I
prefer to dwell as lightly as possible. I had long anticipated a
sojourn in divers old-world cities; but the London I had looked to
find was the London of Dickens, say, and my Paris the Paris of Dumas,
or at the very least of Balzac. It is needless to mention that in the
circles to which the, quite real, friendship of John Charteris
afforded an entry I found little that smacked of such antiquity. I had
entered a world inhabited by people who amused themselves and
apparently did nothing else; and I was at first troubled by their
levity, and afterward envious of it, and in the end embarked upon
sedulous attempt to imitate it. I continued to be very boyish; indeed,
I found myself by this in much the position of an actor who has made
such a success in one particular role that the public declines to
patronize him in any other.
It was during this first year abroad that I wrote _The Apostates_,
largely through the urging of John Charteris.
"You have the ability, though, that dances most gracefully in fetters.
You will never write convincingly about the life you know, because
life is, to you, my adorable boy, a series of continuous miracles, to
which the eyes of other men are case-hardened. Write me, then, a book
about the past."
"I have thought of it," said I, "for being over here makes the past
seem pretty real, somehow. Last month when I was at Ingilby I was on
fire with the notion of writing something about old Ormskirk--my
mother's ancestor, you know. And since I've seen what's left of
Bellegarde I have wanted to write about his wife's people too,--the
dukes and vicomtes of Puysange, or even about the great Jurgen. You
see, I am just beginning to comprehend that these are not merely
characters in Lowe's and La Vrilliere's books, but my flesh and blood
kin, like Uncle George Bulmer--"
"And for that reason you want to write about them! You would, though;
it is eminently characteristic. Well, then, why should you not
immortalize the persons who had the honor of begetting you--oh, most
handsome and most naive of children!--by writing your very best about
them?" "Because to succeed--not only among the general but with the
'cultured few,' God save the mark!--it is now necessary to write not
badly but abominably."
"What would you demand, then, of a book?"
I meditated. "What one most desiderates in the writings of to-day is
clarity, and beauty, and tenderness and urbanity, and truth."
"Not a bad recipe, upon the whole, though I would stipulate for
symmetry and distinction also--Write the book!"
"Ah," said I, "but this is the kind of book I wish to read when, of
course, the mood seizes me. It is not at all the sort of book, though,
I would elect to write. The main purpose of writing any book, I take
it, is to be read; and people simply will not read a book when they
suspect it of being carefully written. That sort of thing gets on a
reader's nerves; it's too much like watching a man walk a tight-rope
and wondering if he won't slip presently."
"Oh, 'people!'" Charteris flung out, in an extremity of scorn. "Since
time was young, a generally incompetent humanity has been willing to
pardon anything rather than the maddening spectacle of labour
competently done. And they are perfectly right; it is abominable how
such weak-minded persons occasionally thrust themselves into a world
quite obviously designed for persons who have not any minds at all.
But I was not asking you to write a 'best-seller.'"
"No, you were asking me to become an Economist, and be one of 'the few
rare spirits which every age providentially affords,' and so on. That
is absolute and immoral nonsense. When you publish a novel you are at
least pretending to supply a certain demand; and if you don't
endeavour honestly to supply it, you are a swindler, no more and no
less. No, it is all very well to write for posterity, if it amuses
you, John; personally, I cannot imagine what possible benefit you will
derive from it, even though posterity _does_ read your books. And for
myself, I want to be read and to be a power while I can appreciate the
fact that I _am_ a sort of power, however insignificant. Besides, I
want to make some money out of the blamed thing. Mother is a dear, of
course, but, like all the Bulmers, with age she is becoming tight-fisted."
"And Esau--" Charteris began.
"Yes,--but that's Biblical, and publishing a book is business. People
say to authors, just as they do to tailors: 'I want such and such an
article. Make it and I'll pay you for it.' Now, your tailor may
consider the Imperial Roman costume more artistic than that of today,
and so may you in the abstract, but if he sent home a toga in place of
a pair of trousers, you would discontinue dealing with him. So if it
amuses you to make togas, well and good; I don't quarrel with it; but,
personally, I mean to go into the gents' furnishing line and to do my
"Yes,--but with your tongue in your cheek."
"It is the one and only attitude," I sweetly answered, "in which to
write if you indeed desire to be read with enjoyment." And presently I
rose and launched upon
_A Defence of That Attitude_
"The main trouble with you, John Charteris, is that you will never
recover from being _fin de siecle_. Yes, you belong to that queer
dying nineteenth century. And even so, you have quite overlooked what
is, perhaps, the signal achievement of the nineteenth century,--the
relegation of its literature to the pharmacopoeia. The comparison of
the tailor, I willingly admit, is a bad one. Those who write
successfully nowadays must appeal to men and women who seek in fiction
not only a means of relaxation, but spiritual comfort as well, and an
uplifting rather than a mere diversion of the mind; so that they are
really druggists who trade exclusively in intoxicants and hypnotics.
"Half of the customers patronize the reading-matter shops because they
want to induce delusions about a world they know, and do not find
particularly roseate and the other half skim through a book because
they haven't anything else to do and aren't sleepy, as yet.
"Oh, in filling either prescription the trick is much the same; you
have simply to avoid bothering the reader's intellect in any way
whatever. You have merely to drug it, you have merely to caress it
with interminable platitudes, or else with the most uplifting
avoidances of anything which happens to be unprintably rational. And
you must remember always that the crass emotions of half-educated
persons are, in reality, your chosen keyboard; so play upon it with an
axe if you haven't any handier implement, but hit it somehow, and for
months your name will be almost as famous as that of my mother's
father remains the year round because he invented a celebrated
"It is all very well for you to sneer, and talk about art. But there
are already in this world a deal more Standard Works than any man can
hope to digest in the average lifetime. I don't quarrel with them,
for, personally, I find even Ruskin, like the python in the circus,
entirely endurable so long as there is a pane of glass between us. But
why, in heaven's name, should you endeavour to harass humanity with
one more battalion of morocco-bound reproaches for sins of omission,
whenever humanity goes into the library to take a nap? For what other
purpose do you suppose a gentleman goes into his library, pray? When
he is driven to reading he does it decently in bed.
"Besides, if I like a book, why, then, in so far as I am concerned, it
_is_ a good book. No, please don't talk to me about 'the dignity of
literature'; modern fiction has precisely as much to do with dignity
as has vaudeville or billiards or that ridiculous Prohibitionist
Party, since the object of all four, I take it, is to afford diversion
to people who haven't anything better to do. Thus, a novel which has
diverted a thousand semi-illiterate persons is exactly ten times as
good as a novel that has pleased a hundred superior persons. It is
simply a matter of arithmetic.
"You prefer to look upon writing as an art, rather than a business?
Oh, you silly little man, the touchstone of any artist is the skill
with which he adapts his craftsmanship to his art's limitations. He
will not attempt to paint a sound or to sculpture a colour, because he
knows that painting and sculpture have their limitations, and he,
quite consciously, recognizes this fact whenever he sets to work.
"Well, the most important limitation of writing fiction nowadays is
that you have to appeal to people who would never think of reading you
or anybody else, if they could possibly imagine any other employment
for that particular vacant half-hour. And you cannot hope for an
audience of even moderately intelligent persons, because intelligent
persons do not attempt to keep abreast with modern fiction. It is
probably ascribable to the fact that they enjoy being intelligent, and
wish to remain so.
"You sneer at the 'best-sellers.' I tell you, in sober earnest, that
the writing of a frankly trashy novel which will 'sell,' is the
highest imaginable form of art. For true art, in its last terms, is
the adroit circumvention of an unsurmountable obstacle. I suppose that
form and harmony and colour are very difficult to tame; and the
sculptor, the musician and the painter quite probably earn their hire.
But people don't go to concerts unless they want to hear music;
whereas the people who buy the 'best-sellers' are the people who would
prefer to do _anything_ rather than be reduced to reading. I protest
that the man who makes these people read on until they see how 'it all
came out' is a deal more than an artist; he is a sorcerer."
And I paused, a little out of breath.
"What a boy it is!" said Charteris. "Do you know, you are uncommonly
handsome when you are talking nonsense? Write the trashy book, then. I
never argue with children; and besides, I do not have to read it."
It thus fell about that in the second European year, not very long
after my mother's death, _The Apostates_ was given to the world, with
what result the world has had a plenty of time wherein to forget....
It was first published in _The Quaker Post_, with pictures by Roderick
King Hill, and in the autumn was brought out as a book by Stuyvesant
and Brothers. I made rather a good thing cut of it financially; but
the numerous letters I received from the people who had liked it I
found extremely objectionable. They were not the right sort of people,
I felt forlornly.... So I endured my plaudits without undue elation,
for I always held _The Apostates_ to be, at best, a medley of
conventional tricks and extravagant rhetoric, inanimate by any least
particle of myself,--and its success, say, as though the splendiferous
trappings of an emperor were hung upon a clothier's dummy, and the
result accepted as an adequate presentation of Charlemagne.
In other words, the book was the most unbridled kind of balderdash,
founded on my callow recollections of the Green Chalybeate,--not the
least bit accurate, as I was afterward to discover,--with all the good
people exceedingly oratorical and the bad ones singularly epigrammatic
and abandoned and obtuse. I introduced a depraved nobleman, of course,
to give the requisite touch of high society, seasoned the mixture with
French and botany and with a trifle of Dolly Dialoguishness, and
inserted, at judicious intervals, the most poetical of descriptions,
so that the skipping of them might afford an agreeable rest to the
reader's eye. There was also a sufficiency of piddling with unsavoury
matters to insure the suffrage of schoolgirls.
And a number of persons, in fine, were so misguided as to enthuse over
the result. The verb is carefully selected, for they one and all were
just the sort of people who "enthuse."
I was vexed, however, at the time to find I could not achieve an
appropriate emotion over my mother's death. The news came, to be sure,
at a season when I was preoccupied with getting rid of Agnes Faroy....
I have not ever heard of any rational excuse for the quite common
assumption that children ought to be particularly fond of their
parents. Still, my mother was the prettiest woman I had ever known,
though without any claim to beauty, and I had always gloried in our
kinship; for I believed her nature to be generous and amiable when she
thought of it; and the cablegram which announced the event aroused in
me sincere regret that a comely ornament to my progress had been
For a little I reflected as to whither she had vanished, and decided
she had been too futile and well-meaning ever to be punished by any
reasonable Being. Yet how she would have enjoyed the publication of my
book!--without any attempt to read it, however, since she had never,
to my knowledge, read anything, with the exception of the daily
papers.... And besides, I disliked being unable to have the
But I simply could not manage it. For here, in the midst of the Faroy
mess,--with Agnes weeping all over the place, and her brothers
flourishing pistols and declaiming idiocies,--came the news from Uncle
George that my mother had left me virtually nothing. She must have
used up, of course, a good share of her Bulmer Baking Powder money in
supporting my father comfortably; but she had always lived in such
estate as to make me assume she had retained, anyhow, enough of the
Bulmer money to last my time. So it was naturally a shock to discover
that this monetary attitude was inherited from my mother, who had been
cheerfully "living on her principle" all these years, without
considering my future. I had no choice but to regard it as abominably
"I think Claire was afraid to tell you," wrote Uncle George, "how
little there was left. In any event, she always shirked doing it, so
as to stave off unpleasantness. And when we cabled you how ill she
was, it now seems most unfortunate you could not see your way clear to
giving up your trip through the chateau country, as your not coming
appeared to be on her mind a great deal at the last. I do not wish to
seem to criticize you in any way, Robert, but I must say...."
Well, but you know what sort of nonsense that smug gambit heralds in
letters from your kindred. Even so, I now owned the Townsend house and
an income sufficient for daily bread; and it looked just then as
though the magazine editors were willing to furnish the butter, and
occasional cakes. So the future promised to be pleasant enough.
Charteris had returned to Algiers in the autumn my book was published,
but I elected to pass the winter in England. "Of course," was Mr.
Charteris's annotation--"because it is precisely the most dangerous
spot in the world for you. And you are to spend October at Negley? I
warn you that Jasper Hardress is in love with his wife, and that the
woman has an incurable habit of making experiments and an utter
inability to acquire experience. Take my advice, and follow Mrs.
Monteagle to the Riviera, instead. Cissie will strip you of every
penny you have, of course, but in the end you will find her a deal
less expensive than Gillian Hardress."
"You possess a low and evil mind," I observed, "since I am fond, in
all sincerity, of Hardress, whereas his wife is not even civil to me.
Why, she goes out of her way to be rude to me."
"Yes," said Mr. Charteris; "but that is because she is getting worried
about her interest in you. And what is the meaning of this, by the
way? I found it on your table this morning." He read the doggerel
aloud with an unkindly and uncalled-for exaggeration of the rhyming
"We did not share the same inheritance,--
I and this woman, five years older than I,
Yet daughter of a later century,--
Who is therefore only wearied by that dance
Which has set my blood a-leaping.
"It is queer
To note how kind her face grows, listening
To my wild talk, and plainly pitying
My callow youth, and seeing in me a dear
Amusing boy,--yet somewhat old to be
Still reading _Alice Through the Looking-Glass_
And _Water-Babies_.... With light talk we pass,
"And I that have lived long in Arcady--
I that have kept so many a foolish tryst,
And written drivelling rhymes--feel stirring in me
Droll pity for this woman who pities me,
And whose weak mouth so many men have kissed."
"That," I airily said, "is, in the first place, something you had no
business to read; and, in the second, simply the blocking out of an
entrancingly beautiful poem. It represents a mood."
"It is the sort of mood that is not good for people, particularly for
children. It very often gets them shot too full of large and untidy
"Nonsense!" said I, but not in displeasure, because it made me feel
like such a devil of a fellow. So I finished my letter to Bettie
Hamlyn,--for this was on the seventh,--and I went to Negley precisely
as I had planned.
"We were just speaking of you," Mrs. Hardress told me, the afternoon
of my arrival,--"Blanche and I were talking of you, Mr. Townsend, the
very moment we heard your wheels."
I shook hands. "I trust you had not entirely stripped me of my
"Surely, that is the very last of your possessions any reasonable
person would covet?"
"A palpable hit," said I. "Nevertheless, you know that all I possess
in the world is yours for the asking."
"Yes, you mentioned as much, I think, at Nice. Or was it Colonel
Tatkin who offered me a heart's devotion and an elopement? No, I
believe it was you. But, dear me, Jasper is so disgustingly healthy
that I shall probably never have any chance of recreation."
I glanced toward Jasper Hardress. "I have heard," said I, hopefully,
"that there is consumption in the family?"
"Heavens, no! he told me that before marriage to encourage me, but I
find there is not a word of truth in it."
Then Jasper Hardress came to welcome his guest, and save from a
distance I saw no more that evening of Gillian Hardress.
_He Samples New Emotions_
It was the following day, about noon, as I sat intent upon my Paris
_Herald_ that a tiny finger thrust a hole in it. I gave an inaudible
observation, and observed a very plump young person in white with
"And who may you happen to be?" I demanded.
"I'm Gladys," the young lady responded; "and I've runned away."
"But not without an escort, I trust, Miss Gladys? Really--upon my
word, you know, you surprise me, Gladys! An elopement without even a
tincture of masculinity is positively not respectable." I took the
little girl into my lap, for I loved children, and all helpless
things. "Gladys," I said, "why don't you elope with me? And we will
spend our honeymoon in the Hesperides."
"All right," said Gladys, cheerfully. She leaned upon my chest, and
the plump, tiny hand clasped mine, in entire confidence; and the
contact moved me to an irrational transport and to a yearning whose
aim I could not comprehend. "Now tell me a story," said Gladys.
So that I presently narrated to Gladys the ensuing
_Story of the Flowery Kingdom_
"Fair Sou-Chong-Tee, by a shimmering brook
Where ghost-like lilies loomed tall and straight,
Met young Too-Hi, in a moonlit nook,
Where they cooed and kissed till the hour was late:
Then, with lanterns, a mandarin passed in state,
Named Hoo-Hung-Hoo of the Golden Band,
Who had wooed the maiden to be his mate--
For these things occur in the Flowery Land.
"Now, Hoo-Hung-Hoo had written a book,
In seven volumes, to celebrate
The death of the Emperor's thirteenth cook:
So, being a person whose power was great,
He ordered a herald to indicate
He would blind Too-Hi with a red-hot brand
And marry Sou-Chong at a quarter-past-eight,--
For these things occur in the Flowery Land.
"And the brand was hot, and the lovers shook
In their several shoes, when by lucky fate
A Dragon came, with his tail in a crook,--
A Dragon out of a Nankeen Plate,--
And gobbled the hard-hearted potentate
And all of his servants, and snorted, _and_
Passed on at a super-cyclonic rate,--
For these things occur in the Flowery Land.
"The lovers were wed at an early date,
And lived for the future, I understand,
In one continuous tete-a-tete,--
For these things occur...in the Flowery Land."
Gladys wanted to know: "But what sort of house is a tete-a-tete? Is it
like a palace?"
"It is very often much nicer than a palace," I declared,--"provided of
course you are only stopping over for a week-end."
"And wasn't it odd the Dragon should have come just when he did?"
"Oh, Gladys, Gladys! don't tell me you are a realist."
"No, I'm a precious angel," she composedly responded, with a flavour
"Well! it is precisely the intervention of the Dragon, Gladys, which
proves the story is literature," I announced. "Don't you pity the poor
Dragon, Gladys, who never gets a chance in life and has to live always
between two book-covers?"
She said that couldn't be so, because it would squash him.
"And yet, dear, it is perfectly true," said Mrs. Hardress. The lean
and handsome woman was regarding the pair of us curiously. "I didn't
know you cared for children, Mr. Townsend. Yes, she is my daughter."
She carried Gladys away, without much further speech.
Yet one Parthian comment in leaving me was flung over her shoulder,
snappishly. "I wish you wouldn't imitate John Charteris so. You are
getting to be just a silly copy of him. You are just Jack where he is
John. I think I shall call you Jack."
"I wish you would," I said, "if only because your sponsors happened to
christen you Gillian. So it's a bargain. And now when are we going for
that pail of water?"
Mrs. Hardress wheeled, the child in her arms, so that she was looking
at me, rather queerly, over the little round, yellow head. "And it was
only Jill, as I remember, who got the spanking," she said. "Oh, well!
it always is just Jill who gets the spanking--Jack."
"But it was Jack who broke his crown," said I; "Wasn't it--Jill?" It
seemed a jest at the time. But before long we had made these nicknames
a habit, when just we two were together. And the outcome of it all was
not precisely a jest....
She told me not long after this, "When I saw Gladys loved you, of
course I loved you too." And I hereby soberly record the statement
that to have a woman fall thoroughly in love with him is the most
uncomfortable experience which can ever befall any man.
I am tolerably sure I never made any amorous declaration. Rather, it
simply bewildered me to observe the shameless and irrational
infatuation this woman presently bore for me, and before it I was
powerless. When I told her frankly I did not love her, had never loved
her, had no intention of ever loving her, she merely bleated, "You are
cruel!" and wept. When I attempted to restrain her paroxysms of
anguish, she took it as a retraction of what I had told her.
I would then have given anything in the world to be rid of Gillian
Hardress. This led to scenes, and many scenes, and played the very
devil with the progress of my second novel. You cannot write when
anyone insists on sitting in the same room with you, on the irrelevant
plea that she is being perfectly quiet, and therefore is not
disturbing you. Besides, she had no business in my room, and was apt
to get caught there.
I remember one of these contentions. She is abominably rouged, and
before me she is grovelling, as she must have seen some actress do
upon the stage.
"Oh, I lied to you," she wailed; "but you are so cruel! Ah, don't be
Then I lifted the scented woman to her feet, and she stayed
motionless, regarding me. She had really wonderful eyes.
"You are evil," I said, "through and through you are evil, I think,
and I can't help thinking you are a little crazy. But I wish you would
teach me to be as you are, for tonight the hands of my dead father
strain from his grave and clutch about my ankles. He has the right
because it is his flesh I occupy. And I must occupy the body of a
Townsend always. It is not quite the residence I would have chosen--
Eh, well, for all that, I am I! And at bottom I loathe you!"
"You love me!" she breathed.
I thrust her aside and paced the floor. "This is an affair of moment.
I may not condescend to sell, as Faustus did, but of my own volition
must I will to squander or preserve that which is really Robert
I wheeled upon Gillian Hardress, and spoke henceforward with
deliberation. You must remember I was very young as yet.
"I have often regretted that the colour element of vice is so oddly
lacking in our life of to-day. We appear, one and all, to have been
born at an advanced age and with ladylike manners, and we reach our
years of indiscretion very slowly; and meanwhile we learn, too late,
that prolonged adherence to morality trivialises the mind as
hopelessly as a prolonged vice trivialises the countenance. I fear
this has been said by someone else, my too impetuous Jill, and I hope
not, for in that event I might possibly be speaking sensibly, and to
be sensible is a terrible thing and almost as bad as being
"You are not being very intelligible now, sweetheart. But I love to
hear you talk."
"Meanwhile, I am young, and in youth--_il faut des emotions_, as
Blanche Amory is reported to have said, by a novelist named Thackeray,
whose productions are now read in public libraries. Still, for a
respectable and brougham-supporting person, Thackeray came then as
near to speaking the truth as is possible for people of that class. In
youth emotions are necessary. Find me, therefore, a new emotion!"
"So many of them, dear!" she promised.
"I do not love you, understand,--and your husband is my friend, and I
admire him. But I am I! I have endowments, certain faculties which
many men are flattering enough to envy--and I will to make of them a
carpet for your quite unworthy feet. I will to degrade all that in me
is most estimable, and in return I demand a new emotion."
Well, but women are queer. There is positively no way of affronting
them, sometimes. She had not even the grace to note that I had taken a
little too much to drink that night.... But over all this part of my
life I prefer to pass as quickly as may be expedient.
I remembered, anyway, after Gillian had gone from my room, to write
Bettie Hamlyn a post-card. It was no longer, strictly speaking, the
twenty-third, but considerably after midnight, of course. Still, it
was the writing regularly when I loathed writing letters that counted
with Bettie, I reflected; and virtually I was writing on the twenty-third,
and besides, Bettie would never know.
And thereafter Gillian Hardress made almost no concealment of her
feeling toward me, or employed at best the flimsiest of disguises. All
that winter she wrote to me daily, and, when the same roof sheltered
us, would slip the scribblings into my hand at odd moments, but
preferably before her husband's eyes. She demanded an account of every
minute I spent apart from her, and never believed a syllable of my
explanations; and in a sentence, she pestered me to the verge of
And always the circumstance which chiefly puzzled me was the host of
men that were infatuated by Gillian Hardress. There was no doubt about
it; she made fools of the staidest, if for no better end than that the
spectacle might amuse me.
"Now you watch me, Jack!" she would say. And I obediently would watch
her wriggling beguilements, and the man's smirking idiocy, with
For in me her allurements aroused, now, absolutely no sensation save
that of boredom. Often I used to wonder for what reason it seemed
impossible for me, alone, to adore this woman insanely. It would have
been so much more pleasant, all around.
But, I repeat, I wish to have done with this portion of my life as
quickly as may be expedient. I am not particularly proud of it. I
would elide it altogether, were it possible, but as you will presently
see, that is not possible if I am to make myself intelligible. And I
find that the more I write of myself the more I am affected by the
same poor itch for self-exposure which has made Pepys and Casanova and
Rousseau famous, and later feminine diarists notorious.
Were I writing fiction, now, I would make the entire affair more
plausible. As it stands, I am free to concede that this chapter in my
life history rings false throughout, just as any candid record of an
actual occurrence does invariably. It is not at all probable that a
woman so much older than I should have taken possession of me in this
fashion, almost against my will. It is even less probable that her
husband, who was by ordinary absurdly jealous of her, should have
suspected nothing and have been sincerely fond of me.
But then I was only twenty-two, as age went physically, and he looked
upon me as an infant. I was, I think, quite conscientiously childish
with Jasper Hardress. I prattled with him, and he liked it. And so
often, especially when we three were together--say, at luncheon,--I
was teased by an insane impulse to tell him everything, just casually,
and see what he would do.
I think it was the same feeling which so often prompted her to tell
him, in her flighty way, of how profoundly she adored me. I would
wriggle and blush; and Jasper Hardress would laugh and protest that he
adored me too. Or she would expatiate upon this or that personal
feature of mine, or the becomingness of a new cravat, say; and would
demand of her husband if Jack--for so she always called me,--wasn't
the most beautiful boy in the world? And he would laugh and answer
that he thought it very likely.
They were Americans, I should have said earlier, but to all intents
they lived abroad, and had done so for years. Hardress's father had
been thoughtful enough to leave him a sufficient fortune to
countenance the indulgence of this or any other whim, so that the
Hardresses divided the year pretty equally between their real home at
Negley and a tiny chateau which they owned near Aix-les-Bains. I
visited them at both places.
It was a pleasant fiction that I came to see Gladys. Regularly, I was
told off to play with her, as being the only other child in the house.
It was rather hideous, for the little girl adored me, and I was
beginning to entertain an odd aversion toward her, as being in a way
responsible for everything. Had Gillian Hardress never found me
cuddling the child, whose sex was visibly a daily aggrievement to
Jasper Hardress, however conscientiously he strove to conceal the
fact,--so that in consequence "I have to love my precious lamb for
two, Jack,"--Gillian would never, I think, have distinguished me from
the many other men who, so lightly, tendered a host of gallant
speeches.... But I never fathomed Gillian Hardress, beyond learning
very early in our acquaintance that she rarely told me the truth about
Also I should have said that Hardress cordially detested Charteris,
just as Bettie Hamlyn did, because for some reason he suspected the
little novelist of being in love with Hardress's wife. I do not know;
but I imagine Charteris had made advances to her, in his own ambiguous
fashion, as he was apt to do, barring strenuous discouragement, to
every passably handsome woman he was left alone with. I do know he
made love to her a little later.
Hardress distrusted a number of other men, for precisely the same
reason. Heaven only is familiar with what grounds he had. I merely
know that Gillian Hardress loathed John Charteris; she was jealous of
his influence over me. But me her husband never distrusted. I was only
an amusing and ingenuous child of twenty-two, and not for a moment did
it occur to him that I might be in love with his wife.
Indeed, I believe upon reflection that he was in the right. I think I
"Yes," I said, "I am to meet the Charterises in Genoa. Yes, it is
rather sudden. I am off to-morrow. I shall not see you dear good
people for some time, I fancy...."
When Hardress had gone the woman said in a stifled voice: "No, I will
not dance. Take me somewhere--there is a winter-garden, I know--"
"No, Jill," said I, with decision. "It's no use. I am really going. We
will not argue it."
Gillian Hardress watched the dancers for a moment, as with languid
interest. "You fear that I am going to make a scene. Well! I can't.
You have selected your torture chamber too carefully. Oh, after all
that's been between us, to tell me here, to my husband's face, in the
presence of some three hundred people, without a moment's warning,
that you are 'off to-morrow!' It--it is for good, isn't it?"
"Yes," I said. "It had to be--some time, you know."
"No, don't look at me. Watch the dancing, I will fan myself and seem
bored. No, I shall not do anything rash."
I was uncomfortable. Yet at bottom it was the theatric value of this
scene which impressed me,--the gaiety and the brilliance on every side
of her misery. And I did not look at her. I did just as she ordered
"I was proud once. I haven't any pride now. You say you must leave me.
Oh, dearest boy, if you only knew how unhappy I will be without you,
you could not leave me. Sweetheart, you must know how I love you. I
long every minute to be with you, and to see you even at a distance is
a pleasure. I know it is not right for me to ask or expect you to love
me always, but it seems so hard."
"It's no use, Jill--"
"Is it another woman? I won't mind. I won't be jealous. I won't make
scenes, for I know you hate scenes, and I have made so many. It was
because I cared so much. I never cared before, Jack. You have tired of
me, I know. I have seen it coming. Well, you shall have your way in
everything. But don't leave me, dear! oh, my dear, my dear, don't
leave me! Oh, I have given you everything, and I ask so little in
return--just to see you sometimes, just to touch your hand sometimes,
as the merest stranger might do...."
So her voice went on and on while I did not look at her. There was no
passion in this voice of any kind. It was just the long monotonous
wail of some hurt animal.... They were playing the _Valse Bleu_, I
remember. It lasted a great many centuries, and always that low voice
was pleading with me. Yes, it was uncommonly unpleasant; but always at
the back of my mind some being that was not I was taking notes as to
precisely how I felt, because some day they might be useful, for the
book I had already outlined. "It is no use, Jill," I kept repeating,
Then Armitage came smirking for his dance. Gillian Hardress rose, and
her fan shut like a pistol-shot. She was all in black, and throughout
that moment she was more beautiful than any other woman I have ever
"Yes, this is our dance," she said, brightly. "I thought you had
forgotten me, Mr. Armitage. Well! good-bye, Mr. Townsend. Our little
talk has been very interesting--hasn't it? Oh, this dress _always_
gets in my way--"
She was gone. I felt that I had managed affairs rather crudely, but it
was the least unpleasant way out, and I simply had not dared to trust
myself alone with her. So I made the best of an ill bargain, and
remodeled the episode more artistically when I used it later, in
_He Postures Among Chimney-Pots_
I met the Charterises in Genoa, just as I had planned. Anne's first
exclamation was, "Heavens, child, how dissipated you look! I would
scarcely have known you."
Charteris said nothing. But he and I lunched at the Isotta the
following day, and at the conclusion of the meal the little man leaned
back and lighted a cigarette.
"You must overlook my wife's unfortunate tendency toward the most
unamiable of virtues. But, after all, you are clamantly not quite the
boy I left at Liverpool last October. Where are your Hardresses now?"
"In London for the season. And why is your wife rushing on to Paris,
"Shopping, as usual. Yes, I believe I did suggest it was as well to
have it over and done with. Anne is very partial to truisms. Besides,
she has an aunt there, you know. Take my advice, and always marry a
woman who is abundantly furnished with attractive and visitable
relations, for this precaution is the true secret of every happy
marriage. We may, then, regard the Hardress incident as closed?"
"Oh, Lord, yes!" said I, emphatically.
"Well, after all, you have been sponging off them for a full year. The
adjective is not ill-chosen, from what I hear. I fancy Mrs. Hardress
has found you better company after she had mixed a few drinks for you,
and so--But a truce to moral reflections! for I am desirous once more
to hear the chimes at midnight. I hear Francine is in Milan?"
"There is at any rate in Milan," said I, "a magnificent Gothic
Cathedral of international reputation; and upon the upper gallery of
its tower, as my guidebook informs me, there is a watchman with an
efficient telescope. Should I fail to meet that watchman, John, I would
feel that I had lived futilely. For I want both to view with him the
Lombard plain, and to ask him his opinion of Cino da Pistoia, and as to
what was in reality the middle name of Cain's wife."
Francine proved cordial; but John Charteris was ever fickle, and not
long afterward an Italian countess, classic in feature, but in coloring
smacking of an artistic renaissance, had drawn us both to Switzerland,
and thence to Liege. It was great fun, knocking about the Continent
with John, for he knew exactly how to order a dinner, and spoke I don't
know how many languages, and seemed familiar with every side-street and
back-alley in Europe. For myself, my French as acquired in Fairhaven
appeared to be understood by everybody, but in replying very few of the
natives could speak their own foolish language comprehensibly. I could
rarely make head or tail out of what they were jabbering about.
I was alone that evening, because Annette's husband had turned up
unexpectedly; and Charteris had gone again to hear Nadine Neroni, the
new prima donna, concerning whom he and his enameled Italian friend
raved tediously. But I never greatly cared for music; besides, the
opera that night was _Faust_; the last act of which in particular, when
three persons align before the footlights and scream at the top of
their voices, for a good half hour, about how important it is not to
disturb anybody, I have never been able to regard quite seriously.
So I was spending this evening sedately in my own apartments at the
Continental; and meanwhile I lisped in numbers that (or I flattered
myself) had a Homeric tang; and at times chewed the end of my pencil
meditatively. "From present indications," I was considering, "that
Russian woman is cooking something on her chafing-dish again. It
usually affects them that way about dawn."
I began on the next verse viciously, and came a cropper over the clash
of two sibilants, as the distant clamour increased. "Brutes!" said I,
disapprovingly. "Sere, clear, dear--Now they have finished, '_Jamais,
monsieur_', and begun crying, 'Fire!' Oh, this would draw more than
three souls out of a weaver, you know! Mere, near, hemisphere--no, but
the Greeks thought it was flat. By Jove! I do smell smoke!"
Wrapping my dressing-gown about me--I had afterward reason to thank the
kindly fates that it was the green one with the white fleurs-de-lis,
and not my customary, unspeakably disreputable bath-robe, scorched by
the cigarette ashes of years,--I approached the door and peeped out
into the empty hotel corridor. The incandescent lights glimmered mildly
through a gray haze which was acrid and choking to breathe; little
puffs of smoke crept lazily out of the lift-shaft just opposite; and
down-stairs all Liége was shouting incoherently, and dragging about the
heavier pieces of hotel furniture.
"By Jove!" said I, and whistled a little disconsolately as I looked
downward through the bars about the lift-shaft.
"Do you reckon," spoke a voice--a most agreeable voice,--"we are in any
The owner of the voice was tall; not even the agitation of the moment
prevented my observing that, big as I am, her eyes were almost on a
level with my shoulder. They were not unpleasant eyes, and a stray
dream or two yet lingered under their heavy lids. The owner of the
voice wore a strange garment that was fluffy and pink,--pale pink like
the lining of a sea-shell--and billows of white and the ends of various
blue ribbons peeped out about her neck. I made mental note of the fact
that disordered hair is not necessarily unbecoming; it sometimes has
the effect of an unusually heavy halo set about the face of a
"It would appear," said I, meditatively, "that, in consideration of our
being on the fifth floor, with the lift-shaft drawing splendidly, and
the stairs winding about it,--except the two lower flights, which have
just fallen in,--and in consideration of the fire department's probable
incompetence to extinguish anything more formidable than a tar-barrel,
--yes, it would appear, I think, that we might go further than
'dangerous' and find a less appropriate adjective to describe the
"You mean we cannot get down?" The beautiful voice was tremulous.
And my silence made reply.
"Well, then," she suggested, cheerfully, after due reflection, "since
we can't go down, why not go up?"
As a matter of fact, nothing could be more simple. We were on the top
floor of the hotel, and beside us, in the niche corresponding to the
stairs below, was an iron ladder that led to a neatly-whitewashed
trapdoor in the roof. Adopting her suggestion, I pushed against this
trap-door and found that it yielded readily; then, standing at the top
of the ladder, I looked about me on a dim expanse of tiles and
chimneys; yet farther off were the huddled roofs and gables of Liége,
and just a stray glimpse of the Meuse; and above me brooded a clear sky
and the naked glory of the moon.
I lowered my head with a distinct sigh of relief.
"I say," I called, "it is infinitely nicer up here--superb view of the
city, and within a minute's drop of the square! Better come up."
"Go first," said she; and subsequently I held for a moment a very
slender hand--a ridiculously small hand for a woman whose eyes were
almost on a level with my shoulder,--and we two stood together on the
roof of the Hôtel Continental. We enjoyed, as I had predicted, an
unobstructed view of Liége and of the square, wherein two toy-like
engines puffed viciously and threw impotent threads of water against
the burning hotel beneath us, and, at times, on the heads of an excited
throng erratically clad.
But I looked down moodily, "That," said I, as a series of small
explosions popped like pistol shots, "is the café; and, oh, Lord! there
goes the only decent Scotch in all Liége!"
"There is Mamma!" she cried, excitedly; "there!" She pointed to a stout
woman, who, with a purple? shawl wrapped about her head, was wringing
her hands as heartily as a bird-cage, held in one of them, would
permit. "And she has saved Bill Bryan!"
"In that case," said I, "I suppose it is clearly my duty to rescue the
remaining member of the family. You see," I continued, in bending over
the trap-door and tugging at the ladder, "this thing is only about
twenty feet long; but the kitchen wing of the hotel is a little less
than that distance from the rear of the house behind it; and with this
as a bridge I think we might make it. In any event, the roof will be
done for in a half-hour, and it is eminently worth trying." I drew the
Then I dragged this ladder down the gentle slant of the roof, through a
maze of ghostly chimneys and dim skylights, to the kitchen wing, which
was a few feet lower than the main body of the building. I skirted the
chimney and stepped lightly over the eaves, calling, "Now then!" when a
muffled cry, followed by a crash in the courtyard beneath, shook my
heart into my mouth. I turned, gasping; and found the girl lying safe,
but terrified, on the verge of the roof.
"It was a bucket," she laughed, "and I stumbled over it,--and it
fell--and--and I nearly did,--and I am frightened!"
And somehow I was holding her hand in mine, and my mouth was making
irrelevant noises, and I was trembling. "It was close, but--look here,
you must pull yourself together!" I pleaded; "because we haven't, as it
were, the time for airy badinage and repartee--just now."
"I can't," she cried, hysterically. "Oh, I am so frightened! I can't!"
"You see," I said, with careful patience, "we must go on. I hate to
seem too urgent, but we _must_, do you understand?" I waved my hand
toward the east. "Why, look!" said I, as a thin tongue of flame leaped
through the open trap-door and flickered wickedly for a moment against
the paling gray of the sky.
She saw and shuddered. "I'll come," she murmured, listlessly, and rose
to her feet.
I heaved another sigh of relief, and waving her aside from the ladder,
dragged it after me to the eaves of the rear wing. As I had foreseen,
this ladder reached easily to the eaves of the house behind the rear
wing, and formed a passable though unsubstantial-looking bridge. I
regarded it disapprovingly.
"It will only bear one," said I; "and we will have to crawl over
separately after all. Are you up to it?"
"Please go first," said she, very quiet. And, after gazing into her
face for a moment, I crept over gingerly, not caring to look down into
the abyss beneath.
Then I spent a century in impotence, watching a fluffy, pink figure
that swayed over a bottomless space and moved forward a hair's breadth
each year. I made no sound during this interval. In fact, I do not
remember drawing a really satisfactory breath from the time I left the
hotel-roof, until I lifted a soft, faint-scented, panting bundle to the
roof of the Councillor von Hollwig.
"You are," I cried, with conviction, "the bravest, the most--er--the
bravest woman I ever knew!" I heaved a little sigh, but this time of
content. "For I wonder," said I, in my soul, "if you have any idea what
a beauty you are! what a wonderful, unspeakable beauty you are! Oh, you
are everything that men ever imagined in dreams that left them weeping
for sheer happiness--and more! You are--you, and I have held you in my
arms for a moment; and, before high heaven, to repurchase that
privilege I would consent to the burning of three or four more hotels
and an odd city or so to boot!" But, aloud, I only said, "We are quite
safe now, you know."
She laughed, bewilderingly. "I suppose," said she, "the next thing is
to find a trap-door."
But there were, so far as we could discover, no trapdoors in the roof
of the Councillor von Hollwig, or in the neighbouring roofs; and, after
searching three of them carefully, I suggested the propriety of waiting
till dawn to be melodramatically rescued.
"You see," I pointed out, "everybody is at the fire over yonder. But we
are quite safe here, I would say, with an entire block of houses to
promenade on; moreover, we have cheerful company, eligible central
location in the very heart of the city, and the superb spectacle of a
big fire at exactly the proper distance. Therefore," I continued, and
with severity, "you will please have the kindness to explain your
motives for wandering about the corridors of a burning hotel at four
o'clock in the morning."
She sat down against a chimney and wrapped her gown about her. "I sleep
very soundly," said she, "and we did both museums and six churches and
the Palais de Justice and a deaf and dumb place and the cannon-foundry
today,--and the cries awakened me,--and I reckon Mamma lost her head."
"And left you," thought I, "left you--to save a canary-bird! Good Lord!
And so, you are an American and a Southerner as well."
"And you?" she asked.
"Ah--oh, yes, me!" I awoke sharply from admiration of her trailing
lashes. The burning hotel was developing a splendid light wherein to
see them. "I was writing--and I thought that Russian woman had a few
friends to supper,--and I was looking for a rhyme when I found you," I
concluded, with a fine coherence.
She looked up. It was incredible, but those heavy lashes disentangled
quite easily. I was seized with a desire to see them again perform this
interesting feat. "Verses?" said she, considering my slippers in a new
"Yes," I admitted, guiltily--"of Helen."
She echoed the name. It is an unusually beautiful name when properly
spoken. "Why, that is my name, only we call it Elena."
"Late of Troy Town," said I, in explanation.
"Oh!" The lashes fell into their former state. It was hopeless this
time; and manual aid would be required, inevitably. "I should think,"
said my compatriot, "that live women would be more--inspiring"
"Surely," I assented. I drew my gown about me and sat down. "But, you
see, she is alive--to me." And I dwelt a trifle upon the last word.
"One would gather," said she, meditatively, "that you have an
unrequited attachment for Helen of Troy."
I sighed a melancholy assent. The great eyes opened to their utmost.
The effect was as disconcerting as that of a ship firing a broadside at
you, but pleasanter. "Tell me all about it," said she, coaxingly.
"I have always loved her," I said, with gravity. "Long ago, when I was
a little chap, I had a book--_Stories of the Trojan War_, or something
of the sort. And there I first read of Helen--and remembered. There
were pictures--outline pictures,--of quite abnormally straight-nosed
warriors, with flat draperies which amply demonstrated that the laws of
gravity were not yet discovered; and the pictures of slender goddesses,
who had done their hair up carefully and gone no further in their
dressing. Oh, the book was full of pictures,--and Helen's was the most
manifestly impossible of them all. But I knew--I knew, even then, of
her beauty, of that flawless beauty which made men's hearts as water
and drew the bearded kings to Ilium to die for the woman at sight of
whom they had put away all memories of distant homes and wives; that
flawless beauty which buoyed the Trojans through the ten years of
fighting and starvation, just with delight in gazing upon Queen Helen
day by day, and with the joy of seeing her going about their streets.
For I remembered!" And as I ended, I sighed effectively.
"I know," said she.
"'Or ever the knightly years had gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave.'"
"Yes, only I was the slave, I think, and you--er--I mean, there goes
the roof, and it is an uncommonly good thing for posterity you thought
of the trap-door. Good thing the wind is veering, too. By Jove! look at
those flames!" I cried, as the main body of the Continental toppled
inward like a house of cards; "they are splashing, actually splashing,
like waves over a breakwater!"
I drew a deep breath and turned from the conflagration, only to
encounter its reflection in her widened eyes. "Yes, I was a Trojan
warrior," I resumed; "one of the many unknown men who sought and found
death beside Scamander, trodden down by Achilles or Diomedes. So they
died knowing they fought in a bad cause, but rapt with that joy they
had in remembering the desire of the world and her perfect loveliness.
She scarcely knew that I existed; but I had loved her; I had overheard
some laughing words of hers in passing, and I treasured them as men
treasure gold. Or she had spoken, perhaps--oh, day of days!--to me, in
a low, courteous voice that came straight from the back of the throat
and blundered very deliciously over the perplexities of our alien
speech. I remembered--even as a boy, I remembered."
She cast back her head and laughed merrily. "I reckon," said she, "you
are still a boy, or else you are the most amusing lunatic I ever met."
"No," I murmured, and I was not altogether playacting now, "that tale
about Polyxo was a pure invention. Helen--and the gods be praised for
it!--can never die. For it is hers to perpetuate that sense of
unattainable beauty which never dies, which sways us just as potently
as it did Homer, and Dr. Faustus, and the Merovingians too, I suppose,
with memories of that unknown woman who, when we were boys, was very
certainly some day, to be our mate. And so, whatever happens, she
"Abides the symbol of all loveliness,
Of beauty ever stainless in the stress
Of warring lusts and fears.
"For she is to each man the one woman that he might have loved
perfectly. She is as old as youth, she is more old than April even, and
she is as ageless. And, again like youth and April, this Helen goes
about the world in varied garments, and to no two men is her face the
same. Oh, very often she transmutes her fleshly covering. But through
countless ages I, like every man alive, have followed her, and fought
for her, and won her, and have lost her in the end,--but always loving
her as every man must do. And I prefer to think that some day--" But my
voice here died into a whisper, which was in part due to emotion and
partly to an inability to finish the sentence satisfactorily. The logic
of my verses when thus paraphrased from memory, seemed rather vague.
"Yes--like Pythagoras" she said, a bit at random. "Oh, I know. There
really must be something in it, I have often thought, because you
actually do remember having done things before sometimes."
"And why not? as the March Hare very sensibly demanded." But now my
voice was earnest. "Yes, I believe that Helen always comes. Is it
simply a proof that I, too, am qualified to sit next to the Hatter?" I
spread out my hands in a helpless little gesture. "I do not know. But I
believe that she will come,--and by and by pass on, of course, as Helen
"You will know her?" she queried, softly.
Now I at last had reached firm ground. "She will be very tall," I said,
"very tall and exquisite,--like a young birch-tree, you know, when its
new leaves are whispering over to one another the secrets of spring.
Yes, that is a ridiculous sounding simile, but it expresses the general
effect of her--the _coup d'oeil_, so to speak,--quite perfectly.
Moreover, her hair will be a miser's dream of gold; and it will hang
heavily about a face that will be--quite indescribable, just as the
dawn yonder is past the utmost preciosity of speech. But her face will
flush and will be like the first of all anemones to peep through black,
good-smelling, and as yet unattainable earth; and her eyes will be
deep, shaded wells where, just as in the proverb, truth lurks."
But now I could not see her eyes.
"No," I conceded, "I was wrong. For when men talk to her as--as they
cannot but talk to her, her face will flush dull red, almost like
smouldering wood; and she will smile a little, and look out over a
great fire, such as that she saw on the night when Ilium was sacked and
the slain bodies were soft under her stumbling feet, as she fled
through flaming Troy Town. And then I shall know her."
My companion sighed; and the woes of centuries weighed down her eyelids
obstinately. "It is bad enough," she lamented, "to have lost all one's
clothes--that new organdie was a dream, and I had never worn it; but to
find yourself in a dressing-gown--at daybreak, on a strange roof--and
with an unintroduced lunatic--is positively terrible!"
The unintroduced lunatic rose to his feet and waved his hand toward the
east. The dawn was breaking in angry scarlet and gold that spread like
fire over half the visible horizon; the burning hotel shut out the
remaining half with tall flames, which shouldered one another
monotonously, and seemed lustreless against the pure radiance of the
sky. Chill daylight showed in melting patches through the clouds of
black smoke overhead.
It was a world of fire, transfigured by the austere magnificence of
dawn and the grim splendour of the shifting, roaring conflagration; and