Between The Dark And The Daylight
William Dean Howells
Part 3 out of 3
"Well, it's catching. Caught it from Gearson. I guess it won't be much
of a war, and I guess Gearson don't think so, either. The other fellows
will back down as soon as they see we mean it. I wouldn't lose any sleep
over it. I'm going back to bed, myself."
* * * * *
Gearson came again next afternoon, looking pale and rather sick, but
quite himself, even to his languid irony. "I guess I'd better tell you,
Editha, that I consecrated myself to your god of battles last night by
pouring too many libations to him down my own throat. But I'm all right
now. One has to carry off the excitement, somehow."
"Promise me," she commanded, "that you'll never touch it again!"
"What! Not let the cannikin clink? Not let the soldier drink? Well, I
"You don't belong to yourself now; you don't even belong to _me_. You
belong to your country, and you have a sacred charge to keep yourself
strong and well for your country's sake. I have been thinking, thinking
all night and all day long."
"You look as if you had been crying a little, too," he said, with his
"That's all past. I've been thinking, and worshipping _you_. Don't you
suppose I know all that you've been through, to come to this? I've
followed you every step from your old theories and opinions."
"Well, you've had a long row to hoe."
"And I know you've done this from the highest motives--"
"Oh, there won't be much pettifogging to do till this cruel war is--"
"And you haven't simply done it for my sake. I couldn't respect you if
"Well, then we'll say I haven't. A man that hasn't got his own respect
intact wants the respect of all the other people he can corner. But we
won't go into that. I'm in for the thing now, and we've got to face our
future. My idea is that this isn't going to be a very protracted
struggle; we shall just scare the enemy to death before it comes to a
fight at all. But we must provide for contingencies, Editha. If anything
happens to me--"
"Oh, George!" She clung to him, sobbing.
"I don't want you to feel foolishly bound to my memory. I should hate
that, wherever I happened to be."
"I am yours, for time and eternity--time and eternity." She liked the
words; they satisfied her famine for phrases.
"Well, say eternity; that's all right; but time's another thing; and I'm
talking about time. But there is something! My mother! If anything
She winced, and he laughed. "You're not the bold soldier-girl of
yesterday!" Then he sobered. "If anything happens, I want you to help my
mother out. She won't like my doing this thing. She brought me up to
think war a fool thing as well as a bad thing. My father was in the
Civil War; all through it; lost his arm in it." She thrilled with the
sense of the arm round her; what if that should be lost? He laughed as
if divining her: "Oh, it doesn't run in the family, as far as I know!"
Then he added, gravely: "He came home with misgivings about war, and
they grew on him. I guess he and mother agreed between them that I was
to be brought up in his final mind about it; but that was before my
time. I only knew him from my mother's report of him and his opinions; I
don't know whether they were hers first; but they were hers last. This
will be a blow to her. I shall have to write and tell her--"
He stopped, and she asked: "Would you like me to write, too, George?"
"I don't believe that would do. No, I'll do the writing. She'll
understand a little if I say that I thought the way to minimize it was
to make war on the largest possible scale at once--that I felt I must
have been helping on the war somehow if I hadn't helped keep it from
coming, and I knew I hadn't; when it came, I had no right to stay out of
Whether his sophistries satisfied him or not, they satisfied her. She
clung to his breast, and whispered, with closed eyes and quivering lips:
"Yes, yes, yes!"
"But if anything should happen, you might go to her and see what you
could do for her. You know? It's rather far off; she can't leave her
"Oh, I'll go, if it's the ends of the earth! But nothing will happen!
Nothing _can_! I--"
She felt herself lifted with his rising, and Gearson was saying, with
his arm still round her, to her father: "Well, we're off at once, Mr.
Balcom. We're to be formally accepted at the capital, and then bunched
up with the rest somehow, and sent into camp somewhere, and got to the
front as soon as possible. We all want to be in the van, of course;
we're the first company to report to the Governor. I came to tell
Editha, but I hadn't got round to it."
* * * * *
She saw him again for a moment at the capital, in the station, just
before the train started southward with his regiment. He looked well, in
his uniform, and very soldierly, but somehow girlish, too, with his
clean-shaven face and slim figure. The manly eyes and the strong voice
satisfied her, and his preoccupation with some unexpected details of
duty flattered her. Other girls were weeping and bemoaning themselves,
but she felt a sort of noble distinction in the abstraction, the almost
unconsciousness, with which they parted. Only at the last moment he
said: "Don't forget my mother. It mayn't be such a walk-over as I
supposed," and he laughed at the notion.
He waved his hand to her as the train moved off--she knew it among a
score of hands that were waved to other girls from the platform of the
car, for it held a letter which she knew was hers. Then he went inside
the car to read it, doubtless, and she did not see him again. But she
felt safe for him through the strength of what she called her love. What
she called her God, always speaking the name in a deep voice and with
the implication of a mutual understanding, would watch over him and keep
him and bring him back to her. If with an empty sleeve, then he should
have three arms instead of two, for both of hers should be his for life.
She did not see, though, why she should always be thinking of the arm
his father had lost.
There were not many letters from him, but they were such as she could
have wished, and she put her whole strength into making hers such as she
imagined he could have wished, glorifying and supporting him. She wrote
to his mother glorifying him as their hero, but the brief answer she got
was merely to the effect that Mrs. Gearson was not well enough to write
herself, and thanking her for her letter by the hand of some one who
called herself "Yrs truly, Mrs. W.J. Andrews."
Editha determined not to be hurt, but to write again quite as if the
answer had been all she expected. Before it seemed as if she could have
written, there came news of the first skirmish, and in the list of the
killed, which was telegraphed as a trifling loss on our side, was
Gearson's name. There was a frantic time of trying to make out that it
might be, must be, some other Gearson; but the name and the company and
the regiment and the State were too definitely given.
Then there was a lapse into depths out of which it seemed as if she
never could rise again; then a lift into clouds far above all grief,
black clouds, that blotted out the sun, but where she soared with him,
with George--George! She had the fever that she expected of herself, but
she did not die in it; she was not even delirious, and it did not last
long. When she was well enough to leave her bed, her one thought was of
George's mother, of his strangely worded wish that she should go to her
and see what she could do for her. In the exaltation of the duty laid
upon her--it buoyed her up instead of burdening her--she rapidly
Her father went with her on the long railroad journey from northern New
York to western Iowa; he had business out at Davenport, and he said he
could just as well go then as any other time; and he went with her to
the little country town where George's mother lived in a little house
on the edge of the illimitable cornfields, under trees pushed to a top
of the rolling prairie. George's father had settled there after the
Civil War, as so many other old soldiers had done; but they were Eastern
people, and Editha fancied touches of the East in the June rose
overhanging the front door, and the garden with early summer flowers
stretching from the gate of the paling fence.
It was very low inside the house, and so dim, with the closed blinds,
that they could scarcely see one another: Editha tall and black in her
crapes which filled the air with the smell of their dyes; her father
standing decorously apart with his hat on his forearm, as at funerals; a
woman rested in a deep arm-chair, and the woman who had let the
strangers in stood behind the chair.
The seated woman turned her head round and up, and asked the woman
behind her chair: "_Who_ did you say?"
Editha, if she had done what she expected of herself, would have gone
down on her knees at the feet of the seated figure and said, "I am
George's Editha," for answer.
But instead of her own voice she heard that other woman's voice, saying:
"Well, I don't know as I _did_ get the name just right. I guess I'll
have to make a little more light in here," and she went and pushed two
of the shutters ajar.
Then Editha's father said, in his public will-now-address-a-few-remarks
tone: "My name is Balcom, ma'am--Junius H. Balcom, of Balcom's Works,
New York; my daughter--"
"Oh!" the seated woman broke in, with a powerful voice, the voice that
always surprised Editha from Gearson's slender frame. "Let me see you.
Stand round where the light can strike on your face," and Editha dumbly
obeyed. "So, you're Editha Balcom," she sighed.
"Yes," Editha said, more like a culprit than a comforter.
"What did you come for?" Mrs. Gearson asked.
Editha's face quivered and her knees shook. "I came--because--because
George--" She could go no further.
"Yes," the mother said, "he told me he had asked you to come if he got
killed. You didn't expect that, I suppose, when you sent him."
"I would rather have died myself than done it!" Editha said, with more
truth in her deep voice than she ordinarily found in it. "I tried to
leave him free--"
"Yes, that letter of yours, that came back with his other things, left
Editha saw now where George's irony came from.
"It was not to be read before--unless--until--I told him so," she
"Of course, he wouldn't read a letter of yours, under the circumstances,
till he thought you wanted him to. Been sick?" the woman abruptly
"Very sick," Editha said, with self-pity.
"Daughter's life," her father interposed, "was almost despaired of, at
Mrs. Gearson gave him no heed. "I suppose you would have been glad to
die, such a brave person as you! I don't believe _he_ was glad to die.
He was always a timid boy, that way; he was afraid of a good many
things; but if he was afraid he did what he made up his mind to. I
suppose he made up his mind to go, but I knew what it cost him by what
it cost me when I heard of it. I had been through _one_ war before.
When you sent him you didn't expect he would get killed."
The voice seemed to compassionate Editha, and it was time. "No," she
"No, girls don't; women don't, when they give their men up to their
country. They think they'll come marching back, somehow, just as gay as
they went, or if it's an empty sleeve, or even an empty pantaloon, it's
all the more glory, and they're so much the prouder of them, poor
The tears began to run down Editha's face; she had not wept till then;
but it was now such a relief to be understood that the tears came.
"No, you didn't expect him to get killed," Mrs. Gearson repeated, in a
voice which was startlingly like George's again. "You just expected him
to kill some one else, some of those foreigners, that weren't there
because they had any say about it, but because they had to be there,
poor wretches--conscripts, or whatever they call 'em. You thought it
would be all right for my George, _your_ George, to kill the sons of
those miserable mothers and the husbands of those girls that you would
never see the faces of." The woman lifted her powerful voice in a
psalmlike note. "I thank my God he didn't live to do it! I thank my God
they killed him first, and that he ain't livin' with their blood on his
hands!" She dropped her eyes, which she had raised with her voice, and
glared at Editha. "What you got that black on for?" She lifted herself
by her powerful arms so high that her helpless body seemed to hang limp
its full length. "Take it off, take it off, before I tear it from your
[Illustration: "SHE GLARED AT EDITHA. 'WHAT YOU GOT THAT BLACK ON
* * * * *
The lady who was passing the summer near Balcom's Works was sketching
Editha's beauty, which lent itself wonderfully to the effects of a
colorist. It had come to that confidence which is rather apt to grow
between artist and sitter, and Editha had told her everything.
"To think of your having such a tragedy in your life!" the lady said.
She added: "I suppose there are people who feel that way about war. But
when you consider the good this war has done--how much it has done for
the country! I can't understand such people, for my part. And when you
had come all the way out there to console her--got up out of a sick-bed!
"I think," Editha said, magnanimously, "she wasn't quite in her right
mind; and so did papa."
"Yes," the lady said, looking at Editha's lips in nature and then at her
lips in art, and giving an empirical touch to them in the picture. "But
how dreadful of her! How perfectly--excuse me--how _vulgar_!"
A light broke upon Editha in the darkness which she felt had been
without a gleam of brightness for weeks and months. The mystery that had
bewildered her was solved by the word; and from that moment she rose
from grovelling in shame and self-pity, and began to live again in the
We had ordered our dinners and were sitting in the Turkish room at the
club, waiting to be called, each in his turn, to the dining-room. It was
always a cosey place, whether you found yourself in it with cigars and
coffee after dinner, or with whatever liquid or solid appetizer you
preferred in the half-hour or more that must pass before dinner after
you had made out your menu. It intimated an exclusive possession in the
three or four who happened first to find themselves together in it, and
it invited the philosophic mind to contemplation more than any other
spot in the club.
Our rather limited little down-town dining-club was almost a celibate
community at most times. A few husbands and fathers joined us at lunch;
but at dinner we were nearly always a company of bachelors, dropping in
an hour or so before we wished to dine, and ordering from a bill of fare
what we liked. Some dozed away in the intervening time; some read the
evening papers or played chess; I preferred the chance society of the
Turkish room. I could be pretty sure of finding Wanhope there in these
sympathetic moments, and where Wanhope was there would probably be
Rulledge, passively willing to listen and agree, and Minver ready to
interrupt and dispute. I myself liked to look in and linger for either
the reasoning or the bickering, as it happened, and now, seeing the
three there together, I took a provisional seat behind the painter, who
made no sign of knowing I was present. Rulledge was eating a caviar
sandwich, which he had brought from the afternoon tea-table near by, and
he greedily incited Wanhope to go on, in the polite pause which the
psychologist had let follow on my appearance, with what he was saying. I
was not surprised to find that his talk related to a fact just then
intensely interesting to the few, rapidly becoming the many, who were
privy to it; though Wanhope had the air of stooping to it from a higher
range of thinking.
"I shouldn't have supposed, somehow," he said, with a knot of
deprecation between his fine eyes, "that he would have had the pluck."
"Perhaps he hadn't," Minver suggested.
Wanhope waited for a thoughtful moment of censure eventuating in
toleration. "You mean that she--"
"I don't see why you say that, Minver," Rulledge interposed,
chivalrously, with his mouth full of sandwich.
"I didn't say it," Minver contradicted.
"You implied it; and I don't think it's fair. It's easy enough to build
up a report of that kind on the half-knowledge of rumor which is all
that any outsider can have in the case."
"So far," Minver said, with unbroken tranquillity, "as any such edifice
has been erected, you are the architect, Rulledge. I shouldn't think you
would like to go round insinuating that sort of thing. Here is Acton,"
and he now acknowledged my presence with a backward twist of his head,
"on the alert for material already. You ought to be more careful where
Acton is, Rulledge."
"It would be great copy if it were true," I owned.
Wanhope regarded us all three, in this play of our qualities, with the
scientific impartiality of a bacteriologist in the study of a culture
offering some peculiar incidents. He took up a point as remote as might
be from the personal appeal. "It is curious how little we know of such
matters, after all the love-making and marrying in life and all the
inquiry of the poets and novelists." He addressed himself in this turn
of his thought, half playful, half earnest, to me, as if I united with
the functions of both a responsibility for their shortcomings.
"Yes," Minver said, facing about towards me. "How do you excuse yourself
for your ignorance in matters where you're always professionally making
such a bluff of knowledge? After all the marriages you have brought
about in literature, can you say positively and specifically how they
are brought about in life?"
"No, I can't," I admitted. "I might say that a writer of fiction is a
good deal like a minister who continually marries people without knowing
"No, you couldn't, my dear fellow," the painter retorted. "It's part of
your swindle to assume that you _do_ know why. You ought to find out."
Wanhope interposed concretely, or as concretely as he could: "The
important thing would always be to find which of the lovers the
confession, tacit or explicit, began with."
"Acton ought to go round and collect human documents bearing on the
question. He ought to have got together thousands of specimens from
nature. He ought to have gone to all the married couples he knew, and
asked them just how their passion was confessed; he ought to have sent
out printed circulars, with tabulated questions. Why don't you do it,
I returned, as seriously as could have been expected:
"Perhaps it would be thought rather intimate. People don't like to talk
of such things."
"They're ashamed," Minver declared. "The lovers don't either of them, in
a given case, like to let others know how much the woman had to do with
making the offer, and how little the man."
Minver's point provoked both Wanhope and myself to begin a remark at the
same time. We begged each other's pardon, and Wanhope insisted that I
should go on.
"Oh, merely this," I said. "I don't think they're so much ashamed as
that they have forgotten the different stages. You were going to say--?"
"Very much what you said. It's astonishing how people forget the vital
things and remember trifles. Or perhaps as we advance from stage to
stage what once seemed the vital things turn to trifles. Nothing can be
more vital in the history of a man and a woman than how they became
husband and wife, and yet not merely the details, but the main fact,
would seem to escape record if not recollection. The next generations
knows nothing of it."
"That appears to let Acton out," Minver said. "But how do _you_ know
what you were saying, Wanhope?"
"I've ventured to make some inquiries in that region at one time. Not
directly, of course. At second and third hand. It isn't inconceivable,
if we conceive of a life after this, that a man should forget, in its
more important interests and occupations, just how he quitted this
world, or at least the particulars of the article of death. Of course,
we must suppose a good portion of eternity to have elapsed." Wanhope
continued, dreamily, with a deep breath almost equivalent to something
so unscientific as a sigh: "Women are charming, and in nothing more
than the perpetual challenge they form for us. They are born defying us
to match ourselves with them."
"Do you mean that Miss Hazelwood--" Rulledge began, but Minver's laugh
"Nothing so concrete, I'm afraid," Wanhope gently returned. "I mean, to
match them in graciousness, in loveliness, in all the agile contests of
spirit and plays of fancy. It's pathetic to see them caught up into
something more serious in that other game, which they are so good at."
"They seem rather to like it, though, some of them, if you mean the game
of love," Minver said. "Especially when they're not in earnest about
"Oh, there are plenty of spoiled women," Wanhope admitted. "But I don't
mean flirting. I suppose that the average unspoiled woman is rather
frightened than otherwise when she knows that a man is in love with
"Do you suppose she always knows it first?" Rulledge asked.
"You may be sure," Minver answered for Wanhope, "that if she didn't know
it, _he_ never would." Then Wanhope answered for himself:
"I think that generally she sees it coming. In that sort of wireless
telegraphy, that reaching out of two natures through space towards each
other, her more sensitive apparatus probably feels the appeal of his
before he is conscious of having made any appeal."
"And her first impulse is to escape the appeal?" I suggested.
"Yes," Wanhope admitted, after a thoughtful reluctance.
"Even when she is half aware of having invited it?"
"If she is not spoiled she is never aware of having invited it. Take
the case in point; we won't mention any names. She is sailing through
time, through youthful space, with her electrical lures, the natural
equipment of every charming woman, all out, and suddenly, somewhere from
the unknown, she feels the shock of a response in the gulfs of air where
there had been no life before. But she can't be said to have knowingly
searched the void for any presence."
"Oh, I'm not sure about that, Professor," Minver put in. "Go a little
slower, if you expect me to follow you."
"It's all a mystery, the most beautiful mystery of life," Wanhope
resumed. "I don't believe I could make out the case as I feel it to be."
"Braybridge's part of the case is rather plain, isn't it?" I invited
"I'm not sure of that. No man's part of any case is plain, if you look
at it carefully. The most that you can say of Braybridge is that he is
rather a simple nature. But nothing," the psychologist added, with one
of his deep breaths, "is so complex as a simple nature."
"Well," Minver contended, "Braybridge is plain, if his case isn't."
"Plain? Is he plain?" Wanhope asked, as if asking himself.
"My dear fellow, you agnostics doubt everything!"
"I should have said picturesque. Picturesque, with the sort of
unbeautifulness that takes the fancy of women more than Greek
proportion. I think it would require a girl peculiarly feminine to feel
the attraction of such a man--the fascination of his being grizzled and
slovenly and rugged. She would have to be rather a wild, shy girl to do
that, and it would have to be through her fear of him that she would
divine his fear of her. But what I have heard is that they met under
rather exceptional circumstances. It was at a house in the Adirondacks,
where Braybridge was, somewhat in the quality of a bull in a china-shop.
He was lugged in by the host, as an old friend, and was suffered by the
hostess as a friend quite too old for her. At any rate, as I heard (and
I don't vouch for the facts, all of them), Braybridge found himself at
odds with the gay young people who made up the hostess's end of the
party, and was watching for a chance to--"
Wanhope cast about for the word, and Minver supplied it--"Pull out."
"Yes. But when he had found it Miss Hazelwood took it from him."
"I don't understand," Rulledge said.
"When he came in to breakfast, the third morning, prepared with an
excuse for cutting his week down to the dimensions it had reached, he
saw her sitting alone at the table. She had risen early as a consequence
of having arrived late the night before; and when Braybridge found
himself in for it, he forgot that he meant to go away, and said
good-morning, as if they knew each other. Their hostess found them
talking over the length of the table in a sort of mutual fright, and
introduced them. But it's rather difficult reporting a lady verbatim at
second hand. I really had the facts from Welkin, who had them from his
wife. The sum of her impressions was that Braybridge and Miss Hazelwood
were getting a kind of comfort out of their mutual terror because one
was as badly frightened as the other. It was a novel experience for
both. Ever seen her?"
We looked at one another. Minver said: "I never wanted to paint any one
so much. It was at the spring show of the American Artists. There was a
jam of people; but this girl--I've understood it was she--looked as
much alone as if there were nobody else there. She might have been a
startled doe in the North Woods suddenly coming out on a
twenty-thousand-dollar camp, with a lot of twenty-million-dollar people
on the veranda."
"And you wanted to do her as The Startled Doe," I said. "Good selling
"Don't reduce it to the vulgarity of fiction. I admit it would be a
"Go on, Wanhope," Rulledge puffed impatiently. "Though I don't see how
there could be another soul in the universe as constitutionally scared
of men as Braybridge is of women."
"In the universe nothing is wasted, I suppose. Everything has its
complement, its response. For every bashful man, there must be a bashful
woman," Wanhope returned.
"Or a bold one," Minver suggested.
"No; the response must be in kind to be truly complemental. Through the
sense of their reciprocal timidity they divine that they needn't be
"Oh! _That's_ the way you get out of it!"
"Well?" Rulledge urged.
"I'm afraid," Wanhope modestly confessed, "that from this point I shall
have to be largely conjectural. Welkin wasn't able to be very definite,
except as to moments, and he had his data almost altogether from his
wife. Braybridge had told him overnight that he thought of going, and he
had said he mustn't think of it; but he supposed Braybridge had spoken
of it to Mrs. Welkin, and he began by saying to his wife that he hoped
she had refused to hear of Braybridge's going. She said she hadn't heard
of it, but now she would refuse without hearing, and she didn't give
Braybridge any chance to protest. If people went in the middle of their
week, what would become of other people? She was not going to have the
equilibrium of her party disturbed, and that was all about it. Welkin
thought it was odd that Braybridge didn't insist; and he made a long
story of it. But the grain of wheat in his bushel of chaff was that Miss
Hazelwood seemed to be fascinated by Braybridge from the first. When
Mrs. Welkin scared him into saying that he would stay his week out, the
business practically was done. They went picnicking that day in each
other's charge; and after Braybridge left he wrote back to her, as Mrs.
Welkin knew from the letters that passed through her hands, and--Well,
their engagement has come out, and--" Wanhope paused, with an air that
was at first indefinite, and then definitive.
"You don't mean," Rulledge burst out in a note of deep wrong, "that
that's all you know about it?"
"Yes, that's all I know," Wanhope confessed, as if somewhat surprised
himself at the fact.
Wanhope tried to offer the only reparation in his power. "I can
conjecture--we can all conjecture--"
He hesitated; then: "Well, go on with your conjecture," Rulledge said,
"Why--" Wanhope began again; but at that moment a man who had been
elected the year before, and then gone off on a long absence, put his
head in between the dull-red hangings of the doorway. It was Halson,
whom I did not know very well, but liked better than I knew. His eyes
were dancing with what seemed the inextinguishable gayety of his
temperament, rather than any present occasion, and his smile carried his
little mustache well away from his handsome teeth. "Private?"
"Come in! come in!" Minver called to him. "Thought you were in Japan?"
"My dear fellow," Halson answered, "you must brush up your contemporary
history. It's more than a fortnight since I was in Japan." He shook
hands with me, and I introduced him to Rulledge and Wanhope. He said at
once: "Well, what is it? Question of Braybridge's engagement? It's
humiliating to a man to come back from the antipodes and find the nation
absorbed in a parochial problem like that. Everybody I've met here
to-night has asked me, the first thing, if I'd heard of it, and if I
knew how it could have happened."
"And do you?" Rulledge asked.
"I can give a pretty good guess," Halson said, running his merry eyes
over our faces.
"Anybody can give a good guess," Rulledge said. "Wanhope is doing it
"Don't let me interrupt." Halson turned to him politely.
"Not at all. I'd rather hear your guess, if you know Braybridge better
than I," Wanhope said.
"Well," Halson compromised, "perhaps I've known him longer." He asked,
with an effect of coming to business: "Where were you?"
"Tell him, Rulledge," Minver ordered, and Rulledge apparently asked
nothing better. He told him, in detail, all we knew from any source,
down to the moment of Wanhope's arrested conjecture.
"He did leave you at an anxious point, didn't he?" Halson smiled to the
rest of us at Rulledge's expense, and then said: "Well, I think I can
help you out a little. Any of you know the lady?"
"By sight, Minver does," Rulledge answered for us. "Wants to paint her."
"Of course," Halson said, with intelligence. "But I doubt if he'd find
her as paintable as she looks, at first. She's beautiful, but her charm
"Sometimes we try for that," the painter interposed.
"And sometimes you get it. But you'll allow it's difficult. That's all I
meant. I've known her--let me see--for twelve years, at least; ever
since I first went West. She was about eleven then, and her father was
bringing her up on the ranch. Her aunt came along by and by and took her
to Europe--mother dead before Hazelwood went out there. But the girl was
always homesick for the ranch; she pined for it; and after they had kept
her in Germany three or four years they let her come back and run wild
again--wild as a flower does, or a vine, not a domesticated animal."
"Go slow, Halson. This is getting too much for the romantic Rulledge."
"Rulledge can bear up against the facts, I guess, Minver," Halson said,
almost austerely. "Her father died two years ago, and then she _had_ to
come East, for her aunt simply _wouldn't_ live on the ranch. She brought
her on here, and brought her out; I was at the coming-out tea; but the
girl didn't take to the New York thing at all; I could see it from the
start; she wanted to get away from it with me, and talk about the
"She felt that she was with the only genuine person among those
Halson laughed at Minver's thrust, and went on amiably: "I don't suppose
that till she met Braybridge she was ever quite at her ease with any
man--or woman, for that matter. I imagine, as you've done, that it was
his fear of her that gave her courage. She met him on equal terms. Isn't
Wanhope assented to the question referred to him with a nod.
"And when they got lost from the rest of the party at that picnic--"
"Lost?" Rulledge demanded.
"Why, yes. Didn't you know? But I ought to go back. They said there
never was anything prettier than the way she unconsciously went for
Braybridge the whole day. She wanted him, and she was a child who wanted
things frankly when she did want them. Then his being ten or fifteen
years older than she was, and so large and simple, made it natural for a
shy girl like her to assort herself with him when all the rest were
assorting themselves, as people do at such things. The consensus of
testimony is that she did it with the most transparent unconsciousness,
"Who are your authorities?" Minver asked; Rulledge threw himself back on
the divan and beat the cushions with impatience.
"Is it essential to give them?"
"Oh no. I merely wondered. Go on."
"The authorities are all right. She had disappeared with him before the
others noticed. It was a thing that happened; there was no design in it;
that would have been out of character. They had got to the end of the
wood-road, and into the thick of the trees where there wasn't even a
trail, and they walked round looking for a way out till they were turned
completely. They decided that the only way was to keep walking, and by
and by they heard the sound of chopping. It was some Canucks clearing a
piece of the woods, and when she spoke to them in French they gave them
full directions, and Braybridge soon found the path again."
Halson paused, and I said: "But that isn't all?"
"Oh no." He continued thoughtfully silent for a little while before he
resumed. "The amazing thing is that they got lost again, and that when
they tried going back to the Canucks they couldn't find the way."
"Why didn't they follow the sound of the chopping?" I asked.
"The Canucks had stopped, for the time being. Besides, Braybridge was
rather ashamed, and he thought if they went straight on they would be
sure to come out somewhere. But that was where he made a mistake. They
couldn't go on straight; they went round and round, and came on their
own footsteps--or hers, which he recognized from the narrow tread and
the dint of the little heels in the damp places."
Wanhope roused himself with a kindling eye. "That is very interesting,
the movement in a circle of people who have lost their way. It has often
been observed, but I don't know that it has ever been explained.
Sometimes the circle is smaller, sometimes it is larger, but I believe
it is always a circle."
"Isn't it," I queried, "like any other error in life? We go round and
round, and commit the old sins over again."
"That is very interesting," Wanhope allowed.
"But do lost people really always walk in a vicious circle?" Minver
Rulledge would not let Wanhope answer. "Go on, Halson," he said.
Halson roused himself from the revery in which he was sitting with
glazed eyes. "Well, what made it a little more anxious was that he had
heard of bears on that mountain, and the green afternoon light among the
trees was perceptibly paling. He suggested shouting, but she wouldn't
let him; she said it would be ridiculous if the others heard them, and
useless if they didn't. So they tramped on till--till the accident
"The accident!" Rulledge exclaimed, in the voice of our joint emotion.
"He stepped on a loose stone and turned his foot," Halson explained. "It
wasn't a sprain, luckily, but it hurt enough. He turned so white that
she noticed it, and asked him what was the matter. Of course that shut
his mouth the closer, but it morally doubled his motive, and he kept
himself from crying out till the sudden pain of the wrench was over. He
said merely that he thought he had heard something, and he had an awful
ringing in his ears; but he didn't mean that, and he started on again.
The worst was trying to walk without limping, and to talk cheerfully and
encouragingly with that agony tearing at him. But he managed somehow,
and he was congratulating himself on his success when he tumbled down in
a dead faint."
"Oh, come now!" Minver protested.
"It _is_ like an old-fashioned story, where things are operated by
accident instead of motive, isn't it?" Halson smiled with radiant
"Fact will always imitate fiction, if you give her time enough," I said.
"Had they got back to the other picnickers?" Rulledge asked, with a
"In sound, but not in sight of them. She wasn't going to bring him into
camp in that state; besides, she couldn't. She got some water out of the
trout-brook they'd been fishing--more water than trout in it--and
sprinkled his face, and he came to, and got on his legs just in time to
pull on to the others, who were organizing a search-party to go after
them. From that point on she dropped Braybridge like a hot coal; and as
there was nothing of the flirt in her, she simply kept with the women,
the older girls, and the tabbies, and left Braybridge to worry along
with the secret of his turned ankle. He doesn't know how he ever got
home alive; but he did, somehow, manage to reach the wagons that had
brought them to the edge of the woods, and then he was all right till
they got to the house. But still she said nothing about his accident,
and he couldn't; and he pleaded an early start for town the next
morning, and got off to bed as soon as he could."
"I shouldn't have thought he could have stirred in the morning,"
Rulledge employed Halson's pause to say.
"Well, this beaver _had_ to," Halson said. "He was not the only early
riser. He found Miss Hazelwood at the station before him."
"What!" Rulledge shouted. I confess the fact rather roused me, too; and
Wanhope's eyes kindled with a scientific pleasure.
"She came right towards him. 'Mr. Braybridge,' says she, 'I couldn't let
you go without explaining my very strange behavior. I didn't choose to
have these people laughing at the notion of _my_ having played the part
of your preserver. It was bad enough being lost with you; I couldn't
bring you into ridicule with them by the disproportion they'd have felt
in my efforts for you after you turned your foot. So I simply had to
ignore the incident. Don't you see?' Braybridge glanced at her, and he
had never felt so big and bulky before, or seen her so slender and
little. He said, 'It _would_ have seemed rather absurd,' and he broke
out and laughed, while she broke down and cried, and asked him to
forgive her, and whether it had hurt him very much; and said she knew he
could bear to keep it from the others by the way he had kept it from her
till he fainted. She implied that he was morally as well as physically
gigantic, and it was as much as he could do to keep from taking her in
his arms on the spot."
"It would have been edifying to the groom that had driven her to the
station," Minver cynically suggested.
"Groom nothing!" Halson returned with spirit. "She paddled herself
across the lake, and walked from the boat-landing to the station."
"Jove!" Rulledge exploded in uncontrollable enthusiasm.
"She turned round as soon as she had got through with her hymn of
praise--it made Braybridge feel awfully flat--and ran back through the
bushes to the boat-landing, and--that was the last he saw of her till he
met her in town this fall."
"And when--and when--did he offer himself?" Rulledge entreated,
"Yes, that's the point, Halson," Minver interposed. "Your story is all
very well, as far as it goes; but Rulledge here has been insinuating
that it was Miss Hazelwood who made the offer, and he wants you to bear
Rulledge winced at the outrage, but he would not stay Halson's answer
even for the sake of righting himself.
"I _have_ heard," Minver went on, "that Braybridge insisted on paddling
the canoe back to the other shore for her, and that it was on the way
that he offered himself." We others stared at Minver in astonishment.
Halson glanced covertly towards him with his gay eyes. "Then that wasn't
"How did you hear it?" Halson asked.
"Oh, never mind. Is it true?"
"Well, I know there's that version," Halson said, evasively. "The
engagement is only just out, as you know. As to the offer--the when and
the how--I don't know that I'm exactly at liberty to say."
"I don't see why," Minver urged. "You might stretch a point for
Halson looked down, and then he glanced at Minver after a furtive
passage of his eye over Rulledge's intense face. "There was something
rather nice happened after--But, really, now!"
"Oh, go on!" Minver called out in contempt of his scruple.
"I haven't the right--Well, I suppose I'm on safe ground here? It won't
go any further, of course; and it _was_ so pretty! After she had pushed
off in her canoe, you know, Braybridge--he'd followed her down to the
shore of the lake--found her handkerchief in a bush where it had caught,
and he held it up, and called out to her. She looked round and saw it,
and called back: 'Never mind. I can't return for it now.' Then
Braybridge plucked up his courage, and asked if he might keep it, and
she said 'Yes,' over her shoulder, and then she stopped paddling, and
said: 'No, no, you mustn't, you mustn't! You can send it to me.' He
asked where, and she said: 'In New York--in the fall--at the
Walholland.' Braybridge never knew how he dared, but he shouted after
her--she was paddling on again--'May I _bring_ it?' and she called over
her shoulder again, without fully facing him, but her profile was
enough: 'If you can't get any one to bring it for you.' The words barely
reached him, but he'd have caught them if they'd been whispered; and he
watched her across the lake and into the bushes, and then broke for his
train. He was just in time."
Halson beamed for pleasure upon us, and even Minver said: "Yes, that's
rather nice." After a moment he added: "Rulledge thinks she put it
"You're too bad, Minver," Halson protested. "The charm of the whole
thing was her perfect innocence. She isn't capable of the slightest
finesse. I've known her from a child, and I know what I say."
"That innocence of girlhood," Wanhope said, "is very interesting. It's
astonishing how much experience it survives. Some women carry it into
old age with them. It's never been scientifically studied--"
"Yes," Minver allowed. "There would be a fortune for the novelist who
could work a type of innocence for all it was worth. Here's Acton always
dealing with the most rancid flirtatiousness, and missing the sweetness
and beauty of a girlhood which does the cheekiest things without knowing
what it's about, and fetches down its game whenever it shuts its eyes
and fires at nothing. But I don't see how all this touches the point
that Rulledge makes, or decides which finally made the offer."
"Well, hadn't the offer already been made?"
"Oh, in the usual way."
"What is the usual way?"
"I thought everybody knew _that_. Of course, it was _from_ Braybridge
finally, but I suppose it's always six of one and half a dozen of the
other in these cases, isn't it? I dare say he couldn't get any one to
take her the handkerchief. My dinner?" Halson looked up at the silent
waiter, who had stolen upon us and was bowing towards him.
"Look here, Halson," Minver detained him, "how is it none of the rest of
us have heard all those details?"
"_I_ don't know where you've been, Minver. Everybody knows the main
facts," Halson said, escaping.
Wanhope observed, musingly: "I suppose he's quite right about the
reciprocality of the offer, as we call it. There's probably, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a perfect understanding before
there's an explanation. In many cases the offer and the acceptance must
really be tacit."
"Yes," I ventured, "and I don't know why we're so severe with women when
they seem to take the initiative. It's merely, after all, the call of
the maiden bird, and there's nothing lovelier or more endearing in
nature than that."
"Maiden bird is good, Acton," Minver approved. "Why don't you institute
a class of fiction where the love-making is all done by the maiden
birds, as you call them--or the widow birds? It would be tremendously
popular with both sexes. It would lift an immense responsibility off the
birds who've been expected to shoulder it heretofore if it could be
introduced into real life."
Rulledge fetched a long, simple-hearted sigh. "Well, it's a charming
story. How well he told it!"
The waiter came again, and this time signalled to Minver.
"Yes," he said, as he rose. "What a pity you can't believe a word Halson
"Do you mean--" we began simultaneously.
"That he built the whole thing from the ground up, with the start that
we had given him. Why, you poor things! Who could have told him how it
all happened? Braybridge? Or the girl? As Wanhope began by saying,
people don't speak of their love-making, even when they distinctly
"Yes, but see here, Minver!" Rulledge said, with a dazed look. "If it's
all a fake of his, how came _you_ to have heard of Braybridge paddling
the canoe back for her?"
"That was the fake that tested the fake. When he adopted it, I _knew_ he
was lying, because I was lying myself. And then the cheapness of the
whole thing! I wonder that didn't strike you. It's the stuff that a
thousand summer-girl stories have been spun out of. Acton might have
thought he was writing it!"
He went away, leaving us to a blank silence, till Wanhope managed to
say: "That inventive habit of mind is very curious. It would be
interesting to know just how far it imposes on the inventor himself--how
much he believes of his own fiction."
"I don't see," Rulledge said, gloomily, "why they're so long with my
dinner." Then he burst out: "I believe every word Halson said! If
there's any fake in the thing, it's the fake that Minver owned to."
THE CHICK OF THE EASTER EGG
The old fellow who told that story of dream-transference on a
sleeping-car at Christmas-time was again at the club on Easter Eve.
Halson had put him up for the winter, under the easy rule we had, and he
had taken very naturally to the Turkish room for his after-dinner coffee
and cigar. We all rather liked him, though it was Minver's pose to be
critical of the simple friendliness with which he made himself at home
among us, and to feign a wish that there were fewer trains between
Boston and New York, so that old Newton (that was his name) could have a
better chance of staying away. But we noticed that Minver was always a
willing listener to Newton's talk, and that he sometimes hospitably
offered to share his tobacco with the Bostonian. When brought to book
for his inconsistency by Rulledge, he said he was merely welcoming the
new blood, if not young blood, that Newton was infusing into our body,
which had grown anaemic on Wanhope's psychology and Rulledge's romance;
or, anyway, it was a change.
Newton now began by saying abruptly, in a fashion he had, "We used to
hear a good deal in Boston about your Easter Parade here in New York. Do
you still keep it up?"
No one else answering, Minver replied, presently, "I believe it is still
going on. I understand that it's composed mostly of milliners out to
see one another's new hats, and generous Jewesses who are willing to
contribute the 'dark and bright' of the beauty in which they walk to the
observance of an alien faith. It's rather astonishing how the synagogue
takes to the feasts of the church. If it were not for that, I don't know
what would become of Christmas."
"What do you mean by their walking in beauty?" Rulledge asked over his
"I shall never have the measure of your ignorance, Rulledge. You don't
even know Byron's lines on Hebrew loveliness?
"'She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes.'"
"Pretty good," Rulledge assented. "And they _are_ splendid, sometimes.
But what has the Easter Parade got to do with it?" he asked Newton.
"Oh, only what everything has with everything else. I was thinking of
Easter-time long ago and far away, and naturally I thought of Easter now
and here. I saw your Parade once, and it seemed to me one of the great
social spectacles. But you can't keep anything in New York, if it's
good; if it's bad, you can."
"You come from Boston, I think you said, Mr. Newton," Minver breathed
blandly through his smoke.
"Oh, I'm not a _real_ Bostonian," our guest replied. "I'm not abusing
you on behalf of a city that I'm a native proprietor of. If I were, I
shouldn't perhaps make your decadent Easter Parade my point of attack,
though I think it's a pity to let it spoil. I came from a part of the
country where we used to make a great deal of Easter, when we were boys,
at least so far as eggs went. I don't know whether the grown people
observed the day then, and I don't know whether the boys keep it now; I
haven't been back at Easter-time for several generations. But when I was
a boy it was a serious thing. In that soft Southwestern latitude the
grass had pretty well greened up by Easter, even when it came in March,
and grass colors eggs a very nice yellow; it used to worry me that it
didn't color them green. When the grass hadn't got along far enough,
winter wheat would do as well. I don't remember what color onion husks
would give; but we used onion husks, too. Some mothers would let the
boys get logwood from the drug-store, and that made the eggs a fine,
bold purplish black. But the greatest egg of all was a calico egg, that
you got by coaxing your grandmother (your mother's mother) or your aunt
(your mother's sister) to sew up in a tight cover of brilliant calico.
When that was boiled long enough the colors came off in a perfect
pattern on the egg. Very few boys could get such eggs; when they did,
they put them away in bureau drawers till they ripened and the mothers
smelt them, and threw them out of the window as quickly as possible.
Always, after breakfast, Easter Morning, we came out on the street and
fought eggs. We pitted the little ends of the eggs against one another,
and the fellow whose egg cracked the other fellow's egg won it, and he
carried it off. I remember grass and wheat colored eggs in such trials
of strength, and onion and logwood colored eggs; but never calico eggs;
_they_ were too precious to be risked; it would have seemed wicked.
"I don't know," the Boston man went musingly on, "why I should remember
these things so relentlessly; I've forgotten all the important things
that happened to me then; but perhaps these were the important things.
Who knows? I only know I've always had a soft spot in my heart for
Easter, not so much because of the calico eggs, perhaps, as because of
the grandmothers and the aunts. I suppose the simple life is full of
such aunts and grandmothers still; but you don't find them in hotel
apartments, or even in flats consisting of seven large, light rooms and
bath." We all recognized the language of the advertisements, and laughed
in sympathy with our guest, who perhaps laughed out of proportion with a
pleasantry of that size.
When he had subdued his mirth, he resumed at a point apparently very
remote from that where he had started.
"There was one of those winters in Cambridge, where I lived then, that
seemed tougher than any other we could remember, and they were all
pretty tough winters there in those times. There were forty snowfalls
between Thanksgiving and Fast Day--you don't know what Fast Day is in
New York, and we didn't, either, as far as the fasting went--and the
cold kept on and on till we couldn't, or said we couldn't, stand it any
longer. So, along about the middle of March somewhere, we picked up the
children and started south. In those days New York seemed pretty far
south to us; and when we got here we found everything on wheels that we
had left on runners in Boston. But the next day it began to snow, and we
said we must go a little farther to meet the spring. I don't know
exactly what it was made us pitch on Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; but we had
a notion we should find it interesting, and, at any rate, a total change
from our old environment. We had been reading something about the
Moravians, and we knew that it was the capital of Moravianism, with the
largest Moravian congregation in the world; I think it was Longfellow's
'Hymn of the Moravian Nuns' that set us to reading about the sect; and
we had somehow heard that the Sun Inn, at Bethlehem, was the finest
old-fashioned public house anywhere. At any rate, we had the faith of
our youthful years, and we put out for Bethlehem.
"We arrived just at dusk, but not so late that we couldn't see the
hospitable figure of a man coming out of the Sun to meet us at the
omnibus door and to shake hands with each of us. It was the very
pleasantest and sweetest welcome we ever had at a public house; and
though we found the Sun a large, modern hotel, we easily accepted the
landlord's assurance that the old Inn was built up inside of the hotel,
just as it was when Washington stayed in it; and after a mighty good
supper we went to our rooms, which were piping warm from two good
base-burner stoves. It was not exactly the vernal air we had expected of
Bethlehem when we left New York; but you can't have everything in this
world, and, with the snowbanks along the streets outside, we were very
glad to have the base-burners.
"We went to bed pretty early, and I fell into one of those exemplary
sleeps that begin with no margin of waking after your head touches the
pillow, or before that, even, and I woke from a dream of heavenly music
that translated itself into the earthly notes of bugles. It made me sit
up with the instant realization that we had arrived in Bethlehem on
Easter Eve, and that this was Easter Morning. We had read of the
beautiful observance of the feast by the Moravians, and, while I was
hurrying on my clothes beside my faithful base-burner, I kept quite
superfluously wondering at myself for not having thought of it, and so
made sure of being called. I had waked just in time, though I hadn't
deserved to do so, and ought, by right, to have missed it all. I tried
to make my wife come with me; but after the family is of a certain size
a woman, if she is a real woman, thinks her husband can see things for
her, and generally sends him out to reconnoitre and report. Besides, my
wife couldn't have left the children without waking them, to tell them
she was going, and then all five of them would have wanted to come with
us, including the baby; and we should have had no end of a time
convincing them of the impossibility. We were a good deal bound up in
the children, and we hated to lie to them when we could possibly avoid
it. So I went alone.
"I asked the night porter, who was still on duty, the way I wanted to
take, but there were so many people in the streets going the same
direction that I couldn't have missed it, anyhow; and pretty soon we
came to the old Moravian cemetery, which was in the heart of the town;
and there we found most of the Moravian congregation drawn up on three
sides of the square, waiting and facing the east, which was beginning to
redden. Of all the cemeteries I have seen, that was the most beautiful,
because it was the simplest and humblest. Generally a cemetery is a
dreadful place, with headstones and footstones and shafts and tombs
scattered about, and looking like a field full of granite and marble
stumps from the clearing of a petrified forest. But here all the
memorial tablets lay flat with the earth. None of the dead were assumed
to be worthier of remembrance than another; they all rested at regular
intervals, with their tablets on their breasts, like shields, in their
sleep after the battle of life. I was thinking how right and wise this
was, and feeling the purity of the conception like a quality of the
keen, clear air of the morning, which seemed to be breathing straight
from the sky, when suddenly the sun blazed up from the horizon like a
fire, and the instant it appeared the horns of the band began to blow
and the people burst into a hymn--a thousand voices, for all I know. It
was the sublimest thing I ever heard, and I don't know that there's
anything to match it for dignity and solemnity in any religious rite. It
made the tears come, for I thought how those people were of a church of
missionaries and martyrs from the beginning, and I felt as if I were
standing in sight and hearing of the first Christians after Christ. It
was as if He were risen there 'in the midst of them.'"
Rulledge looked round on the rest of us, with an air of acquiring merit
from the Bostonian's poetry, but Minver's gravity was proof against the
chance of mocking Rulledge, and I think we all felt alike. Wanhope
seemed especially interested, though he said nothing.
"When I went home I told my wife about it as well as I could, but,
though she entered into the spirit of it, she was rather preoccupied.
The children had all wakened, as they did sometimes, in a body, and were
storming joyfully around the rooms, as if it were Christmas; and she was
trying to get them dressed. 'Do tell them what Easter is like; they've
never seen it kept before,' she said; and I tried to do so, while I took
a hand, as a young father will, and tried to get them into their
clothes. I don't think I dwelt much on the religious observance of the
day, but I dug up some of my profane associations with it in early life,
and told them about coloring eggs, and fighting them, and all that;
there in New England, in those days, they had never seen or heard of
such a thing as an Easter egg.
"I don't think my reminiscences quieted them much. They were all on
fire--the oldest hoy and girl, and the twins, and even the two-year-old
that we called the baby--to go out and buy some eggs and get the
landlord to let them color them in the hotel kitchen. I had a deal of
ado to make them wait till after breakfast, but I managed, somehow; and
when we had finished--it was a mighty good Pennsylvania breakfast, such
as we could eat with impunity in those halcyon days: rich coffee, steak,
sausage, eggs, applebutter, buckwheat cakes and maple syrup--we got
their out-door togs on them, while they were all stamping and shouting
round and had to be caught and overcoated, and fur-capped and hooded
simultaneously, and managed to get them into the street together. Ever
been in Bethlehem?"
We all had to own our neglect of this piece of travel; and Newton, after
a moment of silent forgiveness, said:
"Well, I don't know how it is now, but twenty-five or thirty years ago
it was the most interesting town in America. It wasn't the old Moravian
community that it had been twenty-five years before that, when none but
Moravians could buy property there; but it was like the Sun Hotel, and
just as that had grown round and over the old Sun Inn, the prosperous
manufacturing town, with its iron-foundries and zinc-foundries, and all
the rest of it, had grown round and over the original Moravian village.
If you wanted a breath of perfect strangeness, with an American quality
in it at the same time, you couldn't have gone to any place where you
could have had it on such terms as you could in Bethlehem. I can't begin
to go into details, but one thing was hearing German spoken everywhere
in the street: not the German of Germany, but the Pennsylvania German,
with its broad vowels and broken-down grammatical forms, and its English
vocables and interjections, which you caught in the sentences which came
to you, like _av coorse_, and _yes_ and _no_ for _ja_ and _nein_. There
were stores where they spoke no English, and others where they made a
specialty of it; and I suppose when we sallied out that bright Sunday
morning, with the baby holding onto a hand of each of us between us, and
the twins going in front with their brother and sister, we were almost
as foreign as we should have been in a village on the Rhine or the Elbe.
"We got a little acquainted with the people, after awhile, and I heard
some stories of the country folks that I thought were pretty good. One
was about an old German farmer on whose land a prospecting metallurgist
found zinc ore; the scientific man brought him the bright yellow button
by which the zinc proved its existence in its union with copper, and the
old fellow asked in an awestricken whisper: 'Is it a gold-mine?' 'No,
no. Guess again.' 'Then it's a _brass-mine_!' But before they began to
find zinc there in the lovely Lehigh Valley--you can stand by an open
zinc-mine and look down into it where the rock and earth are left
standing, and you seem to be looking down into a range of sharp mountain
peaks and pinnacles--it was the richest farming region in the whole fat
State of Pennsylvania; and there was a young farmer who owned a vast
tract of it, and who went to fetch home a young wife from Philadelphia
way, somewhere. He drove there and back in his own buggy, and when he
reached the top overlooking the valley, with his bride, he stopped his
horse, and pointed with his whip. 'There,' he said, 'as far as the sky
is blue, it's all ours!' I thought that was fine."
"Fine?" I couldn't help bursting out; "it's a stroke of poetry."
Minver cut in: "The thrifty Acton making a note of it for future use in
"Eh!" Newton queried. "Oh! I don't mind. You're welcome to it, Mr.
Acton. It's a pity somebody shouldn't use it, and of course _I_ can't."
"Acton will send you a copy with the usual forty-per-cent. discount and
ten off for cash," the painter said.
They had their little laugh at my expense, and then Newton took up his
tale again. "Well, as I was saying--By the way, what _was_ I saying?"
The story-loving Rulledge remembered. "You went out with your wife and
children for Easter eggs."
"Oh yes. Thank you. Well, of course, in a town geographically American,
the shops were all shut on Sunday, and we couldn't buy even an Easter
egg on Easter Sunday. But one of the stores had the shade of its
show-window up, and the children simply glued themselves to it in such a
fascination that we could hardly unstick them. That window was full of
all kinds of Easter things--I don't remember what all; but there were
Easter eggs in every imaginable color and pattern, and besides these
there were whole troops of toy rabbits. I had forgotten that the natural
offspring of Easter eggs is rabbits; but I took a brace, and remembered
the fact and announced it to the children. They immediately demanded an
explanation, with all sorts of scientific particulars, which I gave
them, as reckless of the truth as I thought my wife would suffer without
contradicting me. I had to say that while Easter eggs mostly hatched
rabbits, there were instances in which they hatched other things, as,
for instance, handfuls of eagles and half-eagles and double-eagles,
especially in the case of the golden eggs that the goose laid. They knew
all about that goose; but I had to tell them what those unfamiliar
pieces of American coinage were, and promise to give them one each when
they grew up, if they were good. That only partially satisfied them, and
they wanted to know specifically what other kinds of things Easter eggs
would hatch if properly treated. Each one had a preference; the baby
always preferred what the last one said; and _she_ wanted an ostrich,
the same as her big brother; he was seven then.
"I don't really know how we lived through the day; I mean the children,
for my wife and I went to the Moravian church, and had a good long
Sunday nap in the afternoon, while the children were pining for Monday
morning, when they could buy eggs and begin to color them, so that they
could hatch just the right kind of Easter things. When I woke up I had
to fall in with a theory they had agreed to between them that any kind
of two-legged or four-legged chick that hatched from an Easter egg would
wear the same color, or the same kind of spots or stripes, that the egg
"I found that they had arranged to have calico eggs, and they were going
to have their mother cover them with the same sort of cotton prints that
I had said my grandmother and aunts used, and they meant to buy the
calico in the morning at the same time that they bought the eggs. We had
some tin vessels of water on our stoves to take the dryness out of the
hot air, and they had decided that they would boil their eggs in these,
and not trouble the landlord for the use of his kitchen.
"There was nothing in this scheme wanting but their mother's consent--I
agreed to it on the spot--but when she understood that they each
expected to have two eggs apiece, with one apiece for us, she said she
never could cover a dozen eggs in the world, and that the only way would
be for them to go in the morning with us, and choose each the handsomest
egg they could out of the eggs in that shop-window. They met this
proposition rather blankly at first; but on reflection the big brother
said it would be a shame to spoil mamma's Easter by making her work all
day, and besides it would keep till that night, anyway, before they
could begin to have any fun with their eggs; and then the rest all said
the same thing, ending with the baby: and accepted the inevitable with
joy, and set about living through the day as well as they could.
"They had us up pretty early the next morning--that is, they had me up;
their mother said that I had brought it on myself, and richly deserved
it for exciting their imaginations, and I had to go out with the two
oldest and the twins to choose the eggs; we got off from the baby by
promising to let her have two, and she didn't understand very well,
anyway, and was awfully sleepy. We were a pretty long time choosing the
six eggs, and I don't remember now just what they were; but they were
certainly joyous eggs; and--By the way, I don't know why I'm boring a
brand of hardened bachelors like you with all these domestic details?"
"Oh, don't mind _us_," Minver responded to his general appeal. "We may
not understand the feelings of a father, but we are all mothers at
heart, especially Rulledge. Go on. It's very exciting," he urged, not
very ironically, and Newton went on.
"Well, I don't believe I could say just how the havoc began. They put
away their eggs very carefully after they had made their mother admire
them, and shown the baby how hers were the prettiest, and they each
said in succession that they must be very precious of them, for if you
shook an egg, or anything, it wouldn't hatch; and it was their plan to
take these home and set an unemployed pullet, belonging to the big
brother, to hatching them in the coop that he had built of laths for her
in the back yard with his own hands. But long before the afternoon was
over, the evil one had entered Eden, and tempted the boy to try fighting
eggs with these treasured specimens, as I had told we boys used to fight
eggs in my town in the southwest. He held a conquering course through
the encounter with three eggs, but met his Waterloo with a regular
Bluecher belonging to the baby. Then he instantly changed sides; and
smashed his Bluecher against the last egg left. By that time all the
other children were in tears, the baby roaring powerfully in ignorant
sympathy, and the victor steeped in silent gloom. His mother made him
gather up the ruins from the floor, and put them in the stove, and she
took possession of the victorious egg, and said she would keep it till
we got back to Cambridge herself, and not let one of them touch it. I
can tell you it was a tragical time. I wanted to go out and buy them
another set of eggs, and spring them for a surprise on them in the
morning, after they had suffered enough that night. But she said that if
I dared to dream of such a thing--which would be the ruin of the
children's character, by taking away the consequences of their
folly--she should do, she did not know what, to me. Of course she was
right, and I gave in, and helped the children forget all about it, so
that by the time we got back to Cambridge I had forgotten about it
"I don't know what it was reminded the boy of that remaining Easter egg
unless it was the sight of the unemployed pullet in her coop, which he
visited the first thing; and I don't know how he managed to wheedle his
mother out of it; but the first night after I came home from
business--it was rather late and the children had gone to bed--she told
me that ridiculous boy, as she called him in self-exculpation, had
actually put the egg under his pullet, and all the children were wild to
see what it would hatch. 'And now,' she said, severely, 'what are you
going to do? You have filled their heads with those ideas, and I suppose
you will have to invent some nonsense or other to fool them, and make
them believe that it has hatched a giraffe, or an elephant, or
something; they won't be satisfied with anything less.' I said we should
have to try something smaller, for I didn't think we could manage a
chick of that size on our lot; and that I should trust in Providence.
Then she said it was all very well to laugh; and that I couldn't get out
of it that way, and I needn't think it.
"I didn't, much. But the children understood that it took three weeks
for an egg to hatch, and anyway the pullet was so intermittent in her
attentions to the Easter egg, only sitting on it at night, or when held
down by hand in the day, that there was plenty of time. One evening when
I came out from Boston, I was met by a doleful deputation at the front
gate, with the news that when the coop was visited that morning after
breakfast--they visited the coop every morning before they went to
school--the pullet was found perched on a cross-bar in a high state of
nerves, and the shell of the Easter egg broken and entirely eaten out.
Probably a rat had got in and done it, or, more hopefully, a mink, such
as used to attack eggs in the town where I was a boy. We went out and
viewed the wreck, as a first step towards a better situation; and
suddenly a thought struck me. 'Children,' I said, 'what did you really
expect that egg to hatch, anyway?' They looked askance at one another,
and at last the boy said: 'Well, you know, papa, an egg that's been
cooked--' And then we all laughed together, and I knew they had been
making believe as much as I had, and no more expected the impossible of
a boiled egg than I did."
"That was charming!" Wanhope broke out. "There is nothing more
interesting than the way children join in hypnotizing themselves with
the illusions which their parents think _they_ have created without
their help. In fact, it is very doubtful whether at any age we have any
illusions except those of our own creation; we--"
"Let him go on, Wanhope," Minver dictated; and Newton continued.
"It was rather nice. I asked them if their mother knew about the egg;
and they said that of course they couldn't help telling her; and I said:
'Well, then, I'll tell you what: we must make her believe that the chick
hatched out and got away--' The boy stopped me: 'Do you think that would
be exactly true, papa?' 'Well, not _exactly_ true; but it's only for the
time being. We can tell her the exact truth afterwards,' and then I laid
my plan before them. They said it was perfectly splendid, and would be
the greatest kind of joke on mamma, and one that she would like as much
as anybody. The thing was to keep it from her till it was done, and they
all promised that they wouldn't tell; but I could see that they were
bursting with the secret the whole evening.
"The next day was Saturday, when I always went home early, and I had the
two oldest children come in with the second-girl, who left them to take
lunch with me. They had chocolate and ice-cream, and after lunch we
went around to a milliner's shop in West Street, where my wife and I had
stopped a long five minutes the week before we went to Bethlehem,
adoring an Easter bonnet that we saw in the window. I wanted her to buy
it; but she said, No, if we were going that expensive journey, we
couldn't afford it, and she must do without, that spring. I showed it to
them, and 'Now, children,' I said, 'what do you think of that for the
chick that your Easter egg hatched?' And they said it was the most
beautiful bonnet they had ever seen, and it would just exactly suit
mamma. But I saw they were holding something back, and I said, sharply,
'Well?' and they both guiltily faltered out: 'The _bird_, you know,
papa,' and I remembered that they belonged to the society of Bird
Defenders, who in that day were pledged against the decorative use of
dead birds or killing them for anything but food. 'Why, confound it,' I
said, 'the bird is the very thing that makes it an Easter-egg chick!'
but I saw that their honest little hearts were troubled, and I said
again: 'Confound it! Let's go in and hear what the milliner has to say.'
Well, the long and short of it was that the milliner tried a bunch of
forget-me-nots over the bluebird that we all agreed was a thousand times
better, and that if it were substituted would only cost three dollars
more, and we took our Easter-egg chick home in a blaze of glory, the
children carrying the bandbox by the string between them.
"Of course we had a great time opening it, and their mother acted her
part so well that I knew she was acting, and after the little ones were
in bed I taxed her with it. 'Know? Of course I knew!' she said. 'Did you
think they would let you _deceive_ me? They're true New-Englanders, and
they told me all about it last night, when I was saying their prayers
with them.' 'Well,' I said, 'they let you deceive _me_; they must be
true Westerners, too, for they didn't tell me a word of your knowing.' I
rather had her there, but she said: 'Oh, you goose--' We were young
people in those days, and goose meant everything. But, really, I'm
ashamed of getting off all this to you hardened bachelors, as I said
"If you tell many more such stories in this club," Minver said,
severely, "you won't leave a bachelor in it. And Rulledge will be the
first to get married."
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