From a Bench in Our Square
Samuel Hopkins Adams
Part 2 out of 4
"With a view to renting?" I inquired.
"Do you keep dogs?"
"No," said the young man.
"Or clocks by the hundred?"
"Certainly not," answered the butterfly.
Upon their combined and emphatic negative they looked at each other with
a wild surmise which said plainly: "Are they _all_ crazy down here?"
"If you do," I explained kindly, "you might have trouble in dealing. The
latest tenant of Number 37 was a fluffy poodle who pushed one of two
hundred clocks into the front area so that it exploded and blew away the
front wall." And I outlined the history of that canine clairvoyant,
Willy Woolly. "The Mordaunt Estate is sensitive about his tenants,
anyway. He rents, not on profits, but on prejudice. Perhaps it would be
well for you to flatter him a little; admire his style of house
Accepting this counsel with suitable expressions, they returned to the
charge, addressed the proprietor of Number 37 by his official title and
delivered the most gratifying opinions regarding his artistry.
"That," said the Mordaunt Estate, wiping his painty hands on his knees
with brilliant results, as he turned a fat and smiling face to them, "is
after the R. Noovo style. I dunno who R. Noovo was, but he's a bear for
color. Are you artists?"
"We're house-hunters," explained the young man.
"As for tenants," said the Mordaunt Estate, "I take 'em or leave 'em as
I like 'em or don't. I like you folks. You got an eye for a tasty bit of
colorin'. Eight rooms, bath, and kitchen. By the week in case we don't
suit each other. Very choice and classy for a young married couple.
Eight dollars, in advance. Prices for R. Noovo dwellings has riz."
"We're not married," said the young man.
"Hey? Whaddye mean, not married?" demanded that highly respectable
institution, the Mordaunt Estate, severely. His expression mollified as
he turned to the butterfly. "Aimin' to be, I s'pose."
"We only met this morning; so we haven't decided yet," answered the
young man. "At least," he added blandly, as his companion seemed to be
struggling for utterance, "she hasn't informed me of her decision, if
she has made it."
Bewilderment spread like a gray mist across the painty features of the
Mordaunt Estate. "Nothin' doin'," he began, "until--"
"Don't decide hastily," adjured the young man. "Take this coin." He
forced a half-dollar into the reluctant hand of the decorator.
"Nothin' doin' on account, either. Pay as you enter."
"Only one of us is going to enter. The coin decides. Spin it. Your
call," he said to the butterfly.
"Heads," cried the butterfly.
"Tails," proclaimed the arbiter, as the silver shivered into silence on
"Then the house is yours," said the butterfly. "Good luck go with it."
She smiled, gamely covering her disappointment.
"I don't want it," returned the young man.
"Play fair," she exhorted him. "We both agreed solemnly to stand by the
toss. Didn't we?"
"What did we agree?"
"That the winner should have the choice."
"Very well. I won, didn't I?"
"You certainly did."
"And I choose not to take the house," he declared triumphantly. "It's a
very nice house, but"--he shaded his eyes as he directed them upon the
proud-pied facade, blinking significantly--"I'd have to wear smoked
glasses if I lived in it, and they don't suit my style of beauty."
"You'd not get it now, young feller, if you was to go down on your knees
with a thousand dollars in each hand," asserted the offended Estate.
"See!" said the young man to the butterfly. "Fate decides for you."
"But what will you do?" she asked solicitously.
"Perhaps I can find some other place in the Square."
She held out her hand. "You've been very nice and helpful, but--I think
He regarded the hand blankly. "Not--what?"
"Not here in this Square, if you don't mind."
"But where else is there?" he asked piteously. "You know yourself there
are countless thousands of homeless drifters floating around on this
teeming island in vans, with no place to land."
"Try Jersey. Or Brooklyn," was her hopeful suggestion.
"'And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea,'"
he quoted with dramatic intonation, adding helpfully: "Matthew Arnold.
Or is it Arnold Bennett? Anyway, think how far away those places are,"
he pleaded. "From you!" he concluded.
A little decided frown crept between her eyebrows. "I've accepted you as
a gentleman on trust," she began, when he broke in:
"Don't do it. It's a fearfully depressing thing to be reminded that
you're a gentleman on trust and expected to live up to it. Think how it
cramps one's style, not to mention limiting one's choice of real estate.
A gentleman may stake his future happiness and his hope of a home on the
toss of a coin, but he mustn't presume to want to see the other party to
the gamble again, even if she's the only thing in the whole sweep of his
horizon worth seeing. Is that fair? Where is Eternal Justice, I ask you,
when such things--"
"Oh, do stop!" she implored. "I don't think you're sane."
"No such claim is put forth on behalf of the accused. He confesses to
complete loss of mental equilibrium since--let me see--since 11.15 A.M."
Here the Mordaunt Estate, who had been doing some shrewd thinking on his
own behalf, interposed.
"I'd rather rent to two than one," he said insinuatingly. "More reliable
and steady with the rent. Settin' aside the young feller's weak eyes,
you're a nice-matched pair. Gittin' a license is easy, if you know the
ropes. I'd even be glad to go with you to--"
"As to not being married," broke in the butterfly, with the light of a
great resolve in her eye, "this gentleman may speak for himself. I am."
"Am what?" queried the Estate.
"Damn!" exploded the young man. "I mean, congratulations and all that
sort of thing. I--I'm really awfully sorry. You'll forgive my making
such an ass of myself, won't you?"
To her troubled surprise there was real pain in the eyes which he turned
rather helplessly away from her. Had she kept her own gaze fixed on
them, she would have experienced a second surprise a moment later, at a
sudden alteration and hardening of their expression. For his groping
regard had fallen upon her left hand, which was gloved. Now, a wedding
ring may be put on and off at will, but the glove, beneath which it has
been once worn, never thereafter quite regains the maidenly smoothness
of the third finger. The butterfly's gloves were not new, yet there
showed not the faintest trace of a ridge in the significant locality.
While admitting to himself that the evidence fell short of
conclusiveness, the young man decided to accept it as a working theory
and to act, win or lose, do or die, upon the hopeful hypothesis that his
delightful but elusive companion was a li--that is to say, an inventor.
He would give that invention the run of its young life!
"We--ell," the Mordaunt Estate was saying, "that's too bad. Ain't a
widdah lady are you?"
"My husband is in France."
With a prayer that his theory was correct, the young man rushed in where
many an angel might have feared to tread. "Maybe he'll stay there,"
In a musical but unappreciated barytone he hummed the initial line of
"The Girl I Left Behind Me."
"'The maids of France are fond and free.'
"Besides," he added, "it's quite unhealthy there at this season. I
wouldn't be surprised"--he halted--"at anything," he finished darkly.
Outraged by this ruthless if hypothetical murder of an equally
hypothetical spouse, she groped vainly for adequate words. Before she
could find them--
"I'll wait around--in hopes," he decided calmly.
So, that was the attitude this ruffian took with a respectable and
ostensibly married woman! And she had mistaken him for a gentleman! She
had even begun to feel a reluctant sort of liking for him; at any rate,
an interest in his ambiguous and perplexing personality. Now--how dared
he! She put it to him at once: "How dare you!"
"Flashing eye, stamp of the foot, hands outstretched in gesture of
loathing and repulsion; villain registers shame and remorse," prescribed
the unimpressed subject of her retort. "As a wife, you are, of course,
unapproachable. As a widow, grass-green, crepe-black, or only
prospective"--he suddenly assumed a posture made familiar through the
public prints by a widely self-exploited savior of the suffering--"there
is H-O-P-E!" he intoned solemnly, wagging a benignant forefinger at her.
The butterfly struggled with an agonizing desire to break down into
unbridled mirth and confess. Pride restrained her; pride mingled with
foreboding as to what this exceedingly progressive and by no means
unattractive young suitor--for he could be relegated to no lesser
category--might do next. She said coolly and crisply:
"I wish nothing more to do with you whatever."
"Then I needn't quit the Garden of Ed--I mean, Our Square?"
"You may do as you see fit," she replied loftily.
"Act the gent, can't chuh?" reproved the Mordaunt Estate. "You're makin'
the lady cry."
"He isn't," denied the lady, with ferocity. "He couldn't."
"He'll find no spot to lay his head in Our Square, ma'am," the polite
Estate assured her.
"If he wants to stay, he'll have to live in his van."
"Grand little idea! I'll do it. I'll be a van hermit and fast and watch
and pray beneath your windows."
"You may live in your van forever," retorted the justly incensed
butterfly, "but I'll never speak to you as long as I live in this house.
Never, never, _never_!"
She vanished beyond the outrageous decorations of the wall. The Mordaunt
Estate took down the "To Let" sign, and went in search of a helper to
unload the van. The deserted and denounced young man crawled into his
own van and lay down with his head on a tantalus and his feet on the
collected works of Thackeray, to consider what had happened to him. But
his immediate memories were not conducive to sober consideration, shot
through as they were with the light of deep-gray eyes and the fugitive
smile of lips sensitive to every changeful thought. So he fell to
dreams. As to the meeting which had brought the now parted twain to Our
Square, it had come about in this wise:
Two miles northwest of Our Square as the sparrow flies, on the brink of
a maelstrom of traffic, two moving-vans which had belied their name by
remaining motionless for five impassioned minutes, disputed the right of
way, nose to nose, while the injurious remarks of the respective drivers
inflamed the air. A girlish but decided voice from within the recesses
of the larger van said: "Don't give an inch."
Deep inside the other vehicle a no less decisive barytone said what
sounded like "Give an ell," but probably was not, as there was no
corresponding movement of the wheels.
What the van drivers said is the concern of the censor. What they did
upon descending to the sidewalk comes under the head of direct action,
and as such was the concern of the authorities which pried them asunder
and led them away. Thereupon the inner habitants of the deserted
equipages emerged from amid their lares and penates, and met face to
face. The effect upon the occupant of the smaller van was electric, not
to say paralytic.
"Oh, glory!" he murmured faintly, with staring eyes.
"Would you kindly move?" said the girl, in much the same tone that one
would employ toward an obnoxious beetle, supposing that one ever
addressed a beetle with freezing dignity.
The young man directed a suffering look upon his van. "I've done nothing
else for the last three days. Tell me where I can move to and I'll bless
you as a benefactress of the homeless."
"Anywhere out of my way," she replied with a severity which the corners
of her sensitive mouth were finding it hard to live up to.
"Behold me eliminated, deleted, expunged," he declared humbly. "But
first let me explain that when I told my idiot chauffeur to give
'em--that is, to hold his ground, I didn't know who you were."
She wrinkled dainty brows at him. "Well, you don't know who I am now, do
"I don't have to," he responded with fervor. "Just on sight you may have
all of this street and as many of the adjoining avenues as you can use.
By the way, who _are_ you?" The question was put with an expression of
sweet and innocent simplicity.
The girl looked at him hard and straight. "I don't think that
introductions are necessary."
He sighed outrageously. "They Met but to Part; Laura Jean Libbey;
twenty-fourth large edition," he murmured. "And I was just about to
present myself as Martin Dyke, vagrant, but harmless, and very much at
your service. However, I perceive with pain that it is, indeed, my move.
May I help you up to the wheel of your ship? I infer that you intend
"I'll have to, if I'm to get anywhere." A look of dismay overspread her
piquant face. "Oh, dear! I don't in the least understand this machinery.
I can't drive this kind of car."
"Glory be!" exclaimed Mr. Dyke. "I mean, that's too bad," he amended
gracefully. "Won't you let me take you where you want to go?"
"What'll become of your van, then? Besides, I haven't any idea where I
want to go."
"What! Are you, too, like myself, a wandering home-seeker on the face of
an overpopulated earth, Miss?"
The "Miss" surprised her. Why the sudden lapse on the part of this
extraordinary and self-confident young person into the terminology of
the servant class?
"Yes, I am," she admitted.
"A hundred thousand helpless babes in the wood," he announced
sonorously, "are wandering about, lost and homeless on this melancholy
and moving day of October 1st, waiting for the little robins to come and
bury them under the brown and withered leaves. Ain't it harrowing, Miss!
Personally I should prefer to have the last sad dirge sung over me by a
quail on toast, or maybe a Welsh rabbit. What time did you breakfast,
Miss? I had a ruined egg at six-fifteen."
The girl surrendered to helpless and bewildered laughter. "You ask the
most personal questions as if they were a matter of course."
"By way of impressing you with my sprightly and entertaining
individuality, so that you will appreciate the advantages to be derived
from my continued acquaintance, and grapple me to your soul with hooks
of steel, as Hamlet says. Or was it Harold Bell Wright? Do you care for
reading, Miss? I've got a neat little library inside, besides an
automatic piano and a patent ice-box.... By the way, Miss, is that
policeman doing setting-up exercises or motioning us to move on? _I_
think he is."
"But I can't move on," she said pathetically.
"Couldn't you work my van, Miss? It's quite simple."
She gave it a swift examination. "Yes," said she. "It's almost like my
"Then I'll lead, and you follow, Miss."
"But I can't--I don't know who--I don't _want_ your van. Where shall
"Go?" he supplied. "To jail, I judge, unless we go somewhere else and do
it _now_. Come on! We're off!"
Overborne by his insistence and further influenced by the scowl of the
approaching officer, she took the wheel. At the close of some involved
but triumphant maneuverings the exchanged vans removed themselves from
the path of progress, headed eastward to Fourth Avenue and bore
downtownward. Piloting a strange machine through rush traffic kept the
girl in the trailer too busy for speculation, until, in the recesses of
a side street, her leader stopped and she followed suit. Mr. Dyke's
engaging and confident face appeared below her.
"Within," he stated, pointing to a quaint Gothic doorway, "they dispense
the succulent pig's foot and the innocuous and unconvincing
near-but-not-very-beer. It is also possible to get something to eat and
drink. May I help you down, Miss?"
"No," said the girl dolefully. "I want to go home."
"But on your own showing, you haven't any home."
"I've got to find one. Immediately."
"You'll need help, Miss. It'll take some finding."
"I wish you wouldn't call me Miss," she said with evidences of
"Have it your own way, Lady. We strive to please, as R.L. Stevenson
says. Or is it R.H. Macy? Anyway, a little bite of luncheon Lady, while
we discuss the housing problem--"
"Why are you calling me Lady, now?"
He shook a discouraged head. "You seem very hard to please, Sister. I've
tried you with Miss and I've tried you with Lady--"
"Are you a gentleman or are you a--a--"
"Don't say it, Duchess. Don't! Remember what Tennyson says: 'One hasty
line may blast a budding hope.' Or was it Burleson? When you deny to the
companion of your wanderings the privilege of knowing your name, what
can he do but fall back for guidance upon that infallible chapter in the
Gents' Handbook of Classy Behavior, entitled, 'From Introduction's
Uncertainties to Friendship's Fascinations'?"
"We haven't even been introduced," she pointed out.
"Pardon me. We have. By the greatest of all Masters of Ceremonies, Old
Man Chance. Heaven knows what it may lead to," he added piously. "Now,
Miss--or Lady--or Sister, as the case may be; or even Sis (I believe
that form is given in the Gents' Handbook), if you will put your lily
hand in mine--"
"Wait. Promise me not to call me any of those awful things during
luncheon, and afterward I may tell you my name. It depends."
"A test! I'm on. We're off."
Mr. Martin Dyke proved himself capable of selecting a suitable repast
from an alien-appearing menu. In the course of eating it they pooled
their real-estate impressions and information. He revealed that there
was no available spot fit to dwell in on the West Side, or in mid-town.
She had explored Park Avenue and the purlieus thereof extensively and
without success. There remained only the outer darkness to the southward
for anything which might meet the needs of either. In the event of a
discovery they agreed, on her insistence, to gamble for it by the
approved method of the tossed coin: "The winner has the choice."
Throughout the luncheon the girl approved her escort's manner and
bearing as unexceptionable. No sooner had they entered into the implied
intimacy of the tete-a-tete across a table than a subtle change
manifested itself in his attitude. Gayety was still the keynote of his
talk, but the note of the personal and insistent had gone. And, at the
end, when he had paid the bill and she asked:
"What's my share, please?"
"Two-ten," he replied promptly and without protest.
"My name," said she, "is Anne Leffingwell."
"Thank you," he replied gravely. But the twinkle reappeared in his eye
as he added: "Of course, that was rudimentary about the check."
Before she had fully digested this remark they were on the sidewalk
again. In the act of escorting her to his van, now under her guidance,
he suddenly stopped in front of hers and lost himself in wondering
contemplation of the group painted on the side in the best style of
"Suffering Raphael!" he exclaimed at length. "What's the lady in the
pink shroud supposed to be saying to the bearded patriarch in the
nightie? What's it all about, anyway?"
"The title," replied Anne Leffingwell, indicating a line of
insignificant lettering, "is 'Swedish Wedding Feast.'"
"Wedding feast," he repeated thoughtfully, looking from the picture to
his companion. "Well," he raised an imaginary glass high, "prosit omen!"
The meaning was not to be mistaken. "Well, really," she began
indignantly. "If you are going to take advantage--"
"You're not supposed to understand Latin," interposed Mr. Dyke hastily.
He grew flustered and stood, for once, at a loss. For some subtle reason
her heart warmed to his awkwardness as it never would have done to his
"We must be going on," she said.
He gave her a grateful glance. "I was afraid I'd spilled the apple cart
and scared Eve clean out of the orchard that time," he murmured. Having
helped her to her place at the wheel, he stood bareheaded for a moment,
turned away, came back, and asked abruptly:
"Sister of Budge Leffingwell, the Princeton half-back?"
"I knew Old Man Chance had a happy coincidence up his sleeve somewhere,"
he declared with profound and joyous conviction.
"Are you a friend of Budge's?"
"Friend doesn't half express it! He made the touchdown that won me a
clean hundred last season. Outside of that I wouldn't know him from
Henry Ford. You see how Fate binds us together."
"Will you tell me one thing, please?" pleaded Anne Leffingwell
desperately. "Have you ever been examined for this sort of thing?"
"Not yet. But then, you see, I'm only a beginner. This is my first
attempt. I'll get better as I go on."
"Will you please crank my car?" requested Anne Leffingwell faintly.
Not until they reached Our Square did they speak again.
* * * * *
All things come to him who, sedulously acting the orchid's part,
vegetates and bides his time. To me in the passage of days came Anne
Leffingwell, to talk of many things, the conversation invariably
touching at some point upon Mr. Martin Dyke--and lingering there. She
was solicitous, not to say skeptical, regarding Mr. Dyke's reason. Came
also Martin Dyke to converse intelligently upon labor, free verse,
ouija, the football outlook, O. Henry, Crucible Steel, and Mr.
Leffingwell. He was both solicitous and skeptical regarding Mr.
Leffingwell's existence. Now when two young persons come separately to
an old person to discuss each other's affairs, it is a bad sign. Or
perhaps a good sign. Just as you choose.
Adopting the Mordaunt Estate's sardonic suggestion, Martin Dyke had
settled down to van life in a private alleyway next to Number 37. Anne
Leffingwell deemed this criminally extravagant since the rental of a van
must be prodigious. ("Tell her not to worry; my family own the storage
and moving plant," was one of his many messages that I neglected to
deliver.) On his part he worried over the loneliness and simplicity of
her establishment--one small but neat maid--which he deemed incongruous
with her general effect of luxury and ease of life, and wondered whether
she had split with her family. (She hadn't; "I've always been brought up
like a--a--an artichoke," she confided to me. "So when father went West
for six months, I just moved, and I'm going to be a potato and see how I
like it. Besides, I've got some research work to do.")
Every morning a taxi called and took her to an uptown library, and every
afternoon she came back to the harlequin-fronted house at Number 37.
Dyke's hours were such that he saw her only when she returned early, for
he slept by day in his van, and worked most of the night on electrical
experiments which he was conducting over on the river front, and which
were to send his name resounding down the halls of fame. (The newspapers
have already caught an echo or two.) On his way back from his
experiments, he daily stopped at the shop of Eberling the Florist,
where, besides chaste and elegant set pieces inscribed "Gates Ajar" and
"Gone But Not Forgotten," one may, if expert and insistent, obtain
really fresh roses. What connection these visits had with the matutinal
arrival of deep pink blossoms addressed to nobody, but delivered
regularly at the door of Number 37, I shall not divulge; no, not though
a base attempt was made to incriminate me in the transaction.
Between the pair who had arrived in Our Square on such friendly and
promising terms, there was now no communication when they met. She was
steadfastly adhering to that "Never. Never. _Never_!" What less, indeed,
could be expected of a faithful wife insulted by ardent hopes of her
husband's early demise from a young man whom she had known but four
hours? So it might have gone on to a sterile conclusion but for a
manifestation of rebellious artistic tastes on her part. The Mordaunt
Estate stopped at my bench to complain about them one afternoon when
Martin Dyke, having just breakfasted, had strolled over to discuss his
favorite topic. (She was, at that very moment, knitting her dainty brows
over the fifteenth bunch of pink fragrance and deciding regretfully that
this thing must come to an end even if she had to call in Terry
"That lady in Number 37," said the Mordaunt Estate bitterly, "ain't the
lady I thought she was."
Martin Dyke, under the impulse of his persistent obsession, looked up
hopefully. "You mean that she isn't really _Mrs._ Leffingwell?"
"I mean I'm disappointed in her; that's what I mean. She wants the house
front painted over."
"No!" I protested with polite incredulity.
"Where's her artistic sense? I thought she admired your work so deeply."
"She does, too," confirmed the Estate. "But she says it's liable to be
misunderstood. She says ladies come there and order tea, and men ask the
hired girl when the barbers come on duty, and one old bird with whiskers
wanted to know if Ashtaroth, the Master of Destiny, told fortunes there.
So she wants I should tone it down. I guess," pursued the Mordaunt
Estate, stricken with gloom over the difficulty of finding the Perfect
Tenant in an imperfect world, "I'll have to notice her to quit."
"No; don't do that!" cried the young man. "Here! I'll repaint the whole
wall for you free of charge."
"What do _you_ know about R. Noovo art? Besides, paints cost money."
"I'll furnish the paint, too," offered the reckless youth. "I'm crazy
about art. It's the only solace of my declining years. And," he added
cunningly and with evil intent to flatter and cajole, "I can tone down
that design of yours without affecting its beauty and originality
Touched by this ingenuous tribute hardly less than by the appeal to his
frugality, the Estate accepted the offer. From four to five on the
following afternoon, Martin Dyke, appropriately clad in overalls, sat on
a plank and painted. On the afternoon following that the lady of the
house came home at four-thirty and caught him at it.
"That's going to be ever so much nicer," she called graciously, not
recognizing him from the view of his industrious-appearing back.
"Thank you for those few kind words."
"You!" she exclaimed indignantly as he turned a mild and benevolent beam
of the eye upon her. "What are you doing to my house?"
"Art. High art."
"How did you get up there?"
"Ladder. High ladder."
"You know that isn't what I mean at all."
"Oh! Well, I've taken a contract to tone down the Midway aspect of your
highly respectable residence. One hour per day."
"If you think that this performance is going to do you any good--" she
began with withering intonation.
"It's done that already," he hastened to assert. "You've recognized my
"Only through trickery."
"On the contrary, it's no trick at all to improve on the Mordaunt
Estate's art. Now that we've made up again, Miss or Mrs. Leffingwell, as
the case may be--"
"We haven't made up. There's nothing to make up."
"Amended to 'Now that we're on speaking terms once more.' Accepted?
Thank you. Then let me thank you for those lovely flowers you've been
sending me. You can't imagine how they brighten and sweeten my simple
and unlovely van life, with their--"
"Mr. Dyke!" Her eyes were flashing now and her color was deeper than the
pink of the roses which she had rejected. "You must know that you had no
right to send me flowers and that in returning them--"
"Returning? But, dear lady--or girl, as the case may be [here she
stamped a violent foot]--if you feel it your duty to return them, why
not return them to the florist or the sender? Marked though my
attentions may have been, does that justify you in assuming that I am,
so to speak, the only floral prospect in the park? There's the Dominie,
for instance. He's notoriously your admirer, and I've seen him at
Eberling's quite lately." (Mendacious young scoundrel!)
For the moment she was beguiled by the plausibility of his manner.
"How should he know that pink roses are my favorites?" she said
"How should _I_, for that matter?" he retorted at once. "Though any
idiot could see at a glance that you're at least half sister to the
whole rose tribe."
"Now you're beginning again," she complained. "You see, it's impossible
to treat you as an ordinary acquaintance."
"But what do you think of me as a painter-man?" inquired the bewildering
Preparatory to entering the house she had taken off her gloves, and now
one pinky-brown hand rested on the door lintel below him. "The question
is," said she, "wasn't it really you that sent the roses, and don't you
realize that you mustn't?"
"The question is," he repeated, "whether, being denied the ordinary
avenues of approach to a shrine, one is justified in jumping the fence
with one's votive offerings. Now I hold--"
Her left hand, shifting a little, flashed a gleam of gold into his eager
eyes, striking him into silence. When he spoke again, all the vividness
was gone from his voice. "I beg your pardon," he said. "Yes; I sent the
roses. You shan't be troubled again in that way--or any other way. Do
you mind if I finish this job?"
Victory for the defense! Yet the rosebud face of Anne Leffingwell
expressed concern and doubt rather than gratification. There is such a
thing as triumph being too complete.
"I think you're doing it very nicely," was the demure reply.
Notwithstanding this encomium, the workman knocked off early to sit on
my bench and indulge in the expression of certain undeniable but vague
truisms, such as that while there is life there is hope, and it isn't
necessary to display a marriage license in order to purchase a plain
gold band. But his usual buoyant optimism was lacking; he spoke like one
who strives to convince himself. Later on the lady in the case paused to
offer to me some contumelious if impersonal reflections upon love at
first sight, which she stigmatized as a superstition unworthy of the
consideration of serious minds. But there was a dreamy light in her
eyes, and the smile on her lips, while it may not have been expressive
of serious consideration, was not wholly condemnatory. The carnivorous
orchid was having a good day and keeping its own counsel as a sensible
orchid expectant of continued patronage should do.
There was an obviously somber tinge to Mr. Dyke's color scheme on the
following afternoon, tending to an over-employment of black, when an
impressive and noiseless roadster purred its way to the curb, there
discharging a quite superb specimen of manhood in glorious raiment. The
motorist paused to regard with unfeigned surprise the design of the
house front. Presently he recovered sufficiently to ask:
"Could you tell me if Miss Leffingwell lives here?"
The painter turned upon his precarious plank so sharply that he was all
but precipitated into the area. "_Who_?" he said.
"You don't mean Mrs. Leffingwell?" queried the aerial operator in a
"No; I don't. I mean Miss Anne Leffingwell."
The painter flourished the implement of his trade to the peril of the
immaculate garments below. "Toora-loo!" he warbled.
"I beg your pardon," said the new arrival.
"I said 'Toora-loo.' It's a Patagonian expression signifying
satisfaction and relief; sort of I-thought-so-all-the-time effect."
"You seem a rather unusual and learned sort of house painter," reflected
the stalwart Adonis. "Is that Patagonian art?"
"Symbolism. It represents hope struggling upward from the oppression of
doubt and despair. That," he added, splashing in a prodigal streak of
whooping scarlet, "is resurgent joy surmounting the misty
The opening door below him cut short the disquisition.
"Reg!" cried the tenant breathlessly. Straight into the big young man's
ready arms she dived, and the petrified and stricken occupant of the
dizzy plank heard her muffled voice quaver: "Wh--wh--wh--why didn't you
To which the young giant responded in gallingly protective tones: "You
The door closed after them. Martin Dyke, amateur house painter,
continued blindly to bedeck the face of a ruinous world with radiant
hues. After interminable hours (as he reckoned the fifteen elapsed
minutes) the tenant escorted her visitor to the door and stood watching
him as the powerful and unassertive motor departed. Dazedly the artist
descended from his plank to face her.
"Are you going?" he demanded.
A perfectly justifiable response to this unauthorized query would have
been that it was no concern of his. But there was that in Martin Dyke's
face which hurt the girl to see.
"Yes," she replied.
"He isn't your husband."
"You haven't any husband."
She hung her head guiltily.
"Why did you invent one?"
Instead of replying verbally she raised her arm and pointed across the
roadway to a patch of worn green in the park. He followed the indication
with his eyes. A Keep-Off-the-Grass sign grinned spitefully in his face.
"I see. The invention was for my special benefit."
"Safety first," she murmured.
"I never really believed it--except when you took me by surprise," he
pursued. "That's why I--I went ahead."
"You certainly went ahead," she confirmed. "What are speed laws to you!"
"You're telling me that I haven't played the game according to the
rules. I know I haven't. One has to make his own rules when Fate is in
the game against him." He seemed to be reviewing something in his mind.
"Fate," he observed sententiously, "is a cheap thimble-rigger."
"Fate," she said, "is the ghost around the corner."
"A dark green, sixty-horse-power ghost, operated by a matinee hero, a
movie close-up, a tailor's model--"
"If you mean Reg, it's just as well for you he isn't here."
"Pooh!" retorted the vengeful and embittered Dyke. "I could wreck his
loveliness with one flop of my paint-brush."
"Doubtless," she agreed with a side glance at the wall, now bleeding
from every pore. "It's a fearful weapon. Spare my poor Reg."
"I suppose," said Dyke, desperate now, but not quite bankrupt of hope,
"you'd like me to believe that he's your long-lost brother."
She lowered her eyes, possibly to hide the mischief in them. "No," she
returned hesitantly and consciously. "He isn't--exactly my brother."
He recalled the initials, "R.B.W.," on the car's door. Hope sank for the
third time without a bubble. "Good-bye," said Martin Dyke.
"Surely you're not going to quit your job unfinished," she protested.
Dyke said something forcible and dismissive about the job.
"What will the Mordaunt Estate think?"
Dyke said something violent and destructive about the Mordaunt Estate.
"Perhaps you'd like to take the house, now that it's vacant."
Dyke, having expressed a preference for the tomb as a place of
residence, went on his gloomful way shedding green paint on one side and
red on the other.
Insomnia, my old enemy, having clutched me that night, I went to my
window and looked abroad over Our Square, as Willy Woolly's memorial
clock was striking four (it being actually five-thirty). A shocking
sight afflicted my eyes. My bench was occupied by a bum. Hearing the
measured footsteps of Terry the Cop, guardian of our destinies, I looked
for a swift and painful eviction. Terry, after a glance, passed on.
Nothing is worse for insomnia than an unsolved mystery. Slipping into my
clothes, I made my way softly to the spot. There in the seat where I was
wont to pursue my even tenor as an orchid slumbered Martin Dyke, amateur
desecrator of other men's houses, challenger of the wayward fates,
fanatic of a will-o'-the-wisp pursuit, desperate adventurer in the
uncharted realms of love; and in his face, turned toward the
polychromatic abominations of the house, so soon to be deserted, was all
the pathos and all the beauty of illusion-haunted youth.
Ah, youth! Blundering, ridiculous youth! An absurd period, excusable
only on the score of its brevity. A parlous condition! A traitorous
guide, froward, inspired of all manner of levity, pursuant of hopeless
phantasms, dupe of roseate and pernicious myths (love-at-first-sight,
and the like), butt of the High Gods' stinging laughter, deserving of
nothing kinder than mockery from the aged and the wise--which is
doubtless why we old and sage folk thank Heaven daily, uplifting cracked
voices and withered hands, that we are no longer young. A pious and
fraudulent litany for which may we be forgiven! My young friend on the
bench stirred. A shaft of moonlight, streaming through the bush upon his
face, bewitched him to unguarded speech:
"Dominie, I have been dreaming."
Fearing to break the spell, I stood silent.
"A fairy came down to me and touched her lips to mine, so lightly, so
softly. Did you know there were fairies in Our Square, Dominie?"
"I think her name is Happiness. Is there such a fairy in this world,
"There has been."
"Then there will always be. I think it was Happiness because she went
away so quickly."
"Happiness does. Did you try to hold her?"
"So hard! But I was clumsy and rough. She slipped through my arms."
"Did she leave nothing?"
"Then what is this?" I lifted from the ground at his feet a single petal
of pink rose, fragrant, unwithered, and placed it in his hand.
"The fairy's kiss," he said dreamily. "That's for farewell."
The moon, dipped beyond a cloud, dissolved the spell. Youth straightened
up brusquely on its bench, rubbing enchantment from its eyes.
"Have I been talking in my sleep, Dominie?"
"What kind of talk? Nonsense?"
"Nonsense--or wisdom. How should I know?"
"Dominie, is there a perfume in the air? A smell of roses?"
"Look in your hand."
He opened his fingers slowly and closed them again, tenderly, jealously.
"I must go now," he said vaguely. "May I come back to see you
"Perhaps you'll bring Happiness with you," I said.
But he only shook his head. On the morrow his van was gone from the
alley and the house at Number 37, which had once been the House of
Silvery Voices, was voiceless again.
* * * * *
Something of the savor of life went with the vanners out of Our Square.
I missed their broad-ranging and casual talk of politics, art, religion,
the fourth dimension, and one another. Yet I felt sure that I should see
them both again. There is a spell woven in Our Square--it has held me
these sixty years and more, and I wonder at times whether Death himself
can break it--which draws back the hearts that have once known the
place. It was a long month, though, before the butterfly fluttered back.
More radiant than ever she looked, glowing softly in the brave November
sun, as she approached my bench. But there was something indefinably
wistful about her. She said that she had come to satisfy her awakened
appetite for the high art of R. Noovo, as she faced the unaltered and
violent frontage of Number 37.
"Empty," said I.
"Then he didn't take my advice and rent it. The painter-man, I mean."
"I haven't an idea."
"Doesn't he ever come back?"
"You must not assume," said I with severity, "that you are the only
devotee of high art. You may perhaps compare your devotion to that of
another whom I might mention when you, too, have lost ten pounds and
gained ten years--"
"Dominie! Has he?"
"Has he what?"
"G-g-g-gained ten pounds. I mean, lost ten years."
"I haven't said so."
"Dominie, you are a cruel old man," accused the butterfly.
"And you are a wicked woman."
"I'm not. I'm only twenty," was her irrelevant but natural defense.
"Witness, on your oath, answer; were you at any time in the evening or
night before you departed from this, Our Square, leaving us
desolate--were you, I say, abroad in the park?
"Y-y-yes, your Honor."
"In the immediate vicinity of this bench?"
"Benches are very alike in the dark."
"But occupants of them are not. Don't fence with the court. Were you
wearing one or more roses of the general hue and device of those now
displayed in your cheeks?"
"The honorable court has nothing to do with my face," said the witness
"On the contrary, your face is the _corpus delicti._ Did you, taking
advantage of the unconscious and hence defenseless condition of my
client, that is, of Mr. Martin Dyke, lean over him and deliberately
"No! No! No! No! _No_!" cried the butterfly with great and unconvincing
fervor. "How dare you accuse me of such a thing?"
"On the circumstantial evidence of a pink rose petal. But worse is
coming. The charge is unprovoked and willful murder."
Butterflies are strange creatures. This one seemed far less concerned
over the latter than the former accusation. "Of whom?" she inquired.
"You have killed a budding poet." Here I violated a sacred if implied
confidence by relating what the bewitched sleeper on the bench had said
under the spell of the moon.
The result was most gratifying. The butterfly assured me with
indignation that it was only a cold in her head, which had been annoying
her for days: _that_ was what made her eyes act so, and I was a
suspicious and malevolent old gentleman--and--and--and perhaps some day
she and Mr. Martin Dyke might happen to meet.
"Is that a message?" I asked.
"No," answered the butterfly with a suspicion of panic in her eyes.
"Then?" I queried.
"He's so--so awfully go-aheadish," she complained.
"I'll drop him a hint," I offered kindly.
"It might do some good. I'm afraid of him," she confessed.
"And a little bit of yourself?" I suggested.
The look of scorn which she bent upon me would have withered
incontinently anything less hardy than a butterfly-devouring orchid. It
passed and thoughtfulness supplanted it. "If you really think that he
could be influenced to be more--well, more conventional--"
"I guarantee nothing; but I'm a pedagogue by profession and have taught
some hard subjects in my time."
"Then do you think you could give him a little message, word for word as
I give it to you?"
"Senile decay," I admitted, "may have paralyzed most of my faculties,
but as a repeater of messages verbatim, I am faithful as a phonograph."
"Tell him this, then." She ticked the message off on her fingers. "A
half is not exactly the same as a whole. Don't forget the 'exactly.'"
"Is this an occasion for mathematical axioms?" I demanded. But she had
already gone, with a parting injunction to be precise.
When, three days thereafter, I retailed that banality to young Mr. Dyke,
it produced a startling though not instantaneous effect.
"I've got it!" he shouted.
"Don't scare me off my bench! What is it you've got?"
"The answer. She said he was not exactly her brother."
"That bully-looking big chap in the roadster who took her away." He
delivered this shameless reversal of a passionately asserted opinion
without a quiver. "Now she says a half isn't exactly the same as a
whole. He wasn't exactly her brother, she said; he's her half brother.
'Toora-loora-loo,' as we say in Patagonia."
"For Patagonia it sounds reasonable. What next?"
"Next and immediately," said Mr. Dyke, "I am obtaining an address from
the Mordaunt Estate, and I am then taking this evening off."
"Take some advice also, my boy," said I, mindful of the butterfly's
alarms. "Go slow."
"Slow! Haven't I lost time enough already?"
"Perhaps. But now you've got all there is. Don't force the game. You've
frightened that poor child so that she never can feel sure what you're
going to do next."
"Neither can I, Dominie," confessed the candid youth. "But you're quite
right. I'll clamp on the brakes. I'll be as cool and conventional as a
slice of lemon on an iced clam. 'How well you're looking to-night, Miss
Leffingwell'--that'll be my nearest approach to unguarded personalities.
Trust me, Dominie, and thank you for the tip."
The memorial and erratic clock of Our Square was just striking seven of
the following morning, meaning approximately eight-forty, when my
astonished eyes again beheld Martin Dyke seated on my bench, beautifully
though inappropriately clad in full evening dress with a pink rose in
his coat lapel, and gazing at Number 37 with a wild, ecstatic glare.
"What have you been doing here all night?" I asked.
I pointed to the flower. "Where did you get that?"
"A fairy gift."
"Martin," said I, "did you abide by my well-meant and inspired advice?"
"Dominie," replied the youth with a guilty flush, "I did my best. I--I
tried to. You mustn't think--Nothing is settled. It's only that--"
"It's only that Age is a fool to advise Youth. Why should I expect you
to abide by my silly counsels? Who am I to interfere with the dominant
fates! Says the snail to the avalanche: 'Go slow!' and the avalanche--"
"Hey! Hi! You Mordaunt Estate!" broke in young Mr. Dyke, shouting. "I
beg your pardon, Dominie, I've got to see the Estate for a minute."
Rushing across the street, he intercepted that institutional gentleman
in the act of dipping a brush into a can in front of Number 37.
"Don't, for Heaven's sake, touch that front!" implored the improver of
"Why not?" demanded the Estate.
"I want to rent it. As it is. From to-day."
The Mordaunt Estate turned a dull, Wagboomish look of denial upon him.
"Nope," said he. "I've had enough of short rentals. It don't pay. I'm
going to paint her up and lease her for good."
"I'll take your lease," insisted Martin Dyke.
"For how long a period?" inquired the other, in terms of the Estate
The light that never was, on sea or land, the look that I had surprised
on the face of illusion-haunted Youth in the moon glow, gleamed in
Martin Dyke's eyes.
"Say a million years," he answered softly.
THE GUARDIAN OF GOD'S ACRE
As far as the eye could apprehend him, he was palpably an outlander. No
such pink of perfection ever sprung from the simple soil of Our Square.
A hard pink it was, suggestive less of the flower than of enameled
metal. He was freshly shaved, freshly pressed, freshly anointed, and, as
he paced gallantly across my vision, I perceived him to be slightly
grizzled at the temples, but nevertheless of a vigorous and grim
youthfulness that was almost daunting. Not until he returned and stood
before me with his feet planted a little apart, giving an impression of
purposeful immovability to his wiry figure, did I note that his eyes
belied the general jauntiness of his personality. They were cold, direct
eyes, with a filmy appearance, rather like those of a morose and
self-centered turtle which had lived in our fountain until the day the
Rosser twins fell in, when it crawled out and emigrated.
"Nice day," said the stranger, shifting a patent-leathered foot out of a
"Very," I agreed. Finical over-accuracy about the weather is likely to
discourage a budding acquaintanceship.
"Have one?" He extended a gemmed cigarette-case, and when, removing my
pipe, I had declined in suitable terms, lighted up, himself. He then sat
down upon the dryest portion of the bench not occupied by my person.
"Whiplash win in the fi'th," he volunteered presently.
"Yes?" said I with a polite but spurious show of interest.
"Under a pull. Spread-eagled his field."
"Who is Whiplash, may I ask?"
"Oh, Gaw!" said the pink man, appalled. He searched my face
suspiciously. "A hoss," he stated at length, satisfied of my ignorance.
After several reflective puffs, the smoke of which insufficiently veiled
his furtive appraisal of myself, he tried again:
"They give O'Dowd a shade, last night."
"Indeed? Who did?"
"The sporting writers."
"As a testimonial?" I inquired, adding that a shade, whether of the lamp
or sun species seemed an unusual sort of gift.
My interlocutor groaned. He drew from the pocket of his gray-check
cutaway, purple and fine linen, the purple being an ornate and
indecipherable monogram, wherewith to wipe his troubled brow. Susan
Gluck's Orphan, who was playing down-wind, paused to inhale deeply and
with a beatific expression. Restoring the fragrant square to its
repository, the pink one essayed another conversational skirmish.
"The Reds copped again yesterday."
"If you are referring to the raid on Anarchist Headquarters in Avenue C,
I should have inferred that the Reds _were_ copped, to use your term."
Curt and contemptuous laughter was his response. "Don't you ever read
the papers, down here?"
"Certainly," I retorted with some spirit, for the implied slur upon Our
Square stung me. "In fact, I was reading one of our local publications
when you inter--when you arrived. It contains some very
"Yeh?" said the hard, pink man politely.
"For example, in this issue I find the following apostrophe." I
proceeded to read aloud:
"Farewell, our dear one, we must part,
For thou hast gone to heavenly home,
While we below with aching heart
Must long for thee and ever moan."
"Swell stuff," commented the sharer of my bench, with determined
interest. "Poetry's a little out of my line, but I'm _for_ it. Who
"It is signed 'Loving Father and 3 Sisters.' But the actual authorship
rests with the long gentleman in black whom you see leaning on the park
fence yonder. His name is Bartholomew Storrs and he is the elegiac or
mortuary or memorial laureate of Our Square."
This was said with intent to mortify the soul of my new acquaintance in
revenge for his previous display of erudition. The bewilderment in his
face told me that I had scored heavily. But he quickly rallied.
"Do I get you right?" he queried. "Does he write those hymns for other
folks to sign?"
"What does he do that for?"
"Money. He gets as high as five dollars per stanza."
"Some salesman!" My hard-faced companion regarded the lank figure
overhanging the fence with new respect. "Looks to me like the original
Gloom," he observed. "What's _his_ grouch?"
"He must have a bum one!"
"He has a busy one. He expends a great amount of time and sorrow
repenting of our sins."
"Whose sins?" asked the other, opening wider his dull and weary eyes.
"Ours. His neighbors. Everybody in Our Square."
My interlocutor promptly and fitly put into words the feeling which had
long lurked within my consciousness, ashamed to express itself against a
monument of dismal pity such as Bartholomew Storrs. "He's got a nerve!"
Warming to him for his pithy analysis of character, I enlarged upon my
theme. "He rebukes MacLachan for past drunkenness. He mourns for
Schepstein, who occasionally helps out a friend at ten per cent, as a
usurer. He once accused old Madame Tallafferr of pride, but he'll never
do that again. He calls the Little Red Doctor, our local physician, to
account for profanity, and gets a fresh sample every time. Even against
the Bonnie Lassie, whose sculptures you can just see in that little
house near the corner"--I waved an illustrative hand--"he can quote
Scripture, as to graven images. We all revere and respect and hate him.
He's coming this way now."
"Good day, Dominie," said Bartholomew Storrs, as he passed, in such a
tone as a very superior angel might employ toward a particularly
"That frown," I explained to my companion, after returning the
salutation, "means that I failed to attend church yesterday."
But the hard, pink man had lost interest in Bartholomew. "Called you
'Dominie,' didn't he?" he remarked. "I thought I had you right. Heard of
you from a little red-headed ginger-box named Smith."
"You know the Little Red Doctor?"
"I met him," he replied evasively. "He told me to look you up. 'You talk
to the Dominie,' he says."
"I'm coming to that." He leaned forward to place a muscular and
confidential hand on my knee. "First, I'd like to do you a little
favor," he continued in his husky and intimate voice. "If you're looking
for some quick and easy money, I got a little tip that I'd like to pass
on to you."
"Evidently the Little Red Doctor told you that my mind was a tottering
ruin, which may be quite true; but if it's a matter of investing in the
Peruvian Gold, Rubber Tree, and Perpetual Motion Concession, I'm
"Forget it!" adjured the hard, pink man in a tone which secured my
silence and almost my confidence. "This is a hoss. Seven to one, and a
sure cop. I _know_ hosses. I've owned 'em."
"Thank you, but I can't afford such luxuries as betting."
"You can't afford _not_ to have something down on this if it's only a
shoestring. No? Oh--well!"
Again drawing the art-square from his pocket he lifted his pearl-gray
derby and dabbed despairingly at his brow. Catching the scent hot and
fresh, Susan Gluck's Orphan came dashing up-wind giving tongue, or
rather, nose, voluptuously.
"Mm-m-m! Snmmff!" inhaled the Orphan, wrinkling ecstatic nostrils.
"Mister, lemme smell it some more!"
Graciously the dispenser of fragrance waved his balm-laden handkerchief.
"Like it, kiddie?" he said.
"Oh, it's _grand_!" She stretched out her little grimy paws. "Please,
Mister," she entreated, "would you flop it over 'em, just once?"
The pink man tossed it to her. "Take it along and, when you get it all
snuffed up, give it back to the Dominie here for me."
"Oh, gracious!" said the Orphan, incredulous at this bounty. "Can I have
it till _to-morrah_?"
"Sure! What's the big idea for to-morrow?"
"I'm goin' to a funeral. I want it to cry in," said the Orphan
"A funeral?" I asked. "In Our Square? Whose?"
"My cousin Minnie. She's goin' to be buried in God's Acre, an' I'm
invited 'cause I'm a r'lation. She married a sporting gentleman named
Hines an' she died yesterday," said the precocious Orphan.
So Minnie Munn, pretty, blithe, life-loving Minnie, whose going had hurt
us so, had come back to Our Square, with all her love of life quenched.
She had promised that she would come back, in the little, hysterical,
defiant note she left under the door. Her father and mother must wait
and not worry. There are thousands of homes, I suppose, in which are
buried just such letters as Minnie's farewell to her parents;
rebellious, passionate, yearning, pitiful. Ah, well! The moth must break
its chrysalis. The flower must rend its bonds toward the light. Little
Minnie was "going on the stage." A garish and perilous stage it was,
whereon Innocence plays a part as sorry as it is brief. And now she was
making her exit, without applause. Memory brought back a picture of
Minnie as I had first seen her, a wee thing, blinking and smiling in the
arms of her Madonna-faced mother, on a bench in Our Square, and the
mother (who could not wait for the promised return--she has lain in
God's Acre these three years) crooning to her an unforgettable song,
"Why did I bring thee, Sweet
Into a world of sin?--
Into a world of wonder and doubt
With sorrows and snares for the little white feet--
Into a world whence the going out
Is as dark as the coming in!"
Old lips readily lend themselves to memory; I suppose I must have
repeated the final lines aloud, for the pink man said, wearily
"Very pretty. Something more in the local line?"
"Hardly." I smiled. Between Bartholomew Storr's elegies and William
Young's "Wish-makers' Town" stretches an infinite chasm.
"What's this--now--God's Acre the kid was talking about?" was his next
"An old local graveyard."
"Anything interesting?" he asked carelessly.
"If you're interested in that sort of thing. Are you an antiquary?"
"Sure!" he replied with such offhand promptitude that I was certain the
answer would have been the same had I asked him if he was a dromedary.
"Come along, then. I'll take you there."
To reach that little green space of peace amidst our turmoil of the
crowded, encroaching slums, we must pass the Bonnie Lassie's house,
where her tiny figurines, touched with the fire of her love and her
genius, which are perhaps one and the same, stand ever on guard, looking
out over Our Square from her windows. Judging by his appearance and
conversation, I should have supposed my companion to be as little
concerned with art as with, let us say, poetry or local antiquities. But
he stopped dead in his tracks, before the first window. Fingers that
were like steel claws buried themselves in my arm. The other
"What's that?" he muttered fiercely.
"That," to which he was pointing, was a pictorial bronze, the figure of
a girl, upright in a cockleshell boat, made of a rose-petal, her arms
outspread to the breeze that was bearing her out across sunlit ripples.
Beneath was the legend: "Far Ports." The face, eager, laughing,
passionate, adventurous, was the face of Minnie Munn. Therein the Bonnie
Lassie had been prophetess as well as poet and sculptress, for she had
finished the bronze before Minnie left us.
"That," I answered the strong, pink man, trying to shake loose his grip,
"is a sculpture by Cecily Willard, otherwise Mrs. Cyrus Staten."
"What'll she take for it?"
"It can't be bought." I spoke with authority, for the figurines that the
Bonnie Lassie sets in her window are not for sale, but for us of Our
Square, who love them.
"Anything can be bought," he retorted, with his quiet, hoarse
persuasiveness, "at a price. I've got the price, no matter what it is."
Suddenly I understood my pink and hard acquaintance. I understood that
stale look in his eyes. Tears do not bring that. Nothing brings it but
sleepless thoughts beyond the assuagement of tears. Behind such eyes the
heart is aching cold and the brain searing hot. Who should know better
than I, though the kindly years have brought their healing! But here was
a wound, raw and fresh and savage. I put my hand on his shoulder.
"What was little Minnie to you?" I asked, and answered myself. "You're
Hines. You're the man she married."
"Yes. I'm Chris Hines."
"You've brought her back to us," I said stupidly.
"She made me promise."
Strange how Our Square binds the heartstrings of those who have once
lived in it! To find it unendurable in life, to yearn back to it in the
hour of death! Many have known the experience. So our tiny God's Acre,
shrunk to a small fraction of human acreage through pressure of the
encroaching tenements, has filled up until now it has space but for few
more of the returning. Laws have been invoked and high and learned
courts appealed to for the jealously guarded right to sleep there, as
Minnie Munn was so soon to sleep beside her mother.
I told Hines that I would see the Bonnie Lassie about the statuette, and
led him on, through the nagged and echoing passage and the iron gate, to
the white-studded space of graves. The new excavation showed, brown
against the bright verdure. Above it stood the headstone of the Munns,
solemn and proud, the cost of a quarter-year's salary, at the pitiful
wage which little, broken Mr. Munn drew from his municipal clerkship.
Hines's elegant coat rippled on his chest, above what may have been a
shudder, as he looked about him.
"It's crowded," he muttered.
"We lie close, as we lived close, in Our Square. I am glad for her
father's sake that Minnie wished to come back."
"She said she couldn't rest peaceful anywhere else. She said she had
some sort of right to be here."
"The Munns belong to what we call the Inalienables in Our Square," said
I, and told him of the high court decision which secured to the
descendants of the original "churchyard membership," and to them alone,
the inalienable right to lie in God's Acre, provided, as in the ancient
charter, they had "died in honorable estate." I added: "Bartholomew
Storrs, as sexton, has constituted himself watchdog of our graves and
censor of our dead. He carried one case to the Supreme Court in an
attempt to keep an unhappy woman from sleeping in that pious company."
"That sour-faced prohibitionist?" growled Mr. Hines, employing what I
suspect to be the blackest anathema in his lexicon. "Is he the sexton?"
"The same. Our mortuary genius," I confirmed.
"She was a good girl, Min was," said Mr. Hines firmly, though, it might
appear, a trifle inconsequentially: "I don't care what they say. Anyway,
after I met up with her"; in which qualifying afterthought lay a whole
sorrowful and veiled history.
"What did they say about her, down here?" he asked jealously.
"Oh, there were rumors. They didn't reach her father."
"No: tell me," he persisted. "I gotta know."
Because Mr. Hines had already impressed himself upon me as one with whom
straight talk would serve best, I acceded.
"Bartholomew Storrs said that her feet took hold on hell."
Mr. Hines's face remained impassive. Only his hands worked slightly,
perhaps kneading an imaginary throat. I perceived him to be a person of
considerable and perhaps formidable self-control.
"Not that she hadn't her friends. The Bonnie Lassie would have stood by
her if she had come back, and little Mrs. Morse, and our Dr. Smith, and
MacLachan, who thought he had lost his own girl the same way, and--and
"And you, Dominie," said the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
"My dear sir, old men cannot afford harsh judgments. They are too near
their own time."
"Yeh?" said Mr. Hines absently. "I guess that's right." But his mind was
plainly elsewhere. "When would you say would be the best time to do
business with old Funeral-Clothes?" he asked after a thoughtful pause.
"You want to see Bartholomew Storrs?" I interpreted.
"Sure. I gotta deliver the death certificate to him if he runs the
graveyard, haven't I?"
"Such is the procedure, I believe."
"Besides," he added with a leer, "I want to get some of that weepy
poetry of his."
"Well; he'll sell it to you readily."
"I'll say he'll sell it to me," returned Mr. Hines with a grimness which
I failed to comprehend.
"Now is as good a time as any to catch him in his office." I pointed to
a sign at the farther end of the yard.
Mr. Hines seemed in no hurry to go. With his elegantly lacquered cane,
he picked at the sod, undecidedly. His chill, veiled eyes roved about
the open space. He lifted his pearl-gray derby, and, for lack of a
handkerchief, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Although the
May day was cool and brisk with wind, his knuckles glistened when they
descended. I began to suspect that, despite his stony self-command, Mr.
Hines's nerves were not all that they should be.
"Perhaps you'd like me to introduce you to Mr. Storrs," I hazarded.
The cold and filmy eyes gleamed with an instant's dim warmth. "Dominie,
you're a good guy," responded Mr. Hines. "If a dead cinch at ten to one,
all fruited up for next week, the kind of thing you don't hand on to
your own brother, would be any use to you--No? I'm off again," he
apologized. "Well--let's go."
We went. At the doorstep of Bartholomew Storrs's office he paused.
"This sexton-guy," he said anxiously, "he don't play the ponies, ever, I
"No more often than he commits murder or goes to sleep in church," I
"Yeh?" he answered, disheartened. "I gotta get to him some other way. On
the poetry--and that's out of my line."
"I don't quite see what your difficulty is."
"By what you tell me, it's easier to break into a swell Fifth Avenue
Club than into this place."
"Except for those having the vested right, as your wife has."
"And this sexton-guy handles the concession for--he's got the say-so,"
he corrected himself hastily--"on who goes in and who stays out. Is
"And he'd rather keep 'em out than let 'em in?"
"Bartholomew," I explained, "considers that the honor of God's Acre is
in his keeping. He has a fierce sort of jealousy about it, as if he had
a proprietary interest in the place."
"I get you!" Mr. Hines's corded throat worked painfully. "You don't
suppose the old goat would slip Min a blackball?" he gulped.
"How can he? As an 'Inalienable'--"
"Yeh; I know. But wasn't there something about a clean record? I'll tell
_you_, Dominie"--Mr. Hines's husky but assured voice trailed away into
a miserable, thick whisper--"as to what he said--about her feet taking
hold on hell--I guess there was a time--I guess about one more slip--I
guess I didn't run across her any too quick. But there never was a
straighter, truer girl than Min was with me. I gotta get her planted
_right_, Dominie. I gotta do it," he concluded with pathetic
"I see no difficulty," I assured him. "The charter specifies '_died_ in
honorable estate.' Matrimony is an honorable estate. How she lived
before that is between her and a gentler Judge than Bartholomew Storrs."
"Give her a straight course and a fair judge and I'll back Min to the
limit," said Mr. Hines so simply and loyally that no suggestion of
irreverence could attach to him.
Nevertheless, doubt was mingled with determination in his florid face as
he rang the bell. Bartholomew Storrs opened to us, himself. When he saw
me, he hastily pocketed a Rhyming Dictionary. I introduced my companion,
stating, by way of a favorable opening, that he was interested in
"Very pleased," said Bartholomew Storrs in his deep, lugubrious tones.
Mr. Hines nodded.
"Here's a tasty thing I just completed," continued the poet, and,
extending a benignant hand toward the visitor he intoned nasally:
"Together we have lived our life
Till thou hast gone on high.
But I will come to thee, dear Wife,
In the sweet bye-and-bye."
"That style five dollars," he said.
"You're on," barked Mr. Hines. "I'll take it."
"To be published, I suppose, on the first anniversary of death. Shall I
look after the insertion in the papers?" queried the obliging poet, who
split an advertising agent's percentage on memorial notices placed
"Sure. Got any more? I'd spend a hundred to do this right."
With a smile of astounded gratification, Bartholomew accepted the roll
of bills, fresh and crisp as the visitor himself. To do him justice, I
believe that his pleasure was due as much to the recognition of his
genius as to the stipend it had earned.
"Perhaps you'd like a special elegy to be read at the grave," he rumbled
eagerly. "When and where did the interment take place?"
The other glared at him in stony surprise. "It ain't taken place. It's
to-morrow. Ain't you on? I'm Hines."
A frown darkened the sexton's heavy features. He shook a reprehensive
head. "An unfortunate case," he boomed; "most unfortunate. I will not
conceal from you, Mr. Hines, that I have consulted our attorneys upon
this case, and unhappily--unhappily, I say--they hold that there is no
basis for exclusion provided the certificate is in form. You have it
Impassive and inscrutable, Mr. Hines tapped his breast-pocket.
The conscience of a responsible sexton being assuaged, Bartholomew's
expression mollified into that of the flattered poet.
"Such being the case," he pursued, "there can be no objection to the
reading of an elegy as part of the service. Who is to officiate?"
"The Reverend Doctor Hackett."
"He has retired these two years," said the sexton doubtfully. "He is
very old. His mind sometimes wanders."
"She wouldn't have any one else," asserted the hard, pink Mr. Hines.
"She was as particular about that as about being buried yonder." He
jerked his head toward the window.
"Very well. I will be at the grave. I always am. Trust me to guide the
reverend gentleman over any breach in his memory. Excuse me for a moment
while I look up my elegies."
"Say," said Mr. Hines in his hoarse, confidential croak, as the
poet-sexton retired, "this is dead easy. Why, the guy's on the make. For
sale. He'll stand for anything. Passing out this stuff for other folks
to sign! He's a crook!"
"Make no such mistake," I advised. "Bartholomew is as honest a man as
lives, in his own belief."
"Very likely. That's the worst kind," pronounced the expert Mr. Hines.
Further commentary was cut off by the return of the sexton-poet. "If you
will kindly give me the death certificate of the late lamented,"
"What becomes of it after I deliver it?" asked Mr. Hines.
"Read, attested, and filed officially."
"Any one else but you see it?"
"That's all right, then."
Hardly had Bartholomew Storrs glanced at the document received from Mr.
Hines than he lifted a stiffening face.
"What is this?" he challenged.
The official tapped the paper with a gaunt finger. "'Minna Merivale,
aged twenty-five,'" he read.
"That's the name she went by."
"_Unmarried_" read Bartholomew Storrs in a voice of doom.
In the sexton's eyes gleamed an unholy savagery of satisfaction. "Take
"Bury her somewhere else. Do not think that you can pollute the
"Bartholomew!" I broke in, stepping hastily in front of Mr. Hines, for I
had seen all the pink ebb out of his face, leaving it a dreadful sort of
gray; and I had no desire to be witness of a murder, however much I
might deem it justified.
"I'll handle him," said Mr. Hines steadily. "Now; you! You got my
hundred in your jeans, ain't you!"
"Bribery!" boomed the sexton. He drew out the roll of bills and let it
fall from his contaminated fingers.
"Sure! Bribery," railed the other. "What'd you think? Ain't it enough
for what I'm asking?" The two men glared at each other.
I broke the silence. "Exactly what are you asking, Mr. Hines?"
"File that"--he touched the document--"and forget it. Let Min rest out
there as my wife, like she ought to have been."
"Why didn't you make her your wife?" thundered the accuser.
Some invisible thing gripped the corded throat of Mr. Hines. "Couldn't,"
he gulped. "There was--another. She wouldn't divorce me."
"Your sin has found you out," declared the self-constituted judge of the
dead with a dismal sort of relish.
"Yeh? That's all right. _I'll_ pay for it. But she's paid already."
"As she lived so she has died, in sin," the inexorable voice answered.
"Let her seek burial elsewhere."
Mr. Hines leaned forward. His expression and tone were passionless as
those of a statistician proffering a tabulation: his words were fit to
wring the heart of a stone.
"She's dead, ain't she?" he argued gently. "She can't hurt any one, can
she? 'Specially if they don't know."
Bartholomew Storrs made a gesture of repulsion.
"Well, who'll she hurt?" pursued the other, in his form of pure and
abstract reasoning. "Not her mother, I guess. Her mother's waiting for
her; that's what Min said when she was--was going. And her father'll be
on the other side of her. And that's all. Min never harmed anybody but
herself when she was alive. How's she going to do 'em any damage now,
just lying there, resting? Be reasonable, man!"
Be pitiful, oh, man! For there was a time not so long past when you,
with all your stern probity and your unwinking conscience, needed pity;
yes, and pleaded for it when the mind was out of control. Think back,
Bartholomew Storrs, to the day when you stood by another grave, close to
that which waits to-day for the weary sleeper--Bartholomew Storrs
rested, opened the door and stood by it, grimly waiting. Mr. Hines
turned to me.
"What is this thing, Dominie; a man or a snake? Will I kill it?"
"Bartholomew," I began. "When we--"
"Not a word from you, Dominie. My mind is made up."
"The girl is Isabel Munn's daughter."
I saw a tremor shake the gaunt frame.
"When we buried Isabel Munn, you came back in the night to weep at her
He thrust out a warding hand toward me.
"Why did you weep over Isabel Munn's grave, Bartholomew?"
"Speak no evil of the dead," he cried wildly.
"It is not in my mind. She was a good and pure woman. What would she
have been if she had listened to you?"
"What do you know? Who betrayed me?"
"You, yourself. When you came down with pneumonia after the burial, I
sat with you through a night of delirium."
Bartholomew Storrs bowed his head.
"My sin hath found me out," he groaned. "God knows I loved her, and--and
I hadn't the strength not to tell her. I'd have given up everything for
her, my hope of heaven, my--my--I 'd have given up my office and gone
away from God's Acre! And that was twenty years ago. I--I don't sleep o'
nights yet, for thinking."
"Well, you ain't the only one," said the dull voice of Mr. Hines.
"You're tempting me!" Bartholomew Storrs snarled at him. "You're trying
to make me false to my trust."
"Just to let her lie by her mother, like her mother would ask you if she
"Don't say it to me!" He beat his head with his clenched hand.
Recovering command of himself, he straightened up, taking a deep breath:
"I must be guided by my conscience and my God," he said professionally,
and I noted a more reverent intonation given to the former than to the
latter. A bad sign.
"Isabel Munn's daughter, Bartholomew," I reminded him.
Instead of replying he staggered out of the door. Through the window we
saw him, a moment later, posting down the street, bareheaded and
stony-eyed, like one spurred by tormenting thoughts.
"Will he do it, do you think?" queried the anxious-visaged Mr. Hines.
I shook my head in doubt. With a man like Bartholomew Storrs, one can
Old memories are restless companions for the old. So I found them that
night. But there is balm for sleeplessness in the leafy quiet of Our
Square. I went out to my bench, seeking it, and found an occupant
"We ain't the only ones that need a jab of dope, Dominie," said Mr.
Hines, hard and pink and hoarsely confidential as when I first saw him.
"No? Who else?" Though I suspected, of course.
"Old Gloom. He's over in the Acre."
"Did you meet him there? What did he say?"
"I ducked him. He never saw me. He was--well, I guess he was praying,"
said Mr. Hines shamefacedly.
"Praying? At the Munn grave?"
"That's it. Groaning and saying, 'A sign, O Lord! Vouchsafe thy servant
a sign!' Kept saying it over and over."
"For guidance to-morrow," I murmured. "Mr. Hines, I'm not sure that I
know Bartholomew Storrs's God. Nor can I tell what manner of sign he
might give, or with what meaning. But if I know my God, whom I believe
to be the true God, your Minnie is safe with him."
"Yeh? You're a good guy, Dominie," said Mr. Hines in his emotionless
I took him home with me to sleep. But we did not sleep. We smoked.
Minnie Munn's funeral morning dawned clear and fresh. No word came from
Bartholomew Storrs. I tried to find him, but without avail.
"We'll go through with it," said Mr. Hines quietly.
How small and insignificant seemed our tiny God's Acre, as the few
mourners crept into it behind Minnie Munn's body; the gravestones like
petty dots upon the teeming earth, dwarfed by the overshadowing
tenements, as if death were but an incident in the vast, unhasting,
continuous sweep of life, as indeed perhaps it is. Then the grandeur of
the funeral service, which links death to immortality, was bodied forth
in the aged minister's trembling voice, and by it the things which are
of life were dwarfed to nothingness. But my uneasy mind refused to be
bound by the words; it was concerned with Bartholomew Storrs, standing
grim, haggard, inscrutable, beside the grave, his eyes upturned and
waiting. Too well I knew for what he was waiting; his sign. So, too, did
Mr. Hines, still hard, still pink, still impeccably tailored, and still
clinging to his elegant lacquered cane, as he supported little, broken
Mr. Munn, very pathetic and decorous in full black, even to the gloves.
The sonorous beauty and simplicity of the rite suddenly checked,
faltered. Bartholomew Storrs leaned over anxiously to the minister. The
poor, gentle, worn-out old brain was groping now in semi-darkness,
through which shot a cross-ray of memory. The tremulous voice took on
new confidence, but the marrow of my spine turned icy as I heard the
fatally misplaced and confused words that followed:
"If any man know--know just and good cause why this woman--why this
Bartholomew Storrs's gaunt hand shot upward, high in air, outspread in
the gesture of forbiddance. His deep voice rang, overbearing the
stumbling accents of the clergyman.
"A sign! A sign from on High! O God, thou hast spoken through thy
servant to forefend a sore offense. Listen, ye people. This woman--"
He stopped as there rose, on the opposite side of the open grave another
figure, with hands and voice lifted to heaven in what must surely have
been the most ingenuous supplication that ever ascended to the throne of
Pity and Understanding. All the passion which, through the bitter hours,
had been repressed in the self-commanding soul of the hard and pink Mr.
Hines, swelled and cried aloud in his plea:
"O God! have a heart!"
Bartholomew Storrs's hand fell. His eyes faltered. His lips trembled. He
stood once more, agonized with doubt. And in that moment the old
minister came to his rightful senses.
"Peace, my friends," he commanded with authority. "Let no man disturb
the peace of the dead."
And, unwaveringly, he went on to the end of the service.
So little Minnie Munn rests beside the mother who waited for her. No
ghosts have risen to protest her presence there. The man who loved her
comes back to Our Square from time to time, at which times there are
fresh flowers on Minnie's mound, below the headstone reading: "Beloved
Wife of Christopher Hines." But the elegiac verse has never appeared. I
must record also the disappearance of that tiny bronze cockleshell,
outward bound for "Far Ports," from the Bonnie Lassie's window, though
Mr. Hines was wrong in his theory that it could be bought--like all else
--"at a price." By the way, I believe that he has modified that theory.
As for Bartholomew Storrs, he is prone to take the other side of the
Square when he sees me on my accustomed bench. In repose his face is as
grim as ever, but I have seen him smile at a child. Probably the weight
of our collective sins upon his conscience is less irksome, now that he
has a crime of his own to balance them. For forgery and falsification of
an official record is a real crime, which might send him to jail. But
even that grim and judicial God of his worship ought to welcome him into
heaven on the strength of it.
I believe that Bartholomew sleeps o' nights now.
FOR MAYME, READ MARY
Mayme Mccartney was a bad little good girl. She inspired (I trust)
esteem for her goodness. But it was for her hardy and happy impudence,
her bent for ingenious mischief, her broad and catholic disrespect for
law, conventions, proprieties and persons, and the glint of the devil in
her black eyes that we really loved her. Such is the perversity of human
nature in Our Square. I am told that it is much the same elsewhere.
She first came into public notice by giving (unsolicited) a most
scandalous and spirited imitation of old Madame Tallafferr, aforetime of
the Southern aristocracy, in the act of rebuking her landlord, the
insecticidal Boggs ("Boggs Kills Bugs" in his patent of nobility), for
eating peanuts on his own front steps. She then (earnestly solicited by
a growing audience) put on impromptu sketches of the Little Red Doctor
diagnosing internal complications in a doodle-bug; of MacLachan (drunk)
singing "The Cork Leg" and MacLachan (sober) repenting thereof; of
Bartholomew Storrs offering samples of his mortuary poesy to a bereaved
second-cousin; and, having decked out her chin in cotton-batten whiskers
(limb of Satan!), of myself proffering sage counsel and pious
admonitions to Our Square at large. Having concluded, she sat down on a
bench and coughed. And the Little Red Doctor, who, from the shelter of a
shrub had observed her presentation of his little idiosyncrasies, drew
nearer and looked at her hard. For he disliked the sound of that cough.
He suspected that his old friend and opponent, Death, with whom he
fought an interminable campaign, was mocking him from ambush. It wasn't
quite fair play, either, for the foe to use the particular weapon
indicated by the cough on a mere child. With her lustrous hair loose and
floating, and her small, eager, flushed face, she looked far short of
the mature and self-reliant seventeen which was the tally of her
"Hello," greeted the Little Red Doctor, speaking with the brusque
informality of one assured of his place as a local celebrity. "I don't
know you, do I?"
Mayme lifted her eyes. "If you don't," she drawled, "it ain't for lack
of tryin'. Is your hat glued on?"
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Little Red Doctor indignantly. "Do you think
I'm trying to flirt with you? Why, you're only a kid."
"Get up to date," advised Mayme. "I'm old enough to be your steady.
Only, I'm too lucky."
"That's a bad cough you've got," said the Little Red Doctor hastily.
"I've got a better one at home. Like to hear it some day?"
"Bring it over to my office and let's look at the thing," suggested the
Little Red Doctor, smiling.
As Mayme McCartney observed that smile with the shrewd judgment of men
which comes early, in self-protection, to girls of her environment, the
suspicion and impudence died out of her face, which became wistful.
"D'you think it means anything?" she asked.
"Any cough means something. I couldn't tell without examination."
"How much?" inquired the cautious Mayme.
The Little Red Doctor is a willing liar in a good cause. "No charge for
first consultation. Come over to my office."
When the test was finished, the Little Red Doctor looked professionally
non-committal. "Live with your parents?" he asked.
"No. With my aunt. 'Round in the Avenue."
"Where do you work?"
"The Emporium," answered the girl, naming the great and still
fashionable downtown department store, half a mile to the westward.
"You ought to quit. As soon as possible."
"And spoil my delicate digestion?"
"Who said anything about your digestion?"
"I did. If I quit workin', I quit eatin'. And that's bad for me. I tried
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