O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920
Part 1 out of 8
STORIES OF 1920***
E-text prepared by Stan Goodman
O. HENRY MEMORIAL AWARD PRIZE STORIES 1920
Chosen by the Society of Arts and Sciences
With an Introduction by Blanche Colton Williams
Author of "A Handbook on Story Writing,"
"Our Short Story Writers," Etc.
Associate Professor of English, Hunter College
of the City of New York.
Instructor in Story Writing, Columbia University
(Extension Teaching and Summer Session).
EACH IN HIS GENERATION. By Maxwell Struthers Burt
"CONTACT!" By Frances Noyes Hart
THE CAMEL'S BACK. By F. Scott Fitzgerald
BREAK-NECK HILL. By Esther Forbes
BLACK ART AND AMBROSE. By Guy Gilpatric
THE JUDGMENT OF VULCAN. By Lee Foster Hartman
THE ARGOSIES. By Alexander Hull
ALMA MATER. By O. F. Lewis
SLOW POISON. By Alice Duer Miller
THE FACE IN THE WINDOW. By William Dudley Pelley
A MATTER OF LOYALTY. By Lawrence Perry
PROFESSOR TODD'S USED CAR. By L.H. Robbins
THE THING THEY LOVED. By "Marice Rutledge"
BUTTERFLIES. By "Rose Sidney"
NO FLOWERS. By Gordon Arthur Smith
FOOTFALLS. By Wilbur Daniel Steele
THE LAST ROOM OF ALL. By Stephen French Whitman
O. HENRY MEMORIAL AWARD PRIZE STORIES 1919, in its introduction,
rendered a brief account of the origin of this monument to O.
Henry's genius. Founded in 1918 by the Society of Arts and Sciences,
through the initiative of Managing Director John F. Tucker, it took
the form of two annual prizes of $500 and $250 for, respectively,
the best and second-best stories written by Americans and published
The Committee of Award sifted the periodicals of 1919 and found
thirty-two which, in their opinion, were superior specimens of
short-story art. The prize-winners, determined in the manner set
forth, were Margaret Prescott Montague's "England to America" and
Wilbur Daniel Steele's "For They Know Not What They Do." For these
stories the authors duly received the awards, on the occasion of the
O. Henry Memorial dinner which was given by the Society at the Hotel
Astor, June 2, 1920.
Since it appeared to be a fitting extension of the memorial to
incorporate in volume form the narratives chosen, they were included,
either by title or reprint, in the first book of the series of which
this is the second. Thus grouped, they are testimony to unprejudiced
selection on the part of the Committee of Award as they are evidence
of ability on the part of their authors.
The first volume has met favour from critics and from laymen. For
the recognition of tedious, if pleasant, hours necessary to a
meticulous survey of twelve months' brief fiction, the Committee of
Award are grateful, as they are indebted to the generous cooeperation
of authors and publishers, but for whom the work would have been
impossible of continuation.
The committee express thanks for the approval which affirms that
"No more fitting tribute to the genius of William Sidney Porter
(O. Henry) could possibly have been devised than that of this
'Memorial Award,'"  which recognizes each story as "a definite
expression of American life--as O. Henry's was,"  which knows by
inescapable logic that a story ranking second with five judges is
superior to one ranking first with only one of these. A number of
reviewers graciously showed awareness of this fact.
[Footnote 1: _New York Times_, June 2, 1920.]
[Footnote 2: _Chicago Tribune_, Paris Edition, August 7, 1920.]
The Committee of Award for 1920 consisted of
BLANCHE COLTON WILLIAMS, Ph.D., Chairman |
EDWARD J. WHEELER, Litt.D. | JUDGES
ETHEL WATTS MUMFORD |
MERLE ST. CROIX WRIGHT, D.D. |
and JOHN F. TUCKER, Managing Director of the Society,
Founder of the O. Henry Memorial.
As in preceding years the Committee held regular meetings at which
they weighed the merits of every story-candidate presented. By
January, 1921, one hundred and twenty-five remained, among which
those rated highest are as follows:
Babcock, Edwina Stanton, Gargoyle (_Harper's_, Sept.)
Barrett, Richmond Brooks, The Daughter of the Bernsteins
(_Smart Set_, July).
"Belden, Jacques," The Duke's Opera (_Munsey's_, October).
Benet, Stephen Vincent, The Funeral of John Bixby (_Munsey's_, July).
Brooks, Jonathan, Bills Playable (_Collier's_, September 18).
Burt, Maxwell Struthers, A Dream or Two (_Harper's_, May);
Each in His Generation (_Scribner's_, July).
Cabell, James Branch, The Designs of Miramon (_Century_, August).
Child, Richard Washburn, A Thief Indeed (_Pictorial Review_, June).
Clausen, Carl, The Perfect Crime (_Saturday Evening Post_, Sept. 25).
Cram, Mildred, The Ember (_McCall's_, June); Odell (_Red
Book_, May); Wind (_Munsey's_, August).
Dobie, Charles Caldwell, Young China (_Ladies Home Journal_, August).
Edwards, Cleveland, Pride o' Name on Peachtree (_Live Stories_, Feb.).
Ferber, Edna, You've Got to Be Selfish (_McClure's_, April).
Fitzgerald, Scott, The Camel's Back (_Saturday Evening Post_,
Apr. 24); The Cut-Glass Bowl (_Scribner's_, May);
The Off-Shore Pirate (_Saturday Evening Post_, May 29).
Forbes, Esther, Break-Neck Hill (_Grinnell Review_, September).
Gilpatric, Guy, Black Art and Ambrose (_Collier's_, August 21).
Hartman, Lee Foster, The Judgment of Vulcan (_Harper's_, March).
Hergesheimer, Joseph, "Read Them and Weep" (_Century_, January).
Hooker, Brian, Branwen (_Romance_, June).
Hull, Alexander, The Argosies (_Scribner's_, September).
Hume, Wilkie, The Metamorphosis of High Yaller
(_Live Stories_, June).
Kabler, Hugh, Fools First (_Saturday Evening Post_, November 20).
Kerr, Sophie, Divine Waste (_Woman's Home Companion_, May).
La Motte, Widows and Orphans (_Century_, September).
Lewis, O. F., Alma Mater (_Red Book_, June). Sparks That Flash
in the Night (_Red Book_, October).
Marquis, Don Kale (_Everybody's_, September); Death and Old Man
Murtrie (_New Republic_, February 4).
Marshall, Edison, Brother Bill the Elk (_Blue Book_, May).
Means, E. K., The Ten-Share Horse (_Munsey's_, May).
Miller, Alice Duer, Slow Poison (_Saturday Evening Post_, June 12).
Montague, Margaret Prescott, Uncle Sam of Freedom Ridge (_Atlantic
Mumford, Ethel Watts, A Look of the Copperleys (_Ladies Home
Journal_, April); Red Gulls (_Pictorial Review_, October).
Newell, Maude Woodruff, Salvage (_Green Book_, July).
Noyes, Frances Newbold, "Contact!"  (_Pictorial Review_, December).
Pelley, William Dudley, The Face in the Window (_Red Book_, May);
The Show-Down (_Red Book_, June).
Perry, Lawrence, The Real Game (_Everybody's_, July). A Matter of
Loyalty (_Red Book_, July); The Lothario of the Seabird
(_Ladies Home Journal_, August); The Rocks of Avalon
(_Red Book_, December).
Post, Melville Davisson, The House by the Loch (_Hearst's_, May).
Redington, Sarah, A Certain Rich Woman (_Outlook_, May 5).
Reid, M. F., Doodle Buys a Bull Pup (_Everybody's_, August).
Richardson, Norval, The Bracelet (_McClure's_, July).
Robbins, L.H., "Ain't This the Darnedest World?" (_American_, May);
Professor Todd's Used Car (_Everybody's_, July).
"Rutledge, Marice," The Thing They Loved (_Century_, May).
Ryan, Kathryn White, A Man of Cone (_Munsey's_, March).
Scarborough, Dorothy, The Drought (_Century_, May).
"Sidney, Rose," Butterflies (_Pictorial Review_, September).
Smith, Gordon Arthur, No Flowers (_Harper's_, May); The Aristocrat
Steele, Wilbur Daniel, Both Judge and Jury (_Harper's_, January);
God's Mercy (_Pictorial Review_, July); Footfalls (_Pictorial
Synon, Mary, On Scarlet Wings (_Red Book_, July).
Titus, Harold, Aliens (_Ladies Home Journal_, May).
Tuckerman, Arthur, Black Magic, (_Scribner's_, August).
Welles, Harriet, According to Ruskin (_Woman's Home Companion_,
Distracting Adeline (_Scribner's_, May).
Whitman, Stephen French, The Last Room of All (_Harper's_, June).
Wilkes, Allene Tupper, Toop Goes Skating (_Woman's Home Companion_,
[Footnote 3: Listed alphabetically by authors.]
[Footnote 4: A member of the Committee of Award, this author
refused as a matter of course to allow consideration of her stories
for republication here or for the prizes. But the other members
insist upon their being listed, and upon mention of "Red Gulls" as
one of the best stories of 1920.]
[Footnote 5: Reprinted as by Frances Noyes Hart.]
From this list were selected seventeen stories which, in the
judgment of the Committee, rank highest and which, therefore, are
reprinted in this volume.
Since, as will be recalled from the conditions of the award, only
American authors were considered, certain familiar foreign names are
conspicuously absent. Achmed Abdullah, Stacy Aumonier, F. Britten
Austin, Phyllis Bottome, Thomas Burke, Coningsby Dawson, Mrs. Henry
Dudeney, Lord Dunsany, John Galsworthy, Perceval Gibbon, Blasco
Ibanez, Maurice Level, A. Neil Lyons, Seumas MacManus, Leonard Merrick,
Maria Moravsky, Alfred Noyes, May Sinclair and Hugh Walpole all
illustrate recovery from the world war. But with their stories the
Committee had nothing to do. The Committee cannot forbear mention,
however, of "Under the Tulips" (_Detective Stories_, February 10),
one of the two best horror specimens of the year. It is by an
Englishwoman, May Edginton.
Half a dozen names from the foreign list just given are synonymous
with the best fiction of the period. Yet the short story as
practised in its native home continues to excel the short story
written in other lands. The English, the Russian, the French, it is
being contended in certain quarters, write better literature. They
do not, therefore, write better stories. If literature is of a
magnificent depth and intricate subtlety in a measure proportionate
to its reflection of the vast complexity of a nation that has
existed as such for centuries, conceivably it will be facile and
clever in a measure proportionate to its reflection of the spirit of
the commonwealth which in a few hundred years has acquired a place
with age-old empires.
The American short-story is "simple, economical, and brilliantly
effective," H.L. Mencken admits. "Yet the same hollowness that
marks the American novel," he continues, "also marks the short story."
And of "many current makers of magazine short stories," he
asseverates, "such stuff has no imaginable relation to life as men
live it in the world." He further comments, "the native author of any
genuine force and originality is almost invariably found to be under
strong foreign influences, either English or Continental."
With due regard for the justice of this slant--that of a student of
Shaw, Ibsen, and Nietzsche--we believe that the best stories written
in America to-day reflect life, even life that is sordid and dreary
or only commonplace. In the New York _Evening Post_ the present
"A backward glance over the short stories of the preceding twelve
months discovers two facts. There are many of them, approximately
between fifteen hundred and two thousand; there are, comparatively,
few of merit."
[Footnote 6: The National Letters, in _Prejudices_, second series,
Knopf, N.Y., 1920.]
[Footnote 7: April 24, 1920.]
"You have looked from the rear platform of the limited, across the
widening distance, at a town passed a moment ago. A flourishing city,
according to the prospectus; a commonplace aggregation of
architecture, you say; respectable middle-class homes; time-serving
cottages built on the same plan; a heaven-seeking spire; perhaps a
work of art in library or townhall. You are rather glad that you
have left it behind; rather certain that soon you will have rolled
through another, its counterpart.
"But there may be hope, here, of sorts. For a typical American town
represents twentieth century life and development, just as current
short stories reflect conditions. If the writer failed to represent
his age, to reflect its peculiar images, he would not serve it truly."
It is significant that these words preceded by only a few months the
publication of Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street," which illustrates in
a big and popular way the point in question. Work of satire that it
is, it cannot but hold out a solution of the problem presented: in
the sweep of the land to the Rockies lies a "dominion which will
rise to unexampled greatness when other empires have grown senile."
America is young; its writers are young. But they are reflecting the
many-coloured, multiform life of America, in journalism and in art.
Quite naturally, they profit by all that has preceded them in other
literatures. Since their work stands rooted in romanticism it may
legitimately heighten the effects and lights of everyday life.
A glance at the stories republished by the O. Henry Memorial Award
Committee for 1920 will reveal their varied nature. The _genus
Africanus_ is represented by "Black Art and Ambrose," which has a
close second in another on the list, "The Metamorphosis of High
Yaller," and a third in "The Ten-Share Horse" of E.K. Means. The
tabulation reveals a number of cosmic types--Jewish, Chinese, English,
French, Irish, Italian, American. The Chinese character is even more
ubiquitous than in 1919, but the tales wherein he figures appear to
the Committee to be the last drops in the bucket. Two exceptions
occur: "Young China," by Charles Caldwell Dobie, and "Widows and
Orphans," by Ellen La Motte. The former knows San Francisco Chinatown,
the latter is acquainted with the Oriental at home. One of the
Committee regards "The Daughter of the Bernsteins" as the best story
of Jewish character. Another sees in it a certain crudeness. Its
companions in the year were the tales of Bruno Lessing, Montague
Glass, and--in particular--a story by Leon Kelley entitled "Speeches
Ain't Business" (_Pictorial Review_, July).
But this note on the list is a digression. With regard to the
stories reprinted, "The Last Room of All" illustrates old-world
influence, surely, in its recountal of events in an age long past,
the time of the Second Emperor Frederick of Swabia. In its revival
of old forms, old customs, it is a masquerade. But behold that it is
a gorgeous blood-coloured masquerade and that Cercamorte is a
distinct portrait of the swash-buckler hero of those times.
The young Americans in "The Camel's Back" support a critical thesis
made for their author that he is evolving an idiom. It is the idiom
of young America. If you are over thirty, read one of this prodigy's
ten-thousand word narratives and discover for the first time that
you are separated by a hopeless chasm from the infant world.
"Professor Todd's Used Car" and "Alma Mater" are two of the numerous
stories published in 1920 which take up the cudgels for the
undertrodden college professor. Incidentally, it is interesting to
read from a letter of Mr. Lewis: "The brevity--and the twist in the
plot at the end--were consciously patterned on O. Henry's methods."
Without further enumeration of the human types, it is a matter of
observation that they exist in many moods and ages as they exist in
real life. A revenant who lived one hundred years ago might pick up
this volume and secure a fairly accurate idea of society to-day. A
visitor from another country might find it a guide to national
intelligence and feeling.
A few stories appealed to the Committee for their poetry. "The
Funeral of John Bixby," by Stephen Vincent Benet, and "The Duke's
Opera," by "Jacques Belden" (the first an allegorical fantasy and
the second a poetic-romance) are at the head of this division. With
these should be included Don Marquis's "Death and Old Man Murtrie,"
for its sardonic allegory, and "The Designs of Miramon," by James
Branch Cabell, for its social satire. Individual members of the
Committee would have liked to include these--different members
preferring different ones of the four--but the Committee as a whole
saw the allegory or satire or poetry predominant over story values.
The mysterious and the tragic are found in the work of Mildred Cram
and Wilbur Daniel Steele. "Odell" and "Wind" illustrate Miss Cram's
particular genius in this direction: but "The Ember," it is voted,
ranks first of her publications. Mr. Steele's "Both Judge and Jury"
and "God's Mercy" are exotic, perhaps, but the atmosphere he creates
is beguiling in comparison with that of mere everyday. "Footfalls"
was selected out of an embarrassment of riches offered by this author.
The best horror story of the year is Rose Sidney's "Butterflies." It
is a Greek tragedy, unrelieved, to be taken or left without
Athletics, no one will deny, constitutes a definite phase of
American life. The sport-struggle is best illustrated in the fiction
of Lawrence Perry, whether it be that of a polo match, tennis game,
or crew race. "A Matter of Loyalty" is representative of this contest,
and in the combined judgment of the Committee the highest ranking of
all Mr. Perry's stories. "Bills Playable," by Jonathan Brooks,
conceives athletics in a more humorous spirit.
Animal stories fill page upon page of 1920 magazines. Edison Marshall,
represented in the 1919 volume, by "The Elephant Remembers," has
delivered the epic of "Brother Bill the Elk." In spite of its length,
some fifteen thousand words, the Committee were mightily tempted to
request it for republication. Its Western author knows the animals in
their native lairs. "Break-Neck Hill," for which a member of the
Committee suggests the more poignant "Heart-Break Hill" as title,
expresses sympathy for the horse in a way the Committee believe
hitherto unexploited. "Aliens" received more votes as the best dog
story of the year.
Among a number of sea-tales are those by Richard Matthews Hallet,
wherein Big Captain Hat appears. The woman sea-captain is by way of
being, for the moment, a novel figure.
Anecdotal stories and very brief tales appear to have received
editorial sanction in 1920. "No Flowers" is of the former _genre_,
and whereas certain of the Committee see in the same author's
"The Aristocrat" a larger story, they agree with the majority that
the scintillance of this well-polished gem should give it setting
Variety of setting and diversity of emotion the reader will find in
greater measure, perhaps, than in the first volume of this series.
"Butterflies," for example, spells unrelieved horror; "The Face in
the Window" demands sympathetic admiration for its heroine; to read
"Contact!" means to suffer the familiar Aristotelian purging of the
emotions through tears. And their locales are as widely dissimilar
as are their emotional appeals. With these, all of which are
reprinted herein, the reader will do well to compare Dorothy
Scarborough's "Drought," for the pathos of a situation brought about
by the elements of nature in Texas.
The Committee could not agree upon the first and second prize stories.
The leaders were: "Each in His Generation," "Contact!" "The Thing
They Loved," "The Last Room of All," "Slow Poison," "God's Mercy"
and "Alma Mater." No story headed more than one list. The point
system, to which resort was made, resulted in the first prize
falling to "Each in His Generation," by Maxwell Struthers Burt, and
the second to "Contact!", by Frances Newbold Noyes (now Frances
Mr. Burt's story of Henry McCain and his nephew Adrian compresses
within legitimate story limits the antagonism between successive
generations. Each representative, bound by traditions and customs of
the particular age to which he belongs, is bound also by the chain
of inheritance. One interested in the outcome of the struggle
between the inexorable thrall of "period" and the inevitable bond of
race will find the solution of the problem satisfactory, as will the
reader who enjoys the individual situation and wishes most to find
out whether Uncle Henry left his money to Adrian or rejected that
choice for marriage with the marvellous lady of his own era.
"Contact!" is the first story by the author of "My A.E.F." and in
its every line testifies to the vital interest Miss Noyes had and
has in the boys who won the war--whether American, French or English.
So much one would know from a single rapid reading. A critic might
guess that it would have been impossible as a first story if the
author had not lived much abroad, as she has done since she was very
much of a child. At Oxford, or in the home of Gaston Paris, or
travelling around the globe, she received the foundation for the
understanding sympathy which endeared her as "Petite" to her soldier
boys. A critic might also aver that the steady moving forward of the
action, joined to the backward progress, yet both done so surely,
could not have been achieved without years of training. And in this
respect the narrative is little short of being a _tour de force_. But,
as a matter of fact. Miss Noyes dreamed the whole thing! Her
antecedent experience proved greater than mere technique.
The Committee wish to comment upon the irregularity of the output of
fiction from month to month. May brought forth the greatest number
of good stories, as November reaped the fewest. They wish, also, to
register notice of the continued flexibility of the short story form.
"The Judgment of Vulcan," at one extreme, in some thirteen thousand
words none the less relates a short story; "Alma Mater," at the other,
accomplishes the same end in two thousand. It is a matter of record
that the Committee discovered a number of excellent examples
containing not more than two thirds this latter number, a fact that
argues against the merging of the short story and the novel. Finally,
the Committee believe the fiction of the year 1920 superior to that
BLANCHE COLTON WILLIAMS,
NEW YORK CITY,
March 3, 1921.
EACH IN HIS GENERATION
BY MAXWELL STRUTHERS BURT
From _Scribner's Magazine_
Every afternoon at four o'clock, except when the weather was very
bad--autumn, winter, and spring--old Mr. Henry McCain drove up to
the small, discreet, polished front door, in the small, discreet,
fashionable street in which lived fairly old Mrs. Thomas Denby; got
out, went up the white marble steps, rang the bell, and was admitted
into the narrow but charming hall--dim turquoise-blue velvet
panelled into the walls, an etching or two: Whistler, Brangwyn--by a
trim parlour-maid. Ten generations, at least, of trim parlour-maids
had opened the door for Mr. McCain. They had seen the sparkling
victoria change, not too quickly, to a plum-coloured limousine; they
had seen Mr. McCain become perhaps a trifle thinner, the colour in
his cheeks become a trifle more confined and fixed, his white hair
grow somewhat sparser, but beyond that they had seen very little
indeed, although, when they had left Mr. McCain in the drawing-room
with the announcement that Mrs. Denby would be down immediately, and
were once again seeking the back of the house, no doubt their
eyebrows, blonde, brunette, or red, apexed to a questioning angle.
In the manner of youth the parlour-maids had come, worked, fallen in
love and departed, but Mr. McCain, in the manner of increasing age,
had if anything grown more faithful and exact to the moment. If he
were late the fraction of five minutes, one suspected that he
regretted it, that it came near to spoiling his entire afternoon. He
was not articulate, but occasionally he expressed an idea and the
most common was that he "liked his things as he liked them";
his eggs, in other words, boiled just so long, no more--after
sixty years of inner debate on the subject he had apparently
arrived at the conclusion that boiled eggs were the only kind of eggs
permissible--his life punctual and serene. The smallest manifestation
of unexpectedness disturbed him. Obviously that was one reason why,
after a youth not altogether constant, he had become so utterly
constant where Mrs. Denby was concerned. She had a quality of
perenniality, charming and assuring, even to each strand of her
delicate brown hair. Grayness should have been creeping upon her,
but it was not. It was doubtful if Mr. McCain permitted himself,
even secretly, to wonder why. Effects, fastidious and constant, were
all he demanded from life.
This had been going on for twenty years--this afternoon call; this
slow drive afterward in the park; this return by dusk to the shining
small house in the shining small street; the good-by, reticently
ardent, as if it were not fully Mr. McCain's intention to return
again in the evening. Mr. McCain would kiss Mrs. Denby's hand--slim,
lovely, with a single gorgeous sapphire upon the third finger.
"Good-by, my dear," he would say, "you have given me the most
delightful afternoon of my life." For a moment Mrs. Denby's hand
would linger on the bowed head; then Mr. McCain would straighten up,
smile, square his shoulders in their smart, young-looking coat, and
depart to his club, or the large, softly lit house where he dwelt
alone. At dinner he would drink two glasses of champagne. Before he
drained the last sip of the second pouring he would hold the glass
up to the fire, so that the bronze coruscations at the heart of the
wine glowed like fireflies in a gold dusk. One imagined him saying
to himself: "A perfect woman! A perfect woman--God bless her!"
Saying "God bless" any one, mind you, with a distinct warming of the
heart, but a thoroughly late-Victorian disbelief in any god to bless....
At least, you thought as much.
And, of course, one had not the slightest notion whether he--old
Mr. Henry McCain--was aware that this twenty years of devotion on
his part to Mrs. Denby was the point upon which had come to focus
the not inconsiderable contempt and hatred for him of his nephew
It was an obvious convergence, this devotion of all the traits which
composed, so Adrian imagined, the despicable soul that lay beneath
his uncle's unangled exterior: undeviating self-indulgence; secrecy;
utter selfishness--he was selfish even to the woman he was supposed
to love; that is, if he was capable of loving any one but himself--a
bland hypocrisy; an unthinking conformation to the dictates of an
unthinking world. The list could be multiplied. But to sum it up,
here was epitomized, beautifully, concretely, the main and minor
vices of a generation for which Adrian found little pity in his heart;
a generation brittle as ice; a generation of secret diplomacy; a
generation that in its youth had covered a lack of bathing by a vast
amount of perfume. That was it--! That expressed it perfectly! The
just summation! Camellias, and double intentions in speech, and
unnecessary reticences, and refusals to meet the truth, and a
deliberate hiding of uglinesses!
Most of the time Adrian was too busy to think about his uncle at
all--he was a very busy man with his writing: journalistic writing;
essays, political reviews, propaganda--and because he was busy he
was usually well-content, and not uncharitable, except professionally;
but once a month it was his duty to dine with his uncle, and then,
for the rest of the night, he was disturbed, and awoke the next
morning with the dusty feeling in his head of a man who has been
slightly drunk. Old wounds were recalled, old scars inflamed; a
childhood in which his uncle's figure had represented to him the
terrors of sarcasm and repression; a youth in which, as his guardian,
his uncle had deprecated all first fine hot-bloodednesses and
enthusiasms; a young manhood in which he had been told cynically
that the ways of society were good ways, and that the object of life
was material advancement; advice which had been followed by the
stimulus of an utter refusal to assist financially except where
absolutely necessary. There had been willingness, you understand, to
provide a gentleman's education, but no willingness to provide
beyond that any of a gentleman's perquisites. That much of his early
success had been due to this heroic upbringing, Adrian was too
honest not to admit, but then--by God, it had been hard! All the
colour of youth! No time to dream--except sorely! Some warping, some
perversion! A gasping, heart-breaking knowledge that you could not
possibly keep up with the people with whom, paradoxically enough,
you were supposed to spend your leisure hours. Here was the making
of a radical. And yet, despite all this, Adrian dined with his uncle
once a month.
The mere fact that this was so, that it could be so, enraged him. It
seemed a renunciation of all he affirmed; an implicit falsehood. He
would have liked very much to have got to his feet, standing firmly
on his two long, well-made legs, and have once and for all delivered
himself of a final philippic. The philippic would have ended
something like this:
"And this, sir, is the last time I sacrifice any of my good hours to
you. Not because you are old, and therefore think you are wise, when
you are not; not because you are blind and besotted and damned--a
trunk of a tree filled with dry rot that presently a clean wind will
blow away; not because your opinions, and the opinions of all like
you, have long ago been proven the lies and idiocies that they are;
not even because you haven't one single real right left to live--I
haven't come to tell you these things, although they are true; for
you are past hope and there is no use wasting words upon you; I have
come to tell you that you bore me inexpressibly. (That would be the
most dreadful revenge of all. He could see his uncle's face!) That
you have a genius for taking the wrong side of every question, and I
can no longer endure it. I dissipate my time. Good-night!"
He wouldn't have said it in quite so stately a way, possibly, the
sentences would not have been quite so rounded, but the context
would have been the same.
Glorious; but it wasn't said. Instead, once a month, he got into his
dinner-jacket, brushed his hair very sleekly, walked six blocks,
said good-evening to his uncle's butler, and went on back to the
library, where, in a room rich with costly bindings, and smelling
pleasantly of leather, and warmly yellow with the light of two
shaded lamps, he would find his uncle reading before a crackling
wood fire. What followed was almost a formula, an exquisite
presentation of stately manners, an exquisite avoidance of any topic
which might cause a real discussion. The dinner was invariably gentle,
persuasive, a thoughtful gastronomic achievement. Heaven might
become confused about its weather, and about wars, and things like
that, but Mr. McCain never became confused about his menus. He had a
habit of commending wine. "Try this claret, my dear fellow, I want
your opinion.... A drop of this Napoleonic brandy won't hurt you a
bit." He even sniffed the bouquet before each sip; passed, that is,
the glass under his nose and then drank. But Adrian, with a
preconceived image of the personality back of this, and the memory
of too many offences busy in his mind, saw nothing quaint or amusing.
His gorge rose. Damn his uncle's wines, and his mushrooms, and his
soft-footed servants, and his house of nuances and evasions, and his
white grapes, large and outwardly perfect, and inwardly sentimental
as the generation whose especial fruit they were. As for himself, he
had a recollection of ten years of poverty after leaving college; a
recollection of sweat and indignities; he had also a recollection of
some poor people whom he had known.
Afterward, when the dinner was over, Adrian would go home and awake
his wife, Cecil, who, with the brutal honesty of an honest woman,
also some of the ungenerosity, had early in her married life flatly
refused any share in the ceremonies described. Cecil would lie in
her small white bed, the white of her boudoir-cap losing itself in
the white of the pillow, a little sleepy and a little angrily
perplexed at the perpetual jesuitical philosophy of the male.
"If you feel that way," she would ask, "why do you go there, then?
Why don't you banish your uncle utterly?" She asked this not without
malice, her long, violet, Slavic eyes widely open, and her red mouth,
a trifle too large, perhaps, a trifle cruel, fascinatingly
interrogative over her white teeth. She loved Adrian and had at times,
therefore, the right and desire to torture him. She knew perfectly
well why he went. He was his uncle's heir, and until such time as
money and other anachronisms of the present social system were done
away with, there was no use throwing a fortune into the gutter, even
if by your own efforts you were making an income just sufficiently
large to keep up with the increased cost of living.
Sooner or later Adrian's mind reverted to Mrs. Denby. This was
usually after he had been in bed and had been thinking for a while
in the darkness. He could not understand Mrs. Denby. She affronted
his modern habit of thought.
"The whole thing is so silly and adventitious!"
Adrian was aware that his wife knew exactly of what he was talking,
but he had come to expect the question. "Mrs. Denby and my uncle."
He would grow rather gently cross. "It has always reminded me of
those present-day sword-and-cloak romances fat business men used to
write about ten years ago and sell so enormously--there's an
atmosphere of unnecessary intrigue. What's it all about? Here's the
point! Why, if she felt this way about things, didn't she divorce
that gentle drunkard of a husband of hers years ago and marry my
uncle outright and honestly? Or why, if she couldn't get a
divorce--which she could--didn't she leave her husband and go with
my uncle? Anything in the open! Make a break--have some courage of
her opinions! Smash things; build them up again! Thank God nowadays,
at least, we have come to believe in the cleanness of surgery rather
than the concealing palliatives of medicine. We're no longer--we
modern people--afraid of the world; and the world can never hurt for
any length of time any one who will stand up to it and tell it
courageously to go to hell. No! It comes back and licks hands."
"I'll tell you why. My uncle and Mrs. Denby are the typical moral
cowards of their generation. There's selfishness, too. What a
travesty of love! Of course there's scandal, a perpetual scandal;
but it's a hidden, sniggering scandal they don't have to meet face
to face; and that's all they ask of life, they, and people like
them--never to have to meet anything face to face. So long as they
can bury their heads like ostriches! ... Faugh!" There would be a
moment's silence; then Adrian would complete his thought. "In my
uncle's case," he would grumble in the darkness, "one phase of the
selfishness is obvious. He couldn't even get himself originally, I
suppose, to face the inevitable matter-of-fact moments of marriage.
It began when he was middle-aged, a bachelor--I suppose he wants the
sort of Don Juan, eighteen-eighty, perpetual sort of romance that
doesn't exist outside the brains of himself and his like....
Usually he tried to stir up argument with his wife, who in these
matters agreed with him utterly; even more than agreed with him,
since she was the escaped daughter of rich and stodgy people, and
had insisted upon earning her own living by portrait-painting.
Theoretically, therefore, she was, of course, an anarchist. But at
moments like the present her silent assent and the aura of slight
weariness over an ancient subject which emanated from her in the dusk,
affronted Adrian as much as positive opposition.
"Why don't you try to understand me?"
"I do, dearest!"--a pathetic attempt at eager agreement.
"Well, then, if you do, why is the tone of your voice like that? You
know by now what I think. I'm not talking convention; I believe
there are no laws higher than the love of a man for a woman. It
should seek expression as a seed seeks sunlight. I'm talking about
honesty; bravery; a willingness to accept the consequences of one's
acts and come through; about the intention to sacrifice for love
just what has to be sacrificed. What's the use of it otherwise?
That's one real advance the modern mind has made, anyhow, despite
all the rest of the welter and uncertainty."
"Of course, dearest."
He would go on. After a while Cecil would awake guiltily and inject
a fresh, almost gay interest into her sleepy voice. She was not so
unfettered as not to dread the wounded esteem of the unlistened-to
male. She would lean over and kiss Adrian.
"Do go to sleep, darling! What's the sense? Pretty soon your uncle
will be dead--wretched old man! Then you'll never have to think of
him again." Being a childless woman, her red, a trifle cruel mouth
would twist itself in the darkness into a small, secretive, maternal
But old Mr. Henry McCain didn't die; instead he seemed to be caught
up in the condition of static good health which frequently
companions entire selfishness and a careful interest in oneself. His
butler died, which was very annoying. Mr. McCain seemed to consider
it the breaking of a promise made fifteen or so years before. It was
endlessly a trouble instructing a new man, and then, of course,
there was Adlington's family to be looked after, and taxes had gone
up, and Mrs. Adlington was a stout woman who, despite the fact that
Adlington, while alive, had frequently interrupted Mr. McCain's
breakfast newspaper reading by asserting that she was a person of no
character, now insisted upon weeping noisily every time Mr. McCain
granted her an interview. Also, and this was equally unexpected,
since one rather thought he would go on living forever, like one of
the damper sort of fungi, Mr. Denby came home from the club one
rainy spring night with a slight cold and died, three days later,
with extraordinary gentleness.
"My uncle," said Adrian, "is one by one losing his accessories.
After a while it will be his teeth."
Cecil was perplexed. "I don't know exactly what to do," she
complained. "I don't know whether to treat Mrs. Denby as a bereaved
aunt, a non-existent family skeleton, or a released menace. I dare
say now, pretty soon, she and your uncle will be married. Meanwhile,
I suppose it is rather silly of me not to call and see if I can help
her in any way. After all, we do know her intimately, whether we
want to or not, don't we? We meet her about all the time, even if
she wasn't motoring over to your uncle's place in the summer when we
So she went, being fundamentally kindly and fundamentally curious.
She spoke of the expedition as "a descent upon Fair Rosamund's tower."
The small, yellow-panelled drawing-room, where she awaited Mrs.
Denby's coming, was lit by a single silver vase-lamp under an orange
shade and by a fire of thin logs, for the April evening was damp
with a hesitant rain. On the table, near the lamp, was a silver vase
with three yellow tulips in it, and Cecil, wandering about, came
upon a double photograph frame, back of the vase, that made her gasp.
She picked it up and stared at it. Between the alligator edgings,
facing each other obliquely, but with the greatest amity, were
Mr. Thomas Denby in the fashion of ten years before, very handsome,
very well-groomed, with the startled expression which any definite
withdrawal from his potational pursuits was likely to produce upon
his countenance, and her uncle-in-law, Mr. Henry McCain, also in the
fashion of ten years back. She was holding the photographs up to the
light, her lips still apart, when she heard a sound behind her, and,
putting the frame back guiltily, turned about. Mrs. Denby was
advancing toward her. She seemed entirely unaware of Cecil's
malfeasance; she was smiling faintly; her hand was cordial, grateful.
"You are very good," she murmured. "Sit here by the fire. We will
have some tea directly."
Cecil could not but admit that she was very lovely; particularly
lovely in the black of her mourning, with her slim neck, rising up
from its string of pearls, to a head small and like a delicate
white-and-gold flower. An extraordinarily well-bred woman, a sort of
misty Du Maurier woman, of a type that had become almost non-existent,
if ever it had existed in its perfection at all. And, curiously
enough, a woman whose beauty seemed to have been sharpened by many
fine-drawn renunciations. Now she looked at her hands as if expecting
Cecil to say something.
"I think such calls as this are always very useless, but then--"
"Exactly--but then! They mean more than anything else in the world,
don't they? When one reaches fifty-five one is not always used to
kindness.... You are very kind...." She raised her eyes.
Cecil experienced a sudden impulsive warmth. "After all, what did
she or any one else know about other peoples' lives? Poor souls!
What a base thing life often was!"
"I want you to understand that we are always so glad, both Adrian
and myself.... Any time we can help in any way, you know--"
"Yes, I think you would. You--I have watched you both. You don't mind,
do you? I think you're both rather great people--at least, my idea
Cecil's eyes shone just a little; then she sat back and drew
together her eager, rather childish mouth. This wouldn't do! She had
not come here to encourage sentimentalization. With a determined
effort she lifted her mind outside the circle of commiseration which
threatened to surround it. She deliberately reset the conversation
to impersonal limits. She was sure that Mrs. Denby was aware of her
intention, adroitly concealed as it was. This made her uncomfortable,
ashamed. And yet she was irritated with herself. Why should she
particularly care what this woman thought in ways as subtle as this?
Obvious kindness was her intention, not mental charity pursued into
tortuous by-paths. And, besides, her frank, boyish cynicism, its
wariness, revolted, even while she felt herself flattered at the
prospect of the confidences that seemed to tremble on Mrs. Denby's
lips. It wouldn't do to "let herself in for anything"; to "give
herself away." No! She adopted a manner of cool, entirely reflective
kindliness. But all along she was not sure that she was thoroughly
successful. There was a lingering impression that Mrs. Denby was
penetrating the surface to the unwilling interest beneath. Cecil
suspected that this woman was trained in discriminations and
half-lights to which she and her generation had joyfully made
themselves blind. She felt uncomfortably young; a little bit smiled
at in the most kindly of hidden ways. Just as she was leaving, the
subversive softness came close to her again, like a wave of too much
perfume as you open a church-door; as if some one were trying to
embrace her against her will.
"You will understand," said Mrs. Denby, "that you have done the very
nicest thing in the world. I am horribly lonely. I have few women
friends. Perhaps it is too much to ask--but if you could call again
sometime. Yes ... I would appreciate it so greatly."
She let go of Cecil's hand and walked to the door, and stood with
one long arm raised against the curtain, her face turned toward the
"There is no use," she said, "in attempting to hide my husband's life,
for every one knows what it was, but then--yes, I think you will
understand. I am a childless woman, you see; he was infinitely
Cecil felt that she must run away, instantly. "I do--" she said
brusquely. "I understand more than other women. Perfectly! Good-by!"
She found herself brushing past the latest trim parlour-maid, and
out once more in the keen, sweet, young dampness. She strode briskly
down the deserted street. Her fine bronze eyebrows were drawn down
to where they met. "Good Lord! Damn!"--Cecil swore very prettily and
modernly--"What rotten taste! Not frankness, whatever it might seem
outwardly; not frankness, but devious excuses! Some more of Adrian's
hated past-generation stuff! And yet--no! The woman was
sincere--perfectly! She had meant it--that about her husband. And
she _was_ lovely--and she was fine, too! It was impossible to deny it.
But--a childless woman! About that drunken tailor's model of a
husband! And then--Uncle Henry! ..." Cecil threw back her head; her
eyes gleamed in the wet radiance of a corner lamp; she laughed
without making a sound, and entirely without amusement.
But it is not true that good health is static, no matter how
carefully looked after. And, despite the present revolt against the
Greek spirit, Time persists in being bigotedly Greek. The
tragedy--provided one lives long enough--is always played out to its
logical conclusion. For every hour you have spent, no matter how
quietly or beautifully or wisely, Nemesis takes toll in the end. You
peter out; the engine dulls; the shining coin wears thin. If it's
only that it is all right; you are fortunate if you don't become
greasy, too, or blurred, or scarred. And Mr. McCain had not spent
all his hours wisely or beautifully, or even quietly, underneath the
surface. He suddenly developed what he called "acute indigestion."
"Odd!" he complained, "and exceedingly tiresome! I've been able to
eat like an ostrich all my life." Adrian smiled covertly at the
simile, but his uncle was unaware that it was because in Adrian's
mind the simile applied to his uncle's conscience, not his stomach.
It _was_ an odd disease, that "acute indigestion." It manifested
itself by an abrupt tragic stare in Mr. McCain's eyes, a whiteness of
cheek, a clutching at the left side of the breast; it resulted also
in his beginning to walk very slowly indeed. One day Adrian met
Carron, his uncle's physician, as he was leaving a club after
luncheon. Carron stopped him. "Look here, Adrian," he said,
"is that new man of your uncle's--that valet, or whatever he is--a
Adrian smiled. "I didn't hire him," he answered, "and I couldn't
discharge him if I wanted--in fact, any suggestion of that kind on my
part, would lead to his employment for life. Why?"
"Because," said Carron, "he impresses me as being rather young and
flighty, and some day your uncle is going to die suddenly. He may
last five years; he may snuff out to-morrow. It's his heart." His
lips twisted pityingly. "He prefers to call it by some other name,"
he added, "and he would never send for me again if he knew I had
told you, but you ought to know. He's a game old cock, isn't he?"
"Oh, very!" agreed Adrian. "Yes, game! Very, indeed!"
He walked slowly down the sunlit courtway on which the back door of
the club opened, swinging his stick and meditating. Spring was
approaching its zenith. In the warm May afternoon pigeons tumbled
about near-by church spires which cut brown inlays into the soft
blue sky. There was a feeling of open windows; a sense of unseen
tulips and hyacinths; of people playing pianos.... Too bad, an old
man dying that way, his hand furtively seeking his heart, when all
this spring was about! Terror in possession of him, too! People like
that hated to die; they couldn't see anything ahead. Well, Adrian
reflected, the real tragedy of it hadn't been his fault. He had
always been ready at the slightest signal to forget almost
everything--yes, almost everything. Even that time when, as a
sweating newspaper reporter, he had, one dusk, watched in the park
his uncle and Mrs. Denby drive past in the cool seclusion of a
shining victoria. Curious! In itself the incident was small, but it
had stuck in his memory more than others far more serious, as
concrete instances are likely to do.... No, he wasn't sorry; not a
bit! He was glad, despite the hesitation he experienced in saying to
himself the final word. He had done his best, and this would mean
his own release and Cecil's. It would mean at last the blessed
feeling that he could actually afford a holiday, and a little
unthinking laughter, and, at thirty-nine, the dreams for which, at
twenty-five, he had never had full time. He walked on down the
courtway more briskly.
That Saturday night was the night he dined with his uncle. It had
turned very warm; unusually warm for the time of year. When he had
dressed and had sought out Cecil to say good-by to her he found her
by the big studio window on the top floor of the apartment where
they lived. She was sitting in the window-seat, her chin cupped in
her hand, looking out over the city, in the dark pool of which
lights were beginning to open like yellow water-lilies. Her white
arm gleamed in the gathering dusk, and she was dressed in some
diaphanous blue stuff that enhanced the bronze of her hair. Adrian
took his place silently beside her and leaned out. The air was very
soft and hot and embracing, and up here it was very quiet, as if one
floated above the lower clouds of perpetual sound.
Cecil spoke at last. "It's lovely, isn't it?" she said. "I should
have come to find you, but I couldn't. These first warm nights! You
really understand why people live, after all, don't you? It's like a
pulse coming back to a hand you love." She was silent a moment.
"Kiss me," she said, finally. "I--I'm so glad I love you, and we're
He stooped down and put his arms about her. He could feel her tremble.
How fragrant she was, and queer, and mysterious, even if he had
lived with her now for almost fifteen years! He was infinitely glad
at the moment for his entire life. He kissed her again, kissed her
eyes, and she went down the stairs with him to the hall-door. She
was to stop for him at his uncle's, after a dinner to which she was
Adrian lit a cigarette and walked instead of taking the elevator. It
was appropriate to his mood that on the second floor some one with a
golden Italian voice should be singing "Louise." He paused for a
moment. He was reminded of a night long ago in Verona, when there
had been an open window and moonlight in the street. Then he looked
at his watch. He was late; he would have to hurry. It amused him
that at his age he should still fear the silent rebuke with which
his uncle punished unpunctuality.
He arrived at his destination as a near-by church clock struck the
half-hour. The new butler admitted him and led him back to where his
uncle was sitting by an open window; the curtains stirred in the
languid breeze, the suave room was a little penetrated by the night,
as if some sly, disorderly spirit was investigating uninvited. It
was far too hot for the wood fire--that part of the formula had been
omitted, but otherwise each detail was the same. "The two hundredth
time!" Adrian thought to himself. "The two hundredth time, at least!
It will go on forever!" And then the formula was altered again, for
his uncle got to his feet, laying aside the evening paper with his
usual precise care. "My dear fellow," he began, "so good of you! On
the minute, too! I----" and then he stumbled and put out his hand.
"My glasses!" he said.
Adrian caught him and held him upright. He swayed a little.
"I----Lately I have had to use them sometimes, even when not reading,"
he murmured. "Thank you! Thank you!"
Adrian went back to the chair where his uncle had been sitting. He
found the glasses--gold pince-nez--but they were broken neatly in
the middle, lying on the floor, as if they had dropped from
someone's hand. He looked at them for a moment, puzzled, before he
gave them back to his uncle.
"Here they are, sir," he said. "But--it's very curious. They're
broken in such an odd way."
His uncle peered down at them. He hesitated and cleared his throat.
"Yes," he began; then he stood up straight, with an unexpected twist
of his shoulders. "I was turning them between my fingers," he said,
"just before you came in. I had no idea--no, no idea! Shall we go in?
I think dinner has been announced."
There was the sherry in the little, deeply cut glasses, and the
clear soup, with a dash of lemon in it, and the fish, and afterward
the roast chicken, with vegetables discreetly limited and designed
not to detract from the main dish; and there was a pint of champagne
for Adrian and a mild white wine for his uncle. The latter twisted
his mouth in a dry smile. "One finds it difficult to get old," he
said. "I have always been very fond of champagne. More aesthetically
I think than the actual taste. It seems to sum up so well the
evening mood--dinner and laughter and forgetting the day. But now----"
he flicked contemptuously the stem of his glass--"I am only allowed
this uninspired stuff." He stopped suddenly and his face twisted
into the slight grimace which Adrian in the last few weeks had been
permitted occasionally to see. His hand began to wander vaguely over
the white expanse of his shirt.
Adrian pushed back his chair. "Let me--!" he began, but his uncle
waved a deprecating hand. "Sit down!" he managed to say. "Please!"
Adrian sank back again. The colour returned to his uncle's cheeks
and the staring question left his eyes. He took a sip of wine.
"I cannot tell you," he observed with elaborate indifference,
"how humiliating this thing is becoming to me. I have always had a
theory that invalids and people when they begin to get old and infirm,
should be put away some place where they can undergo the unpleasant
struggle alone. It's purely selfish--there's something about the
sanctity of the individual. Dogs have it right--you know the way
they creep off? But I suppose I won't. Pride fails when the body
weakens, doesn't it, no matter what the will may be?" He lifted his
wine-glass. "I am afraid I am giving you a very dull evening, my
dear fellow," he apologized. "Forgive me! We will talk of more
pleasant things. I drink wine with you! How is Cecil? Doing well
with her painting?"
Adrian attempted to relax his own inner grimness. He responded to
his uncle's toast. But he wished this old man, so very near the
mysterious crisis of his affairs, would begin to forego to some
extent the habit of a lifetime, become a little more human. This
ridiculous "facade"! The dinner progressed.
Through an open window the night, full of soft, distant sound, made
itself felt once more. The candles, under their red shades,
flickered at intervals. The noiseless butler came and went. How old
his uncle was getting to look, Adrian reflected. There was a
grayness about his cheeks; fine, wire-like lines about his mouth.
And he was falling into that sure sign of age, a vacant
absent-mindedness. Half the time he was not listening to what he,
Adrian, was saying; instead, his eyes sought constantly the shadows
over the carved sideboard across the table from him. What did he see
there? What question was he asking? Adrian wondered. Only once was
his uncle very much interested, and that was when Adrian had spoken
of the war and the psychology left in its train. Adrian himself had
not long before been released from a weary round of training-camps,
where, in Texas dust, or the unpleasant resinous summer of the South,
he had gone through a repetition that in the end had threatened to
render him an imbecile. He was not illusioned. As separate
personalities, men had lost much of their glamour for him; there had
been too much sweat, too much crowding, too much invasion of dignity,
of everything for which the world claimed it had been struggling and
praying. But alongside of this revolt on his part had grown up an
immense pity and belief in humanity as a mass--struggling, worm-like,
aspiring, idiotic, heroic. The thought of it made him uncomfortable
and at the same time elate.
His uncle shook a dissenting head. On this subject he permitted
himself mild discussion, but his voice was still that of an old,
wearied man, annoyed and bewildered. "Oh, no!" he said. "That's the
very feature of it that seems to me most dreadful; the vermicular
aspect; the massed uprising; the massed death. About professional
armies there was something decent--about professional killing. It
was cold-blooded and keen, anyway. But this modern war, and this
modern craze for self-revelation! Naked! Why, these books--the young
men kept their fingers on the pulses of their reactions. It isn't
clean; it makes the individual cheap. War is a dreadful thing; it
should be as hidden as murder." He sat back, smiled. "We seem to
have a persistent tendency to become serious to-night," he remarked.
Serious! Adrian saw a vision of the drill-grounds, and smiled
sardonically; then he raised his head in surprise, for the new
butler had broken all the rules of the household and was summoning
his uncle to the telephone in the midst of dessert. He awaited the
expected rebuke, but it did not come. Instead, his uncle paused in
the middle of a sentence, stared, and looked up. "Ah, yes!" he said,
and arose from his chair. "Forgive me, Adrian, I will be back shortly."
He walked with a new, just noticeable, infirmness toward the door.
Once there he seemed to think an apology necessary, for he turned
and spoke with absent-minded courtesy.
"You may not have heard," he said, "but Mrs. Denby is seriously ill.
Her nurse gives me constant bulletins over the telephone."
Adrian started to his feet, then sat down again. "But--" he
stuttered--"but--is it as bad as all that?"
"I am afraid," said his uncle gently, "it could not be worse." The
curtain fell behind him.
Adrian picked up his fork and began to stir gently the melting ice
on the plate before him, but his eyes were fixed on the wall opposite,
where, across the shining table, from a mellow gold frame, a
portrait of his grandfather smiled with a benignity, utterly belying
his traditional character, into the shadows above the candles. But
Adrian was not thinking of his grandfather just then, he was
thinking of his uncle--and Mrs. Denby. What in the world----!
Dangerously ill, and yet here had been his uncle able to go through
with--not entirely calmly, to be sure; Adrian remembered the lack of
attention, the broken eye-glasses; and yet, still able to go through
with, not obviously shaken, this monthly farce; this dinner that in
reality mocked all the real meaning of blood-relationship. Good Lord!
To Adrian's modern mind, impatient and courageous, the situation was
preposterous, grotesque. He himself would have broken through to the
woman he loved, were she seriously ill, if all the city was cordoned
to keep him back. What could it mean? Entire selfishness on his
uncle's part? Surely not that! That was too inhuman! Adrian was
willing to grant his uncle exceptional expertness in the art of
self-protection, but there was a limit even to self-protection.
There must be some other reason. Discretion? More likely, and yet
how absurd! Had Mr. Denby been alive, a meticulous, a fantastic
delicacy might have intervened, but Mr. Denby was dead. Who were
there to wound, or who left for the telling of tales? A doctor and
the servants. This was not altogether reasonable, despite what he
knew of his uncle. Here was some oddity of psychology he could not
follow. He heard the curtains stir as his uncle reentered. He looked
up, attentive and curious, but his uncle's face was the mask to
which he was accustomed.
"How is Mrs. Denby?" he asked.
Mr. McCain hesitated for the fraction of a second. "I am afraid,
very ill," he said. "Very ill, indeed! It is pneumonia. I--the
doctor thinks it is only a question of a little time, but--well, I
shall continue to hope for the best." There was a metallic harshness
to his concluding words. "Shall we go into the library?" he continued.
"I think the coffee will be pleasanter there."
They talked again of the war; of revolution; of the dark forces at
large in the world.
Through that hour or two Adrian had a nakedness of perception
unusual even to his sensitive mind. It seemed to him three spirits
were abroad in the quiet, softly-lit, book-lined room; three
intentions that crept up to him like the waves of the sea, receded,
crept back again; or were they currents of air? or hesitant, unheard
feet that advanced and withdrew? In at the open windows poured at
times the warm, enveloping scent of the spring; pervading, easily
overlooked, lawless, persistent, inevitable. Adrian found himself
thinking it was like the presence of a woman. And then, overlapping
this, would come the careful, dry, sardonic tones of his uncle's
voice, as if insisting that the world was an ordinary world, and
that nothing, not even love or death, could lay disrespectful
fingers upon or hurry for a moment the trained haughtiness of the
will. Yet even this compelling arrogance was at times overtaken,
submerged, by a third presence, stronger even than the other two; a
presence that entered upon the heels of the night; the ceaseless
murmur of the streets; the purring of rubber tires upon asphalt; a
girl's laugh, high, careless, reckless. Life went on. Never for a
moment did it stop.
"I am not sorry that I am getting old," said Mr. McCain. "I think
nowadays is an excellent time to die. Perhaps for the very young,
the strong--but for me, things are too busy, too hurried. I have
always liked my life like potpourri. I liked to keep it in a china
jar and occasionally take off the lid. Otherwise one's sense of
perfume becomes satiated. Take your young girls; they remain
faithful to a love that is not worth being faithful to--all noise,
and flushed laughter, and open doors." Quite unexpectedly he began
to talk in a way he had never talked before. He held his cigar in
his hand until the ash turned cold; his ringers trembled just a
"You have been very good to me," he said. Adrian raised startled eyes.
"Very good. I am quite aware that you dislike me"--he hesitated and
the ghost of a smile hovered about his lips--"and I have always
disliked you. Please!" He raised a silencing hand. "You don't mind
my saying so? No. Very well, then, there is something I want to tell
you. Afterward I will never mention it again. I dare say our mutual
dislike is due to the inevitable misunderstanding that exists
between the generations. But it is not important. The point is that
we have always been well-bred toward each other. Yes, that is the
point. You have always been a gentleman, very considerate, very
courteous, I cannot but admire you. And I think you will find I have
done the best I could. I am not a rich man, as such things go
nowadays, but I will hand you on the money that will be yours quite
unimpaired, possibly added to. I feel very strongly on that subject.
I am old-fashioned enough to consider the family the most important
thing in life. After all, we are the only two McCains left." He
hesitated again, and twisted for a moment his bloodless hands in his
lap, then he raised his eyes and spoke with a curious hurried
embarrassment. "I have sacrificed a great deal for that," he said.
"Yes, a great deal."
The soft-footed butler stood at his elbow, like an actor in comedy
suddenly cast for the role of a portentous messenger.
"Miss Niles is calling you again, sir," he said.
"On, yes!--ah--Adrian, I am very sorry, my dear fellow. I will
finish the conversation when I come back."
This time the telephone was within earshot; in the hall outside.
Adrian heard his uncle's slow steps end in the creaking of a chair
as he sat down; then the picking up of the receiver. The message was
a long one, for his uncle did not speak for fully a minute; finally
his voice drifted in through the curtained doorway.
"You think ... only a few minutes?"
"... Ah, yes! Conscious? Yes. Well, will you tell her, Miss Niles?--yes,
please listen very carefully--tell her this. That I am not there
because I dared not come. Yes; on her account. She will understand.
My heart--it's my heart. She will understand. I did not dare. For her
sake, not mine. Tell her that. She will understand. Please be very
careful in repeating the message, Miss Niles. Tell her I dared not
come because of my heart.... Yes; thank you. That's it.... What? Yes,
I will wait, Miss Niles."
Adrian, sitting in the library, suddenly got to his feet and crossed
to the empty fireplace and stood with his back to it, enlightenment
and a puzzled frown struggling for possession of his face. His
uncle's heart! Ah, he understood, then! It was discretion, after all,
but not the kind he thought--a much more forgiveable discretion. And,
yet, what possible difference could it make should his uncle die
suddenly in Mrs. Denby's house? Fall dead across her bed, or die
kneeling beside it? Poor, twisted old fool, afraid even at the end
that death might catch him out; afraid of a final undignified gesture.
A motor blew its horn for the street crossing. Another girl laughed;
a young, thin, excited girl, to judge by her laughter. The curtains
stirred and again there was that underlying scent of tulips and
hyacinths; and then, from the hall outside, came the muffled thud of
a receiver falling to the floor. Adrian waited. The receiver was not
picked up. He strode to the door. Crumpled up over the telephone was
old Mr. McCain.
Cecil came later. She was very quick and helpful, and jealously
solicitous on Adrian's account, but in the taxicab going home she
said the one thing Adrian had hoped she wouldn't say, and yet was
sure she would. She belonged to a sex which, if it is honest at all,
is never reticently so. She believed that between the man she loved
and herself there were no possible mental withdrawals. "It is very
tragic," she said, "but much better--you know it is better. He
belonged to the cumberers of the earth. Yes, so much better; and this
In the darkness her hand sought his. Adrian took it, but in his
heart was the same choked feeling, the same knowledge that something
was gone that could not be found again, that, as a little boy, he had
had when they sold, at his father's death, the country place where
he had spent his summers. Often he had lain awake at night, restless
with the memory of heliotrope, and phlox, and mignonette, and
afternoons quiet except for the sound of bees.
BY FRANCES NOYES HART
[Footnote 8: Frances Newbold Noyes, in _Pictorial Review_ for
The first time she heard it was in the silk-hung and flower-scented
peace of the little drawing-room in Curzon Street. His sister Rosemary
had wanted to come up to London to get some clothes--Victory clothes
they called them in those first joyous months after the armistice,
and decked their bodies in scarlet and silver, even when their poor
hearts went in black--and Janet had been urged to leave her own drab
boarding-house room to stay with the forlorn small butterfly. They had
struggled through dinner somehow, and Janet had finished her coffee
and turned the great chair so that she could watch the dancing fire
(it was cool for May), her cloudy brown head tilted back against the
rose-red cushion, shadowy eyes half closed, idle hands linked across
her knees. She looked every one of her thirty years--and mortally
tired--and careless of both facts. But she managed an encouraging
smile at the sound of Rosemary's shy, friendly voice at her elbow.
"Janet, these are yours, aren't they? Mummy found them with some
things last week, and I thought that you might like to have them."
She drew a quick breath at the sight of the shabby packet.
"Why, yes," she said evenly. "That's good of you, Rosemary. Thanks a
"That's all right," murmured Rosemary diffidently. "Wouldn't you
like something to read? There's a most frightfully exciting Western
The smile took on a slightly ironical edge. "Don't bother about me,
my dear. You see, I come from that frightfully exciting West, and I
know all about the pet rattlesnakes and the wildly Bohemian cowboys.
Run along and play with your book--I'll be off to bed in a few
Rosemary retired obediently to the deep chair in the corner, and
with the smile gone but the irony still hovering, she slipped the
cord off the packet. A meager and sorry enough array--words had
never been for her the swift, docile servitors that most people
found them. But the thin gray sheet in her fingers started out
gallantly enough--"Beloved." Beloved! She leaned far forward,
dropping it with deft precision into the glowing pocket of embers.
What next? This was more like--it began "Dear Captain Langdon" in
the small, contained, even writing that was her pride, and it went
on soberly enough, "I shall be glad to have tea with you next
Friday--not Thursday, because I must be at the hut then. It was
stupid of me to have forgotten you--next time I will try to do better."
Well, she had done better the next time. She had not forgotten him
again--never, never again. That had been her first letter; how
absurd of Jerry, the magnificently careless, to have treasured it
all that time, the miserable, stilted little thing! She touched it
with curious fingers. Surely, surely he must have cared, to have
cared so much for that!
It seemed incredible that she hadn't remembered him at once when he
came into the hut that second time. Of course she had only seen him
for a moment and six months had passed--but he was so absurdly vivid,
every inch of him, from the top of his shining, dark head to the
heels of his shining, dark boots--and there were a great many inches!
How could she have forgotten, even for a minute, those eyes dancing
like blue fire in the brown young face, the swift, disarming charm
of his smile, and, above all, his voice--how, in the name of
absurdity could any one who had once heard it ever forget Jeremy
Langdon's voice? Even now she had only to close her eyes, and it
rang out again, with its clipped, British accent and its caressing
magic, as un-English as any Provincial troubadour's! And yet she had
forgotten--he had had to speak twice before she had even lifted her
"Miss America--oh, I say, she's forgotten me, and I thought that I'd
made such an everlasting impression!" The delighted amazement
reached even her tired ears, and she had smiled wanly as she pushed
the pile of coppers nearer to him.
"Have you been in before? It's stupid of me, but there are such
hundreds of thousands of you, and you are gone in a minute, you see.
That's your change, I think."
"Hundreds of thousands of me, hey?" He had leaned across the counter,
his face alight with mirth. "I wish to the Lord my angel mother
could hear you--it's what I'm forever tellin' her, though just
between us, it's stuff and nonsense. I've got a well-founded
suspicion that I'm absolutely unique. You wait and see!"
And she had waited--and she had seen! She stirred a little, dropped
the note into the flames, and turned to the next, the quiet, mocking
mouth suddenly tortured and rebellious.
"No, you must be mad," it ran, the trim writing strangely shaken.
"How often have you seen me--five times? Do you know how old I am.
How hard and tired and useless? No--no a thousand times. In a little
while we will wake up and find that we were dreaming."
That had brought him to her swifter than Fate, triumphant mischief
in every line of his exultant face. "Just let those damned old cups
slip from your palsied fingers, will you? I'm goin' to take your
honourable age for a little country air--it may keep you out of the
grave for a few days longer. Never can tell! No use your scowlin'
like that--the car's outside, and the big chief says to be off with
you. Says you have no more colour than a banshee, and not half the
life--can't grasp the fact that it's just chronic antiquity. Fasten
the collar about your throat--no, higher! Darlin', darlin', think of
havin' a whole rippin' day to ourselves. You're glad, too, aren't you,
my little stubborn saint?"
Oh, that joyous and heart-breaking voice, running on and on--it made
all the other voices that she had ever heard seem colourless and
"Darlin' idiot, what do I care how old you are? Thirty, hey? Almost
old enough to be an ancestor! Look at me--no, look at me! Dare you
to say that you aren't mad about me!"
Mad about him--mad, mad! She lifted her hands to her ears, but she
could no more shut out the exultant voice now than she could on that
"Other fellow got tired of you, did he? Good luck for us, what?
You're a fearfully tiresome person, darlin'. It's goin' to take me
nine-tenths of eternity to tell you how tiresome you are. Give a
chap a chance, won't you? The tiresomest thing about you is the way
you leash up that dimple of yours. No, by George, there it is! Janie,
look at me----"
She touched the place where the leashed dimple had hidden with a
delicate and wondering finger--of all Jerry's gifts to her the most
miraculous had been that small fugitive. Exiled now, forever and
"Are you comin' down to White Orchards next week-end? I'm off for
France on the twelfth and you've simply got to meet my people.
You'll be insane about 'em--Rosemary's the most beguilin'
flibbertigibbet, and I can't wait to see you bein' a kind of an
elderly grandmother to her. What a bewitchin' little grandmother
you're goin' to be one of these days----"
Oh, Jerry! Oh, Jerry, Jerry! She twisted in her chair, her face
suddenly a small mask of incredulous terror. No, no, it wasn't true,
it wasn't true--never--never--never! And then, for the first time,
she heard it. Far off but clear, a fine and vibrant humming, the
distant music of wings! The faint, steady pulsing was drawing nearer
and nearer--nearer still--it must be flying quite high. The hateful
letters scattered about her as she sprang to the open window--no, it
was too high to see, and too dark, though the sky was powdered with
stars--but she could hear it clearly, hovering and throbbing like
some gigantic bird. It must be almost directly over her head, if she
could only see it.
"It sounds--it sounds the way a humming-bird would look through a
telescope," she said half aloud, and Rosemary murmured sleepily but
courteously, "What, Janet?"
"Just an airplane--no, gone now. It sounded like a bird. Didn't you
"No," replied Rosemary drowsily. "We get so used to the old things
that we don't even notice them any more. Queer time to be flying!"
"It sounded rather--beautiful," said Janet, her face still turned to
the stars. "Far off, but so clear and sure. I wonder--I wonder
whether it will be coming back?"
Well, it came back. She went down to White Orchards with Rosemary
for the following week-end, and after she had smoothed her hair and
given a scornful glance at the pale face in the mirror, with its
shadowy eyes and defiant mouth, she slipped out to the lower terrace
for a breath of the soft country air. Halfway down the flight of
steps she stumbled and caught at the balustrade, and stood shaking
for a moment, her face pressed against its rough surface. Once
before--once before she had stumbled on those steps, but it was not
the balustrade that had saved her. She could feel his arms about her
now, holding her up, holding her close and safe. The magical voice
was in her ears. "Let you go? I'll never let you go! Poor little feet,
stumblin' in the dark, what would you do without Jerry? Time's comin',
you cheeky little devils, when you'll come runnin' to him when he
whistles! No use tryin' to get away--you belong to him."
Oh, whistle to them now, Jerry--they would run to you across the
"How'd you like to marry me before I go back to-morrow? No? No
accountin' for tastes, Miss Abbott--lots of people would simply jump
at it! All right--April, then. Birds and flowers and all that kind
o' thing--pretty intoxicatin', what? No, keep still, darlin' goose.
What feller taught you to wear a dress that looks like roses and
smells like roses and feels like roses? This feller? Lord help us,
what a lovely liar!"
And suddenly she found herself weeping helplessly, desperately, like
an exhausted child, shaken to the heart at the memory of the
"You like me just a bit, don't you, funny, quiet little thing? But
you'd never lift a finger to hold me--that's the wonder of
you--that's why I'll never leave you. No, not for heaven. You can't
lose me--no use tryin'."
But she had lost you, Jerry--you had left her, for all your promises,
to terrified weeping in the hushed loveliness of the terrace, where
your voice had turned her still heart to a dancing star, where your
fingers had touched her quiet blood to flowers and flames and
butterflies. She had believed you then--what would she ever
believe again? And then she caught back the despairing sobs
swiftly, for once more she heard, far off, the rushing of wings.
Nearer--nearer--humming and singing and hovering in the quiet dusk.
Why, it was over the garden! She flung back her head, suddenly eager
to see it; it was a friendly and thrilling sound in all that
stillness. Oh, it was coming lower--lower still--she could hear the
throb of the propellers clearly. Where _was_ it? Behind those trees,
perhaps? She raced up the flight of steps, dashing the treacherous
tears from her eyes, straining up on impatient tiptoes. Surely she
could see it now! But already it was growing fainter--drifting
steadily away, the distant hum growing lighter and lighter--lighter
"Janet!" called Mrs. Langdon's pretty, patient voice. "Dinner-time,
dear! Is there any one with you?"
"No one at all, Mrs. Langdon. I was just listening to an airplane."
"An _airplane_? Oh, no, dear--they never pass this way any more. The
last one was in October, I think----"
The soft, plaintive voice trailed off in the direction of the
dining-room and Janet followed it, a small, secure smile touching
her lips. The last one had not passed in October. It had passed a
few minutes before, over the lower garden.
She quite forgot it by the next week--she was becoming an adept at
forgetting. That was all that was left for her to do! Day after day
and night after night she had raised the drawbridge between her
heart and memory, leaving the lonely thoughts to shiver desolately
on the other side of the moat. She was weary to the bone of suffering,
and they were enemies, for all their dear and friendly guise; they
would tear her to pieces if she ever let them in. No, no, she was
done with them. She would forget, as Jerry had forgotten. She would
destroy every link between herself and the past--and pack the neat
little steamer trunk neatly--and bid these kind and gentle people
good-by--and take herself and her bitterness and her dullness back
to the class-room in the Western university town--back to the
Romance languages. The Romance languages!
She would finish it all that night, and leave as soon as possible.
There were some trinkets to destroy, and his letters from France to
burn--she would give Rosemary the rose-coloured dress--foolish,
lovely little Rosemary, whom he had loved, and who was lying now
fast asleep in the next room curled up like a kitten in the middle
of the great bed, her honey-coloured hair falling about her in a
shining mist. She swept back her own cloud of hair resolutely,
frowning at the candle-lit reflection in the mirror. Two desolate
pools in the small, pale oval of her face stared back at her--two
pools with something drowned in their lonely depths. Well, she would
drown it deeper!
The letters first; how lucky that they still used candle-light! It
would make the task much simpler--the funeral pyre already lighted.
She moved one of the tall candelabra to the desk, sitting for a long
time quite still, her chin cupped in her hands, staring down at the
bits of paper. She could smell the wall-flowers under the window as
though they were in the room--drenched in dew and moonlight, they
were reckless of their fragrance. All this peace and cleanliness and
orderly beauty--what a ghastly trick for God to have played--to have
taught her to adore them, and then to snatch them away! All about her,
warm with candle-light, lay the gracious loveliness of the little
room with its dark waxed furniture, its bright glazed chintz, its
narrow bed with the cool linen sheets smelling of lavender, and its
straight, patterned curtains--oh, that hateful, mustard-coloured den
at home, with its golden-oak day-bed!
She wrung her hands suddenly in a little hunted gesture. How could
he have left her to that, he who had sworn that he would never leave
her? In every one of those letters beneath her linked fingers he had
sworn it--in every one perjured--false half a hundred times. Pick up
any one of them at random--
"Janie, you darling stick, is 'dear Jerry' the best that you can do?
You ought to learn French! I took a perfectly ripping French kid out
to dinner last night--name's Liane, from the Varietes--and she was
calling me '_mon grand cheri_' before the salad, and '_mon p'tit
amour_' before the green mint. Maybe _that'll_ buck you up! And I'd
have you know that she's so pretty that it's ridiculous, with black
velvet hair that she wears like a little Oriental turban, and eyes
like golden pansies, and a mouth between a kiss and a prayer--and a
nice affable nature into the bargain. But I'm a ghastly jackass--I
didn't get any fun out of it at all--because I really didn't even
see her. Under the pink shaded candles to my blind eyes it seemed
that there was seated the coolest, quietest, whitest little thing,
with eyes that were as indifferent as my velvety Liane's were kind,
and mockery in her smile. Oh, little masquerader! If I could get
my arms about you even for a minute--if I could kiss so much as
the tips of your lashes--would you be cool and quiet and mocking
then? Janie, Janie, rosy-red as flowers on the terrace and
sweeter--sweeter--they're about you now--they'll be about you always!"
Burn it fast, candle--faster, faster. Here's another for you.
"So the other fellow cured you of using pretty names, did he--you
don't care much for dear and darling any more? Bit hard on me,
but fortunately for you, Janie Janet, I'm rather a dab at
languages--'specially when it comes to what the late lamented Boche
referred to as 'cosy names.' _Querida mi alma, douchka, Herzliebchen,
carissima_; and _bien, bien-aimee_, I'll not run out of salutations
for you this side of heaven--no--nor t'other. I adore the serene
grace with which you ignore the ravishing Liane. Haven't you any
curiosity at all, my Sphinx? No? Well, then, just to punish you,
I'll tell you all about it. She's married to the best fellow in the
world--a _liaison_ officer working with our squadron--and she
worships the ground that he walks on and the air that he occasionally
flies in. So whenever I run up to the City of Light, _en permission_,
I look her up, and take her the latest news--and for an hour, over
the candles, we pretend that I am Philippe, and that she is Janie.
Only she says that I don't pretend very well--and it's just possible
that she's right.
"_Mon petit coeur et grand tresor_, I wish that I could take you
flying with me this evening. You'd be daft about it! Lots of it's a
rotten bore, of course, but there's something in me that doesn't
live at all when I'm on this too, too solid earth. Something that
lies there, crouched and dormant, waiting until I've climbed up into
the seat, and buckled the strap about me and laid my hands on the
'stick.' It's waiting--waiting for a word--and so am I. And I lean
far forward, watching the figure toiling out beyond till the call
comes back to me, clear and confident, 'Contact, sir?' And I shout
back, as restless and exultant as the first time that I answered
"And I'm off--and I'm alive--and I'm free! Ho, Janie! That's simpler
than Abracadabra or Open Sesame, isn't it? But it opens doors more
magical than ever they swung wide, and something in me bounds through,
more swift and eager than any Aladdin. Free! I'm a crazy sort of a
beggar, my little love--that same thing in me hungers and thirsts and
aches for freedom. I go half mad when people or events try to hold
me--you, wise beyond wisdom, never will. Somehow, between us, we've
struck the spark that turns a mere piece of machinery into a wonder
with wings--somehow, you are forever setting me free. It is your
voice--your voice of silver and peace--that's eternally whispering
'Contact!' to me--and I am released, heart, soul, and body! And
because you speed me on my way, Janie, I'll never fly so far, I'll
never fly so long, I'll never fly so high that I'll not return to you.
You hold me fast, forever and forever."
You had flown high and far indeed, Jerry--and you had not returned.
Forever and forever! Burn faster, flame!
"My blessed child, who's been frightening you? Airplanes are by all
odds safer than taxis--and no end safer than the infernal duffer
who's been chaffing you would be if I could once get my hands on him.
Damn fool! Don't care if you do hate swearing--damn fools are damn
fools, and there's an end to it. All those statistics are sheer
melodramatic rot--the chap who fired 'em at you probably has all his
money invested in submarines, and is fairly delirious with jealousy.
Peg (did I ever formally introduce you to Pegasus, the best
pursuit-plane in the R.F.C.--or out of it?)--Peg's about as likely
to let me down as you are! We'd do a good deal for each other, she
and I--nobody else can really fly her, the darling! But she'd go to
the stars for me--and farther still. Never you fear--we have charmed
lives, Peg and I--we belong to Janie.
"I think that people make an idiotic row about dying, anyway. It's
probably jolly good fun--and I can't see what difference a few years
here would make if you're going to have all eternity to play with.
Of course you're a ghastly little heathen, and I can see you wagging
a mournful head over this already--but every time that I remember
what a shocking sell the After Life (exquisite phrase!) is going to
be for you, darling, I do a bit of head-wagging myself--and it's not
precisely mournful! I can't wait to see your blank consternation--and
you needn't expect any sympathy from _me_. My very first words will
be, 'I told you so!' Maybe I'll rap them out to you with a table-leg!
"What do you think of all this Ouija Planchette rumpus, anyway? I
can't for the life of me see why any one with a whole new world to
explore should hang around chattering with this one. I know that I'd
be half mad with excitement to get at the new job, and that I'd find
re-assuring the loved ones (exquisite phrase number two) a hideous
bore. Still, I can see that it would be nice from their selfish
point of view! Well, I'm no ghost yet, thank God--nor yet are
you--but if ever I am one, I'll show you what devotion really is.
I'll come all the way back from heaven to play with foolish Janie,
who doesn't believe that there is one to come from. To foolish,
foolish Janie, who still will be dearer than the prettiest angel of
them all, no matter how alluringly her halo may be tilted or her
wings ruffled. To Janie who, Heaven forgive him, will be all that
one poor ghost has ever loved!"
Had there come to him, the radiant and the confident, a moment of
terrible and shattering surprise--a moment when he realized that
there were no pretty angels with shining wings waiting to greet
him--a moment when he saw before him only the overwhelming darkness,
blacker and deeper than the night would be, when she blew out the
little hungry flame that was eating up the sheet that held his
laughter? Oh, gladly would she have died a thousand deaths to have
spared him that moment!
"My little Greatheart, did you think that I did not know how brave
you are? You are the truest soldier of us all, and I, who am not
much given to worship, am on my knees before that shy gallantry of
yours, which makes what courage we poor duffers have seem a vain and
boastful thing. When I see you as I saw you last, small and white
and clear and brave, I can't think of anything but the first
crocuses at White Orchards, shining out, demure and valiant,
fearless of wind and storm and cold--fearless of Fear itself. You see,
you're so very, very brave that you make me ashamed to be afraid of
poetry and sentiment and pretty words--things of which I have a good,
thumping Anglo-Saxon terror, I can tell you! It's because I know
what a heavenly brick you are that I could have killed that
statistical jackass for bothering you; but I'll forgive him, since
you say that it's all right. And so ghosts are the only things in
the world that frighten you--even though you know that there aren't
any. You and Madame de Stael, hey? 'I do not believe in ghosts, but I
fear them!' It's pretty painful to learn that the mere sight of one
would turn you into a gibbering lunatic. Nice sell for an
enthusiastic spirit who'd romped clear back from heaven to give you
a pleasant surprise--I _don't_ think! Well, no fear, young
Janie--I'll find some way if I'm put to it--some nice, safe, pretty
way that wouldn't scare a neurasthenic baby, let alone the dauntless
Miss Abbott. I'll find--"
Oh, no more of that--no more! She crushed the sheet in her hands
fiercely, crumpling it into a little ball--the candle-flame was too
slow. No, she couldn't stand it--she couldn't--she couldn't,
and there was an end to it. She would go raving mad--she would
kill herself--she would--She lifted her head, wrenched suddenly
back from that chaos of despair, alert and intent. There it was
again, coming swiftly nearer and nearer from some immeasurable
distance--down--down--nearer still--the very room was humming and
throbbing with it--she could almost hear the singing in the wires.
She swung far out over the window edge, searching the moon-drenched
garden with eager eyes--surely, surely it would never fly so low
unless it were about to land! Engine trouble, perhaps--though she
could detect no break in the huge, rhythmic pulsing that was shaking
the night. Still--
"Rosemary!" she called urgently. "Rosemary--listen--is there a
place where it can land?"
"Where what can land?" asked a drowsy voice.
"An airplane. It's flying so low that it must be in some kind of
trouble--do come and see!"
Rosemary came pattering obediently toward her, a small, docile figure,
dark eyes misted with dreams, wide with amazement.
"I must be nine-tenths asleep," she murmured gently. "Because I
don't hear a single thing, Janet. Perhaps--"
"Hush--listen!" begged Janet, raising an imperative hand--and then
her own eyes widened. "Why--it's _gone_!" There was a note of flat
incredulity in her voice. "Heavens, how those things must eat up
space! Not a minute, ago it was fairly shaking this room, and now--"
Rosemary stifled a small pink yawn and smiled ingratiatingly.
"Perhaps you were asleep too," she suggested humbly. "I don't
believe that airplanes ever fly this way any more. Or it might have
been that fat Hodges boy on his motorcycle--he does make the most
dreadful racket. Oh, Janet, what a perfectly _ripping_ night--do see!"
They leaned together on the window-sill, silenced by the white and
shining beauty that had turned the pleasant garden into a place of
magic and enchantment. The corners of Janet's mouth lifted suddenly.
How absurd people were! The fat Hodges boy and his motorcycle! Did
they all regard her as an amiable lunatic--even little, lovely,
friendly Rosemary, wavering sleepily at her side? It really was
maddening. But she felt, amazingly enough, suddenly quiet and joyous
and indifferent--and passionately glad that the wanderer from the
skies had won safely through and was speeding home. Home! Oh, it was
a crying pity that it need ever land--anything so fleet and strong
and sure should fly forever! But if they must rest, those beating
wings--the old R.F.C. toast went singing through her head and she
flung it out into the moonlight, smiling--"Happy landings! Happy
The next day was the one that brought to White Orchards what was to
be known for many moons as "the Big Storm." It had been gathering
all afternoon, and by evening the heat had grown appalling and
incredible, even to Janet's American and exigent standards. The
smouldering copper sky looked as though it had caught fire from the
world and would burn forever; there was not so much as a whisper of
air to break the stillness--it seemed as though the whole tortured
earth were holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen next.
Every one had struggled through the day assuring one another that
when evening came it would be all right--dangling the alluring
thought of the cool darkness before each other's hot and weary eyes;
but the night proved even more outrageous than the day. To the
little group seated on the terrace, dispiritedly playing with their
coffee, it seemed almost a personal affront. The darkness closed in
on them, smothering, heavy, intolerable; they could feel its weight,
as though it were some hateful and tangible thing.
"Like--like black cotton wool," explained Rosemary, stirred to
unwonted resentment. She had spent the day curled up in the largest
Indian chair on the terrace, round-eyed with fatigue and incredulity.
"I honestly think that we must be dreaming," she murmured to her
feverish audience; "I do, honestly. Why, it's only _May_, and we
never, never--there was that day in August about five years ago that
was almost as bad, though. D'you remember, Mummy?"
"It's hardly the kind of thing that one is likely to forget, love.
Do you think that it is necessary for us to talk? I feel somehow
that I could bear it much more easily if we kept quite quiet."
Janet stirred a little, uneasily. She hated silence--that terrible,
empty space waiting to be filled up with your thoughts--why, the
idlest chatter spared you that. She hated the terrace, too--she
closed her eyes to shut out the ugly darkness that was pressing
against her; behind the shelter of her lids it was cooler and stiller,
but open-eyed or closed, she could not shut out memory. The very
touch of the bricks beneath her feet brought back that late October
day. She had been sitting curled up on the steps in the warm sunlight,
with the keen, sweet air stirring her hair and sending the
beech-leaves dancing down the flagged path--there had been a heavenly
smell of burning from the far meadow, and she was sniffing it
luxuriously, feeling warm and joyous and protected in Jerry's great
tweed coat--watching the tall figure swinging across from the lodge
gate with idle, happy eyes--not even curious. It was not until he
had almost reached the steps that she had noticed that he was
wearing a foreign uniform--and even then she had promptly placed him
as one of Rosemary's innumerable conquests, bestowing on him a
friendly and inquiring smile.
"Were you looking for Miss Langdon?" Even now she could see the
courteous, grave young face soften as he turned quickly toward her,
baring his dark head with that swift foreign grace that turns our
perfunctory habits into something like a ritual.
"But no," he had said gently, "I was looking for you, Miss Abbott."
"Now will you please tell me how in the world you knew that I was
And he had smiled--with his lips, not his eyes.
"I should be dull indeed if that I did not know. I am Philippe
Laurent, Miss Abbott."
And "Oh," she had cried joyously, "Liane's Philippe!"
"But yes--Liane's Philippe. They are not here, the others? Madame
Langdon, the little Miss Rosemary?"
"No, they've gone to some parish fair, and I've been wicked and
stayed home. Won't you sit down and talk to me? Please!"
"Miss Abbott, it is not to you that I must talk. What I have to say
is indeed most difficult, and it is to Jeremy's Janie that I would
say it. May I, then?"
It had seemed to Jeremy's Janie that the voice in which she answered
him came from a great distance, but she never took her eyes from the
grave and vivid face.
"Yes. And quickly, please."
So he had told her--quickly--in his exquisitely careful English, and
she had listened as attentively and politely, huddled up on the
brick steps in the sunlight, as though he were running over the
details of the last drive, instead of tearing her life to pieces
with every word. She remembered now that it hadn't seemed real at
all--if it had been to Jerry that these horrors had happened could
she have sat there so quietly, feeling the colour bright in her
cheeks, and the wind stirring in her hair, and the sunlight warm on
her hands? Why, for less than this people screamed, and fainted, and
went raving mad!
"You say--that his back is broken?"
"But yes, my dear," Liane's Philippe had told her, and she had seen
the tears shining in his gray eyes.
"And he is badly burned?"
"My brave Janie, these questions are not good to ask--not good, not
good to answer. This I will tell you. He lives, our Jerry--and so
dearly does he love you that he will drag back that poor body from
hell itself--because it is yours, not his. This he has sent me to
tell you, most lucky lady ever loved."
"You mean--that he isn't going to die?"
"I tell you that into those small hands of yours he has given his
life. Hold it fast."
"Will he--will he get well?" "He will not walk again; but have you
not swift feet to run for him?"
And there had come to her, sitting on the terrace in the sunshine,
an overwhelming flood of joy, reckless and cruel and triumphant. Now
he was hers forever, the restless wanderer--delivered to her bound
and helpless, never to stray again. Hers to worship and serve and
slave for, his troth to Freedom broken--hers at last!
"I'm coming," she had told the tall young Frenchman breathlessly.
"Take me to him--please let's hurry."
"_Ma pauvre petite_, this is war. One does not come and go at will.
God knows by what miracle enough red tape unwound to let me through
to you, to bring my message and to take one back."
"What message, Philippe?"
"That is for you to say, little Janie. He told me, 'Say to her that
she has my heart--if she needs my body, I will live. Say to her that
it is an ugly, broken, and useless thing; still, hers. She must use
it as she sees fit. Say to her--no, say nothing more. She is my Janie,
and has no need of words. Tell her to send me only one, and I will
be content.' For that one word, Janie, I have come many miles. What
shall it be?"
And she had cried out exultantly, "Why, tell him that I say--" But
the word had died in her throat. Her treacherous lips had mutinied,
and she had sat there, feeling the blood drain back out of her
face--out of her heart--feeling her eyes turn back with sheer terror,
while she fought with those stiffened rebels. Such a little word
"Live!"--surely they could say that. Was it not what he was waiting
for, lying far away and still--schooled at last to patience, the
reckless and the restless! Oh, Jerry, Jerry, live! Even now she
could feel her mind, like some frantic little wild thing, racing,
racing to escape Memory. What had he said to her? "You, wise beyond
wisdom, will never hold me--you will never hold me--you will never--"
And suddenly she had dropped her twisted hands in her lap and lifted
her eyes to Jerry's ambassador.
"Will you please tell him--will you please tell him that I
"Contact?" He had stood smiling down at her, ironical and tender.
"Ah, what a race! That is the prettiest word that you can find for
Jerry? But then it means to come very close, to touch, that poor
harsh word--there he must find what comfort he can. We, too, in
aviation use that word--it is the signal that says--'Now, you can fly!'
You do not know our vocabulary, perhaps?"
"I know very little."
"That is all then? No other message? He will understand, our Jerry?"
And Janie had smiled--rather a terrible small smile.
"Oh, yes," she told him. "He will understand. It is the word that he
is waiting for, you see."
"I see." But there had been a grave wonder in his voice.
"Would it----" she had framed the words as carefully as though it
were a strange tongue that she was speaking--"would it be possible
to buy his machine? He wouldn't want any one else to fly it."
"Little Janie, never fear. The man does not live who shall fly poor
Peg again. Smashed to kindling-wood and burned to ashes, she has
taken her last flight to the heaven for good and brave birds of war.
Not enough was left of her to hold in your two hands."
"I'm glad. Then that's all--isn't it? And thank you for coming."
"It is I who thank you. What was hard as death you have made easy. I
had thought the lady to whom Jeremy Langdon gave his heart the
luckiest creature ever born--now I think him that luckiest one." The
grave grace with which he had bent to kiss her hand made of the
formal salutation an accolade--"My homage to you, Jerry's Janie!" A
quick salute, and he had turned on his heel, swinging off down the
flagged path with that swift, easy stride--past the sun-dial--past
the lily-pond--past the beech-trees--gone! For hours and hours after
he had passed out of sight she had sat staring after him, her hands
lying quite still in her lap--staring, staring--they had found her
there when they came back, sitting where Rosemary was seated now. Why,
there, on those same steps, a bare six months ago--Something snapped
in her head, and she stumbled to her feet, clinging to the arm of her
"I can't _stand_ it!" she gasped. "No, no, it's no use--I can't, I
tell you. I--"
Rosemary's arm was about her--Mrs. Langdon's soft voice in her
ears--a deeper note from Rosemary's engineer.
"Oh, I say, poor girl! What is it, dear child--what's the matter? Is
it the heat, Janie?"
"The heat!" She could hear herself laughing--frantic, hateful,
jangling laughter that wouldn't stop. "Oh, Jerry! Oh-h, Jerry, Jerry,
"It's this ghastly day. Let me get her some water, Mrs. Langdon.
Don't cry so, Janie--please, please don't, darling."
"I c-can't help it--I c-can't----" She paused, listening intently,
her hand closing sharply over Rosemary's wrist. "Oh, listen,
listen--there it comes again--I told you so!"
"Thank Heaven," murmured Mrs. Langdon devoutly, "I thought that it
never was going to rise this evening. It's from the south, too, so I
suppose that it means rain."
"Rain?" repeated Janet vaguely. "Why in the world should it mean rain?"
Her small, pale face looked suddenly brilliant and enchanted, tilted
up to meet the thunderous music that was swinging nearer and nearer.
"Oh, do listen, you people! This time it's surely going to land!"
Rosemary stared at her blankly. "Land? What _are_ you talking about,
"My airplane--the one that you said was the fat Hodges boy on a
motorcycle! Is there any place near here that it can make a landing?"
"Darling child--" Mrs. Langdon's gentle voice was gentler than ever--
"darling child, it's this wretched heat. There isn't any airplane,
dear--it's just the wind rising in the beeches."
"The wind?" Janet laughed aloud--they really were too absurd.
"Why, Mrs. Langdon, you can hear the _engines_, if you'll only listen!
You can hear them, can't you, Mr. Bain?"
The young engineer shook his head. "No plane would risk flying with
this storm coming, Miss Abbott. There's been thunder for the last
hour or so, and it's getting nearer, too. It's only the wind, I think."
"Oh, you're laughing at me--of course, of course you hear it. Why,
it's as clear as--as clear as--" Her voice trailed off into silence.
Quite suddenly, without any transition or warning, she knew. She
could feel her heart stand perfectly still for a minute, and then
plunge forward in mad flight, racing, racing--oh, it knew, too, that
eager heart! She took her hand from the arm of the chair, releasing
Rosemary's wrist very gently.
"Yes, of course, it's the heat," she said quietly. She must be
careful not to frighten them, these kind ones. "If you don't mind,
Mrs. Langdon, I think that I'll go down to the gate to watch the
storm burst. No, please, don't any of you come--I'll promise to
change everything if I get caught--yes, everything! I won't be long;
don't wait for me."
She walked sedately enough until she came to the turn in the path,
but after that she ran, only pausing for a minute to listen
breathlessly. Oh, yes--following, following, that gigantic music!
How he must be laughing at her now--blind, deaf, incredulous little
fool that she had been, to doubt that Jerry would find a way! But
where could he land? Not in the garden--not at the gates--oh, now
she had it--the far meadow. She turned sharply; it was dark, but the
path must be here. Yes, this was the wicket gate; her groping
fingers were quite steady--they found the latch--released it--the
gate swung to behind her flying footsteps. "Oh, Jerry, Jerry!" sang
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