The Bacillus of Beauty
Part 2 out of 6
I ran and fetched a well-thumbed book from the sewing machine and turned
to the definitions of familiar foreign words.
"There," said I, spreading the speller flat on the table and pointing with
my finger. "French word for 'Mister.' Teacher called it 'Monshure,' just
as they all do. But that's wrong. To-day I showed her how it is. See, the
book says it's pronounced 'm-o-s-s-e-r' and that little mark means an
accent on the last syllable and it's 'long e.' 'Mosseer' is right. But
when I showed it to teacher, she looked at it awhile, and then she
wrinkled up her eye-brows, and whispered it once or twice and said: 'Oh,
yes; "mosser."' And she made us call it 'mosser' all the rest of the day,
too," I ended triumphantly.
"Why, o' course that ain't right; 'mosser' ain't it!" volunteered one of
the hired men, who had lingered to hear the discussion. "I've heerd that
word a thousan' times; right way seems like 'M'shoo.' Shucks! Can't get my
tongue 'round it, nohow."
"Yes, I know", said Pa "you go call Frenchy."
Joe Lavigne, summoned from the barn, came, followed by all the rest,
curious to see what was wanted--a rough, kindly gang of men in blue
overalls and big, clumping boots.
"Joe," said Pa; "you say 'Mister' in French."
"Ya-a-as, M'sieu' Weensheep, so I call heem: M'sieu'; M'sieu'; M'sieu'."
Very carefully Frenchy pronounced the clipped word.
"That's all, Joe; I s'pose book French is a good deal diff'rent from
ord'nary Kanuck. 'Mosseer' is right anyhow, for the book says so. Teacher
had ought to know enough to go by the book, I sh' think."
"Tain't her fault, Pa," I said, relenting. "She never went to any good
school. I want to go somewhere where the teachers know a real lot; not
just a little bit more than me. I want to go"--I paused to gain courage--
"I want to go to the University, like--like Mr. Burke."
"The State University!" Pa repeated, in a tone of awe; "Thunder! Don't
believe we could manage that, Sis."
"W'y, yes, y'can, too, Ezry," Aunt Keren argued, "seems to me you're
forehanded enough, to do for an only child. 'Tain't 's if you was like me
'n' Ab., with our four chunies."
"She'd have to go to an academy first to get fitten for it," said Ma. "She
couldn't go to the Univers'ty for three or four years yet."
"Of course not," I answered; "but you might write to Mr. Burke to send me
a catalogue to find out how much I'd have to know to get taken in. Then I
could study at home till I got pretty near ready, and then take a year at
The words flowed easily, eagerly; I had so often gone over the plan.
"Good idee," said Pa, nodding his head, relieved to find that I wasn't
seeking to leave home at once; and so it was arranged.
Isn't it wonderful? Plain and bald and homely the house, unpretending the
surroundings, simple and primitive the life, that sent forth the world's
first beautiful woman, the Woman of the Secret! I have tried to set it all
down exactly as it happened--the quaint, old-fashioned dialect, the homely
ways, the bearded, booted men. For this place, just as it was, was the
birthplace of the new glory; out of this homely simplicity dawned the new
era of beauty that is to make the whole world glad.
A catalogue was sent for, books were bought and I set to work unaided,
though Mr. Stoddard took an interest in my studies and often helped me out
of difficulties. I chose the classical course, undeterred by parental
demonstrations of the "plum uselessness" of Latin and Greek; I had for the
choice no better reason than that it was more difficult. I no longer went
to the little red schoolhouse.
All this time I had almost forgotten Billy, to whom I owed such a debt of
gratitude for sending me upon the Quest. Once I met him on the road.
"Ain't ye never comin' to school no more?" he queried.
"No, I am never going again; I am preparing for the State University; I
shall take a classical course," I answered with hauteur, looking down upon
him as I spoke. Only that morning Ma had let out another tuck in my gown.
"I'm aw'fly sorry," Billy murmured with a foolish, embarrassed grin.
"Guess I'll walk along of ye, if ye don't care."
My triumph found me cold. The sting of Billy's words yet rankled, and
perhaps I was not so grateful to the little wretch as he deserved. It was
about a quarter of a mile to our house; we walked the distance in unbroken
silence. Once there, Billy rallied.
"Good-by, Miss Winship," he said, holding open the gate for me. It was the
first time that any one had addressed me by that grown-up title.
And that was the end of the beginning of the Quest.
In blizzard time and through the fierce heat of summer I toiled at self-
set tasks in our ugly, comfortable home. During the blessed intervals when
we could induce "girl help" to stay with us I had scarcely any housework
to do. Fairly regular exercise came to be a habit and I worried admiring
relatives into thinking me a candidate for an early grave by taking a cold
bath every morning. In the end I managed, with a single year in a
cheerless boarding house near a village academy, where I studied greedily,
devouring my books, to enter the State University with a scholarship to my
I took half the examination in Spring and read extra Virgil and Ovid all
summer. Then in August, when the long vacation was nearly over, came the
village dressmaker. Ma had promised me two new dresses, and I would sit
hemming towels or poring over Greek and Roman history while they turned
the leaves of fashion magazines and discussed materials and trimmings.
I secretly hoped for a silk, but Mother, to whom I suppose I am even now--
now!--a little girl, vetoed that as too showy, and the dressmaker added
her plea for good, durable things. The choice fell upon a golf suiting for
school and a black cashmere for church.
I begged hard to have the cashmere touch the ground, but both women smiled
at the folly of the child who forgot the many re-bindings a long skirt
would call for. There was a comic side to my disappointment, for I guessed
that the widow Trask could not make the designs I coveted, nor anything of
which she could not buy a paper pattern.
But when I went up to the University and became entitled to join in the
--I found that I compared favourably enough with my mates. Dress played
little part in every day college life, and for such occasions as socials
or Friday night debating society I soon learned from upper class girls to
mitigate ugly gowns with pretty ribbons. And I congratulated myself upon
the fact that I was not by any means the plainest girl in my class. My
face was hopeless, but my hard-won fight for an erect posture had given me
a bearing that seemed almost distinguished. And--well, even my face wasn't
so bad, I thought then!
We were a jolly set; most of us poor as church mice, and caring little.
Making rather a boast of it, indeed. John Burke's roommate, Jim Reeder,
cooked his own meals--mostly oatmeal--in his room and lived on less than a
dollar a week until fairly starved. I suppose they'll call him "old Hoss"
to his dying day. Until his mother moved to town, John was almost as ill-
fed. He was just completing his law course when I was a Freshman, and used
to make brave jests at poverty, even after his admission to the bar.
Of course I was glad to meet him again, and, though I was puzzled just at
first, to see how little older than I my former teacher was, yet
afterwards--why, I haven't answered his last--I don't know how many
letters; I simply must remember to write to him!
I think the best part of the teaching wasn't in the books. Some of the
students were queer and uncouth when they came, the boys eating with their
knives in the fashion of the farm; some of the brightest girls in ill-
fitting clothes--perfect guys they'd be thought in the city. But there
were others of quite different manner, and from them and from professors
who had seen the world, we learned a little--a very little--of its ways.
And perhaps we were not unfavourable specimens of young republicanism,
with our merry, hopeful outlook upon life, and our future governors and
senators all in the raw--yes, and our countesses and vice-reines!
GIRL BACHELOR AND BIOLOGIST
Merrily flew the years and almost before I realised it came graduation. In
the leafy dark of the village street, in the calm of a perfect June night,
John Burke told me that he loved me, and I plighted my troth to him.
We laid plans as we bade each other good-by, to meet again--perhaps--in
New York in the fall; and even that little separation seemed so long. We
did not guess that the weeks would grow to months, and--oh, dear, what
will he think of me when he gets here? And what--now--shall I say to him?
Father for the first time visited college to see me graduate. Between his
pride in my standing at the head of my class and his discomfort in a
starched collar, he was a prey to conflicting emotions all Commencement
week, and heaved a great sigh of relief when at last the train that bore
us home pulled out of the station. But as we approached our own he again
grew uneasy, and kept peering out at the car window as if on the watch for
At length we descended in front of the long yellow box we called the
"deepo." And there was Joe Lavigne to meet us, not with the democrat
wagon, but with a very new and shiny top buggy.
When we reached the farmhouse, I saw proofs of a loving conspiracy. The
addition of a broad veranda and a big bay window, with the softening
effect of the young trees that had grown up all around the place, made it
look much more homelike than the bare box that had sheltered my childhood.
A new hammock swung between two of the trees.
Mother met me at the door with more emotion than I had ever before
detected upon her thin face. Then I saw that the dear people had been at
work within the house as well. Cosey corners and modern wall paper and
fittings such as I had seen at the professors' houses and had described at
home to auditors apparently slightly interested, had been remembered and
treasured up and here attempted, to make my homecoming a festivity. The
house had been transformed, and if not always in the best of taste, love
shone through the blunders.
"Oh, Father," I cried, "now I am surprised! How much wheat it must have
"Well, I guess we can stand it," he said, grimly pleased and proud and
anxious all at once. "We wanted to make it kind o' pleasant for ye, Sis;
There was something so soft and tremulous in his voice that it struck me
with a great pang of contrition that I had left him for so many years,
that already I was eager to go away again--to the great city where John
was soon to be.
I turned quickly away and went from room to room admiring the changes, but
after supper, when we were all gathered about the sitting room table,
Father returned to the subject most upon his mind. He had seen me with
John during Commencement week, and must have understood matters.
"Ready t' stay hum now, I s'pose, ain't ye?" he asked with a note in his
voice of cheery assurance that perhaps he did not feel, tilting back and
forth in his old-fashioned rocking chair, as I had so often seen him do,
with closed eyes and open mouth, his face steeled against expression. And
the slow jog, jog, jog of the chair reminded me how his silent evening
vigils had worn away the rockers until they stood flat upon the floor,
making every movement a clacking complaint.
To-night--to-night, he is rocking just the same, in silence, in
loneliness. Poor, dear Pa!
"I'm glad to get home, of course," I said; "but--I wanted to speak with
you. But not to-night."
"Why, ye're through school."
"Yes, but I--I wish I could go on studying; if I may."
The words tripped over each other in my embarrassment.
The jog, jog of the chair paused suddenly, leaving for a moment only the
ticking of the clock to break the silence.
"Not goin' to put up 'ith us an' stay right alon', eh?" he asked; and
rocked twice, then stopped again, in suspense for the answer.
"Why, Father," I stammered, "of course I don't want to do anything unless
you're willing, but I had thought I'd like--I did want to go and study in
the city--I think--or somewhere."
"Dear me! Dear me!" he mused, his voice very low and even; "an' you just
through the University; 'way up to the top, too. Can't ye--seems as if ye
better stop alon' of us an' study home, same's you used to? Mebbe--mebbe
'twon't be good for ye, studyin' so much."
"Of course I can, you dear old Dad," I cried; and horribly guilty I felt
as I looked at the kindly, weather-beaten face. "I shall do just whatever
you say. But oh, I wish I _could go to the city_! Don't you suppose
"I had thought of a post-graduate course in Barnard College--that's in New
York, you know."
Father knew John's plans. I blushed hotly. In the pause that followed I
knew that he was thinking of a well-thumbed map in my old school
geography; of the long, long journey to Chicago, and the thousand weary
miles that stretched beyond. Hastily I went on:--
"But I know how you have saved for me and worked for me and pinched; and
I'd be ashamed to be a burden upon you any longer; I can teach to get
money to go on with."
"No;" said Pa, sitting up straight and striking the arm of the chair with
his clenched fist a blow that gave some hint of the excitement that moved
him. "Guess a child o' mine don't need to teach an' get all dragged out,
alon' of a passel o' wild children! No, no, Helen 'Lizy;" he added more
softly, sinking back into the old attitude and once more closing his eyes;
"if the's so much more to learn, an' you want to go ahead an' learn it,
just you go an' get it done with. I'm right sorry to have ye go so fur
away; I did think--but it's nat'ral, child; it's nat'ral. I s'pose John
Burke's goin' to the city, too, and you kinder--I s'pose young folks likes
to be together."
"I--I--we have talked of it."
Talked about it! John and I had talked of nothing else for a week. I sat
very still, my eyes on the carpet.
"Guess John Burke'll have all he cares to do for one while, gittin'
started in the law office, 'thout runnin' round with Nelly," said Ma. "Ye
seem bent on spoilin' the child, Ezry. Al'ays the same way, ever sin'
she's a little girl."
Her lips were compressed, the outward symbol of a life of silent hours and
"There, there, Ma," said Father, jogging his chair again. "Don't ye worry
no more 'bout that. What's ourn is hern in the long run, an' she may as
well have some of it now when she wants it, an' it'll do her some good. I
s'pose Frank Baker--she that's your mother's cousin an' married Tim'thy
Baker an's gone to New York to live--I s'pose she might look after you;
but it's a long way off, New York--seems like a dretful long way off. What
ye goin' to learn, Sis, if ye should go t' the city?"
"Well, I was good in chemistry; Prof. Meade advised me--I might study
medicine; I don't know. And I want to know more about books and pictures
and the things that people talk about, out in the world, though I can
hardly call that a study, I suppose."
The words somehow disappointed me when uttered. They didn't sound
convincing. Such pursuits seemed less serious, there in the old farm-house
that spoke of so much painful toil, than when John and I had discussed
them on the sunny campus.
"I--I don't know yet, just what to do; there's all summer to plan; but I
want--somehow--to make the very most and the best of myself," I added
It was true, and the nearest I could come to the exact truth; that love
urged me yet more eagerly upon the Quest, and that with all my heart I
longed to become a wise and brilliant woman, for John's sake, and as a
step towards beauty, according to Miss Coleman's words.
"I don't hold with women bein' doctors," said Ma, as she energetically
knitted into the middle of her needle before looking up. "I don't know
what we're comin' to, these days."
"There, there, Ma, I don't know why women shouldn't be doctors, if they
want to. They make better nusses'n men. Mebbe--mebbe Sis'll be gettin'
married some day, an' I tell ye a little doctorin' know-how is mighty
handy in a house. A doctor an' a lawyer, now, would be a gret team, right
in the fambly, like. Well, Sis, we'll see; we'll see."
I knew that the matter was practically settled; and there was little sleep
for me, or for any one, that night in the old farm-house.
I stayed at home until September, and then one morning Father drove me
again to the little yellow station whose door opens wide upon all the
"Well, good-by, Helen 'Lizy," he said.
For weeks I had been eager to be off, but as the train began to move and I
looked back at his patient figure--he made no more show of his deep
emotion than if the parting were for a day--a big lump rose in my throat
at leaving him and Ma--old before their time with toil and privation and
planning and striving for me.
I knew how lonely it would be in the sitting room that night without me.
Father with closed eyes jogging away in his chair, Mother bolt upright and
thin and prim, forever at her knitting or sewing; no sound but the chair
and the ticking clock upon the shelf--that night and every night. And the
early bedtime and the early morning and the long, long day--what a
contrast to this!
I pressed my face against the window, but a rush of tears blurred all the
dear, familiar landmarks--Barzillai Foote's red barn, the grain elevator
at the siding, the Hartsville road trailing off over the prairie; I would
have given worlds to be in the top buggy again, moving homeward, instead
of going swiftly out, out, alone, into the world. Three months ago! I did
not dream what miracles were in store!
And so one day I reached the New York I had dreamed about. It wasn't as a
shrine of learning that it appealed to me, altogether; but as a wonderful
place, beautiful, glittering, feverish with motion, abounding with gayety,
thronged with people, bubbling with life.
How it fascinated me!
Just at first of course I was lonely because John had not yet come, and
Mrs. Baker, mother's cousin, was away from home. But I soon made friends
with my cousins, Ethel and Milly; shy, nice girls, twins and precisely
alike, except, that Ethel is slightly lame. And at my boarding place I
made the acquaintance of an art student from Cincinnati three or four
years older than I, who proposed that we should become girl bachelors and
live in a studio.
"But I didn't know people ever lived in studios," I objected.
"Oh, you dear goose!" said Kathryn Reid--it's really her name, though of
course I call her Kitty--"Live in studios? Bless you, child, everybody
does it. And I know a beyewtiful studio that we can have cheap, because
we're such superior young persons; also because it's ever so many stories
up and no elevator. Can you cook a little? Can you wash dishes, or not
mind if they're not washed? You got the blessed bump of disorder? You good
at don't care? Then live with me and be my love. You've no idea the money
That's just the way Kitty talks. You can't induce her to be serious for
three minutes at a time--I suppose it's the artistic temperament. But
she's shrewd; studio life _is_ better than the kind of boarding house
we escaped from. And so jolly! Kitty has more chums than I, of course. Her
brother, Prosper K., and Caroline Bryant--"Cadge," for short--a queer girl
who does newspaper work and sings like an angel, are the ones I see most.
Though for that matter the city's full of girls from the country, earning
or partly earning their living. One will be studying music, another art;
one "boning" at medicine, another selling stories to the newspapers and
living in hope of one day writing a great American play or novel. Such
nice girls--so brave and jolly.
My new home is in a building on Union Square. And I like it--the place,
the people, the glimpse of the wintry Square, the roaring city life under
my window. I'm sure I don't want a quiet room. It's such fun, just like
playing house, to be by ourselves and independent of all the world. I
think it's an intoxicating thing, just at first, for a girl to be really
independent. Boys think nothing of it; it's what they've been brought up
Well, I tore myself away from the dear place to get at my work. I really
mean to work hard and justify Father's sacrifices. I tried to take singing
lessons, because John is so fond of music, but there I made a dismal
failure; I had, three months ago, neither ear nor voice. The day before
the fall semester opened, I climbed the long hill to Barnard College, fell
in love with its gleaming white and gold, so different from the State
University, and arranged for a course in biology. Then I began physical
culture in a gymnasium.
I couldn't have made a queerer or a better combination. For it was in the
Barnard laboratory that I met Prof. Darmstetter; and it was my bearing, my
unending practice of the West Point setting-up drill, my Delsarte, my
"harmonic poise" and evident health that drew his attention to me.
How well I remember the day I made his acquaintance! I had entered the
laboratory without knowing what manner of man he was, for all my
arrangements about my course had been made with clerks. So it was with
genuine surprise that I turned from an inspection of the apparatus to
answer when a squeaking voice at my elbow suddenly saluted me:--
"Mees Veenship, not so?"
The owner of the voice was a little old fellow, whose dry, weazened face
gave no hint of his years. I guessed that he was probably seventy, though
he might as easily be much younger. His skin was parchment-coloured and
cross-hatched by a thousand wrinkles and the hair under his skull-cap was
as white as snow, but he was as bright of eye and brisk of manner as a
youth of twenty.
"Yes, sir," I replied rather awkwardly; "I am Miss Winship."
"V'at for you study biology?" was his surprising query, uttered in a tone
between a squeak, a snarl, and a grunt.
"Because I wish to learn," I replied, after a moment's hesitation.
"No, mine vriendt," he snapped, "you do not vish to learn. You care
not'ing for science. You are romantic, you grope, you change, you are
unformed. In a vord, you are a voman. You haf industry--mine Gott, yes!--
and you vill learn of me because I am a man and because you haf not'ing
better to do. And by-and-by behold Prince Charming--and you vill meet and
marry and forget science. V'at for I vaste my time vit' you? Eh? I do not
know any voman who becomes a great scientist. Not so? T'ose young vomen,
t'ey vaste t'eir time and t'ey vaste mine."
I followed his gesture and saw two or three nice-looking girls in big
checked aprons amiably grinning at me. One of them by a solemn wink
conveyed the hint that such hazing of new arrivals was not unusual.
"You're paid to waste your time on me," I answered hotly. "I'm here to
work and to listen to you; my plans are my own affair, and if I never
become a great scientist, I don't see what difference that makes to you."
The meekest looking girl gasped, wide eyed at my temerity. But Prof.
Darmstetter's shrewd little eyes twinkled with reassuring good-nature.
"Vell, vell, ve shall see," said he, wagging his head; "maybe I find some
use for you. I vatch you. Maybe I find for you some use t'at you don't
expect, eh? Ve shall see."
So he walked away, shrugging his shoulders and snapping his fingers and
muttering to himself: "Ve shall see; we shall see." And at times
throughout the session he chuckled as if he had heard of an excellent
"Good gracious!" I whispered to one of the aproned girls that had watched
the encounter--students like myself--"that's an encouraging reception,
"It is," she gravely replied. "We're all jealous of you. You are evidently
destined to become Prof. Darmstetter's favourite pupil. I know I cried
half the night at the way he greeted me. We were all watching you and you
got off easy. Brought an apron? I can lend you one, if you didn't. It's
pretty mussy here."
"Thank you," I said, "but really I can't get my mind off Prof.
Darmstetter, all in a minute so. What sort of a man is he?"
"Oh, irritating sometimes, but a genius; I suppose his treatment of the
girls is a sample of his Early Teutonic ideas of civility. He likes better
to teach the Columbia boys--says their work in future years'll do him more
credit. But we get used to him and don't mind it, we who were here last
year. And he's a great scientist; has a world-wide reputation. He almost
lives in the laboratory, here and at Columbia; has no home life or friends
or relatives. And oh, it's such a privilege," she said with a sudden
change of tone, a schoolmistressly manner, looking upon me more austerely,
"to study under such a man. He is a Master."
The Master! She little knew how true was the word! To-morrow, if his
secret and mine were known, the world would hail him as its lord. He would
be a greater man than has yet lived on the earth. Armies would fight for
his favour at the bidding of queens--to get what I have! And to think that
chance led me from two thousand miles away, straight to him.
From the first he seemed to take an interest in my doings. He never
troubled himself to be polite, but he watched me; always he watched me. I
often saw him chuckling and rubbing his hands as if in approbation. But of
what? Not of my work, for of that he never took the slightest notice,
except when I compelled him to do so by some question.
Then, in quick-flung sentences, he would condense the results of a
lifetime of study into phrases filled with meaning, that seemed to cast
light upon principles, not facts, and make wonderfully clear the very
purpose of Nature. Then indeed he almost forgot that we were women, and
talked with kindling enthusiasm of his pet subject. I ceased to wonder
that he held such high rank in college.
Under such conditions I made rapid progress. I thoroughly enjoyed the
work, though I was not absorbed in it, like most of my companions; but I
was quick enough to keep pace with them and to make occasional shrewd
suggestions that pleased Prof. Darmstetter not half so much as some sudden
display of spirit. He did not seem to care whether I became a student. And
always he watched me, for what purpose I could not determine.
My home life--if existence in a studio can be so called--was merry. I was
learning the ways of the world. I liked the life. I wrote to John almost
every day. The freedom of the den, the change from rote lessons to post-
graduate work was pleasant. I was happy.
Happy? I must have dreamed it.
What I thought happiness was nothing to what I now know happiness can be.
THE FINDING OF THE BACILLUS.
If I have dwelt so long upon the laboratory and its master, it is because
there the great blessing came that has glorified my whole existence. This
was the way of it.
One day I asked Prof. Darmstetter some question about the preparation of a
microscopic slide from a bit of a frog's lung.
"Vait!" he snapped, "I vill speak vit' you aftervards."
The girls prophesied the terrible things that were to happen, as they
lingered in the cloak room, waiting their turn on the threadbare spot in
the rug which a rich girl had bought to cover the threadbare spot in the
carpet in front of the mirror. "Now you'll catch it!" the last one said,
as she carefully put her hat straight with both hands and ran out of the
When I returned to the laboratory Prof. Darmstetter motioned me to a chair
and took one opposite, from which he fixed his keen eyes upon my face.
Again he seemed weighing, judging, considering me with uncanny, impersonal
"How I despise t'ose vomen!" he said at last, throwing up his hands with
an impatient gesture.
Used to his ways, I waited in silence.
"I teach t'ose vomen, yes; but I despise t'em," he added.
"If you do, you ought to be ashamed of it," I retorted hotly. "But I don't
believe you really despise them. Such a bright lot of girls--why, some of
them are bound to be heard from in science some day!"
"In science? Bah!"
"Why not? There was Mary Somerville and--and--and Caroline Herschel and--
well, I can't think of their names all in a minute, but I'm proud to be
one of the girls here anyway."
"You are not one of t'em," he cried angrily. "T'ey are life failures. You
fancy t'ey are selected examples, but t'ey are not; t'ey are t'e rejected.
T'ey stood in t'e market place and no man vanted t'em; or else t'ey are
fools as vell as failures and sent t'e men avay. You know me. I am
biologist, not true? I hate t'e vord. I am physiologist, student of t'e
nature of life--all kinds of life, t'e ocean of life of v'ich man is but a
"You were speaking about--"
"Ach, so! Almost t'ou has t'e scientific mind t'at reasons and remembers.
I said, I am physiologist. I study v'at Nature is, v'at she means to do.
V'en Nature--Gott, if you vant a shorter name--makes a mistake, Gott says:
'Poor material; spoiled in shaping, wrong in t'e vorks; all failures;
t'row t'em avay. Ve haf plenty more to go on vit'. You know. You study
Nature, also, a little. You know she is law, she is power. To t'e
indifidual pitiless, she mofes vit' blind, discompassionate majesty ofer
millions of mangled organisms to t'e greater glory of Pan, of Kosmos, of
t'e Universe. She vastes life. And how not? Her best vork lives a little
v'ile and produces its kind, and t'e vorst does not, and t'ey go down t'e
dark vay toget'er and Nature neit'er veeps nor relents Kosmos is greater
t'an t'e indifidual and a million years are short.
"T'ose young vomen--Nature meant t'em to desire beauty and dream of lofe.
Vat is lofe? It is Nature's machinery. T'ose vomen are old enough for
lofe, but t'ey haf it not. So t'ey die. T'ey do not reproduce t'eir kind,
not'ing lifing comes from t'em, to go on lifing, on and on, better and
better--or vorse, as Nature planned--vit' efery generation. If a voman haf
t'e desire of lofe and of beauty, and lofe and beauty come not to her,
t'en I pity her, because I am less vise and resolute to vit'hold pity t'an
Nature is. Efen if she haf not lofe, but only t'e ambition of power or
learning or vealt', I might pity her vit' equal injustice, but I cannot.
She vill not let me. She does not know t'at she is a failure. She prides
herself upon being so mis-made. She cannot help t'at; neit'er can I help
despising her. Such vomen are abnormal, monstrous, in a vord, failures.
Let t'em die! You, I t'ink, are not so. You study to bide t'e time. You
haf a fine carriage. You comb t'e hair, you haf pretty ribbons, you make
t'e body strong and supple, you look in t'e glass and vish for more
beauty. Not so?"
"Of course I do," I cried angrily, wondering for the moment if he had lost
his senses. It seemed as if he knew little about women for a man who
professed to make all life his study. If there were one of his despised
girls who lacked the desire of beauty and the dream of love, I am much
mistaken. But I came to see afterward that he understood them as well as
"I t'ought so," he mused, his eyes still upon my face. "And you are not
too beautiful now; t'ey could not doubt. Yes; I vatch you, I study you.
Seldom I make t'e mistake; but it is fery important. So I vatch you a
little v'ile longer yet. T'en I say to myelf: 'Here is t'e voman; yes, she
And he chuckled and rubbed his lean hands together as I had so often seen
The thought flashed across my mind that this extraordinary man meditated a
proposal of marriage, but I dismissed the notion as ridiculous.
The Professor leaned forward and, fixing me with his eye, spoke in a
hoarse whisper, tense with excitement:--
"Mees Veenship, I am a biologist; you are a voman, creature of Nature,
yearning for perfection after your kind. I--I can gife it you. You can
trust me; I am ready. I can gif you your vish, t'e vish of efery normal
voman. Science--t'at is I--can make you t'e most beautiful being in t'e
Another Sunday school lesson! Miss Coleman and her unforgotten lecture
upon beauty flashed upon my mind. But this man was promising me more than
she had done, and his every word was measured. What was the mystery? What
had he to say to me?
"T'e most beautiful--voman--in t'e vorld," he went on in a slow, cadenced
whisper. "Do you vish it?"
His glittering eyes held mine again. No, he was not jesting at my expense;
rather he seemed waiting with anxiety for me to make some decision upon
which much depended. He was in very serious earnest.
But was ever a question more absurd? Who of women would not wish it? But
to get the wish--ah, there's a different matter! I thought he must be
crazed by over-study, and I could only sit and stare at him, open-mouthed.
"Listen!" he went on more rapidly, as if to forestall objection. "You are
scholar, too, a little. You know how Nature vorks, how men aid her in her
business. Man puts t'e mot'er of vinegar into sweet cider and it is
vinegar. T'e fermenting germs of t'e brewery chemist go in vit' vater and
hops and malt, and t'ere is beer. T'e bacilli of bread, t'e yeast,
svarming vit millions of millions of little spores, go into t'e
housevife's dough, and it is bad bread; but t'at is not t'e fault of t'e
bacilli--mein Gott, no!--for vit' t'e bacilli t'e baker makes goot bread.
T'e bacilli of butter, of cheese--you haf studied t'em. T'e experimenter
puts t'e germs of good butter into bad cream and it becomes goot. It
ripens. It is educated, led in t'e right vay. Tradition vaits for years to
ripen vine and make it perfect. Science finds t'e bacillus of t'e perfect
vine and puts it in t'e cask of fresh grape juice, and soon t'e vine
drinkers of t'e vorld svear it is t'e rare old vintage. T'e bacillus,
inconceivably tiny, svarming vit' life, reproducing itself a billion from
one, t'at is Nature's tool. And t'e physiologist helps Nature.
"See now," continued Prof. Darmstetter. "I haf a vonderful discofery made.
I must experiment vit' it--_experimentum in corpore vili!_
Impossible, for the subject is mankind. I must haf a voman--a voman like
you, healt'y, strong, young--all t'e conditions most favourable. She must
haf intelligence--t'at is you. She should know somet'ing of biology, and
be fery brave, so t'at she may not be frightened, but may understand how
t'e vonderful gift is to come to her; and t'at is you. She should not be
already beautiful, lest t'e change be less convincing. Yes, you are t'e
voman for t'e test. You may become more famous in history fan Cleopatra or
Ninon, and outshine t'em and all t'e ot'er beauties t'at efer lifed. Do
you vant triumphs? Here t'ey are. Riches? You shall command t'em. Fame?
Power? I haf t'em for you. You shall be t'e first. Aftervard, v'en beauty
is common as ugliness is now--ah, I do not know. Efen t'en it vill be a
blessing. But to be t'e first is fame and all t'e ot'er t'ings I promise
you. Now do you trust me? Now do you beliefe me? Vill you make t'e
experiment? I haf--let me tell you!--I haf discofered--"
Cautiously Prof. Darmstetter looked about the room. Then he leaned toward
me again and added in a hoarse whisper:--
"I haf discofered t'e Bacillus of Beauty."
THE GREAT CHANGE.
The Bacillus of Beauty! Was the poor man insane? Had much study made of
him a monomaniac babbling in a dream of absurdities? Do you wonder that I
And yet--the thought flashed through my mind that things almost as strange
have become the commonplace. I had seen the bones of my own hand through
the veiling flesh. I had listened to a voice a thousand miles away. I had
seen insects cut in two, grafted together, head of one and tail of
another, and living. I had seen many, many marvels which science has
wrought along the lines of evolution. And yet--
My dream; my desire always! If it could be!
As I stared open-mouthed at the Professor, he began once more:--
"T'e danger, t'e risk--t'ere is none. You shall see. It is as harmless
"Never mind about that!" I interrupted. "How would I look? Would it change
me totally? Would I really be the most beautiful?--"
I stopped, blushing at my own eagerness.
"Absolutely; I svear it. T'e most perfectly beautiful voman in t'e vorld.
Mein Gott, yes. How not? Never vas t'ere yet a perfectly beautiful voman.
Not von. All have defects; none fulfills t'e ideal. You? You vill look
like yourself. I do not miracles. T'e same soul vill look out of your
eyes. You vill be perfect, but of your type. T'e same eyes, more bright;
t'e same hair, more lustrous and abundant; t'e same complexion clear and
pure; t'e same voman as she might have been if t'e race had gone on
defeloping a hundred t'ousand years. Look you. Some admire blondes; some
brunettes. You are not a Svede to be white, an Italian to be black. You
are a brown American. You shall be t'e most beautiful brown American t'at
efer lifed. And you shall be first. Vit' you as an example we shall
convince t'e vorld. Ve shall accomplish in t'ree generations t'e vork of a
hundred t'ousand years of defelopment. How vill humanity bless us if we
can raise, out of t'e slums and squalor, out of t'e crooked and blind and
degraded, out of t'e hospitals and prisons, t'e spawning dregs of humanity
and make t'em perfect! T'ey shall valk t'e eart' like gods, rejoicing in
t'eir strengt'. No more failures, no more abnormalities. Nature's vork
hastened by science, aeons of veary vaiting and slow efolution forestalled
The little Professor stood erect, his eye fixed on mine, his mien
commanding. I had never looked on man so transfigured.
The thought was intoxicating me, driving me wild. I tried to think, to
struggle against the tide that was sweeping me away. He seemed to be
hypnotizing me with his grave, uncanny eye. I could not move, I could not
"You may ask," Darmstetter went on--though I had not thought of asking--
"if t'e beauty vould be hereditable; if as an acquired characteristic, it
vould pass to descendants, or, if each child vill not haf to be treated
anew. I believe no. It is true t'at acquired traits are not hereditable.
T'ere Weissmann is right, v'atefer doubters may say. You know t'e t'eory.
T'e blacksmit's muscles are not transmitted to his son t'e clerk; but t'e
black hair t'at he got from his fat'er. Only after fery many generations
of blacksmit's could a boy be born who vould grow up as a clerk vit'
blacksmit' muscles. Efolution shapes t'e vorld, yes; but t'e process is so
slow, so slow! So education, modification, must begin afresh vit' each
generation and continue forefer. But t'is bacillus does not add ornament
to t'e outside. It is not like t'e masseuse, vit' her unguents and
kneading. It changes all t'e nature. It is like compressing a million
years of education by natural selection into von lifetime. T'at is my
t'eory. I do not know--it is not yet tried--but how ot'ervise? Ve but
hasten t'e process, as t'e chemist hastens fermentation; Nature
constructs, she does not adapt or alter or modify. Ve produce beauty by
Nature's own met'od. V'y not hereditary?"
I had made up my mind.
"I'll do it," I cried, no longer able to resist, for the fever of it was
in my blood. "You shall make your attempt on me! It can do no harm. I do
not see how it can accomplish all you claim, but if you think--it's an
experiment full of possibilities--in the interests of science--"
"Interest of humbug!" snapped Prof. Darmstetter, his own sarcastic self
again. "You consent because you vant to be beautiful. You care not'ing for
science. I can trust you vit' my secret. You need svear no oat's not to
reveal it. You vant to be t'e only perfect voman in t'e vorld, and so you
shall be, for some time. T'at is right. T'at is your revard."
My cheeks flushed at his injustice. I do care for others. I am not
selfish--not more than everybody. And yet--at that moment I feared him and
his knowledge; I shuddered at nameless terrors.
Really, I often wonder that I ever had the courage to try. And oh, I am so
Now there is no more fear. Darmstetter is my servant, if I will it. As for
his marvellous power, I shall bless it and reverence it all my life. I
thank God for letting me know this man. It is too wonderful--too wonderful
The transformation was slow at first. The beginning--such an anxious time.
Every day I studied myself and watched and waited for the first sign of
growing grace, for the dawning glory. Sometimes I thought I could see the
change already under way, and then again the same plain Nelly Winship
looked at me from the uncomplimentary glass, and away flew all my hopes.
It was the fading of a little scar on my thumb that first let me know the
blessed truth. Now I can scarcely see the place where it was, and I'm sure
no one else would notice it. It will never go away entirely. Prof.
Darmstetter says I am not proof against wounds and old age, because these
are a part of Nature's great plan. But it faded, faded!
And my ears! How I used to hate their prominence! But soon they snuggled
closer to my beautiful, beautiful face--and I'm in sure I don't blame
them. Every morning when I woke, my shining eyes and the bloom of my
cheeks told me I was growing perfect, just as he said I must do. Though
I'm not yet quite perfect.
I could sit at my glass and look for hours at my reflected image--if it
weren't for Kitty--and--
Why, it seems like another girl, and such a girl as never the world saw
before--not me, but Her. Sometimes times I fear Her; but oftener and
oftener, as I get used to the lovely vision, I want to hug Her right out
of the cold mirror and kiss Her and pat Her smooth cheek like a child's,
and put pretty clothes upon Her, as if she were a doll.
And then I try to realise that Her is Me, my own self, and I just cannot
believe it! I look from the reflected image to a little photograph of the
Helen Winship I once knew, and back again to the glass, and wonder, and
thank God, and shudder with awe of my own loveliness. I luxuriate in it, I
joy in it, I feel it in every fibre of my being. I am as happy as a queen.
I am a queen--or She is.
I am but slightly taller. My form is more rounded and of better mould, but
I am still slender. My face is the same face but--how can I express it? A
Venus with the--the expression of a Western schoolgirl pursuing special
studies in New York, looks at me with Her eyes. They are the eyes of Helen
Winship, but larger and fuller orbed and more lustrous, with an appeal
that makes me fall in love with myself, as I look. The nose is longer and
straighter, the cheeks fuller and fairer, the chin daintier, the neck--ah,
well, why shouldn't I be frank? I am beautiful!
And the complexion--still so strange I do not say "my complexion"--clear,
fair, rosy all in one, with the fineness and purity of a baby's; it is the
most indescribable of all the marvels that glow in my glass. Before, I had
the rather sallow, powder-excusing skin of so many Western girls. Now it
is perfect. I love to gaze by the hour at my own beauty. I should be
My voice, too, is glorious. I have to school myself not to start at the
sound of it when I speak. And most of all, what most impresses me when I
try to consider myself fairly--candidly--critically--is the appearance of
strength, of health, of unbounded power and deathless youth--as if the
blood of generations of athletic girls and free, Viking men ran in my
veins. I am, I believe, the only perfectly healthy woman on earth.
Will the gods smite me for my happiness? Are they jealous? Ah, well, I
have never lived until now, and if I can stay a little while like this, I
shall be satisfied; I shall be ready to die. If only beauty does not
vanish as suddenly as it came! If it did, I should kill myself.
There are disadvantages. Such a time as I'm having with my clothes! Money
to buy new is not so plenty as I could wish, though the $75 a month that
Father sends was more than enough until the change. I'm saving to buy a
microscope--a better one than those loaned to students at the laboratory;
so I have to let out and contrive--I who so hate a needle!
And the staring admiration that is lavished on me everywhere! I suppose
I'll get used to it; but it's a new experience. I like to be looked at,
too, much as it embarrasses me. My loveliness is like a beautiful new
dress; one is delighted to have it, but terribly shy about wearing it, at
Admiration! Why, the mystified music master is ready to go down on his
knees to me, the janitor and the page boys are puzzled. I wonder--I wonder
what John will say, I almost dread to think of his seeing me so; yet it
will be the greatest test. Test! I need none!
The girls in the laboratory are divided between awe and envy, and Kitty
Reid--poor Kitty! She began by being puzzled, then grew panic stricken.
The first time she noticed--I shall always remember it--was when I came in
from the college one day, still skeptical of change, yet hoping it might
"Why, you've a new way of doing your hair--no; same old pug--but somehow--
you're looking uncommon fit to-day," she said glancing up from her
My heart leaped for joy. It was true then! It was true! But remembering
Miss Coleman, I forced myself to reply as quietly as I could:--
"My genius must be beginning to sprout."
A little later Kitty was in constant mystification.
"How do you do it?" she would demand. "What have you got? Can't you let me
into the secret? I just think you might introduce me to the fairy
If I were to tell any one, it would be Kitty, of course. Such a dear
little red-headed angel she would make! But it would not be fair to Prof.
Darmstetter. He is not ready yet. So I can only sham ignorance and joke
with her about milk baths and cold cream and rain water. Now that she has
reached the stage of fright, I have great fun with her.
"The age of miracles has come again," she says a hundred times a day. "I
can't believe my eyes! How is it that you are growing so beautiful? Is it
"Am I better looking?" I inquire languidly. "Well, I'm glad of it. I had
an aunt who was well-favoured when she was young; it's high time I took
after her, if I'm ever going to."
"No living aunt ever looked as you do now," Kitty will mutter, shaking her
head. "I don't know what to think. I'm half afraid of you."
To tell the truth, she's more than half afraid of me, and I delight in
mystifying her all I can.
But the strangest thing of all, the most ridiculous thing, considering his
age, the oddest thing when one remembers that he himself is its creator--
Professor Darmstetter is half in love with the beauty he has made; he
would be, if he might, the gray and withered Pygmalion of my Galatea!
THE COMING OF THE LOVER.
Really, I don't know which is the more aggravating, John Burke or Kitty.
Such a battle as I've had with them to-day!
I had quite stopped fretting over John's absence. Indeed, though of course
I wished to see him, I dreaded it; I was so happy, just as I was, and I
had so many things to think about, so many dreams to dream and plans to
I liked John when he taught the little prairie school and praised me to my
wondering relatives. All through my college course I was proud of his
regard, because every one respected him; and last June I promised to marry
We said then that our love wasn't just a "co-ed. flirtation," because he
was a grown man and not a student any more. But--but--but last June I
Why, I've but just come to possess the gift that I wouldn't exchange for
the proudest throne on earth, and I mean to make it my throne in the great
world. I haven't yet had time to think things out or realise my fairy
fortune; but John and I mustn't do anything foolish. Wise love can wait.
He came while I was at school.
When I found him here, he actually didn't know me.
He stared as if I were a stranger whose face drew, yet puzzled him. Then
he was attracted by my beauty, then for a moment dismayed, and then--why,
he was really so much in love that I--I--he gazed at me as if I were not
quite real; with reverence. His eyes mirrored my power; the wonder of the
new Me, the glory and the radiance of me shone in them. He worships me
and--well, of course nobody could help liking that.
He was just as he has always been, but somehow, here in the city, I
couldn't help finding him bigger, stronger, more bucolic. His clothes
looked coarse. His collar was low for the mode, his gloveless hands were
red. There was something almost clerical in his schoolmasterly garb, but
his bold dark eyes and short hair aggressively brushed to a standstill, as
he used to say, looked anything but ministerial. It was plain that he was
a man of sense and spirit, one to be proud of; plain that he was a
I couldn't help seeing his thick shoes any more than I could his hurt face
when I was distant and his ardour the moment I grew kind; and I was so
ashamed--thinking of his looks and picking flaws, when three months ago I
was a country girl myself--that I know--I don't know what I should have
done, if Kitty hadn't returned.
I was so relieved to see her, for John has been writing of marriage soon
and of a home, in one room if need be; and we have too much to accomplish,
with beauty and woman's wit and brain and strength, for that. It is my
duty to think for both, if he's too much in love--the dear, absurd fellow!
As soon as he was gone, Kitty jumped up from the drawing table. She was on
pins and needles for anxiety, her eyes dancing.
"Well, when's the wedding?" she cried.
I was vexed and puzzled, and distressed, too, after sending John away as I
had done. I wanted to be alone and have a chance to think quietly.
"Oh, any old wedding; will it be here, in the den? You going to invite us
all?" asked Kitty.
"Isn't going to be any wedding."
"I'm sorry; I always did lot on weddings."
"You'll have to be the bride, then. Honest, Kitty, I don't like jokes on
such subjects. Mr. Burke and I haven't an idea of being married, not for
Kitty went white all in a minute. She is so quick tempered.
"Oh," said she, "you're going to throw him over. I thought as much! You
were always writing to him when you first came to the city, and talking
about him, at night when we brushed our hair; but lately you haven't
spoken of him at all. You used to look happier when the postman brought
you something from him. And you had his picture--"
"The postman's?" I interrupted, but Kitty kept on as if she were wound
"--on the mantel-piece, in a white-and-gold frame with your own. You hid
'em both when you began to grow beautiful. I suppose you think you're too
good for him. But don't go and break his heart; please don't, Princess;
there's a dear."
"Goose! I haven't the least notion of breaking his heart. I--why can't you
let me alone? I'm--I'm very fond of him--if you will insist on talking
"Oh, I can see! If you'd noticed the poor fellow's face--"
"'Poor fellow!' If you'd seen him before you came! He doesn't need your
pity. Why, it seems to have been with you a case of love at first sight,"
I said mockingly. "He was rude to you, too; he never even noticed that you
were in the room, after I came."
"I don't care. I don't expect a man to notice me when he meets his
sweetheart for the first time in ever so long; and such a sweetheart! But
you--you--oh, I'm afraid of you! I'm afraid of you! What is this mystery?
What is it? Why have you grown so grand and terrible? What has become of
She sat down flat on the floor and burst into passionate weeping.
"Get up!" I cried.
A sense of great loneliness came over me and I threw myself down beside
"Oh, Kitty," I said, "why aren't you old and wise and sensible instead of
being just a silly girl like myself? Then you wouldn't sit here howling,
but you'd kiss me and cuddle me and comfort me and tell me what to do."
"I'm afraid of you! I'm afraid of you! It's--it's no' canny."
"Kitty, Kitty! Why aren't you my fairy godmother, so that you could show
me in a magic glass what to do, instead of scolding me, when I'm wretched
"Wretched! You!" Her eyes fairly blazed. "I wouldn't ever--_ever_ be
wretched if I looked like you--not ever in this world!"
"Yes, you would. You'd be so puzzled about things; and bad girls would
scold you, and there wouldn't be a single soul within two thousand miles
to rely upon. And you'd be awkward and shy when folks looked at you. And
then you'd--you'd--you'd cry."
Afterwards we both wiped our eyes and made it all up; and I told her again
that I really was fond of John.
Well, folks must eat. I went out to get some chops, a half dozen oranges
and the other things for supper--we have lunch and supper, no dinner--and
though I started so blue and wretched, I simply couldn't stay melancholy
long, people stared at me and admired me so much. They crowded after me
into the little corner grocery, and the room was so full that some one
upset a tub of pickles and there they stood around in the vinegar to look
It was frightful! But it was nice too; though I was so embarrassed that I
wanted to run away. I'll get used to it; but--why, my own mother wouldn't
know me! It's no wonder Kitty is frightened.
I wish I could see Ma. But she couldn't advise me. I ought to have a home,
though, and some one older than Kitty to look after me. I must leave the
den; but where to go? Suppose I burned myself broiling chops or beefsteak,
or blistered my face with steam from the kettle! That would be frightful,
now. It's the least I can do for Prof. Darmstetter to keep free from harm
the beauty he gives me. And besides,--I never before was afraid, but now I
go scurrying through the halls and up and down the stairs like a wild
thing; the place is so public, so many people notice me.
I wonder if I couldn't talk to Mrs. Baker. She's at home now. Or there's
the Judge's sister, Miss Marcia, the dearest old maid. I've only seen her
once or twice, but I believe she'd be good to know.
I have too many problems to stay here. I must make some settled plan, now
that my life means so much to all the women in the world. And--how to deal
with a headstrong young man who won't take "no" for an answer or "wait"
for wisdom I simply don't know. If he would only give me time to make my
own acquaintance! There are so many things to think of. A great world is
open to me. I have the key and I am going to live the most beautiful life.
I must think and plan and learn how not to be frightened at my own face in
the mirror; I must--I simply _must_ have time.
* * * * *
I have just seen John again; he came up to Barnard, which won't do at all.
And he came home with me, and--how he loves me!
But I can manage him. Indeed, he was more reasonable to-day.
THE JOY OF THE SUNSHINE.
No. -- East 72d Street, Dec. 28.
Milly and I have just come from a run in the Park, and here I am this
shining white morning scribbling away in my own cosey room.
My very own room--for the most delightful thing has happened; I'm visiting
Mrs. Baker--Aunt Frank I am to call her, though she is really Ma's
cousin--and she has asked me to spend the rest of the winter here.
So I've really left the den. And I didn't deserve it. Why, when Mrs. Baker
invited me to dinner on Christmas day, I dreaded the visit. I hadn't seen
her since I came from the West, and I wondered what she'd think of me, and
what she'd write to Mother. If Pa and Ma could see me now, would they say
their little Nelly'd "filled out well-favoured?"
What _would_ they say to me?
Why, Christmas morning, when I read the home letters, I felt as if I had
betrayed my parents' confidence, as if I'd robbed them of their child by
changing into such a lovely creature. Then I laughed; they won't mind my
getting rid of freckles and a pug nose. And then I cried, almost, and felt
so lonely, for even Kitty had gone off with Pros.; and so far away and so
happy, and a good deal troubled with it all; for John had sent me some
roses and a ring, and I knew I should find him at my Aunt's, eager to see
whether I wore them.
John's such a problem. All that day I sat alone in the den, trying to
think, and trying to let down the hem of my waterproof, for it was snowing
and I have only one good dress; and every few minutes I would slip on the
ring and pull it off, watching the rainbow lights that flashed and paled
in the heart of the stone, and smiling because John had chosen an opal; I
wonder if he knows it's the gem of the beautiful woman.
In the end I let it stay on my hand, of course, for, after all, I suppose
I am betrothed to him.
So it happened that I was almost late for dinner at the Bakers', and quite
late when I really got inside the house; for I walked past the door two or
three times before I could muster up courage to ring the bell. When I
finally ran up the steps, my umbrella was powdered white, and snow and
water were dripping off my skirts. My heart was beating fast with dread
and expectation; I was sure no one would know me.
"I--I'm too wet for the parlour," I said to the maid who came to let me
in; and after a single startled, puzzled look, she went to tell some one
of my arrival. There I stood in my shabby mackintosh, looking at a huge,
gilt-framed picture of the Judge, until a plump little robin of a woman,
in a black dress with a dash of red at the throat, came trotting out to
That was Aunt; in spite of my fright and self-consciousness I wanted to
laugh to see her bright eyes look at me in amazement that grew almost to
panic. She didn't know me; the servant could not have caught my name.
"Did you--wish to see me?" she finally managed to say.
"I'm Helen Winship--" I faltered. I felt as if I had done something very
"Nelly!" she cried, clutching my hands and almost lifting herself on
tiptoe, as she blinked into my eyes in the uncertain light of the outer
hall. "This isn't--can't be--not _our_ Helen Winship--oh, it's some
message from her--some--"
Her voice died away in incoherent mutterings. She drew me into a big hall
like a sitting room behind the small parlour.
"Come into the light, child, whoever you are. I want to look at you," she
An open fire was burning in the grate, and in the room were Milly and
Ethel and white-haired Miss Marcia and a tall, blonde young man.
All rose to their feet, then stopped. There was an awkward pause, the
answering thrill of tense amazement shot from mind to mind like lightning.
They stood as if frozen, gazing. The room was for a moment so still that I
could hear my own quick breathing and the hammering of my heart. I was
grateful for some far shout upon the street that drowned the noise.
"But--you--but--I thought--" Milly began in a half-hushed, awe-struck
whisper; she never finished the sentence, but continued to gaze at me with
big, round eyes, her lips parted, her breath quick and tremulous.
I was transported with joy and fright; I almost wished I might sink into
the floor, but just then down the stair came the Judge with John behind
him, and little Joy perched on his shoulder. I think the others were as
grateful as I for the interruption.
"Put me down! Put me down!" screamed Joy as she saw me sprinkled with
sleet. "Mamma, ith that Mithith Thanta Clauth?"
At the welcome laugh that helped to break the ice she ran with a flirt of
her short skirts to hide her head against her father's knee.
"Helen!" repeated Mrs. Baker, only half recovering from her stupefaction,
"this isn't--why, it can't be you!"
"I--oh, I'm afraid I'm late," I stammered.
Miss Marcia began to unbutton my raincoat, and her kindness somewhat
relieved my embarrassment, though I don't know how I managed to respond to
the hubbub of greetings, especially when Mr. Hynes, the stranger, was
He had been looking at me more intently than he knew, with dark blue
brilliant eyes, and he flushed as he touched my hand, until I was glad to
take refuge with Joy, who hovered about, eying me as if she still
suspected some ruse on the part of Santa Claus.
"Joy, you know Cousin Nelly?" I said; and at sound of my voice, they all
looked again at each other and then at me.
"Why, I can't believe my eyes, though Bake here said you'd altered.
Altered!" twittered Aunt Frank. She turned indignantly upon the Judge, who
wisely attempted no defense. "I didn't dream--Bake, here, never can tell a
story straight. Have you--what is it? Nelly, dear, it's two years since
I've seen you; of course you've--grown!"
But no amazement could long curb her hospitable instincts. Her incoherence
vanished as she grasped at a practical consideration.
"But let Milly take you up stairs and get your things off," she said with
an air as of one who solves problems.
"Are you truly Cothin Nelly?" Joy lisped. "All wight; come thee my twee."
Though she couldn't recognise me as the cousin of a few weeks earlier, the
child was eager to claim me as a new friend. So I escaped with her and
Milly to the nursery, where I stayed as long as I dared, letting my cheeks
"The twee ith mine and Mamma'th," said Joy; "we're the only oneth young
enough to have Christhmath twees, Papa thayth."
"Hoh, guess I'm younger'n Mamma, ain't I?" scoffed my other little cousin
who had been sent to inquire into our delay. He is perhaps a dozen years
old, is called "Boy" officially, and Timothy, Jr., in the family records,
and--like Joy--wasn't in the least afraid of me, after five minutes'
Boy led me down to the others, but dinner was nearly over before I felt at
ease. I'm not used to having at my back a statuesque servant--though this
one was not too statuesque to be surprised by my appearance almost out of
decorum. And I couldn't help knowing that every one wanted to look at me
all the time, which was delicious, but embarrassing. I blushed and gave
stupid answers when addressed, and even feared that I might show myself at
fault in the etiquette of a city table. It was strange to have forks in so
many cases where I've always used spoons. And, though of course I knew
what the finger bowls were, I wasn't quite sure how to use them.
No one was more puzzled by my appearance than Uncle Timothy himself. As he
looked at me--and this he did through most of the meal--certain long gray
hairs in his eyebrows seemed to wave up and down, as I had often noticed
with the frightened curiosity of a child, like the questioning antennae of
"And what is the school work now?" he asked when the dessert came. "The
last time I had the very real pleasure of seeing you, it was--perhaps
"The cell," I replied, relieved at the introduction of a topic that I
could talk about, "and the cell wall. Protoplasmic movements, you know,
and unicellular plants and animals. I'd been making sketches that day of
the common amoeba of standing water."
"I am not familiar with the--ah--with the amoeba; but doubtless its habits
are interesting. And when do the school days end? A young lady looks
forward with pleasure, I fancy, to release from--"
"Is the amoeba a--some horrid bug, I suppose?" interrupted Aunt Frank;
"and you--er--do things to it in that laboratory? How can you? The very
thought of such a place! It makes me shiver!"
"Oh, but you should see it, so clean and bright; the laboratory's simply
"But this is your first winter in the city, and you ought to be enjoying
concerts and theatres, meeting people, seeing things."
"Oh, I only keep such hours as I elect, being a post graduate; and I've
been to several theatres," I said; "Kitty and I get seats in the top
"The--the top gallery?"
"At matinees," I hastily explained, "and not--not lately."
And then I felt more confused than ever, for Mr. Hynes was watching me.
John was looking at me, too, with that great light in his face that had
been there ever since my arrival, when he first saw the opal gleaming on
my finger; and I--oh, how could I have hinted that I don't dare go where
so many people might look at me? But it's the truth. And though the truth
may be inconvenient, it's wonderfully sweet!
After dinner we passed into the big drawing room behind the hall. Joy did
some clumsy little dances in her short white frock--she is really too
chubby to caper nimbly--and Ethel and Milly played and sang neither well
I think they were more afraid of me than I had been of the servants at
dinner. They are not very pretty, with their light, wavy hair and pale
flower faces, though I'm afraid I set my standard too high now--now that I
know what is possible.
I went to the piano myself afterwards and played. Played! It was terrible!
Never would I have believed that I could make such a mess of it. I didn't
sing until they began trying carols. I didn't mean to do so then, but I
chimed in before I thought, when they sang:--
He set a star up in the sky
Full broad and bright and fair.
"That song was taken from the Ormulum," said the Judge; "a poem of the
"Nelly! Was that you?" cried Aunt Frank, interrupting.
The music of the new, fresh, vibrant voice had thrilled them all--all
except the unconscious Judge--and there they sat, spellbound. But as they
shook off the witchery, there was all at once a babble of voices, and
before I quite knew what had happened, I was at the piano again, singing
"The King in Thule:"
There was a king in Thule
True even to the grave
To whom his mistress, dying,
A golden goblet gave.
Perhaps it wasn't very appropriate to Christmas, but Cadge had drilled me
upon it. In the middle of the first stanza I happened to glance up, and
noticed that Mr. Hynes was again looking at me with an absorbed, indrawing
gaze, colouring with amazed pleasure. It woke in me a flutter of
consternation and delight, for he has the sensitive face of a musician;
but my presence of mind was gone, and for one horrible instant I thought I
was going to break down, and just sat there, gasping and blushing. My
heart sank and my voice dwindled to a quavering, unfamiliar whisper. I
couldn't remember the words; but then I seized hold of my courage and sang
and sang and sang, better than I had ever done before.
I didn't look up again until I had finished; then somehow I got away from
the piano, and shyly slipped into a chair near Miss Baker. Of course there
was a clamour that I should sing again, but I couldn't. The flaming of my
cheeks made me ashamed.
Perhaps some time I shall learn the city way of not seeming to care very
much about anything.
Aunt must have had it at her tongue's end all the evening to invite me to
come to her; and when she was bidding me good-night she could wait no
"You're living right on Union Square?" she said; "in the same building
"A milliner, a dentist, a school for theatrical dancing," I enumerated,
laughing happily. I knew that it was I myself, and not my mode of life,
that bewildered her.
"Better than a boarding-house. Two or three other girls lodge there, the
housekeeper is obliging, and the experience--well, at least it's
"I wish you'd come here. Why don't you?"
"Oh, could I?" I cried with sudden frankness. "You can't think how glad
I'd be! The studio was awfully nice at first, and I've made the best of
it, but I know Ma--Mother and Father would be pleased. If it wouldn't be
too much trouble--"
And so easily it was all arranged. Of course after she had seen me, heard
me, felt the charm of me--of Her--Aunt Frank couldn't leave Her in the
I'd have been glad to avoid the journey back to Union Square with John;
for the evening, with all its perplexities, had been paradise, and I
dreaded to have him bring me back to earth with words of love. I ought to
be more than usually tender towards John now, when he has just lost his
mother; but when the Bakers' door had closed behind us, and we stood
together under the crispy starlight--for it had cleared and turned cold
during the evening--I talked feverishly of things that neither of us cared
about, and kept it up all the way home.
John scarcely seemed to listen to my chatter. He was as if under a spell,
and his dark, strong face glowed with the magic of it. As we approached
the Square, he looked down at me, and slipped my hand from his arm into
the clasp of his warm fingers. Through my glove he felt the ring, and gave
the hand a little, almost timid pressure.
"Am I doing right? Ought I to wear it?" I cried. "Won't you help me think,
just as if you didn't--didn't care? This isn't like last summer. We are
different; I am very different. You must have seen to-night, that I am not
at all the same girl. I've told you that I can't be certain; I am dazed."
"I shall remember everything--all you told me when I came, and now," he
said. "But you are doing right--darling!"
He held my hands when we parted and looked into my eyes, and I saw that
his own were shining. His love seemed too deep for any outburst of
passion, or else he feared to alarm me; and yet he seemed so sure.
I wish--I wish--oh, I don't know what I wish; I ought not to be bound to
any one; but I suppose I love John.
A LOOKING OVER BY THE PACK.
If women are not meant to study, Prof. Darmstetter should be pleased with
me. Instead of working up my laboratory notebooks, I have sat until
"Go to bed early and get your beauty sleep," says Aunt, but I push open
the window and lean upon the sash and let the cold air blow over me. I'd
like to dance a thousand miles in the moonlight; I'm so young, and so
strong, and such glorious things are coming!
To-morrow I shall have a foretaste of the future; I shall know what other
people--not John and my relatives--think of me. Ah, there's only one thing
they can think! To-morrow'll be the beginning of the world to me.
To-morrow! To-morrow! Aunt Frank has sent out cards for an "At Home." And
Oh, I'm glad I came here! I revel in the new home.
I like the house; it looks so big and solid. I like my cousins--quiet
little creatures. They wait upon me, anticipate my smallest wish, and
defer to my opinions as if I were a white star queen dropped from the
ether; all but Boy, and even he respects me because I can construe Caesar.
I like my Aunt--devoted to clubs and committees, though she's forgotten
them now in her eagerness to introduce me. Ah, to-morrow! Blessed to-
morrow! And I like Aunt Marcia Baker. I wonder if, when I am older, I too
shall be serene and stately, with a face that seems to have outlived
sorrow; I can hardly believe now that I shall care to live at all when
people's eyes have ceased to follow my beauty. When for me there are no
I think I shall like Mr. Hynes; he's almost one of the family, for he is
betrothed to Milly, and I'm glad--ah, so glad I'm not she! What a life she
looks forward to--each day exactly like its fellows; a droning, monotonous
existence, keeping house, overseeing the cooking--perhaps doing it
herself; for he's only a young lawyer, just starting in life!
But I like his face, so full of impulse and imagination. I believe he's a
man who might go far and achieve much. Why should he handicap himself with
an early marriage?
It's well enough for Milly; she doesn't understand her limitations. Why,
she's almost as eager over to-morrow as if it could mean to her what it
does to me; and that is an outlook into a life so glad, so wonderful!
Dear, good Aunt Frank proposed the tea before my trunks were fairly
"Won't your Professor give you a holiday from--is it microbes you study?"
she inquired. "Sure they're not dangerous?"
"The afternoon tea bacillus is not wholly innocuous," suggested Uncle,
pinching her cheek.
It was good to see the loving look that reproved and repaid him.
"Why, Bake," she protested, "tea never hurt anybody."
"Oh, I've time enough," I said; "I have no regular days for going to Prof.
Darmstetter, and the other studies--"
It was on my tongue to add: "and the other studies don't matter," but I
checked the words.
"Well, you'll find it takes time," Aunt reminded me. "How about clothes,
now? Suppose you show me what you brought."
And in a few minutes we were all chattering at once in discussion of my
modest little wardrobe. I could feel, as each new dress was shaken from
its folds, that Aunt was more dissatisfied than she would confess.
"Everything's pretty and tasteful," she conceded at last; "but--for a
tea--if you could--"
If she had dared, she'd have offered to get me a dress herself.
"Oh, of course I'll need something new," I said hurriedly; "I meant to ask
your advice. Nothing very costly," I was reluctantly adding. But at that
moment an inspiration came to lighten the gloom.
The very thing! I'd use the money I'd saved for the microscope! I don't
need one the least bit.
So I was able to add with some philosophy:--
"I never did have a nice dress, and I'd like something pretty good this
time. Why, I haven't nearly spent all my allowance," I cried with kindling
enthusiasm, jumping up to pace the floor. "Tell me what I ought to have--
just exactly what is most suitable. I don't know much about teas, but I'd
Aunt's face glowed with excitement. I think she saw in imagination fifty
Helens dancing before he eyes in a kaleidoscopic assortment of dresses.
"You're right. We'll get--oh, what shall we--what shall we get that'll be
good enough for you?" she cried in a flutter. "Something simple of course,
you're so young; but--I'll tell you: We'll go right to Mrs. Edgar!"
Perhaps my own face burned, too.
"Who's she? Some one on the Avenue?"
"No; no one knows her, but--she's a marvel! It'd mean the world and all to
her to please some one sure to be noticed, like you. She's a widow; has
So to Mrs. Edgar we went. Her eyes devoured me. She is a mite of a woman,
young, white-faced, vivacious.
"For a tea?" she asked. "A--a large one?"
She spoke with forced calmness, but her hands had the artist's flutter,
the enthusiast's eagerness to be doing.
"I'll get samples," she went on; "there's not a minute to be lost; not--
one--moment! I'll work all night rather than fail her. You will not
wish"--she dismissed us abruptly--"to go with me to the shops?"
"No; Miss Winship attracts too much attention."
Alas, it's true! It has become an ordeal for me to venture into a shop.
But what a blessed thing if my beauty should bring success and ease to
this poor, struggling little widow--just by my wearing a dress she has
made! Oh, she'll not be the only one! What if Kitty sometime wins fame by
painting my picture, or Cadge by writing of me in her "Recollections?" Why
shouldn't I inspire great poems and noble deeds and fine songs, like the
famous beauties Miss Coleman told about? Yes, even more than they; there
was not one of them all like me!
Next evening when Aunt brought the samples upstairs, I was reading to the
Judge in the library, and the others were listening as if stocks and bonds
were more fascinating than romances.
"Shall we pray for a second Joshua, arresting the sun, pending
deliberation?" asked Uncle, displeased at the interruption.
"Why, Bake, there's scarcely ten days, and how we'd feel if Nelly didn't
look well!" cried Aunt Frank; and we all broke out laughing at the bare
idea of my looking ill!
"I never saw any one to whom dress mattered so little," Aunt Marcia said,
as she folded up her silk knitting. "But Mrs. Edgar insists upon her four
fittings like any Shylock haggling for his pound of flesh; it is written
in the bond."
When she had trotted away home with her prim elderly maid, like a pair out
of "Cranford," Ethel made an impressive announcement:--
"The General will pour."
"Returned hero from the Philippines?"
"Oh, dear, no. Meg Van Dam could face Mausers, but a Red Cross bazaar was
as near as she got to the war. We call her the General because--oh, you'll
find out. Meg is Mrs. Robert Van Dam."
"Oh, I think I've seen that name in the papers. Aren't they grand people?"
"Why, yes; rather; we don't know the Van Dams; Meg's only just married.
You might have read about her mother-in-law, Mrs. Marmaduke Van Dam, or
her aunt-in-law, Mrs. Henry Van Dam, or Mrs. Henry's daughters; the
family's a tribe. But Meg, why, we went to school with Meg; she's just the
My dress came home to-night--white and dainty. Ah, at last I've something
to wear that's not "good" and "plain" and "durable"! But there was an
outcry, as there has been at every fitting, because I won't wear stays.
Eccentric, they call me; as if Nature and beauty were abnormal!
When I was arrayed in it, Aunt and Ethel led me to the library for Uncle's
"Is to-morrow the day set to exhibit to Helen other aspects of New York
than the scholastic?" he asked, looking up from his paper. "The first
appearances of a young girl in modern society are said to be comparable
with a 'Looking Over by the Pack,' as described by Mr. Kipling. May Mrs.
Baloo and Mrs. Bagheera and Mrs. Shere Khan have good hunting to-night,
and be kind to-morrow to our womanling."
"Why, Bake, you know just as well as I do there aren't any such people
coming. I believe it's just one of your jokes," sputtered Aunt. "Nelly,
dear, turn slowly round."
She had dropped on her knees beside me, busy with pins and folds, and Joy
was lisping the caution, born perhaps of experience, "Don't you thoil it,
Cothin Nelly, or Nurthey'll vip you," when Milly came into the library;
and with her was Mr. Hynes.
"Lovely! Isn't it, Ned?" cried Milly. "It's for to-morrow."
Mr. Hynes scarcely glanced at the dress, then looked away again, with
indifference that somehow hurt me.
"Very pretty," he said languidly. "Classic, isn't it? By the way, Judge, I
think you'd be interested--"
And then he began to tell Judge Baker about some horrid auction sale of
I was surprised. I couldn't account for it. To hide my disappointment--for
I do want to look my best to-morrow, and then everybody has taken so much
pains---I bent over Joy, tying and untying the ribbons that held the rings
of soft hair in front of her ears.
"Thop, Cothin Nelly; you hurt!" she screamed.
As soon as I could, I ran to take off the dress. How could Aunt so parade
me? Of course the women Mr. Hynes knows must have all their dresses from
But I believe, after all, he did notice, for I saw him colour before he
turned sharply away. To please Milly, he might at least--
He called the dress classic; it's just long, soft folds without messy
trimmings; and, oh, it's not vanity to peep at myself again and again and
to dream of to-morrow. I'm gloriously, gloriously beautiful! If John
comes to-morrow, I do hope he'll wear gloves. He has good hands, too;
Why, of course; Mr. Hynes must admire me.
SNARLING AT THE COUNCIL ROCK.
To-day has been heaven!
There was a famous lawyer among Aunt's guests and a United States Senator
and a real author, a woman who has written books; but people brushed past
them all for a word with me!
And I'm going to the Opera! I shall sit in a box. Mrs. Van Dam says I'll
make the sensation of the season! I'm going to the Opera!
When men came this morning with palms and flowers to decorate the house, I
ran off to the Park. I did almost run, really. There was a song at my
lips: "Gladdest, oh, gladdest, most beautiful in the world; blessed, most
blessed, most beautiful in the world!" and the "tap-tap" of horses' feet
on the asphalt, the "b-r-r-r-rp" of the cable cars and the rattle of
elevated trains kept time, until all the city seemed ringing with my joy.
I know it's foolish; if I had been beautiful from my childhood; if I could
have grown up to think of it as a matter of course; if I had been used to
the awe of men and women's envy, I might think less about it, might even
fancy that I would have preferred learning or wealth--for we all love what
we have not. But now--it is so new, so marvellous!
I had plenty of things to think about when I could calm myself. Only
yesterday I'd had a long talk with Prof. Darmstetter.
"The experiment is not yet complete," he declared. He had asked me to stay
for--but that is a part of the secret which is to pass with this record
from me to all women.
"You are beautiful," he said; "mein Gott, yes! More beautiful t'an any
ot'er voman since t'e appearance of man on eart'. But perfectly beautiful?
I do not know; I t'ink not yet. Who can tell for v'at ultimate perfection
Nature destined t'e human body? But we shall see. T'at perfection you
shall reach. In a veek, a mont', t'ree mont's--I cannot tell. Ve must vait
and experiment and still vait, but success is assured--absolute success. I
shall gif it. I do not know if t'e human type is t'e highest t'at eart' is
capable of supporting, but it is t'e highest present type, and it shall be
my vork to gif it t'at for v'ich it has hungered and t'irsted, and towards
v'ich slowly it has groped its vay; it shall be my vork to gif humanity
beauty and perfection."
The light that illumined his yellow, wrinkled face made me cry out:--
"All the world will bless you! All women will be grateful as I am
"Ach!" he snapped with a sudden change of countenance. "I shall be von
more name and date to make harter t'e student's lessons and longer t'e
tables--t'at is gratitude! Vit' t'e vorld we haf at present no concern.
For t'is, indeed, you bless me--t'at I am not a quack to make public an
incomplete discofery, for ot'er quacks to do mischief. You are glad t'at
it is vit' you alone I concern myself. But you are not grateful; you are
happy because I say t'at you shall be yet more beautiful; t'at is not
gratitude. You might--"
At the eager shrillness of his voice I drew a step away.
"Indeed I'm grateful, whether you believe it or not!" I cried. "You think
all women so selfish! Of course I'm glad that I alone am in the secret,
but you proposed it yourself, and I rejoice as much as you do that some
day--by and by--other women will be happy as I am happy--"
"Yes--by and by! You emphasize t'at," he snapped mockingly, but then he
recovered himself and his queer new deference. "And you haf t'e right; I
vish you to rechoice in your own lofeliness. Ve haf engaged toget'er in
t'is great vork, and it is vell t'at we bot' haf our revards--I t'at I
aggomblish somet'ing for t'e benefit of my kind, and you--since vomen
cannot lofe t'eir kind, but only intifiduals--you haf t'e happy lofe t'at
is necessary to a voman."
His eyes rested on my ring.
I couldn't tell him--proud as I am of it--that John had loved me before I
ever heard of the Bacillus. But I could punish his gibes.
"Oh, by the way--I'm not coming to-morrow," I said. "My Aunt is to give a
Strange to see him struggle with his disappointment like a grieving child!
But he bravely rallied.
"T'at is goot," he said, "you shall tell me v'at people t'ink of you. You
vish to go about--to be admired; you vish to gif up science; not so?"
"Oh, no! I couldn't be a doll, for men to look at and then tire of me. I
must study the harder--to be worthy--"
The look of his face, of the thin, straight-lipped mouth, the keen old
eyes, stopped me.
"You vill not gif up study now, at least," he sneered; "not until you haf
t'e perfect beauty. You haf need of me."
Prof. Darmstetter is so irritating! Why, he has just as much need of me!
He himself said I was the best subject he could find for the experiment.
But even if he had finished his work with the Bacillus, he'd rather teach
me, a despised woman, all the science I could master than develop the
budding talent of the brightest Columbia boy. The sight of my beauty is a
joy to him. Really, I pity the poor man. He makes the great discovery when
he's himself too old to profit by it; the Bacillus will not work against
Nature. It has brought him only a hopeless longing--
But I shall study. He shall see! Not in the laboratory, of course; that is
hardly fitting now. I wouldn't go there again except for the lure of
promised beauty--can more loveliness be possible? But I do feel the
responsibility of beauty. The wisest and best will crowd about me, and
they must find my words worthy the lips that shape them and the voice that
utters. And I shall learn from their wisdom.
"There was Hypatia; she was both beautiful and learned," I found myself
confiding to a gray squirrel in the Park, and then I laughed and ran home
to make my last preparations.
Ethel arranged my hair to-day, though I could hardly yield her the delight
of its shining, long undulations. Then she did Milly's as nearly like mine
as possible, and Milly did hers. The girls wore white like me, and my aunt
was in black. The house was full of flowers; as if it had plunged into
seas of them, it dripped with an odourous rosy foam. John sent a box--the
extravagant boy!--and there were big American Beauty roses, with stems as
long as walking sticks from Pros. and Cadge. Milly had flowers, too, from
At first I wasn't a bit afraid, while acquaintances were dropping in one
by one--Mrs. Magoun, Mrs. Crosby, the wife of the managing clerk in
Uncle's office, Aunt Marcia--all allies.
Then there came a stir at the door, the magnetic thrill that foreruns a
Somebody. And there upon the threshold stood a tall, dashing girl,
superbly turned out; not handsome, but fine-looking, dark, decisive,
vital--a creature born to command.
I knew her at the first glance. She was the General!
I was for a moment surprised to see her so young and girlish, though I
might have known; for she was Milly's schoolmate. I doubt if she's two
years my senior, but in social arts and finesse--ah, the difference!
The house seemed to belong to her from the moment she entered. She moved
like a whirlwind--a well-mannered and exquisitely dressed whirlwind, of
course--with an air of abounding vigour and vitality, up to where we
stood, and there stopped short.
"How d'y'do?" she said, in the clipped New York fashion, looking at me
with the confidence of one who is never at a loss--and then--
Oh, the joy! For all her _savoir faire_, it was her turn to be
confused. For a moment she peered at me with a short-sighted squint; then
after a little hesitation, she put up her lorgnette, making an impatient
gesture, as if to say: "I can't help it; I _must_"--and stared.
Her eyes grew big as she gazed; but at last she drew a long breath, and
put down the quizzing-glass with an effect of self-denial. When she spoke
there was little to remind me of her momentary loss of self-command.
"Are you enjoying New York?" she demanded.
"Milly tells me you've never been in the city before; that you are
studying at Barnard."
I knew that I had impressed this strong, splendid woman, but I was a
little afraid of her.
Quite herself again, she began asking questions about myself, my home, my
studies; quick, probing, confusing questions, while in my cheeks the
awkward colour came and went. But it would never have occurred to me to
parry her queries. I could not help liking her, though when at last she
left me and began a progress through the rooms, I drew a breath of relief,
like one who has passed with credit a stiff examination.
At the door of the dining-room she paused again, judging through her glass
the table and its dainty decorations.
"Those flowers are rather high," she declared, and calling upon Milly for
help, she began rearranging the roses, and laying the twigs of holly upon
the cloth in bolder patterns. She seemed to take charge, to adopt me with
the house, to accept and audit and vouch for us.
Then people began coming all at once, all together, and I had to take my
place beside Mrs. Baker and Aunt Marcia in the reception room.
I can't tell anything about the next hour; it's a blur. But I wouldn't
have missed a minute. I had never before seen a reception, except at the
University where sometimes I used to serve as an usher, pouncing upon
people as they entered and leading them up to the row of Professors and
Professors' wives backed against the wall. But now I had to stand up
myself and meet people. And oh, that was different!
At first two or three women would approach, putting out their hands at an
absurd height, and start to say: "How d' you--" or "I'm so--"
And Aunt would make some excited, half-coherent remark and look at me,
anxiously but proudly, and say my name.
But they never heard her! As they really saw me, each in turn would start,
and, wide-eyed, look again. And as the awe and wonder grew in their
faces--as there came the little stop, the gasp, that told how their
reserve was for once overthrown, then, to the utmost, I tasted the sweet
of power and felt the thrill of ecstasy.
Red spots burned in Aunt's cheeks; she talked fast in her company voice,
and somehow the lace at her throat got awry. Aunt Marcia was as calm and
stately in her soft black velvet as if nothing were happening. And really
there was little to disturb one's composure. New Yorkers aren't like our
whole-souled, emotional Western folks. Not one of these women but would
have suffered torture rather than betray her surprise beyond that first
irrepressible gasp of amazement. After that one victory of human nature,
they would make talk about the weather, or the newest book, and then get
away to discuss me in undertones in the hall or drawing room.
Quickly the sixth sense of a strange agitation went through the house. I
knew what they were all talking about, thinking about. Subtle waves of
thought seemed to catch up each new comer so that she felt, without being
told, that something extraordinary was happening. Women now approached not
unprepared; but for all their bracing against the shock, not one could be
quite nonchalant at the first sight of my superb, compelling beauty.
My eyes flashed, my pulse rioted as I felt the vibrant excitement of the
gathering, the tiptoe eagerness to reach our neighbourhood, the hush that
fell upon the circle immediately around me, the reaction of overgay laugh
and chatter in the far corners.
Oh, it was lovely, lovely! No girl could have been quite unmoved to feel
that all those soft lights were glowing in her honour, those masses of
flowers blooming, all that warmth and perfume of elegance and luxury
wafted as incense to her nostrils. And the undercurrent of suppressed
excitement, the sensation of Her!
At times I grew impatient of conventionality. How was it possible for
these people to look so quietly, eye to eye, upon the most vitally perfect
of living beings? How could they turn from me to orange frappe or salted
Once or twice I caught some faint echo of the talk about us.
"Where is she?" asked one voice, made by curiosity more penetrating than
its owner realised.
"Julia's seen her; she's talked and talked till I had to come."
"And she's still studying?"--Another voice--"How can she? Great beauty and
great scientist--bizarre combination!"
How that would amuse Prof. Darmstetter!
By and by I saw John towering above the others while he bobbed about
helplessly in the sea of women's heads that filled the rooms and even rose
upon the "bleachers," as he calls the stairs. There were not really so
very many people, but he didn't know how to reach us, he is so awkward.
When he had steered his course among the women and had spoken to my Aunt,
his face was radiant as he turned to me.
"I knew _you_ wouldn't fail us, Mr. Burke," Aunt said hurriedly.
"Mrs. Marshall--so glad--this is--Nelly, dear--"
Behind John was a lady waiting to meet me.
"--So glad you've come," I said to him; and the words sounded curiously to
me because in my excitement I also had spoken in my "company voice."
But I had no time to say another word to him, as I turned to greet Mrs.
He mumbled something, flushing, while his eyes devoured my beauty in one
dumb, worshipping look. Then he dropped quickly out of our group. I was
sorry, but he'll understand that I was flurried. He ought to learn self-
control, though; he shouldn't look at me before so many people with all
his heart in his eyes.
And I was so vexed about his clothes, too! His old, long, black coat, such
as lawyers wear in the West, would have been pretty nearly right--
something like what the other men wore--but he seemed to think it was not
good enough, and had put on a brand new business suit. Of course there
wasn't another man there so clad, but he never seemed to notice how absurd
The Viewing of the Pack didn't last long. Before my cheeks had ceased
flaming, before I had grown used to standing there to be looked at, people
seemed to go, all at once, as suddenly as they had arrived.
Just as the last ones were leaving, some instinct told me that Mr. Hynes
had come. Before I saw him, I felt his gaze upon me, a wondering, glad
look, as if I were Eve, the first and only woman.
Milly brought him to me and left us together, but at first he was almost
curt in his effort to hide his sensibility to my beauty--as if that were a
weakness!--and I was furiously shy, and felt somehow that I must hold him
at still greater distance.
"Am I never again to hear you sing?" he asked. "Sweet sounds that have
given a new definition to music are still vibrating in my memory."
I knew he was thinking of Christmas!
"I don't often sing, except for Joy," I mumbled; "I've had so few
"Joy doesn't know her joys; but--wouldn't she share them?"
I couldn't answer him, for hot and cold waves of shyness and pleasure were
running over me. Oh, I hope, for Milly's sake, he doesn't dislike me. He
seems to feel so intensely, to be so alive!
When he had gone, I went to the dining-room with Aunt Marcia, and found
there Ethel and the General and Peggy Van Dam, the General's cousin, a
pale girl, all eyes and teeth. Kitty was with them, and she darted towards
me, but Mrs. Van Dam was before her.
"Sit down, both of you," she commanded.
Back to Full Books