The Bent Twig
Part 3 out of 9
It was under these conditions that Sylvia passed from childhood,
and emerged into the pains and delights and responsibilities of
_A FALSE START TO ATHENS_
SYLVIA'S FIRST GLIMPSE OF MODERN CIVILIZATION
Although there was not the slightest actual connection between
the two, the trip to Chicago was always in Sylvia's mind like the
beginning of her University course. It is true that the journey,
practically the first in Sylvia's life, was undertaken shortly before
her matriculation as a Freshman, but this fortuitous chronological
connection could not account for Sylvia's sense of a deeper unity
between the two experiences. The days in Chicago, few as they were,
were as charged with significance for her as the successive acts in a
drama, and that significance was of the substance and marrow of the
following and longer passage in her life.
The fact that her father and her mother disagreed about the
advisability of the trip was one of the salient points in the
beginning. When Aunt Victoria, breaking a long silence with one of her
infrequent letters, wrote to say that she was to be in Chicago "on
business" during the last week of September, and would be very glad
to have her sister-in-law bring her two nieces to see her there,
Professor Marshall said, with his usual snort: "Business nothing! She
never has any business. She won't come to see them _here_, that's all.
The idea's preposterous." But Mrs. Marshall, breaking a long silence
of her own, said vigorously: "She is your sister, and you and your
family are the only blood-kin she has in the world. I've a notion--I
have had for some time--that she was somehow terribly hurt on that
last visit here. It would be ungenerous not to go half-way to meet her
Sylvia, anxiously hanging on her father's response, was surprised
when he made no protest beyond, "Well, do as you please. I can keep
Lawrence all right. She only speaks of seeing you and the girls." It
did not occur to Sylvia, astonished at this sudden capitulation, that
there might be a discrepancy between her father's habit of vehement
speech and his real feeling in this instance.
It was enough for her, however, that they were going to take a long
journey on the train overnight, that they were going to see a great
city, that they were going to see Aunt Victoria, about whom her
imagination had always hovered with a constancy enhanced by the odd
silence concerning her which was the rule in the Marshall house.
She was immensely stirred by the prospect. She made herself, in the
brief interval between the decision and the beginning of the journey,
a new shirt-waist of handkerchief linen. It took the last cent of
her allowance to buy the material, and she was obliged, by a secret
arrangement with her father, to discount the future, in order to have
some spending-money in the city.
Mrs. Marshall was quite disappointed by the dullness of Sylvia's
perceptions during that momentous first trip, which she had looked
forward to as an occasion for widening the girls' horizon to new
interests. Oddly enough it was Judith, usually so much less quick than
Sylvia, who asked the intelligent questions and listened attentively
to her mother's explanations about the working of the air-brakes, and
the switching systems in railroad yards, and the harvesting of the
crops in the flat, rich country gliding past the windows. It was
quite evident that not a word of this highly instructive talk
reached Sylvia, sitting motionless, absorbing every detail of her
fellow-passengers' aspect, in a sort of trance of receptivity. She
scarcely glanced out of the windows, except when the train stopped at
the station in a large town, when she transferred her steady gaze to
the people coming and going from the train. "Just look, Sylvia, at
those blast-furnaces!" cried her mother as they passed through the
outskirts of an industrial town. "They have to keep them going, you
know, night and day."
"Oh, do they? What for?" asked Judith, craning her neck to watch the
splendid leap of the flames into the darkness.
"Because they can't allow the ore to become--" Mrs. Marshall wondered
why, during her conscientious explanation of blast-furnaces, Sylvia
kept her eyes dully fixed on her hands on her lap. Sylvia was, as a
matter of fact, trying imaginary bracelets on her slim, smooth, white
wrists. The woman opposite her wore bracelets.
"Isn't it fine," remarked the civic-minded Mrs. Marshall, "to see all
these little prairie towns so splendidly lighted?"
"I hadn't noticed them," said Sylvia, her gaze turned on the elegant
nonchalance of a handsome, elderly woman ahead of her. Her mother
looked at her askance, and thought that children are unaccountable.
There were four of the Chicago days, and such important events marked
them that each one had for all time a physiognomy of its own. Years
afterwards when their travels had far outrun that first journey,
Sylvia and Judith could have told exactly what occurred on any given
day of that sojourn, as "on the third day we were in Chicago."
The event of the first day was, of course, the meeting with Aunt
Victoria. They went to see her in a wonderful hotel, entering through
a classic court, with a silver-plashing fountain in the middle, and
slim Ionic pillars standing up white and glorious out of masses of
palms. This dreamlike spot of beauty was occupied by an incessantly
restless throng of lean, sallow-faced men in sack-coats, with hats on
the backs of their heads and cigars in the corners of their mouths.
The air was full of tobacco smoke and the click of heels on the marble
pavement. At one side was a great onyx-and-marble desk, looking like
a soda-water fountain without the silver faucets, and it was the
thin-cheeked, elegant young-old man behind this structure who gave
instructions whereby Mrs. Marshall and her two daughters found their
way to Aunt Victoria's immense and luxurious room. She was very glad
to see them, shaking hands with her sister-in-law in the respectful
manner which that lady always seemed to inspire in her, and embracing
her two tall young nieces with a fervor which melted Sylvia's heart
back to her old childish adoration.
"What _beautiful_ children you have, Barbara!" cried Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, holding Judith off at arm's length and looking from
her to Sylvia; "although I suppose I ought not to tell them that!" She
looked at Sylvia with an affectionate laugh. "Will you be spoiled if I
tell you you are very pretty?" she asked.
"I can't think of anything but how pretty _you_ are!" said Sylvia,
voicing honestly what was in her mind.
This answer caused her aunt to cry out: "Oh! Oh! And tact too! She's
meant for social success!" She left this note to vibrate in Sylvia's
ears and turned again to her sister-in-law with hospitable remarks
about the removing of wraps. As this was being done, she took
advantage of the little bustle to remark from the other side of the
room, "I rather hoped Elliott would come with you." She spoke lightly,
but there was the tremor of feeling in her sweet voice which Sylvia
found she remembered as though it had been but yesterday she had heard
"You didn't ask him," said Mrs. Marshall, with her usual directness.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith arched her eyebrows, dropped her eyelids, and
shook her head. "No, I didn't ask him," she admitted, and then with a
little wry twist of her lips, "But I rather hoped he might feel like
coming." She looked down at her hands.
Mrs. Marshall surprised her daughters very much by going across the
room and kissing her husband's sister. Mrs. Marshall-Smith took the
other's strong, hard hand between her soft fingers. "That's generous
in you, Barbara," she said, looking intently into the pitying dark
eyes, "I'm human, you know,"
"Yes, I know you're human," said Mrs. Marshall, looking down at her
gravely. "So are we all of us. So's Elliott. Don't forget that." With
which obscure reference, entirely unintelligible to the two girls, the
matter was forever dropped.
The two ladies thereupon embarked upon the difficult business of
laying out to the best advantage the few days before them so that
every hour might be utilized for the twofold purpose of seeing each
other and having the girls see the sights. Judith went to the window
during this conversation, and looked down into the crowded street, the
first city street she had ever seen. Sylvia sat quietly and imprinted
upon her memory every item in the appearance of the two women before
her, not the first time she had compared them. Mrs. Marshall was
dressed in a dark-blue, well-preserved, ready-made suit, dating from
the year before. It was in perfect condition and quite near enough
the style of the moment to pass unnoticed. Sylvia saw nothing to be
ashamed of in her mother's unaccented and neutral costume, but there
was no denying that she looked exactly like any one else. What was
most apparent to the discerning eye was that her garb had been
organized in every detail so as to consume as little thought and
effort as possible. Whereas Aunt Victoria--Sylvia's earnest and
thoughtful efforts at home-dressmaking had fitted her, if for nothing
else, for a full appreciation of Mrs. Marshall-Smith's costume. She
had struggled with cloth enough to bow her head in respect and awe
before the masterly tailoring of the rich, smooth broadcloth dress.
She knew from her own experience that the perfection of those welted
seams could not be accomplished by even the most intense temporary
concentration of amateur forces. No such trifling fire of twigs
lighted the way to that pinnacle. The workman who had achieved that
skill had cut down the whole tree of his life and thrown it into the
Like a self-taught fiddler at the concert of a master, Sylvia's
failures had taught her the meaning of success. Although her
inexperience kept her from making at all a close estimate of the
literal cost of the toilet, her shrewdness made her divine the truth,
which was that Mrs. Marshall-Smith, in spite of the plainness of her
attire, could have clad herself in cloth-of-gold at a scarcely greater
expenditure of the efforts and lives of others. Sylvia felt that her
aunt was the most entirely enviable person in the world, and would
gladly have changed places with her in a moment.
That was, on the whole, the note of the Chicago trip, all the dazzling
lights and reflections of which focused, for Sylvia, upon Aunt
Victoria's radiant person. At times, the resultant beam was almost too
much for the young eyes; as, for example, on the next day when the
two made a momentous shopping expedition to the largest and finest
department store in the city. "I've a curiosity to see," Aunt Victoria
had declared carelessly, "what sort of things are sold in a big
Western shop, and besides I've some purchases to make for the Lydford
house. Things needs freshening up there. I've thought of wicker and
chintz for the living-room. It would be a change from what I've had.
Perhaps it would amuse the children to go along?"
At this, Judith, who had a boy's detestation of shopping, looked so
miserable that Aunt Victoria had laughed out, her frank, amused laugh,
and said, "Well, Sylvia and I alone, then!"
"Judith and I'll go to Lincoln Park to take a walk by the lake," said
Mrs. Marshall. "Our inland young folks have never seen so much water
all at once."
Sylvia had been, of course, in the two substantial and well-run
department stores of La Chance, when she went with her mother to make
their carefully considered purchases. They always went directly to
the department in question, where Mrs. Marshall's concise formula ran
usually along such lines as, "I would like to look at misses' coats,
size 16, blue or brown serge, moderate style, price somewhere between
ten and fifteen dollars." And then they looked at misses' coats, size
16, blue or brown serge, of the specified price; and picked out
one. Sylvia's mother was under the impression that she allowed her
daughters to select their own clothes because, after all these
defining and limiting preliminaries, she always, with a very genuine
indifference, abandoned them to their own choice between the four or
five garments offered.
Even when Sylvia, as she grew older, went by herself to make a small
purchase or two, she was so deeply under the influence of her mother's
example that she felt it unbecoming to loiter, or to examine anything
she knew she could not buy. Besides, nearly all the salespeople, who,
for the most part, had been at their posts for many years, knew her
from childhood, and if she stopped to look at a show-case of new
collars, or jabots, they always came pleasantly to pass the time of
day, and ask how her little brother was, and how she liked studying at
home. She was ashamed to show in their presence anything but a casual,
dignified interest in the goods they handled.
After these feeble and diluted tipplings, her day with Aunt Victoria
was like a huge draught of raw spirits. That much-experienced shopper
led her a leisurely course up one dazzling aisle and down another,
pausing ruthlessly to look and to handle and to comment, even if she
had not the least intention of buying. With an inimitable ease
of manner she examined whatever took her fancy, and the languid,
fashionably dressed salesladies, all in aristocratic black, showed to
these whims a smiling deference, which Sylvia knew could come
from nothing but the exquisite tailoring of Aunt Victoria's blue
broadcloth. This perception did not in the least lower her opinion of
the value of the deference. It heightened her opinion of the value of
They stood by glass tables piled high with filmy and costly underwear,
such underwear as Sylvia had never dreamed could exist, and Aunt
Victoria looked casually at the cobweb tissues which the saleswoman
held up, herself hankering in a hungry adoration of the luxury she
would never touch in any other way. Without apology or explanation,
other than Aunt Victoria's gracious nod of dismissal, they moved on
to the enchanted cave where, under the stare of innumerable electric
lights, evening wraps were exhibited. The young woman who served them
held the expensive, fragile chiffon of the garments up in front of her
black uniform, her eyes wistful and unsatisfied. Her instant of glory
was over when Aunt Victoria bought one of these, exclaiming humorously
about the quaintness of going from Paris to Chicago to shop. It was of
silver tissue over white brocade, with a collar of fur, and the price
was a hundred and thirty-seven dollars. Sylvia's allowance for all her
personal expenses for a whole year was a hundred and twenty. To
reach the furniture, they passed by, with an ignoring contempt, huge
counters heaped with hundreds and hundreds of shirt-waists, any one of
which was better than the one Sylvia had made with so much care and
interest before leaving home.
Among the furniture they made a long stay. Aunt Victoria was
unexpectedly pleased by the design of the wicker pieces, and
bought and bought and bought; till Sylvia turned her head away in
bewilderment. She looked down a long perspective of glittering
show-cases filled with the minor luxuries of the toilet, the ruffs,
the collars, the slipper-rosettes, the embroidered belts, the hair
ornaments, the chiffon scarves, all objects diverse, innumerable,
perishable as mist in tree-branches, all costly in exact ratio to
their fragility. Back of her were the children's dresses, fairy-like,
simple with an extravagantly costly simplicity. It occurred to Sylvia
as little as to many others of the crowd of half-hypnotized women,
wandering about with burning eyes and watering mouths through the
shrewdly designed shop, that the great closets back of these adroitly
displayed fineries might be full of wearable, firm-textured little
dresses, such as she herself had always worn. It required an effort of
the will to remember that, and wills weak, or not yet formed, wavered
and bent before the lust of the eye, so cunningly inflamed. Any sense
of values, of proportion, in Sylvia was dumfounded by the lavishness,
the enormous quantities, the immense varieties of the goods displayed.
She ached with covetousness....
When they joined the others at the hotel her mother, after commenting
that she looked rather flushed and tired, happened to ask, "Oh, by the
way, Sylvia, did you happen to come across anything in serge suits
that would be suitable for school-wear?"
Sylvia quivered, cried out explosively, "_No!_" and turned away,
feeling a hot pulse beating through her body. But Aunt Victoria
happened to divert attention at that moment. She had been reading,
with a very serious and somewhat annoyed expression, a long telegram
just handed her, and now in answer to Mrs. Marshall's expression of
concern, said hastily, "Oh, it's Arnold again.... It's always Arnold!"
She moved to a desk and wrote a brief telegram which she handed to
the waiting man-servant. Sylvia noticed it was addressed to Mr. A.H.
Saunders, a name which set dimly ringing in her head recollections now
muffled and obscured.
Aunt Victoria went on to Mrs. Marshall: "Arnold hates this school so.
He always hates his schools."
"Oh, he is at school now?" asked Mrs. Marshall. "You haven't a tutor
"Oh yes, Mr. Saunders is still with him--in the summers and during
holidays." Mrs. Marshall-Smith explained further: "To keep him up in
his _studies_. He doesn't learn anything in his school, you know. They
never do. It's only for the atmosphere--the sports; you know, they
play cricket where he is now--and the desirable class of boys he
meets.... _All_ the boys have tutors in vacation times to coach them
for the college-entrance examinations."
The face of the college professor's wife continued immovably grave
during this brief summary of an educational system. She inquired, "How
old is Arnold now?" learned that he was seventeen, remembered that, oh
yes, he was a year older than Sylvia, and allowed the subject to drop
into one of the abysmal silences for which she alone had the courage.
Her husband's sister was as little proof against it as her husband. As
it continued, Mrs. Marshall-Smith went through the manoeuvers which in
a less perfectly bred person would have been fidgeting....
No one paid any attention to Sylvia, who sat confronting herself in a
long mirror and despising every garment she wore.
ARNOLD'S FUTURE IS CASUALLY DECIDED
The next day was to have been given up to really improving pursuits.
The morning in the Art Institute came off as planned. The girls were
marshaled through the sculpture and paintings and various art objects
with about the result which might have been expected. As blankly
inexperienced of painting and sculpture as any Bushmen, they
received this sudden enormous dose of those arts with an instant,
self-preservatory incapacity to swallow even a small amount of them.
It is true that the very first exhibits they saw, the lions outside
the building, the first paintings they encountered, made an
appreciable impression on them; but after this they followed their
elders through the interminable crowded halls of the museum, their
legs aching with the effort to keep their balance on the polished
floors, their eyes increasingly glazed and dull. For a time a few
eccentric faces or dresses among the other sightseers penetrated
through this merciful insensibility, but by noon the capacity for even
so much observation as this had left them. They set one foot before
the other, they directed their eyes upon the multitudinous objects
exhibited, they nodded their heads to comments made by the others, but
if asked suddenly what they had just seen in the room last visited,
neither of them could have made the faintest guess.
At half-past twelve, their aunt and mother, highly self-congratulatory
over the educational morning, voted that enough was as good as a
feast, and led their stunned and stupefied charges away to Aunt
Victoria's hotel for lunch.
It was while they were consuming this exceedingly appetizing meal that
Sylvia saw, threading his way towards them between the other tables, a
tall, weedy, expensively dressed young man, with a pale freckled face
and light-brown hair. When he saw her eyes on him he waved his hand,
a largely knuckled hand, and grinned. Then she saw that it was not a
young man, but a tall boy, and that the boy was Arnold. The quality of
the grin reminded her that she had always liked Arnold.
His arrival, though obviously unexpected to the last degree, caused
less of a commotion than might have seemed natural. It was as if
this were for Aunt Victoria only an unexpected incident in a general
development, quite resignedly anticipated. After he had shaken hands
with everybody, and had sat down and ordered his own luncheon very
capably, his stepmother remarked in a tolerant tone, "You didn't get
my telegram, then?" He shook his head: "I started an hour or so after
I wired you. We'd gone down to the town with one of the masters for a
game with Concord. There was a train just pulling out as we went by
the station, and I ran and jumped on."
"How'd you know where it was going?" challenged Judith.
"I didn't," he explained lightly. He looked at her with the teasing,
provocative look of masculine seventeen for feminine thirteen. "Same
old spitfire, I see, Miss Judy," he said, his command of unhackneyed
phrases by no means commensurate with his desire to be facetious.
Judith frowned and went on eating her eclair in silence. It was the
first eclair she had ever eaten, and she was more concerned with it
than with the new arrival.
Nobody made any comment on Arnold's method of beginning journeys until
Mrs. Marshall asked, "What did you do it for?" She put the question
with an evident seriousness of inquiry, not at all with the rhetorical
reproach usually conveyed in the formula she used.
Arnold looked up from the huge, costly, bloody beefsteak he was eating
and, after an instant's survey of the grave, kind, face opposite him,
answered with a seriousness like her own, "Because I wanted to get
away." He added after a moment, laughing and looking again at the
younger girl, "I wanted to come out and pull Judy's hair again!" He
spoke with his mouth full, and this made him entirely a boy and not at
all the young man his well-cut clothes made him appear.
Without speaking, Judith pulled her long, smooth braid around over her
shoulder where she could protect the end of it. Her mouth was also
full, bulgingly, of the last of her eclair. They might have been
brother and sister in a common nursery.
"My! Aren't you pretty, Sylvia!" was Arnold's next remark. "You're a
regular peach; do you know it?" He turned to the others: "Say, let's
go to a show this afternoon," he proposed. "Tling-Tling's in town. I
saw it in the papers as I came in. The original company's singing.
Did you ever hear them?" he asked Sylvia. "They beat the other road
companies all hollow."
Sylvia shook her head. She had never heard the name before, the
Broadway brand of comic opera being outside her experience to a degree
which would have been inconceivable to Arnold.
There was some discussion over the matter, but in the end, apparently
because there was nothing else to do with Arnold, they all did go
to the "show," Arnold engineering the expedition with a trained
expertness in the matter of ticket-sellers, cabs, and ushers which was
in odd contrast to his gawky physical immaturity. At all the stages
of the process where it was possible, he smoked cigarettes, producing
them in rapid succession out of a case studded with little pearls. His
stepmother looked on at this, her beautiful manner of wise tolerance
tightening up a little, and after dinner, as they sat in a glittering
corridor of the hotel to talk, she addressed him suddenly in a quite
different tone. "I don't want you to do that so much, Arnold," she
said. His hand was fumbling for his case again. "You're too young to
smoke at all," she said definitely. He went on with his automatic
movements, opening the case, taking out a cigarette and tapping it on
the cover. "Oh, all the fellows do," he said rebelliously, and struck
Mrs. Marshall-Smith aroused herself to a sudden, low-toned, iron
masterfulness of voice and manner which, for all its quietness, had
the quality of a pistol shot in the family group. She said only, "Put
away that cigarette"; but by one effort of her will she massed against
the rebellion of his disorganized adolescence her mature, well-ripened
capacity to get her own way. She held him with her eyes as an
animal-trainer is supposed to cow his snarling, yellow-fanged
captives, and in a moment Arnold, with a pettish gesture, blew out the
match and shut the cigarette case with a snap. Mrs. Marshall-Smith
forbore to over-emphasize her victory by a feather-weight of gloating,
and turned to her sister-in-law with a whimsical remark about the
preposterousness of one of the costumes passing. Arnold sulked
in silence until Judith, emerging from her usual self-contained
reticence, made her first advance to him. "Let's us all go there
by the railing where we can look down into the central court," she
suggested, and having a nodded permission from their elders, the three
children walked away.
They looked down into the great marble court, far below them, now
fairy-like with carefully arranged electric lights, gleaming through
the palms. The busily trampling cohorts in sack-coats and derby hats
were, from here, subdued by distance to an aesthetic inoffensiveness
of mere ant-like comings and goings.
"Not so bad," said Arnold, with a kindly willingness to be pleased,
looking about him discriminatingly at one detail after another of
the interior, the heavy velvet and gold bullion of the curtains, the
polished marble of the paneling, the silk brocade of the upholstery,
the heavy gilding of the chairs.... Everything in sight exhaled an
intense consciousness of high cost, which was heavy on the air like a
musky odor, suggesting to a sensitive nose, as does the odor of musk,
another smell, obscured but rancidly perceptible--the unwashed smell,
floating up from the paupers' cellars which support Aladdin's palaces
But the three adolescents, hanging over the well-designed solid
mahogany railing, had not noses sensitive to this peculiar, very
common blending of odors. Judith, in fact, was entirely unconscious
even of the more obvious of the two. She was as insensitive to all
about her as to the too-abundant pictures of the morning. She might
have been leaning over a picket fence. "I wouldn't give in to Her!"
she said to Arnold, staring squarely at him.
Arnold looked nettled. "Oh, I don't! I don't pay any attention to what
she says, except when she's around where I am, and that's not so often
you could notice it much! _Saunders_ isn't that kind! Saunders is a
gay old bird, I tell you! We have some times together when we get
It dawned on Sylvia that he was speaking of the man who, five years
before, had been their young Professor Saunders. She found that she
remembered vividly his keen, handsome face, softened by music to quiet
peace. She wondered what Arnold meant by saying he was a gay old bird.
Arnold went on, shaking his head sagely: "But it's my belief that
Saunders is beginning to take to dope ... bad business! Bad business!
He's in love with Madrina, you know, and has to drown his sorrows some
Even Judith, for all her Sioux desire to avoid seeming surprised or
impressed, could not restrain a rather startled look at this lordly
knowledge of the world. Sylvia, although she had scarcely taken in the
significance of Arnold's words, dropped her eyes and blushed. Arnold
surveyed them with the indulgent look of a rakish but good-hearted man
of the world patting two pretty children on the head.
Judith upset his pose by bringing the talk abruptly back to where she
had begun it. "But you _did_ give in to her! You pretend you didn't
because you are ashamed. She just looked you down. I wouldn't let
_any_body look me down; I wouldn't give in to anybody!"
Under this attack, the man of the world collapsed into an awkward
overgrown boy, ill at ease, with red lids to his eyes and premature
yellow stains on two fingers of his left hand. He shifted his feet and
said defensively: "Aw, she's a woman. A fellow can't knock her down. I
wouldn't let a man do it." He retreated still further, through another
phase, and became a little boy, heated and recriminatory: "I'd like
to know who _you_ are to talk! You give in to _your_ mother all the
"I don't give in to my mother; I _mind_ her," said Judith, drawing a
distinction which Arnold could not follow but which he was not acute
enough to attack other than by a jeering, "Oh, what a crawl! What's
"And I mind her whether she's there or not! _I_ do!" continued Judith,
pressing what she seemed, inexplicably to Arnold, to consider her
Sylvia was vexed with them for talking so loudly and getting so
red-faced and being so generally out of key with the booming note of
luxury resounding about them. "Hush! hush!" she said; "don't be so
silly. We ought to be going back."
Arnold took her rebuke without protest. Either something in this
passage-at-arms had perversely brought a sudden impulse to his mind,
or he had all along a purpose in his fantastic trip West. As they
reached the two ladies, he burst out, "Say, Madrina, why couldn't I go
on to La Chance and go to school there, and live with the Marshalls?"
Four amazed faces were turned on him. His stepmother evidently thought
him stricken with sudden insanity and strove distractedly to select,
from the heaped pile of her reasons for so thinking, some few which
might be cited without too great offense to her brother's mode of
life: "Why, what a strange idea, Arnold! What ever made you think of
such a thing? _You_ wouldn't like it!" She was going on, as in decency
bound, to add that it would be also rather a large order for the
Marshalls to adopt a notably "difficult" boy, when Judith broke in
with a blunt divination of what was in her aunt's mind. "You'd have
to wash dishes if you came to our house," she said, "and help peel
potatoes, and weed the celery bed."
"I'd like it!" declared Arnold. "We'd have lots of fun."
"I _bet_ we would!" said Judith, with an unexpected assent.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith laughed gently. "You don't know what you're
talking about, you silly boy. You never did an hour's work in your
Arnold sat down by Mrs. Marshall. "I wouldn't be in the way, _would_
I?" he said, with a clumsy pleading. He hesitated obviously over the
"Mother" which had risen to his lips, the name he had had for her
during the momentous visit of five years before, and finally,
blushing, could not bring it out. "I'd like it like anything! _I_
wouldn't be ... I'd be _different_! Sylvie and Judy seem like little
sisters to me." The red on his face deepened. "It's--it's good for a
fellow to have sisters, and a home," he said in a low tone not audible
to his stepmother's ears.
Mrs. Marshall put out a large, strong hand and took his slack,
big-knuckled fingers into a tight clasp. Mrs. Marshall-Smith evidently
thought a light tone best now, as always, to take. "I tell you,
Barbara"--she suggested laughingly, "we'll exchange. You give me
Sylvia, and take Arnold."
Mrs. Marshall ignored this as pure facetiousness, and said seriously:
"Why really, Victoria, it might not be a bad thing for Arnold to come
to us. I know Elliott would be glad to have him, and so would I."
For an instant Arnold's life hung in the balance. Mrs. Marshall-Smith,
gleaming gold and ivory in her evening-dress of amber satin, sat
silent, startled by the suddenness with which the whole astonishing
question had come up. There was in her face more than one hint that
the proposition opened a welcome door of escape to her....
And then Arnold himself, with the tragic haste of youth, sent one
end of the scales down, weighted so heavily that the sight of his
stepmother's eyes and mouth told him it could never rise again. In the
little, pregnant pause, he cried out joyfully, "Oh, Mother! Mother!"
and flung his arms around Mrs. Marshall's neck. It was the only time
he had shown the slightest emotion over anything. It burst from him
with surprising effect.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith was, as she had said, only human, and at this
she rose, her delicate face quiet and impassive, and shook out the
shimmering folds of her beautiful dress. She said casually, picking
up her fan and evidently preparing for some sort of adjournment: "Oh,
Arnold, don't be so absurd. Of course you can't foist yourself off
on a family that's no relation to you, that way. And in any case,
it wouldn't do for you to graduate from a co-educational State
University. Not a person you know would have heard of it. You know
you're due at Harvard next fall." With adroit fingers, she plucked the
string sure to vibrate in Arnold's nature. "Do go and order a table
for us in the Rose-Room, there's a good boy. And be sure to have the
waiter give you one where we can see the dancing."
The matter was settled.
ONE MAN'S MEAT ...
That night after the Marshalls had gone back to their somewhat shabby
boarding-house, "things" happened to the two people they had left in
the great hotel. Sylvia and Judith never knew the details, but it was
apparent that something portentous had occurred, from the number of
telegrams Aunt Victoria had managed to receive and send between the
hour when they left her in the evening, and eleven o'clock the next
morning, when they found her, hatted and veiled, with an array of
strapped baggage around her.
"It's Arnold again!" she told them, with a resigned gesture. She laid
down the time-table she had been consulting and drew Mrs. Marshall to
the window for a low-voiced explanation. When she came back, "I'm so
sorry, dears, to cut short even by a single day this charming time
together," she told the girls. "But the news I've been getting from
Arnold's school--there's nothing for me to do but to stop everything
and take him back there to see what can be done to patch things
up." She spoke with the patient air of one inured to the sacrifices
involved in the upbringing of children. "We leave on the
eleven-forty--oh, I _am_ so sorry! But it would have been only one day
more. I meant to get you both a dress--I've 'phoned to have them sent
The rest was only the dreary, bustling futility of the last moments
before train-time--kisses, remarks about writing more often; a promise
from Aunt Victoria to send Sylvia from time to time a box of old
dresses and fineries as material for her niece's dressmaking
skill;--from Arnold, appearing at the last minute, a good deal of
rather flat, well-meant chaffing, proffered with the most entire
unconcern as to the expressed purpose of their journey; and then the
descent through long, mirrored, softly carpeted corridors to the
classic beauty of the Grecian temple where the busy men, with tired
eyes, came and went hurriedly, treading heavily on their heels.
Outside was the cab, Arnold extremely efficient in browbeating the
driver as to the stowing away of bags, more kisses, in the general
cloud of which Arnold pecked shyly at Sylvia's ear and Judith's chin;
then the retreating vehicle with Arnold standing up, a tall, ungainly
figure, waving a much-jointed hand.
After it was out of sight the three watchers looked at each other in a
stale moment of anticlimax.
"Arnold's horrid, isn't he?" said Judith thoughtfully.
"Why, I _like_ him!" opposed Sylvia.
"Oh, I _like_ him, all right," said Judith.
Then both girls looked at their mother. What next ...? They were not
to have gone back to La Chance until the next night. Would this change
of plans alter their schedule? Mrs. Marshall saw no reason why it
should. She proposed a sightseeing expedition to a hospital. Miss
Lindstroem, the elderly Swedish woman who worked among the destitute
negroes of La Chance, had a sister who was head-nurse in the biggest
and newest hospital in Chicago, and she had written very cordially
that if her sister's friends cared to inspect such an institution, she
was at their service. Neither of the girls having the slightest idea
of what a hospital was like, nor of any other of the sights in the
city which they might see instead, no objection was made to this plan.
They made inquiries of a near-by policeman and found that they could
reach it by the elevated. Their encounter with this metropolitan
facility for transportation turned out to be among the most memorable
bits of sightseeing of their trip. Neither of the girls had ever
imagined anything so lurid as the Saturday noon jam, the dense, packed
throngs waiting on the platforms and bursting out through the opened
doors like beans from a split bag, their places instantly taken by
an even greater crowd, perspiring, fighting grimly for foot-room and
expecting and receiving no other kind. Judith was fired contagiously
with the spirit about her, set her teeth, thrust out her elbows,
shoved, pushed, grunted, fought, all with a fresh zest in the
performance which gave her an immense advantage over the fatigued
city-dwellers, who assaulted their fellow-citizens with only a
preoccupied desire for an approach to a breathing space, and, that
attained, subsided into lurching, strap-hanging quiescence. Judith
secured with ease, on all the public vehicles they utilized that day,
a place on the outside edge of a platform, where she had fresh air
in abundance and could hang over the grating to watch with extreme
interest the intimate bits of tenement-house life which flashed
But Sylvia, a shuddering chip on the torrent, always found herself
in the exact middle of the most crowded spot, feeling her body
horrifyingly pressed upon by various invisible ones behind her and
several only too visible ones in front, breathing down the back of
somebody's neck, often a dirty and sweaty one, with somebody breathing
hotly down the back of her own. Once as a very fat and perspiring
German-American began to fight the crowd in the endeavor to turn
around and leave the car, his slowly revolving bulbous bulk pushed her
so smotheringly into the broad back of a negro ahead of her that she
felt faint. As they left the car, she said vehemently: "Oh, Mother,
this makes me sick! Why couldn't we have taken a cab? Aunt Victoria
Her mother laughed. "You little country girl! A cab for as far as this
would cost almost as much as the ticket back to La Chance."
"I don't see why we came, then!" cried Sylvia. "It's simply awful! And
this is a _horrid_ part of town!" She suddenly observed that they were
walking through a very poor, thickly inhabited street, such as she
had never seen before. As she looked about her, her mother stopped
laughing and watched her face with a painful attention. Sylvia looked
at the tall, dingy houses, the frowzy little shops, the swarms of
dirty-nosed children, shrill-voiced, with matted hair, running and
whooping in the street, at the slatternly women yelling unobeyed
orders to them out of half-glimpsed, cheerless interiors, smelling of
cabbage and dishwater. It was Sylvia's first sight of the life of city
poor, and upon her face of disgust and revulsion her mother bent a
stern and anxious eye.
"See here, Sylvia!" she said abruptly, "do you know what _I_ was
thinking about back there in the crowd on the elevated? I was thinking
that lots of girls, no older than _my_ girl, have to stand that twice
a day, going to earn their livings."
Sylvia chafed under the obviously admonitory tone of this. "I don't
see that that makes it any easier for us if they _do!_" she said in a
recalcitrant voice. She stepped wide to avoid a pile of filth on the
sidewalk, and clutched at her skirt. She had a sudden vision of the
white-tiled, velvet-carpeted florist's shop in a corner of Aunt
Victoria's hotel where, behind spotless panes of shining plate-glass,
the great clusters of cut-flowers dreamed away an enchanted
life--roses, violets, lilies of the valley, orchids....
"Here we are at the hospital," said Mrs. Marshall, a perplexed line
of worry between her brows. But at once she was swept out of herself,
forgot her seriously taken responsibility of being the mother of a
girl like Sylvia. She was only Barbara Marshall, thrilled by a noble
spectacle. She looked up at the great, clean, many-windowed facade
above them, towering, even above the huge bulk of the gas-tanks across
the street, and her dark eyes kindled. "A hospital is one of the most
wonderful places in the world!" she cried, in a voice of emotion. "All
this--to help people get well!"
They passed into a wide, bare hall, where a busy young woman at a desk
nodded on hearing their names, and spoke into a telephone. There
was an odd smell in the air, not exactly disagreeable, yet rather
uncomfortably pungent. "Oh, iodoform," remarked the young woman at the
desk, hearing them comment on it. "Do you get it? We don't notice it
_here_ at all."
Then came Miss Lindstroem's sister, powerfully built, gaunt, gray, with
a professional, impersonal cheerfulness. The expedition began. "I'll
take you to the children's ward first," said Miss Lindstroem; "that
always interests visitors so much...."
Rows on rows of little white beds and white, bloodless faces with an
awful patience on them, and little white hands lying in unchildlike
quiet on the white spreads; rows on rows of hollow eyes turned in
listless interest on the visitors; nurses in white, stepping briskly
about, bending over the beds, lifting a little emaciated form, deftly
unrolling a bandage; heat; a stifling smell of iodoform; a sharp
sudden cry of pain from a distant corner; somewhere a dully beating
pulse of low, suppressed sobs....
They were out of the children's ward now, walking along a clean bare
corridor. Sylvia swallowed hard. Her eyes felt burning. Judith held
her mother's hand tightly. Miss Lindstroem was explaining to Mrs.
Marshall a new system of ventilation.
"This is one of the women's wards," said their leader, opening another
swinging door, from which rushed forth a fresh blast of iodoform. More
rows of white beds, each with its mound of suffering, each with its
haggard face of pain. More nurses, bearing basins of curious shape,
bandages, hot-water bottles, rubber tubes. There was more restlessness
here than in the children's ward, less helpless prostration before the
Juggernaut of disease ... fretfulness, moans, tossing heads, wretched
eyes which stared at the visitors in a hostile indifference.
"Oh, they are just putting the dressing on such an _interesting_
case!" said Miss Lindstroem's voice coming to Sylvia from a great
distance. She spoke with the glow of professional enthusiasm, with
that certainty, peculiar to sincere doctors and nurses, that a
complicated wound is a fascinating object.
In spite of herself Sylvia had one glimpse of horribly lacerated red
tissues.... She gripped her hands together after this and looked
fixedly at a button on her glove, until Miss Lindstroem's voice
announced: "It's the Embury stitch that makes that possible: we've
just worked out the application of it to skin-graft cases. Two years
ago she'd have lost her leg. Isn't it simply splendid!"
She said cordially as they moved forward: "Sister Selma said to treat
you as though you were the Queen of Sweden, and I am! You're seeing
things that visitors are _never_ allowed to see."
They walked on and on interminably, past innumerable sick souls,
each whirling alone in a self-centered storm of suffering; and then,
somehow, they were in a laboratory, where an immensely stout and
immensely jovial doctor in white linen got down from a high stool to
shake hands with them and profess an immense willingness to entertain
them. "... but I haven't got anything much today," he said, with a
disparaging wave of his hand towards his test-tubes. "Not a single
death-warrant. Oh yes, I have too, one brought in yesterday." He
brought them a test-tube, stoppered with cotton, and bade them note
a tiny bluish patch on the clear gelatine at the bottom. "That means
he's a dead one, as much as if he faced the electric chair," he
explained. To the nurse he added, "A fellow in the men's ward,
Pavilion G. Very interesting culture ... first of that kind I've had
since I've been here." As he spoke he was looking at Sylvia with an
open admiration, bold, intrusive, flippant.
They were passing along another corridor, hot, silent, their footsteps
falling dully on a long runner of corrugated rubber, with red borders
which drew together in the distance like the rails streaming away from
a train. Behind a closed door there suddenly rose, and as quickly died
away, a scream of pain. With an effort Sylvia resisted the impulse to
clap her hands over her ears.
"Here we are, at the minor operating-room," said Miss Lindstroem,
pausing. "It's against the rules, but if you want to look from across
the room--just to say you've been there--" She held the door open a
little, a suffocating odor of anaesthetics blew out in their faces,
like a breath from a dragon's cave. Mrs. Marshall and Judith stepped
forward. But Sylvia clutched at her mother's arm and whispered:
"Mother! Mother! I don't think I'll go on. I feel--I feel--I'll go
back down to the entrance hall to wait."
Mrs. Marshall nodded a preoccupied assent, and Sylvia fled away down
the endless corridor, looking neither to the right nor the left, down
repeated flights of scrubbed and sterilized marble stairs, into the
entrance hall, and, like a bolt from a bow, out of it on the other
side, out into the street, into the sunshine, the heat, the clatter,
the blessed, blessed smell of cabbage and dish-water....
After a time she went to sit down on the top step of the hospital
entrance to wait. She contemplated with exquisite enjoyment the
vigorous, profane, hair-pulling quarrel between two dirty little
savages across the street. She could have kissed her hand to the
loud-voiced woman who came scuffling to the window to scold them,
clutching a dirty kimono together over a Hogarth-like expanse of
bosom. They were well, these people, blood ran in their veins, their
skin was whole, they breathed air, not iodoform! Her mother had pulled
the string too tight, and Sylvia's ears were full of the ugly twang of
When, at last, Judith and Mrs. Marshall came out, hand-in-hand, Sylvia
sprang up to say: "What an _awful_ place! I hope I'll never have to
set foot in one again!" But quick as was her impulse to speech, her
perceptions were quicker, and before the pale exaltation of the other
two, she fell silent, irritated, rebellious, thoroughly alien. They
walked along in silence. Then Judith said, stammering a little with
emotion, "M-M-Mother, I want to b-b-b-be a trained n-n-nurse when I
AN INSTRUMENT IN TUNE
As they drew near to their boarding-house late that afternoon, very
hot, very crumpled, very solemn, and very much out of tune with one
another, they were astonished to see a little eager-faced boy dash out
of the house and run wildly to meet them, shouting as he came.
"Why, Lawrence _Marshall_!" cried his mother, picking him up in strong
arms; "how ever in the world did you get here!"
"Father brungded me," cried the child, clasping her tightly around the
neck. "We got so lonesome for Mother we couldn't wait."
And then Sylvia had stamped on her mind a picture which was to come
back later--her father's face and eyes as he ran down the steps to
meet his wife. For he looked at his daughters only afterwards, as they
were all walking along together, much excited, everybody talking at
once, and hanging on everybody's arm."... Yes, Buddy's right! We
found we missed you so, we decided life wasn't worth it. You don't
know, Barbara, what it's like without you--you don't _know_!"
Her father's voice sounded to Sylvia so loud, so gay, so vital, so
inexpressibly welcome.... She leaped up at his face like a young
dog, for another kiss. "Oh, I'm _awfully_ glad you came!" she cried,
wondering a little herself at the immensity of her relief. She thought
that she must get him by himself quickly and tell him her side of that
hospital story, before her mother and Judith began on any virtuous
raptures over it.
But there was no consecutive talk about anything after they all were
joyfully gathered in their ugly, commonplace boarding-house bedroom.
They loosened collars and belts, washed their perspiring and dusty
faces, and brushed hair, to the tune of a magpie chatter. Sylvia did
not realize that she and her father were the main sources of this
volubility, she did not realize how she had missed his exuberance, she
only knew that she felt a weight lifted from her heart. She had been
telling him with great enjoyment of the comic opera they had seen, as
she finished putting the hairpins into her freshly smoothed hair, and
turned, a pin still in her mouth, in time to be almost abashed by the
expression in his eyes as he suddenly drew his wife to him.
"Jove! Barbara!" he cried, half laughing, but with a quiver in his
voice, "it's hell to be happily married! A separation is--well, never
mind about it. I came along anyhow! And now I'm here I'll go to see
Vic of course."
"No, you won't," said Judith promptly. "She's gone back. To get Arnold
out of a scrape."
Mrs. Marshall explained further, and incidentally touched upon her
sister-in-law's views of the relation between expensive boys' schools
and private tutors. Her dryly humorous version of this set her husband
off in a great mirthful roar, to which Sylvia, after a moment of
blankness, suddenly joined a burst of her own clear laughter. At the
time she had seen nothing funny in Aunt Victoria's statement, but
she was now immensely tickled to remember Aunt Victoria's Olympian
certainty of herself and her mother's grave mask of serious
consideration of the idea. Long after her father had stopped laughing,
she still went on, breaking out into delighted giggles. Her new
understanding of the satire back of her mother's quiet eyes, lent to
Aunt Victoria's golden calm the quaint touch of caricature which made
it self-deceived complacency. At the recollection she sent up rocket
after rocket of schoolgirl laughter.
Her mother, absorbed in conscientious anxiety about Sylvia's
development, and deeply disappointed by the result of the visit to the
hospital, ignored this laughter, nor did Sylvia at all guess that she
was laughing away half the spell which Aunt Victoria had cast about
her. When they went down to their supper of watery creamed potatoes,
and stewed apricots in thick saucers, she was in such good humor that
she ate this unappetizing fare with no protest.
"Now, folks," said Professor Marshall, after supper, "we have to go
home tomorrow early, so we ought to have one more fling tonight. While
I was waiting for you to come back this afternoon, I looked up what
Chicago has to offer in the way of flings, and this is what I found.
Here, Barbara," he took a tiny envelope out of his upper waistcoat
pocket, "are two tickets for the symphony orchestra. By the greatest
of luck they're giving a special concert for some charity or other, a
beautiful program; a sort of musical requiem. Sylvia mustn't miss it;
you take her. And here," he spun round to face Judith and Lawrence,
producing another slim, tiny envelope from the other upper waistcoat
pocket, "since symphony concerts are rather solid meat for milk teeth,
and since they last till way after bedtime, I have provided another
sort of entertainment; to wit: three seats for moving pictures of
the only real and authentic Cheyenne Bill's Congress of the World's
Frontiersmen. All in favor of going there with me, say 'Aye.'"
"Aye!" screamed Judith and Lawrence. Everybody laughed in pleased
excitement and everybody seemed satisfied except Mrs. Marshall, who
insisted that she should go to the moving pictures while the Professor
took Sylvia to the concert.
Then followed the most amiable, generous wrangle as to which of the
parents should enjoy the adult form of amusement. But while the
Professor grew more and more half-hearted in his protestations that
he really didn't care where he went, Mrs. Marshall grew more and
more positive that he must not be allowed to miss the music, finally
silencing his last weak proffer of self-abnegation by saying
peremptorily: "No, no, Elliott; go on in to your debauch of emotion.
I'll take the children. Don't miss your chance. You know it means ten
times as much to you as to me. You haven't heard a good orchestra in
Sylvia had never been in such a huge hall as the one where they
presently sat, high, giddily high in the eyrie of a top gallery. They
looked down into yawning space. The vast size of the auditorium so
dwarfed the people now taking their innumerable seats, that even after
the immense audience was assembled the great semicircular enclosure
seemed empty and blank. It received those thousands of souls into its
maw, and made no sign; awaiting some visitation worthy of its bulk.
The orchestra, an army of ants, straggled out on the stage. Sylvia was
astonished at their numbers--sixteen first violins, she saw by the
program! She commented to her father on the difficulty of keeping
them all in tune. He smiled at her absently, bade her, with an air
of suppressed excitement, wait until she had heard them, and fell
to biting his nails nervously. She re-read the program and all the
advertisements, hypnotized, like every one else in the audience, by
the sight of printed matter. She noticed that the first number of this
memorial concert was the funeral march from the Goetterdaemmerung, which
she knew very well from having heard a good many times a rather thin
version of it for four strings and a piano.
The conductor, a solitary ant, made his toilsome way across the great
front of the stage, evoking a burst of applause, which resounded
hollowly in the inhuman spaces of the building. He mounted a step,
waved his antennae, there was a great indrawn breath of silence,
and then Sylvia, waiting with agreeable curiosity to hear how a big
orchestra would really sound, gasped and held her breath. The cup of
that vast building suddenly brimmed with a magical flood of pure tone,
coming from everywhere, from nowhere, from her own heart as well as
from outside her body. The immense hall rang to the glorious quality
of this sound as a violin-back vibrates to the drawn bow. It rained
down on her, it surged up to her, she could not believe that she
really heard it.
She looked quickly at her father. His arms were folded tightly across
his chest. He was looking frowningly at the back of the chair in front
of him. It was evident that Sylvia did not exist for him. She was
detached from her wonder at his pale sternness by the assault on her
nerves made by the first of those barbaric outcries of woe, that
sudden, brief clamor of grief, the shouts of despair, the beating upon
shields. Her heart stood still--There rose, singing like an archangel,
the mystic call of the Volsung, then the yearning melody of love; such
glory, such longing for beauty, for life--and then brusquely, again
and again, the screaming, sobbing recollection of the fact of
When it was over, Sylvia's breath was still coming pantingly. "Oh,
Father! How--how wonderful--how--" she murmured.
He looked at her, as though he were angry with her, and yet scarcely
seeming to know her, and spoke in a hard, bitter tone: "And it is
_years_ since I have heard one!" He seemed to cry out upon her for the
conditions of his life.
She had no key for these words, could not imagine a meaning for them,
and, chilled and repelled, wondered if she had heard him rightly.
The funeral march from the Eroica began, and her father's face
softened. The swelling volume of tone rose like a flood-tide. The
great hall, the thousands of human hearts, all beat solemnly in the
grave and hopeless pulsations of the measured chords. The air
was thick with sorrow, with quiet despair. No outcries here, no
screams--the modern soul advancing somberly with a pale composure to
the grave of its love, aware that during all the centuries since the
dead Siegfried was lifted high on the shoulders of his warriors not a
word of explanation, of consolation has been found; that the modern,
barren self-control means only what the barbarian yells out in his
open abandonment to sorrow--and yet such beauty, such beauty in that
singing thread of melody--"_durch Leiden, Freude!_"
Not even the shadow of death had ever fallen across Sylvia's life, or
that of her father, to explain the premonitory emotion which now drew
them together like two frightened children. Sylvia felt the inexorable
music beating in her own veins, and when she took her father's hand
it seemed to her that its strong pulses throbbed to the same rhythm;
beauty, and despair ... hope ... life ... death.
At the end, "Oh, Father--oh, Father!" she said under her breath,
imploringly, struggling to free herself from the muffling, enveloping
sense of imminent disaster. He pressed her hand hard and smiled at
her. It was his own old smile, the father-look which had been her
heart's home all her life--but it was infinitely sweeter to her now
than ever before. She had never felt closer to him. There was a pause
during which they did not speak, and then there burst upon them the
splendid tumult of "Death and Transfiguration," which, like a great
wind, swept Sylvia out of herself. She could not follow the music--she
had never heard of it before. She was beaten down, overwhelmed, freed,
as though the transfiguration were her own, from the pitiful barriers
"Was the concert good?" asked Mrs. Marshall, yawning, and reaching out
of bed to kiss Sylvia sleepily. She laughed a little at their faces.
"Oh, music _is_ a madness! To spend a cheerful evening listening to
death-music, and then come back looking like Moses before the Burning
"Say, you ought to have seen the stunt they did with their lassos,"
cried Judith, waking in the bed on the other side of the room, and
sitting up with her black hair tousled about her face. "I'm going to
try it with the pinto when we get home."
"I _bet_ you'll do it, too," came from Lawrence the loyal, always sure
of Judith's strength, Judith's skill.
Sylvia looked at her father over their heads and smiled faintly. It
was a good smile, from a full heart.
"Aunt Victoria sent our dresses," said Judith, dropping back on the
pillow. "That big box over there. Mine has pink ribbons, and yours are
Mrs. Marshall looked at the big box with disfavor, and then at Sylvia,
now sunk in a chair, her hands clasped behind her head, her eyes
dreamy and half closed. Across the room the long pasteboard box
displayed a frothy mass of white lace and pale shining ribbons. Sylvia
looked at it absently and made no move to examine it. She closed her
eyes again and beat an inaudible rhythm with her raised fingers. All
through her was ringing the upward-surging tide of sound at the end of
"Death and Transfiguration."
"Oh, go to bed, Sylvia; don't sit there maundering over the concert,"
said her mother, with a good-natured asperity. But there was relief in
To any one who is familiar with State University life, the color
of Sylvia's Freshman year will be vividly conveyed by the simple
statement that she was not invited to join a fraternity. To any one
who does not know State University life, no description can convey
anything approaching an adequate notion of the terribly determinative
significance of that fact.
The statement that she was invited to join no sorority is not
literally true, for in the second semester when it was apparent that
none of the three leading fraternities intended to take her in, there
came a late "bid" from one of the third-rate sororities, of recent
date, composed of girls like Sylvia who had not been included in the
membership of the older, socially distinguished organizations. Cut to
the quick by her exclusion from the others, Sylvia refused this tardy
invitation with remorseless ingratitude. If she were not to form one
of the "swell" set of college, at least she would not proclaim herself
one of the "jays," the "grinds," the queer girls, who wore their hair
straight back from their foreheads, who invariably carried off Phi
Beta Kappa, whose skirts hung badly, whose shoe-heels turned over as
they walked, who stood first in their classes, whose belts behind made
a practice of revealing large white safety-pins; and whose hats, even
disassociated from their dowdy wearers, and hanging in the cloakroom,
were of an almost British eccentricity.
Nothing of this sort could be alleged against Sylvia's appearance,
which she felt, as she arrayed herself every morning, to be all that
the most swagger frat could ask of a member. Aunt Victoria's boxes
of clothing, her own nimble fingers and passionate attention to the
subject, combined to turn her out a copy, not to be distinguished from
the original, of the daughter of a man with an income five times that
of her father. As she consulted her mirror, it occurred to her also,
as but an honest recognition of a conspicuous fact, that her suitable
and harmonious toilets adorned a person as pleasing to the eye as any
of her classmates.
During the last year of her life at home she had shot up very fast,
and she was now a tall, slender presence, preserved from even the
usual touching and delightful awkwardness of seventeen by the trained
dexterity and strength with which she handled her body, as muscular,
for all its rounded slimness, as a boy's. Her hair was beautiful, a
bright chestnut brown with a good deal of red, its brilliant gloss
broken into innumerable high-lights by the ripple of its waviness; and
she had one other positive beauty, the clearly penciled line of her
long, dark eyebrows, which ran up a trifle at the outer ends with a
little quirk, giving an indescribable air of alertness and vivacity to
her expression. Otherwise she was not at that age, nor did she ever
become, so explicitly handsome as her sister Judith, who had at every
period of her life a head as beautiful as that on a Greek coin.
But when the two were together, although the perfectly adjusted
proportions of Judith's proud, dark face brought out the
irregularities of Sylvia's, disclosed the tilt of her small nose, made
more apparent the disproportionate width between her eyes, and showed
her chin to be of no mold in particular, yet a modern eye rested with
far more pleasure on the older sister's face. A bright, quivering
mobility like sunshine on water, gave it a charm which was not
dependent on the more obvious prettinesses of a fine-grained, white
skin, extremely clear brown eyes, and a mouth quick to laugh and
quiver, with pure, sharply cut outline and deeply sunk corners. Even
in repose, Sylvia's face made Judith's seem unresponsive, and when
it lighted up in talk and laughter, it seemed to give out a visible
light. In contrast Judith's beautiful countenance seemed carved out of
some very hard and indestructible stone.
And yet, in spite of this undeniably satisfactory physical outfit, and
pre-eminent ability in athletics, Sylvia was not invited to join any
of the best fraternities. It is not surprising that there was
mingled with her bitterness on the subject a justifiable amount of
bewilderment. What _did_ they want? They recruited, from her very side
in classes, girls without half her looks or cleverness. What _was_ the
matter with her? She would not for her life have given a sign to her
family of her mental sufferings as, during that first autumn, day
after day went by with no sign of welcome from the social leaders of
her new world; but a mark was left on her character by her affronted
recognition of her total lack of success in this, her first appearance
outside the sheltering walls of her home; her first trial by the real
standards of the actual world of real people.
The fact, which would have been balm to Sylvia's vanity, had she ever
had the least knowledge of it, was that upon her appearance in the
Freshman class she had been the occasion of violent discussion and
almost of dissension in the councils of the two "best" fraternities.
Her beauty, her charm, and the rumors of her excellence in tennis had
made a flutter in the first fraternity meetings after the opening of
the autumn term. The younger members of both Sigma Beta and Alpha
Kappa counseled early and enthusiastic "rushing" of the new prize, but
the Juniors and Seniors, wise in their day and generation, brought
out a number of damning facts which would need to be taken into
consideration if Sylvia wore their pin.
There were, in both fraternities, daughters of other faculty families,
who were naturally called upon to furnish inside information. They
had been brought up from childhood on the tradition of the Marshalls'
hopeless queerness, and their collective statement of the Marshalls'
position ran somewhat as follows: "The only professors who have
anything to do with them are some of the jay young profs from the
West, with no families; the funny old La Rues--you know what a
hopeless dowd Madame La Rue is--and Professor Kennedy, and though he
comes from a swell family he's an awful freak himself. They live on a
farm, like farmers, at the ends of the earth from anybody that anybody
knows. They are never asked to be patrons of any swell college
functions. None of the faculty ladies with any social position ever
call on Mrs. Marshall--and no wonder. She doesn't keep any help, and
when the doorbell rings she's as apt to come running in from the
chicken house with rubber boots on, and a basket of eggs--and the
_queerest_ clothes! Like a costume out of a book; and they never have
anybody to wait on the table, just jump up and down themselves--you
can imagine what kind of a frat tea or banquet Sylvia would give in
such a home--and of course if we took her in, we couldn't very
well _tell_ her her family's so impossible we wouldn't want their
connection with the frat known--and the students who go there are a
perfect collection of all the jays and grinds and freaks in college.
It's enough to mark you one to be seen there--you meet all the crazy
guys you see in classes and never anywhere else--and of course that
wouldn't stop when Sylvia's frat sisters began going there. And their
house wouldn't do at _all_ to entertain in--it's queer--no rugs--dingy
old furniture--nothing but books everywhere, even in their substitute
for a parlor--and you're likely to meet not only college freaks, but
worse ones from goodness knows where. There's a beer-drinking old
monster who goes there every Sunday to play the fiddle that you
wouldn't have speak to you on the street for anything in the world.
And the way they entertain! My, in such a countrified way! Some of the
company go out into the kitchen to help Mrs. Marshall serve up the
refreshments--and everything homemade--and they play charades, and
nobody knows what else--bean-bag, or spelling-down maybe--"
This appalling picture, which in justice to the young delineators must
be conceded to be not in the least overdrawn, was quite enough to give
pause to those impetuous and immature young Sophomores who had lacked
the philosophical breadth of vision to see that Sylvia was not an
isolated phenomenon, but (since her family live in La Chance) an
inseparable part of her background. After all, the sororities made no
claim to be anything but social organizations. Their standing in the
college world depended upon their social background, and of course
this could only be made up of a composite mingling of those of their
Fraternities did not wish to number more than sixteen or eighteen
undergraduates. That meant only four or five to be chosen from each
Freshman class, and that number of "nice" girls was not hard to find,
girls who were not only well dressed, and lively and agreeable in
themselves, but who came from large, well-kept, well-furnished houses
on the right streets of La Chance; with presentable, card-playing,
call-paying, reception-giving mothers, who hired caterers for their
entertainments; and respectably absentee fathers with sizable
pocketbooks and a habit of cash liberality. The social standing of the
co-eds in State Universities was already precarious enough, without
running the risk of acquiring dubious social connections.
If Sylvia had been a boy, it is almost certain that the deficiencies
of her family would have been overlooked in consideration of her
potentialities in the athletic world. Success in athletics was to the
men's fraternities what social standing was to the girls'. It must be
remarked parenthetically that neither class of these organizations
had the slightest prejudice against high scholastic standing. On the
contrary it was regarded very kindly by fraternity members, as a
desirable though not indispensable addition to social standing and
But Sylvia was not a boy, and her fine, promising game of tennis, her
excellence in the swimming-pool, and her success on the gymnasium
floor and on the flying rings, served no purpose but to bring to her
the admiration of the duffers among the girls, whom she despised,
and the unspoken envy of the fraternity girls, whose overtures at
superficial friendliness she constantly rebuffed with stern, wounded
The sharpest stab to her pride came from the inevitable publicity of
her ordeal. For, though her family knew nothing of what that first
year out in the world meant to her, she had not the consolation of
hoping that her condition was not perfectly apparent to every one else
in the college world. At the first of the year, all gatherings of
undergraduates not in fraternities hummed and buzzed with speculations
about who would or would not be "taken" by the leading fraternities.
For every girl who was at all possible, each day was a long suspense,
beginning in hope and ending in listlessness; and for Sylvia in an
added shrinking from the eyes of her mates, which were, she knew,
fixed on her with a relentless curiosity which was torture to one
of her temperament. She had been considered almost sure to be early
invited to join Alpha Kappa, the frat to which most of the faculty
daughters belonged, and all during the autumn she was aware that when
she took off her jacket in the cloakroom, a hundred glances swept her
to see if she wore at last the coveted emblem of the "pledged" girl;
and when an Alpha Kappa girl chanced to come near her with a casual
remark, she seemed to hear a significant hush among the other girls,
followed by an equally significant buzz of whispered comment when the
fraternity member moved away again. This atmosphere would have made
no impression on a nature either more sturdily philosophic, or more
unimaginative than Sylvia's (Judith, for instance, was not in the
least affected by the experience), but it came to be a morbid
obsession of this strong, healthy, active-minded young creature.
It tinged with bitterness and blackness what should have been the
crystal-clear cup holding her youth and intelligence and health. She
fancied that every one despised her. She imagined that people who were
in reality quite unaware of her existence were looking at her and
whispering together a wondering discussion as to why she was not "in
the swim" as such a girl ought to be--all girls worth their salt were.
Above all she was stung into a sort of speechless rage by her
impotence to do anything to regain the decent minimum of personal
dignity which she felt was stripped from her by this constant play of
bald speculation about whether she would or would not be considered
"good enough" to be invited into a sorority. If only something
definite would happen! If there were only an occasion on which
she might in some way proudly proclaim her utter indifference to
fraternities and their actions! If only the miserable business were
not so endlessly drawn out! She threw herself with a passionate
absorption into her studies, her music, and her gymnasium work,
cut off both from the "elect" and from the multitude, a proudly
self-acknowledged maverick. She never lacked admiring followers among
less brilliant girls who would have been adorers if she had not held
them off at arm's length, but her vanity, far from being omnivorous,
required more delicate food. She wished to be able to cry aloud to her
world that she thought nothing and cared nothing about fraternities,
and by incessant inner absorption in this conception she did to
a considerable extent impose it upon the collective mind of her
contemporaries. She, the yearningly friendly, sympathetic, sensitive,
praise-craving Sylvia, came to be known, half respected and half
disliked, as proud and clever, and "high-brow," and offish, and
conceited, and so "queer" that she cared nothing for the ordinary
pleasures of ordinary girls.
This reputation for a high-browed indifference to commonplace mortals
was naturally not a recommendation to the masculine undergraduates of
the University. These young men, under the influence of reports
of what was done at Cornell and other more eastern co-educational
institutions, were already strongly inclined to ignore the co-eds as
much as possible. The tradition was growing rapidly that the proper
thing was to invite the "town-girls" to the college proms and dances,
and to sit beside them in the grandstand during football games. As
yet, however, this tendency had not gone so far but that those
co-eds who were members of a socially recognized fraternity were
automatically saved from the neglect which enveloped all other but
exceptionally flirtatious and undiscriminating girls. Each girls'
fraternity, like the masculine organizations, gave one big hop in
the course of the season and several smaller dances, as well as
lawn-parties and teas and stage-coach parties to the football games.
The young men naturally wished to be invited to these functions,
the increasing elaborateness of which kept pace with the increasing
sophistication of life in La Chance and the increasing cost of which
made the parents of the girls groan. Consequently each masculine
fraternity took care that it did not incur the enmity of the organized
and socially powerful sororities. But Sylvia was not protected by this
aegis. She was not invited during her Freshman year to the dances
given by either the sororities or the fraternities; and the large
scattering crowd of masculine undergraduates were frightened away from
the handsome girl by her supposed haughty intellectual tastes.
Here again her isolation was partly the result of her own wish. The
raw-boned, badly dressed farmers' lads, with red hands and rough hair,
she quite as snobbishly ignored as she was ignored in her turn by the
well-set-up, fashionably dressed young swells of the University, with
their white hands, with their thin, gaudy socks tautly pulled over
their ankle-bones, and their shining hair glistening like lacquer on
their skulls (that being the desideratum in youthful masculine society
of the place and time). Sylvia snubbed the masculine jays of college
partly because it was a breath of life to her battered vanity to be
able to snub some one, and partly because they seemed to her, in
comparison with the smart set, seen from afar, quite and utterly
undesirable. She would rather have no masculine attentions at all than
such poor provender for her feminine desire to conquer.
Thus she trod the leafy walks of the beautiful campus alone, ignoring
and ignored, keenly alive under her shell of indifference to the
brilliant young men and their chosen few feminine companions.
MRS. DRAPER BLOWS THE COALS
The most brilliant of these couples were Jermain Fiske, Jr.,
and Eleanor Hubert. The first was the son of the well-known and
distinguished Colonel Jermain Fiske, one of the trustees of the
University, ex-Senator from the State. He belonged to the old,
free-handed, speech-making type of American statesmen, and, with his
florid good looks, his great stature, his loud, resonant, challenging
voice, and his picturesque reputation for highly successful
double-dealing, he was one of the most talked-of men in the State,
despite his advanced years. His enemies, who were not few, said that
the shrewdest action of his surpassingly shrewd life had been his
voluntary retirement from the Senate and from political activities at
the first low murmur heralding the muck-raking cyclone which was to
devastate public life as men of his type understood it. But every
inhabitant of the State, including his enemies, took an odd pride in
his fiercely debonair defiance to old age, in his grandiloquent, too
fluent public addresses, and in the manner in which, despite his
dubious private reputation, he held open to him, by sheer will-power,
sanctimonious doors which were closed to other less robust bad
examples to youth.
This typical specimen of an American class now passing away, had sent
his son to the State University instead of to an expensive Eastern
college because of his carefully avowed attitude of bluff acceptance
of a place among the plain people of the region. The presence of
Jermain, Jr., in the classrooms of the State University had been
capital for many a swelling phrase on his father's part--"What's good
enough for the farmers' boys of my State is good enough for my boy,"
As far as the young man in question was concerned, he certainly showed
no signs whatever of feeling himself sacrificed for his father's
advantage, and apparently considered that a leisurely sojourn for
seven years (he took both the B.A. and the three-year Law course) in a
city the size of La Chance was by no means a hardship for a young man
in the best of health, provided with ample funds, and never questioned
as to the disposition of his time. He had had at first a reputation
for dissipation which, together with his prowess on the football
field, had made him as much talked of on the campus as his father in
the State; but during his later years, those spent in the Law School,
he had, as the college phrase ran, "taken it out in being swagger,"
had discarded his former shady associates, had two rooms in the finest
frat house on the campus, and was the only student of the University
to drive two horses tandem to a high, red-wheeled dog-cart. His fine
physique and reputation for quick assertion of his rights saved him
from the occasional taunt of dandyism which would have been flung at
any other student indulging in so unusual a freak of fashion.
During Sylvia's Freshman year there usually sat beside him, on the
lofty seat of this equipage, a sweet-faced, gentle-browed young
lady, the lovely flower blooming out of the little girl who had so
innocently asked her mother some ten years ago what was a drunken
reinhardt. The oldest daughter of the professor of European History
was almost precisely Sylvia's age, but now, when Sylvia was laboring
over her books in the very beginning of her college life, Eleanor
Hubert was a finished product, a graduate of an exclusive, expensive
girls' boarding-school in New York, and a that-year's debutante in La
Chance society. Her name was constantly in the items of the society
columns, she wore the most profusely varied costumes, and she
drove about the campus swaying like a lily beside the wealthiest
undergraduate. Sylvia's mind was naturally too alert and vigorous, and
now too thoroughly awakened to intellectual interests, not to seize
with interest on the subjects she studied that year; but enjoy as much
as she tried to do, and did, this tonic mental discipline, there were
many moments when the sight of Eleanor Hubert made her wonder if after
all higher mathematics and history were of any real value.
During this wretched year of stifled unhappiness, she not only studied
with extreme concentration, but, with a healthy instinct, spent a
great deal of time in the gymnasium. It was a delight to her to be
able to swim in the winter-time, she organized the first water-polo
team among the co-eds, and she began to learn fencing from the
Commandant of the University Battalion. He had been a crack with the
foils at West Point, and never ceased trying to arouse an interest in
what seemed to him the only rational form of exercise; but fencing at
that time had no intercollegiate vogue, and of all the young men and
women at the State University, Sylvia alone took up his standing offer
of free instruction to any one who cared to give the time to learn;
and even Sylvia took up fencing primarily because it promised to give
her one more occupation, left her less time for loneliness. As it
turned out, however, these lessons proved far more to her than a
temporary anodyne: they brought her a positive pleasure. She delighted
the dumpy little captain with her aptness, and he took the greatest
pains in his instruction. Before the end of her Freshman year she
twice succeeded in getting through his guard and landing a thrust on
his well-rounded figure; and though to keep down her conceit he told
her that he must be losing, along with his slenderness, some of his
youthful agility, he confessed to his wife that teaching Miss Marshall
was the best fun he had had in years. The girl was as quick as a cat,
and had a natural-born fencer's wrist.
During the summer vacation she kept up her practice with her father,
who remembered enough of his early training in Paris to be more than a
match for her, and in the autumn of her Sophomore year, at the annual
Gymnasium exhibition, she gave with the Commandant a public bout with
the foils in which she notably distinguished herself. The astonished
and long-continued applause for this new feature of the exhibition
was a draught of nectar to her embittered young heart, but she
acknowledged it with not the smallest sign of pleasure, showing an
impassive face as she stood by the portly captain, slim and tall and
young and haughty, joining him in a sweeping, ceremonious salute with
her foil to the enthusiastic audience, and turning on her heel with
a brusqueness as military as his own, to march firmly with high-held
head beside him back to the ranks of blue-bloomered girls who stood
The younger girls in Alpha Kappa and Sigma Beta were seizing this
opportunity to renew an old quarrel with their elders in the
fraternities and were acrimoniously hoping that the older ones
were quite satisfied with their loss of a brilliant member. These
accusations met with no ready answer from the somewhat crestfallen
elders, whose only defense was the entire unexpectedness of the way in
which Sylvia was distinguishing herself. Who ever heard before of a
girl doing anything remarkable in athletics? And anyhow, now in her
Sophomore year it was too late to do anything. A girl so notoriously
proud would certainly not consider a tardy invitation, and it would
not do to run the risk of being refused. It is not too much to say
that to have overheard a conversation like this would have changed the
course of Sylvia's development, but of such colloquies she could know
nothing, attributing to the fraternities, with all an outsider's
resentful overestimation of their importance, an arrogant solidarity
of opinion and firmness of purpose which they were very far from
Professor and Mrs. Marshall and Lawrence and Judith, up in the front
row of chairs set for the audience about the running track, followed
this exploit of Sylvia's with naively open pride and sympathy,
applauding even more heartily than did their neighbors. Lawrence, as
usual, began to compose a poem, the first line of which ran,
"Splendid, she wields her gleaming sword--"
The most immediate result of this first public success of Sylvia's was
the call paid to Mrs. Marshall on the day following by Mrs. Draper,
the wife of the professor of Greek. Although there had never been any
formal social intercourse between the two ladies, they had for a good
many years met each other casually on the campus, and Mrs. Draper,
with the extremely graceful manner of assurance which was her especial
accomplishment, made it seem quite natural that she should call to
congratulate Sylvia's mother on the girl's skill and beauty as shown
in her prowess on the evening before. Mrs. Marshall prided herself on
her undeceived view of life, but she was as ready to hear praise of
her spirited and talented daughter as any other mother, and quite
melted to Mrs. Draper, although her observations from afar of the
other woman's career in La Chance had never before inclined her to
tolerance. So that when Mrs. Draper rose to go and asked casually if
Sylvia couldn't run in at five that afternoon to have a cup of tea at
her house with a very few of her favorites among the young people,
Mrs. Marshall, rather inflexible by nature and quite unused to the
subtleties of social intercourse, found herself unable to retreat
quickly enough from her reflected tone of cordiality to refuse the
invitation for her daughter.
When Sylvia came back to lunch she was vastly fluttered and pleased
by the invitation, and as she ate, her mind leaped from one possible
sartorial combination to another. Whatever she wore must be exactly
right to be worthy of such a hostess: for Mrs. Draper was a
conspicuous figure in faculty society. She had acquired, through
years of extremely intelligent manoeuvering, a reputation for choice
exclusiveness which was accepted even in the most venerable of the old
families of La Chance, those whose founders had built their log huts
there as long as fifty years before. In faculty circles she occupied
a unique position, envied and feared and admired and distrusted and
copiously gossiped about by the faculty ladies, who accepted with
eagerness any invitations to entertainments in her small, aesthetic,
and perfectly appointed house. She was envied even by women with
much more than her income:--for of course Professor Draper had an
independent income; it was hardly possible to be anybody unless one
belonged to that minority of the faculty families with resources
beyond the salary granted by the State.
Faculty ladies were, however, not favored with a great number of
invitations to Mrs. Draper's select and amusing teas and dinners,
as that lady had a great fancy for surrounding herself with youth,
meaning, for the most part, naturally enough, masculine youth. With
an unerring and practised eye she picked out from each class the few
young men who were to her purpose, and proclaiming with the most
express lack of reticence the forty-three years which she by no means
looked, she took these chosen few under a wing frankly maternal,
giving them, in the course of an intimate acquaintance with her and
the dim and twilight ways of her house and life, an enlightening
experience of a civilization which she herself said, with a humorous
appreciation of her own value, quite made over the young, unlicked
cubs. This statement of her influence on most of the young men drawn
into her circle was perhaps not much exaggerated.
From time to time she also admitted into this charmed circle a young
girl or two, though almost never one of the University girls, of whom
she made the jolliest possible fun. Her favorites were the daughters
of good La Chance families who at seventeen had "finished" at Miss
Home's Select School for Young Ladies, and who came out in society not
later than eighteen. She seemed able, as long as she cared to do it,
to exercise as irresistible a fascination over these youthful members
of her own sex as over the older masculine undergraduates of the
University. They copied their friend's hats and neckwear and shoes and
her mannerisms of speech, were miserable if she neglected them for a
day, furiously jealous of each other, and raised to the seventh
heaven by attention from her. Just at present the only girl admitted
frequently to Mrs. Draper's intimacy was Eleanor Hubert.
On the day following the Gymnasium exhibition, when Sylvia, promptly
at five, entered the picturesque vine-covered Draper house, she
found it occupied by none of the usual habitues of the place. The
white-capped, black-garbed maid who opened the door to the girl held
aside for her a pair of heavy brown-velvet portieres which veiled
the entrance to the drawing-room. The utter silence of this servitor
seemed portentous and inhuman to the young guest, unused to the polite
convention that servants cast no shadow and do not exist save when
serving their superiors.
She found herself in a room as unlike any she had ever seen as though
she had stepped into a new planet. The light here was as yellow
as gold, and came from a great many candles which, in sconces and
candelabra, stood about the room, their oblong yellow flame as steady
in the breathless quiet of the air as though they burned in a vault
underground. There was not a book in the room, except one in a yellow
cover lying beside a box of candy on the mantelpiece, but every ledge,
table, projection, or shelf was covered with small, queerly fashioned,
dully gleaming objects of ivory, or silver, or brass, or carved wood,
The mistress of the room now came in. She was in a loose garment of
smoke-brown chiffon, held in place occasionally about her luxuriously
rounded figure by a heavy cord of brown silk. She advanced to Sylvia
with both hands outstretched, and took the girl's slim, rather hard
young fingers in the softest of melting palms. "Aren't you a _dear_,
to be so exactly on time!" she exclaimed.
Sylvia was a little surprised. She had thought it axiomatic that
people kept their appointments promptly. "Oh, I'm always on time," she
Mrs. Draper laughed and pulled her down on the sofa. "You clear-eyed
young Diana, you won't allow me even an instant's illusion that you
were eager to come to see _me_!"
"Oh yes, I _was_!" said Sylvia hastily, fearing that she might have
said something rude.
Mrs. Draper laughed again and gave the hand she still held a squeeze.
"You're adorable, that's what _you_ are!" She exploded this pointblank
charge in Sylvia's face with nonchalant ease, and went on with
another. "Jerry Fiske is quite right about you. I suppose you know
that you're here today so that Jerry can meet you."
As there was obviously not the faintest possibility of Sylvia's having
heard this save through her present informant, she could only
look what she felt, very much at a loss, and rather blank, with a
heightened color. Mrs. Draper eyed her with an intentness at variance
with the lightness of her tone, as she continued: "I do think Jerry'd
have burned up in one flare, like a torch, if he couldn't have seen
you at once! After you'd fenced and disappeared again into that stupid
crowd of graceless girls, he kept track of you every minute with his
opera-glasses, and kept saying: 'She's a goddess! Good Lord! how she
carries herself!' It was rather hard on poor Eleanor right there
beside him, but I don't blame him. Eleanor's a sweet thing, but she'd
be sugar and water compared to champagne if she stood up by you."
For a good many months Sylvia had been craving praise with a starved
appetite, and although she found this downpour of it rather drenching,
she could not sufficiently collect herself to make the conventional
decent pretense that it was unwelcome. She flushed deeply and looked
at her hostess with dazzled eyes. Mrs. Draper affected to see in her
silence a blankness as to the subject of the talk, and interrupted
the flow of personalities to cry out, with a pretense of horror, "You
don't mean to say you don't know who Jerry Fiske _is_!"
Sylvia, as unused as her mother to conversational traps, fell into
this one with an eager promptness. "Oh yes, indeed; I know him
by sight very well," she said and stopped, flushing again at a
significant laugh from Mrs. Draper. "I mean," she went on
with dignity, "that Mr. Fiske has always been so prominent in
college--football and all, you know--and his father being one of our
State Senators so long--I suppose everybody on the campus knows him by
sight." Mrs. Draper patted the girl's shoulder propitiatingly. "Yes,
yes, of course," she assented. She added, "He's ever so good-looking,
don't you think--like a great Viking with his yellow hair and bright
"I never noticed his eyes," said Sylvia stiffly, suspicious of
ridicule in the air.
"Well, you'll have a chance to this afternoon," answered her hostess,
"for he's the only other person who's to be admitted to the house. I
had a great time excusing myself to Eleanor--she was coming to take me
out driving--but of course it wouldn't do--for her own sake--the poor
darling--to have her here today!"
Sylvia thought she could not have rightly understood the significance
of this speech, and looked uncomfortable. Mrs. Draper said: "Oh, you
needn't mind cutting Eleanor out--she's only a dear baby who can't
feel anything very deeply. It's Mamma Hubert who's so mad about
catching Jerry. Since she's heard he's to have the Fiske estate at
Mercerton as soon as he graduates from Law School, she's like a wild
creature! If Eleanor weren't the most unconscious little bait that
ever hung on a hook Jerry'd have turned away in disgust long ago. He
may not be so very acute, but Mamma Hubert and her manoeuvers are not
millstones for seeing through!"
The doorbell rang, one long and one short tap. "That's Jerry's ring,"
said Mrs. Draper composedly, as though she had been speaking of her
husband. In an instant the heavy portieres were flung back by a
vigorous arm, and a very tall, broad-shouldered, clean-shaven young
man, in a well-tailored brown suit, stepped in. He accosted his
hostess with easy assurance, but went through his introduction to
Sylvia in a rather awkward silence.
"Now we'll have tea," said Mrs. Draper at once, pressing a button. In
a moment a maid brought in a tray shining with silver and porcelain,
set it down on the table in front of Mrs. Draper, and then wheeled in
a little circular table with shelves, a glorified edition in gleaming
mahogany of the homely, white-painted wheeled-tray of Sylvia's home.
On the shelves was a large assortment of delicate, small cakes and
paper-thin sandwiches. While she poured out the amber-colored tea into
the translucent cups, Mrs. Draper kept up with the new-comer a lively
monologue of personalities, in which Sylvia, for very ignorance of the
people involved, could take no part. She sat silent, watching with
concentration the two people before her, the singularly handsome man,
certainly the handsomest man she had ever seen, and the far from
handsome but singularly alluring woman who faced him, making such a
display of her two good points, her rich figure and her fine dark
eyes, that for an instant the rest of her person seemed non-existent.
"How do you like your tea, dear?" The mistress of the house brought
her stranded guest back into the current of talk with this well-worn
"Oh, it doesn't make any difference," said Sylvia, who, as it
happened, did not like the taste of tea.
"You really ought to have it nectar; with whipped ambrosia on top."
Mrs. Draper troweled this statement on with a dashing smear, saving
Sylvia from being forced to answer, by adding lightly to the man, "Is
ambrosia anything that will whip, do you suppose?"
"Never heard of it before," he answered, breaking his silence with a
carefree absence of shame at his confession of ignorance. "Sounds
like one of those labels on a soda-water fountain that nobody ever
Mrs. Draper made a humorously exaggerated gesture of despair and
turned to Sylvia. "Well, it's just as well, my dear, that you should
know at the very beginning what a perfect monster of illiteracy he is!
You needn't expect anything from him but his stupid good-looks, and
money and fascination. Otherwise he's a Cave-Man for ignorance. You
must take him in hand!" She turned back to the man. "Sylvia, you know,
is as clever as she is beautiful. She had the highest rank but three
in her class last year."
Sylvia was overcome with astonishment by this knowledge of a fact
which had seemed to make no impression on the world of the year
before. "Why, how could you know that!" she cried.
Mrs. Draper laughed. "Just hear her!" she appealed to the young man.
Her method of promoting the acquaintance of the two young people
seemed to consist in talking to each of the other. "Just hear her! She
converses as she fences--one bright flash, and you're skewered against
the wall--no parryings possible!" She faced Sylvia again: "Why, my
dear, in answer to your rapier-like question, I must simply confess
that this morning, being much struck with Jerry's being struck with
you, I went over to the registrar's office and looked you up. I know
that you passed supremely well in mathematics and French (what a
quaint combination!), very well indeed in history and chemistry, and
moderately in botany. What's the matter with botany? I have always
found Professor Cross a very obliging little man."
"He doesn't make me see any sense to botany," explained Sylvia, taking
the question seriously. "I don't seem to get hold of any real reason
for studying it at all. What difference does it make if a bush is a
hawthorn or not?--and anyhow, I know it's a hawthorn without studying
The young man spoke for himself now, with a keen relish for Sylvia's
words. He faced her for the first time. "Now you're _shouting_, Miss
Marshall!" he said. "That's the most sensible thing I ever heard said.
That's just what I always felt about the whole B.A. course, anyhow!
What's the diff? Who cares whether Charlemagne lived in six hundred or
sixteen hundred? It all happened before we were born. What's it all
Sylvia looked squarely at him, a little startled at his directly
addressing her, not hearing a word of what he said in the vividness of
her first-hand impression of his personality, his brilliant blue eyes,
his full, very red lips, his boldly handsome face and carriage, his
air of confidence. In spite of his verbal agreement with her opinion,
his look crossed hers dashingly, like a challenge, a novelty in the
amicable harmony which had been the tradition of her life. She felt
that tradition to be not without its monotony, and her young blood
warmed. She gazed back at him silently, wonderingly, frankly.
With her radiantly sensuous youth in the first splendor of its
opening, with this frank, direct look, she had a moment of brilliance
to make the eyes of age shade themselves as against a dazzling
brightness. The eyes of the man opposite her were not those of age.
They rested on her, roused, kindling to heat. His head went up like a
stag's. She felt a momentary hot throb of excitement, as though
her body were one great fiddle-string, twanging under a vigorously
plucking thumb. It was thrilling, it was startling, it was not
altogether pleasant. The corners of her sensitive mouth twitched
Mrs. Draper, observing from under her down-drooped lids this silent
passage between the two, murmured amusedly to herself, "Ah, now you're
shouting, my children!"
PLAYING WITH MATCHES
There was much that was acrid about the sweetness of triumph which the
next months brought Sylvia. The sudden change in her life had not come
until there was an accumulation of bitterness in her heart the venting
of which was the strongest emotion of that period of strong emotions.
As she drove about the campus, perched on the high seat of the
red-wheeled dog-cart, her lovely face looked down with none of Eleanor
Hubert's gentleness into the envying eyes of the other girls. A high
color burned in her cheeks, and her bright eyes were not soft. She
looked continually excited.
At home she was hard to live with, quick to take offense at the
least breath of the adverse criticism which she felt, unspoken and
forbearing but thick in the air about her. She neglected her music,
she neglected her studies; she spent long hours of feverish toil over
Aunt Victoria's chiffons and silks. There was need for many toilets
now, for the incessantly recurring social events to which she went
with young Fiske, chaperoned by Mrs. Draper, who had for her old rival
and enemy, Mrs. Hubert, the most mocking of friendly smiles, as she
entered a ballroom, the acknowledged sponsor of the brilliant young
sensation of the college season.
At these dances Sylvia had the grim satisfaction, not infrequently the
experience of intelligent young ladies, of being surrounded by crowds
of admiring young men, for whom she had no admiration, the barren
sterility of whose conversation filled her with astonishment, even
in her fever of exultation. She knew the delights of frequently
"splitting" her dances so that there might be enough to go around. She
was plunged headlong into the torrent of excitement which is the life
of a social favorite at a large State University, that breathless
whirl of one engagement after another for every evening and for most
of the days, which is one of the oddest developments of the academic
life as planned and provided for by the pioneer fathers of those great
Western commonwealths; and she savored every moment of it, for during
every moment she drank deep at the bitter fountain of personal
vindication. She went to all the affairs which had ignored her
the year before, to all the dances given by the "swell men's
fraternities," to the Sophomore hop, to the "Football Dance," at the
end of the season, to the big reception given to the Freshman class by
the Seniors. And in addition to these evening affairs, she appeared
beside Jerry Fiske at every football game, at the first Glee Club
Concert, at the outdoor play given by the Literary Societies, and very
frequently at the weekly receptions to the students tendered by the
ladies of the faculty.
These affairs were always spoken of by the faculty as an attempt to
create a homogeneous social atmosphere on the campus; but this attempt
had ended, as such efforts usually do, in adding to the bewildering
plethora of social life of those students who already had too much,
and in being an added sting to the solitude and ostracism of those who
had none. Naturally enough, the ladies of the faculty who took most
interest in these afternoon functions were the ones who cared most for
society life, and there was only too obvious a contrast between their
manner of kindly, vague, condescending interest shown to one of the
"rough-neck" students, and the easy familiarity shown to one of those
socially "possible." The "rough-necks" seldom sought out more than
once the prettily decorated tables spread every Friday afternoon
in the Faculty Room, off the reading-room of the Library. Sylvia
especially had, on the only occasion when she had ventured into
this charming scene, suffered too intensely from the difference of
treatment accorded her and that given Eleanor Hubert to feel anything
but angry resentment. After that experience, she had passed along the
halls with the other outsiders, books in hand, her head held proudly
high, and never turned even to glance in at the gleaming tables,
the lighted candles, and the little groups of easily self-confident
fraternity men and girls laughing and talking over their teacups, and
revenging vicariously the rest of the ignored student-body by the
calm young insolence with which they in their turn ignored their
presumptive hostesses, the faculty ladies.
Mrs. Draper changed all this for Sylvia with a wave of her wand. She
took the greatest pains to introduce her protegee into this phase of
the social life of the University. On these occasions, as beautiful
and as over-dressed as any girl in the room, with Jermain Fiske in
obvious attendance; with the exclusive Mrs. Draper setting in a rich
frame of commentary any remark she happened to make (Sylvia was
acquiring a reputation for great wit); with Eleanor Hubert, eclipsed,
sitting in a corner, quite deserted save for a funny countrified freak
assistant in chemistry; with all the "swellest frat men" in college
rushing to get her tea and sandwiches; with Mrs. Hubert plunged
obviously into acute unhappiness, Sylvia knew as ugly moments of mean
satisfaction as often fall to the lot even of very pretty young women.
At home she knew no moments of satisfaction of any variety, although
there was no disapprobation expressed by any one, except in one or two
characteristically recondite comments by Professor Kennedy, who was
taking a rather uneasy triumph in the proof of an old theory of his as
to Sylvia's character. One afternoon, at a football game, he came up
to her on the grandstand, shook hands with Jermain Fiske, whom he had
flunked innumerable times in algebra, and remarked in his most acid
voice that he wished to congratulate the young man on being the
perfect specimen of the dolichocephalic blond whose arrival in
Sylvia's life he had predicted years before. Sylvia, belligerently
aware of the attitude of her home world, and ready to resent
criticism, took the liveliest offense at this obscure comment, which
she perfectly understood. She flushed indignantly and glared in
silence with the eyes of an angry young goddess.
Young Fiske, who found the remark, or any other made by a college
prof, quite as unintelligible as it was unimportant, laughed with
careless impudence in the old man's face; and Mrs. Draper, for all her
keenness, could make nothing of it. It sounded, however, so quite
like a dictum which she herself would have liked to make, that she
cross-questioned Sylvia afterwards as to its meaning; but Sylvia lied
fluently, asserting that it was just some of Professor Kennedy's
mathematical gibberish which had no meaning.
In the growing acquaintance of Sylvia and Jermain, Mrs. Draper acted
assiduously as chaperon, a refinement of sophisticated society which
was, as a rule, but vaguely observed in the chaotic flux of State
University social life, and she so managed affairs that they were
seldom together alone. For obvious reasons Sylvia preferred to see the
young man elsewhere than in her own home, where indeed he made almost
no appearance, beyond standing at the door of an evening, very
handsome and distinguished in his evening dress, waiting for Sylvia to
put on her wraps and go out with him to the carriage where Mrs. Draper
sat expectant, furred and velvet-wrapped. This discreet manager made
no objection to Sylvia's driving about the campus in the daytime
alone with Jermain, but to his proposal to drive the girl out to the
country-club for dinner one evening she added blandly the imperious
proviso that she be of the party; and she discouraged with firmness
any projects for solitary walks together through the woods near
the campus, although this was a recognized form of co-educational
amusement at that institution of learning.
For all her air of free-and-easy equality with the young man, she had
at times a certain blighting glance which, turned on him suddenly,
always brought him to an agreement with her opinion, an agreement
which might obviously ring but verbal on his tongue, but which was
nevertheless the acknowledged basis of action. As for Sylvia, she
acquiesced, with an eagerness which she did not try to understand, in
any arrangement which precluded tete-a-tetes with Jerry.
She did not, as a matter of fact, try to understand anything of what
was happening to her. She was by no means sure that she liked it, but
was stiffened into a stubborn resistance to any doubts by the unvoiced
objection to it all at home. With an instinct against disproportion,
perverse perhaps in this case, but with a germ of soundness in it,
she felt confusedly and resentfully that since her home circle was so
patently narrow and exaggerated in its standard of personality, she
would just have to even things up by being a little less fastidious
than was her instinct; and on the one or two occasions when a sudden
sight of Jerry sent through her a strange, unpleasant stir of all her
flesh, she crushed the feeling out of sight under her determination to
assert her own judgment and standards against those which had (she now
felt) so tyrannically influenced her childhood. But for the most
part she did little thinking, shaking as loudly as possible the
reverberating rattle of physical excitement.
Thus everything progressed smoothly under Mrs. Draper's management.
The young couple met each other usually in the rather close air of her
candle-lighted living-room, drinking a great deal of tea, consuming
large numbers of delicate, strangely compounded sandwiches,
and listening to an endless flow of somewhat startlingly frank
personalities from the magnetic mistress of the house. Sylvia and
Jermain did not talk much on these occasions. They listened with
edification to the racy remarks of their hostess, voicing that
theoretical "broadness" of opinion as to the conduct of life which,
quite as much as the perfume which she always used, was a specialty of
her provocative personality; they spoke now and then, to be sure, as
she drew them into conversation, but their real intercourse was almost
altogether silent. They eyed each other across the table, breathing
quickly, and flushing or paling if their hands chanced to touch in the
services of the tea-table. Once the young man came in earlier than
usual and found Sylvia alone for a moment in the silent, glowing,
perfumed room. He took her hand, apparently for the ordinary handclasp
of greeting, but with a surge of his blood retained it, pressing it
so fiercely that his ring cut into her finger, causing a tiny drop of
bright red to show on the youthful smoothness of her skin. At this
living ruby they both stared fixedly for an instant; then Mrs. Draper
came hastily into the room, saying chidingly, "Come, come, children!"
and looking with displeasure at the man's darkly flushed face. Sylvia
was paler than usual for the rest of the afternoon, and could not
swallow a mouthful of the appetizing food, which as a rule she
devoured with the frank satisfaction of a hungry child. She sat,
rather white, not talking much, avoiding Jerry's eyes for no reason
that she could analyze, and, in the pauses of the conversation, could
hear the blood singing loudly in her ears.
Yet, although she felt the oddest relief, as after one more escape,
at the end of each of these afternoons with her new acquaintances,
afternoons in which the three seemed perpetually gliding down a
steep incline and as perpetually being arrested on the brink of some
unexplained plunge, she found that their atmosphere had spoiled
entirely her relish for the atmosphere of her home. The home
supper-table seemed to her singularly flat and distasteful with its
commonplace fare--hot chocolate and creamed potatoes and apple sauce,
and its brisk, impersonal talk of socialism, and politics, and small
home events, and music. As it happened, the quartet had the lack of
intuition to play a great deal of Haydn that autumn, and to Sylvia
the cheerful, obvious tap-tap-tap of the hearty old master seemed to
typify the bald, unsubtle obtuseness of the home attitude towards
life. She herself took to playing the less difficult of the Chopin
nocturnes with a languorous over-accentuation of their softness which
she was careful to keep from the ears of old Reinhardt. But one
evening he came in, unheard, listened to her performance of the B-flat
minor nocturne with a frown, and pulled her away from the piano before
she had finished. "Not true music, not true love, not true anydings!"
he said, speaking however with an unexpected gentleness, and patting
her on the shoulder with a dirty old hand. "Listen!" He clapped his
fiddle under his chin and played the air of the andante from the
Kreutzer Sonata with so singing and heavenly a tone that Sylvia, as
helpless an instrument in his skilful hands as the violin itself, felt
the nervous tears stinging her eyelids.
Back to Full Books