The Bent Twig
Part 5 out of 9
nothing, to be aware of nothing but her mother's heroic eyes of truth;
but the whole scene was printed on her mind for all her life--the
hard, brown road they stood on, the grayed old rail-fence back of Mrs.
Marshall, a field of brown stubble, a distant grove of beech-trees,
and beyond and around them the immense sweeping circle of the horizon.
The very breath of the pure, scentless winter air was to come back to
her nostrils in after years.
"Sylvia," her mother went on, "it is one of the responsibilities of
men and women to help each other to meet on a high plane and not on
a low one. And on the whole--health's the rule of the world--on
the whole, that's the way the larger number of husbands and wives,
imperfect as they are, do live together. Family life wouldn't be
possible a day if they didn't."
Like a strong and beneficent magician, she built up again and
illuminated Sylvia's black and shattered world. "Your father is just
as pure a man as I am a woman, and I would be ashamed to look any
child of mine in the face if he were not. You know no men who are not
decent--except two--and those you did not meet in your parents' home."
For the first time she moved from her commanding attitude of prophetic
dignity. She came closer to Sylvia, but although she looked at her
with a sudden sweetness which affected Sylvia like a caress, she but
made one more impersonal statement: "Sylvia dear, don't let anything
make you believe that there are not as many decent men in the world as
women, and they're just as decent. Life isn't worth living unless you
know that--and it's true." Apparently she had said all she had to say,
for she now kissed Sylvia gently and began again to walk forward.
The sun had completely set, and the piled-up clouds on the horizon
flamed and blazed. Sylvia stood still, looking at them fixedly. The
great shining glory seemed reflected from her heart, and cast its
light upon a regenerated world--a world which she seemed to see for
the first time. Strange, in that moment of intensely personal life,
how her memory was suddenly flooded with impersonal impressions of
childhood, little regarded at the time and long since forgotten,
but now recurring to her with the authentic and uncontrovertible
brilliance which only firsthand experiences in life can bring with
them--all those families of her public-school mates, the plain, ugly
homes in and out of which she had come and gone, with eyes apparently
oblivious of all but childish interests, but really recording
life-facts which now in her hour of need stretched under her feet like
a solid pathway across an oozing marsh. All those men and women whom
she had seen in a thousand unpremeditated acts, those tired-faced,
kind-eyed, unlettered fathers and mothers were not breathing poisoned
air, were not harboring in their simple lives a ghastly devouring
wild-beast. She recalled with a great indrawn breath all the
farmer-neighbors, parents working together for the children, the
people she knew so well from long observation of their lives, whose
mediocre, struggling existence had filled her with scornful pity, but
whom now she recalled with a great gratitude for the explicitness of
the revelations made by their untutored plainness. For all she could
ever know, the Drapers and the Fiskes and the others of their
world might be anything, under the discreet reticence of their
sophistication; but they did not make up all the world. She knew, from
having breathed it herself, the wind of health which blew about those
other lives, bare and open to the view, as less artless lives were
not. There was some other answer to the riddle, beside Mrs. Draper's.
Sylvia was only eighteen years old and had the childish immaturity of
her age, but her life had been so ordered that she was not, even at
eighteen, entirely in the helpless position of a child who must depend
on the word of others. She had accumulated, unknown to herself, quite
apart from polished pebbles of book-information, a small treasury
of living seeds of real knowledge of life, taken in at first-hand,
knowledge of which no one could deprive her. The realization of this
was a steadying ballast which righted the wildly rolling keel under
her feet. She held up her head bravely against the first onslaught of
the storm. She set her hand to the rudder!
Perceiving that her mother had passed on ahead of her she sprang
forward in a run. She ran like a schoolboy, like a deer, like a man
from whose limbs heavy shackles have been struck off. She felt so
suddenly lightened of a great heaviness that she could have clapped
her hands over her head and bounded into the air. She was, after all,
but eighteen years old, and three years before had been a child.
She came up to her mother with a rush, radiating life. Mrs. Marshall
looked at the glowing face and her own eyes, dry till then, filled
with the tears so rare in her self-controlled life. She put out her
hand, took Sylvia's, and they sped along through the quick-gathering
dusk, hand-in-hand like sisters.
Judith and Lawrence had reached home before them, and the low brown
house gleamed a cheerful welcome to them from shining windows. For the
first time in her life, Sylvia did not take for granted her home, with
all that it meant. For an instant it looked strangely sweet to her.
She had a passing glimpse, soon afterwards lost in other impressions,
of how in after years she would look back on the roof which had
sheltered and guarded her youth.
She lay awake that night a long time, staring up into the cold
blackness, her mind very active and restless in the intense stillness
about her. She thought confusedly but intensely of many things--the
months behind her, of Jerry, of Mrs. Draper, of her yellow dress,
of her mother--of herself. In the lucidity of those silent hours of
wakefulness she experienced for a time the piercing, regenerating
thrust of self-knowledge. For a moment the full-beating pulses of her
youth slackened, and between their throbs there penetrated to her
perplexed young heart the rarest of human emotions, a sincere
humility. If she had not burned the yellow dress at Mercerton, she
would have arisen and burned it that night....
During the rest of the Christmas vacation she avoided being alone. She
and Judith and Lawrence skated a great deal, and Sylvia learned at
last to cut the grapevine pattern on the ice. She also mastered the
first movement of the Sonata Pathetique, so that old Reinhardt was
The day after the University opened for the winter term the Huberts
announced the engagement of their daughter Eleanor to Jermain Fiske,
Jr., the brilliant son of that distinguished warrior and statesman,
Colonel Jermain Fiske. Sylvia read this announcement in the Society
Column of the La Chance _Morning Herald_, with an enigmatic expression
on her face, and betaking herself to the skating-pond, cut grapevines
with greater assiduity than ever, and with a degree of taciturnity
surprising in a person usually so talkative. That she had taken the
first step away from the devouring egotism of childhood was proved by
the fact that at least part of the time, this vigorous young creature,
swooping about the icy pond like a swallow, was thinking pityingly of
Eleanor Hubert's sweet face.
SOME YEARS DURING WHICH NOTHING HAPPENS
Judith had said to the family, taking no especial pains that her
sister should not hear her, "Well, folks, now that Sylvia's got
through with that horrid Fiske fellow, I do hope we'll all have some
peace!" a remark which proved to be a prophecy. They all, including
Sylvia herself, knew the tranquillity of an extended period of peace.
It began abruptly, like opening a door into a new room. Sylvia had
dreaded the beginning of the winter term and the inevitable sight of
Jerry, the enforced crossings of their paths. But Jerry never returned
to his classes at all. The common talk was to the effect that the
Colonel had "worked his pull" to have Jerry admitted to the bar
without further preliminaries. After some weeks of relief, it occurred
to Sylvia that perhaps Jerry had dreaded meeting her as much as she
had seeing him. For whatever reason, the campus saw young Fiske no
more, except on the day in May when he passed swiftly across it on his
way to the Hubert house where Eleanor, very small and white-faced,
waited for him under a crown of orange blossoms.
Sylvia did not go to the wedding, although an invitation had come,
addressed economically and compendiously to "Professor and Mrs.
Marshall and family." It was a glorious spring day and in her Greek
history course they had just reached the battle of Salamis, at the
magnificent recital of which Sylvia's sympathetic imagination leaped
up rejoicing, as all sympathetic imaginations have for all these many
centuries. She was thrilling to a remembered bit of "The Persians" as
she passed by the Hubert house late that afternoon. She was chanting
to herself, "The right wing, well marshaled, led on foremost in good
order, and we heard a mighty shout--'Sons of the Greeks! On! Free your
country!'" She did not notice that she trod swiftly across a trail of
soiled rice in the Hubert driveway.
She was like a person recovered from a fever who finds mere health a
condition of joy. She went back to her music, to her neglected books,
with a singing heart. And in accordance with the curious ways of
Providence, noted in the proverb relating the different fates of him
who hath and him who hath not, there was at once added to her pleasure
in the old elements of her life the very elements she had longed for
unavailingly. Seeing her friendly and shining of face, friendliness
went out to her. She had made many new acquaintances during her brief
glittering flight and had innumerable more points of contact with the
University life than before. She was invited to a quite sufficient
number of hops and proms, had quite the normal number of masculine
"callers," and was naively astonished and disillusioned to find that
those factors in life were by no means as entirely desirable and
amusing as her anguished yearning had fancied them. She joined one of
the literary societies and took a leading part in their annual outdoor
play. At the beginning of her Junior year, Judith entered as a
Freshman and thereafter became a close companion. Sylvia devoured
certain of her studies, history, and English, and Greek, with
insatiable zest and cast aside certain others like political economy
and physics, which bored her, mastering just enough of their elements
to pass an examination and promptly forgetting them thereafter. She
grew rapidly in intellectual agility and keenness, not at all in
philosophical grasp, and emotionally remained as dormant as a potato
in a cellar.
She continually looked forward with a bright, vague interest to
"growing up," to the mastery of life which adolescents so trustfully
associate with the arrival of adult years. She spent three more years
in college, taking a Master's degree after her B.A., and during those
three years, through the many-colored, shifting, kaleidoscopic,
disorganized life of an immensely populous institution of learning,
she fled with rapid feet, searching restlessly everywhere for that
entity, as yet non-existent, her own soul.
She had, in short, a thoroughly usual experience of modern American
education, emerging at the end with a vast amount of information, with
very little notion of what it was all about, with Phi Beta Kappa and a
great wonder what she was to do with herself.
Up to that moment almost every step of her life had been ordered and
systematized, that she might the more quickly and surely arrive at the
goal of her diploma. Rushing forward with the accumulated impetus of
years of training in swiftly speeding effort, she flashed by the goal
... and stopped short, finding herself in company with a majority of
her feminine classmates in a blind alley. "_Now_ what?" they asked
each other with sinking hearts. Judith looked over their heads with
steady eyes which saw but one straight and narrow path in life, and
passed on by them into the hospital where she began her nurse's
training. Sylvia began to teach music to a few children, to take on
some of Reinhardt's work as he grew older. She practised assiduously,
advanced greatly in skill in music, read much, thought acutely,
rebelliously and not deeply, helped Lawrence with his studies ... and
watched the clock.
For there was no denying that the clock stood still. She was not going
forward to any settled goal now, she was not going forward at all. She
was as far from suspecting any ordered pattern in the facts of life as
when she had been in college, surrounded by the conspiracy of
silence about a pattern in facts which university professors so
conscientiously keep up before their students. She was slowly
revolving in an eddy. Sometimes she looked at the deep, glowing
content of her father and mother with a fierce resentment. "How _can_
they!" she cried to herself. At other times she tried to chide herself
for not being as contented herself, "... but it's their life they're
living," she said moodily, "and I haven't any to live. I can't live on
their happiness any more than the beefsteaks somebody else has eaten
can keep me from starving to death."
The tradition of her life was that work and plenty of it would keep
off all uneasiness, that it was a foolishness, not to say a downright
crime, to feel uneasiness. So she practised many hours a day, and took
a post-graduate course in early Latin. But the clock stood still.
One of the assistants in her father's department proposed to her.
She refused him automatically, with a wondering astonishment at his
trembling hands and white lips. Decidedly the wheels of the clock
would never begin to revolve.
And then it struck an hour, loudly. Aunt Victoria wrote inviting
Sylvia to spend a few weeks with her during the summer at Lydford.
Sylvia read this letter aloud to her mother on the vine-covered porch
where she had sat so many years before, and repeated "star-light,
star-bright" until she had remembered Aunt Victoria. Mrs. Marshall
watched her daughter's face as she read, and through the tones of the
clear eager voice she heard the clock striking. It sounded to her
remarkably like a tolling bell, but she gave no sign beyond a slight
paling. She told herself instantly that the slowly ticking clock
had counted her out several years of grace beyond what a mother
may expect. When Sylvia finished and looked up, the dulled look of
resignation swept from her face by the light of adventurous change,
her mother achieved the final feat of nodding her head in prompt,
But when Sylvia went away, light-hearted, fleeting forward to new
scenes, there was in her mother's farewell kiss a solemnity which she
could not hide. "Oh, Mother dear!" protested Sylvia, preferring
as always to skim over the depths which her mother so dauntlessly
plumbed. "Oh, Mother darling! How can you be so--when it's only for a
_IN CAPUA AT LAST_
A GRATEFUL CARTHAGINIAN
Arnold Smith put another lump of sugar on his saucer, poured out
a very liberal allowance of rum into his tea, and reached for a
sandwich, balancing the cup and saucer with a deftness out of keeping
with his long, ungraceful loose-jointedness. He remarked in an
indifferent tone to Sylvia, back of the exquisitely appointed
tea-tray: "I don't say anything because I haven't the least idea what
you are talking about. Who _was_ Capua, anyhow?"
Sylvia broke into a peal of laughter which rang like a silver
chime through the vine-shaded, airy spaces of the pergola. Old Mr.
Sommerville, nosing about in his usual five-o'clock quest, heard
her and came across the stretch of sunny lawn to investigate.
"Oh, _here's_ tea!" he remarked on seeing Arnold, lounging,
white-flanneled, over his cup. He spoke earnestly, as was his custom
when eating was in question, and Sylvia served him earnestly and
carefully, with an instant harmonious response to his mood, putting
in exactly the right amount of rum and sugar to suit his taste, and
turning the slim-legged "curate's assistant" so that his favorite
sandwiches were nearest him.
"You spoil the old gentlemen, Sylvia," commented Arnold, evidently
caring very little whether she did or not.
"She spoils everybody," returned Mr. Sommerville, tasting his tea
complacently; "'_c'est son metier._' She has an uncanny instinct for
suiting everybody's taste."
Sylvia smiled brightly at him, exactly the brilliant smile which
suited her brilliant, frank face and clear, wide-open eyes. Under her
smile she was saying to herself, "If that's so, I wonder--not that I
care at all--but I really wonder why you don't like me."
Sylvia was encountering for the first time this summer a society
guided by tradition and formula, but she was not without excellent
preparation for almost any contact with her fellow-beings, a
preparation which in some ways served her better than that more
conscious preparation of young ladies bred up from childhood to
sit behind tea-tables and say the right things to tea-drinkers.
Association with the crude, outspoken youth at the State University
had been an education in human nature, especially masculine nature,
for her acute mind. Her unvarnished association with the other sex in
classroom and campus had taught her, by means of certain rough knocks
which more sheltered boarding-school girls never get, an accuracy
of estimate as to the actual feeling of men towards the women they
profess to admire unreservedly which (had he been able to conceive of
it) old Mr. Sommerville would have thought nothing less than cynical.
But he did not conceive of it, and now sat, mellowed by the
rightness of his tea, white-haired, smooth-shaven, pink-gilled,
white-waistcoated, the picture of old age at its best, as he smiled
gallantly at the extremely pretty girl behind the table. Unlike Sylvia
he knew exactly why he did not like her and he wasted no time in
thinking about it. "What were you laughing about, so delightfully, as
I came in, eh?" he asked, after the irretrievable first moment of joy
in gratified appetite had gone.
Sylvia had not the slightest backwardness about explaining. In fact
she always took the greatest pains to be explicit with old Mr.
Sommerville about the pit from which she had been digged. "Why, this
visit to Aunt Victoria is like stepping into another world for me.
Everything is so different from my home-life. I was just thinking, as
I sat there behind all this glorious clutter," she waved a slim hand
over the silver and porcelain of the tea-table, "what a change it
was from setting the table one's self and washing up the dishes
afterwards. That's what we always do at home. I hated it and I said
to Arnold, 'I've reached Capua at last!' and he said," she stopped to
laugh again, heartily, full-throated, the not-to-be-imitated laugh of
genuine amusement, "he said, 'Who is Capua, anyhow?'"
Mr. Sommerville laughed, but grudgingly, with an impatient shake of
his white head and an uneasy look in his eyes. For several reasons he
did not like to hear Sylvia laugh at Arnold. He distrusted a young
lady with too keen a sense of humor, especially when it was directed
towards the cultural deficiencies of a perfectly eligible young man.
To an old inhabitant of the world, with Mr. Sommerville's views as to
the ambitions of a moneyless young person, enjoying a single, brief
fling in the world of young men with fortunes, it seemed certain that
Sylvia's lack of tactful reticence about Arnold's ignorance could only
be based on a feeling that Arnold's fortune was not big enough. She
was simply, he thought with dismay, reserving her tact and reticence
for a not-impossible bigger. His apprehensions about the fate of a
bigger of his acquaintance if its owner ever fell into the hands of
this altogether too well-informed young person rose to a degree which
almost induced him to cry out, "Really, you rapacious young creature,
Arnold's is all any girl need ask, ample, well-invested, solid...."
But instead he said, "Humph! Rather a derogatory remark about your
Arnold did not understand, did not even hear, leaning back, long,
relaxed, apathetic, in his great wicker-chair and rolling a cigarette
with a detached air, as though his hands were not a part of him.
But Sylvia heard, and understood, even to the hostility in the old
gentleman's well-bred voice. "Being in Capua usually referring to the
fact that the Carthaginians went to pieces that winter?" she asked.
"Oh yes, of course I know that. Good gracious! I was brought up on the
idea of the dangers of being in Capua. Perhaps that's why I always
thought it would be such fun to get there." She spoke rebelliously.
"They got everlastingly beaten by the Romans," advanced Mr.
"Yes, but they had had one grand good time before! The Romans couldn't
take _that_ away from them! I think the Carthaginians got the best of
it!" Provocative, light-hearted malice was in her sparkling face. She
was thinking to herself with the reckless bravado of youth, "Well,
since he insists, I'll _give_ him some ground for distrusting my
Arnold suddenly emitted a great puff of smoke and a great shout of
"Help! help! Molly to the rescue!" and when a little white-clad
creature flitting past the door turned and brought into that quiet
spot of leafy shadow the dazzling quickness of her smile, her eyes,
her golden hair, he said to her nonchalantly: "Just in time to head
them off. Sylvia and your grandfather were being so high-brow I was
beginning to feel faint,"
Molly laughed flashingly. "Did Grandfather keep his end up? I bet he
Arnold professed an entire ignorance of the relative status. "Oh, I
fell off so far back I don't know who got in first. Who _was_ this man
Capua, anyhow? I'm a graduate of Harvard University and I never heard
"I'm a graduate of Miss Braddon's Mountain School for Girls," said
Molly, "and _I_ think it's a river."
Mr. Sommerville groaned out, exaggerating a real qualm, "What my
mother would have said to such ignorance, prefaced by 'I bet!' from
the lips of a young lady!"
"Your mother," said Molly, "would be my great-grandmother!" She
disposed of him conclusively by this statement and went on: "And I'm
not a young lady. Nobody is nowadays."
"What _are_ you, if a mere grandfather may venture to inquire?" asked
Mr. Sommerville deferentially.
"I'm a _femme watt-man"_ said Molly, biting a large piece from a
Arnold explained to the others: "That's Parisian for a lady
motor-driver; some name!"
"Well, you won't be that, or anything else alive, if you go on driving
your car at the rate I saw it going past the house this morning,"
said her grandfather. He spoke with an assumption of grandfatherly
severity, but his eyes rested on her with a grandfather's adoration.
"Oh, I'd die if I went under thirty-five," observed Miss Sommerville
"Why, Mr. Sommerville," Arnold backed up his generation. "You can't
call thirty-five per hour dangerous, not for a girl who can drive like
"Oh, I'm as safe as if I were in a church," continued Molly. "I keep
my mind on it. If I ever climb a telegraph-pole you can be sure it'll
be because I wanted to. I never take my eye off the road, never once."
"How you must enjoy the landscape," commented her grandfather.
"Heavens! I don't drive a car to look at the landscape!" cried Molly,
highly amused at the idea, apparently quite new to her.
"Will you gratify the curiosity of the older generation once more, and
tell me what you _do_ drive a car for?" inquired old Mr. Sommerville,
looking fondly at the girl's lovely face, like a pink-flushed pearl.
"Why, I drive to see how fast I can go, of course," explained Molly.
"The fun of it is to watch the road eaten up."
"It _is_ fascinating," Sylvia gave the other girl an unexpected
reinforcement. "I've driven with Molly, and I've been actually
hypnotized seeing the road vanish under the wheels."
"Oh, children, children! When you reach my age," groaned Arnold, "and
have eaten up as many thousand miles as I, you'll stay at home."
"I've driven for three years now," asserted Molly, "and every time I
buy a new car I get the craze all over again. This one I have now is
a peach of an eight. I never want to drive a six again,--never! I can
bring it up from a creep to--to fast enough to scare Grandfather into
a fit, without changing gears at all--just on the throttle--" She
broke off to ask, as at a sudden recollection, "What was it about
Capua, anyhow?" She went to sit beside Sylvia, and put her arm around
her shoulder in a caressing gesture, evidently familiar to her.
"It wasn't about Capua at all," explained Sylvia indulgently, patting
the lovely cheek, as though the other girl had been a child. "It was
your grandfather finding out what a bad character I am, and how I
wallow in luxury, now I have the chance."
"Luxury?" inquired Molly, looking about her rather blankly.
Sylvia laughed, this time with a little veiled, pensive note of
melancholy, lost on the others but which she herself found very
touching. "There, you see you're so used to it, you don't even know
what I'm talking about!"
"Never mind, Molly," Arnold reassured her. "Neither do I! Don't try to
follow; let it float by, the way I do!"
Miss Sommerville did not smile. She thrust out her red lips in a
wistful pout, and looking down into the sugar-bowl intently, she
remarked, her voice as pensive as Sylvia's own: "I wish I _did_! I
wish I understood! I wish I were as clever as Sylvia!"
As if in answer to this remark, another searcher after tea announced
himself from the door--a tall, distinguished, ugly, graceful man,
who took a very fine Panama hat from a very fine head of brown hair,
slightly graying, and said in a rich, cultivated voice: "Am I too late
for tea? I don't mind at all if it's strong."
"Oh!" said Molly Sommerville, flushing and drawing away from Sylvia;
"_Lord_!" muttered Arnold under his breath; and "Not at all. I'll make
some fresh. I haven't had mine yet," said Sylvia, busying herself with
the alcohol flame.
"How're you, Morrison?" said Mr. Sommerville with no enthusiasm,
holding out a well-kept old hand for the other to shake.
Arnold stood up, reached under his chair, and pulled out a tennis
racquet. "Excuse me, Morrison, won't you, if I run along?" he said.
"It's not because you've come. I want a set of tennis before dinner
if I can find somebody to play with me. Here, Molly, you've got your
tennis shoes on already. Come along."
The little beauty shook her head violently. "No ... goodness no! It's
too hot. And anyhow, I don't ever want to play again, since I've seen
Sylvia's game." She turned to the other girl, breathing quickly.
"_You_ go, Sylvia dear. _I'll_ make Mr. Morrison's tea for him."
Sylvia hesitated a barely perceptible instant, until she saw old Mr.
Sommerville's eyes fixed speculatively on her. Then she stood up with
an instant, cheerful alacrity. "That's _awfully_ good of you, Molly
darling! _You_ won't mind, will you, Mr. Morrison!" She nodded
brightly to the old gentleman, to the girl who had slipped into her
place, to the other man, and was off.
The man she had left looked after her, as she trod with her long,
light step beside the young man, and murmured, "_Et vera incessu
Molly moved a plate on the table with some vehemence. "I suppose
Sylvia would understand that language."
"She would, my dear Molly, and what's more, she would scorn me for
using such a hackneyed quotation." To Mr. Sommerville he added,
laughing, "Isn't it the quaintest combination--such radiant girlhood
and her absurd book-learning!"
Mr. Sommerville gave his assent to the quaintness by silence, as he
rose and prepared to retreat.
"_Good_-bye, Grandfather," said Molly with enthusiasm.
* * * * *
As they walked along, Arnold was saying to Sylvia with a listless
appreciation: "You certainly know the last word of the game, don't
you, Sylvia? I bet Morrison hasn't had a jolt like that for years."
"What are you _talking_ about?" asked Sylvia, perhaps slightly
overdoing her ignorance of his meaning.
"Why, it's a new thing for _him_, let me tell you, to have a girl jump
up as soon as he comes in and delightedly leave him to another girl.
And then to thank the other girl for being willing to take him off
your hands,--that's more than knowing the rules,--that's art!" He
laughed faintly at the recollection. "It's a new one for Morrison to
meet a girl who doesn't kowtow. He's a very great personage in
his line, and he can't help knowing it. The very last word on
Lord-knows-what-all in the art business is what one Felix Morrison
says about it. He's an eight-cylinder fascinator too, into the
bargain. Mostly he makes me sore, but when I think about him straight,
I wonder how he manages to keep on being as decent as he is--he's
really a good enough sort!--with all the high-powered petticoats in
New York burning incense. It's enough to turn the head of a hydrant.
That's the hold Madrina has on him. She doesn't burn any incense. She
wants all the incense there is being burned, for herself; and it keeps
old Felix down in his place--keeps him hanging around too. You stick
to the same method if you want to make a go of it."
"I thought he wrote. I thought he did aesthetic criticisms and
essays," said Sylvia, laughing aloud at Arnold's quaint advice.
"Oh, he does. I guess he's chief medicine-man in his tribe all right.
It's not only women who kowtow; when old man Merriman wants to know
for sure whether to pay a million for a cracked Chinese vase, he
always calls in Felix Morrison. Chief adviser to the predatory rich,
that's one of his jobs! So you see," he came back to his first point,
"it must be some jolt for the sacred F.M. to have a young lady, _just
a young lady_, refuse to bow at the shrine. You couldn't have done a
smarter trick, by heck! I've been watching you all those weeks, just
too tickled for words. And I've been watching Morrison. It's been as
good as a play! He can't stick it out much longer, unless I miss my
guess, and I've known him ever since I was a kid. He's just waiting
for a good chance to turn on the faucet and hand you a full cup of his
irresistible fascination." He added carelessly, bouncing a ball up and
down on the tense catgut of his racquet: "What all you girls see in
that old wolf-hound, to lose your heads over! It gets me!"
"Why in the world 'wolf-hound'?" asked Sylvia.
"Oh, just as to his looks. He has that sort of tired, dignified,
deep-eyed look a big dog has. I bet his eyes would be phosphorescent
at night too. They are that kind; don't you know, when you strike a
match in the evening, how a dog's eyes glow? It's what makes 'em look
so soft and deep in the daytime. But as to his innards--no, Lord
no! Whatever else Morrison is he's not a bit like any dog that ever
lived--first cousin to a fish, I should say."
Sylvia laughed. "Why not make it grizzly bear, to take in the rest of
the animal kingdom?"
"No," persisted Arnold. "Now I've thought of it, I _mean_ fish, a
great big, wise old fellow, who lives in a deep pool and won't rise to
any ordinary fly." He made a brain-jolting change of metaphor and went
on: "The plain truth, and it's not so low-down as it seems, is that a
big fat check-book is admission to the grandstand with Felix. It _has_
to be that way! He hasn't got much of his own, and his tastes are
"Molly must be sitting in the front row, then," commented Sylvia
indifferently, as though tired of the subject. They were now at the
tennis-court. "Run over to the summer-house and get my racquet, will
you? It's on the bench."
"Yes, Molly's got plenty of _money_," Arnold admitted as he came
back, his accent implying some other lack which he forgot to mention,
absorbed as he at once became in coping with his adversary's strong,
The change in him, as he began seriously to play, was startling,
miraculous. His slack loose-jointedness stiffened into quick,
flexible accuracy, his lounging, flaccid air disappeared in a glow
of concentrated vigorous effort. The bored good-nature in his eyes
vanished, burned out by a stern, purposeful intensity. He was
literally and visibly another person. Sylvia played her best, which
was excellent, far better than that of any other girl in the summer
colony. She had been well trained by her father and her gymnasium
instructor, and played with an economy of effort delightful to see;
but she was soon driven by her opponent's tiger-like quickness into
putting out at once her every resource. There, in the slowly fading
light of the long mountain afternoon, the two young Anglo-Saxons
poured out their souls in a game with the immemorial instinct of their
race, fierce, grim, intent, every capacity of body and will-power
brought into play, everything else in the world forgotten....
For some time they were on almost equal terms, and then Sylvia became
aware that her adversary was getting the upper hand of her. She had,
however, no idea what the effort was costing him, until after a
blazing fire of impossibly rapid volleys under which she went down
to defeat, she stopped, called out, "Game _and_ set!" and added in a
generous tribute, "Say, you can _play_!" Then she saw that his face
was almost purple, his eyes bloodshot, and his breath came in short,
gasping pants. "Good gracious, what's the matter!" she cried, running
towards him in alarm. She was deeply flushed herself, but her eyes
were as clear as clear water, and she ran with her usual fawn-like
swiftness. Arnold dropped on the bench, waving her a speechless
reassurance. With his first breath he said, "Gee! but you can hit it
up, for a girl!"
"What's the _matter_ with you?" Sylvia asked again, sitting down
"Nothing! Nothing!" he panted. "My wind! It's confoundedly short."
He added a moment later, "It's tobacco--this is the sort of time the
cigarettes get back at you, you know!" The twilight dropped slowly
about them like a thin, clear veil. He thrust out his feet, shapely in
their well-made white shoes, surveyed them with dissatisfaction, and
added with moody indifference: "And cocktails too. They play the
dickens with a fellow's wind."
Sylvia said nothing for a moment, looking at him by no means
admiringly. Her life in the State University had brought her into such
incessant contact with young men that the mere fact of sitting
beside one in the twilight left her unmoved to a degree which Mr.
Sommerville's mother would have found impossible to imagine. When she
spoke, it was with an impatient scorn of his weakness, which might
have been felt by a fellow-athlete: "What in the world makes you do
"Why not?" he said challengingly.
"You've just said why not--it spoils your tennis. It must spoil your
polo. Was that what spoiled your baseball in college? You'd be twice
the man if you wouldn't."
"Oh, what's the use?" he said, an immense weariness in his voice.
"What's the use of anything, if you are going to use _that_ argument?"
said Sylvia, putting him down conclusively.
He spoke with a sudden heartfelt simplicity, "Damn 'f I _know_,
Sylvia." For the first time in all the afternoon, his voice lost its
tonelessness, and rang out with the resonance of sincerity.
She showed an unflattering surprise. "Why, I didn't know you ever
thought about such things."
He looked at her askance, dimly amused. "High opinion you have of me!"
She looked annoyed at herself and said with a genuine good-will in her
voice, "Why, Arnold, you _know_ I've always liked you."
"You like me, but you don't think much of me," he diagnosed her, "and
you show your good sense." He looked up at the picturesque white
house, spreading its well-proportioned bulk on the top of the terraced
hillside before them. "I hope Madrina is looking out of a window and
sees us here, our heads together in the twilight. You've guessed, I
suppose, that she had you come on here for my benefit. She thinks
she's tried everything else,--now it's her idea to get me safely
married. She'd have one surprise, wouldn't she, if she could hear what
"Well, it _would_ be a good thing for you," remarked Sylvia, as
entirely without self-consciousness as though they were discussing the
He was tickled by her coolness. "Well, Madrina sure made a mistake
when she figured on _you_!" he commented ironically. And then, not
having been subjected to the cool, hardy conditions which caused
Sylvia's present clear-headedness, he felt his blood stirred to feel
her there, so close, so alive, so young, so beautiful in the twilight.
He leaned towards her and spoke in a husky voice, "See here, Sylvia,
why _don't_ you try it!"
"Oh, nonsense!" said the girl, not raising her voice at all, not
stirring. "You don't care a bit for me."
"Yes, I do! I've _always_ liked you!" he said, not perceiving till
after the words were out of his mouth that he had repeated her own
She laughed to hear it, and he drew back, his faint stirring of warmth
dashed, extinguished. "The fact is, Sylvia," he said, "you're too nice
a girl to fall in love with."
"What a horrid thing to say!" she exclaimed.
"About _you_?" he defended himself. "I mean it as a compliment."
"About falling in love," she said.
"Oh!" he said blankly, evidently not at all following her meaning.
"What time is it?" she now inquired, and on hearing the hour, "Oh,
we'll be late to dress for dinner," she said in concern, rising and
ascending the marble steps to the terrace next above them.
He came after her, long, loose-jointed, ungraceful. He was laughing.
"Do you realize that I've proposed marriage to you and you've turned
me down?" he said.
"No such a thing!" she said, as lightly as he.
"It's the nearest _I_ ever came to it!" he averred.
She continued to flit up the terraces before him, her voice rippling
with amusement dropping down on him through the dusk. "Well, you'll
have to come nearer than that, if you ever want to make a go of
it!" she called over her shoulder. Upon which note this very modern
MORE TALK BETWEEN YOUNG MODERNS
When they met at dinner, they laughed outright at the sight of one
another, a merry and shadowless laugh. For an instant they looked like
light-hearted children. The change of Arnold's long sallow face was
indeed so noticeable that Mrs. Marshall-Smith glanced sharply at him,
and then looked again with great satisfaction. She leaned to Sylvia
and laid her charming white hand affectionately over the girl's slim,
strong, tanned fingers. "It's just a joy to have you here, my dear.
You're brightening us stupid, bored people like fresh west wind!" She
went on addressing herself to the usual guest of the evening: "Isn't
it always the most beautiful sight, Felix, how the mere presence of
radiant youth can transform the whole atmosphere of life!"
"I hadn't noticed that my radiant youth had transformed much,"
commented Arnold dryly; "and Sylvia's only a year younger than I."
He was, as usual, disregarded by the course of the conversation. "Yes,
sunshine in a shady place ..." quoted Morrison, in his fine mellow
tenor, looking at Sylvia. It was a wonderful voice, used with
discretion, with a fine instinct for moderation which would have kept
the haunting beauty of its intonations from seeming objectionable or
florid to any but American ears. In spite of the invariable good taste
with which it was used, American men, accustomed to the toneless
speech of the race, and jealously suspicious of anything approaching
art in everyday life, distrusted Morrison at the first sound of his
voice. Men who were his friends (and they were many) were in the habit
of rather apologizing for those rich and harmonious accents. The first
time she had heard it, Sylvia had thought of the G string of old
"I never in my life saw anything that looked less like a shady place,"
observed Sylvia, indicating with an admiring gesture the table before
them, gleaming and flashing its glass and silver and close-textured,
glossy damask up into the light.
"It's _morally_ that we're so shady!" said Arnold, admiring his own
wit so much that he could not refrain from adding, "Not so bad, what?"
The usual conversation at his stepmother's table was, as he would have
said, so pestilentially high-brow that he seldom troubled himself
to follow it enough to join in. Arnold was in the habit of dubbing
"high-brow" anything bearing on aesthetics; and Mrs. Marshall-Smith's
conversational range hardly extending at all outside of aesthetics of
one kind or another, communication between these two house-mates
of years' standing was for the most part reduced to a primitive
simplicity for which a sign-language would have sufficed. Arnold's
phrase for the situation was, "I let Madrina alone, and she don't
bother me." But now, seeing that neither the facade of Rouen, nor the
influence of Chardin on Whistler, had been mentioned, his unusual
loquacity continued. "Well, if one west wind (I don't mean that as a
slam on Sylvia for coming from west of the Mississippi) has done us so
much good, why not have another?" he inquired. "Why couldn't Judith
come on and make us a visit too? It would be fun to have a scrap with
her again." He explained to Morrison: "She's Sylvia's younger sister,
and we always quarreled so, as kids, that after we'd been together
half an hour the referee had to shoulder in between and tell us, 'Nix
on biting in clinches.' She was great, all right, Judith was! How _is_
she now?" he asked Sylvia. "I've been meaning ever so many times to
ask you about her, and something else has seemed to come up. I can't
imagine Judy grown up. She hasn't pinned up that great long braid, has
she, that used to be so handy to pull?"
Sylvia took the last of her soup, put the spoon on the plate, and
launched into a description of Judith, one of her favorite topics.
"Oh, Judith's just _fine_! You ought to see her! She's worth ten
of me: she has such lots of character! And handsome! You never saw
anything like Judith's looks. Yes, she's put her hair up! She's twenty
years old now, what do you _suppose_ she does with her hair? She wears
it in a great smooth braid all around her head. And she has _such_
hair, Aunt Victoria!" She turned from Arnold to another woman, as from
some one who would know nothing of the fine shades of the subject. "No
short hairs at all, you know, like everybody else, that _will_ hang
down and look untidy!" She pulled with an explanatory petulance at the
soft curls which framed her own face in an aureole of light. "Hers is
all long and smooth, and the color like a fresh chestnut, just out
of the burr; and her nose is like a Greek statue--she _is_ a Greek
She had been carried by her affectionate enthusiasm out of her usual
self-possession, her quick divination of how she was affecting
everybody, and now, suddenly finding Morrison's eyes on her with an
expression she did not recognize, she was brought up short. What had
she said to make him look at her so oddly?
He answered her unspoken question at once, his voice making his every
casual word of gold: "I am thinking that I am being present at a
spectacle which cynics say is impossible, the spectacle of a woman
delighting--and with the most obvious sincerity--in the beauty of
"Oh!" said Sylvia, relieved to know that the odd look concealed no
criticism, "I didn't know that anybody nowadays made such silly
Victorian generalizations about woman's cattiness,--anybody under old
Mr. Sommerville's age, that is. And anyhow, Judith's my _sister_."
"Cases of sisters, jealous of each other's good looks, have not been
entirely unknown to history," said Morrison, smiling and beginning to
eat his fish with a delicate relish.
"Well, if Judy's so all-fired good-looking, let's _have_ her come
on, Madrina," said Arnold. "With her and Sylvia together, we'd crush
Lydford into a pulp." He attacked his plate with a straggling fork,
eating negligently, as he did everything else.
"She has a standing invitation, of course," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith.
"Indeed, I wrote the other day, asking her if she could come here
instead of to La Chance for her vacation. It's far nearer for her."
"Oh, Judith couldn't waste time to go visiting," said Sylvia. "I've
told you she is worth ten of me. She's on the home-stretch of her
trained-nurse's course now. She has only two weeks' vacation."
"She's going to be a trained nurse?" asked Arnold in surprise, washing
down a large mouthful of fish with a large mouthful of wine. "What the
dickens does she do that for?"
"Why, she's crazy about it,--ever since she was a little girl,
fifteen years old and first saw the inside of a hospital. That's just
Judith,--so splendid and purposeful, and single-minded. I wish to
goodness _I_ knew what I want to do with myself half so clearly as she
If she had, deep under her consciousness, a purpose to win more
applause from Morrison, by more disinterested admiration of Judith's
good points, she was quite rewarded by the quickness with which he
championed her against her own depreciation. "I've always noticed,"
he said meditatively, slowly taking a sip from his wine-glass, "that
nobody can be single-minded who isn't narrow-minded; and I think it
likely that people who aren't so cocksure what they want to do with
themselves, hesitate because they have a great deal more to do _with_.
A nature rich in fine and complex possibilities takes more time
to dispose of itself, but when it does, the world's beauty is the
gainer." He pointed the reference frankly by a smile at Sylvia, who
flushed with pleasure and looked down at her plate. She was surprised
at the delight which his leisurely, whimsically philosophical little
speech gave her. She forgot to make any answer, absorbed as she was
in poring over it and making out new meanings in it. How he had
understood at less than a word the secret uncertainty of herself which
so troubled her; and with what astonishing sureness he had known what
to say to reassure her, to make her see clear! And then, her quick
mind leaped to another significance.... All during these past weeks
when she had been falling more and more under the fascination of his
personality, when she had been piqued at his disregard of her, when
she had thought he found her "young," and had bracketed her carelessly
with Arnold, he had been in reality watching her, he had found her
interesting enough to observe her, to study her, to have a theory
about her character; and having done all that, to admire her as she
admired him. Never in her life had she been the recipient of flattery
so precisely to her taste. Her glow of pleasure was so warm that she
suddenly distrusted her own judgment, she looked up at him quickly to
see if she had not mistaken his meaning, had not absurdly exaggerated
the degree to which he ... she found his eyes on hers, deep-set,
shadowy eyes which did not, as she looked up, either smile or look
away. Under cover of a rather wrangling discussion between Arnold
and his stepmother as to having some champagne served, the older man
continued to look steadily into Sylvia's eyes, with the effect of
saying to her, gravely, kindly, intimately: "Yes, I am here. You did
not know how closely you have drawn me to you, but here I am." Across
the table, across the lights, the service, the idle talk of the other
two, she felt him quietly, ever so gently but quite irresistibly, open
an inner door of her nature ... and she welcomed him in.
* * * * *
After dinner, when Mrs. Marshall-Smith lifted her eyebrows at Sylvia
and rose to go, Arnold made no bones of his horror at the prospect of
a tete-a-tete with the distinguished critic. "Oh, I'm going in with
you girls!" he said, jumping up with his usual sprawling uncertainty
of action. He reserved for athletic sports all his capacity for
physical accuracy. "Morrison and I bore each other more than's legal!"
"I may bore _you_, my dear Arnold," said the other, rising, "but you
never bored me in your life, and I've known you from childhood."
To which entirely benevolent speech, Arnold returned nothing but
the uneasy shrug and resentful look of one baffled by a hostile
demonstration too subtle for his powers of self-defense. He picked up
the chair he had thrown over, and waited sulkily till the others were
in the high-ceilinged living-room before he joined them. Then when
Morrison, in answer to a request from his hostess and old friend, sat
down to the piano and began to play a piece of modern, plaintive, very
wandering and chromatic music, the younger man drew Sylvia out on the
wide, moon-lighted veranda.
"Morrison is the very devil for making you want to punch his head, and
yet not giving you a decent excuse. I declare, Sylvia, I don't know
but that what I like best of all about you is the way you steer clear
of him. He's opening up on you too. Maybe you didn't happen to notice
... at the dinner-table? It wasn't much, but I spotted it for a
beginning. I know old Felix, a few." Sylvia felt uneasy at the
recurrence of this topic, and cast about for something to turn the
conversation. "Oh, Arnold," she began, rather at random, "whatever
became of Professor Saunders? I've thought about him several times
since I've been here, but I've forgotten to ask you or Tantine. He was
my little-girl admiration, you know."
Arnold smoked for a moment before answering. Then, "Well, I wouldn't
ask Madrina about him, if I were you. He's not one of her successes.
He wouldn't stay put."
Sylvia scented something uncomfortable, and regretted having
introduced the subject.
Arnold added thoughtfully, looking hard at the ash of his cigarette,
"I guess Madrina was pretty bad medicine for Saunders, all right."
Sylvia shivered a little and drew back, but she instantly put the
matter out of her mind with a trained and definite action of her will.
It was probably "horrid"; nothing could be done about it now; what
else could they talk about that would be cheerful? This was a
thought-sequence very familiar to Sylvia, through which she passed
with rapid ease.
Arnold made a fresh start by offering her his cigarette-box. "Have
one," he invited her, sociably.
She shook her head.
"Oh, all the girls do," he urged her.
Sylvia laughed. "I may be a fresh breeze from beyond the Mississippi,
but I'm not so fresh as to think it's wicked for a girl to smoke. In
fact I like to, myself, but I can't stand the dirty taste in my mouth
the next morning. Smoking's not worth it."
"_Well_ ..." commented Arnold. Apparently he found something very
surprising in this speech. His surprise spread visibly from the
particular to the general, like the rings widening from a thrown
pebble, and he finally broke out: "You certainly do beat the band,
Sylvia. You get _me_! You're a sample off a piece of goods that I
never saw before!"
"What now?" asked Sylvia, amused.
"Why, for instance,--that reason for your not smoking. That's not a
girl's reason. That's a man's ... a man who's tried it!"
"No, it isn't!" she said, the flicker of amusement still on her lips.
"A man wouldn't have sense enough to know that smoking isn't worth
waking up with your mouth full of rancid fur."
"Oh gosh!" cried Arnold, tickled by the metaphor: "rancid fur!"
"The point about me, why I seem so queer to you," explained Sylvia,
brightening, "is that I'm a State University girl. I'm used to you.
I've seen hundreds of you! The fact that you wear trousers and have
to shave and wear your hair cut short, and smell of tobacco, doesn't
thrill me for a cent. I know that I could run circles around you if it
came to a problem in calculus, not that I want to brag."
Arnold did not seem as much amused as she thought he would be. He
smoked in a long, meditative silence, and when he spoke again it was
with an unusual seriousness. "It's not what _you_ feel or don't feel
about me ... it's what _I_ feel and don't feel about you, that gets
me," he explained, not very lucidly. "I mean liking you so, without
... I never felt so about a girl. I like it.... I don't make it
out...." He looked at her with sincerely puzzled eyes.
She answered him as seriously. "I think," she said, speaking a little
slowly, "I think the two go together, don't they?"
"How do you mean?" he asked.
"Why--it's hard to say--" she hesitated, but evidently not at all in
embarrassment, looking at him with serious eyes, limpid and unafraid.
"I've been with boys and men a lot, of course, in my classes and in
the laboratories and everywhere, and I've found out that in most cases
if the men and the girls really, really in their own hearts don't want
to hurt each other, don't want to get something out of the other, but
just want to be friends--why, they _can_ be! Psychologists and all
the big-wigs say they can't be, I know--but, believe me!--I've tried
it--and it's awfully nice, and it's a shame that everybody shouldn't
know that lots of the time you _can_ do it--in spite of the folks who
write the books! Maybe it wasn't so when the books were written, maybe
it's only going to be so, later, if we all are as square as we can be
now. But as a plain matter of fact, in one girl's experience, it's
so, _now_! Of course," she modified by a sweeping qualification the
audacity of her naively phrased, rashly innocent guess at a new
possibility for humanity, "of course if the man's a _decent_ man."
Arnold had not taken his gaze for an instant from her gravely
thoughtful eyes. He was quite pale. He looked astonishingly moved,
startled, arrested. When she stopped, he said, almost at once, in
a very queer voice as though it were forced out of him, "I'm not a
And then, quite as though he could endure no longer her clear, steady
gaze, he covered his eyes with his hand. An instant later he had
sprung up and walked rapidly away out to the low marble parapet which
topped the terrace. His gesture, his action had been so eloquent of
surprised, intolerable pain, that Sylvia ran after him, all one quick
impulse to console. "Yes, you are, Arnold; yes, you are!" she said in
a low, energetic tone, "you _are_!"
He made a quavering attempt to be whimsical. "I'd like to know what
_you_ know about it!" he said.
"I know! I _know_!" she simply repeated.
He faced her in an exasperated shame. "Why, a girl like you can no
more know what's done by a man like me ..." his lips twitched in a
"Oh ... what you've _done_ ..." said Sylvia ... "it's what you are!"
"What I _am_," repeated Arnold bitterly. "If I were worth my salt I'd
hang myself before morning!" The heartsick excitement of a man on the
crest of some moral crisis looked out luridly from his eyes.
Sylvia rose desperately to meet that crisis. "Look here, Arnold. I'm
going to tell you something I've never spoken of to anybody ... not
even Mother ... and I'm going to do it, so you'll _believe_ me when I
say you're worth living. When I was eighteen years old I was a horrid,
selfish, self-willed child. I suppose everybody's so at eighteen. I
was just crazy for money and fine dresses and things like that, that
we'd never had at home; and a man with a lot of money fell in love
with me. It was my fault. I made him, though I didn't know then what I
was doing, or at least I wouldn't let myself think what I was doing.
And I got engaged to him. I got engaged at half-past four in the
afternoon, and at seven o'clock that evening I was running away from
him, and I've never seen him since." Her voice went on steadily, but
a quick hot wave of scarlet flamed up over her face. "He was not a
decent man," she said briefly, and went on: "It frightened me almost
to death before I got my bearings: I was just a little girl and I
hadn't understood anything--and I don't _understand_ much now. But I
did learn one thing from all that--I learned to know when a man isn't
decent. I can't tell you how I know--it's all over him--it's all over
me--it's his eyes, the way he stands, the expression of his mouth--I
don't only see it--I feel it--I feel it the way a thermometer feels
it when you put a match under the bulb ... I _know_!" She brought her
extravagant, her preposterous, her ignorant, her incredibly convincing
claims to an abrupt end.
"And you 'feel' that I ..." began Arnold, and could not go on.
"I'd like you for my brother," she said gently.
He tried to laugh at her, but the honest tears were in his eyes.
"You don't know what you're talking about, you silly dear," he said
unsteadily, "but I'm awfully glad you came to Lydford."
With her instinct for avoiding breaks, rough places, Sylvia quickly
glided into a transition from this speech back into less personal
talk. "Another queer thing about that experience I've never
understood:--it cured me of being so crazy about clothes. You wouldn't
think it would have anything to do with _that_, would you? And I don't
see how it did. Oh, I don't mean I don't dearly love pretty dresses
now. I _do_. And I spend altogether too much time thinking about
them--but it's not the same. Somehow the poison is out. I used to be
like a drunkard who can't get a drink, when I saw girls have things
I didn't. I suppose," she speculated philosophically, "I suppose any
great jolt that shakes you up a lot, shakes things into different
"Say, that fellow must have been just about the limit!" Arnold's
rather torpid imagination suddenly opened to the story he had heard.
"No, no!" said Sylvia. "As I look back on it, I make a lot more sense
out of it" (she might have been, by her accent, fifty instead of
twenty-three), "and I can see that he wasn't nearly as bad as I
thought him. When I said he wasn't decent, I meant that he belonged in
the Stone Age, and I'm twentieth-century. We didn't fit together. I
suppose that's what we all mean when we say somebody isn't decent ...
that he's stayed behind in the procession. I don't mean that man was
a degenerate or anything like that ... if he could have found a Stone
Age woman he'd have ... they'd have made a good Stone Age marriage of
it. But he _didn't_, the girl he...."
"Do you know, Sylvia," Arnold broke in wonderingly, "I never before in
all my life had anybody speak to me of anything that really mattered.
And I never spoke this way myself. I've wanted to, lots of times; but
I didn't know people ever did. And to think of its being a girl who
does it for me, a girl who...." His astonishment was immense.
"Look here, Arnold," said Sylvia, with a good-natured peremptoriness.
"Let a girl be something besides a girl, can't you!"
But her attempt to change the tone to a light one failed. Apparently,
now that Arnold had broken his long silence, he could not stop
himself. He turned towards her with a passionate gesture of
bewilderment and cried: "Do you remember, before dinner, you asked
me as a joke what was the use of anything, and I said I didn't know?
Well, I _don't!_ I've been getting sicker and sicker over everything.
What the devil _am_ I here for, anyhow!"
As he spoke, a girl's figure stepped from the house to the veranda,
from the veranda to the turf of the terrace, and walked towards them.
She was tall, and strongly, beautifully built; around her small head
was bound a smooth braid of dark hair. She walked with a long, free
step and held her head high. As she came towards them, the moonlight
full on her dark, proud, perfect face, she might have been the
But it was no antique spirit which looked out of those frank, fearless
eyes, and it was a very modern and colloquially American greeting
which she now gave to the astonished young people. "Well, Sylvia,
don't you know your own sister?" and "Hello there, Arnold."
"Why, Judith _Marshall_!" cried Sylvia, falling upon her breathlessly.
"However in the world did you get _here_!"
Arnold said nothing. He had fallen back a step and now looked at the
new-comer with a fixed, dazzled gaze.
ANOTHER BRAND OF MODERN TALK
"Where's Judith?" said Arnold for sole greeting, as he saw Morrison at
the piano and Sylvia sitting near it, cool and clear in a lacy white
dress. Morrison lifted long fingers from the keys and said gravely,
"She came through a moment ago, saying, '_Where's_ Arnold?' and went
out through that door." His fingers dropped and Chopin's voice once
more rose plaintively.
The sound of Arnold's precipitate rush across the room and out of the
door was followed by a tinkle of laughter from Sylvia. Morrison looked
around at her over his shoulder, with a flashing smile of mutual
understanding, but he finished the prelude before he spoke. Then,
without turning around, as he pulled out another sheet from the music
heaped on the piano, he remarked: "If that French philosopher was
right when he said no disease is as contagious as love-making, we may
expect soon to find the very chairs and tables in this house clasped
in each other's arms. Old as I am, I feel it going to my head, like a
bed of full-blooming valerian."
Sylvia made no answer. She felt herself flushing, and could not trust
her voice to be casual. He continued for a moment to thumb over the
music aimlessly, as though waiting for her to speak.
The beautiful room, darkened against the midsummer heat, shimmered
dimly in a transparent half-light, the vivid life of its bright
chintz, its occasional brass, its clean, daring spots of crimson and
purple flowers, subdued into a fabulous, half-seen richness. There was
not a sound. The splendid heat of the early August afternoon flamed,
and paused, and held its breath.
Into this silence, like a bird murmuring a drowsy note over a still
pool, there floated the beginning of _Am Meer_. Sylvia sat, passive
to her finger-tips, a vase filled to the brim with melody. She stared
with unseeing eyes at the back of the man at the piano. She was not
thinking of him, she was not aware that she was conscious of him at
all; but hours afterward wherever she looked, she saw for an instant
again in miniature the slender, vigorous, swaying figure; the thick
brown hair, streaked with white and curling slightly at the ends; the
When the last note was still, the man stood up and moved away from the
piano. He dropped into an arm-chair near Sylvia, and leaning his
fine, ugly head back against the brilliant chintz, he looked at her
meditatively. His great bodily suavity gave his every action a curious
significance and grace. Sylvia, still under the spell of his singing,
did not stir, returning his look out of wide, dreaming eyes.
When he spoke, his voice blended with the silence almost as
harmoniously as the music.... "Do you know what I wish you would
do, Miss Sylvia Marshall? I wish you would tell me something about
yourself. Now that I'm no longer forbidden to look at you, or think
"Forbidden?" asked Sylvia, very much astonished.
"There!" he said, wilfully mistaking her meaning, and smiling faintly,
"I am such an old gentleman that I'm perfectly negligible to a young
lady. She doesn't even notice or not whether I look at her, and think
A few years before this Sylvia would have burst out impetuously, "Oh
yes, I have! I've wondered awfully what made you so indifferent," but
now she kept this reflection to herself and merely said, "What in the
world did you fancy was 'forbidding' you?"
"Honor!" said Morrison, with a note of mock solemnity. "_Honor!_
Victoria was so evidently snatching at you as a last hope for Arnold.
She gave me to understand that everybody else but Arnold was to be
strictly non-existent. But now that Arnold has found a character
beautifully and archaically simple to match his own primitive needs, I
don't see why I shouldn't enjoy a little civilized talk with you. In
any case, it was absurd to think of _you_ for Arnold. It merely shows
how driven poor Victoria was!"
Sylvia tried to speak lightly, although she was penetrated with
pleasure at this explanation of his holding aloof. "Oh, _I_ like
Arnold very much. I always have. There's something ... something sort
of _touching_ about Arnold, don't you think? Though I must say that
I've heard enough about the difference between training quail dogs
and partridge dogs to last me the rest of my life. But that's rather
touching too, his not knowing what to do with himself but fiddle
around with his guns and tennis-racquets. They're all he has to keep
him from being bored to death, and they don't go nearly far enough.
Some day he will just drop dead from ennui, poor Arnold! Wouldn't he
have enjoyed being a civil engineer, and laying out railroads in wild
country! He'd have been a good one too! The same amount of energy
he puts into his polo playing would make him fight his way through
darkest Thibet." She meditated over this hypothesis for a moment and
then added with a nod of her head, "Oh yes, I like Arnold ever so much
... one kind of 'liking.'"
"Of course you like him," assented the older man, who had been
watching her as she talked, and whose manner now, as he took up the
word himself, resembled that of an exquisitely adroit angler, casting
out the lightest, the most feathery, the most perfectly controlled of
dry-flies. "You're too intelligent not to like everybody who's not
base--and Arnold's not base. And he 'likes' you. If you had cared to
waste one of your red-brown tresses on him, you could have drawn him
by a single hair. But then, everybody 'likes' you."
"Old Mr. Sommerville doesn't!" said Sylvia, on an impulse.
Morrison looked at her admiringly, and put the tips of his fingers
together with exquisite precision. "So you add second sight to your
other accomplishments! How in the world could a girl of your age have
the experience and intuition to feel that? Old Sommerville passes for
a great admirer of yours. You won't, I hope, go so uncannily far in
your omniscience as to pretend to know _why_ he doesn't like you?"
"No, I won't," said Sylvia, "because I haven't the very faintest idea.
"I know exactly why. It's connected with one of the old gentleman's
eccentricities. He's afraid of you on account of his precious nephew."
"I didn't know he _had_ a nephew." Sylvia was immensely astonished.
"Well, he has, and he bows down and worships him, as he does his
granddaughter. You see how he adores Molly. It's nice of the old
fellow, the cult he has for his descendants, but occasionally
inconvenient for innocent bystanders. He thinks everybody wants to
make off with his young folks. You and I are fellow-suspects. Haven't
you felt him wish he could strike me dead, when Molly makes tea for
me, or turns over music as I play?" He laughed a little, a gentle,
kind, indulgent laugh. "_Molly!_" he said, as if his point were more
than elucidated by the mere mention of her name.
Sylvia intimated with a laugh that her point was clearer yet in that
she had no name to mention. "But I never saw his nephew. I never even
heard of him until this minute."
"No, and very probably never will see him. He's very seldom here. And
if you did see him, you wouldn't like him--he's an eccentric of the
worst brand," said Morrison tranquilly. "But monomanias need no
foundation in fact--" He broke off abruptly to say: "Is this all
another proof of your diabolical cleverness? I started in to hear
something about yourself, and here I find myself talking about
everything else in the world."
"I'm not clever," said Sylvia, hoping to be contradicted.
"Well, you're a great deal too nice to be _consciously_ so," admitted
Morrison. "See here," he went on, "it's evident that you're more
than a match for me at this game. Suppose we strike a bargain. You
introduce yourself to me and I'll do the same by you. Isn't it quite
the most fantastic of all the bizarreries of human intercourse that
an 'introduction' to a fellow-being consists in being informed of his
name,--quite the most unimportant, fortuitous thing about him?"
Sylvia considered. "What do you want to know?" she asked finally.
"Well, I'd _like_ to know everything," said the man gaily. "My
curiosity has been aroused to an almost unappeasable pitch. But of
course I'll take any information you feel like doling out. In the
first place, _how_, coming from such a ..." He checked himself and
changed the form of his question: "I overheard you speaking to
Victoria's maid, and I've been lying awake nights ever since,
wondering how it happened that you speak French with so pure an
"Oh, that's simple! Professor and Madame La Rue are old friends of the
family and I've spent a lot of time with them. And then, of course,
French is another mother-language for Father. He and Aunt Victoria
were brought up in Paris, you know."
Morrison sighed. "Isn't it strange how all the miracles evaporate into
mere chemical reactions when you once investigate! All the white-clad,
ghostly spirits turn out to be clothes on the line. I suppose there's
some equally natural explanation about your way on the piano--the
clear, limpid phrasing of that Bach the other day, and then the color
of the Bizet afterwards. It's astonishing to hear anybody of your
crude youth playing Bach at all--and then to hear it played right--and
afterwards to hear a modern given _his_ right note...."
Sylvia was perfectly aware that she was being flattered, and she was
immensely enjoying it. She became more animated, and the peculiar
sparkle of her face more spirited. "Oh, that's old Reinhardt, my music
teacher. He would take all the skin off my knuckles if I played a Bach
gigue the least bit like that Arlesienne Minuet. He doesn't approve of
Bizet very much, anyhow. He's a tremendous classicist."
"Isn't it," inquired Morrison, phrasing his question carefully,
"isn't it, with no disrespect to La Chance intended, isn't it rather
unusually good fortune for a smallish Western city to own a real
"Well, La Chance bears up bravely under its good fortune," said Sylvia
dryly. "Old Mr. Reinhardt isn't exactly a prime favorite there. He's a
terribly beery old man, and he wipes his nose on his sleeve. Our house
was the only respectable one in town that he could go into. But then,
our house isn't so very respectable. It has its advantages, not being
so very respectable, though it 'most killed me as a young girl to feel
us so. But I certainly have a choice gallery of queer folks in my
acquaintance, and I have the queerest hodge-podge of scraps of things
learned from them. I know a little Swedish from Miss Lindstroem. She's
a Swedish old maid who does uplift work among the negroes--isn't that
a weird combination? You just ought to hear what she makes of negro
dialect! And I know all the socialist arguments from hearing a
socialist editor get them off every Sunday afternoon. And I even
know how to manage planchette and write mediumistically--save the
mark!--from Cousin Parnelia, a crazy old cousin of Mother's who hangs
round the house more or less."
"I begin to gather," surmised Morrison, "that you must have a
remarkable father and mother. What are _they_ like?"
"Well," said Sylvia thoughtfully, "Mother's the bravest thing you
ever saw. She's not afraid of _anything_! I don't mean cows, or the
house-afire, or mice, or such foolishness. I mean life and death, and
sickness and poverty and fear...."
Morrison nodded his head understandingly, a fine light of appreciation
in his eyes, "Not to be afraid of fear--that's splendid."
Sylvia went on to particularize. "When any of us are sick--it's
my little brother Lawrence who is mostly--Judith and I are always
well--Father just goes all to pieces, he gets so frightened. But
Mother stiffens her back and _makes_ everything in the house go on
just as usual, very quiet, very calm. She holds everything together
_tight_. She says it's sneaking and cowardly if you're going to accept
life at all, not to accept _all_ of it--the sour with the sweet--and
"Very fine,--very fine! Possibly a very small bit ... grim?" commented
Morrison, with a rising inflection.
"Oh, perhaps, a little!" agreed Sylvia, as if it did not matter; "but
I can't give you any idea of Mother. She's--she's just _great_! And
yet I couldn't live like her, without wanting to smash everything up.
She's somebody that Seneca would have liked."
"And your father?" queried Morrison.
"Oh, he's great too--dear Father--but so different! He and Mother
between them have just about all the varieties of human nature that
are worth while! Father's red-headed (though it's mostly gray now),
and quick, and blustering, and awfully clever, and just adored by
his students, and talks every minute, and apparently does all the
deciding, and yet ... he couldn't draw the breath of life without
Mother; and when it comes right down to _doing_ anything, what he
always does is what he knows will come up to her standard."
Morrison raised delightedly amused hands to heaven. "The Recording
Angel domiciled in the house!" he cried. "It had never occurred to me
before how appallingly discerning the eye of the modern offspring must
be. Go on, go on!"
Elated by the sensation of appearing clever, Sylvia continued with
a fresh flow of eloquence. "And there never was such a highly moral
bringing-up as we children have had. It's no fault of my family's if
I've turned out a grasping materialist! I was brought up"--she flamed
out suddenly as at some long-hoarded grievance--"I was brought up in a
moral hot-house, and I haven't yet recovered from the shock of being
transplanted into real earth in the real world."
Morrison paid instant tribute to her aroused and serious feeling by a
grave look of attention. "Won't you explain?" he asked. "I'm so dull I
don't follow you. But I haven't been so interested in years."
"Why, I mean," said Sylvia, trying hard to reduce to articulateness
a complicated conception, "I mean that Father and Mother just
deliberately represented values to me as different from what they
really are, with real folks! And now I find that _I'm_ real folks! I
can't help it. You are as you _are_, you know. They kept representing
to me always that the _best_ pleasures are the ones that are the most
important to folks--music, I mean, and Milton's poetry, and a fine
novel--and, in Mother's case, a fine sunset, or a perfect rose, or
things growing in the garden."
No old associate of Morrison's would have recognized the man's face,
shocked as it was by surprise and interest out of his usual habit
of conscious, acute, self-possessed observation. The angler had
inadvertently stepped off a ledge into deep water, and a very swift
current was tugging at him. He leaned forward, his eyes as eager with
curiosity as a boy's. "Do I understand you to say that you repudiate
those 'best pleasures'?"
"Of course you don't understand anything of the sort," said Sylvia
very earnestly. "They've soaked me so in music that I'm a regular
bond-slave to it. And a perfect rose is associated with so many lovely
recollections of Mother's wonderful silent joy in it, that I could
weep for pleasure. What I'm talking about--what I'm trying to tell
you, is the shock it was to me, when I got out of that artificially
unworldly atmosphere of home--for there's no use talking, it _is_
artificial!--to find that _those_ pleasures aren't the ones that are
considered important and essential. How did I find things in the real
world? Why, I find that people don't give a thought to those 'best
pleasures' until they have a lot of other things first. Everything
_I_'d been trained to value and treasure was negligible, not
worth bothering about. But money--position--not having to
work--elegance--_those_ are _vital_--prime! Real people can't enjoy
hearing a concert if they know they've got to wash up a lot of dishes
afterwards. Hiring a girl to do that work is the _first_ thing to do!
There isn't another woman in the world, except my mother, who'd take
any pleasure in a perfect rose if she thought her sleeves were so
old-fashioned that people would stare at her. Folks _talk_ about
liking to look at a fine sunset, but what they give their blood and
bones for, is a fine house on the best street in town!"
"Well, but you're not 'people' in that vulgar sense!" protested
Morrison. He spoke now without the slightest _arriere-pensee_ of
flattering her, and Sylvia in her sudden burst for self-expression was
unconscious of him, save as an opponent in an argument.
"You just _say_ that, in that superior way," she flashed at him,
"because _you_ don't have to bother your head about such matters,
because you don't have to associate with people who are fighting for
those essentials. For they _are_ what everybody except Father and
Mother--_every_ body feels to be the essentials--a pretty house,
handsome clothes, servants to do the unpleasant things, social
life--oh, plenty of money sums it all up, 'vulgar' as it sounds. And I
don't believe you are different. I don't believe anybody you know is
really a bit different! Let Aunt Victoria, let old Mr. Sommerville,
lose their money, and you'd see how unimportant Debussy and Masaccio
would be to them, compared to having to black their own shoes!"
"Well, upon my word!" exclaimed Morrison. "Are you at eighteen
presuming to a greater knowledge of life than I at forty?"
"I'm not eighteen, I'm twenty-three," said Sylvia. "The difference
is enormous. And if I don't know more about plain unvarnished human
nature than you, I miss my guess! _You_ haven't gone through five
years at a State University, rubbing shoulders with folks who haven't
enough sophistication to pretend to be different from what they
are. _You_ haven't taught music for three years in the middle-class
families of a small Western city!" She broke off to laugh an
apologetic depreciation of her own heat. "You'd think I was addressing
a meeting," she said in her usual tone. "I got rather carried away
because this is the first time I ever really spoke out about it. There
are so few who could understand. If I ever tried to explain it to
Father and Mother, I'd be sure to find them so deep in a discussion of
the relation between Socrates and Christ that they couldn't pay any
attention! Professor Kennedy could understand--but he's such a fanatic
on the other side."
Morrison looked a quick suspicion. "Who is Professor Kennedy?" he
inquired; and was frankly relieved when Sylvia explained: "He's the
head of the Mathematics Department, about seventy years old, and the
crossest, cantankerousest old misanthrope you ever saw. And thinks
himself immensely clever for being so! He just loathes people--the way
they really are--and he dotes on Mother and Judith because they're not
like anybody else. And he hates me because they couldn't all hypnotize
me into looking through their eyes. He thinks it low of me to realize
that if you're going to live at all, you've got to live _with people_,
and you can't just calmly brush their values on one side. He said
once that any sane person in this world was like a civilized man with
plenty of gold coin, cast away on a desert island with a tribe of
savages who only valued beads and calico, and buttons and junk. And
I said (I knew perfectly well he was hitting at me) that if he was
really cast away and couldn't get to another island, I thought the
civilized man would be an idiot to starve to death, when he could buy
food of the savages by selling them junk. And I thought he just wasted
his breath by swearing at the savages for not knowing about the value
of gold. There I was hitting at _him!_ He's spoiled his digestion,
hating the way people are made. And Professor Kennedy said something
nasty and neat (he's awfully clever) about that being rather a low
occupation for a civilized being--taking advantage of the idiocies
of savages--he meant me, of course--and he's right, it _is_ a mean
business; I hate it. And that's why I've always wanted to get on
another island--not an uninhabited island, like the one Father and
Mother have--but one where--well, _this_ is one!" she waved her
hand about the lovely room, "this _is_ just one! Where everything's
beautiful--costly too--but not just costly; where all the horrid,
necessary consequences of things are taken care of without one's
bothering--where flowers are taken out of the vases when they wilt
and fresh ones put in; and dishes get themselves washed invisibly,
inaudibly--and litter just vanishes without our lifting a hand. Of
course the people who live so always, can rejoice with a clear mind in
sunsets and bright talk. That's what I meant the other day--the day
Judith came--when I said I'd arrived in Capua at last; when old Mr.
Sommerville thought me so materialistic and cynical. If _he_ did that,
on just that phrase--what must _you_ think, after all this _confession
intime d'un enfant du siecle?_" She stopped with a graceful pretense
of dreading his judgment, although she knew that she had been talking
well, and read nothing but admiration in his very expressive face.
"But all this means, you extraordinary young person, that you're not
in the least an _enfant du siecle!_" he cried. "It means that you're
dropped down in this groaning, heavy-spirited twentieth century,
troubled about many things, from the exact year that was the golden
climax of the Renaissance; that you're a perfect specimen of the
high-hearted, glorious ..." he qualified on a second thought, "unless
your astonishing capacity to analyze it all, comes from the nineteenth
"No, that comes from Father," explained Sylvia, laughing. "Isn't it
funny, using the tool Father taught me to handle, against his ideas!
He's just great on analysis. As soon as we were old enough to think at
all, he was always practising us on analysis--especially of what made
us want things, or not like them. It's one of his sayings--he's always
getting it off to his University classes--that if you have once really
called an emotion or an ambition by its right name, you have it by
the tail, so to speak--that if you know, for instance, that it's your
vanity and not your love that's wounded by something, you'll stop
caring. But I never noticed that it really worked if you cared _hard_
enough. Diagnosing a disease doesn't help you any, if you keep right
on being sick with it."
"My dear! My dear!" cried the man, leaning towards her again, and
looking--dazzled--into the beauty and intelligence of her eyes, "the
idea that you are afflicted with any disease could only occur to the
morbid mind of the bluest-nosed Puritan who ever cut down a May-pole!
You're wonderfully, you're terrifyingly, you are superbly sound and
Breaking in upon this speech, there came the quick, smooth purr of an
automobile with all its parts functioning perfectly, a streak of dark
gray past the shutters, the sigh of an engine stopped suddenly--Molly
Sommerville sprang from behind the steering wheel and ran into the
house. She was exquisitely flushed and eager when she came in, but
when she saw the two alone in the great, cool, dusky room, filled to
its remotest corners with the ineffable aroma of long, intimate,
and interrupted talk, she was brought up short. She faltered for an
instant and then continued to advance, her eyes on Sylvia. "It's so
hot," she said, at random, "and I thought I'd run over for tea--"
"Oh, of course," said Sylvia, jumping up in haste, "it's late! I'd
forgotten it was time for tea! Blame _me!_ Since I've been here, Aunt
Victoria has left it to me--where shall I say to have it set?"
"The pergola's lovely," suggested Molly. She took her close motor-hat
from the pure gold of her hair with a rather listless air.
"All right--the pergola!" agreed Sylvia, perhaps a little too
anxiously. In spite of herself, she gave, and she knew she was giving,
the effect of needing somehow to make something up to Molly....
NOTHING IN THE LEAST MODERN
Sylvia was sitting in the garden, an unread book on her knees,
dreaming among red and yellow and orange gladioli. She looked with a
fixed, bright, beatific stare at the flame-colored flowers and did not
see them. She saw only Felix Morrison, she heard only his voice, she
was brimming with the sense of him. In a few moments she would go into
the house and find him in the darkened living-room, as he had been
every afternoon for the last fortnight, ostensibly come in to lounge
away the afternoon over a book, really waiting for her to join
him. And when she came in, he would look up at her, that wonderful
penetrating deep look of his ... and she would welcome him with her
And then they would talk! Judith and Arnold would be playing tennis,
oblivious of the heat, and Aunt Victoria would be annihilating the
tedious center of the day by sleep. Nobody would interrupt them for
hours. How they would talk! How they had talked! As she thought of it
the golden fortnight hummed and sang about Sylvia's ears like a Liszt
They had talked of everything in the world, and it all meant but one
thing, that they had discovered each other, a discovery visibly as
wonderful for Morrison as for the girl. They had discovered each
other, and they had been intelligent enough to know at once what it
meant. They knew! And in a moment she would go into the house to him.
She half closed her eyes as before a too-great brilliance....
Arnold appeared at the other end of the long row of gladioli. He
was obviously looking for some one. Sylvia called to him, with the
friendly tone she always had for him: "Here I am! I don't know where
Judith is. Will I do?"
From a distance Arnold nodded, and continued to advance, the
irregularity of his wavering gait more pronounced than usual. As soon
as she could see the expression of his face, Sylvia's heart began
to beat fast, with a divination of something momentous. He sat down
beside her, took off his hat, and laid it on the bench. "Do you
remember," he asked in a strange, high voice, "that you said you would
like me for your brother?"
"Well, I'm going to be," he said, and covering his face with his
hands, burst into sobs.
Sylvia was so touched by his emotion, so sympathetically moved by his
news, that even through her happy ejaculations the tears rained down
her own cheeks. She tried to wipe them away and discovered, absurdly
enough, that she had lost her handkerchief. "Aren't we idiots!" she
cried in a voice of joyful quavers. "I never understood before
why everybody cries at a wedding. See here, Arnold, I've lost my
handkerchief. Loan me yours." She pulled his handkerchief out of his
pocket, she wiped her eyes, she put a sisterly kiss on his thin,
sallow cheek, she cried: "You dears! Isn't it too good to be true!
Arnold! So soon! Inside two weeks! How ever could you have the
courage? Judith! My Judith! Why, she never looked at a man before. How
did you dare?"
His overmastering fit of emotion was passed now. His look was of
white, incredulous exaltation. "We saw each other and ran into
each other's arms," he said; "I didn't have to 'dare.' It was like
"Oh, how perfect!" she cried, "how simply, simply perfect!" and now
there was for an instant a note of wistful envy in her voice. "It's
_all_ perfect! She never so much as looked at a man before, and you
said the other night you'd never been in love before."
Arnold looked at her wildly. "I said that!" he cried.
"Why, yes, don't you remember, after that funny, joking talk with me,
you said that was the nearest you'd ever come to proposing to any
"God Almighty!" cried the man, and did not apologize for the
blasphemy. He looked at her fixedly, as though unguessed-at horizons
of innocence widened inimitably before his horrified eyes. And then,
following some line of association which escaped Sylvia, "I'm not fit
to _look_ at Judith!" he cried. The idea seemed to burst upon him like
Sylvia patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. "That's the proper
thing for a lover to think!" she said with cheerful, commonplace
inanity. She did not notice that he shrank from her hand, because she
now sprang up, crying, "But where's Judy? Where _is_ Judy?"
He nodded towards the house. "She sent me out to get you. She's in her
room--she wants to tell you--but when I saw you, I couldn't keep it
to myself." His exaltation swept back like a wave, from the crest of
which he murmured palely, "Judith! Judith!" and Sylvia laughed at him,
with the tears of sympathy in her eyes, and leaving him there on the
bench staring before him at the living fire of the flame-colored
flowers, she ran with all her speed into the house.
Morrison, lounging in a chair with a book, looked up, startled at her
whirlwind entrance. "What's up?" he inquired.
At the sound of his voice, she checked herself and pirouetted with a
thistle-down lightness to face him. Her face, always like a clear,
transparent vase lighted from within, now gave out, deeply moved as
she was, an almost visible brightness. "Judith!" she cried, her voice
ringing like a silver trumpet, "Judith and Arnold!" She was poised
like a butterfly, and as she spoke she burst into flight again, and
She had not been near him, but the man had the distinct impression
that she had thrown herself on his neck and kissed him violently, in
a transport of delight. In the silent room, still fragrant, still
echoing with her passage, he closed his book, and later his eyes, and
sat with the expression of a connoisseur savoring an exquisite, a
* * * * *
Tea that afternoon was that strangest of phenomena, a formal ceremony
of civilized life performed in the abashing and disconcerting presence
of naked emotion. Arnold and Judith sat on opposite sides of the
pergola, Judith shining and radiant as the dawn, her usually firmly
set lips soft and tremulous; Arnold rather pale, impatient, oblivious
to what was going on around him, his spirit prostrated before the
miracle; and when their starry eyes met, there flowed from them and
towards them from every one in the pergola, a thousand unseen waves of
The mistress of the house herself poured tea in honor of the great
occasion, and she was very humorous and amusing about the mistakes
caused by her sympathetic agitation. "There! I've put three lumps in
yours, Mr. Sommerville. How _could_ I! But I really don't know what
I'm doing. This business of having love-at-first-sight in one's very
family--! Give your cup to Molly; I'll make you a fresh one. Oh,
Arnold! How _could_ you look at Judith just then! You made me fill
this cup so full I can't pass it!"
Mr. Sommerville, very gallant and full of compliments and whimsical
allusions, did his best to help their hostess strike the decent note
of easy pleasantry; but they were both battling with something too
strong for them. Unseconded as they were by any of the others, they
gave a little the effect of people bowing and smirking to each other
at the foot of a volcano in full eruption. Morrison, picking up
the finest and sharpest of his conversational tools, ventured
the hazardous enterprise of expressing this idea to them. Mrs.
Marshall-Smith, trying one topic after another, expressed an
impatience with the slow progress of a Henry James novel she was
reading, and Mr. Sommerville, remarking with a laugh, "Oh, you cannot
hurry Henry," looked to see his mild witticism rewarded by a smile
from the critic. But Morrison shook his head, "No, my dear old friend.
_Il faut hurler avec les loups_--especially if you are so wrought
up by their hurlements that you can't hear yourself think. I'm just
giving myself up to the rareness, the richness of the impression."
The new fiancee herself talked rather more than usual, though this
meant by no means loquacity, and presented more the appearance of
composure than any one else there; although this was amusingly broken
by a sudden shortness of breath whenever she met Arnold's eyes.
She said in answer to a question that she would be going on to her
hospital the day after tomorrow--her two weeks' vacation over--oh yes,
she would finish her course at the hospital; she had only a few more
months. And in answer to another question, Arnold replied, obviously
impatient at having to speak to any one but Judith, that of course he
didn't mind if she went on and got her nurse's diploma--didn't she
_want_ to? Anything she wanted....
No--decidedly the thing was too big to make a successful fete of.
Morrison was silent and appreciatively observant, his eyes sometimes
on Sylvia, sometimes on Judith; Mr. Sommerville, continuing doggedly
to make talk, descended to unheard-of trivialities in reporting the
iniquities of his chauffeur; Molly stirred an untasted cup, did not
raise her eyes at all, and spoke only once or twice, addressing to
Sylvia a disconnected question or two, in the answers to which she had
obviously no interest. Judith and Arnold had never been very malleable
social material, and in their present formidable condition they were
as little assistance in the manufacture of geniality as a couple of
The professional fete-makers were consequently enormously relieved
when it was over and their unavailing efforts could be decently
discontinued. Professing different reasons for escape, they moved in
disjointed groups across the smooth perfection of the lawn towards
the house, where Molly's car stood, gleaming in the sun. Sylvia found
herself, as she expected, manoeuvered to a place beside Morrison. He
arranged it with his unobtrusive deftness in getting what he wanted
out of a group of his fellow-beings, and she admired his skill, and
leaned on it confidently. They had had no opportunity that day for the
long talk which had been a part of every afternoon for the last week;
and she now looked with a buoyant certainty to have him arrange an
hour together before dinner. Her anticipation of it on that burning
day of reflected heat sent thrills of eager disquietude over her. It
was not only for Judith and Arnold that the last week had been one of
meeting eyes, long twilight evenings of breathless, quick-ripening
As they slackened their pace to drop behind Mr. Sommerville, who
walked hand-in-hand with his granddaughter in front of them, Morrison
said, looking at her with burning eyes, "... an instrument so finely
strung that it vibrates at the mere sound of another wakened to
melody--what mortal man lives who would not dream of its response if
he could set his own hand to the bow?"
The afternoon had been saturated with emotional excitement and the
moment had come for its inevitable crystallization into fateful words.
The man spoke as though he were not wholly conscious of what he was
saying. He stepped beside her like one in a dream. He could not take
his eyes from her, from her flushed, grave, receptive face, from her
downcast, listening eyes, her slow, trance-like step as she waited for
him to go on. He went on: "It becomes, my dear, I assure you--the idea
of that possibility becomes absolutely an obsession--even to a man
usually quite his own master--"
They were almost at a standstill now, and the two in front of them
had reached the house. Sylvia had a moment of what seemed to her the
purest happiness she had ever known....
From across the lawn they saw a violent gesture--Molly had thrown her
grandfather's clinging hand from her, and flashed back upon the two,
lingering there in the sunlight. She cast herself on Sylvia, panting
and trying to laugh. Her little white teeth showed in what was almost
a grimace. "Why in the world are you two poking along so?" she cried,
passing her arm through Sylvia's. Her beautiful sunny head came no
more than to Sylvia's shoulder. Without waiting for an answer she went
on hurriedly, speaking in the tones of suppressed excitement which
thrilled in every one's voice that day: "Come on, Sylvia--let's work
it off together! Let me take you somewhere--let's go to Rutland and
"That's thirty miles away!" said Sylvia, "and it's past five now."
"I'll have you there and back long before seven," asserted Molly.
"Come on ... come on ..." She pulled impatiently, petulantly at the
other girl's arm.
"I'm not invited, I suppose," said Morrison, lighting a cigarette with
Molly looked at him a little wildly. "No, Felix, you're not invited!"
she said, and laughed unsteadily.
She had hurried them along to the car, and now they stood by the swift
gray machine, Molly's own, the one she claimed to love more than
anything else in the world. She sprang in and motioned Sylvia to the
seat beside her.
"Hats?" suggested Morrison, looking at their bare, shining heads. He
was evidently fighting for time, manoeuvering for an opening. His
success was that of a man gesticulating against a gale. Molly's baldly
unscrupulous determination beat down the beginnings of his carefully
composed opposition before he could frame one of his well-balanced
sentences. "No--no--it takes too long to go and get hats!" she cried
peremptorily. "If you can't have what you want when you want it, it's
no use having it at all!"
"I'm not sure," remarked Morrison, "that Miss Marshall wants this at
"Yes, she does; yes, she does!" Molly contradicted him heatedly.
Sylvia, hanging undecided at the step, felt herself pulled into the
car; the door banged, the engine started with a smooth sound of
powerful machinery, the car leaped forward. Sylvia cast one backward
glance at Morrison, an annoyed, distinguished, futile presence,
standing motionless, and almost instantly disappearing in the distance
in which first he, and then the house and tall poplars over it, shrank
Their speed was dizzying. The blazing summer air blew hot and vital in
their faces; their hair tugged at the pins and flew back in fluttering
strands; their thin garments clung to their limbs, molded as closely
by the compressing wind as by water. Molly did not turn her eyes from
the road ahead, leaping up to meet them, and vanishing under the car.
She tried to make a little casual talk: "Don't you love to let it out,
give it all the gas there is?" "There's nothing like a quick spin for
driving the nightmares out of your mind, is there?" But as Sylvia made
no answer to these overtures (the plain fact was that Sylvia had no
breath for speech,--for anything but a horrified fascinated glare at
the road), she said suddenly, somberly, "If I were you, I certainly
should despise me!" She took the car around a sharp curve on two
Sylvia clutched at the side and asked wonderingly, "_Why_ in the
world?" in a tone so permeated with sincerity that even Molly felt it.
"Don't you _know_?" she cried. "Do you mean to say you don't _know_?"
"Know _what_?" asked Sylvia. Hypnotized by the driver's intent and
unwavering gaze on the road, she kept her own eyes as fiercely
concentrated, her attention leaping from one quickly seen, instantly
disappearing detail to another,--a pile of gravel here,--a half-buried
rock there.--They both raised their voices to be heard above the sound
of the engine and the rush of the car. "Know what?" repeated Sylvia
"Why do you _suppose_ I made myself ridiculous by pulling you away
from Felix that idiotic, humiliating way!" Molly threw this inquiry
out, straight before her, angrily. The wind caught at her words and
hurled them behind.
In a flash Sylvia understood something to which she had been
resolutely closing her perceptions. She felt sick and scared. She
clutched the side, watched a hill rise up steep before them and
flatten out under the forward leap of the car. She thought hard.
Something of her little-girl, overmastering horror of things, rough,
outspoken, disagreeable, swept over her. She violently wished that she
could escape from the conversation before her. She would have paid
almost any price to escape.
But Molly's nerves were not so sensitive. She evidently had no
desire to escape or to let Sylvia. The grim little figure at the
steering-wheel controlled with her small hands the fate of the two.
She broke out now, impatient at Sylvia's silence: "Any fool could see
that it was because I couldn't bear to see you with Felix another
minute, and because I hadn't any other way to get you apart. Everybody
else there knew why. I knew they knew. But I couldn't help it. I
couldn't bear it another instant!"
She broke the glass of decent reticence with a great clattering blow.
It shivered into fragments. There was nothing now between them but the
real issue in all its uncomely bareness. This real issue, the
maenad at the wheel now held up before them in a single brutal
statement--"Are you in love with Felix? I am."
There was something eerie, terrifying, in her casting these words
out, straight before her. Sylvia looked in awe at the pale, pinched
profile, almost unrecognizable in its stern misery. "Because if you're
not," Molly went on, her white lower lip twitching, "I wish you'd keep
out. It was all right before you came with your horrible cleverness.
It was all right. It was all right."
Through the iteration of this statement, through the tumult of her own
thoughts, through the mad rush of the wind past her ears, Sylvia heard
as clearly as though she sat again in the great, dim, quiet room, a
melodious voice saying gently, indulgently, laughingly, "_Molly!_"
Secure in her own safe place of favor she felt a great wave of
generous pity for the helpless self-deception of her sister-woman.
Fired by this and by the sudden perception of an opening for an act of
spectacular magnanimity--would it be any the less magnanimous because
it would cost her nothing in the end?--she reached for the mantle of
the _beau role_ and cast it about her shoulders. "Why, Molly dear!"
she cried, and her quick sympathies had never been more genuinely
aroused, "Molly dear, of course I'll keep out, if you want me to. I'll
leave the coast clear to you as long as you please."
She was almost thrown from the seat by the jarring grind of the car
brought to a sudden standstill. Molly caught her hands, looked into
her face, the first time their eyes had met. "Do you mean it ...
Sylvia nodded, much agitated, touched by the other's pain, half
ashamed of her own apparent generosity which was to mean no loss to
her, no gain to Molly. In the sudden becalmed stillness of the hot
afternoon their bright, blown hair fell about their faces in shining
"I didn't understand before," said Sylvia; and she was speaking the
"And you'll let him alone? You won't talk to him--play his
accompaniments--oh, those long talks of yours!"
"We've been talking, you silly dear, of the Renaissance compared to
the Twentieth Century, and of the passing of the leisure class, and
all the beauty they always create," said Sylvia. Again she spoke
the literal truth. But the true truth, burning on Molly's tongue,
shriveled this to ashes. "You've been making him admire you, be
interested in you, see how little _I_ amount to!" she cried. "But
if you _don't_ care about him yourself--if you'll--_two weeks_,
Sylvia--just keep out for two weeks...." As if it were part of the
leaping forward of her imagination, she suddenly started the car
again, and with a whirling, reckless wrench at the steering-wheel she
had turned the car about and was racing back over the road they had
"Where are you going?" cried Sylvia to her, above the noise of their
"Back!" she answered, laughing out. "What's the use of going on now?"
She opened the throttle to its widest and pressing her lips together
tightly, gave herself up to the intoxication of speed.
Once she said earnestly: "You're _fine_, Sylvia! I never knew a girl
could be like you!" And once more she threw out casually: "Do you know
what I was going to do if I found out you and Felix--if you hadn't...?
I was going to jump the car over the turn there on Prospect
Remembering the terrible young face of pain and wrath which she had
watched on the way out, Sylvia believed her; or at least believed that
she believed her. In reality, her immortal youth was incapable of
believing in the fact of death in any form. But the words put a stamp
of tragic sincerity on their wild expedition, and on her companion's
suffering. She thought of the two weeks which lay before Molly, and
turned away her eyes in sympathy....
* * * * *
Ten days after this, an announcement was made of the engagement of
Mary Montgomery Sommerville, sole heiress of the great Montgomery
fortune, to Felix Morrison, the well-known critic of aesthetics.
MOLLY IN HER ELEMENT
Sylvia faced her aunt's dictum with heartsick shrinking from its
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