The Cords of Vanity
James Branch Cabell et al
Part 3 out of 6
at our feet lay the orchard of the Councillor von Hollwig, and there
the awakened birds piped querulously, and sparks fell crackling among
"Ilium is ablaze," I quoted; "and the homes of Pergamos and its
towering walls are now one sheet of flame."
She inspected the scene, critically. "It does look like Ilium," she
admitted. "And that," peering over the eaves into the deserted
by-street, "looks like a milkman."
I was unable to deny this, though an angry concept crossed my mind that
any milkman, with commendable tastes and feelings, would at this moment
be gaping at the fire at the other end of the block, rather than
prosaically measuring quarts at the Councillor's side-entrance. But
there was no help for it, when chance thus unblushingly favoured the
proprieties; in consequence I clung to a water-pipe, and explained the
situation to the milkman, with a fretted mind and King's College
I turned to my companion. She was regarding the burning hotel with an
"Now I would give a deal," I thought, "to know just how long you would
prefer that milkman to take in coming back."
_He Faces Himself and Remembers_
Into the lobby of the Hôtel d'Angleterre strolled, an hour later, a
tall young man, in a green dressing-gown, and inquired for Charteris.
The latter, in evening dress, was mournfully breakfasting in his new
Charteris sprang to his feet. I saw, with real emotion, that he had
been weeping; but now he was all flippancy. "My dear boy! I have just
torn my hair and the rough drafts of several cablegrams on your
account! Sit down at once, and try the bacon, since, for a wonder, it
is not burnt--and, in passing, I had thought of course that you were."
Instead, I took a drink, and went to sleep upon the nearest sofa.
I was very tired, but I awakened about noon and managed to procure
enough clothes to make myself not altogether unpresentable to the
public eye. Charteris had gone already about his own affairs, and I did
not regret it, for I meant, without delay, to follow up my adventure of
the night before.
But when I had come out of the Rue de la Casquette, and was approaching
the statue of Gretry, I came upon a very ornately-dressed woman, who
was about to enter en open carriage. I stared; and preposterous as it
was, I knew that I was not mistaken. And I said aloud, "Signorina!"
It was a long while before she said, "Don't--don't ever call me that
again!" And since the world in general appeared just then to be largely
flavoured with the irresponsibility of dreams, it did not surprise me
that we were presently alone in somebody's sitting-room.
"I have seen you twice in Liége," she said. "I suppose this had to come
about. I would have preferred to avoid it, though. Well! _che sara!_
You don't care for music, do you? No,--otherwise you would have known
earlier that I am Nadine Neroni now."
"Ah!" I said, very quietly. I had heard, as everybody had, a deal
concerning the Neroni. "I think, if you will pardon me, I will not
intrude upon Baron von Anspach's hospitality any longer," I said.
"That is unworthy of you,--no, I mean it would have been unworthy of a
boy we knew of." There was a long pier-glass in these luxurious rooms.
She led me to it now. "Look, Bobbie. We have altered a little, haven't
we? I at least, am unmistakable. 'Their eyes are different, somehow',
you remember. You haven't changed as much,--not outwardly. I think you
are like Dorian Gray. Yes, as soon--as soon as I could afford it, I
read every book you ever talked about, I think. It was damnably foolish
of me. For I've heard things. And there was a girl I tried to help in
London--an Agnès Faroy--"
"Ah!" I said.
"She had your picture even then, poor creature. She kissed it just
before she died. She didn't know that I had ever heard of you. She
never knew. Oh, how _could_ you!" the Neroni said, with something very
like a sob, "Or were you always--just that, at bottom?"
"And have you ever noticed, Mademoiselle Neroni, that every one of us
is several people? In consequence I must confess to have been
"Well! I wasn't. You won't believe it now, perhaps. And it doesn't
matter, anyhow." Her grave voice lifted and upon a sudden was changed.
"Bobbie, when you had gone I couldn't stand it! I couldn't let you ruin
your life for me, but I could not go on as I had done before--Oh, well,
you'll never understand," she added, wearily. "But Von Anspach had
always wanted me to go with him. So I wrote to him, at the Embassy. And
after all, what is the good of talking--now!"
We two were curiously quiet. "No, I suppose there is no good in talking
now." We stood there, as yet, hand in hand. The mirror was candid. "Oh,
Signorina, I want to laugh as God laughs, and I cannot!"
But I lack the heart to set down all that brief and dreary talk of
ours. How does it matter what we said? We two at least knew, even as we
talked, that all we said meant in the outcome, nothing. Yet we talked
awhile and spoke, I think, quite honestly.
She was not unhappy; and there were inbred Lichfeldian traditions which
prompted me to virtuous indignation over her defects in remorse and
misery. There were my memories, too.
"I don't sing very well, of course, but then I'm not dependent on my
singing, you know. Oh, why not be truthful? And Von Anspach always sees
to it I get the tendered of criticism--in print. And, moreover, I've a
deal put by. I'm a miser, _he_ says, and I suppose I am, because I know
what it is to be poor. So when the rainy day comes--as of course it
will,--I'll have quite enough to purchase a serviceable umbrella.
Meanwhile, I have pretty much everything I want. People talk of course,
but it is only on the stage they ever drive you out into a snow-storm.
Besides, they don't talk to _me_."
In fine, I found that the Neroni was a very different being from Miss
Then I left her. I had not any inclination just now to pursue my fair
Elena. Rather I sat alone in my new bedroom, thinking, confusedly,
first of Amelia Van Orden, and how I danced with her a good eight years
ago; of that woman who had come to me in remote Fairhaven, coming
through the world's gutter, unsullied,--because that much I yet
believe, although I do not know.... She may have been always the same,
even in the old days when Lichfield thought her "fast," and she was
more or less "compromised,"--and years before I met her, a blind,
inexperienced boy. Only she may then have been a better actress than I
suspected.... I thought, in any event, of those execrable rhymes that
likened her to the Lady in _Comus_, moving serene and unafraid among a
rabble of threatening bestial shapes; and I thought of the woman who
would, by this time, be with Von Anspach.
For here again were inbred Lichfieldian traditions of the sort I rarely
dare confess to, even to myself, because they are so patently hidebound
and ridiculous. These traditions told me that this woman, whom I had
loved, was Von Anspach's harlot. I might--and I did--endeavor to be
ironical and to be broadminded and to be up-to-date about the whole
affair, and generally to view the matter through the sophisticated eyes
of the author of The Apostates, that Robert Etheridge Townsend who was
a connoisseur of ironies and human foibles; but these futilities did no
good at all. Lichfield had got at and into me when I was too young to
defend myself; and I could no more alter the inbred traditions of
Lichfield, that were a part of me, than a carpet could change its
texture. My traditions merely told me that the dear woman whom I
remembered had come--in fleeing from discomforts which were unbearable,
if that mattered--to be Von Anspach's harlot: and finding her this, my
traditions declined to be the least bit broadminded. In Lichfield such
women were simply not respectable; nor could you get around that fact
by going to Liége.
There was in the room a _Matin,_ which contained a brief account of the
burning of the Continental, and a very lengthy one of the Neroni's
appearance the night before. Drearily, to keep from thinking, I read a
deal concerning _la gracieuse cantatrice américaine._ Whether or not
she had made a fool of me with histrionics in Fairhaven, there was no
doubt that she had chosen wisely in forsaking Lethbury, and the round
of village "Opera Houses." She had chosen, after all, and precisely as
I had done, to make the most of youth while it lasted; and she
appeared, just now, to harvest prodigally.
"On jouait Faust," I read, "et jamais le célèbre personnage de Goethe
n'adore plus exquise Gretchen. Miss Nadine Neroni est, en effet, une
idéale Marguerite à la taille bien prise, au visage joli éclairé des
deux yeux grands et doux. Et lorsqu'elle commença à chanter, ce fut un
véritable ravissement: sa voix se fit l'interprète rêvée de la divine
musique de Gounod, tandis que sa personne et son coeur incarnaient
physiquement et moralement l'héroine de Goethe"....
And so on, for Von Anspach had "seen to it," prodigally. And "Oh,
well!" I thought; "if everybody else is so extravagantly pleased, what
in heaven's name is the use of my being squeamish? Besides, she is only
doing what I am doing, and getting all the pleasure out of life that is
possible. She and I are very sensible people. At least, I suppose we
are. I wonder, though? Meanwhile, I had better go and look for that
preposterously beautiful Elena. And a fig for the provincial notions of
Lichfield, that are poisoning me with their nonsense! and for the
notions of Fairhaven, too, I suppose--"
Then Charteris came into the room. "John," said I, "this is a truly
remarkable world, and only hypercriticism would venture to suggest that
it is probably conducted by an inveterate humourist. So lend me that
pocket-piece of yours, and we will permit chance to settle the entire
matter. That is the one intelligent way of treating anything which is
really serious. You probably believe I am Robert Etheridge Townsend,
but as a matter of fact, I am Hercules in the allegory. So! the
beautiful lady or America? Why, the eagle flutters uppermost, and from
every mountain side let praises ring. Accordingly I am off."
"And you will cross half the world," said Charteris, "in the green
dressing-gown, or in the coat which Byam borrowed for you this morning?
I do not wish to seem inquisitive, you understand--"
"No, I believe I am through with borrowed coats--as with yours, for
instance. But I am quite ready to go in my own dressing-gown if
I wheeled at the door.
"By the way, I am done with you, John. I am fond of you, and all that,
and I sincerely admire my chimney-pot coquette--of whom you haven't
heard,--but, after all, there are real people yonder. And by God, even
after two years of being pickled in alcohol and chasing after women
that are quite used to being chased--well, even now I am one of those
real people. So I am done with you and this perpetual making light of
"The Declaration of Independence," Charteris observed, "is undoubtedly
the best thing in imaginative literature that we Americans have as yet
accomplished; but I am sufficiently familiar with it, thank you, and I
find, with age, that only the more untruthful platitudes are endurable.
Oh, I predicted for you, at our first meeting, a life without
achievements but of gusto! Now, it would appear, you plan to prance
among an interminable saturnalia of the domestic virtues. So be it!
but I warn you that the house of righteousness is but a wayside inn
upon the road to being a representative citizen."
"You are talking nonsense," I rapped out--"and immoral nonsense."
"It is very strange," John Charteris complained, "how so many of us
manage to reduce everything to a question of morality,--that is, to the
alternative of being right or wrong. Now a man's personality, as
somebody or other very properly observes, has many parts besides the
moral area; and the intelligent, the artistic, even the religious part,
need not necessarily have anything to do with ethics--"
"Ah, yes," said I, "so there is a train at noon--"
"And a virtuous man," continued Charteris, amicably, "is no more the
perfect type of humanity than an intellectual man. In fact, the lowest
and certainly the most disagreeable type of all troublesome people is
that which combines an immaculate past with a limited understanding.
The religious tenets of this class consist of an unshakable belief that
the Bible was originally written in English, and contains nothing
applicable to any of the week-days. And in consequence--"
I left him mid-course in speech. "Words, words!" said I; and it
appeared to me for the moment that words were of astonishingly trivial
import, however carefully selected, which was in me a wholesome,
although fleet, apostacy of yesterday's creed. And I sent a cablegram
to Bettie Hamlyn.
It was on the trip homeward I first met with Celia Reindan. I then
considered her a silly little nuisance....
For I crossed the Atlantic in a contained fury of repentance for the
wasted months. I had achieved nothing that was worthy of me, and
presently I would be dead. Why, I might die within the five minutes! I
might never see the lagging minute-hand of my little traveling clock
pass that next numeral, say! The thought obsessed me, especially at
night. Once, in a panic, I rose from my berth, and pushed the
minute-hand forward a half-hour. "Now, I have tricked You!" I said,
aloud; for nervously I was footing a pretty large bill. At twenty-three
one has the funds wherewith to balance these accounts....
I wanted to live normally--to live as these persons thick about me, who
seemed to grow up, and mate, and beget, and die, in the incurious
fashion of oxen. I wanted to think only from hand to mouth, to think if
possible not at all, and to be guided always in the conduct of my life
by gross and obvious truisms, so that I must be judged at last but as
one of the herd. "And what is accustomed--what holds of familiar
usage--had come to seem the whole essence of wisdom, on all subjects";
for I wanted just the sense of companionship, irrevocable and eternal
and commonly shared with every one of my kind. And yonder was Bettie
Hamlyn.... "Oh, make a man of me, Bettie! just a common man!"
And Bettie might have done it, one considers, even then, for I was
astir with a new impetus. Now, with a grin, the Supernal Aristophanes
slipped the tiniest temptation in my way; to reach Fairhaven I was
compelled to spend some three hours of an April afternoon in Lichfield,
where upon Regis Avenue was to be met, in the afternoon, everyone worth
meeting in Lichfield; and Stella drove there on fine afternoons, under
the protection of a trim and preternaturally grave tiger; and the
afternoon was irreproachable.
By the way she looked back over her shoulder, I knew that Stella had
not recognized me. I stood with a yet lifted hat, irresolute.
"By Jove!" said I, in my soul, "then the Blagdens are in Lichfield!
Why, of course! they always come here after Lent. And Bettie would not
mind; to call on them would be only courteous; and besides, Bettie need
not ever know. And moreover, I was always very fond of Peter."
So the next afternoon but four, Stella was making tea for me....
_He Baits Upon the Journey_
"You are quite by way of being a gentleman," had been Stella's
greeting, that afternoon. Then, on a sudden, she rested both hands upon
my breast. When she did that you tingled all over, in an agreeable
fashion. "It was uncommonly decent of you to remember", said this
impulsive young woman. "It was dear of you! And the flowers were
"They ought to have been immortelles, of course," I apologised, "but
the florist was out of them. Yes, and of daffodils, too." I sat down,
and sighed, pensively. "Dear, dear!" said I, "to think it was only two
years ago I buried my dearest hopes and aspirations and--er--all that
sort of thing."
"Nonsense!" said Stella, and selected a blue cup with dragons on it.
"At any rate," she continued, "it is very disagreeable of you to come
here and prate like a death's-head on my wedding anniversary."
"Gracious gravy!" said I, with a fine surprise, "so it is an
anniversary with you, too?" She was absorbed in the sugar-bowl. "What a
coincidence!" I suggested, pleasantly.
I paused. The fire crackled. I sighed.
"You are such poor company, nowadays, even after the advantages of
foreign travel," Stella reflected. "You really ought to do something to
enliven yourself." After a little, she brightened as to the eyes, and
concentrated them upon the tea-making, and ventured a suggestion. "Why
not fall in love?" said Stella.
"I am," I confided, "already in that deplorable condition."
And I ventured on sigh number two.
"I don't mean--anything silly," said she, untruthfully. "Why," she
continued, with a certain lack of relevance, "why not fall in love with
somebody else?" Thereupon, I regret to say, her glance strayed toward
the mirror. Oh, she was vain,--I grant you that. But I must protest she
had a perfect right to be.
"Yes," said I, quite gravely, "that is the reason."
"Nonsense!" said Stella, and tossed her head. She now assumed her most
matronly air, and did mysterious things with a perforated silver ball.
I was given to understand I had offended, by a severe compression of
her lips, which, however, was not as effective as it might have been.
They twitched too mutinously.
Stella was all in pink, with golden fripperies sparkling in
unanticipated localities. Presumably the gown was tucked and ruched and
appliquéd, and had been subjected to other processes past the
comprehension of trousered humanity; it was certainly becoming.
I think there was an eighteenth-century flavour about it,--for it
smacked, somehow, of a patched, mendacious, dainty womanhood, and its
artfulness was of a gallant sort that scorned to deceive. It defied
you, it allured you, it conquered you at a glance. It might have been
the last cry from the court of an innocent Louis Quinze. It was, in
fine, inimitable; and if only I were a milliner, I would describe for
you that gown in some not unbefitting fashion. As it is, you may draft
the world's modistes to dredge the dictionary, and they will fail, as
ignominiously as I would do, in the attempt.
For, after all, its greatest charm was that it contained Stella, and
converted Stella into a marquise--not such an one as was her sister,
the Marquise d'Arlanges, but a marquise out of Watteau or of Fragonard,
say. Stella in this gown seemed out of place save upon a high-backed
stone bench, set in an _allée_ of lime-trees, of course, and under a
violet sky,--with a sleek abbé or two for company, and with beribboned
gentlemen tinkling on their mandolins about her.
I had really no choice but to regard her as an agreeable anachronism
the while she chatted with me, and mixed hot water and sugar and lemon
into ostensible tea. She seemed so out of place,--and yet, somehow, I
entertained no especial desire upon this sleety day to have her
different, nor, certainly, otherwhere than in this pleasant, half-lit
room, that consisted mostly of ambiguous vistas where a variety of
brass bric-à-brac blinked in the firelight.
We had voted it cosier without lamps or candles, for this odorous
twilight was far more companionable. Odorous, for there were a great
number of pink roses about. I imagine that someone must have sent
them--because there were not any daffodils obtainable, by reason of the
late and nipping frost--in honour of Stella's second wedding
"Peter says you talk to everybody that way," quoth she,--almost
resentfully, and after a pause.
"Oh!" said I. For it was really no affair of Peter's. And so--
"Peter, everybody tells me, is getting fat," I announced, presently.
Stella witheringly glanced toward the region where my waist used to be.
"He isn't!" said she, indignant.
"Quite like a pig, they assure me," I continued, with relish. She
objected to people being well-built. "His obscene bloatedness appears
to be an object of general comment."
Silence. I stirred my tea.
"Dear Peter!" said she. And then--but unless a woman of Stella's sort
is able to exercise a proper control over her countenance, she has
absolutely no right to discuss her husband with his bachelor friends.
It is unkind; for it causes them to feel like social outcasts and
lumbering brutes and Peeping Toms. If they know the husband well, it
positively awes them; for, after all, it is a bit overwhelming, this
sudden glimpse of the simplicity, and the credulity, and the merciful
blindness of women in certain matters. Besides, a bachelor has no
business to know such things; it merely makes him envious and
Accordingly, "Stella," said I, with firmness, "if you flaunt your
connubial felicity in my face like that, I shall go home."
She was deaf to my righteous rebuke. "Peter is in Washington this
week," she went on, looking fondly into the fire. "I had planned a
party to celebrate to-day, but he was compelled to go--business, you
know. He is doing so well nowadays," she said, after a little, "that I
am quite insufferably proud of him. And I intend for him to be a great
lawyer--oh, much the greatest in America. And I won't ever be content
"H'm!" said I. "H'm" seemed fairly non-committal.
"Sometimes," Stella declared, irrelevantly, "I almost wish I had been
born a man."
"I wish you had been," quoth I, in gallant wise. "There are so few
really attractive men!"
Stella looked up with a smile that was half sad.
"I'm just a little butterfly-woman, aren't I?" she asked.
"You are," I assented, with conviction, "a butterfly out of a queen's
garden--a marvellous pink-and-gold butterfly, such as one sees only in
dreams and--er--in a London pantomime. You are a decided ornament to
the garden," I continued, handsomely, "and the roses bow down in
admiration as you pass, and--ah--at least, the masculine ones do."
"Yes,--we butterflies don't love one another overmuch, do we? Ah, well,
it scarcely matters! We were not meant to be taken seriously, you
know,--only to play in the sunlight, and lend an air to the garden
and--amuse the roses, of course. After all," Stella summed it up, "our
duties are very simple; first, we are expected to pass through a
certain number of cotillions and a certain number of various happenings
in various tête-à-têtes; then to make a suitable match,--so as to
enable the agreeable detrimentals to make love to us, with perfect
safety--as you were doing just now, for instance. And after that, we
develop into bulbous chaperones, and may aspire eventually to a kindly
quarter of a column in the papers, and, quite possibly, the honour of
having as many as two dinners put off on account of our death.
Yes, it is very simple. But, in heaven's name," Stella demanded, with a
sudden lift of speech, "how can any woman--for, after all, a woman is
presumably a reasoning animal--be satisfied with such a life! Yet that
is everything--everything!--this big world offers to us shallow-minded
Personally, I disapprove of such morbid and hysterical talk outside of
a problem novel; there I heartily approve of it, on account of the
considerable and harmless pleasure that is always to be derived from
throwing the book into the fireplace. And, coming from Stella, this
farrago doubly astounded me. She was talking grave nonsense now,
whereas Nature had, beyond doubt, planned her to discuss only the
lighter sort. So I decided it was quadruply absurd, little Stella
talking in this fashion,--Stella, who, as all knew, was only meant to
be petted and flattered and flirted with.
And therefore, "Stella," I admonished, "you have been reading something
indigestible." I set down my teacup, and I clasped my hands. "Don't
tell me," I pleaded, "that you want to vote!"
She remained grave. "The trouble is," said she, "that I am not really a
butterfly, for all my tinsel wings. I am an ant."
"Oh," said I, shamelessly, "I hadn't heard that Lizzie had an item for
the census man. I don't care for brand-new babies, though; they always
look so disgracefully sun-burned."
The pun was atrocious and, quite properly, failed to win a smile or
even a reproof from the morbid young person opposite. "My grandfather,"
said she in meditation, "began as a clerk in a country store. Oh of
course, we have discovered, since he made his money and since Mother
married a Musgrave, that his ancestors came over with William the
Conqueror, and that he was descended from any number of potentates. But
he lived. He was a rip at first--ah, yes, I'm glad of that as well,
--and he became a religious fanatic because his oldest son died very
horribly of lockjaw. And he browbeat people and founded banks, and made
a spectacle of himself at every Methodist conference, and everybody was
afraid of him and honoured him. And I fancy I am prouder of Old Tim
Ingersoll than I am of any of the emperors and things that make such a
fine show in the Musgrave family tree. For I am like him. And I want to
leave something in the world that wasn't there before I came. I want my
life to count, I want--why, a hundred years from now I _do_ want to be
something more than a name on a tombstone. I--oh, I daresay it _is_
only my ridiculous egotism," she ended, with a shrug and Stella's usual
quick smile,--a smile not always free from insolence, but always
"It's late hours," I warned her, with uplifted forefinger, "late hours
and too much bridge and too many sweetmeats and too much bothering over
silly New Women ideas. What is the sense of a woman's being useful," I
demanded, conclusively, "when it is so much easier and so much more
agreeable all around for her to be adorable?"
She pouted. "Yes," she assented, "that is my career--to be adorable. It
is my one accomplishment," she declared, unblushingly,--yet not without
After a little, though, her gravity returned. "When I was a girl--oh, I
dreamed of accomplishing all sorts of beautiful and impossible things!
But, you see, there was really nothing I could do. Music, painting,
writing--I tried them all, and the results were hopeless. Besides, Rob,
the women who succeed in anything like that are always so queer
looking. I couldn't be expected to give up my complexion for a career,
you know, or to wear my hair like a golf-caddy's. At any rate, I
couldn't make a success by myself. But there was one thing I could do,
--I could make a success of Peter. And so," said Stella, calmly, "I did
I said nothing. It seemed expedient.
"You know, he was a little--"
"Yes," I assented, hastily. Peter had gone the pace, of course, but
there was no need of raking that up. That was done with, long ago.
"Well, he isn't the least bit dissipated now. You know he isn't. That
is the first big thing I have done." Stella checked it off with a
small, spear-pointed, glinting finger-nail. "Then--oh, I have helped
him in lots of ways. He is doing splendidly in consequence; and it is
my part to see that the proper people are treated properly."
Stella reflected a moment. "There was the last appointment, for
instance. I found that the awarding of it lay with that funny old Judge
Willoughby, with the wart on his nose, and I asked him for it--not the
wart, you understand,--and got it. We simply had him to dinner, and I
was specially butterfly; I fluttered airily about, was as silly as I
knew how to be, looked helpless and wore my best gown. He thought me a
pretty little fool, and gave Peter the appointment. That is only an
instance, but it shows how I help." Stella regarded me, uncertainly.
"Why, but an authorman ought to understand!"
Of a sudden I understood a number of things--things that had puzzled.
This was the meaning of Stella's queer dinner the night before, and the
ensuing theatre-party, for instance; this was the explanation of those
impossible men, vaguely heralded as "very influential in politics," and
of the unaccountable women, painfully condensed in every lurid shade of
satin, and so liberally adorned with gems as to make them almost
valuable. Stella, incapable by nature of two consecutive ideas, was
determined to manipulate the unseen wires, and to be, as she probably
phrased it, the power behind the throne....
"Eh, it would be laughable," I thought, "were not her earnestness so
pathetic! For here is Columbine mimicking Semiramis."
Yet it was true that Peter Blagden had made tremendous strides in his
profession, of late. For a moment, I wondered--? Then I looked at this
butterfly young person opposite, and I frowned. "I don't like it," I
said, decisively. "It is a bit cold-blooded. It isn't worthy of you,
"It is my career," she flouted me, with shrugging shoulders. "It is the
one career the world--our Lichfield world--has left me. And I am doing
it for Peter."
The absurd look that I objected to--on principle, you understand--
returned at this point in the conversation. I arose, resolutely, for I
was really unable to put up with her nonsense.
"You are in love with your husband," I grumbled, "and I cannot
countenance such eccentricities. These things are simply not done--"
She touched my hand. "Old crosspatch, and to think how near I came to
"I do think of it--sometimes. So you had better stop pawing at me. It
I wish I could describe her smile. I wish I knew just what it was that
Stella wanted me to say or do as we stood for a moment silent, in this
pleasant, half-lit room where brass things blinked in the firelight.
"Old crosspatch!" she repeated....
"Stella," said I, with dignity, "I wish it distinctly understood that I
am not a funny old judge with a wart on his nose."
Whereupon I went away.
_He Participates in a Brave Jest_
Stella drove on fine afternoons, under the protection of a trim and
preternaturally grave tiger. The next afternoon, by a Lichfieldian
transition, was irreproachable. I was to remember, afterward, wondering
in a vague fashion, as the equipage passed, if the boy's lot was not
rather enviable. There might well be less attractive methods of earning
the daily bread and butter than to whirl through life behind Stella.
One would rarely see her face, of course, but there would be such
compensations as an unfailing sense of her presence, and the faint
odour of her hair at times and, always, blown scraps of her laughter or
shreds of her talk, and, almost always, the piping of the sweet voice
that was stilled so rarely.
Perhaps the conscienceless tiger listened when she was "seeing the
proper people were treated properly"? Yes, one would. Perhaps he ground
his teeth? Well, one would, I suspected. And perhaps--?
There was a nod of recognition from Stella; and I lifted my hat as they
bowled by toward the Reservoir. I went down Regis Avenue, mildly
resentful that she had not offered me a lift.
A vagrant puff of wind was abroad in the Boulevard that afternoon. It
paused for a while to amuse itself with a stray bit of paper. Presently
the wind grew tired of this plaything and tossed between the eyes of a
sorrel horse. Prince lurched and bolted; and Rex, always a vicious
brute, followed his mate. One fancies the vagabond wind must have
laughed over that which ensued.
After a moment it returned and lifted a bit of paper from the roadway,
with a new respect, perhaps, and the two of them frolicked away over
close-shaven turf. It was a merry game they played there in the spring
sunlight. The paper fluttered a little, whirled over and over, and
scuttled off through the grass; with a gust of mirth, the wind was
after it, now gained upon it, now lost ground in eddying about a tree,
and now made up the disadvantage in the open, and at last chuckled over
its playmate pinned to the earth and flapping in sharp, indignant
remonstrances. Then _da capo_.
It was a merry game that lasted till the angry sunset had flashed its
final palpitant lance through the treetrunks farther down the roadway.
There were gaping people in this place, and broken wheels and shafts,
and a policeman with a smoking pistol, and two dead horses, and a
horrible looking dead boy in yellow-topped boots. Somebody had
charitably covered his face with a handkerchief; and men were lifting a
limp, white heap from among the splintered rubbish.
Then wind and paper played half-heartedly in the twilight until the
night had grown too chilly for further sport. There was no more murder
to be done; and so the vagabond wind was puffed out into nothingness,
and the bit of paper was left alone, and at about this season the big
stars--the incurious stars--peeped out of heaven, one by one.
It was Stella's sister, the Marquise d'Arlanges, who sent for me that
night. Across the street a hand-organ ground out its jingling tune as
Lizzie's note told me what the playful wind had brought about. It was a
despairing, hopeless and insistent air that shrilled and piped across
the way. It seemed very appropriate.
The doctors feared--Ah, well, telegrams had failed to reach Peter in
Washington. Peter Blagden was not in Washington, he had not been in
Washington. He could not be found. And did I think--?
No, I thought none of the things that Stella's sister suggested. Of a
sudden I knew. I stood silent for a little and heard that damned,
clutching tune cough and choke and end; I heard the renewed babblement
of children; and I heard the organ clatter down the street, and set up
its faint jingling in the distance. And I knew with an unreasoning
surety. I pitied Stella now ineffably, not for the maiming and crippling
of her body, for the spoiling of that tender miracle, that white flower
of flesh, but for the falling of her air-castle, the brave air-castle
which to her meant everything. I guessed what had happened.
Later I found Peter Blagden, no matter where. It is not particularly to
my credit that I knew where to look for him. Yet the French have a
saying of infinite wisdom in their _qui a bu boira_. The old vice had
gripped the man, irresistibly, and he had stolen off to gratify it in
secret; and he had not been sober for a week. He was on the verge of
collapse even when I told him--oh, with a deliberate cruelty, I grant
you,--what had happened that afternoon.
Then, swiftly, his demolishment came; and I could not--could not for
very shame--bring this shivering, weeping imbecile to the bedside of
Stella, who was perhaps to die that night. Such was the news I brought
to Stella's sister; through desolate streets already blanching in the
Stella was calling for Peter. We manufactured explanations.
Nice customs curtsey to death. I am standing at Stella's bedside, and
the white-capped nurse has gone. There are dim lights about the room,
and heavy carts lumber by in the dawn without. A petulant sparrow is
"Tell me the truth," says Stella, pleadingly. Her face, showing over
billows of bedclothes, is as pale as they. But beautiful, and
exceedingly beautiful, is Stella's face, now that she is come to die.
It heartened me to lie to her. Peter had been retained in the great
Western Railway case. He had been called to Denver, San Francisco
and--I forget today just why or even whither. He had kept it as a
surprise for her. He was hurrying back. He would arrive in two days. I
showed her telegrams from Peter Blagden,--clumsy forgeries I had
concocted in the last half-hour.
Oh, the story ran lamely, I grant you. But, vanity apart, I told it
with conviction. Stella must and should die in content; that much at
least I could purchase for her; and my thoughts were strangely nimble,
there was a devilish fluency in my speech, and lie after lie was fitted
somehow into an entity that surprised even me as it took plausible
form. And I got my reward. Little by little, the doubt died from her
eyes as I lied stubbornly in a drug-scented silence; a little by a
little, her cheeks flushed brighter, and ever brighter, as I dilated on
this wonderful success that had come to Peter Blagden, till at last her
face was all aflame with happiness.
She had dreamed of this, half conscious of her folly; she had worked
toward this consummation for months. But she had hardly dared to hope
for absolute success; it almost worried her; and she could not be
certain, even now, whether it was the soup or her blue silk that had
influenced Allardyce most potently. Both had been planned to wheedle
him, to gain this glorious chance for Peter Blagden....
"You--you are sure you are not lying?" said Stella, and smiled in
speaking, for she believed me infinitely.
"Stella, before God, it is true!" I said, with fervour. "On my word of
honour, it is as I tell you!" And my heart was sick within me as I
thought of the stuttering brute, the painted female thing with tumbled
hair, and the stench of liquor in the room--Ah, well, the God I called
to witness strengthened me to smile back at Stella.
"I believe you," she said, simply. "I--I am glad. It is a big thing for
Peter." Her eyes widened in wonder and pride, and she dreamed for just
a moment of his future. But, upon a sudden, her face fell. "Dear,
dear!" said Stella, petulantly; "I'd forgotten. I'll be dead by then."
"Stella! Stella!" I cried, and very hoarsely; "why--why, nonsense,
child! The doctor thinks--he is quite sure, I mean--" I had a horrible
desire to laugh. Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven.
"Ah, I know," she interrupted. "I am a little afraid to die," she went
on, reflectively. "If one only knew--" Stella paused for a moment; then
she smiled. "After all," she said, "it isn't as if I hadn't
accomplished anything. I have made Peter. The ball is at his feet now;
he has only to kick it. And I helped."
"Yes," said I. My voice was shaken, broken out of all control. "You
have helped. Why, you have done everything, Stella! There is not a
young man in America with his prospects. In five years, he will be one
of our greatest lawyers,--everybody says so--everybody! And you have
done it all, Stella--every bit of it! You have made a man of him, I
tell you! Look at what he was!--and then look at what he is! And--and
you talk of leaving him now! Why, it's preposterous! Peter needs you, I
tell you--he needs you to cajole the proper people and keep him steady
and--and--Why, you artful young woman, how could he possibly get on
without you, do you think? Oh, how can any of us get on without you?
You _must_ get well, I tell you. In a month, you will be right as a
trivet. You die! Why, nonsense!" I laughed. I feared I would never have
done with laughter over the idea of Stella's dying.
"But I have done all I could. And so he doesn't need me now." Stella
meditated for yet another moment. "I believe I shall always know when
he does anything especially big. God would be sure to tell me, you see,
because He understands how much it means to me. And I shall be
proud--ah, yes, wherever I am, I shall be proud of Peter. You see, he
didn't really care about being a success, for of course he knows that
Uncle Larry will leave him a great deal of money one of these days. But
I am such a vain little cat--so bent on making a noise in the world,
--that, I think, he did it more to please my vanity than anything else.
I nagged him, frightfully, you know," Stella confessed, "but he was
always--oh, _so_ dear about it, Rob! And he has never failed me--not
even once, although I know at times it has been very hard for him."
Stella sighed; and then laughed. "Yes," said she, "I think I am
satisfied with my life altogether. Somehow, I am sure I shall be told
about it when he is a power in the world--a power for good, as he will
be,--and then I shall be very perky--somewhere. I ought to sing _Nunc
Dimittis_, oughtn't I?" I was not unmoved; nor did it ever lie within
my power to be unmoved when I thought of Stella and how gaily she went
to meet her death....
"Good-bye," said she, in a tired voice.
"Good-bye, Stella," said I; and I kissed her.
"And I don't think you are a mess. And I _don't_ hate you." She was
smiling very strangely. "Yes, I remember that first time. And no matter
what they said, I always cared heaps more about you, Rob, than I dared
let you know. And if only you had been as dependable as Peter--But, you
see, you weren't--"
"No, dear, you did the right thing--what was best for all of us--"
"Then don't mind so much. Oh, Bob, it hurts me to see you mind so much!
You aren't--being dependable, like Peter, even now," she said,
Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven.
_He Decides to Amuse Himself_
I came to Fairhaven half-bedrugged with memories of Stella's funeral,
--say, of how lightly she had lain, all white and gold, in the
grotesque and horrid box, and of Peter's vacant red-rimmed eyes that
seemed to wonder why this decorous company should have assembled about
the deep and white-lined cavity at his feet and find no answer. Nor,
for that matter, could I.
"But it was flagrant, flagrant!" my heart screeched in a grill of
impotent wrath. "Eh, You gave me power to reason, so they say! and will
You slay me, too, if I presume to use that power? I say, then, it was
flagrant and tyrannical and absurd! 'Let twenty pass, and stone the
twenty-first, Loving not, hating not, just choosing so!' O Setebos, it
wasn't worthy of omnipotence. You know it wasn't!" In such a frame of
mind I came again to Bettie Hamlyn.
It was very odd to see Bettie again. I had been sublimely confident,
though, that we would pick up our intercourse precisely where we had
left off; and this, as I now know, is something which can never happen
to anybody. So I was vaguely irritated before we had finished shaking
hands, and became so resolutely boyish and effusive in my delight at
seeing her that anyone in the world but Bettie Hamlyn would have been
quite touched. And my conversational gambit, I protest, was masterly,
and would have made anybody else think, "Oh how candid is the egotism
of this child!" and would have moved that person, metaphorically
anyhow, to pat me upon the head.
But Bettie only smiled, a little sadly, and answered:
"Your book?--Why, dear me, did I forget to write you a nice little
letter about how wonderful it was?"
"You wrote the letter all right. I think you copied it out of _The
Complete Letter Writer_. There was not a bit of you in it."
"Well, that is why I dislike your book--because there was not a bit of
_you_ in it. Of course I am glad it was the big noise of the month, and
also a little jealous of it, if you can understand that phase of the
feminine mind. I doubt it, because you write about women as though they
were pterodactyls or some other extinct animal, which you had never
seen, but had read a lot about."
"Which attests, in any event, my morals to be above reproach. You
should be pleased."
"To roll it into a pill, your book seems pretty much like any other
book; and it has made me hold my own particular boy's picture more than
once against my cheek and say, 'You didn't write books, did you, dear?
--You did nicer things than write books'--and he did .... I hear many
things of you...."
"Oh, well!" I brilliantly retorted, "you mustn't believe all you hear."
And I felt that matters were going very badly indeed.
"Robin, do you not know that your mess of pottage must be eaten with
you by the people who care for you?--and one of them dislikes pottage.
Indeed, I _would_ have liked the book, had anybody else written it. I
almost like it as it is, in spots, and sometimes I even go to the great
length of liking you,--because 'if only for old sake's sake, dear,
you're the loveliest doll in the world.' There might be a better
reason, if you could only make up your mind to dispense with
The odd part of it, even to-day, is that Bettie was saying precisely
what I had been thinking, and that to hear her say it made me just
twice as petulant as I was already.
"Now, please don't preach," I said. "I've heard so much preaching
lately--dear," I added, though I am afraid the word was rather
obviously an afterthought.
"Oh, I forgot you stayed over for Stella Blagden's funeral. You were
quite right. Stella was a dear child, and I was really sorry to hear of
"Really!" It was the lightest possible additional flick upon the raw,
but it served.
"Yes,--I, too, was rather sorry, Bettie, because I have loved Stella
all my life. She was the first, you see, and, somehow, the others have
been different. And--she disliked dying. I tell you, it is unfair,
Bettie,--it is hideously unfair!"
"Robin--" she began.
"And why should you be living," I said, in half-conscious absurdity,
"when she is dead? Why, look, Bettie! even that fly yonder is alive.
Setebos accords an insect what He grudges Stella! Her dying is not even
particularly important. The big news of the day is that the President
has started his Pacific tour, and that the Harvard graduates object to
his being given an honorary degree, and are sending out seven thousand
protests to be signed. And you're alive, and I'm alive, and Peter
Blagden is alive, and only Stella is dead. I suppose she is an angel by
this. But I don't care for angels. I want just the silly little Stella
that I loved,--the Stella that was the first and will always be the
first with me. For I want her--just Stella--! Oh, it is an excellent
jest; and I will cap it with another now. For the true joke is, I came
to Fairhaven, across half the world, with an insane notion of asking
you to marry me,--you who are 'really' sorry that Stella is dead!" And
I laughed as pleasantly as one may do in anger.
But the girl, too, was angry. "Marry you!" she said. "Why, Robin, you
were wonderful once; and now you are simply not a bad sort of fellow,
who imagines himself to be the hit of the entire piece. And whether
she's dead or not, she never had two grains of sense, but just enough
to make a spectacle of you, even now."
"I regret that I should have sailed so far into the north of your
opinion," said I. "Though, as I dare assert, you are quite probably in
the right. So I'll be off to my husks again, Bettie." And I kissed her
hand. "And that too is only for old sake's sake, dear," I said.
Then I returned to the railway station in time for the afternoon train.
And I spoke with no one else in Fairhaven, except to grunt "Good
evening, gentlemen," as I passed Clarriker's Emporium, where Colonel
Snawley and Dr. Jeal were sitting in arm chairs, very much as I had
left them there two years ago.
It was a long while afterward I discovered that "some damned
good-natured friend," as Sir Fretful has immortally phrased it, had
told Bettie Hamlyn of seeing me at the theatre in Lichfield, with
Stella and her marvellous dinner-company. It was by an odd quirk the
once Aurelia Minns, in Lichfield for the "summer's shopping," who had
told Bettie. And the fact is that I had written Bettie upon the day of
Stella's death and, without explicitly saying so, had certainly
conveyed the impression I had reached Lichfield that very morning, and
was simply stopping over for Stella's funeral. And, in addition, I
cannot say that Bettie and Stella were particularly fond of each other.
As it was, I left Fairhaven the same day I reached it, and in some
dissatisfaction with the universe. And I returned to Lichfield and
presently reopened part of the old Townsend house .... "Robert and I,"
my mother had said, to Lichfield's delectation, "just live downstairs
in the two lower stories, and ostracise the third floor...." And I was
received by Lichfield society, if not with open arms at least with
acquiescence. And Byam, an invaluable mulatto, the son of my cousin
Dick Townsend and his housekeeper, made me quite comfortable.
Depend upon it, Lichfield knew a deal more concerning my escapades than
I did. That I was "deplorably wild" was generally agreed, and a
reasonable number of seductions, murders and arsons was, no doubt,
accredited to me "on quite unimpeachable authority, my dear."
But I was a Townsend, and Lichfield had been case-hardened to
Townsendian vagaries since Colonial days; and, besides, I had written a
book which had been talked about; and, as an afterthought, I was
reputed not to be an absolute pauper, if only because my father had
taken the precaution, customary with the Townsends, to marry a woman
with enough money to gild the bonds of matrimony. For Lichfield,
luckily, was not aware how near my pleasure-loving parents had come,
between them, to spending the last cent of this once ample fortune.
And, in fine, "Well, really now--?" said Lichfield. Then there was a
tentative invitation or two, and I cut the knot by accepting all of
them, and talking to every woman as though she were the solitary
specimen of feminity extant. It was presently agreed that gossip often
embroidered the actual occurrence and that wild oats were, after all, a
not unheard-of phenomenon, and that though genius very often, in a
phrase, forgot to comb its hair, these tonsorial deficiencies were by
the broadminded not appraised too strictly.
I did not greatly care what Lichfield said one way or the other. I was
too deeply engrossed: first, in correcting the final proofs of
_Afield_, my second book, which appeared that spring and was built
around--there is no harm in saying now,--my relations with Gillian
Hardress; secondly, in the remunerative and uninteresting task of
writing for _Woman's Weekly_ five "wholesome love-stories with a dash
of humor," in which She either fell into His arms "with a contented
sigh" or else "their lips met" somewhere toward the ending of the
seventh page; and, thirdly, in diverting myself with Celia Reindan....
That, though, is a business I shall not detail, because it was one of
the very vulgarest sort. It was the logical outgrowth of my admiration
for her yellow hair,--she did have extraordinary hair, confound her!
--and of a few moonlit nights. It was simply the result of our common
vanity and of her book-fed sentimentality and, eventually, of her
unbridled temper; and in nature the compound was an unsavoury mess
which thoroughly delighted Lichfield. Lichfield will be only too glad,
even nowadays, to discourse to you of how I got wedged in that infernal
transom, and of how Celia alarmed everybody within two blocks of her
bedroom by her wild yells.
I had meanwhile decided, first, to write another and a better book than
_The Apostates_ or _Afield_ had ever pretended to be; and afterward to
marry Rosalind Jemmett, whom I found, in my too-hackneyed but habitual
phrase, "adorable." For this Rosalind was an eminently "sensible
match," and as such, I considered, quite appropriate for a Townsend.
The main thing though, to me, was to write the book of which I had
already the central idea,--very vague, as yet, but of an unquestionable
magnificence. Development of it, on an at all commensurate scale,
necessitated many inconveniences, and among them, the finding of
someone who would assist me in imbuing the love-scenes--of which there
must unfortunately be a great many--with reality; and for the tale's
_milieu_ I again pitched upon the Green Chalybeate,--where, as you may
remember, I first met with Stella.
So I said a not unpromising farewell to Rosalind Jemmett, who was going
into Canada for the summer. She was quite frankly grieved by the
absolute necessity of my taking a rigorous course of the Chalybeate
waters, but agreed with me that one's health is not to be trifled with.
And of course she would write if I really wanted her to, though she
couldn't imagine _why_--But I explained why, with not a little detail.
And she told me, truthfully, that I was talking like an idiot; and was
not, I thought, irrevocably disgusted by my idiocy. So that, all in
all, I was not discontented when I left her.
Then I ordered Byam to pack and, by various unveracious
representations, induced my Uncle George Bulmer--as a sort of visible
and outward sign that I forgave him for declining to lend me another
penny--to accompany me to the Green Chalybeate. Besides, I was fond of
the old scoundrel....
When I began to scribble these haphazard memories I had designed to be
very droll concerning the "provincialism" of Lichfield; for, as every
inhabitant of it will tell you, it is "quite hopelessly provincial,"
--and this is odd, seeing that, as investigation will assure you, the
city is exclusively inhabited by self-confessed cosmopolitans. I had
meant to depict Fairhaven, too, in the broad style of _Cranford_, say;
and to be so absolutely side-splitting when I touched upon the Green
Chalybeate as positively to endanger the existence of any apoplectic
reader, who presumed to peruse the chapter which dealt with this
But, upon reflection, I am too familiar with these places to attempt to
treat them humorously. The persons who frequent their byways are too
much like the persons who frequent the byways of any other place, I
find, at bottom. For to write convincingly of the persons peculiar to
any locality it is necessary either to have thoroughly misunderstood
them, or else perseveringly to have been absent from daily intercourse
with them until age has hardened the brain-cells, and you have
forgotten what they are really like. Then, alone, you may write the
necessary character studies which will be sufficiently abundant in
For, at bottom, any one of us is tediously like any other.
Comprehension is the grave of sympathy; scratch deeply enough and you
will find not any livelily-coloured Tartarism, but just a mediocre and
thoroughly uninteresting human being. So I may not ever be so droll as
I had meant to be; and if you wish to chuckle over the grotesque places
I have lived in, you must apply to persons who have spent two weeks
there, and no more.
For the rest, Lichfield, and Fairhaven also, got at and into me when I
was too young to defend myself. Therefore Lichfield and Fairhaven
cannot ever, really, seem to me grotesque. To the contrary, it is the
other places which must always appear to me a little queer when judged
by the standards of Fairhaven and Lichfield.
_He Seeks for Copy_
I had aforetime ordered Mr. George Bulmer to read _The Apostates_, and,
as the author of this volume explained, from motives that were purely
well-meaning. To-night I was superintending the process.
"For the scene of the book is the Green Chalybeate," said I; "and it
may be my masterly rhetoric will so far awaken your benighted soul,
Uncle George, as to enable you to perceive what the more immediate
scenery is really like. Why, think of it! what if you should presently
fall so deeply in love with the adjacent mountains as to consent to
overlook the deficiencies of the more adjacent café! Try now, nunky!
try hard to think that the right verb is really more important than the
right vermouth! and you have no idea what good it may do you."
Mr. Bulmer read on, with a bewildered face, while I gently stirred the
contents of my tall and delectably odored glass. It was "frosted" to a
nicety. We were drinking "Mamie Taylors" that summer, you may remember;
and I had just brought up a pitcherful from the bar.
"Oh, I say, you know!" observed Uncle George, as he finished the sixth
chapter, and flung down the book.
"Rot, utter rot," I assented pleasantly; "puerile and futile trifling
with fragments of the seventh commandment, as your sturdy common-sense
instantly detected. In fact," I added, hopefully, "I think that chapter
is trivial enough to send the book into a tenth edition. In _Afield_,
you know, I tried a different tack. Actuated by the noblest sentiments,
the heroine mixes prussic acid with her father's whiskey and water; and
'Old-Fashioned' and 'Fair Play' have been obliging enough to write to
the newspapers about this harrowing instance of the deplorably low
moral standards of to-day. Uncle George, do you think that a real lady
is ever justified in obliterating a paternal relative? You ought to
meditate upon that problem, for it is really a public question
nowadays. Oh, and there was a quite lovely clipping last week I forgot
to show you--all about Electra, as contrasted with Jonas Chuzzlewit,
and my fine impersonal attitude, and the survival of the fittest, and
But Uncle George refused to be comforted. "Look here, Bob!" said he,
pathetically, "why don't you brace up and write something--well! we'll
put it, something of the sort you _can_ do. For you can, you know."
"Ah, but is not a judicious nastiness the market-price of a second
edition before publication?" I softly queried. "I had no money. I was
ashamed to beg, and I was too well brought up to steal anything
adroitly enough not to be caught. And so, in view of my own uncle's
deafness to the prayers of an impecunious orphan, I have descended to
this that I might furnish butter for my daily bread." I refilled my
glass and held the sparkling drink for a moment against the light.
"This time next year," said I, as dreamily, "I shall be able to afford
cake; for I shall have written _As the Coming of Dawn_."
Mr. Bulmer sniffed, and likewise refilled his glass. "You catch me
lending you any money for your--brief Biblical words!" he said.
"For the reign of subtle immorality," I sighed, "is well-nigh over.
Already the augurs of the pen begin to wink as they fable of a race of
men who are evilly scintillant in talk and gracefully erotic. We know
that this, alas, cannot be, and that in real life our peccadilloes
dwindle into dreary vistas of divorce cases and the police-court, and
that crime has lost its splendour. We sin very carelessly--sordidly, at
times,--and artistic wickedness is rare. It is a pity; life was once a
scarlet volume scattered with misty-coated demons; it is now a yellow
journal, wherein our vices are the hackneyed formulas of journalists,
and our virtues are the not infrequent misprints. Yes, it is a pity!"
"Dearest Robert!" remonstrated Mr. Bulmer, "you are sadly _passé_: that
pose is of the Beardsley period and went out many magazines ago."
"The point is well taken," I admitted, "for our life of to-day is
already reflected--faintly, I grant you,--in the best-selling books. We
have passed through the period of a slavish admiration for wickedness
and wide margins; our quondam decadents now snigger in a parody of
primeval innocence, and many things are forgiven the latter-day poet if
his botany be irreproachable. Indeed, it is quite time; for we have
tossed over the contents of every closet in the _menage à trois_. And
I--_moi, qui vous parle_,--I am wearied of hansom-cabs and the flaring
lights of great cities, even as so alluringly depicted in _Afield_; and
henceforth I shall demonstrate the beauty of pastoral innocence."
"Saul among the prophets," Uncle George suggested, helpfully.
"Quite so," I assented, "and my first prophecy will be _As the Coming
Mr. Bulmer tapped his forehead significantly. "Mad, quite mad!" said
he, in parenthesis.
"I shall be idyllic," I continued, sweetly; "I shall write of the
ineffable glory of first love. I shall babble of green fields and the
keen odours of spring and the shamefaced countenances of lovers, met
after last night's kissing. It will be the story of love that stirs
blindly in the hearts of maids and youths, and does not know that it is
love,--the love which manhood has half forgotten and that youth has not
the skill to write of. But I, at twenty-four, shall write its story as
it has never been written; and I shall make a great book of it, that
will go into thousands and thousands of editions. Yes, before heaven, I
I brought my fist down, emphatically, on the table.
"H'm!" said Mr. Bulmer, dubiously; "going back to renew associations
with your first love? I have tried it, and I generally find her
grandchildren terribly in the way."
"It is imperative," said I,--"yes, imperative for the scope of my book,
that I should view life through youthful and unsophisticated eyes. I
discovered that, upon the whole, Miss Jemmett is too obviously an urban
product to serve my purpose. And I can't find any one who will."
Uncle George whistled softly. "'Honourable young gentleman,'" he
murmured, as to himself, "'desires to meet attractive and innocent
young lady. Object: to learn how to be idyllic in three-hundred
There was no commentary upon his text.
"I say," queried Mr. Bulmer, "do you think this sort of thing is fair
to the girl? Isn't it a little cold-blooded?"
"Respected nunky, you are at times very terribly the man in the street!
Anyhow, I leave the Green Chalybeate to-morrow in search of _As the
Coming of Dawn_."
"Look here," said Mr. Bulmer, rising, "if you start on a tour of the
country, looking for assorted dawns and idylls, it will end in my
abducting you from some rustic institution for the insane. You take a
liver-pill and go to bed! I don't promise anything, mind, but perhaps
about the first I can manage a little cheque if only you will make oath
on a few Bibles not to tank up on it in Lichfield. The transoms there,"
he added unkindlily, "are not built for those full rich figures."
Next morning, I notified the desk-clerk, and, quite casually, both the
newspaper correspondents, that the Green Chalybeate was about to be
bereft of the presence of a distinguished novelist. Then, as my train
did not leave till night, I resolved to be bored on horseback, rather
than on the golf-links, and had Guendolen summoned, from the stable,
for a final investigation of the country roads thereabouts.
Guendolen this afternoon elected to follow a new route; and knowing by
experience that any questioning of this decision could but result in
undignified defeat, I assented. Thus it came about that we circled
parallel to the boardwalk, which leads uphill to the deserted Royal
Hotel, and passed its rows of broken windows; and went downhill again,
always at Guendolen's election; and thus came to the creek, which
babbled across the roadway and was overhung with thick foliage that
lisped and whispered cheerfully in the placid light of the declining
sun. It was there that the germ of _As the Coming of Dawn_ was found.
For I had fallen into a reverie over the deplorable obstinacy of my new
heroine, who declined, for all my labours, to be unsophisticated; and
taking advantage of this, Guendolen had twitched the reins from my hand
and proceeded to satisfy her thirst in a manner that was rather too
noisy to be quite good form. I sat in patience, idly observing the
sparkling reflection of the sunlight on the water. I was elaborating a
comparison between my obstinate heroine and Guendolen. Then Guendolen
snorted, as something rustled through the underbrush, and turning, I
perceived a Vision.
The Vision was in white, with a profusion of open-work. There were blue
ribbons connected with it. There were also black eyes, of the
almond-shaped, heavy-lidded variety that I had thought existed only in
Lely's pictures, and great coils of brown hair which was gold where the
chequered sunlight fell upon it, and two lips that were inexpressibly
red. I was filled with pity for my tired horse, and a resolve that for
this once her thirst should be quenched.
Thereupon, I lifted my cap hastily; and Guendolen scrambled to the
other bank, and spluttered, and had carried me well past the Iron
Spring, before I announced to the evening air that I was a fool, and
that Guendolen was describable by various quite picturesque and
derogatory epithets. And I smiled.
"Now, Robert Etheridge Townsend, you writer of books, here is a subject
made to your hand!" And then:
"Only 'twixt the light and shade
Floating memories of my maid
Make me pray for Guendolen."
After this we retraced our steps. I was peering anxiously about the
"Pardon me," said I, subsequently; "but _have_ you seen anything of a
watch--a small gold one, set with pearls?"
"Heavens!" said the Vision, sympathetically, "what a pity! Are you sure
it fell here?"
"I don't seem to have it about me," I answered, with cryptic, but
entire veracity. I searched about my pockets, with a puckered brow.
"And as we stopped here--"
I looked inquiringly into the water.
"From this side," observed the Vision, impersonally, "there is less
glare from the brook."
Having tied Guendolen to a swinging limb, I sat down contentedly in
these woods. The Vision moved a little, lest I be crowded.
"It might be further up the road," she suggested.
"Oh, I must have left it at the hotel," I observed.
"You might look--" said she, peering into the water.
"Forever!" I assented.
The Vision flushed, "I didn't mean--" she began.
"But I did," quoth I,--"and every word of it."
"Why, in that case," said she, and rose to her feet, "I'd better--" A
frown wrinkled her brow; then a deep, curved dimple performed a similar
office for her cheek. "I wonder--" said she.
"Why, you would be a bold-faced jig," said I, composedly; "but, after
all there is nobody about. And, besides,--for I suspect you of being
one of the three dilapidated persons in veils who came last night,--we
are going to be introduced right after supper, anyway."
The Vision sat down. "You mentioned your sanatorium?" quoth she.
"The Asylum of Love," said I; "discharged--under a false impression,
--as cured, and sent to paradise.
"Oh!" said I, defiant, "but it _is_!"
She looked about her. "The woods _are_ rather beautiful," she conceded,
"They form a quite appropriate background," said I. "It is a veritable
Eden, before the coming of the snake."
"Before?" she queried, dubiously.
"Undoubtedly," said I, and felt my ribs, in meditative wise. "Ah, but I
thought I missed something! We participate in a historic moment. This
is in Eden immediately after the creation of--Well, but of course you
are acquainted with that famous bull about Eve's being the fairest of
"It is _quite_ time," said she, judicially, "for me to go back to the
hotel, before--since we are speaking of animals,--your presence here is
noticed by one of the squirrels."
"It is not good," I pleaded, "for man to be alone."
"I have heard," said she, "that--almost any one can cite scripture to
I thrust out a foot for inspection. "No suggestion of a hoof," said I;
"and not the slightest odour of brimstone, as you will kindly note; and
my inoffensive name is Robert Townsend."
"Of course," she submitted, "I could never think of making your
acquaintance in this irregular fashion; and, therefore, of course, I
could not think of telling you that my name is Marian Winwood."
"Of course not," I agreed; "it would be highly improper."
"--And it is more than time for me to go to supper," she concluded
again, with a lacuna, as it seemed to me, in the deduction.
"Look here!" I remonstrated; "it isn't anywhere near six yet." I
exhibited my watch to support this statement.
"Oh!" she observed, with wide, indignant eyes.
"I--I mean--" I stammered.
She rose to her feet.
"--I will explain how I happened to be carrying two watches--"
"I do not care to listen to any explanations. Why should I?"
"--upon," I firmly said, "the third piazza of the hotel. And this very
"You will not." And this was said even more firmly. "And I hope you
will have the kindness to keep away from these woods; for I shall
probably always walk here in the afternoon." Then, with an indignant
toss of the head, the Vision disappeared.
I whistled. Subsequently I galloped back to the hotel.
"See here!" said I, to the desk-clerk; "how long does this place keep
"Season closes latter part of September, sir."
I told him I would need my rooms till then.
_He Provides Copy_
So it was Uncle George Bulmer who presently left the Green Chalybeate,
to pursue Mrs. Chaytor with his lawless arts. I stayed out the season.
Now I cannot conscientiously recommend the Green Chalybeate against
your next vacation. Once very long ago, it was frequented equally for
the sake of gaiety and of health. In the summer that was Marian's the
resort was a beautiful and tumble-down place where invalids congregated
for the sake of the nauseous waters,--which infallibly demolish a solid
column of strange maladies I never read quite through, although it
bordered every page of the writing-paper you got there from the
desk-clerk,--and a scanty leaven of persons who came thither,
apparently, in order to spend a week or two in lamenting "how very dull
the season is this year, and how abominable the fare is."
But for one I praise the place, and I believe that Marian Winwood also
bears it no ill-will. For we two were very happy there. We took part in
the "subscription euchres" whenever we could not in time devise an
excuse which would pass muster with the haggard "entertainer." We
danced conscientiously beneath the pink and green icing of the
ball-room's ceiling, with all three of the band playing _Hearts and
Flowers_; and with a dozen "chaperones"--whom I always suspected of
taking in washing during the winter months,--lined up as closely as was
possible to the door, as if in preparation for the hotel's catching
fire any moment, to give us pessimistic observal. And having thus
discharged our duty to society at large, we enjoyed ourselves
For instance, we would talk over the book I was going to write in the
autumn. That was the main thing. Then one could golf, or drive, or--I
blush to write it even now--croquet. Croquet, though, is a much
maligned game, as you will immediately discover if you ever play it on
the rambling lawn of the Chalybeate, about six in the afternoon, say,
when the grass is greener than it is by ordinary, and the shadows are
long, and the sun is well beneath the tree-tops of the Iron Bank, and
your opponent makes a face at you occasionally, and on each side the
old, one-storied cottages are builded of unusually red bricks and are
quite ineffably asleep.
Or again there is always the creek to divert yourself in. Once I caught
five crawfishes there, while Marian waited on the bank; and afterward
we found an old tomato-can and boiled them in it, and they came out a
really gorgeous crimson. This was the afternoon that we were Spanish
Inquisitors.... Oh, believe me, you can have quite a good time at the
Chalybeate, if you set about it in the proper way.
Only it is true that sometimes, when it rained, say, with that hopeless
insistency which, I protest, is unknown anywhere else in the world; and
when Marian was not immediately accessible, and cigarettes were not
quite satisfactory, because the entire universe was so sodden that
matches had to be judiciously coaxed before they would strike; and when
if you happened to be writing a fervid letter to Rosalind Jemmett, let
us say, the ink would not dry for ever so long:--why, it is true that
in these circumstances you would feel a shade too like the wicked Lord
So-and-So of a melodrama to be comfortable.
Yet even in these circumstances, reason told me that the Book was the
main thing, that the girl would be thoroughly over the affair by
November at latest, and that at the cost of a few inconsequent tears,
she would have meanwhile immeasurably obliged posterity. And I knew
that no man may ever write in perdurable fashion save by ruthlessly
converting his own life into "copy," since of other persons' lives he
can, at most, reproduce but the blurred and misinterpreted by-ends, by
reason of almost any author's deplorable lack of omniscience. Yes, the
Book was the main thing; and yet the girl--knowingly to dip my pen into
her heart as into an inkstand was not, at best, chivalric....
"But the Book!" said I. "Why, I must be quite idiotically in love to
think of letting that Book perish!" And I viciously added: "Confound
the pretty simpleton!"...
So the book was builded, after all, a little by a little. Hardly an
evening came when after leaving Marian I had not at least one excellent
and pregnant jotting to record in my note-book. Now it would be just an
odd turn of language, or a description of some gesture she had made, or
of a gown she had worn that day; and now a simile or some other rather
good figure of speech which had popped into my mind when I was making
love to her.
Nor had I any difficulty in preserving nearly all she said to me, for
Marian was never a chatterbox; yet her responses had, somehow, that
long-sought tang it wasn't in me to invent for any imaginary young
woman who must be, for the sake of my new novel, quite heels over head
And I began to see that Bettie was right, as usual. I had portrayed
Gillian Hardress pretty well in _Afield_; but by and large, I had
always written about women as though they were "pterodactyls or some
other extinct animal, which you had never seen, but had read a lot
And now, in looking over my notes, I knew, and my heart glowed to know,
that I was not about to repeat the error.
So the Book was builded, after all, a little by a little. And a little
by a little the summer wore on; and in the lobby of the Main Hotel was
hung the beautiful Spirit of the Falls poster of the Buffalo
Exposition; and we talked of Oom Paul Krüger, and Shamrock II, and the
Nicaragua Canal, and lanky Bob Fitzsimmons, and the Boxer outrages; and
we read _To Have and To Hold_ and _The Cardinal's Snuff Box_, and
thought it droll that the King of England was not going to call himself
King Albert, after all.
And then came the news of how the President had been shot, "with a
poisoned bullet," and a week of contradictory bulletins from the
Milburn House in Buffalo. And there were panicky surmises raised
everywhere as to "what these anarchists may do next," so that Maggio
was mobbed in Columbus, and Emma Goldman in Chicago; and Colonel
Roosevelt was found, after days of search, on Mt. Marcy in the
Adirondacks, and was told in the heart of a forest that to-morrow he
would be at the head of a nation. And the country's guidance was
entrusted to a mere lad of forty-three, with general uneasiness as to
what might come of it; and the dramatic tale of Colonel Roosevelt's
taking of the oath of office was in that morning's paper; and Marian
and I were about to part.
"It will be dreadful," sighed she; "for we have to stay a whole week
longer, and I shall come here every afternoon. And there will be only
ghosts in the woods, and I shall be very lonely."
"Dear," said I, "is it not something to have been happy? It has been
such a wonderful summer; and come what may, nothing can rob us now of
its least golden moment. And it is only for a little."
"You will come back?" said she, half-doubtingly.
"Yes," I said. "You wonderful, elfin creature, I shall undoubtedly come
back--to your real home, and claim you there. Only I don't believe you
do live in Aberlin,--you probably live in some great, gnarled oak
hereabouts; and at night its bark uncloses to set you free, and you and
your sisters dance out the satyrs' hearts in the moonlight. Oh, I know,
Marian! I simply _know_ you are a dryad,--a wonderful, laughing,
clear-eyed dryad strayed out of the golden age."
"What a boy it is!" she said. "No, I am only a really and truly girl,
dear,--a rather frightened girl, with very little disposition to
laughter, just now. For you are going away--Oh, my dear, you have meant
so much to me! The world is so different since you have come, and I am
so happy and so miserable that--that I am afraid." An infinitesimal
handkerchief went upward to two great, sparkling eyes, and dabbed at
"Dear!" said I. And this remark appeared to meet the requirements of
There was a silence now. We sat in the same spot where I had first
encountered Marian Winwood. Only this was an autumnal forest that
glowed with many gem-like hues about us; and already the damp odour of
decaying leaves was heavy in the air. It was like the Tosti thing
translated out of marine terms into a woodland analogue. The summer was
ended; but _As the Coming of Dawn_ was practically complete.
It was not the book that I had planned, but a far greater one which was
scarcely mine. There was no word written as yet. But for two months I
had viewed life through Marian Winwood's eyes; day by day, my
half-formed, tentative ideas had been laid before her with elaborate
fortuitousness, to be approved, or altered, or rejected, just as she
decreed; until at last they had been welded into a perfect whole that
was a Book, bit by bit, we had planned it, I and she; and, as I dreamed
of it as it would be in print, my brain was fired with exultation, and
I defied my doubt and I swore that the Book, for which I had pawned a
certain portion of my self-respect, was worth--and triply worth--the
price which had been paid.... This was in Marian's absence.
"Dear!" said she....
Her eyes were filled with a tender and unutterable confidence that
thrilled me like physical cold. "Marian," said I, simply, "I shall
never come back."
The eyes widened a trifle, but she did not seem to comprehend.
"Have you not wondered," said I, "that I have never kissed you, except
as if you were a very holy relic or a cousin or something of that
"Yes," she answered. Her voice was quite emotionless.
"And yet--yet--" I sprang to my feet. "Dear God, how I have longed!
Yesterday, only yesterday, as I read to you from the verses I had made
to other women, those women that are colourless shadows by the side of
your vivid beauty,--and you listened wonderingly and said the proper
things and then lapsed into dainty boredom,--_how_ I longed to take you
in my arms, and to quicken your calm blood a little with another sort
of kissing. You knew--you must have known! Last night, for instance--"
"Last night," she said, very simply, "I thought--And I hoped you
"What a confession for a nicely brought up girl! Well! I didn't. And
afterward, all night, I tossed in sick, fevered dreams of you. I am mad
for love of you. And so, once in a while I kiss your hand. Dear God,
your hand!" My voice quavered, effectively.
"Yes," said she; "still, I remember--"
"I have struggled; and I have conquered this madness,--for a madness it
is. We can laugh together and be excellent friends; and we can never,
never be anything more. Well! we have laughed, have we not, dear, a
whole summer through? Now comes the ending. Ah, I have seen you
puzzling over my meaning before this. You never understood me
thoroughly; but it is always safe to laugh."
She smiled; and I remember now it was rather as Mona Lisa smiles.
"For we can laugh together,--that is all. We are not mates. You were
born to be the wife of a strong man and the mother of his sturdy
children; and you and your sort will inherit the earth and make the
laws for us weaklings who dream and scribble and paint. We are not
mates. But you have been very kind to me, Marian dear. So I thank you
and say good-bye; and I pray that I may never see you after to-day."
There was a sub-tang of veracity in my deprecation of an unasked-for
artistic temperament; the thing is very often a nuisance, and was just
then a barrier which I perceived plainly; and with equal plainness I
perceived the pettier motives that now caused me to point it out as a
barrier to Marian. My lips curled half in mockery of myself, as I
framed the bitter smile I felt the situation demanded; but I was fired
with the part I was playing; and half-belief had crept into my mind
that Marian Winwood was created, chiefly, for the purpose which she had
I regarded her, in fine, as through the eyes of future readers of my
biography. She would represent an episode in my life, as others do in
that of Byron or of Goethe. I pitied her sincerely; and, under all,
what moralists would call my lower nature, held in leash for two months
past, chuckled, and grinned, and leaped, at the thought of a holiday.
She rose to her feet. "Good-bye," said she.
"You--you understand, dear?" I queried, tenderly.
"Yes," she answered; "I understand--not what you have just told me, for
in that, of course, you have lied. That Jemmett girl and her money is
at the bottom of it all, of course. You didn't want to lose her, and
still you wanted to play with me. So you were pulled two ways, poor
"Oh, well, if that is what you think of me--!"
"You see, you are not an uncommon type,--a type not strong enough to
live life healthily, just strong enough to dabble in life, to trifle
with emotions, to experiment with other people's lives. Indeed, I am
not angry, dear; I am only--sorry; for you have played with me very
nicely indeed, and very boyishly, and the summer has been very happy."
I returned to Lichfield and wrote _As the Coming of Dawn_.
I spent six months in this. My work at first was mere copying of the
book that already existed in my brain; but when it was transcribed
therefrom, I wrote and rewrote, shifted and polished and adorned until
it seemed I would never have done; and indeed I was not anxious to have
done with any labour so delightful.
Particularly did I rejoice in the character for which Marian Winwood
had posed. Last summer's note-book here came into play; and now, for
once, my heroine was in no need of either shoving or prompting. She did
things of her own accord, and I was merely her scribe...
I would vain-gloriously protest, just to myself, that the love scenes
in this story were the most exquisite and, with all that, the most
genuine love scenes I knew of anywhere. "By God!" I would occasionally
say with Thackeray; "I _am_ a genius!"
Besides, the story of the book, I knew, was novel and astutely wrought;
its progress caught at once and teased your interest always, so that
having begun it, most people would read to the end, if only to discover
"how it all came out." I knew the book, in fine, could hardly fail to
please and interest a number of people by reason of its plot alone.
I ought to have been content with this. But I had somehow contracted an
insane notion that a novel is the more enjoyable when it is adroitly
written. In point of fact, of course, no man who writes with care is
ever read with pleasure; you may toil through a page or two perhaps,
but presently you are noting how precisely every word is fitted to the
thought, and later you are noting nothing else. You are insensibly
beguiled into a fidgety-footed analysis of every clause, which fatigues
in the outcome, and by the tenth page you are yawning.
But I did not comprehend this then. And so I fashioned my apt phrases,
and weighed my synonyms, and echoed this or that vowel very skilfully,
I thought, and alliterated my consonants with discretion. In fine, I
did not overlook the most meticulous device of the stylist; and I
enjoyed it. It was a sort of game; and they taught me at least, those
six delightful months, that a man writes admirable prose not at all for
the sake of having it read, but for the more sensible reason that he
enjoys playing solitaire.
I led a hermit's life that winter; and I enjoyed that too. Night, after
all, is the one time for writing, particularly when you are inane
enough to hanker after perfected speech, and so misguided as to be the
slave of the "right word." You sit alone in a bright, comfortable room;
the clock ticks companionably; there is no other sound in the world
except the constant scratching of your pen, and the occasional far-off
puffing of a freight-train coming into Lichfield; there is snow
outside, but before your eyes someone, that is not you exactly,
arranges and redrills the scrawls which will bring back the sweet and
languid summer and remarshal all its pleasant trivialities for anyone
that chooses to read through the printed page, although he read two
centuries hence, in Nova Zembla....
Then you dip into an Unabridged, and change every word that has been
written, for a better one, and do it leisurely, rolling in the mouth,
as it were, the flavour of every possible synonym, before decision.
Then you reread, with a corrective pen in hand the while, and you
venture upon the whole to agree with Mérimée that it is preferable to
write one's own books, since those of others are not, after all,
particularly worth reading in comparison.
And by this time the windows are pale blue, like the blue of a dying
flame, and you peep out and see the sparrows moving like rather poorly
made mechanical toys about the middle of the deserted street, where
there is neither light nor shade. The colour of everything is perfectly
discernible, but there is no lustre in the world as yet, though yonder
the bloat sun is already visible in the blue and red east, which is
like a cosmic bruise; and upon a sudden you find it just possible to
stay awake long enough to get safely into bed....
Thus I dandled the child of my brain for a long while, and arrayed it
in beautiful and curious garments, adorning each beloved notion with
far-sought words that had a taste in the mouth, and would one day lend
an aroma to the printed page; and I rejoiced shamelessly in that which
I had done. Then it befell that I went forth and sought the luxury of a
Turkish bath, and in the morning, after a rub-down and an ammonia
cocktail, awoke to the fact that the world had been going on much as
usual, that winter.
Young Colonel Roosevelt seemed not to have wrecked civilization, after
all, according to the morning _Courier-Herald_, despite that Democratic
paper's colorful prophecies last autumn in the vein of Jeremiah. To the
contrary, Major-General McArthur was testifying before the Senate as to
the abysmal unfitness of the Filipinos for self-government; the Women's
Clubs were holding a convention in Los Angeles; there had been terrible
hailstorms this year to induce the annual ruining of the peach-crop,
and the submarine Fulton had exploded; the California Limited had been
derailed in Iowa, and in Memphis there was some sort of celebration in
honor of Admiral Schley; and the Boer War seemed over; and Mr.
Havemeyer also was before the Senate, to whom he was making it clear
that his companies were in no wise responsible for sugar having reached
the unprecedentedly high price of four and a half cents a pound.
The world, in short, in spite of my six months' retiring therefrom,
seemed to be getting on pleasantly enough, as I turned from the paper
to face the six months' accumulation of mail.
A few weeks later, I sent for Mr. George Bulmer, and informed him of
his avuncular connection with a genius; and waved certain typewritten
pages to establish his title.
Subsequently I read aloud divers portions of _As the Coming of Dawn_,
and Mr. Bulmer sipped Chianti, and listened.
"Look here!" he said, suddenly; "have you seen _The Imperial
I frowned. It is always annoying to be interrupted in the middle of a
particularly well-balanced sentence. "Don't know the lady," said I.
"She is advertised on half the posters in town," said Mr. Bulmer. "And
it is the book of the year. And it is your book."
At this moment I laid down my manuscript. '"I _beg_ your pardon?" said
"Your book!" Uncle George repeated firmly; "and scarcely a hair's
difference between them, except in the names."
"H'm!" I observed, in a careful voice. "Who wrote it?"
"Some female woman out west," said Mr. Bulmer. "She's a George
Something-or-other when she publishes, of course, like all those
authorines when they want to say about mankind at large what less
gifted women only dare say about their sisters-in-law. I wish to heaven
they would pick out some other Christian name when they want to cut up
like pagans. Anyhow, I saw her real name somewhere, and I remember it
began with an S--Why, to be sure! it's Marian Winwood."
"Amaimon sounds well," I observed; "Lucifer, well; Larbason, well; yet
they are devils' additions, the names of fiends: but--Marian Winwood!"
"Dear me!" he remonstrated. "Why, she wrote _A Bright Particular Star_,
you know, and _The Acolytes_, and lots of others."
The author of _As the Coming of Dawn_ swallowed a whole glass of
Chianti at a gulp.
"Of course," I said, slowly, "I cannot, in my rather peculiar position,
run the risk of being charged with plagiarism--by a Chinese-eyed mental
Thereupon I threw the manuscript into the open fire, which my
preference for the picturesque rendered necessary, even in May.
"Oh, look here!" my uncle cried, and caught up the papers. "It is
infernally good, you know! Can't you--can't you fix it,--and--er--
change it a bit? Typewriting is so expensive these days that it seems a
pity to waste all this."
I took the manuscript and replaced it firmly among the embers. "As you
justly observe," said I, "it is infernally good. It is probably a deal
better than anything else I shall ever write."
"Why, then--" said Uncle George.
"Why, then," said I, "the only thing that remains to do is to read _The
And I read it with an augmenting irritation. Here was my great and
comely idea transmuted by "George Glock"--which was the woman's foolish
pen-name,--into a rather clever melodrama, and set forth anyhow, in a
hit or miss style that fairly made me squirm. I would cheerfully have
strangled Marian Winwood just then, and not upon the count of larceny,
but of butchery.
"And to cap it all, she has assigned her hero every pretty speech I
ever made to her! I honestly believe the rogue took shorthand jottings
on her cuffs. 'There is a land where lovers may meet face to face, and
heart to heart, and mouth to mouth'--why, that's the note I wrote her
on the day she wasn't feeling well!"
Presently, however, I began to laugh, and presently sitting there
alone, I began to applaud as if I were witnessing a play that took my
"Oh, the adorable jade!" I said; and then: "George Glock, forsooth!
_George Dandin, tu l' as voulu._"
Naturally I put the entire affair into a short story. And--though even
to myself it seems incredible,--Miss Winwood wrote me within three days
of the tale's appearance, a very indignant letter.
For she was furious, to the last exclamation point and underlining,
about my little magazine tale.... "Why don't you stop writing, and try
plumbing or butchering or traveling for scented soap? _You can't
write!_ If you had the light of creation you wouldn't be using my
--Which caused me to reflect forlornly that I had wasted a great deal
of correct behavior upon Marian, since any of the more intimately
amorous advances which I might have made, and had scrupulously
refrained from making, would very probably have been regarded as raw
"material," to be developed rather than shocked by....
_He Spends an Afternoon in Arden_
I had, in a general way, intended to marry Rosalind Jemmett so soon as
I had completed _As the Coming of Dawn_; but in the fervour of writing
that unfortunate volume, I had at first put off a little, and then a
little longer, the answering of her last letter, because I was
interested just then in writing well and not particularly interested in
anything else; and I had finally approximated to forgetfulness of the
young lady's existence.
Now, however, my thoughts harked back to her; and I found, upon
inquiry, that Rosalind had spent all of May and a good half of April in
Lichfield, in the same town with myself, and was now engaged to Alfred
Chaytor,--an estimable person, but popularly known as "Sissy" Chaytor.
And this gave an additional whet to my intentions. So I called upon the
girl, and she, to my chagrin, received me with an air of having danced
with me some five or six times the night before; our conversation was
at first trivial and, on her part, dishearteningly cordial; and, in
fine, she completely baffled me by not appearing to expect any least
explanation of my discourteous neglect. This, look you, when I had been
at pains to prepare a perfectly convincing one.
It must be conceded I completely lost my temper; shortly afterward
neither of us was speaking with excessive forethought; and each of us
languidly advanced a variety of observations which were more dexterous
than truthful. But I followed the intractable heiress to the Moncrieffs
that spring, in spite of this rebuff, being insufferably provoked by
her unshakable assumptions of my friendship and of nothing more.
It was perhaps a week later she told me: "This, beyond any reasonable
doubt, is the Forest of Arden."
"But where Rosalind is is always Arden," I said, politely. Yet I made a
mental reservation as to a glimpse of the golf-links, which this
particular nook of the forest afforded, and of a red-headed caddy in
search of a lost ball.
But beyond these things the sun was dying out in a riot of colour, and
its level rays fell kindlily upon the gaunt pines that were thick about
us two, converting them into endless aisles of vaporous gold.
There was primeval peace about; an evening wind stirred lazily above,
and the leaves whispered drowsily to one another over the waters of
what my companion said was a "brawling loch," though I had previously
heard it reviled as a particularly treacherous and vexatious hazard.
Altogether, I had little doubt that we had reached, in any event, the
outskirts of Arden.
"And now," quoth she, seating herself on a fallen log, "what would you
do if I were your very, very Rosalind?"
"Don't!" I cried in horror. "It wouldn't be proper! For as a decent
self-respecting heroine, you would owe it to Orlando not to listen."
"H'umph!" said Rosalind. The exclamation does not look impressive,
written out; but, spoken, it placed Orlando in his proper niche.
"Oh, well," said I, and stretched myself at her feet, full
length,--which is supposed to be a picturesque attitude,--"why quarrel
over a name? It ought to be Gamelyn, anyhow; and, moreover, by the
kindness of fate, Orlando is golfing."
Rosalind frowned, dubiously.
"But golf is a very ancient game," I reassured her. Then I bit a
pine-needle in two and sighed. "Foolish fellow, when he might be--"
"Admiring the beauties of nature," she suggested.
Just then an impudent breeze lifted a tendril of honey-coloured hair
and toyed with it, over a low, white brow,--and I noted that Rosalind's
hair had a curious coppery glow at the roots, a nameless colour that I
have never observed anywhere else....
"Yes," said I, "of nature."
"Then," queried she, after a pause, "who are you? And what do you in
"You see," I explained, "there were conceivably other men in Arden--"
"I suppose so," she sighed, with exemplary resignation.
"--For you were," I reminded her, "universally admired at your uncle's
court,--and equally so in the forest. And while Alfred--or, strictly
speaking, Gamelyn, or, if you prefer it, Orlando,--is the great love of
your life, still--"
"Men are so foolish!" said Rosalind, irrelevantly.
"--it did not prevent you--"
"Me!" cried she, indignant.
"You had such a tender heart," I suggested, "and suffering was
abhorrent to your gentle nature."
"I don't like cynicism, sir," said she; "and inasmuch as tobacco is not
"It is clearly impossible that I am smoking," I finished; "quite true."
"I don't like cheap wit, either," said Rosalind. "You," she went on,
with no apparent connection, "are a forester, with a good cross-bow and
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