The Cords of Vanity
James Branch Cabell et al
Part 4 out of 6
an unrequited attachment,--say, for me. You groan and hang verses and
things about on the trees."
"But I don't write verses--any longer," I amended. "Still how would
this do,--for an oak, say,--
"I found a lovely centre-piece
Upon the supper-table,
But when I looked at it again
I saw I wasn't able,
And so I took my mother home
And locked her in the stable."
She considered that the plot of this epic was not sufficiently
inevitable. It hadn't, she lamented, a quite logical ending; and the
plot of it, in fine, was not, somehow, convincing.
"Well, in any event," I optimistically reflected, "I am a nickel in. If
your dicta had emanated from a person in Peoria or Seattle, who hadn't
bothered to read my masterpiece, they would have sounded exactly the
same, and the clipping-bureau would have charged me five cents.
Maybe I can't write verses, then. But I am quite sure I can groan." And
I did so.
"It sounds rather like a fog-horn," said Rosalind, still in the
critic's vein; "but I suppose it is the proper thing. Now," she
continued, and quite visibly brightening, "you can pretend to have an
unrequited attachment for me."
"But I can't--" I decisively said.
"Can't," she echoed. It has not been mentioned previously that Rosalind
was pretty. She was especially so just now, in pouting. And, therefore,
"--pretend," I added.
She preserved a discreet silence.
"Nor," I continued, with firmness, "am I a shambling, nameless,
unshaven denizen of Arden, who hasn't anything to do except to carry a
spear and fall over it occasionally. I will no longer conceal the
secret of my identity. I am Jaques."
"You can't be Jaques," she dissented; "you are too stout."
"I am well-built," I admitted, modestly; "as in an elder case, sighing
and grief have blown me up like a bladder; yet proper pride, if nothing
else, demands that my name should appear on the programme."
"But would Jaques be the sort of person who'd--?"
"Who wouldn't be?" I asked, with appropriate ardour. "No, depend upon
it, Jaques was not any more impervious to temptation than the rest of
us; and, indeed, in the French version, as you will find, he eventually
"Minx!" said she; and it seemed to me quite possible that she referred
to Celia Reindan, and my heart glowed.
"And how," queried Rosalind, presently, "came you to the Forest of
Arden, good Jaques?"
I groaned once more. "It was a girl," I darkly said.
"Of course," assented Rosalind, beaming as to the eyes. Then she went
on, and more sympathetically: "Now, Jaques, you can tell me the whole
"Is it necessary?" I asked.
"Surely," said she, with sudden interest in the structure of
pine-cones; "since for a long while I have wanted to know all about
Jaques. You see Mr. Shakespeare is a bit hazy about him."
"_So_!" I thought, triumphantly.
And aloud, "It is an old story," I warned her, "perhaps the oldest of
all old stories. It is the story of a man and a girl. It began with a
chance meeting and developed into a packet of old letters, which is the
usual ending of this story."
Rosalind's brows protested.
"Sometimes," I conceded, "it culminates in matrimony; but the ending is
not necessarily tragic."
I dodged exactly in time; and the pine-cone splashed into the hazard.
"It happened," I continued, "that, on account of the man's health, they
were separated for a whole year's time before--before things had
progressed to any extent. When they did progress, it was largely by
letters. That is why this story ended in such a large package.
"Letters," Rosalind confided, to one of the pines, "are so
unsatisfactory. They mean so little."
"To the man," I said, firmly, "they meant a great deal. They brought
him everything that he most wished for,--comprehension, sympathy, and,
at last, comfort and strength when they were sore needed. So the man,
who was at first but half in earnest, announced to himself that he had
made a discovery. 'I have found,' said he, 'the great white love which
poets have dreamed of. I love this woman greatly, and she, I think,
loves me. God has made us for each other, and by the aid of her love I
will be pure and clean and worthy even of her.' You have doubtless
discovered by this stage in my narrative," I added, as in parenthesis,
"that the man was a fool."
"Don't!" said Rosalind.
"Oh, he discovered it himself in due time--but not until after he had
written a book about her. _As the Coming of Dawn_ the title was to have
been. It was--oh, just about her. It tried to tell how greatly he loved
her. It tried--well, it failed of course, because it isn't within the
power of any writer to express what the man felt for that girl. Why,
his love was so great--to him, poor fool!--that it made him at times
forget the girl herself, apparently. He didn't want to write her
trivial letters. He just wanted to write that great book in her honour,
which would _make_ her understand, even against her will, and then to
die, if need be, as Geoffrey Rudel did. For that was the one thing
which counted--to make her understand--" I paused, and anyone could see
that I was greatly moved. In fact, I was believing every word of it by
"Oh, but who wants a man to _die_ for her?" wailed Rosalind.
"It is quite true that one infinitely prefers to see him make a fool of
himself. So the man discovered when he came again to bring his foolish
book to her,--the book that was to make her understand. And so he
burned it--in a certain June. For the girl had merely liked him, and
had been amused by him. So she had added him to her collection of men,
--quite a large one, by the way,--and was, I believe, a little proud of
him. It was, she said, rather a rare variety, and much prized by
"And how was _she_ to know?" said Rosalind; and then, remorsefully:
"Was it a very horrid girl?"
"It was not exactly repulsive," said I, as dreamily, and looking up
into the sky.
There was a pause. Then someone in the distance--a forester, probably,
--called "Fore!" and Rosalind awoke from her reverie.
"Then--?" said she.
"Then came the customary Orlando--oh, well! Alfred, if you like. The
name isn't altogether inappropriate, for he does encounter existence
with much the same abandon which I have previously noticed in a muffin.
For the rest, he was a nicely washed fellow, with a sufficiency of the
mediaeval equivalents for bonds and rubber-tired buggies and country
places. Oh, yes! I forgot to say that the man was poor,--also that the
girl had a great deal of common-sense and no less than three longheaded
aunts. And so the girl talked to the man in a common-sense fashion--and
after that she was never at home."
"Never?" said Rosalind.
"Only that time they talked about the weather," said I. "So the man
fell out of bed just about then, and woke up and came to his sober
"He did it very easily," said Rosalind, almost as if in resentment.
"The novelty of the process attracted him," I pleaded. "So he said--in
a perfectly sensible way--that he had known all along it was only a
game they were playing,--a game in which there were no stakes. That was
a lie. He had put his whole soul into the game, playing as he knew for
his life's happiness; and the verses, had they been worthy of the love
which caused them to be written, would have been among the great songs
of the world. But while the man knew at last that he had been a fool,
he was swayed by a man-like reluctance against admitting it. So he
laughed--and lied--and broke away, hurt, but still laughing."
"You hadn't mentioned any verses before," said Rosalind.
"I told you he was a fool," said I. "And, after all, that is the entire
Then I spent several minutes in wondering what would happen next.
During this time I lost none of my interest in the sky. I believed
everything I had said: my emotions would have done credit to a Romeo or
"The first time that the girl was not at home," Rosalind observed,
impersonally, "the man had on a tan coat and a brown derby. He put on
his gloves as he walked down the street. His shoulders were the most
indignant--and hurt things she had ever seen. Then the girl wrote to
him,--a strangely sincere letter,--and tore it up."
"Historical research," I murmured, "surely affords no warrant for such
attire among the rural denizens of tranquil Arden."
"You see," continued Rosalind, oblivious to interruption, "I know all
about the girl,--which is more than you do."
"That," I conceded, "is disastrously probable."
"When she realised that she was to see the man again--_Did_ you ever
feel as if something had lifted you suddenly hundreds of feet above
rainy days and cold mutton for luncheon, and the possibility of other
girls' wearing black evening dresses, when you wanted yours to be the
only one in the room? Well, that is the way she felt at first, when she
read his note. At first, she realised nothing beyond the fact that he
was nearing her, and that she would presently see him. She didn't even
plan what she would wear, or what she would say to him. In an
indefinite way, she was happier than she had ever been before--or has
been since--until the doubts and fears and knowledge that give children
and fools a wide berth came to her,--and _then_ she saw it all against
her will, and thought it all out, and came to a conclusion."
I sat up. There was really nothing of interest occurring overhead.
"They had played at loving--lightly, it is true, but they had gone so
far in their letter writing that they could not go backward,--only
forward, or not at all. She had known all along that the man was but
half in earnest--believe me, a girl always knows that, even though she
may not admit it to herself,--and she had known that a love affair
meant to him material for a sonnet or so, and a well-turned letter or
two, and nothing more. For he was the kind of man that never quite
grows up. He was coming to her, pleased, interested, and a little
eager--in love with the idea of loving her,--willing to meet her
half-way, and very willing to follow her the rest of the way--if she
could draw him. And what was she to do? Could she accept his gracefully
insulting semblance of a love she knew he did not feel? Could they see
each other a dozen times, swearing not to mention the possibility of
loving,--so that she might have a chance to reimpress him with her
blondined hair--it _is_ touched up, you know--and small talk? And--and
"It is the duty of every young woman to consider what she owes to her
family," said I, absentmindedly. Rosalind Jemmett's family consists of
three aunts, and the chief of these is Aunt Marcia, who lives in
Lichfield. Aunt Marcia is a portly, acidulous and discomposing person,
with eyes like shoe-buttons and a Savonarolan nose. She is also a
well-advertised philanthropist, speaks neatly from the platform, and
has wide experience as a patroness, and extreme views as to
Rosalind flushed somewhat. "And so," said she, "the girl exercised her
common-sense, and was nervous, and said foolish things about new plays,
and the probability of rain--to keep from saying still more foolish
things about herself; and refused to talk personalities; and let him
go, with the knowledge that he would not come back. Then she went to
her room, and had a good cry. Now," she added, after a pause, "you
"I do not," I said, very firmly, "understand a lot of things."
"Yet a woman would," she murmured.
This being a statement I was not prepared to contest, I waved it aside.
"And so," said I, "they laughed; and agreed it was a boy-and-girl
affair; and were friends."
"It was the best thing--" said she.
"Yes," I assented,--"for Orlando."
"--and it was the most sensible thing."
This seemed to exhaust the subject, and I lay down once more among the
"And that," said Rosalind, "was the reason Jaques came to Arden?"
"Yes," said I.
"And found it--?"
"Shall we say--Hades?"
"Oh!" she murmured, scandalised.
"It happened," I continued, "that he was cursed with a good memory. And
the zest was gone from his little successes and failures, now there was
no one to share them; and nothing seemed to matter very much. Oh, he
really was the sort of man that never grows up! And it was dreary to
live among memories of the past, and his life was now somewhat
perturbed by disapproval of his own folly and by hunger for a woman who
was out of his reach."
"And Rosalind--I mean the girl--?"
"She married Orlando--or Gamelyn, or Alfred, or Athelstane, or
Ethelred, or somebody,--and, whoever it was, they lived happily ever
afterward," I said, morosely.
Rosalind pondered over this dénouement for a moment.
"Do you know," said she, "I think--"
"It's a rather dangerous practice," I warned her.
Rosalind sighed, wearily; but in her cheek at about this time occurred
"--I think that Rosalind must have thought the play
very badly named."
"_As You Like It_?" I queried, obtusely.
"Yes--since it wasn't, for her."
It is unwholesome to lie on the ground after sunset.
"I had rather a scene with Alfred yesterday morning. He said you drank,
and gambled, and were always running after--people, and weren't in
fine, a desirable person for me to know. He insinuated, in fact, that
you were a villain of the very deepest and non-crocking dye. He told me
of instances. His performance would have done credit to Ananias. I was
_mad_! So I gave him his old ring back, and told him things I can't
tell _you_,--no, not just yet, dear. He is rather like a muffin, isn't
he?" she said, with the lightest possible little laugh--"particularly
like one that isn't quite done."
"Oh, Rosalind," I babbled, "I mean to prove that you were right. And I
_will_ prove it, too!"
And indeed I meant all that I said--just then.
Rosalind said: "Oh, Jaques, Jaques! what a child you are!"
_He Plays the Improvident Fool_
Now was I come near to the summit of my desires, and advantageously
betrothed to a girl with whom I was, in any event, almost in love; but
I presently ascertained, to my dismay, that sophisticated, "proper"
little Rosalind was thoroughly in love with me, and always in the back
of my mind this knowledge worried me.
Imprimis, she persisted in calling me Jaques, which was uncomfortably
reminiscent of that time wherein I was called Jack. Yet my objection to
this silly nickname was a mischancy matter to explain. There was no way
of telling her that I disliked anything which reminded me of Gillian
Hardress, without telling more about Gillian than would be pleasant to
tell. So Rosalind went on calling me Jaques; and I was compelled to put
up with a trivial and unpremeditated, but for all that a daily,
annoyance; and I fretted under it.
Item, she insisted on presenting me with all sorts of expensive
knick-knacks, and being childishly grieved when I remonstrated.
"But I have the money," Rosalind would say, "and you haven't. So why
shouldn't I? And besides, it's really only selfishness on my part,
because I like doing things for you, and _if_ you liked doing things
for me, Jaques, you'd understand."
So I would eventually have to swear that I did like "doing things" for
her; and it followed--somehow--that in consequence she had a perfect
right to give me anything she wanted to.
And this too fretted me, mildly, all the summer I spent at Birnam Beach
with Rosalind and with the opulent friends of Rosalind's aunt from St.
Louis.... They were a queer lot. They all looked so unspeakably new;
their clothes were spick and span, and as expensive as possible, but
that was not it; even in their bathing suits these middle-aged
people--they were mostly middle-aged--seemed to have been very recently
finished, like animated waxworks of middle-aged people just come from
the factory. And they spent money in a continuous careless way that
But I was on my very best, most dignified behavior; and when Aunt Lora
presented me as "one of the Lichfield Townsends, you know," these
brewers and breweresses appeared to be properly impressed. One of
them--actually--"supposed that I had a coat-of-arms"; which in
Lichfield would be equivalent to "supposing" that a gentleman possessed
a pair of trousers. But they were really very thoughtful about never
letting me pay for anything; in this regard there seemed afoot a sort
of friendly conspiracy.
So the summer passed pleasantly enough; and we bathed, and held hands
in the moonlight, and danced at the Casino, and rode the
merry-go-round, and played ping-pong, and read _Dorothy Vernon of
Haddon Hall_,--which was much better, I told everybody, than that
idiotic George Clock book, _The Imperial Votaress_. And we drank
interminable suissesses, and it was all very pleasant.
Yet always in the rear of my mind was stirring restively the instinct
to get back to my writing; and these sedately frolicsome benevolent
people--even Rosalind--plainly thought that "writing things" was just
the unimportant foible of an otherwise fine young fellow.
And in September Rosalind came to visit her Aunt Marcia in Lichfield,
to get clothes and all other matters ready for our wedding in November;
and Lichfield, as always, made much of Rosalind, and she had the honor
of "leading" the first Lichfield German with Colonel Rudolph Musgrave.
My partner at that dance was the Marquise d'Arlanges....
I was seeing a deal of the Marquise d'Arlanges. She was Stella's only
sister, as you may remember, and was that autumn paying a perfunctory
visit to her parents--the second since her marriage.
I shall not expatiate, however, concerning Madame la Marquise. You have
doubtless heard of her. For Lizzie has not, even yet, found a time
wherein to be idle; she has been busied since the hour of her birth in
acquiring first, plain publicity, and then social power, and every
other amenity of life in turn. I had not the least doubt even then of
her ending where she is now....
She was at this time still well upon the preferable side o! thirty, and
had no weaknesses save a liking for gossip, cigarettes, and admiration.
Lizzie was never the woman to marry a Peter Blagden. Once Stella was
settled, Lizzie Musgrave had sailed for Europe, and eventually had
arrived at Monaco with an apologetic mother, several letters of
introduction, and a Scotch terrier; and had established herself at the
Hôtel de la Paix, to look over the "available" supply of noblemen in
reduced circumstances. Before the end of a month Miss Musgrave had
reached a decision, had purchased her Marquis, much as she would have
done any other trifle that took her fancy, and had shipped her mother
back to America. Lizzie retained the terrier, however, as she was
honestly attached to it.
Her marriage had been happy, and she found her husband on further
acquaintance, as she told me, a mild-mannered and eminently suitable
person, who was unaccountably addicted to playing dominoes, and who
spent a great deal of money, and dined with her occasionally. In a
sentence, the marquise was handsome, "had a tongue in her head," and,
to utilise yet another ancient phrase, was as hard as nails.
And yet there was a family resemblance. Indeed, in voice and feature
she was strangely like an older Stella; and always I was cheating
myself into a half-belief that this woman I was talking with was
Stella; and Lizzie would at least enable me to forget, for a whole
half-hour sometimes, that Stella was dead....
* * * * *
"I must thank you," I said, one afternoon, when I arose to go, "for a
most pleasant dream of--what we'll call the Heart's Desire. I suppose I
have been rather stupid, Lizzie; and I apologise for it; but people are
never exceedingly hilarious in dreams, you know."
She said, very gently: "I understand. For I loved Stella too. And that
is why the room is never really lighted when you come. Oh, you stupid
man, how could I have _helped_ knowing it--that all the love you have
made to me was because you have been playing I was Stella? That
knowledge has preserved me, more than once, my child, from succumbing
to your illicit advances in this dead Lichfield."
And I was really astonished, for she was not by ordinary the sort of
woman who consents to be a makeshift.
I said as much, "And it _has_ been a comfort, Lizzie, because she
doesn't come as often now, for some reason--"
"Why--what do you mean?"
The room was very dark, lit only by the steady, comfortable glow of a
soft-coal fire. For it was a little after sunset, and outside,
carriages were already rumbling down Regis Avenue, and people were
returning from the afternoon drive. I could not see anything
distinctly, excepting my own hands, which were like gold in the
firelight; and so I told her all about _The Indulgences of Ole-Luk-Ole_.
"She came, that first time, over the crest of a tiny upland that lay in
some great forest,--Brocheliaunde, I think. I knew it must be autumn,
for the grass was brown and every leaf upon the trees was brown. And
she too was all in brown, and her big hat, too, was of brown felt, and
about it curled a long ostrich feather dyed brown; and my first
thought, as I now remember, was how in the dickens could any mediaeval
lady have come by such a garb, for I knew, somehow, that this was a
woman of the Middle Ages.
"Only her features were those of Stella, and the eyes of this woman
were filled with an unutterable happiness and fear, as she came toward
me,--just as the haunting eyes of Stella were upon the night she
married Peter Blagden, and I babbled nonsense to the moon.
"'Oh, I have wanted you,--I have wanted you!' she said; and afterward,
unarithmeticably dimpling, just as she used to do, you may remember:
_'Depardieux,_ messire! have you then forgotten that upon this forenoon
we hunt the great boar?"
"'Stella!' I said, 'O dear, dear Stella! what does it mean?'
"'You silly! it means, of course, that Ole-Luk-Oie is kind, and has put
us both into the glaze of the mustard-jar--only I wonder which one we
have gotten into?' Stella said. 'Don't you remember them, dear--the
blue mustard-jar and the red one your Mammy had that summer at the
Green Chalybeate, with men on them hunting a boar?'
"'They stood, one on each corner of the mantelpiece,' I said; 'and in
the blue one she kept matches, and in the other--'
"'She kept buttons in the red one,' said Stella,--'big, shiny white
buttons, with four holes in them, that had come off your underclothes,
and were to be sewed on again. One day you swallowed one of 'em, I
remember, because you _would_ keep it in your mouth while you swung in
the hammock. And you thought it would surely kill you, so you knelt
down in the dry leaves and prayed God He wouldn't let it kill you.'
"'But you weren't there,' I protested; 'nobody was there. So nobody
ever knew anything about it, though may be you--' For I had just
remembered that Stella was dead, only I knew it was against some rule
to mention it.
"'Well, at any rate I'm _here_,' said Stella, 'and Ole-Luk-Oie is kind;
and we had better go and hunt the great boar at once, I suppose, since
that is what the people on the mustard-jars always do.'
"'But how did you come hither, O my dear--?'
"'Why, through your wanting me so much,' she said. 'How else?'
"And I understood....
"So we went and slew the great boar. I slew it personally, with a long
spear, and with Stella clasping her hands in the background. Only there
was a nicked place in the mustard-jar, where I had dropped it on the
hearth some fifteen years ago, and my horse kept stumbling over this
crevice, so that I knew it was the red jar and the buttons we were
riding around. And afterward I made a song in honour of my Stella,--a
song so perfect that I presently awoke, weeping with joy that I had
made a song so beautiful, and with the knowledge I could not now
recollect a single word of it; and I knew that neither I nor any other
man could ever make again a song one-half so beautiful....
"Since then Ole-Luk-Oie--or someone--has been very kind at times. He
always lets me into pictures, though, never into mouse-holes and
hen-houses and silly places like that, as he did little Hjalmar. I
don't know why....
"Once it was into the illustrations to the _Popular Tales of
Poictesme_, and we met my great grandfather Jurgen there. And once it
was into the picture on the cover of that unveracious pamphlet the
manager of the Green Chalybeate sends in the spring to everybody who
has once been there. That time was very odd.
"It is a picture of the Royal Hotel, you may remember, as it used to be
a good ten years ago. Both fountains were playing in the sunlight,
--they were torn down when I was at college, and I had almost forgotten
their existence; and elegant and languid ladies were riding by, in
victorias, and under tiny parasols trimmed with fringe, and all these
ladies wore those preposterously big sleeves they used to wear then;
and men in little visored skull caps were passing on tall old-fashioned
bicycles, just as they do in the picture. Even the silk-hatted
gentleman in the corner, pointing out the beauties of the building with
his cane, was there.
"And Stella and I walked past the margin of the picture, and so on down
the boardwalk to the other hotel, to look for our parents. And we
agreed not to tell anyone that we had ever grown up, but just to let it
be a secret between us two; and we were to stay in the picture forever,
and grow up all over again, only we would arrange everything
differently. And Stella was never to go driving on the twenty-seventh
of April, so that we would be quite safe, and would live together for a
long, long while.
"She wouldn't promise, though, that when Peter Blagden asked to be
introduced, she would refuse to meet him. She just giggled and shook
her sunny head. She hadn't any hat on. She was wearing the
blue-and-white sailor-suit, of course."....
But a servant was lighting up the front-hall, and the glare of it came
through the open door, and now the room was just like any other room.
"And you are Robert Townsend!" the marquise observed. "The one my
mother doesn't approve of as a visitor!"
Madame d'Arlanges said, with a certain lack of sequence: "And yet you
are planning to do precisely what Peter Blagden did. He liked Stella,
she amused him, and he thought her money would come in very handy; and
so he, somehow, contrived to marry her in the end, because she was just
a child, and you were a child, and he wasn't. And he always lied to her
about--about those business-trips--even from the very first. I knew,
because I'm not a sentimental person. But, Bob, how can you stoop to
mimic Peter Blagden! For you are doing precisely what he did; and for
Rosalind, just as it was for Stella, it is almost irresistible, to have
the chance of reforming a man who has notoriously been 'talked about.'
Still, I see that for Stella's sake you won't lie as steadfastly to
Rosalind as Peter did to Stella. It is none of my business of course;
oh, I don't meddle. I merely prophesy that you won't."
But those lights had made an astonishing difference. And so, "But why
not?" said I. "It is the immemorial method of dealing with savages; and
surely women can never expect to become quite civilised so long as
chivalry demands that a man say to a woman only what he believes she
wants to hear? Ah, no, my dear Lizzie; when a man tries to get into a
woman's favour, custom demands that he palliate the invasion with
flatteries and veiled truths--or, more explicitly, with lies,--just as
any sensible explorer must come prepared to leave a trail of
looking-glasses and valueless bright beads among the original owners of
any unknown country. For he doesn't know what obstacles he may
encounter, and he has been taught, from infancy, to regard any woman as
a baleful and unfathomable mystery--"
"She is never so--heaven help her!--if the man be sufficiently
"I rejoice that we are so thoroughly at one. For upon my word, I
believe this widespread belief in feminine inscrutability is the result
of a conspiracy on the part of the weaker sex; and that every mother is
somehow pledged to inculcate this belief into the immature masculine
mind. Apparently the practice originated in the Middle Ages, for it
never seemed to occur to anybody before then that a woman was
particularly complex. Though, to be sure, Catullus now--" "This is not
a time for pedantry. I don't in the least care what Catullus or anyone
else observed concerning anything--" "But I had not aspired, my dear
Lizzie, to be even remotely pedantic. I was simply about to remark that
Catullus, or Ariosto, or Coventry Patmore, or King Juba, or Posidonius,
or Sir John Vanbrugh, or perhaps, Agathocles of Chios, or else
Simonides the Younger, has conceded somewhere, that women are, in
certain respects, dissimilar, as it were, to men." "I am merely urging
you not to marry this silly little Rosalind, for the excellent reason
that you _did_ love my darling Stella even more than I, and that
Rosalind is in love with you." "Do you really think so?" said I. "Why,
then, actuated by the very finest considerations of decency and
prudence and generosity, I shall, of course, espouse her the very next
November that ever is."
The marquise retorted: "No,--because you are at bottom too fond of
Rosalind Jemmett; and, besides, it isn't really a question of your
feeling toward _her_. In any event, I begin to like you too well, Bob,
to let you kiss me any more."
I declared that I detested paradox. Then I went home to supper.
But, for all this, I meditated for a long while upon what Lizzie had
said. It was true that I was really fond of "proper" little Rosalind
Jemmett; concerning myself I had no especial illusions; and, to my
credit, I faced what I considered the real issue, squarely.
We were in Aunt Marcia's parlour. Rosalind was an orphan, and lived in
turn with her three aunts. She said the other two were less unendurable
than Aunt Marcia, and I believed her. I consider, to begin with, that a
person is not civilised who thumps upon the floor upstairs with a
poker, simply because it happens to be eleven o'clock; and moreover,
Aunt Marcia's parlour--oh, it really was a "parlour,"--was entirely too
like the first night of a charity bazaar, when nothing has been sold.
The room was not a particularly large one; but it contained exactly
three hundred and seven articles of bijouterie, not estimating the
china pug-dog upon the hearth. I know, for I counted them.
Besides, there were twenty-eight pictures upon the walls--one in oils
of the late Mr. Dumby (for Aunt Marcia was really Mrs. Clement Dumby),
painted, to all appearances, immediately after the misguided gentleman
who married Aunt Marcia had been drowned, and before he had been wiped
dry,--and for the rest, everywhere the eye was affronted by engravings
framed in gilt and red-plush of "Sanctuary," "Le Hamac," "Martyre
Chrétienne," "The Burial of Latané," and other Victorian outrages.
Then on an easel there was a painting of a peacock, perched upon an
urn, against a gilded background; this painting irrelevantly deceived
your expectations, for it was framed in blue plush. Also there were
"gift-books" on the centre table, and a huge volume, again in red
plush, with its titular "Album" cut out of thin metal and nailed to the
cover. This album contained calumnious portraits of Aunt Marcia's
family, the most of them separately enthroned upon the same imitation
rock, in all the pride of a remote, full-legged and starchy youth, each
picture being painfully "coloured by hand."
"Do you know why I want to marry you?" I demanded of Rosalind, in such
surroundings, apropos of a Mrs. Vokins who had taken a house in
Lichfield for the winter, and had been at school somewhere in the
backwoods with Aunt Marcia, and was "dying to meet me."
She answered, in some surprise: "Why, because you have the good taste
to be heels over head in love with me, of course."
I took possession of her hands. "If there is anything certain in this
world of uncertainties, it is that I am not the least bit in love with
you. Yet, only yesterday--do you remember, dear?"
She answered, "I remember."
"But I cannot, for the life of me, define what happened yesterday. I
merely recall that we were joking, as we always do when together, and
that on a wager I loosened your hair. Then as it tumbled in great
honey-coloured waves about you, you were silent, and there came into
your eyes a look I had never seen before. And even now I cannot define
what happened, Rosalind! I only know I caught your face between my
hands, and for a moment held it so, with fingers that have not yet
forgotten the feel of your soft, thick hair,--and that for a breathing
space your eyes looked straight into mine. Something changed in me
then, my lady. Something changed in you, too, I think."
Then Rosalind said, "Don't, Jaques--!" She was horribly embarrassed.
"For I knew you willed me to possess you, and that possession would
seem as trivial as a fiddle in a temple.... Yet, too, there was a
lustful beast, somewhere inside of me, which nudged me to--kiss you,
say! But nothing happened. I did not even kiss you, my beautiful and
"Don't keep on talking about the money," she wailed. "Why, you can't
believe I think you mercenary!"
"I would estimate your intellect far more cheaply, my charming
Rosalind, if you thought anything else; for of course I am. I wanted to
settle myself, you conceive, and as an accomplice you were very
eligible. I now comprehend it is beyond the range of rationality, dear
stranger, that we should ever marry each other; and so we must not. We
must not, you comprehend, since though we lived together through ten
patriarchal lifetimes we would die strangers to each other.
For you, dear clean-souled girl that you are, were born that you might
be the wife of a strong man and the mother of his sturdy children. The
world was made for you and for your offspring; and in time your
children will occupy this world and make the laws for us irrelevant
folk that scribble and paint and design all useless and beautiful
things, and thus muddle away our precious lives. No, you may not wisely
mate with us, for you are a shade too terribly at ease in the universe,
you sensible people."
"But I love Art," said Rosalind, bewildered.
"Yes,--but by the tiniest syllable a thought too volubly, my dear. You
are the sort that quotes the Rubaiyat. Whereas I--was it yesterday or
the day before you told me, with a wise pucker of your beautiful low,
white brow, that I had absolutely no sense of the responsibilities of
life? Well, I really haven't, dear stranger, as you appraise them; and,
indeed, I fear we must postpone our agreement upon any possible
subject, until the coming of the Coquecigrues. We see the world so
differently, you and I,--and for that same reason I cannot but adore
you, Rosalind. For with you I can always speak my true thought and know
that you will never for a moment suspect it to be anything but irony.
Ah, yes, we can laugh and joke together, and be thorough friends; but
if there is anything certain in this world of uncertainties, it is that
I am not, and cannot be, in love with you. And yet--I wonder now?" said
I, and I rose and paced Aunt Marcia's parlour.
"You wonder? Don't you understand even now?" the girl said shyly. "I am
not as clever as you, of course; I have known that for a long while,
Jaques; and to-night in particular I don't quite follow you, my dear,
but I love you, and--why, there is _nothing_ I could deny you!"
"Then give me back my freedom," said I. "For, look you, Rosalind,
marriage is proverbially a slippery business. Always there are a
variety of excellent reasons for perpetrating matrimony; but the rub of
it is that not any one of them insures you against to-morrow. Love, for
example, we have all heard of; but I have known fine fellows to fling
away their chances in life, after the most approved romantic fashion,
on account of a pretty stenographer, and to beat her within the
twelvemonth. And upon my word, you know, nobody has a right to blame
the swindled lover for doing this--"
I paused to inspect the china pug-dog which squatted on the pink-tiled
hearth and which glared inanely at the huge brass coal-box just
opposite. Then I turned from these two abominations and faced Rosalind
with a bantering flirt of my head.
"--For put it that I marry some entrancing slip of girlhood, what am I
to say when, later, I discover myself irrevocably chained to a fat and
dowdy matron? I married no such person, I have indeed sworn eternal
fidelity to an entirely different person; and this unsolicited usurper
of my hearth is nothing whatever to me, unless perhaps the object of my
entire abhorrence. Yet am I none the less compelled to justify the
ensuing action before an irrational audience, which faces common logic
in very much the attitude of Augustine's famed adder! Decidedly I think
that, on the whole, I would prefer my Freedom."
It was as though I had struck her. She sat as if frozen. "Jaques, is
there another woman in this?"
"Why, in a fashion, yes. Yet it is mainly because I am really fond of
She handed me that exceedingly expensive ring the jeweler had charged
to me. I thought her action damnably theatrical, but still, it was not
as though I could afford to waste money on rings, so I took the trinket
"You are unflatteringly prompt in closing out the account," I said,
with a grieved smile....
"Good-bye!" said Rosalind, and her voice broke. "Oh, and I had
thought--! Well, as it is, I pay for the luxury of thinking, just as
you forewarned me, don't I, Jaques? And you won't forget the
hall-light? Aunt Marcia, you know--but how glad _she_ will be! I feel
rather near to Aunt Marcia to-night," said Rosalind.
She left Lichfield the next day but one, and spent the following winter
with the aunt that lived in Brooklyn. She was Rosalind Gelwix the next
time I saw her....
And Aunt Marcia, whose taste is upon a par with her physical
attractions, inserted a paragraph in the "Social Items" of the
Lichfield _Courier-Herald_ to announce the breaking-off of the
engagement. Aunt Marcia also took the trouble to explain, quite
confidentially, to some seven hundred and ninety-three people, just why
the engagement had been broken off: and these explanations were more
creditable to Mrs. Dumby's imagination than to me.
And I remembered, then, that the last request my mother made of me was
to keep out of the newspapers--"except, of course, the social
_He Dines Out, Impeded by Superstitions_
Within the week I had repented of what I termed my idiotic quixotism,
and for precisely nine days after that I cursed my folly. And then, at
the Provises, I comprehended that in breaking off my engagement to
Rosalind Jemmett I had acted with profound wisdom, and I unfolded my
napkin, and said:
"Do you know I didn't catch your name--not even this time?"
She took a liberal supply of lemon juice. "How delightful!" she
murmured, "for I heard yours quite distinctly, and these oysters are
I noted with approval that her gown was pink and fluffy; it had also the
advantage of displaying shoulders that were incredibly white, and a
throat which was little short of marvellous. "I am glad," I whispered,
confidentially, "that you are still wearing that faint vein about your
left temple. I thought it admirable for early morning wear upon the
house tops of Liege, but it seems equally effective for dinner parties."
She raised her eyebrows slightly and selected a biscuit.
"You see," said I, "I was horribly late. And when Kittie Provis said,
'Allow me,' and I saw--well, I didn't care," I concluded, lucidly,
"because to have every one of your dreams come true, all of a sudden,
leaves you past caring."
"It really is funny," she confided to a spoonful of _consomme a la
"After almost two years!" sighed I, ever so happily. But I continued,
with reproach, "To go without a word--that very day--"
"Mamma--" she began.
I recalled the canary-bird, and the purple shawl. "I sought wildly,"
said I; "you were evanished. The _proprietaire_ was tearing his hair--no
insurance--he knew nothing. So I too tore my hair; and I said things.
There was a row. For he also said things: 'Figure to yourselves,
messieurs! I lose the Continental--two ladies come and go, I know not
who--I am ruined, desolated, is it not?--and this pig of an American
blusters--ah, my new carpets, just down, what horror!' And then, you
know, he launched into a quite feeling peroration concerning our
notorious custom of tomahawking one another--
"Yes," I coldly concluded into Mrs. Clement Dumby's ear, "we all behaved
disgracefully. As you very justly observe, liquor has been the curse of
the South." It was of a piece with Kittie Provis to put me next to Aunt
Marcia, I reflected.
And mentally I decided that even though a portion of my assertions had
not actually gone through the formality of occurring, it all might very
easily have happened, had I remained a while longer in Liege; and then
ensued a silent interval and an entree.
"And so I knocked about the world, in various places, hoping against
hope that at last--"
"Your voice carries frightfully--"
I glanced toward Mrs. Clement Dumby, who, as a dining dowager of many
years' experience, was, to all appearances, engrossed by the contents of
her plate. "My elderly neighbour is as hard of hearing as a
telephone-girl," I announced. She was the exact contrary, which was why
I said it quite audibly. "And your neighbour--why, _his_ neighbour is
Nannie Allsotts. We might as well be on a desert island, Elena--" And
the given name slipped out so carelessly as to appear almost accidental.
"Sir!" said she, with proper indignation; "after so short an
"Centuries," I suggested, meekly. "You remember I explained about that."
She frowned,--an untrustworthy frown that was tinged with laughter. "One
meets so many people! Yes, it really is frightfully warm, Colonel
Grimshaw; they ought to open some of the windows."
"Er--haw--hum! Didn't see you at the Anchesters."
"No; I am usually lucky enough to be in bed with a sick headache when
Mrs. Anchester entertains. Of two evils one should choose the lesser,
In the manner of divers veterans Colonel Grimshaw evinced his mirth upon
a scale more proper to an elephant; and relapsed, with a reassuring air
of having done his duty once and for all.
"I never," she suggested, tentatively, "heard any more of your poem,
"Oh, I finished it; every magazine in the country knows it. It is poor
stuff, of course, but then how could I write of Helen when Helen had
The lashes exhibited themselves at full length. "I looked her up,"
confessed their owner, guiltily, "in the encyclopaedia. It was very
instructive--about sun-myths and bronzes and the growth of the epic, you
know, and tree-worship and moon-goddesses. Of course"--here ensued a
flush and a certain hiatus in logic,--"of course it is nonsense."
"Nonsense?" My voice sank tenderly. "Is it nonsense, Elena, that for two
years I have remembered the woman whose soft body I held, for one
unforgettable moment, in my arms? and nonsense that I have fought all
this time against--against the temptations every man has,--that I might
ask her at last--some day when she at last returned, as always I knew
she would--to share a fairly decent life? and nonsense that I have
dreamed, waking and sleeping, of a wondrous face I knew in Ilium first,
and in old Rome, and later on in France, I think, when the Valois were
kings? Well!" I sighed, after vainly racking my brain for a tenderer
fragment of those two-year-old verses, "I suppose it is nonsense!"
"The salt, please," quoth she. She flashed that unforgotten broadside at
me. "I believe you need it."
"Why, dear me! of course not!" said I, to Mrs. Dumby; "immorality lost
the true _cachet_ about the same time that ping-pong did. Nowadays
divorces are going out, you know, and divorcees are not allowed to.
Quite modish women are seen in public with their husbands nowadays."
"H'mph!" said Mrs. Dumby; "I've no doubt that you must find it a most
I ate my portion of duck abstractedly. "Thus to dive into the
refuse-heap of last year's slang does not quite cover the requirements
of the case. For I wish--only I hardly dare to ask--"
"If I were half of what you make out," meditatively said she, "I would
be a regular fairy, and couldn't refuse you the usual three wishes."
"Two," I declared, "would be sufficient."
"That you tell me your name."
"I adore orange ices, don't you? And the second?" was her comment.
"Well, then, you' re a pig," was mine. "You are simply a nomenclatural
Berkshire. But the second is that you let me measure your finger--oh,
any finger will do. Say, the third on the left hand."
"You really talk to me as if--" But this non-existent state of affairs
proved indescribable, and the unreal condition lapsed into a pout.
"Oh, very possibly!" I conceded; "since the way in which a man talks to
a woman--to _the_ woman--depends by ordinary upon the depth--"
"The depth of his devotion?" she queried, helpfully. "Of course!"
I faced the broadside, without flinching. "No," said I, critically; "the
depth of her dimples."
"Nonsense!" Nevertheless, the dimples were, and by a deal, the more
conspicuous. We were getting on pretty well.
I bent forward; there was a little catch in my voice. Aunt Marcia was
listening. I wanted her to listen.
"You must know that I love you," I said, simply, "I have always loved
you, I think, since the moment my eyes first fell upon you in
that--other pink thing. Of course, I realize the absurdity of my talking
in this way to a woman whose name I don't know; but I realise more
strongly that I love you. Why, there is not a pulse in my body which
isn't throbbing and tingling and leaping riotously from pure joy of
being with you again, Elena! And in time, you will love me a little,
simply because I want you to,--isn't that always a woman's main reason
for caring for a man?"
She considered this, dubious and flushed.
"I will not insist," said I, with a hurried and contented laugh, "that
you were formerly an Argive queen. I mean I will not be obstinate about
it, because that, I confess, was a paraphrase of my verses. But Helen
has always been to me the symbol of perfect loveliness, and so it was
not unnatural that I should confuse you with her."
"Thank you, sir," said she, demurely.
"I half believe it is true, even now; and if not--well, Helen was
acceptable enough in her day, Elena, but I am willing to Italianise, for
I have seen you and loved you, and Helen is forgot. It is not exactly
the orthodox pace for falling in love," I added, with a boyish candour,
"but it is very real to me."
"You--you couldn't have fallen in love--really--"
"It was not in the least difficult," I protested.
"And you don't even know my _name_--"
"I know, however, what it is going to be," said I; "and Mrs. 'Enry
'Awkins, as we'll put it, has found favour in the judgment of
connoisseurs. So after dinner--in an hour--?"
"Oh, very well! since you're an author and insist, I will be ready, in
an hour, to decline you, with thanks."
"Rejection not implying any lack of merit," I suggested. "This is
damnable iteration; but I am accustomed to it."
But by this, Mrs. Provis was gathering eyes around the table, and her
guests arose, with the usual outburst of conversation, and swishing of
dresses, and the not always unpremeditated dropping of handkerchiefs and
fans. Mrs. Clement Dumby bore down upon us now, a determined and
generously proportioned figure in her notorious black silk.
"Really," said she, aggressively, "I never saw two people more
engrossed. My dear Mrs. Barry-Smith, you have been so taken up with Mr.
Townsend, all during dinner, that I haven't had a chance to welcome you
to Lichfield. Your mother and I were at school together, you know. And
your husband was quite a beau of mine. So I don't feel, now, at all as
if we were strangers--"
And thus she bore Elena off, and I knew that within ten minutes Elena
would have been warned against me, as "not quite a desirable
acquaintance, you know, my dear, and it is only my duty to tell you that
as a young and attractive married woman--"
"And so," I said in my soul, as the men redistributed themselves, "she
is married,--married while you were pottering with books and the turn of
phrases and immortality and such trifles--oh, you ass! And to a man
named Barry-Smith--damn him, I wonder whether he is the hungry scut that
hasn't had his hair cut this fall, or the blancmange-bellied one with
the mashed-strawberry nose? Yes, I know everybody else. And Jimmy Travis
is telling a funny story, so _laugh_! People will think you are grieving
over Rosalind.... But why in heaven's name isn't Jimmy at home this very
moment,--with a wife and carpet-slippers and a large-size bottle of
paregoric on his mantelpiece,--instead of here, grinning like a fool
over some blatant indecency? He ought to marry; every young man ought to
marry. Oh, you futile, abject, burbling twin-brother of the first patron
that procured a reputation for Bedlam! why aren't _you_ married--married
years ago,--with a home of your own, and a victoria for Mrs. Townsend
and bills from the kindergarten every quarter? Oh, you bartender of
verbal cocktails! I believe your worst enemy flung your mind at you in a
moment of unbridled hatred."
So I snapped the stem of my glass carefully, and scowled with morose
disapproval at the unconscious Mr. Travis, and his now-applauded and
very Fescennine jest....
I found her inspecting a bulky folio with remarkable interest. There was
a lamp, with a red shade, that cast a glow over her, such as one
sometimes sees reflected from a great fire. The people about us were
chattering idiotically, and something inside my throat prevented my
breathing properly, and I was miserable.
"Mrs. Barry-Smith,"--thus I began,--"if you've the tiniest scrap of pity
in your heart for a very presumptuous, blundering and unhappy person, I
pray you to forgive and to forget, as people say, all that I have
blatted out to you. I spoke, as I thought, to a free woman, who had the
right to listen to my boyish talk, even though she might elect to laugh
at it. And now I hardly dare to ask forgiveness."
Mrs. Barry-Smith inspected a view of the Matterhorn, with careful
deliberation. "Forgiveness?" said she.
"Indeed," said I, "I _don't_ deserve it." And I smiled most resolutely.
"I had always known that somewhere, somehow, you would come into my life
again. It has been my dream all these two years; but I dream carelessly.
My visions had not included this--obstacle."
She made wide eyes at me. "What?" said she.
"Your husband," I suggested, delicately.
The eyes flashed. And a view of Monaco, to all appearances, awoke some
pleasing recollection. "I confess," said Mrs. Barry-Smith, "that--for
the time--I had quite forgotten him. I--I reckon you must think me
But she was at pains to accompany this query with a broadside that
rendered such a supposition most unthinkable. And so--
"I think you--" My speech was hushed and breathless, and ended in a
click of the teeth. "Oh, don't let's go into the minor details,"
Then Mrs. Barry-Smith descended to a truism. "It is usually better not
to," said she, with the air of an authority. And latterly, addressing
the facade of Notre Dame, "You see, Mr. Barry-Smith being so much
older than I--"
"I would prefer that. Of course, though, it is none of my business."
"You see, you came and went so suddenly that--of course I never thought
to see you again--not that I ever thought about it, I reckon--" Her
candour would have been cruel had it not been reassuringly
over-emphasized. "And Mr. Barry-Smith was very pressing--"
"He would be," I assented, after consideration. "It is, indeed, the
single point in his outrageous conduct I am willing to condone."
"--and he was a great friend of my father's, and I _liked_ him--"
"So you married him and lived together ever afterward, without ever
throwing the tureen at each other. That is the most modern version; but
there is usually a footnote concerning the bread-and-butter plates."
She smiled, inscrutably, a sphinx in Dresden china. "And yet," she
murmured, plaintively, "I _would_ like to know what you think of me."
"Why, prefacing with the announcement that I pray God I may never see
you after to-night, I think you the most adorable creature He ever made.
What does it matter now? I have lost you. I think--ah, desire o' the
world, what can I think of you? The notion of you dazzles me like
flame,--and I dare not think of you, for I love you."
"Yes?" she queried, sweetly; "then I reckon Mrs. Dumby was right after
all. She said you were a most depraved person and that, as a young
and--well, _she_ said it, you know--attractive widow--"
"H'm!" said I; and I sat down. "Elena Barry-Smith," I added, "you are an
unmitigated and unconscionable and unpardonable rascal. There is just
one punishment which would be adequate to meet your case; and I warn you
that I mean to inflict it. Why, how dare you be a widow! The court
decides it is unable to put up with any such nonsense, and that you've
got to stop it at once."
"Really," said she, tossing her head and moving swiftly, "one would
think we _were_ on a desert island!"
"Or a strange roof"--and I laughed, contentedly. "Meanwhile, about that
ring--it should be, I think, a heavy, Byzantine ring, with the stones
sunk deep in the dull gold. Yes, we'll have six stones in it; say, R, a
ruby; O, an opal; B, a beryl; E, an emerald; R, a ruby again, I suppose;
and T, a topaz. Elena, that's the very ring I mean to buy as soon as
I've had breakfast, tomorrow, as a token of my mortgage on the desire of
the world, and as the badge of your impendent slavery." And I reflected
that Rosalind had, after all, behaved commendably in humiliating me by
so promptly returning this ring.
Very calmly Elena Barry-Smith regarded the Bay of Naples; very calmly
she turned to the Taj Mahal. "An obese young Lochinvar," she reflected
aloud, "who has seen me twice, unblushingly assumes he is about to marry
me! Of course," she sighed, quite tolerantly, "I know he is clean out of
his head, for otherwise--" "Yes,--otherwise?" I prompted.
"--he would never ask me to wear an opal. Why," she cried in horror, "I
couldn't think of it!" "You mean--?" said I.
She closed the album, with firmness. "Why, you are just a child," said
Mrs. Barry-Smith. "We are utter strangers to each other. Please remember
that, for all you know, I may have an unbridled temper, or an imported
complexion, or a liking for old man Ibsen. What you ask--only you don't,
you simply assume it,--is preposterous. And besides, opals
"Desire o' the world," I said, in dolorous wise, "I have just remembered
the black-lace mitts and reticule you left upon the dinner-table. Oh,
truly, I had meant to bring 'em to you--Only _do_ you think it quite
good form to put on those cloth-sided shoes when you've been invited to
a real party?"
For a moment Mrs. Barry-Smith regarded me critically. Then she shook her
head, and tried to frown, and reopened the album, and inspected the
crater of Vesuvius, and quite frankly laughed. And a tender, pink-tipped
hand rested upon my arm for an instant,--a brief instant, yet pulsing
with a sense of many lights and of music playing somewhere, and of a
man's heart keeping time to it.
"If you were to make it an onyx--" said Mrs. Barry-Smith.
_He is Urged to Desert His Galley_
She had been a widow even when I first encountered her in Liege. I may
have passed her dozens of times, only she was in mourning then, for
Barry-Smith, and so I never really saw her.
It seems, though, that "in the second year" it is permissible to wear
pink garments in the privacy of your own apartments, and that if people
see you in them, accidentally, it is simply their own fault.
And very often they are punished for it; as most certainly was I, for
Elena led me a devil's dance of jealousy, and rapture, and abject
misery, and suspicion, and supreme content, that next four months. She
and her mother had rented a house on Regis Avenue for the winter; and I
frequented it with zeal. Mrs. Vokins said I "came reg'lar as
Now of Mrs. Vokins I desire to speak with the greatest respect, if only
for the reason that she was Elena Barry-Smith's mother. Mrs. Vokins had,
no doubt, the kindest heart in the world; but she had spent the first
thirty years of her life in a mountain-girdled village, and after her
husband's wonderful luck--if you will permit me her vernacular,--in
being "let in on the groundfloor" when the Amalgamated Tobacco Company
was organised, I believe that Mrs. Vokins was never again quite at ease.
I am abysmally sure she never grew accustomed to being waited on by any
servant other than a girl who "came in by the day"; though, oddly
enough, she was incessantly harassed by the suspicion that one or
another "good-for-nothing nigger was getting ready to quit." Her time
was about equally devoted to tending her canary, Bill Bryan, and to
furthering an apparently diurnal desire to have supper served a quarter
of an hour earlier to-night, "so that the servants can get off."
Finally Mrs. Vokins considered that "a good woman's place was right in
her own home, with a nice clean kitchen," and was used to declare that
the fummadiddles of Mrs. Carrie Nation--who was in New York that winter,
you may remember, advocating Prohibition,--would never have been stood
for where Mrs. Vokins was riz. Them Yankee huzzies, she estimated, did
beat her time.
It was, and is, the oddest thing I ever knew of that Elena could have
been her daughter. Though, mind you, even to-day, I cannot commit myself
to any statement whatever as concerns Elena Barry-Smith, beyond
asserting that she was beautiful. I am willing to concede that since the
world's creation there may have lived, say, six or seven women who were
equally good to look upon; but at the bottom of my heart I know the
concession is simply verbal. For she was not pretty; she was not
handsome; she was beautiful. Indeed, I sometimes thought her beauty
overshadowed any serious consideration of the woman who wore it, just as
in admiration of a picture you rarely think to wonder what sort of
canvas it is painted on.
Yes, I am quite sure, upon reflection, that to Elena Barry-Smith her
beauty was a sort of tyrant. She devoted her life, I think, to the
retention of her charms; and what with the fixed seven hours for
sleep--no more and not a moment less,--the rigid limits of her diet, the
walking of exactly five miles a day, and her mathematical adherence to a
predetermined programme of massage and hair-treatment and manicuring and
face-creams and so on, Elena had hardly two hours in a day at her
She would as soon have thought of sacrificing her afternoon walk to the
Musgrave Monument and back, as of having a front-tooth unnecessarily
removed; and would as willingly have partaken of prussic acid as of
candy or potatoes. She was, in fine, an artist of the truest type, in
that she immolated her body, and her own preferences, in the cause
Nor was she vain, or stupid either, though what I have written vaguely
sounds as though she were both. She was just Elena Barry-Smith, of whom
your memory was always how beautiful she had been at this or that
particular moment, rather than what she said or did. And I believe that
every man in Lichfield was in love with her.
But, in recollection of any person with whom you have had intimate and
tender intercourse, the pre-eminent feature is the big host of questions
which you cannot answer, or not, at least, with certainty....
For instance: the night of the Allardyce dance, after seeing Elena home,
I stepped in for a moment to get warm and have her mix me a highball. We
sat for a considerable while on the long sofa in the dimly-lighted
dining room, talking in whispers so as not to disturb the rest of the
house: and Elena was unusually beautiful that night, and I was more than
usually in love, more thanks to three of the five drinks she mixed....
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she stated, sighing.
I did not say anything.
"Oh, well, then--! If you will just promise me," she stipulated, "that
you will never in any way refer to it afterwards--"
So I promised.... And the next day she met me, cool as the proverbial
cucumber, and never once did she "refer to it afterwards," nor did I
think it wise to do so either. But the incident, however delightful,
puzzled me. It puzzles me even now....
In any event, she was not only beautiful but exceedingly well-to-do
likewise, since her dead father and her husband also had provided for
her amply; and Lichfield sniggered in consequence, and as a matter of
course assumed my devotion to be of astute and mercenary origin. But I
had, in this period, a variety of reasons to know that Lichfield was for
once entirely in the wrong; and that what Lichfield mistook to be the
begetter of, was in reality--so we will phrase it--the almost
unnecessary augmenter of my infatuation. Of course I did not exactly
object to her having money....
Meantime Elena was profoundly various. I told her once that being
married to her would be the very next thing to owning a harem. And in
consequence of this same mutability, it was as late as March before
Elena Barry-Smith made up her mind to marry me; and I was so deliciously
perturbed that the same night I wrote to tell Bettie Hamlyn all about
it. I had accepted Rosalind more calmly somehow. Now I was dithyrambic;
and you would never have suspected I had lived within fifty miles of
Bettie for an entire two years without attempting to communicate with
her, for very certainly my letter did not touch upon the fact. I was, in
fine, supremely happy, and I wanted Bettie, first of all, to know of
this circumstance, because my happiness had always made her happy too.
The act was natural enough; only Elena telephoned, at nine the following
morning, that she had altered her intention.
"My regret is beyond expression," said I, politely, "I shall come for my
tea at five, however."
She entered upon a blurred protest. "You have already broken my heart,"
I said, with some severity, "and now it would appear you contemplate
swindling the remainder of my anatomy out of its deserts. You are a
curmudgeon." And I hung up the receiver.
And my first thought was, "Oh, how gladly I would give the gold of Ormus
and of Alaska just to have my letter back!" But I had mailed it,
shuffling to the corner in my slippers, and without any collar on, in
the hushed middle of the night, because my letter had seemed so
"Will you not have me, lady?" I began that afternoon.
"No, my lord," she demurely responded, "for I've decided it would be too
much like living in my Sunday-clothes."
And "I give it up. So what's the answer?" was my annotation.
"Oh, I'm not making jokes to-day. Why are you so--Oh, as we used to say
at school," she re-began, _"Que diable allais-tu faire dans
"I was born in a vale of tears, Elena, and must take the consequences of
being found in such a situation."
She came to me, and her finger-tips touched my hand ever so lightly.
"That is another quotation, I suppose. And it is one other reason why I
mean not to marry you. Frankly, you bore me to death with your
erudition; you are three-quarters in love with me, but you pay heaps
less attention to what I say about anything than to what Aristotle or
some other old fellow said about it. Oh, that I should have lived to be
jealous of Aristotle! Indeed I am, for I have the misfortune to be
hideously in love with you. You are so exactly the sort of infant I
would like to adopt."
"Love," I suggested, "while no longer an excuse for marriage, is at
least a palliation."
"Listen, dear. From the first I have liked you, but that was not very
strange, because I like almost everybody; but it was strange I should
have remembered you and have liked the idea of you ever since you went
away that first time."
"Oh, well, this once I will excuse you--"
"But it happened in this way: I had found everybody--very nice, you
know--particularly the men,--and the things which cannot be laughed at I
had always put aside as not worth thinking about. You like to laugh,
too, but I have always known--and sometimes it gets me real mad to think
about it, I can tell you--that you could be in earnest if you chose, and
I can't. And that makes me a little sorry and tremendously glad,
because, quite frankly, I _am_ head over heels in love with you. That is
why I don't intend to marry you."
And I was not a little at sea. "Oh, very well!" I pleasantly announced,
"I shall become a prominent citizen at once, if that's all that is
necessary. I will join every one of the patriotic societies, and sit
perpetually on platforms with a perspiring water-pitcher, and unveil
things every week, with felicitous allusions to the glorious past of our
grand old State; and have columns of applause in brackets on the front
page of the _Courier-Herald_. I will even go into civic politics, if you
insist upon it, and leave round-cornered cards at all the drugstores, so
that everybody who buys a cigar will know I am subject to the Democratic
primary. I wonder, by the way, if people ever survive that malady? It
sounds to me a deal more dangerous that epilepsy, say, yet lots of
persons seem to have it--"
But Elena was not listening. "You know," she re-began, "I could get out
of it all very gracefully by telling you you drink too much. You
couldn't argue it, you know--particularly after your behavior
"Oh, now and then one must be sociable. You aren't a prude, Elena--"
"However, I am not really afraid of that, somehow. I even confess I
don't actually _mind_ your being rather good for nothing. No woman ever
really does, though she has her preference, and pretends, of course, to
mind a great deal. What I mean, then, is this: You don't marry just me.
I--I have very few relations, just two brothers and my mother; yet, in a
sense, you know, you marry them as well. But I don't believe you would
like being married to them. They are so different from you, dear. Your
whole view-point of life is different--"
I had begun to speak when she broke in: "No, don't say anything, please,
until I'm quite, quite through. My brothers are the most admirable men I
ever knew. I love them more than I can say. I trust them more than I do
you. But they are just _good_. They don't fail in the really important
things of life, but they are remiss in little ways, they--they don't
_care_ for the little elegantnesses, if that's a word. Even Arthur chews
tobacco when he feels inclined. And he thinks no _man_ would smoke a
cigarette. Oh, I can't explain just what I mean--"
"I think I understand, Elena. Suppose we let it pass as said."
"And Mamma is not--we'll say, particularly highly educated. Oh, you've
been very nice to her. She adores you. You won _her_ over completely
when you took so much trouble to get her the out-of-print paper
novels--about the village maidens and the wicked dukes--in that idiotic
Carnation Series she is always reading. The whole affair was just like
both of you, I think."
"But, oh, my dear--!" I laughed.
"No, not one man in a thousand would have remembered it after she had
said she did think the titles 'were real tasty'; and I don't believe any
other man in the world would have spent a week in rummaging the
second-hand bookstores, until he found them. Only I don't know, even
yet, whether it was really kindness, or just cleverness that put you up
to it--on account of me. And I do know that you are nice to her in
pretty much the same way you were nice to the negro cook yesterday. And
I have had more advantages than she's had. But at bottom I'm really just
like her. You'd find it out some day. And--and that is what I mean,
I spoke at some length. It was atrocious nonsense which I spoke; in any
event, it looked like atrocious nonsense when I wrote it down just now,
and so I tore it up. But I was quite sincere throughout that moment; it
is the Townsend handicap, I suspect, always to be perfectly sincere for
"Oh, well!" she said; "I'll think about it."
That night Elena and I played bridge against Nannie Allsotts and Warwick
Risby. I was very much in love with Elena, but I hold it against her,
even now, that she insisted on discarding from strength. However, there
was to be a little supper afterward, and you may depend upon it that
Mrs. Vokins was seeing to its preparation.
She came into the room about eleven o'clock, beaming with kindliness and
flushed--I am sure,--by some slight previous commerce with the
"Well, well!" said Mrs. Vokins, comfortably; "and who's a-beating?"
I looked up. I must protest, until my final day, I could not help it.
"Why, we is," I said.
And Nannie Allsotts giggled, ever so slightly, and Warwick Risby had
half risen, with a quite infuriate face, and I knew that by to-morrow
the affair would be public property, and promptly lost the game and
rubber. Afterward we had our supper.
When the others had gone--for my footing in the house was such that I,
by ordinary, stayed a moment or two after the others had gone,--Elena
Barry-Smith came to me and soundly boxed my jaws.
"That," she said, "is one way to deal with you."
A minute ago I had been ashamed of myself. I had not room to be that
now; I was too full of anger. "I did make rather a mess of it," I
equably remarked, "but, you see, Nannie had shown strength in diamonds,
and I simply couldn't resist the finesse. So they made every one of
their clubs. And I hadn't any business to take the chance of course at
that stage, with the ace right in my hand--"
"Arthur would have said, before he'd thought of it, 'You damn fool--!'
And then he would have apologised for forgetting himself in the presence
of a lady," she said, in a sorry little voice. "Yes, you--you _have_
hurt me," she presently continued,--"just as you meant to do, if that's
a comfort to you. I feel as though I'd smacked a marble statue. You are
the sort that used to take snuff just before they had their heads cut
off, and when _they_ were in the wrong. And I'm not. That's always been
"Elena!" I began,--"wait, just a moment! I'm in anger now--!" It was not
much to stammer out, but for me, who have the Townsend temper, it was
very hard to say.
"You talk about loving me! and I believe you do love me, in at any rate
a sort of way. But you'll never forget, you never _have_ forgotten,
those ancestors of yours who were in the House of Burgesses when I
hadn't any ancestors at all. It isn't fair, because we haven't got the
chance to pick our parents, and it's absurd, and--it's true. The woman
is my mother, and I'll be like her some day, very probably. Yes, she
_is_ ignorant and tacky, and at times she is ridiculous. She hadn't even
the smartness to notice it when you made a fool of her; and if anybody
were to explain it to her she would just laugh and say, 'Law, I don't
mind, because young people always have to have their fun, I reckon.' And
she would forgive you! Why, she adores you! she's been telling me for
months that you're 'a heap the nicest young man that visits with me.'"
Afterward Elena paused for an instant. "I think that is all," she said.
"It's a difference that isn't curable. Yes, I simply wanted to tell you
that much, and then ask you to go, I believe--"
"So you don't wish me, Elena, in the venerable phrase, to make an honest
woman of you?"
She had half turned, standing, in pink and silver fripperies, with one
bared arm resting on the chair back, in one of her loveliest attitudes.
"What do you mean?"
"I was referring to what happened the other night, after the Allardyce
And Elena smiled rather strangely. "You baby! how much would it shock
you if I told you no woman really minds about that either? Any way, you
have broken your solemn promise," she said, with indignation.
"Ah, but perfidy seemed, somehow, in tone with an establishment wherein
one concludes the evening's entertainment by physical assault upon the
guests. Frankly, my dear"--I observed, with my most patronizing languor,
--"your breeding is not quite that to which I have been accustomed, and
I have had a rather startling glimpse of Lena Vokins, with all the
laboriously acquired veneering peeling off. Still, in view of
everything, I suppose I do owe it to you to marry you, if you insist--"
"Insist! I wouldn't wipe my feet on you!"
"That especial demonstration of affection was not, as I recall,
requested of you. So it is all off? along with the veneering, eh? Well,
perhaps I did attach too much importance to that diverting epilogue to
the Allardyce dance. And as you say, Elena--and I take your word for it,
gladly,--once one has become used to granting these little favors
"Get out of my house!" Elena said, quite splendid in her fury, "or I
will have you horsewhipped. I was fond of you. You would not let me be
in peace. And I didn't know you until to-night for the sneering,
stuck-up dirty beast you are at heart--" She came nearer, and her
glittering eyes narrowed. "And you have no hold on me, no letters to
blackmail me with, and nobody anywhere would take your word for anything
against mine. You would only be whipped by some real man, and probably
shot. So do you remember to keep a watch upon that lying, sneering mouth
of yours! And do you get out of my house!"
"It is only rented," I submitted: "yet, after all, to boast
vaingloriously of their possessions is pardonable in those who have
risen in the world, and aren't quite accustomed to it...." There were a
pair of us when it came to tempers.
And I went homeward almost physically sick with rage. I knew, even then,
that, while Elena would forgive me in the outcome, if I set about the
matter properly, I could never bring myself to ask forgiveness. If only
she had been in the wrong, I could have eagerly gone back and have
submitted to the extremest and the most outrageous tyranny she
But--although I would never have blackmailed her, I think,--she had been
mainly in the right. She had humiliated me, with a certain lack of
decorum, to be sure, but with some justice: and to pardon plain
retaliation is beyond the compass of humanity. At least, it ranks among
achievements which have always baffled me.
_He Cleans the Slate_
It was within a month of this other disaster that Jasper Hardress came
to America, accompanied by his wife. They planned a tour of the States,
which they had not visited in seven years, and more particularly, as his
forerunning letter said, they meant to investigate certain mining
properties which Hardress had acquired in Montana. So, not unstirred by
trepidations, I met them at the pier.
For I was already in New York, in part to see a volume of my short
stories through the press--which you may or may not have read, in its
elaborate "gift-book" form, under the title of _The Aspirants_,--and in
part about less edifying employments. I was trying to forget Elena, and
in Lichfield it was not possible to induce such forgetfulness without
affording unmerited pleasure for gabbling busybodies.... It was not in
me to apologise, except in a letter, where the wording and interminable
tinkering with phraseology would enable me to forget it was I who was
apologising, until a bit of nearly perfect prose was safely mailed; and
I knew she would not read any letter from me, because Elena comprehended
that I always persuaded her to do what I prompted, if only she
listened to me.
As it was, I talked that morning for an hour or more with fat Jasper
Hardress.... Even now I find the two errands which brought him to
America of not unlaughable incongruity.
For, first, he came as an agent of the Philomatheans, who were
endeavouring to secure official recognition by the churches of America
and England of a revised translation of, in any event, the New
He told me of a variety of buttressing reasons,--which I suppose are
well-founded, though I must confess I never investigated the matter. He
told me how the Authorised Version was a paraphrase, abounding in
confusions and in mistranslations from the Greek of Erasmus's New
Testament, which, as the author confessed, "was rather tumbled headlong
into the world than edited." And he told me how the edition of Erasmus
itself was hastily prepared from careless copies of inaccurate
transcriptions of yet further copies of divers manuscripts of which the
oldest dates no further back than the fourth century, and is in turn,
most probably, just a liberal paraphrase, as all the others are, of
still another manuscript.
So that the English version, as I gathered, may be very fine English,
but has scarcely a leg left, when you consider it as a safe foundation
for superiority, or pillorying, or as a guide in conduct.
I suspect, however, that Jasper Hardress somewhat overstated the case,
since on this subject he was a fanatic. To me it seemed rather quaint
that Hardress or anybody else should be bothering about such things.
And as he feelingly declaimed concerning the great Uncials, and
explained why in this particular verse the Ephraem manuscript was in the
right, whereas to probe the meaning of the following verse we clearly
must regard the Syriac version as of supreme authority, I could well
understand how at one period or another his young wife must inevitably
have considered him in the light of a rather tedious person.
And I told him that it hardly mattered, because the true test of a
church-member was the ability to believe that when the Bible said
anything inconvenient it really meant something else.
But actually I was not feeling over-cheerful, because Jasper's second
object in coming to America was to leave his wife in Sioux City, so that
she could secure a divorce from him, on quite un-Scriptural grounds.
Hardress told me of this at least without any excitement. He did not
blame her. He was too old for her, too stolid, too dissimilar in every
respect, he said. Their marriage had been a mistake, that was all,--a
mismating, as many marriages were. She wanted to marry someone else, he
And "Oh, Lord! yes!" I inwardly groaned. "She probably does."
Aloud I said: "But the Bible--Yes, I _am_ provincial at bottom. It's
because I always think in nigger-English and translate it when I talk.
It was my Mammy, you see, who taught me how to think,--and in our
nigger-English, what the Bible says is true. Why, Jasper, even this
Revised Version of yours says flatly that a man--"
"Child, child!" said Jasper Hardress, and he patted my hair, and I
really think it crinkled under his touch, "when you grow up--if indeed
you ever do,--you will find that a man's feeling for his wife and the
mother of his children, is not altogether limited by what he has read in
a book. He wants--well, just her happiness."
I looked up without thinking; and the aspect of that gross and
unattractive man humiliated me. He had reached a height denied to such
as I; and inwardly I cursed and envied this fat Jasper Hardress.... I
would have told him everything, had not the waiter come just then.
And the same afternoon I was alone with Gillian Hardress, for the first
time in somewhat more than two years. We had never written each other; I
had been too cautious for that; and now when the lean, handsome woman
came toward me, murmuring "Jack--" very tenderly,--for she had always
called me Jack, you may remember,--I raised a hand in protest.
"No,--that is done with, Jill. That is dead and buried now, my dear."
She remained motionless; only her eyes, which were like chrysoberyls,
seemed to grow larger and yet more large. There was no anger in them,
only an augmenting wonder.
"Ah, yes," she said at last, and seemed again to breathe; "so that is
dead and buried--in two years." Gillian Hardress spoke with laborious
precision, like a person struggling with a foreign language, and
articulating each word to its least sound before laying tongue to its
"Yes! we have done with each other, once for all," said I, half angrily.
"I wash my hands of the affair, I clean the slate today. I am not polite
about it, and--I am sorry, dear. But I talked with your husband this
morning, and I will deceive Jasper Hardress no longer. The man loves you
as I never dreamed of loving any woman, as I am incapable of loving any
woman. He dwarfs us. Oh, go and tell him, so that he may kill us both! I
wish to God he would!"
Mrs. Hardress said: "You have planned to marry. It is time the prodigal
marry and settle down, is it not? So long as we were in England it did
not matter, except to that Faroy girl you seduced and flung out into the
"I naturally let her go when I found out--"
"As if I cared about the creature! She's done with. But now we are in
America, and Mr. Townsend desires no entanglements just now that might
prevent an advantageous marriage. So he is smitten--very
conveniently--with remorse." Gillian began to laugh. "And he discovers
that Jasper Hardress is a better man than he. Have I not always known
Now came a silence. "I cannot argue with you as to my motives. Let us
have no scene, my dear--"
"God keep us respectable!" the woman said; and then: "No; I can afford
to make no scene. I can only long to be omnipotent for just one instant
that I might deal with you, Robert Townsend, as I desire--and even then,
heaven help me, I would not do it!" Mrs. Hardress sat down upon the
divan and laughed, but this time naturally. "So! it is done with? I have
had my dismissal, and, in common justice, you ought to admit that I have
received it not all ungracefully."
"From the first," I said, "you have been the most wonderful woman I have
ever known." And I knew that I was sincerely fond of Gillian Hardress.
"But please go now," she said, "and have a telegram this evening that
will call you home, or to Kamchatka, or to Ecuador, or anywhere, on
unavoidable business. No, it is not because I loathe the sight of you or
for any melodramatic reason of that sort. It is because, I think, I had
fancied you to be not completely self-centred, after all, and I cannot
bear to face my own idiocy. Why, don't you realize it was only yesterday
you borrowed money from Jasper Hardress--some more money!"
"Well, but he insisted on it: and I owed it to you to do nothing to
arouse his suspicions--"
"And I don't hate you even now! I wish God would explain to me why He
made women so."
"You accuse me of selfishness," I cried. "Ah, let us distinguish, for
there is at times a deal of virtue in this vice. A man who devotes
himself to any particular art or pursuit, for instance, becomes more and
more enamoured of it as time wears on, because he comes to identify it
with himself; and a husband is fonder of his wife than of any other
woman,--at least, he ought to be,--not because he considers her the most
beautiful and attractive person of his acquaintance, but because she is
the one in whom he is most interested and concerned. He has a
proprietary interest in her welfare, and she is in a manner part of
himself. Thus the arts flourish and the home-circle is maintained, and
all through selfishness."
I snapped my fingers airily; I was trying, of course, to disgust her by
my callousness. And it appeared I had almost succeeded.
"Please go!" she said.
"But surely not while we are as yet involved in a question of plain
logic? You think selfishness a vice. None the less you must concede that
the world has invariably progressed because, upon the whole, we find
civilisation to be more comfortable than barbarism; and that a wholesome
apprehension of the penitentiary enables many of us to rise to
deaconships. Why, deuce take it, Jill! I may endow a hospital because I
want to see my name over the main entrance, I may give a beggar a penny
because his gratitude puts me in a glow of benevolence that is cheap at
the price. So let us not rashly declare that selfishness is a vice,
and--let us part friends, my dear."
And I assumed possession of the thin hands that seemed to push me from
her in a species of terror, and I gallantly lifted them to my lips.
The ensuing event was singular. Gillian Hardress turned to the door of
her bedroom and brutally, as with two bludgeons, struck again and again
upon its panels with clenched hand. She extended her hands to me, and
everywhere their knuckles oozed blood. "You kissed them," she said, "and
even today they liked it, and so they are not clean. They will never
again be clean, my dear. But they were clean before you came."
Then Gillian Hardress left me, and where she had touched it, the brass
door knob of her bedroom door was smeared with blood....
When I had come again to Lichfield I found that in the brief interim of
my absence Elena Barry-Smith, without announcement, had taken the train
for Washington, and had in that city married Warwick Risby. This was, I
knew, because she comprehended that, if I so elected, it was always in
my power to stop her halfway up the aisle and to dissuade her from
advancing one step farther.... "I don't know _how_ it is!--" she would
have said, in that dear quasi-petulance I knew so well....
But as it was, I met the two one evening at the Provises', and with
exuberant congratulation. Then straddling as a young Colossus on the
hearth-rug, and with an admonitory forefinger, I proclaimed to the
universe at large that Mrs. Risby had blighted my existence and
beseeched for Warwick some immediate and fatal and particularly
excruciating malady. In fine, I was abjectly miserable the while that I
disarmed all comment by being quite delightfully boyish for a whole
I must record it, though, that Mrs. Vokins patted my hand when nobody
else was looking, and said: "Oh, my dear Mr. Bob, I wish it had been
you! You was always the one I liked the best." For that, in view of
every circumstance, was humorous, and hurt as only humour can.
So in requital, on the following morning, I mailed to Mrs. Risby some
verses. This sounds a trifle like burlesque; but Elena had always a sort
of superstitious reverence for the fact that I "wrote things." It would
not matter at all that the verses were abominable; indeed, Elena would
never discover this; she would simply set about devising an excellent
reason for not showing them to anybody, and would consider Warwick
Risby, if only for a moment, in the light of a person who, whatever his
undeniable merits, had neither the desire nor the ability to write
"poetry." And, though it was hideously petty, this was precisely what I
desired her to do.
So I dispatched to her a sonnet-sequence which I had originally
plagiarized from the French of Theodore Passerat in honour of Stella. I
loathed sending Stella's verses to anyone else, somehow; but, after all,
my one deterrent was merely a romantic notion; and there was not time to
compose a new set. Moreover, "your eyes are blue, your speech is
gracious, but you are not she; and I am older,--and changed how
utterly!--I am no longer I, you are not you," and so on, was absolutely
appropriate. And Elena most undoubtedly knew nothing of Theodore
Passerat. And Stella, being dead, could never know what I had done.
So I sent the verses, with a few necessitated alterations, to the
address of Mrs. Warwick Risby.
I had within the week, an unsigned communication which, for a long while
afterward, I did not comprehend. It was the photograph of an infant,
with the photographer's address scratched from the cardboard and without
of course any decipherable postmark; and upon the back of the thing was
written: "His has been the summer air, and the sunshine, and the
flowers; and gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes have been
upon him. Let others eat his honey that please, so that he has had his
morsel and his song."
I thought it was a joke of some sort.
Then it occurred to me that this might be--somehow--Elena's answer. It
was an interpretation which probably appealed to the Supernal
_He Reviles Destiny and Climbs a Wall_
But now the spring was come again, and, as always at this season, I was
pricked with vague longings to have done with roofs and paven places. I
wanted to be in the open. I think I wanted to fall in love with
somebody, and thereby somewhat to prolong the daily half-minute,
immediately after awakening in the morning, during which I did not think
about Elena Risby.
I was bored in Lichfield. For nothing of much consequence seemed, as I
yawned over the morning paper, to be happening anywhere. The Illinois
Legislature had broken up in a free fight, a British square had been
broken in Somaliland, and at the Aqueduct track Alado had broken his
jockey's neck. A mob had chased a negro up Broadway: Russia had demanded
that China cede the sovereignty of Manchuria; and Dr. Lyman Abbott was
explaining why the notion of equal suffrage had been abandoned finally
by thinking people.
Such negligible matters contributed not at all to the comfort or the
discomfort of Robert Etheridge Townsend; and I was pricked with vague
sweet longings to have done with roofs and paven places. If only I
possessed a country estate, a really handsome Manor or a Grange, I was
reflecting as I looked over the "Social Items," and saw that Miss
Hugonin and Colonel Hugonin had re-opened Selwoode for the summer
So I decided I would go to Gridlington, whither Peter Blagden had
forgotten to invite me. He was extremely glad to see me, though, to do
him justice. For Peter--by this time the inheritor of his unlamented
uncle's estate,--had, very properly, developed gout, which is, I take
it, the time-honoured appendage of affluence and, so to speak, its
trade-mark; and was, for all his wealth, unable to get up and down the
stairs of his fine house without, as we will delicately word it, the
display and, at times, the overtaxing of a copious vocabulary.
I was at Gridlington entirely comfortable. It was spring, to begin with,
and out of doors in spring you always know, at twenty-five, that
something extremely pleasant is about to happen, and that She is quite
probably around the very next turn of the lane.
Moreover, there was at Gridlington a tiny private garden which had once
been the recreation of Peter Blagden's aunt (dead now twelve years ago),
and which had remained untended since her cosseting; and I in nature
took charge of it.
There was in the place a wilding peach-tree, which I artistically sawed
into shape and pruned and grafted, and painted all those profitable
wounds with tar; and I grew to love it, just as most people do their
children, because it was mine. And Peter, who is a person of no
sensibility, wanted to ring for a servant one night, when there was a
hint of frost and I had started out to put a bucket of water under my
tree to protect it. I informed him that he was irrevocably dead to all
the nobler sentiments, and went to the laundry and got a wash-tub.
Peter was not infrequently obtuse. He would contend, for instance, that
it was absurd for any person to get so gloriously hot and dirty while
setting out plants, when that person objected to having a flower in the
same room. For Peter could not understand that a cut flower is a dead
or, at best, a dying thing, and therefore to considerate people is just
so much abhorrent carrion; and denied it would be really quite as
rational to decorate your person or your dinner table with the severed
heads of chickens as with those of daffodils.
"But that is only because you are not particularly bright," I told him.
"Oh, I suppose you can't help it. But why make _all_ the actions of your
life so foolish? What good do you get out of having the gout, for
Whereupon Mr. Blagden desired to be informed if I considered those
with-various-adjectives-accompanied twinges in that qualified foot to be
a source of personal pleasure to the owner of the very-extensively-hiatused
foot. In which case, Mr. Blagden felt at liberty to express his opinion of
my intellectual attainments, which was of an uncomplimentary nature.
"Because, you know," I pursued, equably, "you wouldn't have the gout if
you did not habitually overeat yourself and drink more than is good for
you. In consequence, here you are at thirty-two with a foot the same
general size and shape as a hayrick, only rather less symmetrical, and
quite unable to attend to the really serious business of life, which is
to present me to the heiress. It is a case of vicarious punishment which
strikes me as extremely unfair. You have made of your stomach a god,
Peter, and I am the one to suffer for it. You have made of your
stomach," I continued, venturing aspiringly into metaphor, "a brazen
Moloch, before which you are now calmly preparing to immolate my
prospects in life. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Peter!"
Mr. Blagden's next observation was describable as impolite.
"Fate, too," I lamented, in a tragic voice, "appears to have entered
into this nefarious conspiracy. Here, not two miles away, is one of the
greatest heiresses in America,--clever, I am told, beautiful, I am sure,
for I have yet to discover a woman who sees anything in the least
attractive about her,--and, above all, with the Woods millions at her
disposal. Why, Peter, Margaret Hugonin is the woman I have been looking
for these last three years. She is, to a hair, the sort of woman I have
always intended to make unhappy. And I can't even get a sight of her!
Here are you, laid up with the gout, and unable to help me; and yonder
is the heiress, making a foolish pretence at mourning for the old
curmudgeon who left her all that money, and declining to meet people.
Oh, but she is a shiftless woman, Peter! At this very moment she might
be getting better acquainted with me; at this very moment, Peter, I
might be explaining to her in what points she is utterly and entirely
different from all the other women I have ever known. And she prefers to
immure herself in Selwoode, with no better company than her father, that
ungodly old retired colonel, and a she-cousin, somewhere on the
undiscussable side of forty--when she might be engaging me in amorous
dalliance! That Miss Hugonin is a shiftless woman, I tell you! And
Fate--oh, but Fate, too, is a vixenish jade!" I cried, and shook my fist
under the nose of an imaginary Lachesis.
"You appear," said Peter, drily, "to be unusually well-informed as to
what is going on at Selwoode."
"You flatter me," I answered, as with proper modesty. "You must remember
that there are maids at Selwoode. You must remember that my man Byam,
is--and will be until that inevitable day when he will attempt to
blackmail me, and I shall kill him in the most lingering fashion I can
think of,--that Byam is, I say, something of a diplomatist."
Mr. Blagden regarded me with disapproval.
"So you've been sending your nigger cousin over to Selwoode to spy for
you! You're a damn cad, you know, Bob," he pensively observed. "Now most
people think that when you carry on like a lunatic you're simply acting
on impulse. I don't. I believe you plan it out a week ahead. I sometimes
think you are the most adroit and unblushing looker-out for number one I
ever knew; and I can't for the life of me understand why I don't turn
you out of doors."
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