A FOOL THERE WAS
PORTER EMERSON BROWNE
"A Fool there was and he made his prayer— (Even as you and I.) To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair— ( We called her the woman who did not care) But the fool he called her his lady fair— (Even as you and I.)"
ILLUSTRATED BY EDMUND MAGRATH AND W. W. FAWCETT
TO ROBERT HILLIARD.
I. Of Certain People II. Of Certain Other People III. Two Boys and a Girl IV. The Child and the Stranger V. As Time Passes VI. An Accident VII. An Incident VIII. Of Certain Goings IX. Of Certain Other Goings X. Two Boys and a Doctor XI. A Proposal XII. A Foreign Mission XIII. The Going XIV. Parmalee—and The Woman XV. A Warning XVI. The Beginning XVII. In The Night XVIII. White Roses XIX. Shadows XX. A Fairy Story XXI. A Letter XXII. Again The Fairy Story XXIII. Aid XXIV. The Rescue XXV. The Return XXVI. The Red Rose XXVII. The Red Road XXVIII. The Battle XXIX. Defeat XXX. And Its Consequences XXXI. That Which Men Said XXXII. In the Garden XXXIII. Temptation XXXIV. The Shroud of a Soul XXXV. The Thing that was a Man XXXVI. Again the Battle XXXVII. The Pity of It All
"Beautiful, gloriously beautiful in her strange, weird dark beauty"
"Bye little sweetheart"
"I do forgive—forgive and understand"
"Can't you find in that dead thing you call a heart just one shred of pity?"
OF CERTAIN PEOPLE.
To begin a story of this kind at the beginning is hard; for when the beginning may have been, no man knows. Perhaps it was a hundred years ago—perhaps a thousand—perhaps ten thousand; and it may well be, yet longer ago, even, than that. Yet it can be told that John Schuyler came from a long line of clean-bodied, clean-souled, clear-eyed, clear-headed ancestors; and from these he had inherited cleanness of body and of soul, clearness of eye and of head. They had given him all that lay in their power to give, had these honest, impassive Dutchmen and—women—these broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped English; they had amalgamated for him their virtues, and they had eradicated for him their vices; they had cultivated for him those things of theirs that it were well to cultivate; and they had plucked ruthlessly from the gardens of heredity the weeds and tares that might have grown to check his growth. And, doing this, they had died, one after another, knowing not what they had done—knowing not why they had done it—knowing not what the result would be—doing that which they did because it was in them to do it; and for no other reason save that. For so it is of this world.
First, then, it is for you to know these things that I have told. Secondly, it is for you to realize that there are things in this world of which we know but little; that there are other things of which we may sometime learn; that there are infinitely more things that not even the wisest of us may ever begin to understand. God chooses to tell us nothing of that which comes after; and of that which comes therein He lets us learn just enough that we may know how much more there is.
And knowing and realizing these things, we may but go back as far toward the beginning as it is in our power to see.
* * * * *
Before the restless, never-ebbing of the tides of business had overwhelmed it with a seething flood of watered stocks and liquid dollars, there stood on a corner of Fifth Avenue and one of its lower tributaries, a stern, heavy-portalled mansion of brownstone. It was a house not forbidding, but dignified. Its broad, plate-glass windows gazed out in silent, impassive tolerance upon the streams of social life that passed it of pleasant afternoons in Spring and Fall—on sleet-swept nights of winter when 'bus and brougham brought from theatre and opera their little groups and pairs of fur-clad women and high-hatted men. It was a big house—big in size—big in atmosphere—big in manner.
At its left there was another big house, much like the one that I have already described. It was possibly a bit more homelike—a bit less dignified; for, possibly, its windows were a trifle more narrow, and its portal a little less imposing. And across from that there lay a smaller house—a house of brick; and this was much more inviting than either of the others; for one might step from the very sidewalk within the broad hall, hung with two very, very old portraits and lighted warmly with shades of dull yellow, and of pink.
In the first of the big houses there lived a boy; and in the second there lived another boy; and across, in the little house of brick, there lived a girl. Of course, in these houses there dwelt, as well, other people.
Of these was John Stuyvesant Schuyler, who, with his wife Gretchen, lived in the big house on the corner, was a man silent, serious. He lived intent, honest, upright. He seldom laughed; though when he did, there came at the corners of mouth and eye, tiny, tell-tale lines which showed that beneath seriousness and silence, lay a fund of humor unharmed by continual drain. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, straight-backed. And to that which had been left him, he added, in health, in mind, and in money, and he added wisely and well, and never at unjust expense to anyone.
His wife was much as he in trait and habit. She, too, was silent, serious, intent. Of her time, of her effort, of herself, she gave freely wherein it were well to give. In her youth, she had been a beautiful girl; as a woman, she was still beautiful; and her husband and her son were very proud of her, though the one was fifty-five, and the other but twelve.
In the big house next door, there lived Thomas Cathcart Blake. He, too, had a wife, and one child—a boy. And of John Stuyvesant Schuyler he was very fond—even as Mrs. Thomas Cathcart Blake was fond of Mrs. John Stuyvesant Schuyler; and even as Tom Blake, the son of the one, was fond of Jack Schuyler, the son of the other. Blake, the elder, was a man rotund of figure, ruddy of complexion, great of heart. He laughed much; for he enjoyed much. He gave away much more than he could make; and he laughed about it. His wife laughed with him. And really it made no difference; for they had more for themselves than they could ever use. Of course, you know, it is true that many people have more than they can ever use; but few ever think so.
In the little, warm house of red brick, across the street, lived Kathryn Blair, and with her another Kathryn Blair, who was as much like the other as it is possible for six to be like thirty. They both had wide, violet eyes and sensitive, red lips, and very white teeth and lithe, slender bodies. And they were both loved very much by everyone; and everyone said what a shame it was that he or she hadn't put his or her foot down hard and made Jimmy Blair stay at home instead of letting him go down into that unpronounceable Central American place and get killed in an opera bouffe revolution with which he had absolutely nothing to do except that he couldn't stand idly by and see women and little children shot. Still, it was such a blessing to Kate that she had little Kate to help her bear it all. And she had enough money, too; no one seemed to know how; for Jimmy Blair was a reckless giver and a poor business men. But John Stuyvesant Schuyler and Thomas Cathcart Blake had been executors. And that explained much to those who knew; for once every two or three months, these two men, so different and yet so alike, would stalk solemnly, side by side, across the street and, still solemnly, still side by side, would inform the violet-eyed widow of Jimmy Blair that the investments that her husband had made for her had been very fortunate and that there was in the bank for her the sum of many more hundreds of dollars than poor Jimmy himself could have made in as many years. And she, deifying the man who had been her husband, endowing him with the abilities of a Morgan, a Root and a Rothschild, would believe all that they said; and she would tell the neighbors; and they, being good neighbors, would nod, seriously, unsmilingly. "Jimmy Blair was a wonderful, wonderful man," they would say. And the violet eyes would grow soft and dim, and the sensitive lips tremble a little, and the prettily- poised head would sink forward upon the rounded breast. And she was less unhappy; for when others love the one you love, even though that one be gone, it makes the pain far, far less. Also, it is a great blessing to have about one those who know enough not to know too much.
So it was of the three houses, and of those who lived therein.
OF CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE.
In the littleness of things, it so happened that at a time when John Stuyvesant Schuyler and Thomas Cathcart Blake, serious, solemn, side-by- side, were telling the widow of Jimmy Blair that the Tidewater Southern Railroad, in which her husband had largely interested himself before his death, had declared an extra dividend that had enabled them that day to deposit to her credit in the bank the sum of four thousand two hundred and eighty-one dollars and seventy-three cents, in a little hut on the black Breton coast a woman lay dying.
It was a bare hut, and noisome. In it it were perhaps better to die than to live; and yet that one might not say. From before it one might gaze upon league upon league of sullen sea, stretching to where, far in the dim distance, lay the curve of the horizon upbearing the gray dome of the sky.
Inside the hovel there was a smoke-stained fireplace beside which was strewn an armful of faggots. There was before it a number of broken and greasy dishes, filled with fragments of food. And all about on the floor lay the litter of the sick-room.
The dying woman was stretched inert, moveless, upon a rough bed of rope and rush. Perhaps she had been pretty once, in an animal way. She was not now. Lips that doubtless had been red were white and drawn in pain; and there was blood upon them, where white, even teeth had bitten in the way that those who suffer have of trying to hide a greater suffering beneath a lesser. The eyes, deep and dark, were dull and half-hidden by their blue, transparent lids. And the cheeks were sunken, and ghastly—touched by the hand of death.
A heavy, course-featured woman, thin hair streaked with gray, flat- backed, flat-breasted, sat beside the rude bed, silent, motionless, awaiting an end that she had so often watched in the sullen ferocity that is of beast rather than of man. And on her lap lay a little, pink, puling thing that whimpered and twisted weakly—a little, naked, thing half covered by roughly-cast sacking.
The tiny, twisting thing whimpered. The woman beside the bed held it, waiting. The woman on the bed moaned a little, and the glaze upon the eyes grew more thick. And that was all.
There came to the ears that were not too new come or too far gone to hear, the sound of hoof beats upon the turf. They came nearer.... They stopped. Came the sound of spurred heels striking upon the trodden dirt without the door.... There stood in the opening the figure of a man. He was tall, and well-proportioned, though if anything a bit too slender—a bit too graceful; and he was, if anything, a bit too well groomed. He had light hair, and moustache. He had cold eyes that smiled; cold lips that smiled. He stood in the doorway, trying to accustom his eyes to the gloom within, the while playing a deft tattoo upon his booted calf with light crop that he carried in his right hand.
"Well?" he said, at length, in the French that is of Paris. "Well? ... What is all this?"
The tiny thing whimpered. The woman upon the bed moaned a little, weakly. She, who sat beside it, looked up, eyes aflame. She said no word.
The man in the doorway took a step forward, entering. He was still smiling. He looked about him; and then he continued:
"Sick, eh? ... Dying? ... And that thing that you have in your—Ma foi! A baby, eh?" He laughed, aloud. The broken peals came back to him from the sodden, smoke-stained rafters. "Strange that I should have come to-day.... A baby!" He laughed again, modulatedly. And then, with an air of sympathetic commiseration he said to the gray-haired old woman with the eyes of fire:
"Too bad that your daughter is not married—since she, I presume, is the mother! ... And the happy father?—he is—?" He stopped, waiting, smilingly.
The fierce, blazing eyes were set full upon his own. She said, in the patois that was of her and hers:
"You ask that? ... You?"
He answered, evenly.
"Yes. I ask that. Even I."
Quickly, with the agility of the brute, she thrust toward him the little, puling thing that lay upon her lap.
"Look, then," she said, in deep, grating tones.
He leaned forward, crossing his hands behind him, and looked. The crop, held in his right hand, tapped lightly against his booted left leg. The woman waited. At length he stood erect. He shook his head and smiled.
"Babies are all alike," he remarked, easily. "Red, dirty, unformed, no hair.... This is a little redder, a little more dirty, a little more unformed; it has a little less hair.... Beyond that, quoi?"
The shrunken lips of the old woman set tightly; the eyes flared.
"You dare—!" she began. And then: "It is your mouth—your chin. The nose is yours. The eyes they shall be hers." She nodded her head in the direction of the dying mother upon the bed. "And perhaps, some day—" She did not finish. She settled the baby back again upon her knees and sat, waiting.
The man, still smiling, gazed up the woman on the bed.
"Dead?" he queried, with a lift of the brows.
She did not answer. He bent over the prostrate form; then again stood erect. He shrugged his shoulders.
He turned again to the shrivelled woman on the chair.
"You have named it?" he asked. "You have named—our child?"
Still she did not answer.
"It were not improper," he continued, smilingly, half-musingly, "for a father to venture a suggestion anent a name.... Eh bien, then. I should wish that the baby be known as" he stopped for a moment, thinking, the while lightly tapping booted leg with the tip of his crop. "I should suggest," he repeated, "calling her Rien. It is an appropriate name, Rien. It is not a bad name; in fact, it is rather a pretty name.... Rien.... Rien.... Rien...." He repeated it several times. "Yes, it seems to me that that is an excellent name.... We will, then, consider her name Rien." He laughed once more.
"Because of certain reasons," he went on, "I'm afraid that my paternal duties must cease with the naming of our child."
He turned to the dying woman upon the bed.
"Bon voyage, mam'selle—eh, pardon, madame," he said. He lifted his hat, bowing. To the old woman he turned.
"To you—" he began; she interrupted.
"Her eyes, they will be her mother's," she mumbled, sullenly.
"Which will be well," he smiled. "Her mother had beautiful eyes— wonderful eyes."
"More wonderful than you knew," muttered the old woman. "Had you come a day sooner—"
Still he smiled.
"But I didn't," he replied; and then nodding toward the whimpering thing that the woman held:
"You should guard it well. There is of the best blood of France in its veins." His lips curled, whimsically. "'Tis strange, that, n'es-ce pas? In that small piece of carrion which you hold there upon your knees runs the blood of three kings." Again he laughed, musically. He turned.
He had not seen her stoop. The long-bladed knife struck him in the arm, piercing flesh and vein and sinew, sticking there. Slowly he plucked it forth, and turned to her, still smiling.
"You are old, madame. Do not apologize; it was not your fault."
He took the knife delicately by the tip and with a little flip sent it spinning through the air and over the edge of the cliff. And he was gone.
The woman, shrivelled, gray-haired, sinking back in her chair, sat silent. The puling thing upon her knees whimpered. The dying woman upon the rude bed of rope and rush moaned. And that was all.
TWO BOYS AND A GIRL.
To the budding mind of young Jack Schuyler, life was a very pleasant affair. It began each morning at six thirty; and from then on until eight at night, there was something to fill each moment. He didn't care for school, particularly; still, it wasn't difficult enough to cause much discomfort. The natal pains of study were not by any means unbearable inasmuch as he was quick to see and to understand; and furthermore, he was possessed of a retentive memory. In his classes he assumed a position of about eighth from the fore; and he maintained it with but little fluctuation. In the out-of-door sports of small boys, he was usually first—that is, when Tom Blake wasn't. When Tom Blake was, Jack Schuyler was second.
He was a sturdy boy, active, quick, strong of limb and of body. He had earnest, serious eyes of gray-blue, like those of his father. His mouth and chin were delicate, like his mother's. And he was thoughtful, rather than impulsive.
Tom Blake, on the other hand, was impulsive rather than thoughtful. He had dark eyes and ruddy cheeks; and, at the age of nine, he had learned to walk on his hands in a manner that caused acute envy to rankle in the bosom of every boy in the neighborhood. Also, as is most unusual among boys of whatever station, color or instinct, he was self-sacrificing, and more than generous, and loyal to a fault.
Kathryn Blair was all that might have been expected of a daughter of her father and mother. Had you known them, it were difficult to describe further. You have been told that she was lithe, and dainty and very pretty. And she was feminine, very, and yet not unhoydenish; for she played much with Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake. She was natural, and unaffected, and whole-souled and buoyant, quick to laughter, quick to tears, with an inexhaustible fund of merriment, and of sympathy.
Of an afternoon, in early December, they lay, these three young animals, sprawling upon the great room in Blake's house—the room that had been made for play. The gentle rays of the early-setting sun streamed in through the broad windows upon a tumbled heap of discarded playthings, and upon a floor strewn with that which might have appeared to be drifting snow but which in reality was feathers; for there had been a fierce pillow fight; and one of the pillows, under the pressure of rolling little bodies, had burst. Its shrunken shape lay in a far corner of the room, rumpled, empty, a husk of the plump thing that it had been but a short time before.
Kathryn Blair, with slender, stockinged legs thrust out before her, was picking from the tangled masses of her gold-brown hair little clinging bits of down. Tom Blake, beside her lay flat upon his back; and by him, was Jack Schuyler, his head resting upon the heaving diaphragm of the other.
At length Jack Schuyler sat up, looking about him.
"Phew!" he whistled. "It looks like a snowslide.... We'll catch it now!"
Tom Blake rolled over on his stomach. He shook his head.
"Don't worry about that," he said. "Dad won't care, nor mother.... Besides, you're my guests, you know.... What shall we do now?"
Kathryn Blair said:
"I want to get these feathers off first. They stick terribly.... Every time I think I've got hold of one, I find it's a hair." She shifted, so that her back was toward Tom Blake. "Help me, Tom," she commanded.
Obediently he rose to his knees. Resting his left hand upon her shoulder, he plucked, with clumsy masculine fingers at the bits of white that nestled in her hair.... She gave a little cry.
"Ouch! That hurts, Tom! I guess I'd better wait until I get home and have Harris do it. Harris isn't pretty, but she's awfully good; and she doesn't fuss a bit" ... She turned around, suddenly, violet eyes wide with excitement. "Oh! I forgot to tell you!" she cried. "Doctor DeLancey said that maybe he'd bring me a baby brother today!"
Tom Blake and Jack Schuyler both turned to her.
"He did!" they cried almost together.
She nodded, profoundly.
"Yes," she said. "That's why they sent me over here to get all mussed up with feathers. You know baby brothers are bashful. Dr. DeLancey told me all about it. They like to be all alone in the house with their mothers, so that they can get acquainted."
Jack Schuyler rose up on his elbows.
"I know a boy," he said, "that was promised a baby brother and all he got was a sister.... I don't think that was square, do you?"
Tom Blake looked out the window, thoughtfully.
"I don't know," he remarked at length, judicially. "It might not have been the doctor's fault. Sometimes they get 'em mixed, I guess.... And anyhow, sisters aren't so bad. I wish I had one right now—one like you, Kathryn." He turned on her eyes in which were the frank liking and admiration of boyhood.
She tossed the tumbled braids of her hair back over her shoulders.
"I'd rather be a boy, myself," she said. "They don't have to wear dresses and things. And people don't give them dolls when they'd rather have rocking horses.... I wish they'd hurry and bring that brother. I'm just wild to see it!"
Jack Schuyler sat up.
"Well," he assured her, "They'll send over for you when it comes.... What shall we do now?"
He waited patiently for suggestions. Tom Blake and Kathryn Blair sat, foreheads grooved in thought. At length Jack Schuyler cried suddenly:
"I know! Let's play leopard shooting! I saw a picture of one in the geography. It looked just like Fiddles." Fiddles was the plethoric Maltese member of the Blake family. "We've got those tin guns, and we can stalk it. What do you say?"
That which they said was later evidenced; for when Thomas Cathcart Blake entered the front door of his residence that night and started up the stairs, he was met by an excited feline, followed by three equally excited children. And the cat, on seeing him, its cosmogony disrupted to such an extent that it felt itself no longer able to distinguish friend from foe, tried to turn back with the result that its first pursuer fell over it. There was the added result that the next two pursuers tripped upon the sprawling form of the first. And Thomas Cathcart Blake had great difficulty in preventing himself from joining the sprawling parade that tumbled past him to the foot of the stairs, and lay at the bottom, a heap of tossing legs and arms and ribbons and fur.
THE CHILD AND THE STRANGER.
It is of necessity that a story such as this should be episodical, lapsical, disconnected. Its inception lies in two countries, and of different people. And it is, in its beginnings, a story of contrasts. So one may be permitted again to say: At a time when pompous, ponderous, white-whiskered, black-suited old Dr. DeLancey was engaged in bringing to the daughter of Kathryn Blair a posthumous baby brother that, in the mystery of things, turned out after all to be a sister, a stranger chanced to be riding at dusk through the deep shades of the Bois du Nord, in Brittany. The path was overhung with spreading boughs; it was tumbled with the wood-litter of a decade. His horse went slowly, lifting each forefoot daintily and placing it carefully. And the stranger permitted the animal to take its own time.
At length he came to a turning. The huge bole of a great oak was at his left. He rounded it. His horse raised its head, nostrils distended, eyes alert, and stopped.
The stranger looked up. It was a strange picture that met his eyes....
At first he did not believe that that which he saw was human. It seemed like some nymph of the wood; for there are nymphs in the Bois du Nord, you know, many of them. Anyone who lives there will tell you that.
But then his eyes fell upon a tumbled heap of clothing; and he knew that it was not a nymph, after all. For nymphs do not wear clothing.
There was a little woodland pool before him. The sun, straining through the great, heavy-leafed boughs, specked it with blots and blotches of gold. Beside it there sat the figure of a girl, naked. She sat there, her slender legs beneath her, her slender body leaning upon one rounded, white arm. Great masses of dead-black hair fell about her glowing shoulders, half covering the arm which supported her. Her other hand clasped her knee. Her dark eyes were gazing before her toward the trunk of the oak. The stranger felt that she knew that he was there; and yet she had not looked at him.
On the bole of the oak was a squirrel. It was motionless, as though carved out of the trunk itself. Beneath it lay coiled a snake. Its eyes were fastened upon those of the squirrel and its flat, ugly head was moving gently to and fro—to and fro—the while its forked tongue played back and forth between its fangs.
They waited there, the stranger and the naked girl. They waited for a long, long time....
By and by the squirrel moved a little. One forefoot crept slowly down the bark of the oak—and then the other—the one hind foot—and then its mate.... And the squirrel was nearer to the snake.
Again they waited, the stranger and the naked girl.... The squirrel crept yet further down the trunk, toward the slow-shifting venomous head....
The horse snorted.... The squirrel raised its head; and darted up the tree trunk. It was gone. And the snake slid noiselessly off into the underbrush.... The naked girl turned dark, deep eyes upon the stranger. She seemed not to mind her nakedness. And to him it seemed not strange that she should not. The horror of it all was deep within him. He murmured, beneath his breath:
Then he spoke to her, a muttered word, a meaningless word. She swung her body over, sinuously, so that she faced him, slender legs half stretched. The dead black hair rippled over budding breasts. She did not answer. She merely looked at him.
The stranger sat there. His eyes blinked a little; he brushed his hand across them, weakly. Then he looked at her again.
Came a sudden rustling in the brush, beside him. His horse leaped forward, almost unseating him.... He had gone far down the trail before he reined it in. Then he crossed himself. His eyes showed that he was frightened.
There was a turning in the path, a turning that led to the main road. The stranger swung his horse into this turning. He knew that it added to the length of his journey by a good league and a half. And yet he took that turning.
And, later, as he turned into the travelled road, he breathed a deep, deep sigh; and again he crossed himself.
AS TIME PASSES.
Time passed on over the heads of young Jack Schuyler and young Tom Blake and the daughter of Jimmy Blair. They grew in stature, and in intellect. They grew through the grades of school that lie between nine and fifteen; and then they separated to go to boarding school.
Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake went to one; the daughter of Jimmy Blair and Kathryn Blair to another. And the baby brother that had turned out to be a sister, and who had been named Elinor, stayed at home with the widow of Jimmy Blair; and the widow of Jimmy Blair was now hardly as lonely as were the parents of Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake.
John Stuyvesant Schuyler had built for himself a place at Larchmont, on the Sound. "Grey Rocks," he called it. It was a long, low rambling house, built of stone and of darkened wood. It sat ensconced in a deep phalanx of great, green trees at the head of a great, green lawn. It was not a big house, of pretension, of arrogant wealth, of many servants—of closely-shaven shrubbery and woodeny landscape gardening. It was, rather, a house that was a home—and there is a distinction—a vast distinction; for there is many a house that is not a home even as there is many a home that is not a house.
Thomas Cathcart Blake built for himself another house, next to it. That also was a rambling, homelike place, with broad halls and deep windows, and wide doors. And the doors he kept open most of the time; for he liked good people, and good people liked him. His big yacht lay during most of the summer a quarter of a mile from the end of his pier. He lived on it part of the time, with Mrs. Thomas Cathcart Blake, and their guests; part of the time he lived on the shore, in the house that he had built. Dr. DeLancey once asked him if he ever moved the yacht from its moorings, and wanted to bet that the sail covers were stuffed with hay. Thomas Cathcart Blake grinned and said that, as for taking the yacht out to sea, he was afraid of getting it wet; and he wouldn't want to bet as to what the sail covers were stuffed with because it might be excelsior, or cotton, or any one of a number of things.
They always had much company at "The Lawns," which was the name of the house, and on the "Idlesse," which was the name of the yacht that seldom sailed; although Dr. DeLancey begged them to rechristen it "The Dock," or "The Stake Boat," or something of the sort, which he thought would be much more appropriate. And among this company, was a great deal, the widow of Jimmy Blair, and her daughter.
Young Jack Schuyler and young Tom Blake got home from college that year about the middle of June. Kathryn Blair was a few days later, owing to certain nonacademic festivities which she didn't want to miss. You can know, how popular and attractive and altogether charming she was when I tell you that she was like her mother at her age; and all New York knows how hard it was even for Jimmy Blair—and there have been very few Jimmy Blairs, you know—to make any perceptible progress amid the choking masses of his competing fellows.
Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake went down to the train, in a trap, to meet her. They hardly recognized the girl with whom they had pillow-fought and leopard-stalked in the dainty figure that descended from the dusty train. A year, with a girl of eighteen, means vast changes; and when that year has been spent at boarding school, it means changes yet more vast, infinitely. Thus, it was that Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake stood, jaws agape, eyes wide-open, and stared—frankly, unequivocally stared.... Then they went to meet her; and both tried to shake hands at once; then both tried to pick up her travelling case at once; and they bumped their heads.
For the first half mile of the drive to the shore, they sat dumb, thinking with sore strainings of mind for things to say, and rejecting each because it didn't seem to be good enough. Finally Tom Blake ventured a remark anent the weather. No harm came to him. So Jack Schuyler ventured one about the wind. He also went scatheless.
At length Tom Blake, looking at the fresh, clean beauty of the girl on the other seat, forgot himself, and voiced, in the moment of his temporary aberration, that which was in the two adolescent male minds.
"Doggone, but you've grown pretty, Kate!" and then blushed.
She blushed, too, and looked at Jack Schuyler. At which he blushed and almost carromed the trap against a telegraph pole. Whereat they all laughed. And from then on, they were themselves.
They were met by her mother at "The Lawns," and by Dr. DeLancey. Dr. DeLancey was not bashful. He pinched her glowing cheek and looked her over, critically.
"A positive symposium of pulchritude," he declared. "I wish I were fifty or seventy-five years younger, by Jove! If you two boys let any rank outsider take her out of the family, you'll have me to reckon with. Yes, by Jove, you will! And you'll find that while I may be a poor fencer, and a worse boxer, I'm still a good spanker!"
Dr. DeLancey, sitting under the awning of the after deck of "The Idlesse," and gazing out upon the sound where Jack Schuyler, Tom Blake and Kathryn Blair were defying the laws of nature in a thirty foot knockabout, much to the unspoken anxiety of two fathers and the spoken fear of three mothers, again voiced this thought on the following evening.
"The prettiest, sweetest, finest, loveliest child I ever knew, by Jove," he declared; then, bowing, "present company, of course, excepted.... Yes, sir. If you two old ninnies don't force your sons to marry her, I'll take it into my own hands, damme if I don't, by Jove!"
"But they can't both marry her," protested the widow of Jimmy Blair, placing her arm about the baby brother that had turned out to be a sister.
The Doctor waved his hand, loftily.
"A mere detail," he asserted. "As long as one of 'em marries her, that fixes it, doesn't it? And it doesn't make any difference which one; they're equally fine boys, both of 'em. Look at 'em. Did you ever see better shoulders—better shaped heads—better carriages? Mighty dashed handsome boys, too, they are—get it from their mothers," he bowed elaborately to Mrs. Jon Stuyvesant Schuyler and to Mrs. Thomas Cathcart Blake, then added a look of contempt for, and at their husbands. "Yes, sir," he went on, "they're fine boys, two of 'em—no denying that. And she—she's the right sort—no frills, or airs, or bluffs. Sensible, natural. If I'd have had a few more patients like them, I'd have starved to death long ago. Why, they didn't have even a single measle—not one whooping cough out of the lot. Disgraceful!"
In the meanwhile, far out on the sound, the little knockabout was heeling far over in the playful breath of the summer breeze. Tom Blake, bare- headed, bare-armed, was at the tiller. Jack Schuyler, also bare-headed and bare-armed, sat on the after overhang, tending the sheet, and bracing muscular legs against the swirling seas that, leaping over the low freeboard, tried to swirl him off among them. Kathryn Blair, leaned lithely against the weather rail, little, white—canvas-shod feet braced, skirts whipping about her slender body, rounded arms gripping the wet edge of the cockpit rail. The gold-brown hair, in loosened strands, whipped across her tanned cheek; her gown, open at the throat, revealed a glimpse of straight, perfectly-poised throat; her lips were parted and her breath came fast in the excitement of it.
Blake held the knockabout to its course, with the confidence of youth in his prowess, against them. The little boat leaped forward from crest to crest, stopping between to shake the water from its deck. Above was the blue sky—all about them the blue water, white crested.
The girl, bracing herself against a particularly hard pitch of the boat, balancing herself lightly, as the craft recovered and again leaped forward, cried:
"Isn't this fine!"
Blake nodded. Schuyler, waist deep in a swooping sea, did not hear... The Long Island shore was close at hand now.
Suddenly Blake shouted: "Hard a lee!" and jammed the tiller over; Schuyler, on the after overhang, scrambled fast to take in the slack of the sheet. Kathryn Blair bent, to avoid the swinging boom.
The little boat swung about as though on a pivot. The wind filled the sail; she sped forward like a hawk unhooded.
Then something happened. A stay parted; there was a great, grinding crack, followed by the snapping and whipping of canvas. And the mast fell.
Schuyler was knocked over into the water by the boom. It struck him fair upon the brow. Kathryn, springing to catch him, was hit by the flapping canvas. She went overboard, too, and under the sail.
Blake, on the weather side, was free from the wreck. Without even stopping to turn, he dove backward from the cockpit. Under the cold, green water he went. He struck out, blindly, frenziedly. His hand felt something that was not canvas and yet was cloth—struck, and gripped. Then, holding his breath still until he thought his lungs would burst, he felt his way out from under the sail. The rail of the boat was at hand; he gripped it. And he dragged Kathryn to it.
"Hold on!" he cried in her ear. "Jack's gone!"
Though but half conscious, she understood. Her firm, white fingers gripped the cutting edge of the cockpit rail; she nodded.
Blake struck out again. He had tried to remember where he had seen Schuyler disappear. Four strokes brought him to the spot; and then he dove.
Again his hand struck something. Again he pulled, and tugged, and fought. At length he was at the surface. It was Schuyler. His eyes were closed.
The tide, setting down the sound, was carrying the boat from him; he set his teeth. He caught Schuyler by the neck of his jersey, over his own shoulder, bringing his head out of water.
And he struck out, with his free arm, desperately.
It seemed as though he would never make progress. A dead weight, in the water, is hard to drag. Every ounce of strength that was in his strong, young body he threw into those long, quivering strokes. He must get to the boat! He must! The shore was too far away.... He stopped for a minute, treading water. There was no sail in sight. He flattened out in the water again, breasting it with all his power.
Stroke after stroke he took—stroke after stroke—reaching with strong right arm, thrusting with strong legs. The boat was no nearer.... He kept on, doggedly.... He could feel that his strokes were getting weaker; his mouth was under water more than half the time; he had to raise up to breathe.... But he fought on.... He began to grow dizzy—there was a ringing in his ears....
Suddenly he thought he saw, right before him, the face of Kathryn Blair. He knew that he did not; he thought he did; that was all. Then, suddenly, his fingers caught a rope; the face was still there; and the rope that he held led to where it was caught between white, even teeth.
A great wave hit him a buffet, full in the face; it cleared his senses, for a moment; yet perhaps it was more due to the feel of the rope in his fingers.... Then he knew that it was she—that the face was real, and the rope.... Went surging through his mind that she, taking the end of the sheet in her teeth, had swum to him, and to Schuyler—and that to her they both owed their lives.
She was beside him, now, swimming strongly. She gripped an arm of the unconscious Schuyler.... Together, she and Blake, dividing the weight, slowly, inch by inch, fought their way along the rope. At length they reached the side of the swamped knockabout.... Blake crawled upon its slippery deck. He lay for a moment, helpless; she supported Schuyler. Then he essayed to aid her again; and together they began to lift him out of the water, and to safety.
Dr. DeLancey, from the after deck of "The Idlesse," had seen the accident. A minute later, he, John Stuyvesant Schuyler, Thomas Cathcart Blake, the captain of "The Idlesse," and two sailors were in the launch.... They reached the side of the knockabout as Blake and Kathryn were dragging Jack Schuyler from the water; and they took him into the other boat. Blake, in his father's clutch, followed. At the same time, Dr. DeLancey leaned over to grasp Kathryn. But she shook her head, and smiled, weakly:
"No," she said. "I—I had to—to take off part of my clothes. I—"
Dr. DeLancey was an old man; some assert that he fell overboard. However, be that as it may, when he came to the surface, he had his arm around Kathryn Blair, and she had his long coat draped around her slender figure.... And, as they lifted her to the deck, she fainted.
Destiny has a sense of humor; a sense of humor sardonic, it is true, cruel, sometimes grewsome; and yet it is a sense of humor. Otherwise—
There had been in France a man of the nobility—a man in whose veins flowed the blood of three kings—a man handsome of face, graceful of figure, debonair—a man who had sinned much, and who had paid for that sinning only in the sufferings of others; and they had been many.
That man had many estates—many servants—many horses—much money. He had been to Brittany twice; and only twice. Yet he went a third time, and after five years. He went alone. He rode his horse through the narrow, brush-grown path by which had gone the stranger who had seen the naked girl, at the edge of the woodland pool, five years before. And he came, at length, to the edge of the wood, and to the clearing where lay the little hut, smoky, dirty, littered.
He dismounted from his horse, there, why, he did not know. He went forward, to the hut.
An old woman, bent, white haired, sat on a rude chair, in the sun, beside the door. She looked up as he approached. She, in no way, heeded the elaborate bow that he made—a graceful bow, low and sweeping, and yet a salutation sarcastic.
"Bon jour, madame," he began. "Madame looks well; but Death is never far from the aged.... It should be a consolation," looking about him, casually, "for one who lives as madame."
The shrivelled old woman made no answer.
The man went on, evenly, the while tapping; with the end of his slender crop a booted leg:
"Eh bien, I have come, as you see. The paternal passion will not down in the breast of a man domestically inclined." He laughed. "I have been going about, seeing my families," he smiled. "It has been interesting—drolly interesting. Ma foi!" Yet again he laughed, musically. "There have been pleadings, and revilings—tears, and curses— bended knees, and unbended arms." He indicated with a graceful gesture a deep cut upon the back of his left hand. "It was a woman—a very pretty woman," he explained. "At least, she had been pretty; and she was again pretty; when she did that. Her eyes—it was like lighting a fire in a cave. Did you ever light a fire in a cave, madame?" he queried, gently, graciously; and then: "But, of course not! Women kindle their fires in stoves—or fireplaces. It is for men to light the fires of caves." Yet once more he laughed, softly.
The old woman, with the white, wispy hair, still was silent, motionless; though her eyes spoke. And that which they spoke, his eyes heard; and once more he laughed.
"I had a daughter here," he continued. "Did I not? Or was it a son? Ma foi! It were difficult—ah, yes! I remember now! A daughter. A little, red, hairless, dirty thing she was. I have a great curiosity— the blood of three kings, you know; surely that would overcome the blood of the good God knows how many peasant swine. She is not red, and hairless, and dirty now, in faith! She is clean-limbed, and straight, and white. A thousand louis to a sou, that she is!" ... His brow was creased in the travail or retrospection.
"I gave her a name, did I not?" he asked. "It seems to me—ah, yes. Rien, it was. A very pretty name—yes, an excellent name—meaning much and little—everything, and yet nothing." He laughed at his own conceit, softly. "Tell me, where is she now? It might be that she is dead, eh?" He eyed the old woman, closely; then he shook his head. "No," he went on, "she is not dead. She—"
He had seen nothing, that is certain. Yet, suddenly he ceased in his speech; the smile left his lips; and slowly, very slowly, he turned.
She was standing there, behind him, her eyes upon him.... She was straight, and slender, and perfectly formed. A single garment covered her, running across one shoulder, reaching to her knees. It left one breast exposed, and the white, slender legs and perfect feet. She stood in a posture of infinite grace—of infinite poise. She looked at him.
Then it was that the shrivelled old woman spoke. She said to the girl:
And that was all.
The child looked at the man; the man looked at the child; and so for a long, long time they stood eye upon eye.... At length she began to smile a little, with her lips. But he did not smile....
After a long, long time, she took a slow, sinuous step toward him—then another.... He stepped back, still looking at her, his eyes still on hers.... He was back to the great cliff—the sheer cliff at the base of which the huge seas ever beat in sullen, unceasing impotence.... Yet, another step she took, toward him....
His breath came chokingly, gaspingly. Yet another step he took, away from her.... Yet another.... And then....
It was an accident, perhaps. Yes, of course; it must have been an accident. He had not noticed.... For, as again she advanced, her eyes on his, his eyes on hers, again he retreated. And suddenly, in utter silence save for the rending of crumbling earth and uprooted grass, he slid over the edge of the great rock.... Before the eyes of the girl lay only the restless, heaving sea. and beyond the dull gray of the horizon and the cupped sky.
She turned, slowly, smiling a little. The shrivelled, shrunken old woman bent her head forward upon her flat breast, thrice.
"Bien," she muttered. And that was all.
OF CERTAIN GOINGS.
It so happened that, on the winter after Jack Schuyler and Tom Blake graduated from college, death came to the big houses on the Avenue. Mrs. John Stuyvesant Schuyler went first; Mrs. Thomas Cathcart Blake went, almost, with her; for she had been by the bedside of her friend during all her illness; and her friend, going, had bestowed upon her its horrible heritage. And so she went, too.
Their going left in the two great houses, monstrous voids that might never be filled. John Stuyvesant Schuyler and Thomas Cathcart Blake loved their wives; and when a man has loved a woman, and that woman his wife, as these two had loved, it seems in a way to disrupt the cosmogony of things. It takes ambition from the brain, and the stamina from the spine; and the days are very, very long, while the nights are yet infinitely longer.
Thomas Cathcart Blake, in the vastness of all that now was not, forgot to care for himself. He, who had been jovial, became silent. Some times, of nights, he would walk alone for hours. The weather made no difference—in fact, he seldom noticed what the weather was. He was an old man now, close to sixty....
Dr. DeLancey, on a night visit, met him one thick, sodden night at the corner of Thirty-third Street and the Avenue, coming from the club. The good doctor bumbled out of his brougham, seized him by the arm and drew him wet and dripping into its protected interior.
"You fossiliferous-headed old chump," he howled, exasperatedly. "You pin- headed old amphibian. If your sole and utter ambition is to get pneumonia and die, I don't know any way in which you can better achieve your purpose. Sit down in the corner there and drink this," he extracted from his case a little flask of brandy, "or I'll ask the horse to come in and bite you!"
"Turn around there, Mose!" he yelled, "and drive to Mr. Blake's house."
Mose did so; and once there, the doctor, abusing and bullying his patient, got him upstairs and into the bed, and then applied to the protesting man who seldom had known what it was even to have a cold, all manner of exposurial antidotes.
"But the patient that you were going to see!" protested Thomas Cathcart Blake.
"No friend of mine," returned Dr. DeLancey. "Only a patient. Patients are plenty, but friends are few. Let him get someone else, or die, as he chooses. It's none of my business. Here, drink this." And he poured between the protesting lips of Thomas Cathcart Blake a nauseating draught of something that was most malodorous; for Dr. DeLancey was an allopath, and a good one.
But, good as he was, he was too late. Pneumonia had been before him; and, two weeks later, in spite of all that the good doctor, and several other equally good doctors, could do, Thomas Cathcart Blake died. And he didn't seem sorry at going.
Before he went, he called to him his son, and to that son he said many things. Most of the things that he said are neither your business nor mine. But of the things that he said, we may know one. He wanted his son to marry the daughter of the widow of Jimmy Blair.
Young Tom Blake, between the sobs that are becoming a man, answered:
"I want to, dad. I've always wanted to. And I will, if I can."
His father counselled, weakly:
"Get her honestly, boy, or not at all. If you get her, cherish her—give her everything that there is in you to give—for there's nothing that a man can give that a good woman doesn't deserve. Now, God bless you, son— and—go."
Tom Blake clung to the sheets. It was hard to lose such a father and such a mother, and all within a six month. He cried, as you would cry, or I, and be glad that crying might be.... Dr. DeLancey, at length, managed to loosen his clenching fingers. Dr. DeLancey was crying, too; the tears ran down his veined cheeks to lose themselves in the hair of his cheeks. He tried to fume and fuss and splutter, as was his wont; but he couldn't. He could just put his hand around Tom Blake's heaving young shoulders, listen to his choking, broken sobs and say, over and over, and over again: "There, there, my boy! There, there! There, there!"
It's pretty hard, you know, to lose a father and a mother like that, and all within six months.
OF CERTAIN OTHER GOINGS.
John Stuyvesant Schuyler's end was different. He was a man reserved—a man who thought much and told little. His illness baffled Dr. DeLancey at first; but then he knew what the disease was; although to it he could give no polysyllabic name of Latin, and for it he could prescribe no remedies; for the cure had gone from the hands of man into the hands of God. And to the hands of God, John Stuyvesant Schuyler went, at length, to find it; and who shall say that his quest was unsuccessful?
He, too, on his dying bed called his son to him; and to this son he said many things; and among these things was that it had ever been the dearest wish of her that had gone as well as of him that was about to go that their son should wed the daughter of the widow of Jimmy Blair.
And Jack Schuyler, sobbing by the side of the great, mahogany bed in the great, dark room, even as he had sobbed beside the same bed in the same room so short a time before, promised, as Tom Blake had promised, that all that he might do to bring to wife the girl his parents desired for him as wife, he would do; and not from any obeisance to filial reasons, but because he wanted to—because he loved her—had always loved her.
It was good old Dr. DeLancey who repeated his offices in this case, as in the other; and he repeated them in the same way, patting the broad, throbbing young shoulders—reiterating with twitching lips, his "There, there, boy! There, there, there!"—reiterating it uselessly—and knowing that it was uselessly that he reiterated—and yet helpless in the vast profundity of helplessness that was his.
And that same year did Dr. DeLancey lose yet another friend that was a patient—a patient that was a friend. It was the violet-eyed widow of Jimmy Blair. And all night long, from gray dusk until crimson dawn, Dr. DeLancey had sat in the darkened parlor of the warm little house of red brick; he had sat in a rocking chair, and on either old knee he had held a sob-wracked, grief-torn, motherless girl, the one herself almost old enough to be a mother. And again he had cried. Some doctors may lose through oft-recurrence visualized their susceptibility to suffering; but Dr. DeLancey was not of them. And when he stumbled on stiffened legs out of the darkened parlor and into the incongruous mellow radiance of the spring sunshine, his eyes were still wet, and he didn't care who knew it.
TWO BOYS AND A DOCTOR.
Young Jack Schuyler and young Blake, a week later, went to see the doctor in his office. He looked up from his paper.
"Well?" he said.
Tom Blake cleared his throat.
"We wanted to ask you, Doctor," he began, "if—"
"Eh," assisted Jack Schuyler; "that is, we wanted to know—"
"—you see, that is—I—"
"—yes, we thought—"
"—you know, Mrs. Blair—"
The doctor rose; he stood between the two broad-shouldered, erect young men, placing a hand on the arm of each.
"It's all right," he assured them. "Don't you worry."
"But," protested Tom Blake, "we've got so much money, and they—Isn't there some way that you can fix it, doctor? You know how to do these things; and we're so helpless."
"And," elaborated Jack Schuyler, "they'd never suspect you, you know."
"I tell you it's all fixed," returned the doctor, with testiness that from him was cordiality rampant. "Jimmy Blair left a very comfortable estate, in trust. They'll have all they want as long as they live."
He didn't tell them—that is, not then, though later he did—that one of the last acts of John Stuyvesant Schuyler and Thomas Cathcart Blake had been to walk solemnly, side by side, across the street and tell the widow of Jimmy Blair, that, in accordance with the ante-mortem desires of her late husband, they had devoted a certain portion of the fortune that he had left to the establishment of a trust fund that would yield her an annual income of $12,000. He didn't tell them, then. Later he did. He couldn't help it. But at that time—
He slapped them both on the back, and sent them from the room. He stood, on the top step of the flight that led from sidewalk to front door, and watched them swing, broad-shouldered, supple, erect, down the bright Avenue.
"Now why in thunder," he asked of himself, slowly, "didn't I ever get married?" And then, "Shut up, you old fool," he soliloquized. And he turned, and, re-entering the house, slammed the door behind him.
Blake waited in the embrasure of the window, gazing down upon the Avenue below, with its confusion of moving vehicles and pedestrians. The June sun was overhead, warming the earth with gentle, kindly glow. The breath of summer was in the air; it came to him, brushing the curtains against him, cooling his brow. It was grateful to his nostrils, and to his lungs; and he took of it a great, deep breath. His broad shoulders squared; his deep, full chest heaved.
An omnibus stopped on the corner. He watched the horses throw themselves against their collars; he watched the bulky vehicle gather headway, and move on, with ever increasing momentum, through the maze of brougham and cab and coach and landau.
As the coach was lost to view there came steps, light and quick, upon the stairs; the door opened and there stood before him the daughter of Jimmy Blair. She had been abroad, under chaperonage, for a year....
He did not know that she could be so beautiful—he did not know that anyone could ever hope to be as beautiful as was she who stood before him. Violet eyes were no deeper—lips no more red—teeth no whiter—nor was the perfect oval of her sun-kissed cheek any the more perfect. Yet, there was something—the indefinable something that marks the transition of a beautiful girl from beautiful girlhood to glorious womanhood.... He felt a strange emptiness within him; it was almost as though he were appalled by so much beauty—so much glory.
There was a gladness—a natural, unaffected, real gladness in her violet eyes that glowed in greeting. She thrust forth a tiny white hand.... He had been wont to kiss her, on meeting and on parting. Now it never occurred to him.
"Tom!" she cried. "I'm so, so glad to see you again. It's been terribly lonely. As fast as I'd begin to learn one language, they'd move me somewhere else and I'd have to start all over again! And now I hardly know whether or not I know any language at all! ... Where's Jack? I expected that, of course, he would come with you."
"He'll be here bye-and-bye, Kate...." Blake replied.
She seated herself, crossing one knee above the over, interlocking about it slender, white fingers.
"You must have so much to tell me, Tom!" she bubbled, all animation, gladness, eagerness. "Begin! Please, begin! And then I'll tell you everything. Oh, isn't it exciting to go away and come back again!"
"I have a lot to tell you," he said, slowly.
"Why, you speak so seriously, Tom. Aren't you glad to see me?"
"I'm afraid nobody but myself knows how glad.... Kate, I hardly know how to begin what I want to say. I—it's hard; not having seen you so long, makes it harder. I—"
She cried, in pretty amazement: "But what in the world is it? Tom! You almost frighten me! I haven't done anything wrong, have I? Shall I be put to bed without my supper? ... Do speak, Tom. Tell me what all this mystery is."
Still slowly, hands folding and unfolding, dark eyes upon hers of violet, he continued:
"Kate, Jack Schuyler loves you; and I lo—"
He had intended to say more; and what that more was one would but have had to look into his eyes to tell; but he had been looking into hers; he had seen the gleam that had leaped there at his words; and that is why he did not finish.
"Tom!" she exclaimed, softly.... And then, "Did Jack tell you that— himself?"
"He was afraid to tell me himself?"
Again he nodded. It was not so. But he lied; as would you, or I, had we been as good a man as he. He had come there knowing that a woman loves but one man. He had come there knowing that, if Schuyler were not the man she loved, thereby he would be saved, and she would be saved, much unpleasantness. He had hoped that it was he himself that she loved. Yet he had feared that it was not. And he had known that whether it were he who asked, or Schuyler, or any man, it would make no difference; for when a woman like that loves a man, it is that man alone she loves; and the rest means nothing. No thought of an unfair advantage was in his mind. In such a case there could be no such thing as that. It was only whether or not she loved one of them, and if so, which one; and beyond that there was nothing—nothing except that he wished to take from Schuyler any unhappiness that might lie there for him. For he was a friend such as few men may ever have and, having, may pray to keep.
And now he knew the answer. It was in the depths of the violet eyes—in the eagerness of lips and lithe, supple body—it was of her—about her. Blake's lips became thin; his jaws set; his eyes half shut. To have lost a father, and a mother, and such a girl as was she, and all within an eighteen month, was bitter, indeed.
He heard her say, as from a great distance:
"It was fine of you to come like this, Tom.... I do love Jack; I thought once, that I loved you, Tom.... That was strange, wasn't it? It's strange to sit here now, with you, telling you of it.... Though, of course, you don't care.... He will come soon, won't he? You don't know how I've missed him, Tom.... It would be a strange situation, wouldn't it, if we hadn't known one another so well, and cared for one another, so deeply in such a friendly, brother-and-sisterly sort of way.... I think, in some ways, I ought to be angry with Jack for not coming himself.... But it's as though you were my big brother, Tom.... You know how Jack feels toward me; and so you are anxious to act as sort of a buffer, in case everything isn't—eh—as it should be.... It was fine of you, Tom; and you know how I appreciate it! ..."
What else she said, he did not know. It seemed a thousand, thousand years ere he rose to his feet. He was suffering—When a woman loves, her intuition is dead....
At length he found himself on the street. But the sunshine was gone, and the air was dead....
He found Schuyler, and told him.... He watched him leap through the door, forgetting his hat—heard him pounding down the hall—heard the street door as it slammed behind him. And then—
It's pretty hard, you know, to lose a father, and a mother, and such a girl as the daughter of Jimmy Blair; and all within an eighteen month.
A FOREIGN MISSION
In the next few years, God was indeed good to John Schuyler. Health he kept; honors came to him, and the respect of men and of women. There were those who loved him, many; and of those who hated him there were a few; which is well, inasmuch as the hatred of some men may be the highest praise—the highest favor—that they have to bestow.
A child came to them, at length—to him and to the daughter of Jimmy Blair; and that child was as like to the daughter of Jimmy Blair as the daughter had been like her mother.
A part of the time they lived in the city; but most of their days were spent out at the Larchmont place, on the Sound, that John Stuyvesant Schuyler had built so long ago. And there they were very, very happy.
The quiet, peaceful beauty of "Grey Rocks" more than ever appealed to the soul of Tom Blake as he stood upon the bridge of his yacht, "The Vagrant," and watched the ever-enlarging lawn apparently rush toward him. He closed his eyes, a little. The sun was very bright.... He turned toward the Long Island shore, hazy and unreal in the mists of the morning.... When he turned back again, the huge, sea-going craft, a thing of glistening white and shining brass, was making a wide, graceful sweep in the churning water, and the house had ceased to rush down upon him. It now stood inviting, beckoning, as close at hand as it were safe to be.
A launch was lowered, and the owner's gangway dropped. And in another moment, Blake stood, balancing himself nicely against the rolling of the little craft, as it rushed through the blue-gray water toward the landing pier at the foot of the velvet lawn.
Like one who, in haste, yet longs to loiter Blake made his way across the sward to where, jutting out from a corner of the house, a tiny bay window thrust itself forth among a confusion of tangled nasturtiums, copper- colored, yellow, crimson son. With the privileged assurance of one long known and long loved, he thrust open the left hand window, which extended to the ground, and entered the room.
There came a little, delighted cry of surprise; a rather uncertain, "Oh, Mr. Tom!" and in another instant he was enveloped in a tiny cloud of lace and ribbons and primly starched linen while two bare, brown little legs waved wildly about his breast, a pair of very sticky lips were set against his own, and his neck found itself in the clasp of tiny fingers that had known orange-juice and oat-meal and sugar—and possibly jam— since they had had intimate association of water.
At length he set her down upon the floor, gently.
"Well, well, little partner," he said, grinning sociably, "that most surely was a succulent salute.... I perceive from the remainder of your repast" his eyes had fallen upon the little breakfast table and the over- turned high-chair which, with infinite dignity unbent, the butler was rescuing from prostration "that you like a little oatmeal on your sugar."
"I do," confessed the child, friendly. "But Woberts doesn't. Do you, Woberts?" Without waiting for the corroboration of the somewhat perturbed Roberts, she turned again to Blake. "I like heaps and heaps of sugar.... Woberts gives it to me when there isn't anyone looking, don't you, Woberts?" And then, very seriously, she added, "I like Woberts"
Blake laughed, a low, rumbling, ringing laugh.
"I don't blame you," he said. "I used to have sugar once.... I liked those who gave it to me."
He picked her up and set her again in the high-chair, moving it close to the table with its dainty china and center-piece of pink carnations.
The child looked up at him, half wondering. She was pretty—very pretty— with serious, round violet eyes, sun-kissed cheeks, and hair of the soft brown that is of kin to gold.
"Don't you get any sugar now?" she asked, very seriously.
He shook his head.
"Not any?" she persisted. "Never?"
"Not any," he replied, gravely. "Never."
Swiftly she picked up the little silver sugar jar; she cast an investigative eye up at the solemn visage of the butler.
"Mr. Tom can have some of ours, can't he, Woberts?" she inquired, gravely tendering the bowl to Blake, who accepted it just as gravely.
"I thank you," he said, very seriously. "It is kind of you.... But, do you know, I was speaking rather of figurative sugar."
The child shook her head, perplexedly.
"I don't think we have that kind," she ventured. "We have powdered sugar, and loaf sugar, and gran—granulated," she syllablized it, calling it "gran-u-lat-ed"—"and we have pulverized sugar, too. But I don't believe we have fig—the kind you said.... I'm sorry."
He smiled a little—a smile of the lips.
"It doesn't matter," he said, slowly. "Really it doesn't. You know I haven't had any for so long that I've quite forgotten the taste of it.... Where's daddy this morning?"
"Daddy and mother dear are saying goodbye to Auntie," the child replied, making in the oatmeal before her a miniature Panama Canal and watching the thick cream trickle slowly from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Blake turned to the butler.
"How is Mrs. VanVorst this morning, Roberts?" he asked. "Still very ill, sir," returned the butler. "Very ill indeed."
"We 'opes not, sir. But she's still very low, sir."
Blake turned one fist in the palm of the other hand.
"Why, I though from the wireless that Mr. Schuyler sent me that she was getting along splendidly. I—"
He stopped, abruptly. There had entered the breakfast room the wife of John Schuyler. She saw Blake and came forward, hand outstretched, welcome in her eyes. She had come to be very like her child—her child and Schuyler's—had the daughter of Jimmy Blair—she was like her child grown up, glorified into womanhood. Her hair was the same gold-brown, a little unruly, clinging against her temples, nestling at neck-nape. Her eyes were the same deep violet—perhaps a little darker—a little softer—a little less wondering; for years bring knowledge, and when one begins to know, then one must cease, somewhat, to wonder. She had the soft, brown, sun-kissed cheeks of her child, too, rounded and smooth, with the red blood tinting them to a delicate pink. She had the finely-modelled, cleanly-cut nose, and the expressive, sensitive mouth with its red lips, and white teeth. And her chin was both beautiful and firm.
She moved lithely across the room to where Blake stood. He took her hand.
"Tom," she began, cordially. Her voice was low and deep, and very soft. "We're so glad to see you.... You got Jack's message, then? We were afraid you wouldn't."
"Caught it off Point Judith," he replied. "You should have seen us 'bout ship and come spattering down the Sound. Those blockade-running persons could have gained points from us We burned the bulwarks, the cargo and most of my cigars. It looks as though we did so wisely, too; for we haven't much time to spare, have we?"
"We leave in half an hour," she returned. "Sit down, Tom.... Jack will be here soon."
"But what's it all about?" he asked. He sank into a chair, elbows on knees, fingers clasped.
"Jack's trip abroad?"
"It's something at the Court of St. James. I don't know exactly; but it's very imposing, and important, and epoch-making. Jack spent all day yesterday with the President and Secretary of State."
"Well, well, well! That certainly is immense!" She was standing beside the table. Slowly her fingers plucked a carnation from the cluster before her. Violet eyes were upon it.
"Is it?" she asked, slowly.
"Isn't it?" he queried, surprised.
She paused a moment; and then, swiftly:
"Oh, I don't know. I—"
Blake waited. But she did not go on. At length he spoke:
"How long will he be gone?"
"Maybe two months," she returned.... "It will be the first time that we've been apart for more than a day or two since we were married.... I— I suppose that's silly, isn't it?
"If that's silly, it's too bad anyone ever gets sensible," was his assuring reply.
She had risen. Slowly she went around behind the little high chair. Leaning lithely over, she laid her cheek against that of her child, soft, rounded arms pressing her close. And then she looked at Blake, eyes to eyes.
"I don't like it, Tom," she said, very slowly.
"But," he protested, "it's a big honor—a great honor—an appointment like this, from the President."
"Yes," she answered, thoughtfully. "It is a big honor. And I suppose that I should be very, very happy—Of course, in a way, I am." Then, suddenly: "But I'm not. I don't like it, Tom. I try to like it. I tell myself that I ought to like it. And yet I can't. Happiness is more than honors; and we are happy here—as happy as it is possible for two people" her eyes, laden of the mother love, fell upon the child that was hers, "for three people," she corrected, "to be. We have everything we need—everything we ought to want. I'd rather have just peace, and quiet and contentment, than all the honors there are."
"I mustn't stand in the way of his advancement, you mean. I know that; and I haven't.... You know he left it all to me; and I said, 'Go.' It hurt, too, Tom.... I didn't want that he should go. I don't know why.... I—" she stopped. The child had finished her oatmeal. Lithely, the mother, stooping, lifted her from the chair, held her close for a tiny minute and then, kissing her, set her down upon the floor.
"Run along, dearie," she directed. "Tell Mawkins to get you dressed."
She watched the graceful, pretty child until she vanished through the door. Slowly she walked to the window. Hands clasped behind her she stood, gazing across the sunlit lawn—across the dancing, flashing waters of the Sound. A big, black schooner, a mountain of bellying whiteness superimposed upon a tiny streak of hull, was standing off for the Long Island shore. Her eyes followed it.
Blake, lids half closed, as a man who seeks within the denseness of masculine brain for something that lieth not therein, considered for a long moment, eyes upon the perfect figure of perfect womanhood before him. At length he spoke.
"It doesn't seem to me," he began, "that it means either very much or very little." He went on, more lightly: "Two months isn't such a long time, you know, after all. He'll soon be back, laden with honors. And then, because he was raised on the seacoast and doesn't know the difference between a Lima bean and a bole weevil, they'll probably make him Secretary of Agriculture."
She was still gazing at the vanishing sail; she had not heard his words.
He leaned back in his chair, a little, watching her. At length he sighed, and murmured to himself:
"To him that hath, shall be given all they can take away from him that hathn't."
John Schuyler had come to be a big man and a broad one—big in the great things of life that sometimes are so small, big in the small things of life that sometimes are so great. Broad of mind, as well as broad of shoulder he was. Forty years of age now, his hair, by the habit of thought, was tinged with gray at the temples; yet skin and complexion were as those of a boy. Quick in movement, agile, alert, thrilling with vitality and virility, his pleasures were, as they had always been, the pleasures of the great out-of-doors. A yachtsman, his big yawl, the "Manana," was known in every club port from Gravesend to Bar Harbor. He motored. He rode. He played tennis, and golf, and squash, and racquets. He was an expert swimmer, a skilful fencer, a clever boxer. And, more wonderful than the combination of these things was the fact that he found time away from his work to do them all, and to enjoy them with the youthful, contagious, effervescent enthusiasm of a man of half his age.
It showed in his well-set-up, well-poised body. It showed in the expression of his clear-cut bronzed features. It showed in every little shift of pose, every little turn of his well-shaped head, as he stood, leaning gracefully against the ledge of the bay window, talking with Blake; for Mrs. Schuyler and Muriel had gone to make ready for the trip to the city, and to the dock.
"I don't like to leave it, Tom," he said slowly, his eyes roaming over the bright, little room. "I don't like to leave it even to hobnob with crowned heads, and to take tea with dukes, earls, princes and kings, to say nothing of mere lords. My world is right here; and it's all the world I want, Tom. It's bounded on the south by the sound, on the north by the property of the municipality, on the east and west by somebody else's worlds, and above by eternity." Blake lighted a cigar.
"Then what are you going for?" he asked, practically.
Schuyler shrugged his shoulders.
"I wonder," he replied.
"Want me to tell you?" queried the other.
"I should be obliged," he said with a smile.
"Well," began Blake, placing finger ends to finger ends, judicially. "In the first place, you're ambitious. You like the plaudits of the populace. You see here a chance to get about a million per cent on your investment. Whereby you stick two months time and a little effort into the proposition and draw down a position that means sitting beside the chief executive and trying to look as though you knew what he was talking about. Also a chance to live in Washington and cut figure eights in the diplomatic circles. All of which is perfectly natural, nothing at all to your discredit, and furthermore shows whence come the few good men, who, sticking their heels in, are trying to keep the country from going to the demnition bow-wows. Am I right?"
Schuyler watched a little ring of blue smoke rising to the ceiling.
"No," he answered, slowly, "you're wrong. I care nothing for the plaudits of the populace. I'm ambitious, in a way; but when that way requires me to leave the people—the things—that I love, then ambition chameleonizes and I become ambitious antithetically. Furthermore, I loathe the climate of Washington; and all the society I want, I can find right in my home— with the exception of yourself."
"Which is not so much of an exception, after all," commented Blake; "because, when it comes to sticking around, I'm the original young Mr. Glue."
"You know, Tom," went on Schuyler, "I don't like to take any chances with a happiness such as mine.... I wonder, sometimes, if I really know how happy I am. One can get used to happiness, you know, just as to other things—except unhappiness."
"Hum," snorted Blake. "I've got used to that, even. Dad—burn it all, nothing ever goes right with me—except money; and that's no good without the rest. Money is merely an agreeable accessory. To have money and nothing with it is like having an olive and no cocktail to put it in. If I eat what I like, I get sick. I'm always either forty pounds too heavy or twenty pounds too light. I'm continually dieting or training and wondering why in Sam Hill I'm doing either. I have to live alone—to spend my evening at theatres or clubs—I am a man who would willingly give up all his clubs for one large pair of pink carpet slippers, and the theatres for a corpulent, aristocratic Maltese cat, with a baritone purr."
Schuyler, immersed in his own thoughts, had not been listening.
Blake eyed him, whimsically.
"Ain't I the gabby thing, though?" he remarked, at length. And then:
"A couple of million dollars for your thoughts, sweet chuck."
"I was thinking how near I came to turning this all down—and how I'm sort of sorry that I didn't."
"Nell's better, isn't she?" queried Blake, suddenly.
"Better, yes; but not out of danger. Why?"
"Why," returned Blake, "it just occurred to me—see here, old man, I've nothing much to do. Can't I stick around here? And then you can take Kate and Muriel with you."
"That's good of you, Tom," said Schuyler, smiling a little. "But a bachelor around a sick room is of about as much use as an elephant at a pink tea.... No, Kate and I have talked it all over, and, under the conditions, she has decided to stay at home. It'll be mighty hard, though—mighty hard.... It must be nearly time to leave."
Blake looked at his watch.
"Nine fifty," he said. "What time does the train go?"
Schuyler did not answer; for just then there entered the room a tall, clean-cut young fellow of thirty, dressed with quiet immaculacy. It was Parks, John Schuyler's secretary.
To him Schuyler turned.
"Is everything ready, Parks?" he asked.
"Everything," was the reply. "And the car is waiting."
"Is in the hall."
"You have the documents that we selected?"
"Here, sir." Parks touched with the fingers of his right hand the little satchel of black seal that he carried beneath his left arm.
"How much time have we?"
"We should leave within a very few minutes now."
"Very well. We'll be right there."
As Parks left the room, Blake turned to his friend.
"Jack," he exclaimed, "it makes me sore every time I look at you. Why in thunder can't I get in once in a while? Nothing would suit me better than to go over and buy the king a glass of half and half and mix around with the diplomats and settle the affairs of nations. But they wouldn't let me send cucumber seeds to the mattress-faced constituency of Skaneateles county if I should offer to pay for the job. I've got everything I don't want—except the measles—and everything I do want, I can't get. I want a home. What have I? A box stall with nobody in it but a man to curry me; and he's curried me so often that he's lost all respect for me. I want to stop being merely ornamental and become useful; but when I say so, everyone hands me the jocose and jibing jeer and proceeds to lock up anything that seems to have any relation whatsoever to industry, commerce, or utility of any kind. And the best I can get is the festive roof garden, the broad speed-way, and the bounding wave. I wish I were running this universe. I ain't mentioning no names, but there's a certain svelte party on my left, whose initials are J. S., who wouldn't have a monopoly on all the good things in this world."
Schuyler, filling his cigar case from a silver humidor on the sideboard, laughed.
"There's nothing the matter with you, Tom," he said, assuringly, "except that you have too much time and too much money. Stop your kicking."
"Let me rave if I want to," he requested. "Let me have a good time. You know as well as I do that I don't mean it, and you know that I'm more glad for your success and happiness and prosperity than I would be for my own; and that's being some glad." He crossed to where Schuyler stood and placed his arm about his shoulders, and continued, "good old Jack. Bully for you. You deserve everything that you have ever won. I'd say I loved you like a brother if it weren't for the fact that I never had a brother yet that I could sit through a meal with without wanting to hit him under the ear with the side-board."
The room had become suddenly dark. Came almost without the warning of preliminary rumble—almost without the precursor of sullen flashing—a great peal of heavy thunder. Schuyler turned. Blake sprang to his feet.
Through the bow window, the lawn lay dun and dark. Beyond, the Sound, flat and heavy, seemed as gray oil. The Long Island shore had been swallowed in the gloom. Above all was a great, black cloud, rimmed of silver and of gold, a low cloud, thick and threatening. And yet to one side and the other—in fact save right in its ominous path, one could see the sunlight on water and on land. Then came the rain, and the wind, and with them incessant flashings, incessant bellowings, wild protests of the outraged God of storms. Trees bent and groaned. Flowers, torn from their tender stalks, lay prostrate in puling puddles. And quick-born waves lashed themselves spitefully against the pier and breakwater down beyond the lawn, unseen in the swirling, screaming wildness of it all.
Upon one another Schuyler and Blake turned wondering, amazed eyes. In its suddenness, the storm was unbelievable. They stood, side by side, gazing out into the storm.
Suddenly, into the hand of Schuyler stole tiny, frightened fingers. It was Muriel.
"I'm frightened, daddy dear," she cried.
Schuyler gathered her into his arms.
"Don't be frightened, little sweetheart," he said, soothingly. "It's just a summer storm.... Where's mother?"
"Here, Jack." Her voice came from at his very side. "Isn't it terrible! We can't go in this."
Holding his child close against his breast, her cheeks against his, her gold-brown hair mixing with the gray of his temples, he said:
"Not you and Muriel, of course. But I must. It won't last long; you and Tom can come on a later train. Parks can come with you. There'll be plenty of time. It's only that I have urgent business that I must attend to before sailing."
In a swirl of wind and rain, Parks stepped into the room, and addressing Schuyler, said:
"We should be starting, sir."
Schuyler nodded. The butler was holding his coat in readiness. He thrust his arms within the sleeves and, with a shrug of broad shoulders, stood prepared for departure.
Lifting the little girl that was his own, and of the woman he loved, he held her for a brief moment tight to his breast. In her little ear he whispered:
"Bye, little sweetheart."
She clung to him, little hands about his neck.... He set her down again upon the floor. She ran to Blake, waiting.
The deep lids of Kathryn were half veiling the violet eyes—eyes moist, and very soft. There was a little tremor of the sensitive lips. Schuyler drew her to him, so that she faced him, and whispered:
"Au revoir, big sweetheart.... Don't you dare to cry.... I know how it hurts; but be a brave little woman.... I'll make my stay just as short as possible."
"You'll cable?" she asked, tremulously.
"Cable?" he repeated. "I'll keep that wireless snapping all the way across.... Now let me see you smile."
She tried. It was a wan, sad little smile—a smile that was close of kin to a tear. She clung to him for a moment; then her fingers loosened their hold; she stepped back, white teeth holding nether lip. It was bitterly hard.
He looked; and with more understanding than many a man might have, turned swiftly.
Parks stepped forward.
"Shan't I go with you?" he asked.
Schuyler shook his head.
"No," he returned. "Come with Mrs. Schuyler—meet me at the boat. I'm going alone."
He thrust open the door. Came a wail of wind, a swirl of rain; and then, as he crossed the threshold, the very heaven itself seemed to be reft apart with a great, wild flash of lightning—the roar of the thunder was appalling.
Schuyler started back. He forced a laugh.
"Were I a superstitious man," he remarked, "I might take that for an omen."
And then he was gone.
YOUNG PARMALEE—AND THE WOMAN.
He came slinking down the deck of the liner, furtive of eye, uneven of tread. A young man he was—and yet old; for while his body told of youth, his face bespoke age—the unnatural forced age—the hot-housed growth of they who live in the froth of life—in the froth that it is hard to tell from the scum.
He was tall, and well-set-up. His clothes hung well about his body; they were of fine texture and make, yet unpressed, uncared for. He had been handsome; but he was no longer; for the eyes looked forth from hollows in his face. His cheeks were sunken. His lips were leaden. He was unshaven, ungroomed, unkempt.
Looking nervously, this way and that, he made his way among the jostling throngs to one of the passages. Searching with sunken eyes for a numbered door, he knocked upon it with the knuckles of his left hand; his right rested at his side, covered with a handkerchief of white silk.... He knocked; and stepped back, quickly. There was no answer; the door remained shut. He stepped forward again, thrusting the door wide open. The stateroom was empty. He turned. Out upon the deck he strode; then, starting back, he concealed himself in the passageway that he had just left.