WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS and HENRY MILLS ALDEN
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London
1895, 1896, 1897, 1904, 1905, 1906
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE "THE LITTLE JOYS OF MARGARET"
ELIZABETH JORDAN "KITTIE'S SISTER JOSEPHINE"
ALICE BROWN "THE WIZARD'S TOUCH"
CHARLES B. DE CAMP "THE BITTER CUP"
MARY APPLEWHITE BACON "HIS SISTER"
ELEANOR A. HALLOWELL "THE PERFECT YEAR"
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS "EDITHA"
OCTAVE THANET "THE STOUT MISS HOPKINS'S BICYCLE"
MARY M. MEARS "THE MARRYING OF ESTHER"
JULIAN RALPH "CORDELIA'S NIGHT OF ROMANCE"
E. A. ALEXANDER "THE PRIZE-FUND BENEFICIARY"
It is many years now since the American Girl began to engage the consciousness of the American novelist. Before the expansive period following the Civil War, in the later eighteen-sixties and the earlier eighteen-seventies, she had of course been his heroine, unless he went abroad for one in court circles, or back for one in the feudal ages. Until the time noted, she had been a heroine and then an American girl. After that she was an American girl, and then a heroine; and she was often studied against foreign backgrounds, in contrast with other international figures, and her value ascertained in comparison with their valuelessness, though sometimes she was portrayed in those poses of flirtation of which she was born mistress. Even in these her superiority to all other kinds of girls was insinuated if not asserted.
The young ladies in the present collection are all American girls but one, if we are to suppose Mr. Le Gallienne's winning type to be of the same English origin as himself. We can be surer of him than of her, however; but there is no question of the native Americanness of Mrs. Alexander's girl, who is done so strikingly to the life, with courage to grapple a character and a temperament as uncommon as it is true, which we have rarely found among our fictionists. Having said this, we must hedge in favor of Miss Jordan's most autochthonic Miss Kittie, so young a girl as to be still almost a little girl, and with a head full of the ideals of little-girlhood concerning young-girlhood. The pendant to her pretty picture is the study of elderly girlhood by Octave Thanet, or that by Miss Alice Brown, the one with its ideality, and the other with its humor. The pathos of "The Perfect Year" is as true as either in its truth to the girlhood which "never knew an earthly close," and yet had its fill of rapture. Julian Ralph's strong and free sketch contributes a fresh East Side flower, hollyhock-like in its gaudiness, to the garden of American girls, Irish-American in this case, but destined to be companioned hereafter by blossoms of our Italian-American, Yiddish-American, and Russian-American civilization, as soon as our nascent novelists shall have the eye to see and the art to show them. Meantime, here are some of our Different Girls as far as they or their photographers have got, and their acquaintance is worth having.
The Little Joys of Margaret
BY RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
Margaret had seen her five sisters one by one leave the family nest, to set up little nests of their own. Her brother, the eldest child of a family of seven, had left the old home almost beyond memory, and settled in London. Now and again he made a flying visit to the small provincial town of his birth, and sometimes he sent two little daughters to represent him—for he was already a widowed man, and relied occasionally on the old roof-tree to replace the lost mother. Margaret had seen what sympathetic spectators called her "fate" slowly approaching for some time—particularly when, five years ago, she had broken off her engagement with a worthless boy. She had loved him deeply, and, had she loved him less, a refined girl in the provinces does not find it easy to replace a discarded suitor—for the choice of young men is not excessive. Her sisters had been more fortunate, and so, as I have said, one by one they left their father's door in bridal veils. But Margaret stayed on, and at length, as had been foreseen, became the sole nurse of a beautiful old invalid mother, a kind of lay sister in the nunnery of home.
She came of a beautiful family. In all the big family of seven there was not one without some kind of good looks. Two of her sisters were acknowledged beauties, and there were those who considered Margaret the most beautiful of all. It was all the harder, such sympathizers said, that her youth should thus fade over an invalid's couch, the bloom of her complexion be rubbed out by arduous vigils, and the lines prematurely etched in her skin by the strain of a self-denial proper, no doubt, to homely girls and professional nurses, but peculiarly wanton and wasteful in the case of a girl so beautiful as Margaret.
There are, alas! a considerable number of women predestined by their lack of personal attractiveness for the humbler tasks of life. Instinctively we associate them with household work, nursing, and the general drudgery of existence. One never dreams of their having a life of their own. They have no accomplishments, nor any of the feminine charms. Women to whom an offer of marriage would seem as terrifying as a comet, they belong to the neutrals of the human hive, and are, practically speaking, only a little higher than the paid domestic. Indeed, perhaps their one distinction is that they receive no wages.
Now for so attractive a girl as Margaret to be merged in so dreary, undistinguished a class was manifestly preposterous. It was a stupid misapplication of human material. A plainer face and a more homespun fibre would have served the purpose equally well.
Margaret was by no means so much a saint of self-sacrifice as not to have realized her situation with natural human pangs. Youth only comes once—especially to a woman; and
No hand can gather up the withered fallen petals of the Rose of youth.
Petal by petal, Margaret had watched the rose of her youth fading and falling. More than all her sisters, she was endowed with a zest for existence. Her superb physical constitution cried out for the joy of life. She was made to be a great lover, a great mother; and to her, more than most, the sunshine falling in muffled beams through the lattices of her mother's sick-room came with a maddening summons to—live. She was so supremely fitted to play a triumphant part in the world outside there, so gay of heart, so victoriously vital.
At first, therefore, the renunciation, accepted on the surface with so kind a face, was a source of secret bitterness and hidden tears. But time, with its mercy of compensation, had worked for her one of its many mysterious transmutations, and shown her of what fine gold her apparently leaden days were made. She was now thirty-three; though, for all her nursing vigils, she did not look more than twenty-nine, and was now more than resigned to the loss of the peculiar opportunities of youth—if, indeed, they could be said to be lost already. "An old maid," she would say, "who has cheerfully made up her mind to be an old maid, is one of the happiest, and, indeed, most enviable, people in all the world."
Resent the law as we may, it is none the less true that renunciation brings with it a mysterious initiation, a finer insight. Its discipline would seem to refine and temper our organs of spiritual perception, and thus make up for the commoner experience lost by a rarer experience gained. By dedicating herself to her sick mother, Margaret undoubtedly lost much of the average experience of her sex and age, but almost imperceptibly it had been borne in upon her that she made some important gains of a finer kind. She had been brought very close to the mystery of human life, closer than those who have nothing to do beyond being thoughtlessly happy can ever come. The nurse and the priest are initiates of the same knowledge. Each alike is a sentinel on the mysterious frontier between this world and the next. The nearer we approach that frontier, the more we understand not only of that world on the other side, but of the world on this. It is only when death throws its shadow over the page of life that we realize the full significance of what we are reading. Thus, by her mother's bedside, Margaret was learning to read the page of life under the illuminating shadow of death.
But, apart from any such mystical compensation, Margaret's great reward was that she knew her beautiful old mother better than any one else in the world knew her. As a rule, and particularly in a large family, parents remain half mythical to their children, awe-inspiring presences in the home, colossal figures of antiquity, about whose knees the younger generation crawls and gropes, but whose heads are hidden in the mists of prehistoric legend. They are like personages in the Bible. They impress our imagination, but we cannot think of them as being quite real. Their histories smack of legend. And this, of course, is natural, for they had been in the world, had loved and suffered, so long before us that they seem a part of that antenatal mystery out of which we sprang. When they speak of their old love-stories, it is as though we were reading Homer. It sounds so long ago. We are surprised at the vividness with which they recall happenings and personalities, past and gone before, as they tell us, we were born. Before we were born! Yes! They belong to that mysterious epoch of time—"before we were born"; and unless we have a taste for history, or are drawn close to them by some sympathetic human exigency, as Margaret had been drawn to her mother, we are too apt, in the stress of making our own, to regard the history of our parents as dry-as-dust.
As the old mother sits there so quiet in her corner, her body worn to a silver thread, and hardly anything left of her but her indomitable eyes, it is hard, at least for a young thing of nineteen, all aflush and aflurry with her new party gown, to realize that that old mother is infinitely more romantic than herself. She has sat there so long, perhaps, as to have come to seem part of the inanimate furniture of home rather than a living being. Well! the young thing goes to her party, and dances with some callow youth who pays her clumsy compliments, and Margaret remains at home with the old mother in her corner. It is hard on Margaret! Yes; and yet, as I have said, it is thus she comes to know her old mother better than any one else knows her—society perhaps not so poor an exchange for that of smart, immature young men of one's own age.
As the door closes behind the important rustle of youthful laces, and Margaret and her mother are left alone, the mother's old eyes light up with an almost mischievous smile. If age seems humorous to youth, youth is even more humorous to age.
"It is evidently a great occasion, Peg," the old voice says, with the suspicion of a gentle mockery. "Don't you wish you were going?"
"You naughty old mother!" answers Margaret, going over and kissing her.
The two understand each other.
"Well, shall we go on with our book?" says the mother, after a while.
"Yes, dear, in a moment. I have first to get you your diet, and then we can begin."
"Bother the diet!" says the courageous old lady; "for two pins I'd go to the ball myself. That old taffeta silk of mine is old enough to be in fashion again. What do you say, Peg, if you and I go to the ball together ..."
"Oh, it's too much trouble dressing, mother. What do you think?"
"Well, I suppose it is," answers the mother. "Besides, I want to hear what happens next to those two beautiful young people in our book. So be quick with my old diet, and come and read ..."
There is perhaps nothing so lovely or so well worth having as the gratitude of the old towards the young that care to give them more than the perfunctory ministrations to which they have long since grown sadly accustomed. There was no reward in the world that Margaret would have exchanged for the sweet looks of her old mother, who, being no merely selfish invalid, knew the value and the cost of the devotion her daughter was giving her.
"I can give you so little, my child, for all you are giving me," her mother would sometimes say; and the tears would spring to Margaret's eyes.
Yes! Margaret had her reward in this alone—that she had cared to decipher the lined old document of her mother's face. Her other sisters had passed it by more or less impatiently. It was like some ancient manuscript in a museum, which only a loving and patient scholar takes the trouble to read. But the moment you begin to pick out the words, how its crabbed text blossoms with beautiful meanings and fascinating messages! It is as though you threw a dried rose into some magic water, and saw it unfold and take on bloom, and fill with perfume, and bring back the nightingale that sang to it so many years ago. So Margaret loved her mother's old face, and learned to know the meaning of every line on it. Privileged to see that old face in all its private moments of feeling, under the transient revivification of deathless memories, she was able, so to say, to reconstruct its perished beauty, and realize the romance of which it was once the alluring candle. For her mother had been a very great beauty, and if, like Margaret, you are able to see it, there is no history so fascinating as the bygone love-affairs of old people. How much more fascinating to read one's mother's love-letters than one's own!
Even in the history of the heart recent events have a certain crudity, and love itself seems the more romantic for having lain in lavender for fifty years. A certain style, a certain distinction, beyond question, go with antiquity, and to spend your days with a refined old mother is no less an education in style and distinction than to spend them in the air of old cities, under the shadow of august architecture and in the sunset of classic paintings.
The longer Margaret lived with her old mother, the less she valued the so-called "opportunities" she had missed. Coming out of her mother's world of memories, there seemed something small, even common, about the younger generation to which she belonged,—something lacking in significance and dignity.
For example, it had been her dream, as it is the dream of every true woman, to be a mother herself: and yet, somehow—though she would not admit it in so many words—when her young married sisters came with their babies, there was something about their bustling and complacent domesticity that seemed to make maternity bourgeois. She had not dreamed of being a mother like that. She was convinced that her old mother had never been a mother like that. "They seem more like wet-nurses than mothers," she said to herself, with her wicked wit.
Was there, she asked herself, something in realization that inevitably lost you the dream? Was to incarnate an ideal to materialize it? Did the finer spirit of love necessarily evaporate like some volatile essence with marriage? Was it better to remain on idealistic spectator such as she—than to run the risks of realization?
She was far too beautiful, and had declined too many offers of commonplace marriage, for such questioning to seem the philosophy of disappointment. Indeed, the more she realized her own situation, the more she came to regard what others considered her sacrifice to her mother as a safeguard against the risk of a mediocre domesticity. Indeed, she began to feel a certain pride, as of a priestess, in the conservation of the dignity of her nature. It is better to be a vestal virgin than—some mothers.
And, after all, the maternal instinct of her nature found an ideal outlet in her brother's children—the two little motherless girls who came every year to spend their holidays with their grandmother and their aunt Margaret.
Margaret had seen but little of their mother, but her occasional glimpses of her had left her with a haloed image of a delicate, spiritual face that grew more and more Madonna-like with memory. The nimbus of the Divine Mother, as she herself had dreamed of her, had seemed indeed to illumine that grave young face.
It pleased her imagination to take the place of that phantom mother, herself—a phantom mother. And who knows but that such dream-children, as she called those two little girls, were more satisfactory in the end than real children? They represented, so to say, the poetry of children. Had Margaret been a real mother, there would have been the prose of children as well. But here, as in so much else, Margaret's seclusion from the responsible activities of the outside world enabled her to gather the fine flower of existence without losing the sense of it in the cares of its cultivation. I think that she comprehended the wonder and joy of children more than if she had been a real mother.
Seclusion and renunciation are great sharpeners and refiners of the sense of joy, chiefly because they encourage the habit of attentiveness.
"Our excitements are very tiny," once said the old mother to Margaret, "therefore we make the most of them."
"I don't agree with you, mother," Margaret had answered. "I think it is theirs that are tiny—trivial indeed, and ours that are great. People in the world lose the values of life by having too much choice; too much choice—of things not worth having. This makes them miss the real things—just as any one living in a city cannot see the stars for the electric lights. But we, sitting quiet in our corner, have time to watch and listen, when the others must hurry by. We have time, for instance, to watch that sunset yonder, whereas some of our worldly friends would be busy dressing to go out to a bad play. We can sit here and listen to that bird singing his vespers, as long as he will sing—and personally I wouldn't exchange him for a prima donna. Far from being poor in excitements, I think we have quite as many as are good for us, and those we have are very beautiful and real."
"You are a brave child," answered her mother. "Come and kiss me," and she took the beautiful gold head into her hands and kissed her daughter with her sweet old mouth, so lost among wrinkles that it was sometimes hard to find it.
"But am I not right, mother?" said Margaret.
"Yes! you are right, dear, but you seem too young to know such wisdom."
"I have to thank you for it, darling," answered Margaret, bending down and kissing her mother's beautiful gray hair.
"Ah! little one," replied the mother, "it is well to be wise, but it is good to be foolish when we are young—and I fear I have robbed you of your foolishness."
"I shall believe you have if you talk like that," retorted Margaret, laughingly taking her mother into her arms and gently shaking her, as she sometimes did When the old lady was supposed to have been "naughty."
* * * * *
So for Margaret and her mother the days pass, and at first, as we have said, it may seem a dull life, and even a hard one, for Margaret. But she herself has long ceased to think so, and she dreads the inevitable moment when the divine friendship between her and her old mother must come to an end. She knows, of course, that it must come, and that the day cannot be far off when the weary old limbs will refuse to make the tiny journeys from bedroom to rocking-chair, which have long been all that has been demanded of them; when the brave, humorous old eyes will be so weary that they cannot keep open any more in this world. The thought is one that is insupportably lonely, and sometimes she looks at the invalid-chair, at the cup and saucer in which she serves her mother's simple food, at the medicine-bottle and the measuring-glass, at the knitted shawl which protects the frail old form against draughts, and at all such sad furniture of an invalid's life, and pictures the day when the homely, affectionate use of all these things will be gone forever; for so poignant is humanity that it sanctifies with endearing associations even objects in themselves so painful and prosaic. And it seems to Margaret that when that day comes it would be most natural for her to go on the same journey with her mother.
For who shall fill for her her mother's place on earth—and what occupation will be left for Margaret when her "beautiful old raison d'etre," as she sometimes calls her mother, has entered into the sleep of the blessed? She seldom thinks of that, for the thought is too lonely, and, meanwhile, she uses all her love and care to make this earth so attractive and cozy that the beautiful mother-spirit who has been so long prepared for her short journey to heaven may be tempted to linger here yet a little while longer. These ministrations, which began as a kind of renunciation, have now turned into an unselfish selfishness. Margaret began by feeling herself necessary to her mother; now her mother becomes more and more necessary to Margaret. Sometimes when she leaves her alone for a few moments in her chair, she laughingly bends over and says, "Promise me that you won't run away to heaven while my back is turned."
And the old mother smiles one of those transfigured smiles which seem only to light up the faces of those that are already half over the border of the spiritual world.
Winter is, of course, Margaret's time of chief anxiety, and then her loving efforts are redoubled to detain her beloved spirit in an inclement world. Each winter passed in safety seems a personal victory over death. How anxiously she watches for the first sign of the returning spring, how eagerly she brings the news of early blade and bud, and with the first violet she feels that the danger is over for another year. When the spring is so afire that she is able to fill her mother's lap with a fragrant heap of crocus and daffodil, she dares at last to laugh and say,
"Now confess, mother, that you won't find sweeter flowers even in heaven."
And when the thrush is on the apple bough outside the window, Margaret will sometimes employ the same gentle raillery.
"Do you think, mother," she will say, "that an angel could sing sweeter than that thrush?"
"You seem very sure, Margaret, that I am going to heaven," the old mother will sometimes say, with one of her arch old smiles; "but do you know that I stole two peppermints yesterday?"
"You did!" says Margaret.
"I did indeed! and they have been on my conscience ever since."
"Really, mother! I don't know what to say," answers Margaret. "I had no idea that you are so wicked."
Many such little games the two play together, as the days go by; and often at bedtime, as Margaret tucks her mother into bed, she asks her:
"Are you comfortable, dear? Do you really think you would be much more comfortable in heaven?"
Or sometimes she will draw aside the window-curtains and say:
"Look at the stars, mother.... Don't you think we get the best view of them down here?"
So it is that Margaret persuades her mother to delay her journey a little while.
Kittie's Sister Josephine
BY ELIZABETH JORDAN
Kittie James told me this story about her sister Josephine, and when she saw my eye light up the way the true artist's does when he hears a good plot, she said I might use it, if I liked, the next time I "practised literature."
I don't think that was a very nice way to say it, especially when one remembers that Sister Irmingarde read three of my stories to the class in four months; and as I only write one every week, you can see yourself what a good average that was. But it takes noble souls to be humble in the presence of the gifted, and enthusiastic over their success, so only two of my classmates seemed really happy when Sister Irmingarde read my third story aloud. It is hardly necessary to mention the names of these beautiful natures, already so well known to my readers, but I will do it. They were Maudie Joyce and Mabel Blossom, and they are my dearest friends at St. Catharine's. And some day, when I am a real writer and the name of May Iverson shines in gold letters on the tablets of fame, I'll write a book and dedicate it to them. Then, indeed, they will be glad they knew me in my schoolgirl days, and recognized real merit when they saw it, and did not mind the queer things my artistic temperament often makes me do. Oh, what a slave is one to this artistic, emotional nature, and how unhappy, how misunderstood! I don't mean that I am unhappy all the time, of course, but I have Moods. And when I have them life seems so hollow, so empty, so terrible! At such times natures that do not understand me are apt to make mistakes, the way Sister Irmingarde did when she thought I had nervous dyspepsia and made me walk three miles every day, when it was just Soul that was the matter with me. Still, I must admit the exercise helped me. It is so soothing, so restful, so calming to walk on dear nature's breast. Maudie Joyce and Mabel Blossom always know the minute an attack of artistic temperament begins in me. Then they go away quietly and reverently, and I write a story and feel better.
So this time I am going to tell about Kittie James's sister Josephine. In the very beginning I must explain that Josephine James used to be a pupil at St. Catharine's herself, ages and ages ago, and finally she graduated and left, and began to go into society and look around and decide what her life-work should be. That was long, long before our time—as much as ten years, I should think, and poor Josephine must be twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old now. But Kittie says she is just as nice as she can be, and not a bit poky, and so active and interested in life you'd think she was young. Of course I know such things can be, for my own sister Grace, Mrs. George E. Verbeck, is perfectly lovely and the most popular woman in the society of our city. But Grace is married, and perhaps that makes a difference. It is said that love keeps the spirit young. However, perhaps I'd better go on about Josephine and not dwell on that. Experienced as we girls are, and drinking of life in deep draughts though we do, we still admit—Maudie, Mabel, and I—that we do not yet know much about love. But one cannot know everything at fifteen, and, as Mabel Blossom always says, "there is yet time." We all know just the kind of men they're going to be, though. Mine will be a brave young officer, of course, for a general's daughter should not marry out of the army, and he will die for his country, leaving me with a broken heart. Maudie Joyce says hers must be a man who will rule her with a rod of iron and break her will and win her respect, and then be gentle and loving and tender. And Mabel Blossom says she's perfectly sure hers will be fat and have a blond mustache and laugh a great deal. Once she said maybe none of us would ever get any; but the look Maudie Joyce and I turned upon her checked her thoughtless words. Life is bitter enough as it is without thinking of dreadful things in the future. I sometimes fear that underneath her girlish gayety Mabel Blossom conceals a morbid nature. But I am forgetting Josephine James. This story will tell why, with all her advantages of wealth and education and beauty, she remained a maiden lady till she was twenty-eight; and she might have kept on, too, if Kittie had not taken matters in hand and settled them for her.
Kittie says Josephine was always romantic and spent long hours of her young life in girlish reveries and dreams. Of course that isn't the way Kittie said it, but if I should tell this story in her crude, unformed fashion, you wouldn't read very far. What Kittie really said was that Josephine used to "moon around the grounds a lot and bawl, and even try to write poetry." I understand Josephine's nature, so I will go on and tell this story in my own way, but you must remember that some of the credit belongs to Kittie and Mabel Blossom; and if Sister Irmingarde reads it in class, they can stand right up with me when the author is called for.
Well, when Josephine James graduated she got a lot of prizes and things, for she was a clever girl, and had not spent all her time writing poetry and thinking deep thoughts about life. She realized the priceless advantages of a broad and thorough education and of association with the most cultivated minds. That sentence comes out of our prospectus. Then she went home and went out a good deal, and was very popular and stopped writing poetry, and her dear parents began to feel happy and hopeful about her, and think she would marry and have a nice family, which is indeed woman's highest, noblest mission in life. But Josephine cherished an ideal.
A great many young men came to see her, and Kittie liked one of them very much indeed—better than all the others. He was handsome, and he laughed and joked a good deal, and always brought Kittie big boxes of candy and called her his little sister. He said she was going to be that in the end, anyhow, and there was no use waiting to give her the title that his heart dictated. He said it just that way. When he took Josephine out in his automobile he'd say, "Let's take the kid, too," and they would, and it did not take Kittie long to understand how things were between George Morgan—for that was indeed his name—and her sister. Little do grown-up people realize how intelligent are the minds of the young, and how keen and penetrating their youthful gaze! Clearly do I recall some things that happened at home, and it would startle papa and mamma to know I know them, but I will not reveal them here. Once I would have done so, in the beginning of my art; but now I have learned to finish one story before I begin another.
Little did Mr. Morgan and Josephine wot that every time she refused him Kittie's young heart burned beneath its sense of wrong, for she did refuse him almost every time they went out together, and yet she kept right on going. You would think she wouldn't, but women's natures are indeed inscrutable. Some authors would stop here and tell what was in Josephine's heart, but this is not that kind of a story. Kittie was only twelve then, and they used big words and talked in a queer way they thought she would not understand; but she did, every time, and she never missed a single word they said. Of course she wasn't listening exactly, you see, because they knew she was there. That makes it different and quite proper. For if Kittie was more intelligent than her elders it was not the poor child's fault.
Things went on like that and got worse and worse, and they had been going on that way for five years. One day Kittie was playing tennis with George at the Country Club, and he had been very kind to her, and all of a sudden Kittie told him she knew all, and how sorry she was for him, and that if he would wait till she grew up she would marry him herself. The poor child was so young, you see, that she did not know how unmaidenly this was. And of course at St. Catharine's when they taught us how to enter and leave rooms and how to act in society and at the table, they didn't think to tell us not to ask young men to marry us. I can add with confidence that Kittie James was the only girl who ever did. I asked the rest afterwards, and they were deeply shocked at the idea.
Well, anyhow, Kittie did it, and she said George was just as nice as he could be. He told her he had "never listened to a more alluring proposition" (she remembered just the words he used), and that she was "a little trump"; and then he said he feared, alas! it was impossible, as even his strong manhood could not face the prospect of the long and dragging years that lay between. Besides, he said, his heart was already given, and he guessed he'd better stick to Josephine, and would his little sister help him to get her? Kittie wiped her eyes and said she would. She had been crying. It must indeed be a bitter experience to have one's young heart spurned! But George took her into the club-house and gave her tea and lots of English muffins and jam, and somehow Kittie cheered up, for she couldn't help feeling there were still some things in life that were nice.
Of course after that she wanted dreadfully to help George, but there didn't seem to be much she could do. Besides, she had to go right back to school in September, and being a studious child, I need hardly add that her entire mind was then given to her studies. When she went home for the Christmas holidays she took Mabel Blossom with her. Mabel was more than a year older, but Kittie looked up to her, as it is well the young should do to us older girls. Besides, Kittie had had her thirteenth birthday in November, and she was letting down her skirts a little and beginning to think of putting up her hair. She said when she remembered that she asked George to wait till she grew up it made her blush, so you see she was developing very fast.
As I said before, she took Mabel Blossom home for Christmas, and Mr. and Mrs. James were lovely to her, and she had a beautiful time. But Josephine was the best of all. She was just fine. Mabel told me with her own lips that if she hadn't seen Josephine James's name on the catalogue as a graduate in '93, she never would have believed she was so old. Josephine took the two girls to matinees and gave a little tea for them, and George Morgan was as nice as she was. He was always bringing them candy and violets, exactly as if they were young ladies, and he treated them both with the greatest respect, and stopped calling them the kids when he found they didn't like it. Mabel got as fond of him as Kittie was, and they were both wild to help him to get Josephine to marry him; but she wouldn't, though Kittie finally talked to her long and seriously. I asked Kittie what Josephine said when she did that, and she confessed that Josephine had laughed so she couldn't say anything. That hurt the sensitive child, of course, but grown-ups are all too frequently thoughtless of such things. Had Josephine but listened to Kittie's words on that occasion, it would have saved Kittie a lot of trouble.
Now I am getting to the exciting part of the story. I am always so glad when I get to that. I asked Sister Irmingarde why one couldn't just make the story out of the exciting part, and she took a good deal of time to explain why, but she did not convince me; for besides having the artistic temperament I am strangely logical for one so young. Some day I shall write a story that is all climax from beginning to end. That will show her! But at present I must write according to the severe and cramping rules which she and literature have laid down.
One night Mrs. James gave a large party for Josephine, and of course Mabel and Kittie, being thirteen and fourteen, had to go to bed. It is such things as this that embitter the lives of schoolgirls. But they were allowed to go down and see all the lights and flowers and decorations before people began to come, and they went into the conservatory because that was fixed up with little nooks and things. They got away in and off in a kind of wing of it, and they talked and pretended they were debutantes at the ball, so they stayed longer than they knew. Then they heard voices, and they looked and saw Josephine and Mr. Morgan sitting by the fountain. Before they could move or say they were there, they heard him say this—Kittie remembers just what it was:
"I have spent six years following you, and you've treated me as if I were a dog at the end of a string. This thing must end. I must have you, or I must learn to live without you, and I must know now which it is to be. Josephine, you must give me my final answer to-night."
Wasn't it embarrassing for Kittie and Mabel? They did not want to listen, but some instinct told them Josephine and George might not be glad to see them then, so they crept behind a lot of tall palms, and Mabel put her fingers in her ears so she wouldn't hear. Kittie didn't. She explained to me afterwards that she thought it being her sister made things kind of different. It was all in the family, anyhow. So Kittie heard Josephine tell Mr. Morgan that the reason she did not marry him was because he was an idler and without an ambition or a purpose in life. And she said she must respect the man she married as well as love him. Then George jumped up quickly and asked if she loved him, and she cried and said she did, but that she would never, never marry him until he did something to win her admiration and prove he was a man. You can imagine how exciting it was for Kittie to see with her own innocent eyes how grown-up people manage such things. She said she was so afraid she'd miss something that she opened them so wide they hurt her afterwards. But she didn't miss anything. She saw him kiss Josephine, too, and then Josephine got up, and he argued and tried to make her change her mind, and she wouldn't, and finally they left the conservatory. After that Kittie and Mabel crept out and rushed up-stairs.
The next morning Kittie turned to Mabel with a look on her face which Mabel had never seen there before. It was grim and determined. She said she had a plan and wanted Mabel to help her, and not ask any questions, but get her skates and come out. Mabel did, and they went straight to George Morgan's house, which was only a few blocks away. He was very rich and had a beautiful house. An English butler came to the door. Mabel said she was so frightened her teeth chattered, but he smiled when he saw Kittie, and said yes, Mr. Morgan was home and at breakfast, and invited them in. When George came in he had a smoking-jacket on, and looked very pale and sad and romantic, Mabel thought, but he smiled, too, when he saw them, and shook hands and asked them if they had breakfasted.
Kittie said yes, but they had come to ask him to take them skating, and they were all ready and had brought their skates. His face fell, as real writers say, and he hesitated a little, but at last he said he'd go, and he excused himself, just as if they had been grown up, and went off to get ready.
When they were left alone a terrible doubt assailed Mabel, and she asked Kittie if she was going to ask George again to marry her. Kittie blushed and said she was not, of course, and that she knew better now. For it is indeed true that the human heart is not so easily turned from its dear object. We know that if once one truly loves it lasts forever and ever and ever, and then one dies and is buried with things the loved one wore.
Kittie said she had a plan to help George, and all Mabel had to do was to watch and keep on breathing. Mabel felt better then, and said she guessed she could do that. George came back all ready, and they started off. Kittie acted rather dark and mysterious, but Mabel conversed with George in the easy and pleasant fashion young men love. She told him all about school and how bad she was in mathematics; and he said he had been a duffer at it too, but that he had learned to shun it while there was yet time. And he advised her very earnestly to have nothing to do with it. Mabel didn't, either, after she came back to St. Catharine's; and when Sister Irmingarde reproached her, Mabel said she was leaning on the judgment of a strong man, as woman should do. But Sister Irmingarde made her go on with the arithmetic just the same.
By and by they came to the river, and it was so early not many people were skating there. When George had fastened on their skates—he did it in the nicest way, exactly as if they were grown up—Kittie looked more mysterious than ever, and she started off as fast as she could skate toward a little inlet where there was no one at all. George and Mabel followed her. George said he didn't know whether the ice was smooth in there, but Kittie kept right on, and George did not say any more. I guess he did not care much where he went. I suppose it disappoints a man when he wants to marry a woman and she won't. Now that I am beginning to study deeply this question of love, many things are clear to me.
Kittie kept far ahead, and all of a sudden Mabel saw that a little distance further on, and just ahead, there was a big black hole in the ice, and Kittie was skating straight toward it. Mabel tried to scream, but she says the sound froze on her pallid lips. Then George saw the hole, too, and rushed toward Kittie, and quicker than I can write it Kittie went in that hole and down.
Mabel says George was there almost as soon, calling to Mabel to keep back out of danger. Usually when people have to rescue others, especially in stories, they call to some one to bring a board, and some one does, and it is easy. But very often in real life there isn't any board or any one to bring it, and this was indeed the desperate situation that confronted my hero. There was nothing to do but plunge in after Kittie, and he plunged, skates and all. Then Mabel heard him gasp and laugh a little, and he called out: "It's all right, by Jove! The water isn't much above my knees." And even as he spoke Mabel saw Kittie rise in the water and sort of hurl herself at him and pull him down into the water, head and all. When they came up they were both half strangled, and Mabel was terribly frightened; for she thought George was mistaken about the depth, and they would both drown before her eyes; and then she would see that picture all her life, as they do in stories, and her hair would turn gray. She began to run up and down on the ice and scream; but even as she did so she heard these extraordinary words come from between Kittie James's chattering teeth:
"Now you are good and wet!"
George did not say a word. He confessed to Mabel afterwards that he thought poor Kittie had lost her mind through fear. But he tried the ice till he found a place that would hold him, and he got out and pulled Kittie out. As soon as Kittie was out she opened her mouth and uttered more remarkable words.
"Now," she said, "I'll skate till we get near the club-house. Then you must pick me up and carry me, and I'll shut my eyes and let my head hang down. And Mabel must cry—good and hard. Then you must send for Josephine and let her see how you've saved the life of her precious little sister."
Mabel said she was sure that Kittie was crazy, and next she thought George was crazy, too. For he bent and stared hard into Kittie's eyes for a minute, and then he began to laugh, and he laughed till he cried. He tried to speak, but he couldn't at first; and when he did the words came out between his shouts of boyish glee.
"Do you mean to say, you young monkey," he said, "that this is a put-up job?"
Kittie nodded as solemnly as a fair young girl can nod when her clothes are dripping and her nose is blue with cold. When she did that, George roared again; then, as if he had remembered something, he caught her hands and began to skate very fast toward the club-house. He was a thoughtful young man, you see, and he wanted her to get warm. Perhaps he wanted to get warm, too. Anyhow, they started off, and as they went, Kittie opened still further the closed flower of her girlish heart. I heard that expression once, and I've always wanted to get it into one of my stories. I think this is a good place.
She told George she knew the hole in the ice, and that it wasn't deep; and she said she had done it all to make Josephine admire him and marry him.
"She will, too," she said. "Her dear little sister—the only one she's got." And Kittie went on to say what a terrible thing it would have been if she had died in the promise of her young life, till Mabel said she almost felt sure herself that George had saved her. But George hesitated. He said it wasn't "a square deal," whatever that means, but Kittie said no one need tell any lies. She had gone into the hole and George had pulled her out. She thought they needn't explain how deep it was, and George admitted thoughtfully that "no truly loving family should hunger for statistics at such a moment." Finally he said: "By Jove! I'll do it. All's fair in love and war." Then he asked Mabel if she thought she could "lend intelligent support to the star performers," and she said she could. So George picked Kittie up in his arms, and Mabel cried—she was so excited it was easy, and she wanted to do it all the time—and the sad little procession "homeward wended its weary way," as the poet says.
Mabel told me Kittie did her part like a real actress. She shut her eyes and her head hung over George's arm, and her long, wet braid dripped as it trailed behind them. George laughed to himself every few minutes till they got near the club-house. Then he looked very sober, and Mabel Blossom knew her cue had come, the way it does to actresses, and she let out a wail that almost made Kittie sit up. It was 'most too much of a one, and Mr. Morgan advised her to "tone it down a little," because, he said, if she didn't they'd probably have Kittie buried before she could explain. But of course Mabel had not been prepared and had not had any practice. She muffled her sobs after that, and they sounded lots better. People began to rush from the club-house, and get blankets and whiskey, and telephone for doctors and for Kittie's family, and things got so exciting that nobody paid any attention to Mabel. All she had to do was to mop her eyes occasionally and keep a sharp lookout for Josephine; for of course, being an ardent student of life, like Maudie and me, she did not want to miss what came next.
Pretty soon a horse galloped up, all foaming at the mouth, and he was pulled back on his haunches, and Josephine and Mr. James jumped out of the buggy and rushed in, and there was more excitement. When George saw them coming he turned pale, Mabel said, and hurried off to change his clothes. One woman looked after him and said, "As modest as he is brave," and cried over it. When Josephine and Mr. James came in there was more excitement, and Kittie opened one eye and shut it again right off, and the doctor said she was all right except for the shock, and her father and Josephine cried, so Mabel didn't have to any more. She was glad, too, I can tell you.
They put Kittie to bed in a room at the club, for the doctor said she was such a high-strung child it would be wise to keep her perfectly quiet for a few hours and take precautions against pneumonia. Then Josephine went around asking for Mr. Morgan.
By and by he came down, in dry clothes but looking dreadfully uncomfortable. Mabel said she could imagine how he felt. Josephine was standing by the open fire when he entered the room, and no one else was there but Mabel. Josephine went right to him and put her arms around his neck.
"Dearest, dearest!" she said. "How can I ever thank you?" Her voice was very low, but Mabel heard it. George said right off, "There is a way." That shows how quick and clever he is, for some men might not think of it. Then Mabel Blossom left the room, with slow, reluctant feet, and went up-stairs to Kittie.
That's why Mabel has just gone to Kittie's home for a few days. She and Kittie are to be flower-maids at Josephine's wedding. I hope it is not necessary for me to explain to my intelligent readers that her husband will be George Morgan. Kittie says he confessed the whole thing to Josephine, and she forgave him, and said she would marry him anyhow; but she explained that she only did it on Kittie's account. She said she did not know to what lengths the child might go next.
So my young friends have gone to mingle in scenes of worldly gayety, and I sit here in the twilight looking at the evening star and writing about love. How true it is that the pen is mightier than the sword! Gayety is well in its place, but the soul of the artist finds its happiness in work and solitude. I hope Josephine will realize, though, why I cannot describe her wedding. Of course no artist of delicate sensibilities could describe a wedding when she hadn't been asked to it.
Poor Josephine! It seems very, very sad to me that she is marrying thus late in life and only on Kittie's account. Why, oh, why could she not have wed when she was young and love was in her heart!
The Wizard's Touch
BY ALICE BROWN
Jerome Wilmer sat in the garden, painting in a background, with the carelessness of ease. He seemed to be dabbing little touches at the canvas, as a spontaneous kind of fun not likely to result in anything serious, save, perhaps, the necessity of scrubbing them off afterwards, like a too adventurous child. Mary Brinsley, in her lilac print, stood a few paces away, the sun on her hair, and watched him.
"Paris is very becoming to you," she said at last.
"What do you mean?" asked Wilmer, glancing up, and then beginning to consider her so particularly that she stepped aside, her brows knitted, with an admonishing,
"Look out! you'll get me into the landscape."
"You're always in the landscape. What do you mean about Paris?"
"You look so—so travelled, so equal to any place, and Paris in particular because it's the finest."
Other people also had said that, in their various ways. He had the distinction set by nature upon a muscular body and a rather small head, well poised. His hair, now turning gray, grew delightfully about the temples, and though it was brushed back in the style of a man who never looks at himself twice when once will do, it had a way of seeming entirely right. His brows were firm, his mouth determined, and the close pointed beard brought his face to a delicate finish. Even his clothes, of the kind that never look new, had fallen into lines of easy use.
"You needn't guy me," he said, and went on painting. But he flashed his sudden smile at her. "Isn't New England becoming to me, too?"
"Yes, for the summer. It's over-powered. In the winter Aunt Celia calls you 'Jerry Wilmer.' She's quite topping then. But the minute you appear with European labels on your trunks and that air of speaking foreign lingo, she gives out completely. Every time she sees your name in the paper she forgets you went to school at the Academy and built the fires. She calls you 'our boarder' then, for as much as a week and a half."
"Quit it, Mary," said he, smiling at her again.
"Well," said Mary, yet without turning, "I must go and weed a while."
"No," put in Wilmer, innocently; "he won't be over yet. He had a big mail. I brought it to him."
Mary blushed, and made as if to go. She was a woman of thirty-five, well poised, and sweet through wholesomeness. Her face had been cut on a regular pattern, and then some natural influence had touched it up beguilingly with contradictions. She swung back, after her one tentative step, and sobered.
"How do you think he is looking?" she asked.
"Not so morbid as when I was here last summer," he helped her out. "Not by any means. Are you going to marry him, Mary?" The question had only a civil emphasis, but a warmer tone informed it. Mary grew pink under the morning light, and Jerome went on: "Yes, I have a perfect right to talk about it, I don't travel three thousand miles every summer to ask you to marry me without earning some claim to frankness. I mentioned that to Marshby himself. We met at the station, you remember, the day I came. We walked down together. He spoke about my sketching, and I told him I had come on my annual pilgrimage, to ask Mary Brinsley to marry me."
"Yes, I did. This is my tenth pilgrimage. Mary, will you marry me?"
"No," said Mary, softly, but as if she liked him very much. "No, Jerome."
Wilmer squeezed a tube on his palette and regarded the color frowningly. "Might as well, Mary," said he. "You'd have an awfully good time in Paris."
She was perfectly still, watching him, and he went on:
"Now you're thinking if Marshby gets the consulate you'll be across the water anyway, and you could run down to Paris and see the sights. But it wouldn't be the same thing. It's Marshby you like, but you'd have a better time with me."
"It's a foregone conclusion that the consulship will be offered him," said Mary. Her eyes were now on the path leading through the garden and over the wall to the neighboring house where Marshby lived.
"Then you will marry and go with him. Ah, well, that's finished. I needn't come another summer. When you are in Paris, I can show you the boulevards and cafes."
"It is more than probable he won't accept the consulship."
"Why?" He held his palette arrested in mid-air and stared at her.
"He is doubtful of himself—doubtful whether he is equal to so responsible a place."
"Bah! it's not an embassy."
"No; but he fancies he has not the address, the social gifts—in fact, he shrinks from it." Her face had taken on a soft distress; her eyes appealed to him. She seemed to be confessing, for the other man, something that might well be misunderstood. Jerome, ignoring the flag of her discomfort, went on painting, to give her room for confidence.
"Is it that old plague-spot?" he asked. "Just what aspect does it bear to him? Why not talk freely about it?"
"It is the old remorse. He misunderstood his brother when they two were left alone in the world. He forced the boy out of evil associations when he ought to have led him. You know the rest of it. The boy was desperate. He killed himself."
"When he was drunk. Marshby wasn't responsible."
"No, not directly. But you know that kind of mind. It follows hidden causes. That's why his essays are so good. Anyway, it has crippled him. It came when he was too young, and it marked him for life. He has an inveterate self-distrust."
"Ah, well," said Winner, including the summer landscape in a wave of his brush, "give up the consulship. Let him give it up. It isn't as if he hadn't a roof. Settle down in his house there, you two, and let him write his essays, and you—just be happy."
She ignored her own part in the prophecy completely and finally. "It isn't the consulship as the consulship," she responded. "It is the life abroad I want for him. It would give him—well, it would give him what it has given you. His work would show it." She spoke hotly, and at once Jerome saw himself envied for his brilliant cosmopolitan life, the bounty of his success fairly coveted for the other man. It gave him a curious pang. He felt, somehow, impoverished, and drew his breath more meagrely. But the actual thought in his mind grew too big to be suppressed, and he stayed his hand to look at her.
"That's not all," he said.
"That's not the main reason why you want him to go. You think if he really asserted himself, really knocked down the spectre of his old distrust and stamped on it, he would be a different man. If he had once proved himself, as we say of younger chaps, he could go on proving."
"No," she declared, in nervous loyalty. She was like a bird fluttering to save her nest. "No! You are wrong. I ought not to have talked about him at all. I shouldn't to anybody else. Only, you are so kind."
"It's easy to be kind," said Jerome, gently, "when there's nothing else left us."
She stood wilfully swaying a branch of the tendrilled arbor, and, he subtly felt, so dissatisfied with herself for her temporary disloyalty that she felt alien to them both: Marshby because she had wronged him by admitting another man to this intimate knowledge of him, and the other man for being her accomplice.
"Don't be sorry," he said, softly. "You haven't been naughty."
But she had swung round to some comprehension of what he had a right to feel.
"It makes one selfish," she said, "to want—to want things to come out right."
"I know. Well, can't we make them come out right? He is sure of the consulship?"
"You want to be assured of his taking it."
She did not answer; but her face lighted, as if to a new appeal. Jerome followed her look along the path. Marshby himself was coming. He was no weakling. He swung along easily with the stride of a man accustomed to using his body well. He had not, perhaps, the urban air, and yet there was nothing about him which would not have responded at once to a more exacting civilization. Jerome knew his face,—knew it from their college days together and through these annual visits of his own; but now, as Marshby approached, the artist rated him not so much by the friendly as the professional eye. He saw a man who looked the scholar and the gentleman, keen though not imperious of glance. His visage, mature even for its years, had suffered more from emotion than from deeds or the assaults of fortune. Marshby had lived the life of thought, and, exaggerating action, had failed to fit himself to any form of it. Wilmer glanced at his hands, too, as they swung with his walk, and then remembered that the professional eye had already noted them and laid their lines away for some suggestive use. As he looked, Marshby stopped in his approach, caught by the singularity of a gnarled tree limb. It awoke in him a cognizance of nature's processes, and his face lighted with the pleasure of it.
"So you won't marry me?" asked Wilmer, softly, in that pause.
"Don't!" said Mary.
"Why not, when you won't tell whether you're engaged to him or not? Why not, anyway? If I were sure you'd be happier with me, I'd snatch you out of his very maw. Yes, I would. Are you sure you like him, Mary?"
The girl did not answer, for Marshby had started again. Jerome got the look in her face, and smiled a little, sadly.
"Yes," he said, "you're sure."
Mary immediately felt unable to encounter them together. She gave Marshby a good-morning, and, to his bewilderment, made some excuse about her weeding and flitted past him on the path. His eyes followed her, and when they came back to Wilmer the artist nodded brightly.
"I've just asked her," he said.
"Asked her?" Marshby was about to pass him, pulling out his glasses and at the same time peering at the picture with the impatience of his near-sighted look.
"There, don't you do that!" cried Jerome, stopping, with his brush in air. "Don't you come round and stare over my shoulder. It makes me nervous ad the devil. Step back there—there by that mullein. So! I've got to face my protagonist. Yes, I've been asking her to marry me."
Marshby stiffened. His head went up, his jaw tightened. He looked the jealous ire of the male.
"What do you want me to stand here for?" he asked, irritably.
"But she refused me," said Wilmer, cheerfully. "Stand still, that's a good fellow. I'm using you."
Marshby had by an effort pulled himself together. He dismissed Mary from his mind, as he wished to drive her from the other man's speech.
"I've been reading the morning paper on your exhibition," he said, bringing out the journal from his pocket. "They can't say enough about you."
"Oh, can't they! Well, the better for me. What are they pleased to discover?"
"They say you see round corners and through deal boards. Listen." He struck open the paper and read: "'A man with a hidden crime upon his soul will do well to elude this greatest of modern magicians. The man with a secret tells it the instant he sits down before Jerome Wilmer. Wilmer does not paint faces, brows, hands. He paints hopes, fears, and longings. If we could, in our turn, get to the heart of his mystery! If we could learn whether he says to himself: "I see hate in that face, hypocrisy, greed. I will paint them. That man is not man, but cur. He shall fawn on my canvas." Or does he paint through a kind of inspired carelessness, and as the line obeys the eye and hand, so does the emotion live in the line?'"
"Oh, gammon!" snapped Wilmer.
"Well, do you?" said Marshby, tossing the paper to the little table where Mary's work-box stood.
"Do I what? Spy and then paint, or paint and find I've spied? Oh, I guess I plug along like any other decent workman. When it comes to that, how do you write your essays?"
"I! Oh! That's another pair of sleeves. Your work is colossal. I'm still on cherry-stones."
"Well," said Wilmer, with slow incisiveness, "you've accomplished one thing I'd sell my name for. You've got Mary Brinsley bound to you so fast that neither lure nor lash can stir her. I've tried it—tried Paris even, the crudest bribe there is. No good! She won't have me."
At her name, Marshby straightened again, and there was fire in his eye. Wilmer, sketching him in, seemed to gain distinct impulse from the pose, and worked the faster.
"Don't move," he ordered. "There, that's right. So, you see, you're the successful chap. I'm the failure. She won't have me." There was such feeling in his tone that Marshby's expression softened comprehendingly. He understood a pain that prompted even such a man to rash avowal.
"I don't believe we'd better speak of her," he said, in awkward kindliness.
"I want to," returned Wilmer. "I want to tell you how lucky you are."
Again that shade of introspective bitterness clouded Marshby's face. "Yes," said he, involuntarily. "But how about her? Is she lucky?"
"Yes," replied Jerome, steadily. "She's got what she wants. She won't worship you any the less because you don't worship yourself. That's the mad way they have—women. It's an awful challenge. You've got a fight before you, if you don't refuse it.".
"God!" groaned Marshby to himself, "it is a fight. I can't refuse it."
Wilmer put his question without mercy. "Do you want to?"
"I want her to be happy," said Marshby, with a simple humility afar from cowardice. "I want her to be safe. I don't see how anybody could be safe—with me."
"Well," pursued Wilmer, recklessly, "would she be safe with me?"
"I think so," said Marshby, keeping an unblemished dignity. "I have thought that for a good many years."
"But not happy?"
"No, not happy. She would—We have been together so long."
"Yes, she'd miss you. She'd die of homesickness. Well!" He sat contemplating Marshby with his professional stare; but really his mind was opened for the first time to the full reason for Mary's unchanging love. Marshby stood there so quiet, so oblivious of himself in comparison with unseen things, so much a man from head to foot, that he justified the woman's loyal passion as nothing had before. "Shall you accept the consulate?" Wilmer asked, abruptly.
Brought face to face with fact, Marshby's pose slackened. He drooped perceptibly. "Probably not," he said. "No, decidedly not."
Wilmer swore under his breath, and sat, brows bent, marvelling at the change in him. The man's infirmity of will had blighted him. He was so truly another creature that not even a woman's unreasoning championship could pull him into shape again.
Mary Brinsley came swiftly down the path, trowel in one hand and her basket of weeds in the other. Wilmer wondered if she had been glancing up from some flowery screen and read the story of that altered posture. She looked sharply anxious, like a mother whose child is threatened. Jerome shrewdly knew that Marshby's telltale attitude was no unfamiliar one.
"What have you been saying?" she asked, in laughing challenge, yet with a note of anxiety underneath.
"I'm painting him in," said Wilmer; but as she came toward him he turned the canvas dexterously. "No," said he, "no. I've got my idea from this. To-morrow Marshby's going to sit."
That was all he would say, and Mary put it aside as one of his pleasantries made to fit the hour. But next day he set up a big canvas in the barn that served him as workroom, and summoned Marshby from his books. He came dressed exactly right, in his every-day clothes that had comfortable wrinkles in them, and easily took his pose. For all his concern over the inefficiency of his life, as a life, he was entirely without self-consciousness in his personal habit. Jerome liked that, and began to like him better as he knew him more. A strange illuminative process went on in his mind toward the man as Mary saw him, and more and more he nursed a fretful sympathy with her desire to see Marshby tuned up to some pitch that should make him livable to himself. It seemed a cruelty of nature that any man should so scorn his own company and yet be forced to keep it through an allotted span. In that sitting Marshby was at first serious and absent-minded. Though his body was obediently there, the spirit seemed to be busy somewhere else.
"Head up!" cried Jerome at last, brutally. "Heavens, man, don't skulk!"
Marshby straightened under the blow. It hit harder, as Jerome meant it should, than any verbal rallying. It sent the man back over his own life to the first stumble in it.
"I want you to look as if you heard drums and fife," Jerome explained, with one of his quick smiles, that always wiped out former injury.
But the flush was not yet out of Marshby's face, and he answered, bitterly, "I might run."
"I don't mind your looking as if you'd like to run and knew you couldn't," said Jerome, dashing in strokes now in a happy certainty.
"Why couldn't I?" asked Marshby, still from that abiding scorn of his own ways.
"Because you can't, that's all. Partly because you get the habit of facing the music. I should like—" Wilmer had an unconsidered way of entertaining his sitters, without much expenditure to himself; he pursued a fantastic habit of talk to keep their blood moving, and did it with the eye of the mind unswervingly on his work. "If I were you, I'd do it. I'd write an essay on the muscular habit of courage. Your coward is born weak-kneed. He shouldn't spill himself all over the place trying to put on the spiritual make-up of a hero. He must simply strengthen his knees. When they'll take him anywhere he requests, without buckling, he wakes up and finds himself a field-marshal. Voila!"
"It isn't bad," said Marshby, unconsciously straightening. "Go ahead, Jerome. Turn us all into field-marshals."
"Not all," objected Wilmer, seeming to dash his brush at the canvas with the large carelessness that promised his best work. "The jobs wouldn't go round. But I don't feel the worse for it when I see the recruity stepping out, promotion in his eye."
After the sitting, Wilmer went yawning forward, and with a hand on Marshby's shoulder, took him to the door.
"Can't let you look at the thing," he said, as Marshby gave one backward glance. "That's against the code. Till it's done, no eye touches it but mine and the light of heaven."
Marshby had no curiosity. He smiled, and thereafter let the picture alone, even to the extent of interested speculation. Mary had scrupulously absented herself from that first sitting; but after it was over and Marshby had gone home, Wilmer found her in the garden, under an apple-tree, shelling pease. He lay down on the ground, at a little distance, and watched her. He noted the quick, capable turn of her wrist and the dexterous motion of the brown hands as they snapped out the pease, and he thought how eminently sweet and comfortable it would be to take this bit of his youth back to France with him, or even to give up France and grow old with her at home.
"Mary," said he, "I sha'n't paint any picture of you this summer."
Mary laughed, and brushed back a yellow lock with the back of her hand. "No," said she, "I suppose not. Aunt Celia spoke of it yesterday. She told me the reason."
"What is Aunt Celia's most excellent theory?"
"She said I'm not so likely as I used to be."
"No," said Jerome, not answering her smile in the community of mirth they always had over Aunt Celia's simple speech. He rolled over on the grass and began to make a dandelion curl. "No, that's not it. You're a good deal likelier than you used to be. You're all possibilities now. I could make a Madonna out of you, quick as a wink. No, it's because I've decided to paint Marshby instead."
Mary's hands stilled themselves, and she looked at him anxiously. "Why are you doing that?" she asked.
"Don't you want the picture?"
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Give it to you, I guess. For a wedding-present, Mary."
"You mustn't say those things," said Mary, gravely. She went on working, but her face was serious.
"It's queer, isn't it," remarked Wilmer, after a pause, "this notion you've got that Marshby's the only one that could possibly do? I began asking you first."
"Please!" said Mary. Her eyes were full of tears. That was rare for her, and Wilmer saw it meant a shaken poise. She was less certain to-day of her own fate. It made her more responsively tender toward his. He sat up and looked at her.
"No," he said. "No. I won't ask you again. I never meant to. Only I have to speak of it once in a while. We should have such a tremendously good time together."
"We have a tremendously good time now," said Mary, the smile coming while she again put up the back of her hand and brushed her eyes. "When you're good."
"When I help all the other little boys at the table, and don't look at the nice heart-shaped cake I want myself? It's frosted, and got little pink things all over the top. There! don't drop the corners of your mouth. If I were asked what kind of a world I'd like to live in, I'd say one where the corners of Mary's mouth keep quirked up all the time. Let's talk about Marshby's picture. It's going to be your Marshby."
"What do you mean?"
"Not Marshby's Marshby—yours."
"You're not going to play some dreadful joke on him?" Her eyes were blazing under knotted brows.
"Mary!" Wilmer spoke gently, and though the tone recalled her, she could not forbear at once, in her hurt pride and loyalty.
"You're not going to put him into any masquerade?—to make him anything but what he is?"
"Mary, don't you think that's a little hard on an old chum?"
"I can't help it." Her cheeks were hot, though now it was with shame. "Yes, I am mean, jealous, envious. I see you with everything at your feet—"
"Not quite everything," said Jerome. "I know it makes you hate me."
"No! no!" The real woman had awakened in her, and she turned to him in a whole-hearted honesty. "Only, they say you do such wizard things when you paint. I never saw any of your pictures, you know, except the ones you did of me. And they're not me. They're lovely—angels with women's clothes on. Aunt Celia says if I looked like that I'd carry all before me. But, you see, you've always been—partial to me."
"And you think I'm not partial to Marshby?"
"It isn't that. It's only that they say you look inside people and drag out what is there. And inside him—oh, you'd see his hatred of himself!" The tears were rolling unregarded down her face.
"This is dreadful," said Wilmer, chiefly to himself. "Dreadful."
"There!" said Mary, drearily, emptying the pods from her apron into the basket at her side. "I suppose I've done it now. I've spoiled the picture."
"No," returned Jerome, thoughtfully, "you haven't spoiled the picture. Really I began it with a very definite conception of what I was going to do. It will be done in that way or not at all."
"You're very kind," said Mary, humbly. "I didn't mean to act like this."
"No,"—he spoke out of a maze of reflection, not looking at her. "You have an idea he's under the microscope with me. It makes you nervous."
She nodded, and then caught herself up.
"There's nothing you mightn't see," she said, proudly, ignoring her previous outburst. "You or anybody else, even with a microscope."
"No, of course not. Only you'd say microscopes aren't fair. Well, perhaps they're not. And portrait-painting is a very simple matter. It's not the black art. But if I go on with this, you are to let me do it in my own way. You're not to look at it."
"Not even when you're not at work?"
"Not once, morning, noon, or night, till I invite you to. You were always a good fellow, Mary. You'll keep your word."
"No, I won't look at it," said Mary.
Thereafter she stayed away from the barn, not only when he was painting, but at other times, and Wilmer missed her. He worked very fast, and made his plans for sailing, and Aunt Celia loudly bemoaned his stinginess in cutting short the summer. One day, after breakfast, he sought out Mary again in the garden. She was snipping Coreopsis for the dinner table, but she did it absently, and Jerome noted the heaviness of her eyes.
"What's the trouble?" he asked, abruptly, and she was shaken out of her late constraint. She looked up at him with a piteous smile.
"Nothing much," she said. "It doesn't matter. I suppose it's fate. He has written his letter."
"You knew he got his appointment?"
"No; I saw something had him by the heels, but he's been still as a fish."
"It came three days ago. He has decided not to take it. And it will break his heart."
"It will break your heart," Wilmer opened his lips to say; but he dared not jostle her mood of unconsidered frankness.
"I suppose I expected it," she went on. "I did expect it. Yet he's been so different lately, it gave me a kind of hope."
Jerome started. "How has he been different?" he asked.
"More confident, less doubtful of himself. It's not anything he has said. It's in his speech, his walk. He even carries his head differently, as if he had a right to. Well, we talked half the night last night, and he went home to write the letter. He promised me not to mail it till he'd seen me once more; but nothing will make any difference."
"You won't beseech him?"
"No. He is a man. He must decide."
"You won't tell him what depends on it!"
"Nothing depends on it," said Mary, calmly. "Nothing except his own happiness. I shall find mine in letting him accept his life according to his own free will."
There was something majestic in her mental attitude. Wilmer felt how noble her maturity was to be, and told himself, with a thrill of pride, that he had done well to love her.
"Marshby is coming," he said. "I want to show you both the picture."
Mary shook her head. "Not this morning," she told him, and he could see how meagre canvas and paint must seem to her after her vision of the body of life. But he took her hand.
"Come," he said, gently; "you must."
Still holding her flowers, she went with him, though her mind abode with her lost cause. Marshby halted when he saw them coming, and Jerome had time to look at him. The man held himself wilfully erect, but his face betrayed him. It was haggard, smitten. He had not only met defeat; he had accepted it. Jerome nodded to him and went on before them to the barn. The picture stood there in a favoring light. Mary caught her breath sharply, and then all three were silent. Jerome stood there forgetful of them, his eyes on his completed work, and for the moment he had in it the triumph of one who sees intention, brought to fruitage under perfect auspices. It meant more to him, that recognition, than any glowing moment of his youth. The scroll of his life unrolled before him, and he saw his past, as other men acclaimed it, running into the future ready for his hand to make. A great illumination touched the days to come. Brilliant in promise, they were yet barren of hope. For as surely as he had been able to set this seal on Mary's present, he saw how the thing itself would separate them. He had painted her ideal of Marshby; but whenever in the future she should nurse the man through the mental sickness bound always to delay his march, she would remember this moment with a pang, as something Jerome had dowered him with, not something he had attained unaided. Marshby faced them from the canvas, erect, undaunted, a soldier fronting the dawn, expectant of battle, yet with no dread of its event. He was not in any sense alien to himself. He dominated, not by crude force, but through the sustained inward strength of him. It was not youth Jerome had given him. There was maturity in the face. It had its lines—the lines that are the scars of battle; but somehow not one suggested, even to the doubtful mind, a battle lost. Jerome turned from the picture to the man himself, and had his own surprise. Marshby was transfigured. He breathed humility and hope. He stirred at Wilmer's motion.
"Am I"—he glowed—"could I have looked like that?" Then in the poignancy of the moment he saw how disloyal to the moment it was even to hint at what should have been, without snapping the link now into the welding present. He straightened himself and spoke brusquely, but to Mary:
"I'll go back and write that letter. Here is the one I wrote last night."
He took it from his pocket, tore it in two, and gave it to her. Then he turned away and walked with the soldier's step home. Jerome could not look at her. He began moving back the picture.
"There!" he said, "it's finished. Better make up your mind where you'll have it put. I shall be picking up my traps this morning."
Then Mary gave him his other surprise. Her hands were on his shoulders. Her eyes, full of the welling gratitude that is one kind of love, spoke like her lips.
"Oh!" said she, "do you think I don't know what you've done? I couldn't take it from anybody else. I couldn't let him take it. It's like standing beside him in battle; like lending him your horse, your sword. It's being a comrade. It's helping him fight. And he will fight. That's the glory of it!"
The Bitter Cup
BY CHARLES B. DE CAMP
Clara Leeds sat by the open window of her sitting-room with her fancy work. Her hair was done up in an irreproachable style, and her finger-nails were carefully manicured and pink like little shells. She had a slender waist, and looked down at it from time to time with satisfied eyes. At the back of her collar was a little burst of chiffon; for chiffon so arranged was the fashion. She cast idle glances at the prospect from the window. It was not an alluring one—a row of brick houses with an annoying irregularity of open and closed shutters.
There was the quiet rumble of a carriage in the street, and Clara Leeds leaned forward, her eyes following the vehicle until to look further would have necessitated leaning out of the window. There were two women in the carriage, both young and soberly dressed. To certain eyes they might have appeared out of place in a carriage, and yet, somehow, it was obvious that it was their own. Clara Leeds resumed her work, making quick, jerky stitches.
"Clara Leeds," she murmured, as if irritated. She frowned and then sighed. "If only—if only it was something else; if it only had two syllables...." She put aside her work and went and stood before the mirror of her dresser. She looked long at her face. It was fresh and pretty, and her blue eyes, in spite of their unhappy look, were clear and shining. She fingered a strand of hair, and then cast critical sidelong glances at her profile. She smoothed her waist-line with a movement peculiar to women. Then she tilted the glass and regarded the reflection from head to foot.
"Oh, what is it?" she demanded, distressed, of herself in the glass. She took up her work again.
"They don't seem to care how they look and ... they do wear shabby gloves and shoes." So her thoughts ran. "But they are the Rockwoods and they don't have to care. It must be so easy for them; they only have to visit the Day Nursery, and the Home for Incurables, and some old, poor, sick people. They never have to meet them and ask them to dinner. They just say a few words and leave some money or things in a nice way, and they can go home and do what they please." Clara Leeds's eyes rested unseeingly on the house opposite. "It must be nice to have a rector ... he is such an intellectual-looking man, so quiet and dignified; just the way a minister should be, instead of like Mr. Copple, who tries to be jolly and get up sociables and parlor meetings." There were tears in the girl's eyes.
A tea-bell rang, and Clara went down-stairs to eat dinner with her father. He had just come in and was putting on a short linen coat. Clara's mother was dead. She was the only child at home, and kept house for her father.
"I suppose you are all ready for the lawn-tennis match this afternoon?" said Mr. Leeds to his daughter. "Mr. Copple said you were going to play with him. My! that young man is up to date. Think of a preacher getting up a lawn-tennis club! Why, when I was a young man that would have shocked people out of their boots. But it's broad-minded, it's broad-minded," with a wave of the hand. "I like to see a man with ideas, and if lawn-tennis will help to keep our boys out of sin's pathway, why, then, lawn-tennis is a strong, worthy means of doing the Lord's work."
"Yes," said Clara. "Did Mr. Copple say he would call for me? It isn't necessary."
"Oh yes, yes," said her father; "he said to tell you he would be around here at two o'clock. I guess I'll have to go over myself and see part of the athletics. We older folks ain't quite up to taking a hand in the game, but we can give Copple our support by looking in on you and cheering on the good work."
After dinner Mr. Leeds changed the linen coat for a cutaway and started back to his business. Clara went up-stairs and put on a short skirt and tennis shoes. She again surveyed herself in the mirror. The skirt certainly hung just like the model. She sighed and got out her tennis-racquet. Then she sat down and read in a book of poems that she was very fond of.
At two o'clock the bell jangled, and Clara opened the door for Mr. Copple herself. The clergyman was of slight build, and had let the hair in front of his ears grow down a little way on his cheeks. He wore a blue yachting-cap, and white duck trousers which were rolled up and displayed a good deal of red and black sock. For a moment Clara imaged a clear-cut face with grave eyes above a length of clerical waistcoat, on which gleamed a tiny gold cross suspended from a black cord.
"I guess we might as well go over," she said. "I'm all ready."
The clergyman insisted on carrying Clara's racquet. "You are looking very well," he said, somewhat timidly, but with admiring eyes. "But perhaps you don't feel as much like playing as you look."
"Oh yes, I do indeed," replied Clara, inwardly resenting the solicitude in his tone.
They set out, and the clergyman appeared to shake his mind free of a preoccupation.
"I hope all the boys will be around," he said, with something of anxiety. "They need the exercise. All young, active fellows ought to have it. I spoke to Mr. Goodloe and Mr. Sharp and urged them to let Tom and Fred Martin off this afternoon. I think they will do it. Ralph Carpenter, I'm afraid, can't get away from the freight-office, but I am in hopes that Mr. Stiggins can take his place. Did you know that Mrs. Thompson has promised to donate some lemonade?"
"That's very nice," said Clara. "It's a lovely day for the match." She was thinking, "What short steps he takes!"
After some silent walking the clergyman said: "I don't believe you know, Miss Leeds, how much I appreciate your taking part in these tennis matches. Somehow I feel that it is asking a great deal of you, for I know that you have—er—so many interests of your own—that is, you are different in many ways from most of our people. I want you to know that I am grateful for the influence—your cooperation, you know—"
"Please, Mr. Copple, don't mention it," said Clara, hurriedly. "I haven't so many interests as you imagine, and I am not any different from the rest of the people. Not at all." If there was any hardness in the girl's tone the clergyman did not appear to notice it. They had reached their destination.
The tennis-court was on the main street just beyond the end of the business section. It was laid out on a vacant lot between two brick houses. A wooden sign to one side of the court announced, "First —— Church Tennis Club." When Clara and Mr. Copple arrived at the court there were a number of young people gathered in the lot. Most of them had tennis-racquets, those of the girls being decorated with bows of yellow, black, and lavender ribbon. Mr. Copple shook hands with everybody, and ran over the court several times, testing the consistency of the earth.
"Everything is capital!" he cried.
Clara Leeds bowed to the others, shaking hands with only one or two. They appeared to be afraid of her. The finals in the men's singles were between Mr. Copple and Elbert Dunklethorn, who was called "Ellie." He wore a very high collar, and as his shoes had heels, he ran about the court on his toes.
Clara, watching him, recalled her father's words at dinner. "How will this save that boy from sin's pathway?" she thought. She regarded the clergyman; she recognized his zeal. But why, why must she be a part of this—what was it?—this system of saving people and this kind of people? If she could only go and be good to poor and unfortunate people whom she wouldn't have to know. Clara glanced toward the street. "I hope they won't come past," she said to herself.
The set in which Clara and the clergyman were partners was the most exciting of the afternoon. The space on either side of the court was quite filled with spectators. Some of the older people who had come with the lengthening shadows sat on chairs brought from the kitchens of the adjoining houses. Among them was Mr. Leeds, his face animated. Whenever a ball went very high up or very far down the lot, he cried, "Hooray!" Clara was at the net facing the street, when the carriage she had observed in the morning stopped in view, and the two soberly dressed women leaned forward to watch the play. Clara felt her face burn, and when they cried "game," she could not remember whether the clergyman and she had won it or lost it. She was chiefly conscious of her father's loud "hoorays." With the end of the play the carriage was driven on.
Shortly before supper-time that evening Clara went to the drug-store to buy some stamps. One of the Misses Rockwood was standing by the show-case waiting for the clerk to wrap up a bottle. Clara noted the scantily trimmed hat and the scuffed gloves. She nodded in response to Miss Rockwood's bow. They had met but once.
"That was a glorious game of tennis you were having this afternoon," said Miss Rockwood, with a warm smile. "My sister and I should like to have seen more of it. You all seemed to be having such a good time."
Clara fumbled her change. "It's—it's good exercise," she said. That night she cried herself to sleep.
The rector married the younger Miss Rockwood. To Clara Leeds the match afforded painfully pleasurable feeling. It was so eminently fitting; and yet it was hard to believe that any man could see anything in Miss Rockwood. His courtship had been in keeping with the man, dignified and yet bold. Clara had met them several times together. She always hurried past. The rector bowed quietly. He seemed to say to all the world, "I have chosen me a woman." His manner defied gossip; there was none that Clara heard. This immunity of theirs distilled the more bitterness in her heart because gossip was now at the heels of her and Mr. Copple, following them as chickens do the feed-box. She knew it from such transmissions as, "But doubtless Mr. Copple has already told you," or, "You ought to know, if any one does."
It had been some time apparent to Clara that the minister held her in a different regard from the other members of his congregation. His talks with her were more personal; his manner was bashfully eager. He sought to present the congeniality of their minds. Mr. Copple had a nice taste in poetry, but somehow Clara, in after-reading, skipped those poems that he had read aloud to her. On several occasions she knew that a declaration was imminent. She extricated herself with a feeling of unspeakable relief. It would not be a simple matter to refuse him. Their relations had been peculiar, and to tell him that she did not love him would not suffice in bringing them to an end. Mr. Copple was odious to her. She could not have explained why clearly, yet she knew. And she would have blushed in the attempt to explain why; it would have revealed a detestation of her lot. Clara had lately discovered the meaning of the word "plebeian"; more, she believed she comprehended its applicableness. The word was a burr in her thoughts. Mr. Copple was the personification of the word. Clara had not repulsed him. You do not do that sort of thing in a small town. She knew intuitively that the clergyman would not be satisfied with the statement that he was not loved. She also knew that he would extract part, at least, of the real reason from her. It is more painful for a lover to learn that he is not liked than that he is not loved. Clara did not wish to cause him pain.
She was spared the necessity. The minister fell from a scaffolding on the new church and was picked up dead.
Clara's position was pitiful. Sudden death does not grow less shocking because of its frequency. Clara shared the common shock, but not the common grief. Fortunately, as hers was supposed to be a peculiar grief, she could manifest it in a peculiar way. She chose silence. The shock had bereft her of much thought. Death had laid a hand over the mouth of her mind. But deep down a feeling of relief swam in her heart. She gave it no welcome, but it would take no dismissal.
About a week after the funeral, Clara, who walked out much alone, was returning home near the outskirts of town. The houses were far apart, and between them stretched deep lots fringed with flowered weeds man-high. A level sun shot long golden needles through the blanched maple-trees, and the street beneath them was filled with lemon-colored light. The roll of a light vehicle approaching from behind grew distinct enough to attract Clara's attention. "It is Mrs. Custer coming back from the Poor Farm," she thought. It was Mrs. Everett Custer, who was formerly the younger Miss Rockwood, and she was coming from the Poor Farm. The phaeton came into Clara's sight beside her at the curb. As she remarked it, Mrs. Custer said, in her thin, sympathetic voice, "Miss Leeds, won't you drive with me back to town? I wish you would."
An excuse rose instinctively to Clara's lips. She was walking for exercise. But suddenly a thought came to her, and after a moment's hesitation, she said: "You are very kind. I am a little tired." She got into the phaeton, and the sober horse resumed his trot down the yellow street.
Clara's thought was: "Why shouldn't I accept? She is too well bred to sympathize with me, and perhaps, now that I am free, I can get to know her and show her that I am not just the same as all the rest, and perhaps I'll get to going with her sort of people."
She listened to the rhythm of the horse's hoof-beats, and was not a little uneasy. Mrs. Custer remarked the beauty of the late afternoon, the glorious symphonies of color in sky and tree, in response to which Clara said, "Yes, indeed," and, "Isn't it?" between long breaths. She was about to essay a question concerning the Poor Farm, when Mrs. Custer began to speak, at first faltering, in a tone that sent the blood out of Clara's face and drew a sudden catching pain down her breast.
"I—really, Miss Leeds, I want to say something to you and I don't quite know how to say it, and yet it is something I want very much for you to know." Mrs. Custer's eyes looked the embarrassment of unencouraged frankness. "I know it is presumptuous for me, almost a stranger, to speak to you, but I feel so deeply on the matter—Everett—Mr. Custer feels so deeply—My dear Miss Leeds, I want you to know what a grief his loss was to us. Oh, believe me, I am not trying to sympathize with you. I have no right to do that. But if you could know how Mr. Custer always regarded Mr. Copple! It might mean something to you to know that. I don't think there was a man for whom he expressed greater admiration—than what, I mean, he expressed to me. He saw in him all that he lacked himself. I am telling you a great deal. It is difficult for my husband to go among men in that way—in the way he did. And yet he firmly believes that the Kingdom of God can only be brought to men by the ministers of God going among them and being of them. He envied Mr. Copple his ability to do that, to know his people as one of them, to take part in their—their sports and all that. You don't know how he envied him and admired him. And his admiration was my admiration. He brought me to see it. I envied you, too—your opportunity to help your people in an intimate, real way which seemed so much better than mine. I don't know why it is my way, but I mean going about as I do, as I did to-day to the Poor Farm. It seems so perfunctory.