AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR OF "THE FOOTPRINT, AND OTHER STORIES," "THE SPREAD EAGLE AND OTHER STORIES," ETC.
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1912
COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published March, 1912
Crown the heads of better men With lilies and with morning-glories! I'm unworthy of a pen— These are Bread-and-Butter stories. Shall I tell you how I know? Strangers wrote and told me so.
He who only toils for fame I pronounce a silly Billy. I can't dine upon a name, Or look dressy in a lily. And—oh shameful truth to utter!— I won't live on bread and butter.
Sometimes now (and sometimes then) Meat and wine my soul requires. Satan tempted me—my pen Fills the house with open fires. I must have a horse or two— Babies, oh my Love—and you!
AIKEN, February 10, 1912.
PAGE It 1
Two Business Women 31
The Trap 73
The Bride's Dead 169
Holding Hands 199
The Claws of The Tiger 235
Growing Up 273
The Battle of Aiken 297
An Idyl of Pelham Bay Park 313
Back There in the Grass 337
Prana Beach would be a part of the solid west coast if it wasn't for a half circle of the deadliest, double-damned, orchid-haunted black morass, with a solid wall of insects that bite, rising out of it. But the beach is good dry sand, and the wind keeps the bugs back in the swamp. Between the beach and the swamp is a strip of loam and jungle, where some niggers live and a god.
I landed on Prana Beach because I'd heard—but it wasn't so and it doesn't matter. Anyhow, I landed—all alone; the canoemen wouldn't come near enough for me to land dry, at that. Said the canoe would shrivel up, like a piece of hide in a fire, if it touched that beach; said they'd turn white and be blown away like puffs of smoke. They nearly backed away with my stuff; would have if I hadn't pulled a gun on them. But they made me wade out and get it myself—thirty foot of rope with knots, dynamite, fuses, primers, compass, grub for a week, and—well, a bit of skin in a half-pint flask with a rubber and screw-down top. Not nice, it wasn't, wading out and back and out and back. There was one shark, I remember, came in so close that he grounded, snout out, and made a noise like a pig. Sun was going down, looking like a bloody murder victim, and there wasn't going to be any twilight. It's an uncertain light that makes wading nasty. It might be salt-water soaking into my jeans, but with that beastly red light over it, it looked like blood.
The canoe backed out to the—you can't call 'em a nautical name. They've one big, square sail of crazy-quilt work—raw silk, pieces of rubber boots, rattan matting, and grass cloth, all colors, all shapes of patches. They point into the wind and then go sideways; and they don't steer with an oar that Charon discarded thousands of years ago, that's painted crimson and raw violet; and the only thing they'd be good for would be fancy wood-carpets. Mine, or better, ours, was made of satinwood, and was ballasted with scrap-iron, rotten ivory, and ebony. There, I've told you what she was like (except for the live entomological collection aboard), and you may call her what you please. The main point is that she took the canoe aboard, and then disobeyed orders. Orders were to lie at anchor (which was a dainty thing of stone, all carved) till further orders. But she'd gotten rid of me, and she proposed to lie farther off, and come back (maybe) when I'd finished my job. So she pointed straight in for where I was standing amid my duds and chattels, just as if she was going to thump herself ashore—and then she began to slip off sideways like a misbegotten crab, and backward, too—until what with the darkness tumbling down, and a point o' palms, I lost sight of her. Why didn't I shout, and threaten, and jump up and down?
Because I was alone on Prana Beach, between the sea and the swamp. And because the god was beginning to get stirred up; and because now that I'd gone through six weeks' fever and boils to get where I was, I wished I hadn't gotten there. No, I wasn't scared. You wouldn't be if you were alone on a beach, after sundown, deserted you may say, your legs shaky with being wet, and your heart hot and mad as fire because you couldn't digest the things you had to put into your stomach, and if you'd heard that the beach was the most malodorous, ghoul-haunted beach of the seas, and if just as you were saying to yourself that you for one didn't believe a word of it—if, I say, just then It began to cut loose—back of you—way off to the left—way off to the right—why you'd have been scared.
It wasn't the noise it made so much as the fact that it could make any noise at all.... Shut your mouth tight and hum on the letter m-mmmmmmm—that's it exactly. Only It's was ten times as loud, and vibrating. The vibrations shook me where I stood.
With the wind right, that humming must have carried a mile out to sea; and that's how it had gotten about that there was a god loose on Prana Beach. It was an It-god, the niggers all agreed. You'll have seen 'em carved on paddles—shanks of a man, bust of a woman, nose of a snapping-turtle, and mouth round like the letter O. But the Prana Beach one didn't show itself that first night. It hummed awhile—m-m-m-m-m—oh, for maybe a minute—stopped and began again—jumped a major fifth, held it till it must have been half burst for breath, and then went down the scale an octave, hitting every note in the middle, and giving the effect of one damned soul meeting another out in eternity and yelling for pure joy and malice. The finish was a whoop on the low note so loud that it lifted my hair. Then the howl was cut off as sharp and neat and sudden as I've seen a Chinaman's head struck from his body by the executioner at Canton—Big Wan—ever seen him work? Very pretty. Got to perfection what golfers call "the follow through."
Yes. I sauntered into the nearest grove, whistling "Yankee Doodle," lighted a fire, cooked supper, and turned in for the night. Not!... I took to the woods all right, but on my stomach. And I curled up so tight that my knees touched my chin. Ever try it? It's the nearest thing to having some one with you, when you're cold and alone. Adam must have had a hard-shell back and a soft-shell stomach, like an armadillo—how does it run?—"dillowing in his armor." Because in moments of real or imaginary danger it's the first instinct of Adam's sons to curl up, and of Eve's daughters. Ever touch a Straits Settlement Jewess on the back of the hand with a lighted cigarette?...
As I'm telling you, I curled up good and tight, head and knees on the grub sack, Colt and dynamite handy, hair standing perfectly straight up, rope round me on the ground in a circle—I had a damn-fool notion that It mightn't be allowed to cross knotted ropes, and I shook with chills and nightmares and cramps. I could only lie on my left side, for the boils on my right. I couldn't keep my teeth quiet. I couldn't do anything that a Christian ought to do, with a heathen It-god strolling around. Yes, ... the thing came out on the beach, in full view of where I was, but I couldn't see it, because of the pitch dark. It came out, and made noises with its feet in the sand—up and down—up and down—scrunch—scrunch—something like a man walking, and not in a hurry. Something like it, but not exactly. The It's feet (they have seven toes according to the nigger paddles) didn't touch the ground as often as a man's would have done in walking the distance. There'd be one scrunch and then quite a long pause before the next. It sounded like a very, very big man, taking the very longest steps he could. But there wasn't any more mouth work. And for that I'm still offering up prayers of thanksgiving; for, if—say when it was just opposite where I lay, and not fifty yards off—it had let off anything sudden and loud, I'd have been killed as dead as by a stroke of lightning.
Well, I was just going to break, when day did. Broke so sweet, and calm, and pretty; all pink landward over the black jungle, all smooth and baby-blue out to sea. Till the sun showed, there was a land breeze—not really a breeze, just a stir, a cool quiet moving of spicy smells from one place to another—nothing more than that. Then the sea breeze rose and swept the sky and ocean till they were one and the same blue, the blue that comes highest at Tiffany's; and little puffs of shore birds came in on the breeze and began to run up and down on the beach, jabbing their bills into the damp sand and flapping their little wings. It was like Eden—Eden-by-the-Sea—I wouldn't have been surprised if Eve had come out of the woods yawning and stretching herself. And I wouldn't have cared—if I'd been shaved.
I took notice of all this peacefulness and quiet, twenty grains of quinine, some near food out of a can, and then had a good look around for a good place to stop, in case I got started running.
I fixed on a sandy knoll that had a hollow in the top of it, and one twisted beach ebony to shade the hollow. At the five points of a star with the knoll for centre, but at safe blasting distance, I planted dynamite, primed and short-fused. If anything chased me I hoped to have time to spring one of these mines in passing, tumble into my hollow and curl up, with my fingers in my ears.
I didn't believe in heathen gods when the sea and sky were that exclusive blue; but I had learned before I was fifteen years old that day is invariably followed by night, and that between the two there is a time toward the latter end of which you can believe anything. It was with that dusky period in view that I mined the approaches to my little villa at Eden-by-the-Sea.
Well, after that I took the flask that had the slip of skin in it, unscrewed the top, pulled the rubber cork, and fished the skin out, with a salvage hook that I made by unbending and rebending a hair-pin.... Don't smile. I've always had a horror of accidentally finding a hair-pin in my pocket, and so I carry one on purpose.... See? Not an airy, fairy Lillian, but an honest, hard-working Jane ... good to clean a pipe with. So I fished out the slip of skin (with the one I had then) and spread it out on my knee, and translated what was written on it, for the thousandth time.
Can you read that? The old-fashioned S's mix you up. It's straight modern Italian. I don't know what the ink's made of, but the skin's the real article—it's taken from just above the knee where a man can get at himself best. It runs this way, just like a "personal" in the Herald, only more so:
Prisoner on Prana Beach will share treasure with rescuing party. Come at once.
Isn't that just like an oil-well-in-the-South-west-Company's prospectus? "Only a little stock left; price of shares will be raised shortly to thirteen cents."
I bit. It was knowing what kind of skin the ad. was written on that got me. I'd seen cured human hide before. In Paris they've got a Constitution printed on some that was peeled off an aristocrat in the Revolution, and I've seen a seaman's upper arm and back, with the tattoos, in a bottle of alcohol in a museum on Fourteenth Street, New York—boys under fourteen not admitted. I wasn't a day over eight when I saw those tattoos. However....
To get that prisoner loose was the duty that I owed to humanity; to share the treasure was the duty that I owed to myself. So I got together some niggers, and the fancy craft I've described (on shares with a Singapore Dutchman, who was too fat to come himself, and too much married), and made a start.... You're bothered by my calling them niggers. Is that it? Well, the Mason and Dixon line ran plump through my father's house; but mother's room being in the south gable, I was born, as you may say, in the land of cotton, and consequently in my bright Southern lexicon the word nigger is defined as meaning anything black or brown. I think I said that Prana is on the west coast, and that may have misled you. But Africa isn't the only God-forsaken place that has a west coast; how about Staten Island?
Malaysian houses are built mostly of reed and thatch work standing in shallow water on bamboo stalks, highly inflammable and subject to alterations by a blunt pocket-knife. So a favorite device for holding a man prisoner is a hole in the ground too deep and sheer for him to climb out of. That's why I'd brought a length of knotted rope. The dynamite was instead of men, which we hadn't means to hire or transport, and who wouldn't have landed on that beach anyhow, unless drowned and washed up. Now dynamite wouldn't be a pleasant thing to have round your club or your favorite restaurant; but in some parts of the world it makes the best company. It will speak up for you on occasion louder than your best friend, and it gives you the feeling of being Jove with a handful of thunderbolts. My plan was to find in what settlement there was the most likely prisoner, drive the inhabitants off for two or three days—one blast would do that, I calculated (especially if preceded and followed by blowings on a pocket siren)—let my rope down into his well, lift the treasure with him, and get away with it.
This was a straight ahead job—except for the god. And in daylight it didn't seem as if It could be such an awful devil of a god. But It did have the deuce of a funny spoor, as I made haste to find out. The thing had five toes, like a man, which was a relief. But unlike nigger feet, the thumb toe and the index weren't spread. The thumb bent sharply inward, and mixed its pad mark with that of the index. Furthermore, though the impress of the toes was very deep (down-slanting like a man walking on tiptoe), the heel marks were also very deep, and between toe and heel marks there were no other marks at all. In other words, the thing's feet must have been arched like a croquet wicket. And It's heels were not rounded; they were perfectly round—absolute circles they were, about the diameter of the smallest sized cans in which Capstan tobacco is sold. If ever a wooden idol had stopped squatting and gone out for a stroll on a beach, it would have left just such a track. Only it might not have felt that it had to take such peculiarly long steps.
My knoll being near the south end of Prana Beach (pure patriotism I assure you), my village hunts must be to the northward. I had one good hunt, the first day, and I got near some sort of a village, a jungle one built over a pool, as I found afterward. The reason I gave up looking that day was because the god got between me and where I was trying to get; burst out humming, you might say, right in my face, though I couldn't see It, and directly I had turned and was tiptoeing quietly away (I remember how the tree trunks looked like teeth in a comb, or the nearest railroad ties from the window of an express train), It set up the most passionate, vindictive, triumphant vocal fireworks ever heard out of hell. It made black noises like Niagara Falls, and white noises higher than Pike's Peak. It made leaps, lighting on tones as a carpenter's hammer lights on nails. It ran up and down the major and minor diatonics, up and down the chromatic, with the speed and fury of a typhoon, and the attention to detail of Paderewski—at his best, when he makes the women faint—and with the power and volume of a church organ with all the stops pulled out. It shook and It trilled and It quavered, and It gargled as if It had a barrel of glycothermoline in It's mouth and had been exposed to diphtheria, and It finished—just as I tripped on a snake and fell—with a round bar of high C sound, that lasted a good minute (or until I was a quarter of a mile beyond where I had fallen), and was the color of butter, and could have been cut with a knife. And It stopped short—biff—just as if It had been chopped off.
That was the end of my village hunting. Let the prisoner of Prana Beach drown in his hole when the rains come, let his treasure remain unlifted till Gabriel blows his trumpet; but let yours truly bask in the shade of the beach ebony, hidden from view, and fortified by dynamite—until the satinwood shallop should see fit to return and take him off.
Except for a queer dream (queer because of the time and place, and because there seemed absolutely nothing to suggest it to the mind asleep), I put in six hours' solid sleep. In my dream I was in Lombardy in a dark loft where there were pears laid out to ripen; and we were frightened and had to keep creepy-mouse still—because the father had come home sooner than was expected, and was milking his goats in the stable under the loft, and singing, which showed that he was in liquor, and not his usual affable, bland self. I could hear him plainly in my dream, tearing the heart out of that old folk-song called La Smortina—"The Pale Girl":
"T' ho la scia to e son contento Non m'in cresca niente, niente Altro giovine hogia in mente Pin belino assai di te."
And I woke up tingling with the remembered fear (it was a mixed feeling, half fright, and half an insane desire to burst out laughing to see what the old man would do), and I looked over the rim of my hat, and there walking toward me, in the baby-blue and pink of the bright dawn (but a big way off), came a straggling line of naked niggers, headed by the It-god, Itself.
One look told me that, one look at a great bulk of scarletness, that walked upright like a man. I didn't look twice, I scuttled out to my nearest mine, lighted the fuse, tumbled back into the hollow, fingers in ears, face screwed up as tight as a face can be screwed, and waited.
When it was over, and things had stopped falling, I looked out again. The tropic dawn remained as before, but the immediate landscape was somewhat altered for the worse, and in the distance were neither niggers nor the god. It is possible that I stuck my thumbs into my armpits and waggled my fingers. I don't remember. But it's no mean sensation to have pitted yourself against a strange god, with perfectly round heels, and to have won out.
About noon, though, the god came back, fortified perhaps by reflection, and more certainly by a nigger who walked behind him with a spear. You've seen the donkey boys in Cairo make the donkeys trot?... This time I put my trust in the Colt forty-five; and looked the god over, as he came reluctantly nearer and nearer, singing a magic.
Do you know the tragedian walk as taken off on the comic opera stage, the termination of each strutting, dragging step accentuated by cymbals smashed together F-F-F? That was how the god walked. He was all in scarlet, with a long feather sticking straight up from a scarlet cap. And the magic he sang (now that you knew the sounds he made were those of a tenor voice, you knew that it was a glorious tenor voice) was a magic out of "Aida." It was the magic that what's-his-name sings when he is appointed commander-in-chief of all the Egyptian forces. Now the niggers may have thought that their god's magics were stronger than my dynamite. But the god, though very, very simple, was not so simple as that. He was an Italian colored man, black bearded, and shaped like Caruso, only more so, if that is possible; and he sang, because he was a singing machine, but he couldn't have talked. I'll bet on that. He was too plumb afraid.
When he reached the hole that the dynamite had made in the landscape—I showed myself; trying to look as much like a dove of peace as possible.
"Come on alone," I called in Italian, "and have a bite of lunch."
That stopped his singing, but I had to repeat. Well he had an argument with the nigger, that finished with all the gestures that two monkeys similarly situated would have made at each other, and after a time the nigger sat down, and the god came on alone, puffing and indignant.
We talked in Dago, but I'll give the English of it, so's not to appear to be showing off.
"Who and what in the seventh circle of hell are you?" I asked.
He seemed offended that I should not have known. But he gave his name, sure of his effect. "Signor ——" and the name sounded like that tower in Venice that fell down the other day.
"You don't mean it!" I exclaimed joyfully. "Be seated," and, I added, being silly with joy and relief at having my awful devil turn into a silly child—"there may be some legacy—though trifling."
Well, he sat down, and stuck his short, immense hirsute legs out, all comfy, and I, remembering the tracks on the beach, had a look at his feet. And I turned crimson with suppressed laughter. He had wooden cylinders three inches high strapped to his bare heels. They made him five feet five inches high instead of five feet two. They were just such heels (only clumsier and made of wood instead of cork and crimson morocco or silk) as Siegfried wears for mountain climbing, dragon fighting, or other deeds of derring-do. And with these heels to guide me, I sighed, and said:
"Signor Recent-Venetian-Tower, you have the most beautiful pure golden tenor voice that I have ever heard in my life."
Have you ever been suddenly embraced by a pile-driver, and kissed on both cheeks by a blacking-brush? I have. Then he held me by the shoulders at arm's length, and looked me in the eyes as if I had been a long-lost son returned at last. Then he gathered a kiss in his finger tips and flung it to the heavens. Then he asked if by any chance I had any spaghetti with me. He cried when I said that I had not; but quietly, not harassingly. And then we got down to real business, and found out about each other.
He was the prisoner of Prana Beach. The treasure that he had to share with his rescuer was his voice. Two nights a week during the season, at two thousand a night. But—There was a great big But.
Signor What-I-said-before, his voice weakened by pneumonia, had taken a long travelling holiday to rest up. But his voice, instead of coming back, grew weaker and weaker, driving him finally into a suicidal artistic frenzy, during which he put on his full suit of evening clothes, a black pearl shirt stud, a tall silk hat, in the dead of night, and flung himself from the stern of a P. & O. boat into the sea. He had no knowledge of swimming and expected to drown at once. But he was not built for drowning. The laws of buoyancy and displacement caused him to float upon his back, high out of the water, like an empty barrel. Nor was the water into which he had fallen as tepid as he had expected. From his description, with its accompaniment of shudderings and shiverings, the temperature must have been as low as 80 deg. Fahrenheit, which is pretty sharp for dagoes. Anyhow, the double shock of the cold and of not drowning instantly acted on his vocal chords. Without even trying, he said, he knew that his voice had come back. Picture the poor man's despair—overboard in the ocean, wanting to die because he had nothing to live for, and suddenly discovering that he had everything to live for. He asserts that he actually forgot the cold, and thought only of how to preserve that glorious instrument, his voice; not for himself but for mankind. But he could not think out a way, and he asserted that a passion of vain weeping and delirium, during which he kicked himself warm, was followed by a noble and godlike calm, during which, lying as easily upon the sea as on a couch, and inspired by the thought that some ear might catch the notes and die the happier for it, he lifted his divine voice and sang a swan song. After that he sang twenty-nine others. And then, in the very midst of La Bella Napoli, with which he intended to close (fearing to strain his voice if he sang any more), he thought of sharks.
Spurred by that thought, he claims to have kicked and beaten with his hands until he was insensible. Otherwise, he would, he said, have continued to float about placidly, singing swan songs at intervals until, at last, thinned by starvation to the sinking point, he would have floated no more.
To shorten up. Signor You-know-what, either owing to his struggles, or to the sea breeze pressing against his stomach, came ashore on Prana Beach; was pounced upon by the niggers, stripped of his glad rags (the topper had been lost in the shuffle), and dropped into a hole eight feet deep, for safe-keeping. It was in this hole, buried in sand, that he found the flask I have told you about. Well, one day, for he had a bit of talent that way, he fell to sketching on his legs, knees, upper thigh and left forearm, using for ink something black that they had given him for breakfast. That night it rained; but next morning his drawings were as black and sharp as when he had made them; this, coupled with the flask, furnished him with an idea, a very forlorn and hopeless one, but an idea for all that. He had, however, nothing to write his C Q D on but himself, none of which (for he held himself in trust for his Maker as a complete whole, he explained) he intended to part with.
It was in trying to climb out of the hole that he tore a flap of skin from his left thigh just above the knee, clean off, except for one thread by which it hung. In less than two days he had screwed up his courage to breaking that thread with a sudden jerk. He cured his bit of hide in a novel way. Every morning he cried on it, and when the tears had dried, leaving their minute residue of salt, he would work the raw skin with his thumb and a bit of stick he had found. Then a nigger boy, one beast of a hot day, lowered him a gourd of sea-water as a joke, and Signor What-we-agreed-on, made salt of that while the sun shone, and finished his job of tanning.
The next time he was given a black breakfast, he wrote his hurry-call message and corked it into the flask. And there only remained the somewhat herculean task of getting that flask flung into the sea.
You'll never believe how it got there finally. But I'll tell you for all that. A creek flowed near the dungeon in which the famous tenor was incarcerated. And one night of cloud-burst that creek burst its cerements, banks I mean, filled the singing man's prison in two jerks of a lamb's tail, and floated both him and his flask out of it. He grounded as usual, but the flask must have been rushed down to the sea. For in the sea it was found, calmly bobbing, and less than two years later. A nigger fisherman found it, and gave it to me, in exchange for a Waterbury watch. He tried to make me take his daughter instead, but I wouldn't.
Signor What-you-would-forget-if-I-told-you wasn't put back in his dungeon till the rainy season was at an end. Instead he was picketed. A rope ran from his wrists, which were tied behind his back, and was inserted through the handles (it had a pair of them like ears just above the trunnions) of a small bronze cannon, that had Magellan's name and the arms of Spain engraved around the touch-hole. And thus picketed, he was rained on, joked on, and abused until dry weather. Then, it was the first happiness that he had had among them, they served him one day with a new kind of fish that had begun to run in the creek. It tasted like Carlton sole, he said. And it made him feel so good that, being quite by himself and the morning blue and warm, he began, sitting on his little cannon, to hum an aria. Further inspirited by his own tunefulness, he rose (and of course struck an attitude) and opened his mouth and sang.
Oh, how good it was to hear—as he put it himself—after all those months of silence!
Well, the people he belonged to came running up with eyes like saucers and mouths open, and they squatted at his feet in a semicircle, and women came and children. They had wonder in their faces and fear. Last came the old chief, who was too old to walk, and was carried always in a chair which two of his good-natured sons-in-law made with their hands. And the old chief, when he had listened awhile with his little bald monkey head cocked on one side, signed to be put down. And he stood on his feet and walked.
And he took out a little khris and walked over to the Divo, and cut the ropes that bound him, and knelt before him and kowtowed, and pressed the late prisoner's toes with his forehead. Then—and this was terribly touching, my informant said, and reminded him of St. Petersburg—one of the old chief's granddaughters, a little brown slip of a girl, slender and shapely as a cigar, flung her arms round his neck, and hung—just hung. When they tried to get her away she kicked at them, but she never so much as once changed the expression of her upturned face, which was one of adoration. Well, the people hollered and made drums of their cheeks and beat on them, and the first thing Signor Recent-Disaster knew he was being dressed in a scarlet coat that had belonged to a British colonel dead this hundred years. The girl by now had had to let go and had dropped at his feet like a ripe guava—and he was being ushered into the largest bamboo-legged house that the place boasted, and told as plainly as round eyes, gesticulations, and moans can, that the house was his to enjoy. Then they began to give him things. First his own dress suit, ruined by sea-water and shrinking, his formerly boiled shirt, his red silk underwear still wearable, his black pearl stud and every stiver of gold, silver, copper, and English banknotes that had been found in his pockets. They gave him knives, rough silver bangles, heaps of elaborate mats, a handful of rather disappointing pearls, a scarlet head-dress with a feather that had been a famous chief's, a gun without a lock, and, what pleased him most (must have), a bit of looking-glass big enough to see half of his face in at a time. They allowed him to choose his own house-keeper; and, although several beauties were knocked down in the ensuing riot, he managed to satisfy them that his unalterable choice rested upon the little lady who had been the most convincing in her recognition of his genius, and—what's the line?—"Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die."
Well, he offered to put me up, and show me how the gods keep house. I counter-offered to keep him with me, by force of dynamite, carry him back to civilization, and go shares on his voice, as per circular. And this is where the big But comes in. My offer was pestilential; he shunned it.
"You shall have my black pearl stud for your trouble," he said. "I bought her years ago in a pawnshop at Aix. But me—no. I have found my niche, and my temple. But you shall be the judge of that."
"You don't want to escape?"
His mouth curled in scorn at the very idea.
"Try to think of how much spaghetti you could buy for a song."
His eyes and mouth twitched. But he sighed, and shook his head.
"Do you know," said he, "when you demonstrated against us with your dynamite it was instantly concluded that you were some new kind of a god come to inhabit the beach. It was proposed that I go against you singing a charm that should drive you away. But, as you saw, I came only at the spear's point. Do you think I was afraid? I was; but not of your godship. I had seen your tracks, I had seen the beach rise to your explosive, and I knew that as one Christian gentleman I had nothing on the lines of violence to fear from another. Your explosion was like a note, asking me when I should next call to bring fewer attendants. I was afraid; I was afraid that you were not one, alone, but several, and that you would compel me to return with you to a world in which, take it for all and all, the good things, such as restaurants, artificial heat, Havana cigars, and Steinway pianos, are nullified by climatic conditions unsuited to vocal chords, fatal jealousies among members of the same artistic professions, and a public that listens but does not hear; or that hears and does not listen. But you shall stop with me a few days, in my house. You shall see for yourself that among all artists I alone enjoy an appreciation and solicitude that are better than gold."
Signor Shall-we-let-it-go-at-that had not lied to me. And all he asked was, with many apologies, that I should treat him with a certain reverence, a little as if he were a conqueror. So all the way to the village I walked two paces right flank rear, and wore a solemn and subdued expression. My host approached the dwellings of his people with an exaggeration of tragi-comic stride, dragging his high-heeled feet as Henry Irving used, raising and advancing his chest to the bursting point, and holding his head so proudly that the perpendicular feather of his cap leaned backward at a sharp angle. With his scarlet soldier's coat, all burst along the seams, and not meeting by a yard over his red silk undershirt, with his bit of broken mirror dangling at his waist like a lady's jewelled "vanity set," with his china-ink black mustache and superb beard, he presented for all the purposes of the time and place an appearance in keeping with the magnificence of his voice and of his dreams.
When we got among the houses, from which came a great peeping of shy eyes, the Signor suddenly raised his fingers to his throat and sounded a shocking b-r-rr-rrr of alarm and anxiety. Then there arose a murmur, almost pitiful it was so heartfelt, as of bees who fear an irreparable tragedy in the hive. The old chief came out of the council-house upon the hands of his good-natured sons-in-law, and he was full of tenderness and concern. I saw my friend escorted into his own dwelling by ladies who sighed and commiserated. But already the call for help had reached the tenor's slip of a wife; and she, with hands that shook, was preparing a compress of leaves that smelt of cinnamon and cloves. I, too, showed solicitude, and timidly helped my conqueror to the heaped mats upon which he was wont to recline in the heat of the day. He had made himself a pair of very round terrified eyes, and he had not taken the compress from his throat. But he spoke quietly, and as one possessed of indomitable fortitude. In Malay he told his people that it was "nothing, just a little—brrr—soreness and thickening," and he let slip such a little moan as monkeys make. To me he spoke in Italian.
"I shall have to submit to a bandage," said he. "But there is nothing the matter with my throat" (slight monkey moan here for benefit of adorers), "absolutely nothing. I have invented a slight soreness so—so that you could see for yourself ... so that you could see for yourself.... If you were to count those here assembled and those assembled without, you would number our entire population, including children and babes in arms" (a slight moan while compress is being readjusted over Adam's apple by gentle, tremulous brown fingers), "and among these, my friend, are no dissenters. There is none here to stand forth and say that on Tuesday night Signor And-he-pronounced-it's singing was lacking in those golden tones for which we used to look to him. His voice, indeed, is but a skeleton of its former self, and shall we say that the public must soon tire of a singer with so pronounced a tendency to flat?
"Here in this climate," he continued, "my voice by dint of constant and painstaking care and practice has actually improved. I should not have said that this was possible; but a man must believe experience.... And then these dear, amiable people are one in their acclaim of me; although I sometimes grieve, not for myself, but for them, to think that they can never really know what they've got...."
I sometimes wonder how the god of Prana Beach will be treated when he begins to age and to lose his voice. It worries me—a little.
The black pearl stud? Of course not, you wretched materialist. I sold it in the first good market I came to. No good ever came of material possessions, and always much payment of storage bills. But I have a collection of memories that I am fond of.
Still, on second thought, and if I had the knack of setting them straight on paper, I'd part even with them for a consideration, especially if I felt that I could reach such an appreciative audience as that of Prana Beach, which sits upon its heels in worship and humility and listens to the divine fireworks of Signor I-have-forgotten-too.
TWO BUSINESS WOMEN
They engaged themselves to be married when they were so young they couldn't tell anybody about it for fear of being laughed at; and if I mentioned their years to you, you would laugh at me. They thought they were full-grown, but they weren't even that. When they were finally married they couldn't either of them have worn the clothes they got engaged in. The day they got engaged they wore suits made of white woollen blankets, white knitted toques, and white knitted sashes. It was because they were dressed exactly alike that they first got excited about each other. And Cynthia said: "You look just like a snowman." And G. G.—which was his strange name—said: "You look just like a snowbird."
G. G. was in Saranac for his health. Cynthia had come up for the holidays to skate and to skee and to coast, and to get herself engaged before she was full-grown to a boy who was so delicate that climate was more important for him than education. They met first at the rink. And it developed that if you crossed hands with G. G. and skated with him you skated almost as well as he did. He could teach a girl to waltz in five minutes; and he had a radiant laugh that almost moved you to tears when you went to bed at night and got thinking about it. Cynthia had never seen a boy with such a beautiful round head and such beautiful white teeth and such bright red cheeks. She always said that she loved him long before he loved her. As a matter of fact, it happened to them both right away. As one baby, unabashed and determined, embraces a strange baby—and is embraced—so, from their first meeting in the great cold stillness of the North Woods, their young hearts snuggled together.
G. G. was different from other boys. To begin with, he had been born at sea. Then he had lived abroad and learned the greatest quantity of foreign languages and songs. Then he had tried a New England boarding-school and had been hurt playing games he was too frail to play. And doctors had stethoscoped him and shaken their heads over him. And after that there was much naming of names which, instead of frightening him, were magic to his ear—Arizona, California, Saranac—but, because G. G.'s father was a professional man and perfectly square and honest, there wasn't enough money to send G. G. far from New York and keep him there and visit him every now and then. So Saranac was the place chosen for him to get well in; and it seemed a little hard, because there was almost as much love of sunshine and warmth and flowers and music in G. G. as there was patience and courage.
The day they went skeeing together—which was the day after they had skated together—he told Cynthia all about himself, very simply and naturally, as a gentleman farmer should say: "This is the dairy; this is the blacksmith shop; this is the chicken run." And the next day, very early, when they stood knee-deep in snow, armed with shot-guns and waiting for some dogs that thought they were hounds to drive rabbits for them to shoot at, he told her that nothing mattered so long as you were happy and knew that you were happy, because when these two stars came into conjunction you were bound to get well.
A rabbit passed. And G. G. laid his mitten upon his lips and shook his head; and he whispered:
"I wouldn't shoot one for anything in the world."
And she said: "Neither would I."
Then she said: "If you don't shoot why did you come?"
"Oh, Miss Snowbird," he said, "don't I look why I came? Do I have to say it?"
He looked and she looked. And their feet were getting colder every moment and their hearts warmer. Then G. G. laughed aloud—bright, sudden music in the forest. Snow, balanced to the fineness of a hair, fell from the bowed limbs of trees. Then there was such stillness as may be in Paradise when souls go up to the throne to be forgiven. Then, far off, one dog that thought he was a hound began to yap and thought he was belling; but still G. G. looked into the snowbird's eyes and she into his, deeper and deeper, until neither had any secret of soul from the other. So, upon an altar cloth, two wax candles burn side by side, with clear, pure light.
Cynthia had been well brought up, but she came of rich, impatient stock, and never until the present moment had she thought very seriously about God. Now, however, when she saw the tenderness there was in G. G.'s eyes and the smile of serene joyousness that was upon his lips, she remembered the saying that God has made man—and boys—in His image—and understood what it meant.
She said: "I know why you think you've come."
"Think?" he said. "Think!"
And then the middle ends of his eyebrows rose—all tender and quizzical; and with one mitten he clutched at his breast—just over his heart. And he said:
"If only I could get it out I would give it to you!"
Cynthia, too, began to look melting tender and wondrous quizzical; and she bent her right arm forward and plucked at its sleeve as if she were looking for something. Then, in a voice of dismay:
"Only three days ago it was still there," she said; "and now it's gone—I've lost it."
"Oh!" said G. G. "You don't suspect me of having purloined—" His voice broke.
"We're only kids," said Cynthia.
"Yes," said he; "but you're the dearest kid!"
"Since you've taken my heart," said she, "you'll not want to give it back, will you? I think that would break it."
"I oughtn't to have taken it!" said G. G.
And then on his face she saw the first shadow that ever he had let her see of doubt and of misgiving.
"Listen!" he said. "My darling! I think that I shall get well.... I think that, once I am well, I shall be able to work very hard. I have nothing. I love you so that I think even angels don't want to do right more than I do. Is that anything to offer? Not very much."
"Nobody in all the world," said she, "will ever have the chance to offer me anything else—just because I'm a kid doesn't mean that I don't know the look of forever when I see it."
"Is it really forever?" he said. "For you too?"
"Ah," said he, "what shall I think of to promise you?"
His face was a flash of ecstasy.
"You don't even have to promise that you will get well," she said. "I know you will try your hardest. No matter what happens—we're final—and I shall stick to you always, and nothing shall take you from me, and nobody.... When I am of age I shall tell my papa about us and then we shall be married to each other! And meanwhile you shall write to me every day and I shall write to you three times every day!" Her breath came like white smoke between her parted lips and she stood valiant and sturdy in the snow—a strong, resolute girl, built like a boy—clean-cut, crystal-pure, and steel-true. A shot sounded and there came to them presently the pungent, acid smell of burnt powder.
"And we shall never hurt things or kill them," said G. G. "And every day when I've been good I shall kiss your feet and your hands."
"And when I've been good," she said, "you'll smile at me the way you're smiling now—and it won't be necessary to die and go to Heaven to see what the gentlemen angels look like."
"But," cried G. G., "whoever heard of going to Heaven? It comes to people. It's here."
"And for us," she said, "it's come to stay."
All the young people came to the station to see Cynthia off and G. G. had to content himself with looking things at her. And then he went back to his room and undressed and went to bed. Because for a week he had done all sorts of things that he shouldn't have done, just to be with Cynthia—all the last day he had had fever and it had been very hard for him to look like a joyous boy angel—he knew by experience that he was in for a "time." It is better that we leave him behind closed doors with his doctors and his temperature. We may knock every morning and ask how he is, and we shall be told that he is no better. He was even delirious at times. And it is only worth while going into this setback of G. G's because there are miracles connected with it—his daily letter to Cynthia.
Each day she had his letter—joyous, loving, clearly writ, and full of flights into silver-lined clouds and the plannings of Spanish castles. Each day G. G. wrote his letter and each day he descended a little farther into the Valley of the Shadow, until at last he came to Death Gate—and then rested, a voyager undecided whether to go on or to go back. Who may know what it cost him to write his letter, sitting there at the roadside!
His mother was with him. It was she who took the letter from his hands when he sank back into his pillows; and they thought for a little that he had gone from that place—for good and all. It was she who put it into the envelope and who carried it with her own hands to the post-office. Because G. G. had said: "To get there, it must go by the night's mail, Mumsey."
G. G.'s mother didn't read the letter; but you may be sure she noted down the name and address in her heart of hearts, and that for the girl who seemed to mean so much to G. G. she developed upon the spot a heavenly tenderness, mixed with a heavenly jealousy.
One day there came to G. G., in convalescence—it was after his mother had gone back to New York—a great, thick package containing photographs and a letter. I think the letter contained rouge—because it made G. G.'s cheeks so red.
Cynthia had collected all the pictures she could find of herself in her father's house and sent them to G. G. There were pictures of her in the longest baby clothes and in the shortest. There were pictures posed for occasions, pictures in fancy clothes, and a quart of kodaks. He had her there on his knees—riding, driving, diving, skating, walking, sitting on steps, playing with dogs, laughing, looking sad, talking, dimpling, smiling. There were pictures that looked right at G. G., no matter at what angle he held them. There were pictures so delicious of her that he laughed aloud for delight.
All the stages of her life passed before his eyes—over and over—all day long; and, instead of growing more and more tired, he grew more and more refreshed. He made up his spotless mind to be worthy of her and to make, for her to bear, a name of which nobody should be able to say anything unkind.
If G. G. had had very little education he had made great friends with some of the friendliest and most valuable books that had ever been written. And he made up his mind, lying at full length—the livelong day—in the bright, cold air—his mittened hands plunged into deep pockets full of photographs—that, for her sake and to hasten that time when they might always be together, he would learn to write books, taking infinite pains. And he determined that these books should be as sweet and clean and honorable as he could make them. You see, G. G. had been under the weather so much and had suffered so much all alone by himself, with nobody to talk to, that his head was already full of stories about make-believe places and people that were just dying to get themselves written. So many things that are dead to most people had always been alive to him—leaves, flowers, fairies. He had always been a busy maker of verses, which was because melody, rhythm, and harmony had always been delicious to his ear. And he had had, as a little boy, a soprano voice that was as true as truth and almost as agile as a canary bird's.
He decided, then, very deliberately—lying upon his back and healing that traitor lung of his—to be a writer. He didn't so decide entirely because that was what he had always wanted to be, but for many reasons. First place, he could say things to her through prose and verse that could not be expressed in sculpture, music, painting, groceries, or dry-goods. Second place, where she was, there his heart was sure to be; and where the heart is, there the best work is done. And, third place, he knew that the chances were against his ever living in dusty cities or in the places of business thereof.
"I am so young," he wrote to her, "that I can begin at the beginning and learn to be anything—in time to be it! And so every morning now you shall think of G. G. out with his butterfly net, running after winged words. That's nonsense. I've a little pad and a big pencil, and a hot potato in my pocket for to warm the numb fingers at. And father's got an old typewriter in his office that's to be put in order for me; and nights I shall drum upon it and print off what was written down in the morning, and study to see why it's all wrong. I think I'll never write anything but tales about people who love each other. 'Cause a fellow wants to stick to what he knows about...."
Though G. G. was not to see Cynthia again for a whole year he didn't find any trouble in loving her a little more every day. To his mind's eye she was almost as vivid as if she had been standing right there in front of him. And as for her voice, that dwelt ever in his ear, like those lovely airs which, once heard, are only put aside with death. You may have heard your grandmother lilting to herself, over her mending, some song of men and maidens and violets that she had listened to in her girlhood and could never forget.
And then, of course, everything that G. G. did was a reminder of Cynthia. With the help of one of Doctor Trudeau's assistants, who came every day to see how he was getting on, he succeeded in understanding very well what was the matter with him and under just what conditions a consumptive lung heals and becomes whole. To live according to the letter and spirit of the doctor's advice became almost a religion with him.
For six hours of every day he sat on the porch of the house where he had rooms, writing on his little pad and making friends with the keen, clean, healing air. Every night the windows of his bedroom stood wide open, so that in the morning the water in his pitcher was a solid block. And he ate just the things he was told to—and willed himself to like milk and sugar, and snow and cold, and short days!
In his writing he began to see progress. He was like a musical person beginning to learn an instrument; for, just as surely as there are scales to be run upon the piano before your virtuoso can weave music, binding the gallery gods with delicious meshes of sound, so in prose-writing there must be scales run, fingerings worked out, and harmonies mastered. For in a page of lo bello stile you will find trills and arpeggios, turns, grace notes, a main theme, a sub theme, thorough-bass, counterpoint, and form.
Music is an easier art than prose, however. It comes to men as a more direct and concrete gift of those gods who delight in sound and the co-ordination of parts. The harmonies are more quickly grasped by the well-tuned ear. We can imagine the boy Mozart discoursing lovely music at the age of five; but we cannot imagine any one of such tender years compiling even a fifth-rate paragraph of prose.
Those men who have mastered lo bello stile in music can tell us pretty clearly how the thing is done. There be rules. But your prose masters either cannot formulate what they have learned—or will not.
G. G. was very patient; and there were times when the putting together of words was fascinating, like the putting together of those picture puzzles which were such a fad the other day. And such reading as he did was all in one book—the dictionary. For hours, guided by his nice ear for sound, he applied himself to learning the derivatives and exact meanings of new words—or he looked up old words and found that they were new.
As for his actual compositions, he had only the ambition to make them as workmanlike as he could. He made little landscapes; he drew little interiors. He tried to get people up and down stairs in the fewest words that would make the picture. And when he thought that he had scored a little success he would count the number of words he had used and determine to achieve the same effect with the use of only half that number.
Well, G. G.'s lung healed again; and this time he was very careful not to overdo. He had gained nine pounds, he wrote to Cynthia—"saved them" was the way he put it; and he was determined that this new tissue, worth more than its weight in gold, should go to bank and earn interest for him—and compound interest.
"Shall I get well?" he asked that great dreamer who dreamed that there was hope for people who had never hoped before—and who has lived to see his dream come true; and the great dreamer smiled and said:
"G. G., if growing boys are good boys and do what they are told, and have any luck at all—they always get well!"
Then G. G. blushed.
"And when I am well can I live where I please—and—and get married—and all that sort of thing?"
"You can live where you please, marry and have children; and if you aren't a good husband and a good father I dare say you'll live to be hanged at ninety. But if I were you, G. G., I'd stick by the Adirondacks until you're old enough to—know better."
And G. G. went back to his rooms in great glee and typewrote a story that he had finished as well as he could, and sent it to a magazine. And six days later it came back to him, with a little note from the editor, who said:
"There's nothing wrong with your story except youth. If you say so we'll print it. We like it. But, personally, and believing that I have your best interests at heart, I advise you to wait, to throw this story into your scrap basket, and to study and to labor until your mind and your talent are mature. For the rest, I think you are going to do some fine things. This present story isn't that—it's not fine. At the same time, it is so very good in some ways that we are willing to leave its publication or its destruction to your discretion."
G. G. threw his story into the scrap basket and went to bed with a brand-new notion of editors.
"Why," said he to the cold darkness—and his voice was full of awe and astonishment—"they're—alive!"
Cynthia couldn't get at G. G. and she made up her mind that she must get at something that belonged to him—or die. She had his letter, of course, and his kodaks; and these spoke the most eloquent language to her—no matter what they said or how they looked—but she wanted somehow or other to worm herself deeper into G. G.'s life. To find somebody, for instance, who knew all about him and would enjoy talking about him by the hour. Now there are never but two people who enjoy sitting by the hour and saying nice things about any man—and these, of course, are the woman who bore him and the woman who loves him. Fathers like their sons well enough—sometimes—and will sometimes talk about them and praise them; but not always. So it seemed to Cynthia that the one and only thing worth doing, under the circumstances, was to make friends with G. G.'s mother. To that end, Cynthia donned a warm coat of pony-skin and drove in a taxicab to G. G.'s mother's address, which she had long since looked up in the telephone book.
"If she isn't alone," said Cynthia, "I shan't know what to say or what to do."
And she hesitated, with her thumb hovering about the front-door bell—as a humming-bird hovers at a flower.
Then she said: "What does it matter? Nobody's going to eat me." And she rang the bell.
G. G.'s mother was at home. She was alone. She was sitting in G. G.'s father's library, where she always did sit when she was alone. It was where she kept most of her pictures of G. G.'s father and of G. G., though she had others in her bedroom; and in her dressing-room she had a dapple-gray horse of wood that G. G. had galloped about on when he was little. She had a sweet face, full of courage and affection. And everything in her house was fresh and pretty, though there wasn't anything that could have cost very much. G. G.'s father was a lawyer. He was more interested in leaving a stainless name behind him than a pot of money. And, somehow, fruit doesn't tumble off your neighbor's tree and fall into your own lap—unless you climb the tree when nobody is looking and give the tree a sound shaking. I might have said of G. G., in the very beginning, that he was born of poor and honest parents. It would have saved all this explanation.
G. G.'s mother didn't make things hard for Cynthia. One glance was enough to tell her that dropping into the little library out of the blue sky was not a pretty girl but a blessed angel—not a rich man's daughter but a treasure. It wasn't enough to give one hand to such a maiden. G. G.'s mother gave her two. But she didn't kiss her. She felt things too deeply to kiss easily.
"I've come to talk about G. G.," said Cynthia. "I couldn't help it. I think he's the dearest boy!"
She finished quite breathless—and if there had been any Jacqueminot roses present they might have hung their lovely heads in shame and left the room.
"G. G. has shown me pictures of you," said his mother. "And once, when we thought we were going to lose him, he used his last strength to write to you. I mailed the letter. That is a long time ago. Nearly two years.
"And I didn't know that he'd been ill in all that time," said Cynthia; "he never told me."
"He would have cut off his hand sooner than make you anxious. That was why he would write his daily letter to you. That one must have been almost as hard to write as cutting off a hand."
"He writes to me every day," said Cynthia, "and I write to him; but I haven't seen him for a year and I don't feel as if I could stand it much longer. When he gets well we're going to be married. And if he doesn't get well pretty soon we're going to be married anyway."
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed G. G.'s mother. "You know that wouldn't be right!"
"I don't know," said Cynthia; "and if anybody thinks I'm going to be tricked out of the man I love by a lot of silly little germs they are very much mistaken!"
"But, my dear," said G. G.'s mother, "G. G. can't support a wife—not for a long time anyway. We have nothing to give him. And, of course, he can't work now—and perhaps can't for years."
"I, too," said Cynthia—with proper pride—"have parents. Mine are rolling in money. Whenever I ask them for anything they always give it to me without question."
"You have never asked them," said G. G.'s mother, "for a sick, penniless boy."
"But I shall," said Cynthia, "the moment G. G.'s well—and maybe sooner."
There was a little silence.
Then G. G.'s mother leaned forward and took both of Cynthia's hands in hers.
"I don't wonder at him," she said—"I don't. I was ever so jealous of you, but I'm not any more. I think you're the dearest girl!"
"Oh!" cried Cynthia. "I am so glad! But will G. G.'s father like me too?"
"He has never yet failed," said G. G.'s mother, "to like with his whole heart anything that was stainless and beautiful."
"Is he like G. G.?"
"He has the same beautiful round head, but he has a rugged look that G. G. will never have. He has a lion look. He might have been a terrible tyrant if he hadn't happened, instead, to be a saint."
And she showed Cynthia, side by side, pictures of the father and the boy.
"They have such valiant eyes!" said Cynthia.
"There is nothing base in my young men," said G. G.'s mother.
Then the two women got right down to business and began an interminable conversation of praise. And sometimes G. G.'s mother's eyes cried a little while the rest of her face smiled and she prattled like a brook. And the meeting ended with a great hug, in which G. G.'s mother's tiny feet almost parted company with the floor.
And it was arranged that they two should fly up to Saranac and be with G. G. for a day.
It wasn't from shame that G. G. signed another name than his own to the stories that he was making at the rate of one every two months. He judged calmly and dispassionately that they were "going to be pretty good some day," and that it would never be necessary for him to live in a city. He signed his stories with an assumed name because he was full of dramatic instinct. He wanted to be able—just the minute he was well—to say to Cynthia:
"Let us be married!" Then she was to say: "Of course, G. G.; but what are we going to live on?" And G. G. was going to say: "Ever hear of so-and-so?"
CYNTHIA: Goodness gracious! Sakes alive! Yes; I should think I had! And, except for you, darlingest G. G., I think he's the very greatest man in all the world!
G. G.: Goosey-Gander, know that he and I are one and the same person—and that we've saved seventeen hundred dollars to get married on!
(Tableau not to be seen by the audience.)
So far as keeping Cynthia and his father and mother in ignorance of the fledgling wings he was beginning to flap, G. G. succeeded admirably; but it might have been better to have told them all in the beginning.
Now G. G.'s seventeen hundred dollars was a huge myth. He was writing short stories at the rate of six a year and he had picked out to do business with one of the most dignified magazines in the world. Dignified people do not squander money. The magazine in question paid G. G. from sixty to seventy dollars apiece for his stories and was much too dignified to inform him that plenty of other magazines—very frivolous and not in the least dignified—would have been ashamed to pay so little for anything but the poems, which all magazines use to fill up blank spaces. So, even in his own ambitious and courageous mind, a "married living" seemed a very long way off.
He refused to be discouraged, however. His health was too good for that. The doctor pointed to him with pride as a patient who followed instructions to the letter and was not going to die of the disease which had brought him to Saranac. And they wrote to G. G's father—who was finding life very expensive—that, if he could keep G. G. at Saranac, or almost anywhere out of New York, for another year or two, they guaranteed—as much as human doctors can—that G. G. would then be as sound as a bell and fit to live anywhere.
This pronouncement was altogether too much of a good thing for Fate. As G. G's father walked up-town from his office, Fate raised a dust in his face which, in addition to the usual ingredients of city dust, contained at least one thoroughly compatible pair of pneumonia germs. These went for their honey-moon on a pleasant, warm journey up G. G's father's left nostril and to house-keeping in his lungs. In a few hours they raised a family of several hundred thousand bouncing baby germs; and these grew up in a few minutes and began to set up establishments of their own right and left.
G. G.'s father admitted that he had a "heavy cold on the chest." It was such a heavy cold that he became delirious, and doctors came and sent for nurses; and there was laid in the home of G. G.'s father the corner-stone of a large edifice of financial disaster.
He had never had a partner. His practice came to a dead halt. The doctors whom G. G.'s mother called in were, of course, the best she had ever heard of. They would have been leaders of society if their persons had been as fashionable as their prices. The corner drug store made its modest little profit of three or four hundred per cent on the drugs which were telephoned for daily. The day nurse rolled up twenty-five dollars a week and the night nurse thirty-five. The servant's wages continued as usual. The price of beef, eggs, vegetables, etc., rose. The interest on the mortgage fell due. And it is a wonder, considering how much he worried, that G. G.'s father ever lived to face his obligations.
Cynthia, meanwhile, having heard that G. G. was surely going to get well, was so happy that she couldn't contain the news. And she proceeded to divulge it to her father.
"Papa," she said, "I think I ought to tell you that years ago, at Saranac—that Christmas when I went up with the Andersons—I met the man that I am going to marry. He was a boy then; but now we're both grown up and we feel just the same about each other."
And she told her father G. G.'s name and that he had been very delicate, but that he was surely going to get well. Cynthia's father, who had always given her everything she asked for until now, was not at all enthusiastic.
"I can't prevent your marrying any one you determine to marry, Cynthia," he said. "Can this young man support a wife?"
"How could he!" she exclaimed—"living at Saranac and not being able to work, and not having any money to begin with! But surely, if the way we live is any criterion, you could spare us some money—couldn't you?"
"You wish me to say that I will support a delicate son-in-law whom I have never seen? Consult your intelligence, Cynthia."
"I have my allowance," she said, her lips curling.
"Yes," said her father, "while you live at home and do as you're told."
"Now, papa, don't tell me that you're going to behave like a lugubrious parent in a novel! Don't tell me that you are going to cut me off with a shilling!"
"I shan't do that," he said gravely; "it will be without a shilling." But he tempered this savage statement with a faint smile.
"Papa, dear, is this quite definite? Are you talking in your right mind and do you really mean what you say?"
"Suppose you talk the matter over with your mother—she's always indulged you in every way. See what she says."
It developed that neither of Cynthia's parents was enthusiastic at the prospect of her marrying a nameless young man—she had told them his name, but that was all she got for her pains—who hadn't a penny and who had had consumption, and might or might not be sound again. Personally they did not believe that consumption can be cured. It can be arrested for a time, they admitted, but it always comes back. Cynthia's mother even made a physiological attack on Cynthia's understanding, with the result that Cynthia turned indignantly pink and left the room, saying:
"If the doctor thinks it's perfectly right and proper for us to marry I don't see the least point in listening to the opinions of excited and prejudiced amateurs."
The ultimatum that she had from her parents was distinct, final, and painful.
"Marry him if you like. We will neither forgive you nor support you."
They were perfectly calm with her—cool, affectionate, sensible, and worldly, as it is right and proper for parents to be. She told them they were wrong-headed, old-fashioned, and unintelligent; but as long as they hadn't made scenes and talked loud she found that she couldn't help loving them almost as much as she always had; but she loved G. G. very much more. And having definitely decided to defy her family, to marry G. G. and live happily ever afterward, she consulted her check-book and discovered that her available munition of war was something less than five hundred dollars—most of it owed to her dress-maker.
"Well, well!" she said; "she's always had plenty of money from me; she can afford to wait."
And Cynthia wrote to her dress-maker, who was also her friend!
MY DEAR CELESTE: I have decided that you will have to afford to wait for your money. I have an enterprise in view which calls for all the available capital I have. Please write me a nice note and say that you don't mind a bit. Otherwise we shall stop being friends and I shall always get my clothes from somebody else. Let me know when the new models come....
On her way down-town Cynthia stopped to see G. G.'s mother and found the whole household in the throes occasioned by its head's pneumonia.
"Why haven't you let me know?" exclaimed Cynthia. "There must be so many little things that I could have done to help you."
Though the sick man couldn't have heard them if they had shouted, the two women talked in whispers, with their heads very close together.
"He's better," said G. G.'s mother, "but yesterday they wanted me to send for G. G. 'No,' I said. 'You may have given him up, but I haven't. If I send for my boy it would look as if I had surrendered,' And almost at once, if you'll believe it, he seemed to shake off something that was trying to strangle him and took a turn for the better; and now they say that, barring some long names, he will get well.... It does look, my dear, as if death had seen that there was no use facing a thoroughly determined woman."
At this point, because she was very much overwrought, G. G.'s mother had a mild little attack of hysteria; and Cynthia beat her on the back and shook her and kissed her until she was over it. Then G. G.'s mother told Cynthia about her financial troubles.
"It isn't us that matters," she said, "but that G. G. ought to have one more year in a first-rate climate; and it isn't going to be possible to give it to him. They say that he's well, my dear, absolutely well; but that now he should have a chance to build up and become strong and heavy, so that he can do a man's work in the world. As it is, we shall have to take him home to live; and you know what New York dust and climate can do to people who have been very, very ill and are still delicate and high-strung."
"There's only one thing to do for the present," said Cynthia—"anybody with the least notion of business knows that—we must keep him at Saranac just as long as our credit holds out, mustn't we?—until the woman where he boards begins to act ugly and threatens to turn him out in the snow."
"Oh, but that would be dreadful!" said G. G.'s mother. Cynthia smiled in a superior way.
"I don't believe," she said, "that you understand the first thing about business. Even my father, who is a prude about bills, says that all the business of the country is done on credit.... Now you're not going to be silly, are you?—and make G. G. come to New York before he has to?"
"It will have to be pretty soon, I'm afraid," said G. G.'s mother.
"Sooner than run such risks with any boy of mine," said Cynthia, with a high color, "I'd beg, I'd borrow, I'd forge, I'd lie—I'd steal!"
"Don't I know you would!" exclaimed G. G.'s mother. "My darling girl, you've got the noblest character—it's just shining in your eyes!"
"There's another thing," said Cynthia: "I have to go down-town now on business, but you must telephone me around five o'clock and tell me how G. G.'s father is. And you must spend all your time between now and then trying to think up something really useful that I can do to help you. And"—here Cynthia became very mysterious—"I forbid you to worry about money until I tell you to!"
Cynthia had a cousin in Wall Street; his name was Jarrocks Bell. He was twenty years older than Cynthia and he had been fond of her ever since she was born. He was a great, big, good-looking man, gruff without and tender within. Clever people, who hadn't made successful brokers, wondered how in the face of what they called his "obvious stupidity" Jarrocks Bell had managed to grow rich in Wall Street. The answer was obvious enough to any one who knew him intimately. To begin with, his stupidity was superficial. In the second place, he had studied bonds and stocks until he knew a great deal about them. Then, though a drinking man, he had a head like iron and was never moved by exhilaration to mention his own or anybody else's affairs. Furthermore, he was unscrupulously honest. He was so honest and blunt that people thought him brutal at times. Last and not least among the elements of his success was the fact that he himself never speculated.
When the big men found out that there was in Wall Street a broker who didn't speculate himself, who didn't drink to excess, who was absolutely honest, and who never opened his mouth when it was better shut, they began to patronize that man's firm. In short, the moment Jarrocks Bell's qualities were discovered, Jarrocks Bell was made. So that now, in speculative years, his profits were enormous.
Cynthia had always been fond of her big, blunt cousin, as he of her; and in her present trouble her thoughts flew to him as straight as a homing aeroplane to the landing-stage.
Even a respectable broker's office is a noisome, embarrassing place, and among the clients are men whose eyes have become popped from staring at paper-tapes and pretty girls; but Cynthia had no more fear of men than a farmer's daughter has of cows, and she flashed through Jarrocks's outer office—preceded by a very small boy—with her color unchanged and only her head a little higher than usual.
Jarrocks must have wondered to the point of vulgar curiosity what the deuce had brought Cynthia to see him in the busiest hour of a very busy day; but he said "Hello, Cynthia!" as naturally as if they two had been visiting in the same house and he had come face to face with her for the third or fourth time that morning.
"I suppose," said Cynthia, "that you are dreadfully busy; but, Jarrocks dear, my affairs are so much more important to me than yours can possibly be to you—do you mind?"
"May I smoke?"
"Then I don't mind. What's your affair, Cynthia—money or the heart?"
"Both, Jarrocks." And she told him pretty much what the reader has already learned. As for Jarrocks's listening, he was a perfect study of himself. He laughed gruffly when he ought to have cried; and when Cynthia tried to be a little humorous he looked very solemn and not unlike the big bronze Buddha of the Japanese. Inside, however, his big heart was full of compassion and tenderness for his favorite girl in all the world. Nobody will ever know just how fond Jarrocks was of Cynthia. It was one of those matters on which—owing, perhaps, to his being her senior by twenty years—he had always thought it best to keep his mouth shut.
"What's your plan?" he asked. "Where do I come in? I'll give you anything I've got." Cynthia waived the offer; it was a little unwelcome.
"I've got about five hundred dollars," she said, "and I want to speculate with it and make a lot of money, so that I can be independent of papa and mamma."
"Lots of people," said Jarrocks, "come to Wall Street with five hundred dollars, more or less, and they wish to be independent of papa and mamma. They end up by going to live in the Mills Hotel."
"I know," said Cynthia; "but this is really important. If G. G. could work it would be different."
"Tell me one thing," said Jarrocks: "If you weren't in love with G. G. what would you think of him as a candidate for your very best friend's hand?"
Cynthia counted ten before answering.
"Jarrocks, dear," she said—and he turned away from the meltingness of her lovely face—"he's so pure, he's so straight, he's so gentle and so brave, that I don't really think I can tell you what I think of him."
There was silence for a moment, then Jarrocks said gruffly:
"That's a clean-enough bill of health. Guess you can bring him into the family, Cynthia."
Then he drummed with his thick, stubby fingers on the arm of his chair.
"The idea," he said at last, "is to turn five hundred dollars into a fortune. You know I don't speculate."
"But you make it easy for other people?"
"If you'd come a year ago," he said, "I'd have sent you away. Just at the present moment your proposition isn't the darn-fool thing it sounds."
"I knew you'd agree with me," said Cynthia complacently. "I knew you'd put me into something that was going 'way up."
"Prices are at about the highest level they've ever struck and money was never more expensive. I think we're going to see such a tumble in values as was never seen before. It almost tempts me to come out of my shell and take a flyer—if I lose your five hundred for you, you won't squeal, Cynthia?"
"Of course not."
"Then I'll tell you what I think. There's nothing certain in this business, but if ever there was a chance to turn five hundred dollars into big money it's now. You've entered Wall Street, Cynthia, at what looks to me like the psychological moment."
"That's a good omen," said Cynthia. "I believe we shall succeed. And I leave everything to you."
Then she wrote him a check for all the money she had in the world. He held it between his thumb and forefinger while the ink dried.
"By the way, Cynthia," he said, "do you want the account to stand in your own name?"
She thought a moment, then laughed and told him to put it in the name of G. G.'s mother. "But you must report to me how things go," she said.
Jarrocks called a clerk and gave him an order to sell something or other. In three minutes the clerk reported that "it"—just some letter of the alphabet—had been sold at such and such a price.
For another five minutes Jarrocks denied himself to all visitors. Then he called for another report on the stock which he had just caused to be sold. It was selling "off a half."
"Well, Cynthia," said Jarrocks, "you're fifty dollars richer than when you came. Now I've got to tell you to go. I'll look out for your interests as if they were my own."
And Jarrocks, looking rather stupid and bored, conducted Cynthia through his outer offices and put her into an elevator "going down." Her face vanished and his heart continued to mumble and grumble, just the way a tooth does when it is getting ready to ache.
Cynthia had entered Wall Street at an auspicious moment. Stocks were at that high level from which they presently tumbled to the panic quotations of nineteen-seven. And Jarrocks, whom the unsuccessful thought so very stupid, had made a very shrewd guess as to what was going to happen.
Two weeks later he wrote Cynthia that if she could use two or three thousand dollars she could have them, without troubling her balance very perceptibly.
"I thought you had a chance," he wrote. "I'm beginning to think it's a sure thing! Keep a stiff upper lip and first thing you know you'll have the laugh on mamma and papa. Give 'em my best regards."
If it is wicked to gamble Cynthia was wicked. If it is wicked to lie Cynthia was wicked. If the money that comes out of Wall Street belonged originally to widows and orphans, why, that is the kind of money which she amassed for her own selfish purposes. Worst of all, on learning from Jarrocks that the Rainbow's Foot—where the pot of gold is—was almost in sight, this bad, wicked girl's sensations were those of unmixed triumph and delight!
The panic of nineteen-seven is history now. Plenty of people who lost their money during those exciting months can explain to you how any fool, with the least luck, could have made buckets of it instead.
As a snowball rolling down a hill of damp snow swells to gigantic proportions, so Cynthia's five hundred dollars descended the long slopes of nineteen-seven, doubling itself at almost every turn. And when, at last, values had so shrunk that it looked to Jarrocks as if they could not shrink any more, he told her that her account—which stood in the name of G. G.'s mother—was worth nearly four hundred thousand dollars. "And I think," he said, "that, if you now buy stocks outright and hold them as investments, your money will double again."
So they put their heads together and Cynthia bought some Union Pacific at par and some Steel Common in the careless twenties, and other standard securities that were begging, almost with tears in their eyes, to be bought and cared for by somebody. She had the certificates of what she bought made out in the name of G. G.'s mother. And she went up-town and found G. G.'s mother alone, and said:
"Oh, my dear! If anybody ever finds out you will catch it!"
G. G.'s mother knew there was a joke of some kind preparing at her expense, but she couldn't help looking a little puzzled and anxious.
"It's bad enough to do what you have done," continued Cynthia; "but on top of it to be going to lie up and down—that does seem a little too awful!"
"What are you going to tell me?" cried G. G.'s mother. "I know you've got some good news up your sleeve!"
"Gambler!" cried Cynthia—"cold-blooded, reckless Wall Street speculator!" And the laughter that was pent up in her face burst its bonds, accompanied by hugs and kisses.
"Now listen!" said Cynthia, as soon as she could. "On such and such a day, you took five hundred dollars to a Wall Street broker named Jarrocks Bell—you thought that conditions were right for turning into a Bear. You went short of the market. You kept it up for weeks and months. Do you know what you did? You pyramided on the way down!"
"Mercy!" exclaimed G. G.'s mother, her eyes shining with wonder and excitement.
"First thing you knew," continued Cynthia, "you were worth four hundred thousand dollars!"
G. G.'s mother gave a little scream, as if she had seen a mouse.
"And you invested it," went on Cynthia, relenting, "so that now you stand to double your capital; and your annual income is between thirty and forty thousand dollars!"
After this Cynthia really did some explaining, until G. G.'s mother really understood what had really happened. It must be recorded that, at first, she was completely flabbergasted.
"And you've gone and put it in my name!" she said. "But why?"
"Don't you see," said Cynthia, "that if I came offering money to G. G. and G. G.'s father they wouldn't even sniff at it? But if you've got it—why, they've just got to share with you. Isn't that so?"
"Y-e-e-s," admitted G. G.'s mother; "but, my dear, I can't take it. Even if I could, they would want to know where I'd gotten it and I'd have nothing to say."
"Not if you're the one woman in a million that I think you are," said Cynthia. "Tell me, isn't your husband at his wit's end to think how to meet the bills for his illness and all and all? And wouldn't you raise your finger to bring all his miserable worries to an end? Just look at the matter from a business point of view! You must tell your husband and G. G. that what has really happened to me happened to you; that you were desperate; that you took the five hundred dollars to speculate with, and that this is the result."
"But that wouldn't be true," said G. G.'s mother.
"For mercy's sake," said Cynthia, "what has the truth got to do with it! This isn't a matter of religion or martyrdom; it's a matter of business! How to put an end to my husband's troubles and to enable my son to marry the girl he loves?—that's your problem; and the solution is—lie! Whom can the money come from if not from you? Not from me certainly. You must lie! You'd better begin in the dark, where your husband can't see your face—because I'm afraid you don't know how very well. But after a time it will get easy; and when you've told him the story two or three times—with details—you'll end by believing it yourself.... And, of course," she added, "you must make over half of the securities to G. G., so that he will have enough money to support a wife."
For two hours Cynthia wrestled with G. G.'s mother's conscience; but, when at last the struggling creature was thrown, the two women literally took it by the hair and dragged it around the room and beat it until it was deaf, dumb, and blind.
And when G. G.'s father came home G. G.'s mother met him in the hall that was darkish, and hid her face against his—and lied to him! And as she lied the years began to fall from the shoulders of G. G.'s father—to the number of ten.
Cynthia was also met in a front hall—but by her father.
"I've been looking for you, Cynthia," he said gravely. "I want to talk to you and get your advice—no; the library is full of smoke—come in here."
He led her into the drawing-room, which neither of them could remember ever having sat in before.
"I've been talking with a young gentleman," said her father without further preliminaries, "who made himself immensely interesting to me. To begin with, I never saw a handsomer, more engaging specimen of young manhood; and, in the second place, he is the author of some stories that I have enjoyed in the past year more than any one's except O. Henry's. He doesn't write over his own name—but that's neither here nor there.
"He came to me for advice. Why he selected me, a total stranger, will appear presently. His family isn't well off; and, though he expects to succeed in literature—and there's no doubt of it in my mind—he feels that he ought to give it up and go into something in which the financial prospects are brighter. I suggested a rich wife, but that seemed to hurt his feelings. He said it would be bad enough to marry a girl that had more than he had; but to marry a rich girl, when he had only the few hundreds a year that he can make writing stories, was an intolerable thought. And that's all the more creditable to him because, from what I can gather, he is desperately in love—and the girl is potentially rich."
"But," said Cynthia, "what have I to do with all this?"
Her father laughed. "This young fellow didn't come to me of his own accord. I sent for him. And I must tell you that, contrary to my expectations, I was charmed with him. If I had had a son I should wish him to be just like this youngster."
Cynthia was very much puzzled.
"He writes stories?" she said.
"Bully stories! But he takes so much pains that his output is small."
"Well," said she, "what did you tell him?"
"I told him to wait."
"That's conservative advice."
"As a small boy," said her father, "he was very delicate; but now he's as sound as a bell and he looks as strong as an elk."
Cynthia rose to her feet, trembling slightly.
"What was the matter with him—when he was delicate?"
She became as it were taller—and vivid with beauty.
"Where is he?"
"In the library."
Cynthia put her hands on her father's shoulders.
"It's all right," she said; "his family has come into quite a lot of money. He doesn't know it yet. They're going to give him enough to marry on. You still think he ought to marry—don't you?"
Cynthia flew out of the room, across the hall, and into the library.
The animals went in two by two. Hurrah! Hurrah!
Given Bower for a last name, the boys are bound to call you "Right" or "Left." They called me "Right" because I usually held it, one way or another. I was shot with luck. No matter what happened, it always worked out to my advantage. All inside of six months, for instance, the mate fell overboard and I got his job; the skipper got drunk after weathering a cyclone and ran the old Boldero aground in "lily-pad" weather—and I got his. Then the owner called me in and said: "Captain Bower, what do you know about Noah's Ark?" And I said: "Only that 'the animals went in two by two. Hurrah! Hurrah!'" And the owner said: "But how did he feed 'em—specially the meat-eaters?" And I said: "He got hold of a Hindu who had his arm torn off by a black panther and who now looks after the same at the Calcutta Zoo—and he put it up to him."