WORKS OF ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Cardigan A King and a Few Dukes The Maid-at-Arms The Conspirators The Reckoning The Cambric Mask Lorraine The Haunts of Men Maids of Paradise Outsiders Ashes of Empire A Young Man in a Hurry The Red Republic In Search of the Unknown The King in Yellow In the Quarter The Maker of Moons The Mystery of Choice Iole
Outdoor-Land River-Land Orchard-Land Forest-Land
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
D. APPLETON & CO. New York MDCCCCV
Copyright, 1905, by
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Published May, 1905
GEORGE HORACE LORIMER
Does anybody remember the opera of The Inca, and that heartbreaking episode where the Court Undertaker, in a morbid desire to increase his professional skill, deliberately accomplishes the destruction of his middle-aged relatives in order to inter them for the sake of practise?
If I recollect, his dismal confession runs something like this:
"It was in a bleak November When I slew them, I remember, As I caught them unawares Drinking tea in rocking-chairs."
And so he talked them to death, the subject being "What Really is Art?" Afterward he was sorry—
"The squeak of a door, The creak of the floor, My horrors and fears enhance; And I wake with a scream As I hear in my dream The shrieks of my maiden aunts!"
Now it is a very dreadful thing to suggest that those highly respectable pseudo-spinsters, the Sister Arts, supposedly cozily immune in their polygamous chastity (for every suitor for favor is popularly expected to be wedded to his particular art)—I repeat, it is very dreadful to suggest that these impeccable old ladies are in danger of being talked to death.
But the talkers are talking and Art Nouveau rockers are rocking, and the trousers of the prophet are patched with stained glass, and it is a day of dinkiness and of thumbs.
Let us find comfort in the ancient proverb: "Art talked to death shall rise again." Let us also recollect that "Dinky is as dinky does"; that "All is not Shaw that Bernards"; that "Better Yeates than Clever"; that words are so inexpensive that there is no moral crime in robbing Henry to pay James.
Firmly believing all this, abjuring all atom-pickers, slab furniture, and woodchuck literature—save only the immortal verse:
"And there the wooden-chuck doth tread; While from the oak trees' tops The red, red squirrel on thy head The frequent acorn drops."
Abjuring, as I say, dinkiness in all its forms, we may still hope that those cleanly and respectable spinsters, the Sister Arts, will continue throughout the ages, rocking and drinking tea unterrified by the million-tongued clamor in the back yard and below stairs, where thumb and forefinger continue the question demanded by intellectual exhaustion: "L'arr! Kesker say l'arr?"
PAGE I 1 II 12 III 21 IV 32 V 41 VI 48 VII 52 VIII 62 IX 73 X 85 XI 92 XII 100 XIII 104 XIV 111 XV 119 XVI 133 XVII 138
"The little things," he continued, delicately perforating the atmosphere as though selecting a diatom. Frontispiece From a drawing by J. C. Leyendecker.
"Simplicity," breathed Guilford—"a single blossom against a background of nothing at all" 22 From a drawing by J. C. Leyendecker.
He paused; his six tall and blooming daughters, two and two behind him 54 From a drawing by Karl Anderson.
Aphrodite's slender fingers, barely resting on the harp-strings, suddenly contracted in a nervous tremor 106 From a drawing by Karl Anderson.
Decorative drawings by Arthur C. Becker.
"I ain't never knowed no one like him," continued the station-agent reflectively. "He made us all look like monkeys, but he was good to us. Ever see a ginuine poet, sir?"
"Years ago one was pointed out to me," replied Briggs.
"Was yours smooth shaved, with large, fat, white fingers?" inquired the station-agent.
"If I remember correctly, he was thin," said Briggs, sitting down on his suit-case and gazing apprehensively around at the landscape. There was nothing to see but low, forbidding mountains, and forests, and a railroad track curving into a tunnel.
The station-agent shoved his hairy hands into the pockets of his overalls, jingled an unseen bunch of keys, and chewed a dry grass stem, ruminating the while in an undertone:
"This poet come here five years ago with all them kids, an' the fust thing he done was to dress up his girls in boys' pants. Then he went an' built a humpy sort o' house out of stones and boulders. Then he went to work an' wrote pieces for the papers about jay-birds an' woodchucks an' goddesses. He claimed the woods was full of goddesses. That was his way, sir."
The agent contemplated the railroad track, running his eye along the perspective of polished rails:
"Yes, sir; his name was—and is—Clarence Guilford, an' I fust seen it signed to a piece in the Uticy Star. An' next I knowed, folks began to stop off here inquirin' for Mr. Guilford. 'Is this here where Guilford, the poet, lives?' sez they; an' they come thicker an' thicker in warm weather. There wasn't no wagon to take 'em up to Guilford's, but they didn't care, an' they called it a lit'r'y shrine, an' they hit the pike, women, children, men—'speshil the women, an' I heard 'em tellin' how Guilford dressed his kids in pants an' how Guilford was a famous new lit'r'y poet, an' they said he was fixin' to lecture in Uticy."
The agent gnawed off the chewed portion of the grass stem, readjusted it, and fixed his eyes on vacancy.
"Three year this went on. Mr. Guilford was makin' his pile, I guess. He set up a shop an' hired art bookbinders from York. Then he set up another shop an' hired some of us 'round here to go an' make them big, slabby art-chairs. All his shops was called "At the sign of" somethin' 'r other. Bales of vellum arrived for to bind little dinky books; art rocking-chairs was shipped out o' here by the carload. Meanwhile Guilford he done poetry on the side an' run a magazine; an' hearin' the boys was makin' big money up in that crank community, an' that the town was boomin', I was plum fool enough to drop my job here an' be a art-worker up to Rose-Cross—that's where the shops was; 'bout three mile back of his house into the woods."
The agent removed his hands from his overalls and folded his arms grimly.
"Well?" inquired Briggs, looking up from his perch on the suit-case.
"Well, sir," continued the agent, "the hull thing bust. I guess the public kinder sickened o' them art-rockers an' dinky books without much printin' into them. Guilford he stuck to it noble, but the shops closed one by one. My wages wasn't paid for three months; the boys that remained got together that autumn an' fixed it up to quit in a bunch.
"The poet was sad; he come out to the shops an' he says, 'Boys,' sez he, 'art is long an' life is dam brief. I ain't got the cash, but,' sez he, 'you can levy onto them art-rockers an' the dinky vellum books in stock, an',' sez he, 'you can take the hand-presses an' the tools an' bales o' vellum, which is very precious, an' all the wagons an' hosses, an' go sell 'em in that proud world that refuses to receive my message. The woodland fellowship is rent,' sez he, wavin' his plump fingers at us with the rings sparklin' on 'em.
"Then the boys looked glum, an' they nudged me an' kinder shoved me front. So, bein' elected, I sez, 'Friend,' sez I, 'art is on the bum. It ain't your fault; the boys is sad an' sorrerful, but they ain't never knocked you to nobody, Mr. Guilford. You was good to us; you done your damdest. You made up pieces for the magazines an' papers an' you advertised how we was all cranks together here at Rose-Cross, a-lovin' Nature an' dicky-birds, an' wanderin' about half nood for art's sake.
"'Mr. Guilford,' sez I, 'that gilt brick went. But it has went as far as it can travel an' is now reposin' into the soup. Git wise or eat hay, sir. Art is on the blink.'"
The agent jingled his keys with a melancholy wink at Briggs.
"So I come back here, an' thankful to hold down this job. An' five mile up the pike is that there noble poet an' his kids a-makin' up pieces for to sell to the papers, an' a sorrerin' over the cold world what refuses to buy his poems—an' a mortgage onto his house an' a threat to foreclose."
"Indeed," said Briggs dreamily, for it was his business to attend to the foreclosure of the mortgage on the poet's house.
"Was you fixin' to go up an' see the place?" inquired the agent.
"Shall I be obliged to walk?"
"I guess you will if you can't flutter," replied the agent. "I ain't got no wagon an' no horse."
"How far is it?"
"Five mile, sir."
With a groan Mr. Briggs arose, lifted his suit-case, and, walking to the platform's edge, cast an agitated glance up the dusty road.
Then he turned around and examined the single building in sight—station, water-tower, post-office and telegraph-office all in one, and incidentally the abode of the station-agent, whose duties included that of postmaster and operator.
"I'll write a letter first," said Briggs. And this is what he wrote:
ROSE-CROSS P.O., June 25, 1904.
DEAR WAYNE: Do you remember that tract of land, adjoining your preserve, which you attempted to buy four years ago? It was held by a crank community, and they refused to sell, and made trouble for your patrols by dumping dye-stuffs and sawdust into the Ashton Creek.
Well, the community has broken up, the shops are in ruins, and there is nobody there now except that bankrupt poet, Guilford. I bought the mortgage for you, foreseeing a slump in that sort of art, and I expect to begin foreclosure proceedings and buy in the tract, which, as you will recollect, includes some fine game cover and the Ashton stream, where you wanted to establish a hatchery. This is a God-forsaken spot. I'm on my way to the poet's now. Shall I begin foreclosure proceedings and fire him? Wire me what to do.
Wayne received this letter two days later. Preoccupied as he was in fitting out his yacht for commission, he wired briefly, "Fire poet," and dismissed the matter from his mind.
The next day, grappling with the problem of Japanese stewards and the decadence of all sailormen, he received a telegram from Briggs:
"Can't you manage to come up here?"
Irritated, he telegraphed back:
"Impossible. Why don't you arrange to fire poet?" And Briggs replied: "Can't fire poet. There are extenuating circumstances."
"Did you say exterminating or extenuating?" wired Wayne. "I said extenuating," replied Briggs.
Then the following telegrams were exchanged in order:
What are the extenuating circumstances?
Eight innocent children. Come up at once.
Boat in commission. Can't go. Why don't you fix things?
(Dated NEW LONDON.)
What on earth is the matter with you? Are you going to fix things and join me at Bar Harbor or are you not?
As I don't know how you want me to fix things, I can not join you.
(Dated PORTLAND, MAINE.)
Stuyvesant Briggs, what the devil is the matter with you? It's absolutely necessary that I have the Ashton stream for a hatchery, and you know it. What sort of a business man are you, anyhow? Of course I don't propose to treat that poet inhumanly. Arrange to bid in the tract, run up the price against your own bidding, and let the poet have a few thousand if he is hard put. Don't worry me any more; I'm busy with a fool crew, and you are spoiling my cruise by not joining me.
He won't do it.
Who won't do what?
Poet refuses to discuss the matter.
Fire that poet. You've spoiled my cruise with your telegrams.
Look here, George Wayne, don't drive me to desperation. You ought to come up and face the situation yourself. I can't fire a poet with eight helpless children, can I? And while I'm about it, let me inform you that every time you telegraph me it costs me five dollars for a carrier to bring the despatch over from the station; and every time I telegraph you I am obliged to walk five miles to send it and five miles back again. I'm mad all through, and my shoes are worn out, and I'm tired. Besides, I'm too busy to telegraph.
Do you expect me to stop my cruise and travel up to that hole on account of eight extenuating kids?
Are you mad?
Thoroughly. And extremely busy.
For the last time, Stuyve Briggs, are you going to bounce one defaulting poet and progeny, arrange to have survey and warnings posted, order timber and troughs for hatchery, engage extra patrol—or are you not?
(Received a day later by Mr. Wayne.)
Are you coming?
I'm coming to punch your head.
When George Wayne arrived at Rose-Cross station, seaburnt, angry, and in excellent athletic condition, Briggs locked himself in the waiting-room and attempted to calm the newcomer from the window.
"If you're going to pitch into me, George," he said, "I'm hanged if I come out, and you can go to Guilford's alone."
"Come out of there," said Wayne dangerously.
"It isn't because I'm afraid of you," explained Briggs, "but it's merely that I don't choose to present either you or myself to a lot of pretty girls with the marks of conflict all over our eyes and noses."
At the words "pretty girls" Wayne's battle-set features relaxed. He motioned to the Pullman porter to deposit his luggage on the empty platform; the melancholy bell-notes of the locomotive sounded, the train moved slowly forward.
"Pretty girls?" he repeated in a softer voice. "Where are they staying? Of course, under the circumstances a personal encounter is superfluous. Where are they staying?"
"At Guilford's. I told you so in my telegrams, didn't I?"
"No, you didn't. You spoke only of a poet and his eight helpless children."
"Well, those girls are the eight children," retorted Briggs sullenly, emerging from the station.
"Do you mean to tell me——"
"Yes, I do. They're his children, aren't they—even if they are girls, and pretty." He offered a mollifying hand; Wayne took it, shook it uncertainly, and fell into step beside his friend. "Eight pretty girls," he repeated under his breath. "What did you do, Stuyve?"
"What was I to do?" inquired Briggs, nervously worrying his short blond mustache. "When I arrived here I had made up my mind to fire the poet and arrange for the hatchery and patrol. The farther I walked through the dust of this accursed road, lugging my suit-case as you are doing now, the surer I was that I'd get rid of the poet without mercy. But——"
"Well?" inquired Wayne, astonished.
"But when I'd trudged some five miles up the stifling road I suddenly emerged into a wonderful mountain meadow. I tell you, George, it looked fresh and sweet as Heaven after that dusty, parching tramp—a mountain meadow deep with mint and juicy green grasses, and all cut up by little rushing streams as cold as ice. There were a lot of girls in pink sunbonnets picking wild strawberries in the middle distance," he added thoughtfully. "It was picturesque, wasn't it? Come, now, George, wouldn't that give you pause?—eight girls in pink pajamas——"
"And sunbonnets—a sort of dress reform of the poet's."
"Well?" inquired Wayne coldly.
"And there was the 'house beautiful,' mercifully screened by woods," continued Briggs. "He calls it the house beautiful, you know."
"Why not the beautiful house?" asked Wayne, still more coldly.
"Oh, he gets everything upside down. Guilford is harmless, you'll see." He began to whistle Fatinitza softly. There was a silence; then Wayne said:
"You interrupted your narrative."
"Where was I?"
"In the foreground with eight pink pajamas in the middle distance."
"Oh, yes. So there I was, travel-worn, thirsty, weary, uncertain——"
"Cut it," observed Wayne.
"And a stranger," continued Briggs with dignity, "in a strange country——"
"Peculiarity of strangers."
Briggs took no notice. "I drank from the cool springs; I lingered to pluck a delicious berry or two, I bathed my hot face, I——"
"Where," demanded Wayne, "were the eight pink 'uns?"
"Still in the middle distance. Don't interrupt me, George; I'm slowly drawing closer to them."
"Well, get a move on," retorted Wayne sulkily.
"I'm quite close to them now," explained Briggs; "close enough to remove my hat and smile and inquire the way to Guilford's. One superb young creature, with creamy skin and very red lips——"
Wayne halted and set down his suit-case.
"I'm not romancing; you'll see," said Briggs earnestly. "As I was saying, this young goddess looked at me in the sweetest way and said that Guilford was her father. And, Wayne, do you know what she did? She—er—came straight up to me and took hold of my hand, and led me up the path toward the high-art house, which is built of cobblestones! Think! Built of cobble——"
"Took you by the hand?" repeated Wayne incredulously.
"Oh, it was all right, George! I found out all about that sort of innocent thing later."
"Certainly. These girls have been brought up like so many guileless speckled fawns out here in the backwoods. You know all about Guilford, the poet who's dead stuck on Nature and simplicity. Well, that's the man and that's his pose. He hasn't any money, and he won't work. His daughters raise vegetables, and he makes 'em wear bloomers, and he writes about chippy-birds and the house beautiful, and tells people to be natural, and wishes that everybody could go around without clothes and pick daisies——"
"Do they?" demanded Wayne in an awful voice. "You said they wore bloomers. Did you say that to break the news more gently? Did you!"
"Of course they are clothed," explained his friend querulously; "though sometimes they wade about without shoes and stockings and do the nymph business. And, George, it's astonishing how modest that sort of dress is. And it's amazing how much they know. Why, they can talk Greek—talk it, mind you. Every one of them can speak half a dozen languages—Guilford is a corker on culture, you know—and they can play harps and pianos and things, and give me thirty at tennis, even Chlorippe, the twelve-year-old——"
"Is that her name?" asked Wayne.
"Chlorippe? Yes. That bat-headed poet named all his children after butterflies. Let's see," he continued, telling off the names on his fingers; "there's Chlorippe, twelve; Philodice, thirteen; Dione, fourteen; Aphrodite, fifteen; Cybele, sixteen; Lissa, seventeen; Iole, eighteen, and Vanessa, nineteen. And, Wayne, never have the Elysian fields contained such a bunch of wholesome beauty as that mountain meadow contains all day long."
Wayne, trudging along, suit-case firmly gripped, turned a pair of suspicious eyes upon his friend.
"Of course," observed Briggs candidly, "I simply couldn't foreclose on the father of such children, could I? Besides, he won't let me discuss the subject."
"I'll investigate the matter personally," said Wayne.
"Nowhere to lay their heads! Think of it, George. And all because a turtle-fed, claret-flushed, idle and rich young man wants their earthly Paradise for a fish-hatchery. Think of it! A pampered, turtle-fed——"
"You've said that before," snapped Wayne. "If you were half decent you'd help me with this suit-case. Whew! It's hot as Yonkers on this cattle-trail you call a road. How near are we to Guilford's?"
An hour later Briggs said: "By the way, George, what are you going to do about the matter?"
Wayne, flushed, dusty, perspiring, scowled at him.
"I don't know; how can I know until I see Guilford?"
"But you need the hatchery——"
"I know it."
"But he won't let you discuss it——"
"If," said Wayne angrily, "you had spent half the time talking business with the poet that you spent picking strawberries with his helpless children I should not now be lugging this suit-case up this mountain. Decency requires few observations from you just now."
"Pooh!" said Briggs. "Wait till you see Iole."
"Why Iole? Why not Vanessa?"
"Don't—that's all," retorted Briggs, reddening.
Wayne plumped his valise down in the dust, mopped his brow, folded his arms, and regarded Briggs between the eyes.
"You have the infernal cheek, after getting me up here, to intimate that you have taken the pick?"
"I do," replied Briggs firmly. The two young fellows faced each other.
"By the way," observed Briggs casually, "the stock they come from is as good if not better than ours. This is a straight game."
"Do you mean to say that you—you are—seriously——"
"Something like it. There! Now you know."
"For Heaven's sake, Stuyve——"
"Yes, for Heaven's sake and in Heaven's name don't get any wrong ideas into your vicious head."
"I tell you," said Briggs, "that I was never closer to falling in love than I am to-day. And I've been here just two weeks."
"Amen," muttered Briggs. "Here, give me your carpet-bag, you brute. We're on the edge of Paradise."
"Before we discuss my financial difficulties," said the poet, lifting his plump white hand and waving it in unctuous waves about the veranda, "let me show you our home, Mr. Wayne. May I?"
"Certainly," said Wayne politely, following Guilford into the house.
They entered a hall; there was absolutely nothing in the hall except a small table on which reposed a single daisy in a glass of water.
"Simplicity," breathed Guilford—"a single blossom against a background of nothing at all. You follow me, Mr. Wayne?"
The poet smiled a large, tender smile, and, with inverted thumb, executed a gesture as though making several spots in the air.
"The concentration of composition," he explained; "the elimination of complexity; the isolation of the concrete in the center of the abstract; something in the midst of nothing. It is a very precious thought, Mr. Wayne."
"Certainly," muttered Wayne; and they moved on.
"This," said the poet, "is what I call my den."
Wayne, not knowing what to say, sidled around the walls. It was almost bare of furniture; what there was appeared to be of the slab variety.
"I call my house the house beautiful," murmured Guilford with his large, sweet smile. "Beauty is simplicity; beauty is unconsciousness; beauty is the child of elimination. A single fly in an empty room is beautiful to me, Mr. Wayne."
"They carry germs," muttered Wayne, but the poet did not hear him and led the way to another enormous room, bare of everything save for eight thick and very beautiful Kazak rugs on the polished floor.
"My children's bedroom," he whispered solemnly.
"You don't mean to say they sleep on those Oriental rugs!" stammered Wayne.
"They do," murmured the poet. The tender sweetness of his ample smile was overpowering—like too much bay rum after shaving. "Sparta, Mr. Wayne, Sparta! And the result? My babes are perfect, physically, spiritually. Elimination wrought the miracle; yonder they sleep, innocent as the Graces, with all the windows open, clothed in moonlight or starlight, as the astronomical conditions may be. At the break of dawn they are afield, simply clothed, free limbed, unhampered by the tawdry harness of degenerate civilization. And as they wander through the verdure," he added with rapt enthusiasm, "plucking shy blossoms, gathering simples and herbs and vegetables for our bountiful and natural repast, they sing as they go, and every tremulous thrill of melody falls like balm on a father's heart." The overpowering sweetness of his smile drugged Wayne. Presently he edged toward the door, and the poet followed, a dreamy radiance on his features as though emanating from sacred inward meditation.
They sat down on the veranda; Wayne fumbled for his cigar-case, but his unnerved fingers fell away; he dared not smoke.
"About—about that business matter," he ventured feebly; but the poet raised his plump white hand.
"You are my guest," he said graciously. "While you are my guest nothing shall intrude to cloud our happiness."
Perplexed, almost muddled, Wayne strove in vain to find a reason for the elimination of the matter that had interrupted his cruise and brought him to Rose-Cross, the maddest yachtsman on the Atlantic. Why should Guilford forbid the topic as though its discussion were painful to Wayne?
"He always gets the wrong end foremost, as Briggs said," thought the young man. "I wonder where the deuce Briggs can be? I'm no match for this bunch."
His thoughts halted; he became aware that the poet was speaking in a rich, resonant voice, and he listened in an attitude of painful politeness.
"It's the little things that are most precious," the poet was saying, and pinched the air with forefinger and thumb and pursed up his lips as though to whistle some saccharine air.
"The little things," he continued, delicately perforating the atmosphere as though selecting a diatom.
"Big things go, too," ventured Wayne.
"No," said the poet; "no—or rather they do go, in a certain sense, for every little thing is precious, and therefore little things are big!—-big with portent, big in value. Do you follow me, Mr. Wayne?"
Wayne's fascinated eyes were fixed on the poet. The latter picked out another atom from the atmosphere and held it up for Mr. Wayne's inspection; and while that young man's eyes protruded the poet rambled on and on until the melody of his voice became a ceaseless sound, a vague, sustained monotone, which seemed to bore into Wayne's brain until his legs twitched with a furious desire for flight.
When he obtained command of himself the poet was saying, "It is my hour for withdrawal. It were insincere and artificial to ask your indulgence——"
He rose to his rotund height.
"You are due to sit in your cage," stammered Wayne, comprehending.
"My den," corrected the poet, saturating the air with the sweetness of his smile.
Wayne arose. "About that business—" he began desperately; but the poet's soft, heavy hand hovered in mid-air, and Wayne sat down so suddenly that when his eyes recovered their focus the poet had disappeared.
A benumbed resentment struggled within him for adequate expression; he hitched his chair about to command a view of the meadow, then sat motionless, hypnotized by the view. Eight girls, clad in pink blouses and trousers, golden hair twisted up, decorated the landscape. Some were kneeling, filling baskets of woven, scented grasses with wild strawberries; some were wading the branches of the meadow brook, searching for trout with grass-woven nets; some picked early peas; two were playing a lightning set at tennis. And in the center of everything that was going on was Briggs, perfectly at ease, making himself agreeably at home.
The spectacle of Briggs among the Hamadryads appeared to paralyze Wayne.
Then an immense, intense resentment set every nerve in him tingling. Briggs, his friend, his confidential business adviser, his indispensable alter ego, had abandoned him to be tormented by this fat, saccharine poet—abandoned him while he, Briggs, made himself popular with eight of the most amazingly bewitching maidens mortal man might marvel on! The meanness stung Wayne till he jumped to his feet and strode out into the sunshine, menacing eyes fastened on Briggs.
"Now wouldn't that sting you!" he breathed fiercely, turning up his trousers and stepping gingerly across the brook.
Whether or not Briggs saw him coming and kept sidling away he could not determine; he did not wish to shout; he kept passing pretty girls and taking off his hat, and following Briggs about, but he never seemed to come any nearer to Briggs; Briggs always appeared in the middle distance, flitting genially from girl to girl; and presently the absurdity of his performance struck Wayne, and he sat down on the bank of the brook, too mad to think. There was a pretty girl picking strawberries near-by; he rose, took off his hat to her, and sat down again. She was one of those graceful, clean-limbed, creamy-skinned creatures described by Briggs; her hair was twisted up into a heavy, glistening knot, showing the back of a white neck; her eyes matched the sky and her lips the berries she occasionally bit into or dropped to the bottom of her woven basket.
Once or twice she looked up fearlessly at Wayne as her search for berries brought her nearer; and Wayne forgot the perfidy of Briggs in an effort to look politely amiable.
Presently she straightened up where she was kneeling in the long grass and stretched her arms. Then, still kneeling, she gazed curiously at Wayne with all the charm of a friendly wild thing unafraid.
"Shall we play tennis?" she asked.
"Certainly," said Wayne, startled.
"Come, then," she said, picking up her basket in one hand and extending the other to Wayne.
He took the fresh, cool fingers, and turned scarlet. Once his glance sneaked toward Briggs, but that young man was absorbed in fishing for brook trout with a net! Oh, ye little fishes! with a net!
Wayne's brain seemed to be swarming with glittering pink-winged thoughts all singing. He walked on air, holding tightly to the hand of his goddess, seeing nothing but a blur of green and sunshine. Then a clean-cut idea stabbed him like a stiletto: was this Vanessa or Iole? And, to his own astonishment, he asked her quite naturally.
"Iole," she said, laughing. "Why?"
"Thank goodness," he said irrationally.
"But why?" she persisted curiously.
"Briggs—Briggs—" he stammered, and got no further. Perplexed, his goddess walked on, thoughtful, pure-lidded eyes searching some reasonable interpretation for the phrase, "Briggs—Briggs." But as Wayne gave her no aid, she presently dismissed the problem, and bade him select a tennis bat.
"I do hope you play well," she said. Her hope was comparatively vain; she batted Wayne around the court, drove him wildly from corner to corner, stampeded him with volleys, lured him with lobs, and finally left him reeling dizzily about, while she came around from behind the net, saying, "It's all because you have no tennis shoes. Come; we'll rest under the trees and console ourselves with chess."
Under a group of huge silver beeches a stone chess-table was set embedded in the moss; and Iole indolently stretched herself out on one side, chin on hands, while Wayne sorted weather-beaten basalt and marble chess-men which lay in a pile under the tree.
She chatted on without the faintest trace of self-consciousness the while he arranged the pieces; then she began to move. He took a long time between each move; but no sooner did he move than, still talking, she extended her hand and shoved her piece into place without a fraction of a second's hesitation.
When she had mated him twice, and he was still gazing blankly at the mess into which she had driven his forces, she sat up sideways, gathering her slim ankles into one hand, and cast about her for something to do, eyes wandering over the sunny meadow.
"We had horses," she mused; "we rode like demons, bareback, until trouble came."
"Oh, not trouble—poverty. So our horses had to go. What shall we do—you and I?" There was something so subtly sweet, so exquisitely innocent in the coupling of the pronouns that a thrill passed completely through Wayne, and probably came out on the other side.
"I know what I'm going to do," he said, drawing a note-book and a pencil from his pocket and beginning to write, holding it so she could see.
"Do you want me to look over your shoulder?" she asked.
She did; and it affected his penmanship so that the writing grew wabbly. Still she could read:
TO SAILING MASTER, YACHT THENDARA, BAR HARBOR:
Put boat out of commission. I may be away all summer.
"How far is it to the station?" asked Wayne, turning to look into her eyes.
"Only five miles," she said. "I'll walk with you if you like. Shall I?"
"Wealth," observed the poet, waving his heavy white hand, "is a figure of speech, Mr. Wayne. Only by the process of elimination can one arrive at the exquisite simplicity of poverty—care-free poverty. Even a single penny is a burden—the flaw in the marble, the fly in the amber of perfection. Cast it away and enter Eden!" And joining thumb and forefinger, he plucked a figurative copper from the atmosphere, tossed it away, and wiped his fingers on his handkerchief.
"But—" began Wayne uneasily.
"Try it," smiled the poet, diffusing sweetness; "try it. Dismiss all thoughts of money from your mind."
"I do," said Wayne, somewhat relieved. "I thought you meant for me to chuck my securities overboard and eat herbs."
"Not in your case—no, not in your case. I can do that; I have done it. No, your sacred mission is simply to forget that you are wealthy. That is a very precious thought, Mr. Wayne—remain a Croesus and forget it! Not to eliminate your wealth, but eliminate all thought of it. Very, very precious."
"Well, I never think about things like that except at a directors' meeting," blurted out the young fellow. "Perhaps it's because I've never had to think about it."
The poet sighed so sweetly that the atmosphere seemed to drip with the saccharine injection.
"I wish," ventured Wayne, "that you would let me mention the subject of business"—the poet shook his head indulgently—"just to say that I'm not going to foreclose." He laid a packet of legal papers in the poet's hand.
"Hush," smiled Guilford, "this is not seemly in the house beautiful.... What was it you said, Mr. Wayne?"
"I? I was going to say that I just wanted—wanted to stay here—be your guest, if you'll let me," he said honestly. "I was cruising—I didn't understand—Briggs—Briggs—" He stuck.
"Yes, Briggs," softly suggested the poet, spraying the night air with more sweetness.
"Briggs has spoken to you about—about your daughter Vanessa. You see, Briggs is my closest friend; his happiness is—er—important to me. I want to see Briggs happy; that's why I want to stay here, just to see Briggs happy. I—I love Briggs. You understand me, don't you, Mr. Guilford?"
The poet breathed a dulcet breath. "Perfectly," he murmured. "The contemplation of Mr. Briggs' happiness eliminates all thoughts of self within you. By this process of elimination you arrive at happiness yourself. Ah, the thought is a very precious one, my young friend, for by elimination only can we arrive at perfection. Thank you for the thought; thank you. You have given me a very, very precious thought to cherish."
"I—I have been here a week," muttered Wayne. "I thought—perhaps—my welcome might be outworn——"
"In the house beautiful," murmured the poet, rising and waving his heavy white hand at the open door, "welcome is eternal." He folded his arms with difficulty, for he was stout, and one hand clutched the legal papers; his head sank. In profound meditation he wandered away into the shadowy house, leaving Wayne sitting on the veranda rail, eyes fixed on a white shape dimly seen moving through the moonlit meadows below. Briggs sauntered into sight presently, his arms full of flowers.
"Get me a jug of water, will you? Vanessa has been picking these and she sent me back to fix 'em. Hurry, man! She is waiting for me in the garden." Wayne gazed earnestly at his friend.
"So you have done it, have you, Stuyve?"
"Done what?" demanded Briggs, blushing.
"If you mean," he said with dignity, "that I've asked the sweetest girl on earth to marry me, I have. And I'm the happiest man on the footstool, too. Good Heaven, George," he broke out, "if you knew the meaning of love! if you could for one second catch a glimpse of the beauty of her soul! Why, man of sordid clay that I was—creature of club and claret and turtle—like you——"
"Drop it!" said Wayne somberly.
"I can't help it, George. We were beasts—and you are yet. But my base clay is transmuted, spiritualized; my soul is awake, traveling, toiling toward the upward heights where hers sits enthroned. When I think of what I was, and what you still are——"
Wayne rose exasperated:
"Do you think your soul is doing the only upward hustling?" he said hotly.
Briggs, clasping his flowers to his breast, gazed out over them at Wayne.
"You don't mean——"
"Yes, I do," said Wayne. "I may be crazy, but I know something," with which paradox he turned on his heel and walked into the moonlit meadow toward that dim, white form moving through the dusk.
"I wondered," she said, "whether you were coming," as he stepped through the long, fragrant grass to her side.
"You might have wondered if I had not come," he answered.
"Yes, that is true. This moonlight is too wonderful to miss," she added without a trace of self-consciousness.
"It was for you I came."
"Couldn't you find my sisters?" she asked innocently.
He did not reply. Presently she stumbled over a hummock, recovered her poise without comment, and slipped her hand into his with unconscious confidence.
"Do you know what I have been studying to-day?" she asked.
"That curious phycomycetous fungus that produces resting-spores by the conjugation of two similar club-shaped hyphae, and in which conidia also occur. It's fascinating."
After a silence he said:
"What would you think of me if I told you that I do not comprehend a single word of what you have just told me?"
"Don't you?" she asked, astonished.
"No," he replied, dropping her hand. She wondered, vaguely distressed; and he went on presently: "As a plain matter of fact, I don't know much. It's an astonishing discovery for me, but it's a fact that I am not your mental, physical, or spiritual equal. In sheer, brute strength perhaps I am, and I am none too certain of that, either. But, and I say it to my shame, I can not follow you; I am inferior in education, in culture, in fine instinct, in mental development. You chatter in a dozen languages to your sisters: my French appals a Paris cabman; you play any instrument I ever heard of: the guitar is my limit, the fandango my repertoire. As for alert intelligence, artistic comprehension, ability to appreciate, I can not make the running with you; I am outclassed—hopelessly. Now, if this is all true—and I have spoken the wretched truth—what can a man like me have to say for himself?"
Her head was bent, her fair face was in shadow. She strayed on a little way, then, finding herself alone, turned and looked back at him where he stood. For a moment they remained motionless, looking at one another, then, as on some sweet impulse, she came back hastily and looked into his eyes.
"I do not feel as you do," she said; "you are very—good—company. I am not all you say; I know very little. Listen. It—it distresses me to have you think I hold you—lightly. Truly we are not apart."
"There is but one thing that can join us."
"What is that?"
Her pure gaze did not falter nor her eyes droop. Curiously regarding him, she seemed immersed in the solution of the problem as he had solved it.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
"With all my soul—such as it is, with all my heart, with every thought, every instinct, every breath I draw."
She considered him with fearless eyes; the beauty of them was all he could endure.
"You love me?" she repeated.
He bent his head, incapable of speech.
"You wish me to love you?"
He looked at her, utterly unable to move his lips.
"How do you wish me to love you?"
He opened his arms; she stepped forward, close to him.
Then their lips met.
"Oh," she said faintly, "I did not know it—it was so sweet."
And as her head fell back on his arm about her neck she looked up at him full of wonder at this new knowledge he had taught her, marvelous, unsuspected, divine in its simplicity. Then the first delicate blush that ever mounted her face spread, tinting throat and forehead; she drew his face down to her own.
The poet paced the dim veranda, arms folded, head bent. But his glance was sideways and full of intelligence as it included two vague figures coming slowly back through the moon-drenched meadow.
"By elimination we arrive at perfection," he mused; "and perfection is success. There remain six more," he added irrelevantly, "but they're young yet. Patience, subtle patience—and attention to the little things." He pinched a morsel of air out of the darkness, examined it and released it.
"The little things," he repeated; "that is a very precious thought.... I believe the sea air may agree with me—now and then."
And he wandered off into his "den" and unlocked a drawer in his desk, and took out a bundle of legal papers, and tore them slowly, carefully, into very small pieces.
The double wedding at the Church of Sainte Cicindella was pretty and sufficiently fashionable to inconvenience traffic on Fifth Avenue. Partly from loyalty, partly from curiosity, the clans of Wayne and Briggs, with their offshoots and social adherents, attended; and they saw Briggs and Wayne on their best behavior, attended by Sudbury Grey and Winsted Forest; and they saw two bridal visions of loveliness, attended by six additional sister visions as bridesmaids; and they saw the poet, agitated with the holy emotions of a father, now almost unmanned, now rallying, spraying the hushed air with sweetness. They saw clergymen and a bishop, and the splendor of stained glass through which ushers tiptoed. And they heard the subdued rustling of skirts and the silken stir, and the great organ breathing over Eden, and a single artistically-modulated sob from the poet. A good many other things they heard and saw, especially those of the two clans who were bidden to the breakfast at Wayne's big and splendid house on the southwest corner of Seventy-ninth Street and Madison Avenue.
For here they were piped to breakfast by the boatswain of Wayne's big seagoing yacht, the Thendara—on which brides and grooms were presently to embark for Cairo via the Azores—and speeches were said and tears shed into goblets glimmering with vintages worth prayerful consideration.
And in due time two broughams, drawn by dancing horses, with the azure ribbons aflutter from the head-stalls, bore away two very beautiful and excited brides and two determined, but entirely rattled, grooms. And after that several relays of parents fraternized with the poet and six daughters, and the clans of Briggs and of Wayne said a number of agreeable things to anybody who cared to listen; and as everybody did listen, there was a great deal of talk—more talk in a minute than the sisters of Iole had heard in all their several limited and innocently natural existences. So it confused them, not with its quality, but its profusion; and the champagne made their cheeks feel as though the soft peachy skin fitted too tight, and a number of persistent musical instruments were being tuned in their little ears; and, not yet thoroughly habituated to any garments except pink sunbonnets and pajamas, their straight fronts felt too tight, and the tops of their stockings pulled, and they balanced badly on their high heels, and Aphrodite and Cybele, being too snugly laced, retired to rid themselves of their first corsets.
The remaining four, Lissa, now eighteen; Dione, fifteen; Philodice, fourteen, and Chlorippe, thirteen, found the missing Pleiads in the great library, joyously donning their rose-silk lounging pajamas, while two parlor maids brought ices from the wrecked feast below.
So they, too, flung from them crinkling silk and diaphanous lace, high-heel shoon and the delicate body-harness never fashioned for free-limbed dryads of the Rose-Cross wilds; and they kept the electric signals going for ices and fruits and pitchers brimming with clear cold water; and they sat there in a circle like a thicket of fluttering pale-pink roses, until below the last guest had sped out into the unknown wastes of Gotham, and the poet's heavy step was on the stair.
The poet was agitated—and like a humble bicolored quadruped of the Rose-Cross wilds, which, when agitated, sprays the air—so the poet, laboring obesely under his emotion, smiled with a sweetness so intolerable that the air seemed to be squirted full of saccharinity to the point of plethoric saturation.
"My lambs," he murmured, fat hands clasped and dropped before him as straight as his rounded abdomen would permit; "my babes!"
"Do you think," suggested Aphrodite, busy with her ice, "that we are going to enjoy this winter in Mr. Wayne's house?"
"Enjoyment," breathed the poet in an overwhelming gush of sweetness, "is not in houses; it is in one's soul. What is wealth? Everything! Therefore it is of no value. What is poverty? Nothing! And, as it is the little things that are the most precious, so nothing, which is less than the very least, is precious beyond price. Thank you for listening; thank you for understanding. Bless you."
And he wandered away, almost asphyxiated with his emotions.
"I mean to have a gay winter—if I can ever get used to being laced in and pulled over by those dreadful garters," observed Aphrodite, stretching her smooth young limbs in comfort.
"I suppose there would be trouble if we wore our country clothes on Broadway, wouldn't there?" asked Lissa wistfully.
Chlorippe, aged thirteen, kicked off her sandals and stretched her pretty snowy feet: "They were never in the world made to fit into high-heeled shoes," she declared pensively, widening her little rosy toes.
"But we might as well get used to all these things," sighed Philodice, rolling over among the cushions, a bunch of hothouse grapes suspended above her pink mouth. She ate one, looked at Dione, and yawned.
"I'm going to practise wearing 'em an hour a day," said Aphrodite, "because I mean to go to the theater. It's worth the effort. Besides, if we just sit here in the house all day asking each other Greek riddles, we will never see anybody until Iole and Vanessa come back from their honeymoon and give teas and dinners for all sorts of interesting young men."
"Oh, the attractive young men I have seen in these few days in New York!" exclaimed Lissa. "Would you believe it, the first day I walked out with George Wayne and Iole, I was perfectly bewildered and enchanted to see so many delightful-looking men. And by and by Iole missed me, and George came back and found me standing entranced on the corner of Fifth Avenue; and I said, "Please don't disturb me, George, because I am only standing here to enjoy the sight of so many agreeable-looking men." But he acted so queerly about it." She ended with a little sigh. "However, I love George, of course, even if he does bore me. I wonder where they are now—the bridal pairs?"
"I wonder," mused Philodice, "whether they have any children by this time?"
"Not yet," explained Aphrodite. "But they'll probably have some when they return. I understand it takes a good many weeks—to——"
"To find new children," nodded Chlorippe confidently. "I suppose they've hidden the cunning little things somewhere on the yacht, and it's like hunt the thimble and lots and lots of fun." And she distributed six oranges.
Lissa was not so certain of that, but, discussing the idea with Cybele, and arriving at no conclusion, devoted herself to the large juicy orange with more satisfaction, conscious that the winter's outlook was bright for them all and full of the charming mystery of anticipations so glittering yet so general that she could form not even the haziest ideas of their wonderful promise. And so, sucking the sunlit pulp of their oranges, they were content to live, dream, and await fulfilment under the full favor of a Heaven which had never yet sent them aught but happiness beneath the sun.
Neither Lethbridge nor Harrow—lately exceedingly important undergraduates at Harvard and now twin nobodies in the employment of the great Occidental Fidelity and Trust Company—neither of these young men, I say, had any particular business at the New Arts Theater that afternoon.
For the play was Barnard Haw's Attitudes, the performance was private and intensely intellectual, the admission by invitation only, and between the acts there was supposed to be a general causerie among the gifted individuals of the audience.
Why Stanley West, president of the Occidental Trust, should have presented to his two young kinsmen the tickets inscribed with his own name was a problem, unless everybody else, including the elevator boys, had politely declined the offer.
"That's probably the case," observed Lethbridge. "Do we go?"
"Art," said Harrow, "will be on the loose among that audience. And if anybody can speak to anybody there, we'll get spoken to just as if we were sitting for company, and first we know somebody will ask us what Art really is."
"I'd like to see a place full of atmosphere," suggested Lethbridge. "I've seen almost everything—the Cafe Jaune, and Chinatown, and—you remember that joint at Tangier? But I've never seen atmosphere. I don't care how thin it is; I just want to say that I've seen it when the next girl throws it all over me." And as Harrow remained timid, he added: "We won't have to climb across the footlights and steal a curl from the author, because he's already being sheared in England. There's nothing to scare you."
Normally, however, they were intensely afraid of Art except at their barbers', and they had heard, in various ways as vague as Broad Street rumors, something concerning these gatherings of the elect at the New Arts Theater on Saturday afternoons, where unselfish reformers produced plays for Art's sake as a rebuke to managers who declined to produce that sort of play for anybody's sake.
"I'll bet," said Harrow, "that some thrifty genius sent Stanley West those tickets in a desperate endeavor to amalgamate the aristocracies of wealth and intellect!—as though you could shake 'em up as you shake a cocktail! As though you'd catch your Uncle Stanley wearing his richest Burgundy flush, sitting in the orchestra and talking Arr Noovo to a young thing with cheek-bones who'd pinch him into a cocked hat for a contribution between the acts!"
"Still," said Lethbridge, "even Art requires a wad to pay its license. Isn't West the foxy Freddie! Do you suppose, if we go, they'll sting us for ten?"
"They'll probably take up a collection for the professor," said Harrow gloomily. "Better come to the club and give the tickets to the janitor."
"Oh, that's putting it all over Art! If anybody with earnest eyes tries to speak to us we can call a policeman."
"Well," said Harrow, "on your promise to keep your mouth shut I'll go with you. If you open it they'll discover you're an appraiser and I'm a broker, and then they'll think we're wealthy, because there'd be no other reason for our being there, and they'll touch us both for a brace of come-ons, and——"
"Perhaps," interrupted the other, "we'll be fortunate enough to sit next to a peach! And as it's the proper thing there to talk to your neighbor, the prospect—er—needn't jar you."
There was a silence as they walked up-town, which lasted until they entered their lodgings. And by that time they had concluded to go.
So they went, having nothing better on hand, and at two o'clock they sidled into the squatty little theater, shyly sought their reserved seats and sat very still, abashed in the presence of the massed intellects of Manhattan.
When Clarence Guilford, the Poet of Simplicity, followed by six healthy, vigorous young daughters, entered the middle aisle of the New Arts Theater, a number of people whispered in reverent recognition: "Guilford, the poet! Those are his daughters. They wear nothing but pink pajamas at home. Sh-sh-h-h!"
Perhaps the poet heard, for he heard a great deal when absent-minded. He paused; his six tall and blooming daughters, two and two behind him, very naturally paused also, because the poet was bulky and the aisle narrow.
Those of the elect who had recognized him had now an opportunity to view him at close range; young women with expressive eyes leaned forward, quivering; several earnest young men put up lorgnettes.
It was as it should have been; and the poet stood motionless in dreamy abstraction, until an usher took his coupons and turned down seven seats. Then the six daughters filed in, and the poet, slowly turning to survey the house, started slightly, as though surprised to find himself under public scrutiny, passed a large, plump hand over his forehead, and slowly subsided into the aisle-seat with a smile of whimsical acquiescence in the knowledge of his own greatness.
"Who," inquired young Harrow, turning toward Lethbridge—"who is that duck?"
"You can search me," replied Lethbridge in a low voice, "but for Heaven's sake look at those girls! Is it right to bunch such beauty and turn down Senators from Utah?"
Harrow's dazzled eyes wandered over the six golden heads and snowy necks, lovely as six wholesome young goddesses fresh from a bath in the Hellespont.
"The—the one next to the one beside you," whispered Lethbridge, edging around. "I want to run away with her. Would you mind getting me a hansom?"
"The one next to me has them all pinched to death," breathed Harrow unsteadily. "Look!—when she isn't looking. Did you ever see such eyes and mouth—such a superb free poise——"
"Sh-sh-h-h!" muttered Lethbridge, "the bell-mule is talking to them."
"Art," said the poet, leaning over to look along the line of fragrant, fresh young beauty, "Art is an art." With which epigram he slowly closed his eyes.
His daughters looked at him; a young woman expensively but not smartly gowned bent forward from the row behind. Her attitude was almost prayerful; her eyes burned.
"Art," continued the poet, opening his heavy lids with a large, sweet smile, "Art is above Art, but Art is never below Art. Art, to be Art, must be artless. That is a very precious thought—very, very precious. Thank you for understanding me—thank you." And he included in his large smile young Harrow, who had been unconsciously bending forward, hypnotized by the monotonous resonance of the poet's deep, rich voice.
Now that the spell was broken, he sank back in his chair, looking at Lethbridge a little wildly.
"Let me sit next—after the first act," began Lethbridge, coaxing; "they'll be watching the stage all the first act and you can look at 'em without being rude, and they'll do the same next act, and I can look at 'em, and perhaps they'll ask us what Art really is——"
"Did you hear what that man said?" interrupted Harrow, recovering his voice. "Did you?"
"Well, listen next time. And all I have to say is, if that firing-line, with its battery of innocent blue eyes, understands him, you and I had better apply to the nearest night-school for the rudiments of an education."
"Well, what did he say?" began the other uneasily, when again the poet bent forward to address the firing-line; and the lovely blue battery turned silently upon the author of their being.
"Art is the result of a complex mental attitude capable of producing concrete simplicity."
"Help!" whispered Harrow, but the poet had caught his eye, and was fixing the young man with a smile that held him as sirup holds a fly.
"You ask me what is Art, young sir? Why should I not heed you? Why should I not answer you? What artificial barriers, falsely called convention, shall force me to ignore the mute eloquence of your questioning eyes? You ask me what is Art. I will tell you; it is this!" And the poet, inverting his thumb, pressed it into the air. Then, carefully inspecting the dent he had made in the atmosphere, he erased it with a gesture and folded his arms, looking gravely at Harrow, whose fascinated eyes protruded.
Behind him Lethbridge whispered hoarsely, "I told you how it would be in the New Arts Theater. I told you a young man alone was likely to get spoken to. Now those six girls know you're a broker!"
"Don't say it so loud," muttered Harrow savagely. "I'm all right so far, for I haven't said a word."
"You'd better not," returned the other. "I wish that curtain would go up and stay up. It will be my turn to sit next them after this act, you know."
Harrow ventured to glance at the superb young creature sitting beside him, and at the same instant she looked up and, catching his eye, smiled in the most innocently friendly fashion—the direct, clear-eyed advance of a child utterly unconscious of self.
"I have never before been in a theater," she said; "have you?"
"I—I beg your pardon," stammered Harrow when he found his voice, "but were you good enough to speak to me?"
"Why, yes!" she said, surprised but amiable; "shouldn't I have spoken to you?"
"Indeed—oh, indeed you should!" said Harrow hastily, with a quick glance at the poet. The poet, however, appeared to be immersed in thought, lids partially closed, a benignant smile imprinted on his heavy features.
"What are you doing?" breathed Lethbridge in his ear. Harrow calmly turned his back on his closest friend and gazed rapturously at his goddess. And again her bewildering smile broke out and he fairly blinked in its glory.
"This is my first play," she said; "I'm a little excited. I hope I shall care for it."
"Haven't you ever seen a play?" asked Harrow, tenderly amazed.
"Never. You see, we always lived in the country, and we have always been poor until my sister Iole married. And now our father has come to live with his new son-in-law. So that is how we came to be here in New York."
"I am so glad you did come," said Harrow fervently.
"So are we. We have never before seen anything like a large city. We have never had enough money to see one. But now that Iole is married, everything is possible. It is all so interesting for us—particularly the clothing. Do you like my gown?"
"It is a dream!" stammered the infatuated youth.
"Do you think so? I think it is wonderful—but not very comfortable."
"Doesn't it fit?" he inquired.
"Perfectly; that's the trouble. It is not comfortable. We never before were permitted to wear skirts and all sorts of pretty fluffy frills under them, and such high heels, and such long stockings, and such tight lacing—" She hesitated, then calmly: "But I believe father told us that we are not to mention our pretty underwear, though it's hard not to, as it's the first we ever had."
Harrow was past all speech.
"I wish I had my lounging-suit on," she said with a sigh and a hitch of her perfectly modeled shoulders.
"W—what sort of things do you usually dress in?" he ventured.
"Why, in dress-reform clothes!" she said, laughing. "We never have worn anything else."
"I don't know; we had trousers and blouses and sandals—something like the pink pajamas we have for night-wear now. Formerly we wore nothing at night. I am beginning to wonder, from the way people look at us when we speak of this, whether we were odd. But all our lives we have never thought about clothing. However, I am glad you like my new gown, and I fancy I'll get used to this tight lacing in time.... What is your name?"
"James Harrow," he managed to say, aware of an innocence and directness of thought and speech which were awaking in him faintest responsive echoes. They were the blessed echoes from the dim, fair land of childhood, but he did not know it.
"James Harrow," she repeated with a friendly nod. "My name is Lissa—my first name; the other is Guilford. My father is the famous poet, Clarence Guilford. He named us all after butterflies—all my sisters"—counting them on her white fingers while her eyes rested on him—"Chlorippe, twelve years old, that pretty one next to my father; then Philodice, thirteen; Dione, fourteen; Aphrodite, fifteen; Cybele, the one next to me, sixteen, and almost seventeen; and myself, seventeen, almost eighteen. Besides, there is Iole, who married Mr. Wayne, and Vanessa, married to Mr. Briggs. They have been off on Mr. Wayne's yacht, the Thendara, on their wedding trip. Now you know all about us. Do you think you would like to know us?"
"Like to! I'd simply love to! I——"
"That is very nice," she said unembarrassed.
"I thought I should like you when I saw you leaning over and listening so reverently to father's epigrams. Then, besides, I had nobody but my sisters to talk to. Oh, you can't imagine how many attractive men I see every day in New York—and I should like to know them all—and many do look at me as though they would like it, too; but Mr. Wayne is so queer, and so are father and Mr. Briggs—about my speaking to people in public places. They have told me not to, but I—I—thought I would," she ended, smiling. "What harm can it do for me to talk to you?"
"It's perfectly heavenly of you——"
"Oh, do you think so? I wonder what father thinks"—turning to look; then, resuming: "He generally makes us stop, but I am quite sure he expected me to talk to you."
The lone note of a piano broke the thread of the sweetest, maddest discourse Harrow had ever listened to; the girl's cheeks flushed and she turned expectantly toward the curtained stage. Again the lone note, thumped vigorously, sounded a staccato monotone.
"Precious—very precious," breathed the poet, closing his eyes in a sort of fatty ecstasy.
Harrow looked at his program, then, leaning toward Lissa, whispered: "That is the overture to Attitudes—the program explains it: 'A series of pale gray notes'—what the deuce!—'pale gray notes giving the value of the highest light in which the play is pitched'—" He paused, aghast.
"I understand," whispered the girl, resting her lovely arm on the chair beside him. "Look! The curtain is rising! How my heart beats! Does yours?"
He nodded, unable to articulate.
The curtain rose very, very slowly, upon the first scene of Barnard Haw's masterpiece of satire; and the lovely firing-line quivered, blue batteries opening very wide, lips half parted in breathless anticipation. And about that time Harrow almost expired as a soft, impulsive hand closed nervously over his.
And there, upon the stage, the human species was delicately vivisected in one act; human frailty exposed, human motives detected, human desire quenched in all the brilliancy of perverted epigram and the scalpel analysis of the astigmatic. Life, love, and folly were portrayed with the remorseless accuracy of an eye doubly sensitive through the stimulus of an intellectual strabismus. Barnard Haw at his greatest! And how he dissected attitudes; the attitude assumed by the lover, the father, the wife, the daughter, the mother, the mistress—proving that virtue, per se, is a pose. Attitudes! How he flayed those who assumed them. His attitude toward attitudes was remorseless, uncompromising, inexorable.
And the curtain fell on the first act, its gray and silver folds swaying in the half-crazed whirlwind of applause.
Lissa's silky hand trembled in Harrow's, her grasp relaxed. He dropped his hand and, searching, encountered hers again.
"What do you think of it?" she asked.
"I don't think there's any harm in it," he stammered guiltily, supposing she meant the contact of their interlaced fingers.
"Harm? I didn't mean harm," she said. "The play is perfectly harmless, I think."
"Oh—the play! Oh, that's just that sort of play, you know. They're all alike; a lot of people go about telling each other how black white is and that white is always black—until somebody suddenly discovers that black and white are a sort of greenish red. Then the audience applauds frantically in spite of the fact that everybody in it had concluded that black and white were really a shade of yellowish yellow!"
She had begun to laugh; and as he proceeded, excited by her approval, the most adorable gaiety possessed her.
"I never heard anything half so clever!" she said, leaning toward him.
"I? Clever!" he faltered. "You—you don't really mean that!"
"Why? Don't you know you are? Don't you know in your heart that you have said the very thing that I in my heart found no words to explain?"
"Did I, really?"
"Yes. Isn't it delightful!"
It was; Harrow, holding tightly to the soft little hand half hidden by the folds of her gown, cast a sneaking look behind him, and encountered the fixed and furious glare of his closest friend, who had pinched him.
"Pig!" hissed Lethbridge, "do I sit next or not?"
"I—I can't; I'll explain——"
"You don't understand——"
"I understand you!"
"No, you don't. Lissa and I——"
"Ya—as! We're talking very cleverly; I am, too. Wha'd'you wan' to butt in for?" with sudden venom.
"Butt in! Do you think I want to sit here and look at tha' damfool play! Fix it or I'll run about biting!"
Harrow turned. "Lissa," he whispered in an exquisitely modulated voice, "what would happen if I spoke to your sister Cybele?"
"Why, she'd answer you, silly!" said the girl, laughing. "Wouldn't you, Cybele?"
"I'll tell you what I'd like to do," said Cybele, leaning forward: "I'd like very much to talk to that attractive man who is trying to look at me—only your head has been in the way." And she smiled innocently at Lethbridge.
So Lissa moved down one. Harrow took her seat, and Cybele dropped gaily into Harrow's vacant place.
"Now," she said to Lethbridge, "we can tell each other all sorts of things. I was so glad that you looked at me all the while and so vexed that I couldn't talk to you. How do you like my new gown? And what is your name? Have you ever before seen a play? I haven't, and my name is Cybele."
"It is per—perfectly heavenly to hear you talk," stammered Lethbridge.
Harrow heard him, turned and looked him full in the eyes, then slowly resumed his attitude of attention: for the poet was speaking:
"The Art of Barnard Haw is the quintessence of simplicity. What is the quintessence of simplicity?" He lifted one heavy pudgy hand, joined the tips of his soft thumb and forefinger, and selecting an atom of air, deftly captured it. "That is the quintessence of simplicity; that is Art!"
He smiled largely on Harrow, whose eyes had become wild again.
"That!" he repeated, pinching out another molecule of atmosphere, "and that!" punching dent after dent in the viewless void with inverted thumb.
On the hapless youth the overpowering sweetness of his smile acted like an anesthetic; he saw things waver, even wabble; and his hidden clutch on Lissa's fingers tightened spasmodically.
"Thank you," said the poet, leaning forward to fix the young man with his heavy-lidded eyes. "Thank you for the precious thoughts you inspire in me. Bless you. Our mental and esthetic commune has been very precious to me—very, very precious," he mooned bulkily, his rich voice dying to a resonant, soothing drone.
Lissa turned to the petrified young man. "Please be clever some more," she whispered. "You were so perfectly delightful about this play."
"Child!" he groaned, "I have scarcely sufficient intellect to keep me overnight. You must know that I haven't understood one single thing your father has been kind enough to say."
"What didn't you understand?" she asked, surprised.
"'That!'" He flourished his thumb. "What does 'That!' mean?"
"Oh, that is only a trick father has caught from painters who tell you how they're going to use their brushes. But the truth is I've usually noticed that they do most of their work in the air with their thumbs.... What else did you not understand?"
"Oh—Art!" he said wearily. "What is it? Or, as Barnard Haw, the higher exponent of the Webberfield philosophy, might say: 'What it iss? Yess?'"
"I don't know what the Webberfield philosophy is," said Lissa innocently, "but Art is only things one believes. And it's awfully hard, too, because nobody sees the same thing in the same way, or believes the same things that others believe. So there are all kinds of Art. I think the only way to be sure is when the artist makes himself and his audience happier; then that is Art.... But one need not use one's thumb, you know."
"The—the way you make me happy? Is that Art?"
"Do I?" she laughed. "Perhaps; for I am happy, too—far, far happier than when I read the works of Henry Haynes. And Henry Haynes is Art. Oh, dear!"
But Harrow knew nothing of the intellectual obstetrics which produced that great master's monotypes.
"Have you read Double or Quits?" he ventured shyly. "It's a humming Wall Street story showing up the entire bunch and exposing the trading-stamp swindle of the great department stores. The heroine is a detective and—" She was looking at him so intently that he feared he had said something he shouldn't. "But I don't suppose that would interest you," he muttered, ashamed.
"It does! It is new! I—I never read that sort of a novel. Tell me!"
"Are you serious?"
"Of course. It is perfectly wonderful to think of a heroine being a detective."
"Oh, she's a dream!" he said with cautious enthusiasm. "She falls in love with the worst stock-washer in Wall Street, and pushes him off a ferry-boat when she finds he has cornered the trading-stamp market and is bankrupting her father, who is president of the department store trust——"
"Go on!" she whispered breathlessly.
"I will, but——"
"What is it? Oh—is it my hand you are looking for? Here it is; I only wanted to smooth my hair a moment. Now tell me; for I never, never knew that such books were written. The books my father permits us to read are not concerned with all those vital episodes of every-day life. Nobody ever does anything in the few novels I am allowed to read—except, once, in Cranford, somebody gets up out of a chair in one chapter—but sits down again in the next," she added wearily.
"I'll send you something to make anybody sit up and stay up," he said indignantly. "Baffles, the Gent Burglar; Love Militant, by Nora Norris Newman; The Crown-Snatcher, by Reginald Rodman Roony—oh, it's simply ghastly to think of what you've missed! This is the Victorian era; you have a right to be fully cognizant of the great literary movements of the twentieth century!"
"I love to hear you say such things," she said, her beautiful face afire. "I desire to be modern—intensely, humanly modern. All my life I have been nourished on the classics of ages dead; the literature of the Orient, of Asia, of Europe I am familiar with; the literature of England—as far as Andrew Bang's boyhood verses. I—all my sisters—read, write, speak, even think, in ten languages. I long for something to read which is vital, familiar, friendly—something of my own time, my own day. I wish to know what young people do and dare; what they really think, what they believe, strive for, desire!"
"Well—well, I don't think people really do and say and think the things that you read in interesting modern novels," he said doubtfully. "Fact is, only the tiresome novels seem to tell a portion of the truth; but they end by overdoing it and leave you yawning with a nasty taste in your mouth. I—I think you'd better let your father pick out your novels."
"I don't want to," she said rebelliously. "I want you to."
He looked at the beautiful, rebellious face and took a closer hold on the hidden hand.
"I wish you—I wish I could choose—everything for you," he said unsteadily.
"I wish so, too. You are exactly the sort of man I like."
"Do—do you mean it?"
"Why, yes," she replied, opening her splendid eyes. "Don't I show the pleasure I take in being with you?"
"But—would you tire of me if—if we always—forever——"
"Were friends? No."
"Mo-m-m-more than friends?" Then he choked.
The speculation in her wide eyes deepened. "What do you mean?" she asked curiously.
But again the lone note of the thumped piano signaled silence. In the sudden hush the poet opened his lids with a sticky smile and folded his hands over his abdomen, plump thumbs joined.
"What do you mean?" repeated Lissa hurriedly, tightening her slender fingers around Harrow's.
"I mean—I mean——"
He turned in silence and their eyes met. A moment later her fingers relaxed limply in his; their hands were still in contact—but scarcely so; and so remained while the Attitudes of Barnard Haw held the stage.
There was a young wife behind the footlights explaining to a young man who was not her husband that her marriage vows need not be too seriously considered if he, the young man, found them too inconvenient. Which scared the young man, who was plainly a purveyor of heated air and a short sport. And, although she explained very clearly that if he needed her in his business he had better say so quick, the author's invention gave out just there and he called in the young wife's husband to help him out.
And all the while the battery of round blue eyes gazed on unwinking; the poet's dewlaps quivered with stored emotion, and the spellbound audience breathed as people breathe when the hostess at table attempts to smooth over a bad break by her husband.
"Is that life?" whispered Cybele to Lethbridge, her sensitive mouth aquiver. "Did the author actually know such people? Do you? Is conscience really only an attitude? Is instinct the only guide? Am I—really—bad——"
"No, no," whispered Lethbridge; "all that is only a dramatist's attitude. Don't—don't look grieved! Why, every now and then some man discovers he can attract more attention by standing on his head. That is all—really, that is all. Barnard Haw on his feet is not amusing; but the same gentleman on his head is worth an orchestra-chair. When a man wears his trousers where other men wear their coats, people are bound to turn around. It is not a new trick. Mystes, the Argive comic poet, and the White Queen, taught this author the value of substituting 'is' for 'is not,' until, from standing so long inverted, he himself forgets what he means, and at this point the eminent brothers Rogers take up the important work.... Please, please, Cybele, don't take it seriously!... If you look that way—if you are unhappy, I—I——"
A gentle snore from the poet transfixed the firing-line, but the snore woke up the poet and he mechanically pinched an atom out of the atmosphere, blinking at the stage.
"Precious—very, very precious," he murmured drowsily. "Thank you—thank everybody—" And he sank into an obese and noiseless slumber as the gray and silver curtain slowly fell. The applause, far from rousing him, merely soothed him; a honeyed smile hovered on his lips which formed the words "Thank you." That was all; the firing-line stirred, breathed deeply, and folded twelve soft white hands. Chlorippe, twelve, and Philodice, thirteen, yawned, pink-mouthed, sleepy-eyed; Dione, fourteen, laid her golden head on the shoulder of Aphrodite, fifteen.
The finger-tips of Lissa and Harrow still touched, scarcely clinging; they had turned toward one another when the curtain fell. But the play, to them, had been a pantomime of silhouettes, the stage, a void edged with flame—the scene, the audience, the theater, the poet himself as unreal and meaningless as the shadowy attitudes of the shapes that vanished when the phantom curtain closed its folds.
And through the subdued light, turning noiselessly, they peered at one another, conscious that naught else was real in the misty, golden-tinted gloom; that they were alone together there in a formless, soundless chaos peopled by shapes impalpable as dreams.
"Now tell me," she said, her lips scarcely moving as the soft voice stirred them like carmine petals stirring in a scented breeze.
"Tell you that it is—love?"
"Yes, tell me."
"That I love you, Lissa?"
He stooped nearer; his voice was steady and very low, and she leaned with bent head to listen, clear-eyed, intelligent, absorbed.
"So that is love—what you tell me?"
"And the other part?"
"The other part is when you find you love me."
"I—do. I think it must be love, because I can't bear to have you go away. Besides, I wish you to tell me—things."
"Well—when two—like you and me, begin to love—what happens?"
"We confess it——"
"I do; I'm not ashamed.... Should I be? And then?"
"Then?" he faltered.
"Yes; do we kiss?... For I am curious to have you do it—I am so certain I shall adore you when you do.... I wish we could go away somewhere together.... But we can't do that until I am a bride, can we? Oh—do you really want me?"
"Can you ask?" he breathed.
"Ask? Yes—yes.... I love to ask! Your hand thrills me. We can't go away now, can we? It took Iole so long to be permitted to go away with Mr. Wayne—all that time lost in so many foolish ways—when a girl is so impatient.... Is it not strange how my heart beats when I look into your eyes? Oh, there can be no doubt about it, I am dreadfully in love.... And so quickly, too. I suppose it's because I am in such splendid health; don't you?"
"Oh, I do want to get up at once and go away with you! Can't we? I could explain to father."
"Wait!" he gasped, "he—he's asleep. Don't speak—don't touch him."
"How unselfish you are," she breathed. "No, you are not hurting my fingers. Tell me more—about love and the blessed years awaiting us, and about our children—oh, is it not wonderful!"
"Ex—extremely," he managed to mutter, touching his suddenly dampened forehead with his handkerchief, and attempting to set his thoughts in some sort of order. He could not; the incoherence held him speechless, dazed, under the magic of this superb young being instinct with the soft fire of life.
Her loveliness, her innocence, the beautiful, direct gaze, the childlike fulness of mouth and contour of cheek and throat, left him spellbound. The very air around them seemed suffused with the vital glow of her youth and beauty; each breath they drew increased their wonder, till the whole rosy universe seemed thrilling and singing at their feet, and they two, love-crowned, alone, saw Time and Eternity flowing like a golden tide under the spell of Paradise.
The hoarse whisper of Lethbridge shook the vision from him; he turned a flushed countenance to his friend; but Cybele spoke:
"We are very tired sitting here. We would like to take some tea at Sherry's," she whispered. "What do you think we had better do? It seems so—so futile to sit here—when we wish to be alone together——"
"You and Henry, too!" gasped Harrow.
"Yes; do you wonder?" She leaned swiftly in front of him; a fragrant breeze stirred his hair. "Lissa, I'm desperately infatuated with Mr. Lethbridge. Do you see any use in our staying here when I'm simply dying to have him all to myself somewhere?"
"No, it is silly. I wish to go, too. Shall we?"
"You need not go," began Cybele; then stopped, aware of the new magic in her sister's eyes. "Lissa! Lissa!" she said softly. "You, too! Oh, my dear—my dearest!"
"Dear, is it not heavenly? I—I—was quite sure that if I ever had a good chance to talk to a man I really liked something would happen. And it has."
"If Philodice might awaken father perhaps he would let us go now," whispered Cybele. "Henry says it does not take more than an hour——"
"To become a bride?"
"Yes; he knows a clergyman very near——"
"Do you?" inquired Lissa. Lethbridge nodded and gave a scared glance at Harrow, who returned it as though stunned.
"But—but," muttered the latter, "your father doesn't know who we are——"
"Oh, yes, he does," said Cybele calmly, "for he sent you the tickets and placed us near you so that if we found that we liked you we might talk to you——"
"Only he made a mistake in your name," added Lissa to Harrow, "for he wrote 'Stanley West, Esq.' on the envelope. I know because I mailed it."
"Invited West—put you where you could—good God!"
"What is the matter?" whispered Lissa in consternation; "have—have I said anything I should not?" And, as he was silent: "What is it? Have I hurt you—I who——"
There was a silence; she looked him through and through and, after a while, deep, deep in his soul, she saw, awaking once again, all he had deemed dead—the truth, the fearless reason, the sweet and faultless instinct of the child whose childhood had become a memory. Then, once more spiritually equal, they smiled at one another; and Lissa, pausing to gather up her ermine stole, passed noiselessly out to the aisle, where she stood, perfectly self-possessed, while her sister joined her, smiling vaguely down at the firing-line and their lifted battery of blue, inquiring eyes.
The poet—and whether he had slumbered or not nobody but himself is qualified to judge—the poet pensively opened one eye and peeped at Harrow as that young man bent beside him with Lethbridge at his elbow.
"In sending those two tickets you have taught us a new creed," whispered Harrow; "you have taught us innocence and simplicity—you have taught us to be ourselves, to scorn convention, to say and do what we believe. Thank you."
"Dear friend," said the poet in an artistically-modulated whisper, "I have long, long followed you in the high course of your career. To me the priceless simplicity of poverty: to you the responsibility for millions. To me the daisy, the mountain stream, the woodchuck and my Art! To you the busy mart, the haunts of men, the ship of finance laden with a nation's wealth, the awful burden of millions for which you are answerable to One higher!" He raised one soft, solemn finger.
The young men gazed at one another, astounded. Lethbridge's startled eyes said, "He still takes you for Stanley West!"
"Let him!" flashed the grim answer back from the narrowing gaze of Harrow.
"Daughters," whispered the poet playfully, "are you so soon tired of the brilliant gems of satire which our master dramatist scatters with a lavish——"
"No," said Cybele; "we are only very much in love."
The poet sat up briskly and looked hard at Harrow.
"Your—your friend?" he began—"doubtless associated with you in the high——"
"We are inseparable," said Harrow calmly, "in the busy marts."
The sweetness of the poet's smile was almost overpowering.
"To discuss this sudden—ah—condition which so—ah—abruptly confronts a father, I can not welcome you to my little home in the wild—which I call the House Beautiful," he said. "I would it were possible. There all is quiet and simple and exquisitely humble—though now, through the grace of my valued son, there is no mortgage hanging like the brand of Damocles above our lowly roof. But I bid you welcome in the name of my son-in-law, on whom—I should say, with whom—I and my babes are sojourning in this clamorous city. Come and let us talk, soul to soul, heart to heart; come and partake of what simples we have. Set the day, the hour. I thank you for understanding me."
"The hour," replied Harrow, "will be about five P.M. on Monday afternoon.... You see, we are going out now to—to——"
"To marry each other," whispered Lissa with all her sweet fearlessness. "Oh, dear! there goes that monotonous piano and we'll be blocking people's view!"
The poet tried to rise upon his great flat feet, but he was wedged too tightly; he strove to speak, to call after them, but the loud thumping notes of the piano drowned his voice.
"Chlorippe! Dione! Philodice! Tell them to stop! Run after them and stay them!" panted the poet.
"You go!" pouted Dione.
"No, I don't want to," explained Chlorippe, "because the curtain is rising."
"I'll go," sighed Philodice, rising to her slender height and moving up the aisle as the children of queens moved once upon a time. She came back presently, saying: "Dear me, they're dreadfully in love, and they have driven away in two hansoms."