E-text prepared by Al Haines
Author of Diane of the Green Van, The Lovable Meddler
Illustrated by Joseph Pierre Nuyttens
The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago
Second Printing September 10, 1917
I Brian Rebels II The Unsuccessful Parent III In the Gay and Golden Weather IV God's Green World of Spring V At the Blast of a Horn VI In the Garret VII The Blossom Storm VIII Joan IX Adam Craig X A Notebook XI The Cabin in the Pines XII Thraldom XIII Kenny's Truth Crusade XIV In Somebody's Boat XV In Which Caliban Scores XVI Tantrums XVII Kenny Disappears XVIII Brian Solves a Problem XIX Samhain XX The Chair by the Fire XXI The Shadow of Death XXII In the Cabin XXIII A Miser's Will XXIV Digging Dots XXV Checkmate! XXVI An Inspiration XXVII Miser's Gold XXVIII Kenny's Ward XXIX The Studio Again XXX Playtime XXXI Fate Stabs XXXII On Finlake Mountain XXXIII In the Span of a Day XXXIV A Face XXXV The Penitent XXXVI April XXXVII Honeysuckle Days XXXVIII Arcady Eludes a Seeker XXXIX The Tension Snaps XL The King of Youth XLI When the Isle of Delight Receded XLII The End of Kenny's Song
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Joan . . . . . . Frontispiece
He was sailing across, to romance he hoped, and surely to mystery
"'Tis Samhain, Adam," said Kenny, "the summer ending of the druids"
"I love you better than my life," Joan said, "and I may—may never—say it again"
"You needn't repeat it," said Brian with a flash of his quiet eyes. "This time, Kenny, I mean to stay disinherited."
Kennicott O'Neill stared at his son and gasped. The note of permanency in the chronic rite of disinheritance was startling. So was something in the set of Brian's chin and the flush of anger burning steadily beneath the dark of his skin. Moreover, his eyes, warmly Irish like his father's, and ordinarily humorous and kind, remained unflinchingly aggressive.
With the air of an outraged emperor, the older man strode across the studio and rapped upon his neighbor's wall for arbitration.
"Garry may be in bed," said Brian,
"And he may not." It was much the same to Kenny.
He was a splendid figure—that Irishman. His gorgeous Persian slippers curled at the toes and ended in a pair of scarlet heels. The extraordinary mandarin combination of oriental magnificence and the rags he affected for a bathrobe, hung from a pair of shoulders noticeably broad and graceful. If he wore his frayed splendor with a certain picturesque distinction, it was the way he did all things, even his delightful brogue which was if anything a shade too mellifluous to be wholly unaffected. What Kenny liked he kept if he could, even his irresponsible youth and gayety.
Time had helped him there. His auburn hair was still bright and thick. And his eyes were as blue and merry now as when with pagan reverence he had tramped and sketched as a lad among the ruined altars of the druids.
He had meant to wither his son with continued dignity and calm. The vagaries of Irish temper ordained otherwise. Kenny glanced at the fragments of a statuette conspicuously rearranged on a Louis XV table almost submerged in the chaotic disorder of the studio, and lost his head.
"Look at that!" he flung out furiously.
Brian had already looked—with guilt—and regretted.
"I broke it—accidentally," he admitted.
"Accidentally! You flung a brush at it."
"I flung a brush across the studio," corrected Brian, "just after you went out to pawn my shotgun."
"Damn the shotgun!"
"I can extend that same courtesy," reminded Brian, "to the statuette."
Things were going badly when the expected arbitrator rapped upon the door, and losing ground, Kenny felt that he must needs dramatize his parental right to authority for the benefit of Garry's ears and his own pride.
"Silence!" he thundered, striding toward the door. He flung it back with the air of a conqueror. His stage play fell rather flat. Garry Rittenhouse, in bathrobe and slippers, confronted the pair with a look of weary inquiry. He sometimes regretted that as a peacemaker he had become an institution. Nobody said anything. Garry hunted cigarettes, cleared a chair and sat down.
"It may or may not interest you two to know that I was in bed," he began irritably. "I wish to Heaven you'd fight in union hours."
Brian was sorry and said so. Kenny, however, took immediate advantage of Garry's attitude to sidetrack what he considered the preposterous irrelevance of the shotgun, the one unessential thing in the studio, and point with rising temper to the statuette. It had, alas! been a birthday present from Ann Marvin, whose statuettes, fashionable and satiric, were famous.
It was like Kenny to have a grievance. He was hardly ever without one. But justification was rare indeed and he made the best of it. He said all that was on his mind without restraint as to duration or intensity, thunderstruck at Brian's white-hot response. For twenty minutes of Irish fire and fury, Garry listened in amazement, sensing an unaccustomed stubbornness in Brian's anger.
"Just a minute," said Garry, dazed. "Let's get down to brass tacks. Who and what began it?"
They both told him.
"One at a time, please!" he begged. "I gather that you, Kenny, in need of petty funds, went out to pawn Brian's shotgun. And you, Brian, losing your temper, flung a brush across the studio and smashed a valued statuette—"
Kenny chose indignantly to tell it all again and overshot the mark, bringing Garry down upon him with a bark.
"Now, see here, Kenny," he interposed curtly, "that's enough. Brian's usually sane and regular. It's by no means a criminal offense for him to pick a row with you about his shotgun. And he didn't mean to smash the statuette."
He waited for the voice of thunder in which Kenny, at a disadvantage, would be sure to disinherit his son and, waiting, glanced a trifle wryly at the littered studio. What Brian lost by chronic disinheritance lay ever before the eye, particularly now when Kenny, in one of his periods of insolvency, was posted downstairs for club debt and Mrs. Haggerty's insular notions about credit had driven him to certain frugal devices with the few handkerchiefs he owned, one of which was spread upon the nearest window pane to dry.
Garry's disgusted inventory missed nothing: a prayer rug for which Kenny had toured into the south of Persia and led an Arabian Nights' existence with pursuing bandits whom, by some extraordinary twist of genius, he had conciliated and painted; an illuminated manuscript in Gaelic which he claimed had been used by a warrior to ransom a king; chain armor, weapons of all kinds, climes and periods; an Alpine horn, reminiscent of the summer Kenny had saved a young painter's life at the risk of his own; some old masters, a cittern, a Chinese cheng with tubes and reeds, an ancient psaltery with wires you struck with a crooked stick that was always lost (Kenny when the mood was upon him evolved weird music from them all), an Italian dulcimer, a Welsh crwth that was unpronounceably interesting (some of the strings you twanged with your thumb and some you played with a bow); Chinese, Japanese, Indian vases, some alas! sufficiently small for utilitarian purposes, Salviati glass, feather embroidery, carved chairs and a chest.
A prodigal display—Kenny in his shifting periods of affluence was always prodigal—but there had never been cups enough with handles in the littered closet, Garry recalled, until Brian inspired had bought too many bouillon cups, figuring that one handle always would be left; Kenny could not remember to buy a teapot when he could and made tea in a chafing dish; and he had been known to serve highballs in vases.
Garry glanced expectantly at his host and found him but a blur of oriental color in a film of smoke. As usual, when he was in a temper or excited, he was smoking furiously. But the threat of disinheritance was not forthcoming. If anything, the disinheritor was sulking. And the eyes of the disinheritee were intelligent and disconcerting.
"Well?" said Garry, amazed.
"I've already been disinherited," explained Brian dryly. "Twice. And I'm leaving tonight—for good."
Garry sat up.
"You mean?" demanded Kenny coldly.
"I mean," flung out Brian, "that I'm tired of it all. I'm sick to death of painting sunsets."
Garry's startled glance sought and found a mediocre sunset on an easel. Brian went in for sunsets. He said so himself with an inexplicable air of weariness and disgust. He knew how to make them.
Kenny's glance too had found the sunset. It stood beside a landscape, brilliant and unforgettable, of his own. Both men looked away. Brian smiled.
"You see?" he said quietly.
"Sunsets!" stammered Kenny, perversely taking up the keynote of his son's rebellion literally. "Sunsets! I warned you, Brian—"
"Sunsets," said Brian, "and everything else you put on canvas with paint and brush. I can't paint. You know it. Garry knows it. I know it. I've painted, Kenny, merely to please you. I've nothing more than a commonplace skill whipped into shape by an art school. Aerial battlefields—my sunsets—in more ways than one. I paint 'em because they happen to be the thing in Nature that thrills me most. And when I fire to a thing, most always I can manage somehow. You yourself have engineered for me every profitable commission I've ever had. What's more, Kenny, if ever once you'd put into real art the dreadful energy I've put into my mediocrity—"
"You mean I'm lazy?" interrupted Kenny, bristling.
"Certainly not," said Brian with acid politeness. "You're merely subject to periodic fits of indolence. You've said as much yourself."
It was irrefutable. Kenny, offended, brought his fist down upon the table with a bang.
"I know precisely what you're going to say," cut in Brian. "I'm ungrateful. I'm not. But it's misdirected generosity on your part, Kenny. And I'm through. I'm tired," he added simply. "I want to live my own life away from the things I can't do well. I'm tired of drifting."
Brian flung out his hands.
"The last straw!" he said bitterly.
"You're meaning the shotgun, Brian?" demanded Kenny.
"I'm meaning the shotgun."
"What will you do?" interposed the peacemaker in the nick of time.
"I've done some free-lance reporting for John Whitaker," said Brian. "I think he'll give me a big chance. He's interested." His voice—it had in it at times a hint of Kenny's soft and captivating brogue—was splendidly boyish and eager now. "Foreign perhaps or war. Maybe Mexico. Anything so I can write the truth, Garry, the big truth that's down so far you have to dig for it, the passion of humanness—the humanness of unrest. I can't say it to-night. I can only feel it."
Alarmed by this time, Kenny came turbulently into the conversation and abused John Whitaker for his son's defection. Brian, it was plain, had been decoyed by bromidic tales of cub reporters and "record-smashing beats." He contrasted art and journalism and found Brian indifferent to his scorn.
"It isn't just Whitaker and the sunsets and the desire to exchange the sham of my 'art' for the truth of something real," said Brian. "It's everything. It's the studio here and things like—like the shotgun. I hate the brilliant, disorderly hand-to-mouth sort of Bohemia, Kenny, in which you seem to thrive. Either we have a lot of money or a lot of debts—"
"I suppose," went on Brian wearily, "that my nature must demand an orderly security in essentials. Plebeian, of course, but comfortable. I mean, money in sufficient regularity, chairs you can sit down on without looking first—" he shrugged.
Further detail and he would be drifting into deep water. Life with Kenny, who borrowed as freely as he gave, entailed petty harassments that could not be named.
"Things," finished Brian. "that are mine without a lock and key."
He had meant not to say it. Kenny struck his hand fiercely against the table.
"You hear that, Garry?" he demanded with an indignant bid for support. "You hear that? By the Lord Harry, Brian, it's damnable and indecent to harp so upon the shotgun after smashing the statuette."
The circle was complete. They were back to Kenny's grievance. Brian sighed.
"I wasn't thinking of the shotgun," he said. "There have been times, Kenny, when I hadn't a collar left—"
"He's right," put in Garry with quick sympathy. "It's not just the shotgun—"
"Garry, you shut up!" snapped Kenny, sweeping the fragments of Ann's statuette into the table drawer and closing it with a bang.
"Please remember," reminded Garry, coldly, "that an established privilege of mine, since I undertook this Hague stuff, is absolute frankness."
"Who rapped for me?"
"Kenny did," said Brian.
"Any man," retorted Kenny bitterly, "may have a—a moment of lunacy. I thought you were impartial."
"You mean," said Garry keenly, "that when you rapped you'd been hypnotized by the justice of your own case and felt a little reckless."
Kenny drew himself up splendidly and glared at Garry through a cloud of smoke.
"Piffle!" said Garry. "No stately stuff for me, Kenny, please. It's late and I'm tired. I'll referee this thing in my own way. I repeat—it's not just the shotgun. It's everything he owns."
"What for instance?" inquired Kenny, dangerously polite.
"His money, his clothes and his girls!" enumerated Garry brutally. "You even pawned his fishing rods and golf clubs."
"I sent him a fern," said Kenny, affronted. "Did he even water it? No!"
"I think I paid for it," said Brian.
"Has he ever given me the proper degree of respect. No! He calls me—Kenny!"
Garry laughed aloud at the wrathful search for grievance. It was not always easy to remember that Kenny had eloped at twenty with the young wife who had died when his son was born; and that his son was twenty-three.
"Go on," said Kenny. "Laugh your fool head off. I'm merely stating facts."
"As for his tennis racquet," reminded Garry, and Kenny flushed.
It developed that of studio things the racquet and the shotgun had seemed the least essential. And the need had been imperative.
"Nevertheless," interposed Garry, "they and a number of other things you pawned were Brian's."
Moreover, reverting to the fishing rods and golf clubs, Kenny would like to have them both remember that it had been winter and one can redeem most anything by summer. He'd meant to. He honestly had.
"But you didn't," said Garry.
"Great God," thundered Kenny, "you're like a parrot." Fuming he searched afield for cigarettes and found them at his elbow. A noise at the open window behind him brought him to his feet with a nervous start.
"What's that? What's over there?" he demanded petulantly.
"Oh, it's only H-B," said Garry. "He's come down the fire-escape. Mac's likely forgotten to chain him."
The honey-bear, kept secretly in a studio upstairs and christened "H-B" to cloak his identity—for the club rules denied him hospitality—came in with a jaunty air of confidence. At the sight of the three men he turned tail and fled. Kenny speeded his departure with a bouillon cup and felt better.
As for clothes, Kenny began with new dignity, he must remind them both that he had more than Brian, if now and again he did forget a minor essential and have to forage for it. He added with an air of rebuke that Brian was welcome to anything he had, anything—to borrow, to wear and to lose if he chose.
Brian received the offer with a glance of blank dismay and Garry with difficulty repressed a smile. Kenny's fashionable wardrobe, portentous in all truth, had an unmistakable air of originality about it at once foreign and striking. There were times when he looked irresistibly theatric and ducal.
Kenny repeated his willingness to lend his wardrobe.
"Of course you would," said Garry. "Though it's hardly the point and difficult to remember when Brian is in a hurry and has to send out a boy to buy him a collar."
In the matter of money, to take up another point, Kenny felt that his son had a peculiar genius for always having money somewhere. Brian had of necessity been saved considerable inconvenience by a tendency to economy and resource. As usual, if anybody suffered it was Kenny.
"For 'tis myself, dear lad," he finished, "that runs the scale a bit. Faith, I'm that impecunious at times I'm beside myself with fret and worry."
Brian steeled himself against the disarming gentleness of the change of mood. It was inevitably strategic. Wily and magnetic Kenny always had his way. It was plain he thought to have it now with every instinct up in arms at the thought of Brian's going.
"I've less genius, less debt and less money," conceded Brian, "but I've a lot more capacity for worry and I'm tired of always being on my guard. I'm tired of bookkeeping—"
"Bookkeeping lies!" said Brian bluntly. "I've lied myself sometimes, Kenny, to keep from denying a lie of yours."
The nature of the thrust was unexpected. Kenny changed color and resented the hyper-critical word. To his mind it was neither filial nor aesthetic.
"Lies!" he repeated indignantly, regarding his son with a look of paralyzed inquiry. "Lies!"
"Lies!" insisted Brian. "You know precisely what I mean."
"I suppose, Kenny," said Garry fairly, "that a certain amount of romancing is for you the wine of existence. Your wit's insistent and if a thing presents itself, tempting and warmly colored, you can't refuse it expression simply because it isn't true. You must make a good story. I've sometimes thought you'd have a qualm or two of conscience if you didn't, as if it's an artistic obligation you've ignored—to delight somebody's ears, even for a moment. Perhaps you don't realize how far afield you travel. But it's pretty hard on Brian."
It was the thing, as Garry knew, that taxed Brian's patience to the utmost, plunged him into grotesque dilemmas and kept him keyed to an abnormal alertness of memory. Always his sense of loyalty revolted at the notion of denying any tale that Kenny told.
Now Kenny's hurt stare left Brian unrepentant. He lost his temper utterly. Thereafter he blazed out a hot-headed summary of book-keeping that made his father gasp.
Kenny's air of conscious rectitude vanished. In an instant he was defensive and excited, resenting the unexpected need of the one and the distraction of the other. The sum of his episodic rambling on Brian's tongue was appalling. He was willing to concede that his imagination was wayward and romantic. But why in the name of Heaven must a man—and an Irishman—justify the indiscretions of his wit? Well, the lad had always had an unnatural trend for fact. Kenny remembered with resentment the Irish fairies that even in his childhood Brian had been unable to accept, excellent fairies with feet so big that in time of storm they stood on their heads and used them for umbrellas!
Staggered by Brian's inflexible air of resolution, Kenny, his fingers clenched in his hair, began another circle. He reverted to his grievance. The quarrel this time was sharp and brief. Brian hated repetitions. Hotly impenitent he flung out of the studio and slammed his bedroom door, leaving Kenny dazed and defensive and utterly unable to comprehend the twist of fate by which the dignity of his grievance had been turned to disadvantage.
Garry glanced at the gray haze in the court beyond the window and rose.
"It's nearly daybreak," he said. "And I've a model coming at ten. She's busy and I can't stall."
He left Kenny amazed and aggrieved at his desertion. Certainly in the grip of untoward events, a man is entitled to someone with whom he can talk it over.
Wakeful and nervous, Kenny smoked, raked his hair with his fingers and brooded. Brian had been disinherited much too often to resent it all at once to-night. As for the shotgun, that dispute or its equivalent was certainly as normal a one as regularity could make it. And he had related many a tale unhampered by fact that Brian had simply ignored.
"What on earth has got into the lad?" he wondered impatiently.
Ah, well, he was a good lad, clean-cut and fine, with Irish eyes and an Irish temper like his father. Kenny forgot and forgave. Both were a spontaneity of temperament. Brian and he would begin again. That was always pleasant.
He strode remorsefully to Brian's door and knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again. Ordinarily he would have flung back the door with a show of temper. Penitential, he opened it with an air of gentle forbearance. The room, which gave evidence of anger and hurried packing, was empty, the door that opened into the corridor, ajar.
Brian was gone.
White and startled, Kenny unearthed the chafing dish and made himself some coffee.
Brian, of course, would return in the morning, whistling and sane. He would call something back in his big, pleasant voice to the elevator man who worshipped him, and bang the studio door. The lad was not given to such definite revolt. Besides, Brian, he must remember, was an O'Neill, an Irishman and a son of his, an indisputable trio of good fortune; as such he could be depended upon not to make an ass of himself.
THE UNSUCCESSFUL PARENT
Kenny slept as he lived, with a genius for dreams and adventure. He remembered moodily as he rose at noon that he had dreamed a kaleidoscopic chase, precisely like a moving picture with himself a star, in which, bolting through one taxi door and out another with a shotgun in his hand, he had valiantly pursued a youth who had, miraculously, found the crooked stick of the psaltery and stolen it. The youth proved to be Brian. That part was reasonable enough. Brian was the only one who could find the thing long enough to steal it.
It was not likely to be a day for work. That he felt righteously could not be expected. Nevertheless, with hurt concession to certain talk of indolence the night before, he donned a painter's smock and, filled with a consciousness of tremendous energy to be expended in God's good time, telephoned John Whitaker.
Yes, Brian had been there. Where he was now, where he would be, Whitaker did not feel at liberty to divulge. Frankly he was pledged to silence. Kenny willing, he would be up to dinner at six. He had a lot to say.
Kenny banged the receiver into the hook in a blaze of temper, hurt and unreasonable, and striding to the rear window flung it up to cool his face. There were bouillon cups upon the sill. Bouillon cups! Bouillon cups! Thunder-and-turf! There were bouillon cups everywhere. Nobody but Brian would have bought so many handles. A future of handles loomed drearily ahead. Brian could talk of disorder all he chose. Half of it was bouillon cups. Bitterly resenting the reproach they seemed to embody, stacked there upon the sill, Kenny passionately desired to sweep them out of the window once and for all. The desire of the moment, ever his doom, proved overpowering. The cups crashed upon a roof below with prompt results. Kenny was appalled at the number of heads that appeared at studio windows, the head of Sidney Fahr among them, round-eyed and incredulous. Well, that part at least was normal. Sid's face advertised a chronic distrust of his senses.
Moreover, when Pietro appeared after a round of alarmed inquiry, Kenny perversely chose to be truthful about it, insisted that it was not accidental and refused to be sorry. Afterward he admitted to Garry, it was difficult to believe that one spontaneous ebullition of a nature not untemperamental could provoke so much discussion, frivolous and otherwise. The thing might grow so, he threatened sulkily, that he'd leave the club.
As for the immediate present, Fate had saddled him again with an afternoon of moody indolence. Certainly no Irishman with nerves strung to an extraordinary pitch could work with Mike crawling snakily around the lower roof intent upon china remnants whose freaks of shape seemed to paralyze him into moments of agreeable interest. Kenny at four refused an invitation to tea and waited in growing gloom for Reynolds, a dealer who, prodded always into inconvenient promptness by Kenny's needs, had promised to combine inspection of the members' exhibition in the gallery downstairs with the delivery of a check. There were critical possibilities if he did not appear.
Mike disappeared with the final fragment and Reynolds became the grievance of the hour. Kenny, fuming aimlessly around the studio, resorted desperately at last to an unfailing means of stimulus. He made a careful toilet, donned a coat with a foreign looking waist-line, rather high, and experimented with a new and picturesque stock that fastened beneath his tie with a jeweled link. As six o'clock arrived and Reynolds' defection became a thing assured, his attitude toward John Whitaker underwent an imperative change. It would be impossible now to greet him with hostile dignity. He had become a definite need.
When at ten minutes past six the studio bell tinkled, Kenny, opening the door, stared at Whitaker in tragic dismay and struck himself upon the forehead.
"Mother of Men!" he groaned. "I thought of course it would be Reynolds. He's bringing me a check."
John Whitaker looked unimpressed. He merely blinked his recognition of a subterfuge.
There was a parallel in his experience, a weekend arrival at Woodstock when Kenny, farming in a flurry of enthusiasm, had come riding down to meet his guest on a singular quadruped whose area of hide had thickened strangely. Brian called the uncurried quadruped a plush horse. Kenny, remembered Whitaker, had searched with tragic eyes for an invited editor who had recklessly agreed to pay in advance for an excursion of Kenny's into illustrating, ostensibly to pay for a cow. And Kenny's words had been: "My God, Whitaker! Where's Graham?" Moreover he had struck himself fiercely on the forehead and Whitaker had grub-staked his host to provisions until Graham arrived.
"Can't we eat in the grill?" asked Whitaker. "It's raining." Kenny regarded him with a look of pained intelligence.
"I'm posted," he said.
"Then," said Whitaker, "I'll go out and buy something. I'd rather eat in the studio. What'll I get?"
Kenny capriciously banned oysters.
"If you want a rarebit," he added, "we have some cheese."
He was still searching excitedly for the cheese when Whitaker returned.
"Reynolds," he flung out vindictively, "is positively the most unreliable dealer I know. He's erratic and irresponsible. A man may work himself to death and wait in the grave for his money. Do you wonder poor Blakelock met his doom through the cupidity of laggard dealers? Here am I on the verge of God knows what from overwork—"
Whitaker spared him disillusion. Painting with Kenny was an occupation, never work. When it slipped tiresomely into the class of work and palled, he threw it aside for something more diverting.
"The cheese in all probability," suggested Whitaker mildly, "wouldn't be under the piano. Or would it? And don't bother anyway. I took the liberty of buying an emergency wedge while I was out."
Kenny wiped his forehead in amazed relief and piously thanked God he hadn't wasted his appetite on middle-aged cakes.
"If you hadn't come when you did," he said, "I'd likely had to eat 'em, thanks to Reynolds. Now I'll send 'em up to H. B." He peered disgustedly into the bag and removed an irrelevant ace of spades. Its hibernation there seemed for an instant to annoy him as well it might. There had been a furore in whist about it barely a week before. Then he used it irresponsibly for an I.O.U. and impaled it upon a strange looking spike that seemed to pinion a heterogeneous admission of petty debt.
Together they made the rarebit. Whitaker waited with foreboding for the storm to break. But for some reason, though he was constrained and impatient and feverishly active, Kenny avoided the subject of Brian. He lost poise and patience all at once, pushed aside his plate and challenged Whitaker with a look.
"Why did you want to eat in the studio?"
"I came to talk."
"Whitaker," blustered Kenny, "where's Brian?"
"On your paper?"
"No. Brian's left New York. He's driving somebody's car. And I found the job for him through my paper. When he has money enough he plans to tramp off into God's green world of spring to get himself in trim. Says he's stale and tired and thinking wrong. In the fall he's going abroad for me and that, Kenny, is about all I can tell you."
"You mean," flared Kenny, rising with a ragged napkin in his hand, "you mean, John, it's all you will tell me!"
"Sit down," said Whitaker, toasting a cracker over the alcohol flame. "I prefer a sensible talk without fireworks."
Surprised and nettled, Kenny obeyed in spite of himself.
"Now," went on Whitaker quietly, "I came here to-night because I'm Brian's friend and yours." He ignored the incredulous arch of Kenny's eyebrows. "Where Brian is, where he will be, I don't propose to tell you, now or at any other time. His wheres and his whens are the boy's own business. His whys I think you know. He won't be back."
"He will!" thundered Kenny and thumped upon the table with his fist.
Whitaker patiently reassembled his supper.
"I think not," he said.
"You're not here to think," blazed Kenny. "You're here to tell me what you know."
"I'm here," corrected John Whitaker, "to get a few facts out of my system for your own good and Brian's. Kenny, how much of the truth can you stand?"
Kenny threw up his hands with a reminiscent gesture of despair.
"Truth!" he repeated. "Truth!"
"I know," put in Whitaker, "that you regard the truth as something sacred, to be handled with delicacy and discretion. But—"
Kenny told him sullenly to tell it if he could.
"I don't propose to urge Brian back here for a good many reasons. In the first place, he's not a painter—"
"John," interrupted Kenny hotly, "you are no judge of that. I, Kennicott O'Neill, am his father."
"And more's the pity," said Whitaker bluntly, "for you've made a mess of it. That's another reason."
Kenny turned a dark red.
"I mean, Kenny," said Whitaker, his glance calm and level, "that as a parent for Brian, you are an abject failure."
The word stung. It was the first time in his life that Kenny had faced it. That he, Kennicott O'Neill, Academician, with Heaven knows how many medals of distinction, could fail at anything, was a new thought, bewildering and bitter. This time he escaped from the table and flung up a window. Whitaker, he grumbled, never toasted crackers without burning them. Whitaker brought him back with a look.
"Sit down," he said again. "I don't propose to talk while you roam around the studio and kick things."
Kenny obeyed. He looked a little white.
"I've tried to think this thing out fairly," said Whitaker. "Why as a parent for Brian you're a failure—"
"And the first and fundamental cause of your failure is, I think, your hairbrained, unquenchable youth."
Kenny stared at him in astounded silence.
"I remember once around the fire here you told a Celtic tale of some golden islands—Tirnanoge, wasn't it?—the Land of the Young—"
Might have been, Kenny said perversely. He didn't remember.
"Ossian lived there with the daughter of the King of Youth for three hundred years that seemed but three," reminded Whitaker. "Well, no matter. The point is this: The Land of the Young and the King of Youth always make me think of you."
"It is true," said Kenny with biting sarcasm, "that I still have hair and teeth. It is also true that I am the respectable if unsuccessful parent of a son twenty-three years old and I myself am forty-four."
"Forty-four years young," admitted Whitaker. "And Brian on the other hand is twenty-three years old. There you have it. You know precisely what I mean, Kenny. Youth isn't always a matter of years. It's a state of being. Sometimes it's an affliction and sometimes a gift. Sometimes it's chronic and sometimes it's contagious enough to start an epidemic. You're as young and irresponsible as the wind. You've never grown up. God knows whether or not you ever will. But Brian has. There's the clash."
"Go on," said Kenny with a dangerous flash of interest in his eyes. "You've an undeniable facility, John, with what you call the truth."
"It's an unfortunate characteristic of highly temperamentalized individuals—"
"Painters, Irishmen and O'Neills," put in Kenny with sulky impudence.
"That they frequently skirt the rocks for themselves with amazing skill. I mean just this: They don't always shipwreck their own lives."
Was that, Kenny would like to know, an essential of successful parenthood?
"I mean," he paraphrased dryly, "must you wreck your own life, John, to parent somebody else with skill?" The wording of this rather pleased him. He brightened visibly.
Whitaker ignored his brazen air of assurance. It was like Kenny, he reflected, to find an unexpected loophole and emerge from it with the air of a conqueror.
"People with an over-plus of temperament," he said, "wreck the lives of others. Brian has just stepped out in the nick of time."
"You mean," flashed Kenny with anger in his eyes, "you mean I've tried to wreck the life of my own son? By the powers of war, John, that's too much!"
"I didn't say you had tried. I mean merely that you were accidentally succeeding. The sunsets—"
"Damn the sunsets!" roared Kenny, losing his head.
"It was time for that," agreed Whitaker.
"Time for what?"
"You usually damn the irrefutable thing. Why you wanted Brian to paint pictures," went on Whitaker, ignoring Kenny's outraged sputter, "when he couldn't, is and always has been a matter of considerable worry and mystery to me—"
"It needn't have been. That, I fancy, John, you can see for yourself. I worry very little about how your paper is run."
"But I think I've solved it. It's your vanity."
"My God!" said Kenny with a gasp.
"You wanted to have a hand in what he did. Then you could afford to be gracious. There are some, Kenny, who must always direct in order to enjoy."
There was a modicum of enjoyment with Whitaker around, hinted Kenny sullenly.
Whitaker found his irrelevant trick of umbrage trying in the extreme. He lost his temper and said that which he had meant to leave to inference.
"Kenny, Brian's success, in which you, curiously enough, seem to have had a visionary faith, would have linked him to you in a sort of artistic dependence in which you shone with inferential genius and generosity."
"So!" said Kenny, his color high.
"It may be," said Whitaker, feeling sorry for him, "that I've put that rather strongly but I think I've dug into the underlying something which, linked with your warm-hearted generosity and a real love for Brian, made you stubborn and unreasonable about his work. Of the big gap in temperament and the host of petty things that maddened Brian to the point of distraction, it's unnecessary for me to speak. You must know that your happy-go-lucky self-indulgence more often than not has spelled discomfort of a definite sort for Brian. You're generous, I'll admit. Generous to a fault. But your generosity is always congenial. It's never the sort that hurts. The only kind of generosity that will help in this crisis is the kind that hurts. It's up to you, Kenny, to do some mental house-cleaning, admit the cobwebs and brush them away, instead of using them fantastically for drapery."
Whitaker thanked his lucky stars he'd gotten on so well. Kenny, affronted, was usually more capricious and elusive.
"Whitaker," said Kenny, his eyes imploring, "you don't—you can't mean that Brian isn't coming back?"
Whitaker sighed. After all, Kenny never heard all of anything, just as he never read all of a letter unless it was asterisked and under-lined and riveted to his attention by a multitude of pen devices.
"Kenny, have you been listening?"
"No!" lied Kenny.
"Brian," flung out Whitaker wrathfully, "isn't coming back. I thank God for his sake."
His loss of temper brought a hornet's nest about his ears. Kenny swung to his feet in smoldering fury. He expressed his opinion of Whitaker, editors, Brian and sons. The sum of them merged into an unchristian melee of officiousness and black ingratitude. He recounted the events of the night before with stinging sarcasm in proof of Brian's regularity. He ended magnificently by blaming Brian for the disorder of the studio. There were handles everywhere. And Brian in an exuberance of amiability had broken a statuette. Likely Whitaker would see even in that some form of paternal oppression.
"Whitaker," flung out Kenny indignantly, "Brian plays but one instrument in this studio and we have a dozen. Wasn't it precisely like him to pick out that damned psaltery there with the crooked stick? I mean—wasn't it like him to pick out something with a fiendish appendage that could be lost, and keep the studio in an uproar when he wanted to play it?"
Whitaker laughed in spite of himself. The psaltery stick was famous.
Moreover, Brian—Brian, mind you, who talked of truth with hair-splitting piety—Brian had that very day at noon forced his father to the telling of a lie.
"But he wasn't here," said Whitaker, mystified. "He lunched with me."
"The fact remains," insisted Kenny with dignity. "I myself told Garry Rittenhouse he'd gone up to Reynolds to collect some money. And Garry, thinking he had come back, believed it."
"Kenny," said Whitaker, his patience quite gone, "are you mad? How on earth did Brian force you into that lie?"
"By not coming home," said Kenny sulkily. "If he'd come home as a lad should, I needn't have told it. You can see that for yourself."
Whitaker dazedly threw up his hands.
Having successfully baffled his opponent with the brilliancy of his unreason, Kenny enlarged upon the humiliation he must experience when Garry learned the truth. At a familiar climax of self-glorification, in which Kenny claimed he had saved Brian from no end of club-gossip by his timely evasion of the truth, Whitaker lost his temper and went home.
He left his host in a dangerous mood of quiet.
It was a quiet unlike Kenny, who hated to think, and presently he flung his pipe across the studio, fuming at what seemed to him unprecedented disorder. It was getting on his nerves. No man could work in such a hodge-podge. Even inspiration was likely to be chaotic and futuristic. Small blame to Brian if he resented it all. To-morrow, if Reynolds deigned to appear with his check, he would summon Mrs. Haggerty, and the studio should have a cleaning that the mercenary old beldame would remember. Kenny vaguely coupled Mrs. Haggerty with the present disorder and resented both, his defiant eyes lingering with new interest upon a jumble of musical instruments in a corner.
With a muffled objurgation he fell upon the jumble and began to overhaul it. The object sought defied his fevered efforts to unearth it and with teeth set, he ransacked the studio, resentfully flinging a melee of hindrances right and left.
The telephone rang.
"Kenny," said Garry's patient voice, "what in Heaven's name are you doing? What hit the wall?"
"I'm hunting the stick to that damned psaltery," snapped Kenny and banged the receiver into the hook, one hand as usual clenched frenziedly in his hair.
Later, with the studio a record of earthquake, he found it under a model stand and wiping his forehead anchored it to the psaltery for good and all with a shoestring.
Horribly depressed he thumped on the wall for Garry, who came at once, wondering wryly if Brian had come in and the need again was mediation.
"You might as well know," began Kenny at once, "that Brian didn't go up to Reynolds for me this noon—"
"It was a lie," flung out Kenny with a jerk, "a damnable, deliberate, indecent lie. Whitaker says he's gone for good." His look was wistful and indignant. "Garry, what's wrong?" he demanded. "What on earth is it? Why couldn't things have gone on as they were, without God knows how many people picking me for a target? As far as I can see I'm merely maintaining my usual average of imperfection and all the rest of the world has gone mad."
"I suppose, Kenny," began Garry lamely, "you must be starting a new cycle. Jan could tell you. He talks a lot about the cycle of dates and the philosophy of vibrations—"
"I know that I regard the truth as something sacred, to be handled with delicacy and discretion," began Kenny with bitter fluency. "I'm an unsuccessful parent with an over-supply of hair and teeth, afflicted with hairbrained, unquenchable youth. I'd be a perennial in the Land of the Young and could hobnob indefinitely with his Flighty Highness, the King of Youth. I'm forty-four years young and highly temperamentalized. I've made a mess of parenting Brian and I'm an abject failure."
Garry looked at him.
"Just what are you talking about?" he asked.
"I know," pursued Kenny elaborately, "that it's unfortunate I haven't wrecked my own life when I'm an accidental success at wrecking Brian's. I'm full of cobwebs. I damn irrefutable things and I've forced Brian to a profession of sunsets to gratify my vanity. Can you personally, Garry, think of anything else?"
"Sit down!" said Garry. "You're about as logical as a lunatic—"
"Tell Whitaker, do," begged Kenny. "There's one he missed. Garry, what's back of all this turmoil? What's the real reason for Brian's brain-storm? I'm sick to death of Whitaker's wordy arabesque and abuse. I want facts."
"Brian said it all last night," reminded Garry. "It's just another case of a last straw."
"You honestly mean that the ancestors of the straw are the sunsets, the disorder here—the—the—" He thumped the table. "Garry, I don't lie. I swear I don't. I hate a liar. I mean a dishonorable liar. A lie is an untruth that harms. That's my definition. Any man embroiders sordid fact on occasion."
"On occasion!" admitted Garry.
Kenny, with his eye upon the fern in the window, missed the significance. It had registered his sincere regret—that fern—at the need of pawning Brian's fishing rods and golf clubs. Like Brian! He had failed utterly to comprehend the delicacy of the tribute.
Finding this point upon which he dwelt with some length equally over-nice for Garry's perception, Kenny in a huff sent him home, watered the fern, without in the least understanding the impulse, and went to bed. And dreaming as usual, he seemed to be hunting cobwebs with a gun made of ferns. He found them draped over huge pillars of ice, marked in Brian's familiar sunset colors. Truth. And when panting and sweating he had swept them all away with a wedge of cheese he seemed to hear Whitaker's voice—calling him a failure.
Kenny felt that he had been visited by Far Darrig, the Gaelic bringer of bad dreams.
IN THE GAY AND GOLDEN WEATHER
Spring came early and with the first marsh hawk Brian was on the road, his eager youth crying out to the spring's hope and laughter. Everywhere he caught the thrill of it. Brooks released from an armor of ice went singing by him. Hill and meadow deepened verdantly into smiles. A little while now and the whole green earth in its tenderness would dimple exquisitely, with every dimple a flower. Mother Earth, moistening the bare brown fields for the plough with a capricious tear or so for the banished winter, was beginning again. And so was he. Hope swelled wistfully within him like song in the throat of the bluebird and sap in the trees. With the sun warm upon his face and the gladness of spring in his veins, he sang with Pippa that "God's in his Heaven, all's right with the world!"
Well, New York, thank God, lay to the back of him, veiling her realities and truth in glitter, defying nearness. Every human thing that made for life lay there as surely as it lay here in God's quieter world, but you never came close to it.
So he tramped away to green fields and hills and winding quiet roads, spring riding into his heart, invincible and bold.
An arbutus filled him with the wonder of things, a sense of eternity, a swift, inexplicable compassion, a longing for service to the needs of men. His ears thrilled to the song of the earth and the whistle of the ploughman turning up the fresh brown earth. He filled his lungs with the wind of the open country, drank in the enchantment of the morning and the dusk, his nostrils joyously alive to the smell of the furrowed ground and a hint of burgeoning wild flowers.
But the first robin brought misgivings and remorse. Brian remembered Kenny's legend of the thorn ("worst of them all it was," said Kenny gently, "and prickin' deepest!") and the robin who plucked it from the bleeding brow of Christ. So by the blood of the Son of Man had the robin come by his red breast.
The legend filled Brian with yearning. He softened dangerously to the memory of a sketching tramp with Kenny fuming at his heels, his excitement chronic. Adventure had endlessly stalked Kenny for its own, waylaid him at intervals when he passionately proclaimed his desire for peace, and saddled Brian with the responsibilities of constant guardianship.
Brian stubbornly put it all behind him. Kenny, frantic with tenderness and resolution, could sweep him credulously back into bondage if he kept to the siege. His promises were fluent always and alluring. Only by the courage of utter separation could Brian make his longed for emancipation a thing assured.
So he tramped the highway, lingering by fence and rail to talk with men, living and learning. For the highway meant to him the passion of life. Hope and sorrow traveled it day and night in homely hearts.
And often his thoughts harked wistfully back to the words of a modern poet which Kenny with his usual skill had set to music:
"And often, often I'm longing still, This gay and golden weather, For my father's face by an Irish hill, And he and I together."
In the gay and golden weather things were going badly with the unsuccessful parent. For weeks now his life had been in ferment, his moods as freakish as the wind. What little regularity his life had known departed to that limbo that had claimed his peace of mind. That he felt himself abnormally methodic lay entirely in the fact that he watered the fern each day. It had for him a morbid fascination. Incomprehensible forces were sapping his faith in himself and the future; and viciously at war with them, he nursed his grievance against Brian only to find that it was less robust than any grievance should be. At any cost he wanted Brian back.
"He's taken care of me," remembered Kenny sadly, "since he was a bit of a lad."
As ever, the thing withheld, Kenny ardently desired. That thing was Brian's presence. Any Irishman, he decided fiercely, would understand his terrified clinging to the things of the heart that belonged to him by birth. It was part of his race and creed. He hated to be alone. And Brian was all he had. How lightly he had prized that one possession until it became a thing denied, Kenny, sentimentalizing his need, forgot.
Studio gossip, having concerned itself with Brian's going, almost to the disruption of the Holbein Club, took up in perturbed detail the glaring problem of Kenny's tantrums. He was keeping everyone excited.
"Of course," mused Garry, "you could earn your living as a moving picture actor—"
"Adams owes me five thousand dollars for his wife's portrait," sputtered Kenny. "But I can't get it. He's been sick for weeks. Typhoid."
"And in the meantime?"
The shaft went home. Kenny sent for a model—and sent her home.
"She was too ornamental and decidedly sympathetic," he explained gloomily to Garry. "I'm just in the mood to make a colossal fool of myself. She was the sort of girl you'd invite to tea to meet your brother's wife."
"She was!" insisted Kenny.
"Any number of models are and you know it. And that girl is Jan's cousin."
"I make a point of never losing my head over a model," declared Kenny with an air. "It's a hindrance to work. You concentrate on a type and every picture you do advertises your devotion. Suppose I married her!"
"Heaven help her!" snapped Garry, and went out, slamming the door.
Kenny offended, followed him home. He felt aggrieved and talkative.
If Kenny had succeeded in propelling himself into one of his nervous ecstasies of inspiration, thereby normalizing his existence to some extent, if Reynolds had not appeared and simplified the painter's credit to a point where he made no further search for unsympathetic models. Fate, weaving the destiny of two O'Neills, would have changed her loom. As it was, sick with brooding and pity for himself, Kenny abandoned all pretense of labor and rushed on blindly to his fate. The spring was in his blood. What form of midsummer madness lay ahead of him depended now upon the hairtrigger of impulse. A wind, a sketch, the perfume of a flower, and he would be off wherever the reminiscence called him. He whistled constantly. That, as Jan pointed out, was always a bad sign with Kenny. It meant that he felt perilously transient and would rocket up in the air when a spark came that pleased him. He had been much the same, Fahr remembered, the summer he embarked for Syria upon a tramp steamer—to the captain's frantic regret.
In the end, feeling absurdly sorry for him, Garry unwittingly sent the spark in by Pietro.
It was a letter from Brian.
"Tavern of Stars Open Country God's Green World of Spring
"The purpose of this letter is primarily a favor. Therefore without pretense I'll have done with it at once. You'll find in the studio a scrapbook of clippings which represent my ebullitions in print. Whitaker wants them, I believe, for purposes of conference. It will save him running through his files.
"I've been on the road for weeks, tramping myself into blessed weariness at night. More often than not I sleep in the open. I'm writing this with the aid of a pocket searchlight. Mine host, old Gaffer Moon, smiles down upon the ashes of my camp fire, full-faced and silver. An excellent host! Never once has he grumbled about light or pay and he grants me a roof without question. Ah! it's a blessed old Tavern of Stars, Garry! Ramshackle enough in all faith, for there are gaps in the tree-walls and Dame Wind's a-sweeping night and day, but luckily I've a blanket I carry by day and need by night.
"I've a road-mate. I think in time he'll be my friend, though he isn't yet. And thereby hangs a tale.
"I camped to-night in a wood by a river and turned in early, feeling tired. Voices drifted hazily into my slumber after a while and I awoke to find the moon riding high above the wood. My fire was out, my room in the Tavern of Stars still carpeted in shadow. Beyond in the moonlight two people had halted, a boy who was denouncing someone in a hard and bitter voice and, clinging to his arm, a girl in a cloak, whom I judged to be his sister. Her eyes were like pools of ink and tragic with imploring, Laughter would have made her lovely. As it was, with her lashes wet I could only think of Niobe and a passion of tears. I have rarely seen in a woman's face so much of the right kind of sweetness. It was an exquisite vigor of sweetness, not in the least the kind that cloys.
"They were much alike, save that the boy's face was angry and rebellious. He was the younger of the two, seventeen or so, and would have been in rags but for an unbelievable amount of mending.
"When I awoke, he had, I think, been urging his sister to go with him and she had refused. Before I could even so much as make them aware of my nearness, things came to a climax. The boy with a curse pushed her away. The hurt in his heart perhaps had made him rough. But the girl shrank away from him with a sob and ran back up the hill. He watched her climb to a hill-farm near the river, with shame and agony in his eyes, and I thought he would follow. Instead he plunged most unexpectedly in my direction and finished his tragedy in comedy by stumbling over me. We both scrambled to our feet a shade resentful.
"He realized instantly that I had overheard and blazed out at me in a passion of temper. Running away had plainly given him an arrogant conviction of manhood. Garry, old dear, I had to thrash him for the good of his soul and my Irish temper—he was so offensively independent and unjust.
"It was a pretty job of thrashing but it did him good. He threw himself on the ground and sobbed like the kid he is. While he was pulling himself together, I built up the fire and made him some coffee.
"The blaze of the fire worried him—he was afraid his sister would see it and come back. But he drank the coffee and when I had damped the fire to ease his mind, I explained to him just why I'd felt the need of thrashing him. For one thing I hadn't cared for the way he spoke to his sister. And for another I hadn't cared at all for his insults to me. He listened sullenly to the facts of my eavesdropping and apologized. When he found that I was disposed to be friendly he blurted out his justification for running away: an eccentric old invalid uncle who in all probability is not so evil as the boy claims.
"I had an odd feeling as we talked that he stands at the parting of the ways. Chance will make or mar him. And therefore I told him that if he insisted upon running away, he might as well tramp with me and think it over.
"I don't quite know yet why I said it.
"He reminds me of Kenny somehow, save that Kenny's more of a kid. Both of them have an overdose of temperament and need a guardian with an iron hand. And both have a way about them.
"Likely, after the wind was so pitifully out of his sails I could have dragged him up the hill home but if he has the notion of escape in his head, he'd go again.
"After a good deal of talk, friendly and otherwise, we took turns at the searchlight and wrote, each of us, a letter to his sister, I in a sense seeking to guarantee a respectability I do not look or feel since I am a truant myself with an indifferent amount of worldly goods. However, I couldn't help thinking how she'd worry and I promised to see him through.
"He's asleep now under my blanket, catching his breath at intervals like a youngster who's carried heartbreak into his sleep. Poor kid! I suppose he has. I've promised him to be on the road before daybreak.
"He'll have to work his way, but that, of course, will be good for him. What pennies I have I'm obliged to count with a provident eye. I've added to 'em from time to time along the road. So far I've been intermittently a rotten ploughman, a fair fence-mender and a skillful whitewasher. My amazing facility there I attribute to an apprenticeship in sunsets. Once, during a period of rain, I lived in a corncrib for three days at an average of seven cents a day. I've reduced my need of kitchen equipment to a can-opener. A can of anything, I've discovered, provides food as well as a combination saucepan and coffee pot.
"I miss Kenny but I dare not write to him. Garry, you know how it is. Unless I brace myself with a lot of temper, he can twist me around his finger. Even his letters are dangerous. I can't—I won't go back to sunsets.
"I often think these days of Kenny's wood-fire tales of the shrine of Black Gartan where St. Columba was born. Colomcille, old Kenny called him around the wood-fire, didn't he? Colomcille, Kenny said, having been in exile, knew the homesick pangs himself and therefore could give the good Irishmen who journeyed to his shrine strength to bear them. I'm not in exile but there are times when I should be journeyin' off, as Kenny says when the brogue is on him, to Black Gartan. The curse of the Celt! Kenny swears there's no homesickness in the world like an Irishman's passionate longing for home and kin. Not that I long for the studio. God forbid! Kenny's the symbol for it all.
"I've had some black minutes of remorse. After all I had no earthly right to blaze out so about the shotgun. And you can't imagine how the statuette upset me.
"Say hello to Kenny for me, won't you? Tell him I'm brown and lean already, and that I like the fortunes of the road."
It hurt of course that the letter was Garry's. Nettled at first, Kenny had half a mind not to read it. Later, why it was Garry's, gave him a sense of power. Brian was homesick and repentant. And with the fire of his temper spent he was always manageable. Kenny cursed the miles between them.
He read the letter again and the poetry of the open road filled his veins with the fire of inspiration. Tavern of Stars! Old Gaffer Moon, full-faced and silver! Tree-walls and Dame Wind a-sweeping! Why, the lad was a poet—a poet like his father. And the big-hearted kindness of him, thrashing the runaway into sense. Irish temper there! Kenny felt a passionate thrill of pride in his offspring. Yes, Brian was like his father, thank God, even to the Celtic curse of homesickness.
"But to think of him," he marveled in a wave of tenderness, "living in a corncrib on seven cents a day!"
Again and again he read between the lines, finding sanity and sense, compassion and humor. The inherited charm of Brian's personality filled him with intense delight.
"Always," Kenny remembered, "he must be taking care of someone."
It gave him a sharp pang of jealousy that that someone was a stranger.
But the thrill of penance was in his blood. If Brian was big enough to see himself in the wrong, no less was Kennicott O'Neill, his unsuccessful father. And he had driven Brian forth upon the road. For that he must atone.
That the solution of everything now lay at hand, Kenny never doubted. Already he had rocketed sentimentally into inspiration. If a certain vagueness of detail sent him roving abstractedly around the studio with the letter in his hand, the inspiration in itself was amazingly clear. Yes, he would fare forth and find Brian. He would tramp every mile of the road as Brian had done. He would find the farmhouse, the wood and the river! There happily would be some clue or other that he needed. And Kenny, in rags and penitential, his feet blistered by the hardships of the road, would overtake his son and apologize for everything. Nay, more, he would promise anything. After that the rest would be easy. Brian had written it there in a letter. Kenny could wind his son around his finger. Yes, it was all quite clear. And Brian helpfully would be shocked and thrilled at the sacrificial tribute of penance. Kenny pursed his lips and nodded. He would even concede the sunsets. That, after John Whitaker's cold-blooded misinterpretation, was necessary to his own self-respect—and Brian's happiness.
Ah, love was the only thing in the world that counted, love and art. Not the love of woman, which was after all but an intermittent intoxicant, but the love of one's own.
Kenny pitied in foretaste the ragged parent who would come upon the camp fire of his son, picturesque and repentant, and dramatized the meeting, a lump in his throat. Emotionally it was complex to be actor and audience both. Thank God, he reflected, as he opened a closet door, dragged forth a battered multitude of bags and suit cases and began an impatient upheaval of bureau drawers, he was a man of action. When Garry entered a half hour later he found the studio floor littered with preparation.
"I'm off, this morning," he explained. "In an hour now. Garry, how can I possibly reduce this mass to packing possibility?"
"Stop running around in circles!" commanded Garry, thunderstruck. "What's it all about? Where are you going?"
"I'm going," said Kenny with his chin out and his eyes defiant, "to hunt Brian."
Garry stared blankly at the packing litter and the tall Irishman in the center of it wearily mopping his forehead. It was impossible to locate the crags he must have leaped to reach his spectacular decision. They were shrouded in mystery.
"You mean," said Garry after a while, "that you will tour vaguely off, seeking a farm on a hill, a wood, a river, a youngster in patches and Brian's trail of camp fires?"
"Precisely," said Kenny with detestable confidence. "See, even you mark the clues with perfect logic."
"A farm on a hill," exclaimed Garry, "is of course a clue with absolute individuality. So is a wood and a river."
"So," supplemented Kenny with the calm, unhurried air of one who scores an unexpected point, "is a postmark on a letter."
Startled, Garry reached for the envelope. Kenny put it in his pocket.
"An obscure village in Pennsylvania," he explained with dignity, "where your wood and your river will likely have definite individuality. I shall go there."
Garry scented danger and considered the outcome in horrified dismay, regretting his rash flurry of sympathy. It had become a boomerang. What if Brian's protege in a fit of remorse saw fit to keep his sister posted? Kenny would indeed find clues. The possibility filled him with foreboding.
"Kenny," he said with some heat, "I consider that you have absolutely no right to take advantage of my letter to hunt Brian down. I'm sorry I sent it in. If he wanted you to know where he is, he'd write you. I wish to Heaven I'd thought of that postmark!"
"I shall tramp every inch on foot!" swore Kenny proudly. "Brian will appreciate the spirit of the thing if you do not."
There was relief at least in that. Garry drew a long breath. If Kenny tramped his way, another inexplicable factor in his lunacy, by the time he reached the farmhouse Brian would be well on ahead. And Garry was bitterly familiar with Kenny's incapacity for steadiness of any kind. Kenny, it developed, was thinking in similar vein.
"I take it there will be an interval of waiting before remorse will lead the kid to write to his sister," he said. "Otherwise I'd proceed to the farmhouse at once in a flying machine."
The romance of this seemed to strike him strongly for an interval. Then, mercifully, he repeated his intention of tramping.
"And then?" said Garry.
"Then," said Kenny with the utmost optimism, "I'll pick up his trail at the farmhouse and from there I'll travel night and day until I overtake him."
"The lad will come home with me."
"Good God, Garry," thundered Kenny, "I never knew anybody with such an 'And then?' sort of mind as you seem to have. There's an 'And then?' doubt after every glorious climax. He'll be home. That's sufficient."
"What about the scrapbook?"
"I've already sent it."
Garry glanced hopelessly at the melee on the floor.
"I suppose," he said coldly, "that you plan to go sagging along the highway with a suit case in each hand and a bag or two on your back?"
"I plan," retorted Kenny, "to depart from here with one suit case which will eventually become a knapsack. The problem now is entirely one of elimination. Have you anything to do, Garry?"
"I have," said Garry distinctly.
Kenny looked hurt.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Because you're a jewel at eliminatin'. I mind me of the sketching trip we took together. You did all of the packing then in a marvelous way."
Hopelessly uncertain what he ought to do, Garry lingered. If by a word he could restrain this madcap penitent from roving off in a fit of sentimentality it must be spoken forcibly and at once.
"Brian," he said, "will never forgive me."
"Brian," said Kenny, "is a jewel for sense. He'll love you for it."
Garry flung himself into a chair with a muttered imprecation.
"Now, Kenny," he said, "I want you to tell me precisely what you plan to do."
Nothing loathe, Kenny obeyed. He liked to talk. Garry found his plans indefinite and highly romantic. It was plain the notion of footsore penance had taken vigorous hold of his imagination and his love of adventure. Characteristically, since the actor on the highway was himself, he saw no chance of failure. To Garry's curt "ifs" he turned a deaf ear and sulked.
In the end they quarreled badly. Garry, raging inwardly, went home in despair; and Kenny, after a tumultuous period of indecision, eliminated a floorful of luggage. In the rebound he took less than he should. He was ready to go when the door opened and the head of Sidney Fahr appeared. Instantly his round eyes bulged with inquiry.
"Lord Almighty, Kenny," he said. "You—you're not off for anywhere, are you?"
"I am," said Kenny.
Sid came in and closed the door.
"I—I can't believe it!" he sputtered.
"Don't!" said Kenny. He was out of sorts. Garry, talking of honor and letters, had given him a bad interval of indecision and guilt.
"It—it's amazing!" went on Sid. "You were all right at breakfast—"
Kenny wheeled furiously.
"Sid," he snorted, "you're amazed when it rains. You're amazed when it snows. You're amazed when the sun's out and amazed when it isn't. Thunder-and-turf! you're always amazed!" Whereupon he stalked out with his suit case and slammed the door.
Sid pursed his lips and shook his head, his gaze riveted upon the door panels in round-eyed incredulity. To him Kenny was an incomprehensible source of turbulence.
"The spark!" said Sid. "Wonder what it's been?"
Then sharing the club-feeling of guardianship where Kenny was concerned, the good-natured little painter embarked upon a tour of inspection, locked the studio windows and trotted upstairs, still amazed, to tell Jan all about it.
Thus Kenny departed from the Holbein Club, forgetting Fahr almost at once. He had recalled the tale of the Irish piper who added a phrase to some fairy music he heard below him in a hill; and the fairies, bursting forth in delight, had struck the hump from his back in reward.
Kenny himself had the same feeling of relief that the piper must have had thereafter. He too had lost his hump of worry.
GOD'S GREEN WORLD OF SPRING
At a country inn the suit case became a knapsack. Kenny went forth into a world of old houses, apple blossoms and winding roads, likening himself to Peredur who had gone in search of the Holy Grail. The Grail in this case was the holy boon of his son's forgiveness.
He went with the break of day at a swinging stride, his penitential inspiration in the full flower of its freshness. If misgiving claimed him at all, it was merely a matter of shoes. They were the kind, built for walking, likely to be in a state of unromantic preservation at his journey's end. Kenny found in them a source of discontent and speculation.
For the passion of life which to Brian's fancy haunted the highway, Kenny had delightful substitute, fairies quaffing nectar from flower-cups of dew or riding bridle paths of cloud on bits of straw. In everything he chose to find an augury, from the night of birds to the way of the wind, the curl of smoke or the color of a cloud. Thirsty he longed for the drinking horn of Bran Galed or better still of Finn, for Finn's horn held whatever you wanted. And for a pattern in moments of diversion, there was always the fairy Conconaugh, who made love to every pretty shepherdess and milkmaid he met. Many a farmer's daughter smiled and blushed at the gallant sweep of Kenny's cap.
So he tramped, peering delightedly under bushes for the green suits and red caps of the Clan Shee, and every cleft of rock became the portal to a fairy dwelling. At sunset he discovered a fairy battle in the clouds and when the moon rose, silhouettes, fairy-like and frail, scudded mystically across the face of it. Old Gaffer Moon, full-faced and silver!
Brian's world of spring had been the world of men and women; Kenny's world held Puck and Mab and Una. He called her Oonagh. If once he remembered with longing that Oonagh's jovial fairy husband, King Fionvarra, went to his revels on the back of a night-black steed with nostrils aflame, he dismissed it as disloyal. Brian too had been tired, though he called it "blissfully weary." That depended something on the viewpoint.
When at last beside the embers of his camp fire, he spread his oilskin and drew a blanket over him, the night sounds of the forest, a-crackle with mystery, became the woodland spirits of King Arthur's men, blowing their ghostly horns by the light of the moon. Likely the wee folk would come and dance beside the embers of his camp fire.
"By the powers of wildfire!" cried Kenny drowsily, "it is good to be alive!"
In the morning there was mist and rain and Kenny tramped the sodden world in a mood of sadness. Melancholy dripped from the wet white blossoms along the way. The drenched green of the meadows brought tragic thoughts of Erin and her fate. Never a maid peeped over an orchard fence. Kenny bolstered his spirits again and again with some lines of Wordsworth which as a picturesque part of his road equipment he had copied into his notebook.
"I roved o'er many a hill and many a dale, . . . . in heat or cold, Through many a wood, and many an open road, In sunshine and in shade, in wet and fair, Drooping or blithe of heart, as might befall, My best companions now the driving winds, And now the 'trotting brooks' and whispering trees— And now the music of my own sad steps, With many a short-lived thought that passed between And disappeared."
Never before had the words failed to thrill him with the romance of the road. Now as the rainy twilight threatened with never an inn in sight, he lingered on the final lines: "The music of my own sad steps!"
Sad steps indeed that postponed his meeting with Brian! Did he not owe it to his son to travel with all possible speed to the farmhouse instead of plodding belatedly along the highway in rain and gloom and twilight? Had he after all a right to indulge his passion for tramping and footsore penance when already word might have come to the sister with the ink-pool eyes? The runaway was young. His remorse would come the quicker. For every day he, Kenny, lingered in selfish penance on the road, he must pay in a widening of distance between Brian and himself. Kenny quickened his sagging foot-steps. Drenched and hungry, he felt himself better able to see the thing in sane and unpoetic light.
It came to this: Would Brian prefer the rags of romantic loitering to the speed, train or otherwise, of eager affection? Surely not! He must not be selfish. Foot-sore or foot-fresh, his remorse would be the same. With Brian it would be the inner things that counted.
At twilight Kenny found a thrifty farmer who agreed to take him in. He dried his clothes by the kitchen fire, hating the woolly smell of the steam. Later he slept in the haymow and lay awake far into the night, listening in doubt and despair to the drip of the rain on the roof. Nothing ever went quite right. He must read again in Brian's letter about the Tavern of Stars. Beldame Rain seemed bent upon a housecleaning. Kenny, dreaming, departed from the barn in a flying machine made of lilacs. Its planes, he regretted, seemed merely sheets of rain, specked foolishly with pine-needles.
He awoke to a subdued noise of voices in the barn below and wondered disapprovingly if the farmer was just getting home. It appeared that he was getting up. Horribly depressed and sorry for him, Kenny went to sleep again. When he awoke the sun was laughing iridescently from meadow trails of rain. The fragrance of wet pine came in through the barn window. The lilac in the garden was ready to flower. Kenny longed to be off. Nevertheless he breakfasted at some length in the farm kitchen and paid so handsomely in coin and grace that there was talk of him for days.
Already the sun was warm. It lay in a blanket of bright gold everywhere. Cloud shadows deepened a meadow here and there to coolness. The air was tonic, deliriously wine-sweet and heady. Kenny thought of honey and bees and clover and tramped and brooded.
The sun he hoped would presently abate its unromantic fervor. Meantime he must think. Penance or the tribute of impatience? Which should it be?
It remained for an abandoned corncrib to plunge him into his original fever of inspiration and remorse. Brian had lived in a corncrib for seven cents a day. Brian had ploughed and Brian had mended fences. He had even dabbled in whitewash. No, by the powers that be! It was a thing for penance after all. Always at the farmhouse the trail would be waiting. What if he arrived there and the runaway had failed to write? What would he do then?
Rags and blisters and a bit of corncrib penance for himself! It was the only way. It would give his need of Brian invincible weight.
Kenny climbed a fence and entered the corncrib by a flight of rickety steps. It was something of a wreck and unspeakably dusty. Sneezing violently he sat down and ate his supper of bread and cheese with profound discontent. Each tasted monotonously of the other. Instead of two articles of diet he appeared to have something heterogeneously one in flavor. The smell of cheese he hoped wouldn't attract rats and remembered vaguely that a corncrib was architecturally immune from rodents. Well, no rat with discrimination would select a corncrib abode anyway. He'd fall through the floor slats.
Oppressed by the general air of slatty insecurity and the sight of a basket of ancient cobs in one corner, Kenny wished passionately that he hadn't always hated spiders, killed one with a shudder and pensively watched the sunset through the corncrib bars. It made him think of flamingoes in flight. One saw that best in India, flocks and flocks of them in the sky like an exquisite flame of clouds. Ah, India! No, on second thought he'd rather he in Iceland.
It sounded cooler.
When the moon etched silver bars upon the corncrib floor he went to bed, regretting the preposterous fanlike spread of the corncrib walls. Nothing walled should be smaller at the floor than it was at the top. It gave one a hopeless feeling of constriction. The feeling colored his dreams. Kenny found himself hazily adrift in an inquisitorial corncrib made of bars of moon-plated silver. They pressed in upon him ever tighter and tighter until with a mighty sweep of his arms he burst them all asunder.
He awoke at an undesirable hour, convinced that another farmer was getting up. The world was a mournful gray. At the end of the corncrib a head was peering in. Kenny turned his searchlight on it and had a moment of doubt. The man was facially endowed for anything but virtue. He was likely getting in—not up.
"Hum!" said Kenny suspiciously. "Are you coming in, my good friend, or are you going out?"
"I'm comin' into my own corncrib, damn you!" shouted the farmer with unexpected malevolence, "and you're going out!"
Kenny, resistant, knew instantly that he was not. He sat up.
"The acoustics, Silas," he said with cold disapproval, "are excellent. Therefore—"
It was impossible to finish. The farmer, finding the name offensively rustic, roared into the corncrib that Kenny was a hobo without future hope of heaven. He and the corncrib, it seemed, knew the genus well. Indeed, he looked in the corncrib for hope-lorn hoboes with the same regularity that he looked in the hay for eggs.
He added some infuriated statistics about early rising.
"Come out of that!" he yelled.
Thoroughly out of patience Kenny flung the basket of corncobs at the farmer's head. An instant sputter of cobby profanity and the sound of a backward scramble gave him grim delight.
"When I leave any bed at this hour," he called with terrible composure, "it will be because I haven't a fist to explain a gentleman's habits. It's of no earthly interest to me if fool farmers are getting up all over the dawn. So are the roosters. Let 'em!"
But the basket of cobs had been persuasive. Kenny saw beyond in the dimness cobs and an empty basket. The farmer was gone. He lay down again in deep disgust, merely reaching a pleasant stage of drowsiness when the sound of voices near the corncrib roused him again.
This time he sat up with a jerk.
"Silas," he thundered, "is that you again?"
It was. It was moreover a Silas arrogant and cautious who peered in through the bars and stated profanely that he had a marshal with him, a marshal with a badge.
Kenny considered the new complication with a startled frown. It either spelled retreat in a harrowing dawn with the marshal and Silas at his heels or a temporary sojourn in a village jail. And Kenny detested any form of humiliation or discomfort.
"Silas," he said wearily, "this is a rotten corncrib. It's sprained and spavined and Lord knows what. It's full of bugs and ants and spiders and dust and passe corncobs and it's architecturally incorrect, but if you and the marshal will hike off somewhere else and brag about his badge, I'll buy it. I've got to sleep."
Speechless, Silas stared through the slats and continued to stare until his stupefied face became a source of irritation. Kenny lost his temper. He raised his voice.
"You petrified lout! I said I'd buy it."
The marshal, whose bravery seemed less in evidence than his badge, summoned Silas to a point of safety. They conferred in a murmur. Kenny viciously killed a spider and strained his ears in vain to hear the purport of the consultation.
After an interval of heated debate Silas returned and with an air of scepticism demanded twenty-five dollars. When Kenny, who never questioned the price of anything, argued the point from motives of pure antagonism, he called the marshal. The marshal was conservative. He dallied with the need of coming. Kenny took advantage of a dispute among the enemy to count out the bills in concessional disgust and shove them through the slats. Silas, turning, brushed them with his nose and leaped back in terror. Then his hand shot upwards in an avaricious clutch. The amazed pair counted the bills and departed, ever after confusing Kenny's identity with that of a famous lunatic addicted to escapes.
Having detected all forms of degeneracy in the farmer's face Kenny barricaded the door with a loose plank from the upper step, made sure it would fall easily with a clatter, examined his revolver and had his sleep out, thanks to the fact that the day proved cloudy. He awoke to flies and disillusion. His head ached. His back ached. There was a spider in his hat. He wanted water. He wanted a brook equipped with a shower-bath and he wanted the luxury of eating what he chose. Never, never would he eat cheese again unless the hand of famine gripped him. Perhaps not then. The sum of his discontent plunged him into a black temper in which he rehearsed the details of his morning's misadventure with growing spleen and wished sincerely that Silas would appear again and roar at him. And, then, gingerly descending the rickety steps, Kenny remembered that the corncrib was his.
His . . . and not his. For he could not take it with him. It was a tantalizing thought. Not that he wanted it. God forbid! Ever after he would hate the sight of a corncrib. He simply resented the notion of leaving it behind for the vocal entertainment of Silas, who would likely get up again with the roosters and roar into it at "hoboes." Yes, the corncrib would revert to Silas, from whom he had merely rented it for one night at a most appalling price. The improvidence of it shocked him. Kenny retraced his footsteps in a blaze of indignation and made a bonfire on the corncrib floor to which in a reckless spasm of disgust he consigned the remainder of his supper. The crazy structure caught at once, with a smell of cheese.
Five minutes later Kenny's corncrib was a mass of flames and Silas had appeared at the end of the field roaring incomprehensible profanity. Kenny, waiting, whistled softly with a defiant air of calm. The corncrib was his. He had a perfect right to burn it. He meant to tell Silas this in a quiet voice, but lost his temper and thundered it instead. Then in a fury he advanced to meet the disturber of his morning sleep and made him pay in full for the disillusion of his days upon the road.
He thrashed Silas into a mood of craven apology and left him with his head in his hands. To Kenny's disgusted glance he was like the Irish Grogach of folk lore, who tumbles around among the hills with a good deal of head and a lax body without much hint of bones. Well, Brian had thrashed somebody too. There were times when it couldn't be helped. And Brian had lived in a corncrib at seven cents a day. Kenny whipped out his notebook.
"One day in a corncrib:" he wrote grimly. "Twenty-five dollars!"
Brian and he were maintaining their customary scale of contrast.
The highway he abandoned almost at once and struck off through the forest, reflecting with a frown that Silas would doubtless look up the marshal and demand a warrant for his arrest. Fate was at his heels again obsessed by a mania for disturbing the peace of mind he craved. He might even be hunted by a village posse. And bloodhounds! The adventurous side of this rather pleased him. It simply narrowed down to this—it behooved him to loiter no longer in the green world of spring. Penance or no penance he must now try penitential speed. How on earth had he ever managed to blunder into a country all trees and no rails?
He found a druid of a brook chanting paganly to trees and moss. Ordinarily Kenny would have found its music and its shadows infinitely poetic. Now, wretchedly out of sorts, he plunged his face and hands into a shady pool with a sigh of vast materialistic content, longed to linger and cursed the village posse he fancied at his heels. The first romance of his flight from justice was waning rapidly. With a groan he plunged on, horribly full of aches and hunger. Always now he would understand the Gaelic legend of Far Goila, the gaunt Man of Hunger who goes touring up and down the land in times of famine bringing luck to those who feed him. Even his taste for cheese was returning. The holocaust of the morning filled him with bitter regret. As for his feet, they felt shapeless and huge and fungus-like and full of burning needles. Oh, for the sandals of power of Fergus Mac Roigh!
At noon in utter desperation he bought a mule.
The mule brayed temptation at him from the fence of a forest shanty. A negress stood in the doorway. Kenny, in no mood for haggling, recklessly offered what he thought the mule was worth. It looked incredibly sturdy. His voice evoked a ragged husband who came up out of a cellar doorway eating a dwarfed banana. The sight of the banana made Kenny dizzy with emotion.
He demanded one at any price and bought six, ate them one after the other without the pretense of a halt and moodily shied the last skin at a sparrow, realizing then with a shock that the negro had already untied the mule from the picket fence. The precipitancy of it all made him slightly uncomfortable. Either the negro was too lazy to bargain or the offer was out of all proportion to the mule's repute. Kenny asked.
"He's got a powahful sight of appetite fo' a po' man," explained the darky fluently. "I's glad to see him go. Dat mule, sah, even eats de pickets on de fence."
Kenny felt sincerely that he could understand.
"Just give him his haid, sah," called the negro as he climbed aboard, "and he'll find de road outside fo' yoh."
Mule and rider disappeared with a sort of plunge. Kenny's spirits soared. Substance and speed here enough for any man. He remembered in the first moment of his uplift that Cuchullin, foremost champion of the Red Branch, had had a magic steed that rose from a lake. Its name was Leath Macha.
Very well, he would christen this amazing beast of sinews with the compass nose, Leath Macha, and make him a gift of his head as the darky advised. Leath Macha—Kenny later found less poetic names he liked better—developed a sylvan taste for roving and lost himself in no time, pursuing elusive glints of greenness. He seemed always seeking food. It came over his rider with a sickening wave of apprehension and disgust that the unscrupulous negro, taking advantage of his plight, had sold him what the southern darky calls an ornery mule, a mule that charged forward with fiery snorts and halted only when it pleased him, kicked backward when he did stop and plunged forward immediately afterward with a horrible air of purpose.
Kenny groaned. He was between the devil and the deep sea. The prospect of staying lost in a world of trees filled him with hungry foreboding. But he dreaded the open highway and pictured himself John Gilpining through town and village, a thing of ridicule and helpless progress. Puck in the guise of a hairbrained mule! He would pound onward into the night and throw his rider with the dawn.
At dusk the mule came out unexpectedly upon a turnpike and halted with a snort. Perfectly convinced that he was planning something or other spectacular and public, Kenny slid instantly from his back and grabbed his knapsack. He left Leath Macha in an attitude of hairtrigger contemplation, apparently about to begin something at once. When Kenny looked back the dusk or the forest had engulfed him. Likely the latter. Trained for the purpose, he decided in a blaze of wrath, Leath Macha had returned to the negro and a diet of pickets.
Kenny, swinging down the turnpike in the vigor of desperation, felt no single pang of penance. His mood was primitive and pertinacious. He went forward with bee-like undeviation until he found an inn where he bathed and shaved and ate. He slept until midnight and ate again. He slept through the night and the morning and ate again, still with the mental monotony of a cave-dweller. Then he found a railroad and rode. Not until he reached the town postmarked upon Brian's letter did he trouble himself with anything but the primitive needs of primitive man. Here, however, he permitted himself the luxury of a brief but wholly satisfactory interval of summary. The fortunes of the road had forced him into the prodigal acquirement of a corncrib and a mule when he had meant to please Brian by his economy. He had burned the one and abandoned the other, wholly necessary irregularities. He had thrashed a farmer. A fugitive from justice he had suffered hunger and thirst and every form of bodily torment. And he had tramped through a day of rain with sodden shoes and steaming garments.
Glory be to God! he had infused enough penance into his four days upon the road to last an ancient martyr a lifetime. Happily he had always had a gift for concentration.
AT THE BLAST OF A HORN
The village was old and depressing. Kenny, a conspicuous guest at the one hotel, awoke at noon to less imaginative interest in the wood, the farmhouse and the river than he'd known for days. He had walked into his picture. Now with perspective gone, he felt uncertain and vaguely alarmed. Well, any quest that led to an inn like this, he felt, must in itself be preposterous.
The innkeeper proved to be a mine of general information. He knew nothing at all specific but evinced a candid willingness to overcome this by acquiring facts from Kenny. Nobody he knew had run away from an uncle. Why was Kenny seeking uncles? . . . Hum . . . Joel Ashley's boy had run away but the uncle there had been a stepmother. Was the runaway boy anybody's long lost heir? A pity! One read such things in the papers. Years back there had been a scandal about a girl who ran away to be an actress.
Kenny interrupted him long enough to order anything vehicular in the village that would go. The innkeeper shouted to a boy outside with a bucket and asked Kenny how far the "rig" would have to travel.
"I'm going," Kenny told him shortly, "to find a river. I'll keep going until I find it."
The innkeeper after an interval of blank astonishment identified the river at once. Kenny felt encouraged. Pressed to further detail, however, he admitted a confusing plentitude of woods, hills and farmhouses. Dangerously near the state of mind Garry called "running in circles," Kenny fumed out to wait for the hotel phaeton and climbed into it with a shudder of disgust. It had a mustard colored fringe.
But the phaeton creaked away into a wind and world of lilacs. Kenny forgot the inn. He forgot the village. Another gust of warm, sweet wind, another shower of lilac stars beside a well, another lane and he would have to paint or go mad.
He neither painted nor lost his reason. He came instead to the river and began again to fret. The road that but a moment before had made a feint of stopping for good and all at a dark and hilly wall of cedars, swept around a rocky curve and revealed the glint of the river. After that by all the dictates of convenience it should have curved again and continued its course to Kenny's destination, pleasantly parallel with the bends of the river. Instead it crossed the river bridge and went off at a foolish tangent, disappearing over the crest of a hill. Wild and wooded country swept steeply down to the river edge. Kenny, who had made a vow of penitential speed, must continue his search on foot. The prospect filled him with dismay.
He dismissed the phaeton at the bridge and stared up and down the river in gloomy indecision. Upstream or downstream? Heaven alone knew! Whichever way he elected to go would be the wrong way. Fate, who had saddled him with Silas and the mule, would see to that.
Then, having resentfully put his mind to it, he evolved some logic. Brian, leaving the wood by the river, would not go back the way he had come. He would travel upstream and mail his letter when he found the village. Kenny conversely had found the village first. Therefore he must travel downstream to find the wood; downstream through a disheartening tangle of bush and tree and brier and maybe snakes and marshes.
With a groan he plunged into the wood, keeping well up the slope to avoid the lower marshes. He must spur himself to the start or he'd never finish. But his mind was in ferment. What if the boy had written to his sister? Must he vagabond forth again with the morning into a world of bucolic dawns, alarm-clock farmers, roosters, corncribs and mules? By the powers of wildfire, no! He would buy a motorcycle. On tires or toes he could wind Brian around his finger and he would!
In a flurry of bitter abstraction, he floundered into a marsh and emerged mud-spattered and indignant. Briers tore at him. Below the sun-mottled river glided endlessly on in sylvan peace. The other shore looked better. There the wind-bent shag of trees was greener save when, with a hint of rain, the breeze turned up an under-leaf ripple of silver. He met no one; no one but a madman, he reflected, would explore the tangled banks of a hermit river.
At sunset, after seven slow weariful miles downstream in the brooding quiet of a hot afternoon murmurous with birds and the sound of the river, he came to the end of his journey—a wood, stretching steeply up a cliff to a farmhouse lost in trees and ivy. It was on the other side of the river and there was no bridge.
Kenny, who believed all things of Fate when the pet or victim was himself, refused absolutely to credit her crowning whimsy. In a fury of exasperation he clambered down to the water's edge and washed his face; moodily mopping it with his handkerchief he stared across the water.
The sun in a last blaze was going down behind the higher line of trees. Roof peaks and chimney lay against a mat of gold. Crows winging toward the forest to the south speckled the sky behind the chimney. To Kenny's ardent fancy, the old house, built of gray and ancient stone, became a rugged cameo set in gold and trees. Whatever arable land belonged to the hill-farm lay away from the river. North and south loomed only a primitive maze of trees.
A path wound steeply down to the river's edge and to a boat. Kenny stared at it in some resentment.
Well, if he must hunt a bridge he would rest there first beneath the willow. The sun had made him drowsy. He might even camp on the river bank and if ever a foot came down the path and toward the boat, he would fire his revolver into the air and demand attention. The prospect pleased him. He went toward the willow.
Fate having toyed with Kenny tossed him a rose and smiled.
There was a battered horn upon the willow and below a wooden sign:
Craig Farm Ferry Please blow the horn
A battered horn of adventure! What might it not evoke? Woodland spirits perhaps, romance, a ferryman! Thank God the tree was old, the horn battered and the willow naiadic in its grace. A trio of blessing!
Kenny whistled softly in amazed delight and blew the horn. Its blast startled him and the wooded hills seemed to fling the echo back upon him. In better humor he flung himself down beneath a tree to wait for the ferryman—and went peacefully to sleep.