THE GAY REBELLION
By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK AND LONDON: MCMXIII
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Copyright, 1911, by the COLUMBIAN-STERLING PUBLISHING CO.
Printed in the United States of America
_Though J. H. jeer And "Smith" incline to frown, I do not fear To write these verses down And publish them in town. The solemn world knows well that I'm no poet; So what care I if two gay scoffers know it?
Buck up, my Muse! Wing high thy skyward way, And don't refuse To let me say my say As bravely as I may. To praise a lady fair I father verses, Which Admiration cradles, Homage nurses._
For you, Suzanne, Long since have won my heart; You break it, too, And leave the same to smart full sore Whenever you depart for Baltimore. You're charming;—and in metre I endeavour To say you are as winsome as you're clever.
Winsome and wise, Subtle in maiden's lore, With wondrous eyes— Alas for Baltimore, That grows this rose no more! As for Manhattan, that benign old vulture Wins one more prize in fancy horticulture.
So now to you I dedicate this tale; It's neither new Nor altogether stale,— Nor can completely fail, For your bright name as sponsor for my story Assures the author of reflected glory. R. W. C.
THESE stories, mademoiselle, as your intuition tells you, are for old-fashioned young people only; and should be read in the Golden Future, some snowy evening by the fire after a home dinner a deux. Your predestined husband, mademoiselle, is to extend his god-like figure upon a sofa, with an ash-tray convenient. You are to do the reading, curled up in the big velvet wing-chair, with the lamp at your left elbow and the fender under your pretty feet. As for me, I shall venture to smile at you now and then from the printed page—but with discretion, mademoiselle, not inconveniencing your party a deux. For, to be rid of me, you have merely to close this book.
The attention of the civilized world is, at present, concentrated upon The Science of Eugenics. The author sincerely trusts that this important contribution to the data now being so earnestly nosed out and gathered, may aid his fellow students, scientifically, politically and anthropologically.
* * * * *
Miris modis Di ludos faciunt hominibus!
R. W. C.
"Facta canam; sed erunt qui me finxisse loquantur."—OVID.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"She looked at him almost insolently . . . 'Presently,' she said" Frontispiece "'To begin,' he said, 'I came here fishing'" 46 "Only one fleet-footed young girl remained at his heels" 184 "'Pray, observe my unmatched eyes'" 246
THE year had been, as everybody knows, a momentous and sinister year for the masculine sex; marriages and births in the United States alone had fallen off nearly eighty per cent.; the establishment of Suffragette Unions in every city, town, and village of the country, their obedience to the dictation of the Central National Female Franchise Federation; the financial distress of the florists, caterers, milliners and modistes incident to the almost total suspension of social functions throughout the great cities of the land, threatened eventually to paralyse the nation's business.
Clergymen were in a pitiable condition for lack of fees and teas; the marriage license bureau was open only Mondays and Saturdays; the social columns of the newspapers were abolished. All over the Union young men were finding time hanging heavy on their hands after business hours because there was little to do now that every town had its Franchise Clubs magnificently fitted with every requisite that a rapidly advancing sex could possibly demand.
The pressure upon the men of the Republic was becoming tremendous; but, as everybody knows, they held out with a courage worthy, perhaps, of a better cause, and women were still denied the franchise in the face of impending national disaster.
But the Central Federation of Amalgamated Females was to deliver a more deadly blow at man than any yet attempted, a blow that for cruelty and audacity remains unparalleled in the annals of that restless sex.
As everybody now knows, this terrible policy was to be inaugurated in secret; a trial was to be made of the idea in New York State; neither the state nor federal governments had the faintest suspicion of what impended; not a single newspaper had any inkling.
Even Augustus Melnor, owner and editor of that greatest of New York daily newspapers, the Morning Star, continued to pay overwhelming attention to his personal appearance, confident that the great feminine revolt was on its last shapely legs, and that once more womankind would be kind to any kind of mankind, and flirt and frivol and marry, and provide progeny, and rock the cradle as in the good old days of yore.
So it happened one raw, windy day in May, Mr. Melnor entered his private office in the huge Morning Star building, in an unusually cheerful frame of mind and sent for the city editor, Mr. Trinkle.
"An exceedingly pretty girl smiled at me on my way down town, Trinkle," he said exultantly. "That begins to look as though the backbone of this suffragette strike was broken. What?"
"You've got a dent in your derby; it may have been that," said Mr. Trinkle.
Mr. Melnor hastily removed his hat and punched out the dent.
"I'm not so sure it was that," he said, flushing up.
Mr. Trinkle gazed gloomily out of the window.
For an hour they talked business; then Mr. Melnor was ready to go.
"How are my nephews getting on?" he asked.
"Something rotten," replied Mr. Trinkle truthfully.
"What's the matter with 'em?"
"Everything—except a talent for business."
"You mean to say they exhibit no aptitude?"
"Not the slightest."
Mr. Melnor seized his overcoat from the hook.
Mr. Trinkle offered to hold it for him. The offer irritated the wealthy owner of the Star, who suspected that the city editor meant to intimate that he, Mr. Melnor, was too old to get into his own overcoat without assistance.
"Never mind!" he said ungratefully. He fussed at the carnation in his buttonhole, picked up his doggy walking stick, glanced over his carefully pressed trousers and light coloured spats, strolled across to the mirror, and leisurely drew on his new gloves.
"Mr. Trinkle," he began more complacently, "what I want you to always bear in mind is that my pup nephews require a thorough grilling! I want you to bully 'em! Suppress 'em! Squelch, nag, worry, sit on 'em!"
"I have," said the city editor with satisfaction. "They loathe me."
"Do it some more, then! I won't permit any nepotism in this office! If you don't keep after 'em they'll turn into little beastly journalists instead of into decent, self-respecting newspaper men! Have either of my nephews attempted to write any more poetry for the Saturday supplement?"
"Young Sayre got away with some verses."
"Wha' d'ye do with 'em?" growled Mr. Melnor.
"Printed them! Are—you—craz-y?"
"Don't worry. Sayre got no signature out of me."
"But why did you print?"
"Because those verses were too devilish good to lose. You must have read them. It was that poem Amourette."
"Did he do that?"
"Yes; and the entire sentimental press of the country is now copying it without credit."
"My nephew wrote Amourette?" repeated Mr. Melnor with mingled emotions.
"He sure did. That poem seemed to deal a direct blow at this suffragette strike. Several women subscribers sent in mash notes. I had a mind to take advantage of one or two myself."
Pride and duty contended in the breast of Augustus Melnor; duty won.
"That's what I told you!" he snapped; "those pups will begin to write for the magazines if you don't look out!"
"Well I tell you that they've no nose for news—no real instinct—and they might as well write for the backs of the magazines."
"They've got to acquire news instinct! Bang it into 'em, Trinkle! Rub their noses in it! I'll have those pups understand that if ever they expect to see any inheritance from me they'll have to prepare themselves to step into my shoes! They'll have to know the whole business—from window-washer to desk!—and they've got to like it, too—every bit of it! You keep 'em at it if it kills 'em, Trinkle. Understand?"
"It'll kill more than those gifted young literary gentlemen," said Trinkle darkly.
"What do you mean by that?"
"It will kill a few dozen good stories. We're going to murder a big one now. But it's your funeral."
"That Adirondack story?"
"Exactly. It's as good as dead."
"Trinkle! Listen to me. How are we going to make men of those pups if we don't rouse their pride? I tell you a man grows to meet the opportunity. The bigger the opportunity the bigger he grows—or he blows up! Put those boys up against the biggest job of the year and it's worth five years' liberal education to them. That's my policy. Isn't it a good one?"
Mr. Trinkle said: "It's your paper. I don't give a damn."
Mr. Melnor glared at him.
"You do what I tell you," he growled. "You start in and slam 'em around the way they say Belasco slammed Leslie Carter! I'll have no nepotism here!"
He went out by a private entrance, walking with the jaunty energy that characterised him. Mr. Trinkle looked after him. "Talk of nepotism!" he muttered, then struck the desk savagely.
To the overzealous young man who came in with an exuberant step he snarled:
"Showemin! And don't you go volplaning around this office or I'll destroy you!"
A moment afterward the youthful nephews of the great Mr. Melnor appeared. They closed and locked the door behind them as they were tersely bidden, then stood in a row, politely and attentively receptive—well-bred, pleasant-faced, expensive-looking young fellows, typical of the metropolis. Mr. Trinkle eyed them with disfavour.
"So at last you're ready to start, eh?" he rasped out. "I thought perhaps you'd gone to Newport for the summer to think it over. You are ready, are you not?"
"Yes, sir, we hope to——"
"Well, dammit! 'yes' is enough! Cut out the 'we hope to'! And try not to look at me patiently, Mr. Sayre. I don't want anybody to be patient with me. I dislike it. I prefer to incite impatience in people. Impatience is a form of energy. I like energy! Energy is important in this business. The main thing is to get a move on; and then, first you know, you'll begin to hustle. Try it for a change."
He continued to inspect them gloomily for a few moments; then:
"To successfully cover this story," he continued, "you both ought to be expert woodsmen, thoroughly inured to hardship, conversant with woodcraft and nature. Are you?"
"We've been reading up," began Langdon confidently; "we have a dozen pocket volumes to take into the woods with us."
"Haven't I already warned you that every ounce of superfluous luggage will weigh a ton in the woods?" interrupted the city editor scornfully. "Are you two youthful guys under the impression that you can stroll through the wilderness loaded down with a five-foot shelf of assorted junk?"
"Sayre arranged that," said Langdon. "He has invented a wonderful system, Mr. Trinkle. You know that thin, white stuff, which resembles sheets of paper, that they give goldfish to eat. Well, Sayre and I tasted it; and it wasn't very bad; so we had them make up twelve thousand sheets of it, flavoured with vanilla, and then we got Dribble & Co., the publishers, to print one set of their Nature Library on the sheets and bind 'em up in edible cassava covers. As soon as we thoroughly master a volume we can masticate it, pages, binding, everything. William, show Mr. Trinkle your note-book," he added, turning to Sayre, who hastily produced a pad and displayed it with pardonable pride.
"Made entirely of fish food, sugar, pemmican, and cassava," he said modestly. "Takes pencil, ink, stylograph, indelible pencil, crayon, chalk—"
The city editor regarded the two young men and then the edible pad in amazement.
"What?" he barked. "Say it again!"
"It's made of perfectly good fish-wafer, Mr. Trinkle. We had it analysed by Professor Smawl, and he says it is mildly nutritious. So we added other ingredients——"
"You mean to say that this pad is fit to eat?"
"Certainly," said Langdon. "Bite into it, William, and show him."
Sayre bit out a page from the pad and began to masticate it. The city editor regarded him with intense hostility.
"Oh, very well," he said. "I haven't any further suggestions to offer. Your uncle has picked you for the job. But it's my private opinion that here is where you make good or hunt another outlet for your genius—even if your uncle does own the Star."
Then he rose and laid his hands on their shoulders:
"It's a wild and desolate region," he said, with an irony they did not immediately perceive; "nothing but woods and rocks and air and earth and mountains and madly rushing torrents and weird, silent lakes—nothing but trails, macadam roads, and sign-posts and hotels and camps and tourists, and telephones. If you find yourself in any very terrible solitudes, abandon everything and make for the nearest fashionable five-dollar-a-day igloo. It may be almost a mile away, but try to reach it, and God bless you."
As the dawning suspicion that they were being trifled with became an embarrassed certainty, the city editor's grim visage cracked into a grimmer grin.
"I don't think that you young gentlemen are cut out for a newspaper career, but you do, and others higher up say to let you try it. So you're going in to find at least one of those four men, dead or alive. The police haven't been able to find them, but you will, of course. The game-wardens, fire-wardens, guides, constables, farmers, lumbermen, sheriffs, can't discover hair or hide of them; but no doubt you can. The wild and dismal state forest is now full of detectives, amateur and professional; it's full of hotel keepers, trout fishermen, and private camps which are provided with elevators, electric light, squash courts, modern plumbing, and footmen in knee-breeches; and all of these dinky ginks are hunting for four young and wealthy men who have, at regular intervals of one week each, suddenly and completely disappeared from the face of nature and the awful solitudes of the Adirondacks. I take it for granted that you have the necessary data concerning their several and respective vanishings?"
"Yes, sir," said Langdon, who was becoming redder and redder under the bland flow of the Desk's irony.
"Suppose you run over the main points before you dash recklessly out into the woods via Broadway."
"William," said Langdon with boyish dignity, "would you be kind enough to run over your notes for Mr. Trinkle?"
"It will afford me much pleasure to do so," replied Sayre, also very red and dignified.
Out of his pocket he drew what appeared to be an attenuated ham sandwich. Opening it with a slight smile of triumph, as Mr. Trinkle's eyes protruded, he turned a page of fish-wafer paper and read aloud the pencilled memoranda:
"May 1st, 1910.
"Reginald Willett, a wealthy amateur, author of Rough Life Photography, Snapshots at Trees, Hunting the Wild Bat with the Camera, etc., etc., left his summer camp on the Gilded Dome, taking with him his kodak for the purpose of securing photographs of the wilder flowers of the wilderness.
"He never returned. His butler and second man discovered his camera in the trail.
"No other trace of him has yet been discovered. He was young, well built, handsome, and in excellent physical condition."
Sayre turned the page outward so that Mr. Trinkle could see it.
"Here's his photograph," he said, "and his dimensions."
Mr. Trinkle nodded: "Go on," he said; and Sayre resumed, turning the page:
"May 8th: James Carrick, a minor poet, young, well built, handsome, and in excellent physical condition, disappeared from a boat on Dingman's Pond. The boat was found. It contained a note-book in which was neatly written the following graceful poem:
"While gliding o'er thy fair expanse And gazing at the shore beyond, What simple joys the soul entrance Evoked by rowing on Dingman's Pond. The joy I here have found shall be Dear to my heart till life forsake, And often shall I think of thee, Thou mildly beauteous Dingman's Lake."
"Stop!" said Mr. Trinkle, infuriated. Sayre looked up.
"The poem gets the hook!" he snarled. "Go on!"
"The next," continued young Sayre, referring to his edible note-book, "is the case of De Lancy Smith. On May 16th he left his camp, taking with him his rod with the intention of trying for some of the larger, wilder, and more dangerous trout which it is feared still infest the remoter streams of the State forest.
"His luncheon, consisting of truffled pates and champagne, was found by a searching party, but De Lancy Smith has never again been seen or heard of. He was young, well built, handsome, and——"
"In excellent physical condition!" snapped Mr. Trinkle. "That's the third Adonis you've described. Quit it!"
"But that is the exact description of those three young men——"
"Every one of 'em?"
"Every one. They all seem to have been exceptionally handsome and healthy."
"Well, does that suggest any clue to you? Think! Use your mind. Do you see any clue?"
"In the probably similar fate of so much masculine beauty?"
The young men looked at him, perplexed, silent.
Mr. Trinkle waved his hands in desperation.
"Wake up!" he shouted. "Doesn't it strike you as odd that every one of them so far has been Gibsonian perfection itself? Doesn't that seem funny? Doesn't it suggest some connection with the present Franchise strike?"
"It is odd," said Langdon, thoughtfully.
"You notice," bellowed Mr. Trinkle, "that no young man disappears who isn't a physical Adonis, do you? No thin-shanked, stoop-shouldered, scant-haired highbrow has yet vanished. You notice that, don't you, Sayre? Open your mouth and speak! Say anything! Say pip! if you like—only say something!"
The young man nodded, bewildered, and his mouth remained open.
"All right, all right—as long as you do notice it," yelled the city editor, "it looks safe for you; I guess you both will come back, all right—in case any of these suffragettes have become desperate and have started kidnapping operations."
Langdon was rather thin; he glanced sideways at Sayre, who wore glasses and whose locks were prematurely scant.
"Go on, William," he said, with a crisp precision of diction which betrayed irritation and Harvard.
Sayre examined his notes, and presently read from them:
"The fourth and last victim of the Adirondack wilderness disappeared very recently—May 24th. His name was Alphonso W. Green, a wealthy amateur artist. When last seen he was followed by his valet, who carried a white umbrella, a folding stool, a box of colours, and several canvases. After luncheon the valet went back to the Gilded Dome Hotel to fetch some cigarettes. When he returned to where he had left his master painting a picture of something, which he thinks was a tree, but which may have been cows in bathing, Mr. Green had vanished. . . . Hum—hum!—ahem! He was young, well built, handsome, and——"
"Kill it!" thundered the city editor, purple with passion.
"But it's the official descrip——"
"I don't believe it! I won't! I can't! How the devil can a whole bunch of perfect Apollos disappear that way? There are not four such men in this State, anyway—outside of fiction and the stage——"
"I'm only reading you the official——"
Mr. Trinkle gulped; the chewing muscles worked in his cheeks, then calmness came, and his low and anxiously lined brow cleared.
"All right," he said. "Show me, that's all I ask. Go ahead and find just one of these disappearing Apollos. That's all I ask."
He shook an inky finger at them impressively, timing its wagging to his parting admonition:
"We want two things, do you understand? We want a story, and we want to print it before any other paper. Never mind reporting progress and the natural scenery; never mind telegraphing the condition of the local colour or the dialect of northern New York, or your adventures with nature, or how you went up against big game, or any other kind of game. I don't want to hear from you until you've got something to say. All you're to do is to prowl and mouse and slink and lurk and hunt and snoop and explore those woods until you find one or more of these Adonises; and then get the story to us by chain-lightning, if," he added indifferently, "it breaks both your silly necks to do it."
They passed out with calm dignity, saying "Good-bye, sir," in haughtily modulated voices.
As they closed the door they heard him grunt a parting injury.
"What an animal!" observed Sayre. "If it wasn't for the glory of being on the N. Y. Star——"
"Sure," said Langdon, "it's a great paper; besides, we've got to—if we want to remain next to Uncle Augustus."
It was a great newspaper; for ethical authority its editorials might be compared only to the Herald's; for disinterested principle the Sun alone could compare with it; it had all the lively enterprise and virile, restless energy of the Tribune; all the gay, inconsequent, and frothy sparkle of the Evening Post; all the risky popularity of the Outlook. It was a very, very great New York daily. What on earth has become of it!
LANGDON, very greasy with fly ointment, very sleepy from a mosquitoful night, squatted cross-legged by the camp fire, nodding drowsily. Sayre fought off mosquitoes with one grimy hand; with the other he turned flapjacks on the blade of his hunting-knife. All around them lay the desolate Adirondack wilderness. The wire fence of a game preserve obstructed their advance. It was almost three-quarters of a mile to the nearest hotel. Here and there in the forest immense boulders reared their prehistoric bulk. Many bore the inscription: "Votes for Women!"
"I tell you I did see her," repeated Sayre, setting the coffee-pot on the ashes and inspecting the frying pork.
"The chances are," yawned Langdon, rousing himself and feebly sucking at his empty pipe, "that you fell asleep waiting for a bite—as I did just now. Now I've got my bite and I'm awake. It was a horse-fly. Aren't those flapjacks ready?"
"If you're so hungry, help yourself to a ream of fish-wafer," snapped Sayre. "I'm not a Hindoo god, so I can't cook everything at once."
Langdon waked up still more.
"I want to tell you," he said fiercely, "that I'd rather gnaw circles in a daisy field than eat any more of your accursed fish-wafer. Do you realise that I've already consumed six entire pads, one ledger, and two note-books?"
Sayre struck frantically at a mosquito.
"I wonder," he said, "whether it might help matters to fry it?"
"No, you idiot! A fish-wafer."
"You'd better get busy and fry a few trout."
"Where are they?"
"In some of these devilish brooks. It's up to you to catch a few."
"Didn't I try?" demanded Sayre; "didn't I fish all the afternoon?"
"All I know about it is that you came back here last night with a farthest north story and no fish. You're an explorer, all right."
"Look here, Curtis! Don't you believe I saw her?"
"Sure. When I fall asleep I sometimes see the same kind—all winners, too."
"I was not asleep!"
"You said yourself that you were dead tired of waiting for a trout to become peevish and bite."
"I was. But I didn't fall asleep. I did see that girl. I watched her for several minutes. . . . Breakfast's ready."
Langdon looked mournfully at the flapjacks. He picked up one which was only half scorched, buttered it, poured himself a cup of sickly coffee, and began to eat with an effort.
"You say," he began, "that you first noticed her when you were talking out loud to yourself to keep yourself awake?"
"While waiting for a trout to bite," said Sayre, swallowing a lump of food violently. "I was amusing myself by repeating aloud my poem, Amourette:
"Where is the girl of yesterday? The kind that snuggled up? In vain I walk along Broadway— Where is the girl of yesterday, Whose pretty——"
"All right! Go on with the facts!"
"Well, that's what I was repeating," said Sayre, tartly, "and it's as good verse as you can do!"
Langdon bit into another flapjack with resignation. Sayre swallowed a cup of coffee, dodging an immersed June-beetle.
"I was just repeating that poem aloud," he said, shuddering. "The woods were very still—except for the flies and mosquitoes; sunlight lay warm and golden on the mossy tree-trunks——"
"Cut it. You're not on space rates."
"I was trying to give you a picture of the scene——"
"You did; the local colour about the mosquitoes convinced me. Go on about the girl."
An obstinate expression hardened Sayre's face; the breeze stirred a lock on his handsome but prematurely bald forehead; he gazed menacingly at his companion through his gold pince-nez.
"I'll blue-pencil my own stuff," he said. "If you want to hear how it happened you'll listen to the literary part, too."
"Go on, then," said Langdon, sullenly.
"I will. . . . The sunlight fell softly upon the trees of the ancient wood; bosky depths cast velvety shadows——"
"What is a bosky depth? What is boskiness? By heaven, I've waited years to ask; and now's my chance? You tell me what 'bosky' is, or——"
"Do you want to hear about that girl?"
"Then you fill your face full of flapjack and shut up."
Langdon bit rabidly at a flapjack and beat the earth with his heels.
"The stream," continued Sayre, "purled." He coldly watched the literary effect upon Langdon, then went on:
"Now, there's enough descriptive colour to give you a proper mental picture. If you had left me alone I'd have finished it ten minutes ago. The rest moves with accelerated rhythm. It begins with the cracking of a stick in the forest. Hark! A sharp crack is——"
"Every bum novel begins that way."
"Well, the real thing did, too! And it startled me. How did I know what it might have been? It might have been a bear——"
"Or a cow."
"You talk," said Sayre angrily, "like William Dean Howells! Haven't you any romance in you?"
"Not what you call romance. Pass the flapjacks."
Sayre passed them.
"My attention," he said, "instantly became riveted upon the bushes. I strove to pierce them with a piercing glance. Suddenly——"
"Sure! 'Suddenly' always comes next."
"Suddenly the thicket stirred; the leaves were stealthily parted; and——"
"A naked savage in full war paint——"
"Naked nothing! A young girl in full war paint and a perfectly fitting gown stepped noiselessly out."
"Out of what? you gink!"
"The bushes, dammit! She held in her hand a curious contrivance which I could not absolutely identify. It might have been a hammock; it might have been a fish-net."
"Perhaps it was a combination," suggested Langdon cheerfully. "Good idea; she to help you catch a trout; you to help her sit in the hammock; afterward——"
Sayre, absorbed in retrospection, squatted beside the fire, a burnt flapjack suspended below his lips, which were slightly touched with a tenderly reminiscent smile.
"What are you smirking about now?" demanded Langdon.
"She was such a pretty girl," mused Sayre, dreamily.
"Did you sit in the hammock with her?"
"No, I didn't. I'm not sure it was a hammock. I don't know what it was. She remained in sight only a moment."
"Didn't you speak to her?"
"No. . . . We just looked. She looked at me; I gazed at her. She was so unusually pretty, Curtis; and her grave, grey eyes seemed to meet mine and melt deep into me. Somehow——"
"In plainer terms," suggested Langdon, "she gave you the eye. What?"
"That's a peculiarly coarse observation."
"Then tell it your own way."
"I will. The sunlight fell softly upon the trees of the ancient wood——"
"Woodn't that bark you!" shouted Langdon, furious. "Go on with the dolly dialogue or I'll punch your head, you third-rate best seller!"
"But there was no dialogue, Curt. It began and ended in a duet of silence," he added sentimentally.
"Didn't you say anything? Didn't you try to make a date? Aren't you going to see her again?"
"I don't know. I am not sure what sweet occult telepathy might have passed between us, Curtis. . . . Somehow I believe that all is not yet ended. . . . . Pass the pork! . . . I like to think that somehow, some day, somewhere——"
"Stop that! You're ending it the way women end short stories in the thirty-five-centers. What I want to know is, why you think that your encounter with this girl has anything to do with our finding Reginald Willett."
There was a basin of warm water simmering on the ashes; Sayre used it as a finger-bowl, dried his hands on his shirt, lighted his pipe, and then slowly drew from his hip pocket a flat leather pocket-book. "Curt," he said, "I'm not selfish. I'm perfectly willing to share glory with you. You know that, don't you?"
"Sure," muttered Langdon. "You're a bum cook, but otherwise moral enough."
Sayre opened the pocket-book and produced a photograph.
"Everybody who is searching for Willett," he said, "examined the few clues he left. Like hundreds of others, you and I, when we first entered these woods, went to his camp on Gilded Dome, prowled all over it, and examined the camera which had been picked up in the trail, didn't we?"
"We did. It was a sad scene—his distracted old father——"
"H'm! Did you see his distracted old father, Curt?"
"I? No, of course not. Like everybody else, I respected the grief of that aged and stricken gentleman——"
"Hey? Why, you yellow dingo——"
"Curt, as I was snooping about the Italian Garden I happened to glance up at the mansion—I mean the camp—and I saw by the window a rather jolly old buck with a waxed moustache and a monocle, smoking a good cigar and perusing his after-breakfast newspaper. A gardener told me that this tranquil old bird was Willett Senior, who had arrived the evening before from Europe via New York. So I went straight into that house and I disregarded the butler, second man, valet, and seven assorted servants; and Mr. Willett Senior heard the noise and came to the dining-room door. 'Well, what the devil's the matter?' he said. I said: 'I only want to ask you one question, sir. Why are you not in a state of terrible mental agitation over the tragic disappearance of your son?'
"'Because,' he replied, coolly, 'I know my son, Reginald. If the newspapers and the public will let him alone he'll come back when he gets ready.'
"'Are you not alarmed?'
"'Not in the least.'
"'Then why did you return from Europe and hasten up here?'
"'Too many newspaper men hanging around.' He glanced insultingly at the silver.
"I let that go. 'Mr. Willett,' I said, 'they found your son's camera on the trail. Your butler exhibits it to the police and reporters and tells them a glib story. He told it to me, also. But what I want to know is, why nobody has thought of developing the films.'
"'My butler,' said Mr. Willett, eyeing me, 'did develop the films.'
"'Was there anything on them?'
"'May I see them?'
"He scrutinised me.
"'After you've seen them will you take your friend and go away and remain?' he asked wearily.
"'Yes,' I said.
"He walked into the breakfast room, opened a silver box, and returned with half a dozen photographs. The first five presented as many views of foliage; I used a jeweller's glass on them, but discovered nothing else."
"Was there anything to jar you on the sixth photograph?" inquired Langdon, interested.
Sayre made an impressive gesture; he was a trifle inclined toward the picturesque and histrionic.
"Curt, on the ground under a tree in the sixth photograph lay something which, until last evening, did not seem to me important." He paused dramatically.
"Well, what was it? A bandersnatch?" asked Langdon irritably.
Langdon took the photograph. "It looks like a—a hammock."
"What that girl held in her hand last night resembled a hammock."
Sayre leaned over his shoulder and laid the stem of his pipe on the extreme edge of the photograph.
"If you look long enough and hard enough," he said, "you will just be able to make out the vague outline of a slender human hand among the leaves, holding the end of the hammock. See it?"
Langdon looked long and steadily. Presently he fished out a jeweller's glass, screwed it into his eye, and looked again.
"Do you think that's a human hand?"
"It's a slim one—a child's, or a young girl's."
"It is. She had be-u-tiful hands."
"That girl I saw last evening."
Langdon slowly turned and looked at Sayre.
"Well, what do you make of it?"
"Nothing yet—except a million different little romances."
"Of course, you'd do that anyway. But what scientific inference do you draw? Here's a thing that looks like a hammock lying on the ground. One end seems to be lifted; perhaps that is a hand. Well, what about it?"
"I'm going to find out."
"By—fishing," said Sayre quietly, rising and picking up his rod.
"You're going back there in hopes of——"
After a silence Langdon said: "You say she was unusually pretty?"
"Shall I—go with you, William?"
"No," said Sayre coldly.
SAYRE had been fishing for some time with the usual result when the slightest rustle of foliage caught his ear. He looked up. She was standing directly behind him.
He got to his feet immediately and pulled off his cap. That was too bad; he was better looking with it on his head.
"I wondered whether you'd come again," he said, so simply and naturally that the girl, whose grey eyes had become intent on his scanty hair with a surprised and pained expression, looked directly into his smiling and agreeable face.
"Did you come to fish this pool?" he asked. "You are very welcome to. I can't catch anything."
"Why do you think that I am out fishing?" she asked in a curiously clear, still voice—very sweet and young—but a voice that seemed to grow out of the silence instead of to interrupt it.
"You are fishing, are you not? or at least you came here to fish last evening?" he said.
"Why do you think so?"
"You had a net."
He expected her to say that it was a hammock which she was trailing through the woods in search of two convenient saplings on which to hang it.
She said: "Yes, it was a net."
"Did my being here drive you away from your favourite pool?"
She looked at him candidly. "You are not a sportsman, are you?"
"N—no," he admitted, turning red. "Why?"
"People who take trout in nets are fined and imprisoned."
"Oh! But you said you had a net."
"It wasn't a fish net."
He waited. She offered no further explanation. Sometimes she looked at him, rather gravely, he thought; sometimes she looked at the stream. There was not the slightest hint of embarrassment in her manner as she stood there—a straight, tall, young thing, grey-eyed, red-lipped, slim, with that fresh slender smoothness of youth; clad in grey wool, hatless, thick burnished hair rippling into a heavy knot at the nape of the whitest neck he had ever seen.
The stiller she stood, apparently wrapped in serious inward contemplation, the stiller he remained, as though the spell of her serene self-absorption consigned him to silence. Once he ventured, stealthily, to smack a mosquito, but at the echoing whack there was, in her slowly turned face, the calm surprise of a disturbed goddess; and he felt like saying "excuse me."
"Do they bite you?" she asked, lifting her divine eyebrows a trifle.
"Bite me! Good heavens, don't they bite you? But I don't suppose they dare——"
"I didn't mean 'dare' exactly," he tried to explain, feeling his ears turning a fiery red, and wondering why on earth he should have made such a foolish remark.
"What did you mean?"
"N—nothing. I don't know. I say things and—and sometimes," he added in a burst of confidence, "they don't seem to mean anything at all." To himself he groaned through ground teeth: "What an ass I am. What on earth is the matter with me?"
She considered him in silence, candidly; and redder and redder grew his ears as he saw that she was quietly inspecting him from head to foot with an interest perfectly unembarrassed, innocently intent upon her inspection.
Then, having finished him down to his feet, she lifted her eyes, caught his, looked a moment straight into them, then sighed a little.
"Do you know," she said, "I ought not to have come here again."
"Why?" he asked, astonished.
"There's no use in my telling you. There was no use in my coming. Oh, I realise that perfectly well now. And I think I'd better go——"
She lingered a moment, glanced at the stream running gold in the afternoon light, then turned away, bidding him good-bye in a low voice.
"Are you g-going?" he blurted out, not knowing exactly what he was saying.
She moved on in silence. He looked after her. A perfectly illogical feeling of despair overwhelmed him.
"For Heaven's sake, don't go away!" he said.
She moved on a pace, another, more slowly, hesitated, halted, leisurely looked back over her shoulder.
"What did you say?" she asked.
"I said—I said—I said——" but he began to stammer fearfully and could get no farther.
Perhaps she thought he was threatened with some kind of seizure; anyway, something about him apparently interested her enough to slowly retrace her steps.
"What is the matter, Mr. Sayre?" she asked.
"Why, that's funny!" he said; "you know my name?"
"Yes, I know your name."
"Could—would—should—might——" he could get no farther.
"M-might I—would it be—could you——"
"Are you trying to ask me what is my name?"
"Yes," he said; "did you think I was reciting a lesson in grammar?"
Suddenly the rare smile played delicately along the edges of her upcurled mouth.
"No," she said, "I knew you were embarrassed. It wasn't nice of me. But," and her face grew grave, "there is no use in my telling you my name."
"Because we shall not meet again."
"Won't you ever let me—give me a chance—because—you know, somehow—seeing you yesterday—and to-day—this way——"
"Yes, I know what you mean."
"Yes. I came back, too," she said seriously.
A strange, inexplicable tingling pervaded him.
"Yes. I should not have done it, because I saw you perfectly plainly yesterday. But—somehow I hoped—somehow——"
"That there had been a mistake."
"You thought you knew me?"
"Oh, no. I knew perfectly well I had never before seen you. That made no difference. It wasn't that. But I thought—hoped—I had made a mistake. In fact," she said, with a slight effort, "I was dishonest with myself. I knew all the time that it was useless. And as soon as I saw you with your cap off——"
"W-what!" he faltered.
A slight blush, perfectly distinct in her creamy skin, grew, then waned.
"I am sorry," she said. "Of course, you do not understand what I am saying; and I can not explain. . . . And I think I had—better—go."
"That is an added reason for my going."
"Your saying 'please don't.'"
He looked at her, bewildered, and slowly passed his hand across his eyes.
"Somehow," he said, "this is all like magic to me. Here in the wilderness I hear a stick crack——"
"I meant you to hear it. I could have moved without a sound."
"And, looking up, I see the most beautif—I see—you. Then I dream of you."
"Every moment—between mosquitoes! And then to-day I returned, hoping."
She lost a trifle of her colour.
"T-t-to s-s-see you," he stammered.
"I must go," she said under her breath, almost hurriedly; "this must stop now!"
"Won't you—can't you—couldn't I——"
"No. No—no—no—Mr. Sayre."
He said: "I've simply got to see you again. I know what I'm asking—saying—hoping—wishing—isn't usual—conventional—advisable, b-b-but I can't help it."
Standing there facing him she slowly shook her head.
"There is no use," she said. "It is perfectly horrid of me to have come back. I somehow was afraid—from the expression of your face yesterday——"
"Afraid of what?"
She hesitated; then, lifting her grey eyes, fearlessly:
"Afraid that you might wish to see me again. . . . Because I felt the same way."
"Do you mean," he cried, "that I—that you—that we—Oh, Lord! I'm not eloquent, but every faltering, stuttering, stammering, fool of a word I do say means a million things——"
"Oh, I know it, Mr. Sayre. I know it. I have no business here; I must not remain——"
"If you go, you know I'll do some absurd thing—like poking my head under water and holding it there, or walking backward off that ledge. Do you know—if you should suddenly go away now, and if that ended it——"
"You know," he said.
She may have known, for she stood very still, with head lowered and downcast eyes. As for Sayre, what common sense he possessed had gone. The thrilling unreality of it all—the exquisite irrational, illogical intoxication of the moment—her beauty—the mystery of her—and of the still, sunlit woods, had made of them both, and the forest world around them, an enchanted dream which he was living, every breath a rapture, every heart-beat an excited summons from the occult.
"Mr. Sayre," she said, with an effort, "I shall not tell you my name; but if you ever again should happen to think of me, think of my name as the name of the girl in that poem which I heard you reciting yesterday."
"Yes. That was the name of the poem and of the girl. You may call me Amourette—when you are thinking of me alone by yourself."
"Did you like that poem?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because—I wrote it."
"You!" She lost a little of her colour.
"Yes," he said, "I wrote it—Amourette."
"Then—then I had better go away as fast as I can," she murmured.
With an enraptured smile verging perilously upon the infatuated, if not fatuous, he repeated her name aloud; and she looked at him out of soft grey eyes that seemed at once fascinated and distressed.
"Please let me go," she said.
He was not detaining her.
"Won't you?" she asked, pitifully.
"No, I won't," said William Sayre, suddenly invaded by an instinct that he possessed authority in the matter. "We must talk this thing over."
"Oh, but there isn't any use—really, truly there isn't! Won't you believe me?"
"No," he said as honestly as he could through the humming exaltation that sang in him until, to himself, he sounded like a beehive.
There was a fallen log all over moss behind her.
"We ought to be seated to properly consider this matter," he said.
"I must not think of it! I must go instantly."
When they were seated, and he had nearly twisted his head off trying to meet her downcast eyes, he resumed a normal and less parrot-like posture, and folded his arms portentously.
"To begin," he said, "I came here fishing. I heard a stick crack——"
She looked up.
"That was my fault. It was all my fault. I don't know how I ever came to do it. I never did such a thing in my life. We merely heard that you and Mr. Langdon were in the woods——"
"We. Never mind the others. I'll say that I heard you were here. And—and I took my—my net and came to—to——"
"Investigate what? Me?"
"Y-yes. I can't explain. But I came, honestly, naturally, unsuspiciously. And as soon as I saw you I was quite sure that you were not what—what certain people wanted, even if you were the author of Amourette——"
"I was not what you wanted?" he repeated, bewildered.
"I mean that—that you were not what—what they required——"
"They? Who are they? And what, in Heaven's name, did 'they' require?"
"I don't want to tell you, Mr. Sayre. All I shall say is that I knew immediately that they didn't want you, because you are not up to the University standard. And you won't understand that. I ought to have gone quietly away. . . . I don't know why I didn't. I was so interested in listening to you recite, and in looking at you. I loved your poem, Amourette. . . . And two hours slipped by——"
"You stood there in the bushes looking at me for two hours, and listening to my poem—and liking it?"
"Yes, I did. . . . I don't know why. . . . And then, somehow, without any apparent reason, I wanted you to see me . . . without any apparent reason . . . and so I stepped on a dry stick. . . . And to-day I came back . . . without any apparent reason. . . . I don't know what on earth has happened to make me—make me—forget——"
She looked up at him with clear grey eyes, a trifle daunted.
"Forget everything except that I—like you, Mr. Sayre."
He said: "That is the sweetest and most fearless thing a woman ever said. I am absurdly happy over it."
She waited, looking down at her linked fingers.
"And," he said, "for the first time in all my life I have cared more for what a woman has said to me than I care for anything on earth."
There was a good deal of the poet in William Sayre.
"Do you mean it?" she asked, tremulously.
"I mean more."
"I—I think you had better not say—more."
"Because of what I told you. There is no use in your—your finding me—interesting."
"Are you married?" he asked, so guilelessly that she blushed and denied it with haste.
His head was spinning in a sea of pink clouds. Harps were playing somewhere; it may have been the breeze in the pines.
"Amourette," he repeated in a sort of divine daze.
"I am—going," she said, in a low voice.
"Do you desire to render me miserable for life?" he asked so seriously that at first she scarcely realised what he had said. Then blush and pallor came and went; she caught her breath, looked up at him, beseechingly.
"Everything is wrong," she said in the ghost of a voice. "Things are hurrying me—trying to drive me headlong. I must go. Let me go, now."
And she sat very still, and closed her eyes. A second later she opened them.
"Why did you come?" she asked almost fiercely. "There was no use in it! Why did you come into these woods for that foolish newspaper? By this time the Associated Press, the police, and the families of the men you are looking for have received letters from every one of the four missing young men, saying that they are perfectly well and happy and expect to return—after their honeymoons."
Flushed, excited, beautiful in her animation, she faced the astounded young man who stared at her wildly through his eye-glasses.
After a while he managed to ask whether she wished him to believe that these four young men had each eloped with their soul mates.
She bit her lip. "To be accurate," she said in a low voice, "somebody eloped with each one of them."
"How? I don't understand!"
"I don't wish you to. . . . Good-bye."
"You mean," he demanded, incredulously, "that four girls ran away with these four big, hulking young men?"
"That's ridiculous! Besides, it's impossible! Besides—women don't run men off like cattle rustlers. Man is the active agent in elopements, woman the passive agent."
She did not answer.
She made no reply.
He said: "Amourette, shall I illustrate what I mean—with you as the passive agent?"
The girl bent over a little, then with a sudden movement she dropped her head in her hands. A moment later he saw a single tear fall between her fingers.
He looked east, west, north, south, and finally up into the sky. Seeing nobody, the silly expression left his otherwise interesting face; a graver, gentler light grew in his eyes. And he put one arm around her supple waist.
"Something is dreadfully wrong," he said; "all this must be explained—our strange encounter, our speaking, our talking at cross purposes, our candid interest in each other—the sudden, swift, unfeigned friendship that was born the instant that our eyes encountered——"
"I know it. It was born. Oh, I know it. I know it, and I could not help it—somehow—somehow——"
"It—it was almost like—like—love at first sight," he whispered.
"It was—something like it—I am afraid——"
"Do you think it was love?"
"I don't know. . . . Do you?"
"I don't know. . . . You mustn't cry. Put your head down—here. You mustn't be distressed."
"I am, dreadfully."
"You mustn't be."
"I can't help it—now."
"Could you help it if you—loved me?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no! It would distress me beyond measure to—to love you. Oh, it must not be—it must not happen to me——"
"It is already happening to me."
"Don't let it! Don't let it happen to either of us! Please—please——"
"But—it is happening all the while, Amourette."
She drew a swift, startled sigh.
"Is that what it is that is happening to me, too, Mr. Sayre?"
"Yes. I think so."
"Oh, oh, oh!" she sobbed, hiding her face closer to his shoulder.
"Amourette! Darling! Dea——"
"L-listen. Because now I've got to tell you all about the disappearance of those perfectly horrid young specimens of physical perfection. And after that you will abhor me!"
"Abhor you! Dearest—dearest and most divine of women!"
"Wait!" she sobbed. "I've got myself and you into the most awful scrape you ever dreamed of by falling in love with you at first sight!"
And she turned her face closer to his shoulder and slipped one desperate little hand into his.
ABOUT two o'clock that afternoon Sayre rushed into camp with his scanty hair on end.
Langdon, who had been attempting to boil a blank-book for dinner, gazed at him in consternation.
"What is it? Bears, William?" he asked fearfully. "D-d-don't be f-f-frightened; I'll stand by you."
"It isn't bears, you simp! I've just unearthed the most colossal conspiracy of the century! Curtis, things are happening in these woods that are incredible, abominable, horrible——"
"What is happening?" faltered Langdon, turning paler. "Murder?"
"Worse! They've got Willett and the others! She admitted it to me——"
"Willett and Carrick and the others!" shouted Sayre, gesticulating. "They've caught 'em all! She said so! I——"
"They? She? Who's caught what? Who's 'they'? What it is? Who's 'she'? What are you talking about, anyway?"
"Amourette told me——"
"Amourette? Who the deuce is Amourette?"
"I don't know. Shut up! My head's spinning like a gyroscope. All I know is that I want to marry her and she won't let me—and I believe she would if I had a reliable hair-restorer and wasn't near-sighted—but she ran away and got inside the fence and locked the gate."
"Are you drunk?" demanded Langdon, "or merely frolicsome?"
"I don't know. I guess I am. I'm about everything else. What do I know about anything anyway? Nothing!"
He began to run around in circles; Langdon, having seen similar symptoms in demented cats, regarded him with growing alarm.
"I tell you it's an outrageous social condition which tolerates such doings!" shouted Sayre. "It's a perfectly monstrous state of things! Nine handsome men out of ten are fatheads! I told her so! I tried to point out to her—but she wouldn't listen—she wouldn't listen!"
Langdon stared at him, jaw agape. Then:
"Quit that ghost-dancing and talk sense," he ventured.
"Do you think that men are going to stand for it?" yelled Sayre, waving his hands, "ordinary, decent, God-fearing, everyday young men like you and me? If this cataclysmic cult gains ground among American women—if these exasperating suffragettes really intend to carry out any such programme, everybody on earth will resemble everybody else—like those wax figures marked 'neat,' 'imported,' and 'nobby'! And I told Amourette that, too; but she wouldn't listen—she wouldn't lis—My God! Why am I bald?"
He swung his arms like a pair of flails and advanced distractedly upon Langdon, who immediately retreated.
"Come back here," he said. "I want to picture to you the horrors that are going on in your native land! You ought to know. You've got to know!"
"Certainly, old man," quavered Langdon, keeping a tree between them. "But don't come any closer or I'll scream."
"Do you think I'm nutty?"
"Oh, not at all—not at all," said Langdon soothingly. "Probably the wafers disagreed with you."
"Curtis, wouldn't it rock any man's equilibrium to fall head over heels in love with a girl inside of ten minutes? I merely ask you, man to man."
"It sure would, dear friend——"
"And then to see that divine girl almost ready to love you in return—see it perfectly, plainly? And have her tell you that she could learn to care for you if your hair wasn't so thin and you didn't wear eye-glasses? By Jinks! That was too much! I'll leave it to you—wasn't it?"
Langdon swallowed hard and watched his friend fixedly.
"And then," continued Sayre, grinding his teeth, "then she told me about Willett!"
"Oh, the whole thing is knocked in the head from a newspaper standpoint. They've all written home. They're married—or on the point of it——"
"But that isn't what bothers me. What do I care about this job, or any other job, since I've seen the only girl on earth that I could ever stay home nights for! And to think that she ran away from me and I'm never to see her again because I'm near-sighted and partly bald!"
He waved his arms distractedly.
"But, by the gods and demons!" he cried, "I'm not going to stand for her going hunting with that man-net! If she catches any insufferable pup in it I'll go insane!"
Langdon's eyes rolled and he breathed heavily.
"Old man," he ventured, kindly, "don't you think you'd better lie down and try to take a nice little nap——"
Sayre instantly chased him around the tree and caught him.
"Curt," he said savagely, "get over the idea that there's anything the matter with me mentally except love and righteous indignation. I am in love; and it hurts. I'm indignant, because those people are treating my sex with an outrageous and high-handed effrontery that would bring the blush of impotent rage to any masculine cheek!"
"What people?" said the other warily. "You needn't answer till you get your wits back."
"They're back, Curt; that twelve-foot fence of heavy elephant-proof wire which we noticed in the forest day before yesterday isn't the fencing to a game park. It encloses a thousand acres belonging to the New Race University. Did you know that?"
"What's The New Race University?" asked Langdon, astonished.
"You won't believe it—but, Curtis, it's a reservation for the—the p-p-propagation of a new and s-s-symmetrically p-p-proportioned race of g-g-god-like human beings! It's a deliberate attempt at cold-blooded scientific selection—an insult to every bald-headed, near-sighted, thin-shanked young man in the United States!"
"William," said the other, coaxingly, "you had better lie down and let me make some wafer soup for you."
"You listen to me. I'm getting calmer now. I want to tell you about these New Race women and their University and Amourette and Reginald Willett and the whole devilish business."
"Is there—is there really such a thing, William? You would not tell me a bind like that just to make a goat of me, would you?"
"No, I wouldn't. There is such a thing."
"Did you see it?"
"How do you know?"
"Amourette told me—shamelessly, defiantly, adorably! It was organised in secret out of the most advanced and determined as well as the most healthy, vigorous, and physically beautiful of all the suffragettes in North America. One of their number happened to own a thousand acres here before the State took the rest for its park. And here they have come, dozens and dozens of them—to attend the first summer session of the New Race University."
"Is—is there actually a University in these woods?"
"Buildings?" demanded Langdon, amazed.
"No, burrows. Isn't that the limit? Curt, believe me, they live in caves. It's their idea of being vigorous and simple and primitive. Their cult is the cave woman. They have classes; they study and recite and exercise and cook and play auction bridge. Their object is to hasten not only political enfranchisement, but the era of a physical and intellectual equality which will permit them to mate as they choose and people this republic with perfect progeny. Every girl there is pledged to mate only with the very pick of physical masculine perfection. Their pledge is to build up a new, god-like race on earth, which ultimately will dominate, crush out, survive, and replace all humanity which has become degenerate. Nothing mentally or physically or politically imperfect is permitted inside that wire fence. My eye-glasses bar me out; your shanks exclude you—also your politics, because you're a democrat."
"That's monstrous!" exclaimed Langdon, indignantly.
"More monstrous still, these disciples of the New Race movement are militant! Their audacity is unbelievable! Certain ones among them, adepts in woodcraft, have now begun to range this forest with nets. What do you think of that! And when they encounter a young fellow who agrees with the remorseless standard of perfection set up by the University, they stalk him and net him! They've got four so far. And now it's Amourette's turn to go out!"
Langdon's teeth chattered.
"W-w-what are they g-going to do with their captures?"
"Willett? And Carrick and——"
"Yes. Isn't it awful, Curt?"
"Was she the girl with the net in the photo? I mean, was that her hand?"
"No; that was a friend of her's who bagged Willett. Amourette started out yesterday for the first time after—well, I suppose you'd call it 'big game.' She saw me, stalked me, got near enough to see my glasses, and let me go. And to-day, thinking that she might have been mistaken and that perhaps I only wore sun-glasses, she came back. But I was ass enough to take off my cap to her, and she saw my hair—saw where it wasn't—and that settled it."
"What a mortifying thing to happen to you, William."
"I should think so. There's nothing unusual the matter with me. Caesar was bald. It's idiotic to bar a man out because he has fewer hairs than the next man. And the exasperating part of it is that I believe I could win her if I had half a chance."
"Of course you could. If she's any good as a sport, she'd rather have you, hairless myopiac that you are, than a tailor's dummy."
Sayre said: "Isn't it a terrible thing, Curtis, to think of that sweet, lovely young girl pledged to a scientific life like that? P-pledged to p-p-propagate p-p-perfection?"
"What a mean-spirited creature that fellow Willett must be," observed Langdon in disgust; "and the other three—Ugh!"
"To tamely submit to being kidnapped and woo'd and wed that way—endure the degradation of a captivity among all those young girls——"
Sayre said: "Would you call for help if kidnapped?"
Langdon gazed into space: "I wonder," he murmured.
Sayre looked at him searchingly.
"I don't believe you'd make the welkin ring with your yelps. It's probably the same with those four men."
"I don't suppose those suffragettes of the New Race University really require any fence there to keep those men in."
"No; only to keep the rest of us out."
"The chances are that Willett and that poet Carrick and De Lancy Smith and Alphonso W. Green couldn't be chased out of that University."
"Those are the chances. How I hate those four men. It's curious, William, that no man can ever tolerate the idea of any other man ever getting solid with any looker. I always did dislike to see another man with a pretty girl. . . . William?"
"Think of the concentrated beauty in that University! Think of that rich round-up of creamy dreams! Consider that mellifluous marmalade! And—we can't have any—because you are slightly bald and near-sighted and I am thin and scholarly!" He ran at the camp-kettle and kicked it.
After a painful silence Sayre said timidly: "Don't laugh, but is there any known substance which will bring in hair?"
"You mean bring it out?"
"Well, dammit, grow it! Is there?"
"There are too many bald monarchs and millionaires to prove the contrary. Nor is there anything that can make my thin shanks fatter."
"—I'd be willing to go about without glasses," said Sayre humbly. "I told her so."
"Couldn't you deceive her with a wig? It wouldn't matter afterward. After you're once married let her shriek."
"Amourette saw my head." And he hung it in bitter dejection.
"Come on," said Langdon cheerily. "Let's peek through their fence and see what happens. Much has been done with a merry eye in this world of haughty ladies."
As they turned away into the woods Sayre clenched his fists.
"I'd like to knock the collective blocks off those four young men inside that fence. And—to think—to think of Amourette going out again to-morrow, man hunting, with her net! I can't endure it, Curt—I simply can't."
Langdon looked at his friend in deep commiseration.
"I wish I could help you, William—but I don't see—I—don't—exactly—see——" He hesitated. "Of course I could go to Utica and pay a wig-maker and costumer to make me up into the kind of Charlie-Gussie they're looking for at that University. . . . And when your best girl goes out hunting, she'll see me and net me, and you can be in hiding near by, and rush out and net her."
In their excitement they seized each other and danced.
"Why not?" exclaimed Langdon. "Shall I try? Trust me to come back a specimen of sickening symmetry—the kind of man women write about and draw pictures of—pink and white and silky-whiskered! Shall I? And I'll bring you a net to catch her in! Is it a go, William?"
Sayre broke down and began to cry.
"Heaven bless you, friend," he sobbed. "And if ever I get that girl inside a net she'll learn something about natural selection that they p-p-probably forgot to teach in their accursed New Race University!"
ONE week later Curtis Langdon sat on the banks of a trout stream fishing, apparently deeply absorbed in his business; but he was listening so hard that his ears hurt him.
A few yards away, ambushed behind a rock on which was painted "Votes for Women," lurked William Sayre. A net lay on the ground beside him, fashioned with ring and detachable handle like a gigantic butterfly net.
He, too, tremendously excited, was listening and watching the human bait—Langdon being cast for the bait.
Perfect and nauseating beauty now marked that young gentleman. Features and figure were symmetrical; his eyebrows had been pencilled into exact arcs, his mouth was a Cupid's bow, his cheeks were softly rosy, and a silky and sickly moustache shadowed his rosy lips. Under his fashionable outing shirt he wore a rubber chest improver; his cunningly padded shoulders recalled the exquisite sartorial creations of Mart, Haffner, and Sharx; his patent puttees gave him a calf to which his personal shanks had never aspired; thick, golden-brown hair, false as a woman's vows, was tossed carelessly from a brow, snowy with pearl powder. And he wore a lilac-edged handkerchief in his left cuff.
Both young men truly felt that if any undergraduate of the New Race University was out stalking she'd have at least one try at such a bait. Nothing feminine and earnest could resist that glutinous agglomeration of charms.
But they had now been there since before dawn; nothing had broken the sun-lit quiet of forest and water, not even a trout; and they listened in vain for the snapping of the classical twig.
Lunch time came; they ate a pad apiece. Neither dared to smoke, Sayre because it might reveal his hiding place, Langdon because smoking might be considered an imperfection in the University.
Sunlight fell warm on the banks of the stream, the leaves rustled, big white clouds floated in the blue above. Nothing came near Langdon except a few mosquitoes, who couldn't bite through the make-up; and a small and inquisitive bird that inspected him with disdain and said, "cheep—che-ep!" so many times that Langdon took it as a personal comment and almost blushed.
He thought to himself: "If it wasn't that William is actually becoming ill over his unhappy love affair I'm damned if I'd let even a dicky-bird see me in this rig. Ugh! What a head of hair! The average girl's ideal is what every healthy man wants to kick. I wouldn't blame any decent fellow for booting me into the brook on sight."
He bit into his pad and sat chewing reflectively and dabbling his line in the water.
"Poor old William," he mused. "This business is likely to end us both. If we stay here we lose our jobs; if we go back William is likely to increase the nut crop. I never supposed men took love as seriously as that. I've heard that it sometimes occurred—what is it Shakespeare says: 'How Love doth make nuts of us all!'"
He chewed his pad and swung his feet, philosophically.
"Why the devil doesn't some girl come and try to steal a kiss?" he muttered. "It might perhaps be well to call their attention to my helpless presence and unguarded condition."
So he sang for a while, swinging his legs: "Somebody's watching and waiting for me!" munching his luncheon between verses; and, as nobody came, he bawled louder and louder the refrain: "Somebody's darling, darling, dah-ling!" until a hoarse voice from behind the rock silenced him:
"Shut up that hurdy-gurdy voice of yours! A defect like that will count ten points against you! Can it!"
"Oh, very well," said Langdon, offended; "but everybody doesn't feel the way you do about music."
Silence resumed her classical occupation in the forest; the stream continued to sparkle and make its own kind of music; the trout, having become accustomed to the queer thing on the bank and the baited hook among the pebbles, gathered in the ripples stemming the current with winnowing fins.
A very young rabbit sat up in a fern patch and examined Langdon with dark, moist eyes. He sat there for several minutes, and might have remained for several more if a sound, unheard by Langdon and by Sayre, had not set the bunch of whiskers on his restless nose twitching, and sent him scurrying off over the moss.
The sound was no sound to human ears; Langdon heard it not; Sayre, drowsy in the scented heat, dozed behind his rock.
A shadow fell across the moss; then another; two slim shapes moved stealthily among the trees across the brook.
For ten minutes the foremost figure stood looking at Langdon. Occasionally she used an opera glass, which, from time to time, she passed back over her shoulder to her companion.
"Ethra," she whispered at last, "he seems to be practically perfect."
"I'm wondering about those puttees, dear—shanks in puttees are deceptive."
"Those are exquisite calves," said Amourette sadly. "I'm sure they'll measure up to regulation. And his chest seems up to proof."
"What beautiful eyebrows," murmured Ethra.
But Amourette found no pleasure in them, nor in the golden-brown hair, nor the bloom of youth and perfect health pervading their unconscious quarry. Perhaps she was thinking of a certain near-sighted, thin-haired young man—and how she had slammed the gate of the wire fence in his face—after their first kiss.
She drew a deep, painful breath and lifted her head resolutely.
"I suppose I'd better begin to stalk him, Ethra," she said.
"Yes; he's a very good specimen. Be careful, dear. Strike a circle and come up behind him. When you're ready, mew like a cat-bird and I'll let him catch a glimpse of me. And as soon as he begins to—to rubber," she said, with a haughty glance at the unconscious angler, "steal up and net him, and I'll come across and help tie him up."
Amourette sighed, standing there irresolute. Then she straightened her drooping shoulders, seized her net very firmly, and, with infinite caution, began to stalk her quarry.
Once the stalking had fairly begun, the girl became absorbed in the game. All memory of Sayre, if there indeed had been any to make her falter in her purpose, now departed. She was a huntress pure and simple, silent, furtive, adroit, intent upon her quarry. There came a kind of fierceness into her concentration; the joy of the chase thrilled her as she crept noiselessly through the woods, describing a circle, crossing the stream far above the sleepy fisherman, gliding, stealing nearer, nearer, until at length she stood in the thicket behind him.
For a moment she waited silently, freeing her net and gathering it in her right hand ready for a deadly cast. Then, pursing up her red lips, she mewed like a cat-bird, three times.
Instantly, across the stream, she saw Ethra step out of the willows into plain view; saw Langdon wake up, stare, get up, and regard the beautiful vision across the stream with concentrated and delighted attention.
Then Amourette stole swiftly forward over the moss, swinging the heavy silken net in her right hand, closer, closer. Suddenly the net whistled in the air, glistened, lengthened, and fell, enmeshing Langdon; and, at the same instant something behind her whistled and fell slap; and she found herself struggling in the folds of an enormous butterfly net.
"Ethra! Help!" she cried, terrified, trying to keep her balance in the web which enveloped her, striving to tear a way free through the meshes; but she was only wrapped up the tighter; two brutal masculine arms lifted her, held her cradled and entangled, freed the handle from the net, and bore her swiftly away.
"Darling," whispered William Sayre, "d-don't kick."
"You!" she gasped, struggling frantically.
"The real thing, dearest of women! The old-fashioned, original cave man. Will you come quietly? There's a license bureau in the next village. Or shall I be obliged to keep right on carrying you?"
"Oh, oh, oh!" she sobbed; "what disgrace! what humiliation; what shame! Oh, Ethra! Ethra! What in the world am I to do?"
"That's where the mistake arose," said William gently; "you don't have to do anything—except put both arms around my neck and—be careful not to knock off my glasses."
"Glasses! Ethra! Ethra! Where are you? Don't you see what is becoming of me? You—you had b-better hurry, too," she added with a sob, "because the man who is carrying me off is the man I told you about. Ethra! Where are you?"
A convenient echo replied in similar terms. Meanwhile Sayre was walking faster and faster through the woods.
For a while she lay motionless and silent, cradled in his arms. And after a long, long time she tried feebly to adjust the disordered ondulations on her hair.
Then a very small, still voice said:
She seemed to recognise this as her name.
"Mr. Sayre, w-what are you going to do with me?"
"That is up to you, darling."
"Against my will?"
"That also is up to you."
"And—and my inclination?"
"No, not against that, Amourette."
"Do you dare believe I love you?"
"I should worry."
"Do you know you are hurting me, physically, spiritually, mentally?"
"I suppose I am."
"Do you realise that you are a brute?"
"I sure do. We're all of us a little in that line, Amourette."
After a long silence she turned her face so that it rested against his shoulder—nestled closer, and lay very still.
ALL over the United States conditions were becoming terrible, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of militant women, wives, widows, matrons, maidens, and stenographers had gone on strike. Non-intercourse with man was to be the punishment for any longer withholding the franchise; husbands, fathers, uncles, fiances, bachelors, and authors held frantic mass meetings to determine what course to pursue in the imminence of rapidly impending industrial, political, and social disaster.
But, although men's sufferings threatened to be frightful; although for months now nobody of the gentler sex had condescended to pay them the slightest attention; although their wives replied to them only with monosyllables and scornful smiles, and their sweethearts were never at home to them, let it be remembered to their eternal credit that not one thought of surrender ever entered their limited minds.
And so it was with young Langdon, who was left in a condition neither dignified nor picturesque—a martyr to friendship and a victim to his own rather frivolous idea of practical humour.
Hopelessly entangled in the net which enveloped him from head to foot, he flopped about among the dead leaves on the bank of the stream, struggling and kicking like a fly in a cobweb. This he considered humorous.
The lithe figure across the brook continued to view his gyrations with mingled emotions.
She was a boyish young thing with a full-lipped, sensitive mouth, eyes like bluish-black velvet, and clipped hair of a dull gold colour that curled thickly all over a small and beautifully shaped head in little burnished boucles d'or—which description ought to hold the reader for a while.
She wore gray wool kilts, riding breeches laced in about the knee, suede puttees and tan shoes; and she carried a Russian game pouch beautifully embroidered across her right shoulder.
For a minute or two she watched the entangled young man, eyes still wide with the excitement of the chase, full delicate lips softly parted; and her intent and earnest face reflected modest triumph charmingly modified by an involuntary sympathy—the natural tribute of a generous sportswoman to the quarry successfully stalked and bagged.
Cautiously, now, but without hesitation she advanced to the edge of the stream, picked her way cleverly across it on the stones, and, leaping lightly to the bank, stood looking down at Langdon, who had ceased his contortions and now lay flat on his back, gazing skyward, a grin on his otherwise attractive countenance.
He smiled up at her through the meshes of the net when he encountered her curious eyes, expecting immediate release.
There was no answering smile from her as she coolly examined his symmetrical features and perfect physical proportions through the folds of the net.
No, there could be no longer any doubt in her mind that this young man was what the New Race University required for breeding purposes.
No such specimen as this could hope to escape instant marriage. Here were features so mathematically flawless that they became practically featureless; here was bodily balance so ideal that the ultimate standards of Greek perfection seemed lop-sided in comparison. No, there could be no doubt about it; this young man was certainly required for the purpose of scientific propagation; willy-nilly he was destined to be one of the ancestors of that future and god-like race which must, one day, people the earth to replace the bigoted and degenerate population which at present encumbered it.
She regarded him without the slightest personal interest now. His symmetry wearied her profoundly.
"When are you going to let me out?" he asked cheerfully.
She looked at him almost insolently under slightly lifted brows.
"Presently," she said; and began to fumble in her satchel. In a few moments she produced two bottles, a roll of antiseptic cotton, and a hypodermic needle.
"Will you come with me voluntarily?" she inquired, stepping nearer and looking down at him, "or must I use force?"
He might have been humorously willing to go; he really desired to see this amusing adventure to the finish. But man resents coercion.
"Force?" he repeated.
"Exactly," she replied, displaying her pocket pharmacy.
"What are those things you have in your hand?" he asked, trying to see.
"Chloroform and a hypodermic needle. If you do not wish to come with me voluntarily you may take your choice."
He laughed long and loud and derisively.
"That's ridiculous," he said. "Be kind enough to undo this net. I might have been willing to go with you and look 'em over—your friends, you know; but I don't care for your idea of humour."
"Your reply is typically man-like and tyrannical. For centuries man has enjoyed and abused the option of doing what he pleased. Now men are going to do what we please, whether or not it suits them."
"So I've understood," he said, laughing; "but this revolt has been on for a year and I haven't noticed any men doing what they did not wish to do."
"We have four who are doing it. They are in training for their honeymoons. You are to be the fifth to begin training," she said coolly.
He laughed again derisively, and lay watching her. She walked up close beside him and seated herself on the rock marked "Votes for Women."
"I suppose," she said, tauntingly, "that you were rather astonished to wake up from your fishing nap, and find yourself——" she considered the effect of her words, gazing at him insolently from under slightly lowered lashes—"find yourself all balled up in a fish net."
He only grinned at her.
"What are you laughing at?" she demanded, unsmiling.
"Lying here flat on my back, I am smiling at Woman! at every individual woman on earth! at this ridiculous feminine uprising, this suffragette revolution—at your National Female Federation Committee; the thousands of local unions; this strike of your entire sex; this general boycott of my sex! What has it accomplished?" He tried to wave his hand.
"You parade and make speeches in the streets, throw bricks, slap the faces of a few State Congressmen, and finally proclaim a general strike and boycott.
"And what's the result? All social functions and ceremonies are suspended; caterers, florists, confectioners, cabmen, ruined; theatres, restaurants, department stores, novelists, milliners, in financial throes; a falling off of over eighty per cent. in marriages and births—and you are no nearer a vote than you were before the great strike paralysed the business of this Republic."
The young lady had been growing pinker and pinker.
"Oh! . . . And is that why you are laughing?" she asked.
"Yes. It's the funniest strike that ever happened to a serious-minded sex. Because you know your sex, as a sex, is a trifle destitute of a sense of humour——"
"That expression," she cut in with bitter satisfaction, "definitely determines your intellectual and social limits, Mr. Langdon. You are what you appear to be—one of those dreary bothers whose stock phrase is 'a sense of humour'—the kind of young man who has acquired a florid imitation of cultivation, a sort of near-polish; the type of person who uses the word 'brainy' for 'capable,' and 'mentality' for 'intelligence'; the dreadful kind of person who speaks of a subject as 'meaty' instead of properly employing the words 'substance' or 'material'; the sort of——"
Langdon, red and wrathful, sat up on the ground, peering at her through the enveloping net.
"Never in my life," he said, "have I been spoken to in such terms of feminine contempt. Stop it! Can't you appreciate a joke?"
"Mr. Langdon, the day is past when women will either countenance or take part in any disrespectful witticisms, slurs, or jests at the expense of their own sex. Once—and that not very long ago—they did it. Comic papers made my sex the subject of cartoons and witticisms; the stage dared to spread the contemptible misinformation; women either smiled or remained indifferent. The impression became general and fixed that women were gallinaceous, that a hen-like philosophy characterised the sex; that they were, at best, second-rate humans, tagging rather gratefully at the heels of the Lords of Creation, unconcerned with the greater and vital questions of the world.
"Now your sex has discovered its mistake. After countless centuries of intellectual and physical bondage Woman has calmly risen to assert herself—not as the peer of man, but as his superior!"
"What!" exclaimed Langdon, angrily.
"Certainly. Since prehistoric times man has attempted to govern and shape the destinies of all things living on this earth. He has made of his reign a miserable fizzle. It is our turn now to try our hands.
"And so, at last, woman steps forward, tipping the symbols of despotic power—sceptre and crown—from the nerveless hand and dishonoured brow of her recent lord and master! And down he goes under her feet—where he belongs."
Langdon, unable to endure such language, attempted to sit up, but the net interfered and he lay clawing at the meshes while the girl calmly continued:
"The human race, as it is at present, is a disgrace to the world it inhabits. We women have now decided to repeople the earth scientifically with a race as wholesome in body as our instruction shall render it in mind. Those among us women who are adjudged physically and mentally perfect for this great and sacred work have pledged ourselves to the sacrifice—pro bono publico.
"We shall pick out, from your degenerate sex, such physically perfect individuals as chance to remain; we shall regard our marriages with them as purely scientific and cold-blooded affairs; we have begun, for the purposes of re-populating the world by capturing four symmetrical young men. You are the fifth. The Regents of the New Race University will select for you several girls who, theoretically, are best qualified to become the mothers of your——"
"Stop!" shouted Langdon, tearing violently at the net. "I don't want you to talk that way to me!"
"You know perfectly well," he retorted, blushing vividly. "I won't stand it!"
"What a slave to prudery and smug convention you are," she observed with amused contempt. "Nobody in the University is going to shock your modesty."
"Well, what are they going to do?"
"Turn you loose in the preserve after the Regents have inspected you."
"Oh, I suppose two or three girls will be selected."
"To do w-what?"
"To pay you marked attention."
"Attention. Two or three girls will begin to court you."
"Oh, the usual way—by sending you flowers and books and bon-bons, and asking permission to call on you in your cave," she said carelessly.
There was an embarrassed pause, then:
"Will you be one of those—those aspirants to my hand?" he inquired.
She said indifferently: "I hope not. I'm sure I don't desire to be the mother of——"
"Stop! I tell you to stop conversing on such topics!" he yelled, struggling and squirming and finally rolling over, all fours in the air.
"I want to get up!" he shouted. "My position is undignified! Anybody'd think I was a prize animal. I don't like this poultry talk! I'm a man! I'm no bench-winner. And if ever I marry and p-p-produce p-p-progeny, it will be somebody I select, not somebody who selects me!"
The girl looked at him sternly.
"No," she said. "For centuries man has mated from sentiment and filled the earth with mental and physical degeneracy. Now woman steps in. It is her turn. And she flings aside precedent, prejudice, and sentiment—for the good of the human race! and joining hands with Science marches forward inexorably toward the millennium!"
The girl was so earnest, so naive, so emotionally stirred by the picture evoked that she enacted in pretty gestures the allegory of womanhood trampling upon sentimental emotion and turning toward Science with arms outstretched.
Langdon, who had managed to sit up, regarded her with terrified interest.
"Would you be amiable enough to remove this net?" he asked, shivering.
"I shall take you before the Board of Regents of the New Race University. They will assign you a cave."
"This joke has gone far enough," he said. "Please take off this net."
"No. I am going to show the Regents what I caught."
"But, my poor child," he said, "I am not what I seem. The joke is entirely on woman—poor, derided, deluded, down-trodden, humourless woman! Why, all this symmetry of mine—all these endearing young charms, are—are——"
He hesitated, looked at her, reflected, wavered. She was so pretty—somehow he didn't want to tell her. He felt furtively of his rubber chest improver, his flexible pneumatic calves, his golden brown wig, his pencilled brows, silky moustache, and carefully fashioned rosebud mouth. . . . A sudden and curious distaste for confessing to her that all the beauties were unreal came over him.
Meanwhile, paying him no further attention for the moment, she was trying hard to uncork the bottle of chloroform.
When she succeeded, she soaked the roll of antiseptic cotton, folded it in a handkerchief, and re-corked the bottle. Then, eyeing him coldly, holding the saturated handkerchief with one hand, her pretty nose with the other, she said with nasal difficulty:
"Dow, Bister Lagdod, bake up your bind dot to struggle——"
"Are you actually going to do it?" he asked, incredulously.
"I ab!" she replied firmly.
"Nonsense! You are not accustomed to give chloroform!"
"Do; but I've read up od the subject——"
"What!" he exclaimed, horrified. "Look out what you're doing, child! Don't you dare try that on me!"
"I've got to," she insisted. "Please dod bake be dervous or we bay have ad accidend——"
"Take that stuff away!" he yelled. "You'll give me too much and then I won't wake up at all!"
"I'll be as careful as I cad," she promised him. "Dow be still——"
"But this is monstrous!" he retorted, flopping about in the leaves like a stranded fish and frantically endeavouring to dodge the wet and reeking handkerchief.
"Let go of my nose! Help! He—he—hah—h—um! bz-z-z-z——" and he suddenly relaxed and fell back a limp, loose-limbed mass among the leaves.
Pale and resolute the girl knelt beside him, freed him from the net, and, bending nearer, gazed earnestly into his unconscious features. Still gazing, she drew a postman's whistle from her satchel, set it to her lips, and was about to summon the student on duty at the distant gate to help bring in the quarry, when something about the features of the recumbent young man arrested her attention.
The postman's whistle fell from her pretty lips; her startled eyes widened as she bent closer to examine the perfections which had captivated her from a scientific standpoint.
At that instant consciousness began to return; he gave a sudden spasmodic and comprehensive flop; there was a report like a pistol. His chest improver had exploded.
Terrified, trembling, she dropped on her knees beside him; never before had she heard of a young man being blown to pieces by chloroform. Then, almost hysterical, she ran to the stream, filled her leather satchel with water, and, running back again, emptied it upon his upturned countenance.
Horror on horror! His golden brown hair—his very scalp seemed to be parting from his forehead—eyebrows, silky moustache, lips—his entire face seemed to be coming off; and, as she shrieked and tottered to her feet, he began to sputter and kick so violently that both pneumatic calves blew up like the reports of a double-barreled shotgun.
And Ethra reeled back against a tree and cowered there, covering her shocked eyes with shaking fingers.
IT is a surprising and trying moment for a girl who throws water upon a young man's face to see that face begin to dissolve and come off, feature by feature, in polychromatic splendour.
She did not faint; her intellect reeled for a moment; then she dropped her hands from her eyes and saw him sitting up on the ground, blinking at her gravely from a streaked and gaudy countenance. His wig was tilted over one eye; rouge and pearl powder made his cheeks and chin very gay; and his handsome, silky moustache hung by one corner from his upper lip. It was too much. She sat down limply on a mossy log and wept.
His senses returned gradually; after a while he got up and walked down to the edge of the brook with all the dignity that unsteady legs permitted.
Fascinated, she watched him at his ablutions where he squatted by the water's edge, scrubbing away as industriously as a washer-racoon. It did not occur to her to flee; curiosity dominated—an overpowering desire to see what he really resembled in puris naturalibus.
After a while he stood up, hurled the damp wig into the woods, wiped his hands on his knickerbockers and his face on his sleeve, and, bending over, examined his collapsed calves.
And all the while, as the fumes of the chloroform disappeared and he began to realise what had been done to him, he was becoming madder and madder.
She recognised the wrath in his face as he swung on his heel and came toward her.
"It is your own fault!" she said, resolutely, "for playing a silly trick like——" But she observed his advance very dubiously, straightening up to her full slender height to confront him, but not rising to her feet. Her knees were still very shaky.
He halted close in front of her. Something in the interrogative yet fearless beauty of her upward gaze checked the torrent of indignant eloquence under which he was labouring, and, presently, left him even mentally mute, his lips parted stupidly.
She said: "According to the old order of things a well-bred man would ask my pardon. But a decently-bred man, in the first place, wouldn't have done such a thing to me. So your apology would only be a paradox——"
"What!" he exclaimed, stung into protest. "Am I to understand that after netting me and chloroforming me and nearly drowning me——"
"My mistake was perfectly natural. Do you suppose that I would even dream of trailing you as you really are?"
He gazed at her bewildered; passed his unsteady hand over his countenance, then sat down abruptly beside her on the mossy log and buried his head in his hands.
She looked at him haughtily, sitting up very straight; he continued beside her in silence, face in his hands as though overwhelmed. Nothing was said for several minutes—until the clear disdain of her gaze changed, imperceptibly; and the rigidity of her spinal column relaxed.
"I am very sorry this has happened," she said. There was, however, no sympathy in her tone. He made no movement to speak.
"I am sorry," she repeated after a moment. "It is hard to suffer humiliation."
"Yes," he said, "it is."
"But you deserved it."
"How? I didn't fashion my face and figure."
She mistook him: "Somebody did."
"Yes; my parents."
"Oh, I don't mean that silly make-up," he said, raising his head.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean my own face and figure. What you did to me—your netting me, doping me, and all that wasn't a patch on what you said afterward."
"What do you mean? What did I say?"
"You asked me if I supposed that you would dream of netting a man with a face and f-figure like——"
"You did! And can any man suffer any humiliation to compare with words like those? I merely ask you."
With eyes dilated, breath coming quickly, she stared at him, scarcely yet comprehending the blow which her words had dealt to one of the lords of creation.
"Mr. Langdon," she said, "do you suppose that I am the sort of girl to deliberately criticise either your features or your figure?"
"But you did."
"I merely meant that you should infer——"
"I inferred it all right," he said bitterly.
Perplexed, not knowing how to encounter such an unexpected reproach, vaguely distressed by it, she instinctively attempted to clear herself.
"Please listen. I hadn't any idea of mortifying you by explaining that you are not qualified by nature to interest the modern woman in——"
He turned a bright red.
"Do you suppose such a condemnation—such a total ostracism—is agreeable to a man? . . . Is there anything worse you can say about a man than to inform him that no woman could possibly take the slightest interest in him?"
"I didn't say that. I said the modern woman——"
"You're all modern."
"It is reported that there are still a few women sufficiently old-fashioned to——"
"They don't interest me." He looked up at her. "What you've said has—simply—and completely—spoiled—my life," he said slowly.
"What I said?"
"What have—what could—what I—how—where—who is——" and she checked herself, eyes on his.
"Yes," he repeated with a curious sort of satisfaction, "you have spoiled my entire life for me."
"What an utterly—what a wildly absurd and impossible——"
"And you know it!" he insisted, with gloomy triumph.
"That you've spoiled——"
"Stop! Will you explain to me how——"
"Is it necessary?"
"Necessary? Of course it is! You have made a most grave and serious and—and heartless charge against a woman——"
"Yes, a heartless one—against you!"
"Cold, deliberate, cruel, unfeeling, merciless, remorseless——"
"Didn't you practically tell me that no woman could endure the sight of a face and figure like mine?"
"No, I did not. What a—a cruel accusation!"
"What did you mean, then?"
"That—that you are not exactly—qualified to—to become an ancestor of the physically perfect race which——"
"What is wrong with me, then?"
She looked at him helplessly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean where am I below proof? Where am I lacking? What points count me out?"
Her sensitive underlip began to tremble.
"I—I don't want to criticise you——" she faltered.
"Please do. I beg of you. There are beauty doctors in town," he added earnestly. "They can fix up a fellow—and I can go to a gymnasium, and take up deep-breathing and——"
"But, Mr. Langdon, do you want to—to be—captured——"
He looked into her bright and melting eyes.
"Yes," he said. "I'd like to give you another chance at me."
"Me? After what I did to you?"
"Why, what a perfectly astonishing——"
"Not very. Look me over and tell me what points count against me. I know I'm not good-looking, but I'd like to go into training for the bench—I mean——"
"Mr. Langdon," she said slowly, "surely you would not care to develop the featureless symmetry and the—the monotonous perfection necessary to——"
"Yes, I would. I wish to become superficially monotonous. I'm too varied; I realise that. I want to resemble that make-up I wore——"
"That! Goodness! What a horrid idea——"
"Horrid? Didn't you like it well enough to net me?"
"I—there was nothing expressive of my personal taste in my capturing you—I mean the kind of a man you appeared to be. It was my duty—a purely scientific matter——"
"I don't care what it was. You went after me. You wouldn't go after me as I now appear. I want you to tell me what is lacking in me which would prevent you going after me again—from a purely scientific standpoint."
She sat breathing irregularly, rather rapidly, pretty head bent, apparently considering her hands, which lay idly in her lap. Then she lifted her blue eyes and inspected him. And it was curious, too, that, now when she came to examine him, she did not seem to discover any faults.
"My nose doesn't suit you, does it?" he asked candidly.
"Why, yes," she said innocently, "it suits me."
"That's funny," he reflected. "How about my ears?"
"They seem to be all right," she admitted.
"Do you think so?"
"They seem to me to be perfectly good ears."
"That's odd. What is there queer about my face?"
She looked in vain for imperfections.
"Why, do you know, Mr. Langdon, I don't seem to notice anything that is not entirely and agreeably classical."
"But—my legs are thin."
"Aren't they too thin?"
"Not too thin. . . . Perhaps you might ride a bicycle for a few days——"
"I will!" he exclaimed with a boyish enthusiasm which lighted up his face so attractively that she found it fascinating to watch.
"Do you know," she said slowly, "the chances are that I would have netted you anyway. It just occurred to me."
"Without my make-up?" he asked, in delighted surprise.
"I think so. Why not?" she replied, looking at him with growing interest. "I don't see anything the matter with you."
"My chest improver exploded," he ventured, being naturally honest.
"I don't think you require it."
"Don't you? That is the nicest thing you ever said to me."
"It's only the truth," she said, flushing a trifle in her intense interest. "And, as far as your legs are concerned, I really do not believe you need a bicycle or anything else. . . . In fact—in fact—I don't see why you shouldn't go with me to the University if—if you—care to——"
"Mr. Langdon! Wh-what a perfectly odd thing to s-say to me!"
"I didn't mean it," he said with enthusiasm; "I really didn't mean it. What I meant was—you know—don't you?"
She did not reply. She was absorbed in contemplating one small thumb.
"I'm all ready to go," he ventured.
She said nothing.
She looked up, looked into his youthful eyes. After a moment she rose, a trifle pale. And he followed beside her through the sun-lit woods.
AT the gate of the New Race University and Masculine Beauty Preserve the pretty gate-keeper on duty looked at Langdon, then at his fair captor, in unfeigned astonishment.
"Why, Ethra!" she said, "is that all you've brought home?"
"Did you think I was going to net a dozen?" asked Ethra Leslie, warmly. "Please unlock the gate. Mr. Langdon is tired and hungry, and I want the Regents to finish with him quickly so that he can have some luncheon."
The gate-keeper, a distractingly pretty red-haired girl, regarded Langdon with dubious hazel eyes.
"He'll never pass the examination," she whispered to Ethra. "What on earth are you thinking of?"
"What are you thinking of, Marcella? You must be perfectly blind not to see that he complies with every possible requisite! The Regents' inspection is bound to be only a brief formality. Be good enough to unbar the gates."
Marcella slowly drew the massive bolts; hostile criticism was in the gaze with which she swept Langdon.
"Well, of all the insignificant looking young men," she murmured to herself as Ethra and her acquisition walked away along the path, side by side.
THE collective and individual charms of the Board of Regents so utterly over-powered Langdon that he scarcely realised what was happening to him.
First, at their request, he sat cross-legged on the ground; and they walked round and round him, inspecting him. Under such conditions no man could be at his best; there was a silly expression on his otherwise attractive face, which, as their attitude toward him seemed to waver between indifference and disapproval, became unconsciously appealing.